Wildlife Program report: Jun. 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

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) closed on the acquisition of 174± acres in Grant County, known as the Lake Lenore property, in Region 2. This property was owned by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (State Parks) yet managed by WDFW. This property was approved through Lands 20/20 in 2019 and by the Commission in December 2020, and was a no-fee transfer from State Parks to WDFW for continued public recreation. This property will be managed as part of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area and will continue to provide public recreation and water access to Lake Lenore, with the potential to develop a future formal shooting range on the property.

Lake Lenore property.
Photo by WDFW

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) closed on the acquisition of the 94±-acre Nemah Tidelands property in Pacific County, Region 6. This property was approved through Lands 20/20 in 2018 and by the Commission in March 2022 and was acquired at the appraised value of $564,000 using a Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program Water Access grant from the Recreation and Conservation Office. Acquiring this property provides WDFW a unique opportunity to provide direct public access to nearly a mile of Willapa Bay tidelands for shellfish harvest.

Violet Prairie Phase 1 Acquisition.
Photo by WDFW

Conserving Natural Landscapes

WDFW closed on the acquisition of a 1,513±-acre property in Douglas County, Region 2, which will be added to the Central Ferry Canyon Unit of the Wells Wildlife Area. This property was approved through Lands 20/20 in 2018 and by the Commission in March 2022 and was acquired at the appraised value of $580,00 using a Cooperative Endangered Species grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This property consists of extensive shrubsteppe habitat for mule deer and Columbian sharptailed grouse, and habitat for the conservation of Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits and Washington ground squirrels.

Acquisition property.
Photo by WDFW

WDFW closed on the first 1,035± acres of a multi-phased property acquisition to acquire a total of 1,567± acres in Thurston County, just west of Tenino, known as the Violet Prairie property. This property was approved through Lands 20/20 in 2016 and by the Commission in March 2022 and was acquired at the appraised value of $7,765,107.06 using a Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program Critical Habitat grant from the Recreation and Conservation Office and two Cooperative Endangered Species grants from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This property includes intact, prairie-oak woodland and wetland habitat, adds significantly to the protected area of the Scatter Creek watershed, and protects occupied habitat for the federally threatened Mazama pocket gopher, Puget blue butterfly, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, and will eventually increase compatible public recreational opportunities.

Violet Prairie Phase 1 Acquisition.
Photo by WDFW

Cowlitz Wildlife Area Planning: The public scoping phase of the Cowlitz Wildlife Area plan begins in July. A public open house and site visit for the planning team is scheduled for July 11.  A field visit is also scheduled for the Cowlitz Wildlife Area Advisory Committee in July.

L.T. Murray Wildlife Area Planning: The final draft of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area Management Plan was submitted for SEPA review. Public comment begins on Friday, June 16. A public open house will be held at the Armory building at the Kittitas County Fairgrounds in Ellensburg on June 21 from 6-8 p.m.

Skagit Wildlife Area Planning: The draft Skagit Wildlife Area Management Plan is expected to be delivered to nine tribes on June 16 for their review and comment. Staff members have spent a considerable amount of time fine tuning the document. The draft plan will be delivered to the Wildlife Area Advisory Committee and the Diversity Advisory Committee by early July for their review and comment. The SEPA 30-Day public review is expected in August.

Methow Wildlife Area Planning: Planning staff members are working with Region 2 staff members in preparation for a public workshop tentatively to be held on Sep. 13 in Winthrop to discuss winter closures for the protection of mule deer. Discussions with Wildlife Science and Game have been ongoing with the possibility of a research project to measure how the mule deer are responding to the closure.


Providing Education and Outreach

The WDFW Ambassador Program will kick-off in two weeks on July 1. E. Browning and Washington Trails Association, the contractor, are focusing on volunteer recruitment. There are 30 volunteers signed up so far. Meetings with land managers have been very informative in gathering the educational talking points to deliver to the public.


Conducting Business Operations and Policy

Belson collaborated with L. Nelson to complete the DJ-Boating Access grant proposal for Fiscal Year 2023 to 2024.


Other

Management of an ongoing contract with TREAD (Trails, Recreation, Education, Advocacy, and Development) for trail conditions assessment in Quincy Lakes. TREAD has mapped re-routes around culturally sensitive areas and is organizing the data to be inputted into the WDFW database. This is one step in the process of getting trails at Quincy Lakes designated and managed more appropriately. 

Region 1 (Eastern)

Managing Wildlife Populations

Bat Acoustic Monitoring: Biologists Lowe and Brinkman deployed acoustic monitoring equipment to survey for bats at four locations in the Mount Spokane area as part of the Pacific Northwest North American Bat Monitoring Program.

Brinkman setting up an acoustic detector
Photo by WDFW
Biologist Brinkman setting up an acoustic detector and microphone to record bat activity.

Bat Maternity Colony Monitoring: Biologists Lowe and Brinkman, WDFW staff members DeVivo, Westerman, Mackelvie, Wagner, and Lehman, Bureau of Land Management Biologist Lowe, and Washington State University Intern Walters conducted evening emergence counts of four bat maternity colonies in Whitman, Spokane, and Lincoln counties this week.

A bat box
Photo by WDFW
Staff members ready to count bats as they exit a bat condo on private property near the Little Spokane River. Over 7,800 bats were counted using the structure.
The side of a building
Photo by WDFW
Staff members in place to survey a colony of Yuma myotis bats on Rock Creek in Whitman County. Over 4,300 bats were counted using the barn as a maternity roost.

Bumble Bees: Biologists Lowe and Brinkman conducted a second bumble bee survey in Lincoln County as part of the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas project. Several different species of bumble bees were captured at the site on Hawk Creek, and most were found using the flowers of hairy vetch.

A bee
Photo by WDFW
Bumble bee collected during a survey after being cooled on ice to slow its metabolism. The cooling process helps biologists take better photos of the characteristics necessary to identify each species. The bees typically fly off within one to two minutes of being taken out of the cooler, depending on the ambient temperature.

