Wildlife Program report: Mar. 16-31, 2023
Managing Wildlife Populations
Vegetation Sampling and Bighorn Sheep Surveys: Region Biologist Stewart assisted University of Idaho Ph.D. Student Huggler and Technician Lowrimore with sampling plant coverage and diversity near Asotin for use in estimating nutritional carrying capacity for bighorn sheep. Additionally, Stewart located, identified, and recorded bighorn sheep in the Asotin subpopulation. These data are collected to better understand the basic demographics of the herds, develop long-term trends in lamb survival, and detect mortality events reasonably soon after they occur.
Golden Eagle Monitoring: Assistant District Biologist Vekasy visited numerous golden eagle territories to determine breeding status. In addition, Vekasy reported incidental observations on six bald eagle territories, including new nesting occurrences on the Touchet and Walla Walla rivers.
Ferruginous Hawk Monitoring: Assistant District Biologist Vekasy visited numerous ferruginous hawk territories to determine early occupancy status. Only two territories had birds present so far this season.
Chronic Wasting Disease Operations: Natural Resource Technician Heitstuman recovered a Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) sample from a severe roadkill in the Dayton area. The Clarkston WDFW Office is being notified by the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) of road killed deer and elk in the area. Some CWD samples can be taken at the DOT carcass pits.
Heitstuman checked local pits for CWD samples. Supervisor Jeff Wade and Heitstuman followed up on a report for a potential CWD infected deer at a private residence in the city of Clarkston. The homeowner reported the deer had left prior to WDFW arrival.
Culvert Siting Inspection: Sherman Creek Wildlife Area Assistant Manager Palmer inspected the site of a ford on an unnamed tributary to the Little Spokane River, at Rustlers Gulch Wildlife Area on Mar. 22, 2023. He wanted to see if the site was accessible before he joins two habitat biologists on Mar. 27, 2023, to again inspect the site. Palmer found the ford easily accessible by foot, as the snow has mostly disappeared since his last visit a few weeks prior.
Bighorn Sheep Mark-Resight Survey: Assistant District Biologist Vekasy and Bighorn Biologist Stewart located, identified, and recorded bighorn sheep along a predetermined route within the Mountain View and Wenaha subpopulations, Washington, Oregon. These data are collected to estimate population abundance and determine herd demographics.
Providing Recreation Opportunities
Access Area Maintenance: Access Manager Daniel Dziekan was at Eloika Lake and reported a huge chunk of ice and rock that was left over from the county’s plowing efforts. Dziekan was able to get the parking areas and most of the pathways cleared. Access areas remain slow, even slower than last week since the ice is receding from the shore. People can’t get boats in the water yet but there is not enough ice to walk on. Liberty Lake is completely clear of ice which seems to be an anomaly. The snow is completely melted at Newman Lake and Dziekan was as able to get about three quarters of the lot blown clean before it started raining. He will be back to finish that work next week.
Tucannon Lakes: Natural Resource Technician Tritt and Natural Resource Worker Jensen continued checking the lakes and fish screens to make sure everything was working properly. Wildlife Area Manager Dingman continued working on the Hydraulic Project Approval application for the Beaver Lake Inlet to be able to keep water flowing into Beaver and Watson lakes this summer. All staff members worked together to remove the old boardwalk that extended out over what was once the bottom drain for Spring Lake. It had become an attractive nuisance and was dangerous for the public.
W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area Campgrounds and Parking Areas: Natural Resource Technician Tritt and Natural Resource Worker Jensen cleaned up trash in the campgrounds, parking areas, and shooting range. They bucked up an illegally felled tree and burned brush piles in Campground 10 and cleaned up trash along the roadside in the Panjab area. They picked up an abandoned lawnmower from a parking area on the Hartsock Unit. A fire ring that had been stolen and located in Dayton was returned to the Wooten Wildlife Area and placed in Campground 4.
Providing Conflict Prevention and Education
Lincoln Heights, Moose: Wildlife Control Specialist had several emails and calls regarding two moose in Rockwood Retirement Community for approximately one week. Wildlife Control Specialist McCarty sent information to Officer Copenhaver and Officer Leonetti for review. Officer Langbehn approved capture and relocation which Wildlife Control Specialist McCarty assisted.
Columbia County Washington State University Extension Service: Wildlife Conflict Specialist Kolb conducted a meeting with the current director of the Columbia County Washington State University Extension Service. Information was passed on existing cost-sharing programs as well as general information on carnivore and ungulate mitigation strategies. Kolb left several handouts and fliers for the office to distribute to producers.
