Monday, July 25, 2011

Beat the Heat

With much of southern Idaho in the grips of our usual heat wave, many of us find ways to cope: We head to the mountains, or turn up the air conditioning. We go to the water to swim or float. We try to spend our time outdoors in the late evening or early morning, when it's coolest.

Wild animals, of course, behave in similar ways to "beat the heat." Summer can be a taxing time for many critters.

Just it takes precious calories to stay warm in the winter, it can take calories to stay cool in the summer. Wildlife accomplish this in familiar ways: They seek shade during the heat of the day. They move into the high mountains. They take refuge on (or in) creeks and winters.

Or they go underground.

Many species of ground squirrels in southern Idaho disappear at this time of year. Think about it: Ground squirrels are highly visible in the spring in nearly every patch of sagebrush, farm field and meadow.

And then, they disappear. Poof.

The heat takes too much energy for the squirrels to survive. And so, for some species, they exist in a torpor underground. Their metabolism is lower and they exist in a "deep sleep" for periods of time. For some, they remain underground for eight months of the year.

For instance, take the Columbia ground squirrels so common around Silver Creek. They emerge in mid- to late-April. And then, in early July, they return to their burrows for a very long dormancy. Sometimes they reemerge for a short period in the autumn. Other times they don't re-emerge until April.

It boggles our human notions of time to imagine a species that is dormant for 8 or more months each year of its life.

Yellow-bellied marmots in the cool Idaho Rockies will remain active through the fall. In southern Idaho, many go into dormancy beginning in July.

Ground squirrels of higher elevation mountains--like the Uinta and golden-mantled ground squirrels of Yellowstone National Park--will stay active all summer and won't hibernate until fall.

And so, if you're feeling a bit lethargic in the heat, you can still feel productive compared to ground squirrels: They won't reemerge from their dens until next April!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Silver Creek Fishing Report - July 20, 2011

Silver Creek fishing has been tough, but it is improving as warm weather and increased hatches have made for happier fishermen.

Pale morning duns (PMDs) and baetis are still at the top of the menu, which are best fished in the morning or evenings. The trico hatch is on the tip of everyone’s tongues as more are being spotted, but the best of the hatch is still likely a few days away.

Damselflies are out in droves, and their large size makes them a fun option for those of us who like a large fly. Also, don’t forget to bring along a few caddis patterns. Small hoppers, flying ants, and beetles should also be in your fly box, especially during the heat of the day.

If you are looking for a break from the heat, the full moon has had fish feeding through the night, and a mouse pattern is always fun.

Many reports indicate that the fish haven’t been surfacing during the day so dry flies have been ignored, but don’t give up! I have seen great success in recent weeks using minnow streamers and nymphs.

That’s the latest at Silver Creek Preserve. May the inside of your waders stay dry, your fly land true, and happy fishing.

Matthew Hough, Silver Creek Preserve assistant manager

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Free Leopold Film in Boise, 7/20

Greenfire: The Life and Legacy of Aldo Leopold
Free showing
7 p.m. July 20, 2011
The Flicks, Boise

Tomorrow evening, attend a free showing of Greenfire: The Life and Legacy of Aldo Leopold. It's the first feature-length film on visionary conservationist and author Aldo Leopold (1887-1948).

Watch the trailer.

Leopold is best known as author of a collection of essays, A Sand County Almanac. His words and ideas remain as relevant today as they were when first published soon after his death. Arguably, no one has ever said it better, before or since.

Leopold remains one of the most quotable authors on the land ethic, an idea he coined. Many of his ideas seem notably ahead of his time: He predicted the spread of cheatgrass around the West. He realized the important role large predators play in ecosystems. He recognized people as an integral part of conservation.

Leopold thought deeply about conservation issues, discussed them, read about them and wrote about them. But behind his words was a deep love of the outdoors, of wild things and wild places. His conservation ethic was informed by time on the ground, by hunting and fishing and watching and exploring. Without the personal observation, his words lack context. It's a lesson all conservationists should heed. Being out there still matters.