Elk Calf Survival Study: District 3 biologists wrapped up elk calf captures on June 12, having captured 115 elk calves from the ground and helicopter. Numerous other agency staff members and volunteers assisted in this effort that focused on three game management units (GMU) with three capture crew leads continuously working across the landscape. We captured 51 calves during the ground phase of capture operations. District Biologist Wik supervised aerial captures with Leading Edge Helicopters, and they captured 64 calves. 

Wik with a collared calf ready for release
Photo by WDFW
District Biologist Wik with a collared calf that is ready for release.

Ferruginous Hawk Monitoring: Assistant District Biologist Vekasy continued the monitoring of historic and recently installed hawk nest platforms for productivity assessment. Vekasy also joined with Research Scientist Watson to radio-tag a ferruginous hawk fledgling. Two transmitters were donated by Northwest Wildlife Consultants, and the Woodland Park Zoo is providing funding for data acquisition. We plan to deploy the 2nd transmitter at a different nest site in the coming week. 

Watson with five nestlings
Photo by WDFW
District Biologist Wik with a collared calf that is ready for release.

Bat Bridge Monitoring: Assistant District Biologist Vekasy retrieved bat guano collection devices from two bridges in the vicinity of Bureau of Land Management parcels as part of an ongoing bridge monitoring project. One bridge was a repeat sample from last year that was used by bats as a day roost. The newly added bridge had day-roosting bats during the first visit but appeared to be used as a maternity site with hundreds of bats present during sample collection visit. 

Bats crowding the corner and filling the expansion joints of a bridge
Photo by WDFW
Bats crowding the corner and filling the expansion joints of a bridge.

Chronic Wasting Disease: Wildlife Conflict Specialist Kolb collected chronic wasting disease (CWD) samples at roadkill pits in District 3.

Natural Resource Technicians Nizer and Rumiser sampled two roadkill deer in Whitman County for CWD. Samples were taken off Highway 195.

Chronic Wasting Disease Operations: Natural Resource Technician Heitstuman checked local pits for CWD samples.

Bighorn Sheep Survey: Wildlife Biologist Prince and a volunteer surveyed the Vulcan bighorn sheep herd this week. Unfortunately, despite the cool weather, no sheep were observed. Additional surveys will be conducted this summer to, hopefully, observe lambs. It is suspected that this herd declined following the 2021 summer, potentially due to blue tongue.

Bumble Bees: Biologists Lowe and Brinkman conducted another bumble bee survey in Lincoln County as part of the Pacific North West Bumble Bee Atlas project. Several different species of bumble bees were captured at the site near Keller Ferry Campground, and most were found using the flowers of lupine.

A bee
Photo by WDFW
Bumble bees are captured and cooled on ice to allow for better diagnostic photos of the characteristics needed to identify different species. Identifying bumble bees to species can be challenging and often requires a bumble bee expert to review the photographs for verification of species. This specimen appears to be a type of cuckoo bumble bee. Cuckoo bumble bees are nest parasites and do not have baskets on their legs to carry pollen.
A bee
Photo by WDFW
Female bumble bees carry pollen on their hind legs in large “baskets” as seen in the above photo (orange-colored ball).

Providing Recreation Opportunities

Trail Maintenance: Sherman Creek Wildlife Area Natural Resources Technician Zueger inspected and mowed the trail that runs from Sherman Creek Wildlife Area headquarters south along the Columbia River towards Haag Cove. She found two downed trees blocking the route on Thursday. Zueger and Wildlife Area Assistant Manager Daro Palmer will remove them next week. 

Cooperator Outreach: Natural Resource Technician Harris mailed out pre-hunting season letters to all District 1 private lands hunting access program cooperators. 

Access Area Maintenance: Water Access Area Manager Dziekan picked up his repaired water tank and truck with the fixed tire on June 12, and visited his most used water access areas along the Highway 2 and Highway 395 corridors. He found that the Waitts and Loon lakes sites were in dire need of cleaning. Otherwise, the sites were generally in need of cleaning but curiously, relatively trash-free. Dziekan also noted a few sites will need roadside mowing in the near future. 

A gravel road
Photo by WDFW
Waitts Lake access ready for roadside mowing.

Providing Conflict Prevention and Education

Creston Junior High School Environmental Science Grant: This week in the local Wilbur Register, an article came out in the paper showing the Keller Grade School class coming to the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in this year’s Lake Roosevelt Forum Discovery Zone. The Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area has been hosting the annual Discovery Zone for many years. 

A news picture of Wagner from Creston School
Photo by WDFW
Photo taken by Creston School staff. Natural Resource Technician Wagner demonstrating radio telemetry.

Educational Presentations:Natural Resource Technician Heitstuman attended the Getting Outdoors Educational Day to assist Supervisor Earl in presenting five, 30-minute sessions to groups of 7th and 8th grade students. The interaction Supervisor Earl was able to create with the students was appreciated by all. 

Earl teaching students
Photo by WDFW
Supervisor Earl engages students in populations and habitat considerations.
Heitsuman teaching students
Photo by WDFW
Natural Resource Technician Heitstuman teaching about track and scat identification.

Dayton School Gear-Up Program: Wildlife Area Manager Dingman, Natural Resource Technician Tritt, and Natural Resource Worker Jensen spent time with a group of 9th graders from the Dayton School Gear-Up Program. They talked about their educations and their current jobs, then talked about the wildlife found on the wildlife area and looked at hides and skulls. The kids then planted pine trees and mock orange shrubs in a habitat plot, and each of them got to build a birdhouse to take home with them. 

A group of students
Photo by WDFW
Students in the Dayton School Gear-Up program planting trees and shrubs on the W. T. Wooten Wildlife Area.
A group of students
Photo by WDFW
Students in the Dayton School Gear-Up program making birdhouses to take home with them.

