From Frogs, Logs, Dogs, Slogs, Bogs, Hogs, and Pollywogs - It's the Methow Conservancy Blog!
Occasional posts - from the quirky to the momentous - on the life and times of the Methow Conservancy.
(What you won't find in E-News)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Spring Chinook Acclimation on Methow Conservancy Conservation Property

Methow Conservancy staff members Mary Kiesau, Julie Grialou and I, together with MC Board President Kevin van Bueren and his son Jackson, had the fortune of participating in a morning of education and observation related to spring Chinook on one of our conservation easement properties.  The Yakama Nation, the Methow Conservancy and local landowners have been partners this spring on the first active salmon acclimation project to occur on one of our organization’s conservation properties.  The activities that took place last Monday were the final measurements of certain metrics before the release of the spring Chinook smolts into their new future in the wild.

The goal of the program is to relocate hatchery born spring Chinook fries to a location determined to include the best possible habitat characteristics for acclimation.  In such a location, they will hopefully “imprint” on their surroundings in the approximately one month that they have to live in their new home.  They are contained by a special net that does not impede the movement of other species through the natural ponds and fed twice a day, in addition to the rich natural feed that they find on their own. 

Once they reach an optimal size for survival beyond their sheltered environment and begin to smolt, the young spring Chinook are released from the nets and allowed to find their way in the world. 

Optimally, this means that they will find their way to the ocean and come back to spawn in or near their acclimation site.  These fish are tagged in such a way that arrays, set up in several locations within the side channel below their acclimation site and throughout the Methow mainstem, will document their movement throughout their lifetime in this area.  It will be years before the success of this effort can be evaluated, but in the meantime, it is fun to watch the research in action in such a beautiful setting.  If I were one of those young Chinook, I would most certainly want to return to such a place for my last rites. 

The photos show Yakama Nation biologists Rick Alford, Kraig Mott and Jason Hickman, netting fish, sedating them, taking weight and length measurements, reviving them and ultimately returning them to the pond.  We also observed heron, bear scat and wood ducks on this gorgeous property so full of life.  Another tough day at the office …

By Heide Andersen, Stewardship Director - Heide loves to ride bikes and horses and used to race belt sanders.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Inspiring Conservation Through Education

by Mary Kiesau

We take seriously the concept of being a community-based land trust, and education is a unique part of our mission. In addition to directly protecting and stewarding land through conservation easements, we also strive to provide the information and resources community members want and need to learn about the natural history of the Methow, and practice land conservation and stewardship on their own. Just like the people of the Methow, we care deeply about both community and land, and it's through our Education program that we attempt to integrate the two. We've found that educational resources are not only helpful and powerful tools; they are also invaluable ways for us to connect with and learn about our members and community.  

The crowd at our Dec. 2011 First Tuesday & Holiday Social, photo by John Scurlock.
One of our most popular education programs is our First Tuesday Lecture Series. On the First Tuesday of each month we host a free community presentation on a natural history, Methow history, ecological or conservation-focused topic. The sessions are well-attended and create lots of discussion.  For a listing of upcoming First Tuesday lectures, see our Events Page.  Our First Tuesday programs were started in 1997.  For a complete list of our past presentations, click here.

Monthly, we share news about our work as well as relevant natural history and conservation information in our online E-Newsletter.  See and sign-up for our E-News here.  We also post regularly on our Blog, where we are able to share more detailed information about numerous topics (good for you for reading it now!).  A paper newsletter is mailed to members twice a year.

We also share conservation information through our Good Neighbor Handbook and our Restoring Shrub-Steppe in the Methow Valley Handbook.  Originally published in 2000, then revised and reprinted in 2005, the Good Neighbor Handbook offers helpful ecological and practical information for landowners to consider before building or living in the Methow.  The 40-page “restoration handbook” is for anyone who lives on and cares for shrub-steppe lands.  It provides guidance on protecting and restoring this habitat on a small scale, strategies for weed control, and ways to rehabilitate disturbances.  Both handbooks are free at our office or via mail.  They are also downloadable at the links above.

