Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Landowners can help fisher recovery

February 1, 2016
Pacific fisher

Listed in 1998 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission as an endangered species, the Pacific fisher was reintroduced into the Olympic Peninsula in 2008. Photo: Pacific Southwest Region-USFS.

The fisher, a member of the weasel family that all but disappeared from Pacific Northwest forests during the last century, is returning to Washington state. In 2008, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and partners worked together to reestablish the species in Olympic National Park. Currently, reintroduction of the species is underway on federal lands within the Cascade Mountain Range.

In a separate action, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to list the fisher as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act in April 2016. Regardless of the federal agency’s listing decision, wildlife managers are seeking help from forest landowners to work as partners in the recovery of fishers in Washington State. To promote this partnership, WDFW has drafted a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurance (CCAA) with the help of private, state, and tribal landowners.

How a CCAA works

A CCAA is a voluntary agreement in which landowners agree to help promote the conservation of a species that may later become listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. In return, landowners receive assurances against additional land-use restrictions should that species ever become listed for protection under federal law. Fishers also benefit from these agreements, because conservation measures outlined in a CCAA are designed to encourage landowners to support fisher reintroduction and recovery efforts.

Requirements under a CCAA

While wildlife managers expect that most fishers will remain on the national parks and national forests where they are released, they want to provide protection for any that may move onto non-federal lands. As part of a CCAA, landowners agree to:

  • Work with WDFW wildlife managers to monitor fishers and their dens in the event that a den site is found on their property.
  • Avoid harming or disturbing fishers and their young associated with active denning sites (March to September).
  • Report den sites and sick, injured, or dead fishers on their property. Landowners can enter into a CCAA only until such time as fishers are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

For more information about enrolling in the program, please contact:

Fisher recovery areas

Fisher recovery areas in Washington state. Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bringing back the fisher

The fisher (Pekania pennanti) is one of the larger members of the weasel family and is found only in North America’s forests. Through excessive trapping and habitat loss, fishers were eliminated from Washington state by the middle of the 20th Century.

In 1998, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission listed the fisher as endangered in the state.

Recovery of the species is now well under way. From 2008 to 2010, WDFW worked with the National Park Service and other partners to reestablish the species in the state, relocating a total of 90 fishers from central British Columbia to Olympic National Park. Additional releases have been ongoing on federal land in the South Cascades and others are planned for the North Cascades in the next few years.

Since the 1940s, wildlife managers in 27 states and provinces have translocated (relocated) fishers 30 times to reestablish local populations within the fisher’s historical range. Twenty-two (73 percent) of these translocations are known to have been successful and two others are still being evaluated.

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State helps family foresters reopen 800 miles of stream to fish passage

January 28, 2016
culvert replacement

The state’s Family Forest Fish Passage Program funded this Spokane County landowner’s replacement (left) of an undersized culvert (right) that had blocked fish passage in Little Deer Creek. Photo: DNR/RCO

For a relatively small investment, a Washington state program has enabled hundreds of small forestland owners to reopen hundreds of miles of previously blocked stream habitat to salmon and other fish (as this video explains). About $5 million was allocated to the program for the 2015-17 state budget biennium. Since its inception in 2003, the legislatively funded Family Forest Fish Passage Program has reconnected 804 miles of fish habitat and eliminated 353 worn out or improperly installed road culverts and other fish barriers on forest streams.

The numbers are important because 3.2 million acres of Washington’s forests—about half of the private forestland in the state—are owned by small forest landowners. Their income contributes to Washington state’s annual $16 billion forestry economy and helps sustain many rural communities. At the same time, these family forests provide cold, clean water to thousands of miles of fish-bearing streams. However, crossing those streams, in many cases, are private forest roads with aging, under-sized culverts or other structures that block migrating fish that use those streams.

With the state’s 1999 Forests and Fish rules, new regulations required all forest landowners to remove fish barriers on streams associated with their forest road crossings. To a small forest landowner, the cost can be substantial and potentially influence their decisions about converting their forestland to another use. Recognizing these potential impacts, the 2003 Washington State Legislature created the Family Forest Fish Passage Program to help substantially reduce the regulatory and monetary burdens on small family forest landowners while restoring habitat for fish.

In addition to the 353 completed projects there are 793 projects waiting their turn for funding assistance.

See a map of recent projects and more information about Family Forest Fish Passage Program.

Wildlife trees: Animal magnets

January 5, 2016
Pileated woodpecker.

Pileated woodpecker. Photo: Glenn Thompson.

Many species of wildlife find shelter in trees, and not just in living trees. Trees are mostly cellulose, which is not living tissue, biologically speaking: hard for most organisms to digest but great for wildlife habitat. Once a tree dies, the habitat value of a tree and its wood seems to take off. Wildlife trees are standing dead (snags), defective live trees or down logs, all of which have large amounts of dead wood.

