Monday, December 23, 2013

Reclaiming Old Logs and Reuniting with Family

By Clark Shafer, associate director of philanthropy

As the snow starts to fall in the mountains of Idaho, it is hard to think about summer. As much as I love winter, summer is a special time for me and my family – it means reuniting with my family in Maine. Each summer for the past 40 years, I have spent at least a week at a family camp near Baxter State Park.

The Shafer family in Maine. Photo courtesy of Clark Shafer.

Baxter State Park is a large wilderness area permanently preserved as a state park and home to Mt. Katahdin. It is about 200,000 acres and was gifted to the State by the former Governor, Percival Baxter from 1931 to 1962. Baxter State Park is vast, rugged and pristine. It is the beginning of the Appalachian Trail and tallest peak in Maine. It is where I proposed to my wife and where I taught my children to paddle a canoe. It inspired writers like Thoreau and artists like Fredric Church. I am lucky to be able to vacation there – it inspires my family and me. 

Mt. Katahdin. Photo ©Clark Shafer/TNC

The area surrounding the park, and most of northern Maine for that matter, has been owned and managed by Timber Companies since the turn of the century. The timber industry was the lifeblood of this area for the past 100 years.

Following through Millinocket, the small town where my grandfather was born, is the West Branch of the Penobscot. The area was once home to the world’s largest paper mill and was first logged in 1828. This river supported the historic river-driver logging industry and was choked with freshly cut trees as a way to transport them to the local mill. There are no longer river drives, but what remains is a stockpile of first cut, virgin timber submerged in nearby lakes.

Painting of Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp by Frederic Church.

Today the landscape and attitudes are drastically different than that of 100 years ago. While visiting this past summer I toured my brother’s new business venture, Maine Heritage Timber. My brother was a former Wall Street executive who needed to re-invent himself a few years ago when the economy hurt many people. He is now reclaiming logs that have been submerged in settling ponds for the past hundred years. The tour of his facility was remarkable. I was able to see some of the flooring material and furniture that he mills from these logs that for years were left submerged in the icy waters of northern Maine. For every year Maine Heritage Timber operates, they save 1,000 acres from being cut.

Reclaimed spruce/fir flooring. Photo ©Clark Shafer

As consumers we have the choice to purchase sustainable products. I can’t think of a more environmentally friendly way to remodel a kitchen or dining room, than using river reclaimed lumber. The thought of standing on flooring made of wood that started as sapling before the Constitution was signed amazes me. For more information please visit Maine Heritage Timber.

The Nature Conservancy in Idaho and Maine have partnered with timber companies like Plum Creek and Forest Capital Partners to promote sustainable timber practices that is good for people and nature. To learn more about the work The Nature Conservancy is doing in Idaho and Maine forests please click on the links above.

It is exciting that my brother and I are taking different approaches to help the health of our forests. I am excited to get back to Maine this summer to be with family and see healthy, working forests again.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A promising way to prevent wildlife-vehicle crashes

By Lisa Eller, communications director

A white creature hurries across the road against a pitch-black night. It wasn't an elusive white bear, as my coworker Art joked, but the thermal image of a moose crossing one of the deadliest highways in Idaho - US Highway 95 in Boundary County. 

This stretch of highway sees a relatively high number of fatalities (both human and animal) from collisions between wildlife and vehicles. Between 2000 and 2010, there were 321 wildlife-related accidents reported on Highway 95 in the McArthur Lake vicinity. Two of these accidents caused human fatalities, and 36 more resulted in injuries. All told, these collisions cost an estimated $4.9 million, ranging from loss of life to vehicle repairs. ‬

For several years the Conservancy, as a partner of the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, has looked for ways to make the area safer. Earlier this month, after researching several safety options, we deployed a new but promising safety system. The first phase of the project was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

According to its creator, Brice Sloan of Sloan Security Systems, the system is the first to combine the use of Doppler radar, high-resolution thermal camera, web-enabled remote power systems, and other wireless technologies to create a mobile animal detection system to reduce crashes between animals and vehicles. Unlike traditional perimeter detection methods this system tracks movement over the entire roadway – from fence to fence - over a distance of up to 1km in a given area.