In 2005, we initiated an annual "Methow Conservation Course" for people who wanted a more in-depth study of Methow Valley natural history.  The six-week Methow Conservation Course, held every winter, is designed for both the novice and the experienced naturalist (and for everyone in between).  The course topic changes each year, but goals are always to inspire more observation of, interest in and connections with the natural world so that people can help encourage conservation of the Methow Valley.

In 2011, we created both a Methow Valley Field Guide and a Young Naturalist Activity BookletThe field guide is a laminated “pocket” booklet that features 124 plant and animal species.  It is available for $6 at the Methow Conservancy office and vendors around the Valley.  The activity booklet features a variety of nature-related games, quizzes, and activities for kids 6 and up.  It is available as a free download on our website or hard copies are $3 at our office or stores around the Valley.

Photo by Mary Kiesau.
Grass ID Class
In addition to these educational tools, we also offer an ever-changing variety of field-trips, workshops and classes; host a weed and native plant education table at the Twisp Farmer's Market in late spring (we'll be there May 19th & 26th and June 2nd & 9th this year); and have a conservation resource library with books, videos, and scientific reports anyone can check out.

Much of our educational work is guided by an all-volunteer Education Committee comprised of interested community members and Methow Conservancy Board members.  We are committed to providing the most current and accurate information we can about some of the most pressing conservation issues in the Valley.  Please feel free to contact us with questions or suggestions anytime.

Mary Kiesau is the Methow Conservancy's Educational Programs Director and she's passionate about conservation, natural history and education.  When not in the office, you might find her in the field photographing flowers, birds, wildlife or field-trip participants!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Understanding Place -- Class #6 of "The Ecological History of the Methow Valley" Conservation Course

The 8th annual Methow Conservation Course on the “Ecological History of the Methow Valley” began Monday, January 31st.  Here are highlights from the sixth and last class held on March 12th.  Notes from the first five classes are below this post.  Mary Kiesau prepared this summary.

The Methow Valley by Denny O'Callaghan
This class focused on how socio-economics changed the Methow Valley and how people create a conservation culture.  With the creation of the North Cascades National Park in the 1968, and the opening of Highway 20 in 1972, a social and economic shift began to happen in the rural, remote and, then, economically depressed Methow Valley.  The proposal for a downhill ski area in the upper Valley evolved over many years, polarizing the ever-growing community and eventually leading to land-use planning and a land conservation ethic.  John Sunderland provided the history of how the “ski wars” led to progressive land-use planning, trail development and open space preservation, and the creation of the Methow Conservancy.  Dr. Julie Tate-Libby then talked about “amenity migration” in the Methow Valley over the past 20 years and how this cultural and economic development contributed to an environmental and sustainability-focused ethic among residents of the Methow Valley.  Framed within the larger processes of rural restructuring, counter urbanization, and lifestyle migration, Julie discussed what has often been termed the "cultural turn" in the American West and how this relates to amenity-rich areas like the Methow Valley.  We finished the class and the entire course with a group discussion of the current state of the Methow (economic, ecological and otherwise) and what we all thought this might mean for the future of conservation in the Methow. 

John gave us an abbreviated chronology of the history of the Early Winters ski area and development.  It’s very interesting but it’s far too much to list here, so if you’d like to see this in a Word document, email Mary and she’ll send it to you.

A conservation easement in Mazama where residential and commercial development for a ski resort could have been.
John said that the Early Winters “battle” helped drive a conservation agenda in the Methow that is still with us today even though the ski resort and associated development never happened.  Most significantly, issues of water quantity and quality; land-use planning; the development of a trail system; and the creation of the Methow Conservancy were the products of the decades-long upper Valley fight that both divided community members and pulled diverse people together. 

