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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

December 2010

Year’s end was embellished with stories of cooperation and collaboration.

helicopter
Watch the relocation video on UTube - Click on image

CONTENTS

Bighorn Sheep Come Home to John Day Fossil Beds
New Plan Lets People and Plovers Share the Beach
Family Farmers Restore Wetlands
New Rule Helps Little Fish
Wild Bird Conservation Act: “A Nickel for the Birds”
One Small Thing

Bighorn sheep come home to John Day Fossil Beds

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Travelers on Hwy. 19 one morning in December had a view of something they’d probably never seen before.
- ODFW photo -
Click to Enlarge Photo

In December, 20 California bighorn sheep were released near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Central Oregon. A video that shows the surefooted rams and ewes leaping across a snow-dusted landscape is only a few minutes long, but the event itself was 12 years in the making.

“We knew we had good habitat and that sheep were here in the past. There are even bighorn pictographs in the area that date to the Native Americans,” said Jim Hammet, superintendent of the National Monument. “It was just a matter of the funding, timing and priorities coming together.”

ODFW Biologist Ryan Torland, who coordinated the effort, juggled numerous logistics as the relocation team worked against time and budget. The bighorn sheep were captured on the lower John Day River by a net-gunning team and transported in slings by helicopter to a nearby base camp where they were disease-tested and fitted with transmitters by ODFW staff and volunteers from the Oregon Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wildlife Sheep. The sheep were then loaded into trucks and driven to the release site between Dayville and Kimberly.

Hammett is excited by, once again, having bighorns on Sheep Rock, the distinctive geological formation that towers 1,100 feet above the John Day River and by providing viewing opportunities to future visitors. “Everyone on the staff is excited, but we’re staying away and letting the sheep recover from all the activity.”
According to Torland, bighorn sheep were extirpated from Oregon by the 1940s due to overhunting and exposure to domestic livestock diseases. Thanks to relocation efforts, the species population has grown to an estimated 3,500-3,700.

The bighorn reintroduction was paid for through ODFW hunting license and tag fees as well as big game raffle monies.

Watch the relocation video on UTube
Oregon Foundation for North American Wild Sheep
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

NEW PLAN LETS PEOPLE AND PLOVERS SHARE THE BEACH

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Western snowy plover chicks with eggshells on sand.
- USFWS photo -
Click to Enlarge Photo

Western snowy plovers and people both love the same ephemeral strip of sand that stretches from surf’s edge to the sand dunes. The tiny shorebirds forage for invertebrates in the wet and dry beach sand, and lay their eggs above the high tide line — places where humans walk, jog, play catch with their dogs, drive and ride horses.

The question facing state and federal agencies trying to help the tiny shorebird, which is listed as threatened under both federal and state Endangered Species Acts, is: Can plovers and people share the beach?

The agencies hope part of the answer lies in a newly adopted coast-wide habitat conservation plan that calls for improving snowy plover habitat within the Bandon State Natural Area and in, at least, three state-managed areas on the north coast while keeping those beaches open to public recreation. On Dec. 17, two state and four federal agencies signed off on the plan which affects beach areas managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

In exchange for improving plover habitat, considered to be the primary factor in species decline, OPRD received an Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The permit accepts some plovers may be harmed as visitors and residents use the public ocean shore, but avoids the usual consequences—which could have included closing whole beaches—so long as the harm to plovers is limited and recovery continues elsewhere.

In addition to OPRD, ODFW, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all have a role to play in carrying out the habitat conservation plan.

Western Snowy Plover Fact Sheet
State and Federal Officials Sign Western Snowy Plover Agreements News Release (pdf)
Habitat Conservation Plan for Western Snowy Plovers

Family Farmers Restore Wetlands

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The Neitzel wetland complex: Nine months after connection to the river, the site is providing habitat for fish, amphibians and other wildlife.
Click to Enlarge Photo

Ernestine Neitzel moved to Oregon in 1925 at the age of four and has lived her whole life on the truck farm along the Necanicum River. Her father grew vegetables that he sold at stores in nearby Seaside. After she married, she and her husband expanded the farm to include dairy cows. Over the years, she has watched as one farm after another was subdivided and developed, and the more she thought about it, the more she thought about protecting her land.

“I just didn’t want trailers and houses in there,” she said. “I wanted it be natural.”

So, in 2008, Neitzel decided to return the family farmland to the river and the ocean. Since that time, she and her son have worked with a coalition of groups to restore the land’s original wetland habitats.

“There are so many agencies and people involved, I can’t keep them all straight,” she admits.

