Monday, December 10, 2012

Species Profile: The Mazama Pocket Gopher

Posted by F. T. Waterstrat, USFWS

Western Washington State is home to a shrinking prairie landscape and the animals that depend on it are in trouble. Learn about the life and times of one of the newest species proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act and about an amazing animal that our biologists are committed to conserving:

The Mazama Pocket Gopher (Thomomys mazama)

Thōmos (Greek): heap, from the heaps of earth thrown out along the burrows + mys: mouse-like;
mazama: (Native American) A former volcano (now Crater Lake) in Oregon where the species was first described in 1897

The inner lips keep out dirt while the gopher digs.
Photo Credit: Kim Flotlin, USFWS

Washington’s Mazama Pocket Gophers are busy burrowing rodents that live under our feet in the prairie soils of Western Washington. The word “pocket” in “pocket gopher” is not a description of their size, but rather refers to the pocket-like pouches in their cheeks that they stuff full of food and nesting material. These fur-lined pouches can be turned inside out and emptied, like you would your pants pockets.  Not only do these 6 -9 inch diggers create tunnels to store food (forbs, grasses, fleshy roots and bulbs), but they also dig deep tunnels with chambers that act as nurseries for their young, pantries, and latrines.  The shallower tunnels are used mainly for foraging as they scurry and burrow under the soil.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Happened to Pearlshell Mussels in the Hanford Reach?

This is the 2nd installment of this story.  To learn more see our post from July 25, 2012: "Mussels in a Desert?!"

By Joe Bartoszek, Ph.D., Resource Contaminant Specialist, Washington Fish and Wildlife Office

The western pearlshell mussel (Margaritifera falcata) may no longer exist in the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River and scientists Dr. Joe Bartoszek of USFWS and with Doctors Chris Ingersoll of USGS and Dr. Chris Barnhart of Missouri State College are working to find out why.  A 2004 survey in the area found only shells from animals that had died in the past 10 years even though there is plenty of suitable habitat and  they were once found in large numbers. One reason could be contaminants originating from the Hanford Nuclear Site.

The Hanford Reach of the Columbia River, Washington State. Once home to the western pearlshell mussel. 
Photo Credit: Department of Energy

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Granite Creek Gets "X-Stream Makeover"!!


by Carrie Cordova


Recovery of native fish species is one of the many important tasks of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As a biologist working for the USFWS,  I was thrilled to work with the Washington (State) Department of Fish and Wildlife and Idaho Panhandle National Forest on a new and exciting project in Granite Creek, located in a sub-basin of the Pend Oreille River watershed. 

Large wood is an important component of native fish habitat because it provides cover and increases pool habitat. In the project’s planning stages, we were eager to see what fish would do when lots of whole trees and many pieces of large wood were placed in the extremely degraded stream.

Our fearless sawyer strategically felled trees into the stream from the adjacent stream bank and, with the help of others and a grip hoist, dragged large dead wood from the stream bank into the stream. Almost immediately following placement of a large log or tree into the stream, fish came, reveling in this newfound habitat! 

Compared to traditional log placement techniques that utilize heavy equipment, this was a very low budget project and resulted in minimal environmental impact and miles of newly created quality fish habitat.  This pilot project shows great success for resident fish in Granite Creek and gives us hope that this technique will be improved upon for future restoration. We are delighted!

Photo 1:  Process of using grip hoist to transfer large dead wood from streambank into stream (Photo credit: Carrie Cordova, USFWS)

Photo 2:  Large wood presence in Granite Creek (Photo credit: Carrie Cordova, USFWS)


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Guitars, Feathers, and Forests... What Do They All Have in Common?

