Friday, December 17, 2010
Great news in the Wood River Valley: Read about a great new purchase for conservation south of Bellevue.
Real or Fake Christmas tree? This Cool Green Science post explores which one is better for the environment.
Best and Worst Environmental Stories of 2010: Another Cool Green Science post, by Conservancy staffer Nicole Levins.
Year in Review: Ten great projects around the globe funded by Nature Conservancy members.
Grolar bears: What happens when you cross a grizzly with a polar bear? It's happened. And this Treehugger story suggests it might be happening more often in a warming future.
On behalf of the staff of The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, we wish you a joyous holiday season, and a new year filled with adventures in Idaho's great outdoors!
Monday, December 13, 2010
Are you a “Debbie Downer” at your holiday gatherings, depressing family and friends with factoids about mass extinction events?
If so, maybe you need to sit by the fireplace with this collection. Primatologist Jane Goodall and others share inspirational stories of a long list of species brought back from the very edge of extinction by ingenuity, passion and hard work.
This is pretty light reading, but it’s a nice antidote to all the doom and gloom that dominates environmental news. The stories presented here show that it’s almost never too late to turn things around for wildlife, if we have the will and determination. The tales are well told and contain plenty of nuggets of good advice for conservation practitioners and naturalists.
We need to be telling the hopeful stories, too. This book offers a nice selection of those stories—perfect if you need a little holiday conservation cheer.
Friday, December 10, 2010
This deer visited my backyard today (and stayed much of the morning). It's always amazing to see how adaptable wildlife can be.
Monday, December 06, 2010
With the holidays approaching, many of us start to worry about running the gauntlet of tempting treats and massive meals that characterize so many celebrations. Come January, the gyms will be packed with those of us trying to shed those extra pounds we gained.
Let's be honest, though: Cookies, a full turkey dinner, or mug of hot chocolate are awfully comforting on a cold winter day.
And for good reason. Not so long ago in our evolutionary past, winter was a tough time. Losing weight was not a desirable outcome. Calorie-rich foods ensured survival.
It's still that way for mule deer. They need enough energy to make it through the long, cold winter.
At this time of year, mule deer move into valleys and low elevations (and even backyards, in the case of the one pictured above) to escape the heavy snow.
But to survive the winter, deer need nutritious plants. Cheatgrass, the non-native weed so common in foothills, has low nutrition value in the spring, when it is green. In the winter, it is worthless to wildlife, particulary when it's buried by a foot of snow.
Sagebrush, on the other hand, pokes out of the snow and is highly important to deer, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse and other wildlife.
Dr. Carl Wambolt of Montana State University reports that many big game species prefer sagebrush in the winter. One Montana study showed that sagebrush consisted of more than 50% of a mule deer's winter diet. A similar study for pronghorns found that sagebrush comprised 84% of their diet.
Other shrubs like bitterbrush, winterfat and salt brushes complement a mule deer's winter diet. Some biologists call bitterbrush "deer candy" because the animals go out of their way to eat it. (It can be very hard to establish these in an xeriscaped yard for this reason; the deer mow the plants down as soon as they're planted).
According to Bureau of Land Management botanist Roger Rosentreter, sagebrush is like the “meat and potatoes” of a mule deer’s diet in winter. Just as with human diets, a variety of foods helps deer stay healthier. Bitterbrush and other shrubs provide different nutrients to help the deer make it through winter.
“A mule deer diet of sagebrush and a little bit of bitterbrush is high quality winter forage,” says Rosentreter. “The deer prefer the bitterbrush but they will do very well if you have both. They compliment each other with proteins and nutrients. It also aids in deer digestion to have both.”
Protecting and restoring native plants ensures that deer can bulk up. This in turn makes it easier to survive heavy snowfall, parasites, predators and encounters with humans.--Matt Miller
Friday, December 03, 2010
Each year, North Idaho elk, moose and other wildlife roam from the Selkirk and the Cabinet-Yaak Mountains. In between these large tracts of forest is McArthur Lake, located between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry in the Idaho Panhandle.
For animals that need room to roam, McArthur Lake is a life line.
These lands are largely private forest land. They not only provide this vital wildlife habitat, they also contribute to the local economy. If these lands are developed, their values to wildlife would be lost forever.