The three primary needs of wildlife are food, water, and shelter. Trees — living or dead — provide two of the three (food and shelter), while helping to maintain and filter local watersheds. Dead trees provide food by housing the insects that feed on the dead wood, and offer cover in the form of cavities, crevices or loose bark.

Woodpeckers’ special role

Woodpeckers will make new cavities in wildlife trees every year, or improve old ones, as a regular part of courtship and nesting behavior. These cavities in dead trees are prime real estate, used by many other species when the woodpeckers are done. Fledging rates (babies to adulthood) for cavity nesting birds are much higher than rates for those that nest on the ground. Non migratory species, such as the pileated woodpecker, will use cavities for roosting in the non-breeding season. Nuthatches and other small birds will sometimes communally roost in cavities together. Flying squirrels are known to cuddle through cold winter days (they are nocturnal) piled into cavities.

Up to 40 percent of Washington’s forest wildlife species — and not just birds — use dead wood for some portion of their life cycle. The list is long. A few of the species that use wildlife trees are:

  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Red-naped sapsucker
  • Western bluebird
  • Douglas squirrel
  • Marten
  • Long-tailed weasel
  • Chipmunk
  • Flying squirrel
  • Bats
  • Western toad
  • Salamander
pileated woodpecker cavities in a larch snag

Multiple pileated woodpecker cavities in a larch snag in northeast Washington. After more than 35 years as a snag, the tree fell in 2015. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Wildlife trees, including standing dead trees, are so important to wildlife that Washington State’s Forest Practices rules require timber harvesters to leave behind several of these trees per acre.

Forest Practices Illustrated — a simplified guide to the state’s Forest Practices Rules — suggests that planning for timber harvests include retaining more wildlife trees than the minimums required  and creating additional snags from low quality trees (easily with mechanical harvesting techniques) when possible.

Today is National Bird Day. Check out opportunities to watch birds on DNR-managed state trust lands, and learn more about birds from the Washington Ornithological Society and American Birding Association.

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Seeing bark stripped from trees? How to tell if it was caused by a porcupine

December 7, 2015
Tree with porcupine damage

Tree with bark stripped away by a porcupine. Photo: DNR

Have you seen trees with large areas of their trunks stripped of bark? It could be bear or beaver damage, but what if the removed bark area goes up to nearly the top of the tree, higher than a bear or beaver would go in search of tasty bark or bugs? It’s true that fox squirrels and gray squirrels strip also bark from trees, and so does the raccoon, but don’t forget about another forest dweller: the porcupine.

If you see bark striped from a tree, strips hanging from limbs, and perhaps piles of the stripped bark at the base of the tree, you might have seen the work of a hungry porcupine. And you can especially suspect porcupine if there are convenient branch “seats” for the animal to be perched on as it strips the bark, and eats some of the bark and licks and chews at the sugary wood surface beneath.

Porcupine are present in both eastern and western Washington. We don’t see the animals very often – but if you get out into the forest often enough, you will see their damage frequently.


Step carefully. Porcupines are found throughout Washington state, but as this photo shows, they aren’t always easy to spot (Hint: The porcupine is just left of the photo’s center-point.) Photo: DNR

Porcupine commonly climb up trees and strip the bark. They cause wounds and serious injury to the tree if they girdle the tree by removing the bark all the way around the circumference of the trunk. They tend to like fairly thin bark and like to sit on a branch or in a crotch where they can feed leisurely. They eat a variety of plants, including the bark and foliage of conifer trees. It’s particularly easy to strip the bark from conifer trees in the spring when the bark is relatively lose and pliable.

While porcupine can damage healthy trees, the biggest source tree damage in Washington State, especially in young trees, comes from black bears. The Washington Forestry Protection Association estimates that a single foraging black bear can peel bark from as many as 70 young trees a day. Trees between 15 and 25 years — especially Douglas-fir, western hemlock and western red cedar — are  popular targets because of the sweet layer of the trunk that animals can find just under the bark. The damaged trees can die but in doing so also become home to the many species of wildlife that take shelter and build nests in diseased or hollow trees.

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Cougars on state trust lands

October 29, 2015
cougar kittens

If you see this in the woods: don’t touch and don’t hang around! Although alone at the time, these four cougar kittens were not orphans, and quite likely mom was very close by. Photo: DNR.

Felines live all around us in Washington state’s wild areas, including state trust lands managed by DNR. We’re talking about bobcats, lynx and cougars–the largest North American feline.

Also known as mountain lions or pumas, the exceptionally powerful legs of Puma concolor enable it to leap 30 feet from a standstill, or jump 15 feet straight up a cliff wall. The cougar’s strength and powerful jaws allow it to take down and drag prey larger than it is, according to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Living with Wildlife webpage on cougars. While it is estimated that there are fewer than 3,000 cougars in Washington state, these large predators can be found in pretty much any rural or semi rural area where cover and large prey — including deer — are in abundance.

