The 12 Yays of Fishmas

Highlighting shining moments of Ecological Services success from 2021

By: External Affairs Staff, USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest

It’s beginning to look a lot like Fishmas in our Ecological Services program!

It’s almost 2022 and we have one word for you — Yay! Not only do we have a new year to look forward to, we also have a successful year to look back on. Today, we are reflecting on a dozen memorable moments from our Ecological Services program. The Ecological Services staff in the Columbia Pacific Northwest Region covers Idaho, Oregon and Washington. From connecting coastal wetlands and estuaries to recovering species in the sagebrush steppe and old growth forests, conservation happens year round here. Our people power their work with the best available science, joining forces with Tribes and other partners to ensure the protection and enhancement of our natural resources for generations to come. Join us as we take a festive look back at some of the reasons we are saying yay for 2021!

On the first Yay of Fishmas, prairie ecosystems gave to us … golden paintbrush recovering!

Brilliant yellow golden paintbrush blooms as a bee lands on it
Photo: Golden paintbrush in bloom, Credit: Mosa NeisCredit/Pacific Rim Institute

Here is one memory from the past year that has us all aglow — the recovery of the golden paintbrush! A few decades ago, this small but vibrant flowering plant was a rare sight within Washington and Oregon’s dwindling prairie habitats. Thanks to the collective efforts of many partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now proposing to delist the golden paintbrush due to recovery. This step is a win for conservation and is one of many success stories linked to prairie restoration in the Pacific Northwest.

Read the full story here

On the second Yay of Fishmas, dedicated colleagues gave to us … COVID relief volunteering!

Dozens of volunteers celebrate reaching 40,000 vaccines given with balloons
Photo: The crew celebrating the milestone of 40,000 people vaccinated. Credit: Leah Schrodt/USFWS

Many of our courageous colleagues answered the national call for help with the COVID-19 relief effort this year. In the words of one of them, “We are living through an extremely challenging chapter for all, and being a part of the solution during this historic time felt like one of the most important things I could be doing with my life.” Read her story here and join us in saluting all those who volunteered during the pandemic in 2021.

Read the full story here

On the third Yay of Fishmas, a public service icon gave to us … after 40 years retiring!

Photo: What a catch! Longtime public servant Larry Salata plans to do more fishing during his well-deserved retirement, Credit: USFWS

Larry Salata, a longtime public servant whose steady presence provided both expertise and a smile to the complex world of Endangered Species Act consultation, has gone fishin’. Salata retired this year after a stellar 40 year science career. His work helped people and wildlife across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and the Pacific Islands (and beyond!) and the sage advice he shared with us before departing is one of our most-read articles of the year.

Read the full story here

On the fourth Yay of Fishmas, wildlife-friendly fences gave to us … big game migrating!

Sunrise over mountains with prairie and yellow flowers in the foreground
Photo: Sunrise at Flat Ranch Preserve. Credit: Flickr/Patricia Bauchman

They say fences make good neighbors. We say that good neighbors make fences. Partners in Idaho teamed up on a “few small fencing projects” and got big gains for big game. By collaborating on every step — from data collection to implementation — a dedicated team of biologists was able to replace outdated and often harmful fences that were preventing game passage. These friendlier fences have resulted in easier movement for the wildlife as well as fewer mortalities. Now that is what we call stepping up your game!

Read the full story here

On the fifth Yay of Fishmas, Idaho dam removal gave to us … fish habitat improving!

A large jack hammer type of machine hammers away at the concrete of an old dam
Photo: The hammering begins at the dam site. Credit: Trout Unlimited

One of our more dramatic moments from this past year was the removal of the Red Ives Dam in northern Idaho. After decades of project planning, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked together to remove the outdated, hydroelectric dam in 2021. In addition to dam removal, the project also included significant improvements to fish habitat with the help of Trout Unlimited. The St. Joe River bull trout populations are the last remaining in the Coeur d’Alene basin so we consider this an important, positive step forward for bull trout conservation!

Read the full story here

On the sixth Yay of Fishmas, private landowners gave to us … prairie pollinators buzzing!

Three images side by side showing colorful blooming flowers with bees on them
Photo: Pollinators captured, in action, on Sarah Metcalf’s property in Latah County, Idaho. Photo credit: Brenda Erhardt, Latah Soil and Water District.

Thanks to the dedication of a committed landowner, efforts to conserve and restore Palouse Prairie habitat on Lone Jack Butte are helping to preserve a haven for pollinators now and into the future. In her words, “When I learned how little prairie was left, I knew I needed to protect it. And not just for me…I’m just a steward. It’s everyone’s land.” Her stewardship inspires us and her hard work at weed removal is being rewarded by many buzzing bees!

