Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Links

The weather outside is frightful--or turning that way--across much of Idaho. We'll be taking a blogging break for the holidays. Join us for more stories, news and nature notes resuming on January 3. In the meantime, here are some links for the season.

Great news in the Wood River Valley: Read about a great new purchase for conservation south of Bellevue.

Real or Fake Christmas tree? This Cool Green Science post explores which one is better for the environment.

Best and Worst Environmental Stories of 2010: Another Cool Green Science post, by Conservancy staffer Nicole Levins.

Year in Review: Ten great projects around the globe funded by Nature Conservancy members.

Grolar bears: What happens when you cross a grizzly with a polar bear? It's happened. And this Treehugger story suggests it might be happening more often in a warming future.

On behalf of the staff of The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, we wish you a joyous holiday season, and a new year filled with adventures in Idaho's great outdoors!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Hope for Animals & Their World

Hope for Animals and Their World, Jane Goodall with Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson

Are you a “Debbie Downer” at your holiday gatherings, depressing family and friends with factoids about mass extinction events?

If so, maybe you need to sit by the fireplace with this collection. Primatologist Jane Goodall and others share inspirational stories of a long list of species brought back from the very edge of extinction by ingenuity, passion and hard work.

This is pretty light reading, but it’s a nice antidote to all the doom and gloom that dominates environmental news. The stories presented here show that it’s almost never too late to turn things around for wildlife, if we have the will and determination. The tales are well told and contain plenty of nuggets of good advice for conservation practitioners and naturalists.

We need to be telling the hopeful stories, too. This book offers a nice selection of those stories—perfect if you need a little holiday conservation cheer.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Deer Diet Redux

In my previous post, I wrote how eagerly deer feed on sagebrush, bitterbrush and other shrubs during the winter. Apparently, they also enjoy munching on a pumpkin or two.

This deer visited my backyard today (and stayed much of the morning). It's always amazing to see how adaptable wildlife can be.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Winter Wildlife Chronicles: Deer Diet

With the holidays approaching, many of us start to worry about running the gauntlet of tempting treats and massive meals that characterize so many celebrations. Come January, the gyms will be packed with those of us trying to shed those extra pounds we gained.

Let's be honest, though: Cookies, a full turkey dinner, or mug of hot chocolate are awfully comforting on a cold winter day.

And for good reason. Not so long ago in our evolutionary past, winter was a tough time. Losing weight was not a desirable outcome. Calorie-rich foods ensured survival.

It's still that way for mule deer. They need enough energy to make it through the long, cold winter.

At this time of year, mule deer move into valleys and low elevations (and even backyards, in the case of the one pictured above) to escape the heavy snow.

But to survive the winter, deer need nutritious plants. Cheatgrass, the non-native weed so common in foothills, has low nutrition value in the spring, when it is green. In the winter, it is worthless to wildlife, particulary when it's buried by a foot of snow.

Sagebrush, on the other hand, pokes out of the snow and is highly important to deer, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse and other wildlife.

Dr. Carl Wambolt of Montana State University reports that many big game species prefer sagebrush in the winter. One Montana study showed that sagebrush consisted of more than 50% of a mule deer's winter diet. A similar study for pronghorns found that sagebrush comprised 84% of their diet.

Other shrubs like bitterbrush, winterfat and salt brushes complement a mule deer's winter diet. Some biologists call bitterbrush "deer candy" because the animals go out of their way to eat it. (It can be very hard to establish these in an xeriscaped yard for this reason; the deer mow the plants down as soon as they're planted).

According to Bureau of Land Management botanist Roger Rosentreter, sagebrush is like the “meat and potatoes” of a mule deer’s diet in winter. Just as with human diets, a variety of foods helps deer stay healthier. Bitterbrush and other shrubs provide different nutrients to help the deer make it through winter.

“A mule deer diet of sagebrush and a little bit of bitterbrush is high quality winter forage,” says Rosentreter. “The deer prefer the bitterbrush but they will do very well if you have both. They compliment each other with proteins and nutrients. It also aids in deer digestion to have both.”

Protecting and restoring native plants ensures that deer can bulk up. This in turn makes it easier to survive heavy snowfall, parasites, predators and encounters with humans.--Matt Miller

Friday, December 03, 2010

McArthur Lake Forest Land Protected

McArthur Lake is where the wild things cross.