United States Forest Service Annual Coordination Meeting/ Range Manger Contact: Wildlife Conflict Specialist Wade took part in the U. S. Forest Service (USFS) Annual Coordination meeting. Wade gave a wildlife conflict update to the group regarding wolves in Garfield and Asotin counties. Wade was also in contact with USFS Range Manger Duffle to give a wolf update and to discuss grazing questions.
Asotin County Wolf Activity: Wildlife Conflict Specialist Wade continued to have daily check-ins with the Asotin County Cattleman’s Association President and multiple producers regarding recent wolf activity. Wade traveled to the Anatone area to check for signs of wolf activity. Wade met with one producer in the area to discuss the recent activity and to deliver more FoxLights. Wade had a call from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Brown to discuss wolf movements and to share information regarding a group of wolves that are regularly traveling across the state line. Wade was also in contact with Wolf Biologist Spence to discuss ongoing activity and share information.
Conserving Natural Landscapes
Chief Joseph Wildlife Area Lands: Blake Rimmelspacher went to the 4-O Ranch to check on the fence that surrounds the Bucannon field and checked the field for runoff damage. The fence will need to be repaired but the field looks to be in good shape. He returned to the shop to help work on the disk for farming this spring. After repairs, Blake and Dave took the disk up to Joseph Creek for spring work. They cleaned up scrap metal around the shop and mowed some of last year’s food plot fields before spring planting takes place.
Habitat Restoration Projects: Natural Resource Technicians Harris and Janowski had a meeting with Ducks Unlimited to discuss potential involvement on a current Natural Resource Conservation Service Wetland Reserve Program restoration project.
Revere Wildlife Area Habitat Project: Private Lands Biologist Gaston and Natural Resources Technician Nizer assisted Revere Wildlife Area Manager Finch and the Inland Empire Chapter of Pheasants Forever with preparing some of their wildlife habitat plots. Gaston and Nizer took their tractor to Revere Wildlife Area and disced some of the habitat plots to prepare them for planting. Pheasants Forever will plan to seed the plots with native grasses and plant trees and shrubs in the plots to help with wildfire recovery efforts on the property.
Revere Wildlife Area: Wildlife Area Manager Mike Finch continued to work with Pheasant Forever Gruenke in more detailed planning prior to the Apr. 1, and Apr. 2, planting date. The list of volunteers is growing for the 2-day project as part of the Wager Fire Recovery efforts. Finch purchased some of the elemental sulfur to lower soil pH from Wilbur Ellis this week, prior to the Apr. 1 planting date at Revere Wildlife Area. Plants Of The Wild Nursery delivered the shrubs that Finch ordered in November to the Revere Wildlife Area. Gruenke brought out several other Pheasant Forever members to help lay out everything prior to the project date. Finch and Private Lands Biologist Baarstad hauled the tractor with a three-point auger from the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area to Revere to stage before the project starts. Finch ordered approximately 650 plants from two nurseries. Next week, Finch will be going to Derby Canyon Natives in Peshastin to get the rest of the plants for the Revere project. Below is a photo taken of one of the planting sites at the Ducks Unlimited, phase one portion of the recent Duck Stamp Project.
Grassland Range Drill: The Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area and the Wells Wildlife Area recently ordered one 12’ Truax grassland drill for each project and that were delivered this week prior to the Mar. 31 due date. Both drills were purchased with Bonneville Power Administration funds. Since the drills were heavier than expected, Wildlife Area Manager Finch asked a local farmer to help unload the drill from the truck with two pieces of equipment. Finch and Baarstad will be towing the drill ten miles back to the office next week. For now, the drill is sitting in safe equipment yard with the farmer’s other equipment.
Revere Planting: Natural Resource Technician Nizer coordinated with Pheasants Forever chapter of Spokane to help with a planting event that will take place at Revere Wildlife Area on Apr. 1. Nizer will be representing WDFW and helping with managing volunteers at the planting site.
Seed Contribution: Private Lands Biologist Hadley met with members of the Blue Mountain Pheasants Forever chapter and discussed future habitat collaborations and projects. The chapter paid for one hundred pounds of upland seed grass mix currently on order for this spring’s habitat projects.
Bluebird Nest Box Relocation: Biologist Woodall and Natural Resource Technician Rimmelspacher spent a day up on Smoothing Iron Ranch removing mountain bluebird boxes off a fence before the bluebirds can claim them because the old fence needs to be demolished. They moved the boxes to other suitable locations where there would be no reconstruction disturbance. They plan to come back later and hang new boxes, once constructed, in the original locations. While in the area they looked at work projects for the upcoming Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteer work party weekend. Blake also put out salt for the elk on some salting areas that had been depleted.
