The days are shorter now as October wanes and nature gets ready to turn the page. Animals prepare for winter, trees shed their leaves and birds flee to more abundant feeding grounds. As we turn the page to November and prepare in our own ways for the end of the year, we hope some of the projects highlighted in this issue of the newsletter will encourage you in your work or help you make a new contact.
The Last Dark Place: A Bright Light for Sage-Grouse
It sits in the far southeast corner of Oregon, near the Idaho and Nevada borders, an hour or more from a gas station, far out of cell phone coverage. One of the last reasonably intact blocks of sagebrush habitats in the West, it is, to most people, a desolate high desert landscape. But to Christian Hagen, ODFW wildlife biologist, it’s one of the most important habitats in the nation.
“I think of it as one of the last great, dark places in the United States,” says Hagen. “Look at a satellite image of the country at night—the sagebrush desert in southeast Oregon is one of the few black spaces.”
It is also key habitat for the Greater sage-grouse, a species native to vast landscapes rich in silvery-gray sagebrush, the plant it uses for food and cover. Driven from much of its original range in the Western states by the human development that devours sagebrush habitat, the Greater sage-grouse has declined dramatically over the last 50 years. Oregon populations, however, have fared better than some—the species no longer exists in several states. To keep tabs on population trends, ODFW staff have conducted surveys since the 1940s. Populations have declined overall but, from the 80s forward, numbers remain more or less stable.
In Oregon, there are about 750 traditional breeding arenas, or leks, where sage-grouse gather for about four weeks every April. Nearly half of those sites are in Malheur County. “We don’t have the staff to survey all those locations over such a large landscape,” explains Hagen who is based in Bend.
So, last year he applied for a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The grant funds the “Adopt a Lek” program that was created by the National Wildlife Federation to provide funds to recruit and train volunteers to conduct yearly population census.
“The program is founded on citizen science which is an important part of the Conservation Strategy,” says Hagen. “We not only get the data we need to make management decisions, we provide a hands-on approach to outreach for sage-grouse and sagebrush conservation. It’s hard to witness the traditional mating rituals of these magnificent birds and not become interested in their viability.”
While counting grouse, volunteers also record habitat information—invasive species or recent fire activity for example. Additional funding for the project comes from the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation and Central Oregon Audubon Society.
In Oregon, the Greater sage-grouse is both a Strategy species and a game species. There are a number of organizations at work on the ground in Oregon—including hunting and other conservation groups—to conserve and restore sagebrush habitat. We will be covering more of their work in future issues of this newsletter.
For more information on the Greater sage-grouse
See photos and listen to its call
See a satellite map of the United States at night
Learn more about NWF’s Adopt a Lek program
Learn more about OWHF
Landowners Restore Oak Woodlands for Wildlife
About 65 acres of oak woodland will be restored on the Chandler Family Ranch in Coos County with funding from ODFW’s Access and Habitat Program. Oak woodlands, which once covered almost a million acres in the Coast Range, are identified in the Strategy as a key habitat in need of restoration—today less than four percent of the historic habitat remains.
“Oak woodlands provide support for big game, upland birds and a variety of nongame species,” said Stuart Love, ODFW district wildlife biologist for the Umpqua Watershed District, who is involved in the project. “Many Strategy birds depend on the woodlands such as the chipping sparrow, acorn woodpecker and mountain quail.”
To restore the oak woodlands on the ranch, the landowners will remove encroaching coniferous trees, plant oak seedlings and conduct brush and noxious weed control.
The A&H Program is funded by a $2 surcharge on hunting licenses. As part of the grant, the landowners will allow some public hunting access on a by-permission basis for five years. Other funding for the project comes from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oregon Department of Forestry and Coquille Watershed Association.
Information on the Access and Habitat program
Listen to the acorn woodpecker at WhatBird.com
Monitoring Team Wants Biggest Bang for Buck
With 286 Strategy species and a dozen Strategy habitats, where do you start to work? It’s a question the Strategy Fish and Wildlife Monitoring Team ponders as part of its ongoing work to look at species and habitat trends over time and help prioritize opportunities.
“It’s about how to get the most value for investment,” said Audrey Hatch, ODFW Conservation Strategy Monitoring coordinator. “We want to help groups leverage each others’ efforts, especially when working in priority areas.”
The 40-member group has identified a number of areas of interest: frog assemblages, marsh birds and native lamprey species among them. They also want to look more closely at Oregon’s state mammal, the American beaver. Although it is not a Strategy species, the group believes it is an important indicator of riparian habitat health.