Each year, North Idaho elk, moose and other wildlife roam from the Selkirk and the Cabinet-Yaak Mountains. In between these large tracts of forest is McArthur Lake, located between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry in the Idaho Panhandle.

For animals that need room to roam, McArthur Lake is a life line.

These lands are largely private forest land. They not only provide this vital wildlife habitat, they also contribute to the local economy. If these lands are developed, their values to wildlife would be lost forever.

That's why The Nature Conservancy is excited to announce with our partners the Idaho Department of Lands, U.S. Forest Service and Forest Capital Partners the protection of 3900 acres of private forest lands at McArthur Lake.

Forest Capital Partners will continue to manage the working forest for timber production, and the Idaho Department of Lands will hold the conservation easements. The Nature Conservancy participated in the negotiations and is the sponsoring land trust for the project.

Read more.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

2010 Fishing Season

Photo courtesy of Nick Price

November 30 was the last day of fishing on the preserve!

What a season we had. It was an unusual weather year-- summer did not seem to come until late September. The hatches were all over the place with their timing and intensity-- I only saw a few mahongany duns in September but did see some trico hatches!! Then winter came with a bang. On the last day of fishing season, I am usually cruising the preserve, taking down signs, cleaning the outhouses and saying hi to people. This year, I spent the morning helping two of our local guides, Nick Price and Hunter Chruchill dig their suburban out of the snow. They made it out to fish, finally, and enjoyed an unusual winter day on Silver Creek.

Thanks to all of you for another great fishing season!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Green Gift Monday

Last year on Cyber Monday consumers spent nearly $890 million dollars online.

Imagine the difference we could make if just a fraction of that money was spent on responsible, meaningful holiday gifts.

That's the goal of Green Gift Monday. The Nature Conservancy and partners have come up with a variety of great gift ideas that also benefit the planet.

You can help: Green Gift Monday is being promoted by social media. If you blog, tweet or use Facebook, promote the idea of sustainable gifts. Throughout the holiday season, share your "green gift" ideas.

There are many resources on the official Green Gift Monday web site.

From all of us at The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Winter Wildlife Chronicles: Grouse

With snow covering most of Idaho today, we begin a new regular blog feature, chronicling "where wildlife goes when it snows."

Winter is a tough time for wildlife, as they struggle to save energy while often living in close proximity with humans. For conservationists, saving suitable winter habitat is one of the most important priorities.

In this feature, we'll look at the different needs--and often strange habits--of wildlife coping in the winter, and how conservationists can help.
This week, we focus on the interesting winter behavior of three Idaho grouse species. Many wildlife species move to escape the snow, often moving from snowy high elevations to the milder conditions found at low elevations. The dusky (or blue) grouse is unique: It actually spends the summer at lower elevations, and then migrates in the winter to the high, snowy mountains.

In the summer, these birds feed on forbs, insects and a variety of other foods. In the winter, though, there's no variety: They exclusively eat pine and fir needles (and only the outer two-thirds of the needle).
By moving to the high snowy mountains in the winter, the grouse avoid competition with the many species found in foothills and valleys. In short, they have their dinners all to themselves.
Another forest grouse species, ruffed grouse, also thrive in snow. As is the case for skiers, it's all about powder for these birds. Researchers have found that ruffed grouse actually burrow under the powder to escape cold temperatures.
Powdery snow has excellent insulating qualities; the grouse need at least eight inches to make a suitable burrow. The grouse create burrows in dramatic fashion--by diving into the snow from the air. The grouse can also escape quickly, flushing from the snow in an explosion of powder.
Sage grouse need sagebrush. It's as simple as that. In the winter, sage grouse eat sagebrush leaves almost exclusively. They also use big sagebrush as a shelter from snow and inclement weather.
Without adequate sagebrush cover, these grouse cannot survive the rigors of winter. That's why The Nature Conservancy has focused a lot of effort in protecting the high-quality sagebrush habitat that still exists in places like the Owyhees, Crooked Creek and the Pioneer Mountains.
Unlike many birds, grouse thrive in snow--provided they have the necessary food and cover provided by healthy, native plant communities.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Easement Protects Henry's Lake Ranch

Island Park -- Island Park, Idaho – A 700-acre working ranch vital for wildlife at Henry’s Lake will be protected through a permanent conservation easement. The 2-Lazy-2 Ranch, owned by the Steinke family since the 1970s, lies north and west of Henry’s Lake along Highway 87.