Boat-Cleaning Units Delivered: The four CD3 Systems self-contained, solar-powered boat cleaning stations for access areas in Region 1 have arrived. These units showed up a couple days early and offloading them was a bit tricky. They are currently stored at the shop at Region 1 headquarters, until they can be deployed to assigned sites later this spring.
Revere Wildlife Area: Wildlife Area Manager Finch and Pheasant Forever Habitat Chairman Mike Gruenke worked with volunteers at Revere Wildlife Area to get the 940 trees and shrubs from Plants Of The Wild and Derby Canyon Natives in to start the rebuilding effort of habitat due to destruction from the Wagner Road Fire that took out several existing shrub plantings. The focus was on the Phase 1 portion of the Duck Stamp Wetland Project and using more fire-resistant species. The planting went excellent with approximately 30 volunteers from Pheasant Forever members to Master Hunters and Washington State University students interested in wildlife conservation and getting outdoors to plant trees and shrubs. All the plantings were enclosed with cattle panels to protect them from browsing and matting as a weed barrier. Most of the work was completed by noon on Sunday but then the clean-up and making sure the tools were returned to those that brought them still needed to be done. The oldest person to sign up and work the two-day project was 81 years young. This project is the start of rebuilding from the Wagner Road fire that occurred last on Aug. 18 at the Revere Wildlife Area. The next focus will be on reseeding the utility easements and replacing the damaged poles.
Conducting Business Operations and Policy
District 1 Damage Permit and 3-Year Season Setting Meeting: Wildlife Conflict Supervisor McCanna participated in the damage permit and season setting meeting. McCanna provided updates on the Landowner Hunting Permit program and other hunting access concerns. The group will be meeting again to set up an antlerless elk area in the Fruitland area.
District 2 Damage Permit and 3-Year Season Setting Meeting: Wildlife Conflict Supervisor McCanna facilitated the District 2 damage permit and season setting meeting. The meeting went well with no upcoming changes.
Human-Carnivore Interaction Response Training: Wildlife Conflict Supervisor McCanna, Wildlife Conflict Specialists Bennett, Kolb, McCarty, Samsill, and Wade and Technicians Harris and Janowski attended the three-day training in Moses Lake. I would highly recommend this training for new or interested WDFW enforcement personnel.
Managing Wildlife Populations
District 8 Assistant District Biologist Wampole and Conflict Specialist Wetzel confirmed wolf presence of an uncollared individual in the district. District biologists will continue to monitor the area for wolf activity.
District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra worked with partners and coordinated the annual meeting on artificial burrow management for regional partners in the Pacific Northwest. A recommendation from the group was to create a broader Pacific Northwest Burrowing Owl Conservation Working Group for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia partners in a more recurring format.
L.T. Murray Elk Feeding: The L.T. Murray crew fed elk a few days until there was enough spring grass growth to keep the elk off the Robinson and Joe Watt feed sites.
Conflict staff members and supervisors attended the Human-Carnivore Interaction Response Workshop held in Moses Lake. The training included Depredation Investigations, Cougar/Wolf/Bear Ecology, Capture and Immobilization, and other presentations including Forensic Entomology.
Conserving Natural Landscapes
Hoover Acquisition: Manager Hughes and Assistant Manager Taylor have been working together on the management plans for the Hoover Acquisition now that it has gone through. Hughes and Taylor met with the landowner to stake out an area where the boundary fence will be built on private ground. The landowner has agreed to give WDFW a fencing easement in this section. This is being done to avoid building the fence through the property line that goes into a marsh. In addition, Hughes coordinated cultural surveys done for the boundary fence that the Wenas Wildlife Area team will be building this spring. Recreation Specialist Frame and Technician Stoltenow cleared brush where a section of the fence will be built.
Water rights were a lengthy part of this acquisition. The Wenas Wildlife Area and the landowner are sharing water rights of an artesian well. The wildlife area plans to use a minimal amount of water for spraying weeds and emergency fire use. Manager Hughes is working on developing a water use agreement to be signed between the landowner and Fish and Wildlife due to the shared well. Taylor installed a butterfly valve into a 6” steel irrigation pipe. The valve installed will be used to shut off water going onto the newly acquired property.
Pumphouse Road Post Fire Area: Assistant Manager Winegeart and Natural Resource Specialist Nass assessed the Pumphouse Road post fire area for early spring vegetation and noxious weed growth. Areas that had potential for drill seeding and sagebrush plugs were identified for cultural review and anticipated seeding in the fall. A small site that had a Rimsulfuron application in the fall showed promise but a close examination of what's growing by May 1 will give a better idea of how useful the chemical will be under similar circumstances in the future.
Assistant Manager Winegeart had Central Valley Helicopters apply 1,800 pounds of native seed mix to areas within the Vantage Highway Fire footprint.
