Creating the “Wild” for Wildlife

Wildlife monitoring equipment installation in the Ohop. Photo: Nisqually Indian Tribe Natural Resources Department

Wildlife monitoring equipment installation in the Ohop. Photo: Nisqually Indian Tribe Natural Resources Department

(Source: 2016 Summer Newsletter, page 14)

by Cris Peck

I like to call our stewardship work “habitat farming” – we protect, maintain and enhance habitat for wildlife, and one of our “yields” is increased wildlife populations. We’re elated when we learn about salmon, beaver, caddisflies, coyote, birds, elk, and bear on our properties. They’re all indicators of good habitat quality and connectivity.

The Lower Ohop Valley is a perfect example. Our restoration project there is massive, with a dozen partners helping to re-meander the creek and reforest the floodplain. The project was designed to benefit salmon, particularly Chinook and steelhead trout, but the fast-growing plantings and reconnected floodplain are providing habitat for amphibians and dozens of bird species. The valley is now home to a robust elk herd, and we’ve heard reports of a resident black bear for the first time in over 30 years!

We know much of what we know because we’re lucky to have volunteers and partner organizations that help collect wildlife data through citizen science and wildlife surveys. To help keep “common species common,” Northwest Trek, the wildlife park near Eatonville, brings volunteers to Land Trust properties, including the Ohop, to observe and record evidence and sightings of the critters using our lands, from stream bugs to big mammals. Volunteers from the park also conduct seasonal amphibian egg mass surveys in the Ohop. This ongoing monitoring helps quantify general habitat quality and tracks changes over time.

Furthermore, over the past two years, the Nisqually Indian Tribe has worked with consulting biologists to survey wildlife in the Lower Ohop floodplain. They installed nine cameras that captured images of elk herds, coyotes, deer, and even beavers! In addition, the cameras observed 55 bird species, including first-time documentations of black-headed grosbeak, hooded merganser, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, and western tanager.

Like people of all ages and backgrounds, I often become captivated for a few short moments by the presence of a wild animal, whether a tiny insect or a large mammal. The idea that future generations will have the opportunity to experience this sense of awe is a cornerstone of why we’re dedicated to land protection and habitat restoration in this beautiful watershed.

A sampling of the 196 species documented in the Ohop Creek Restoration wildlife surveys conducted by the Nisqually Indian Tribe Natural Resources Department and ICF International. Wildlife cameras caught, left to right: Roosevelt elk, northern flicker and coyote. (Photo: Nisqually Indian Tribe & ICF International)