Deer captured in a test image from Warm Springs in Boise. Photo and video (above) ©Sloan Security Systems

Once movement is detected, the monitor triggers nearby alert signal strobe lights to turn on – these lights stay on until the animal is off the road. The mobile monitoring system and alert lights communicate via powerful radios similar to how you would trigger your garage door.

Signal strobe light. Photo ©Sloan Security Systems.

Monitoring trailer. Photo ©Sloan Security Systems.

If effective the system could offer benefits many traditional safety measures don't: mobility, adaptability, permeability and affordability. Rather than forcing wildlife to respond to various funneling systems, the system can be adapted (moved) in response to the animal behavior. And it is relatively affordable when compared to infrastructure changes like building tunnels under highways.

In addition to the detection feature, the combination of radar and thermal cameras are helping the Idaho Transportation Department to identify where, when, and how many animals are crossing the roadway within the detection area and where potential collisions might take place – invaluable information for designing safer roadways.  

Much more data needs to be collected but results, thus far, are positive.

For more on the project and to donate, go to the McArthur Lake Safety project page. To volunteer by verifying data coming through the monitor, contact Brice Sloan at

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Morning on the desert

By Sunny Healey, Silver Creek Preserve manager

Morning on the desert! I can smell the sagebrush smoke; 
An' I hate to see it burnin', but the land must sure be broke.
-Katherine Fall Pettey, from Songs from the Sage Brush, 1910

Near the North Fork of the Boise River. Photo by Sunny Healey/TNC

The high-desert sagebrush steppe ecosystem is hard to simplify and even more difficult to replicate from scratch. This summer we lost more of that ecosystem when the Beaver Creek fire burned so hot that the plants are not expected to grow back anytime soon. The rain we wished for did arrive but it came falling out of the sky with such intensity (and questionable timing) that it started to dramatically erode the mountainsides. We got to see geomorphology in action, right from the kitchen window for some people. The celebration of fire containment and houses and lives saved was dampened by the 4 feet of mud up against the garage.

By the sheep bridge on the Big Wood River. Photo ©Sunny Healey/TNC

To prohibit further erosion and mudslides, experts recommended a series of measures to be prescribed in the fire rehabilitation plan, one of which included reseeding priority areas within Blaine County. The recommendations came after field inspection by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Forest Service (USFS), Geologic Survey (USGS), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), BLM, Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) and others, In addition to stabilizing the hillsides, the reseeding will improve wildlife habitat more quickly, provide increased resilience and allow us once again to be hiking the hills, gazing at a big bull elk standing majestically amongst the wildflowers, native grasses and sagebrush.

Soldier Creek Preserve. Photo ©Sunny Healey/TNC

The NRCS and USFS suggested performing aerial reseeding this fall. In the beginning, it was going to be bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue and a quick-acting sterile cereal seed to the rescue. But several groups came together to ensure diverse native species would be added to this reseeding mix. With the support of Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary, IDFG, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the NRCS, Dayna Gross (TNC) and Dani Mazzotta (ICL) drafted an application to enhance the seed mix with native species. Choosing the seeds turned out to be an interesting and semi-controversial discussion that included private and public lands, county, state and federal funding, and price and availability of seeds, with major timing constraints, and some measurable (and some total) uncertainty. Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson’s comments about private, federal and state property lines being part of a tapestry that is woven together by natural systems and habitats that cannot be compartmentalized for political convenience helped conceptualize and focus the importance of the reseeding initiative.

Native forbs should be included with the grasses and sage seed mix for many reasons but partly because different species will inhabit different layers of soil.  If a particular soil layer is not inhabited, it provides an opportunity for the notoriously crafty noxious weeds to take up that niche.

