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, August 3, 2015

Mary's Grad School Update #6

by Mary Kiesau, Methow Conservancy Educational Programs Director
It's been many months since I posted an update about my grad school work.  I've been back in the Methow and at work at the Conservancy since the middle of March, but every week I get questions about whether I've finished school, whether I'm still commuting to Bellingham, when I'll be done, etc., so I figured a quick update might be worthwhile.  

Plus, I have some fun photos to share!

This spring and summer I've continued to complete credits toward a Masters of Education in Environmental Education through some field-based programs.  In the spring, I helped off and on to "TA" (assisted in teaching) the undergraduate environmental education (EE) "spring block" course.  I would spend time with the undergraduates (which ranged in age from 19-34) intermittently - a week here, a week there, usually in the field such as on Sucia Island in the San Juans, or backpacking outside of Stehekin.  While I did prepare materials for the students, and do some instructing, much of my work was to provide guidance and feedback from a distance -- all while learning and practicing more EE skills myself.  I found my role/task both difficult because I wasn’t fully engaged and was often out of the loop with the other instructors, and extremely interesting and rewarding working with the undergrads and having a view-from-afar perspective.  I enjoyed watching things unfold and develop - people’s teaching skills and the overall group dynamics - while not being heavily involved in either instigating or supervising/debriefing/judging the students.  I was really able to focus on what I was comfortable with and skilled at, as well as see what I'd like to build and practice in myself.

Then, in late June and early July, I took part in an 18-day "Northern Field Botany" course. The course was offered through Western WA University's Biology department and I was able to take it as an elective for my M.Ed. program. Four undergrads, myself and the instructor stuffed ourselves into a rented Suburban with camping gear, food and enormous plant presses. We traveled everyday, hiked and collected plants most days, and saw an amazing amount of the vast British Columbia and Yukon landscape. It was incredible. Below are just a few of my 1400 or so photos!

As we head into fall, I'll begin work on my independent Master's Project (in lieu of a thesis).  I have a few options I'm tossing around now, but I'll settle into the work soon and focus on it through the winter (and continue to work at the MC full-time).  If all goes as planned, I will finish and graduate in March 2016.  All of this final project work will be done from the Methow.  All my other coursework is done and I do not need to attend classes on campus anymore.  
Salmon Glacier north of Hyder, Alaska

Pressed plants everyday.  Saxifraga tricuspida here.

Saxifraga tricuspida leaves
Saxifraga tricuspida, a type of Spotted Saxifrage

Just part of one hike's loot. We were collecting for the WWU herbarium as well as for DNA/genome research.

Sparrow's Egg Lady's-slipper - Cypripedium passerinum
Lapie Canyon, Yukon
Mary & a life-size Pleistocene era "Giant Beaver" at the Beringia Interpretive Center in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Dryas drummondi
The Carcross "desert" in the Yukon

Muncho Lake, BC

Keno Hill, Yukon - a nunatak that is beautiful when not socked in

Abundant black bears but never got a great photo of any

The Common Loon was on every lake, and everyday there were lakes

Lovely moose lady.  Such a beautiful and bizarre looking creature.

Momma "cross fox," a color variant of the red fox

Baby "cross fox"
Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon
*Huge* grizzly while hiking in Tombstone (this is around midnight!)
"Hiking the Midnight Sun" selfie in Tombstone

browsing willows at 2am

55° and drizzle in the Yukon while it was 100° at home
One of two huge and full plant presses

Many moose and many lakes in Canada!

The enormous "Wood Bison" - crazy huge and all over the roads

One of our best wildlife sightings - a wolf (seen through wildfire smoke at 10pm)

Stone Sheep, a subspecies of Dall sheep

Scaling mtns for tiny plants (Muncho Lakes/Stone Mtn area)
Porcupine Caribou in the Muncho Lakes/Stone Mtn area
Prickly Pear (in Alberta!)
Sunset looking into Jasper Nat'l Park
Pyramid Peak in Jasper Nat'l Park

The End!