Providing Conflict Prevention and Education

Electric Fence: Wildlife Biologists Prince and Turnock met with a winner of an electric fence giveaway. They took measurements of the fence and decided on materials to be used. WDFW is paying for the fence in an effort to raise awareness for electric fencing for deterring bears with an emphasis on grizzly bears. The winner of the fence attended a WDFW electric fencing clinic at North 40. The clinic was a partnership between the Department, Defenders of Wildlife, Gallagher Fencing, and North 40 Colville.

Asotin County Wolf Activity: Natural Resource Technician Heitstuman went with Area Manager Dice to look at an elk depredation issue in the Chief Joseph Area and to review cattle grazing operation where wolf activity may be occurring. This opportunity was also used to learn the areas where habitat and forage crops for elk are being planted in rotation.

Elk Damage and Hazing: Wildlife Conflict Specialist Kolb and Statewide Human Wildlife Conflict Analysist Todd conducted elk hazing and conflict mitigation in Walla Walla and Columbia counties. Dispersing elk from agricultural crops is nearly impossible until the calves can keep up with the cows.

A herd of elk
Photo by WDFW
Cow elk disperse a short distance into a Walla Walla County winter wheat field while their calves stay hidden in a riparian area.
A camera installed onto a tree
Photo by WDFW
Critter Gitters ® installed on a well-worn elk trail leading to commercial crops.

 


Conserving Natural Landscapes

Turkey Habitat Project: Private Lands Biologist Hadley performed a site visit to a turkey habitat project to spot mow areas of weeds around planted cottonwood trees and then followed up with hand watering the planted cottonwood trees. 

Habitat Coordination: Hadley met with a Walla Walla Conservation District planner to discuss continuing a habitat project started last spring in planting additional shrubs as well as having discussions on additional locations of habitat projects. 


Conducting Business Operations and Policy

General Facilities and Equipment Maintenance and Repairs: Wildlife Area Assistant Manager Palmer took delivery of a used 2755 John Deere tractor and loader attachment, transferred from the Private Lands section. Palmer fixed a faulty clutch and then used the tractor to fertilize the food plots on Sherman Creek Wildlife Area. 

A tractor
Photo by WDFW

Utility Task Vehicle Training: This week Safety Specialist Mundy came out from the WDFW safety office to teach utility task vehicle training to most of the staff members at Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area and other WDFW staff members within the region. The training was an excellent course to teach skills needed for safe operations. Prior to the class each student had to complete and pass the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association online class and print their certificate. 

A UTV
Photo by WDFW

Liberty Lake Senior Fishing: Officer Beauchene hosted a fishing day at the Liberty Lake access area for seniors at a local assisted living home. Dziekan didn’t participate in the event however Dziekan did go out and pick up the area and clean the restrooms to help give them a positive experience. Officer Beauchene has been doing this for a few years now and the folks living at the home look forward to it all year.

WDFW Senior Staff Field Tour: This week, WDFW senior staff met at the Revere Wildlife Area as one of the group’s many stops for the day. One of the highlights of the tour was with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Spokane District Biologist Lowe explaining the Elk Migration Project. WDFW has been working on the project, for the last couple of years, with the Rock Creek Conservation District and BLM. The goal of the project was to improve the upland and riparian habitat conditions for Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer in the Rock Creek corridor by reducing weeds and establishing vegetation used by big game for forage and cover on 265 acres of the Bureau of Land Management land and 90 acres of WDFW land.


Other

All-Terrain Vehicle Training: Natural Resource Technician Nizer and Natural Resource Technician Rumiser completed an all-terrain vehicle training put on by WDFW at the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area. The training lasted three hours, and there was a field course and a guided ride afterwards.

Gaston Leaving the Agency: Natural Resource Technician Nizer and Private Lands Biologist Gaston organized the office and transferred information that is needed to know for Gaston’s departure from the agency. Nizer and Gaston communicated what needs to be completed in his absence and Nizer will be taking on Gaston’s duties while he is gone. Gaston will be missed dearly by the agency as he was a huge asset to the private lands program in Region 1. His drive and love for hunting access will be missed. 

Region 2 (North Central)

Providing Conflict Prevention and Education

Addressing Deer and Elk Damage: Specialist Bridges continues to work with a multitude of landowners in assisting with attempts to decrease damage from deer and elk.

Deer Exclusion Fence: Specialist Bridges has spent a considerable amount of time working with a landowner to construct a 4-acre fence on the edge of town. As wildlife habitat continues to decrease, there will be an increase of deer needing to winter on private lands where they are tolerated.

Nuisance Bear Response: Specialist Bridges assisted Enforcement, while responding to a landowner experiencing acute bear conflicts.

Reducing Conflict: Specialist Bridges has spent a considerable amount of time working with the City of Leavenworth and various non-government organizations, coordinating an effort to fence off garbage dumpsters which are a continuous source of attractants for bears.

Domestic Sheep Fencing Project: Specialist Bridges has been working the last four months to address domestic and big horn sheep disease concerns by working with a private landowner, the Wild Sheep Foundation, and the Asotin County Conservation District. Work will begin soon and will result in the construction of a fence to reduce the potential for disease transfer from domestic sheep to wild big horn sheep.


Conserving Natural Landscapes

SAFE-CRP: Biologist Morris met with a landowner and started evaluating fields for a SAFE-CRP re-enrollment. He conducted field visits to assess the quality of the fields, presence of weeds, and value for wildlife/shrub steppe habitat. Biologist Morris will use this information to write a plan for management of these fields.

Blanket flower
Photo by WDFW
Blanket flower in a SAFE-CRP field.
Sagebrush mariosa lily
Photo by WDFW
Sagebrush mariposa lily (Calochortus macrocarpus) on Burch Mountain.
Cat's ear lily
Photo by WDFW
A cat’s ear lily, also known as elegant mariposa lily (Calochortus elegans) on Burch Mountain.

Lands 20/20: Lands Operations Manager Finger wrapped up Lands 20/20 proposals for Douglas and Grant counties. Douglas County proposals included a Phase 4 of Big Bend Wildlife Area which could add up to 4,063 acres for additional conservation habitat to benefit Columbian sharp-tail grouse from two different landowners on the western side of the Big Bend Wildlife Area.

