IRIS | Project makes Tunk Valley safe for grouse population

By Allisa Carlson
Okanogan Conservation District

This is the fifth in a series of eight stories featured ahead of the ninth annual NCW Community Success Summit, which IRIS (Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship) is convening in Pateros on Nov. 15. This year’s event, “Pateros Strong,” will celebrate stories about our environment, community, and economy that are helping to connect and strengthen our region. For more information about the summit, to sample more stories on the Success Summit Story Exchange or to submit a story, visit irisncw.org.

 

Volunteers installed 14,000 fence markers on private lands in the Tunk Valley, east of Riverside, in an effort to conserve sharp-tailed grouse. (Provided photo/IRIS)

What is the successful outcome?

Over 40 volunteers installed 14,000 fence markers on private lands in the Tunk Valley, east of Riverside in an effort to conserve one of the state’s only populations of sharp-tailed grouse. The markers prevent grouse from flying into fences they cannot see, thus saving their lives. This project creates a legacy of close collaboration between partners and landowners to assist in the recovery of the Tunk’s grouse.

(Provided graphic)

What is the situation?

Small portions of the state support sharp-tailed grouse populations where only 2.8 percent of their historic range remains, prompting the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission to list the species as state threatened in 1998. While Tunk Valley has one of the remaining populations, the land has been divided into smaller parcels and fenced. Those fences pose a hazard to grouse that fly to their mating grounds, or leks, before dawn and are unable to see the wires in the dark. An effective solution is to install white plastic markers every three feet along fence lines to increase visibility, a practice that the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies says decreases the risk of collision by 58 percent. The Okanogan Conservation District (OCD) received a grant to coordinate grouse habitat enhancement projects with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and volunteers.

What is the challenge?

The biggest challenge occurred in 2015, when the Okanogan Complex Fire burned through the Tunk Valley, altering critical sharp-tailed grouse habitat. Without knowing how many birds survived the fire, state biologists suspected that grouse might come to breed in areas of the valley that did not burn. During surveys in the spring of 2016, no grouse were heard doing their mating display on their lek.

What are the key activities?

  • The OCD and WDFW biologists identified high-risk fence collision locations and asked neighboring private landowners to help mark them.
  • Okanogan Boy Scouts and the Omak Future Farmers of America created approximately 14,000 fence markers and installed them on eight miles of fences.
  • The OCD is seeking funding and coordinating with WDFW to identify additional fence lines for marking, as the lek locations can change annually.

 

Allisa Carlson is a conservation planner with the Okanogan Conservation District. She can be reached at allisa@okanogancd.org.