Gold Creek Valley: A place where restoration can make a difference

By JIM EVANS

We have an escalating crisis for fish, birds, and nearly every kind of wildlife, and it’s not getting better. While global warming is a worsening long-term threat, growing human population, accelerated extraction of natural resources, and full-on habitat loss already deeply threaten our wildlife and ecosystems. Habitat conservation and restoration are the only ways we can cushion these blows.

Public lands are by far the best places to do this work because they are owned by us all, and because they are the large-scale, interconnected landscapes that wildlife populations and ecosystem processes require. Where we have suitable public lands we should restore habitat and the ecosystem processes – like hydrology – that support that habitat.

Within these large landscapes, river corridors such as Gold Creek are places where, acre-for-acre, we have the best chance of enhancing habitat for now and they are the habitats which are most likely to be resilient in a warming climate.

Gold Creek Valley is widely recognized as a key link in the north-south movements of wildlife populations. Migration pathways such as Gold Creek Valley will be more important than ever in a changing climate, and maximizing habitat quality and productivity in such places will provide critical support for a wide range of species.

We should always plan restoration projects wisely and use available funds as efficiently as possible, but we need to act without unnecessary delay. The factors that stress our ecosystems – climate, population growth, increasing demands for resources – are not waiting for us. As landowners adjacent to key public lands, we have a unique opportunity to contribute positively to these efforts and to ‘pay forward’ to help ensure that future generations have the chance to experience the wild blessings that we do.

Learning more….

We can all benefit by learning more about the science behind ecological conservation and restoration. It’s also fascinating and inspiring! Ecosystem science is a large and growing body of research and synthesis. The articles cited below were selected because they encapsulate many of the key points and are written in language that is not too technical. Where available, articles or posts written for general audiences are paired with the technical articles they describe. All of the links worked as of March 2019. If any of them are broken, please let me know.

Riparian and aquatic ecosystems and climate change: General

Fish, wildlife and climate change

Wildlife corridors: I-90 and elsewhere

KCT and Gold Creek Pond Restoration

December 5, 2018

Friends, neighbors, colleagues, and members of the community,

KCT (Kittitas Conservation Trust) and NSD (Natural System Design) have concluded that creation of Gold Creek Pond “is the major contributor to seasonal dewatering of Gold Creek”. They recommend that the Pond be filled as a preferred action. KCT has also proposed large scale restoration of Gold Creek Valley as potential mitigation for the K-to-K irrigation project (attached).

The problem of near extinction of bull trout in Gold Creek Valley is complex and multifactorial.  Many authorities agree, however, that the overarching problem for bull trout and similar species in our State is not landscape but climate: higher temperatures resulting in loss of snowpack. In this latter scenario, a narrow focus on rearranging terrain will be costly, ineffective, and likely harmful.

It is unfortunate that our discussion with KCT began not with considering the array of problems confronting bull trout (inbreeding depression, water temperature, multiple passage barriers, habitat degradation, hybridization, poaching) and options for their assistance, but with a pre-determined agenda that included, without convincing evidence of benefit, filling Gold Creek Pond. That starting point is what leads us to a meeting to consider design options for restructuring Gold Creek Pond without establishing that the Pond had any substantive role in dewatering of the creek. Continuing on this path leads us in the direction of an 8-year, $14,000,000 “restoration” of a restored habitat with no clear benefit to bull trout.

My perspective on KCT’s proposals is influenced by my time as a cabin owner in the Valley beginning in 1982. I am also influenced by accountability in my day job for assessing the validity of hundreds of scientific papers that inform policies for federal and state government.

I’ve reviewed in detail the documents produced by KCT and NSD in addition to a substantial volume of related information from independent and authoritative sources including  the  recently released Fourth National Climate Assessment, authored by 300 scientists and 13 government agencies: https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/regions/northwest.

My conclusion is that the best available evidence does not support the assertion that Gold Creek Pond is the major contributor to dewatering of Gold Creek or that filling the pond would re-water the mile of dry creek bed upstream from the pond. The difference in our conclusions relates to methodology: I’ve included data sets from federal and state agencies and data that is directly observed rather than derived from calculated results. I’ve considered Gold Creek and the Pond in terms of how they are responding to their larger and rapidly changing ecosystem. I have applied the key principle of  requiring sequential events in attributing causality: the Pond could not cause dewatering before it was created. I’ve walked around Gold Creek Pond noting the multiple inflows from Rampart Ridge with no water coming from the direction of Gold Creek at any time of the year.

Finally, and most important, I did not consider climate change “out of scope” as did KCT and NSD. It is clear to me that low-elevation Gold Creek Valley is an epicenter for the effect of climate change. We are often balanced near the snow/rain interface during winter. And as indicated below, we are losing snow pack. Climate change is not out of scope for our Valley. It brings us retreating glaciers, dying trees, smoke in the air and a dry creek. It is all connected. And it’s not the Pond.

