Archive for the ‘Wildlife Habitat’ Category

What is Nongame Wildlife?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

A GREAT variety of wildlife and wild plants … and the forests, grasslands and wetlands they inhabit … represent a natural heritage of enormous interest and priceless value.

Herons, bitterns and frogs are conspicuous occupants of marshes–a rapidly vanishing habitat. Our many rivers and streams harbor creatures such as the rare Northern Redbelly Snake, the wintering Bald Eagle, and the House Wren. Our forests would not be forests without the sights and sounds of the woodpeckers and owls, and the stately figure of a bur oak or ponderosa pine. Grasslands are brought alive by the presence of the melodious Meadowlark and the Prairie Falcon diving with a ground squirrel in its sights.

The urban environment, with its cardinals, robins and Purple Martins, constitutes an important
element of man’s well being because of its closeness to the everyday life of the city dweller.

At one end of the wildlife spectrum are the game species and furbearers, such as the Ring-necked Pheasant, deer, Beaver and trout that people hunt, fish or trap. At the other end are the endangered or threatened species of wildlife and plants, whose continued existence is in some degree of jeopardy.

Such species include the Whooping Crane, Black-nosed Shiner, Swift Fox, River Otter and the blowout penstemon, a plant with beautiful, fragrant blossoms that finds it necessary to grow under inhospitable conditions.

Most wildlife are not hunted and are collectively referred to as “nongame” species. Hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians fit this classification, including hawks and owls, bats, herons, sandpipers, songbirds, turtles and frogs. Some of these species are endangered, being on the brink of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.

Others are threatened or likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. Species as the Jack Rabbit, Spotted Skunk and Short Horned Lizard are protected and classified as in need of conservation.

What is the value of nongame wildlife?

For the game and furbearer species, that value is real and tangible food, furs and recreation. But the value of nongame wildlife is less tangible difficult to express in words and impossible to show on a bank statement Nongame wildlife certainly has worth in terms of aesthetics as well as recreation.

Bird watchers and wildlife photographers might even be able to calculate the number of hours of recreation they derive from wildlife and assign some sort of value to those hours. The rest of us simply see, hear and appreciate wild things in our parks, our fields and our backyards. No one can calculate the value of wild creatures, but we know that our world would be virtually intolerable without them.

There are, of course, more practical values of wildlife. Wild species serve as a barometer of our environment. The decline of the Peregrine Falcon, for example, called attention to the ominous buildup of DDT in our environment, as well as other persistent pesticides; chemicals which can threaten all life.

Scientists study wildlife to learn how the environment works and how it supports all creatures, including man. In the complex web of life, what happens to one species affects us all.

Go Wild With Your Landscaping

Monday, June 28th, 2010

IF YOU want to landscape your yard to attract birds and other wildlife, the first rule of thumb (a gardener’s green thumb, that is) is to go native.

Plants that are native to our soil and climate provide the best overall food sources for wildlife and support from 10 to 50 times more native wildlife, mostly insects, than exotic or non-native plants.

You’ll also want to be sure to choose a variety of plants. Some evergreen trees and shrubs for shelter year-round, some deciduous trees. Trees and shrubs that bear fruit in the late summer and fall can provide food for fruit-eating birds all winter long. Dense shrubs can provide places for birds to court, nest and raise their young.

Start by assessing your yard and determining how you want to enhance what you already have. WindStar’s website offers information that can help you get started. It includes a list of shrubs, trees, flowers and evergreens that are native to your area.

Wildlife gardening tip: Allow flowers such as cosmos, marigolds and composite varieties to go to seed.Goldfinches and other seed eating birds are fun to watch as they skillfully glean these delicate seeds in late summer and fall.

Who doesn’t smile at the sight of butterflies flitting through the yard, stopping here or there for a sip of nectar? If you’d like to attract these summer stars to your yard, you’ll need the right nectar plants and the right host plants. Butterflies use host plants as a place to lay their eggs and as a food source for the caterpillars that hatch from those eggs.

For instance, Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed plants. Once the caterpillars hatch from the eggs they eat the leaves of the plant. The silvery blue butterfly has the same relationship with wild pea blossoms.

Development and use of insecticides have wreaked havoc on butterfly habitats. But these creatures are an important part of the ecosystem–pollinating crops and plants and providing joy to many people.

Most adult butterflies feed on nectar from a variety of nectar producing plants. Some, such as the Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Tiger Swallowtail and Mourning Cloak, will feed from butterfly nectar feeders. Use a solution of one part sugar to 18 parts water. To help butterflies find the feeder, place rotten fruit, such as bananas and pears, on top of the feeder.

You’ll also want to consider providing a source of water for your birds, and sources of shelter and nest boxes for birds to raise their young. –Times Leader

What Is the One Best Hummingbird Plant?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Nancy L. Newfield

IF THERE WERE just one perfect plant for all parts of the country, for all situations, for the entire calendar year, I wouldn’t have much to talk about. Of course, there are a number of plants (or family groups of plants) that work well over most regions of North America, and every hummingbird gardener should have several of them.

Salvia splendens, a native of Brazil, is marvelously useful, and it was in my mother’s salvia garden that I met my first hummingbird, a male rubythroat. Vast trays of salvia are displayed in nurseries, discount centers, and supermarkets around the country each spring. These plants are easy to find and even easier to grow. Horticulturists have outdone themselves in developing varieties to fit every nook and cranny around the yard. Several varieties get no larger than six inches, whereas others may grow to be three feet tall. Salvias are grown as annuals in most places, but they can become small shrubs in frost-free regions.

The array of salvia colors is impressive. Red is a beacon to all hummingbirds and it has proven to be the most effective color for attracting them. These plants aren’t picky about their soil, but they like lots of sun and good drainage. One bed with half a dozen red salvias, or better yet, a dozen, will pull birds in for weeks. When the blossoms have finished and the plant is looking a bit ratty, snip off the spent flowerheads and another couple of blossom sets will spring forth.

The salvia family is large and extremely useful for attracting hummingbirds. South American anise sage (S. guaranitica), with its indigo blue flowers and aromatic foliage, is an excellent choice for many locales. Anise sage is drought tolerant, yet can thrive in a rainy environment as long as water drains from the roots promptly. It performs as well in partial shade as it does in full sun. And it can be grown as a perennial as far north as the Carolinas. Farther north it might need to be replaced every season.

Another good all-around salvia is tropical or Texas sage (S. coccinea). Native to South America, it has become naturalized in many parts of the Deep South. A lovely red form is marketed under the name “Lady in Red,” and there are several nice pink ones. Essentially, this plant is a weed, but an easygoing one. Grown as an annual, it produces a bountiful number of seeds. New plants sprout up all over the garden in southern climes.

Several other members of the salvia clan are widely useful. Mexican native pineapple sage (S. elegans) works well in California and the Southern states, but the brilliant red blossoms appear after most migratory hummingbirds have departed more northerly haunts. Autumn sage (S. greggii), comes from southwest Texas and adjacent Mexico. Numerous color varieties guarantee a blaze of glory from spring to early fall. Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha) makes a splash of purple in early spring and again in the late summer, just when migrating hummingbirds need their nectar most.

Canna lilies
Cannas are popular with professional landscapers because their red or yellow blossoms make stunning displays, yet the plants require little maintenance. These hardy plants are not picky about soil, moisture, or hours of sun. The large, floppy hybrid types are prettier than the small-flowered species, but often hummingbirds find it difficult to reach the nectar in those with big blossoms. Compact varieties with small, simple flowers will bring hummingbirds from far and wide.

Though they must be lifted each fall where the ground freezes, in southern zones cannas form deep, long-lasting roots. It isn’t unusual to find ancient patches of them around abandoned homes and where most other traces of human habitation have disappeared.

Bee Balm
Monarda didyma draws rubythroats from far and wide when its vibrant flowers light up eastern forests in midsummer. Whorls of raspberry-colored blossoms begin opening in midsummer and continue for weeks. Horticulturalists have also perfected varieties with white, red, and violet flowers.

Bee balm is a popular “old garden” perennial in much of the continent, but it doesn’t flower consistently in the hot, humid South, so there lavender (M. citriodora) and red (M. pringlei) are better choices. In the arid Southwest, light purple heads of horsemint (M. fistulosa) blossoms summon black-chinned hummingbirds to dinner.

Honeysuckles are vines or shrubs that grow over vast regions of the United States and Canada. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) can be grown over much of North America. The soft red blossoms are typical hummingbird attractants—tubular and nonfragrant.

The first spring flowering is a show-stopper. In the South, where it is native, flowers unfurl just about the time the first contingent of ruby-throated hummingbirds reach their nesting grounds. Sporadic blossoms appear throughout the year, hence the name sempervirens—evergreen. The fleshy red seeds are a favorite of mockingbirds as well.

Other native honeysuckles are more regional in their distribution, but are very useful where they are found. Twinberry honeysuckle (L. involucrata); tatarian honeysuckle (L. tatarica); Arizona honeysuckle (L. arizonica); orange honeysuckle (L. ciliosa); and chaparral honeysuckle (L. interrupta) all put forth nectar-filled flowers to tempt whichever hummingbird species might be in the area.

Members of the hibiscus (Rosa sinensis) tribe are favored for its lush tropical appearance, but cold-hardy varieties are being developed so that they can be enjoyed during the warm days of summer in the North. Small-flowered varieties in bright colors will prove much more useful than frilly ones the size of a dinner plate and those of pastel hues.

