Monday, December 14, 2009

Flying Friendlier Skies

Blog by Ginny Glasscock

Everyone appreciates the modern conveniences that electricity brings to our homes, from utilities and communications to entertainment. But we don’t always think about the problems that the equipment that supplies this power can cause for our feathered friends.
Natalie Turlie, of Idaho Power, addresses these concerns in her job as Avian Protection Coordinator. Working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor problem areas, she then plans improvements to Idaho Power equipment.
She trains company crews to retrofit older poles and lines with more bird-friendly features, and to use these same features on new or replacement installations.
At The Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve, several power poles were scheduled for replacement prior to winter, as they had been partially charred by the fire of 2008.
Crews recently completed the job, using several bird safety devices. Additional protection was provided on a nearby power pole with three transformers, where an osprey had been recently electrocuted after it perched to eat its meal of just-caught trout.

Birds can run afoul of power lines by actually flying into them, or by electrocution. Natalie explains that birds can die if they simultaneously touch two energized wires, or one live wire and a ground. Birds can perch safely as long as they don’t make these two points of contact.
Protective devices work by making power lines more visible so that the birds can avoid them, discouraging birds from perching in dangerous locations, or by covering energized wires to allow safe perching.
Firefly bird diverters are mounted directly onto long spans of wire in high traffic flight areas. These small, reflective flappers are also luminescent, to be visible to night-time flyers.
Perch preventer strips are rows of small spikes mounted on power pole cross pieces, nudging birds away from dangerous spots. T-shaped perches provide a sitting area well above electrified parts. Large PVC sheaths cover wires and insulators at the tops of poles, and plastic tubing is installed over smaller wires.

You will be able to find all of these on power lines and poles at Silver Creek Preserve.
The preserve is a popular bird-watching destination, with more than 150 different species reported.

All birds and birders are grateful to Idaho Power for their work in mitigating possible conflicts between human needs and avian ones.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wildlife at Point of Rocks

Conservation Seeding and Restoration, Inc. (CSR) sent this Flickr photo gallery of wildlife on the Point of Rocks section of Silver Creek, on the property of John and Elaine French.

Check out the entire photo gallery.

CSR has undertaken extensive habitat restoration on the Frenches' property, which is also protected through a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy.

There is still time to vote John French for Budweiser Conservationist of the Year. Vote here.

The deadline is December 15. Vote today!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

From Idaho to Colombia

In 2008, I spent a month in Colombia as part of a fellowship with The Nature Conservancy. I gave a presentation on my adventures there last night in Boise and will give another next week in Ketchum (6 pm Dec. 15 at The Community Library).

For those interested in more stories from Colombia, here are some links:
Saving Cotton-Top Tamarins--and Helping People Too: My article on the Conservancy's work in the tropical dry forest near Cartagena.
Mochilas for Monkeys: My Cool Green Science blog post about Conservancy partner Proyecto Titi and how making mochila bags benefit communities in the dry forest.
A Ranch Called Hope: My story on Eduardo Martinez and his ranch on the Llanos grasslands.

The Nature Conservancy's Colombia page: Lots of good information about the Conservancy's work in Colombia.
Colombia blog: More photos I took during my fellowship.
If you have questions or would like to discuss more about Colombia, please feel free to email me. I'm always happy to share stories about my time in that beautiful part of the world.--Matt Miller

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Your Vote Counts

Don't forget to vote for Idaho conservationist John French for the Budweiser Conservationist of the Year.

Vote here:

John has worked tirelessly on behalf of Silver Creek and other natural areas in Idaho and around the world. Voting takes just a minute.

Recognize a great Idaho conservationist and help the Conservancy continue to protect special places in Idaho!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Update on Mercury Levels in Silver Creek Trout

As widely reported today, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a press release explaining that the 2007 report that found elevated mercury levels in Silver Creek brown trout was based on a laboratory error and that mercury levels in Silver Creek are not as high as thought.

The health advisory for Silver Creek trout has been lifted.