In my view any proposal related to Gold Creek Pond should account for the following:

1. Dewatering of Gold Creek was well-established and extensive the 1960s, a decade before the beginning of excavation for Gold Creek Pond and about 15 years before excavation was complete in 1983. Dewatering came first, then – much later – the Pond. The Pond holds neither the cause nor the cure for dewatering.

  • Late 1960s.In 1968, when Jim Bennett built his cabin at the north end of the Ski Tur community, he made special note of the creek’s extensive dewatering in his published memoir: ”we relied on trips to the Creek with buckets in hand for our drinking and washing water supplies. But as the weather grew drier and hotter, we had to go farther and farther upstream to find water. Eventually, when summer turned to early fall, the rains returned, and the stream returned closer to home.” -from chapter II, 1968, The Spirit of Ski Tur Valley, James Bennett, Xlibris Corporation.
  • Late 1970s. “You might have wished for ear plugs standing here during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Gold Creek Pond was then a gravel pit for Interstate 90 construction.” – USFS sign at Gold Creek Pond

2. Decades of seasonal dewatering of Northwest creeks correlates with declining snowpack.

  • “The region has warmed substantially—nearly 2°F since 1900 … warmer winters have led to reductions in the mountain snowpack5,6 that historically blanketed the region’s mountains … Observed regional warming has been linked to changes in the timing and amount of water availability in basins with significant snowmelt contributions to streamflow. Since around 1950, area-averaged snowpack on April 1 in the Cascade Mountains decreased about 20%, spring snowmelt occurred 0 to 30 days earlier depending on location”.  The record temperatures in 2015 were part of a long-term trend of declining low flows27 and warming streams.28 ,29” -Fourth National Climate Assessmentchapter 24 (Northwest), November, 2018.
  • Decreasing snowpack means there will be less water flowing through streams during summer. – From US Environmental Protection Agency, “What Climate Change Means for Washington”, August 2016, EPA 430-F-16-0
  • At 3000’ Snoqualmie Pass, DOT snowpack data collected since 1950 shows a much greater reduction than the overall average for the Cascades:

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-07 at 3.49.29 PM.png

Snoqualmie Pass Average Seasonal Snowfall: 1949-50 through 2014-15 with data collected at DOT study plot at summit http://www.wsdot.com/winter/files/HistoricalSnowfallData1415season.pdf?v=16

  • Reduced late summer stream flow and dewatering is not a finding restricted to Gold Creek. It is a general phenomenon, occurring in many Washington State watercourses, such as the nearby Upper Kachess River. Any proof that the Pond contributes to dewatering would require separation of that effect from the large scale, ongoing effect of declining snow pack.

3. Proposals for bull trout enhancement in Gold Creek Valley have not been subject to customary critical review.

  • When the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the K to K irrigation projects was published/released in 2015, four Bull Trout Enhancement Projects (filling Heli’s Pond and Gold Creek Pond, restructuring Gold Creek, and decommissioning the drainage system beneath Starwater) were included without assessment of their environmental impacts. When the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the K to K irrigation projects was released three years later, the projects had been removed to an appendix, again without evaluation.  Recently the restoration of Gold Creek Pond has been proposed as mitigation for the K to K projects, after the public comment period for the SDEIS was closed.
  • Over the last six years and through multiple funding cycles, independent review of the fundamental assumptions, rationale, methodology, and feasibility of the projects has been delayed, deferred, or omitted. To date these proposals have not been subject to the customary standards of public comment; an Environmental Assessment; or formal, anonymous independent review by a disinterested content expert. Good process would include such reviews to improve and validate the report.

4. Gold Creek Pond has been restored.

  • DOT and the Forest Service transformed the site to a fish and wildlife habitat. – USFS sign at the Pond
  • Gold Creek Pond and its immediate surroundings are habitat for hundreds of species of plants, birds and other animals, including of elk, deer, and bear. The pond area is part of the I-90 wildlife corridor. It is a favored year-round recreational destination for thousands of citizens of Washington State, including those with disabilities. Hundreds of volunteers have enhanced pondside and riparian vegetation. Gold Creek Pond is a high value environment for plant, animal and human communities.

To date I have found no convincing data to support the assertion that Gold Creek Pond is a major contributor to dewatering of the creek, that alteration of the pond will re-water the creek, or that any such actions will benefit bull trout.  Convening a design team to produce alternatives for altering the Pond based on these findings is premature; it does not reflect our best thinking, good process, or responsible stewardship of public resources. We should pause, reassess, and consider all information before moving forward together with open minds.

Bob Mecklenburg

bobmeck@gmail.com

Gold Creek Projects and Future Restoration Needs

Freecycle that!

Liz Diether-Martin

Valley neighbors,

As Leslie wrote in her email, the Ski Tur trustees have scheduled a dumpster to be parked in the valley the weekend of our annual meeting and potluck, giving us chance to throw away bulky trash and unwanted items. With the opportunity to share a dump run comes an opportunity to divert usable items from the landfill. I volunteered to coordinate this effort. Here’s how it will work:

To offer an item

  1. If you have items you think might be reused by a neighbor, the first thing to do is give them a good look and the sniff test. If an indoor item smells musty, mildewy or dirty in any way, consider carefully whether someone would want to bring it into their space. If it can be cleaned, let’s give it a try.
  2. There will be a tarp next to the dumpster, along with tape and markers for labeling items.

