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Elk Head CONSERVATION
Native fish, wildlife and their habitat
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On the Ground: The Oregon Conservation Strategy at Work

May/June 2014

Summer is coming: Time to appreciate all that Oregon has to offer and all of the people who work to keep our wildlife and habitats healthy.

Duck Pond Conservation Cuvee

CONTENTS

Sagebrush production partnership teams prisons and ecologists
Oregon wine benefits Oregon wildlife
New wildlife passage structure on the drawing board

Oregon hunters fight invasive weeds on antelope range
Steller Sea Lion recovers, Haulouts mapped
Got white oak?
Oregon white oak and wildlife
Oregon Conservation Strategy revision begins
Boat inspectors find invasive mussels
So long, and thanks for all the fish

Click on images to enlarge

 

Sagebrush production partnership teams prisons and ecologists

sagebrush
IAE staff are developing a protocol for working with prisons to produce sagebrush. IAE Photo.
Partnership
In the spring of 2015, inmate work crews will help plant sagebrush plants on BLM land. IAE Photo.

In northeastern Oregon, ecologists with the Institute for Applied Ecology, adults in custody at the Snake River Correctional Institute and Bureau of Land Management staff are working together to tackle the problem of diminishing sagebrush habitat and declining populations of greater sage-grouse.

“These birds depend on sagebrush throughout their lifetime,” said Larkin Guenther, IAE education coordinator. “Disappearing habitat is one of the reasons they are a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.”

To help reverse the trend, IAE is conducting a pilot project with the Correctional Institute in Ontario to grow and plant 20,000 sagebrush plants.

“It’s a creative leap for us, and it is working out very well,” said Guenther of the project. “It is gratifying to work with people who have never had a connection to nature and who suddenly see the possibility of recreating native habitat or being able to plant a garden.”

The IAE team kicked off the project by educating prison inmates about sage-grouse and the species dependence on sagebrush, then introducing horticultural skills and opening dialogs about sustainability issues.

Work began in 2013 when, in coordination with BLM, a site about 75 miles from Vale was chosen to be restored. In the autumn of 2013, seeds were collected from a local sagebrush community, cleaned and stored. In spring, they were sowed in a greenhouse on the prison grounds. This fall, the seedlings will be put into dormancy.

“The plants should be about ten-inches tall in the spring of 2015 when we plant them. Sagebrush is a slow-growing species, and it will take years before it reaches mature heights and the community becomes self-sustaining,” said Guenther.

Concurrently, IAE is developing a protocol for large-scale engagement of prisons in sagebrush plant production. It will include details for launching and maintaining a plant production partnership with a correctional facility, identify which plant species are in greatest need of production and describe propagation methods.

“This is an opportunity to engage an underrepresented community in the restoration and conservation of our shared ecosystems and natural heritage.”

Funding for the project comes from BLM.

 

OREGON WINE BENEFITS OREGON WILDLIFE

Duck Pond Conservation Cuvee features Pinot Noir from four of the Fries family’s Oregon vineyard sites. For each bottle sold, Duck Pond donates $5 to ODFW’s Conservation Program.

The wine will be available for tasting at a special event, Pinot by the Pond, on June 28 from 3 to 5 p.m. at Duck Pond in Dundee.

To purchase Conservation Cuvee, visit the winery or order online at the Duck Pond Cellars website.

 

New Wildlife Passage Structure on the drawing board

crossing
A wildlife crossing is proposed for this site on Hwy. 97, which is a wildlife/vehicle collision hotspot. ODFW photo.
biologists
Biologists conducting on-site evaluations on Hwy 97. Left to right: Lauri Turner, U.S. Forest Service; Jackie Cupples, ODFW; Corey Heath, ODFW; Simon Wray, ODFW; Kevin Halesworth, ODOT; David Speten, The Klamath Tribes.
ODFW photo.

Thanks to the construction of two wildlife underpasses on Highway 97 near Lava Butte south of Bend, the number of animal-vehicle collisions is way down. Deer, elk, bobcats, black bears, squirrels and other species are using the structures to avoid crossing the highway, making it safer for people and wildlife.

The underpasses were constructed over a two-year period when the highway was being expanded from two to four lanes. Fencing along a four-mile stretch of the highway was incorporated into the project to direct animals to use the underpasses.

Since the structures were completed in 2012, an ongoing study has shown a greater than 80 percent reduction in deer mortality along that stretch of highway.

“The underpasses help ensure the safe passage of deer to and from their seasonal home ranges, which is essential to their survival,” said Jackie Cupples, ODFW Wildlife Research Biologist. “Because we have seen that the highway serves as a barrier to migration, we will continue to collaborate with ODOT and other partners to maintain migration routes.”

“Wildlife crossing projects have a long lead time. They take a lot of planning and involve a lot of people,” said Cidney Bowman, Wildlife Passage Program coordinator, Oregon Department of Transportation.

“We are always looking at the research to see where we have the biggest problems, so we can have plans ready when there is an opportunity to incorporate a crossing into a highway upgrade.”