The Bureau of Land Management and The Nature Conservancy worked closely to purchase a conservation easement on the 2-Lazy-2 Ranch from the Steinke family.
Conservation easements are permanent legal agreements that protect important habitat from development, while ensuring that traditional ownership and land uses like ranching continue.

The property protects two major wildlife migration routes in the Yellowstone area. The ranch is used by elk, moose, pronghorn and a wide variety of other wildlife species.

Read more.

Photo by Sus Danner/TNC.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Video on Upper Salmon Project

"Life on the Range" is a new web site telling stories of Idaho's ranchers. The videos tell interesting stories and have high production values. The site is produced by well-known guidebook author Steve Stuebner and the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission.

The most recent piece features ranchers working for water conservation on the Lemhi River. The video includes information on the Conservancy's work in the valley, particularly the recent conservation efforts with long-time rancher Merrill Beyeler.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turkey Time

It's that time of year again: when many of us turn our attention to a turkey dinner. It's also a good time to remember the conservation story of the wild turkey. It's hard to believe, but in the early 1900s, many believed turkeys would be gone forever. There were fewer turkeys in 1910 than there are polar bears or orangutans in 2010.

It's easy to become pessimistic about endangered species, but it's also important to remember that humans have achieved incredible conservation successes.

Our column this month on Down to Earth Northwest celebrates the turkey conservation story, and the hope that it provides for other endangered species.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Silver Creek in Fall: Moose & Elk

Fall is a great time to visit Silver Creek Preserve. This season, the large, hoofed critters are particularly visible.

Silver Creek neighbor Rick Buckley took these photos last week and graciously allowed us to use them here.
Moose are often easily seen on the preserve and surround fields. Please give them plenty of space: They can run much faster than you think. Many experienced outdoor enthusiasts consider them more dangerous from bears. Enjoy them, but from a distance.

There are still large herds of elk around, too. As always, the preserve is open and free for visitors; just sign in at the visitor center and then explore. It is private property, but a place that the Conservancy protects to that people like you can explore and enjoy. Don't forget your camera!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Review: The Tiger by John Vaillant

How do humans live in the presence of large predators?

Too often, overly simplistic sound bites from both sides of the debate obscure the answers. For a telling example, consider the level of dialogue around “wolf politics” in our state.

Lost amongst the overblown rhetoric are some excellent, thoughtful books on the topic: David Quammen’s Monster of God, Will Stolzenburg’s Where the Wild Things Were, Joel Berger’s The Better To Eat You With.

And now: John Vaillant’s The Tiger, a masterful story of people and a very fearsome predator coexisting—with great tension—in the 21st century.

The residents of the remote Russian Far East (it’s closer to Australia than Moscow) still live in and from the forest—logging, collecting herbs, hunting, fishing. These activities place them in close proximity with the Amur tiger, arguably the most fearsome beast still roaming the earth. Weighing in at more than 500 pounds, this is an animal that causes grizzly bears to run in terror.

That’s right. The boreal jungle (as Vaillant calls it) is a region where tigers compete with grizzlies, a place where “timber wolves and reindeer share terrain with spoonbills and poisonous snakes.”

Vaillant writes that “the bizarre assemblage of flora and fauna leaves one with the impression that Noah’s ark had only recently made landfall, and that, rather than dispersing to their proper places around the globe, many of its passengers had simply decided to stay, including some we never knew existed.”

I suspect I’m not alone, after reading such passages, in feeling the urge to head off to the Russian Far East and search for tigers and musk deer and the other strange creatures of the forest.

And yet: This is far, far from a dream destination for the region’s inhabitants. Life here is lived on the edge, for people and for tigers.

The story begins with a tiger killing a poacher, ostensibly out of vengeance. This very personal tragedy alone makes for a worthwhile book. But Vaillant tells it against a backdrop of larger forces that shape the destinies of local people and tigers: the still looming and often-violent political history, a desperate economy and the current mind-boggling pressures of globalization.

