Wednesday, July 28, 2010

See Bear Run

A new column in the Spokane Spokesman Review's Down to Earth publication focuses on conservation in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

The first installment explains why working forests are a key component of the continued survival of grizzly bears in the Idaho Panhandle.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ball Creek Ranch Preserve, and Beyond

I had long wanted to share in the mission of The Nature Conservancy, to work to protect the rich biodiversity of this planet through pragmatic conservation.

In June 2005 the opportunity presented itself when I was hired as the preserve manager at the Conservancy’s Ball Creek Ranch Preserve in the Kootenai River Valley of north Idaho.

Five years later, I can say that it has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to live and work in such a remarkable place, to have developed sound relationships with conservation partners and to have worked alongside them to protect and restore important wildlife habitat.

Under the leadership of Robyn Miller, the Conservancy’s North Idaho conservation manager, the North Idaho program has realized tremendous conservation outcomes that benefit both people and wildlife.

I have never worked around a more talented and devoted group of people than those working for the Conservancy in Idaho.

I recently took a new position with the Conservancy, and on August 9 I will begin working as associate director of philanthropy.

This, of course, is quite a shift from the calling that originally led me to Idaho. I will be relocating to Hailey, in order to conduct business from our state office, and while I will certainly miss North Idaho, I look forward to the new experiences that this opportunity will provide.

My time at Ball Creek Ranch has left me with a wealth of memories to draw from…. summer sunsets over the valley, a sky full of migratory waterfowl, and some interesting interactions with moose and bear!

Since purchasing the Ball Creek Ranch, the Conservancy has restored more than 500 acres of wetlands and associated habitat, and set aside several hundred additional acres for wildlife protection.

Much of the property has remained in agricultural production. Ball Creek Ranch is a unique and complex project that successfully meets the needs of wildlife and people.

I greatly value the time I’ve spent at Ball Creek and look forward to seeing the success story more fully develop in years to come.

Justin Petty
Inland Northwest Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy
Photo: Rider, Justin Petty, Robyn Miller

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Wild & Scenic Bruneau

The Nature Conservancy’s Will Whelan recently joined friends on a four-day float trip down the Bruneau River in southwest Idaho. He brought back photographs of one of the most stunning and remote canyons in Idaho.
Will has a special link to the Bruneau because he has spent the last several years working with the Owyhee Initiative, a collaborative effort with ranchers, county government, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, conservationists and recreationists dedicated to improving public lands management in this five million-acre corner of Idaho. Last year, the Owyhee Initiative worked with Senator Mike Crapo to pass federal legislation that designated the Bruneau Canyon a wilderness and wild & scenic river. This was Will’s first visit to the Bruneau since these new protections were enacted into law.
The Bruneau’s steep walls create a shady and relatively cool oasis along the river. The canyon bottoms support surprisingly lush plant communities, including the Bruneau River prickly phlox, a cliff dwelling flower that exists only here. The canyon is also home to the reclusive canyon wren, which serenades visitors with its distinctive descending scale of notes. Most boaters stay close to the water, but numerous side canyons offer rugged hikes that lead to caves, slot canyons, and vast desert tables high above the river.
The easiest way to see the Bruneau Canyon is from the scenic overlook a short drive off of the Bruneau-Three Creek Road, about twenty miles south of the town of Bruneau. The overlook is perched on the edge of the canyon and provides a breathtaking view nearly 1,000 feet straight down to the river below. Floating the Bruneau during the short boating season in late spring involves long hours of travel over rough roads and challenging Class IV rapids.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jaws: Silver Creek Edition

Thirty-five years ago this summer, Jaws caused many people to pause before they stepped into the water.

But Silver Creek? Who would be afraid to jump into Silver Creek? No one, of course.

Unless you happen to be a vole.

During ongoing fish surveys at Silver Creek, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game killed a few fish to sample growth and health of the population.

A look at fish stomach contents might surprise those who spend their days casting dainty mayfly imitations to rising trout.


The above rodents were pulled from trout stomachs.

Montane voles are an abundant animal throughout the Intermountain West, small rodents that make well-defined paths as they forage. They're prone to periodic population explosions.