Stanley, Idaho. Photo ©Sunny Healey/TNC

The ideal mix is too complicated and expensive but a few seeds were considered and selected for their relevant attributes.  Lewis blue flax, named in honor of Meriwether Lewis, provides erosion control, pollinator habitat and beautification. What the Intermountain Native Plant Growers Association refers to as a ‘handsome and statuesque bunchgrass,’  Great Basin wildrye provides good cover for deer and antelope, important winter forage for elk, and serves as habitat and a food source for upland game birds, songbirds, and small mammals.  Western yarrow, which has a long history as a powerful healing herb, is also a great food source and is commonly used as nesting material for birds. It is an early succession species and readily establishes on disturbed sites.  The beautiful bright-yellow arrowleaf balsamroot flowers grow quickly in the spring and are good browse for wildlife stressed by winter conditions. The most sought-after seed of the mix was sagebrush. Though its leaves are bitter and toxic to some ruminants, sagebrush provides food and habitat for pronghorn antelope, mule deer, pygmy rabbit and the gray vireo. It is essential to sage grouse, and cows and sheep commonly graze on sagebrush slopes. Its scientific name Artemisia tridentata refers to Artemis, the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals and wilderness. Native Americans burned dried sage leaves to purify tipis and to bless pregnant women and young warriors.

The part of the seed mix selection process that most inspired me was the value of sagebrush, literally and otherwise.  Great Basin wildrye costs $12/lb., blue flax $10/lb., antelope bitterbrush up to $40/lb., and Big Mountain sagebrush $50/lb.  For this restoration project, 2500 critical acres are being reseeded at a rate of one quarter to one pound per acre for each seed type.  How much will it cost to reseed all that land?  In the end, we were able to get a suitable mix for about $50,000, not including the plane ride.

But it made me wonder, how much sagebrush do we have?  What if wildfires or land use changes destroyed too much sagebrush? How much would it cost to reseed the entire ecosystem?  Or, rather, what is the current value of all the sagebrush in the American West?  In 2005 a conservation strategy and assessment from Colorado estimated over 106 million acres of sagebrush in the western U.S. The Handbook of Western Reclamation Techniques suggests seeding sagebrush at two pounds per acre.   At current prices and suggested application rates, it would cost $10.6 billion.

This is a simplistic equation and not very realistic because there are many more variables besides seed costs and acres but the question made me think about some of the reasons I love sagebrush and how life in Idaho wouldn’t be the same without it: fishing the long lonesome trails along the Little Wood River; listening to the last songs around a cowboy campfire with a backdrop of stars and sage; reading  about the essence of the West from a child’s point of view in my New York City niece’s school project about a ride across the Camas Prairie; that feeling as you quietly traverse the open range of the Rock Creek Valley that a mountain lion is watching from a secret hideaway in the basalt ledge above. During the reseeding effort I learned that a few dedicated people and a lot of hard work can make a big difference and that beyond any price we could try to attribute to it, plain old everyday sagebrush has significant wildlife, spiritual, cultural, historical and economic value. 

"Sagebrush ain't so pretty?" Well, all eyes don't see the same;
Have you ever saw the moonlight turn it to a silv'ry flame?
An' that greasewood thicket yonder—well, it smells jest awful sweet 
When the night wind has been shakin' it; for smells it's hard to beat.
-Katherine Fall Pettey

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Strong support for Boise's clean water and natural areas

By Bas Hargrove, senior policy representative, The Nature Conservancy in Idaho

On November 5th, a strong majority of Boise voters made it clear they support investments in clean water and critical natural areas. Though the measure did not receive the two-thirds majority needed to pass, more than 3 in 5 Boise voters supported the bond to provide $15.7 million for Boise parks and natural areas.

While we did not get the outcome we hoped for, I was proud of the campaign and the Conservancy’s contribution to it. Seeing the passion, hard work and community spirit of volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls every day was truly inspirational. So was the broad coalition of local businesses, the outdoor recreation community, non-profit organizations and Boise’s decisions makers who came together on this effort.

Bas at campaign tabling in Boise. Photo ©Birkinbine Photography.
The Conservancy got into this campaign because of the opportunity to invest in clean water and wildlife habitat, but we came out the other side reminded of how much people matter.

We are united in our dedication to making Boise a great place to live, work and raise a family, and will continue to work with our partners to find new tools to ensure the protection of Boise’s clean water, wildlife habitat, and open spaces.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Conservancy Leaders Tell Congress “Invest in Nature”

By Will Whelan, director of government relations, The Nature Conservancy in Idaho

Recently, two Nature Conservancy volunteer leaders joined me in Washington, D.C. to deliver a simple message to Idaho’s senators and representatives:  conservation makes a good investment.
Idaho Chapter Board of Trustees Chair Peter Gray and Vice Chair Penn Siegel spoke about their personal connection to Idaho’s natural places in Idaho. They also made the broader point that America’s natural and outdoor recreation resources are an essential foundation for our economy and for the health and well being of the American people.