Althaea, or rose of Sharon (H. syriacus), is another widely grown member of the clan that is a magnet for hummingbirds. Pink, purple, or white flowers blanket this tall shrub most of the summer and into the fall. Hummingbirds are better able to reach the nectar of varieties with “single” flowers rather than those with “doubles.”

Sultan’s turban (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is used extensively in the Southeast and on the West Coast. The first clear red blossoms appear in midspring and continue month after month. Visitors to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in south Texas often find buff-bellied hummingbirds feeding on this plant around the refuge’s parking lot. Giant turk’s cap (M. arboreus var. mexicanus) flowers in the winter. These massive shrubs are useful in regions with frost-free winters.

Butterfly Bush
Buddleia davidii and B. alternifolia aren’t just for butterflies! Called “summer lilac” in the South, the tiny purple, pink, or white flowers are borne on gracefully arching branches that dance about in the slightest breeze. Butterfly bush makes a medium-sized or large shrub that gives the birds a fine lookout perch.

Rufous hummingbirds in Oregon enjoy buddleias as much as rubythroats do in Georgia. The fragrant flowers also attract bees and moths. THIS CAN BE INVASIVE IN SOME REGIONS.

Flowering Quince
Chaenomeles speciosa and C. japonica bloom in early spring when most hummingbirds are just beginning to arrive at their nesting destinations. But in the deserts of southern California, the small pink flowers exude abundant nectar while young Costa’s hummingbirds, still in the nest, require an ever-increasing quantity of food.

Quince has a fairly short flowering period, timed perfectly to bring in hummingbirds at a time when few other nectar sources are available. The attractive shape and colorful fall foliage make quince an overall good garden choice.

Aquilegia formosa, A. canadensis, A. elegantula, A. caerulea, and A. chrysantha are all indigenous to mountainous regions, though they can grow comfortably in most sections of the United States. In the wild, columbines are often found growing amid streamside rocks, so thorough watering will benefit them in areas of little rainfall.

The columbine’s unusual spurred petals and the airy, fernlike foliage belie the toughness necessary for high-country plants to survive. Some columbines are red or red and yellow, whereas others come in shades of yellow, blue, or purple. Many birders have added white-eared hummingbird to their life lists at a marvelous stand of butter-yellow columbine near Comfort Spring in southeastern Arizona.

Lantana horrida, L. camara, and L. montevidensis are hardy plants that offer clusters of florets to every passing bird. Flowers of the most common lantana variety are red and yellow. Clever nurseryfolk have created carmine red, butter yellow, and some lantanas that glow pure orange. Trailing types in purple or yellow are sometimes used as groundcovers.

The tenacious roots of lantana give it a plus in public areas where horticultural care may be haphazard. My first trip to California was made complete when I found a female Anna’s hummingbird defending a large patch of bright red lantana at an apartment complex I was visiting.

Hemerocallis are ubiquitous in tidy suburbs and rural landscapes across the continent. Hybridizers have gone hog-wild developing new daylily colors and interesting shapes, and ease of care only adds to their appeal for those wanting to create a hummingbird-friendly landscape. These plants withstand deluge and drought with equal aplomb.

Daylilies with single yellow flowers perched atop tall stalks seem to be the type hummingbirds prefer. Because they like to grow in full sun, daylilies can be like beacons to all hummingbirds passing by.

Cardinal Flower
Lobelia cardinalis is native to the Southeast and a few parts of the West, yet its glowing scarlet flowers illuminate dark, damp corners of gardens almost everywhere. But these erect perennials aren’t afraid of the sun, so put them in sunny spots as well. The three- to four-foot-tall plants are a natural near fountains and around ponds. Late-summer flowering is an asset to migrating hummingbirds.

If the proper conditions are created, cardinal flower is self-seeding, so garden chores are simplified. Just wait for new seedlings to increase the size of the bed.

Trumpet Creeper
Campsis radicans grows as an aggressive vine in many parts of the United States, but in colder regions it is a large shrub. The large, waxy, trumpet-shaped blossoms are usually bright orange, though some individual plants produce red or yellow blossoms. Hummingbirds aren’t choosy about the colors. I remember finding one scrambling over a stone wall in the west Texas town of Fort Stockton. Black-chinned, broad-tailed, and rufous hummingbirds swarmed all over the vibrant red flowers one fall morning.

The popular hybrid ‘Madame Galen’ must not produce any nectar, because the birds seldom visit its luscious-looking peach-colored blossoms. Trumpet creeper forms a deep root system and it reaches ever skyward, grasping on to everything in its way, so don’t put this giant too close to the house.

Zinnias don’t have the look of hummingbird flowers, but they are cultivated all over North America for their bright, sunny appearance. People speculate that hummingbirds primarily seek tiny insects in the center of the bloom. Nevertheless, the zinnia’s attractiveness to the birds is unchallenged. Watch carefully to see how your hummingbirds extract the nectar and insects.

Every hummingbird gardener dreams of finding the perfect plant. This mythical bit of botany would be easy to grow and drought-resistant, yet tolerant of “wet feet.” It would produce colorful, attractive flowers nonstop all year. And this imaginary all-American hummingbird plant would flourish as easily in Limestone, Maine, as it would in Bisbee, Arizona. Such a plant does not exist, but several of this baker’s dozen come very, very close. Happy hummingbird gardening!

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Nancy L. Newfield, co-author of Hummingbird Gardens, originated the study of hummingbirds wintering in southern Louisiana.

Giant Constrictor Snakes Invade Florida

Monday, June 28th, 2010

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FL–Burmese Pythons, an invasive species now spreading across south Florida, could find comfortable climatic conditions in roughly a third of the United States, according to new “climate match” developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS.

Although other factors such as type of food available and suitable shelter also play a role, Burmese Pythons and other giant constrictor snakes have shown themselves to be highly adaptable to new environments, the USGS says.

The newly released USGS maps can help natural resource agencies manage and possibly control the spread of non-native giant constrictor snakes, such as the Burmese Python, now spreading from Everglades National Park in Florida.

Biologists with Everglades National Park confirmed a breeding population of Burmese Python in the Florida Everglades in 2003, likely the result of released pets.
Burmese python in the Everglades.

Python populations have since been discovered in Big Cypress National Preserve to the north, Miami’s water management areas to the northeast, Key Largo to the southeast, and many state parks, municipalities, and public and private lands in the region.

“Wildlife managers are concerned that these snakes, which can grow to over 20 ft. long and more than 250 pounds, pose a danger to state- and federally listed threatened and endangered species as well as to humans,” said Bob Reed, a USGS wildlife biologist at the Fort Collins Science Center in Colorado, who helped develop the maps.

“Several endangered species,” he noted, “have already been found in the snakes’ stomachs. Pythons could have even more significant environmental and economic consequences if they were to spread from Florida to other states.”

Burmese Pythons have been found to eat endangered Key Largo Woodrats and rare Round-tailed Muskrats.

“This makes it that much more difficult to recover these dwindling populations and restore the Everglades,” said park biologist Skip Snow, “and all the more important that pet owners be responsible in their choice of pet and dispose of it properly should they need to. Releasing them into the environment is bad for that pet, bad for native species, and also illegal.”

The USGS “climate match” maps show where climate in the United States is similar to places in which Burmese Pythons live naturally–from Pakistan to Indonesia.The maps show where climate alone would not limit these snakes. One map shows areas in the U.S. with current climatic conditions similar to those of the snakes’ native ranges. A second map projects these “climate matches” at the end of this century based on global warming models, which significantly expands the potential habitat for these snakes.

Control of exotic species is often prohibitively expensive once they have become established. Therefore, prevention through screening and risk assessment is of great importance, especially when protecting continental areas from invasive reptiles, said USGS invasive snake expert Gordon Rodda, also of the Fort Collins center.

Currently, scientists with the USGS and Everglades National Park are investigating where the snakes might go next and their likelihood of survival. USGS researchers are also conducting a risk assessment for nine species of giant constrictors–including Boa Constrictors and Yellow Anacondas–that are prevalent in the pet trade and as such, potential invaders in the United States.

Due to be completed by early 2009, the assessment evaluates the risk of invasion for these species and the potential for social, economic, and environmental impacts. The two agencies are also developing and testing tools to control invasive snake populations and prevent their spread, especially to the Florida Keys where several listed species would be threatened by the presence of pythons or other constrictors. –ENS

What Was That 4-Legged Critter?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Jeff Mill
CROMWELL, CT–That four-legged blur that flashed by your car while you were en route to work last week. Was it really a coyote?

More than likely the answer is yes, said Cheryl Gagnon, the town’s animal control officer. “We have coyotes everywhere, all over town.” But it’s not a question of coyotes suddenly invading town, she said. “They have been here even when we didn’t know they were here.I’m aware that coyotes have been in this town since the early 1980s,” one veteran police officer recalled.

However, “because there is such a surge in building now, you’re seeing them everywhere,” Gagnon said. “We’re just seeing more of them because we are disrupting their homes, their dens.”

Police Chief Anthony J. Salvatore said he was looking out his kitchen window last week when he saw one saunter by. “There’s nothing wrong with seeing a coyote,” Gagnon said. And yet, just seeing a coyote can cause a tremor of anxiety among some people, she acknowledged.

‘The biggest thing people worry about is a coyote attacking their child,” Gagnon said. And yet, she said, “a healthy coyote won’t even bother you. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” Still, Gagnon encouraged residents to give coyotes a wide berth. If you do see a coyote, if you make a noise it will usually run away. But if you do make a noise and it doesn’t leave,” Gagnon said, “then you should go back inside and call the police.”

