Oregon Fish & Wildlife struggling to help non-game species

Western Pond Turtle

Western Pond Turtle. Courtesy USFWS.

If you’re reading this, you must care about non-game wildlife. But with a long history of relying on fishing and hunting fees to fund only Oregon’s game animals, non-game species have been left in the dust.

The series below, which appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting, explains the problems and possible solutions to helping Oregon’s non-game wildlife before it’s too late.

Part 1: Wildlife Neglected: How Oregon Lost Track Of Species It’s Supposed To Protect

Part 2: Wildlife Neglected: Lacking Support, Conservation Falters At Oregon Fish and Wildlife

Part 3: Wildlife Neglected: To Fund Conservation, Oregon Hopes To Succeed Where Past Efforts Failed

Oregon Fish & Wildlife updates species conservation plan

By Tracie Hornung

Pygmy Rabbit

Pygmy Rabbit
Courtesy USFWS

Oregon Fish and Wildlife recently released the first update in 10 years to its Oregon Conservation Strategy.

The update identifies which habitats and non-game species have the greatest need for conservation, how they should be managed and how such management can be funded.

It lists nearly 300 species thought to be in decline in the state, including 58 bird and 29 mammalian species. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plant species are also included.

Bird species include:

  • Common Nighthawk
  • Western Bluebird
  • Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Marbled Murrelet
  • Northern Spotted Owl
  • Greater Sage-Grouse
  • Harlequin Duck

Mammals:

  • Several species of bats
  • Wolverine
  • Western Gray Squirrel
  • Pygmy Rabbit
  • Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
  • Columbian White-tailed Deer
  • Gray Wolf
  • Harbor porpoise
  • Gray and Killer Whales

Find out more about the Oregon Conservation Strategy.

 

See a wild animal baby alone?

By Tracie Hornung

Baby Red Fox

Baby Red Fox. Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service

This is the time of year when Rowena Wildlife Clinic and other wildlife rehabilitators get lots of calls from concerned people who believe a baby animal has been abandoned by its mother.

However, in many — if not most — cases mom is simply nearby foraging. If you take the baby away from where mom left it you may be creating a crisis that would not have existed.

Here’s a recent example: A woman’s well-meaning son found a young fawn. He picked it up, took it home, and his mother called the wildlife clinic. The clinic volunteer told them to search the area for a dead doe (presumably the mom) and if there was no sight of a dead deer in the area, to put the fawn back where he found it — and to watch and wait. If the mom did not come back after a certain period of time, she was either dead, or had abandoned the fawn for some reason, or the baby had already been away too long and its mom had given up on it.

The last scenario is the one you don’t want to create.  

Unfortunately, a myth still persists about wildlife: that the scent of a human on a wild animal baby will drive off the mom. That is incorrect.  (See this article by the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game.) So don’t let that myth influence your behavior.

Another thing to keep in mind: Removing or “capturing” an animal from the wild and keeping it in captivity without a permit is against Oregon state law (OAR 635-044-0015), as is transporting many animals. Most other states have similar laws. Last year, seven people in Oregon were cited for such offenses.

To learn more, see this press release by the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife: Leave young wildlife in the wild. Also see ODFW’s Injured and Young Wildlife FAQs.

Conference provides loads of info to wildlife rehabilitators

Attendees settle in at the conference.

Attendees settle in at the conference.
Tracie Hornung photo

By Tracie Hornung

Dr. Jean Cypher and volunteers of Rowena Wildlife Center recently traveled to Salem to attend the one-day Third Biennial Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference, sponsored by the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

Highlights included cutting-edge speakers in the wildlife health and rehabilitation community. Staff members, volunteers and students involved with wildlife rehabilitation centers in Oregon and Washington attended.

It’s always fun being in a room full of “animal people” and this conference was no exception. And it was encouraging to see a broad range of ages – from experts who have been working with wildlife for decades to young students and volunteers just starting out in the field.

