Cost-Effective, Ecologically Based Environmental Solutions
Spectacular Thelypody Ecological Monitoring and Grazing Experiment. Howell’s spectacular thelypody is a federally threatened (OR endangered) riparian plant endemic to eastern Oregon. It occurs in seasonally-flooded, alkaline meadows. It currently is only known to occur within a 15-mile radius of Haines, Oregon where most land is in private ownership and grazed. EcoWest was selected by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and implement a statistically-valid monitoring program to (1) track the plant population over time on a County property and (2) implement an innovative grazing experiment that allowed grazing on endangered plants during certain time periods. The experiment goal was to see if, or how, any changes in grazing regime could benefit both the plant and local ranchers. Delaying grazing until after flowering allowed spectacular thelypody expansion into previously grazed and suitable areas. It was less clear if annual late season grazing of previously protected habitats would allow population persistence, although rotational grazing and adjusting grazing among wet and dry years to increase rancher flexibility were suggested as potential options. The work was conducted in collaboration with the OR Dept of Agriculture, Baker County, Baker Soil and Water Conservation District and a private landowner.
Project Status: The study has concluded and the FWS is examining the results for on-the-ground application.
Strawberry Valley Watershed Management. EcoWest assisted the US Forest Service in developing a watershed management plan (136,000 acres) in which one of the goals was to improve native fish habitat. Alternatives reviewed included adding artificial structures to streams, planting to provide stream shade without other changes, and allowing beaver to re-colonize the watershed. As part of this project, EcoWest compared wetland functions, structure and composition among wetlands with different land use histories (grazing vs no-grazing, historical grazing intensity) and length of beaver activity (historical but currently none, continual occupation [80 years], more recent colonies of various ages). EcoWest also developed correlations between 11 species of willows, land use history, soil properties and floodplain relationships. The results were results by the USFS to select a watershed management strategy that included removing the previously-installed, but non-functional stream structures, encouraging and/or sustaining beaver establishment, and reconnecting the historically channelized streams to their floodplains.
Project Status: The watershed plan was finalized and project implementation is ongoing.
Climate Change and Resource Management. Douglas County, WA contains the northernmost population of the greater sage grouse in the Pacific Northwest. It also contains the greatest extent of intact sagebrush in the wheat-growing region of the Columbia Plateau. Changes in sagebrush habitat have the potential for large effects on the sage grouse and changes in agricultural productivity have the potential for large effects on the area’s economy. EcoWest was contracted by the Bureau of Land Management, as part of the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative Program, to examine how climate change could affect (1) the distribution of all native habitats, particularly sagebrush, (2) how noxious weeds could be affected, (3) how agricultural production could change, and (4) how these results could be used to develop specific land management strategies. Based on the output of 18 different bioclimatic and mechanistic models, we identified that the total number of acres of potential future sagebrush habitat on BLM-managed land would remain approximately the same, but there would be a large change in distribution, with grassland dominating large areas of former sagebrush habitat. Conversely, wheat yields were at least initially projected to increase in most but not all areas, with grazing productivity affected by increases in non-palatable noxious weeds such as medusahead. These results were used to identify areas in which win-win-win habitat restoration opportunities would occur (sagebrush or native grassland restoration projects would likely persist under climate change without loss of agricultural productivity) and where weed control would likely be more urgent in future years.
Project Status: The results are being used to restore native habitats as funding becomes available.