Wildlife Program report: Apr. 1-15, 2023

This report summarizes recent, noteworthy activities of Wildlife Program field and headquarters staff, arranged by four divisions: Game, Lands, Science, and Wildlife Diversity, and six regions: Eastern, North Central, South Central, North Puget Sound, Southwest, and Coastal, including wildlife areas within those regions.

Lands Division

Providing Recreation Opportunities

Coordination With Tribes: Lands Division staff members worked with representatives of Tulalip and Swinomish Tribes to develop an America the Beautiful Challenge pre-proposal for submittal to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Funding would support collaborative work with tribes across the state to address the impacts of recreation on wildlife, habitat, and treaty resources.

Ambassador Program: A contract has been awarded to the Washington Trails Association to work with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff to develop an ambassador program to pilot at six sites.

Travel Management: An internal working group is hard at work developing a Travel Management Program that will establish policies and procedures for managing roads and trails on WDFW managed lands. Early efforts will focus on rulemaking to discourage the creation of user-built trails.


Conserving Natural Landscapes

Skagit Wildlife Area Plan: A draft of the Skagit Wildlife Area Plan has been completed and shared with the Skagit Wildlife Area Advisory Committee (WAAC). The WAAC met April 12 to receive a briefing on the plan. The WAAC will have until April 21 to submit comments on the draft.

Region 3 (South Central)

Managing Wildlife Populations

Ground Squirrel Surveys: Assistant District Biologist Wampole commenced Townsend ground squirrel (Urocitellus townsendii townsendii) surveys in Kittitas and Yakima counties. Surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021 confirmed a significant decline in Townsend ground squirrel occupancy at historic colony sites. Current surveys aim to monitor remaining occupied sites and identify new colony locations.

 A Townsends Ground Squirrel at one of the remaining large colonies in Yakima County.
Photo by WDFW
A Townsends ground squirrel at one of the remaining large colonies in Yakima County.

Ground Squirrel Surveys: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra revisited Townsends ground squirrel colonies for the range wide survey of this Washington endemic species. Thus far two of 27 Benton County colonies that were active in 2005 had squirrels detected. There was a sharp decline in occupancy around the year 2018.

Tricolored Blackbird Research: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra placed sound recorder devices at two known tricolored blackbird colonies for a California researcher. The loggers will be used to analyze vocalizations but also provide remote monitoring for arrival and productivity which is valuable for this rare breeding species in Washington.


Providing Recreation Opportunities

Hardy Canyon Gate Installation: The Wenas Wildlife Area staff members installed a gate near the Hardy Canyon trailhead to allow both users on foot and those on horseback to access the Hoover acquisition. The sale for this property recently went through. The property will be a walk-in only access site for the public. Opportunities for wildlife viewing, hunting, and hiking will be popular throughout the new acquisition. The primary focus of this acquisition is to conserve shrubsteppe and riparian habitat.

The newly installed walkthrough gate at Hardy Canyon
Photo by WDFW
The newly installed walkthrough gate at Hardy Canyon

Wenas Wildlife Area Road Maintenance: Manager Hughes and Assistant Manager Taylor have been working closely with Capital Asset Management Program (CAMP) on road maintenance being conducted on the Wenas. The three priority roads being worked on through June are Kelly Hollow leading into Hessler Flats and Bell Tell off Sheep Company and Roza roads. The roadcrew is becoming familiar with the alkali and clay soils throughout the Wenas along with spring runoff issues that occur when there are not proper drainages built into each road. Taylor and Hughes have been working with the roadcrew on getting rolling dips and ditch outs to be angled enough for water to run off the road. If there is not enough angle (aiming for a 45-degree angle) the water will pool at the base of each rolling dip in the road. Another important feature is making the rolling dips wide enough and gradual so you can easily roll through while driving compared to a drastic dip that is difficult to haul a trailer through or get a fire engine through. Certain parts of the road are also being out sloped for water runoff. Almost all the roads throughout the Wenas have severe damage due to spring run-off issues. It is very exciting, there was some funding allowing maintenance work and some issues to be addressed. In the long run, the road maintenance will help keep user groups on the established road and in turn preserve adjacent habitat that was being eroded due to spring run off and from the public driving off the main road in order to get through.