A whole lot of information was packed into the eight-hour conference. Physical rehabilitation, pain management, behavior, and recent research pertaining to birds and mammals were among the many topics. But I found the three most interesting were on positive reinforcement training by Cascade Raptor Center, black bear rehabilitation at PAWS Wildlife Center in Washington state, and the ODFW presentation on white-nose syndrome in bats. Bat researchers are trying to find the answer to why white-nose syndrome “jumped” across the continental U.S. from Minnesota to Washington, where the syndrome was found this spring. See the ODFW press release.

Other topics at the conference were:

  •  Release Criteria
  •  Criteria for selection of education birds
  •  Biosecurity and zoonotic disease
  •  Raptor re-feeding syndrome
  •  Seabird facility design and air sampling
  •  Small mammal rehab
  •  Update on regulations

This conference was a worthwhile experience for wildlife rehabilitators, and it’s great that the state clearly values and encourages the work of independent rehabilitation centers.

Postpone tree removal/pruning until fall or winter

By Tracie Hornung

Bird nest


Now that spring is here, one of the volunteers at the clinic says she hears chain saws in her neighborhood and worries that wildlife habitat will be destroyed in the process . . . which, of course, can spell doom for the animal — and possible offspring — whose home has suddenly disappeared.

In fact, that’s just what happened in the volunteers’ neighborhood. A tree trimmer cut down a tree containing the nest of a Western Gray Squirrel and one of the infant squirrels died. She notes that the clinic receives bird nests from felled trees every year, too.

Tree cutting

Don’t do this now!

Although you should wait until fall or winter to cut down trees to prevent destroying nests, you don’t have to curtail your other spring cleaning efforts as long as you use techniques that won’t harm your wild animal neighbors. Check out this “cheat sheet” by The Humane Society on how to do so.

Busy beavers help themselves and their ecosystems

By Tracie Hornung

Beaver

American Beaver (Castor canadensis), Oregon’s official state animal. Courtesy ODFW

If you’ve ever seen a beaver in the wild, you’re one of the lucky ones.

These mammals, North America’s largest rodent, are most active in the evening or at night. Beavers may weigh up to 65 pounds and average about four feet long. Their habitat consists of ponds, marshes and streams, and their bodies have evolved to fit perfectly within that environment. Thanks to webbed hind feet, a broad paddle-like tail, and membranes that cover the eyes when the animal is underwater, beavers are supreme swimmers. (But that evolutionary design makes them rather clumsy on land.) They can remain underwater for at least 15 minutes by slowing their heart rate. And their large teeth — their upper incisors can grow up to an inch long — contribute greatly to their well-known logging abilities.

Beaver tree

Results of beaver activity.
Tracie Hornung photo

But it is their thick luxurious fur, ranging from reddish brown to black, that defined their destiny after European settlers invaded North America. In fact, Oregon’s early economy was built on beaver pelts. During the 1800s, when European and U.S. East Coast demand for beaver hats and coats was at its peak, fur trappers nearly eliminated the species through unregulated trapping.

With proper management, however, beavers have become re-established and are now common throughout their range. But habitat destruction has become their most recent threat, and the improvement of wetlands and riparian areas is necessary for beavers, as well as a myriad of other species — which are helped by beavers’ aquatic activities.

Beavers build dams to create deep water that protects them from predators, helps them access their food supply and provides underwater entrances to their dens. And the ponds that beavers create expand wetlands and enhance habitat for many other fish and wildlife species, such as juvenile coho salmon.

Beaver Dam

Beaver dam
Courtesy USFWS

It’s no wonder the phrase “busy as a beaver” exists because beavers are industrious and skilled loggers and carpenters. They can fell a tree up to five-and-a-half feet in diameter. They cut down trees to construct their dens, dams, and for food. They enjoy eating the leaves, inner bark, and twigs of aspen (a favorite food), alder, birch, cottonwood, willow and other deciduous trees.

