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Behind the Flames, Part IX: Rehab and Restoration of Burned Sagebrush

By Anna Harris/USFWS

Prime sage grouse habitat went up in flames this summer.

The Buzzard, Carlton, and Big Cougar Complexes—all fires that burned thousands of acres in Idaho, Oregon and Washington—highlight the fact that wildfire is a significant threat to a healthy and sustainable sagebrush ecosystem. As an important habitat for greater sage-grouse, pronghorn, mule deer, elk and the western way of life, fire rehabilitation efforts pose great challenges to the future of sagebrush ecosystems. 

However, all is not lost. Local, state and federal agencies are taking action to rehabilitate the land. 


Photo credit: Win Goodbody |

Five federal agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Forest Service, work together at the National Interagency Fire Center to reduce the duplication of services, cut costs and coordinate with national fire planning and operations.  These land managers come together to alleviate post-fire threats, including rehab of burned sagebrush.

You, too, can help restore this important part of the Western landscape.

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You’re invited to Salmon Fest - The Best Show in the West! 

Looking for a great way to enjoy the last few days of beautiful weather? Come to the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival, a free family-friendly event celebrating the outdoors, science, art, and of course, salmon.
What is Salmon Fest? It’s a celebration of the return of the salmon to our northwest rivers. Every year, thousands of people converge on the grounds of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, located at the mouth of the scenic Icicle Canyon near Leavenworth, Washington. The festival kicks off with two special school days, September 18 and 19Saturday, September 20 is open to the public.
This year’s theme of “Salmon Adventures” comes alive with a wealth of activities: sidewalk chalk art, music, story-telling, and “edutainment.” Experience Native American culture first hand. Take part in the costume parade, win prizes in the discovery hunt, and test your fishing skills with our brand new fishing simulator. 
This is a unique opportunity to discover and appreciate the complexities of the natural world and the significance of salmon to the people of the northwest.
Learn more about the dozens of free, family-friendly activities going on this weekend:

Bird by Bird Program Extended to Oregon

North Portland’s Ockley Green - the first school to participate

September brings the beginning of the school year and a time when leaves are falling and temperatures are dropping. Students are grasping the last days of summer and wishing to spend as much time outside before the Pacific Northwest rains arrive. Ms. Sue Peters, the 6th grade science teacher at Ockley Green Middle School agrees. She leads the class outside, on a mission to create a bird habitat that will provide the focus for the new Bird by Bird program, the school has initiated this year.


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Multilingual Monday: Finding Joie de Vivre on the Job

Salut! Meet Edouard Sellier, a French engineering student who recently spent the summer at Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery in Warm Springs, Oregon. Today’s Multilingual Monday has been translated from French and follows him on his summer journey in the “American West.”

Currently, I am in engineering school at ISA Lille and this summer I had a chance to be an assistant engineer. So I turned to an area that interested me greatly: fish propagation. Luckily, I was able to find an internship at Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery, and that is where the adventure began!

 Photo: A photo I took upon arriving at Warm Springs reservation.

Everything is exotic for a young Frenchman landing on a Native American reservation. Just looking around one can see the scenery change from arid landscape to snowy mountains. I was greeted by Mary Bayer, project leader for fish propagation. I quickly discovered how things work at the hatchery following Joe, Kevin and Dan in their daily work.


Photo: Edouard works with staff to learn the ropes of fish propagation and hatchery engineering. 

Fish raised on the site are magnificent salmon called “Chinook”. My task here was to test an anti-algae produced in grow-out ponds. This require calculating the tank volume measures, planning treatment, and observing the algal evolution in the pond at a microscopic level.


But the most surprising experience comes with spawning salmon. First, in the morning we go into a pool where the temperature is between 5 and 10 ° C, a good way to get into shape for the rest of the day! Then, it’s time to reach into the water to catch fish and sort them to see if they are ready to to breed or not. You learn quickly if the fish is « ripe » and ready to spawn or not.

Another stage of salmon propagation at the Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery is the vaccination of salmon. This year it was done under special conditions and the fish are vaccinated on a table in the middle of the mond. Again, we got to go fishing for salmon, which was a good experience!