    • Put stuff that you think others might want on the tarp and use the provided tape and marker to put your name on your items.

    • If your items are not taken, Liz will place them in the dumpster and let Rex know the name and the dump cost (based on the large-garbage-can-cost-apportionment method Leslie shared over email).

    • If your items DO get taken, you can rest easy knowing there are fewer things in our landfill!

  3. If you have a particularly useful item, we can advertise it here and on Facebook. Send an email to Liz Diether-Martin (lizdm2@gmail.com) with the following info:
    • Photo, if possible, of the actual item. Next best: a photo of the item from a catalog.
    • Short, specific name of the item (for a title in a list)
    • Description of the item, including size
    • Brand name, if known/applicable
    • Approximate age of the item
    • Your contact info so a prospective taker can ask questions

     

To claim an item

Neighbors are welcome to browse and claim the offered items any time during the weekend. Don’t be shy!

  1. Finders, keepers
  2. First come, first served
  3. Enjoy and feel good about giving those items a longer life

Nature Guide to Gold Creek Valley

Jim and I have renamed our project “Nature Guide to Gold Creek Valley” as a better description of our intent.  We are also adding additional content to previously posted images that may interest you. Here’s our next installment of photos with Jim’s narrative. -Jim and Bob

 

devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus).  Ginseng family.

A tall, spiny shrub of moist woods, forested wetlands, and streambanks, often in deep shade under conifers.  The deep red berries, borne in dramatic spikes at the tops of stems, are not edible by people but are reportedly relished by bears, who, thus fortified, probably play a role in dispersing the seeds across the landscape.  Devil’s club has another reproductive strategy known as ‘layering.’  When the stems come into contact with moist soil roots form along the stem, resulting in dense clonal patches that only the thickest-skinned creature can penetrate.

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/oplopanax_horridus.shtml

OPHO in fruit, Little River Trail_2018-07-15 2

pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)

Photo credit: the image below that captures a fritillary butterfly as well as a pearly everlasting was contributed by Leslie Brown.

Fritillary on pearly everlasting_GCV_2018-07-29 2

 

common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).  Aster family.

Class C noxious weed [ http://co.kittitas.wa.us/noxious-weeds/documents/weed-list.pdf ]

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baneberry (Actaea rubra).  Buttercup family.

Admire the attractive red fruits of this forest herb, but don’t eat them.  They contain a potent neurotoxin and can cause considerable harm.  All parts of the plant are poisonous to a degree, if ingested.  See https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2010/01/national-park-mystery-plant-5-revealed-it%E2%80%99s-red-baneberry5193 to learn more.

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hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata).  Aster family.

Class C noxious weed [ http://co.kittitas.wa.us/noxious-weeds/documents/weed-list.pdf ]

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Sitka mountain ash (Sorbus sitchensis).  Rose family.

Sitka mountain-ash is a medium to large deciduous shrub of mid-elevation and subalpine forests.The deep red fruits provide a beautiful accent in late summer or fall when our colorful flowers are mostly gone.  They are eaten by birds and mammals, which in turn helps to spread the seeds.  Deer also browse the leaves and twigs. Our native mountain-ashes are rarely if ever found at low elevations in our area.  An Old World relative, European Mountain-ash (aka. rowan, Sorbus aucuparia), with orange berries, is popular as an ornamental but can invade moist forests and other natural areas._DSC1444

 

Aster. (Precise identification pending.)

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Gold Creek Academy: high summer

We have been challenged to keep up with the crescendo of botanical activity in the Valley. Here are our most recent images and notes.       -Jim and Bob

subalpine spirea. (Spirea densiflora).

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Cooley’s hedge nettle (Stachys cooleyae).  Mint family.

A striking, tall herb of forested wetlands and wet meadows.  When not in flower, hedge nettle may resemble our more common stinging nettle.  But there’s no sting in this forest beauty. Instead, the spectacular flowers provide sweet rewards for hummingbirds and other pollinators.

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mountain monkey-flower (Mimulus tilingii). Figwort family.

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foamflower (Tiarella trifoliatevar.unifoliata). Saxifrage family.

There are two forms of this shade tolerant herb of conifer forests.  In Gold Creek Valley we have variety unifoliata, which has entire leaves with three prominent lobes. In variety trifoliata,these lobes become divided all the way to the leaf’s midstem, resulting in a leaf with three leaflets.

Foamflower is notable in that individual plants may flower well into fall, when most other species have given up their reproductive ambitions.

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Cascades penstemon (Penstemon serrulatus). Figwort family.

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common harebell, common bellflower (Campanula rotundifolia).  Campanula family.

A short-statured native perennial herb of dry meadows from low to high elevations.

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huckleberries/ blueberries (Vaccinium species).  Heath family.

We have several species. Fruit color helps to distinguish the species, so we will add content in late summer.

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Sitka mountain ash (Sorbus sitchensis).  Rose family.

