Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Idaho Senators Speak Up for Land and Water Conservation

By Will Whelan, director of government relations 

Our ears perk up whenever we hear that a bipartisan majority of United States senators has come to an agreement on an important issue – particularly when it involves conservation.  

We were particularly pleased to learn that 51 senators recently sent a letter asking their colleagues to provide strong and consistent funding for a program that has protected many of Idaho’s most prized landscapes, such as the Sawtooth Valley, South Fork of the Snake, Boise Foothills, City of Rocks, Hells Canyon, and Lake Coeur d’Alene.  

Senator Mike Crapo and Senator Jim Risch both signed the letter supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and have earned our heartfelt thanks.

The LWCF Act of 1964 directs that a portion of the nation’s revenues from outer continental shelf oil and gas leases be used to acquire new public lands and conservation easements in places with extraordinary wildlife, scenic and recreation values. LWCF has also funded the Forest Legacy Program, which secures conservation easements on private forest lands with value for wildlife and sustaining local economies.  LWCF is a pillar of the nation’s commitment to conservation.

So, it is no small thing when our Idaho senators express support for this essential conservation program. The senators’ letter explains that LWCF – and the economic, health, and environmental benefits it produces – have earned it huge public support:

Despite a history of underfunding, LWCF remains the premier federal program to conserve our nation’s land, water, historic and recreational heritage.  LWCF and Forest Legacy provide a diverse array of conservation tools….  These include working lands easements that allow farmers and ranchers to continue to act as stewards of the landscape that sustains their livelihoods and working forest projects through Forest Legacy keeping critical timberlands forested and accessible and providing jobs in rural communities.

The companion LWCF state grants program provides crucial support for state and local park acquisitions, recreational facilities, and trail corridors.  The LWCF stateside program has funded over 41,000 projects … in all fifty states.

The Nature Conservancy made sustaining the Land and Water Conservation Fund one of its top legislative priorities. We appreciate the support of Senator Crapo and Senator Risch.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

America’s Largest Shorebird Nests in Idaho?

by Jordan Reeves, East Idaho conservation manager

That’s right!  Though it seems counter-intuitive, the long-billed curlew, considered to be America’s largest shorebird, journeys over a thousand miles every year from the warm climates, wetlands, and sandy beaches of California and Northern Mexico to nest and rear its young among Idaho’s grasslands.  Who would have guessed it?  In fact, The Nature Conservancy’s 1,600-acre Flat Ranch Preserve on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is considered to be among Idaho’s most important nesting sites for these charismatic birds.
Curlew Photo © Chris Little/TNC
The Conservancy’s rotational grazing program, along with the pristine waters of the Henry’s Fork and its tributary streams, provide a vast network of wetlands and a mosaic of native grasses that provide curlew with shelter and nourishment during their vulnerable fledgling stages.  Despite the incredible habitat awaiting these birds as they return to the Henry’s Fork each summer, local wildlife biologists are growing increasingly concerned by evidence of declining curlew populations across Idaho and much of the West.  Many ranchers and farmers are seeing fewer birds return to nest with each passing summer and unfortunately they don’t yet know why.  How far do these birds travel in the course of a year?  Where do they stop along the way?  What types of habitats are they using? And most importantly, what factors are threatening them during their migration and reducing their population numbers? 
The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Intermountain Bird Observatory, will attempt to shed some light on these questions with our efforts to monitor curlew on the Flat Ranch this summer.  We will be conducting pre-nesting and post-nesting surveys of long-billed curlew on the Flat Ranch and neighboring properties during May in order to compare population numbers from previous years and gain a better understanding of the impacts to our local curlew population.  

Taking Flight © Chris Little/TNC
Thanks to the generous support of many community members here in East Idaho and our TNC supporters throughout the country, we will also be tagging one lucky curlew with a satellite transmitter.  This device will allow us to track the movements of this curlew throughout the year as it travels to wintering grounds and returns (fingers crossed) safely to the Flat Ranch next summer.  This is just the beginning of what we hope will become a broader effort in the Henry’s Fork region and throughout Eastern Idaho to monitor and track curlew population numbers and migration movements.  The data we generate will give us a much better understanding of the habitat Curlews need throughout their life cycle and the potential threats to their survival, whether in Idaho, California, Mexico, or somewhere in between. Ultimately our intention is to pin-point actions we can take to ensure the iconic sight of long-billed curlews amongst the grasslands of the Henry’s Fork will be enjoyed by many generations to come.  
Please help raise money to place an additional satellite transmitter on long-billed curlew by donating via the following link:

Thursday, April 03, 2014

A Cure For Spring Fever

By Art Talsma, restoration manager

“One swallow does not make the summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw is the spring.”  - Aldo Leopold
Nature is calling us outdoors these first sunny days of spring. The snow geese are now fewer in numbers as they move north. I am excited to hear the call of the sandhill cranes circling high over Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge as I head out to do sage grouse conservation work in Idaho. I am thinking about photos of the grandkids that we just received and the inherent need in us to experience nature.
“Robin” was one of my granddaughter Neelah’s first words! “Let’s go for a hike” are favorite words of my grandsons, Andrew and Ethan. Kids love the outdoors and there are so many wonderful things to discover right out the back door with the world of birds.     

Photo ©Art Talsma
Spring time is great time to teach kids about the needs of wildlife, and birds are especially easy and interesting to observe in your yard, nearby park or nature area.  Birds are interesting to all ages, from little ones to teens to adults. One of the questions I ask kids is, “what is your favorite bird?” I follow with, “what materials do you see that you could use to build a nest?” What kind of birds build nest in trees and what birds nest on the ground?  Ah—and if you look around where would you hide that nest from predators? Perhaps this year you might hide the Easter eggs with a deeper message than, “Where is the candy?”

Photo ©Art Talsma
Okay, I am a wildlife biologist working on sage grouse conservation and I must admit I have a desire to share an adult message in this story too. Throughout sage brush country sage grouse are now gathering on dancing grounds called leks.   
The birds are telling us where they want to be and where safe haven is found year after year for the mating dance. Leks are where they will begin their annual reproductive cycle. Hens nest nearby in the best available habitat to be successful. Like most ground nesting birds they seek a nest site secure from predators and cover from spring storms. Specifically for sage grouse this almost always means a canopy of tall sage and plenty of residual cover. Residual cover usually consists of native bluebunch wheatgrass with tall stems left from last year. Yes- residual cover is commonly used as hiding and nest building material for many species of birds. So ask yourself next time you are out birding-- what habitat and nest building materials are available for birds?  

Photo ©Ken Miracle
If it is your own backyard you can create and enhance bird habitat at little cost. And if you want to see and experience wildlife habitat on your next hike with the kids join a conservation organization like the Nature Conservancy that works with many partners to conserve and protect wildlife habitat at a landscape scale.