Thursday, December 27, 2007

Events at Silver Creek thru the Winter!!!

Silver Creek is wonderful in the winter!!

Birding on Snowshoes- hosted by the ERC
(please call 726-4333 to sign up)
Saturday January 19, Saturday February 23, 2008 10 am- 2 pm
An adventure viewing birds in the Silver Creek area. Carpools meet at the Hailey Park and Ride at the corner of River Street and Bullion st.
Free to ERC members
Donation to ERC requested ($15) for non- members and ($25) for families of 3 or more.

Winter Walks/ Cross country ski tours/ Snowshoe walks

Every Saturday through January and February, join the Preserve manager, Dayna Gross for snowshoeing, cross country skiing or walking around the Preserve (snow dependent). Please call ahead to find out what equipment you will need (or bring it all!!).
10:00 a.m.- 11:30 a.m
Winter is a magical place at Silver Creek. Come see the beautiful scenery and wildlife. Free. Please call ahead to register, 788-7910.

Coming of Spring Walks
Saturdays thru March: 3/1, 3/8, 3/15, 3/22, 3/29 10 am- 12 pm
Discover the coming of spring with nature walks around the Silver Creek Preserve. Watch spring unfold by noticing changes in the abundant flora and fauna. Free.
10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Please call ahead to register 788-7910.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Silver Creek Visitation in 2007

Visitor on a nature walk. Looking at insects!!

We had a very busy year at Silver Creek Preserve this year! We had visitors from every state as well as international visitors from: Canada, Chile, France, Austria, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, and the United Kingdom. We had kids from Bellevue, Hailey, and Hemingway elementary as well as middle school science classes and University of Idaho students.

Total visitor numbers were as follows:
Total people on the preserve from January 1, 2007 until December 12, 2007: 6,390
Total visitors (not including guides and their clients): 5,536
Percentage of visitors that are guides and clients: 14 % (19% in summer)
Percentage of visitors that are members: 33% (37% in 2006)
Percentage of visitors that are from out of state 53% (49% in 2006)
Percentage of:
Anglers 82%
Birders 3%
Hikers 8%
Canoers 3%

Summer Months (May 27th- August 30)
Average daily visitors: 43
Busiest Day: August 25 (85 visitors) followed by July 25 (71 visitors)
Percentage of fishers: 89%

Thursday, December 20, 2007

End of Year Reflections, and a Holiday Wish

At the end of the classic holiday movie It's A Wonderful Life, George Bailey is proclaimed "the richest man in town." There are many days I feel this same way for the opportunity to live and work for conservation in Idaho.

As I take stock in another year outdoors, I'm filled with memories of day hikes and snowshoe treks, deer hunts and duck blinds, beautiful picture-perfect mountains and the seemingly endless sagebrush country. And even the occasional sandstorm:
Even in our own backyard, our wild neighbors are never far away. A chorus of coyotes, a flock of quail scratching underneath the birdfeeder, a raccoon that surprises me when I take out the compost on a recent evening. With snow coming in the high country, the deer have begun showing up, including "Bucky," as my wife Jennifer has dubbed this youngster who appears regularly for an afternoon nap.
This year, as every year in Idaho, I've spent a good deal of time at Silver Creek. If you've been there, you already know why: the moose, the sandhill cranes overhead, the deer moving into the Picabo Hills. The light. And, yes, the trout. Each year, I love to share the beautiful clear waters with family, with friends, with writers and photographers. I think they all walk away with that same feeling of awe, particularly if they've visited during the trico hatch. It's a true blizzard of mayflies, and a true feeding frenzy of trout. You fumble with tiny flies, you focus, you know you have to catch something with so many fish feeding. You cast in pod of boiling trout, and...nothing. Fish sitting in a current with perpetually open mouths will shut them to let your fly pass. Does it get any better?
Aldo Loepold began A Sand County Almanac with "There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot." Me too. What would Idaho be without racing pronghorns, bugling elk, raptors soaring over the Snake River Canyon, strutting sage grouse...
Our wildlife encounters are free for everyone to enjoy on Idaho's vast public lands. You might be lucky to see a moose or a pine marten, a Lewis' woodpecker or a rattlesnake. You never know. One minute you can be just walking along, and the next minute you're face to face with a badger, as happened to me this fall.
And then there was the encounter with a much larger predator, far, far away from Idaho in Brazil's Pantanal. It's the stuff of dreams, and always humbling to be so close to one of the large carnivores. The big critters with fangs and claws remind us that it's still a big world out there.
These are a few of my favorite things. It's what keeps me going as a conservationist. As I reflect back upon the year, I feel incredibly lucky to experience the beauty of the natural world and to encounter the many dedicated and talented people who care enough about their home and their fellow creatures to want to protect them for the future.

Edward Abbey once wrote "It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate that precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space."

I hope the new year affords you many opportunities to do just that.

Happy holidays from all of us at The Nature Conservancy.

--Matt Miller

Photo credits: Bruneau Sand Dunes by Phares Book, trico hatch by Kathleen Cameron, sage grouse by Robert Griffith. Other photos by Matt and Jennifer Miller.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rudolph Versus Bambi

Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed Reindeer versus Bambi: It sounds like a bad episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, a warped holiday special pitting the world's two most famous antlered creatures. Fortunately, trademarks and licensing agreements will prevent this spectacle from ever being aired.