In a place where people work hard year after year for pitiful wages, is it any wonder that some turn to killing tigers? And is it any wonder that an animal as large and intelligent as a tiger might retaliate?

It’s a compelling book of death and survival in one of the most fascinating and difficult regions on earth. There are no easy answers here. But as conservationists--if we truly want a world where large predators still thrive in the wild--we need stories like this. Only when we deny the the seductive but too-easy world of talking points and sound bites can we really hope to save tigers--and the people who must live with them.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Count Aquatic Birds on the Boise River

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game Bird Program is looking for dedicated individuals interested in spending 1 morning a month from November through March counting aquatic birds (ducks, geese, herons) along the Boise River greenbelt.

Each month, the survey will take between 1.5 and 2.5 hours and are usually less than 2 miles in length. The Boise River has been identified as an “Important Bird Area” in Idaho, as it is home to thousands of wintering waterfowl every year.

Monitoring birds on this stretch of river is crucial in ensuring that it continues to be an important resource for birds. Unfortunately, no surveys were completed last year due to staff shortages and budget cuts. Join the quest to make sure that doesn’t happen again!

For those interested in joining this effort, IDFG will be hosting a special training session at the MK Nature Center in November.

When: Saturday November 13, 2010
Time: 8am – noon
Where: MK Nature Center
What: Training for surveying aquatic birds along the Boise River
1-2 hours of indoor training on aquatic bird ID and survey protocol
2 hours of outdoor training along the Boise greenbelt where you will put your indoor training to work! We’ll practice identifying birds and counting flocks.

Please Bring: Binoculars, comfortable shoes for walking on the greenbelt, warm clothes. ,

Note: You don’t have to be a excellent birder! We will teach you what you need to know! We will provide refreshments, coffee and tea.

Please indicate to Deniz Aygen if you will be attending the training or if you have questions. If we do not get enough people to sign up, we will cancel the training. Bring friends, spouses and neighbors!

RSVP to: and let her know you heard about this from Idaho Nature Notes.

Photo: Shoveler by Nature Conservancy volunteer Ken Miracle.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Kestrels & Dragonflies

This past weekend, two dragonflies flew into me in my front yard--a clear sign that these insects are migrating.

Migrating birds are easy to see at this time of year. They're recorded at "hotspots" like the Idaho Bird Observatory at Lucky Peak in the Boise Foothills. At the same time, dragonflies are also migrating through Idaho, particularly green darners.

These insects will migrate to the Southwest, where they will lay eggs and, most likely, die. The eggs will hatch and live underwater as nymphs. Eventually, these nymphs will pupate, and fly to Idaho as winged adults. How they know where to go remains a mystery.

Dragonflies migrate around the world; in fact, one of the longest migrations of any species is the 11,000-mile, round-trip migration of dragonflies from the Maldives to India.

Often dragonflies follow very similar routes to birds. It makes sense that they follow the same air currents and geographic features that make for easier flying. But is there more to these similar routes?

One researcher recently found that, around Lake Superior, there is a strong correlation between the American kestrel migration and the dragonfly migration. On days when few dragonflies migrate, few kestrels do.

It turns out that kestrels migrate high overhead in the morning, and then dip down to catch a few dragonflies as fuel during the afternoon.

What other birds follow the dragonflies? Do the kestrels that are common around southern Idaho at this time of year feed on them?

At times, it can seem that the world is fully explored, that there is little mystery remaining. But this is simply not true. As National Geographic begins its celebration of "Great Migrations" this month, it's obvious that there is still much about this phenomenon that we don't understand.

We're still finding new migration routes, even of large mammals like pronghorns. And the migrations of most dragonfly populations remain poorly understood.

Keep an eye out for dragonflies this month. And let us know if you see some kestrels following behind.

Photo: American kestrel at the Bureau of Land Management's Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Photo by BLM.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creepy-Crawly Things

It's Halloween, a perfect week to celebrate all those critters that make us shake, squirm and scream...

The Nature Conservancy has a special web feature, Spooky Science, on conservation projects that benefit things that go bump in the night. Check out a snake-sniffing dog, bats galore, spiders, the aptly named hellbender and even Idaho's very own terrifying trout.

