The Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF) is home to spectacular wildlife. Presence of mountain lions, martens, mardon skippers, and spotted frogs are all signs of a healthy landscape. The wildlife of the region is an integral part of our Pacific Northwest heritage.
Through our wildlife camera surveys, we are working to monitor habitat use and species assemblages in the GPNF. Our data is used to promote conservation of critical forest areas and to enhance our wildlife conservation initiatives. Understanding how carnivores and ungulates are distributed on the landscape and what areas are used by certain species informs how we develop conservation strategies and respond to management policies. With the help of dedicated volunteers, we survey a number of sites across the forest. This year, we are concentrating on surveying management areas east of Mount St. Helens for the presence of marten and fisher as well as wildlife corridors near the crest of the Cascades where we are monitoring for the potential movement of wolves into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Volunteers are heading out into the forest to look for and document the presence of pikas along different elevation bands and habitat zones. We’ve created maps to help citizen stewards identify possible habitat areas and will be working with volunteers in capturing on-the-ground population information. Understanding where pikas are distributed helps us understand how they have been impacted by current temperature patterns and how they might be impacted with future shifts climate change, such as changing habitat zones along elevation gradients. If you’d like information for how to take part in pika surveys and where you can go to look for these critters, visit the “independent steward” section of our trip sign-up page and get in touch.
We are at the beginning of a long-term project with Cowlitz Indian Tribe to reintroduce beavers into strategic areas of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Beavers are aquatic ecosystem engineers able to build resilience to climate impacts, create wetland and side-channel habitat, and improve water quality and fish habitat. With increases in winter streamflow and low summer flows, beavers and their dams will be important for helping to attenuate fluctuating streamflows. A newly constructed dam will increase channel complexity and forge new routes of flow. This process also helps keep water in the system for longer periods of time into the summer and transfers water to wetland areas that would otherwise become dry. Dams can create more deep pools, which are important for many fish species. Beaver recovery is a unique and self-adapting way to improve aquatic health and enhance resilience to climate impacts.
Our goal with the beaver project is to release beavers into strategic locations in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. We have begun the initial steps of the project, which has included carrying out site visits with Forest Service biologists and Cowlitz Indian Tribe, undertaking a spatial analysis to identify optimal release sites, working with aquatic specialists concerning pre-release habitat modifications, planting willows for future beaver forage, and setting up plans with local hatcheries to serve as holding facilities for the beavers.
This past fall, our Young Friends of the Forest participants got the opportunity to visit possible release sites in the forest and gather field data to help assess beaver relocation potential. We will continue to assess possible relocation sites, and once the final suite of sites are chosen, we will begin the process of acquiring nuisance beavers from surrounding lands and translocating them to release sites in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. In between capture and release, beavers will be housed for brief periods of time at local hatcheries to pair males and females (the beavers will have a higher rate of success as a pair).
Funding support from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation have been critical in making this project a reality, as has the great work of our partners at Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the U.S. Forest Service.
View the habitat spatial analysis here: GPNF Beaver Habitat Model
The fisher is a small forest carnivore that once roamed the forests of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and other forest landscapes in the western United States. Trapping and habitat fragmentation caused the local extirpation of fishers and helped decimate populations across the west. There are several populations of fishers still present in certain areas of the west, but logging, wildfires, genetic isolation, and incidental poisoning from rodenticides threaten their continued existence. Shiloh Halsey, our Conservation Science Director, has researched fisher reintroduction techniques and opportunities in our national forest. His work on this subject was published in Landscape Ecology in 2015 and can be found here.
The WA Department of Fish and Wildlife reintroduced 69 fishers into two areas of the Washington Cascades during 2016 and 2017. They released 53 fishers into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and 16 near Mount Rainier. With a survival rate around 70%, these reintroductions are doing fairly well. We hope to see these individuals finding high quality habitat and producing offspring. The biggest threat to newly reintroduced fishers is predation, so there is broad interest in exploring the interactions of fishers and their predators. Unfortunately, the recent releases were not carried out in way that enabled scientists to advance this research and study the relationship between predation and the selection of release sites. Nevertheless, the recent fisher reintroduction represents an important step in bringing back wildlife and building biodiversity and ecosystem resilience.
Presently, we are working with regional partners in using wildlife camera surveys to monitor locations of released fishers as their transmitters start to run out of battery life.
The northern spotted owl is a threatened keystone species that has been at the center of conservation and conversation in the Pacific Northwest for decades. Through our collaborative efforts and our work helping to shape timber harvest projects, we are working to ensure protection for habitat areas important for northern spotted owls (as well as a variety of species that use similar habitat areas and old-growth features). To read more about our efforts to protect habitat for northern spotted owls and other old forest species, see our Forest Management page.
After an absence of more than 70 years, we are nearing the possibility of wolves returning to the GPNF. We support non-lethal approaches to wolf management and co-existence, and as the need arises, we will be engaging with local communities in constructive and productive dialogue. Communication is vital for building understanding. Looking to successful examples such as the range rider programs in northern Washington and the reduction of depredation seen with the use of fladry and other deterrence measures around calving pastures, we recognize the value of conversation and collaboration in highlighting methods that work to serve the needs of all parties involved.
Through predator control campaigns, wolves were extirpated from the region in the early 1900s. Similar to effects seen with the loss of other apex predators, the loss of wolves from the landscape has had detrimental effects on natural ecosystems that had evolved with these trophic cascades intact. Currently, we see hoof disease sweeping through elk herds of the southern Washington Cascades as well as a possible rise in the abundance of coyotes. The return of wolves, even in the matter of several years, has been shown to bring river systems and forest communities back into balance.
In Washington, wolves can be found mostly in the northern and eastern parts of the state, but there are packs as far south as the Cle Elum area. The wolves of Washington migrated from Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia, and they are the same species historically found in the region. Although wolves are re-establishing in some parts of their historic range, the stability of the species in the state is still precarious.
Gray wolves are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of Washington state, but they have been federally delisted in the eastern third of Washington state.