Adult males average approximately 140 pounds but can be as large as weigh 180 pounds, measure 7 to 8 feet long from nose to tip of tail and stand about 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Adult female cougars average about 25 percent smaller than males.

Sometimes, people hiking through thickly wooded or brushy areas come across cougar kittens, such as those seen in the photo with this article, and assume that they are orphans because the mother is not around. Don’t be fooled. Cougar kittens stay with their mothers for 12 to 19 months after their birth. While she hunts, the mother will leave the kittens in a ‘daybed’ which can be a cave but in less-mountainous areas can be a thickly forested area, a thicket or under large roots or fallen trees. And if you are hanging around when she returns…. well, re-read the paragraph about their strong jaws and leaping abilities. The fact is that while stronger than humans, cougar-human encounters almost never turn out well for the cougar. If you spot a cougar and have concerns, contact your local state wildlife office or, if it’s an immediate emergency, call 911 or any local law enforcement office. And never, ever touch one of those cute cougar kittens.

Cougars are among the many species of animals that live on the more than 2 million acres of DNR-managed forested trust land which, in western Washington, is managed under a comprehensive habitat conservation plan.

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Rare visitor feasts on Aquatic Reserve bounty

September 9, 2015
A juvenile fin whale swims south of the Smith & Minor Island Aquatic Reserve Sept. 3. Photo by Naturalist Photographer Janine Harles, Puget Sound Express Whale Watching.

A juvenile fin whale swims south of the Smith & Minor Island Aquatic Reserve Sept. 3. Photo by Naturalist Photographer Janine Harles, Puget Sound Express Whale Watching.

The second largest animal in the world made a surprise and swung by DNR’s Smith & Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve late last week for a snack.

It’s the first time in decades a live fin whale has been spotted swimming in Puget Sound.

According to an article in the San Juan Islander, the whale was spotted while feeding about three miles south of Minor Island – just west of Whidbey Island. DNR designated the state-owned aquatic lands around Smith & Minor Islands an aquatic reserve in part to protect the habitat that provides nursery and feeding grounds for the forage fish large marine predators like fin whales find so tasty. In fact, the Smith & Minor Islands reserve includes the largest kelp forest in Washington state.

The fin whale isn’t the only whale visitor to the reserve. The waters around Smith and Minor Islands are used by southern resident orcas, a DNR priority marine species also listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Minke whales and gray whales are commonly sighted in the area, particularly in the spring and summer. Other regular marine mammal inhabitants in the area include Dall’s porpoise and less commonly harbor porpoise.

Find out more about the reserve, what makes it so special and why DNR is working to study and protect it, in this video:


Managing 2.6 million acres of aquatic lands is a serious job, which is why DNR created the Aquatic Reserves program. This program allows people of the scientific, business, and local communities to locate potential reserve sites that are in need of preservation, restoration, and enhancement.

This partnership helps DNR focus on long-term management options for the specified reserves, and creates opportunities to for us to work with local communities and stakeholders.

Some of the benefits of designating areas as aquatic reserves include:

  • Ensuring environmental protection through site-based preservation, restoration, and enhancement.
  • Encouraging public use and access.
  • Providing for greater public input into conservation management.
  • Working with stakeholders, including citizens and state, local and federal governments, to develop and implement site-specific management plans.
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Even trail crews take extra steps during times of high wildfire risk

September 3, 2015
Hand Tools, IFPL

During fire-prone conditions, Industrial Fire Precaution Levels can restrict forest activities to hand tools only. Photo/ DNR.

All industrial forest work activities are guided by the Industrial Fire Precaution Levels (IFPL), which have varying degrees of restrictions intended to reduce the risk of starting a wildfire. Even trail work on DNR-managed lands has had to to go old school and take extra precautions around activities that wouldn’t typically cause wildfires.

Levels change daily and trail crews must be flexible to continue their valuable work for trails statewide.

How restrictions work on the ground
For example, throughout the summer trail crews in Tiger Mountain and in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area carried 5-gallon bags of water, a fire extinguisher, measured relative humidity, and finished early if conditions became too dry.

Washington Conservation Corps crew members that built motorcycle trails in Reiter Foothills Forest also adhered to the precaution levels. Some levels required them to swap motorized wheelbarrows and mini excavators for shovels and Pulaskis when conditions became too hazardous.

In Yacolt Burn State Forest, DNR staff who trimmed ferns on the Tarbell trail also adhered to levels by starting work in the wee hours of the morning, called “Hoot Owl” hours, and finishing by early afternoon, when temperatures heat up and humidity decreases. (more…)

Spring brings plants, amphibians and… fungus to Washington forests

May 2, 2015
Calypso orchid. Photo: K. Bevis.