All of these results directly or indirectly came out of the Early Winters EIS (Environmental Impact Statement), and John laid out the primary impacts one by one as follows:

1.  Air Quality:  the County passed an Air Quality Ordinance that set wood stove standards (then WA State adopted standards that all counties had to use).
2.  Water Quality:  Sewage was a big concern because the rocky soils of the Upper Valley were not great for onsite septic systems.  The County adopted a Comprehensive Sewer Plan (known as the Beck Study) in 1983.  Had the ski area been developed a pretty major waste water collection and tertiary treatment facility would have been required.  Water quantity was not initially a big part of the EIS, but the threat of development highlighted it and by the 1990s it was clear that there were water quantity issues and pressure built for a revision to the Methow Basin Plan.  See Greg Knott’s class summary for details on water quantity issues.
3.  Wildlife:  The EIS said that Mule Deer winter range and habitat for Spotted Owl would be reduced.  The result was that Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) land acquisitions have focused on corridors and winter range for Mule Deer.  The County’s Critical Area Ordinance also focuses on wildlife habitat.  The creation of 20 acre zoning in the Methow Review District (see land-use planning and zoning below) was also meant to protect deer and other wildlife habitat.
4.  Land-use:  This is the most significant impact or outcome of the Early Winters ski hill proposal.  John noted that the entire county had 1-acre zoning before the development fight and that everywhere in the county except the Methow Valley above Gold Creek still does have 1-acre zoning today.  In order to comply with the EIS, as well as satisfy the Aspen Corporation (early on) and the Forest Service, the county passed the Methow Valley Addendum in 1976, creating the Methow Review District (the Methow Valley north of Gold Creek) as well as a “sub-unit A” for Mazama.  A zoning ordinance for the MRD passed in 1979 created 5 and 20 acre zoning on the valley floor and in the uplands, respectively.  Over the years, updates and changes have been made in the MRD, mostly making things stricter and clearer.  The 1990 zoning code revision gave density bonuses to planned developments if they created open space, provided public-use benefits, such as trails, or prohibited woodstoves (i.e. 75% contiguous open space allows a 50% increase in residential housing density).  The “sub-unit A” (Mazama) has always been the most detailed and strict.  John could have given a multi-hour class on the history of zoning changes in the Methow and what’s going on today, but we didn’t have time for that!
The Methow Community Trail (on a conservation easement)
5.  Recreation/Methow Trail System:  A Nordic trail movement began to coalesce well before the downhill ski debate was settled, and proponents for it gave the community an alternative to the downhill ski resort, including the fact that it would create a winter-time economy.  Trail-friendly provisions were written into the Land-Use code.  The early trails began bringing people to the Valley, both as visiting Nordic skiers but also as part-time residents, and this fact may have been one of many reasons that the Early Winters ski hill died. 
6.  Methow Conservancy:  It’s a bit of a long story how the Methow Conservancy was formed, but in brief, here it is….In 1992, RD Merrill & Co acquired all of the Early Winters property and “inherited” the ski hill and associated development issues when Harry Hosey defaulted on his loan for the project.  Merrill had been guarantors on the loan.  In 1993, Merrill signed an agreement with the Methow Valley Citizens Council and the Friends of the Methow that eliminated the proposal for downhill skiing on Sandy Butte in return for the groups’ assurances that they would not file suit against the rest of the Early Winters project.  In the agreement, Merrill agreed to: 1) give MVCC and FOM a “right of opportunity” to purchase property if Merrill pulls out, 2) drop the Early Winters land exchange, 3) drop the concept of a Mazama Sewer District, and 4) support a Methow Valley Environment CenterThe Early Winters EIS Record of Decision also stated that a foundation should be established to address community needs and goals.  This was fairly broad so it could have encompassed many different types of organizations, but Merrill called for the formation of an Environmental Education Center.  A board formed, the RD Merrill Co. gave the group start-up money, and the new nonprofit organization began to take shape.  Right around the same time (the early-mid 1990s), a group of community members formed the Methow Valley Land Trust, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization focused on protecting land in the Valley through conservation easements.  The land trust began to take shape as well.  Very soon, however, both organizations realized that they should merge, and the Methow Conservancy was formally established in 1996. 