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cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum).  Parsley family.

Cow parsnip is a common meadow species, from low elevations to subalpine meadows.  Its large flower heads and tall stature help it to stand out in the meadows and shrublands of the Valley.

In the Puget Lowland and elsewhere cow parsnip has a close relative that is an invasive species and a serious skin irritant.  Giant hogweed (Heracleum manteganzianum) is a Eurasian import that shows up in disturbed places, especially in urban areas. Although it looks very similar to cow parsnip it grows much taller.  Any contact with bare skin should be avoided.  Fortunately we don’t have this Class A Noxious Weed in the Valley and hopefully we never will.

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wandering daisy (Erigeron peregrinus).  Aster family.

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goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus). Rose family.

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red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea).  Dogwood family.

Red-osier dogwood (aka. redstem dogwood or red twig dogwood) is a medium- to large-sized deciduous shrub of streamsides and wetlands.  The red stems displayed by this species are especially vivid in winter, adding welcome color to winter’s palette.  This moisture-loving species will root where its stems or stem-tips come in contact with moist soil, helping red-osier dogwood to form thickets along streambanks, where its dense root system is excellent at promoting bank stability.  Large banks of this species occur, with willows, along Gold Creek.  Pop quiz: What’s an ‘osier?’

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orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum).  Aster family.

Orange hawkweed is a Class B noxious weed in Kittitas County                                          ( [http://co.kittitas.wa.us/noxious-weeds/documents/weed-list.pdf].  It is a sun-loving herbaceous species associated with disturbed sites such as roadsides and building sites.  Orange hawkweed spreads in two ways.  It spreads by plumed seeds that can travel long distances on the wind.  Once established in a site it will also spread vegetatively by creeping runners (stolons) that can quickly produce dense patches.  Although it will not occur in shady forests it is capable of aggressively invading meadows and openings along trails deep into the wilderness.

Orange hawkweed is easily recognized when in flower by its showy orange-and-yellow heads.  At other times clumps of hairy leaves connected by runners can give it away. Orange hawkweed should be removed where practical.  A few plants are easily pulled up by hand or with the help of a gardening tool. Larger patches can be mulched or covered with a light-impermeable fabric.  Persistence pays off!!

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fringecup (Tellima grandiflora). Saxifrage family.

_DSC0127  _DSC0130


 

Youth-on-age, piggyback plant (Tolmiea menziesii).  Saxifrage family.

A shade tolerant forb of moist forests and forested wetlands from low to relatively high elevations.  The ‘piggyback’ leaves that form on top of the mature leaves in summer can root and become vegetative plantlets if they contact moist soil.  Youth-on-age can form lush green carpets across forest floors in suitable habitat.

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creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens). Buttercup family.

A problematic, shade tolerant invader of wetlands and moist forests.  Creeping buttercup spreads, as its name implies, via creeping stolons, as well as by seeds.  It can form dense patches that exclude native vegetation.

Creeping buttercup is not on the Washington State Noxious Weed List, but is (rightly) listed as a Species of Concern by King County [https://www.kingcounty.gov/services/environment/animals-and-plants/noxious-weeds/weed-identification/creeping-buttercup.aspx].

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Columbia lily (Lillum columbianum).  Lily family.

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Oregon stonecrop (Sedum oreganum). Stonecrop family.

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St. John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum).  St. John’s-wort family.

Class C noxious weed [http://co.kittitas.wa.us/noxious-weeds/documents/weed-list.pdf] A bad weed capable of taking over sunny grasslands, meadows, and open forests.

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yarrow (Achillea millefolium).  Aster family.

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Bladder campion, white campion, white cockle (Silene latifolia).  Pink family. 

Class C noxious weed [http://co.kittitas.wa.us/noxious-weeds/documents/weed-list.pdf]

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Douglas spiraea (Spiraea douglasii).  Rose family. 

Douglas spiraea is a mid-sized, sun-loving shrub of streambanks, lakeshores, wetlands, and other wet places. Douglas spiraea’s habit of forming dense thickets in suitable habitats led to its alternate name, ‘hardhack.’ Along rivers and streams, Douglas spiraea’s springy thickets are excellent at absorbing the energy of flood waters, while underground a dense root system helps to stabilize banks from erosion.  Wildlife consume the seed filled capsules. Spiraea’s flowers are a source of nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinator s, and the tiny seeds are consumed by a variety of wildlife.

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Indian thistle, edible thistle (Cirsium edule).  Aster family.

Indian thistle is a native thistle of open meadows and disturbed areas.  Though it’s a perennial, Indian thistle has just a single reproductive cycle. An individual will grow for several years as a low rosette of leaves until, one year, it sends up a vertical stem and flowers.  After seeds ripen, the mature plant dies.

Indian thistle grows as scattered individuals and small clusters of plants along gravel roads and in dry meadows in Gold Creek Valley. Its few, large flowerheads attract numerous pollinators, including swallowtail and Parnassian butterflies. Goldfinches, pine siskins, and other seed eating birds feed on the ripening seeds in late summer.