At The Nature Conservancy, we're relieved by this news. Obviously, we must continue to monitor trout in Silver Creek for mercury levels, as mercury is still present in these fish.

The Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve is strictly "catch and release" so the new findings do not change anything on our preserve.

It's important to note that about 2o southern Idaho lakes, reservoirs and waterways still contain mercury advisories--and on many of these waters, people do catch fish for eating.
This is still a serious issue. The Idaho Conservation League has been a leader on addressing mercury in southern Idaho waters, working to educate and advocate for healthy waters.

Wild Idaho fish should be a sustainable, healthful food--not come with health warnings.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Journey to Colombia - Free Presentations

Can monkeys save a village? Can armadillos help a family through years of darkness?

Colombia is a country notorious for its violence, but in many parts of the country, that dark past is history.

Colombia is also the country with the most bird species, with seemingly endless grasslands and beautiful colonial cities.

Join The Nature Conservancy's Matt Miller in two presentations as he shares the dramatic stories and images from his conservation fellowship in Colombia. You'll learn how people are looking to wildlife and the land to shape a more hopeful, peaceful future.

6:30 pm Tuesday, December 8
Foothills Learning Center (directions)

6 pm Tuesday, December 15
The Community Library (directions)

Phone 208-343-8826 for more information.

The events are free and no registration is required. We hope to see you there!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vote John French for Conservationist of the Year

(left to right: Conservancy director of stewardship Art Talsma, Silver Creek Preserve manager Dayna Gross and Budweiser Conservationist of the Year finalist John French)

Silver Creek landowner John French has been named one of four finalists for the Budweiser Conservationist of the Year Award.

Winners are now chosen by vote.

You can vote on-line here: You must be 21 to vote, and may vote once. Enter your age on the web site and you will then proceed to the Conservationist of the Year site.

John French has been a loyal and dedicated volunteer on behalf of The Nature Conservancy, the Wood River Land Trust and other organizations. He has donated a conservation easement on his property at Silver Creek, been a leader in research and restoration efforts along the creek, chaired the Blaine County levy effort to fund wildlife habitat protection and has been a leader in the detection and control of invasive species at Hells Canyon and around the world.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Budweiser will make a $50,000 donation to the conservation organization of the winner's choice. If John wins, he has chosen The Nature Conservancy.

Please join us in recognizing John French for this tremendous honor, and vote today!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Endangered Turkeys?

Turkeys, turkeys, everywhere. From coast to coast, turkeys trot, strut and scratch in just about every suitable habitat.

But at one point, wild turkeys were indeed endangered.

How have their populations recovered so successfully?

Read the answer--and what it means for wildlife conservation--in my blog at Cool Green Science. --Matt Miller

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sage Grouse News

Get the latest news on sage grouse conservation around Idaho in fall newsletter. It includes information on the Owyhee juniper control project and a story by the Conservancy's ecologist, Alan Sands.

Sage grouse photo by Bob Griffith.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Long Distance Pronghorns

One of the longest mammal migrations remaining on the continent occurs in southcentral Idaho, a recent study commissioned by the Wildlife Conservation S0ciety and Lava Lake Institute found.

The study found that pronghorns annually move from the Pioneer Mountains across Craters of the Moon and the Idaho National Laboratory to the Beaverhead Mountains--a distance of 160 miles.

At one point, the migration path is less than 200 yards wide.

The Wildlife Conservation Society used radio collars and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to track the pronghorn movements.

This research demonstrates the importance of the Pioneer Mountains and Craters of the Moon area. Only 10% of the ranches in this area are protected by conservation easements. Energy development has been proposed.

Mammal migrations are among the most spectacular ecological phenomena on our planet.

The pronghorn is a survivor from the Pleistocene, an American original. Undoubtedly, these animals have been following this route for thousands of years.

Let's work together to make sure they can keep on moving. --Matt Miller

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ignite Boise

Five minutes, 20 slides. What would you say?

That's the premise of Ignite Boise, a fun event tomorrow night--Thursday, November 12--at 7 pm at the Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise.