Roadwork on Kelly Hollow Road.
Photo by WDFW
Roadwork on Kelly Hollow Road

 


Providing Conflict Prevention and Education

Mule Deer and Highways: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff members met with Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to discuss a potential point of collaboration to reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife on major roadways in Kittitas County. Information obtained from GPS collared mule deer highlighted key corridors of movement which will help guide WSDOT project priority and mitigation efforts by establishing hotspots of possible conflict.

Oak Creek Volunteers and Visitor’s Center Banquet: Oak Creek Manager Mackey and Assistant Manager Charlet attended the annual volunteer awards dinner in Yakima. Two 20-year service awards, one 10-year service award, one 5-year service award, one “Smooth Talker” award, and one “Busy Bee” award were handed out to honor our dedicated volunteers for the year.


Conserving Natural Landscapes

2022 Vantage Highway Fire: Assistant Manager Winegeart and Natural Resource Specialist Nass established photo points in a 100 acre section of the Vantage Highway Fire footprint which is planned for drill seeding in the fall. Later, they joined a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife archaeologist and volunteering foresters in performing a pedestrian cultural survey of the same area. The entire 100 acres was also aerially treated with Laramie 25DF to control cheatgrass for fall seeding in some areas and to control cheatgrass to reduce native grass competition as the plants recover from fire in others.

Photo monitoring site in Vantage Hwy Fire restoration polygon
Photo by WDFW
Photo monitoring site in Vantage Highway Fire restoration polygon

 

Forbs the spring after Vantage Hwy Fire
Photo by WDFW
Forbs the spring after Vantage Highway Fire

Roza Fence Posts and Cable: Assistant Manager Taylor and Natural Resource Technician Stoltenow pounded metal posts with a cable strung across to prevent unauthorized vehicle access in the Roza portion of the wildlife area. An area was left open adjacent to the gate for the public to be able to walk in or ride a horse in. The following weekend someone from the public went even further off the Green Dot Road to cut a fence the wildlife area installed behind the cable and drove their motorized vehicles through. This has been an ongoing challenge for the Wenas Wildlife Area. The surrounding landscape of the area is difficult to block off where the Green Dot Road ends. Below the Green Dot Road goes into a riparian area along with heavier fuels. This is a popular area for hunting, wildlife viewing, and hiking. It also holds valuable habitat for elk, upland birds, mule deer, and more. Manager Hughes is going to continue to work with enforcement on the illegal offroad use past the gate and fenced area.

Roza Road Wenas
Photo by WDFW

 

Photos of new posts and wire string on each side of the Roza gate.
Photo by WDFW
Photos of new posts and wire string on each side of the Roza gate

Wenas Kelly Hollow Reseeding: Habitat Specialist Miller seeded old, decommissioned sections of Kelly Hollow Road, as well as new ditch-outs on the Kelly Hollow and Hessler Flat roads. This seeding will be the start to recovering habitat from an outdated and unusable roadbed.

Wenas Sheep Company Spraying: Habitat Specialist Miller made a spray application at the Shooting Range off of Sheep Company Road. This spray will help to ensure the berms are acting as sufficient fire breaks as well as making the shooting area a pleasant and accessible place to recreate for the public. This will help to limit dispersed shooting on the wildlife area, benefiting public safety as well as limiting distribution of refuse.

Sunnyside/Snake River Spraying: Approximately 480 acres of the recently burned Byron Unit was sprayed for annual grasses by helicopter in preparation for seeding of native vegetation in the fall.

Aerial spraying at Byron
Photo by WDFW
Aerial spraying at Byron

Solar Energy Project Reviews: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra attended meetings and reviews of several solar projects in District 4. The scope and size of projects overall will have unmitigated impacts to many wildlife species.


Providing Education and Outreach

Arbor Day Event: Assistant Manager Winegeart assisted with Arbor Fest at the Yakima Arboretum.