Of course my two months in Warm Springs are not confined to only a few days of vaccination and salmon breeding. I had the chance to meet generous people always willing to help me discover what this job is all about. I had a summer full of growth in the American West!

Check out our new Conservation Language in Any Language blog to read Edouard’s story in French! 

Behind the Flames, Part VIII: A Community Rises From the Ashes of the Carlton Complex Fire

By Amanda Smith/USFWS

Photo: Started on July 14 by lightning, the Carlton Complex fire destroyed much of Pateros, a small town in Washington’s Methow Valley. Credit: Mike Bonnicksen/World Photo

They are the haunting questions I avoid asking myself with the naïve belief that if I refuse to consider them, they won’t become reality: What would I do if I lost everything? What if my house, car, tools, family photos, and cherished possessions were completely destroyed, leaving me and my family homeless and vulnerable?

Nearly two months ago, hundreds of residents in Central Washington’s Methow Valley were forced to do more than ask these questions, thanks to the brutal Carlton Complex fire, they had to live them.  They are still living them. Small agricultural communities like Peteros, a town of 677 that lost 322 homes, are beginning to pick up the pieces with the help of volunteers of every stripe from near and far.  But how does a community come back after such devastation? Can they? More tough questions but this time I was determined to ask them.

 I interviewed Dave Irving, complex manager at the Leavenworth Fisheries Complex, and his wife Kathi, longtime residents and community leaders in Wenatchee, an hour south of the areas ravaged by the fire.  The Irvings spent countless hours as volunteers in the extensive efforts to help fire victims and survivors. While a bit reluctant to be named, Dave and Kathi agreed to let me share their story in hopes that readers will be informed about the other side of fire – rebuilding – and maybe even inspired to help their own communities rebuild.

Photo: Methow Valley shrouded in smoke from the Carlton Complex fire. Credit: Don Seabrook/World Photo

Me: Can you describe the devastation? What was it like in Pateros?

Dave: It is really tough to describe how a fire moves unless you see it with your own eyes. In Pateros, the hardest hit, things happened so quickly and unpredictably. I remember seeing a brick church up on a hill that looked okay from one side but on the other side the fire came down the hill and scorched it, totally devastating all the homes down the hill behind it. Panic and shock really set in at that point. These people had nothing left.

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Leaving a Legacy

Tom Miewald has always loved maps. “As a kid, I drew maps all the time, of nearly anything, any place. Some people thought I was a weird kid,” says Miewald. “Fortunately my third grade teacher was encouraging about it.”

Miewald turned his fascination with maps into a career in extracting information from large landscapes for conservation purposes. He’s worked for NGOs, the Peace Corps, and now for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Landscape Geographer. With the Fish and Wildlife Service, Miewald relies less on surveying equipment and weeks tramping through isolated parts of the world, and more on high-tech data collection systems like airborne LIDAR platforms that generate the highly accurate maps used for strategic landscape planning.

“A little more accurate than crayons,” says Miewald.


Miewald making new friends on behalf of the Peace Corps’ agroforestry projects in Cameroon. Credit: Heather Miewald

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Keep Wildlife Weird: Happy Wonderful Weirdos Day!

Photo: Echolocating big brown bat chasing insect, Credit: Jessica Nelson/National Science Foundation

Is there anything quite so wonderfully weird as the bat? Whether you find them freaky or fascinating, there is no doubt that they are one of the weirdos of the wildlife world. And we think they are pretty wonderful. With over 1,300 species worldwide, there is a lot to learn and love about these guys. Check out these crazy bat facts:

Fact: Bats have the fastest muscles of all mammals 

These “superfast” squeak muscles are used to send out echolocation calls, up to 200 a second. That’s almost 100 times faster than the fastest muscles humans have- the muscles used to blink! Speaking of eyes, you’ve probably heard the old saying “blind as a bat”. Well, that’s not true at all! Bats have pretty good eyesight- about like humans- but since they are out hunting and flying at night, bats use echolocation for navigation and hunting their prey. 
Check out this nifty video for kids about echolocation: 