The Nature Conservancy's Matt Miller will be one of the speakers, with his presentation "How Eating Guinea Pigs Can Save the World (or at least part of it)," based on his experiences in South America.

While the event is advertised as sold out, all unused tickets will be released at 6:30 pm. The folks putting on this event say they have yet to have to turn someone away.

So come out and experience some inspiring, weird and innovative ideas from 15 Boise speakers. We hope to see you there!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fall Fishing at Silver Creek

For most, fishing season may seem like a distant memory. But the season remains open through November 30 at Silver Creek Preserve.

And the fishing has been fantastic.

You can still find pods of large trout gulping mayflies and midges. Outdoor reporters David Sikes and Bryan Hendricks recently experienced a fantastic day on the preserve, catching several trophy trout. Read the story.

They had the best luck on tiny, tiny flies--like #26 baetis. This is not easy fishing, but there are still feeding fish and excellent hatches.

The crowds are mostly gone so you can have large stretches of stream to yourself. Moose and elk are easily seen, and large flocks of waterfowl circle overhead. On a beautiful fall day, Silver Creek is a great place to be. Get out and enjoy it!--Matt Miller

Monday, November 02, 2009

In The News

Congress yesterday approved funding for a Forest Legacy project that will fund conservation agreements that protect private working forests and wildlife habitat at McArthur Lake, located between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry.

The funding will be used to purchase 3700 acres of permanent conservation agreements with the landowner, Forest Capital Partners, ensuring that the land will remain forest and provide public access, timber supply and jobs for the local economy.

The Nature Conservancy negotiated the easements. Read more.

Read the Spokane Spokseman Review's coverage.
David Sikes of the Corpus Christi Caller Times visited Idaho to see how the Conservancy works with anglers and hunters on conservation projects.

His story, Conservation Done Right, covers several of our projects in southern Idaho.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Congratulations to Lava Lake Land & Livestock

The Nature Conservancy extends its congratulations to our conservation partner, Lava Lake Land & Livestock, for recently being awarded the Cecil D. Andrus Leadership Award for Sustainability and Conservation by Sustainable Northwest, as well as national awards from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Mike Stevens, president of Lava Lake, summed up Lava Lake's philosophy this way: “The sheep and wildlife that use our lands have the same basic needs. They both require traveling long ranges to find forage. Why not preserve long-term viability for all?”

Lava Lake has been an important partner of The Nature Conservancy for the past nine years.
The ranch began its work by commmissioning a Conservancy ecologist to survey and create conservation and grazing management plans for the entire ranch, which were completed in 2004.

Lava Lake also donated a 7500-acre conservation easement to the Conservancy, the largest conservation easement to date in Idaho.
As its stated purpose is for its ranching operation to contribute to its conservation goals, Lava Lake remains actively engaged with Conservancy research and conservation efforts.
This year, wool from Lava Lake sheep was used in a blanket commissioned by the Design for a Living World exhibit, sponsored by the Conservancy.
This exhibit, shown at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in New York, showcased artwork from sustainably produced materials around the world.
Dutch artist Christien Miendertsma believes that embedded in the wool are stories from the land.
The story of Lava Lake has been one of ranching working to the benefit of conservation.
Three prestigious national awards in one year is a remarkable achievement--and a strong testament to the success of Lava Lake's conservation work. We extend our congratulations to our partners at Lava Lake--and look forward to continuing our work that benefits the land, wildlife and ranching.
Photograph of wool blanket copyright Roel Van Tour; all other photographs copyright Ami Vitale.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Caddis Art

If you fly fish or have ever picked up a rock from an Idaho stream, you probably are well familiar with caddis fly larvae and their cases.

Caddis flies--a common aquatic insect in many Idaho rivers and streams--live as larvae on the stream bottom.

Caddis larvae use silk to spin protective cases. They incorporate bits of gravel, sand, crustacean shells, plant matter and other debris into their shell. The result looks like a dark tube, attached to rocks.