By Russ MacRae
Gibson Guitar Corp. settled a criminal enforcement case with the United States recently over their alleged illegal importation of rosewood and ebony from Madagascar and India to make guitar fingerboards.  Fingerboards, by the way, are the top portion of the neck of the guitar where, as you might expect, the player presses their fingers to make different notes.  For a music aficionado, the better the fingerboard, the better the look and sound of the guitar.
Some considered this another example of the “feds” over-reaching into the well-meaning affairs of a well-respected private company.  After all, don’t the feds have better things to do in these tough budget times than make a stink about a few trees?  Well, aside from the fact that Gibson seems to have broken the law, they knowingly or not, acted as a small but important cog in the complex mechanics of international environmental degradation.  We, like Gibson Guitar Corp., all play a part in in the slow and steady pressure on our environment, and we, Gibson Guitar Corp. and the “feds” all have a duty to do what we can to temper this degradation.  More people, more demand, more pressure.
But Fingerboards?  Really? How much “environmental degradation” could possibly come from importation of a few fingerboards? Actually, quite a bit.  But first, let’s go back in time and talk feathers.  Back home here in the U.S. in the early 1900’s, a decent, high-quality woman’s hat just had to have bird feathers, and the showier the better.  And hey, if they looked good on hats, why not stuff a few or keep ‘em in cages?  Well like so often happens, too much of a good thing, mixed with lots and lots of people wanting that “good thing,” and you start running out. Supply and demand, you know.  And that’s what started happening to birds.  They started running out.  So, we the people made a law, called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to inject some temperance in an economically driven, supply and demand governed business.  And the bird populations started coming around, and today are here for the grandchildren of our grandchildren to appreciate.  Yes, at the time, curtailing feather harvest wasn’t wildly popular, but for many of us, whether we’re wholly conscious of it or not, we feel just a little better about life when we see that flock of birds or hear the meadowlarks sing.  And so, I for one want my grandchildren to someday see places like Madagascar (Disney movie version aside) and sit below an ebony Giving Tree.
So back to fingerboards and guitars. The best of the best wood is that deep black ebony that looks and sounds so good.  And sort of like a really big, ripe watermelon, some of the “sweetest” darkest wood is in the middle of a very old, big tree.  Thus the “grandfather trees” are the most sought after trees in Madagascar and in turn, the most threatened.  So, a few fingerboards you say? A tree or two or three? So what? Well, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that in 2011 alone, Gibson imported almost 4,000 board feet of ebony (a board foot is 12” x 12” x 1” thick).  While we don’t know the exact size and number of trees cut to get this much ebony, we assumed that the quality of ebony that Gibson would want would have to come from “larger” older trees that are likely 8” or larger in diameter and no more than 25’ tall.  If you do the math, that equates to about 800 trees.  We can argue the math, but even Gibson admits that they bought wood pieces, not trees, so they don’t even know for sure how many trees were cut. Nonetheless, it’s more than a few trees.  Now the kicker… how long do you think it takes an ebony tree to get to this relatively modest size of 25’ tall?  Roughly 100 years!  To put that in perspective, the average pine or cedar here in the western U.S. would grow this large in less than 20 years.  The point is that cutting even a few ebony trees equates to several generations of people and wildlife doing without these magnificent trees and the wildlife they support.    
Alright, so maybe it is more than a few trees, and maybe some old ones, but overall does it really matter?  First off, remember that Gibson and the U.S. are not the only folks in the international community wanting the best of the best ebony.  Next, consider that the entire “island” (many talk of it as our 8th continent) contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity on only 0.4% of our global landmass.  In other words, it is a unique, irreplaceable global hotspot for plants and animals.  Amazingly, 95% of the mammals and 83% of the plants are found nowhere else but Madagascar.  As the World Bank puts it in their $57.2 million dollar work plan for helping deal with these problems…  “The protection of Madagascar’s biodiversity is an international responsibility” (World Bank [2011] Report No. 61964-MG).       
So, is it fair? Is it like putting Ben and Jerry in jail for using special, protected cherries in its Cherry Garcia ice cream? Well, the law says you can’t, but fairness depends on our individual views of what’s most important in our own worlds.  I do like my ice cream, but I’d give up a little of that bliss if it meant we could hang onto a few more rare cherry trees, or ebony trees, for my kids to see.  To make amends, Gibson did agree to pay $50,000 as a community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to promote “conservation, identification and propagation of protected tree species used in the musical instrument industry and the forests where those species are found.”  A small sum when considering the magnitude of the problem in Madagascar, but a small step, and worth a feather in Gibson’s cap.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mussels in the Desert - Really??