That's why The Nature Conservancy is excited to announce with our partners the Idaho Department of Lands, U.S. Forest Service and Forest Capital Partners the protection of 3900 acres of private forest lands at McArthur Lake.Forest Capital Partners will continue to manage the working forest for timber production, and the Idaho Department of Lands will hold the conservation easements. The Nature Conservancy participated in the negotiations and is the sponsoring land trust for the project.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Imagine the difference we could make if just a fraction of that money was spent on responsible, meaningful holiday gifts.
That's the goal of Green Gift Monday. The Nature Conservancy and partners have come up with a variety of great gift ideas that also benefit the planet.
You can help: Green Gift Monday is being promoted by social media. If you blog, tweet or use Facebook, promote the idea of sustainable gifts. Throughout the holiday season, share your "green gift" ideas.
There are many resources on the official Green Gift Monday web site.
From all of us at The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, have a happy Thanksgiving!
Monday, November 22, 2010
Winter is a tough time for wildlife, as they struggle to save energy while often living in close proximity with humans. For conservationists, saving suitable winter habitat is one of the most important priorities.
In this feature, we'll look at the different needs--and often strange habits--of wildlife coping in the winter, and how conservationists can help.
In the summer, these birds feed on forbs, insects and a variety of other foods. In the winter, though, there's no variety: They exclusively eat pine and fir needles (and only the outer two-thirds of the needle).
Friday, November 19, 2010
The Bureau of Land Management and The Nature Conservancy worked closely to purchase a conservation easement on the 2-Lazy-2 Ranch from the Steinke family.
Conservation easements are permanent legal agreements that protect important habitat from development, while ensuring that traditional ownership and land uses like ranching continue.
The property protects two major wildlife migration routes in the Yellowstone area. The ranch is used by elk, moose, pronghorn and a wide variety of other wildlife species.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
The most recent piece features ranchers working for water conservation on the Lemhi River. The video includes information on the Conservancy's work in the valley, particularly the recent conservation efforts with long-time rancher Merrill Beyeler.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
It's easy to become pessimistic about endangered species, but it's also important to remember that humans have achieved incredible conservation successes.
Our column this month on Down to Earth Northwest celebrates the turkey conservation story, and the hope that it provides for other endangered species.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Silver Creek neighbor Rick Buckley took these photos last week and graciously allowed us to use them here.
Monday, November 08, 2010
Too often, overly simplistic sound bites from both sides of the debate obscure the answers. For a telling example, consider the level of dialogue around “wolf politics” in our state.
Lost amongst the overblown rhetoric are some excellent, thoughtful books on the topic: David Quammen’s Monster of God, Will Stolzenburg’s Where the Wild Things Were, Joel Berger’s The Better To Eat You With.
And now: John Vaillant’s The Tiger, a masterful story of people and a very fearsome predator coexisting—with great tension—in the 21st century.
The residents of the remote Russian Far East (it’s closer to Australia than Moscow) still live in and from the forest—logging, collecting herbs, hunting, fishing. These activities place them in close proximity with the Amur tiger, arguably the most fearsome beast still roaming the earth. Weighing in at more than 500 pounds, this is an animal that causes grizzly bears to run in terror.
That’s right. The boreal jungle (as Vaillant calls it) is a region where tigers compete with grizzlies, a place where “timber wolves and reindeer share terrain with spoonbills and poisonous snakes.”
Vaillant writes that “the bizarre assemblage of flora and fauna leaves one with the impression that Noah’s ark had only recently made landfall, and that, rather than dispersing to their proper places around the globe, many of its passengers had simply decided to stay, including some we never knew existed.”
I suspect I’m not alone, after reading such passages, in feeling the urge to head off to the Russian Far East and search for tigers and musk deer and the other strange creatures of the forest.
And yet: This is far, far from a dream destination for the region’s inhabitants. Life here is lived on the edge, for people and for tigers.
The story begins with a tiger killing a poacher, ostensibly out of vengeance. This very personal tragedy alone makes for a worthwhile book. But Vaillant tells it against a backdrop of larger forces that shape the destinies of local people and tigers: the still looming and often-violent political history, a desperate economy and the current mind-boggling pressures of globalization.
In a place where people work hard year after year for pitiful wages, is it any wonder that some turn to killing tigers? And is it any wonder that an animal as large and intelligent as a tiger might retaliate?
It’s a compelling book of death and survival in one of the most fascinating and difficult regions on earth. There are no easy answers here. But as conservationists--if we truly want a world where large predators still thrive in the wild--we need stories like this. Only when we deny the the seductive but too-easy world of talking points and sound bites can we really hope to save tigers--and the people who must live with them.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Each month, the survey will take between 1.5 and 2.5 hours and are usually less than 2 miles in length. The Boise River has been identified as an “Important Bird Area” in Idaho, as it is home to thousands of wintering waterfowl every year.