And it’s no wonder, organizations at work on the project include government agencies, local businesses, conservation organizations and neighboring property owners. Doug Ray, a wetlands consultant with Carex Consulting in Seaside, is coordinating the project. Joe Sheahan, ODFW Western Oregon Stream Restoration Program coordinator, created plans to develop off channel wetlands that are critical for many fish and wildlife species. The plan focused on restoring plant communities that historically would have been there but were lost to human development.

Work involved reconnecting existing wetlands and developing new off-channel wetland habitat that mimics a river side channel that has been isolated from the main flow of the river. In November 2009, the wetlands were reconnected to the Necanicum River and, today, a new wetland complex provides critical over-wintering habitat for more than 1,000 juvenile coho and any number of spawning amphibians, including the red-legged frog, whose call Neitzel had missed.

Partners in the project include the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the North Coast Land Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Campbell Group LLC, Longview Timber Company, the Necanicum Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, Brims Farm & Garden, and others.

In April 2010, the State Land Board recognized the Neitzels’ work at an awards ceremony honoring exemplary efforts to promote responsible stewardship of Oregon’s natural resources.

New Rule Helps Little Fish

wetland
Steve Jones, ODFW biologist, looks at the bycatch during testing of an excluder grate in a pink shrimp trawl off the Oregon coast.
- ODFW photo -
Click to Enlarge Photo

Tiny fish called eulachon, or Pacific smelt, once swarmed from the ocean up the Columbia, Cowlitz, Lewis and Sandy rivers in huge spring migrations, but in recent years, their numbers have dwindled to near historic lows, and in March 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listed the eulachon population off the California, Oregon and Washington coasts as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Reasons given by NOAA for the smelt’s decline include changes in water flows, predation, climate change effects and bycatch in the pink shrimp fishery.

An ESA listing gets everyone’s attention and often pits economic concerns against environmental concerns, but in this case, there is good news. First, the Oregon pink shrimp commercial fishery is already certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as a sustainable shrimp fishery, in part because fishers use bycatch reduction devices, or excluders, to ensure the catches in their nets are almost exclusively shrimp. Second, ODFW fish biologists have been studying eulachon in relation to bycatch devices and shrimp harvest and were able to recommend a solution.

Bycatch reduction devices are based on a fairly simple concept—circular metal grates with evenly-spaced bars are placed in the throat of a trawl net, deflecting fish up and out a v-shaped escape hole at the top of the net. They have been used successfully to deflect halibut, rockfish and other fish, and, now, by reducing the spacing between the bars, they can reduce catches of eulachon as well. So in December, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission mandated shrimpers use smaller spacing between the bars of the grates. The maximum bar spacing will be one inch during the 2011 season and go down to ¾ inch in the 2012 season.

In 2010, the Oregon fishery landed 31.4 million pounds of pink shrimp, the best season since 2002 when landings were 40 million pounds.

NOAA ESA listing
See a video of a bycatch excluder at work
More information on the research and the rules

Wild Bird Conservation Act: “A Nickel for the Birds”

Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director for the Audubon Society of Portland

During the 2011 legislative session, bird lovers will have a chance to support a bill which will help ensure that native bird species conservation receives adequate funding in Oregon. The Wild Bird Conservation Act places a five cents per pound fee on birdseed—a “nickel for the birds”— to fund the state’s most important bird-related priorities. The Wild Bird Conservation Act was developed by a coalition of conservation organizations and the Backyard Bird Shops.

By paying an extra nickel for each pound of birdseed, bird lovers would directly generate nearly $2 million per year, much of which could be matched with additional funds. Funds would be used for wild bird education and restoration projects on both urban and rural landscapes across the state, technical assistance to homeowners and land managers and to support native bird management efforts by ODFW staff and conservation partners.

It is important that Oregon bird lovers become more involved in conservation, because so many of Oregon’s bird populations are in trouble. Recent reports show as many as 25% of our species are experiencing serious long-term declines. The Wild Bird Conservation Act represents a critical step toward providing a permanent, stable source of funding for wild bird conservation efforts.

Funding from the Wild Bird Conservation Act would be managed by ODFW in collaboration with a stakeholder group. The act would have to be renewed before the year 2019.

The sponsors are looking for organizations to endorse the Wild Bird conservation Act. To endorse or for more information, contact Bob, bsallinger@audubonportland.org

ONE SMALL THING

Plant a tree. Winter is the perfect time for planting. Plant conifer seedlings in western Oregon from January through March. In eastern Oregon, or higher elevations, plant trees as soon as possible after snow melts and the ground thaws, generally late in March through April. See the Oregon Department of Forestry website for tips.

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

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