by Joe Bartoszek, Ph.D., Resource Contaminant Specialist, Washington Fish and Wildlife Office
When people in Washington think of mussels, they usually conjure up thoughts of tasty coastal shellfish dripping with butter.  But mussels are also found in fresh water. In fact, North America has the largest number of species of fresh water mussels found anywhere in the world--nearly 300 species, or about 35% of the world’s varieties!  Freshwater mussels are also among the most imperiled animals in North America.

Most of North America’s  freshwater mussel species are in the southeast (Alabama has 180) but in eastern Washington we have about 5 species . Two species that used to be found in the Hanford Reach are the western pearlshell (Margaritifera falcata) and western ridged (Gonidea angulata). Middens (piles of old shells) containing western pearlshell have been found along the Hanford Reach. Some of these old shells were left there as long as 6,000 years ago. From evidence like this, we assume that the western pearlshell has long been an important resource in the Columbia River and in particular the Hanford Reach.
Although a 2004 survey of the mussels at Hanford Reach did not turn up any live western pearlshell, a shell of a recently dead (within the last 10 years) western pearlshell WAS found. Hanford Reach  still appears to be suitable habitat for the western pearlshell. So why are they no longer found there? Can it be related to the presence of  the Hanford Nuclear Reservation? If so, what could have caused them to disappear? Can they be brought back successfully? These are some of the questions the Fish and Wildlife Service are hoping to be able to answer with a study we began with the Hanford Natural Resource Trustees to look at the toxicity of hexavalent chromium, a Hanford Site contaminant, to the western pearlshell.
Stay tuned for further Word from the Wild installments as we uncover some of the mysteries associated with this complex and unusual creature.
Western pearlshell mussel
Photo credit: M. Fernandez, USFWS

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Riding the Range with Pgymy Rabbits

By Erin Britton Kuttel

In March 2012, I assisted with Columbia Basin Pygmy rabbit recovery efforts. As the shuttle driver of nine precious little gems, I drove from Spokane to Boise to transfer pygmy rabbits captured in Nevada by Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.  The small native rabbits were adorable.  Each one was carried in a rubber tub with lots of air holes on the top, and filled with bedding and fresh sage brush clippings to eat.  They scratched around and kept the ride entertaining. 

Along my 8 hour drive I stopped at a local grocer to pick up fresh lettuce to keep the rabbits hydrated and chatted with a local Oregon resident about the challenges facing these little mammals.  I drove them from Boise back to Douglas County, Washington where I met a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.  We headed out to the release site and set them loose with other captive-bred endangered Columbia Basin Pygmy rabbits in large outdoor enclosures at Sagebrush Flats.  It was very satisfying to be involved in hands-on recovery efforts for this beautiful animal.  The recent recovery efforts are proving to be very successful.   Between last fall and this spring we have transported 76 pygmy rabbits to add to the recovery effort in central Washington. Mixing up the captive bred rabbits with additional wild-caught rabbits from Oregon and Nevada has resulted in 87 kits (baby pgymy rabbits) released to the wild as of July 3, with more planned to be released. So far, 130 kits have been born at the soft-release sites, and more are likely. Captive breeding efforts are also continuing. 