Read the full story here

On the seventh Yay of Fishmas, collaboration gave to us … innovative resource managing!

The left photo shows canal with water and grass on the sides and the right photo shows the installation of pipes/tubes
Photos: Closed-piping irrigation systems can deliver water more efficiently than op-ditch canals — Left: Open irrigation canal, Credit: Gary Halvorson/Oregon State Archives; Right: Installing irrigation pipe, Credit: Deschutes Basin Board of Control

After one year of implementation, the Deschutes Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is well underway. We are happy to report that, despite some challenges due to drought earlier this year, our first year has yielded several successes. As a result of this HCP, water and wildlife managers were able to coordinate on water management decisions for the basin. Water managers were then able to deliver water supplies to their patrons in a way that continued conservation of the Oregon spotted frog.

Read the full story here

On the eighth Yay of Fishmas, endangered species recovery gave to us … Fender’s blue butterflies fluttering!

A gray colored butterfly with black spots on its wings rests on long grass
Photo: Fender’s blue butterfly resting on grass. Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

Photo: Fender’s blue butterfly resting on grass. Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

Conservation gives us wings! Fender’s blue butterfly, thought to be extinct in the late 1930s, is now making a comeback in the Willamette Valley in northwest Oregon. Take a walk through the valley’s upland prairies and oak savannahs during May or June and you might be lucky enough to spot one thanks to recovery efforts. Read more about them and how they are making a comeback from the brink of extinction.

Read the full story here

On the ninth Yay of Fishmas, innovative detection methods gave to us … conservation dogs sniffing!

Two photos side by side. The left shows a black and gray dog in the grass and the right shows an orange and brown butterfly among tall grass.
Photo: Rogue Detection Teams dogs and their handlers can help detect endangered species (left); Photo: Oregon silverspot butterfly on goldenrod (right); Credit: USFWS

In one of the most paw-some stories of the year, our four-legged friends in conservation are helping us track down tiny endangered species. A newly hatched Oregon silverspot butterfly is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence that’s smaller than a needle in a haystack! Thanks to a unique partnership, conservation detection dogs are helping to sniff them out so that we can consistently track the population and measure recovery efforts.

Read the full story here

On the tenth Yay of Fishmas, cooperative restoration gave to us … landowners and refuges collaborating!

Two photos side by side. The left shows a mountain in the background and orange and green trees in the foreground. The left has an adult frog in shallow water.
Photos: Conboy National Wildlife Refuge (left), Credit: David Patte/USFWS; Adult Oregon spotted frogs (Rana pretiosa) can be found on the Refuge in the summer (right). Credit: USFWS

At first blush, the agrarian and conservation components of rural Washington may seem to stand in contrast. That apparent contrast is what makes this story shine. Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge and local ranchers have come together on water infrastructure projects that help both man and frog.

Read the full story here

On the eleventh Yay of Fishmas, innovative passage design gave to us … bull trout swimming!

Photo: Adult bull trout. Photo (left) by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Stock with Wade Fredenberg/USFWS; (right) Cle Elum Helix Facility. Photo Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

This is fish passage like you’ve never seen it before. In one of the best examples of collaborating and innovation, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the Service, other agencies, and Tribes, designed a juvenile fish passage facility using a modern helix design to transport juvenile fish downstream of Cle Elum Dam in Washington. This facility will allow fish to leave the reservoir as the water surface fluctuates over the top 63 feet in elevation. These facilities at Cle Elum Reservoir are part of a larger effort by BOR to develop fish passage so that salmon, steelhead, and bull trout can migrate upstream to cold water habitat in the Yakima Basin.

Read the full story here

On the twelfth Yay of Fishmas, wildlife biologists gave to us … the first Washington grizzly bear tracking!

Three bear cubs and one larger adult bear are visible among grass and trees
Photo: A female grizzly (left) was the first to be captured and collared in Washington, Credit: WDFW

It’s just the bear necessities in Washington! For the first time, wildlife biologists captured and fitted a female grizzly bear with a radio collar. The bear, accompanied by three yearling offspring, was then released to help biologists learn more about grizzly bears in Washington. Understanding how the bears are using the landscape will aid biologists in advancing recovery of the species.

Read the full story here

It has been quite the year for the Columbia Pacific Northwest Region! None of these successes for wildlife would have been possible without our people. We are grateful for the partners, Tribes, and conservation friends who collaborated with us in 2021. Thank you for supporting us this year — we look forward to a bright 2022 with you!



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