Arbor Fest
Photo by WDFW
Arbor Fest

Other

Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area: With the weather improving slightly in recent days, Natural Resource Technician Wascisin and Assistant Manager Ferguson spent several days pulling up and burning last year’s bumper crop of kochia and Russian thistle from around the shop and office area at the Sunnyside Unit. They also put pre-emergent herbicide down to hopefully curb growth of the weeds this year.

 

Burning kochia
Photo by WDFW
Burning kochia

Assistant Manager Ferguson has been busy installing the new gate for the driveway to the Sunnyside Unit office. The gate structure is made of heavy-gauge steel and composed of a swinging gateway and a frame situated underground and embedded in ten yards of concrete. The hope is to prevent any further forced entries into the compound by burglars.

Digging trench for new gate
Photo by WDFW
Digging trench for new gate
Installing gate support.
Photo by WDFW
Installing gate support frame

Sunnyside Unit Front Gate: Assistant Manager Ferguson completed installation of the new front gate at the Sunnyside Unit.

12 yards of concrete- should stop any Honda Civics from breaking through our gate again.
Photo by WDFW
12 yards of concrete should stop any Honda Civics from breaking through our gate again.
Lowering the new gate into place.
Photo by WDFW
Lowering the new gate into place
Completed gate.
Photo by WDFW
Completed gate

Region 3 Chainsaw Training: Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area Manager Kaelber, Sunnyside Assistant Manager Jahns, Sunnyside Natural Resource Technician Manderbach, Oak Creek Wildlife Area Manager Mackey, L.T. Murray Assistant Manager Winegeart, Natural Resource Specialists Blore, Nass, Frame, and Stoltenow attended chainsaw training in Yakima. The training was provided by members of the Department of Natural Resources Ahtanum Wild Land Fire Hand Crew. It was a fun training, and we learned a ton of valuable information!

Clark Pond Fire: On Wednesday, Mar. 22, there was a fire in the Clark Pond Unit of the Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area. The fire began on neighboring private property and spread into the wildlife area, burning an estimated 87 acres. Unfortunately, all the native shrub plots in the unit were destroyed.

Clark Pond fire
Photo by WDFW
Clark Pond Unit fire
Native shrub plots badly burned in the Clark Pond fire
Photo by WDFW
Native shrub plots badly burned in the Clark Pond Unit fire

Region 3 Fall Protection Training: Sunnyside Manager Kaelber, Sunnyside Assistant Manager Jahns, all L.T. Murray Wildlife Area staff members, and all Oak Creek Wildlife Area staff members attended Fall Protection Awareness training at the regional office in Yakima.

Region 5 (Southwest)

Managing Wildlife Populations

Injured Bald Eagle: Biologist Wickhem responded to a report of an injured mature bald eagle along Highway 14 in Skamania County. Wickhem was joined at the location by the reporting party, who happened to be an experienced raptor-catcher. The eagle was not in a great spot. It was on a small patch of land between railroad tracks and the Columbia River. When the pair approached with their “catching gear", the eagle was able to muster a few stealthy hops and fly about 30 feet to perch on a tree branch over-hanging the river. With the eagle being somewhat mobile and in an impossible place to access, the pair decided to leave it be and hope for the best. Hopefully it will recover on its own without human intervention!

The injured eagle on its inaccessible cliff perch.
Photo by WDFW
The injured eagle on its inaccessible cliff perch

Winter Mudflow Elk Count: Biologist Stephens conducted a count of elk on the Mudflow Unit of the Mount St Helens Wildlife Area. This survey is done each month from December to April. A total of 193 elk were observed on the mudflow which included 60 bulls, 89 cows, 26 calves, and 18 elk that were unable to be classified.

Mudflow Unit of the Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area
Photo by WDFW
Mudflow Unit of the Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area

Willapa Hills Elk Survey: In March, biologists from Regions 5 and 6 conducted an aerial survey of the Willapa Hills Elk Herd. Given the large size of the herd area, normally the south half and the north half of the herd area are surveyed in alternating years. This year there was funding to survey both the north and south halves. The survey is a stratified random sampling design and a sightability estimate is applied to the data collected. The estimate for the north portion of the Willapa Hills Elk Herd area came to 1,441 and the estimate for the south half was 2,841. Both of these estimates are very similar to previous year’s estimates which indicate a stable population.

