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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

 

September/October 2013

Squirrels, salamanders and salmon benefit from people and projects dedicated to fish and wildlife conservation.

 

CONTENTS

Seeking the Oregon Slender Salamander
Halloween’s Coming: Don’t get caught in a Web of Lies
Washington Ground Squirrels on the Move
The Washington Ground Squirrel
Mckenzie River Trust Acquires Property to Benefit Birds, Fish and Frogs

Slender salamander

Oregon slender salamanders are native to the western Cascade foothills. OSU photo.
Click to Enlarge Photo

   

SEEKING THE OREGON SLENDER SALAMANDER

Oregon slender salamanders live only in the mature primary and secondary growth forests of Oregon’s western Cascades foothills where decaying downed wood provides ideal habitat. They are an elusive lot, relatively rare and hard to find.

“When you find one of these guys, it makes your day,” said Tiffany Garcia, Oregon State University Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology. “They are beautiful—rust colored on the top and black-and-white flecked on the underside, and this is the only place in the world they exist.”

Garcia knows firsthand how difficult Oregon slender salamanders are to locate—she just spent three years searching for them as part of a long-term experiment to see how the salamanders respond to timber harvest. 

The project began in 2010 when biologists at Weyerhaeuser Company wanted to understand how, when, and where to find this sensitive species.

“Much of the known range of this salamander is in private timberlands and land managers are trying to get an idea of where the species exists on their land. The partnership between Weyerhaeuser, Port Blakely Tree Farms, OSU and Oregon Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit has given us access to the majority of this salamander’s range,” she said.

Project successes include development of a new light-touch monitoring protocol and application of robust analytical techniques to create accurate occupancy models.

“Before we used the light-touch approach, which involves using your hands to search instead of using a tool to dig into the decaying wood, we were destroying habitat as we went,” Garcia said. “Of course, with the more noninvasive approach, we ran the risk of not finding as many.

“We can’t find everything. And, as a herp researcher, I can tell you that just because we didn’t find them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”

This is where statistical modeling that estimates occupancy and detection rates was used to complement the ground surveys.

The next phase of the study will involve a long-term experiment on Weyerhaeuser and Port Blakely Tree Farm timberlands. Over the next seven years, 40 mature tree stands will be harvested following Oregon forest practice rules. The team will visit each stand pre- and post-harvest to determine if occupancy rates and abundance of Oregon slender salamanders change over time.

“It is a very exciting project, there is a lot more to learn. For example, how well does the species respond to habitat changes? Can it and will it move to new habitat?”

The Oregon slender salamander (Batrachocepts wrightii) was proposed for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2001. In Oregon, it is a state sensitive species. This project was funded in part by a Conservation Strategy Implementation Grant through the federal State Wildlife Grants program.

Salamander habitat

A work crew in salamander habitat.
Click to Enlarge Photo

 
Salamander habitat

A range map of the Oregon slender salamander (BAWR) shows the project study area.
Click to Enlarge Map

   

HALLOWEEN’S COMING: DON’T GET CAUGHT IN A WEB OF LIES

Don’t get spooked by things that screech, slither and swoop in the night. Better yet, share your knowledge to debunk myths about Oregon’s owls, snakes and bats. If you want to read up on the subject, download one or all of these ODFW flyers. For print copies, send an email to meg.b.kenagy@state.or.us.

Whoooo Am I? Facts for Kids
S-s-s-s-s-Snakes: Facts for Kids
Batty for Bats: Facts for Kids

Batty For Bats
   

WASHINGTON GROUND SQUIRRELS ON THE MOVE

In an ironic twist, it is the bombing and radar ranges southwest of Boardman in northeast Oregon that helped save the Washington ground squirrel. While, over the decades, land in the Columbia Basin was being developed and converted to agriculture, land in these ranges remained relatively undeveloped.

The U.S. Navy used the bombing range for training exercises and Boeing used the radar range for testing, but overall the large areas of native shrub steppe remained untilled and untouched—good news for the state-endangered Washington ground squirrel, a little critter that lives in underground tunnels in sagebrush-grasslands.

More recently, change has come to the area. In 2000, Threemile Canyon Farms purchased the land previously used by Boeing as a radar range to put into agriculture. The problem was the resident Washington ground squirrel, which had to be provided for. In resolution, the Farm entered into a historic settlement(1) that created the Boardman Conservation Area, 26,000 acres of excellent shrub steppe habitat adjacent to the Farm and the bombing range.

“As a result, the two largest pieces of intact shrub-steppe in the Columbia Basin are the Boardman bombing range and the Boardman Conservation Area,” said ODFW wildlife biologist Steve Cherry, who has been working with the ground squirrel for about 15 years, about the time it was placed on the state endangered species list. “It is land used by the Washington ground squirrel and sensitive species like the ferruginous hawk, loggerhead shrike and sage sparrow.”