The dens they build (also known as lodges) are waterproofed with mud, and serve as a place to rest, stay warm, give birth and raise young — an average of four kits per litter. Beavers live in colonies that may contain up to 12 individuals. The colony is usually made up of the adult breeding pair and their offspring. Most kits remain with the adults until they are almost two years old. The kits then go off on their own in search of mates and suitable spots to begin colonies, which may be several miles away.

If you’re interested in learning how to help beavers and create sustainable habitat for them, read “Living with Wildlife: American Beaver” at the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife web site: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/docs/beaver.pdf


Sadly, beavers’ logging and dam-building that sometimes results in flooding or in damaging property inspire humans to remove them. In Oregon, landowners are allowed to trap beavers. However, the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife states on its web site, “Removing beavers is often a short-term solution as other beavers will move into the area if suitable habitat is present.”

To learn about recent research at Boston University related to this issue, see “Why Monogamous Beavers Would Be Good News.”

 

Bobcat: a sight to behold!

By Tracie Hornung

Bobcat

Bobcat
Lynx rufus
Photo by Gary Kramer
Courtesy USFWS

Just as I rounded a bend riding my bike to the wildlife clinic a few years ago, a bobcat dashed across the road. It was gone in what seemed like a nanosecond, but the image of that small but powerful animal has stayed with me.

In my opinion, all cats—wild or domestic—are gorgeous, and the bobcat is no exception.

It’s the smallest wild cat in Oregon—about twice the size of a housecat—but with longer legs, a shorter tail and a more muscular body.

Bobcats are found throughout Oregon, and according to the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, bobcats in western Oregon possess more distinct markings than those in the east side of the state. Their lifespan is 12-13 years.

Bobcat territories are established with scent markings, and territory sizes are generally 25-30 square miles for males and about five square miles for females.

Although In the early to mid 1900s, bobcat populations in many Midwestern and Eastern states were decimated because of the value of the cats’ fur, their populations have rebounded with the advent of laws in the 1970s that protected wild cats. Today, populations are stable in many northern states and are reviving in many others.

However, as Defenders of Wildlife states, they are still hunted and trapped for their fur throughout most of their range, and habitat destruction and the ever-expanding human population limit their ranges.

Let’s hope that our grandchildren will have the same opportunity I did of seeing these beautiful cats in the wild.

Take a look at some of RWC’s beautiful patients

Rowena Wildlife Clinic is lucky to have volunteer Frank Rodrick of StrayShots taking photos of the clinic’s patients. Below is a small selection of his excellent photographs. Click on them to zoom in.

 

 

 

 

 

Raising chickens this spring? Read this.

by Jean Cypher, DVM

Avian influenza is an interesting ecological and cultural story: The virus has been around for millennia, apparently co-evolving with waterfowl, which carry and shed it, but exhibiting very few symptoms. Technology improved enough to detect it in the 1980s, when we suspected that it was being passed between Asian poultry, pigs and migrating birds. Then the latter passed a strain of the virus to seals off the U.S. West Coast, causing mass mortality.

Today the virus has been identified as a single-strand RNA virus (the kind that tends to mutate a lot) with 144 permutations or strains of the virus. It is found mostly found in dabbling ducks, and sometimes in other aquatic birds.

Things got interesting late last year because wild ducks brought the H5N2 and H5N8 strains of the virus south on their fall migration.

A couple of strains have shown up in poultry, causing death often in less than 48 hours. The viral strains that are deadly for poultry are called “highly pathogenic avian influenza” HPAI (as opposed to LPAI). These strains aren’t causing disease in humans.

Things got interesting late last year because wild ducks brought the H5N2 and H5N8 strains of the virus south on their fall migration. This January, chickens and guinea fowl in backyard flocks in southern British Columbia started dying – and then in Winston, Oregon, then on the Oregon/Idaho border, and then at a commercial poultry operation in California. Those outbreaks had to be controlled by killing all the poultry (144,000 at one commercial poultry facility). In the meantime, several Idaho gyrfalcons fed duck meat from an Oregon hunter caused the falconer’s gyrfalcons, as well as a wildlife rehabilitator’s great horned owl, to die.

