Night Work In Costa Rica

Las Baulas National Park Office at Playa Grande Pacific Coast, Costa Rica

In the oddest of circumstances, I couldn’t imagine that we’d be watching Hangover II with strangers at a national park office on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in the middle of the night. But there we were, laughing out loud while we waited for a call from the beach patrol. Las Baulas National Park on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast opens for high tides at night from October to February – leatherback sea turtle nesting season. After sunset on the beach and blackened tuna with jasmine rice and mango salsa, we arrived at 10:00 p.m. to check in and wait for a one ton turtle to haul herself from the depths of the Pacific at high tide, dig a hole, and lay eggs somewhere on this beach. Continue reading “Night Work In Costa Rica”

BLM’s New Greater Sage-grouse Plan

greater sage grouse, lek

Greater Sage Grouse on Lek : Prints Available

 A male Greater sage grouse displays for a female during lekking, or mating season. Sage grouse carry on the elaborate mating ritual from around late March to early May, often in foul weather. Considered an umbrella, or keystone species for the health of the sagebrush ecosystem, the Greater sage grouse is "warranted, but precluded" from ESA protection.
Centrocercus urophasianus

This week the Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) announced their new strategy to implement a Greater Sage-grouse management plan across the ten state sagebrush ecosystem where the birds live. The plan adopts the core habitat strategy from Wyoming and includes Interim Management (IM) guidance for the full range of land use that impacts grouse –
Vegetation Management
Wildfire Emergency Stabilization and Burned Area Rehabilitation
Wildfire Suppression and Fuels Management
Rights of way for facilities such as roads, powerlines, pipelines and wind farms
Leasable minerals, such as coal, oil and gas
Locatable minerals, such as gold, silver and copper
Saleable minerals, such as sand, stone and gravel
Travel Management
Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Control and Management
Wild Horse and Burro Management
Realty Actions, such as land exchanges, transfers and sales; and
Vegetation and Resources Monitoring
Continue reading “BLM’s New Greater Sage-grouse Plan”

Wyoming Wolves In Crosshairs

Members of the Basin Creek wolf pack chase one another in an open meadow. Yellowstone National Park, WY

We had heard from the lookout warden on Mount Sheridan that the Basin Creek pack – in our direction of travel – were active and we had a good chance of spotting them. Marla and I were backpacking in the Yellowstone backcountry, on a lollipop loop that circumnavigated Heart Lake. We added the hike up Mount Sheridan that afforded us a commanding view of Heart Lake and the Two Ocean Plateau, an enormous swath of wild country that’s perfect for wolves. At Basin Creek, we watched five or six wolves, one of them black as coal, playing like dogs on the forest edge. The next morning, they appeared in fog, rising on hind legs to play fight, then chased one another all across the meadow. A pair of cow elk entered the meadow, sniffed the air, then moved swifly to the forest sanctuary, their heads up as they sprinted away from their natural enemy. It was one of the most memorable wild experiences of our lives. Continue reading “Wyoming Wolves In Crosshairs”

Grouse Blind

Sharing a Blind with Nappadol Paothong, Gunnison Basin, Colorado

Dr. Patrick Magee of Western State College sent me this image from one of the mornings when Nop and I shared a blind to photograph Gunnison Sage-grouse. Nop (the handsome one) is one of the top wildlife photographers around and it was great to get to know him a bit while in Gunnison.

Hope For The Gunnison Sage Grouse

“Please Take Care Of Our Gunnison Sage Grouse, by Browne Troop 10512, Gunnison, Colorado”

Impressions From The Gunnison Sage Grouse Summit, April, 2011

I just attended the Gunnison Sage-grouse Summit in Gunnison, CO; three days of presentations on all things related to saving the namesake grouse from extinction. And while the academic papers were impressive and the scope of the conservation effort mind-boggling, I kept looking at this mural made by the local Brownie Troop, a symbol of a community united for their endangered species. It also stands for hope, education, outreach, teaching kids the value of this place they call home and the fragility of an animal that may be the toughest bird out there – fragile because they need freedom to roam. I listened to the presenters talk about how our efforts will be measured 20 or 30 years from now, and thought about those Brownies just coming of age, finding their own voice. It’s part of what keeps me coming back to Gunnison, a sense of community that is real; ranchers, top Western biologists, agencies, conservationists, sportsmen, even the Brownie Troop rowing the same direction. Continue reading “Hope For The Gunnison Sage Grouse”

Gunnison Sage-grouse ~ Rare Bird

Male Gunnison Sage-grouse perform an elaborate display… with a tail shimmy at the end.

