March marches on

On the savanna in the late afternoon, surrounded by lichen-draped oaks; noting the attractive old ones, the new straight ones with potential beyond our lifetimes, mistletoe, galls. Mindfulness comes naturally.

In this video of early spring you can see the effects of not mowing. The reason was fire hazard followed by soggy soil, (drought/deluge) last fall. A lot of thatch from old non-native grasses and taller scotch broom remain; but I hope that will make it easier to kill the broom this spring. Mowing as a substitute for fire is not ideal, although better than nothing.

Other interesting things I found this day out will follow in the next post!

Time. Maps. Closeup views

A previous post showed the general lay of the land over time in our neighborhood. Here is a closeup of changes we have wrought since we’ve been there. If you click on a photo it will take you to gallery view.

The first conservation treatment brought in a mower to cut down huge old growth scotch broom – scourge of Northwestern natural areas. Smaller trees were sheared on the west side, and near the middle of the 20 acres (2006-2007) to create the savanna and oak woodland. The relatively filled-in appearance after 1994 is likely due to a lot of regrowth of weedy brush (broom and blackberries) over disturbed ground.

Our latest treatment began in 2011. This is where you can see change on the landscape more clearly. We had more trees sheared, and a lot of larger diameter trees were removed – 2011 and 2012 photos show the opening of the oak woodland/savannah in the center and lower left (SW corner) near the pond, where the “boulevard” was opened along an existing pathway with removal of many smaller firs and some oaks).

Although the first treatment brought major changes on the ground, the activity is more obvious from the aerial perspective in the last couple of views – possibly because of the size and number of trees removed with the last cut. Over 100 oaks, and about 100 firs were removed, and they were larger than the ones that were sheared initially.

Another change that is more visible recently is seen in a faint diagonal opening just above the middle in the land of moose and squirrel. This is where fir trees were girdled and are now standing dead trees, plus three large snags intentionally left alive but with most limbs removed. Dead trees and a trail just above them look somewhat like the 1994 view before trees and brush filled in.

So, some real habitat changes now, encouraging the ‘traditional’ residents of the oak savanna and woodland. Got those white-breasted nuthatches (two at least) so maybe they will build a nest this year!

Perhaps I will take you on a video tour soon…

Woo-hoo! Another Happy Day…

In my post last week, I had to re-edit to mention that I actually did see a white-breasted nuthatch on our trees and at the feeder. I was probably so excited to report it that I mistakenly edited out that part.

This week, a news item just out reports that the Fender’s Blue butterfly numbers are up at a large reserve near Eugene in the Willamette Valley. Many have rallied around this small, but charismatic species. Unlike the nuthatch and acorn woodpecker, the Fender’s Blue is on the endangered species list. (The birds are slowly sliding toward it in some locales, but their numbers are still up).

A thought or two about insects: perhaps they can recover more quickly than some species (i.e. the spotted owl, mentioned in the article) because their populations have a quicker response time, or because their territories are smaller and more easily managed.

Many things going on there – they don’t have the competition from bigger more aggressive species like the spotted owl does. Insects also tend toward boom and bust cycles because of weather, food, disease and such, although some more than others (think aphids – at the bottom of the food chain and also designed for rapid reproduction). If their numbers drop, or rise, it may depend on environmental conditions other than the management strategies that people are using.

Nevertheless, these strategies are undeniably beneficial. It does one good to start the year with positive news. Maybe we’ll have some Fender’s Blues on our place soon. We have a patch of their larval host plants, some nectar sources, and it would be great if the Conservation District would decide we are worthy of burning the fields! I’m still pestering them about that…wbn

Fender's Blue on Kincaid's Lupine

Fender’s Blue on Kincaid’s Lupine

What Is A Habitat Conservation Plan?

While the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it illegal to negatively impact listed animal species (known as “take”), a permit (called an incidental take permit) can be issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows a limited amount of incidental take if the following conditions are met:

(1) A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is developed that describes how the impacts to the species will be monitored, minimized and mitigated.

(2) Funding to implement the HCP and procedures to deal with unforeseen circumstances affecting the species, its habitat or the HCP are ensured.

(3) The incidental take identified in the HCP does not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild (USFWS 1996).

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973. If a species is “listed” as endangered it is legally protected. Listing is a prolonged and not always successful process, involving study, counting, and documenting extinction danger. Once listed, a further requirement is formulation of a plan for building up populations and habitat for them so that the species can increase to the point where it is no longer endangered.

Landowners who are lucky enough to have property that is home to an endangered species can keep using their land – to grow crops, for example – by signing on to, and following An HCP. If they don’t, then these activities might actually be prohibited entirely, so participating in the HCP protects them from prosecution.

This is sometimes hard to get across to people who are worried about limits to the use of their property – joining allows you to continue an action that might harm an endangered species (you have a permit), as part of a plan that makes up for it in other ways. Not joining could mean less freedom to use your property.

The main reason for an HCP is not to allow take, however, but to establish best management practices to avoid it, and help people take care of their land and the species that belong to all of us.

I participate in a landowner advisory group with the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, which is writing an HCP for Fender’s Blue Butterfly (endangered) and its larval host plant, Kincaid’s Lupine (threatened). I hope that the limited number of landowners in the county who have these species on their property will join us in caring for the habitat that supports them. It is so seldom we can say that our actions make a difference – what a wonderful opportunity!

Endangered Species

Well, this is not one of them. However, this Silvery Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) looks very similar to the endangered Fender’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi).  But Fender’s blue has a row of faint markings, at the edge of the hindwing, like ghosts of the dark spots.

I was ecstatic the first time I saw a Silvery Blue until I learned about the second row of spots. I still am very enamored of these guys though. You have to wonder why the flamboyant STRIPED antennae? Such wonderful details!

Our oak savanna and woodland project probably would not have been supported were it not for the Fender’s Blue. Support for habitat improvement often comes in the form of money for the management of endangered species. Once a species is on the endangered list, the agencies responsible for watching out for them are required to come up with a plan to bulk up the population – plant or animal – and try to make it possible for them to reproduce and expand on their own (the official term is “recovery”).

Our project is providing more habitat close to existing Fender’s Blue populations, and I have planted the preferred food plant of the larvae – Kincaid’s Lupine. Kincaid’s Lupine is a plant that needs an upland prairie or savanna habitat, and is one of those species that is disappearing with the oak habitat – it is designated as threatened in some areas, endangered in others. My lupines are still small, but here are some of the current crop I am still trying to establish (not as fantastic looking as the butterfly, I know).