Additionally, a proposal was submitted to acquire several inholdings in the West Foster Creek area with remaining Recreation and Conservation (RCO) funds from the original Big Bend acquisition. For Grant County, Finger submitted a proposal to address legal access issues to about 15 parking areas on Columbia Basin Wildlife Area. Historically, public use of farm roads was supported or at least tolerated. In recent years, that access has been in decline.

Finger submitted a proposal for Columbia Basin Wildlife Area inholdings which are perhaps best categorized by three categories:

  • Traditional inholdings which threaten to impact mule deer habitat in the Desert Unit (GMU290).
  • Properties existing between county roads and wildlife areas with potential for habitat encroachment and disturbance impacts.
  • Properties which bisect heavily used trail systems and intact habitat, with risks to both recreation and habitat connectivity.

Finger also continued information gathering for the next round of Lands 20/20. Proposals will likely move forward for the properties in the Beezley Hills of Grant County, which are very important for pygmy rabbit conservation, and in the White River Unit of Chelan Wildlife Area, where there may be potential to receive Priest Rapids Coordinating Committee funds for an appraisal, then potentially acquisition to acquire lands with significant potential for salmon restoration projects.

Several trees in the White River Unit
Photo by WDFW
A tree in the White River Unit
Photo by WDFW
Potential 80-acre acquisition for the White River Unit.

Providing Education and Outreach

Responding to Hunter Calls: Specialist Bridges has been responding to calls from successful special permit holders for the Peshastin and Malaga hunts.


Other

Northern Leopard Frogs: Biologist Grabowsky and the Northern leopard frog team have been hard at work to prepare for the upcoming Northern leopard frog (NLF) release that should occur within the next month. Our partners, Oregon Zoo and Northwest Trek, are currently caring for 450 tadpoles that are developing well. Technician Haines has been monitoring the wild site and the tadpoles appear to be developing at a similar rate to those in captivity. The NLF team has been hard at work preparing for releases this summer. A proposal has been approved to construct a bullfrog exclusion fence around our release site to identify the sources of mortality that our reintroduced frogs have been facing since 2019. This project will include tracking both NLF and bullfrogs via telemetry, completing behavioral studies, and performing visual encounter surveys. We hope this will answer some of our questions regarding the efficacy of the reintroduction site and allow us to improve the habitat for future releases.

Wild Northern leopard frog tadpoles
Photo by WDFW
Wild Northern leopard frog tadpoles.

Waterfowl: Biologists Dougherty and Clements and Technicians Gerstenberg and Kleinhenz have been preparing for banding season. This preparation began much earlier this year than in past years, due to increased staff capacity and starting the technicians earlier in the season. The first day of banding will be on July 1 and will continue through September. The early focus will be primarily on mourning doves and then quickly incorporate waterfowl trapping. With the additional staff capacity, we should well surpass past years’ banding efforts.

Additionally, all staff assisted Waterfowl Specialist Wilson to capture resident Canada geese as part of the ongoing banding and population monitoring efforts.

Captured geese ready for new band
Photo by WDFW
Captured geese ready for new bands.

Grebes: Biologist Grabowsky has been monitoring artificial grebe nesting platforms over the past couple weeks. These nest platforms were constructed by Region 2 staff members and deployed at both Banks Lake and Potholes Reservoir where Clarke’s grebe and Western grebe activity tends to be high. Based on observations in June 2022, no grebes appear to be using these platforms for nesting. Grebe nesting activity in general seems to be relatively low compared to 2021 around the same time. No conclusion can be drawn from these observations yet and the platforms will be monitored throughout the summer. This project was implemented to investigate methods to mitigate effects on grebe nesting activity due to fluctuating water levels.

Artificial grebe nesting platform taken on day of deployment
Photo by WDFW
Artificial grebe nesting platform taken on day of deployment. We used PVC, wood pallets, and screening materials to construct them.
Artificial grebe nesting platform
Photo by WDFW
Same nesting platform taken three weeks later. Most material has been removed or fallen off.

Wolverine Monitoring: Biologist Fitkin continued retrieving cameras deployed with scent attractants this past winter as part of the multi-state wolverine survey effort. This project is a repeat of a similar effort five years ago and is designed to detect trends in wolverine occupancy of modeled habitat in the western states. Unlike five years ago, the Rainy Pass site did not produce any wolverine detections this round, but other secondary target carnivores were detected.

A marten
Photo by WDFW
A lynx
Photo by WDFW
Marten and Lynx visiting a wolverine survey station.

Cougar Research: Biologists Fitkin and Heinlen as well as Research Scientist Kertson assisted some Canadian colleagues in locating the natal den of a cougar in District 6 that was radio-collared in British Columbia.

The young first-time mother had a primary and secondary den in shrubby draws otherwise embedded in a large tract of dry shrub-steppe. Unfortunately, we did not locate any kittens and it appeared, from the evidence on site, that they had been predated by a black bear(s). In fact, our group saw two black bears while searching for the den. In the past, Canadian biologists have followed up on a variety of our study animals that had dispersed north of the border, and it was gratifying to return the favor.

Cougar den
Photo by WDFW
View from the first cougar natal den.
A cougar den with bear scat
Photo by WDFW
The secondary den with a bear scat in the foreground.
A black bear
Photo by WDFW
A black bear between the two cougar dens.
Bear scat
Photo by WDFW
Black bear scat with probable cougar hair.
WDFW staff
Photo by WDFW
Intrepid international field crew.
Nighthawk Nest with a single egg
Photo by WDFW
Nighthawk nest (of a sort).
Upper Similkameen
Photo by WDFW
Cougar country in the Upper Similkameen.

Wildlife Surveys: Biologist Cook assisted the pygmy rabbit crew with the trapping of kits for translocation.