A coyote looks like a small to medium dog, and can run from 15 to 45 pounds. If they are in good health, they usually have a full coat of brownish or gray hair. Coyotes have two distinguishing marks: their ears stand straight up, and they have a long bushy tail that is usually black on the tip. The tail points down,” Gagnon said, unlike dogs whose tails can be up when they run.

Coyotes primarily travel as a family, she continued. You will usually see an adult male and female and maybe a few pups. However, they tend to be solitary hunters. “Most of the time, you will see only one of them,” Gagnon said.

Coyotes are not the only wildlife that inhabits Cromwell. In the parts out in the western edge of town in particular, it is not uncommon to see deer, Wild Turkeys, foxes, and Raccoons as well as coyotes, Salvatore said. “We’re still very fortunate in Cromwell to have a lot of open space, particularly on the west side of town that will never be developed because of the highways,” the chief said.

Sometimes the interactions between humans and wildlife go awry. Of course there are accidents involving deer, Gagnon said. But she also remembered one incident in which a Wild Turkey got into a house in town, and of course became frantic trying to get back outside.

When those interactions do go wrong, it is usually the animal that loses, Gagnon admitted. State law prevents any effort to relocate wildlife, because it disrupts existing territorial patterns, she explained.

Sightings of wild animals have increased as development has increased in town, Gagnon said. And as more of more of the town is developed, those sightings will become more common, too. “Ultimately, we have moved into their backyard,” she said. “So I do expect to see more sightings because of all the building that that is going on in town.”

Coyotes are very adaptable, Gagnon said. Not only can their change their locations as development intrudes, but they can change much more: what and when and where they sleep and eat, for instance. Usually, they eat small mammals, she said. But if the need arises, they will switch to eating fruits, insects, birds and even frogs, she said.

Coyotes have shown a predilection for domestic cats, Salvatore noted. At present, there is no predator that intrudes on the coyote except man, Gagnon said. And yet, that can be a blessing–for people, she suggested.

“As with all wildlife, they should be observed and respected,” Gagnon said. “But if you’re in your house and you see a coyote in your backyard, or indeed any wild animal, go to the window and look,” Gagnon said. “And teach your kids to respect them.” –Middletown Press

Garlic Mustard Is Severe Threat To Native Plants

Monday, June 28th, 2010

GARLIC MUSTARD is an exotic invasive plant from Europe that invades woodland habitats in North America and impacts forest biodiversity.

In some woodlands, dense stands of garlic mustard in the spring threaten showy spring blooming ephemerals like spring beauty, trilliums and trout lilies. Other research points toward potentially negative impacts on timber species and forest health. Many land managers consider it to be one of the most potentially harmful and difficult to control invasive plants.

Garlic mustard is a cool season biennial herb with stalked, triangular to heart-shaped, coarsely toothed leaves that give off an odor of garlic when crushed. First-year plants appear as a rosette of green leaves close to the ground. Rosettes remain green through the winter and develop into mature flowering plants the following spring. Flowering plants of garlic mustard reach from 2 to 3-½ feet in height and produce buttonlike clusters of small white flowers, each with four petals in the shape of a cross. 

Several white-flowered native plants, including toothworts (Dentaria), sweet cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii), and early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginica), occur alongside garlic mustard and may be mistaken for it. 

Garlic mustard poses a severe threat to native plants and animals in forest communities in much of the eastern and midwestern U.S. Many native wildflowers that complete their life cycles in the springtime (e.g., spring beauty, wild ginger, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica, toothworts, and trilliums) occur in the same habitat as garlic mustard.

Once introduced to an area, garlic mustard out competes native plants by aggressively monopolizing light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space. Wildlife species that depend on these early plants for their foliage, pollen, nectar, fruits, seeds and roots, are deprived of these essential food sources when garlic mustard replaces them. Humans are also deprived of the vibrant display of beautiful spring wildflowers. 

Garlic mustard also poses a threat to one of our rare native insects, the West Virginia white butterfly (Pieris virginiensis). Several species of spring wildflowers known as toothworts (Dentaria), also in the mustard family, are the primary food source for the caterpillar stage of this butterfly. Invasions of garlic mustard are causing local extirpations of the toothworts, and chemicals in garlic mustard appear to be toxic to the eggs of the butterfly, as evidenced by their failure to hatch when laid on garlic mustard plants. 

Garlic mustard frequently occurs in moist, shaded soil of river floodplains, forests, roadsides, edges of woods and trails edges and forest openings. Disturbed areas are most susceptible to rapid invasion and dominance. Though invasive under a wide range of light and soil conditions, garlic mustard is associated with calcareous soils and does not tolerate high acidity. Growing season inundation may limit invasion of garlic mustard to some extent. 

Garlic mustard was first recorded in the United States about 1868, from Long Island, New York. It was likely introduced by settlers for food or medicinal purposes. 

A single plant can produce thousands of seeds, which scatter as much as several meters from the parent plant. Depending upon conditions, garlic mustard flowers either self-fertilize or are cross-pollinated by a variety of insects. Self-fertilized seed is genetically identical to the parent plant, enhancing its ability to colonize an area.  Additionally, because White-tailed Deer prefer native plants to garlic mustard, large deer populations may help to expand it by removing competing native plants and exposing the soil and seedbed through trampling. 

Because the seeds of garlic can remain viable in the soil for five years or more, effective management requires a long term commitment. The goal is to prevent seed production until the stored seed is exhausted. Hand removal of plants is possible for light infestations and when desirable native species co-occur. Care must be taken to remove the plant with its entire root system because new plants can sprout from root fragments. This is best achieved when the soil is moist, by grasping low and firmly on the plant and tugging gently until the main root loosens from the soil and the entire plant pulls out. Pulled plants should be removed from site if at all possible, especially if flowers are present.

For larger infestations of garlic mustard, or when hand-pulling is not practical, flowering stems can be cut at ground level or within several inches of the ground, to prevent seed production. If stems are cut too high, the plant may produce additional flowers at leaf axils. Once seedpods are present, but before the seeds have matured or scattered, the stalks can be clipped, bagged and removed from the site to help prevent continued buildup of seed stores. This can be done through much of the summer. 

For heavier infestations, where the risk to desirable plant species is minimal, application of the systemic herbicide glyphosate (e.g., Roundup®) is also effective. Herbicide may be applied at any time of year, including winter (to kill overwintering rosettes), as long as the temperature is above 50 degrees F. and rain is not expected for about 8 hours. Extreme care must be taken not to get glyphosate on desirable plants as the product is non-selective and will kill almost any plant it contacts. Spray shields may be used to better direct herbicide and limit non-intentional drift.

Fire has been used to control garlic mustard in some large natural settings but, because burning opens the understory, it can encourage germination of stored seeds and promote growth of emerging garlic mustard seedlings. For this reason, burns must be conducted for three to five consecutive years. Regardless of the control method employed, annual monitoring is necessary for a period of at least five years to ensure that seed stores of garlic mustard have been exhausted.

When Pets and Wildlife Collide

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Jerry Large
PEOPLE like to draw neat lines.

There’s a line between cities—where humans live, sometimes with their little tame friends—and the outdoors, where wild creatures live. But sometimes other animals have their own ideas about boundaries.

Recently, three species of animals have been quarreling over the little patch of earth my family occupies. There’s a gray cat, a family of Raccoons and some crows.

The cat has another home nearby, but he’s made our house part of his territory, inside and out. The other day, he was lying just outside the front door when we heard a big crash and a howl.

A large Raccoon had displaced the cat, who arched and hissed. A couple of crows were cawing loudly, swooping across our deck like Blue Angels. The cat and Raccoon vanished in the seconds it took us to get out the door. We’ve been worrying that the Raccoon might kill the cat. She didn’t, but this was not their first run-in.

We’ve been seeing a lot of the big Raccoon lately. She moved into our neighbor’s rockery under some bushes next to our deck, and one of the neighbors said he saw her with babies. He also said he saw a coyote running down the street early one morning.

We live near Seward Park, so I asked Annie Morton, education director at the Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center, about the Coyote sighting in the area.

“They are part of the natural ecosystem,” she said. “If we want to have balanced, healthy ecosystems, we have to have predators.”

One of the reasons Coyotes have been successful here is the absence of Cougars and wolves. They would keep the Coyote population down.

“They’re part of the urban habitat just like people are,” Russell Link told me. He is a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Since we’re going to be living together, he said, we need to make it work.

He and Morton blame people for many of the problems between animals and people. They say we should keep our cats indoors, walk our dogs on leashes and quit putting pet food outdoors.

Pets act like animals too. Dogs sometimes bite. Cats kill rats and birds. But we worry more about wild animals, especially this time of year when we’re out more, and so are lots of other animals.

About the Raccoons, Morton said, “They’re overworked parents, which is why you are seeing them. They’re out trying to feed the family.”

Washington Fish and Wildlife has a web site full of information about urban wildlife and tips for managing our relationships:

I learned that Raccoons like to change dens often. So once those babies are a little older, our masked neighbor will be moving on. Maybe to your yard!–Seattle Times

When Wildlife Gets Too Close To Home

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Michelle Theriault
BELLINGHAM, WA–Raccoons hang out on mailboxes. River Otters slither under the foundations of houses. Squirrels burrow into attics.

When habitat and homes intermingle, wildlife bumps up against settlement and cute animals become urgent problems. That’s when Dave Vinke gets involved: he’s the guy you call when wildlife gets too close for comfort.

As a nuisance wildlife control operator licensed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Vinke runs interference between wild animals and humans.