Monitoring birds on this stretch of river is crucial in ensuring that it continues to be an important resource for birds. Unfortunately, no surveys were completed last year due to staff shortages and budget cuts. Join the quest to make sure that doesn’t happen again!
For those interested in joining this effort, IDFG will be hosting a special training session at the MK Nature Center in November.
When: Saturday November 13, 2010
Time: 8am – noon
Where: MK Nature Center
What: Training for surveying aquatic birds along the Boise River
1-2 hours of indoor training on aquatic bird ID and survey protocol
2 hours of outdoor training along the Boise greenbelt where you will put your indoor training to work! We’ll practice identifying birds and counting flocks.
Please Bring: Binoculars, comfortable shoes for walking on the greenbelt, warm clothes. ,
Note: You don’t have to be a excellent birder! We will teach you what you need to know! We will provide refreshments, coffee and tea.
Please indicate to Deniz Aygen if you will be attending the training or if you have questions. If we do not get enough people to sign up, we will cancel the training. Bring friends, spouses and neighbors!
RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know you heard about this from Idaho Nature Notes.
Photo: Shoveler by Nature Conservancy volunteer Ken Miracle.
Monday, November 01, 2010
Migrating birds are easy to see at this time of year. They're recorded at "hotspots" like the Idaho Bird Observatory at Lucky Peak in the Boise Foothills. At the same time, dragonflies are also migrating through Idaho, particularly green darners.
These insects will migrate to the Southwest, where they will lay eggs and, most likely, die. The eggs will hatch and live underwater as nymphs. Eventually, these nymphs will pupate, and fly to Idaho as winged adults. How they know where to go remains a mystery.
Dragonflies migrate around the world; in fact, one of the longest migrations of any species is the 11,000-mile, round-trip migration of dragonflies from the Maldives to India.
Often dragonflies follow very similar routes to birds. It makes sense that they follow the same air currents and geographic features that make for easier flying. But is there more to these similar routes?
One researcher recently found that, around Lake Superior, there is a strong correlation between the American kestrel migration and the dragonfly migration. On days when few dragonflies migrate, few kestrels do.
It turns out that kestrels migrate high overhead in the morning, and then dip down to catch a few dragonflies as fuel during the afternoon.
What other birds follow the dragonflies? Do the kestrels that are common around southern Idaho at this time of year feed on them?
At times, it can seem that the world is fully explored, that there is little mystery remaining. But this is simply not true. As National Geographic begins its celebration of "Great Migrations" this month, it's obvious that there is still much about this phenomenon that we don't understand.
We're still finding new migration routes, even of large mammals like pronghorns. And the migrations of most dragonfly populations remain poorly understood.
Keep an eye out for dragonflies this month. And let us know if you see some kestrels following behind.
Photo: American kestrel at the Bureau of Land Management's Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Photo by BLM.
Monday, October 25, 2010
The Nature Conservancy has a special web feature, Spooky Science, on conservation projects that benefit things that go bump in the night. Check out a snake-sniffing dog, bats galore, spiders, the aptly named hellbender and even Idaho's very own terrifying trout.
I've also written a Cool Green Science post about the scary creatures that inhabit our world--and how much more scary it would be without them.
Have a happy Halloweeen week, and enjoy our cast of real-life creepy-crawlies. --Matt Miller
Monday, October 18, 2010
Roadkill also represents another major threat: the threat to wildlife populations. Roads cut off migration routes, and kill large numbers of large mammals each year.
There is hope. The Nature Conservancy is working to protect wildlife habitat--keeping large mammals in the forest and off the highway--in places like the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and North Idaho.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
On a recent visit, I saw more than 200 elk on the preserve and on private lands adjacent to Silver Creek.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Leadore, Idaho – Two conservation easements along the Lemhi River near Leadore will protect nearly 2400 acres of salmon and wildlife habitat, tributary streams and working ranchland, The Nature Conservancy announced yesterday.
The conservation easements protect two ranches, and include some of the most important salmon habitat in the Lemhi valley. Both ranches will continue to be operated as working ranchland, with conservation plans in place to restore tributary streams, protect streamside vegetation and increase water flow to the Lemhi River.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
(Click on the photos to see larger versions).
