Friday, January 17, 2014

Wildlife Watchers Field Report for 2013

From HCPC Restoration Director Brian Kelly:

We were hoping that by the middle of last June that we’d be able to drive up to Dunns Bluff.  The bluff is an impressive rock outcrop near the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.  But as we climbed higher and higher on the rough Forest Service road, we found ourselves busting through deeper and deeper snowbanks.  The back of the four-wheel drive pickup truck was loaded with wildlife cameras, meat for bait, trapper’s lure for attracting wildlife, cables, locks, tools and an assortment of hardware.  All of this bounced around in the back of the pickup making enough racket to scare away just about any wild animal within a mile.  At the time, it seemed like a strange way to attract wildlife, but we knew that once things quieted down, we’d get some good wildlife photos.  Finally, we had to accept the fact that there was just too much snow for us to drive to our destination.  And it was too far to walk.  We turned the truck around and retreated for the day with a promise to return.

meat (bait) was placed inside metal cylinders  

Within a week, the weather turned hot and the sun made short work of those persistent snowbanks.  Soon the road was clear and we were able to drive near Dunns Bluff and then hike into the Castle Ridge Roadless Area.  Before too long, we had installed eleven motion-activated cameras in strategic locations in old growth forests of mountain hemlock, Engelmann spruce, sub-alpine fir, grand fir, lodgepole pine and western larch.

At Hells Canyon Preservation Council, we actively work to protect the important lands and waters of the greater Hells Canyon region.  Fragmentation of habitat from roads and logging can be a significant threat to the connectivity of important habitats such as old-growth forests.  During the past few years, we’ve advocated to protect the habitat of the Castle Ridge area and worked with the US Forest Service to achieve protections for habitat connectivity in this important landscape.  Castle Ridge is an 8,790 acre roadless area on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest located between the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Grande Ronde Valley.  Through the Wildlife Watchers program, we collaborate with the US Forest Service to monitor wildlife in important habitats that are essential to the connectivity of the region.  Hells Canyon Preservation Council staff, volunteers from our membership, and Forest Service wildlife specialists work together to accomplish the many tasks that the Wildlife Watchers project entails. 

Volunteer Allan Gorthy sets up trail camera
The first order of business to start the field season was to review the available data and maps for likely habitat.  This was followed by field reconnaissance.  Then we hiked into the backcountry while packing in a variety of equipment and supplies.  When we found a good location for a camera point, we set up the camera, strapped it to a tree and locked it in place.  We set up bait in bear-proof cylinders and we applied lure to attract wildlife close to the cameras.  After installation, the cameras’ sensors snapped photos when wildlife came into view.  The cameras were programmed appropriately for each site and then they were revisited every two weeks for maintenance.  The memory cards were checked, the photos were viewed, stored and filed, and the wildlife species were identified.



The eleven cameras captured photos of northern flying squirrel, bobcat, mountain lion, black bear, mule deer, white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk, Douglas squirrel, bushy-tailed wood rat and coyote.

 Three wildlife species of particular interest in the Castle Ridge area are the American marten, wolverine, and the wolf.  We were disappointed that we did not capture any photos of these species with our eleven trail cameras during the field season.  However, it’s important to note that the absence of photographs does not necessarily mean that these animals are not present or traveling through the area or utilizing the habitat during certain seasons.  

Wolverines were recently documented in the Eagle Cap Wilderness just to the east of the Castle Ridge Roadless Area.  DNA analysis of one of these wolverines showed a genetic relationship to the wolverines of Idaho and we assume that their travel corridor was through the connected habitat of the greater Hells Canyon region.  American martens were also photographed in the Eagle Caps during this recent wolverine research.  The American marten is considered to be a management indicator species because it is associated with old growth forests in northeast Oregon and so it has been a species of particular interest for the Wildlife Watchers program.  Wolves have entered Oregon from Idaho through the Hells Canyon region as well.  Since wolf recovery in Oregon is an important recent development, there is much interest in their whereabouts in the local landscape.

When wildlife travel into the Pacific northwest from the Rocky Mountain region, they often enter through the wild lands of northeast Oregon.  Moose, wolverines, and wolves have all come into Oregon this way over the past few years.  This is not surprising because the Wallowa Mountains, Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon and the Seven Devils are rich with interconnected lands and waters providing an amazing diversity of quality habitat.

The snow returned to Castle Ridge in October.  After hiking in through a few inches of fresh new snow, we removed the cameras for the season.  It had been a successful field season of collaboration with the Forest Service and volunteers.  We collected valuable wildlife information that will be used to inform future decisions that affect the land management of the area.  Through the Wildlife Watchers project, we are connecting people to the land while we work to protect the connections of important habitats across the landscape. 

Hells Canyon Preservation Council appreciates the efforts of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and of the HCPC volunteers who make this program possible.  We would also like to thank our funding partners—Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Mazamas, and Patagonia.

If you are interested in becoming a Wildlife Watchers volunteer in 2014, please contact HCPC  Restoration Director Brian Kelly at brian@hellscanyon.org.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Forest Connection


An excerpt from Michael Pollan's  recent New Yorker article "The Intelligent Plant."
The most bracing part of Mancuso’s talk on bioinspiration came when he discussed underground plant networks. Citing the research of Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues, Mancuso showed a slide depicting how trees in a forest organize themselves into far-flung networks, using the underground web of mycorrhizal fungi which connects their roots to exchange information and even goods. This “wood-wide web,” as the title of one paper put it, allows scores of trees in a forest to convey warnings of insect attacks, and also to deliver carbon, nitrogen, and water to trees in need.
When I reached Simard by phone, she described how she and her colleagues track the flow of nutrients and chemical signals through this invisible underground network. They injected fir trees with radioactive carbon isotopes, then followed the spread of the isotopes through the forest community using a variety of sensing methods, including a Geiger counter. Within a few days, stores of radioactive carbon had been routed from tree to tree. Every tree in a plot thirty metres square was connected to the network; the oldest trees functioned as hubs, some with as many as forty-seven connections. The diagram of the forest network resembled an airline route map.
The pattern of nutrient traffic showed how “mother trees” were using the network to nourish shaded seedlings, including their offspring—which the trees can apparently recognize as kin—until they’re tall enough to reach the light. And, in a striking example of interspecies coƶperation, Simard found that fir trees were using the fungal web to trade nutrients with paper-bark birch trees over the course of the season. The evergreen species will tide over the deciduous one when it has sugars to spare, and then call in the debt later in the season. For the forest community, the value of this coƶperative underground economy appears to be better over-all health, more total photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbance.
In his talk, Mancuso juxtaposed a slide of the nodes and links in one of these subterranean forest networks with a diagram of the Internet, and suggested that in some respects the former was superior. “Plants are able to create scalable networks of self-maintaining, self-operating, and self-repairing units,” he said. “Plants.”
As I listened to Mancuso limn the marvels unfolding beneath our feet, it occurred to me that plants do have a secret life, and it is even stranger and more wonderful than the one described by Tompkins and Bird. When most of us think of plants, to the extent that we think about plants at all, we think of them as old—holdovers from a simpler, prehuman evolutionary past. But for Mancuso plants hold the key to a future that will be organized around systems and technologies that are networked, decentralized, modular, reiterated, redundant—and green, able to nourish themselves on light. “Plants are the great symbol of modernity.”