Currently, ODOT is designing a third crossing on Highway 97 near milepost 190, a documented migration path and hotspot for deer-vehicle collisions. Design work is expected to be completed by September, so when funding does become available, the crossing can be incorporated into roadwork. An additional 17 crossing structures have been proposed on Highway 97 based on research identifying deer migration paths and deer-vehicle collision hotspots. ODFW, ODOT, and Klamath Tribes wildlife biologists and engineers are looking at these proposed locations to refine the recommendations based on feasibility criteria.

“Landscape factors that influence road engineering, as well as cultural and heritage evaluations have to be considered before proposed wildlife passage structure locations are finalized,” said Kevin Halesworth, ODOT Wildlife biologist.

Migration mortality is especially high in Central Oregon. Research conducted near Bend shows that 67 percent of the annual 400 mule deer mortalities in the study area occur during migration months—peaking in May and November. Particularly dangerous areas are primary migration pathways along highways 97 and 31.

See the Central Oregon mule deer migration pathways and density of deer-vehicle collisions map.

More information

Wildlife Collision Hot Spots, ODOT’s website.
Wildlife linkages, ODFW’s website
Highway 97 underpass YouTube
Wildlife crossings: Providing safe passage for urban wildlife, Metro website

 

sage
Invasive Mediterranean sage in bloom. Photo Eric Coombs, ODA.

Oregon hunters fight invasive weeds on antelope range

On May 17, two-dozen members of the Klamath Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association built a 1,300-foot buck and pole fence around Camp Hart Mountain at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge.

Designed to keep vehicles off sensitive sagebrush and grasslands, the fence is another tactic in the fight against the invasive plant Mediterranean sage. It is a battle the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, OHA and other volunteers have been fighting for years.

“We have worked very hard to remove Mediterranean sage from the refuge,” said Manager Jeff Mackay. “Disturbance to the ground gives the plant an opportunity to spread.”

Mediterranean sage is an invasive plant that became established in the sagebrush steppe and rangelands of eastern Oregon in the 1920s. It replaces native grasses and offers little value to wildlife.

Located about 35 miles northeast of Lakeview, the 278,000-acre Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Oregon Hunters Association is the state’s largest pro-hunting organization, with 10,000 members and 27 chapters statewide. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has mapped areas affected by the plant.

 

Steller Sea Lion recovers, Haulouts Mapped

sea lions
Steller sea lion rookery at Orford Reef. Pups have a dark brown to black coat until 4 to 6 months old, when they molt to a lighter brown.
ODFW photo.

When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration removed the eastern population of Steller sea lions from its list of threatened species in 2013, it was a success for the Endangered Species Act, for Oregon and for the many people who worked on the recovery plan.

“In 1979, there were only about 18,000 animals in the population, which ranges from Alaska to California,” said ODFW Marine Mammal Program Project Leader Robin Brown. “But by 2010, it had rebounded to more than 70,000.”

Working with Steller sea lions has been a labor of love for Brown who has studied the species since the 1970s. He recalls that when he first started doing aerial surveys, there was so little funding available that he flew the plane himself. Eventually, Oregon State Police staff volunteered to fly the camera-toting biologists.

The aerial surveys were necessary to monitor populations and document changes in species distribution and abundance. Focus was on offshore sea lion rookies where colonies of breeding animals gather.

“Oregon is a stronghold for breeding Steller sea lions,” said Bryan Wright, a biometrician for ODFW’s Marine Mammal Program. “We have the largest rookeries south of British Columbia.”

Wright has just completed an online atlas of Steller sea lion haul-outs and rookeries in Oregon, which is available via ODFW’s website. “We have some spectacular aerial photos that we want to share with the public,” he said.“So many of the haul-outs are offshore, they can’t be readily seen.”

“The Steller sea lion is the first marine species to be delisted since the North Pacific gray whale was taken off the list of threatened and endangered species in 1994,” said Roy Lowe, project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts many of the state’s sea lion rookeries.

And, while the species in no longer listed, Lowe adds, “The animals are still well protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

According to NOAA, Steller sea lions will continue to be monitored to ensure the health of the population. The recovery plan calls for coordinated aerial surveys every three years.

LEARN MORE

NOAA Fisheries, species information
ODFW Marine Mammal Program
Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex

oak
Oak trees provide many wildlife benefits. Greenbelt Land Trust photo.

 

GOT WHITE OAK?

Do you have Oregon white oak in your Portland metropolitan neighborhood? If so, the Intertwine Alliance’s Oak Mapping Work Group wants to hear from you. The organization is in the process of developing better maps of threatened Oregon white oak ecosystems.

“We have developed a draft oak map and are seeking volunteers to help ground truth the maps,” said David Cohen, Alliance Program Manager.

The citizen science effort, dubbed 'Oakquest', will take place during July and August. A three-hour training event will be held in late June, after which volunteers will take to the field, mapping oak on their own schedules and employing a custom application on smartphones or tablets. Youth are invited to participate with a supervising parent or guardian in attendance.