Writes Ken: "I only had about an hour to fish today. Just as I finished loosing a fish I had hooked, ever so lightly, on a bullet head hopper there was a commotion on the other side of the river. This hunter had leapt in the river chasing a couple of ducks. Unfortunately the ducks got away and all he got was wet.
"He then proceeded to walk out on this log and sharpen his claws and dry himself off with his tongue and the sun. I spent my last 20 minutes of fishing time watching this bobcat. I only had our little pocket camera with me and it does not have a view finder so it was hard to get a good focus with the sun on the back screen Even though the catching was not the best I had a great hour on the Boise shared with one of my neighbors."
Bobcats are probably more common around Idaho than we think. They're secretive animals, spending most daylight hours resting in caves or hollow logs.
They're found widely in the state, from sagebrush to forests--and, obviously, even near our largest cities.
Monday, September 20, 2010
However, much of the information we know about such phenomena appear to not bear much scientific scrutiny. A lot of recent thinking fits within in a "balance of nature," when in reality, perhaps, we should be speaking of the "chaos of nature."
I've recently read several pieces that capture the real complexity of super-abudant wildlife, what could be called "biological storms."
The first, by my friend and writer Stephen Bodio in Cornell's Living Bird journal, concerns the fate of the passenger pigeon. We all know that humans caused the extinction of the passenger pigeon, but did we also create its abundance?
This an excellent essay, one that raises many questions about our notions of the natural world, about change and inter-connectedness.
Bodio raises the possibility that burning by pre-European tribes may have helped create the super-abundance of the passenger pigeon--undoubtedly one of the greatest biological storms the Earth has ever seen, one that makes hurricanes and tsunamis seem mild by comparison.
Bodio writes of one flock that occupied the entire southern two-thirds of Wisconsin, a flock that consumed an estimated 210 million liters of food per day.
The composition of trees in forests and the fate of other birds like ivory-billed woodpeckers were both likely shaped by passenger pigeon flocks. Indeed, it's no exaggeration that these pigeons significantly shaped the ecological history of our continent.
This Living Bird piece led me to entomologist's Jeffrey Lockwood's celebration of cicadas from The New York Times.
Here is a species that still thrives alongside us in the eastern United States, in inconceivable numbers: Their waste alone would fill 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools a day. This cicada species remains dormant for 17 years, to noisily reemerge in a frenzy of feeding and breeding. When they die, they leave behind some 500 trillion eggs--and begin the cycle anew.
(By the way, Lockwood has also written one of my favorite books, Locust, which concerns another once super-abundant animal now gone from the plains).
Finally, salmon may not exist in such staggering numbers as passenger pigeons did and cicadas do.
But wild salmon from fisheries like Bristol Bay still provide an incredible amount of healthful food. Despite a thriving commercial fishery, we can still eat Bristol Bay's salmon without guilt--and indeed, we can eat them knowing we are helping to ensure their continued survival.
My counterpart in Alaska, Dustin Solberg, recently took a month off work to spend as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay. His essays on Cool Green Science offer a look into that life, and into the incredible abundance still swimming in Alaska--feeding not only humans but bears, eagles, belugas and an entire ecosystem.
That this incredible resource is under threat by a gigantic mine should concern us all. Let's not repeat the mistakes of the past. Read Solberg's posts and learn more about what you can do to help.--Matt Miller
Photo: Commercial salmon fishing by Dustin Solberg.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
It's not exactly a secret what prey these large, predatory fish are gobbling...
We've mentioned the vole population explosion several times already on this blog. It's really become a feeding frenzy at Silver Creek, and not just for the trout gobbling up rodents that fall into the water. There are huge numbers of raptors at the preserve. It's not unusual to see eight or more redtails overhead, with many more feeding or resting on fence posts and dead trees.
Voles populations are cyclical, and this year's wet spring seems to have created ideal conditions. Visit the preserve soon to see all the predatory birds. And if you fish, you may want to pack along a few mouse patterns!
Thursday, August 26, 2010
The acquisitions are part of the on-going implementation of the Owyhee Initiative, a historic collaboration by local ranchers, Owyhee County, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, conservation groups and recreationists.
Today, the Wilderness Land Trust acquired a 611-acre property located on the North Fork of the Owyhee River, owned by long-time Owyhee rancher Mike Hanley.
The property will be transferred to the Bureau of Land Management to become part of the North Fork Owyhee Wilderness. It is located along the largest canyon that intersects the Owyhee Backcountry Byway, on Juniper Mountain Road.