Speaking of echolocation…
Fact: Some bats produce sounds that are as loud as a jet plane flying low overhead- although we can’t hear them because they are out of our hearing range.To be sure they don’t deafen themselves with all this shouting, bats have a special muscle that closes off the inside of their ear when they shout. 
And how to bats capture those flying insects once they zero in on them?
Fact: For species with a tail membrane, they make a pouch with the tail, scoop up the bug, and CHOMP! In order to do that, the bats’ legs are attached so that the knees bend the opposite way to those of humans: backwards and outwards instead of forwards! 
In this short video, you can hear the bat engage those “superfast” muscles- speeding up their echolocation call as the zero in on the insect- and watch the bat create a pouch with its tail to scoop up the insect:


It Takes a Village to Raise a Salmon: Multilingual Monday, Partnership Edition

Partnerships are the Heart of Conservation


Photo: A multitude of federal, state, Tribal, and nonprofit partners have worked for more than a decade to restore Ohop Creek for salmonid populations. Photo credit: Kim Bredensteiner, NLT

The African proverb states that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  The same can be said for restoring the environment.  In the Nisqually Valley of Washington, a group of people are trying to do just that.  Federal state agencies, the Nisqually Indian Tribe and private groups have been working together for more than a decade to restore an area of Ohop Creek (a tributary to the Nisqually River) back to its salmon-producing days.


Photo: A historic farm building on the property is evidence of Ohop’s rich history. Credit: FWS

The valley and creek were altered in the 1800s by people for farming and pastures.  Ohop Creek was rechanneled, changing the direction of the creek and altering its salmon- and trout-friendly habitats.  Because of both the historical and biological connections, specialists such as Rich Carlson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restoration ecologist, and Christopher Ellings, Nisqually Indian Salmon Recovery Manager, work together to find creative solutions to restore the land.

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Behind the Flames, Part VII: Wildfires Can Have Dramatic Impact on Northern Spotted Owls

By Karl Halupka
Karl is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife  Service biologist at the Central Washington Field Office in Wenatchee. He started surveying spotted owls in 1981.

This summer’s wildfires in the Pacific Northwest have burned an area larger than Rhode Island, nearly a half million acres.  Wildfires and subsequent flash floods are normal events in the dry forests typical of the eastern Cascades, but their consequences can be tragic.   People can lose everything, including their lives, in these natural events.  Wildlife can lose everything in these events, too.


Effects of fire on habitat for spotted owls vary depending on a wildfire’s burn severity. Photo by USFWS

The northern spotted owl is one wildlife species that lives in our dry forests and has a lot to lose from wildfire.  Because this iconic owl is associated with older forests and how we manage them, it is one of the most intensively studied birds in the world.  Research on this owl includes investigations into how they respond to wildfires.  Scientists learn about how wildfires affect spotted owls by tracking owls equipped with small radio transmitters, or relocating owls marked with leg bands by imitating the owl’s calls and getting them to call back.

Wildfires can affect spotted owls directly, by exposing individuals to heat and smoke, or indirectly by changing their habitat.  The severity of direct effects from fires is influenced by an owl’s age and mobility and whether it is nesting.  Young owls that aren’t yet able to fly can’t get away from smoke and heat from fires, sometimes resulting in deaths of young owls during fires. 

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You Otter Know: The Difference Between Sea and River Otters

By Deanna Lynch/USFWS


Photo: River otter or sea otter? Check out our handy identification cards below and test your otter expertise with the answers at the end of this blog.

As a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Lacey, Washington, I answer all kinds of wildlife-related questions.  Every spring and summer, I receive numerous phone calls and emails from throughout the Puget Sound area requesting that I come get a sea otter out from under a house, off a boat, or off a deck.  Usually this critter is making a very large mess and it stinks. 

My general response is to ask a few basic questions,  then explain that this critter is really a river otter, not a sea otter, and they will need to inquire with their local animal services to get assistance with encouraging the river otter to relocate.


Just because they are called river otters, doesn’t mean they only occur in a river or fresh water.  All along the West Coast, rivers otters can be found swimming and foraging in the near-shores of the Pacific Ocean, including the Puget Sound. In Washington, sea otters primarily live on the outer coast between Makah Bay and Grays Harbor, but we get occasional sightings in the Puget Sound.


So, can you tell the difference? Test yourself on these otter photos below and get more info here:

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