Wildlife

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 regions is an integral part of our Pacific Northwest heritage.

 

To lend support and on-the-ground data for conservation initiatives and to document specific habitat use in the GPNF, we have been carrying out wildlife camera surveys since 2011. In an effort to promote wolf recovery in Washington and the GPNF, we have partnered with a coalition of organizations promoting scientifically sound policy and engaging with communities and ranchers to support non-lethal approaches to wildlife management. To promote biodiversity and to encourage the recovery of native animal populations, we have been partnering with scientists and supporting fisher reintroduction in the GPNF and beyond. Our work protecting old growth forest stands, maintaining healthy riparian areas, and limiting the extent of salvage logging supports habitat for a wide variety of species. Our field work, such as timber sale surveys and forest roads analysis, is also integral for helping us protect wildlife populations and habitat. And, looking forward, our efforts to promote climate resilience are in place to ensure that healthy habitats persist in our forests and that the plants and animals of the southern Washington Cascades can continue to flourish.

 

 

Wildlife Camera Surveys

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 Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Have a look at our most recent survey report to learn about our findings: 2015-2016 Wildlife Camera Survey Report. And to click here to see our 2014 survey report. Current efforts are underway, and we will be publishing an updated survey report in December of 2016.

The set of photographs below of a mother bear and her playful cubs was one of our favorites from the 2014 survey season. Many thanks for the volunteers who help us carry out these surveys!

 

 

 

Wolf Recovery

After an absence of more than 70 years, we are nearing the possibility of wolves returning to the GPNF. To do our part to make this transition as smooth as possible, we will be working to support non-lethal approaches to wolf management and we will be engaging with local communities and ranchers 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 around calving pastures, we are able to highlight approaches and 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. The return of wolves, even in the matter of several years, has been shown to bring river systems and forest communities back into balance.

 

Wolves have been returning to the northern part of Washington and, presently, there are about 13 packs in the state. The wolves of Washington have arrived from Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia, and they are the same species historically found in the region. Most of these packs are in eastern Washington, but wolves have started to make a slow comeback in locations west of the Cascade crest. Although wolves are re-establishing in some parts of their historic range, the stability of the species in the state is still precarious.

 

The state’s Wolf Management Plan governs management of wolves until the species hits recovery objectives for breeding packs and overall wolf numbers. With illegal poaching and lethal management efforts still determining the fate of individuals and packs, the timeline for reaching of this goal is unclear. 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. We are currently working with partners to maintain important legal protections and to restore a viable population of wolves throughout the Pacific Northwest through outreach, advocacy, and collaboration. These partnerships allow us an opportunity to explore the newest findings in science and collaboration, as well as offering a forum to increase a region-wide understanding of the best routes for moving forward productively with this sometimes difficult issue.

 

There is a large amount of misinformation with regard to wolves. Despite what we might have grown up believing or what we gather from sensational media, wolves are wary of humans and do not pose a significant risk to human safety. There have only been two confirmed fatal attacks on humans in the past 100 years. As far as wolf and livestock interactions, lethal control of wolf populations near livestock has been shown to actually increase depredation. Promoting more effective measures, however, has proven difficult in many areas of the state. Moreover, the vast majority of mortality for livestock in the Pacific Northwest results from other causes, with disease and death from sheep dogs far outweighing effects from wolves. These areas are where communication and transparency come in as important elements in wolf recovery. Working together and finding common solutions is central to all our work, and wolf recovery is no exception.

 

In October of 2014, the alpha female of the Teanaway wolf pack in Washington’s Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest was illegally shot and killed near the Salmon la Sac area north of Cle Elum. This was the second breeding pack female killed in Washington in 2014. Since Washington’s wolf conservation goal is a minimum of fifteen successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years across three recovery regions, this is a significant setback for gray wolf recovery in Washington. Wolves in the Teanaway pack are federally endangered and represent the southern boundary of confirmed wolf recovery in Washington’s cascades—roughly 60 miles due north of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. In contrast to some other packs, state wildlife officials consider the Teanaway wolves a “model pack” since there have been no reported conflicts with livestock in their territory in recent years. Unfortunately, with the loss of their breeding female, the future of the pack is now in question.

 

Fisher Reintroduction

The fisher is a small forest carnivore that once roamed the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and other healthy forest landscapes in the western United States. Trapping and habitat fragmentation caused the local extirpation of fishers and helped to decimate populations across the west. There are several populations of fishers still present in certain locations in the west, but logging, isolation, and incidental poisoning from rodenticides threaten their continued existence. Shiloh Halsey, our Conservation Science Director, has been researching fisher reintroduction in our national forest and has recently published an article in Landscape Ecology that explores the dynamics of predation and reintroduction. This article can be found here. We fully support the return of fishers to the GPNF and will be doing our part to monitor the new populations and to support habitat protection that aligns with the needs of the species.

 

 

Northern Spotted Owls

Habitat protection for northern spotted owls is a strong driver for much of our conservation work. Although the habitat needs of these iconic creatures is a key component of our conservation strategy, the importance of these protection measures represents something much larger and supports vital conservation needs for a variety of other species that depend on similar habitat features and forest areas.

Northern Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis caurina, Gifford Pinchot forest, Washington, (c) Tom Kogut/ USDA forest service

Photo: Tom Kogut

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