“With our urban sprawl, it’s a big old mess for everybody,” says Vinke. “They’re cute and cuddly until they’re causing problems.”

Requests for special trapping permits are expected to reach 1,000 by year’s end, up from 789 in 2005, according to Sean Carrell, who issues special trapping permits for Fish and Wildlife. The increase is an indication that nuisance wildlife complaints are on the rise, says Lt. Richard Mann.

Today, Vinke is barreling down the road in his beat-up Toyota 4Runner, on his way to save the day for three traumatized homeowners.

His job involves some unpleasantness—like fending off angry Raccoons and spending time in crawlspaces filled with animal feces —but it allows him to be outdoors and among the wildlife he often finds as breathtaking as his clients find problematic.

“I love my job,” he says. “Well, most of it, anyways.”

Tools of the trade
In the back of Vinke’s SUV are the essentials he needs to do his job.
They include a biohazard suit, rubber gloves, marshmallows, granola, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul brand dog food, a cooler full of tilapia fish, Fig Newtons, cages and a vial labeled “otter scent.”

Vinke, who lives “out in the county” near Ferndale, is a tall rangy man who has the weathered looks of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors. He has giant, calloused hands that look too big for his skinny frame and a loud, kind manner that puts his clients at ease. His career as a trapper started on his grandpa’s farm in Omaha, where he’d get Pocket Gophers that were wrecking mowers and harassing cattle.

He’s one of five nuisance wildlife control operators licensed in Whatcom County to take care of problem wildlife, which is defined as an animal causing damage to private property or posing a threat to public health, says Mann.

Vinke and other nuisance wildlife control operators don’t work for (Washington) Fish and Wildlife but are licensed by the agency, which means they’ve taken courses in trapping and animal control. They charge a fee for their services but are not paid by the state.

A day’s work
A bunch of River Otters have been terrorizing a Birch Bay waterfront home, his first stop of the day. River Otters are the most commonly found type of otter in the Northwest. They’re cute, but they can cause more damage to a home than almost anything else. These homeowners have been complaining about smells and sounds coming from underneath their house.

“Otters, if they travel, are bad news,” Vinke says.

After checking out the perimeter of the home, Vinke puts on his bright blue hazardous materials suit, slips on gloves and a respirator to protect him from the fumes, and folds his lanky body into the crawlspace under the house.

“This is a giant otter toilet,” he says, muffled by his respirator. He disappears completely under the house. After a few minutes, he comes out.


After inspecting the slope from the water up to the deck, he finds the otter’s route. He baits a cage with a dangling rubber duck toy and spears a whole tilapia, arranging the trap where he thinks the otter is entering the yard.

“They’re smart,” he says. “But I’m smarter.”

Vinke gets paid to remove the animals. In accordance with state wildlife laws, that often means euthanizing them with the same lethal injection method that dogs and cats are “put to sleep” with. It’s the part of the job that Vinke hates, but he says it’s necessary.

“We do not authorize relocation of nuisance wildlife,” says Mann of Fish and Wildlife. “The reasoning for this is that we don’t want problem animals just moved to a new area to create the same problems. (That) does not benefit the wildlife already filling those niches.”

Meanwhile, Vinke leaves the house, hoping the otter will take the bait.
At the second house, also in Birch Bay, a neighbor has been feeding Raccoons fat saucers of dog food for years, and now there are 12 or 13 around. Others in the neighborhood want the Raccoons gone and say they’ve been threatening their dogs.

They also worry about disease and the Raccoons seem to have become more brazen, with whole families walking across the street like the Beatles crossing Abbey Road. Some perch on mailboxes or hide in trees. Homeowner Brock Barron says a Raccoon jumped out of a tree at her miniature poodle, Marco.

Vinke sets a trap with Fig Newtons and stops to smoke a cigarette. Neighbors watch from the street.

Suddenly, a head pops up with the unmistakable bandit eyes and alert ears of a Raccoon.

“Already,” he says. It smells the trap and wiggles up. Vinke is pacing and the Raccoon is snuffling the ground. If this animal is trapped, it’ll be euthanized. Many animal problems such as this are avoidable, says Mann.

“It’s a tough one with the growth in our state,” he says. “People ask, ‘Why do you have to kill them?’ Well, they wouldn’t be with us if they had other places to go. We fill their habitats, and they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

In the end, the Raccoon takes the bait.

“He’s in the trap!” Vinke says.

“Oh my gosh, he got one already!” Barron cries, clutching her poodle in her arms. “I don’t want Marco to see it. I don’t want him to think it’s OK to go near those.”

Vinke carries the cage over to his truck. The Raccoon lunges and growls and nearly bites him. It’s breathing fast.

“I’m sorry little guy, I really am,” says the neighbor, Liz Keith, whose driveway they stand in. “But that’s the way life is.”

“If I didn’t have dogs, I wouldn’t care,” says Barron.

Everyone looks at the Raccoon, which has backed himself into the corner of a cage and is baring his teeth. Vinke sighs. “This is the part I hate.” — Bellingham Herald

Where the Wild Things Are

Monday, June 28th, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: Improving wildlife habitat is a worldwide issue as shown in this article.  Jackie French is the author of The Secret World of Wombats (Angus and Robertson/Harper Collins). The Amazing World of Wallabies and Roos will be out early next year. See how similar and different her habitat is with yours.

By Jackie French
ATTRACTING birds and animals to a suburban garden is a matter of providing a few basics, writes Jackie French.

I’m writing this with a Wombat sitting on my foot (his name is Feisty) and a Lyrebird digging up the potato patch outside the window. In other words, I live in the bush in Australia.  In fact, at times the bush lives in my house, too.

However, most of us assume the bush is the best–and only–place for wildlife. But with a bit of dedication city gardens can have even more wildlife than the bush–a few afternoons’ work a year will provide wildlife with a lot more food and shelter than nature ever managed.

Why bother attracting native animals to your garden?
Partly because of the sheer joy of living in a complex world with more than humans for company. Partly because wild animals deserve a share of the planet–not just our pets, and those animals we find useful.

But also because many of us these days have little contact with the natural world and perhaps– just perhaps–working out how to bring wildlife back to our cities might help us understand our roles in ecology. Maybe a bit of micromanagement at home might lead to better macro management of the planet–especially for our children.

Backyard wildlife may also be the answer if you’re looking for a pet that feeds itself even when you’re on holiday. Watching birds or opossums feeding in your garden can be magic for a child. Many lizards will become used to humans quite quickly, especially if you’re willing to sit still for long periods with small amounts of food on a rock beside you. But always tell children that these animals are wild–no touching or petting. Teach children they’re the animals’ protectors, not their owners.

What animals?
You’re unlikely to get Wombats or Kangaroos in a suburban garden (except one near the bush), no matter how wildlife-friendly your garden.

But you can encourage Ringtail Opossums, Brush-tailed Opossums, an extraordinary range of reptiles such as Blue-tongue Lizards (which can become quite tame), Skinks and Geckos, small insect-eating bats, flying foxes, butterflies and dozens–if not more than 100–different bird species.

And putting out the welcome mat for an extraordinary diversity of wildlife is as simple as following the following steps.

Provide water
All birds and animals need water and there’s often not much around when they need it. Many springs and soaks have been drained and trees, with their water-filled hollows, have been cut down.

Be wary of bird baths, though. Birds and animals may start to rely on your bird bath for their water, then when you go away no one will fill it up. Instead, use a device consisting of a big container suspended on a drinking dish that you fill every week or two. (Such devices are often used for chooks.) Or leave a single dripper slowly refreshing the bird bath while you are away.

Whatever method you choose, ensure the water is constant, in the shade, clean and fresh and in the same place every day–most birds and animals are creatures of habit. Also ensure there’s a spot for birds to perch and preferably a spot where they can observe and wait their turn.

Provide year-round fruit, nuts, seeds and flowers
Flowers attract insects, which are food for insect-eating bats, birds and lizards, and provide nectar for honeyeaters and other birds. And the fruit and nuts will be food for birds, possums, fruit bats and even some lizards (our blue-tongues love a nibble of ripe avocado).

If you don’t want to make the effort of pruning, feeding and preventing fruit fly, try the following: plant one crab-apple, especially “gorgeous” or another with good-size fruit; a cherry guava; male and female kiwifruit vines, or one of the small “wild” varieties that don’t need male and female; two avocados (Currawongs love avocados, and once they’ve pecked a hole in them small birds eat them too); a lilly pilly; a calamondin (often mislabelled as cumquat); an olive; and a tamarillo. Smaller native figs, such as the sandpaper fig, are great if you have room. Add a few lomandra or poa tussocks for seeds.

To ensure you have flowers year-round try a patch of winter-blooming red hot pokers and a mix of long-flowering varieties of salvia. Don’t cut out mistletoe–several species of butterfly need mistletoe and if your tree is healthy mistletoe won’t harm it.

For real five-star wildlife tucker, add a wattle, one of the smaller eucalypts, a bursaria bush, two thryptomene, two leptospermums and melaleucas; the birds, bats, possums and butterflies will be ecstatic.

Provide shelter
Everything needs a safe place to live. Low-growing and thorny or prickly shrubs with lots of litter underneath offer excellent protection for lizards and frogs and bigger thickets are great places for small birds to nest. Mossy rocks or rock walls (not the concreted variety) and terraces with sleepers or small rock walls are great places for lizards to bask or shelter. Even paling fences are pretty good.

To create a nice thicket, cover your fences with rambling roses and plant a group of three or more of the pricklier grevilleas, such as G. rosmarinifolia or G. juniperina and their hybrids. The taller, shrubbier salvias also make great habitats for small birds and lizards. All of these plants are very drought tolerant and easy to look after.

