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Guy Norman

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Southwest Washington Wildlife Reports Archives
March 2007

March 5, 2007

Mt. Saint Helen elk
Mt. Saint Helen elk
Mt. Saint Helen elk distributed along the valley floor on the river mudlfow.

REGION 5 WILDLIFE AREAS

Mount Saint Helen's Wildlife Area:
Elk Count:
WDFW Wildlife Biologist Woodin and Volunteer Tony Kastella counted 638 elk on the Mount Saint Helen's Wildlife Area on Sunday, March 4, 2007. This count followed a very low snowfall three days prior, and was expected to be an increase over last month's count. The composition of the elk was 37 Bulls per 100 Cows per 38 Calves.

The elk were distributed all over the valley floor in mostly large, scattered groups of over 50 animals. The west end contained mostly bulls. Although their coats are getting a bit rough-looking this time of year, the elk appeared to be in good shape. No thin, sickly elk were seen nor were any dead elk observed on the valley floor. Two dead elk were seen along the Spirit Lake Highway, appearing to be road kills.

DIVERSITY DIVISION

Sea Lion Hazing: Regional Wildlife Program staff attended a training session in preparation for sea lion hazing below the Bonneville dam on the Columbia River. The training session was a collaborative effort by WDFW Research Division, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), National Marine Fisheries Service, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Safety, security, hazing procedures, equipment, etc were discussed at the meeting. Day two of the session was "on the water" training and served as the initiation of sea lion hazing immediately adjacent to the dam.

This year hazing will be conducted 7 days per week from March 1 through the end of May. Wildlife Program has hired a crew of hazers to work 4 days per week and ODFW has a matching crew (allowing for one day of overlap). Please see the Columbia River Sea Lions Fact Sheet for additional information regarding this issue.

GAME DIVISION

Region 5 Deer Summer Productivity Survey
Region 5 Deer Summer Productivity Survey
Twelve-year history of summer productivity
surveys for deer in Region 5

Click chart for enlargement.

Region 5 Deer Management: Biologist Holman summarized the Regional deer herd composition data for 2006. The year's pre-season deer survey efforts by both volunteers and WDFW staff resulted in the classification of 504 blacktail and mule deer. The lack of funding to conduct pre-season aerial deer surveys in 2006, made volunteer survey efforts especially important again this year. Of particular note are the contributions of The Campbell Group's foresters in GMU 530 (Ryderwood) and members of the Yacolt Burn Sportsman's Club for their efforts in GMU 568 (Washougal). Thanks to all those who helped.

The data gained from the above-referenced effort is used as one of the inputs into the Region's Sex, Age, and Kill method of deer population estimation. Per the requirements of the Game Management Plan and WDFW's mission statement, we are to manage both species of deer in the Region in such a way as to not negatively impact the overall population; i.e. not reduce the deer population. This presents a significant challenge given many contributing factors that are detrimental to deer at a landscape level. These include the spread of suburbia into areas of quality deer habitat; conversion of agricultural areas to industrial-residential uses; a variety of forest-practices related changes, including the cessation of timber cutting on federal lands, use of herbicides on forest plantations, road construction, etc.; the onset of the hairloss syndrome in the mid-1990's; and our statutory requirement to respond to "damage". Quantification of biological data related to the deer population allows us to set appropriate hunting seasons amidst the backdrop of the many factors affecting the population that we are not able to control.

The primary focus of the productivity surveys is to determine the annual recruitment of young animals into the population, or fawn to doe ratio. The 2006 fawn to doe ratio of just 32 fawns per 100 does documents the lowest ratio recorded since formalization of this survey effort in 1995. It is likely that the relatively severe winter of 2005-06 caused many does to fail reaching full term. While a large amount of attention has been focused on the Regional elk population's response to the severe winter, deer appear to have suffered as well. These depressed fawn ratios will likely lead to a somewhat reduced availability of yearling bucks for harvest in the 2007 season. Please see the attached figures for an illustration of the 12-year history of summer productivity surveys for deer in Region 5.

March 12, 2007

REGION 5 WILDLIFE AREAS

Cedar Creek riparian zone and bank stabilization site.
Cedar Creek riparian zone and bank stabilization site.

Cedar Creek Wildlife Area:
Inspection:
Wildlife Area Manager Calkins recently visited the Cedar Creek Site which is a satellite unit of the Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area to check on maintenance needs in an established riparian planting, survey for meadow knapweed and other weeds, and determine what is needed for fence repair in one location. The riparian zone and bank stabilization work is holding up very well as shown image to the right.

Calkins discovered nearby that someone had planted a few hundred Douglas Fir seedlings which is a concern. This work by an unknown party was not coordinated with Calkins and most of the trees will have to be removed. This site was purchased because of a mineral spring that is important to Band-tailed pigeons. These spring sites are a critical habitat component for these birds and must remain open or they will be abandoned. Although not yet formalized, the plan for the open fields where the trees were planted is to have them largely covered with fruit producing hardwoods to benefit the pigeons as well as other species that use the site.