Habitat Program Support: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra conducted site visits with Habitat Biologist Makis to sites of future proposed development. Fidorra recorded inactive ground-squirrel burrows onsite and some nice intact quality shrubsteppe with surprisingly high sagebrush recruitment and intact soil crust. The site will soon be a housing development and WDFW will request mitigation, which might occur. Fidorra also participated in calls and meetings for various solar energy proposals.
District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra participated in the demonstration of the Least Cost Solar Siting product to be released by Audubon and Partners in April. The product identifies high priority conservation lands as well as those where wildlife concerns are lower and make development more suitable for energy projects. The product should be released April 12 to the public following this external review period.
Providing Education and Outreach
Burrowing Owl Presentation at Sandhill Crane Festival: District 4 Wildlife Biologist Fidorra was invited to present information on burrowing owls at the Annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival. The presentation was improved after many years using the Public Affairs WDFW template and was well received by approximately 100 people. A lively Q&A session followed. There was no WDFW outreach table this year, as their contacts for the department were out of date. Fidorra provided them with Team Ephrata information to rectify this in the future.
Backcountry Horseman Rendezvous: Lands Operations Manager Finger, Wenas Wildlife Area Manager Hughes, and Methow Wildlife Area Manager Troyer attended the Backcountry Horseman Rendezvous in Ellensburg. A Fish and Wildlife booth was displayed to provide outreach and answer questions from the public. The Wenas Wildlife Area works with the Wenas Valley Backcountry Horseman Chapter to manage the Hardy Canyon Trail. The Wenas Valley Backcountry Horseman adopted this trail for routine maintenance every spring. It is a popular trail for wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and hiking. Outside of the work done on the Wenas there are many other Backcountry Horseman Chapters that help with parking area and trail maintenance projects in collaboration with Fish and Wildlife.
Chainsaw Safety Training: Recreation Specialist Frame and Technician Stoltenow attended and successfully completed National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Course S-212. This course is designed to display proper chainsaw techniques and use. Chainsaw safety is a large part of the course. Many other Region 3 WDFW employees attended the class as well.
Assistant Manager Winegeart, Natural Resource Specialist Nass, and Natural Resource Technician Blore attended S-212 chainsaw training in Yakima. The crew members learned how to properly sharpen a chain, tree felling techniques, and forest stand assessment for general safety while cutting, working, or just hiking in vegetation that has potential for overhead dangers.
New Cambell Property Signage: Winegeart and Nass noticed a new gate and posted sign on the Cambell property which borders the Green Gate Subunit on the Quilomene Unit. Upon inspection, they noticed the property has been sold and a physical/firearm training center is planned for the site. Below is some information available on the web about the planned facilities. No groundwork appears to have taken place at this time.
Cross Valley National Training Center – Cross Valley Training
The L.T. Murray Wildlife Area’s new track loader arrived.
Natural Resource Technician Blore and Natural Resource Workers Hamlin and Schneider installed a new metal gate with metal brace points to replace the wire and wood gate that burned last year at the Corrals parking area on the Whiskey Dick Unit.
L.T. Murray Natural Resource Workers Hamlin and Schneider continued to pick up wire on the Whiskey Dick and Quilomene units.
Natural Resource Technician Blore checked on the condition of culvert in need of replacement on Parke Creek Road.
Managing Wildlife Populations
Forest Grouse Wingbee: District Wildlife Biologists Anderson, Smith, Licence, and Waddell participated in a forest grouse wingbee with other WDFW staff. Staff members examined grouse wings and tails submitted by hunters during the past grouse hunting season to determine species type, age, and sex for each specimen submitted. This helps WDFW understand the proportion of each species of forest grouse in the harvest, as well as proportions of males, females, adults, and juveniles. Hunters can submit wings and tails for each bird harvested at collection points located in each district.
Sooty Grouse Hoot Surveys: Biologists Anderson, Smith and many other west side of crest district biologists began laying out sooty grouse survey routes to be prepared for future annual surveys. 2023 is a pilot year. Efforts are coordinated with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as we are using the same protocol with, perhaps, some adjustments in timing due to farther north latitude.
Annual Snow Goose Survey: WDFW District Wildlife Biologist Waddell and Canadian Wildlife Biologist O’Shea conducted an aerial snow goose survey in southern British Columbia and Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish counties. Northwest Washington and southern British Columbia represent an important wintering area for many tens of thousands of snow geese. Staff members took multiple photos of each flock that will be stitched together using photo-editing software. The finished composite image for each flock will be analyzed using sophisticated software that counts the birds in each photo.