John noted that there was a shifting social and economic debate throughout the course of the decades-long ski hill and development proposal.  He said that while the ski area issue was incredibly divisive, the public comments for the EIS were nearly two to one against building something and were in favor of no action (not developing the area).  Ironically, the battle helped form friendships between some new Valley members and old-timers.  With the opening of the North Cascades Highway, the re-making of Winthrop for tourism, the budding Nordic trail system and a growth of wealth elsewhere in the state, there was an in-migration of seasonal and permanent residents.  The Valley was changing.

It was these changes, and others that were happening around the West that attracted Julie Tate-Libby to social anthropology.  Julie continued the discussion, focusing on quality-of-life “migration” and what it has meant for the Methow.

First, Julie said there were three types of “Rural America”
  • Amenity Rich: baby boomer retirees, ‘footloose professionals’
  • Declining Resource-Dependent: struggling blue collar, middle class
  • Chronically Poor: decades of resource extraction & underinvestment, poverty, low education & broken civic institutions.
Then, she pointed out the major differences between plain migration and “amenity migration.”  Amenity Migration is migration for quality of life; it’s a choice that is heavily based on the aesthetics, community, recreational opportunities and lifestyle of a given place.  Julie said that Amenity Migration typically comes in three phases.  Phase 1 is the place is an emerging tourist destination.  Phase 2 is that the place grows because the tourism needs outstrip the available accommodations, attractions and labor.  Phase 3 sees an increased housing market because tourists become amenity migrants (as 2nd home owners or full-time residents).  Studies show that people tend to retire in places they have visited as tourists, and that they tend to form like-minded communities within towns. 

Julie points out that access to the Methow Valley was always an issue for economic and population growth.  A railroad was never built into the Valley and there’s no major airport.  It was the opening of the North Cascades Scenic Highway in 1972 that started to attract tourists.  Winthrop responded with re-making the town, and a counter-culture “back to the land” movement found cheap land and a good climate for growing food.  It wasn’t until the mid 1990s that the second-home industry really began to grow and become a major employer of local laborers. 

Are communities that have lots of tourists no longer what they were before?  Do they become transformed into something else?  We could probably generally say “yes” to those questions, but that is neither a good or bad thing because it is the relationship between human activity in a place and the place itself that defines a place.  It’s the type of people who move or visit a place, not the sheer fact that people are moving or visiting, that affect a place. 

We asked ourselves in the class, “Why do we live here?”  The answer was community and land – those things give us a sense of place and belonging. 

Then we asked, “Does the Methow shape us or do we shape the Methow?” 

Julie noted that a long-time part-timer told her once, “Most of us who have moved here were just one step ahead of the wrecking ball.”  The point being that the Methow could have been dramatically changed at any one time had it not been for the people, some having just arrived, who were committed to maintaining some core sense of what the Methow was to them.  That’s definitely a hard thing to do and most tourist destinations that become amenity migration destinations have not been able to do that. 

And, things could still change further.  The most recent property data for the Methow Valley School District (Lost River to Gold Creek) says there are about 8100 properties.  Just over 47% of them are full-time residences.  Of the rest, 4122 have owners with primary residences somewhere else in Washington and 490 live out of state.  (One person may own many properties, so don’t try to do the math).  What would happen if more or less people choose to live here?

It’s also not insignificant to remember that the Methow Valley is a part of Okanogan County, the largest county in the State by land-base, but with a population of just 40,000.  Julie encouraged us to think about what our role is and/or could be with the respect to the rest of the county.  Earlier, John had reminded us that the bulk of the county was operating under a comprehensive plan that is nearly 50 years old, whereas the Methow had far more progressive planning codes.  From an earlier class, Greg Knott pointed out that citizen groups have been trying to address basinwide water quantity issues for years, and that a major proposal would soon draw lots of comments.  Julie focused on social issues -- 19.6% of the county’s population lives below the federal poverty level; the county was #1 in Washington State for the number of drug and alcohol related deaths in 2007; in the Brewster and Bridgeport schools, over 90% of the students are Latino whereas 70% of the county population is non-Hispanic white. 

Julie left us with, “What makes us local?”

Why does sense of place matter?  How will we continue to define it in an ever-evolving Methow?