French artist Hubert Duprat put pieces of gold and jewels with caddis larvae in an aquarium. The results are astounding, as you can see above. See more photos of Duprat's work.

Caddis flies generally need clean water to survive--and fortunately, in Idaho, they can be found in great numbers from Silver Creek to the Salmon River, from the Henry's Fork to the Boise River. The next time you're walking along your favorite stream, pick up a rock and check it out for the caddis fly's intricate work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Juniper Chomp

Photographs by Ken Miracle.

Junipers are a native tree in Idaho. So why is The Nature Conservancy helping to chomp them up?
Junipers may be native, but they are still spreading rapidly into sagebrush country--far too rapidly for wildlife. Why?

Improper grazing management, fire suppression and possibly climate change have created conditions for junipers to encroach and overtake sagebrush habitat.

In the Owyhees, analysts estimate that junipers are expanding their range by 2500 acres per year.

Sage grouse require open areas to display in the spring time. Junipers provide the perfect perch for raptors, so the grouse avoid these areas. In the shade of junipers, grasses and other plants important for wildlife disappear--leading also to increased likelihood of soil erosion.
When juniper encroaches, it affects the whole ecosystem.
Enter the juniper crunching machine. The Nature Conservancy is working the the Owyhee Local Sage Grouse Working Group and Jordan Valley Coordinated Weed Management Area to use this machine--called a juniper masticator--to chomp up the spreading junipers.

The project is focusing on meadow areas important for sage grouse.
The machine is relatively light so it has a very low impact on sagebrush and native grasses. It literally chomps up the entire juniper tree. The masticator chomps the tree all the way the ground--if even one branch remains, the juniper just regrows.

When the project is finished, nice meadows with sagebrush and native grasses will be all that remains--perfect for sage grouse and other wildlife.
The masticator leaves nothing but mulch, so the chomped up juniper is returned to the soil.

This is a demonstration project, and one of the hopes is that this form of juniper control can be applied to private ranchlands and provide a new source of income to ranchers.

If proven cost effective, the chomped-up juniper would be sold for biofuel or mulch--a sustainable industry that would also improve habitat conditions in the Owyhees and other sagebrush habitat.--Matt Miller

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tumbling Tumbleweeds

Story and photos by Ginny Glasscock, Silver Creek Preserve assistant manager

Drifting along…

Wide open spaces, a coyote howling against a full moon, tumbleweeds rolling across the prairie ….. except this last Western icon is not part of the natural landscape!

A tumbleweed may be one of several plant species, mostly introduced as hitchhikers in grain cargo shipments from Russia and Europe as early as the late 1800s.

They become a true tumbleweed when the stem of the dry, mature plant breaks off in the wind, leaving the whole above-ground section free to whirl away and spread seeds as it travels.

At The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve, the predominant type is the “tumbling mustard.”

It is less dense and thorny than the Russian thistle tumbleweed. These lightweight clusters bounce and skip along roads and fields in a stiff breeze.
They often end up in Silver Creek, rolling along on top of the water’s surface if the wind is strong enough.

While some people think of tumbleweeds as innocuous, or even romantic, many consider them an unsightly nuisance.

They pile up against any leeward obstruction, including road bank , gates, and fences. Their efficient seed dispersal method allows invasive weeds to displace native vegetation. And their tinder-dry branches are a fire hazard in the arid Idaho desert.

Balls of tumbleweeds are removed from the deck and perimeter of the Silver Creek Visitor Center after windstorms for this very reason.

But for all their drawbacks, tumbleweeds continue to inspire the imagination. We all know the famous cowboy song, penned by Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1932.

Besides being recorded by many famous country and western singers, this song has also been covered by more unlikely artists, such as Pat Boone Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood, and the Supremes.

The name “tumbleweed” has been appropriated for commercial use, including two movies (1925 and 1999), restaurants, clothing, a line of cowboy gear, a children’s gymnastics chain, a singing group, a comic strip, and dancehalls in Texas and Oklahoma.