Unfortunately, a struggle between the real-life counterparts of Rudolph (caribou) and Bambi (white-tailed deer) is playing out right now in North Idaho. How will it be resolved?

The Rudolph of the popular song and television special is a particularly resourceful individual--overcoming his friends' disrespect and (in the tv show) the formidable Abominable Snowmonster to lead Santa's sleigh and rescue misfit toys. But Rudolph's wild counterparts--the caribou--are facing problems much more serious than red noses. Or, for that matter, snowmonsters.

Caribou are specialists. They thrive on the tundra, eating lichen and migrating long distances to access the best grazing. Climate change is tough on caribou, as are roads that criss-cross the country for oil drilling. But the tundra caribou's life is still a holiday party compared to the southern Selkirk herd of woodland caribou.

This herd roams into the northern Idaho Panhandle (as well as eastern Washington and British Columbia). Tundra is in short supply here, but the woodland caribou here eats lichens off old-growth trees. It's a specialized niche--and one that has left the caribou vulnerable.

With logging of old-growth trees and associated roads, the caribou has lost a lot of habitat. Estimates vary, but as few as 35 may survive in this herd. Even less--as low as three in some years--still roam into Idaho. It's by far the rarest large mammal in the "lower 48."

The future for caribou is not rosy. In fact, it's been even less so since the explosion of another member of the deer family.

We all know what mayhem ensues for Bambi and friends when it's announced, ominously, that "man has entered the forest." But for the real "Bambi"--white-tailed deer-- fires and hunting have been something less than scary. True, for a time, with unregulated hunting and rapid habitat loss, white-tail deer populations did indeed plummet. Then came hunting regulations. Suddenly "Bambi" found a whole new world--a world that, from a deer's perspective, resembles paradise. Plenty of edge habitat, new-growth forests, woodlots, yards, farms and suburbs--all provided the perfect food and cover for the wary, adaptable whitetail. Being close to humans proved no worry given the plentiful supply of corn, grass and cover.

So whitetails have prospered. And prospered. Today, there are more than 35 million whitetails--a number certainly higher than what existed when Columbus landed in the New World. In many eastern forests, they have done so well, they have stripped the forests of habitat for songbirds and other species. The damage to agriculture-and to automobiles--is considerable.

And the white-tailed deer is on the march, expanding its range across the country.

This species has long been a part of the Idaho Panhandle, but at much lower numbers. The logging and habitat change that has impacted the caribou has proven a boon for whitetails. The brushy undergrowth that springs up is perfect for deer.

Like elsewhere, they have thrived. And here's where things get worse for the caribou. With the explosion of whitetails has come a marked increase in mountain lions. Caribou prefer open country--tundra, or the more open forest of old-growth--where they can see predators at a distance. The brushy habitat where lions lurk for deer thus makes the caribou vulnerable to ambush. The lion finds the remaining caribou easy pickings.

As such, caribou are suffering high mortality due to lion predation. And it's all because the lions have ample white-tailed deer to support a high population.

I've noticed with the whitetail population boom has come an almost predictable disgust with the species. I've seen them referred to in print as white-tailed rats and land carp. But is that fair? After all, the whitetail has merely adapted to humanity's habitat changes. Shouldn't we be happy that some wildlife species can survive in our cities, our suburbs, our agriculture landscapes?

Species like white-tailed deer--and Canada geese, red fox, cockroaches, coyotes, pigeons--merely take advantage of new habitats we have created. Since these new habitats--the small woodlands, the city parks, the suburban yards--are not going away, we should find a way to appreciate and live with these creatures.

For conservationists, the real question is this: Do we want a world that is only populated by the most adaptable creatures--a world of whitetails and pigeons? In such a world, we would have skunks and squirrels, but no grizzlies, no pronghorns, no pine martens, no sage grouse. And no caribou. Such a world seems incredibly lonely, and bleak.

If we indeed value wildlife like the caribou--beyond cartoon caricatures--we need to find ways to protect their habitat, to preserve their unique places, to conserve the big spaces where wildness and the full range of natural processes still can occur.

The white-tailed deer is here to stay on humanity's future journey. But the time is now to decide if that journey will also include animals like the caribou. --Matt Miller

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Untamed Shrew

Idaho is known for its predatory animals. The state still has all of its original large predators, including wolves, grizzly and black bears, wolverines, mountain lions and more.

But perhaps the most ferocious predator in the state is not the one you think. As a matter of fact, it's probably darting around your backyard right now.

Shrews are among the most common mammals on the continent. They are found in nearly all habitats including suburbia. Six species are found in Idaho, out of 376 found around the world.

These little gray creatures may look like rodents, but they are actually members of their own family--and what a bizarre family it is!

The pygmy shrew is the smallest mammal in Idaho. According to Idaho Department of Fish and Game's excellent narrative on the shrew (which helped me verify a lot of this information from a memorable but distant college mammalogy class), the pygmy shrew weighs about as much as a pencil.

The water shrew has stiff hairs on its feet that apparently allows it to scamper across the surface of the water. Its stiff fur also traps air bubbles, allowing it to stay underwater for a long time. Theodore Roosevelt, on a hunting trip to the Selkirks of Idaho, was lucky enough to see one of these amazing critters. He watched it catch and devour a minnow, an account you can read in Roosevelt's book, The Wilderness Hunter.

Some shrews have the ability to echolocate--emitting sounds to produce sonar that helps them navigate their world. And find prey. The sound waves bounce back and tell shrews where their next target might be.