It is also adjacent to the only developed campground on the byway. The property offers spectacular rugged canyon scenery in the heart of the Owyhees and over a mile of the North Fork Owyhee River for fishing, hiking and habitat protection.
Read more about these properties that will offer access to wilderness directly off the Owyhee Backcountry Byway.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
This isn't the case for the dusky grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) : This large bird spends the summers in low-elevation foothills, and then migrates into the deep snow of coniferous forests in the winter.
In the summer and early fall, it feeds on seeds, berries and small insects. In the winter, its diet is almost exclusively pine needles.
Now is obviously an easier time to see these birds, the third largest grouse in North America (after the two sage grouse species). They can be seen in low-elevation foothills like the Boise Front and the Bennett Mountains near Mountain Home (where this one was photographed), or in valley areas in Idaho's national forests.
There is some anecdotal evidence that dusky grouse are in decline in some regions. But more research is needed. Now is the time to determine if there are long-term declines. Once a population becomes endangered, recovery is much more difficult.
By the way, the name "dusky grouse" may be unfamiliar, as most know this bird as the "blue grouse." Recently, the blue grouse was split into two species--the "sooty grouse" of coastal regions and the "dusky grouse" that is found in the Intermountain West, including Idaho.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
If you have other photos of creative nature- and outdoors-related license plates, let us know, and we'll post them on the blog.
Monday, August 16, 2010
The tricos are finally here!
For a while there were sporadic hatches around 8:30 or 9 am. followed by a baetis (size 20-22) or PMD (size 14-18) hatch until a few days ago when we saw the first full trico hatch.
A little late and a little odd, but this summer has not been typical as far as weather. The late afternoon thunderstorms have mixed things up and many people have given the mice patterns (or vole patterns!) late at night a try-- the brown trout are definitely getting fat this year. With a late or mid afternoon wind, grasshoppers are a sure thing.
The preserve has not seen many visitors the past two weeks, so your luck may be increased with the low traffic.
Vole Update: We've covered these little rodents quite a bit this summer. The Idaho Statesman has another interesting bit of info about this year's vole explosion. It turns out that not only are voles feeding many species from trout to raptors, they're also reducing the amount of grasses in sagebrush country--leading to a decrease in size and frequency of fires. Way to go, voles!
Monday, August 09, 2010
As the Idaho Mountain Express reported last week, much of southern Idaho is experiencing a vole population explosion this summer.
Montane voles are small but stocky rodents that live in large colonies. You might see them scurrying across the road or trail. Or you might notice their well-developed trails through sagebrush, meadows and agricultural fields.
Some reports point to this vole abundance as a sign of nature "out of balance," an assertion that is not correct.
Voles populations are cyclic, and at times the little animals exist in staggering numbers.
And wherever there are large numbers of prey animals, there will be a lot of predators taking advantage of the situation. Whether it's wildebeest in the Serengeti, mayflies on a spring creek, or snowshoe hares in the Arctic, huge masses of prey invite a feeding frenzy.
And that's certainly the case with high vole populations. So many predators eat voles--foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls, weasels, snakes. And, oh yes, trout.
Visit Silver Creek in the evening and note the high numbers of owls around. It would be interesting to know if the owls have more young, or raise young more succesfully, in years of peak vole abundance. In Alaska, lemming population booms mean more breeding by snowy owls and short-tailed weasels. Perhaps voles--which are similar to lemmings--affect Idaho predators' survival and breeding success.
The concept of the "balance of nature" makes a good story, but it's never really been accurate. Nature sometimes appears, to human eyes, to be wildly out of balance. But huge population outbreaks are not necessarily plagues or natural disasters; instead, they're merely part of a natural cycle of prey and predator.
This summer, keep an eye out for voles and the many animals that eat them. It may be a while before we ever see this many again.
Friday, August 06, 2010
Monday, August 02, 2010
The Henry's Fork Foundation recently conducted an electro-shocking survey of a stretch of the preserve's waters where a habitat restoration project was recently completed. The 24-inch Yellowstone cutthroat is one of the fish they caught and released during the survey.
The Henry's Fork Outlet that runs through Flat Ranch is not very big water. Most would not guess it holds fish like this.
The Yellowstone cutthroat is the native fish of these waters, and is imperiled due to the usual enemies of native trout: loss of habitat and competition from non-native fishes. It's great so see these fish still surviving on the Flat Ranch. The habitat restoration offers a hopeful future for these beautiful fish.