I've also written a Cool Green Science post about the scary creatures that inhabit our world--and how much more scary it would be without them.

Have a happy Halloweeen week, and enjoy our cast of real-life creepy-crawlies. --Matt Miller

Monday, October 18, 2010


An unpleasant fact of life, a safety hazard, a good topic for humor? When it comes to dead wildlife on the road, we often don't know how to respond.

Consider the long list of tacky roadkill products--from cookbooks to theme restaurants to t-shirts.
And yet, most of us know that hitting a deer or moose is not a joke. More than 200 people each year are killed in such collisions.

Roadkill also represents another major threat: the threat to wildlife populations. Roads cut off migration routes, and kill large numbers of large mammals each year.

There is hope. The Nature Conservancy is working to protect wildlife habitat--keeping large mammals in the forest and off the highway--in places like the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and North Idaho.
Other efforts, like the Freedom to Roam campaign, seek to protect vital migration corridors and to install wildlife-friendly road devices.
Read the latest installment of our column, A Natural Perspective, to learn what you can do to protect people and nature from the very real--and very unfunny--risks posed by wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Elk at Silver Creek

One of the interesting trends at Silver Creek is the increasing number of elk using the preserve throughout the year.

On a recent visit, I saw more than 200 elk on the preserve and on private lands adjacent to Silver Creek.
Drive slowly along Stocker Creek Road at dawn or dusk, and you have a good chance of seeing similar scenes.
As night falls, the preserve becomes an even more dramatic place, as the sounds of bull elk bugling echoes across the valley--from the aspens, from the meadows, from the Picabo Hills.
While the peak of the elk rut is past, you still have a decent chance of hearing some bugles if you visit the preserve soon. To my mind, it's one of the most dramatic sounds in nature.
As Wyoming resident Audrey Hagan says in this National Public Radio piece on natural sounds: "When I moved to Jackson Hole about twenty years ago and first heard an elk bugle, all of a sudden the fall was defined by the sound of an elk instead of the color of an elm tree."
Accompanied by the calls of cranes, ducks, geese, coyotes and owls, it creates what I call the Silver Creek fall symphony.
Big bulls like the one in the photo above jealously guard their harems. Their bugles advertise their dominance, and they continue throughout the night. There's little time for rest for a bull elk in autumn.
I watched and photographed this herd on the preserve for a while, but then something disturbed the elk--and they were off in a cloud of dust.
They didn't go far. Their bugling soon resumed across the preserve--yet another natural spectacle to enjoy at the preserve.--Matt Miller

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Lemhi River: Agreements Protect Salmon Habitat, Ranchland

Leadore, Idaho – Two conservation easements along the Lemhi River near Leadore will protect nearly 2400 acres of salmon and wildlife habitat, tributary streams and working ranchland, The Nature Conservancy announced yesterday.

The conservation easements protect two ranches, and include some of the most important salmon habitat in the Lemhi valley. Both ranches will continue to be operated as working ranchland, with conservation plans in place to restore tributary streams, protect streamside vegetation and increase water flow to the Lemhi River.

Read more.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Silver Creek Video

Enjoy this short video about the Conservancy's partnership with MillerCoors at Silver Creek, aimed at improving water conservation on neighboring barley farms.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Nature Conservancy volunteer and photographer Ken Miracle sent these photos of a great wildlife sighting he had on the Boise River on Friday: a bobcat.

(Click on the photos to see larger versions).

Writes Ken: "I only had about an hour to fish today. Just as I finished loosing a fish I had hooked, ever so lightly, on a bullet head hopper there was a commotion on the other side of the river. This hunter had leapt in the river chasing a couple of ducks. Unfortunately the ducks got away and all he got was wet.

"He then proceeded to walk out on this log and sharpen his claws and dry himself off with his tongue and the sun. I spent my last 20 minutes of fishing time watching this bobcat. I only had our little pocket camera with me and it does not have a view finder so it was hard to get a good focus with the sun on the back screen Even though the catching was not the best I had a great hour on the Boise shared with one of my neighbors."
Bobcats are probably more common around Idaho than we think. They're secretive animals, spending most daylight hours resting in caves or hollow logs.