North Cascades Elk Herd Survey: District Wildlife Biologists Waddell, Moore, and Licence worked with co-managers from the Point Elliott Treaty Tribes to survey the North Cascades elk herd. Helicopter surveys are conducted in 13 survey units to generate a population estimate and cow elk estimate for the survey area. Analysis of the data is in progress.
Oregon Spotted Frog Surveys: District Wildlife Biologists Moore and several volunteers conducted egg mass surveys for Oregon spotted frogs (OSF) at new sites and locations where frogs have been documented in the past. Biologists also collected individual eggs for a study that will use genomics techniques to estimate genetic diversity, population structure, demographic history, identify adaptive alleles, and inform the need for evolutionary rescue of OSF based on genetic patterns of inbreeding.
White-nose Syndrome (WNS) Research in Snohomish County: District Wildlife Biologist Licence and Species Lead/WNS Coordinator Tobin met with Snohomish County Public Works and a private landowner to discuss and assess a Yuma myotis and little brown bat maternity roost for a WNS research project. The project will assess the effectiveness of a treatment to enhance survival of WNS susceptible bat species and includes many partners including United States Geological Survey, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, and Woodland Park Zoo. Final approval of the site is still pending, but promising. Similarly, a system to monitor individual bat movements for the same study was installed on an existing research site near Darrington.
Sound Transit Light Link – West Seattle to Ballard – Great Blue Heron Colony: Biologist Anderson consulted with Sound Transit environmental staff working on the West Seattle to Ballard light link extension. A heron colony is within the project footprint and take activities are very likely throughout the project. Sound Transit has been in consultation with WDFW Habitat Program, Priority Habitats and Species (PHS) meeting local Seattle critical areas code, and Wildlife Program, to state take of protected wildlife needs. The project is moving along with wildlife consideration efforts where appropriate to meet local code or state law. WDFW appreciates the proactive efforts of Sound Transit.
Species of Greatest Conservation Need – Habitat Program WSDOT Culvert Replacement Efforts – Harlequin Duck Considerations: Biologist Anderson worked with the Waterfowl Section Manager Spragens and Specialist Hamer to provide recommendations to Habitat Program for culvert replacement efforts where known nesting/breeding harlequin ducks have been documented. Harlequin ducks are listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SCGN) in the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) and the Habitat Program categorizes this species as a Priority Habitat Species via their PHS management recommendation program. A project in King County is the first in the new Habitat Program project screening efforts. There is a desire to ensure all Wildlife Program consultation provides uniformity across the current King County effort, as well as future requests in regard to harlequin ducks in Washington.
Wolf Monitoring in Snohomish County: Biologist Licence and Statewide Wolf Specialist Ben Maletzke investigated a large canid report on Olo Mountain which is private industrial timberland near Granite Falls. Upon investigation, only coyote sized tracks were observed, and no other signs of wolves were discovered. Two additional trail cameras were deployed in the county and one was checked, although no wolves were detected.
Providing Conflict Prevention and Education
On Mar. 20, Wildlife Conflict Specialist O’Connor worked with a group of volunteer master hunters to assist a dairy farm in the Enumclaw area. Conflict staff and master hunters repaired barbed wire, cleared blackberry and grass, and helped the farmer design electric fencing to exclude elk from the cow pasture. Wildlife exclusion fencing and electric fencing is an excellent way to keep wildlife out of pastures, gardens, and large commercial agricultural areas. Master hunter volunteers are eager to assist landowners in fencing projects and conflict staff is always happy to help farmers design wildlife exclusion fencing and electric fencing projects!
Providing Education and Outreach
Wildlife Conflict Specialist O’Connor gave a bear awareness presentation to the board members of the Trilogy Community in the Redmond area. The presentation focused on co-existing with Washington’s resident blear bear population as they are frequently observed in semi-urban areas adjacent to greenbelts and natural spaces. The Trilogy and Redmond communities, like many residentials areas of western Washington, often see these charismatic animals passing through their greenbelt-adjacent backyards, golf courses, and open spaces which makes education and outreach a primary focus for WDFW conflict specialists moving into the spring season. Reducing human sourced attractants is the number one thing we can do as a community to reduce potential conflict with wildlife. By removing bird feeders, garbage containers, and pet food, we encourage natural black bear foraging behavior and make our communities safer for both people and black bears.
Wildlife Conflict Specialist O’Connor assisted Bear and Cougar Specialist Welfelt with a black bear presentation given to King County Parks employees focusing on safely working and recreating in bear country. Washington is bear country and it not uncommon to see these animals in our state’s diverse park system. By reducing human sourced attractants, locking garbage in bear resistant containers, clearing brush from buildings and picnic areas, and maintaining awareness of our surroundings, we can significantly increase safety while working and recreating in our natural spaces.