Finally, add at least one tall tree with strong branches for birds to perch on.

10 hints for wilder suburbs
? Keep cats and dogs indoors after dusk.

? Ensure trees and roosting spots are safe from cats–put wide collars around tree trunks and large tree branches to stop cats encroaching while bats are feeding or sleeping.

? Allow some of your lawn to go to seed for seed-eating birds. Long grass doesn’t look messy as long as it’s much the same height.

? Leave spiders’ webs on your eaves for birds to use in their nests.

? A small, solar-powered garden light will attract insects for night-flying birds and bats – and for frogs, too, if it’s near a pond.

? Use mulch. Mulch feeds worms and other small creatures, and they’ll feed birds and lizards. Mulch is also a great shelter for all sorts of things. It’s good for gardens, too.

? Don’t scrape lichen off trees–it not only provides nest material but harbours a wide range of insects, many of which are beneficial to trees and can be food for wildlife.

? Paperbarks and other trees with loose bark also provide nesting material. No paperbarks? Leave the castings from your brush or comb near the bird feeder and they’ll probably be foraged instead.

? Cover chimney tops with chicken wire to stop opossums falling in.

? Avoid pesticides and herbicides. When birds, bats, lizards and other creatures eat the insects killed by pesticides, they may die, too, or it may affect their breeding. Herbicides may also kill frogs and tadpoles. –Sidney Morning Herald

Whooping Crane Population Hits Milestone

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Sylvia Moreno
AUSTWELL, TX–One of the most beloved groups of winter Texans is back, in the largest number in a century and with a record 45 youngsters in tow, including an even rarer seven pairs of twins.

They flew 2,400 miles from Canada’s Northwest Territories and can be seen munching on blue crabs and bright red-orange wolfberries among the marshes of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The Whooping Crane, the tallest bird in North America, whose numbers dwindled to fewer than 20 in 1941, is not only back from the brink of extinction but also thriving–a comeback story, federal wildlife officials say, that illustrates how a coordinated conservation effort can save a species.

“The Whooping Crane continues to mirror the success of endangered species recovery when man sets his mind to it,” said Tom Stehn, the national Whooping Crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We have come a long way, but we do have a long, long way to go.”

This year, the nation’s only natural wild population of Whooping Cranes reached a milestone. Stehn’s mid-December census of the migratory crane flock at the wildlife refuge, where he is based, numbered 237. Combined with the number of birds in captivity in three special flocks raised for reintroduction to the wild and those in zoos, the crane population now numbers 518. This is the first time in more than a century that Whooping Cranes have numbered more than 500.

Deboarding from the tour boat Skimmer at Aransas one sunny morning a few days before Christmas, Mike Dixon explained why he and his family drove in from West Texas just to see the huge white birds and their rusty brown chicks.

“Those birds out there are the result of a whole lot of effort, money and concern to save a species, and that’s exciting,” he said.

Recovery efforts date to 1938, a year after the federal government established the Aransas Wildlife Refuge along the south Texas Gulf Coast. The salt marsh was known to be the winter home of several species of migratory birds, including the majestic whooping crane, with its long sinuous neck, height of 5 ft. and wingspan of 7 ft.

The cranes numbered just over 20 in the first census, in 1938. By 1941, the migratory flock was down to 15, largely because of shooting, the conversion of grasslands to agriculture and the draining of wetlands.

“This species was virtually four nesting females away from extinction, and that’s why this is so significant,” Stehn said. “It was just such a close call, such an incredibly close call.”

The crane’s breeding grounds were unknown until 1954, when a fire crew flying over Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada’s Northwest Territories accidentally discovered the migratory flock. In the United States, the Whooping Crane was listed as a threatened species in 1968 and moved to the endangered list two years later, prompting a series of efforts to increase the flock’s size.

From the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, Whooping Crane eggs were placed in Sandhill Crane nests in Idaho so the Sandhill Cranes could teach the Whoopers how to survive in the wild, when to migrate and where to winter. But that Whooping Crane flock never paired or reproduced, and the last Whooper in the Rocky Mountains died in 2002.

U.S. scientists also developed a technique in the 1980s for raising Whoopers in captivity by using crane handlers–humans dressed in costumes that resemble cranes–to raise chicks in isolation from actual human contact, so they grow up to be wild. Starting in 1993, many of those captive cranes have been released yearly in central Florida, where they have stayed because they never learned how to migrate, behavior that would normally be passed on by their parents.

In 2001, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an American-Canadian partnership of governments, nonprofit organizations, citizens and corporations, developed a method to teach captive-raised Whoopers how to migrate so they could be introduced to the wild. Since then, young cranes have been led in migration every fall by gliders flying from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, 1,200 miles away. The cranes return on their own in the spring.

These efforts involve the Canadian and U.S. governments; federal agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Geological Survey; state agencies; conservation groups such as the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and the International Crane Foundation of Baraboo, WI; and local zoos.

“For all of us, this is exactly what we are all about: trying to get animals reproduced and back out in the wild,” said San Antonio Zoo bird curator Josef San Miguel. His staff specializes in costume-rearing Whooping Crane chicks, some of which are donated yearly to the International Crane Foundation for the glider migration project.

“It’s a group effort, and when you hear the birds are doing what we need for them to do, it makes us all feel good,” San Miguel said.

Extremely good nest production this summer in Wood Buffalo National Park is credited with producing this winter’s record flock at the Aransas refuge. Stuart Macmillan, a biologist at Wood Buffalo, cited favorable breeding conditions such as adequate water levels in ponds where cranes build their nests, an ample food supply and fewer natural predators.

Today’s threats to the species are power lines, which cranes crash into during migration; loss of stopover habitat; a lack of genetic diversity; disease; and a decline in habitat conditions at the Aransas refuge because less freshwater is flowing into the salt marsh.

“There are a lot of threats out there on the horizon, and that’s what worries us,” Stehn said. The Whooping Crane is likely to remain on the endangered species list until the migratory flock numbers more than 5,000, he said. –Washington Post

Why Are the Birds Disappearing?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Why Are the Birds Disappearing? By Dr. Joseph Mercola
TENS OF MILLIONS of the most common birds in North America have disappeared, and their absence is signaling a silent alarm bell about the state of our ecosystem.

According to a report by the National Audubon Society, the numbers of some species of birds have plummeted by 60 percent to 80 percent.

The video ( explains some of the dramatic environmental disruptions that are contributing to the decimation of the bird population, and what their disappearance means to the future of our planet.

Like the tragedy of the disappearing honeybees, the disappearance of millions and millions of birds means that something has gone terribly wrong in our environment.

There are many likely contributing factors for this observation, everything from pesticides to urban sprawl and pollution, but there is an extremely pervasive, silent killer out there that hardly anyone is mentioning: Information-carrying radio waves.

These radio waves are coming from your cell phones and other wireless technologies, and they have increased exponentially in the past three or four years alone.

It’s already known that birds living near mobile phone base stations do not breed well. It’s also known that exposure to these frequencies causes disorientation in migratory birds.

Now, at the end of 2007 there were 4 billion cell phones on the planet. What this means is that even if you are one of the few who decides not to use a cell phone, you are being exposed to information-carrying radio waves at unprecedented levels, and so are all of the birds, bugs and wildlife that live among us.

According to Dr. George Carlo, who is clearly the world’s leading expert on cell phone safety, “The background level of information-carrying radio waves has now reached saturation point.”

In other words, they’re everywhere.

And when we talk about these radio waves you have to understand that there is no safe level of exposure. This is completely different even from electromagnetic fields (EMFs), which are well-known to cause brain cancer, tumor growth, and maybe even Alzheimer’s disease.

But according to Dr. Carlo, we have built up certain defenses against EMFs, which are actually two parts: the magnetic field and the electric field. We have been exposed to a magnetic influence simply because of gravity, while lightning and other natural sources have exposed us to some level of electric fields.

As a result, we can be exposed to low levels of EMFs and perhaps not be affected. But this is not so with radio frequencies (RF) and information-carrying radio waves.

“We do not have any controls that make the information-carrying radio wave manageable from a public health point of view,” says Dr. Carlo.

And this is a major red flag. According to Dr. Carlo:

“Here is why we have a problem … Before 1930, almost none of this exposure existed and up until about the 1980s, most of the exposure that had to do with information-carrying radio waves … only occurred high in the sky.

Like your television, your radio, the signal would go from a big antenna on top of the mountain to the antenna on top of your house and then it would be hardwired back down into your television for example. Information-carrying radio waves were not at the street, but this wonderful invention called the cell phone brought the information-carrying radio waves to the street.”

The huge explosion in cell phone use and their corresponding information-carrying radio waves is causing the following problems:

* Damaging cell membranes

* Decreasing intracellular communication by disrupting microtubular connections that allow biophotons to communicate between cells

* Increasing deposits of heavy metals into your cells, which increases intracelluar production of free radicals and can radically decrease cellular production of energy thus making you incredibly fatigued

Future of Wildlife Might Be Linked To Biofuels

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Future of Wildlife Might Be Linked To BiofuelsBy Dennis Anderson
MINNEAPOLIS, MN–During the next 10 years, Minnesota could resemble a farmland wildlife Mecca in which pheasants and other upland birds thrive in vast fields of native grasses grown for fuel.

Or it could resemble a monocultural wasteland, with relatively few acres enrolled in state or federal set-aside programs, corn stretching from border to border–and state pheasant numbers teetering near all-time lows.