And shrews need to find a lot of prey. The reason you don't see many shrews, despite their abundance, is because they are always on the move--darting in the underbrush and down burrows so rapidly as to be undetected by predators. And, yes, prey. All this movement requires a lot of energy and an incredible metabolism--a typical shrew's heart beats 700-1000 times a minute.

So the shrew hunts, and eats. A lot. Some species must eat their own body weight in prey each day, or else starve. Most species eat insects, and many also eat mice--some twice as large as the shrew.

Of course, hunting is never a guarantee for even the most skillful of predators. To have to do so every day would seem to be a particularly risky evolutionary gamble.

That's why shrew species have some eating habitats that, to our human sensibilities, seem a bit, ummm, unsavory.

Some shrews are venomous (although none found in Idaho). These species bite their prey as they find it, paralyzing it. For the mouse (or large insect), this will be the beginning of a very bad day indeed. The shrew then urinates on its unfortunate victim, so it can easily locate by scent the decapacitated critter later. When it returns, its prey is still quite alive, if not well. The shrew can thus stash fresh, healthy meals throughout its range. Shrews have a thing for fresh food.

In Idaho, shrews aren't venomous, but will chew off the prey's legs, and crush its skull. The shrew does so in a way so the animal stays alive, but can't get away. The shrew then stows its extremely unlucky quarry in its den, to be devoured when the hunting isn't so productive.

The next time you see a little, long-nosed, darting gray form in your yard--or on a trout stream, in a forest, in a farm field--don't just assume it's a mouse. Take a closer look, and you may be rewarded with a glimpse of the untamed shrew. And be glad it is not larger!--Matt Miller

Monday, December 03, 2007

Volunteer for Sagebrush Country

This past Saturday, Governor Butch Otter (pictured above) and more than 100 volunteers donned warm clothes, braved chilly temperatures, picked up hoops and headed into the sagebrush. The reason? To help the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) collect sagebrush seeds to restore sagebrush habitat in burned areas around southern Idaho. This year, IDFG needs a lot of volunteer effort to collect the seeds, due to the devastating fires that swept through the Owyhees this summer. While fire often has very positive effects on forests, sagebrush is not adapted to frequent fires. These fires can lead to infestations by non-native weeds and a loss of wildlife habitat. This year's fires burned sage grouse display grounds, big game winter range and other important wildlife habitat. Reseeding these areas with sagebrush seeds is critical for wildlife.
This week's collection site was across the road from the Hilltop Cafe, along Highway 21 in the Boise Foothills. This area, coincidentally, was once slated for a housing development. The Nature Conservancy purchased this property--great mule deer and elk winter range--and transferred it to the Bureau of Land Management. The seeds from this project will now help restore sagebrush well beyond the Foothills.

There is still at least one week to help, with sagebrush volunteers needed for this weekend, on Saturday, December 8. There will be seed collecting in both Treasure and Magic valleys. To sign up, phone IDFG at 208-327-7095 (Treasure Valley) and 208-324-4359 (Magic Valley Region). Volunteer, and do your part to help restore sagebrush habitat.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Red Fox

My friend and fellow outdoor enthusiast Phares Book sent me this great photo of a red fox he took along the Boise River.

Red fox are not an uncommon sight at this time of year: patrolling for mice along the Boise Greenbelt, trotting through downtown Ketchum, darting along the edges of farm fields across the state.

This wasn't always the case.

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has the widest range of any terrestrial carnivore on earth, being found in North Africa, across North America (including Alaska and Canada) and throughout much of Europe and Asia. Red fox were also introduced to Australia, where they quickly spread, devastating native marsupials and birds.

A common belief is that the red fox is not native to Idaho, and there are some who maintain it is not even native to the United States. This idea stems from the fact that English emigrants did import foxes for the British sport of fox hunting. And foxes don't seem to appear in natural history accounts of early explorers.

However, archaeological digs in Idaho have found red fox bones that are thousands of years old, predating European settlement by a long shot.

What is certain, though, is this: The red fox was never a very common animal in pre-Columbian North America. It was a rare species, perhaps clinging precariously to existence on a continent dominated by wolves and other large predators.

Doubtless the stocking of foxes by Europeans helped speed their spread. So too did fox escapes from fur farms over the years. And the red fox is one of those animals that thrives with civilization. Farms, woodlots and suburbs provide the perfect habitat for them.

The red fox is a frequent character in myths, stories and fables--often playing the part of a sly trickster. As with so many animals of legend, there's a lot of truth in the fictional fox. Indeed, it takes a wily predator to survive the bewildering maze of roads, pets and other hazards that many a red fox negotiates every day. --Matt Miller

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gobble Gobble

Turkeys an endangered species? Such a notion, as millions of us sit down to enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner, seems preposterous.

But for the wild turkey, it was once the reality. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss had reduced the nationwide wild turkey population to an estimated 30,000. What was once one of the continent's most common birds--with large flocks roosting in forests, along river bottoms and on prairie edges--was barely hanging on in pockets of habitat.

A gambling man of the time would have likely been considered a fool to bet on the turkey's long-term prospects.

In fact, conventional wisdom at the time assumed that many wildlife species were doomed, with no hope of recovery.

