Monday, August 31, 2009

Egrets and Conservation History

If you're walking along a river or wetland in southern Idaho this fall, you may notice a very large, white bird stalking along the bank: a great egret.

I saw two yesterday along the Boise River. They are never a common sight in Idaho, but you can often find one or two in wetland areas.

Egrets may not be regularly spotted in Idaho, but in many areas--from the Atlantic coast to the large wetlands of South America--egrets live in huge flocks. In many areas, they're expanding their range.

But the egret plays an important role in conservation history--mainly because in the late 1800's, many people believed that egret species would go extinct.

Egrets at that time were hunted relentlessly for their feathers. Bird feathers, at that time, represented the height of fashion. Stylish ladies wore hats made of egret plumes and other bird feathers; some even wore whole birds on their heads. Frank Chapman, ornithologist for the American Museum of Natural History in New York, once took a stroll in Manhatten during which he noted 40 species of birds--all on hats.

Efforts to stop the feather trade were met with hostility and even violence--Guy Bradley, one of the first game wardens in Florida, was murdered by plume hunters who were killing egrets.

But the loss of egrets was one of the first events to mobilize the United States conservation movement. George Bird Grinnell, a conservationist more people should know, organized the National Audubon Society to protect bird populations.

Citizen groups around the country began speaking out about the feather trade.

This led to President Theodore Roosevelt establishing Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge--the first such refuge in the country--to protect egret populations in Florida.

Conservation history is full of stories about things that have gotten better. We have more egrets today than we did 100 years ago. We need to tell these stories more.

We don't have to lose tigers or rhinos or other wildlife, even if their futures seem grim. We just need people who care enough to do something, as they did in the early 1900's to protect the egrets.--Matt Miller

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cowboys and Conservation

Idaho is blessed with huge tracts of public lands, yet private working lands--like ranches--are disproportionately important for wildlife. They provide migration corridors for big game, spawning habitat for salmon on tributary streams, nesting habitat for grassland birds and many other benefits.

That's why the Conservancy has a long tradition of working with ranchers, not only in Idaho, but around the world.

Watch a slide show illustrating the Conservancy's work with ranchers on 5 continents--and how this work is benefiting both people and wildlife.

Photos by Kirk Keogh, first2laslight at Meadow Vue Ranch, site of a Conservancy easement in the Henry's Lake area of eastern Idaho.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Silver Creek Twinterns

Working as summer interns at the Silver Creek Preserve was an amazing experience. During this time, we, Meredith and Alli, came to know and love the area. With 883 acres to tend to, there is a lot of maintenance work and we were never at a loss for something to do. Daily work for us included irrigation, trail and fence maintenance; watering; weed control; office work; water and fire monitoring; running the visitor center and more.

At the Preserve, the bigger picture is always in sight. It’s clear how important it is to help conserve these special places. It might be repetitious doing chores such as cleaning outhouses or entering data, but other times you get to enjoy interacting with Nature Conservancy members and donors.

Working conditions and our work schedules varied and we are glad! Following three solid weeks of rain in June, came the hot and sunny days of July and August. As weeks progressed, we were fortunate to observe the natural shift in trout, bird, floral and agricultural patterns. A flexible work schedule benefits TNC and us; the variety of tasks and the scheduling gave us opportunities to express and grow in the areas of discipline, responsibility, and efficiency.

Living in a rural setting was a refreshing break from the fast-paced college life with its more constant social and media distractions. We will always value Silver Creek outdoor experiences: early foggy mornings with yackety or musical birds, evening walks in the company of coyotes and owls, friendly meet-ups with locals, and the not-so-friendly interactions with mosquitoes!

We gained an understanding of why Silver Creek Preserve draws people back again and again. Jumping off the bridge into the water after a sweaty day, finding hiding spots of a great blue heron, watching baby birds learn to fly, or patiently attempting to catch the crafty trout, we are taking with us great memories of moments on the Preserve. Next year we, too, will be itching to return to this beautiful preserve and experience again the natural beauty it has to offer.

As summer interns, we continually experienced opportunities to appreciate the balancing acts necessary to reach compromises between/among the public, donors, fishermen, and landowners.

Here’s hoping our paths will cross. Thank you to Dayna Gross and family, Ginny and Dave Glasscock, Sarah and Jack Blumenstein, John and Elaine French, Brianna Schultz, Stephanie Hansen, Taylor Pasley, Debbie Fowler, and all the other staff, volunteers, and public who helped make the summer such a wonderful experience!

Thank you!
Meredith and Alli Stewart,
Silver Creek Preserve Summer Interns 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Herds, Flocks and Swarms

There are still astounding herds, flocks and swarms of wildlife on Earth--but can we protect them?

Read the post at Cool Green Science, The Nature Conservancy's global blog.
Above, ten million bats emerge for their nightly feeding at Frio Cave in the Texas Hill Country.
Below, macaws gather at a clay lick at Manu Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Don't Move a Mussel

Zebra and quagga mussels--non-native species that have spread rapidly in other states--are not in Idaho. Yet.

