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Elk Head CONSERVATION
Native fish, wildlife and their habitat
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On the Ground: The Oregon Conservation Strategy at Work

May 2009

Beautiful weather greeted the spring migrants that swept across Oregon’s skies this month. The Institute for Applied Ecology sponsored a walking tour of its prairie restoration work. The group observed many grassland bird species and were rewarded with the melodic song of the western meadowlark. For information on the restoration, see the January issue of the newsletter.

CONTENTS

BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS COUNTED IN MAY

The black oystercatcher is a large, showy shorebird—its all-black plumage is accented by pink legs, a long reddish-orange bill and a yellow eye with an orange eye-ring. To see one in Oregon, you would look along a rocky shoreline. And you would have to be patient, because although they may be locally common, in general, black oystercatchers are few and far between.
 
“The black oystercatcher is a relatively rare species with only a few hundred individuals in Oregon and about 11,000 individuals in the world,” said Liz Kelly, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. ”That’s why, it is really important to monitor this species every year.” 
 
During land-based surveys conducted along the Oregon Coast between 2005 and 2007, only about 250 individuals were found. While this number does not include oystercatchers on the seaward side of offshore rocks and islands too distant to survey, it is estimated that the population on far-off rocks does not exceed a hundred. 
 
“We are very concerned about the species because of its small population size, limited range and habitat threats. Nests accessible at low tide may be especially vulnerable to disturbance by humans and their pets. These nests often fail, likely due to native or non-native predators such as ravens, raccoon, fox and feral cats,” said Kelly, who helped coordinate this year’s surveys. “But even off-shore nests and chicks may be vulnerable to river otters and avian predators such as bald eagles and gulls.”

“We rely on many dedicated volunteers to conduct surveys and monitor nests,” said Elise Elliott-Smith of U.S. Geological Survey Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center in Corvallis who has taken the lead in studying the reproductive success of oystercatchers in Oregon. “This month, 52 people turned out to survey 103 locations along the coast.”

“These surveys are very important,” said Peg Boulay, ODFW sensitive species coordinator who participated in the project. “Prior to 2005, we didn’t have any good data on where oystercatchers were reproducing and where they are having success.”

When priority sites are identified, it’s possible to minimize disturbance during critical times of the year.

Black oystercatchers are Strategy species in the Coast Range ecoregion and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species of Concern. They are counted in the spring, when the monogamous birds return to the same nesting territories to pair with the same mate. Survey results from 2005-2007 are available on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Newport Field Office website.

NEW DEER CROSSING SLATED FOR HIGHWAY 97

The wildlife crossing underpass
The wildlife crossing underpass planned for Hwy. 97 south of Bend will resemble this structure.

No one who regularly drives Highway 97 just south of Bend would be surprised to know that the thoroughfare cuts across a deer migration route. About a hundred mule deer die on a four-mile section of the road every year, usually during annual migrations when the animals move from lower to higher elevations in search of food and mates.

An opportunity to reduce deer-vehicle collision and make the stretch of road safer for deer and drivers presented itself during an expansion project that was initiated to increase capacity of the highway to meet transportation needs. In the design phase, two wildlife underpasses were incorporated—one is exclusively for wildlife, the other shares a road designed for vehicle traffic.

“This is the first from-the-ground-up wildlife underpass and fencing project in Oregon,” said Simon Wray, ODFW wildlife biologist and transportation liaison. ”It’s been a challenge, but we think we have come up with a good solution.”

The challenge is, of course, to encourage deer to do what biologists and transportation specialists want them to do. 

“You have to think like a deer—a deer will not go into a tunnel, for example. We have to design an underpass that simulates a space where deer feel comfortable. It has to be light, have the right mix of vegetation for cover and visibility and seem as natural as possible,” said Wray. “In this case, the walls of the underpass are sloped to simulate what a deer would experience walking down a draw.”

“There were a lot of challenges in designing this project,” said Stephanie Serpico, project manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation. “In addition to engineering the highway, we had to consider wildlife behaviors and, because part of the project is in the Newberry Crater National Monument, we had to make sure it was environmentally aesthetic as well.”

The project breaks ground this summer and is slated to be completed in 2011. It is expected to benefit a variety of wildlife.

Partners in the innovative project include the Oregon Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, ODFW and Deschutes County. The Oregon Conservation Strategy identifies “Barriers to Fish and Wildlife Passage” as one of the key conservation issues for the state of Oregon. For more information, visit ODFW’s website.

Beaver Release
DeWaine Jackson, ODFW Wildlife Research manager, is doing a pilot project in southwest Oregon, to improve knowledge of capturing, tagging, marking and relocating beaver.
Tagged Beaver
Jackson is seeking additional funding to expand the project and answer questions about whether beaver stay in relocated areas and, if they stay, if they create the desired habitat.

BEAVERS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

After 150 years of statehood, the beaver remains one of Oregon’s most enduring symbols. It is also the most controversial. While its fine engineering capabilities create wetlands and ponds for other species, a well-engineered dam in the wrong place floods roads, fields and yards. A beaver pond in the right place shelters threatened coastal coho populations until they are large enough to travel to the sea, while a hungry beaver colony on private land or timberland, strips tree bark and fells expensive trees.

It’s a dilemma that a varied group of interested professionals are working to solve. Led by ODFW, the Beaver Workgroup, recently reviewed research proposals the members hope will fill in some of the information gaps needed for better beaver management.

“All of the research projects are designed to help us answer the question, how do we maximize the ecological benefits of beaver while minimizing the negative impacts?” said Charlie Corrarino, ODFW Fish Conservation and Recovery manager who coordinates the group.

The proposed projects include a landowners’ incentive survey, a beaver genetic landscape study, a beaver relocation study and a study of beaver trapping effects on a variety of ecosystem functions. A review of existing beaver literature, recently completed by OSU and funded by ODFW, will be available on the ODFW website in June. Beaver relocation guidelines for western Oregon are being developed by biologists and are expected to be available by the end of the summer.

Funding the research projects is the challenge, of course, but a groundswell of recent interest in the positive economic benefits of beaver promise to advance some of the projects. Identified in the Conservation Strategy as important to wetland creation and maintenance, the beaver is Oregon’s state animal.

For more information on the beaver working group, contact Charlie Corrarino, ODFW Fish Conservation and Recovery manager, Charles.A.Corrarino@state.or.us, or Larry Cooper, Larry.D.Cooper@state.or.us, deputy administrator, ODFW Wildlife Division.

ONE SMALL THING

Wildlife in the classroom broTeachers, students, researchers: with the end of the school year in sight, make responsible decisions about the animals in your classroom, and, whatever you do, don’t turn them loose!

Download an informational flyer about Wildlife in the Classroom or Laboratory (pdf).

PAST ISSUES OF THE NEWSLETTER

On the Ground newsletter archives

ABOUT THE OREGON CONSERVATION STRATEGY

The Oregon Conservation Strategy provides a blueprint and action plan for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a non-regulatory, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by ODFW with the help of a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, conservation groups, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, and representatives from agriculture, forestry and rangelands.

EDITOR
Meg Kenagy
Oregon Conservation Strategy Communications coordinator
(503) 947-6021
meg.b.kenagy@state.or.us

FOR PHOTOS OF THE PROJECTS
Contact Meg Kenagy

For strategy information
Contact Michael Pope

For a copy of the Strategy
Contact Karen Buell at ODFW.

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