Hidden Pygmy Rabbit
Photo by WDFW
Pygmy rabbit hiding under sagebrush, Northwest Grant County.

Pygmy Rabbit Release Effort: Kit capture efforts continue this period and productivity is looking good for the enclosure breeding season. We have captured 81 kits thus far (already surpassing last year’s total of 70). We have released 43 juvenile rabbits into the new areas Rimrock Meadows and Palisades, 16 have been retained as future breeding stock, and 19 were too young to relocate and kept in their respective enclosure sites. Each juvenile is vaccinated against rabbit hemorrhagic fever (RHDV2). With above average spring precipitation and unusually cool temperatures, we are hoping this results in a sustained breeding effort.

Monitoring on the release sites is showing good results. The three Rimrock release/acclimation pens look to be doing very well. Rabbits are settling these sites and have begun to dig burrow sites. Rabbit activity and settlement is lower on the three Palisades release sites. We have set up several remote cameras at these sites to get an idea of what they are doing after release.

Juvenile pygmy rabbit
Photo by WDFW
Just two weeks of work for a pygmy rabbit. Burrow establishment in an acclimation pen on the Rimrock release.
A juvenile pygmy rabbit
Photo by WDFW
A juvenile pygmy rabbit checking out its new home in the Palisades.

Canada Goose Banding: Science Technician Pavelchek joined State Waterfowl Specialist Wilson and other WDFW biologists to capture and mark Canada geese in several locations across Douglas County, including Rock Island Golf Course, Daroga State Park, and Lake Chelan.

WDFW uses the information collected from hunters who harvest marked geese and birdwatchers who report sightings of marked geese to increase their understanding of the movements of geese relative to urban areas and hunting areas. Waterfowl hunters are asked to report leg band information if they harvest a marked goose. The highly visible collars can be reported by any observer. Reports of band or collar codes, along with locations and dates, should be made to the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory.

Canadian geese
Photo by WDFW
Canada geese are corraled for processing and banding.
Science Technician Pavelchek handling an adult goose
Photo by WDFW
Science Technician Pavelchek pauses from wrangling adult geese to extract a gosling from the corral trap.

Bumble Bees: Biologist Jeffreys and Scientific Technician Pavelchek conducted bumble bee surveys at Refrigerator Harbor on the shore of Lake Chelan by Lucerne. Although many plants were still flowering, only one bumble bee was observed in the survey grid. This bee was captured and identified as a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii). Habitat data was collected for the grid including identifying and photographing flowering plant (food source) species. This disappointing lack of bumble bees was not limited to the area within the survey grid. Pavelchek and Jeffreys observed only a couple of bees in the surrounding area throughout the duration of their stay. US Forest Service volunteers staying at the Lucerne guard station noted that they had seen very few bumble bees there this year as well.

Despite the underwhelming results, the data collected from this survey were entered into the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas online database. The PNW Bumble Bee Atlas is a collaborative effort between WDFW, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to track and conserve the bumble bees of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.

Biologists Dougherty and Clements took some time to conduct bumble bee surveys as part of the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas and surveyed high priority grids near Ritzville.

Despite lots of flowering resources, biologists were only able to capture one bumble bee.

Bee approaching a lupine
Photo by WDFW
A bumblee approaches a lupine. Note the orange pollen stored in the “pollen baskets” on this bee’s legs, readily identifying it as a female worker bee. She will bring the pollen back to the nest to feed the queen’s young.
A bumblebee
Photo by WDFW
Neveda bumblebee (Bombus nevadensis) captured by District 5 staff members.

Common Loons: Scientific Technician Pavelchek and Biologist Jeffreys hiked from the Refrigerator Harbor campground at Lucerne up to Domke Lake to follow up on a report from a local that common loons had been breeding at that lake for decades, and had raised young again in the summer of 2021.
This was exciting information as common loons, a WDFW Priority Species and Species of Greatest Conservation Need, have not been documented as breeding in Chelan County for many years. Upon arrival at the lake, Pavelchek and Jeffreys immediately spotted a pair of adult loons foraging very close together.

However, despite prolonged viewing through binoculars and spotting scope, no chicks were observed on or with the adults. At this point in the breeding season, loons that nested successfully would not be moving around the lake without their young, so it is likely that either this pair did not breed or they did breed but the nest failed. There are many potential causes for nest failure including predation, which seems especially likely given the presence of a bald eagle family nesting right on the south shore of the lake.

In an attempt to locate a nest and hopefully gain some insight into whether or not this loon pair did breed but were simply unsuccessful, Jeffreys and Pavelchek boated the entire shoreline of Domke Lake. Much of the shoreline appeared to offer optimal common loon nesting habitat, with plenty of emergent vegetation and many sheltered areas. No obvious nest was found, but it very likely could have been hidden from surveyors’ view. Future years’ surveys for breeding common loons in Chelan County will include Domke Lake.

Domke Lake Trail
Photo by WDFW
View of Lake Chelan from the Domke Lake Trail.
A potential location for a loon nest
Photo by WDFW
Promising location for a loon nest. Unfortunately, this particular nest appeared to have been occupied by Canada geese instead.

Bat Monitoring: Biologist Jeffreys and Technician Pavelchek deployed four SM4 acoustic detectors at Burch Mountain and in Swakane Canyon as part of a joint effort between WDFW, Northwestern Bat Hub at Oregon State University, and other regional partners. SM4 acoustic detectors record the high frequency vocalizations of bats, allowing for call analysis and species identification. These data will be incorporated into the North American Bat Monitoring Program, which seeks to monitor local and regional bat population trends across the continent and inform effective bat conservation efforts.

Additionally, Jeffreys and Pavelchek conducted an emergence count from some bat boxes in Cole’s Corner, determining that a colony of big brown bats (Eptescus fuscus) occupied one box, and a smaller species, likely little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and/or Yuma myotis (Myotis yumanensis), occupied another.

These sites may be used as part of WDFW’s ongoing white-nose syndrome monitoring effort in the future.