If you are interested, please take a short survey by June 15 on Survey Monkey. Provide an email at the end of the survey, and you will receive information about the training.

The Oak Mapping Work Group is a partnership of Portland metropolitan area parks and natural resource agencies, non-government organizations, and others. The Intertwine Alliance is a coalition of private firms, public agencies and nonprofit organizations working together in the Portland metropolitan area to tap new sources of funding, better leverage existing investments, and more fully engage residents with the outdoors and nature.

 

Western bluebird
Western bluebirds forage and nest in oaks. GLT photo.

OREGON WHITE OAK AND WILDLIFE

The Oregon white oak is the most widely distributed oak species in Oregon and the dominant oak of the Willamette Valley. It provides food and shelter for a great variety of wildlife. Acorn woodpeckers and western gray squirrels feed on the acorns. Birds forage for insects among the variety of lichens and mosses that grow on the large limbs. Mistletoe parasitizes its branches, providing fruit as important winter food for western bluebirds and is a host plant for Nelson’s hairstreak (butterfly). Probably the most valuable habitat features of white oak are its dead branches and cavities, which provide safe places for wildlife to rest and raise young.

Oregon white oaks are slow growing and shade intolerant. Open-canopy, large-di­ameter trees are continuing to be lost due to overshading by conifers, removal and natural causes, but are not being replaced. Landowners can maintain the oak’s legacy by conserving older trees and managing younger trees.

Oak woodlands are a Strategy Habitat in the Coast Range, East Cascades, Klamath Mountains, West Cascades and Willamette Valley ecoregions.

 

OREGON CONSERVATION STRATEGY REVISION BEGINS

Ten years ago, the United States made conservation history when every state and territory launched a wildlife action plan, forming the first nationwide strategy for fish and wildlife conservation. Required by Congress in order to access federal funds, the state plans are bringing focus to species and habitats of conservation concern.

Aspen Stand
Aspen woodlands are a Strategy Habitat.
Martyne Reesman photo.

From the beginning, the Oregon Conservation Strategy was recognized as an exceptional one by The Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife and has allowed the state to receive federal wildlife grants to fuel conservation work.

It is now time for the states to revise their plans―Congress requires a review and revision every 10 years.

“We are fortunate to have such a strong foundation to work from,” said Andrea Hanson, ODFW Conservation Strategy Coordinator. “To kick off the revision process, we are meeting with our conservation partners and deciding what we’d like to see improved and updated.”

Initial discussions reveal the need to:

  • better define Conservation Opportunity Areas
  • review and update information on Strategy Species and Strategy Habitats
  • improve information on climate change and connectivity
  • incorporate the Oregon Nearshore Strategy
  • facilitate use by converting to a usable online format
  • employ mapping and planning tool technology

Over the next 16 months, ODFW will work with teams comprised of a diversity of stakeholders to complete the revision, which is due to the US Fish and Wildlife Service on October 1, 2015.

If you are interested in contributing to the revision, contact Andrea, andrea.v.hanson@state.or.us.

LEARN MORE

Oregon Conservation Strategy
Best Practices for State Wildlife Action Plans, Voluntary Guidance to States for Revision and Implementation

 

Ontario boat inspection
A Texas driver hauling a pontoon houseboat was stopped by a Malheur County Sheriff after bypassing the Ontario boat inspection station. The boat was found to be carrying invasive mussels.

BOAT INSEPCTORS FIND INVASIVE MUSSELS

Buy an Aquatic Invasive Species Permit for your non-motorized boat10 feet and longer. It funds Oregon’s boat inspection program. Since the 2014 inspection season began, quagga and zebra mussels have been detected on four boats. While all four were decontaminated, it is a sobering start to the season. Locations of Watercraft Inspection Stations (pdf). The Aquatic Invasive Species Program.

Permits can be purchased online via Oregon Marine Board, at ODFW license sales agents, ODFW offices that sell licenses and at the Marine Board office in Salem and Marine Board dealers.

 

SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH

In this case, it’s “So long, and thanks for all the stories.” Next month, I am moving to a new position at ODFW and will no longer be writing the Conservation Strategy newsletter.

I can’t, however, move on without thanking each of you who have who have told me your stories and shared the work you are doing with our larger conservation community. And it is an amazing community: Oregonians who care about the natural world are of all ages, occupations, political parties, interests and incomes. With you, the state’s fish, wildlife and habitats are in good hands.

Thank you, Meg, meg.b.kenagy@state.or.us

Newsletter archives from 2006
So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish

 

ABOUT THE OREGON CONSERVATION STRATEGY
The Oregon Conservation Strategy provides a blueprint and action plan for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a voluntary, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by ODFW with the help of a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, conservation groups, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, and representatives from agriculture, forestry and rangelands.

PAST ISSUES OF THE NEWSLETTER
On the Ground newsletter archives

EDITOR
Meg Kenagy
Oregon Conservation Strategy Communications coordinator
(503) 947-6021
meg.b.kenagy@state.or.us

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