It’s dark-thirty and I’m sitting in a blind waiting for birds again. It feels familiar, the early spring chill that seeps into my bones, sounds of coyotes, cows, a ranch dog barking, wood smoke wafting across the valley floor, a mountain valley waking up. I’ve been here before, but the feeling is different, the anticipation building. And I’m not alone – circumstances led to a blind-sharing arrangement, so I find myself spending the wait for birds and light with Noppadol Paothong, a top-notch conservation and wildlife photographer who’s working on a book about the lekking birds of North America. Nop and I are here to photograph Gunnison Sage-grouse, one of the most endangered creatures in North America, yet only listed as a candidate species – “warranted but precluded” from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Whatever their status, there are roughly 2,500 birds in eight counties, most in the Gunnison Basin, and people come from the world over for a glimpse of the bird and their elaborate display. They spend their life in sagebrush; and because of their secretive nature and low numbers, spring lekking season is the only realistic time of year to see Gunnison Sage-grouse. Continue reading “Gunnison Sage-grouse ~ Rare Bird”

Black-footed Ferret Closeup

Black-footed Ferret ready for relocation to the wild, National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, Colorado

I stumbled upon this image during a recent hard drive treasure hunt. In 2006, I was working on my Prairie Thunder book and asked for permission from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to photograph at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center north of Fort Collins. At the time, there were no ferrets in the wild on the Colorado plains. There still aren’t. In fact, there is only one ferret living in the wild in the state – he’s up around Dinosaur in the northwest corner. There are around 800 or so wild ferrets in North America and only one prairie dog complex larger than 10,000 acres remains. It seems unlikely that their status as North America’s most endangered mammal will change anytime soon.

While photographing the ferrets, I forgot about all of those serious conservation concerns for a couple of hours and just enjoyed these gregarious, playful, beautiful animals. It’s still a highlight of my conservation work. As I was preparing the leave, the ferrets I had been photographing were trapped in preparation for relocation to priairie dog complexes from Chihuahua, Mexico to Shirley Basin, WY.

Audubon Sage Campaign – Interview With Alison Holloran

“Sage Patterns, Gros Ventre River Basin, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming”

Before Thanksgiving, I interviewed Alison Holloran, Deputy Director of Audubon Wyoming. Alison works alongside Regional Director Brian Rutledge; and together they developed the Audubon Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative. Alison earned her master’s degree at the University of Wyoming, studying the effects of natural gas drilling on Greater sage grouse populations. She met her husband, Matt (renowned sage grouse researcher) on the Pinedale, WY Mesa and has spent her entire professional career working for sagebrush and sage grouse conservation. She is a conservation hero and I’ll post a picture of her here… whenever I can catch up with her in the field. Thanks to Alison for graciously giving your time and sharing your expertise.

Me: Why do sagebrush landscapes matter?

Alison: Sagebrush landscapes can be looked at from many different perspectives. First, the historic perspective; then the anthropogenic perspective. When you think of the American West, you think of sagebrush, kind of wide sweeping open plains, the cowboy story. We have a lot of history and love for the land just based on what we imagine the West to be. What we imagine is more important from the wildlife side. In Wyoming, we have some of the biggest expanses of sagebrush that dip down into Colorado and Utah, up into Montana, across the Great Basin and they provide a lot of wildlife habitat. Sagebrush provides range for mule deer and elk, which from the human side of things and economically, provides a stable base for hunting and ecotourism. Unfortunately, in the early days sagebrush was looked upon as a problem species – one that we needed to clear out for development and agricultural practices – so we really have taken out a lot of our sagebrush ecosystems and therefore a lot of our sagebrush obligates (species). We have seen mule deer populations diminish, we’ve seen sage grouse populations diminish, not to mention all of the other obligates that we don’t really think about, the bird species, sage thrasher, sage sparrow, Brewer’s sparrow, species like reptiles – you know people don’t like to think of snakes but they are out there as well, right down to the insects and the plant diversity has diminished. So we are looking at an ecosystem that is extremely important for many, many species of wildlife and hence very important for our economy in the West and yet we keep slicing it and dicing it and taking it away. We need to save our environment to save ourselves. And that’s really why I’m in it, not only for myself but also for my children. I’m trying to save some of the environment so that future generations have something to enjoy, to recreate in… Besides the grasslands, the sagebrush ecosystem is one of our most imperiled ecosystems in the United States. Continue reading “Audubon Sage Campaign – Interview With Alison Holloran”


“Black-footed Ferret Stretched Out, National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, Colorado”

“If you take away the prairie dogs, there will be no one to cry for the rain.” Unknown Arizonan Navajo

Last week, I attended the Prairie Dog Technical Meeting at the Boulder County Humane Society. The meeting was attended by an impressive who’s who of grassland conservation leaders and my friend Lindsey Sterling-Krank did a great job coordinating the event. Tons of important information was shared and it’s great to know that black-footed ferret reintroduction is being planned for sites smaller than 10,000 acres. And it’s a good thing, because there aren’t many large prairie dog complexes left. Here’s prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets by the numbers:

$885.82 – Restitution that a Arizona “hunter” was ordered to pay after he killed a relocated white-tailed prairie dog on the Las Cienegas site. He also lost hunting priviledges for 5 years.
99% – Prairie dog mortality rate when plague visits a colony.
100 acres – Approximate acreage required to support one black-footed ferret.
885 – Approximate number of black-footed ferrets in the wild. They are the most endangered mammal in North America.
5 – Number of North American prairie dog species. Mexican, Utah, White-tailed, Gunnison’s, and black-tailed prairie dogs are all imperiled.
3,000 – The number of black-footed ferrets required to be living in the wild to remove the species from the Endangered Species List.
1 1/2 – 2 years – Lifespan of a black-footed ferret in the wild.
< 5% - The generally agreed upon prairie dog habitat remaining in North America. Many biologists say the number is less than 2%. Continue reading “$885.82”