Indian thistle can be confused with two non-native thistles in the Valley.   Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is a biennial that also grows from a basal rosette and has relatively few, large flower heads.  Comparing leaf shapes is a good way to tell these species apart (see your favorite field guide).  Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense; NOT from Canada), by comparison, has many, smaller flower heads.  Canada thistle is a perennial that spreads through a system of dense rhizomes deep underground.  Unlike either Indian thistle or bull thistle, it can form dense patches that exclude other species.  This is a bad invasive species that threatens streambanks and wetland margins, and is very difficult to get rid of!

Both bull thistle and Canada thistle are Class C noxious weeds                                      [http://co.kittitas.wa.us/noxious-weeds/documents/weed-list.pdf]

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common mullein (Verbascum thapsus).  Figwort family.

A shade-intolerant weed of dry, disturbed places.

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willows (Salix species).  Willow family.

Individual species are hard to pick out  but as a group they’re very important to streamside and wetland habitats.

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black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). Willow family.

The characteristic intricately-veined, light-colored underside of the leaves creates the shimmer you see at a distance.

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Gold Creek Academy: a walk in the woods

July 4, 2018

As we enter high summer, the flora of our Valley continue their crescendo of beauty, grace, and evolutionary complexity. Take a minute to take a close look at these examples of Nature in overdrive.  Jim and Bob

queen’s-cup lily (Clintonia uniflora).  Lily family.

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subalpine lupine (Lupinus latifolius).  Pea family.

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wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana).  Rose family.

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Sitka valerian (Valeriana sitchensis).  Valerian family.

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western meadow rue (Thalictrum occidentale).  Buttercup family.

Male and female flowers.

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Dalmatian toadflax (Lineria dalmatica).  Snapdragon family.

Class B noxious weed [ http://co.kittitas.wa.us/noxious-weeds/documents/weed-list.pdf ]. A bad, sun-loving invasive species capable of taking over sunny grasslands and meadows.

_DSC0042


oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare).  Aster family.                          

Class C noxious weed [http://co.kittitas.wa.us/noxious-weeds/documents/weed-list.pdf ]

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Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella).  Goosefoot family.                                                

Introduced weed of disturbed places.

DSC00858 


red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa). Buttercup family.

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red elderberry (Sambucus racemose).  Honeysuckle family.    

Red elderberry is a shade-tolerant shrub of moist forests and openings that provides services to pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.  The clusters of white flowers are visited by many insects in the spring.  Flowers are replaced by striking bunches of brilliant red fruits in summer, which are consumed by thrushes, waxwings, and many other songbirds, as well as by small mammals.  The berries (but no other part of the plant!) may be eaten by humans too, but must be cooked or otherwise prepared carefully (see http://arcadianabe.blogspot.com/2013/07/red-elderberry-experiment-1.html ).  The young shoots themselves must be tasty to herbivores; in places deer browsing can be heavy, though this doesn’t seem to be the case in Gold Creek Valley.  This is a great shrub to plant anywhere you want to enhance wildlife habitat.

Red elderberry provides good practice in recognizing some important leaf characteristics for tree and shrub identification.  The deciduous leaves are arranged in pairs opposite to each other along the stems (as opposed to alternate or whorled arrangement).  The leaves themselves are compound, composed of 5-7 leaflets.  The leaflets are opposite each other as well, except for one at the tip (so there are always an odd number).  When the leaves fall off this fall, notice that each array of 5-7 leaflets falls off as a unit – a compound leaf!

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tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata).  Borage family.

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false bugbane  (Trautvetteria caroliniensis). Buttercup family.  

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starry plumed false Solomon’s seal  (Similacina stellata).  Lily family.

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large-plumed false Solomon’s seal  (Similacina racemosa). Lily family. 

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fringe cup  (Tellima grandiflora). Saxifrage family. 

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common red paintbrush (Castilleja miniata). Figwort family.

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spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa).  Phlox family.

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thimbleberry (Rubus parviflora). Rose family.   

Thimbleberry is a medium-sized deciduous shrub that is a close relative to our native and non-native blackberries.  Most of our species in the genus Rubus are shrubs and all of them bear the aggregate fruit – a fruit cluster of many small fruits stuck together – that we all recognize in the non-native Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), and from cultivated raspberries and marionberries.  Thimbleberry has a feew characteristics that set it apart from its shrubby wild relatives:

  • It has no thorns or prickles!
  • It has simple (not compound) leaves.  Thimbleberry’s leaves are palm-shaped (like the palm of your hand), and look somewhat like those of a maple.
  • Thimbleberry’s ripe fruits are always red (salmonberries sometimes turn red but are usually orange).

Thimbleberry grows from sunny meadows to moderately shady forest, generally on moderately moist soils.DSC00766


bunchberry (Cornus unalaskchensus). Dogwood family.

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large-leaved avens (Geum macrophyllum). Rose family.

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miner’s lettuce (Claytonia [aka Montia] sibirica). Purslane family. 

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vine maple (Acer circinatum). Maple family.