Calypso orchid. Photo: K. Bevis.

As the days grow longer and the earth warms, new growth appears first on the forest floor and in the bushes and grasses, then on the tall trees above. Flowering plants like the calypso orchid are specialists on the forest floor, living on moist decaying wood in older forests and are a wonderful surprise to see. Calypso, or fairy slipper, orchids are fragile and seldom survive picking or transplanting due to their fragile root systems and their association with particular soil fungi.


Rough-skinned newt.

Rough-skinned newt.

Frogs, toads and salamanders become active in the spring as well, breeding as ponds and wetlands lose their ice cover and the edges warm. Depending on where you are, the woods can be alive with their breeding migrations and choruses from late-February to June. Spend an evening listening to their singing or an afternoon watching rough-skinned newts wandering the woods.


Lobster mushroom.

Lobster mushroom.

Moist soils and rotting wood produce amazing springtime explosions of mushrooms all over Washington. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi, with the mycelium or “root mass” buried below ground. The mycelium unobtrusively break down organic material on the forest floor, helping to ensure the health of the forest and its residents. When conditions are right, the mushrooms themselves appear, often literally overnight, in crazy and varied shapes, sizes and colors. Mushrooms are also abundant in the fall. If you plan on picking mushrooms, be careful and take along an experienced mushroomer or a good field guide. Although some mushrooms are a tasty treat for humans and wildlife alike, others can make you sick or even kill you.

This blog first appeared in a longer version in Small Forest Landowner News, a free e-newsletter published quarterly by the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office. Click here to get Small Forest Landowner News delivered to your email in-box each quarter

Spring is for the birds

April 30, 2015

After a long winter, life seems to suddenly return to the forests, as well as the backyards, parks, shorelines and, even, along streets and highways of the Pacific Northwest.

Townsends warbler

Townsends warbler

Between March and May, migratory songbirds arrive to take advantage of the explosion of insect life in our temperate forests and countryside. Many of these birds return yearly from Central and South America to breed and remain with us through the summer months. Others merely pass through on their way to breeding grounds farther north, using our forests and shores to refuel and rest. Listen carefully at dawn to the chorus of song, as birds declare breeding territories and try to attract mates.

Research suggests that some of our migratory birds (western tanagers, Townsend’s warblers, flycatchers) may key in on our deciduous trees either because of the insect populations, or because the trees are similar to the broad-leafed forests where they spend the winter. Interestingly, many of the neo-tropical migrants arrive as trees are leafing out. Conifers have more consistent habitat features, with needles present all year long, and provide habitats utilized more by year around residents such as chickadees and nuthatches.

Western pee wee. Photo: G. Thompson.

Western pee wee. Photo: G. Thompson.

Rich shrub layers and overlapping canopy trees can provide critical habitats for these nesting birds. Many like snags along the forest edge, particularly if there are meadows or water nearby. Watch for flycatchers “hawking” (catching on the wing) insects by darting up into the air and flying back to their favorite perches. There are at least eight species of birds known as flycatchers that will grace your forest this spring and summer including the western wood pee wee and both the Hammond’s and dusky flycatchers. These birds nest in forked branches high up in trees, and actively feed throughout the day. Try telling them apart by their behavior and calls. Appreciate the journey they just made from central Mexico or Arizona back to our area.

This blog first appeared in a longer version in Small Forest Landowner News, a free e-newsletter published quarterly by the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office. Click here to get Small Forest Landowner News delivered to your email in-box each quarter.

Down log denizens

April 12, 2015
down log near Forks

This large down log near Forks continues to provide valuable habitat. Note the animal pathway under log’s edge and the vegetation growing out of the log. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Once a tree dies there is still a lot of life left in it. In fact, dead wood can provide some species with more habitat value than living wood.

While standing trees are excellent habitats for many species, standing trees that are dead can provide even more habitat opportunities. And when a tree falls over, becoming a down log. it will likely play an even bigger role in the local ecosystem. Because of our excellent climate for growing trees in the Pacific Northwest and the slow nature of decay, down logs are particularly important to our forests. They help recycle nutrients into the soil, retain moisture in dry seasons, provide structure for plants to live on, and create essential habitat structure in streams.

Down logs also provide important habitats for many wildlife species, from the smallest shrew or wren to the black bear. In Washington state, forest practices rules recognize the ecological importance of down wood and require retention of some down wood after a timber harvest.

Read more about down logs, how they are formed and the species they help support in the latest issue of Forest Stewardship News, a free, quarterly e-newsletter published by DNR and Washington State University Forestry Extension.

Subscribe to Forest Stewardship Notes — it’s free!

Own more than 10 acres forestland or just an acre or two trees? Check out the advice and assistance available from the DNR Forest Stewardship Program and the Small Forest Landowner Office.

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