Shillapoo Wildlife Area:
Shillapoo Pump Upgrade:
Since it was originally installed some years ago, the pump that was installed to manage water in wetland basins on part of the South Unit has not met expectations. This is largely due to the way the pump was designed. The screen surface area and pump volume did not meet fish screening criteria needed to protect juvenile salmonids at typical river levels.

WDFW's TAPP's and Engineering programs have been working with Wildlife Area Manager Calkins on this issue and an upgrade to the system is almost complete. The work includes installation of seals on the screens to better protect juvenile fish and the installation of a second, smaller pump that can be used at lower river levels within the fish screening protection guidelines. The larger pump will still be in place and used when river levels are high enough, but the smaller pump will allow management of water levels, and thus vegetation, on a more reliable basis. The end result will be better protection for fish and more reliable, improved management and native habitat in our wetland basins that the pump station serves.

Cowlitz Wildlife Area:
Artificial Nest Box Annual Maintenance and Inventory:
Habitat Technician Morris and Assistant Manager Vanderlip performed the annual inspection, maintenance, and survey on the artificial cavity nest boxes. Use data was on average with previous years but mortality was higher. Several clutches were laid in Swofford Pond nest boxes but hatches were unsuccessful. Additionally, Oxbow Lake, usually a heavy producer, had a starling problem. Also, predation had occurred in a large percentage of the boxes. Attrition and vandalism accounted for the loss of 8 boxes across the wildlife area. 2007 plans are to identify key areas in the Tilton River arm of Mayfield Lake and place several new boxes in those identified locations.

Recreation Information:
Riffe Lake Water Levels:
Tacoma Power updates lake levels and other recreation information on its toll-free Fishing and Recreation Line every weekday at 1-888-502-8690.

DIVERSITY DIVISION

US Forest Service Grazing Allotment: Biologist Anderson is currently assisting the habitat division with review and analysis of the Ice Caves cattle grazing program on the Mt. Adams district of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This permit process allows for the grazing of 200 cattle in the Cave Creek area near Trout Lake. Resource issues for WDFW include protection of butterfly habitat for the mardon skipper, riparian protection, and range availability for big game. In the past, the USFS has had a poor record of overseeing the specifics of monitoring this range allotment. We have concerns about overgrazing of important meadow and riparian habitats. Final comments are being drafted by the habitat division and will be complete next week.

Adult male Golden eagle.
Adult male Golden eagle.

Raptor Study: Biologist Anderson is assisting Biologist Watson from the research division with developing a study of raptor movements associated with wind farm development in the Columbia River Gorge. Mitigation money is being requested for transmitter-equipping several raptors nesting adjacent to proposed turbines. The goal of the project is to learn more about pre and post construction habitat use by birds of prey. This week an adult male golden eagle was captured and fitted with a satellite transmitter that will provide valuable data for this project.

GAME DIVISION

Cowlitz Valley Elk Survey: WDFW Wildlife Biologist Woodin and Puyallup Tribe of Indians Wildlife Biologist Barbara Moeller combined efforts to complete a survey of elk in the Cowlitz and Cispus River valleys last week. A total of 657 elk were classified in both valleys. In the Cowlitz valley, 526 elk were classified with a ratio of 19 bulls to 100 cows to 36 calves. In addition, 77% of bulls seen were spikes, with 14% raghorn and 9% mature bulls.

Bull elk spotted from helicopter during Cowlitz Valley elk survey.
Bull elk spotted from helicopter during Cowlitz Valley elk survey.

The Cispus valley survey managed to classify 111 elk with a composition of 11 bulls to 100 cows to 39 calves. Spike bulls composed 50% of the total with raghorn bulls at 38% and mature at 12%. See image at right of some bulls seen during the flight.

The success of this survey goes to our pilot, Jess Hagerman, for his mastery in flight skills as well as spotting and classifying elk.

Mount Saint Helens Elk Management: WDFW Commission Chair Jerry Gutzwiler organized a meeting with key Weyerhaeuser managers, representatives from Longview Fiber, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and WDFW to discuss access to Weyerhaeuser lands. The level of browse damage received by the timber companies over the past several years has generated significant interest in facilitating the herd reduction identified in the Mount St. Helens Elk Herd plan. Weyerhaeuser has committed to working with WDFW and local citizen groups to provide well controlled and managed hunter access for this fall.

As follow-up to the above-described meeting, Regional Wildlife Program Staff along with Game Division Manager Ware met with representatives from Weyerhaeuser and DNR. Additional details regarding hunting access to Weyerhaeuser's lands were discussed. Specifically, seasons for all user groups including early and late hunting periods, access points, the critical role to be played by volunteer groups, browse damage, objectives of the Mt. St. Helens Elk Herd Plan, deer management, etc. were all discussed.

March 20, 2007

REGION 5 WILDLIFE AREAS

Oregon spotted frog and egg mass.
Oregon spotted frog and egg mass.
Oregon spotted frog and egg mass.