For more information go to:

Photo 1: Bunny in a box on its way to Sagebrush Flat.(Photo credit: Erin Kuttel, USFWS)
Photo 2: Adult pgymy rabbit next to its burrow. (Photo credit: Erin Kuttel, USFWS)

En marzo de 2012, ayudé en los esfuerzos de recuperación  del conejo enano de la Cuenca del Río Columbia (Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit).  Yo conducía el bus que transportaba, desde Spokane a Boise, nueve conejitos enanos que fueron capturados en el estado de Nevada por biólogos del Servicio de Pesca y Vida Silvestre de los Estados Unidos y del Departamento de Pesca y Vida Silvestre del Estado de Washington.  Los conejitos eran adorables.  Fueron  transportados individualmente en  bañeras de caucho que tenían bastantes agujeros para ventilación en la parte  superior, y con suficiente paja de colchón y recortes de arbustos de salvia para comer.  Rascaban por todos lados y mantuvieron el viaje entretenido.

En el transcurso del viaje que duró 8 horas, me detuve en una tienda local para conseguir lechuga fresca para mantener hidratados a los conejos y pude conversar con un residente local de Oregon acerca de los desafíos que enfrentan estos pequeños mami'feros.  Desde la ciudad de Boise, Idaho, manejé de vuelta hasta el condado de Douglas, Washington, en donde conocí a un biólogo del Departamento de Pesca y Vida Silvestre del estado de Washington.  Nos dirigimos hacia el lugar donde se les tenía que dejar en libertad y los soltamos, juntos con otros conejos que habían sido criados en cautiverio y que son también conejos enanos de la Cuenca del Río Columbia que están en peligro de extinción.  Los soltamos en corrales al aire libre en el area protegida de Sagebrush Flats.  Me dió mucha satisfaccion el haber podido participar en estas actividades dedicadas a la recuperación de este bello animal.  Los recientes esfuerzos están demostrando ser muy exitosos.  Entre el otoño pasado y esta primavera, se han transportado 76 conejos enanos que que se añaden a otros trabajos de recuperación en el area central del estado de Washington.  El haber mezclado los conejos criados en cautiverio con los otros conejos capturados en areas naturales en los estados de Oregon y Nevada, ha logrado que un total de 87 crías de conejos enanos hayan sido liberados a su hábitat natural, hasta la fecha del 3 de Julio de 2012, y se planea aumentar esta cantidad.  Hasta el momento, 130 crías han nacido en los sitios de liberación, y es probable que nazcan más.  También se continúan los esfuerzos de cría en cautiverio.

Para obtener más información, vaya a:

Foto 1: Un conejito en una caja en camino al área protegida de Sagebrush Flats.  (Photo credit: Erin Britton Kuttel, USFWS)
Foto 2: Un conejo enano adulto junto a su madriguera. (Photo credit: Erin Britton Kuttel, USFWS)

Viajando Por la Pradera con Conejos Enanos

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Restoration Complete for Puget Sound Energy Spill

Restoration is now complete for natural resources injured in the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) oil spill. In 2006, an accidental spill at a Puget Sound Energy facility released approximately 18,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the White River Watershed below the Crystal Mountain Ski Area.

Diesel fuel has the potential to negatively impact both species and their habitats. Anytime a spill occurs, federal, state, and tribal entities must identify and determine the extent of the injuries, recover damages from those responsible, and carry out restoration activities that compensate the public for the injury. All of this is achieved through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process, also known as NRDAR.  

What is NRDAR?  NRDAR is a legal process that determines the type and amount of restoration needed to compensate the public for harm to natural resources, and their human uses, that occur as a result of an oil spill.  “It helps us to fix what was broken."

Who are Natural Resource Trustees? Federal, state, and tribal entities with natural resource trust responsibilities for fish, wildlife, and other natural resources identify and determine the extent of the injuries, recover damages from those responsible, and plan and carry out restoration that compensates the public for the injury.  Natural resource trustees for the PSE - Crystal Mountain oil spill include the Department of the Interior through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, State of Washington, and Puyallup and Muckleshoot Indian Tribes. 