S Willapa Hills Elk Herd
Photo by WDFW

 

North Willapa Hills Elk Herd
Photo by WDFW

 

Willapa Elk Herd Area Map

Oregon Spotted Frog Surveys: Biologists Wickhem and Bergh and Technician Motiff have spent many days since mid-March surveying for federally threatened Oregon spotted frogs at two sites in Klickitat County. Throughout the survey period, the trio were assisted by Herpetologist Hallock, Customer Service Specialist Splitgerber, Administrative Assistant Pool, Volunteers Castagnoli and Hanley, and Washington Department of Natural Resources Natural Areas staff members. The survey consists of walking transects through wetlands looking for Oregon spotted frog egg masses. Each egg mass represents two frogs which creates a population estimate for each site. The population count in Trout Lake Valley appears to be similar to last year, however the Glenwood Valley population estimate more than tripled compared to last year! A very welcome outcome after many years of declines in that area.

Hallock and Motiff try to count the number of egg masses in a large cluster
Photo by WDFW
Hallock and Motiff try to count the number of egg masses in a large cluster (71!!)

        


Conserving Natural Landscapes

Diversifying the Habitat: Manager Hauswald, Assistant Manager Breitenstein, and Assistant Manager Risley put in a long day to plant 1,100 native trees and shrubs at the Alder Creek Unit of the Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area. These trees and shrubs were planted in areas that previously hosted dense stands of Douglas fir trees and little else. The Alder Creek Unit was thinned in 2018 to create more open habitat for elk and other wildlife species. Planting cottonwood, bitter cherry, elderberry, and vine maple in these thinned areas will further enhance the habitat by creating a more diverse, mosaic forest type that is more characteristic of a healthy Pacific Northwest temperate forest.

Assistant Manager Breitenstein plants native tree saplings at the Alder Creek Unit of Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area.
Photo by WDFW
Assistant Manager Breitenstein plants native tree saplings at the Alder Creek Unit of Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area.

Providing Education and Outreach

Wild About Nature Presentation: Biologist Wickhem and Mesocarnivore Specialist Lewis presented at the opening night of the tenth Wild About Nature speaker’s series at the White Salmon Library. Wickhem spoke about northwestern pond turtles and Lewis presented about the reintroductions and monitoring efforts of Pacific fishers that have occurred throughout the state. The series is organized by a local artist and nature enthusiast and the White Salmon Library. It usually occurs once a week every April. This is the first series since events were suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic. As usual, the room was packed and attendees asked a lot of great, thoughtful questions. Wickhem is looking forward to upcoming talks by other WDFW staff members including Wolf Biologist Spence, Wildlife Conflict Specialist Jacobsen, and Wildlife Conflict Technician Kolenberg.

Northwestern pond turtle presentation
Photo by WDFW

 

Northwestern pond turtle presenter
Photo by WDFW
Northwestern pond turtle presentation
Wild About Nature - 2023 Series
Photo by White Salmon Community Library
Wild About Nature - 2023 Series

 

Region 6 (Coastal)

Managing Wildlife Populations

Oregon Spotted Frog: Biologist Tirhi completed collecting and entering data for one of three spotted frog breeding sites where habitat restoration is ongoing. Assistant District Biologist Butler collected on the other two. Only those known sites having ongoing habitat restoration were counted in 2023. The balance of this year’s frog time was spent searching for new locations where spotted frogs may be breeding. Water levels were low across all habitats in District 11 this season, which may have affected the number of egg masses that were laid at several sites.

Low water levels at one Oregon spotted frog egg cluster (red flagged) at the Salmon Creek breeding site, 2023
Photo by WDFW
Low water levels at one Oregon spotted frog egg cluster (red flagged) at the Salmon Creek breeding site, 2023

Sooty Grouse Population Monitoring: Biologists Butler and Tirhi spent a day scouting and establishing their assigned sooty grouse survey routes. District 11 has five routes to establish and monitor for 2023, all of which are on Weyerhaeuser property in GMU 667. Tirhi is working with Weyerhaeuser to complete the necessary permits. Meanwhile, Tirhi spent one day, Butler spent one day, and the two together spent a third day beginning to establish the first four routes beginning at the assigned start point. One difficulty they experienced was the late snow conditions across the Cascades Range. The team brought the district’s tracked all-terrain vehicle (ATV) up one day and used it to successfully get above the snowline and establish one full route. Each route has 15 to 30 listening stations, spread one mile apart.