They're found widely in the state, from sagebrush to forests--and, obviously, even near our largest cities.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Biological Storm

Naturalists have long been fascinated by massive herds, flocks and swarms--the Serengeti wildebeest, the long-gone bison on the plains, incomprehensible bird flocks overhead.

However, much of the information we know about such phenomena appear to not bear much scientific scrutiny. A lot of recent thinking fits within in a "balance of nature," when in reality, perhaps, we should be speaking of the "chaos of nature."

I've recently read several pieces that capture the real complexity of super-abudant wildlife, what could be called "biological storms."

The first, by my friend and writer Stephen Bodio in Cornell's Living Bird journal, concerns the fate of the passenger pigeon. We all know that humans caused the extinction of the passenger pigeon, but did we also create its abundance?

This an excellent essay, one that raises many questions about our notions of the natural world, about change and inter-connectedness.

Bodio raises the possibility that burning by pre-European tribes may have helped create the super-abundance of the passenger pigeon--undoubtedly one of the greatest biological storms the Earth has ever seen, one that makes hurricanes and tsunamis seem mild by comparison.

Bodio writes of one flock that occupied the entire southern two-thirds of Wisconsin, a flock that consumed an estimated 210 million liters of food per day.

The composition of trees in forests and the fate of other birds like ivory-billed woodpeckers were both likely shaped by passenger pigeon flocks. Indeed, it's no exaggeration that these pigeons significantly shaped the ecological history of our continent.

This Living Bird piece led me to entomologist's Jeffrey Lockwood's celebration of cicadas from The New York Times.

Here is a species that still thrives alongside us in the eastern United States, in inconceivable numbers: Their waste alone would fill 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools a day. This cicada species remains dormant for 17 years, to noisily reemerge in a frenzy of feeding and breeding. When they die, they leave behind some 500 trillion eggs--and begin the cycle anew.

(By the way, Lockwood has also written one of my favorite books, Locust, which concerns another once super-abundant animal now gone from the plains).

Finally, salmon may not exist in such staggering numbers as passenger pigeons did and cicadas do.

But wild salmon from fisheries like Bristol Bay still provide an incredible amount of healthful food. Despite a thriving commercial fishery, we can still eat Bristol Bay's salmon without guilt--and indeed, we can eat them knowing we are helping to ensure their continued survival.

My counterpart in Alaska, Dustin Solberg, recently took a month off work to spend as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay. His essays on Cool Green Science offer a look into that life, and into the incredible abundance still swimming in Alaska--feeding not only humans but bears, eagles, belugas and an entire ecosystem.

That this incredible resource is under threat by a gigantic mine should concern us all. Let's not repeat the mistakes of the past. Read Solberg's posts and learn more about what you can do to help.--Matt Miller

Photo: Commercial salmon fishing by Dustin Solberg.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Red-Naped Sapsucker

Aspen groves are well-known for their value to wildlife. One of the many birds that use them extensively is the red-naped sapsucker.
My wife, Jennifer Miller, photographed these sapsuckers on a trip earlier in the summer to City of Rocks National Reserve. Throughout the aspens, the birds were feeding their young nesting in holes in aspen trees.
As their name suggests, sapsuckers do feed on sap--predominantly from willow trees. However, they don't suck sap, they peck the tree and then sip it. The tip of the sapsucker's tongue has small, hair-like projectiles that help it better lap the sap.
As with many birds, young sapsuckers need protein in the form of insects and other invertebrates. The adult sapsuckers we watched at City of Rocks brought plenty of insects to the constantly begging youngsters.
It was a great experience to watch these birds, from just a few feet away, squeeze into the hole and then reappear.
Hopefully, it's an experience future generations can enjoy. Aspen groves have been in steep decline, which appears to be related to climate change. Aspens provide habitat for not only sapsuckers, but also mule deer, elk and a large variety of birds.
Aspen trees are actually a community of clones--the grove is actually one organism growing from roots. As such, many consider the aspen grove to be the largest and oldest organism on earth. The "Pando" aspen colony in Utah is estimated to be 80,000 years old and weighs 6600 tons--making it the largest and oldest thing on earth.
Hopefully climate change actions can help save the aspen groves--and the species like red-naped sapsuckers that depend on them for their survival.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Another Big Brown

There have been some monstrous trout caught at Silver Creek Preserve this summer. Our Central Idaho conservation manager, Mark Davidson, shows a picture of one he recently caught--a 28.5 inch fish that he estimates could weigh 10 pounds.