What natural resources were injured in the PSE-Crystal Mountain spill?  In addition to documented habitat-level injuries, this spill may have caused direct and indirect injuries to fish, including federally-ESA-listed threatened bull trout, and Chinook salmon, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates in the White River watershed. 

How were the injuries restored?  The two restoration projects focused on riverine habitat and Chinook salmon restoration but will also benefit other fish and wildlife species in the White River Watershed.  The Greenwater River floodplain restoration project restored river and floodplain processes to increase the range and distribution of salmon in the White River Watershed.  This project removed road fill along the Greenwater River and incorporated large woody material into the channel as engineered log jams.  It was a partnership effort with the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group and the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 

Photo 1: Green Water River restoration (South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group)
Photo 2: Juvenile salmon utilizing engineered log jam habitat (South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group)

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Photo credit: Mike Elam (USFWS)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Washington State office deals with some of the most complex natural resource issues in the nation.

Our main office is located in Lacey, Washington with sub-offices in Wenatchee (Central Washington Field Office) and Spokane (Eastern Washington Field Office). Together, we manage fish and wildlife issues under the Endangered Species Act and other federal authorities throughout the state.

We hope you enjoy learning more about what we do and would love to get to know you on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions please feel free to visit our website where the 'Contact Us' button will connect you with someone in our office.

Again, thanks so much for stopping by our page. We appreciate your enthusiasm and support.


¡Muchas gracias por visitar nuestra página!  Las oficinas del Servicio de Pesca y Vida Silvestre de EE.UU. en el estado de Washington trabajan con algunos de los asuntos más complejos de los recursos naturales de la nación.

Foto por: Mike Elam (USFWS)

Nuestra oficina principal está ubicada en la ciudad de Lacey,  y tenemos dos sucursales en las ciudades de Wenatchee y Spokane.  Trabajamos juntos en todo el estado para manejar nuestros recursos de pesca y vida silvestre, bajo la Ley Federal sobre las Especies en Peligro de Extinción (“Endangered Species Act”), así como otras leyes federales que tratan sobre el medio ambiente.
Esperamos que disfruten aprendiendo sobre nuestro trabajo, y nos encantaría poder conocerles a través de
Facebook y Twitter.  Si tienen alguna pregunta por favor visiten nuestra página , en donde al presionar el botón que dice ‘Contáctenos’ (“Contact Us”) los conectará con alguien en nuestras oficinas.

Una vez más, muchas gracias por visitar nuestra página, y por su entusiasmo y apoyo.


10 Fun Facts About Mazama Pocket Gophers!

Mazama pocket gophers are only found in Washington, Oregon, and California. Unfortunately MPG populations are shrinking; largely due to the rapid decline of their habitat, Puget prairies. You can learn more about the plight of the Mazama pocket gopher here or check out some of the fun facts we've listed below.

Mazama pocket gopher - Photo credit: Kim Flotlin (USFWS)

10 Fun Facts About Mazama Pocket Gophers

  1. They are small. Mazama pocket gophers are among the smallest of all pocket gophers. Considered 'medium-sized' they are only about 5-6 inches long.
  2. They are talented. In their burrows they are able to run backwards and forwards. Sensitive tails and powerful legs go a long way for this potential track star.
  3. They are vegetarians. During mealtime, the MPG prefers fleshy forbs, bulbs, and tubers, but will eat grasses, roots, and shoots too.
  4. They help things grow. Contrary to popular belief, Mazama pocket gophers might actually be helping your garden. Tunneling helps aerate soil that has been trampled by machinery or grazing. Pocket gopher nests, pantries, and droppings add nutrients to the soil to help plants grow healthy and strong.  
  5. They are clean. Just like us, gophers maintain latrines separately from their nest chambers or food cache sites. When the latrine is full, they block it off with soil; adding further nutrients to the plants they like to eat.  
  6. They are resourceful. Because gophers obtain sufficient moisture from their food, they don’t need a source of open water. (If you are opening a lemonade stand this summer, don't expect a gopher to show up!)
  7. They are peaceful. Gophers are territorial and will fight, but don't go out looking for a fight. They prefer to be left alone in the peace and quiet of their gopher homes.
  8. They are active. Unlike some animals, gophers don't give in to the winter blues. They are active all year long.
  9. They build homes for other animals. Some animals and insects use gopher burrows as refuges from predation and/or extreme weather. Abandoned gopher homes help other creatures stay safe and warm.
  10. They have chubby cheeks. True pocket gophers get their name from their fur-lined cheek pouches, or pockets. They use their chubby cheeks to carry food; much like a squirrel.