Vine maple is a deciduous large shrub or small tree frequently found in the understory of moist coniferous and coniferous-deciduous forests from low to moderately high elevations in the Pacific Northwest.  Although shade-tolerant, it can sometimes be found growing in full sun.  Pure stands of this distinctive species can sometimes be found at the edge of wetlands.  Like all true maples, vine maple’s seeds are born in paired winged ‘samaras’ which separate and helicopter to the ground when ripe.  The relatively large seeds are eaten by small mammals and birds.

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slide alder [aka. Sitka alder] (Alnus viridis ssp. sinuata). Birch family.  

If you’ve ever tried to pull your way through a stand of slide alder occupying an avalanche chute you may have said some things you wouldn’t want your children to hear.  Slide, or Sitka alder, is a deciduous shrub that can persist in avalanche chutes because it gracefully bends but does not break under the pressure of deep snow in places where avalanches come too frequently to allow erect trees to really establish.  A close relative of our familiar red alder (Alnus rubra), slide alder shows up in a lot of places at middle elevations in the Cascades besides avalanche chutes.  Look for it along Gold Creek (or other waterways in the neighborhood) where its dense root system contributes to bank stability, and in relatively moist, disturbed places. These pictures show the male (pollen-bearing) catkins and female cone-like flowers.

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Gold Creek Academy

Welcome to Gold Creek Academy

Among the good memories I recall from last summer were the popular nature walks led by Jim Evans that that enhanced our understanding and appreciation of the inhabitants of the natural community in which we live. I have prevailed upon Jim to convey some of his knowledge through postings on our web site under the title Gold Creek Academy. Jim, as our senior editor, will supply text and I will attempt to capture images to complement his narrative. We started with the dominant trees of our valley and now continue with the Valley’s early spring flowers.  Your suggestions are most welcome.

Jim and Bob

Early Spring Flowers

western trillium (Trillium ovatum).  Lily family.

One of the very first flowers to appear in the Valley after snowmelt, there’s no mistaking the showy white flower petals — flowers change to pink and purple as they age — and large leaves arranged in threes on this aptly named plant.

Western trillium is a shade-tolerant denizen of forest floors. Pollination is by bumblebees, moths, and beetles.  Seeds are dispersed by ants, who favor the nutritive tissue around the seed but discard the seeds themselves.  Your favorite trillium patch may have been an ant colony’s garbage dump in years past!

Trilliums are slow-growing, and multiple sources say that picking the flowers is highly damaging to the plant, so these harbingers of spring should be enjoyed in place!

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Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra Formosa).  Fumitory family.

Our native bleeding heart is a shade-tolerant forest herb of low to middle elevations.  It is found most often in young or disturbed forest sites, especially on relatively moist, nutrient-rich soils in deciduous forests.  The species spreads via a spreading network of underground rhizomes as well as by seeds, and can form dense single-species drifts of lacey leaves or weave itself among other understory herbs.  The flowers of Pacific bleeding heart are chiefly pollinated by ants, although bees and other winged insects also visit.

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skunk cabbage (Lysitchiton americanus).  Arum family.

Skunk cabbage is a wetland specialist restricted to areas where soils are waterlogged for most or all of the growing season.  The striking, oversized flowers and leaves of this plant make it unmistakable.  The yellow flowers appear early in spring and lend the species its alternate name, ‘swamp lantern.’  The term swamp, literally, means a forested(therefore shady) wetland, and skunk cabbage is a member of an exclusive club of plants that can tolerate both very wet soils andthe shade of a forest canopy.   In Vikingdal, large numbers of skunk cabbage can be found hiding in wetlands along the foot of the slope just east of Chikamin Peak Way.

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salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis).  Rose family

A prickly mid-sized shrub at home on relatively moist soils in shade or sun, salmonberry provides multiple services to wildlife and other inhabitants of forest and streamside environments.  Beautiful magenta flowers welcome early-season pollinators such as bumblebees & rufous hummingbirds.  Tangled thickets of salmonberry provide protected nest sites for migratory thrushes and warblers.  And salmonberry’s orange-to-red fruits are a food source for small mammals of all kinds, for fruit-eating birds like thrushes and waxwings, for bears — and for humans!   Along with reproducing by seed, salmonberry spreads via a dense root system and is one of the best plants for stabilizing streambanks.

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vanillaleaf (Achlys triphylla).  Barberry family.

Vanillaleaf is a shade tolerant herb found in the understories of coniferous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forests.  Its three-parted leaves give off a vanilla-like scent when crushed.  The species spreads via a spreading network of underground rhizomes as well as by seeds, and can form dense single-species beds or weave itself among other understory herbs.

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glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum).  Lily family.

Glacier lily is a small, sun-loving lily of meadows and open forests at middle to high elevations.  In spring these impatient lilies use energy stored in underground bulbs to generate enough metabolic heat to melt through the receding edges of snowbanks ahead of their neighbors.  Leaves and flowers may open even under a thin layer of snow, and retreating snowbanks may be punctuated by glacier lilies poking through. High meadows can display great drifts of glacier lilies in early spring, often with its close relative the white-flowered avalanche lily (Erythronium montanum). Among the first to flower, these lilies’ spring bursts are over quickly, and by early summer the plant dies back to its subterranean bulb, biding its time through another long winter.  Most years a hiker can still find glacier lilies in July and early August by climbing higher or by searching out late-melting snowbanks.