Idaho Board of Trustees Chair Peter Gray and Vice Chair Penn Siegel. Photo ©Will Whelan/TNC.
In Idaho and across the nation, federal conservation and outdoor recreation programs represent essential investments that support:
       Local communities and small businesses that depend on our multi-billion dollar recreation industry;
       Farming, ranching, and forestry jobs;
       Safe and adequate water supplies for drinking and other uses;
       Protection of communities from storms and droughts; and
       Healthy outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing.
Nationally, outdoor recreation, natural resource conservation, and historic preservation provide a minimum of $689 billion in direct economic activity in the United States and support 12.8 million jobs.    In Idaho, a remarkable 74% of residents participate in some form of outdoor recreation.  All told, outdoor recreation supports 77,000 direct jobs and $1.8 billion in wages.

Source: TNC U.S. Government Relations

The American public has a solid grasp of the value of nature.  In a national survey conducted last September, 73% of respondents agreed with the statement that “Wc can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good for Americans at the same time, without having to choose one over the other.”
Spending on conservation and natural resources amounts to just 1.18% of the federal budget.  That small sliver funds a huge range of things:  the national parks and monuments, all other federal lands, wildlife conservation, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, federal firefighting, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers, and ocean fisheries management.  Idaho – with its vast open spaces, outdoor tourism industry, and heavy reliance on scarce water resources – is more dependent than most states on sound management of public natural resources.
The conservation of our natural resources is central to our nation’s health, yet congressional appropriations for natural resources management have been declining for more than three decades. The portion of the federal budget devoted to conservation and natural resources has fallen by nearly half since the late 1970s.  Conservation has already sacrificed more than its fair share for deficit reduction and further cuts would gravely compromise the ability of key programs to accomplish their objectives.
The Conservancy used these facts to underscore our request to Idaho’s congressional delegation: investments in conservation have well documented returns for our economy and way of life, and deserve strong support from elected officials in any in upcoming budget negotiations.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Promising practices to protect and restore the Owyhyees

Editor's note: The first-ever Owyhee Research and Restoration Roundup was held on October 23 and 24 to showcase how research taking place in the Owyhees is being used to inform conservation and management.

By Art Talsma, restoration manager, The Nature Conservancy in Idaho

The Owyhee Roundup was a great exchange of ideas and conservation practices that showcased promising and effective ways to protect, restore and enhance rangelands to benefit both wildlife and ranching in the region.

Photo ©John Robison/Idaho Conservation League

We shared several innovative and traditional conservation practices where science is being applied across the region. These practices included: 
  • Coated seed pods that increase planting success after weed treatments or wildfire.
  • Ways to model and predict wildfire flow so we can locate fire breaks in the most effective places.  
  • Satellite and infrared images that help locate best places to control juniper near sage grouse lek.
  • Which types of sagebrush are preferred by sage grouse for feeding and winter cover and even a robotic sage grouse hen that attracted male sage grouse on the dancing grounds. 
  • Understanding of threats from transmission lines and new invasive grasses coming to the west.
  • Radio tracking for big-horn sheep and sage grouse as well as way to be more cost effective in aerial surveys of wildlife.
Ranchers, agency land stewards, Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy presented a suite of success stories including:
  • Using Air Force aircraft to control cheatgrass and increase survival of native bunch grasses.
  • Using mastication equipment and chainsaw crews to control juniper encroachment in sage grouse nesting areas.
  • Protecting riparian habitat and cold headwater stream or springs to help redband rainbow trout survive the summer heat and drought.
  • Understanding the practical side of ranching economics and helpful sources of funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that assist ranchers in doing conservation practices to benefit the lands and waters on which all life depend.