It's not exactly a secret what prey these large, predatory fish are gobbling...

We've mentioned the vole population explosion several times already on this blog. It's really become a feeding frenzy at Silver Creek, and not just for the trout gobbling up rodents that fall into the water. There are huge numbers of raptors at the preserve. It's not unusual to see eight or more redtails overhead, with many more feeding or resting on fence posts and dead trees.

Voles populations are cyclical, and this year's wet spring seems to have created ideal conditions. Visit the preserve soon to see all the predatory birds. And if you fish, you may want to pack along a few mouse patterns!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Owyhee Land Acquisitions Announced

The Wilderness Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy have announced the acquisition of two properties in Owyhee County both in newly designated wilderness located adjacent to the Owyhee Backcountry Byway. Both property acquisitions will offer scenic desert canyons to public access and recreation.

The acquisitions are part of the on-going implementation of the Owyhee Initiative, a historic collaboration by local ranchers, Owyhee County, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, conservation groups and recreationists.
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Today, the Wilderness Land Trust acquired a 611-acre property located on the North Fork of the Owyhee River, owned by long-time Owyhee rancher Mike Hanley.

The property will be transferred to the Bureau of Land Management to become part of the North Fork Owyhee Wilderness. It is located along the largest canyon that intersects the Owyhee Backcountry Byway, on Juniper Mountain Road.

It is also adjacent to the only developed campground on the byway. The property offers spectacular rugged canyon scenery in the heart of the Owyhees and over a mile of the North Fork Owyhee River for fishing, hiking and habitat protection.

Read more about these properties that will offer access to wilderness directly off the Owyhee Backcountry Byway.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dusky Grouse

Mention Idaho wildlife migrations, and most think of animals "escaping winter": the southern flights of birds in the fall, mule deer and elk moving out of the high country into the mild valleys, bald eagles abandoning frozen lakes for open rivers.

This isn't the case for the dusky grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) : This large bird spends the summers in low-elevation foothills, and then migrates into the deep snow of coniferous forests in the winter.

In the summer and early fall, it feeds on seeds, berries and small insects. In the winter, its diet is almost exclusively pine needles.

Now is obviously an easier time to see these birds, the third largest grouse in North America (after the two sage grouse species). They can be seen in low-elevation foothills like the Boise Front and the Bennett Mountains near Mountain Home (where this one was photographed), or in valley areas in Idaho's national forests.

There is some anecdotal evidence that dusky grouse are in decline in some regions. But more research is needed. Now is the time to determine if there are long-term declines. Once a population becomes endangered, recovery is much more difficult.

By the way, the name "dusky grouse" may be unfamiliar, as most know this bird as the "blue grouse." Recently, the blue grouse was split into two species--the "sooty grouse" of coastal regions and the "dusky grouse" that is found in the Intermountain West, including Idaho.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Silver Creek License Plates

Silver Creek intern Dominique Lucio put together this collage of license plates he saw on the preserve this summer. It's obvious that our visitors love their fish and birds--and the preserve!

If you have other photos of creative nature- and outdoors-related license plates, let us know, and we'll post them on the blog.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Silver Creek Fishing Report - August 16, 2010

Submitted by Dayna Gross, Silver Creek Preserve manager

The tricos are finally here!

For a while there were sporadic hatches around 8:30 or 9 am. followed by a baetis (size 20-22) or PMD (size 14-18) hatch until a few days ago when we saw the first full trico hatch.

A little late and a little odd, but this summer has not been typical as far as weather. The late afternoon thunderstorms have mixed things up and many people have given the mice patterns (or vole patterns!) late at night a try-- the brown trout are definitely getting fat this year. With a late or mid afternoon wind, grasshoppers are a sure thing.

The preserve has not seen many visitors the past two weeks, so your luck may be increased with the low traffic.
Vole Update: We've covered these little rodents quite a bit this summer. The Idaho Statesman has another interesting bit of info about this year's vole explosion. It turns out that not only are voles feeding many species from trout to raptors, they're also reducing the amount of grasses in sagebrush country--leading to a decrease in size and frequency of fires. Way to go, voles!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Vole Patrol

Voles, voles, everywhere.