More importantly, Leopold considered his opinions, and changed them, as so eloquently described in Julianne Lutz Newton's Aldo Leopold's Odyssey. On many issues, Leopold's experience and scholarship led him to strikingly different conclusions than he had espoused earlier in life.

Rather than shrinking in fear of being a "flip flopper," he evolved as a thinker and a conservationist, culminating in A Sand County Almanac. In a time of increasingly strident public debate, of lines in the sand, of name calling and meaningless message points, Leopold continues to remind us that we can only really move forward if , as one of my mentors put it, "we listen at the risk of being changed."

We hope you can join us at the film tomorrow night, co-sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, and learn more about Leopold and his remarkable legacy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Flat Ranch: Upcoming Events

The Nature Conservancy of Idaho presents:
The 2011 Summer Speaker Series at the Flat Ranch

Wednesday, July 20
Wolverines of the Greater Yellowstone, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Wolverine expert Bob Inman of the Wildlife Conservation Society recently conducted a camera trap study on the rarest carnivore in North America. While most of us won't see a wolverine firsthand, you'll have the opportunity to view images of local wolverines and learn more about the challenges to studying and conserving these scrappy carnivores.

Friday, July 22 – Saturday, July 23
Nature Art Expo, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The Nature Conservancy and the Idaho Art Lab present the 2011 Nature Art Expo. Stop by the Flat Ranch during Pioneer Days Antiques Weekend and browse the works of local artists on the porch of the Visitor Center. Artists from southeast Idaho will display and sell original artwork with nature themes for two full days at the Flat Ranch. Light refreshments provided by local businesses.

Saturday, July 23
Geological & Pioneer History of Southeast Idaho, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

BYU-Idaho history expert Professor Larry Coates will provide an overview of the geological history of southeast Idaho and how unique landscape features impacted pioneer settlement of the region.

Wednesday, July 27
Working Dogs for Conservation, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Come meet the dogs who are doing their part to study rare and endangered species in some of the wildest habitat on the planet, from Hawaii to China to Montana. Trainer Meghan Parks will describe the research with which these dogs assist, as well as conduct a live scent detection demonstration. Great for adults and kids, alike!

Saturday, July 30
Landscape Photography with High Dynamic Range, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Can't get the sun and the shadows into the same shot? Photos of landscapes seem more dull than when you were there? In this talk and demonstration, Dave Katsuki will show you how to use your DSLR to create more dramatic landscapes using HDR technology and software. HDR is a technique that many serious photographers are using to enhance their images. It combines multiple shots at differing exposures into a single image that can be as realistic or surreal as desired.

Saturday, August 6
Raptors of Yellowstone, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Come to the Flat Ranch to meet our resident hawks, owls, falcons and eagles. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center will bring live raptors for a talk on diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Great for adults and kids, alike!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Farm & Biodiversity Tour

By Dayna Gross, Silver Creek Preserve manager

On June 23, Oregon State University held a farms and biodiversity tour in southcentral Idaho, including visits to Ernie’s Organic Farm near Shoshone and the showcase barley farm on the Stevenson property in the Silver Creek valley.

The stated purpose of the tour was to “see first-hand the progressive biodiversity enhancement practices that are driving sustainable agriculture forward in the 21st century and to interact directly with scientists, farmers and professionals who are helping us understand the role and importance of on-farm biodiversity for crop quality, yield and pesticide use reduction.”

We talked about a variety of farming practices and how they affect local biodiversity. Subjects included: integrated pest management, no till farming, cover crops, wetland protection, conservation easements, wildlife, restoration, native plants, beneficial insects and pollinators, soil, organic farming, water conservation, incentive programs for farmers, and the opportunities and constraints involved with all of the above.

We started the tour winding along the Little Wood River on Ernie’s Organics, a farm owned by Fred and Judy Bross, and then headed to the Stevenson property.

On both farms, the substantial riparian areas provide habitat for a variety of animals and the buffers along the agricultural fields are home to an abundance of beneficial insects and pollinators.