Friday, April 3, 2015

"It's Complex" Fire Ecology & Recovery 2015 Conservation Course - Class #6 Notes

Summary of March 2, 2015 class by volunteer Nick Thorp and course coordinator Julie Grialou

The final week of the 2015 fire ecology conservation course coincided with what feels like an early spring in the valley. With daytime temperatures well above freezing for several weeks, snow melting rapidly, and shoots of grass popping up, a sense of the the change of seasons and the coming summer is growing. With summer comes fire season and everybody’s question of what this year will hold following the Carlton Complex fire of 2014. The answer to that question follows the theme of the course: it’s complex.

Richy Harrod, Fire Management Specialist with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, joined the class to present his thoughts on what the future may hold for the Methow and ways that we as a community can live with fire. Following an extreme fire event like the Carlton Complex, there is generally a low risk for fire in burned areas. Plants and grasses will begin to repopulate these areas in the next several years without much fuel to allow for flammable conditions. It is not until about 15 years after a fire that dense shrubs will establish and a real fire danger returns. While this may ring true for some burned forests in the Methow from the Carlton Complex fires, other areas are at risk or will potentially be at risk in the future.

Last year’s fires, combined with the Tripod and other large fire events in recent history, have burned from Canada to the Columbia River. But large tracts of land and forests on the western side of the Valley from the Twisp River drainage down to Lake Chelan have not burned in many years. These areas are home to dense, homogenous forests: prime environment for large, intense fire events. Coupled with the threat of cheatgrass, a highly invasive and flammable grass that can take over burned shub-steppe landscapes following a fire, the danger for fires in 2015 remains present.

So how do we ensure that people and structures are safe while allowing fire to play its natural role in surrounding lands and forest? According to Richy, it takes everybody from the Forest Service, to landowners, to communities, in partnership, to achieve that this goal. From a high level perspective, forest restoration is key and several overarching strategies that impact each other need to be at play including:
* Management of whole landscapes
* Management for patterns
* Restoration of native fire regimes
* Placing fire treatments in strategic places
* Restoration of natural patches in landscape
* Restoration of fire tolerant structures like Ponderosa Pine
* Long term planning

As the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest District builds and puts forth plans to include these approaches, each year they are continuing to address the identification and direct treatment of high priority areas, and high fire threat areas. To do so the Forest Service does a detailed characterization and analysis of a watershed broken down in many small sections based on differences in plant type, age, size, tree density, topography, and more. Combined with historical data and future projections, the Forest Service is able to determine priority areas for treatment.

While the Forest Service is working in the woods to conduct fire treatment, landowners and communities can also do their part to protect homes and developed areas. Just as the Forest Service builds fire lines to block fire progression, homeowners should be doing the same to their property. Removing flammable material and sources of ignition from within 30 feet of a home, keeping an irrigated lawn around homes, and ensuring trees within 70 feet of a home are planted sparingly can all go a long way to protect property. Firewise provides more detailed information and recommendations.

To truly protect homes and people, the old saying rings true: it takes a village. Communities and their residents need to work together with each other and with entities like the Forest Service and Department of Natural Resources. Collaborative planning and fire prevention treatment by people, communities, the private sector, and the public sector are key to living with fire.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mary's Grad School Update #5

by Mary Kiesau, Methow Conservancy Educational Programs Director
My time in Bellingham is coming to a close soon, and I'll be back in the Methow full-time in a couple more weeks!  I'll continue to work on projects for my Masters in Education throughout 2015, but I will not have to commute regularly to Bellingham anymore. 

This quarter was been demanding and time-consuming with a lot of very "real world" project work in curricula building, lesson plans, evaluation, data analysis, assessment of learning, essay writing, and more.  Sounds very exciting, right?  Well, it's not exactly fun, but I have been totally engaged, and I feel very fortunate to be able to apply much of what I learn and think about directly to the Methow Conservancy (and my interests) and create graduate school projects that serve the Conservancy.  I love being able to serve multiple purposes!

Currently, I'm working on a large curriculum project on the natural history of the Methow.  It will need a lot more work (and programmatic details) before it might ever be put into practice, but it's a fascinating exercise to think about what to include, what the objectives would be, how to evaluate people, and how to create lesson plans.  