Theodore Roosevelt is well known for his conservation policies. What many don't realize is that in the late 1800's, Roosevelt and his contemporaries advocated for record-keeping of big game animals. The reason? Because they wanted accurate representations of these animals in museums, so future generations could know what elk and deer and pronghorn antelope looked like.

People had written these animals off. Given them no hope.

But we don't have to go to the museum to see an elk or a pronghorn today. When Roosevelt had the opportunity, he acted with vision and courage--to pass game laws, to protect special natural areas, to establish wildlife refuges. Think of that the next time you hear an elk bugling in the fall, thrill to a herd of pronghorns racing across the sage.

Or see a wild turkey. Turkeys benefited greatly by hunting regulations. They increased steadily throughout the 20th century. Hatchery programs were tried, but pen-raised birds were poor survivors--they couldn't elude predators or hunters, and were susceptible disease.

In the 1970's, wildlife managers found that trapping wild birds from abundant populations and transferring them to suitable habitat could speed the recovery. Turkeys found, literally, a new world: a world of woodlots and fields and regenerated forest. It was a good time to be a turkey.

I still remember seeing my first flock moving through the woods--scratching noisily at the forest floor, then ghosting quietly away over the ridge. It was in the early 80's on family ground. Many people did not believe that my dad and I had actually seen them.

But soon turkeys became a common sight in this area--and many others. Turkeys prospered.

Today, 7 million wild turkeys roam North America, occupying almost all suitable habitat and expanding even beyond their original range (including an introduced population in Idaho).

Emily Dickinson famously wrote that "Hope is the thing with feathers." The turkey's story is indeed one of hope, a story to be remembered when today's many environmental problems seem daunting, insurmountable, hopeless. It's something to be thankful for.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Remembering Hal Malde

The cheerful voice on the other end of the phone asked me to meet him at his vehicle in the parking lot in an hour. "How will I know which vehicle is yours?" I asked.

"Oh, you'll know," the man replied. "It's the van with the large Nature Conservancy logo on the side. You can't miss it."

Harold "Hal" Malde considered himself an ambassador for The Nature Conservancy, an ambassador who could make his best contributions through photography. During my tenure with the Conservancy, I don't believe I have met a more enthusiastic support of our organization and our mission.

Hal passed away on November 4 at the age of 84.

He began his volunteer work for the Conservancy twenty years ago, when he visited a preserve in Minnesota. Inspired, he embarked on a two-decade journey to document preserves around the country through photographs. He logged as many as 14,000 miles a year, on his own expense, visiting 650 preserves in the process--more than any other person, including paid staff. View a slide show featuring Malde's images.
I met Hal when he was 81--fresh from driving through the Owyhees solo, part of a several-month traverse of the Western states to visit new preserves and projects.
Hal's photos have been used by the Conservancy in countless publications, web sites and interpretive signs. Many offices have framed pictures of his images.

He loved going afield with staff. He had a deep knowledge of geology, biology and land conservation issues, and a genuine curiosity about the places he visited.
As Conservancy directly of photography Mark Godfrey writes, "Harold Malde was more then just a remarkable Conservancy volunteer. He was also a special hero to those of us who have also dedicated our lives to the cause of conservation. "

All photos by Harold Malde

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Silver Creek Silos

The Silos from Stocker Creek Road

The first time I came down to Silver Creek, I was with a friend. The second time, I came alone. Luckily I remembered the Picabo hills and a group of silos. I could see the silos as I headed south from Ketchum and they guided me in—much like sighting with a compass. I wonder how many other people have been guided by the four silos that sat upon the bench above Stalker Creek? Well, if you ever come in ‘the back way’ to Silver Creek Preserve, you know what I am talking about and you may feel that slight and kind of confusing sense of loss that I felt today as they tore down those four silos.

The attachment is not too hard to understand, I suppose. To me, the silos symbolized the ‘ruralness’ of the area, the entrance to Silver Creek, and coming home. I also really liked saying, ‘take a left at the silos’ when directing people to my house. To a lot of people out there, I imagine they probably marked the start of a great fishing adventure or peaceful morning walk. Or maybe they marked the exit from Silver Creek- the symbolic division of Silver Creek and the rest of the world.

Well, today there were no significant natural changes on the creek that I know of, but a pretty significant change to the human elements we tend to get just as attached to—the silos are gone. They lost to a better view, to less clutter, to being of better use somewhere else. Goodbye silos, we’ll miss you!!

-- Dayna, Silver Creek Preserve Manager

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Far Afield: Brazil's Pantanal, Land of the Jaguar

I wanted to see a capybara.

That was my main hope on a recent trip to the Pantanal. I've always had a strange fascination with capybaras--something about a rodent the size of a Labrador retriever that roams in herds had captured my imagination since I was a kid. On two previous trips to South America in areas reputed to be capybara habitat, I had never seen one of the world's largest rodent.
Julinho Monteiro, our local guide for the trip, responded to my request, "You usually can't guarantee wildlife sightings, but I'll guarantee you'll see lots of capybaras. Lots of caimans, and lots capybaras."
My wife Jennifer and I were in Brazil's Pantanal, the world's largest wetland located in western Brazil. The Nature Conservancy recognizes it for its incredible wildlife diversity, and is working on unique collaborative partnerships to protect it. This huge area--which includes parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia--is not a national park, but is rather covered in cattle ranches. Each year, rivers flowing through this grassland flood their banks, and then recede, concentrating birds, reptiles and mammals around the ponds that remain.