The biggest revelation of the day came to me as we looked for insects within the buffer zones on the Brossy property. Because of my background and experience, I have been thinking of landscapes primarily as wildlife corridors and water systems—but there are ecosystems within the landscape that are just as important.

What looks like unused transition ground around agricultural fields can be important habitat for insects, many of which contribute to healthier crops.

For instance, the beetles that I collect with my sons (photo above) as we go for walks thrive in the native habitat along the road and move into the farm ground at night where they eat pests.

If buffer zones of native and flowering plants are close enough to crops, they reduce the need for herbicides and increase the resilience of the crop.

Similarly, pollinators are important for sustaining all kinds of natural systems as well as many of the crops we grow. I often promote riparian buffer zones as great wildlife habitat and important features for water quality and quantity (which they are). But they have been simultaneously providing important habitat for all kinds of little critters that make farming more productive, healthy, and sustainable.

Amazing what you learn when you start looking really, really, closely!

For more information on insects and their role in healthy farms and healthy habitat, contact Gwendolyne Ellen or the Xerces Society.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Flat Ranch: The Cows Arrive

Story and photos by Dave Katsuki, additional photos by Sarah Grigg and Nancy Elkins

The Flat Ranch is a working cattle ranch, and working cattle ranches have fences--lots of them! Getting the ranch ready for its summer season means getting all those fences ready for the cattle that arrive in July.

In this part of the country, heavy winter snow dictates that most barbed wire and electric fences are “lay-down fences,” built to allow the wire and sometimes movable posts (called “dancers”) to lay down on the ground in the autumn so that they won’t get broken by the weight of the snow.

As the ranch wakes up in the spring, the cowboys, staff and volunteers check the fence lines, put the fences up and make any needed repairs (and there are always needed repairs).
Luckily the cowboys do most of the fencing, and they have done it for many years, but for the new staff and volunteers, there is often a learning curve: Learning to handle barbed wire and using the fence stretcher. Repairing lay-down gates. Grafting new wire onto tired old wire (have to stretch the dollars as well as the wire). Repairing and lighting up electric fences. Replacing rails in old jack fences.

But the hard work is all worth it if one can look out over the fields covered with wild flowers, surrounded by the mountains.

And then the cattle arrive! On July 6, six trucks from Spring Eagle Ranch arrived and unloaded 240 cattle into the corral.

Cowboys sorted the cattle and branded a dozen calves to get ready to drive the herd out to their first pasture. The cowboys were really talented, and their horses seemed telepathic, as the cowboys cut the cows out and roped the calves for branding and vaccinating. It feels like a private rodeo!

The next day, the cowboys drove the cattle to their first pasture, where they will remain for a week. The cattle look pretty happy after a winter down in the desert!

One of the missions of the Flat Ranch is to show that cattle ranching is compatible with conservation.

The cattle graze in 12 different pastures, with an intensive grazing rotation that moves from pasture to pasture on a 2 to 10 day schedule. This prevents over-grazing and mimics the feeding patterns of bison on the grasslands.
A Big Thanks to All Our Volunteers
Dr. Nick Markin and Dr.-to-be Kara Markin, of Omaha, Nebraska stopped by the Flat Ranch for a visit and were recruited as fencing volunteers (see photos above). With the arrival of cattle, electric fencing is erected around creeks to protect banks and streams. The Markins were essential in stringing the fence in time for the arrival of the cattle.

Our volunteers support the ranch in many ways other than fence repair.

Idaho Fish & Game Master Naturalist volunteers have also been tremendously helpful. Penny Freppon acted as visitor center docent for an afternoon, allowing Flat Ranch staff to conduct work in the field. Nancy Olson, Phyllis King, and Lee King undertook a major trash pick-up along the pastures lining Highway 20, hauling off an entire truck-load of debris. Many thanks to all our volunteers who give their time to keep the ranch running!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Fishing, Flowers and Fun on the Flats

Blog and photos by Nature Conservancy volunteers Nancy Elkins and Dave Katsuki.