An acoustic detector
Photo by WDFW
An acoustic detector deployed in a Burch Mountain meadow.

Other

New Assistant District Biologists: District 5 welcomed the new Assistant District Biologist Clements. Biologist Clements joins us from the WDFW pygmy rabbit team where she worked as a scientific technician. She brings important game and nongame wildlife experience to the team, extensive experience working within the Columbia Basin, and enthusiasm to make the most out of this position. Welcome Biologist Clements!

We would also like to welcome Johnna Eilers to the WDFW team as the new assistant district wildlife biologist for District 7. She brings with her a diverse background from teaching Ornithology and Mammalogy labs at Washington State University as well as from her five seasons as a wildlife technician with Utah Division of Wildlife working with birds, bats, pika, prairie dogs, and native fish. She is excited to have the opportunity to work with game species and looks forward to tackling issues and questions relating to harvest and game management.

Meetings: Biologist Morris attended a Pheasants Forever board meeting with the Big Bend Pheasants Forever chapter. He met the recently hired Pheasants Forever private lands biologist, who is working out of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Ephrata. He also coordinated with the chapter on potential habitat projects. This valuable relationship facilitates for numerous habitat restoration projects with private funding to match state and federal funds to increase the capacity for projects.

Region 3 (South Central)

Managing Wildlife Populations

Burrowing Owl Artificial Burrow Project: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra monitored and banded burrowing owls as part of an ongoing research project utilizing artificial burrows. Fidorra got help from Assistant District 8 Biologist Wampole and Region 2 technicians during this period to band and trap adults and nestlings in the artificial burrows. Fidorra also assisted US Fish and Wildlife Services with monitoring and banding at their Paterson Unit where owls are using the burrows for the first time in several years! Fidorra also toured the Energy Northwest Powerplant property where 8 clusters of artificial burrows were created. This is the first time WDFW has been to the site, and while the burrows were in good order, no owls were nesting this season.

Biologist Wampole with juvenile burrowing owl banded and ready for release.
Photo by WDFW
Biologist Wampole with juvenile burrowing owl banded and ready for release.
Biologist Fidorra with adult burrowing owl, originally born at the artificial burrow sites.
Photo by WDFW
Biologist Fidorra with adult burrowing owl, originally born at the artificial burrow sites two years ago and recaptured this year as a breeding adult.

Burrowing Owl Transmitter Project: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra worked with University of Idaho Researcher Conway to deploy and test new solar tracking devices GPS accuracy on burrowing owls in Pasco. Fidorra also deployed trail cameras onsite to monitor the adults to make sure the harness and transmitter package worked without impacting the owls.

Adult male Burrowing Owl with solar powered GPS transmitter on its back.
Photo by WDFW
Adult male burrowing owl with solar powered GPS transmitter on back posing in front of the artificial burrow with his nestlings inside.

Fisher Monitoring: District 8 Wildlife Biologist Wampole began retrieving fisher monitoring sites that were placed in fall 2022. Sites were left over winter and spring to monitor for fisher occupancy and is part of a large effort across the southern Cascades to evaluate the status of fisher following reintroductions.

Bear Monitoring: Bear monitoring sites were installed in portions of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area and the Okanogen-Wenatchee National Forest in District 8. Sites are designed to capture hair from curious bears in the area using barbed wire strung around a stand of trees with a scent lure in the center. DNA analysis will be conducted on hair samples and used to estimate bear density in the area. This monitoring effort is led by Statewide Bear and Cougar Specialists Beausoleil and Welflet.

Pelican and Tern Colony Monitoring: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra and US Fish and Wildlife Service McNary and WDFW staff members joined the Real Time Research contractors for a boat based colony survey of terns, gulls, and white pelicans on the Columbia River. Some of the first fledglings of the year were detected. Fidorra also worked on analysis of aerial colony images taken by WDFW in May, for the annual adult pelican count on Badger Island.

Conducting colony counts of terns, gulls, and pelicans on islands of the Columbia River near Pasco.
Photo by WDFW
Conducting colony counts of terns, gulls, and pelicans on islands of the Columbia River near Pasco.

Tri-Cities Goose Banding: District 4 Wildlife Conflict Specialist Hand, Private Lands Biologist Hulett and Technician Manderbach participated in a goose round-up and banding project at Columbia Park in Kennewick.

Blue Mountain Elk Collaring: Sunnyside-Snake River Manager Kaelber assisted WDFW staff members and others with collaring elk calves in the Blue Mountains for a calf survival study.

State Wildlife Action Plan Process Review: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra provided comments and attended the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) process review meeting in preparation for the 2025 SWAP update. The process outlined how species would be selected for inclusion in the SWAP as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

Blue Mountains Elk Collaring: Colockum Wildlife Area Manager Lopushinsky and Assistant Manager Hagan also assisted WDFW staff members and others with collaring elk calves in the Blue Mountains for a calf survival study. Staff members worked in rugged terrain spotting cow elk with calves and then hiking to get close enough to capture and collar newborn calves.

Colockum Wildlife Area Assistant Manager Hagan scanning for elk in the Blue Mountains.
Photo by WDFW
Colockum Wildlife Area Assistant Manager Hagan scanning for elk in the Blue Mountains.
Elk calf captured and being fitted for radio collar, Blue Mountains.
Photo by WDFW
Elk calf captured and being fitted for radio collar, Blue Mountains.
Typical Blue Mountains terrain at high elevation overlook.
Photo by WDFW
Typical Blue Mountains terrain at high elevation overlook.

Providing Conflict Prevention and Education

Reducing Vehicle Collisions: District 8 Habitat and Wildlife staff members, met with a Washington Department of Transportation biologist and engineers to begin discussion of our prospects for safe passage of wildlife to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions and improve connectivity.

Bear Cub Orphan: District 8 Wildlife staff members and police responded to a report of an orphaned bear cub on private land. The 3–4-month male cub was safely located, captured, and transported to a wildlife rehabilitation facility. The cub was determined to be in good condition and is slated for release in spring 2024.