    To find out more about our work in the Owyhees, check out this link. To learn about how you can get involved, contact Art Talsma:

Monday, November 04, 2013

Moving Fish at Silver Creek - an update on the restoration at Silver Creek

Editor's note: The Kilpatrick Pond project is the largest enhancement project to take place at Silver Creek. The project is restoring the impounded section of the creek known as Kilpatrick Pond to address rising water temperatures and decades of sediment build up. Presently the pond contributes a significant amount of warm water into the system because of its large surface area. This affects over 15 miles of creek downstream. Every month we will post an update about the project on this blog.

About 1,000 fish were captured and safely returned to the Silver Creek system after water was diverted from the Purdy side of the Kilpatrick Pond as part of the restoration. The moving of the fish was made possible by volunteers and staff from the Idaho Fish and Game, Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy.

Want to learn more? Read these first hand accounts about the move from Trout Unlimited's Chad Chorney and the Conservancy's Art Talsma:

The rescue went well. We probably took out 1,000 to 1,200 fish. Some water and fish remain around the “horseshoe” but I think we were able to get at the majority of the fish.  I’ll be checking the condition of any remaining fish periodically. Nick has agreed to add well water as necessary to ensure the fish survive until the site is re-watered. - Chad Chorney

We safely moved over 1,000 fish to Silver Creek so the restoration project can proceed on schedule and be successful. My estimate was 60% were Rainbows and 30% Browns and 10% others. The trout are free to move back upstream to the Preserve or go downstream. I observed fish moving upstream in the Kilpatrick pond by-pass within one hour of the fish rescue. Chad did an excellent job of organizing this event. Fish and Game crew were great to work with-- as always. - Art Talsma 

Learn more about the project and how you can contribute at the Kilpatrick Pond Project webpage.

Photo ©Rydell Welch
Photo ©Rydell Welch
Photo ©Rydell Welch
Photo ©Rydell Welch

Friday, November 01, 2013

Installing A New Dam - an update on the restoration at Silver Creek

Editor's note: The Kilpatrick Pond project is the largest enhancement project to take place at Silver Creek. The project is restoring the impounded section of the creek known as Kilpatrick Pond to address rising water temperatures and decades of sediment build up. Presently the pond contributes a significant amount of warm water into the system because of its large surface area. This affects over 15 miles of creek downstream. Every month we will post an update about the project on this blog.

We are nearing the end of the first phase of the restoration at Kilpatrick Pond. This month we completed dredging of the pond on the Purdy property, and began installing a new dam structure that is designed to allow for fish passage and the flow of cooler water under the dam. Recently water was diverted out of the pond to allow for the dam's installation. Fall is upon us and we are making steady progress. Stay tuned for more ...

Learn more about the project and how you can contribute at the Kilpatrick Pond Project webpage.
Looking upstream at The Nature Conservancy’s half of Kilpatrick Pond, following the downstream diversion of Silver Creek. Photo taken from the float tube access farthest downstream on Silver Creek Preserve, just above Kilpatrick Bridge. Photo © Rydell Welch/TNC.

Looking downstream from Kilpatrick Bridge, towards the Purdy’s (RR Ranch) half of Kilpatrick Pond.  Diverting Silver Creek through one of the Purdy’s irrigation canals exposed much of the ‘pond’ sediment for restoration work. Photo © Rydell Welch/TNC.

Silver Creek diverted through Albrethson Ditch, an irrigation canal on the Purdy’s property. Diverting Silver Creek at this point exposes most of the pond sediment and allows for the construction of a new irrigation dam. Photo © Rydell Welch/TNC.

The old dam used for irrigation on the Purdy’s property. The new dam is designed to allow fish passage and the flow of cooler water under the dam. Photo © Rydell Welch/TNC.

An overview of the Purdy’s half of Kilpatrick Pond, taken from the south side of Silver Creek. Silver Creek is visible along the northern side of the pond until it disappears into Albrethson Ditch. Photo © Rydell Welch/TNC.

Friday, October 18, 2013

UPDATE on the Kilpatrick Pond restoration project at Silver Creek

Editor's note: The Kilpatrick Pond project is the largest enhancement project to take place at Silver Creek. The project is restoring the impounded section of the creek, known as Kilpatrick Pond, to address rising water temperatures and decades of sediment build up. Presently the pond contributes a significant amount of warm water into the system because of its large surface area. This affects over 15 miles of creek downstream. Every month we will post an update about the project on this blog.