Fly fishers have discovered that Henry’s Outlet on the Flat Ranch is one of the best fishing spots at this time of the year. With the rapid snow run-off muddying the surrounding lakes and streams, the outlet is providing clear and easy moving waters for excellent fishing.

Local fishing guides are bringing clients to the Flat Ranch to fish the outlet, and the results speak for themselves. Here are just a few comments written in the Flat Ranch guest book about the fishing, as well as the experience:

“Lovely, gorgeous, beautiful””
“Absolutely spectacular! Fish, flowers and sand hill cranes. Terrific investment!!!”
“12-inch rainbow, incredible place!”
“Two beautiful cutthroat. Marvelous, wonderful walk”
“19.5 inch cutt. Thanks!”
“4 cutts on lead-free conehead bugger on a 40+ year old UL spin rod”

And that’s just a small sample of the great comments in our guest book.

One thing that is making the ranch so lovely and beautiful are the fields of wildflowers. Carpets of mule’s ear, larkspur and camas frame the setting of the snowcapped mountains. Peeking their heads out from the fields are also sticky geranium, prairie smoke and mouse-ear chickweed. Many visitors have stopped by just to walk in the fields and take photographs.

The 2011 summer speaker series started with a roar on June 15th with a standing-room only talk about cougars by Marilyn Cuthill of Craighead Beringia South. The fun continued the following week with fantastic photos of fly fishing in international locations like Kashmir, Cuba and the Amazon, presented by Jim Klug of Yellowdog Flyfishing Adventures.

If you’ve ever been nervous about how to use your bear spray, the folks at the “bear aware” lecture, led by Leisja Meates of IDFG/USFS, had some hands-on time with water-based practice bear spray. It was quite a sight with everyone lined up in the yard, shooting off their bear spray.

The speaker series runs throughout the summer on most Wednesdays and Saturdays. More fun will take place on Friday July 22nd and Saturday, July 23rd when the Flat Ranch will host a Nature Art Expo in conjunction with the Idaho Art Lab. Local artists will feature their nature-related art for sale.

As you can see, lots of things are happening at the Flat Ranch in Island Park. Whether you are into fishing, flowers, fun, hiking, birding or relaxing, you can experience it all at the ranch.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Silver Creek Fishing Report - July 5, 2011

Silver Creek intern Matt Hough submits the latest fishing report from Silver Creek. It sounds like things are finally picking up...

The latest reports at Silver Creek show warming and stabilizing weather to finally be improving fishing conditions on the preserve. As many of you know, our cool, wet weather has made fishing difficult and hatches late since season’s open.

Currently, pale morning duns (PMDs) and baetis are increasing in numbers, and reports indicate that they are about the only flies being used consistently on the preserve in a season marked by very inconsistent hatches.

For those of you that are (like me) and have trouble actually seeing a baetis fly in the water, try fishing them behind a PMD and (maybe) double your odds.

Fishing small, wet flies such as damsel nymphs and midges are also said to work when dry flies are ignored. Anglers have also mentioned sightings of a few green drakes, caddisflies, and stoneflies.

Unfortunately, the brown drakes are completely finished, but it was fun while it lasted. As always, the odds of success are increased with longer leaders (up to 12 feet) and finer tippet (6X to 7X).

Also, don’t underestimate the draw of terrestrials. Flying black ants and black beetles, along with a few bees, are said to have some success, especially during the midday lull.

I also spotted a couple of grasshoppers near the stream last weekend so hoppers may already be on the menu.

Nighttime fishing is thought to improve as the changing moon phases brighten the night. Night fishing is best enjoyed by fishing a mouse pattern near the edges to coax the behemoths out of their hiding spots.

That’s the latest at Silver Creek Preserve. For more specific fly patterns, consult with some of the knowledgeable staff of our local fly shops. Good luck to you and happy angling.

Matt Hough, July 5th, 2011

Friday, July 01, 2011

Best of all he loved the fall

Best of all he loved the fall
The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
Leaves floating on the trout streams
And above the hills
The high blue windless skies
Now he will be a part of them forever.

Ernest Hemingway
July 21, 1899 - July 2, 1961