Cowlitz Wildlife Area:
Reporting:
Assistant Manager Vanderlip and Manager Grabski finalized the 2006 annual report for the operation and maintenance of the Cowlitz Wildlife Area. This report is reviewed by Tacoma Power and then submitted by Tacoma to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The report summarizes management activities for 2006, proposed activities for 2007, and wildlife area expenditures. The filing of this report to FERC by Tacoma / WDFW is a requirement of the Cowlitz Hydroelectric Project license.

Training: Wildlife area staff attended a two-day workshop in Shelton on forest road surfacing. Basic design principles, applied practices, and maintenance were discussed. The wildlife area currently has approximately 73 miles of forest roads with a road density plan in effect. The Western Forestry and Conservation Association sponsored this workshop.

DIVERSITY DIVISION

Oregon Spotted Frogs: Biologist Anderson initiated egg mass surveys for Oregon Spotted Frogs at Trout Lake Natural Area Preserve. The Oregon Spotted Frog is a state endangered species located in two isolated areas of southern Puget Sound and Klickitat County. WDFW and DNR conduct annual egg mass surveys as an index of population health. Recent surveys have given concern that this species may be experiencing some population decline, similar to many frog species throughout the world. Egg mass surveys will continue at Trout Lake throughout March with the help of DNR biologists and local volunteers.

GAME DIVISION

Mount St. Helens Elk: Wildlife Officer Lantiegne recently recovered a collar and radio transmitter from a dead cow elk in the Rose Valley area. Lantiegne returned the collar to Regional Wildlife Program Staff for some investigation into the animal's history. Region 6 Wildlife Program Manager Smith was contacted for further information.

The elk was captured in 1990 near Monument Peak, on Weyerhaeuser property in Game Management Unit 550 (Coweeman). Al Thomas, Brian Mitchell, and Dave Gadwa captured and collared the cow. She was part of the Mt. St. Helens Elk Mortality Study overseen by Smith.

Officer Lantiegne recovered the collar in the Goble Creek area just 5 miles to the west of her capture location 17 years prior. She was 3.5 years old when captured; therefore, recovery of her collar in the spring of 2007 puts her age at a very advanced 21 years. This is among the oldest recorded for wild elk.

Thanks to Cowlitz County residents Jeff and Lori Morris for their cooperation in the recovery of this information. The elk's jaws (teeth) will be prepared and used for reference as well as educational and display purposes.

March 26, 2007

DIVERSITY DIVISION

Western Pond Turtle: Biologist Anderson conducted a site visit with Biologist VanLeuven and USFS Columbia River Gorge Botanist Dobson at Sondino Ranch, Klickitat Wildlife Area. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a strategy for restoration of a 10-acre meadow recently purchased by WDFW. This acquisition expanded western pond turtle habitat being managed by the Agency. Suggestions for restoration of the meadow include planting native grasses and scattered oak and pine, habitat that was originally on the site.

Osprey Platform: Biologist Anderson met with Lyle School District personnel to discuss building an osprey platform for a pair of birds that have nested at the school ball field for several years. The school is concerned that the current nest is in a dangerous location on top of a light pole. WDFW purchased building materials and Lyle school personnel will build a nest platform for the Osprey. Their plan is to install the platform on the power pole before Osprey return and start rebuilding the old nest.

Raptor Research: Acting Klickitat Wildlife Area Manager VanLeuven participated in trapping red-tailed hawks. VanLeuven worked with the research team to capture 3 birds the morning of March 22 and equipped all birds with solar powered GPS transmitters.

GAME DIVISION

Grayback GMU Spring Deer Survey Summary 1980-2007
Grayback GMU Spring Deer Survey Summary 1980-2007
Click chart for enlargement

Region 5 Deer Management: The annual Spring survey of deer on and near the Klickitat Wildlife Area was conducted on the 19th and 20th of March. Wildlife Biologist Holman, Acting Klickitat Wildlife Area Manager VanLeuven, Fisheries Biologists Weinheimer and Gray, Shillapoo Wildlife Area Assistant Manager Hauswald, and retired Klickitat Wildlife Area Manager Morrison conducted the survey. A total of 391 deer were observed during the effort with 344 classified. The number of classified deer was significantly fewer than the 15-year average of 546 deer.

More significant than the total number of deer observed, however, is the annual ratio of fawns to adults. Young deer are more likely to succumb to harsh winter conditions and food shortages; therefore, the ratio provides a barometer for winter severity. During severe winters, fawns suffer mortality at a greater rate than adults, thereby reducing the ratio of fawns to adults.

This year's survey resulted in a ratio of 67 fawns per 100 adult deer. Reflective of the latest in a series of mild Klickitat County winters, 67 fawns per 100 adults represents the second-highest ratio observed in the 28-year history of the survey and is significantly higher than the long-term average of 47 to 100. The 2007 survey indicates that the deer present on or near the Klickitat Wildlife Area suffered little in the way of winter losses during 2006/07. Please see the chart illustrating the fawn to adult ratio recorded on the annual Spring Survey during the past 28 years and the number of deer classified during the past 16 years. Thanks to all those who participated in the annual spring survey.