An Arizona town decorates a tumbleweed each December for its Christmas tree. You can contact companies in Utah, Texas, Arizona, and Kansas to actually purchase a real tumbleweed and have it shipped to you.

Prairie Tumbleweed Farms markets logo T-shirts. Curious Country Creations is having a sale on their Giant Western Tumbleweed, marked down to $28.99 from $40.

Or better yet, from now until winter, you can admire the Silver Creek tumbleweeds for free !

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Salmon Back in Big Springs Creek

Welcome home, salmon.

The Nature Conservancy has been working with partners in the Pahsimeroi River to remove barriers to fish migration, increase river flows when salmon are in the river and to reconnect tributary streams with the Pahsimeroi so salmon can access them.

The goal, of course, was to allow migrating salmon access to spawning areas they haven’t been able to reach for decades.

Has it worked?

Last year, salmon counts in the Upper Pahsimeroi revealed one salmon redd (spawning area) in Big Springs Creek.

For years, one or two hardy salmon made it up to Big Springs Creek. A diversion and cross ditch kept the rest of the salmon out of this habitat.

This year (with the diversion removed), preliminary counts show 69 redds—with salmon occupying much of the suitable habitat in Big Springs Creek and other tributaries.

This result was also made possible by the Conservancy’s purchase of a ranch in the Pahsimeroi Valley, which it then sold to organic beef ranchers Glenn and Caryl Elzinga. This partnership enabled the elimination of the diversion and cross ditch.

Almost half of the redds are located on Big Springs Ranch, recently protected by the Conservancy through a conservation easement.

So this year, we can truly say: Welcome home, salmon.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

In Recognition: Laird Noh

This evening, The Nature Conservancy in Idaho recognizes Laird Noh, who retires from our Board of Trustees after an amazing 23 years of service.

A sheep rancher and former state senator, Laird has spent a lifetime looking after the public's interest in land, water and wildlife.
Laird was instrumental in the protection of three areas along the Snake River that are now state parks: Thousand Springs (above), Billingsley Creek and Box Canyon. The establishment of each of these protected areas required protracted negotiations with state government and private interests. Mr. Noh helped the Conservancy staff chart a course and encouraged the State of Idaho to pursue protection of these areas.
Laird also convened the Idaho Working Lands Coalition in 2005, a coalition representing agricultural, conservation and sporting groups working together to protect private working lands from development.
In 2005, The Nature Conservancy awarded Laird its Lifetime Achievement Award, the organization's highest volunteer honor. The award read: Laird Noh’s influence on the Idaho Chapter has been pervasive and constant for two decades. No volunteer has done more to shape the chapter’s achievements on the ground and its values in dealing with the rural communities in which we work.
Laird, thank you for all your hard work on behalf of The Nature Conservancy and Idaho conservation for more than two decades. You have helped shape a better Idaho with your thoughtfulness, insight and expertise.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lands Protected on South Fork of the Snake River

The Teton Regional Land Trust announced today that two of the last unprotected parcels of private land along the canyon stretch of the South Fork Snake River in Bonneville County are now conserved permanently.

More than 300,000 people visit the South Fork each year to enjoy world-class fishing and floating, abundant wildlife and one of the most scenic rivers in the West. Thanks to conservation projects like this, the South Fork’s going to stay that way. The Nature Conservancy, the land trust, the Conservation Fund, the BLM and other partners have worked together to protect this river canyon.

The two projects recently completed include:

* A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) purchase of 440 acres from a willing landowner along the South Fork, with assistance from The Conservation Fund and funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) and the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA).

* A permanent conservation easement protecting 713 acres, protecting private lands adjoining the purchased property. The BLM will hold the easement on the property of dry farmers Cletus and Sharon Hamilton. The Teton Regional Land Trust, DDCF and FLTFA assisted with the project.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Important Bird Areas--Idaho

Important Bird Areas (IBA's) were created to identify a global network of areas most important for bird conservation.

IBA programs focus on monitoring bird populations, installing interpretive signs and developing conservation plans.