District Biologist Tirhi driving the tracked ATV to reach sooty grouse survey routes.
Photo by WDFW
District Biologist Tirhi driving the tracked ATV to reach sooty grouse survey routes.
2023 Sooty grouse route locations for western Washington
Photo by WDFW
2023 Sooty grouse route locations for western Washington (above) and those assigned to District 11 (below). Only five of these need to be surveyed in the 2023 pilot year of this new monitoring strategy.
Sooty grouse route locations for District 11
Photo by WDFW

Elk Monitoring: Biologists Butler and Tirhi along with Nisqually Tribe’s Wildlife Program Manager Borrego completed a 4-hour survey of GMU 654 and part of GMU 653 in the North Rainier Elk Herd. GMU 654 has not been surveyed by air in over 30 years and while it was suspected of having fewer elk than surrounding GMUs, the reality was unknown. GMU 653 is known to support the highest number of elk in the herd. The flight team successfully surveyed the entire planned survey area with the available funds. Only 68 elk were observed during the flight, with the majority of those located in the portion of 653 that was flown. This confirms the suspicion that GMU 654 supports fewer elk compared to surrounding GMUs, regardless of the numbers of animals harvested in the fall. These results will allow Biologist Tirhi to better evaluate hunting season levels, the population target in the herd management plan, and provide a valuable missing piece of information in analyzing the herd population trends in GMU 654. WDFW greatly appreciated the United States Forest Services’ Mt. Baker and Snoqualmie national forests who contributed $2000 towards this survey effort.

North Rainier Elk Herd survey area
Photo by WDFW
North Rainier Elk Herd survey area 2022 and 2023. 2022 flight line (pink) and elk groups seen by total elk (blue circles). 2023 survey completed survey coverage of GMU 654 (red outline) and neighboring 653 to the north (all areas hatched in red were eliminated from survey due to elevation and lower expectation of elk use during early spring).

Streaked Horned Lark: Biologist Tirhi represented WDFW at the annual Larks and Airports Working Group meeting hosted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the Portland Airport. The meeting included presentations and discussions from various airports in Oregon and Washington that either contain breeding larks or have the potential habitat to support and attract breeding larks. Tirhi presented on the finalization of a Best Management Practices (BMP) document that Tirhi spearheaded with the working group beginning in 2018. The BMPs contain management recommendations addressing all aspects of airport maintenance and development while minimizing impacts to breeding larks.


Providing Recreation Opportunities

Maintenance and Access Projects: The access team performed a wide variety of maintenance tasks with extra emphasis placed on hazardous tree removal, access area driveways, and parking conditions. Gravel and cold patch asphalt were distributed at several sites across Mason, Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap, and Jefferson counties. The access team has also been preparing seasonal lakes for the trout opener on April 22.

Pierce County, Horseshoe Lake: The paved entrance was severely damaged from rainfall nearly three yards of asphalt was needed to bring the Horseshoe Lake approach back into shape.

                

Horseshoe Lake, before
Photo by WDFW
Horseshoe Lake, before

   

Horseshoe Lake, during
Photo by WDFW
Horseshoe Lake, during

    

Horseshoe Lake, after
Photo by WDFW
Horseshoe Lake, after

Pierce County, Jackson Lake: The access team fell two hazardous trees at Jackson Lake, one fir that was heavily leaning over the parking area and a large dead madrone that was a potential hazard over the boat ramp area. Gravel was also placed in washed out areas of the gravel lot.  Firewood from the trees was given to the Kitsap Sportsmans Club. Their clubhouse is also located on Jackson Lake.