Learn more about the project and how you can contribute at: the Kilpatrick Pond Project webpage

By Dayna Gross, Silver Creek watershed conservation manager

We had a chance to get out on the dredge yesterday with Eric Anderson, the dredge owner, and Jake, the dredge operator. They are quickly approaching Kilpatrick bridge and it is anticipated that the dredging work will be done in the next couple of days. 
Once the dredge reaches the bridge, it will make its way back downstream, sloping the channel banks on its way, and then be removed by crane from the staging area (on Purdy’s property). 

The dredge is creating minimal turbidity in the water and fish are quickly moving into the deeper areas. Waterfowl and shorebirds are really enjoying the spoils which are being placed in an agricultural field north of the creek. 

Nick Purdy will start dropping the water level of the pond once the dredging is complete and construction on the lower pond will begin shortly thereafter.

TNC staff Lou Lunte and Dayna Gross. Photo ©TNC.

Lou surveying the project. Photo ©TNC.

Dredge near Kilpatrick Pond bridge. Photo ©TNC.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

UPDATE on the restoration at Kilpatrick Pond on Silver Creek

Editor's note: The Kilpatrick Pond project is the largest enhancement project to take place at Silver Creek. The project is restoring the impounded section of the creek, known as Kilpatrick Pond, to address rising water temperatures and decades of sediment build up. Presently the pond contributes a significant amount of warm water into the system because of its large surface area. This affects over 15 miles of creek downstream. Every month we will post an update about the project on this blog.  

The dredge is now visible from Kilpatrick bridge as it makes its way up stream from the dam. The dredging operation will probably take a little more than a week to complete (sometime around the 20-25th it is estimated). Very little sediment is being stirred up as the dredge sucks several feet of silt from the channel. The silt is being deposited several hundred feet away on the Purdy’s pasture. Fish are quick to move into the deeper water. Please continue to stay out of the construction zone.    

Learn more about the project and how you can contribute at: the Kilpatrick Pond Project webpage

Kilpatrick Pond in October 2013. Photo ©TNC

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Protecting the places you love

By Bas Hargrove, senior policy representative, The Nature Conservancy in Idaho

Did you ever play with matches? I did. And it could have cost me a place I dearly love – Hulls Gulch. In 1976, the summer before second grade, two friends and I were playing with matches when we unintentionally set off a fire behind Camel’s Back. The fire grew so fast we couldn’t put it out.  Luckily, the Boise Fire Department could.

A young Bas Hargrove.
As we three terrified boys fled the scene on one banana seat bike, I heard the sirens from old Fire Station #2 speeding toward 8th Street. Our firefighters’ quick response kept the blaze to a small patch, thank goodness.

The experience cured a seven-year-old boy of curiosity about matches and taught me an important lesson. I realized I needed to protect the things I loved. Now, I am working to do that – and I urge you to do the same.   

On November 5th, Boise voters will have the chance to pass a bond that will increase fire safety and protect clean water and natural areas like the Foothills. We can make Boise an even safer and better place to live, work, and raise a family, all at a cost of about twelve bucks a year for the average homeowner.

Boise’s special places like the Foothills and the River are part of my life’s story. From floating the Boise River to field trips to Cottonwood Creek in Military Reserve, our city provided a place for childhood freedom and adventure.  And thanks to the thoughtful investment of community leaders past and present, my two kids still have those outdoor opportunities 37 years later.  (Though I’m careful to keep the matches out of reach.)

The Hargrove family near Cottonwood Creek in Military Reserve. Photos courtesy of Bas Hargrove.

Now it’s our turn to invest in our community. Please join me in voting Yes! Yes! for Boise this fall to ensure a prosperous and vibrant future.

Better yet: vote and volunteer. To find out how, go to the Yes! Yes! For Boise website.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Silver Creek Preserve 101

By Nancy Mendelsohn, Director of Operations

As a Washington State native and recent transplant to the Wood River Valley in Idaho, I never had a chance visit to the beautiful, peaceful and unique Silver Creek Preserve. The preserve was a favorite spot for my dad, once an avid fly fisherman, where he would come with his fishing buddy to do a little catch and release with his hand made flies (made out of my golden retriever’s dog hair and other goodies).