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Hooker’s fairy bells (Disporum hookeri).  Lily family.

Hooker’s fairy bells is a shade-tolerant herb found in the understories of moist coniferous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forests.  Hooker’s fairy bells grows from a spreading rhizome, but seldom if ever forms dense beds as some other rhizomatous species do.  A close relative, Smith’s fairy bells (D. smithii), grows in similar habitats.

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wood violet (Viola glabella). Violet family.

An early-flowering herb of forests as well as open sites open sites, from low to high elevations.  The dark lines on the lower petals are ‘nectar guides,’ a feature shared with many other species in the violet family.  They help to direct bumblebees and other pollinators to the flowers’ pollen and nectar rewards.

Gold Creek Academy

Gold Creek Academy

Introduction

Among the good memories I recall from last summer were the popular nature walks led by Jim Evans that that enhanced our understanding and appreciation of the inhabitants of the natural community in which we live. I have prevailed upon Jim to convey some of his knowledge through postings on our web site under the title Gold Creek Academy. Jim, as our senior editor, will supply text and I will attempt to capture images to complement his narrative. We’ve started with the dominant trees of our valley and will soon continue with early flowers.  Your suggestions are most welcome.

Jim and Bob

Four trees

Silver fir (Abies amabilis)

A snow-country tree, rarely found even as low as 1500’ in our area, but highly adapted to an environment of deep snow accumulations and short growing seasons.  (Sound familiar?)  Silver fir is highly shade tolerant, so it can reproduce under its own shade, and its large seeds are a seasonal staple in the diet of songbirds and small mammals.

Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)

Next to silver fir, western hemlock is the most abundant tree species in the lower Gold Creek Valley.  It’s the state tree of the Evergreen State!  Like silver fir, western hemlock is highly shade tolerant.  Its seeds are tiny, but cones may stay on the tree into winter, when they can supplement the diets of pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, and red crossbills.

Western redcedar  (Thuja plicata).

Western redcedar is the longest-lived of our native conifers; specimens up to 1200 years have been recorded.  Redcedar’s decay-resistance contributes to its longevity; the species survive wounds that would lead to decay and death in less resilient species.  Redcedar wood has long been prized for all kinds of uses, of course, which may help explain its relative scarcity in the valley.

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Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Unlike the preceding three species, Douglas fir is NOT shade tolerant, and needs an open, sunny spot to take root and thrive.  Such places are scarce in the valley today, though Douglas fir may have been more common in the original forest.  Only western redcedar is more long-lived among our valley’s tree species, with superlative specimens known to reach 1000 years of age.  Douglas fir seeds are another seasonal staple of our forest’s food web.  Look for young Douglas fir on the gravel bars along Gold Creek.

Bull Trout Working Group Meeting notes

Notes from a meeting of the Yakima Bull Trout Working Group on August 7, 2017 attended by Bob and Sue Mecklenburg.

“The Yakima Bull Trout Working Group (BTWG) is an informal working group that brings partners working on bull trout conservation together approximately once every two months. Originally formed to draft the Yakima chapter of the 2002 draft of the USFWS Recovery Plan, the group has met regularly since. It has become the go-to-place to share updates and coordinate bull trout activities. The BTWG is coordinated by the Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2010-12 the BTWG oversaw the development of the Yakima Bull Trout Action Plan (BTAP). In 2015, the USFWS released its final Endangered Species Act required Bull Trout Recovery Plan, which identifies the BTAP as the guide to implementing bull trout recovery in the Yakima Basin. BTWG is currently updating the BTAP to ensure that all actions are up to date and consistent with the USFWS Recovery Plan, and that partners are following through to implement the actions that have been prioritized.” From the BTWG webpage.

About 25 people from a number of agencies were at the meeting we attended, including Mitch Long. Richard Visser of Reclamation, who has been closely involved with the Gold Creek Restoration project and a major player in the entire water/bull trout initiative, was not able to attend.

The group has no policy-making function, funds to allocate or obvious authority but gathers data, sets overall priorities, shares resources and ideas and aligns members in promoting priorities to influence work on bull trout enhancement in the Basin. The Chair of the group is Alex Conley with Cassandra Weeks staffing the group. The output of the meeting was information, discussion and recommendation rather than action steps.

In the morning session, Alex guided the team through the status of the 12 major bull trout creeks in the Yakima Basin, ranking them by relative risk to bull trout compared to other creeks and identifying specific adverse effects such as dewatering. He had prepared a catalog of intervention strategies and techniques to improve bull trout stock.  Strategies included conservation introduction, reintroduction, supplementation and diversification.  Techniques included barrier removal, translocation, captive rearing, artificial propagation and captive brood stock.