The strains causing problems here were traced to Southeast Asia. Wild ducks took them north and mixed with birds in the Siberian and Pacific flyways. The strains were also carried 10,000 miles west to northern Europe in the summer of 2014. There is a lot of mixing of birds between all the flyways.

Oregon Dept. of Agriculture's new brochure on Avian Influenza.

Oregon Dept. of Agriculture’s new brochure on Avian Influenza.

AI brochure-Pg2The virus dies quickly when exposed to sun and air. But it can live for weeks in cool, moist habitat. So muddy shores of northern ponds are good sources of infection. Waterfowl shed it in the feces, although it is also in the meat and organs, causing predatory birds to get sick. Poultry usually catch it by exposure to duck droppings. Poultry pass it to one another by coughing and sneezing.

Thirty countries have instituted some kind of embargo, regional or nationwide, of U.S. poultry. Those countries won’t lift their trade embargoes unless we follow international protocol for containing and eradicating the disease in domestic flocks. So if a backyard flock gets infected, all the poultry and domestic ducks are killed, even though the latter would probably survive. The birds most at risk are free-range poultry that have access to water where wild ducks congregate or where wild ducks are flying into chicken yards to panhandle some free food.

When birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway, some move far north-to-south, and many move just a bit: Arctic to Canada, or Canada to Oregon. Most of the sampling information comes from swabs of hunter-killed wild ducks. Since hunting season occurs only during the fall migration, we don’t know if the birds overwintering to the south of Oregon, which will return to us this spring, may also be carrying the disease. So there may or may not be outbreaks among poultry this spring. The virus may spread east across the U.S. or these variants could just peter out in the wild population.

Unfortunately, this development is a game-changer for how people live with free-range chickens and other poultry and wild waterfowl on the West Coast. Until further notice, it’s not safe for anyone who raises chickens to let their birds be exposed to wild duck feces and it’s not safe for falconers to hunt their birds on ducks.

 

Reindeer antlers — did you know . . . ?

By Tracie Hornung

This is the time of year when reindeer antlers might bring to mind those silly fabric antlers humans wear to holiday parties or attach to their dog’s heads. (Why they think a dog might enjoy this, I can’t answer.)

Caribou, also known as reindeer

Caribou, also known as reindeer. Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

But some facts show that real reindeer antlers are pretty amazing.

But before we discuss antlers, let’s get our terminology cleared up. Reindeer and caribou are essentially the same. Here in the Western Hemisphere  they’re commonly known as caribou; in Europe, reindeer. But even though we’re in the West, in light of the holiday season, let’s refer to them as reindeer.

Reindeer are members of the family Cervidae, including deer, elk and moose, and they are widely distributed across the Arctic and Subarctic. A small, endangered population in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington is the southernmost group in North America.

Reindeer are the only cervid in which the females also have antlers. And male reindeer have the largest antlers relative to body size among deer. In some subspecies the bull reindeers’ antlers are the second largest of any deer, after the moose, and can range up to 39 inches in width and 53 inches in length.

Antlers grow from bony supporting structures called pedicels. Secretions from the pituitary gland initiate the growth of antlers, and growth is rapid — up to almost an inch per day.  As they grow, they’re covered with skin and soft hair called velvet, which carries blood vessels and nerves.

As antlers reach the end of their growth, the centers become filled with coarse, spongy bone and marrow spaces. The velvet dies and wears off, helped along by the reindeer’s rubbing and thrashing its antlers against trees and other vegetation.

In winter, hormone stimulation to the male reindeer’s antlers wanes as daylight shortens.  (Female reindeer don’t lose their antlers until calving time; spring or summer.) Without hormone stimulation the pedicel loses calcium, weakening the point of connection between it and the antler, and eventually the antler breaks off.

But Mother Nature sees to it that nothing goes to waste: Fallen antlers are eaten by rodents and other animals — a rich source of calcium and minerals for them.


For the difference between antlers and horns see the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web site.


Here’s a unique way to save reindeer lives:
Glowing reindeer antlers deter car wrecks