Wildlife Conflict Specialist O’Connor attended the Human-Carnivore Interaction Response Training in Moses Lake, Washington. This training was provided to WDFW conflict staff to increase our knowledge of carnivore ecology, populations, and distribution as well as respond to carnivore-livestock interaction.
Managing Wildlife Populations
Willapa Hills Elk Survey: Staff members from WDFW Regions 5 and 6 as well as Olympia joined to complete an aerial survey of the elk population in both the North and South Willapa Hills elk herd areas. The effort took place over Willapa Hills South which includes Game Management Units (GMU) 530 (Ryderwood), 506 (Willapa Hills), 681 (Bear River) and 673 (Williams Creek), as well as Willapa Hills North which includes Game Management Units 658 (North River), 660 (Minot Peak) and 672 (Fall River). The survey is conducted within a random stratified sampling design in which sub-areas of each GMU are flown, by helicopter, while three WDFW observers plus the pilot search the landscape for elk. The animals are then counted as well as classified into sexes and ages. Additionally, variables including concealing vegetation, snow cover, and habitat type are documented for each group of elk.
A total of 2,280 elk were observed by the team within 28 survey units, over the course of seven days. Following data analysis, estimates of herd population size, sub-herd population size, GMU population sizes as well as calf to cow and bull to cow ratios will be generated. These metrics will be used to evaluate the status of the Willapa Hills elk population per the guidelines outlined in the WDFW Game Management Plan and the Willapa Hills Elk Herd Plan.
Thanks to Region 2 Director Hoenes for his development of the survey method during his time as district wildlife biologist in Pacific and Gray’s Harbor counties. Thanks also to the many staff members who participated in the survey. Thanks to the personnel at the Naselle Hatchery for allowing their facility to be used as a heliport. Thanks to Region 6 Customer Service Staff Members Moe and Heath as well as Ungulate Section Manager Garrison for their respective roles of weekday and weekend flight following. Finally, thanks to Pilot Robb Grubb of Apex Helicopters for his safe and efficient piloting during the effort.
Dusky Canada Goose Surveys: Biologist Wickhem completed the final survey of District 9’s bi-monthly dusky Canada goose surveys on the Shillapoo Wildlife Area and surrounding lowlands. Dusky geese are a sub-species of Canada goose that spend summers in Alaska and migrate through and/or overwinter in the lower Columbia River area. Duskys are closed to recreational harvest due to low population levels. The purpose of the surveys is to count dusky geese observed and read alphanumeric codes on any red-collared duskys. Wildlife managers survey the geese multiple times across their primary wintering grounds and use the data to generate survival estimates. On this survey, Wickhem observed 164 dusky geese and read three collars. Other notable sightings included swans, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, bald eagles, great blue herons, egrets, snow geese, many species of waterfowl, and a coyote successfully hunting rodents. Sandhill cranes are still hanging around in large numbers in a few interior pockets of the wildlife area. A big thanks to Wildlife Area Manager Hauswald and Assistant Wildlife Area Manager Breitenstein for all their help during this survey season.
Biologists Stephens and Holman also completed the annual dusky goose surveys, finishing the effort in Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. Thanks to Science Division Data Specialist Blatz for joining Holman for the final survey of the year. For more information on how and why the surveys are done, see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wild Goose Chase Storymap.
Investigating Bat Use of North Fork Lewis River Bridges: Biologist Holman joined Bat Technician Liepold and Pacificorps Wildlife Biologist Emmerson to search for evidence of bat use underneath several bridges in the North Fork Lewis River watershed. The bridges were located on Pacificorps, Department of Transportation, and U.S. Forest Service managed roadways. Evidence of use by bats was found under several bridges and one Townsend’s big-eared bat was located resting in one location.
Klickitat Wildlife Area Spring Road Survey: Biologists Wickhem and Bergh, Assistant Wildlife Area Manager Hunt, Technician Motiff, Conflict Specialist Jacobsen and Conflict Technician Kolenberg took part in the annual spring road survey to count and classify mule deer on and around the Klickitat Wildlife Area. These routes have been surveyed each spring for more than 40 years. This season, the team counted 460 deer and classified 402, the most on this survey since 2010. Despite the high number of deer observed, the crew recorded only 31 fawns for every 100 does, which ties for the lowest ratio since 1997. The 10-year average is 51 fawns for every 100 does. While disappointing, this low ratio was not surprising after the district observed the lowest ever fawn to doe ratio during our aerial surveys in December (49 to 100). For the second year in a row, the team also observed mountain goats in the upper Klickitat River canyon, which is always a survey highlight.