This is such a year at Silver Creek. And the trout have obviously keyed in on them, much as they would a mayfly hatch.

I've always heard that trout will take small rodents along the creek, and I know some large trout are caught on deer hair mouse flies. Still, I always considered these to be a "fishing tale," something that may happen on rare occasions, but hardly a regular occurrence.

Well, here's the proof. For voles, it really isn't safe to go back in the water. --Matt Miller

Photo by Ralph Stewart

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 12, 2010: Silver Creek Fishing Report

Submitted by Dayna Gross, Silver Creek Preserve manager

Fishing through the preserve continues to be challenging but good. The hatches have been sporadic, especially following the cold spell last week.

Mid-morning hatches of pale morning duns (PMDs) continue (size 14-18) as well as flurries of Baetis throughout the day (size 20-22). The blue damselflies have appeared in the past week as well as an occasional trico.

Green drakes are also occasionally seen and can be productive throughout the day.

The trico hatch (trico mayflies on hat pictured above) should start any day now with this warm weather; come early with tiny flies and fine leaders if you want to test your angling skills on one of the most profuse yet toughest hatches in the West.

The preserve has been really quiet with the Big Wood becoming fishable last week (and very good I hear). We are seeing few visitors in the mornings right now with many people coming down in the evenings when things cool off a bit.

There have been many reports of moose and one of a black bear—so be careful out there!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Flat Ranch Preserve Update

Flat Ranch Preserve, located in Macks Inn just 15 minutes from West Yellowstone, makes a great stop if you're on a trip to Yellowstone, the Henry's Fork or Henry's Lake. The preserve is open to the public for fly fishing, hiking, birding, wildlife watching and other outdoor recreation. There are also numerous lectures and events throughout the summer.

This year's preserve manager, Christopher Little, submits the following report on what's been happening on the preserve.
Birding Tour (June 23) - Jill and Neil Bachman were two excellent volunteers who helped out here for more than a month. Along with their passion for conservation and traveling, Jill and Neil are excellent birders, and they agreed to lead a bird tour here on the ranch to kick off our 2010 summer speaker series. The birding tour was a success and the weather cooperated. Several of the birds we saw were bald eagle, long-billed curlew (above), sandhill crane, swainson's hawk, American pipit, lesser scaup, California gull, and tree swallow. Thanks for everything Neil and Jill!
Flower Tour (June 26) - The flowers were incredible this season. Klara Varga, a botanist and flower expert from Ashton, , came to the Flat Ranch and lead a flower tour on the property. With a small class size, participants were treated to a detailed and scientific analysis of the diversity of flowers blooming on the Flat Ranch. It was a spectacular event, both educationally and aesthetically. The sun was shinning and the flowers were everywhere. Several of the flowers we identified were mule's ear, larkspur, groundsel, prairie smoke, blue camas, American bistort, sinkfoil, shooting star, and purple violet. Everyone came away from this class with a great amount of knowledge. Thanks Klara for a great class!
We will have many other events this summer at the preserve. The schedule for August and September will be posted on this blog soon. Cattle arrive (June 29) - We received more than 250 pair (cow and calf) to start the grazing season. They will be rotated throughout the 14 pastures at the ranch through October using intensive, short rotation periods. Their presence on the ranch exemplifies how habitat protection and proper grazing techniques can work together to achieve conservation goals. We have real cowboys out here managing the herd and protecting critical habitat for cattle and wildlife alike.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Idaho State Parks Pass: Buy On-line

You can now buy your Idaho state parks pass on-line.

For $40, the parks pass entitles you to unlimited day use at all of Idaho's state parks, valid through December 31.

Fly fish world famous waters at Harriman, hike along clear blue waters at Box Canyon, cross country ski at Ponderosa, walk along the Oregon Trail at Three Island Crossing, climb at Castle Rocks or picnic at Lucky Peak: all covered by the pass.

Buying a pass also shows your support for our parks during difficult budget times. It's your ticket to summer fun--and a great help for conserving our state's treasures.

Photo: Bruneau Dunes State Park, home to the tallest single dune structure in the United States. Photo by Phares Book.