Just a few weeks ago, I moved to Idaho to start my new job with The Nature Conservancy in Hailey, Idaho. Right away, I was offered the opportunity to visit the Silver Creek Preserve. It was my first field trip, my first outing to one of our conservation projects and my first opportunity to show off my canoe skills to anybody who cared, after a 25 year hiatus. I was so ready for this visit! I packed my car full of every possible needed item: food, rain gear, sun gear, cell phone, camera, hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, boots and sandals.

The journey begins!

The staff at the on-site office graciously received me. Dayna Gross, Conservation Manager for Silver Creek and Sunny Healey, Silver Creek Preserve Assistant Manager, gave me a quick tour of the office facility, the community garden, the work shed and the bathroom, complete with samples of mayfly larvae and other interesting insect species collected from "insect condos" in the creek. These condos cost about $25 a piece, and are made of a series of cut circles of hard, waterproof material that have uniform spaces between them on a wire hanger. Sunny Healey puts these collection devices in the creek, leaves them for a period of time, goes back to collect them and looks at all the different insects that have built their homes within the condo. The species types, the volume of insects... all provide valuable information on the health of Silver Creek and other variant factors used in scientific studies. 

We met up with Pete, an experienced seasonal volunteer who mans the visitor center at the preserve during a few weeks every summer.  The four of us headed on the gravel road to find two canoes ready for use to paddle down the creek.

Gearing up for a paddle down the creek

I was amazed at the clear waters of this beautiful desert spring creek. I was also surprised to find the depth of the creek to be so shallow... and when I could see the fish darting around the canoe, I just smiled from ear to ear.

Beautifully colored fish, big, small, swimming in and out of the water plants, chasing each other around, fleeing from the paddles, occasionally biting for flies. We paddled in the winds, down the quiet creek, watching for wildlife, seeing ducks, heron, fly fisherman and fisherman in innertubes!  How fun is that?

A view from a canoe with Conservation Manager Dayna Gross
The float trip was wonderful. The staff at Silver Creek have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in areas I can only hope to touch on in my lifetime, and the natural beauty, the sweet smells, the sunshine on my face and the sounds of the cranes and waterfowl made me think I was in Mother Nature’s Disneyland. I soon realized the impact this preserve must have on other visitors and why it is such a perfect place to share with a community of nature lovers and conservationists. 

On a recent visit back to Washington, my dad proudly gave me his fly fishing pole, his prized fishing vest that he made himself, a box of gear including artistically tied flies of red dog hair and his size twelve waders.  I will be dressed for success next time I visit the Silver Creek Preserve, and believe my visit to Silver Creek Preserve, the introductory 101 version, will be the start of a long-term relationship.

The iconic landscape of the Silver Creek Preserve

Photos ©Nancy Mendelsohn/TNC

Monday, September 23, 2013

UPDATE on the restoration of Kilpatrick Pond at Silver Creek

The first phase of the Kilpatrick/Purdy Pond Stream Enhancement Restoration Project will begin this week with dredging at the Purdy Pond. The Nature Conservancy, RR Ranch and Golden Enviro ask that the public respect the “Hard Hat” restrictions in the area and do not enter the construction area. Any questions you may have can be directed to the Nature Conservancy (208) 720-5465 or RR Ranch.

The dredging portion of the project is scheduled to last about 3 to 4 weeks with the construction of a new dam and wetland areas to follow. Strict guidelines and permit requirements will require the contractors, RR Ranch and Nature Conservancy to monitor the area on a regular basis. Phase two of the project is scheduled to begin next year. We will have updates as they are made available.

Learn more about the project and how you can contribute at: the Kilpatrick Pond Project webpage

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What the Fires of 2013 Are Telling Us

By Will Whelan, Director of Government Relations
Editor's note: In recent years fires have spread across large swaths of Idaho's rangelands and forests. The following blog focuses on forest fires and the Conservancy's approach to proactive forest management. Stay tuned for a future blog that will discuss rangeland fires and issues related to them. 