If you or your group is involved in work on monitoring species or habitats, or if you want to know more about the Strategy Monitoring Team, contact Audrey
National Geographic looks at wildlife conservation funding
The title is provocative: Hunters for Love of the Land: Strong supporters of land and wildlife conservation, hunters in the U.S. are in decline. Will a new generation take the field?
In the just published National Geographic article, writer Robert M. Poole delivers on the promise of the title. He takes a balanced look at the funding challenges facing our nation’s habitats and wildlife with the decline of hunting across the nation. It’s a good read for anyone concerned with the future of wildlife.
Read it online or pick up a copy of the November issue of the magazine
New Grassland Biologist Steps into Role
Anne Mary Myers has been studying nature all of her life. As a girl she chased butterflies on the family farm in upstate New York. In high school, she became interested in plants. In college, she started studying birds and has never looked back. Over the years she has worked with many species—from seabirds to salmon to songbirds.
Now, Myers, who was recently hired by ODFW as a grassland biologist for the Willamette Valley, can’t wait to get to work on her newest project—returning the Western Meadowlark and other grassland birds to the landscape. “It’s a big project, but I am hopeful,” she says. “People love the meadowlark and there are many opportunities for partnerships and projects that we can leverage. I will soon begin meeting with groups to better understand what research and restoration work is being done, where.”
Myers can expect lots of support in her new role. Many conservation groups, private landowners, watershed councils, agencies, and soil and water conservation districts are already interested in the project and doing related work. “The challenge is to find the big opportunities, build coalitions, and fill in strategic gaps in the landscape.”
Initial work includes an update of a distribution and abundance survey of grassland birds that was done ten years ago; it will be done next spring.
Funding for the new position comes from the Oregon Legislature who appropriated funds after hearing from environmental, hunting and fishing conservation group leaders who testified in favor of funding the Strategy.
Dam Removal Improves Habitat for Steelhead
In the waning days of summer, 11 volunteers from the Tualatin Valley Chapter of NW Steelheaders and two ODFW staff members turned out to remove an old log dam on Blue Bus Creek, a tributary of the East Fork Trask River, to improve access to habitat for steelhead and cutthroat trout.
Because of the work site’s inaccessibility, heavy machinery couldn't be used and all work had to be done by hand. The workers removed a weir and buried pipes and cables. Then they cut and rearranged existing logs to provide fish passage.
The NW Steelheaders were one of the first organizations to embrace the Conservation Strategy and put it to work. Paul Johnson, volunteer coordinator for the Steelheaders, believes the Strategy is long overdue. “We needed it 30 years ago,” he says. “It helps us coordinate efforts and work on the most important things instead of spinning our wheels on small, disjointed projects.”
And, Johnson should know. A retired ODFW engineer and NW Steelheader since 1982, he has spent a lot of time outdoors in Oregon, considering the right things to do. Today, he is active within the Steelheader organization and a dedicated STEP volunteer. He has only one complaint. “There’s never enough time to fish.”
More information on the Association of NW Steelheaders
More information about STEP (Salmon Trout Enhancement Program)
Invasive Species in the News
This month the Statesman Journal invasive species series invites readers to learn more about invasive mammals in Oregon by focusing on nutria, an established invasive species, and feral pigs, an aggressive mammal that the state still hopes to get rid of.
Teaming with Wildlife Action Update
Oregon’s Teaming With Wildlife coalition grew to 121 as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers joined the ranks of those who support increased funding for Oregon’s wildlife.
According to the National Teaming With Wildlife Coalition, Congress has not yet enacted any of the 2008 appropriations bills, so in late September they passed a "continuing resolution" that will keep the government operating until November 16 while they sort out the final appropriations amounts.
Contact Oregon’s Senators and urge them to pass an Interior Appropriations Bill that includes the $85 million approved by the House for State Wildlife Grants. Find contact information on the Oregon Blue Book website
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
The amount of information in Oregon’s Conservation Strategy can be overwhelming. If you would like someone to attend a meeting of your group or business to give you a local overview of the animals, birds, landscapes and invasive species in your area of importance in your area, please let us know. Find our how existing plans and programs fit with local Conservation Opportunity Areas and discover how to create synergy between your projects and others.
Send us news about Your strategy-related projects
Meg Kenagy, editor and Conservation Strategy communications coordinator
For information about the Strategy
Peg Boulay, Conservation Strategy and State Wildlife Grants coordinator
To unsubscribe, please respond by e-mail. Note: The use of trade, firm, or corporation names and links in this publication is for the information of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.