Wildlife and Habitat

Answers From Ken Bevis, WA DNR

Q). What would you plant stream side in eastern washington post flood to create habitat and bank protection?

Coyote willow, red osier dogwood, cottonwood. Look at what is nearby. Willows and cottonwood can be easily planted with cuttings. Gather nearby. Red osier can too, but needs some root hormone on cutting tips. Use a metal dibble bar, or rod and put them as deep as you can, with only 3-5 buds above the surface. Bare root stock from Conservation Districts are good too. Consult with local Conservation Districts for local ideas and success stories.

Q). What’s a good alternative to replace reed canary grass with if we are removing it? Red osier dogwood / willow?

A). Yes. Replace the reed canary with woody shrubs and get it shaded out. It is very hard to get rid of tho, so be ready to go after it again. Look up various tactics for successful removal of reed canary. Unfortunately, it is a long tough battle.

Q). Any good native grasses we should look for?

A). In eastern WA, blue bunch wheat grass or Great basin wild rye are native species with high habitat value. Again, consult with local CDs for input on what would do well in your area. There are several native seed growers who could also give input to your specific area. It very much depends on your locale and conditions of the particular site you want to grow grass.

Q). How do you balance habitat creation with forest fire management

A). Wow. A big question. First, about fuels reduction treatments. This is a matter of scale. On a broad scale, reducing the risk of large scale, stand-replacing fire benefits wildlife in general, by better protecting live trees in the forest ecosystem from death in hot fires, and increasing vigor by reducing competition.

While doing these treatments, I constantly emphasize maintaining (or improving) important habitat features on the landscape – using this acronym:
SLLOPPS; Snags, Logs, Legacy, Openings, Patches, Piles and Shrubs. Keep big snags and logs. Leave biggest legacy trees. Maintain/create openings. Leave strategic “skips” or patches unthinned for wildlife cover, Create/maintain Habitat Piles, Protect best well formed shrubs on treated units.

Fuels treatments can degrade habitats in the short to mid term. For example, masticating the shrub layer removes above ground plants, but they will often sprout back vigorously from the root crowns and provide better browse in a few years. But, cover for ground or shrub nesting birds is gone in the interim. Lower branches on trees are often used by squirrels as “ladders” and birds will perch and forage on them. Removing them in the name of ladder fuel reduction eliminates this habitat feature. So the trick is not to treat every single acre. I recommend retention of 15% of a fuels treatment area in habitat features.

As to wildland fire fighting, most operations have some standards for protecting habitat features, but bluntly, these go out the window when the flames are roaring. Snags are routinely felled near fire lines, gouges on slopes from bulldozers, etc. Then the rehab starts.

Big question, but definitely a deep area for work.

Q). How big of a dead tree makes a good snag? All sizes or does it need to be a certain diameter?

A). I like to use cavity nesting habitat for some common species as the guide for snag size. In general, hairy woodpeckers are the one to consider. This means a snag of at least 10”-12” top diameter and 8’ tall. However, for flickers, they will use even stumps as long as they are soft enough. Smaller excavators such as chickadees or nuthatches, will use very small diameter trees, say 4”, with the bark. They will go through the bark and the outside of the cavity is the bark itself.

So general recommendation, 10” diameter, 8’ high minimum. Bigger is better. Broken tops seem to get cavities more often due to heart rot in stem above ground.

All types and sizes of dead wood have value to something as feeding substrate, including insects.