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.