I knew it was biologically important, but that fact doesn't really capture the spirit and beauty of the Pantanal. Within minutes of entering onto the Transpanteneira, a dirt roadway that dead ends in the middle of the Pantanal, we were seeing birds of every size, color and description. And caimans. Thousands of caimans.

What about the capybaras? Oh yes. Herds--yes, herds--were constantly appearing around each bend of the river. All the capybaras I could want to see, observe and photograph, and then some more. Although most South American natural areas are not known for their mammal viewing opportunities, here we saw a tremendous number and variety of strange and wonderful creatures--giant anteater, tapir, howler and capuchin monkey, peccary, swamp deer, armadillo, giant otter, crab-eating fox.
And then: Deep into the Pantanal, camping on the front yard of a family that lived 8 hours by boat and car from the nearest town. In this area, we were looking for that most elusive of Pantanal animals: the jaguar.

The first appears like a ghost sitting in grass along the riverbank. The jaguar appears indifferent about the encounter. I am not. This is stepping into the dream world of my youth: the world brought to me by Ranger Rick and Marlin Perkins and mountains of library books filled with travel and adventure.

But this jaguar is just the beginning. Within an hour, we see three more. Julinho Monteiro, an independent guide who started his own company, Pantanal Trackers, has an almost supernatural ability to find the spotted cats.

The next day, we see another: a mature female that falls asleep with us watching. We take photos and watch it, and then it's time to drift away, on to see what else the Pantanal has in store.--Matt Miller

Friday, November 02, 2007

To the Cauliflower Cave

Fellow Conservancy staffer Marilynne Manguba and I recently took a trip to The Nature Conservancy’s Formation Springs Preserve, located near the town of Soda Springs in southeastern Idaho. Before we embarked, Marilynne advised me not to forget my flashlight. Since we were headed to a part of Idaho known for its expansive mountain views and open sagebrush steppe habitat, I was puzzled by the need for a flashlight. The preserve is a manageable 195 acres – surely it wouldn’t take all the daylight hours to see the entire place!

We pulled into the dusty parking lot over a ghostly white road made of the calcium-rich soil unique to the area. As we walked up the trail into the preserve, I could see wind-sculpted juniper trees against the Aspen Mountains. The trees looked as though a whimsical gardener had been at work on them with hedge-trimmers.
It’s peaceful and quiet at Formation Springs – the breeze carries the sweet smell of sage, and many species of wildlife find shelter here among the junipers and willows. We saw deer tracks and heard songbirds rustling through the water birch trees. These springs are an oasis for wildlife, and attract throngs of ducks in the summer – I made a mental note to return then to do some birdwatching. Over thousands of years, the springs have created travertine terraces; travertine is a white crystalline rock formed from calcium carbonate. If you’ve ever seen Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, you were looking at travertine minerals.

Thinking of that scalding spring, I bent down from the boardwalk path to feel this spring water with my hand – it was shockingly cold. The frigid temperature of the springs reminded me that the water flowing from them dates from the end of the last ice age – this water fell as rain before the invention of agriculture! Using isotopes to age the water, scientists have found it to be around 13,000 years old. The springs have deep pools where the color of the water looks glacial: it’s a turquoise blue against white rock.
As we followed the trail past the ribbon of trees and flowers along the spring, we came to a bowl-shaped area with some non-descript white boulders along the edge. Marilynne knew just where to look, and I finally realized what the flashlights were for. The white rock obscured a cave entrance, just big enough for a person to scramble through. As we entered the cave, the sound became muffled, and the darkness became profound.

I switched on my flashlight. Immediately I could see the cave roof was not made up of the stalactites I had expected, but rather a calcium carbonate surface that, Marilynne mused, looks just like cauliflower. The cave stretches for several hundred feet, and has a few wings, but with a flashlight we couldn’t get lost. Plus, every fifty feet or so, I’d come upon a small porthole to the outside world, which let in welcome fresh air and a little beacon of light. I emerged, blinking, into the bright Idaho sun, feeling lucky to have spent my day in such an amazing part of Idaho’s natural world. Next time I visit, I will be sure to bring my binoculars for the birds and my flashlight for the cauliflower cave. --Sus Danner, protection program manager

Thursday, October 25, 2007

In the News

Interesting reading on the Conservancy around the web:

Hemingway House: Read the recent Associated Press story on the Conservancy's Hemingway House and Preserve.

Idaho Statesman: Dan Popkey on the Idaho Ranch, Farm and Forest Protection Act

Sego Lily: We appreciate the kind words from this great Idaho blog that includes great landscape shots, informative posts on sustainability and a lot of natural history.

"Nasty, Fast and as Big as a Car": Conservancy lead scientist Sanjayan reflects on his encounter with a black rhino in Namibia.

BOO!: Send free Halloween e-cards from The Nature Conservancy.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rare Bird Sighting at Silver Creek

Last Thursday, two volunteers who were out doing the monthly bird count for Idaho Fish and Game at Silver Creek Preserve, saw a white throated sparrow on the Preserve! This bird often migrates with the white crowned sparrow, a more common sight at Silver Creek, but is rarely seen in Idaho and this may be the first sighting of one at Silver Creek Preserve ever!

This time of the year is a great time to come birding at Silver Creek. The birds are on the move and while there are always a lot of birds to see, occasionally there are special treats like this one. Stop by the visitor center for Silver Creek Preserve bird list.

