Saturday, August 16, 2008

Critter Twitter (part two)

Ahhh, Saturday morning and I finally have time to continue with my critter/work related saga. Life is good! So where were we? I already talked about my wolverine, doing goshawk and harlequin duck surveys, my bats in an earlier post, and old growth stand exams in a previous post as well. I guess that means I'm up to flamulated owls and mountain pine beatle attacks.

From about May to the beginning of Aug, I work intermitently at night. Not just because of my work with various species of bats but also because I spend several weeks calling for flamulated owls. Because this owl is strictly nocturnal and you wont hear a peep out of him during the day, I use a multi use caller to try and get a response from the little bugger at night. If I get a call back from an owl I keep calling and taking azimuths until I can triangulate the position of that particular bird. Then in the day time I return to that area and see if I can find a nest site to monitor. This species looks like a minature version of a screech owl with eyes as black as coal and live in Ponderosa pine stands. Its actually pretty amazing we have any of flamulated owls on our forest since we have few true old grow ponderosa stands. They seem to have adapted to a mixed stand of ponderosa, doug. fir, and lodge pole pine. I think they are kind of cut really. And they have really long "whooo whoooooooooooo" kind of call. What every kids grows up thinking an owl should sound like.

Another project that I'm involved on with the Siviculturist on our district is a genetic improvement project for Western White Pine and Whitebark Pine. This is a pretty big deal. For those of you who were in my forestry/wildlife classes you'll know what I'm talking about but since this blog is for everyone here is a little history and breakdown of the problem. Mountain pine beetles inhabit pines, particularly the ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and the white pines. During early stages of an outbreak, attacks are limited largely to trees under stress from injury, poor site conditions, fire damage, overcrowding, root disease or old age. As beetle populations increase, the beetles attack most large trees in the outbreak area. The beetles kill the trees by boring through the bark into the phloem layer on which they feed and in which eggs are laid. Pioneer female beetles initiate attacks, and produce pheromones which attract other beetles and results in mass attack. The trees respond to attack by increasing their resin output in order to discourage or kill the beetles, but the beetles carry blue stain fungi which, if established, will block the tree resin response. Over time (usually within 2 weeks of attack), the trees are overwhelmed as the phloem layer is damaged enough to cut off the flow of water and nutrients. In the end, the trees starve to death, and the damage can be easily seen even from the air in the form of reddened needles. Entire groves of trees after an outbreak will appear reddish for this reason. Usually older trees die faster. After particularly long and hot summers mountain pine beetle population can increase dramatically which can lead to the deforestation of large areas. The attacked areas are hard to miss as you can see here to the left. *sigh... whew didn't know if I could make it through all that* Everybody still with me or was that too much??? If I bored you I'm sorry, I think this stuff is pretty interesting. So what does that have to do with me? Well those trees that resist the attack are super important. They are the trees we use for genetic improvement of the whole stand. Each year I go out and find white bark and western white pine trees that have indicators that they have survived and beat out pine attacks, such as the streams of hardened resin. I code and mark each individual tree then come back and cage as many of thier cones as I can to protect them from clarks nutcrackers (like the one here to the right) and all the squirley species that will eat the cones. A month or two later I go back and de-cage the cones and collect them to send off to the Forest Service Genetics Lab. There they look at the resistance factors and create genetically improved seed from which to grow new sapling to plant in areas that have been devistated by the pine beetle attacks. This kind of work is important for many reasons. Whitebark pine and western white pine forests are habitats used by many different species of critters, including grizzly bears and being as I'm a U of M grad and our mascot is the griz, I think we ought to keep them thriving don't you?

So what else do I do? Well last year we had a miserably hot and dry summer and so I spent a good 3 weeks to a month up in a guard tower watching for fire starts. Thats the tower I was in up on Star peak last year. It not much to look at but it served its purpose. I give a lot of credit to those guys in the old days that did that all summer long. It doesn't sound like a tricky job but it really is. Its amazing how tired your eyes get when looking out accross the forest through a pair of binoculars day after day. Its also kind of a lonely job. Sure you have radio check-ins with the dispatcher and call-ins for supplies and what not but thats not the same as having a nice conversation or even chit chatting with someone. Another problem is that at certain time of the day the clouds swirl in a way that look like it could be smoke. So you have to sit there and check and recheck until you are positive its just a cloud. It wasn't all bad though. I got to rough it for a while and eat out of a mess kit. Yes, thats right... I call that fun. Makes me think of camping. Plus the night sky up that high is amazing. Shooting stars all over the place, I started to learn my constellations since I brought one of my field guides with me that had those kind of charts in it. It was a peaceful and someone reflective time when I had the chance to let my eyes go back to normal.
Well I think that concludes my critter saga for a while. I'm sure I'll remember more and experience more things that I'll have to post on here. But for now this will do. Hope everyone is having a fabulous weekend. I'm going to go out and garden up a storm now. Hasta luego mis amigos.

1 comment:

Julie (It is.) said...

Pretty interesting, Tracy! Thanks for sharing all that.

When I was in the 2nd grade we saw a movie about a forest fire and a firespotter in a tower - that stupid movie gave me nightmares for years. Glad you and your pet squirrel didn't have to be airlifted out, LOL.