But they can also point you to great birding.

Check out Idaho's Important Bird Areas newsletter to learn more about the program--and to find new places to find birds. This issue includes an article on The Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Check us out on Facebook

The Nature Conservancy in Idaho now has a Facebook Fan page, with photos, events, links and more. Become a fan today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dead Salmon: Lifeblood of Rivers

Salmon leaping up waterfalls and surging into small streams: These are the images we're used to seeing of fish migrations.

Salmon are brightly, photgenically red in their final days--and then quickly become less so.

The above photo--taken this weekend near Stanley--captures the real end of the journey for spawning salmon. But it's not the end of the salmon's impact on streams.

Dead, decaying salmon are vitally important for our waterways, forests and meadows.

Where viable runs of salmon occur, they return vital nutrients to waterways, feeding aquatic insects and fish. Studies have found that streamside vegetation in salmon spawning areas is dependent on nutrients from dead fish.

Black and grizzly bears, otters, mink, bald eagles, ospreys and other predatory mammals and birds feed directly on the salmon carcasses. Bears drag thousands of carcasses away from the river, fertilizing trees, shrubs and grasses.

Rainbow trout and other fish often follow dying salmon and feed on pieces that fall off the salmon as they decompose--unsavory to us, perhaps, but a protein feast for trout.

In short, the whole river depends on a healthy, large run of salmon. As is evidenced in watersheds like Bristol Bay, a large salmon run can feed humans, wildlife and the river--and we should be working to ensure that such watersheds remain protected.

In Idaho, for many rivers we can only guess. But by continuing to work on salmon restoration, perhaps one day we can see rivers in their full glory--rivers brought to life by dying salmon.--Matt Miller

Photo by Michael Gordon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hemingway and Silver Creek

"You’ll love it here, Schatz…There’s a stream called Silver Creek where we shoot ducks from canoe…Saw more big trout rising than have ever seen…Just like English chalk streams…We’ll fish it together next year."--Ernest Hemingway, 1939

Ernest Hemingway wrote the above to his son, Jack, on his first visit to Idaho--a trip that would establish a life-long connection between the Hemingway family in Idaho.

Ernest was in Idaho as a guest of the Sun Valley Company, a new resort attracting publicity through high-profile visitors. Hemingway, in the process of completing For Whom The Bell Tolls, joined Gary Cooper and other celebrities in Idaho.

At the time, Sun Valley Company was as well known for its fishing and hunting opportunities along Silver Creek as for the skiing. Ernest, of course, immediately saw the potential at Silver Creek and knew his sons would love it as well.

He made good on his promise, returning the next year with son Jack. Jack's experience at Silver Creek mirrored that of many anglers: Trout--big trout--rose everywhere. He felt like had landed in paradise. He cast and cast. And cast. And got skunked. But he vowed to figure out the stream, an aspiration that eventually led him to move to Idaho. Over the years, the Hemingways frequented Silver Creek and the nearby ranch owned by Bud Purdy, enjoying both the hunting and fishing in the valley. In fact, many famous Life magazine photographs were taken at landmarks around Silver Creek.

When Silver Creek Preserve came up for sale, Jack Hemingway convinced The Nature Conservancy to purchase the property.

Eventually, Mary Hemingway--Ernest's widow--bequeathed his last home in Ketchum to The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy remains committed to the Hemingway legacy at Silver Creek and the Hemingway House. Visit the links below to learn more.

Ernest Hemingway Symposium 2009 - Sun Valley

Hemingway's Last Home and the Conservancy - Learn why the Conservancy owns the Hemingway House and how we are protecting the cultural and historical features of the home.

Hemingway Memorial at Silver Creek - Reflect on the Hemingway family's connection to Silver Creek at this memorial on the preserve.

Photos: Ernest Hemingway and friends on a hunting trip at Silver Creek (TNC archive); Hemingway Memorial at Silver Creek Preserve (Sara Sheehy); Hemingway House in Ketchum (William H. Mullins).