Photo by Kathleen Cameron, Magestic Feathers

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rocky Barker to Keynote Silver Creek Event

Idaho Statesman environmental reporter Rocky Barker will deliver the keynote address at next week's Watershed Event: A Symposium on Silver Creek and the Big Wood River. Tickets are still available for the day-long event, to be held 9 am - 6 pm Saturday, October 27 at the Sun Valley Inn's Continental Room.

Barker's most recent book, Scorched Earth: How the Fires in Yellowstone Changed America was critically acclaimed and inspired a television movie. The book argues that fire policy has been shaped by Yellowstone from the time General Phil Sheridan first rode into the park to protect it from poachers. Noted conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold and many others also had their conservation opinions shaped by Yellowstone and its fires. Barker tells these colorful stories, weaving many elements--biology, policy, environmental history, current events--into one of the most readable and thoughtful accounts of Yellowstone's history.

Barker is also the author of a book on endangered species policy, Saving all the Parts, and co-authored two outdoor guidebooks, the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho.

The symposium will focus on the Silver Creek and Big Wood River watershed, featuring a day of informative speakers, and the chance for your opinions to be heard on the future of these beloved waters.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Badger Encounter

Driving along a dirt road on the Camas Prairie recently, I noticed a squat, muscular creature trotting along a field edge: a badger. Getting out of the car, I quietly trailed it, to snap some photos as it moved towards some brush.

When it noticed me, it quickly found a mound, and backed into some brush: a common badger defense. This way, it could meet any danger head on. Badgers have a reputation for being aggressive and downright ornery, and as I crept closer I thought it might charge.

But this badger was just indifferent, judging me as not much of a threat.

Badgers are a member of the Mustelidae Family, which also includes weasels, minks, martens, fishers, wolverines, otters and other predatory creatures. While many of the mustelids are known for being sleek and stream-lined, the badger is noticeably squat, round and muscular. It has to be, as it hunts its favored prey--ground squirrels--by digging after them. Some biologists report badgers that will dig into a ground squirrel hole and wait in the excavation for its prey to return. Badgers also sleep in burrows they dig, usually a different one each night.

Due to this tendency to dig lots of big holes, the badger has never been a favorite animal of those who raise livestock. But the badger has thrived in the West despite this. Idaho can lay claim to the largest population of badgers in the world, in the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. The Owyhee Backcountry Byway, the Camas Prairie and other open areas are also good places to see one.

Although badgers are common in Idaho and are unprotected by game laws, they do face familiar threats. My colleague Sus Danner tells me that badgers fare poorly when busy highways intersect their range. In California, their populations are in decline due to this fact. And on my drive home, I couldn't help but notice several dead ones along I-84 between Boise and Mountain Home. Hopefully, research can be conducted to monitor our state's badger populations. Even more important, with Idaho's rapid growth, conservationists need to think about wildlife-friendly roads--not only for badgers, but also for barn owls, mule deer, elk and a whole host of other species.

For now, though, the badger remains a common if seldom seen creature in many parts of the state. Keep an eye out the next time you're on Idaho's backroads; you might just be rewarded with your own badger encounter. -- Matt Miller

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Silver Creek Moose

On a mid-afternoon canoe float this week, TNC staff and friends were suprised when they came around a tight corner and almost ran into an enormous bull moose and his lady friend. Unfortunately, the canoes were exactly where the moose wanted to be, so the canoers had to get out of the boats and pull the canoes upstream and onto the bank in order to portage around the moose. This time of the year, as the moose pair off and begin their mating rituals, encounters like this one can be quite dangerous as the males are more protective and aggressive than usual. Be careful out there, but enjoy!!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Kokanee in Ball Creek

On a recent trip to Ball Creek Ranch in the heart of the Kootenai Valley in Idaho's Panhandle, I was anticipating seeing many of the same species that regular come into view through my binoculars. While I did glass across the fields and wetlands to see whitetail and waterfowl, it was a splash in the creek and a pink streak moving up Ball Creek that inspired awe.

Justin Petty, Inland Northwest land steward recently discovered kokanee salmon spawning in the creek that runs through the yard of the ranch house. This is Justin’s third fall living on the ranch and the first time he’s seen kokanee, a landlocked sockeye salmon, spawning in the creek. As one can imagine, Justin was very excited to see the fish and made it a habit of checking the fish as they fan out their nest or “redds” to lay their eggs in the gravel creek bottom.

On one such visit to the creek, Justin ran into the neighboring farmer who was beside himself at the sight of the fish. The farmer, who has lived in the valley his entire life, didn’t remember the last time he saw kokanee in the creek. The farmer then went on to speak to Justin about how important he feels it is to restore and protect habitat in the valley for kokanee and other native species.