Not since the loss of the Soil Bank in the early 1960s and the reign of “Plow It All” Earl Butz as agriculture secretary a decade later has farmland wildlife faced so much uncertainty. The reason: Government biofuel mandates intended to reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign oil and find economically viable replacements for the world’s finite crude oil deposits have helped spike commodity prices, particularly corn.

Already, corn starch is used to make ethanol in some 17 Minnesota plants, with more under construction. Minnesotans burned more than 250 million gallons of corn ethanol in their vehicles in 2006. The state’s rush to corn ethanol is a disaster for wildlife that likely will only get worse, said University of Minnesota economics professor C. Ford Runge.

“It’s a dark forecast for fish and wildlife in Minnesota for the next 10 to 15 years,” Runge said. As the price of corn increases, he said, it is capitalized as a value of the land, “and it becomes untenable to use it for other purposes.”

Still, corn is unlikely to provide the fuel of the future. Researchers worldwide, including at the U, are racing to develop alternative fuel sources. Some would be made from wildlife-friendly switchgrass and other native plants, as well as wood fiber and perhaps corn and other waste. In the latter scenario, ethanol generally would be made from cellulose rather than corn starch. Instead of corn, the raw material could be a mix of grasses and other plants.

To a great degree, the future of Minnesota farmland wildlife depends on what “fuel” is grown here.

“If the cellulosic industry becomes profitable, we could see significant amount of corn acreage replaced by willow trees, hybrid poplars and switchgrass,” said U agronomy professor David Mulla.

Mulla is part of a team developing a long-range statewide conservation plan for the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. But the technology to produce cellulosic ethanol on an industrial scale, at a competitive price, is undeveloped. Runge is among those who don’t expect it soon.

“I hope they’re correct in the long run,” he said. “But these ‘Gee Whiz Mr. Science Guys’ out there acknowledge the economic efficiencies just aren’t there now.”

Meanwhile, Runge said, the “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi River is growing due to higher nitrogen loads on farmlands upriver–including in Minnesota–that accompany increased corn production.

“The worst thing to ever happen to fish, duck and pheasant habitat is corn-based biofuels,” he said.

Pheasants Forever, a non-profit conservation organization, was among the first wildlife groups to push Congress to include broad-scale, wildlife-enhancing set-aside programs in the federal farm bill. In 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) debuted in the federal farm bill, and has been included in each similar measure since. But rules for lands qualifying for enrollment change with each new bill. Recent provisions exclude many Minnesota lands that previously could have been enrolled.

Now farmers–lured by high corn prices–appear to be exiting the program in droves. Minnesota has already lost 80,000 CRP acres. According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife research biologist Kurt Haroldson, about 800,000 more Minnesota CRP acres could be gone by 2013, as landowner contracts expire.

New enrollees might make up part or all of the difference, Haroldson said, depending on how the new farm bill–awaiting action in a Congressional conference committee–ultimately is written.

“It’s a question of what the rates will be and how many landowners sign up,” he said. Few producers will set aside land when they can make more by planting it to cash crops. “The future is more uncertain than I’ve seen it for a long time. In the short term, we’re going to take some pretty serious hits. Farmland conservation is simply going to cost more money. In the long term, we could come out OK if grass biofuel is developed the right way and we achieve the goal of a diversified farmland landscape.”

The DNR is advocating that land and water conservation be primary considerations as the biofuels industry develops, said fish and wildlife division director Dave Schad.

“Our challenge is to manage natural resources in the face of a lot of uncertainty,” Schad said. “By ‘being at the table’ as this industry evolves, we can ensure that we have options and the ability to respond.”

How far away is the future? Jim Bowyer believes development of cellulosic ethanol efficiencies are inevitable and could occur in as few as five years.

“Some people say it will be three to five years, some say as many as 10,” said Bowyer, an emeritus professor in the U’s bioproducts and biosystems engineering department. “Whenever it is, the day it does, corn ethanol goes away almost the next day.”

Future unknowns are many, Bowyer said, but a relative certainty is that the Earth–perhaps in the next two to three decades–will reach a point where it will not be possible to produce enough petroleum to match rising global consumption. Meanwhile, he said, as long as oil stays above, say, $55 a barrel, research will continue into alternatives.

If in the meantime cars are developed that achieve 100 miles per gallon, the equation changes, he said. And genetic engineering is likely to continue to improve yields of whatever is grown on the landscape–also potentially changing how the future unfolds.

And if a switch to cellulosic ethanol is eventually made from corn starch ethanol, government incentives, or safeguards, might be necessary for farmers, because two to three years are required to establish alternative sources of cellulose, such as native prairie plants or tree plantations.

The good news for wildlife and conservationists, Bowyer said, is that soil productivity must be maintained, no matter what is grown on the land.

“That’s got to be the priority, always,” he said. “And part of that is maintaining our groundwater. So no matter what we grow, soil conservation must be part of the equation.” –Star-Tribune

Wildlife Corridors Benefit Plant Biodiversity

Monday, June 28th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, FL— Wildlife corridors appear to support not only wildlife but also plants—especially the oft-threatened native variety.

A six-year study at the world’s largest experimental landscape devoted to the corridors—links between otherwise isolated natural areas—has found that more plant species, and specifically more native plant species, persist in areas connected by the corridors than in isolated areas. The results suggest that corridors are an important tool not only for preserving wildlife but also for supporting and encouraging plant biodiversity.

“From the perspective of whether corridors are an important conservation tool, the big question is whether they preserve a large diversity of species,” said Doug Levey, a University of Florida professor of zoology. “The answer, for plants anyway, appears to be yes.”  Levey co-authored a paper on the study that appeared recently in the journal Science.

In recent decades, many states and communities have set aside land for wildlife corridors. They are even planned on a regional scale, with one proposed corridor, for example, stretching 1,800 miles from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory.

The rationale behind the corridors is that linking natural areas allows plants and animals to spread across them, helping them to thrive, reducing localized extinctions and increasing biodiversity. But until recently, scientific evidence for that rationale was surprisingly slim, with most corridor studies conducted on very small scales.

Levey and his colleagues’ massive outdoor experiment at the Savannah River Site National Environmental Research Park on the South Carolina-Georgia state line is steadily filling in the holes in scientists’ knowledge.

The site consists of eight sets of five roughly two-acre clearings in the forest. In each set, a corridor connects the central clearing to one peripheral clearing, with the others remaining isolated. Plants and animals thrive in the clearings, which consist of longleaf pine savannah, an endangered habitat. They do not do well in the areas of surrounding forest. The difference between the habitats is similar to the difference between the urban and natural areas, where corridors are most often used.

In two earlier papers, the researchers concluded that corridors encourage the movement of plants and animals across the fragmented landscapes. They also found that bluebirds transfer more berry seeds in their droppings between connected habitats, suggesting that the corridors could help plants spread.

The latest research tackled a much broader question: Do corridors increase plant biodiversity overall? To get at the issue, researchers Ellen Damschen and Nick Haddad, of North Carolina State University, did a detailed census of evenly distributed plots in six sets of connected and unconnected patches. They started in summer 2000 and returned every year through 2005 except for 2004, when a fire burned the landscape.

The site was set up in 1999, when forest service loggers carved out the plots, and there was little difference among plot covers just one year later in 2000. But a different pattern became clear in ensuing years. Not only were there more plant species in connected plots than unconnected ones, there were more native species.

“They started with the same diversity and then diverged,” Levey said. “Native species definitely benefited, and yet there was absolutely no evidence that exotic species benefited.”

The difference arose because unconnected patches gradually lost native species, whereas the natives persisted in connected patches. Over the five years, the unconnected patches lost about 10 native species. Meanwhile, the corridors seemed to have no impact on the number of exotic or invasive species in the connected and unconnected patches.

“It seems that exotic species either were already everywhere and did not rely on corridors for their spread, or they remained in one place,” Damschen said in an e-mail.

Levey said the scientists think that invasive species, which by definition are good at spreading, are little affected by corridors. Native species, by contrast, are less invasive and so assisted more by the corridors. “It may be that corridors play to the strengths of native species,” he said.

Levey said the National Science Foundation recently renewed a five-year grant to continue research at the site, committing about $500,000 for another five years.

Wildlife Corridors Help Animals Flee From Climate Change

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Brandon Keim

TO HELP ANIMALS survive climate change, setting aside nature reserves isn’t enough: to flee habitats made inhospitable by shifting climes, they also need “corridors” between wilderness areas.

Groups around the world are working to establish these wildlife highways, with varying degrees of success. In North America, the Wildlands Project is pushing for a huge “Yellowstone-to-Yukon” wildlife corridor. In Central America, conservationists are slowly and sporadically working on the Meso-American Biological Corridor. The dream: A monkey should be able to go up a tree in Panama and not have to climb down until it reaches Mexico. The grand vision of the IUCN is an uninterrupted connection between Argentina and Alaska along the hemisphere’s western mountain ranges.

The corridor idea is relatively new: conservationists once thought that preserves were enough. But groups of animals isolated from their species become genetically homogeneous, and don’t develop the diversity necessary to adapt to threats–especially that of climate change.

Corridors, say scientists, allow genes to mix–and beyond being a good idea environmentally, these sound like fun for people. Monkeys aren’t the only creatures that might like to follow the trees from Panama to Mexico.

Latest USFWS Survey
The latest FWS survey, released in June, shows 71 million Americans, (31 percent of Americans 16 or older), observed wildlife in 2006 and spent $45 billion doing it. That is followed by 30 million who fish, (13 percent ) and spend $41 billion and 12.5 million who hunt (5 percent) and spend $23 billion.The survey is updated every five years. It is the bible of wildlife recreation statistics. In all, more than 87 million Americans either hunted, fished or observed wildlife in 2006.