The above video gives a good overview of the problem, and what it could cost Idaho if these species were introduced to our state's waters.

Non-native mussels were unintentionally introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1980's. Since then, they have spread to many parts of the country, including California, Nevada and Utah.

If they become established in Idaho, the estimated cost of control is $91 million.

Of course, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In this case, the prevention came in the form of new legislation that requires a boat sticker for all boats in Idaho, to fund Idaho's mussel prevention program.

Since mussels aren't here yet, it may seem like they pose little threat. But just this summer, a citizen spotted a boat on the interstate in Idaho encrusted with invasive mussels. Fortunately, authorities were notified and the boat could be stopped before it entered the water.

The boat stickers will make it easier to prevent the introduction of mussels, protecing fish habitat, hydropower, agriculture and clean water. Watch the video to learn more. --Matt Miller

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hummingbird Video

Hummingbirds are amazing birds to watch as they zip around wildflowers or backyard feeders. These little birds actually are quite diverse--with more than 300 species found in the Americas (they aren't found on other continents).

Idaho has three species. But South America is the real haven for hummingbirds. Ecuador is home to 131 species, many of them found in the cloud forest. Hummingbirds in South America display a surviving a diversity of colors, beak shapes and sizes. And some--like the marvelous spatuletail in the video above--have really bizarre display behaviors.

This video was on the Conservancy's Cool Green Science blog today, and comes via the American Bird Conservancy, an organization that is calling attention to the loss of habitat for Peruvian wildlife including the marvelous spatuletail .--Matt Miller

Monday, August 10, 2009

Deer Sign

Idaho has many large mammal species with large home ranges, and increasingly, their migrations and movements put them onto roads at some point during the year.

Roads obviously aren't going away. But there are ways we can reduce the number of animals killed on the highways.

The ubiquitous "deer signs" around the state and country do not reduce road kill. As explained in Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, we see those signs so many times that they don't register.

Perhaps signs like the one above (located near Woburn in rural England) could have more affect on certain roads. I think that if such signs were posted on Highway 21 near Boise and Highway 95 near MacArthur Lake in North Idaho, it would be eye opening for many--and could very well convince people to slow down.

Wildlife overpasses and underpasses have proven very effective in places like Banff and Jasper national parks in Canada. Such projects may be expensive, but so too are the insurance costs and risks to life associated with collisions with elk and moose.

And such wildlife crossings work--check out Patagonia's excellent videos for examples.

Idaho still has populations of migrating, wide-ranging mammals. Conservationists must find creative solutions to get those species across roads. We know what works: a combination of passageways, new signage, fencing and habitat protection. Now we just need widespread support to protect wildlife--and people--on the roads.--Matt Miller

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Bear Beware

You know the old saying: A fed bear is a dead bear.

Whenever bears become acclimated to humans, bears lose. There are a number of educational efforts that teach people how to be "bear aware." But sometimes bears still start hanging around towns, farms or residences.

Enter the Karelian bear dog. This breed was developed on the Finnish-Russian border to hunt wolves, bears and moose. Today, they're also being used to scare grizzlies away from people, thus teaching the bears to avoid humans.
Jewel (pictured above) is the ambassador for Karelian bear dogs. Jewel lives at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, where her demonstrations educate the public on the importance of keeping grizzlies wild and away from people.

Jewel worked for four years with the Wind River Bear Institute, an organization using Karelian bear dogs to change the way wildlife managers deal with bears. Instead of automatically relocating or killing problem bears, managers use dogs like Jewel to drive them away.

You can meet Jewel at 10 AM Saturday, August 15 at The Nature Conservancy's Flat Ranch Preserve. The program is free to the public. Stop by and learn about bears, dogs and how we can all work, play and live in the same environments.

The program is part of Flat Ranch Preserve's summer program series. Check out other activities at the preserve this August. --Matt Miller

Photos courtesy the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Deer With Tusks

It's the time of year when the males of Idaho's deer species--whitetail, mule deer, elk, moose and caribou--wear impressive, velvet-covered antlers.

But there is one deer species in the world that does not carry antlers: the water deer.

This strange beast, instead, has tusks. Yes, tusks.
The water deer (pictured above) never grows antlers, but males rapidly grown large canine tusks that can protrude two inches. (The tusks are present in females but not visible). The tusks can be drawn backwards so they're out of the way when the buck is eating, or they can be pulled forward to make them appear more formidable.
Water deer use the tusks for displays of dominance and fighting rival males--much as members of Idaho's deer family use their antlers.
The water deer is native to Korea and China, where it lives in dense forest. In the late 1800's, water deer were released on the large estate at Woburn Abbey in the British countryside (pictured above). From here and other deer parks, the water deer spread to many parts of England.
Water deer are quite easy to see on Woburn estate and surrounding areas (where these photos were taken).
The deer family (Cervidae) includes 44 living species, ranging from the 12-inch high Andean pudu to the massive moose that roams Idaho's wetlands. Members of this family include some of the most common large mammals on earth. But many other species are secretive and little known.
And only one has tusks. --Matt Miller