For another course, a fellow graduate student and I conducted 16 one-on-one interviews for a possible assessment/evaluation of the Methow Conservancy's education programs.  A combination of staff, Board members, volunteers and class instructors were interviewed.  They provided insight, suggestions and concerns that will be extremely useful to the Methow Conservancy broadly and with regards to its educational work.  

What makes an assessment fair and valid?
Lately, I've had to teach classes of undergraduates, which is both fun and terrifying for me.  This past week I lead an hour-long session on "Assessment of Learning," where I talked about why and how diagnostic, formative and summative assessments can be done, indoors and outdoors, formal and informal.  A few weeks ago, had someone asked me what these terms meant I would have starred back blankly.  One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it, as the saying goes!

This coming week, I'm "teaching" a nearly two-hour class on "New Directions in Nature Writing and Emerging Authors" to the American Literature of Nature & Place class, in which I'm normally a student. 
Prairie-star will bloom within the month!

With two big projects to finish and two more papers to write, the next two weeks are going to be a blur of long nights and fresh coffee, but I do enjoy the work and feel like the whole experience has been extremely worthwhile and thought-provoking.  Still, I can't wait to be back in the Methow and to go on my first hunt for spring wildflowers!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"It's Complex" Fire Ecology & Recovery 2015 Conservation Course - Class #5 Notes

Summary of Feb 23, 2015 class by Heide Andersen

This class on "fire and wildlife" was co-led by Bill Gaines (wildlife ecologist and director of Washington Conservation Science Institute) and Ken Bevis (WA Dept of Natural Resources Stewardship Wildlife Biologist).

Bill was an appropriate
The Pipestone (here, before 2014's fire) is fire-adapted land.
presenter for this portion of the course, having worked on both natural resource management and research focused on fire and wildlife. Within the Methow Valley, there are fire regimes and wildlife adaptations to fire that result in a “fire disturbance ecology.” There are some species, such as the whitebark pine that occur in areas known for experiencing high severity (stand replacement) and less frequent fires. From there, the subalpine fire and then the ponderosa pine stands fall under the mixed severity fire regime and the grasslands are in the low severity fire regime, where fires have historically been more frequent, but much patchier.

The over 400 species of wildlife found in our part of the country each have their own adaptations and behavior related to fire. In general, wildlife have the ability to live in a fire-prone area and escape from direct mortality during events. The big exception would be species that are not mobile and live above-ground (such as the Chelan mountain snail). Species with smaller or more fragmented populations tend to be more affected, whereas species that are associated with snags and understory habitats tend to immediately benefit from fires.

High severity fire areas and wildlife
The Canada lynx is associated with areas that have historically experienced high severity fires. Although they might avoid the big open clearings from a burned stand, they will use the edges and the mosaic habitat created near the edge for hunting. They will use large downed trees for denning habitat and the young lodgepole pines that emerge are great habitat for their primary prey, the snowshoe hare. Snag-dependent species, such as the three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers, increase in numbers when there is a maximum number of snags post-fire. They come in after the insects and are primary cavity nesters. As the forest begins to regenerate, and the density of snags goes down, other birds appear that favor the new shrub layer and the Lewis’s woodpecker, who favor larger openings and fewer snags, will flourish.

A Northern goshawk in a Douglas fir in the Methow

Mixed severity fire areas and wildlife
The northern goshawk and northern spotted owl are two species known to seek out areas with a mixed severity fire regime. Both of these species like closed canopy forests with multiple structural layers, mistletoe (which is very flammable), and that are generally more susceptible to fire and yet will nest in areas with a low fire severity regime.

Low severity fire areas and wildlife
Species that prefer lots of space where trees can get quite large with lots of openings and gaps will be found in these areas. Sharp-tailed grouse is one of these species. Many ungulates prefer these areas as well. Although they may experience a decrease in food resources following a fire and a potentially severe winter from a forage perspective, generally there will be an increase in food resources in the long-term following fires in these areas. The Chelan mountain snail favors these areas and will burrow in the dry soil to reach moisture, so they will tend to be deeper during fire events, depending on the timing. All of these species benefit from prescribed fires that can lessen the impact from larger and more severe wildfires.