¡10 Datos Curiosos Sobre las Taltuzas Mazama!
(10 Fun Facts About Mazama Pocket Gophers!)

 Taltuza Mazama – Foto por: Kim Flotlin (USFWS).

 Las taltuzas Mazama (“Mazama pocket gophers”) sólo se encuentran en los estados de Washington, Oregón y California.  Lamentablemente las poblaciones de estos pequeños roedores se han venido reduciendo debido, en gran parte, a la rápida disminución de su hábitat, el cual está constituido por lo que conocemos como praderas de Puget (Puget prairies).  Aquí usted podría aprender sobre la difícil situación en que viven las taltuzas Mazama.  Y también podría enterarse ma's leyendo  algunos de los hechos  que hemos enumerado a continuación.

  1. Son bien pequeñas.  Las taltuzas Mazama están entre las más pequeñas de todas las taltuzas.  Se les considera de “tamaño mediano” y miden alrededor de unos 5-6 centímetros de largo.
  2. Son talentosas. En sus madrigueras, ellas son capaces de poder correr hacia atrás y hacia adelante.  Sus colas sensibles y  piernas poderosas podrían convertir a estos animales  en campeones corredores de pista.
  3. Son vegetarianas.  Estas taltuzas usualmente se alimentan n de hierbas suculentas, bulbos y tubérculos, aunque también consumen otros tipos de hierbas, raíces, y comen retoños diversos también.
  4.  Ayudan al crecimiento de las plantas.  Contrariamente a la creencia popular, las taltuzas Mazama en realidad podrían estar ayudando a su jardín.   La construcción de túneles ayuda a airear la tierra que ha sido pisoteada y compactada por la maquinaria o el pastoreo.  Sus nidos, despensas y excrementos  agregan nutrientes al suelo para ayudar a las plantas a crecer sanas y productivas.
  5.  Son muy limpias.  Al igual que nosotros, estas taltuzas mantienen letrinas separadas de sus nidos o de los sitios donde almacenan su comida.  Cuando la letrina está llena, la bloquean con tierra, lo cual contribuye más abono para las plantas que les gusta comer.
  6.  Son bien ingeniosas. Debido a que las taltuzas obtienen suficiente humedad de sus alimentos, no necesitan una fuente de agua. (¡Si usted va a poner un puesto de limonada este verano, no espere que las taltuzas se asomen!).
  7. Son pacíficas.  Las taltuzas Mazama son territoriales y pueden pelear, pero no andan buscando peleas. Ellas prefieren que las dejen en paz y tranquilas en sus madrigueras.
  8.  Son bien activas.  A diferencia de algunos animales, las taltuzas Mazama no se entristecen con la llegada del invierno. Se mantienen activas durante todo el año.
  9. Construyen casas para otros animales.  Algunos animales e insectos utilizan sus madrigueras  como refugio de los depredadores y/o condiciones climáticas extremas.  Las madrigueras abandonadas ayudan a otros animales a escapar depredadores, así como protegerse del fri'o.
  10. Tienen mejillas regordetas.  Las verdaderas taltuzas deben su nombre a que tienen unas bolsas pequeñas en las mejillas, forradas de piel.  Usan sus mejillas con bolsitas para llevar la comida, al igual que las ardillas.