Western Gray Squirrel Habitat Management Field Trip: Biologist Bergh, Wildlife Area Manager Van Leuven, and Assistant Wildlife Area Manager Hunt joined a field trip organized by Habitat Program to discuss habitat management for the state-listed western gray squirrel at several spots around Klickitat County. A local forester who works for several timber companies showed the group two recent timber sales with a variable density thinning prescription. The group also visited a land trust property, a site on U.S. Forest Service Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area lands, and the Klickitat Wildlife Area. There were good discussions on different forestry prescriptions, and it was valuable to have a diverse group of personnel including Habitat Program, Lands Division, and Diversity Division. Forest types visited by the group included mixed Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, ponderosa pine and Oregon white oak, and predominantly Oregon oak woodlands. One of the sites is also grazed by cattle and provided a snapshot of how certain grazing practices can be compatible with long-term western gray squirrel presence. Another site, dominated by ponderosa pine, has been thinned naturally by insects over the course of about 30 years and served as an example of how natural processes can alter the forest while still providing habitat for the squirrels.
Conserving Natural Landscapes
Removal of Derelict Fences on the Klickitat Wildlife Area: Master Hunter Volunteers Haskell and Rudberg came to the Klickitat Wildlife Area to assist Manager VanLeuven in removing old fences on Mar. 25. The Wildlife Area has several old fence lines that are no longer needed or maintained. These fences present unnecessary obstacles and can entangle the feet of animals and people, so it is best to remove them. The volunteers took out a fence that went through a forest management unit that is planned for this fall, removed a tangle of wires near a pond, removed a short segment of fencing and poultry netting that may have been an old hunting blind, and made a substantial start on pulling out an old three-strand barbed wire fence north of Old Headquarters. The group removed about half a mile of old fencing, a good day’s work considering the remote location of one of the project sites. On Mar. 31 Assistant Manager Hunt led a volunteer effort with Master Hunters Haskell and Ihrig to remove more old barbed wire fencing from the Soda Springs Unit. Of the two fence lines in the project area, they removed the entire upper fence line, about 300 yards of three-strand fencing, and hauled all the coiled wire up to the ridge line. The wire cache location was recorded for future collection efforts. Manager Van Leuven and Assistant Manager Hunt enjoyed working with the energetic volunteers and greatly appreciated their help in cleaning up these derelict fences.
Cowlitz Trout Hatchery Unit Tree Planting: The Cowlitz Wildlife Area, using a local reforestation contractor, planted 5,000 Douglas fir trees into the fields on the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery Unit. The contractor acquired the trees from a local grower ensuring the seed stock was compatible with the zone and in one day planted the entire project area. Cowlitz Wildlife Area staff members prepped the site for planting by tilling strips in the fields at ten-foot intervals. The contractor planted the trees at about 540 trees to the acre. The project will return the fields, which are no longer used for agricultural purposes, to a forested environment. Some small openings will be maintained for habitat diversity and to provide forage for wildlife.
Brim Bar Access Area Management: Cowlitz Wildlife Area staff members rented a 40-foot telescopic man lift to prune trees around the perimeter of the access area. This access area on the Cowlitz Wildlife Area provides fishing access to Brim Bar on the Cowlitz River. Unfortunately, it has also been a location that has attracted residential campers due to the seclusion that the trees provided. This seclusion has also made it attractive to folks wanting to dump their household waste. Pruning the trees opened the site considerably so that traffic on adjacent Spencer Road can readily see into the access area. This should help to cut back on the unlawful activity and reduce the negative impacts to the river and riparian habitat.
Fence Replacement Continues at the Shillapoo Wildlife Area: Wildlife Area Manager Hauswald, Assistant Manager Breitenstein, and Assistant Manager Risley spent several days installing new fence posts and stretch braces at Shillapoo Wildlife Area. With completion of the project targeted for early April, it’s all hands-on-deck to finish replacing the dilapidated fencing that was removed earlier in the year and have the pasture areas ready for cattle when the ground has dried out and the grass has greened up. The new fencing will keep grazing cattle away from native tree plantings and agricultural crops but will still allow easy access to hunters and other recreational users by way of strategically placed styles that permit passage between fenced areas without having to walk along long stretches of fencing to pass through a gate.
New Affordable Housing the Mount Saint Helens Wildlife Area: With spring rapidly approaching, migrating wood ducks will soon be looking for nesting sites to nest, hatch, and raise their 2023 brood. As cavity nesters, wood ducks are very particular about site conditions when it comes to nesting, generally choosing naturally occurring cavities in standing dead trees, or “snags”, adjacent to ponds or slow-moving water. To offer the wood ducks and other cavity nesters additional nesting habitat, wildlife area staff members have constructed and installed ten new duck boxes across the Mount Saint Helens Wildlife Area. Safe from the prevailing winds, rain, and most predators, these nesting boxes offer comfortable single family living space with great views, and rates that are more than affordable…they’re free.