Incredible, however, is that they spent $120 billion that year. FWS economists say that is “roughly equal to Americans’ total spending at all spectator sports, casinos, motion pictures, golf course, country clubs, amusement parks and arcades combined.”

Up on the porch, of course, those numbers were not flitting through my head. I sat captivated by the sights, sounds and smells of the nearby pine, tamarack and birch trees, cooled by the breeze blowing off the water, and fascinated by mother loon just sitting.

But the survey does show some important changes. Wildlife watching climbed from 62.9 million participants in 1996 to 71.1 million in 2006 while hunting and angling numbers declined.

“After losing ground in the early 1990’s, wildlife related activities such as bird watching and photography increased 13 percent over the last decade,” FWS staffers reported. “Spending increased 19 percent.”

Meanwhile angler participation dropped 15 percent, from 35.2 million anglers in 1996 to 30 million in 2006. Hunting participation dropped by 10 percent, from 14 million to 12.5 million.

Both groups also spent less than in the past. Anglers spent $40.6 billion in 2006, the same as 2001, but 16 percent less than 1996. Hunters spent $22.7 billion last year which is down 14 percent from 1996.

All this, of course, only reinforced my belief that state and federal fish and wildlife managers have been missing the boat with their keen, but narrow focus on hunters and anglers. There is clearly another wildlife constituency that might be tapped for money. But then, they would probably ask for something back. And that, I’m afraid, might take an entire column to discuss. –Grand Rapids Press

Wildlife Digs In To Cope With Heat

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Charles Seabrook
AS RECORD-BREAKING temperatures bake much of the U.S., animals as well as people are trying to beat the heat. We humans, of course, have air conditioning and fans to help us cope. But how do wild creatures keep their cool?

A lot of them do as we do—simply retreat into the shade. They don’t eat as much, and they slow down their daily activities. Many animals, especially snakes and other reptiles, crawl into underground burrows, where temperatures are several degrees cooler than above-ground temperatures.

In that regard, Gopher Tortoises play a key role in the sandy regions of South Georgia—they dig extensive burrows in which many other animals seek refuge during summer’s heat. Tortoise burrows, for instance, are common shelters for endangered Indigo Snakes and for Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, which must maintain their body temperatures.

Like us, many creatures also shed their winter coats and go with a lighter covering for the summer. Deer, for instance, shed the long, hollow, insulating hair of winter. Come fall, they’ll don their furry winter coats again.

Many animals beat the heat by coming out only at night or at dawn and dusk. Black Bears may seek out bogs or other wet spots to wallow around in to stay cool.
Many animals also have built-in air conditioners of sorts—their ears. The ears of deer, rabbits, foxes and other animals are engorged with blood vessels that help move the heat out of their bodies and radiate it into the air. A lot of animals may pant, or breathe rapidly, to increase the volume of air moving in and out of their bodies.

Birds do something similar. Their bills are constantly open, a behavior similar to that of an animal such as a dog that keeps its mouth open and tongue hanging out. Some birds that are still nesting—sitting on their second or third broods of the year—also may dip their breasts in a stream or birdbath, then sprinkle the water over their eggs or babies to cool them off.

Insects also are seeking water. For instance, birdbaths can get crowded with honeybees, which haul droplets of water back to the hive to help cool the colony. However, many insects seem to revel in the heat. Butterflies and dragonflies, for instance, love hot, sunny days.

Provide Clean Water
How can you help wildlife survive a heat wave? Probably the most important thing is to provide clean water, preferably in a birdbath. Watching birds drinking and bathing at birdbaths can be just as enjoyable as watching them at the feeders.

In the wild, birds prefer a shallow puddle, the edge of a pond or perhaps a partially submerged rock in a stream. Therefore, birdbaths in your yard should be something similar. Birds want a water source that is shallow and sloping and, at a maximum, 2 inches deep. (Small songbirds can drown in birdbaths if the water is too deep.) A rock in the middle or at one end of the birdbath helps.

Most birdbaths on the market today are designed to accommodate the birds, and there is a variety from which to choose. Place the birdbaths in an open area that has natural shelter about 20 ft. away. After birds splash in the water, their feathers are wet, and they can’t fly very well. They need a protected area to perch and dry and preen their feathers. Placing the birdbath in an open area also helps birds spot cats or other predators.

The intense heat can have another serious consequence: Disease can spread among birds because of crowded, unclean feeders and birdbaths. Seed-eating birds, which usually congregate at feeders, are especially susceptible to infectious diseases. In particular, a bacterial malady of the eyes can cause severe problems for House Finches and some American Goldfinches. Hot, damp bird feeders can harbor mold spores, including aspergillus, a fungus lethal to birds.

To lessen the chance of spreading diseases, keep feeders and baths disinfected and restocked regularly. Seed feeders should be placed in shady areas to keep seed from becoming rancid. Refill the birdbath with fresh water every couple of days. Once or twice a week, scrub it out with a solution of one part chlorine bleach to nine parts warm water.

Hummingbird nectar should be changed two to three times a week because the heat causes sugar solutions to become ridden with bacteria and mold.

Wildlife Habitat Grows From The Heart

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Kevin Howell
MONON, IN– Three years ago, with little else to do but recover from his heart surgery, Bob Princell sat looking out the window of his home on Bedford Bay north of Monticello.

Watching birds, squirrels and other critters scamper about in his yard and out on the water, a growing interest in nature developed as he passed the hours away.

Today his yard is filled with plants, water ponds and feeders. Since the beginning of Princell’s fascination with the natural world and hours of research into habitats, his knowledge of attracting wildlife with his plantings has grown immensely.

“I started studying up on it and reading about it, and learned I was doing a lot of things wrong (to attract wildlife),” said Princell. He learned he was trying to be “too neat” in what he planted and how he cared for his plants.

“You need to leave stuff alone, and instead of using say bark mulch (to keep weeds down), I get natural stuff,” Princell explained.

Several of his neighbors have stands of pine trees, so each fall he grabs a rake, gathers up pine needles and uses them for mulch around his plants and flowers. That encourages more wildlife to come into his half-acre habitat. Otherwise he stays out of his landscape.

He has also quit using chemical pesticides for garden bugs, and only spot sprays for crabgrass and other noxious weeds rather than broadcast spraying over the entire yard. It helps too that a 40-acre field across the road in front is owned by the White County Historical Society.

“Instead of it being a corn field or bean field every other year, it just grows natural now, and there’s deer, quail and pheasant right across the road,” he said.

Speaking of birds, through Princell’s research and dedicated watching, from the few bird species he thought were around his property, his identifications of species has grown to nearly half a hundred since his wildlife habitat was certified.

“I’d never been interested in birds in my life and I thought there were six, or eight or 10 different kinds of birds,” Princell said chuckling. “But that winter I was recovering, right out my window I counted 41 different species of birds.”

His habitat is loaded with a variety of feeders for hummingbirds, several varieties of finches, sparrows, grackles and at least five species of woodpeckers. Last winter a pair of Bald Eagles hung out along the bay and carried fish for dinner to the top of a dead sycamore in Princell’s yard.

One feeder is not for the birds but for four-legged critters.

“On that post out there is a Christmas tree holder (stand),” Princell said pointing to a tree stand horizontally mounted to a post. “I put a glass jar where the tree would be, fill it up with thistle seed and call it squirrel under glass. Squirrels climb the post, crawl into the horizontal glass and eat away.”

A favorite landscape item is a large rock Princell found with a hollowed out area on one surface. He drilled down through the depression, placed a half of a 55-gallon plastic drum and recirculating pump in the ground and uses it as a birdbath.

Princell’s yard is filled with innovative devices and landscape structures, including three small ponds complete with lizard frogs, bull frogs, goldfish and an occasional snake– “much to my wife’s chagrin,” he said. One entire side of his house is lined with varieties of sedum that attract hundreds of butterflies in September and October.

Habitat restoration is critical in urban and suburban settings where commercial and residential development encroaches on natural wildlife areas. In addition to providing for wildlife, certified wildlife habitats conserve natural resources by reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water, which protect the air, soil and water in communities.

As for Princell’s habitat, Burnette said, “the property now attracts a variety of birds, butterflies and other wildlife while helping protect the local environment.” –Herald Journal

Wildlife Habitat Needs Spring Cleaning, Too

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Walter Scott
BLOOMFIELD, IA–Each spring, my wife has a cleaning attack. She cleans everything, whether it needs it or not. This means I must spend great amounts of time protecting my valuables that she feels are unnecessarily taking up space.

Some things’ existences are easy to justify. The turkey decoy that has been in the top of the closet unused for almost a year needs to be there. It is only used once each year, for turkey season. Everything has to be somewhere.

I have more difficulty hanging on to other prized possessions. The hunting hat on top of the gun case that has not moved for three years is a prime example. I now have a new hunting hat, but the old one is the one I was wearing when I shot the big buck with my bow. It has sentimental value and a person can never tell when a friend might show up and need to borrow a hat. Women are not too practical or sentimental when it comes to 20-year-old hats.

The extra pair of boots in the closet do not leak too badly, and work perfectly fine on a dry day, unless a person tries to cross the creek. They should be saved in case of an emergency. I am not sure what that emergency might be, but one can never be too prepared.

I knew I was fighting a losing battle in the cleaning frenzy. I might as well go outside and do some spring cleaning of my own.