The Kootenai River kokanee that historically spawned in tributaries like Ball and Trout creeks (the southern and northern boundaries of the ranch) spend their adult life in the southern arm of Kootenay Lake in British Columbia. Yet just twenty years ago a report from the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho noted kokanee runs in these creeks were thought to be “functionally extinct.” However, recent habitat improvement projects in the creeks appear to be creating the desired conditions to host the return of salmon spawning. Time and the continuing restoration and habitat protection efforts of the Conservancy and its partners, like the neighboring farmer, will tell. --Steve Grourke

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Living at Silver Creek Preserve

A lot of people ask me what it is like to live on the Silver Creek Preserve. For those of you who have spent any time on the preserve, you know how beautiful and amazing it is. To live here is a great adventure—every day is different and filled with wonder. I find this time of the year to be one of the most inspriring. The animals are busy getting ready for the winter, the days are getting shorter, and the cool air means waterfowl and other birds start to come for the winter. Two weeks ago I heard the first elk bugle and now we hear them all night long. Three weeks ago I saw the first group of sandhill cranes as they started to gather for their journey southward. Now, there are hundreds circling, filling the air with their eerie call, and catching the thermals as they get ready to head south. The moose are on the move as well, back and forth between the hills and the creek-- their usual path just yards from our front door. Everything is busy and everything is changing, not unlike most of our lives. There seems to be more time here, however, to sit back and take it all in. Maybe because we are a little too far from town to have much time to socialize, we spend a lot of time hanging out on the porch and just watching.

Now that I have a son, the wonders of living in this amazing place are all new to me again. It is an exciting journey and I look forward to his first fish caught, the first mud he roles in, the first feather found… all the wonders that make up my days at Silver Creek. I often think of the book my dad gave me when I went off to college, Rachel Carson’s A Sense of Wonder. As she wrote so eloquently,

“A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear- eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
--Dayna Gross, Silver Creek Preserve manager

Saturday, September 08, 2007

IDFG proposed changes to Silver Creek fishing regulations

Dr. Unnasch catches (and releases) a
big brown trout. Will there be changes
to the catch and release status of Silver
Creek Preserve?

We have had many questions regarding the proposed IDFG regulation changes for Silver Creek. The Nature Conservancy has served as steward of the Silver Creek Preserve for over 30 years. We manage the Preserve to protect an exceptional cold water ecosystem. We also welcome recreational use that does not impair the creek’s natural environment. In 2006, 6,000 visitors from all 50 states and 14 foreign countries came to enjoy Silver Creek’s clear waters, wily trout, and scenic vistas.

Silver Creek’s serenity contrasts sharply with the controversy recently sparked by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s proposed new fishing rules for the stream. The draft rules would permit anglers to keep up to six brown trout of any size daily. This would mark a big change from Silver Creek’s long history of “catch and release” only. The rules would also allow fishing from boats on stream reaches currently reserved for wading and float tube fishing.

After talking with state biologists, academic scientists, as well as local anglers, The Nature Conservancy has decided to ask the Department to withdraw the proposed regulations.

The Department wants to allow the lethal take of brown trout in order to maintain a balance between brown and rainbow trout. While the Conservancy shares this goal, we believe that the Department should take more time to review the science, involve the public, and shape fishing rules that earn broad angler support. We offer our help to the Department in undertaking these tasks. In the meantime, we think the proposed rules go too far, too fast.

We are unaware of any demand from the public for boat fishing on the upper reaches of Silver Creek. This area has a confined channel and receives heavy wading use. The existing rule works to avoid conflicts between boaters and waders and helps maintain the peace and quiet of this special place.


Dayna Gross
Silver Creek Preserve Manager
The Nature Conservancy in Idaho

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Hurray for Volunteers

Jerry Jeffery is a retired teacher from Longbeach,
California. He and his wife, Cheryl are volunteering
this September at the Silver Creek visitor center.
He has fished Silver Creek for years, so stop by and
get some good advice!!

At the Silver Creek Preserve and throughout Idaho, we are lucky to have such a wonderful resource-- volunteers. At the Silver Creek Preserve, we rely on volunteers to staff the visitor center, help us with fieldwork, and also help us with preserve maintenance. This year we have already logged over 600 volunteer hours. We couldn't do it without our reliable and energetic helpers!

Each one of our volunteers brings with them unique talents and expertise. A big thanks goes out to the visitor center volunteers this year: Ruth Douglas, Frank Hayes, Art Dahl, Joan Sheets, and Jerry and Cheryl Jeffery.

Our other volunteers this year include:
Bob Wilkins,
Frank Krosknicki
Paddy and Morgan,
John and Jackson from the Wood River Land Trust,
Hunter from Silver Creek Outfitters,
Sarah, John, and Matt from the Blaine County CWMA,
Nacho, Manuel, and Dennis from Chaney Creek Ranch,
Terry Greggory from Idaho Fish and Game,
Larry Barnes and Zeke Watkins,
Poo Wright-Pulliam, Jeanne Seymour, Dave Spaulding, and Kathleen Cameron,
Marlen Gross and Bernie Smith.
Thanks to you all for all you do to help Silver Creek Preserve!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Butte Weekly: Silver Creek, Fly-Fishing's PhD Program

Paul Vang, an outdoor writer from Butte, Montana, filed this report in the Butte Weekly on his recent trip to Silver Creek:

It’s a stream full of history, with a cast of characters including Nobel Prize winning authors, movie stars and railroad tycoons. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy, it’s also a stream that offers ordinary people the opportunity to try their luck at this famous spring creek, which many describe as a graduate school for anglers.

The stream is Silver Creek—just a little way from the famous resort of Sun Valley, Idaho. In fact, Silver Creek’s history is an integral part of Sun Valley’s history.

More on that in a moment.

At the invitation of Matt Miller, an outdoor writer friend and public relations director for the Idaho branch of The Nature Conservancy, I, along with several others, spent several days trying our luck on Silver Creek.

