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)