Rattlesnake Hills Elk: District 4 Wildlife Conflict Specialist Hand continues to monitor elk activity and damage impacts while actively preforming late night/early morning hazing patrols. As natural forage dries-out and crop fields mature, increasing numbers of elk continue to raid wheat fields along the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, mostly during nocturnal hours.

 Elk Thermal Imaging in Crop Areas Over One Mile in the Distance.
Photo by WDFW
Elk thermal imaging in crop areas over one mile in the distance.

Richland Coyote: District 4 Wildlife Conflict Specialist Hand responded to a complaint from a homeowner near Badger Mountain concerning a coyote that was hanging around residences. “Living with Wildlife” material was discussed as well as actions that can be taken to protect pets.


Conserving Natural Landscapes

Diffuse Knapweed Control: Oak Creek Technician Boggs and Assistant Manager Charlet released biocontrol insects (bangasternus farsti) to help control dense diffuse knapweed patches in the Cowiche Unit of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. Biocontrol insects were provided by the Washington State University Extension as part of the integrated weed control project.

Technician Boggs releases biocontrol agents in dense patch of diffuse knapweed.
Photo by WDFW
Technician Boggs releases biocontrol agents in dense patch of diffuse knapweed.
Biocontrol insects provided by the Washington State University Extension Integrated Weed Control Project.
Photo by WDFW
Biocontrol insects provided by the Washington State University Extension Integrated Weed Control Project.

Sunnyside/Snake River Weed Control: Manager Kaelber and Technician Manderbach removed large patches of Scotch thistle from the I-82 Ponds Unit. Sunnyside/Snake River Wildlife Area staff members continue to apply integrated pest management strategies to control invasive weeds throughout the wildlife area.

Manager Kaelber cutting down a large stand of scotch thistle.
Photo by WDFW
Manager Kaelber cutting down a large stand of Scotch thistle.

Providing Education and Outreach

Public Presentation Deer and Elk: Assistant District 8 Biologist Wampole presented to the Kittitas Field and Streams Club on the status and trends of the elk and deer in District 8 and answered questions regarding concerns around mule deer and elk in the area.

Mesa Elementary Ecology Day: Assistant Manager Jahns attended Mesa Elementary School’s Ecology Day. The entire K-6 student body rotated through different educational stations throughout the day learning about all things ecology! The students were very enthusiastic about Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It was a fun, action-packed day of learning!

     Pelts & Skulls display at Mesa Elementary’s Ecology Day.
Photo by WDFW
Pelts & Skulls display at Mesa Elementary’s Ecology Day.

Other

District 4 staff members in Pasco prepared for the furniture update of desks and cabinets expected in the coming week. Wildlife Biologist Fidorra worked to secure a contract with moving companies while everyone cleaned and prepped to remove old furniture once the new arrives.

Region 5 (Southwest)

Managing Wildlife Populations

Blue Mountain Elk Captures: Biologists Holman traveled to southeastern Washington to assist District 3 and Game Division staff with calf elk captures in the Blue Mountains. The neonate elk are being studied to better understand the dynamics behind declining elk populations in the Blues. The work involves traveling to spotting locations on high ground early in the morning, spotting cow elk, locating their calves, watching until the calves bed, traversing to the exact location of the calf which is often one to two miles in the distance, hand capturing the calf, installing a GPS/VHF collar and taking biological measurements, then releasing the calf. The young elk are strongly precocial and are very capable of escaping capture when they reach no more than a few days of age.

Many individuals participated in the effort. These included University of Idaho Associate Professor Christensen, University of Idaho Student Interns Sam and Adan, WDFW biologists, researchers, and wildlife area managers from other parts of the state, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Biologist Kruenegel, along with others. A special guest and participant in the effort within GMU 175 (Lick Creek), was Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Anderson who spent two full days applying his field skills and energy to the project.

Thanks to District Biologist Wik and Ungulate Specialist Moore for their organization and dedication to the success of this project. Finally, special thanks and appreciation to Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Anderson for his willingness to spend long hours in the field with staff members, discussing the complexities of wildlife management, and sharing his stories of a lifetime of involvement in the management of Washington’s natural resources.

Elk calves spotted through a scope
Photo by WDFW
There are 13 elk calves, and several adult females, in this image taken through a spotting scope from approximately one and a half miles distance, they are all too big to catch by hand.
A captured elk calf
Photo by WDFW
Female elk calf at less than one day of age and just over 13 kilograms.
Three people with a captured elk calf
Photo by WDFW
USFWS Biologist Kruenegel along with University of Idaho Student Interns Sam and Adan with a 19 kilogram male calf, he’s two to three days old.
Holman with an elk calf
Photo by WDFW
Biologist Holman about to release a 21 kilogram male calf. The elk is approximately four days old.
Anderson looking for elk behind in scope
Photo by WDFW
Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Anderson glassing for elk calves and mapping their locations in GMU 175 (Lick Creek).

Catching Turtle Hatchlings for Headstarting: For several days over the last two months, Biologists Wickhem and Bergh and Technician Motiff have dedicated a significant amount of time to catching hatchling northwestern pond turtles at a site in Klickitat County. The hatchlings were sent to the Oregon Zoo in Portland where they will grow in the safety of captivity during their most vulnerable life stage. Next spring, they will be released back into their native habitat at a size that allows them to escape predation more easily. Northwestern pond turtles are state endangered and unfortunately in the wild, hatchlings are often eaten by American bullfrogs and other non-native predators. The headstart program is one tool WDFW and partners are using to aid in the recovery of pond turtle populations in Washington. For more information on the headstart program, please visit the Oregon Zoo’s website.

A northwestern pond turtle hatchling
Photo by WDFW
A northwestern pond turtle hatchling.
A field of low-water aquatic vegetation
Photo by WDFW
Low water and flourishing aquatic vegetation in the turtle ponds made hatchling-catching especially difficult this spring.