Trout, we are told, have a brain the size of a pea. For being primitive creatures, they certainly can get well educated, especially on Silver Creek. They have to be, as they see thousands of anglers and every kind of fly that they can throw at them. Besides anglers casting imitation bugs, the fish also have to be aware of herons and other predators.

Still, fish thrive in Silver Creek. They feed on a rich diet of aquatic insects, terrestrials, such as grasshoppers and ants, plus the occasional mouse that blunders over the stream bank. They’re used to anglers wading clumsily in their midst and, by and large, know the difference between real and fake. E. Donnall Thomas, Jr., a writer and physician from Lewistown MT wrote of his visit to Silver Creek in the July/August 2007 edition of “Northwest Fly Fishing” magazine. After two hours of casting various flies, he caught a 17-inch brown trout. “On Silver Creek,” he reports, “this is nothing less than a triumph.”

Silver Creek’s modern history began in the 1930s, when Averill Harriman, a railroad tycoon, and later a distinguished diplomat and adviser to presidents, established Sun Valley, so he’d have a destination ski resort on the route of the Union Pacific railroad. In order to provide recreation attractions for the off-season, he bought up property along Silver Creek and then invited celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper to come to Idaho and sample the fishing, as well as hunt for pheasants and ducks along the stream.

In the 1960s, the Union Pacific sold Sun Valley, and in the 1970s, it went on the market again. Jack Hemingway, the then-deceased author’s son, had settled in the area, and served on the Idaho Fish & Game Commission. Hemingway learned of the impending sale and approached The Nature Conservancy about purchasing the Sun Valley Ranch property on Silver Creek. The Conservancy acquired the property in 1976, and now owns 850 acres along the stream as well as conservation easements on areas not in the Silver Creek Reserve.

Though the Conservancy could probably operate the stream on a pricey pay-to-fish basis, they maintain the Reserve as a public fishing area, open to all comers. They simply require that anglers sign in at the Visitor Center. You might have to walk a little way to find a stretch of stream without other anglers, but wherever you go, you’ll find fish. In addition, they offer guided and self-guided nature walks and educational programs. In this green oasis in the high desert of central Idaho it’s an area teeming with wildlife.

So, how did I do? In an evening session after arrival, I came up empty-handed. The next morning I had a couple momentary hookups but the fish quickly shed my hook and went their own way. That afternoon, while most of the rest of the group took a side trip to the Big Wood River, I elected to stay behind to fish the creek. I was rewarded with two 16-inch rainbows that came up to a ‘hopper imitation. The next morning I was striking out during the trico hatch, but noticed Pale Morning Dun mayflies floating down the stream’s gentle currents. I changed flies and quickly caught a rainbow—almost a clone of the previous day’s trout.

One some streams, we might have been disappointed with those results. On Silver Creek, we claim victory and put PhD after our name.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Public Radio Series

A new public radio series sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and VISA--Stories from the Heart of the Land--debuts this August with five stories from some of the country's best radio producers. Hosted by Jay Allison, the series ranges around the world--from Australia to Newfoundland, Mexico to Tibet--to capture the human connection to land and landscape.

Listen as Elizabeth Arnold goes face to face with a grizzly bear, ponder taxidermy at the American Museum of Natural History, or join a biking expedition on Western back roads.

The Idaho Chapter has also had its own public radio series for the past five years, Off the Trail with Jyl Hoyt. You can catch this series every Friday on Boise State Radio, or listen on-line to all the latest stories.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ospreys and Harpy Eagles

I've seen it many times, but it's still a dramatic sight: An osprey flying overhead carrying a flopping fish in its talons. In the late spring and summer, I can count on seeing ospreys most days along the Boise River Greenbelt. They're a common sight all along the river, and a pair are even nesting this year at the Boise Hawks Stadium. Across Idaho, wildlife viewers can see them at many Nature Conservancy preserves.

Just a few decades ago, things didn't look quite so rosy for ospreys. The widespread use of DDT had decimated populations, and they were on the endangered species list. The recovery came rapidly. In 1984, I saw my first osprey as a kid on a fishing trip to Canada--a special and rare sight. It's still a special sight, just a much more common one. And it's a testament to what conservationists can accomplish.

The harpy eagle may be one of the world's most dramatic birds, with a six-foot wingspan, a crested head and a propensity to pick off monkeys for dinner. Like the osprey in the 1950's, the harpy eagle has been in decline. Seeing one is a rare sight, something birders arrange complicated trips just for the chance to catch a glimpse. Recently, a harpy eagle was found in Belize after being absent for more than 50 years. Now The Nature Conservancy is leading an effort to restore harpy eagles to the Belize Mayan forests. The Conservancy is working with partners to restore habitat, and reintroducing eagles with the help of the Belize Zoo. Here's hoping that someday that harpy eagles have returned to the Belize landscape in the way that ospreys have returned to Idaho.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

'A Day at Silver Creek'

(above) Canoers enjoying 'A Day at Silver Creek'

(below) Winning design for new Silver Creek Preserve t-shirt
''This year's 'A Day at Silver Creek' was a great success!! We had over sixty people participating in all the events- birding, nature walks, scavenger hunt, canoe floats and barbeque! The canoe floats were such a success, we will be adding on next year in order to accomodate all the people.

In addition, our t-shirt contest winner was chosen by the public. The winner, who will have the pleasure of seeing her artwork on the next Silver Creek t-shirt, is Poo Wright-Pulliam. Congratulations Poo!!