Idahoans have been transfixed this month by images of towering walls of flame rising above the treetops and entire communities fleeing their homes.  In just two weeks, four massive fires raced through tinder dry high desert and forests in south central Idaho, burning more than 400,000 acres – 625 square miles.

The events of this month are part of a larger pattern. The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior spend around $2 billion per year to suppress fire.  These costs consume at least 40 percent of the Forest Service’s budget.  Just this week the agency had to freeze many of its programs in order to pay for fighting this year’s huge fires.  These costs dwarf the funding that the Forest Service is able to invest in forest thinning and hazardous fuels reduction projects that actually reduce the risk of large, damaging fires in the future.  This is not a sustainable model for managing the public’s forests.

Team from North Carolina offering assistance to Idaho, led by TNC-NC Fire Specialist and Land Steward Mike Norris. Photo ©Mike Norris/TNC

Fire in Idaho’s forests is nothing new, of course.  Our conifer forests evolved with wildfire, and fire plays a critical role in maintaining their health and resilience.  Not all natural fires are small, low intensity burns.  In fact, some of our forest types are naturally prone to larger fires that may kill entire stands of trees.  The huge firestorm of 1910, which burned three million acres in North Idaho, is a reminder that landscape-scale fire is not a new, or entirely human-driven, phenomenon in the mixed conifer forests.

But over the last century, Idaho’s forests have changed in ways that make them more vulnerable to large, very hot fires that are clearly outside of historic patterns. Three factors stand out: several decades of fire suppression have allowed fuels to build up; past logging often targeted the largest, more fire resistant trees for harvest; and a warming climate with hotter summers provides ideal conditions for megafires.  To make matters worse, these changes make large areas of Idaho’s forests more vulnerable to invasive species and insect infestations, which can promote damaging fires. 

Recent events have led to increasingly urgent calls from citizens and their elected officials for actions that can reduce the impact of huge, destructive forest fires.  The Nature Conservancy in Idaho is addressing these concerns through science, collaboration, and advocacy.

North Carolina crew observing fire aftermath near Baker Creek, Idaho. Photo ©Mike Norris/TNC

Our scientists are studying how forests have changed from their historic conditions in order to understand which areas would most benefit from active restoration, such as thinning, careful logging, and prescribed fire.  Conservancy scientists Ryan Haugo and Nathan Welch recently completed an assessment of the six-million acre Clearwater Basin in North Idaho.  They found that about twenty percent of the forested land of the Nez Perce - Clearwater National Forest is in need of active restoration to make it more resilient to fire and closer to its natural condition.

Not all restoration involves active management.  Another ten percent of this  national forest would benefit most from “passive” restoration – essentially allowing the forest to grow back from past disturbance such as fires and logging operations.  Ryan and Nathan’s work is being used by the Clearwater Basin Collaborative to shape recommendations to the Forest Service on how to improve the ecological and economic health of the Clearwater Basin.  Click here for their study. 

The Conservancy is also one of the most effective advocates for changes in the federal approach to fire. We champion proactive forest restoration to improve forest conditions while also reducing the need for costly emergency response.  The Conservancy’s Robyn Miller co-chairs the Clearwater Basin Collaborative’s Landscape Health Committee which designed an innovative ten-year restoration strategy for the 1.4 million acre Middle Fork Clearwater-Selway landscape.

The Clearwater Basin Collaborative team. Photo ©Robyn Miller/TNC

At the national level, the Conservancy’s forest policy specialists dig deep into detailed federal budget documents and advocate for science-based recommendations on how to improve forest health and prevent megafires. One effort we strongly support is the Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which provides funding for collaboratively developed, large-scale forest restoration plans.  We like this program in part because it benefits both rural communities and forest health.  In the first three years of the program, projects resulted in: 383,000 acres of hazardous fuels reduction, 229,000 acres of fire-prone forest restoration, 94.1 million board feet of timber, 7,949 jobs created or maintained and 6,000 miles of roads treated to reduce sediment reaching streams.  We think this sort of pro-active, ecologically-driven program makes a lot of sense.  Click here to see the Conservancy’s forest restoration budget recommendations.