This is the time of year a person needs to clean the bluebird houses. Bluebirds will be returning shortly on their first scouting run for nesting sites. Clean houses in position will increase the odds of getting a pair of the pretty little birds to move in.

This is also a good time to make a few more houses. If you do not have the skills or inclination to build a bluebird house, they can be purchased from the local hardware store. Some Boy Scout troops will build houses as a fundraiser. Purchasing a few of these will help out the birds and the kids.

The houses should be placed away from homes and outbuildings, which will help to discourage sparrows. When the first hatch has left the nest, clean your houses again. This will encourage re-nesting; sometimes up to three or four times in a summer. They will provide hours of entertainment as well as a bit of color in the area.

Goose nests and Wood Duck houses should also be cleaned and made ready for early arrival of waterfowl. Food plots for wildlife can also be planted at this time of year. If the ground was burnt off or torn up last fall, a frost seeding can be very successful. Seed can be broadcast on snow or bare ground and the spring rains will do the planting.

I have an area on the edge of a timber where I replaced a fence last fall. With a clear path extending into the trees, a perfect food plot can be developed. I spread a mixture of clover seeds directly onto the snow or dirt and follow with a layer of oats.

The turkeys will scratch around eating some of the oats, but in the process, plant the clover and remaining oats. The oats will sprout early, providing an early spring meal for deer, turkey and songbirds as well as a cover crop for the clover. By next fall, the clover will be a valuable food source for wildlife getting ready for winter.

I think I have enough spring cleaning to keep me busy and out of my wife’s way. Both she and the wildlife will appreciate my getting outside and doing something constructive. –West Central Tribune

Wildlife Heat Up In Late Winter

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Robert Miller
DANBURY, CN–In February, love both stinks and sings.

This isn’t a comment on human affections, which abide by no season and can be rotten or a romp, sometimes simultaneously, any time of year. But birds and wild mammals live their year by a set routine. And for some, life heats up while the world is still cold.

That’s why the nights may be getting a bit rank. Male skunks are making their moves. If the females aren’t in the mood, they spritz their unsuitable paramours with a little skunkiness.

“People start calling us up about this time with skunk problems,” said Laura Simon, field director for urban wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States. “We have to assure them it’s a very temporary issue.”

Meanwhile, the squirrels you now see scurrying after each other are not going out on a limb for exercise. Squirrel foreplay involves chasing that goes beyond phone calls and dinner invitations.

“Right now, it’s squirrels and skunks and Raccoons,” Simon said. Likewise, now is about the time Patrick Comins, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut, starts hearing bird songs.

“The old legend is that birds start singing on Valentine’s Day,” said Comins, who works at the Bent of the River Audubon Preserve in Southbury. “And it’s true to some extent. I start listening in mid-February and I tend to start hearing them.”

“I’ve been hearing cardinals singing already,” Comins added. “Pileated Woodpeckers and flickers are making noise.”

Birds can chip and chatter all year long. But their distinctive mating songs are a way for the males to announce themselves and get the attention of females. “Song” may not be the word one applies to the harsh calls woodpeckers use as their greeting, nor the hoots of owls or the croaks of herons. But it’s music to the ears of those species.

Comins said the factor that gets some birds singing and, in turn, making whoopee, is the length of the day. By mid-February, the amount of daylight reaches a critical peak for some species, turning their thoughts to baby cardinals or chickadees.

This isn’t universal. Some birds start earlier in the season “” Bald Eagles are already on their nests and Great Horned Owls start hooting in December. Others, like warblers and other migrants, are still in the tropics, fattening up before hurrying north to set up house.

While birds make their own nests, some animals have to find whatever shelter is available. After people see squirrels chasing each other up their front-yard maples, they may hear them in their attics.

“If a house isn’t secure, if there’s a small hole, squirrels can get into an attic and find a nice place to nest there,” Simon said. “They’ll have their babies by April.”

“You can’t really blame them,” Simon added. “If we do things like move into their territories and cut down all the hollow trees, they’ve got to find somewhere to live.”–New Times

Wildlife In the Garden

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Denise Corkery

Question: Is there a list of plants and flowers that deer do not like, including some that bloom in spring? It’s beautiful to see a herd of five to seven deer in my yard, but I’m tired of losing plants.– Libby Grandfield, Ogden Dunes, IN

Answer: A list of trees, shrubs, bulbs, perennials and annuals that deer usually do not favor is available at chi pest/deer. Plants that bloom in late winter or early spring include witch hazel, snowdrop and winter aconite.

You can find a list of 130 deer-resistant plants at Some of the early bloomers on this list are bishop’s cap (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’), forsythia and peony.Keep in mind that hungry deer will eat almost any plant, especially during winter in areas with high population. Since you have a problem, try to make your landscape less attractive by avoiding deer favorites, such as arborvitae, yew, rhododendron and evergreen azalea, and tulip.

To obtain copies of both lists, contact the Plant Information Service at 847-835-0972.

Question: Why has a woodpecker started drilling holes in our Callery pear tree? Is there a solution? Should I fill the drilled holes? — Helen Drazenovic, Chicago

Answer: Woodpeckers usually drill holes in trees in search of sap or insects. They also look for hollow cavities they can nest in. Woodpeckers prefer pine, spruce, birch and fruit trees like your Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana).

Rarely is woodpecker damage enough to kill a healthy tree. You might want to confirm that woodpeckers aren’t signaling the presence of a serious pest or disease problem. If woodpecker damage is ongoing, consider wrapping the trunk with burlap or hardware cloth. Remove the wrap during summer. Do not fill the drilled holes. Both increase the possibility of disease. If needed, reapply the protective wrap in the fall.

Hanging aluminum foil pans or plastic windmills often helps to repel woodpeckers. Commercial sticky repellents also work, but avoid using them on wood siding as they can leave stains.

Woodpeckers play a vital role in maintaining healthy habitats because they eat many insects. Woodpeckers are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, making, it against federal laws to harm them.–Chicago Tribune

EDITOR’S NOTE: Denise Corkery writes for the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, IL

Easements Conserve Sensitive Wildlife Habitat

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WY–It might seem strange to consider that roller coasters in Florida could contribute to a successful elk population in Wyoming, but that’s exactly what’s happening under some innovative plans to fund wildlife habitat conservation.

The unlikely connection is the result of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Absaroka Conservation Initiative, a program aimed at raising private money to fund conservation easements for critical elk habitat.

“We’ve just received some money from Busch Gardens in Florida,” said Bill Mytton, the foundation’s lands program manager for Montana and Wyoming. “They’re interested in working on conservation projects throughout the greater Yellowstone region.”

Another program initially proposed by Gov. Dave Freudenthal will use public money to fund conservation projects throughout the state. The Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust has received initial funding of $15 million, with a goal of building a $200 million fund from state mineral taxes. The trust will announce its first projects in June.

Both programs aim to purchase perpetual conservation easements, which would forever prevent development of sensitive wildlife habitat areas by paying landowners for the development rights to their land.

Such easements can be tailored to meet the needs of different landowners or the habitat in question, said Jerry Altermatt, a Wyoming Game and Fish biologist working with the foundation on its Absaroka Conservation Initiative.

“You can purchase the development rights or a variety of other property rights, including things like restrictions on grazing or logging,” he said.

The easements let a landowner hang on to property that may have been in the family for generations–providing funds to pay property taxes or improve ranching operations–while ensuring it won’t be developed.

Altermatt, who helps identify habitat areas worthy of protection, said only a few such easements have been executed around Park County but that they generally cost about half the market value of the property.

The 20,000 elk at home in the 175-mile Absaroka Range–stretching from southwestern Montana through Yellowstone National Park and south to the Wind River region–are a top conservation priority, Mytton said.

One recent easement purchased along the Wapiti Ridge helped protect what the foundation says is the longest elk migration route in North America. Elk leaving the southeastern corner of Yellowstone follow a 60-mile route to winter range along Carter Mountain, on the South Fork of the Shoshone River. The path winds through a tangle of state, federal and private lands.

“Game and Fish called and said that they were interested in protecting the lands that we have that are in that corridor,” said one landowner, Pearre Williams, who placed an easement on about 600 acres in the migration corridor.

“This piece of ground had been on the market for quite a while at a high price. We found out the owner was talking to developers about selling at 60 percent of his asking price,” Williams said. “We decided we should take it off the table,” he said. “So we kind of took a big gulp and bought it.”

Williams said he later reached an agreement to sell an easement on the land that forbids development and severely limits human activity and vehicle access from Jan. 1 to April 15, when elk are calving. Williams said some people have the misconception that a conservation easement opens private land to public access. The land remains private, he said.

The deal was funded with federal highway money set aside to mitigate loss of wildlife habitat resulting from construction on U.S. Highway 14-16-20 along the North Fork of the Shoshone River.

Critics of conservation easements say they often amount to a public subsidy for wealthy landowners, or that such deals are elaborate schemes to avoid taxes.

“You wouldn’t do this for the tax benefit,” Williams said. But he agreed that some deals have rightfully received scrutiny when landowners sought to inflate property values before selling easements and taking deductions.

But when done correctly, such deals are an important way of protecting habitat and keeping large tracts of land in the hands of ranching families who have owned them for years, he said.

“Normal ranching doesn’t make a lot of income,” he said. “So with the tax deduction you get from such a charitable donation, the average rancher doesn’t have a financial incentive to put an easement on his property.”

But with funding from the Wyoming Wildlife Trust or groups like the foundation, he said, ranchers could afford to sell easements and keep working their property.– Billings Gazette