According to a survey in 2014, here are an estimated 750-1000 bull trout in the creeks of the Yakima Basin. A common indicator of a sustainable population is 50 redds (breeding sites) per year. Redd counts in Gold Creek 2012-2016 have been 7, 12, 19, 3, and 5.

Of the 12 creeks, six were identified as high priority for intervention. Gold Creek was one of these. The action steps recommended for Gold Creek were those with which we are familiar through KCT (List). One of the short-term interventions was manual salvaging and transporting fish as we heard Mitch describe on Saturday. Much of the work across the Basin keyed off the Bull Trout Action Plan from 2012.

There were a number of presentations in the afternoon. After a rather exciting morning exploring strategies for increasing the fish populations, the actual on-the- ground activities presented in the afternoon were tactical: counting fish populations (night time snorkeling!), monitoring water temps, mapping areas of dewatering, salvaging, and collecting samples of cellular debris for DNA sampling to guide positive or negative effects of interbreeding.

Unfortunately the dewatering of Gold Creek is an issue for a number of the creeks in the upper Yakima basin. Other passage barriers to spawning are exposure of reservoir beds as water is drawn down throughout the summer, natural falls, man-made recreational dams to create swimming holes, blocking culverts, and high water temperatures,

Despite the dedication of the group to support the recovery of bull trout, administrative and financial constraints limit their ability to achieve their goals. Funding sources include SRF Board, which was budgeted to receive $1.2 million dollars but, that was less than half of the money requested in the project proposals. There are funds from the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan (Washington State Department of Ecology), but because the Washington State capital budget has not approved this year, that money is not available at this time.

Here are some websites where you can find more about bull trout initiatives and request inclusion on email rosters:

Bull Trout Working Group (WA Dept of Ecology)

http://www.ybfwrb.org/recovery-planning/bull-trout-recovery-planning/btwg/

Yakima Basin Fish & Wildlife Recovery Board (WA Dept of Ecology)

The Yakima Basin Fish & Wildlife Recovery Board’s (YBFWRB) mission is to restore sustainable and harvestable populations of salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other at-risk fish and wildlife species through collaborative, economically sensitive efforts, combined resources, and wise resource management of the Yakima River Basin.

http://www.ybfwrb.org/

Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan (WA Dept of Ecology)

In June 2009, Ecology and Reclamation brought representatives from the Yakama Nation, irrigation districts, environmental organizations, and federal, state, county, and city governments together to form the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (YRBWEP) Working Group to help develop a consensus-based solution to the basin’s water problems. Over the next 18 months, the group developed the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan.

http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cwp/YBIP.html

Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (US Bureau of Reclamation)

https://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/yrbwep/2011integratedplan/index.html

Bull Trout Action Plan

The Bull Trout Action Plan is not in itself an official “recovery plan”. It is a locally written document that complements the USFWS Bull Trout Recovery Plan by providing detailed population information and proposing specific actions and next steps that will benefit bull trout in the Yakima basin.

http://www.ybfwrb.org/recovery-planning/bull-trout-recovery-planning/bull-trout-action-plan/

Salmon Recovery Grants including link to SRFBoard (Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office)

http://www.rco.wa.gov/grants/salmon.shtml

Bull Trout Working Group Meeting Agenda

Date: August 7, 2017

Meeting Location: Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board

Morning Session: Supplementation

9am – 12pm Time Topic
45 minutes Target Populations and Limiting Factors
30 minutes Review Conservation Propagation Options
1 hour 15 minutes Brainstorm Specific Actions for Specific Populations
30 minutes Next Steps

Afternoon Session: Bull Trout Working Group meeting

1pm – 4:30pm Time Topic Presenter(s)
5 minutes Welcome and Introductions All
20 minutes Bull Trout Action Plan:

Approve Naches and Basin-wide Actions

BTAP Work Planning

Cassandra Weekes
30 minutes Bull Trout Action Plan: Ahtanum 1 Year Post-Update Review Bull Trout Working Group
15 minutes Bureau of Reclamation Projects Update Richard Visser
20 minutes Passage in Spawning Tributaries and Upper Yakima Salvage Update Josh Rogala & William Meyer
Break
20 minutes eDNA Sampling Update Connor Parrish
15 minutes Bull Trout Task Force Update Emily Smith
20 minutes Box Canyon and Kachess River Data Collection Update Scott Kline
15 minutes Planning: Field Work and Staffing Needs Bull Trout Working Group
10 minutes Review Plans for Fall Climate Change Workshop Alex Conley
15 minutes SRFB, YBIP and Others Funding Sources Alex Conley
10 minutes Closing Items; Topics for the Next Meeting Bull Trout Working Group

 

 

As of July 31, complete burn ban in effect in the valley

Snoqualmie Pass Fire & Rescue — which provides service to Gold Creek Valley — has declared a complete burn ban for its service area. The fire department issued the ban on July 31, 2017.

Under the burn ban, no fires or BBQ briquette grills are allowed. Gas BBQs are allowed, but users are asked to ensure they do not have any combustible debris nearby that could contribute to starting a fire outside the BBQ.

For more information, please read the fire department’s outdoor burn policy. The burn ban will stay in place until the area receives significant rain.