Sandhill Crane Monitoring: Biologist Bergh and Technician Motiff joined a landowner for a sandhill crane survey. The group spotted what looked to be a nesting crane and Technician Motiff came back the following day and confirmed the nest by observing a nest exchange (where the adults switch and take turns incubating the nest). Biologist Bergh and the landowner went out a month later to attempt to find the nest after the eggs should have hatched. When they neared where the nest should be they bumped into an adult crane. The crane then tried to get them to follow it. It was likely trying to protect a nearby colt, a newly hatched sandhill crane, but the landowner will be on the lookout to see if a colt is observed.

A field with a sandhill crane
Photo by WDFW
Adult sandhill crane attempting to distract and lure the two humans away from a potential colt.

Conserving Natural Landscapes

Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area: Over two days, volunteers from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the WDFW Master Hunter Program put in a solid 400 hours of labor to remove Scotch broom across 230 acres and cage 150 native trees and shrubs on the Mudflow Unit of the Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area. The efforts of these volunteers over the past several years has resulted in a significant reduction of Scotch broom on the Mudflow, greatly improving habitat for elk and other species of wildlife that utilize the Wildlife Area. Their efforts and dedication are greatly appreciated, not only by the Wildlife Program, but by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as a whole.

A field of scotch broom
Photo by WDFW
A group of volunteers “dig in” to cut down a large patch of mature Scotch broom.
A field of scotch broom
Photo by WDFW
Left in their wake, a pile of cut scotch broom is the only sign that remains of the many dedicated volunteers that give their time and energy to making this a better place.

Bluebird Nest Box Survey: The bluebird nest boxes on the Soda Springs Unit were surveyed for occupancy. Most of the boxes were being used by western bluebirds, but other birds were present in some of them. Of the 26 serviceable boxes, 12 were occupied by bluebirds, two were occupied by tree swallows, two were being used by violet-green swallows, three contained mountain chickadee nests, and seven boxes were unused. All the nest boxes are located along the Grayback and Sheep Canyon roads or along the Glenwood Highway, where they can be observed by visitors to the Klickitat Wildlife Area.

Seasonal Burn Ban in Effect at Leidl Park, Stinson Flat, Mineral Springs, and Turkey Hole Campgrounds: On June 5, Klickitat County implemented a seasonal burn ban for the part of the county identified as Zone 2. The campgrounds along the Klickitat River follow the county’s Zone 2 burn ban schedule, and signs were posted to advise visitors of the seasonal restriction on campfires.

Region 6 (Coastal)

Managing Wildlife Populations

Sooty Grouse Population Monitoring: Biologist Tirhi completed the last sooty grouse survey for this year within the assigned survey routes for District 11. This survey, done June 13, is technically past the survey window (March-May) but the district was only able to get one survey completed on one route this season, so Tirhi decided to attempt one other. No grouse were seen or heard, lending support that the height of the calling season has now passed. This is a new survey approach and the time the district had available for sooty grouse was spent locating and setting up the routes (for the future) and getting equipment deployed. Tirhi spent time following the survey finalizing another route for next season. District 11 was encouraged to establish and survey:

  • Three routes have been fully established.
  • Two surveys were conducted to protocol.
  • Three acoustic monitors were deployed.
  • One route was shelved for tribe to conduct in 2024 since it’s on tribal land.
  • One route was eliminated due to lack of access. It is behind a private gate.
  • One route has been defined but needs listening stations added.
  • One route is partially established but needs completion and listening stations.

Deer and Elk Collaring: Biologist Murphie helped the Makah Wildlife Program in their efforts to collar juvenile deer and elk. This effort will provide insight into fawn and calf survival in the study area. Murphie reports several being captured, and they are close to meeting project objectives for this session.

Western Pond Turtle: Biologist Murphie deployed two artificial basking structures at the western pond turtle recovery site in District 15. A PIT tag (passive integrated transponder) antenna array was received and will be fitted to a platform next week. We hope to identify which turtles released into the pond are still present.

Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly: Biologist Murphie conducted the last of this season’s survey effort during this reporting period. Overall, the counts were considerably lower than expected.

Bear Hair-Snare Project: Biologist Murphie along with carnivore section staff members set up 36 stations in Game Management Unit (GMU) 636 to collect hair samples from bears over the next few weeks. The first check was also completed and Biologist Murphie reports that hair samples were collected from 17 of the 36 stations. On camera visitors included a turkey vulture, deer, squirrel, bobcat, spotted skunk, and a few bears. More to come, as this project is conducted.


Providing Recreation Opportunities

Management Planning: Biologist Tirhi worked on various management planning documents and participated in planning meetings including the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area Habitat Management Plan and the Game Management Plan update (elk section).


Conserving Natural Landscapes

Protection Island: Noxious Weed Coordinator Heimer, Prairie Specialist Cook, and Wildlife Area Manager Laushman visited Protection Island, part of the North Olympic Wildlife Area, to assess next steps for invasive species control on the island.

Invasive mustard on Protection Island.
Photo by WDFW
Invasive mustard on Protection Island.

Union River: Noxious Weed Coordinator Heimer and Wildlife Area Manager Laushman met with members of the Pierce Conservation District at the South Puget Sound Unit in Lakewood to discuss potential riparian restoration work along Chambers Creek.

Bell Creek: Technician Morgan mowed annual grasses along the boundary of the Oak Restoration Project at the Bell Creek Unit in Sequim, of the North Olympic Wildlife Area. The mowing is in response to fire concerns related to upcoming community fireworks display in a neighboring park.

Union River: Wildlife Area Manager Laushman toured the Union River Wildlife Area Unit in Belfair to discuss upcoming potential estuary restoration work with biologists from the Habitat Program and partner organizations.

Tour of the estuary at Union River.
Photo by WDFW
Tour of the estuary at Union River.

Providing Education and Outreach

General Wildlife Inquiries: Biologist Murphie responded to inquiries received by phone, email, or in person related to mystery scat, deer, bear, waterfowl hunting and elk hunting.