Jackson Lake, madrone
Photo by WDFW
Jackson Lake, madrone

          

Jackson Lake, Douglas fir
Photo by WDFW
Jackson Lake, Douglas fir

Kitsap County, Buck Lake: The access team repaired the roadway with gravel, cold patch asphalt, and brushed out the shoulders of the access road.

Buck Lake, before
Photo by WDFW
Buck Lake, before

      

Buck Lake, after
Photo by WDFW
Buck Lake, after

Jefferson County, Triton Cove: Asphalt repairs were made on the entrance and exit approaches at Triton Cove and Pleasant Harbor’s entrance road and parking area.

Triton Cove, before
Photo by WDFW
Triton Cove, before

                                           

Triton Cove, after
Photo by WDFW
Triton Cove, after

Conserving Natural Landscapes

Marrowstone Unit: Technicians Havens and Anderson from the Fish Program assisted Wildlife Area Manager Laushman in installing new signage on Rat Island, part of the North Olympic Wildlife Area, to help discourage summer disturbance of nesting terns and pupping harbor seals.

Technicians installing signage on Rat Island.
Photo by WDFW
Technicians installing signage on Rat Island.

Bell Creek Unit: Wildlife Area Manager Laushman attended a volunteer event at the Bell Creek Unit of the North Olympic Wildlife Area where volunteers removed protective caging from a large-scale Garry oak restoration project.

Volunteers removing protective cages from planted oaks.
Photo by WDFW
Volunteers removing protective cages from planted oaks.

South Puget Sound Unit: Technician Morgan mowed about 12 acres of scotch broom at the South Puget Sound Unit in Lakewood, clearing trails and fields that were crowded in by older plants.

Scotch broom at the South Puget Sound Unit, before
Photo by WDFW
Scotch broom at the South Puget Sound Unit, before

 

South Puget Sound Unit, after
Photo by WDFW
South Puget Sound Unit, after

Elk Forage Field Maintenance: With the weather becoming more favorable every week, the Olympic Wildlife Area staff members began the annual task of removing broken limbs and branches from the elk forage fields. Using primarily a tractor and chainsaw, Assistant Manager Gallegos and Technician Martinez spent the past several weeks clearing fields in the Wynoochee Mitigation Sites and Olympic Units. Removing the broken limbs and branches is just the first step in the annual maintenance of these fields and allows for more efficient operations the rest of the year, including their cultivation, mowing, and fertilizing. Several of the fields had an abnormally high amount of material, as this task was kept to a minimum last year due to vacant staff positions.

Technician Martinez cutting a very large alder limb that had fallen in the Pinkney field
Photo by WDFW
Technician Martinez cutting a very large alder limb that had fallen in the Pinkney field.
Assistant Manager Gallegos pushing broken alder branches off the Pinkney field
Photo by WDFW
Assistant Manager Gallegos pushing broken alder branches off the Pinkney field.

Providing Education and Outreach

Rat Island Volunteer Training: Wildlife Area Manager Laushman coordinated a training for volunteers from the Friends of Fort Flagler, who will serve as docents in the summer months to help educate visitors about nesting Caspian terns and harbor seal haul-outs on the Marrowstone Unit of the North Olympic Wildlife Area. Presentations were given by Research Biologist Pearson, Watchable Wildlife Coordinator Hansen, and Volunteer Coordinator Tilton.

Staff and volunteers looking at Caspian terns on the Marrowstone Unit.
Photo by WDFW
Staff and volunteers looking at Caspian terns on the Marrowstone Unit.

General Wildlife Inquiries: Biologist Murphie responded to inquiries received by phone, email, or in person related to:

  • Missing birds.
  • Mountain quail.

Conducting Business Operations and Policy

2023-2024 Work Planning: Biologists Tirhi and Butler participated in the Region 6 Wildlife Program/HQ planning meeting. This meeting is held annually to decide what tasks regional district biologists will be doing, how much time will be allocated to each task, in which months, and which funding source will be used. This is done for both game and diversity species work.

Biologist Murphie completed several tasks related to routine operations:

  • Vehicle maintenance and upgrades completed this period.
  • Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly survey training and prep.
  • Elk plan meeting and prep.
  • Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) survey data error checks.