Restoration Strategy
We have altered fire regimes and are experiencing the impacts of climate change. We no longer have the old trees that used to reach over 64” in diameter that were the most resistant to fire. The combination of fire seclusion and harvesting of the older specimens has left a habitat that is less resilient. Bugs exacerbate the fuel loads and our snowpack has been changing over time. It is predicted that we will have 2 to 4 times the amount of fire by the 2040’s that we have now.
When we look at forest restoration treatments and how they relate to wildlife, there are several things to consider. It is important to look at the reference condition, i.e. whether there were landscape-level fires in an area versus smaller scale events, what the focal wildlife species and their habitat requirements are, and integrate restoration priorities to address habitat resiliency. Stand level considerations should include elements such as keeping the old and large trees, incorporating snags and having spatial variability.

Lewis's Woodpeckers and a snag with lots of cavity holes

Ken Bevis, “Managed Wildlife Habitat and Fire”
In dry forest management, we should have a goal to retain the large trees. We should also recognize that dead trees give life to other species. (See a great article by Ken on this topic here) Important elements in forest management follow the acronym “SLOPPS” which stands for snags, logs, openings, piles, patches, and shrubs. Ken showed some schematics of what these elements look like and how they might be incorporated into a managed stand or a restoration effort. He demonstrated how habitat piles can be created on individual properties that are very valuable to wildlife.

In looking at whether salvage logging should occur post-fire, Ken said people should be very careful. With the likelihood of soil damage from such practices, it needs to be done thoughtfully, with caution and with an eye toward what the desired future condition of the site will be.

Our landscape is resilient, but we do need to get back to a more resilient dry forest type historically characteristic of our Methow Valley.

All the classes are being filmed too. Videos are on our website here: Scroll down for the 5th class.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"It's Complex" Fire Ecology & Recovery 2015 Conservation Course - Class #4 Notes

Summary of Feb 17, 2015 class by course coordinator Julie Grialou

The fourth Conservation Course presentation featured Dale Swedberg, the Okanogan Lands Operations Manager and Prescribed Burn Program Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Dale explained the importance of understanding historic vegetation and fire regimes and patterns to be able to understand and appropriately manage current shrub-steppe habitat. Historically, fire ran through the shrub-steppe with a high-frequency, and included both natural ignitions and Native American intentional burns. With this frequent fire, the shrub-steppe contained less shrub and more grass than we currently have. Dale also explained that we have lost a lot of the shrub-steppe habitat in our area, primarily due to conversion to agriculture, fire exclusion resulting in increased encroachment of conifers, and poor grazing management.

Elderberry 4 weeks post-fire
Dale then moved on to the topic of the Carlton
Complex fire and shrub-steppe recovery. Dale explained that the bunchgrasses and many shrub species (e.g., elderberry and serviceberry) sprout well following fire. Bitterbrush is more inhibited by fire and most often does not sprout following fire. The dead bitterbrush “skeletons”, though, provide perch sites for birds.

Dale explained that the highest priority action for post-fire shrub-steppe is weed control. Now is the time to inventory, map, and treat weedy areas. Treatments can include hand-pulling, digging, and/or spraying. Releasing bioagents is an option for some weed species in areas that have established high concentrations of weed populations. Any weed control method should include regular follow-up visits. In disturbed areas, planting with native, preferably locally-sourced seeds is a good management tool.

A slow-moving grass and shrub fire
Dale then talked about the importance of prescribed fire (and controlled fire) in maintaining and restoring the shrub-steppe habitat in our region in general. As with forests, in the absence of fire, fuels (in this case, bitterbrush), accumulate in the shrub-steppe and create conditions in which a fire that does come through is more likely to burn hotter and over a broader area. By using prescribed and controlled fire, fuel loads are reduced and a habitat mosaic (e.g., areas that are mostly grasses and areas with more shrubs, etc.) that is
Bitterbrush is thick and tall in many areas of the Methow
more reflective of historic conditions and that can better witihstand future wildfire is created.

Dale also discussed unique effects of fire that are different than just thinning types of fuels reduction treatments. He talked about fire “by-products”, like charcoal (which increases the water holding capacity of soils, amongst other things), ash, smoke and heat; and fire “effects”, like reducing fuels, rejuvenating vegetation, and providing more ground water.

All the classes are being filmed too.  Videos are on our website here:  Scroll down for the 4th class.