To ensure the Conservation Area would be managed for the species of concern, Threemile Canyon Farms, ODFW, USFWS, Portland General Electric and The Nature Conservancy entered into a management agreement. Today, TNC manages the area and ODFW holds a permanent conservation easement.

Change came to the area again in the fall of 2012, when the Farm decided to convert 2,700 acres of undeveloped shrub-steppe terrain into irrigated circles for organic farming. It is land known to have Washington ground squirrels on it.

“These squirrels can’t exist very well in agricultural land,” said Melody Henderson, ODFW wildlife technician. “Fortunately, we had good habitat nearby where we could move the squirrels. We didn’t know how well it would work, but it was an opportunity to find out.”

In February 2013, while a population survey was being conducted, ODFW staff and volunteers began capturing squirrels by placing traps baited with nuts, apples and carrots near known squirrel colonies. By the end of the month, 40 squirrels had been captured and relocated—22 were released in the adjacent Conservation Area and 18 on nearby Bureau of Land Management property.

When following up on the squirrels, Henderson reported a recapture rate of 25 percent, and of eight females recaptured, five showed signs of reproduction after translocation. Based on the results, Henderson believes translocation is a viable management tool when the goal is to reestablish a population in an area without squirrels.

Cherry agrees, “If we can put squirrels in a suitable unoccupied area where they will create a colony that persists, it’s a good thing.”

A copy of the report, Washington ground squirrel translocation; 2013,  by Melody Henderson, Heppner District Wildlife Technician, is available on ODFW’s website. The project was a collaborative effort between many organizations and volunteers, including Threemile Canyon Farms, David Evans and Associates, USFWS, The Nature Conservancy, BLM, Northwest Wildlife Consultants, Iberdrola Renewables Inc. and ODFW.

The Washington ground squirrel is listed as endangered under the Oregon Endangered Species Act and is a federal candidate species.

1) The Multi-Species Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, or MSCCAA, was the first multi-party, multi-species candidate conservation agreement in the nation. It includes the conservation needs of the Washington ground squirrel, ferruginous hawk, loggerhead shrike and sage sparrow.

Washington ground squirrel

This Washington ground squirrel, captured on the radar range, is fitted with ear tags and a VHF radio collar before being relocated to his new home.
ODFW photo.
Click to Enlarge Photo

 
Translocation report

Map shows location of bombing range, radar range, Boardman Conservation Area and a relocation site on BLM land.
Click to Enlarge Photo

 
Washington ground squirrel

The state endangered Washington ground squirrel lives in underground tunnels in sagebrush-grasslands.
USFWS photo
Click to Enlarge Photo

   

THE WASHINGTON GROUND SQUIRREL

The Washington ground squirrel (Spermophilus washingtoni) occurs only in north-central Oregon and eastern Washington. It lives in shrub-steppe and grassland habitats that have deep, fine soil, which makes burrowing easy.  A relatively short-lived species, it has short legs and small, rounded ears.

Washington ground squirrels are active for only four or five months of the year, spending most of the time hibernating in underground burrows. Hibernation starts in late May to June and lasts through mid-January to late February. The ground squirrels live in concentrated colonies and as scattered individuals. Threats to the species are many including habitat loss and fragmentation.

Washington ground squirrel

Washington ground squirrels.
USFWS photo.
Click to Enlarge Photo

   

MCKENZIE RIVER TRUST AQUIRES PROPERTY TO BENEFIT BIRDS, FISH AND FROGS

In 2012, the Mckenzie River Trust acquired Railroad Island, two river miles upstream of Harrisburg in Lane County from farmers Wayne and Pam Swango. The island has never been farmed and remains in its natural state. Its 63 acres of floodplain forests, gravel bars and open waters offer excellent habitat for native fish species including juvenile and adult Upper Willamette spring chinook.

“Protecting these remaining areas of intact habitat in the Upper Willamette is a high priority for us,” said Nicole Nielsen-Pincus, Willamette Program Manager for the Trust.

Fisheries researchers indicate the cold temperatures in the slough contribute to healthy populations of native fish. Northern red-legged frogs, dusky Canada geese and American bittern will also make use of the island.

“The main conservation value of this island is its dynamic nature and the opportunity to encourage healthy river processes,” said Nielsen-Pincus.

The acquisition was made possible with funding from the Bonneville Power Administration through the ODFW Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program.  Learn more about the acquisition on the Mckenzie River Trust website.

Railroad Island

Railroad Island.
Mckenzie River Trust photo.
Click to Enlarge Photo

 
Spring chinook

Spring chinook. ODFW photo.
Click to Enlarge Photo

 

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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