Providing Education and Outreach
Wind River Middle School Field Trips: Biologists Wickhem and Bergh and Technician Motiff assisted in an ecology and turtle-themed field trip for sixth and seventh grade classes from Wind River Middle School. The field trip was organized by The Friends of the Columbia River Gorge and supported by the U. S. Forest Service Scenic Area. The classes spent the day at a field site in the Gorge learning about northwestern pond turtles, turtle conservation, invasive bullfrogs, meadow plant diversity. Additionally, they got to plant native species at the site. Wickhem and Bergh gave presentations on northwestern pond turtles at the beginning of each day. The students were very excited about turtles and loved handling the educational turtle shells. Thank you to The Friends of the Columbia River Gorge for the invite and opportunity to talk turtles.
Managing Wildlife Populations
Elk Surveys: Biologist Murphie and biologists from the Quileute Tribe conducted an elk composition survey of the Dickey, Game Management Unit (GMU) 602, and Sol Duc, GMU 607 this period. Final tallies will be compiled from digital images taken during the flight.
Forest Grouse Wing Bee: Biologist Murphie participated in the annual forest grouse wing bee. Here biologists sort through samples of grouse wings and tails deposited by hunters at several collection sites in western Washington. Although a final accounting of what was collected is not available yet, Murphie does report lower than expected sample submission this year in District 15.
Elk Composition Surveys: Biologist Murphie, Biologist Ament, and Quinault and Quileute tribe biologists conducted elk composition surveys of GMUs 602, 607, 612, and 615.
Elk Collaring: Biologist Murphie assisted the Skokomish Tribal Wildlife Program in collaring three adult cows in GMUs 636 and 651. These are part of long-term monitoring efforts of these units.
Game Management Plan: Biologist Murphie reviewed draft versions of bear, cougar, and waterfowl sections in the next Game Management Plan.
Western Pond Turtles: Biologist Murphie conducted routine site maintenance at a western pond turtle recovery site in District 15.
Providing Recreation Opportunities
Pierce County: The access team continues to whittle away at undesirable vegetation at Lake Kapowsin and other Pierce County sites in preparation for the upcoming fishing season. These efforts are making a considerable difference. Crew members are committed to improving these sites and developing future maintenance plans for users and the local community.
Thurston County: The access team repaired fences at a couple locations. Some fences were damaged by weather events, by vehicles, or from normal wear and tear.
Conserving Natural Landscapes
Big Beef Creek: Wildlife Area Manager Laushman and Technician Morgan cleared the Lost Highway access road and trail at the Big Beef Creek Unit of the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area, mowing thick scotch broom and brushing out the trail to Morgan Marsh.
Chimacum Creek: Wildlife Area Manager Laushman and the Hood Canal Coordinating Council attended a site visit to sections of Chimacum Creek adjacent to the North Olympic Wildlife Area’s current Chimacum Unit to discuss potential future WDFW acquisitions.
Dungeness signage: Biologist Ament helped repair and replace boundary signage at the Three Crabs Unit of the North Olympic Wildlife Area.
South Puget Sound: Technician Morgan has continued to open up the oak prairie habitat at the South Puget Sound Unit in Lakewood by mowing scotch broom throughout the unit.
Providing Education and Outreach
South Puget Sound: Wildlife Area Manager Laushman met with the coordinator of the local Rotary Club and a program coordinator for Northwest Youth Corps to tour the South Puget Sound Unit in Lakewood and discuss upcoming opportunities for summer youth crews at the area. The next community workday at the South Puget Sound Unit is May 20, at 9:00 a.m. All are welcome to join.
General Wildlife Inquiries: Biologist Murphie responded to inquiries received by phone, email, or in person related to:
- A weasel.
- Mysterious feathers.
- Deer and elk hunting.
- River otter concerns and conflict.
Discovery Bay: Wildlife Area Manager Laushman helped with a planting event for Chimacum Middle School students coordinated by the North Olympic Salmon Coalition. Students prepared planting designs and planted around 200 native shrubs and trees to help restore the riparian area between Snow and Salmon creeks at the Discovery Bay Unit of the North Olympic Wildlife Area.
Conducting Business Operations and Policy
Work-planning and Other Preperation: Biologist Murphie began planning and coordinating for surveys and other work to be done later this spring or summer. This work will include new projects for bear and grouse in District 15, as well as coordinating elk surveys and western pond turtle work.
Murphie participated in fiscal year 2024 to 2025 work planning session.