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