As the Idaho Mountain Express reported last week, much of southern Idaho is experiencing a vole population explosion this summer.

Montane voles are small but stocky rodents that live in large colonies. You might see them scurrying across the road or trail. Or you might notice their well-developed trails through sagebrush, meadows and agricultural fields.

Some reports point to this vole abundance as a sign of nature "out of balance," an assertion that is not correct.

Voles populations are cyclic, and at times the little animals exist in staggering numbers.

And wherever there are large numbers of prey animals, there will be a lot of predators taking advantage of the situation. Whether it's wildebeest in the Serengeti, mayflies on a spring creek, or snowshoe hares in the Arctic, huge masses of prey invite a feeding frenzy.

And that's certainly the case with high vole populations. So many predators eat voles--foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls, weasels, snakes. And, oh yes, trout.

Visit Silver Creek in the evening and note the high numbers of owls around. It would be interesting to know if the owls have more young, or raise young more succesfully, in years of peak vole abundance. In Alaska, lemming population booms mean more breeding by snowy owls and short-tailed weasels. Perhaps voles--which are similar to lemmings--affect Idaho predators' survival and breeding success.

The concept of the "balance of nature" makes a good story, but it's never really been accurate. Nature sometimes appears, to human eyes, to be wildly out of balance. But huge population outbreaks are not necessarily plagues or natural disasters; instead, they're merely part of a natural cycle of prey and predator.

This summer, keep an eye out for voles and the many animals that eat them. It may be a while before we ever see this many again.

Friday, August 06, 2010


On a recent trip into the Owyhees, the Conservancy's director of science, Bob Unnasch (left) and director of stewardship, Art Talsma (right) located this giant puffball--the largest either had ever seen.
It's an impressive example of a common and widespread group of fungi species.
Puffballs consist of a number of groups of fungi, with the notable feature being that they produce their spores internally. The puffballs eventually dry up and split, whereupon their spores are released into the breeze.
This is what gives them their name. Anyone who has stepped on a dried puffball is familiar with the "puff" of spores that explodes from the puffball--almost like smoke.
This particular puffball will no doubt emit a large cloud of spore "smoke." In the meantime, though, it looks pretty good modeling a Nature Conservancy hat...

Monday, August 02, 2010

Really Big Trout

To start the week, here are two big fish photos from our Idaho preserves. The above photo was taken at Flat Ranch Preserve, on the headwaters of the Henry's Fork in Macks Inn.

The Henry's Fork Foundation recently conducted an electro-shocking survey of a stretch of the preserve's waters where a habitat restoration project was recently completed. The 24-inch Yellowstone cutthroat is one of the fish they caught and released during the survey.

The Henry's Fork Outlet that runs through Flat Ranch is not very big water. Most would not guess it holds fish like this.

The Yellowstone cutthroat is the native fish of these waters, and is imperiled due to the usual enemies of native trout: loss of habitat and competition from non-native fishes. It's great so see these fish still surviving on the Flat Ranch. The habitat restoration offers a hopeful future for these beautiful fish.
And here's a fish caught--by fly fishing, not electro-shocking--by the Conservancy's East Idaho conservation manager, Chet Work, on Silver Creek Preserve.
Chet recently accepted the position of executive director for the Teton Regional Land Trust, so we like to think of this as his going-away present.
Words like "passion" and "obsession" don't quite capture Chet's enthusiasm for fishing. This is someone who, quite literally, sets hooks in his sleep. He has spent some late nights chasing the monster browns of Silver Creek.
And while he's not saying what fly caught the trout, another recent Silver Creek blog post might hold a clue.
Having snorkeled much of the preserve last week, I can also assure you that I saw plenty of other behemoth trout--including a few that could pass for this one's "big brother"--swimming the waters.
They're out there, lurking beneath the surface. We'd love to see your photos if you have any luck.
In the meantime, we'd like to again take this opportunity to thank Chet for his five outstanding years with the Conservancy, and wish him the best as he continues to work towards protecting Idaho's most special places.
Cutthroat trout photo by Flat Ranch Preserve intern Bryan Kloster.