Marshall Pond Work Party

Written by Alice Elshoff, FOMR Vice President; Photos by FOMR

On Friday, Oct. 25, twelve amazing and stalwart Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (FOMR) volunteers gathered to get acquainted and prepare to tackle a Saturday full of projects. Since opening the Cranes Nest Nature Center & Store at its new location in the spring of 2018, FOMR has taken over stewardship of the entire Marshall Trail and Pond Observation area, including the viewing blind and the now-paved ADA-accessible loop trail. This trail encircles the location of where the late Refuge biologist Dave Marshall’s residence once stood.

Past volunteer efforts in this area have included the planting of many native and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. It is one of many goals that we increase the presence of vegetation that would support the needs of migratory and breeding birds that visit Refuge Headquarters. In addition to planting, there is an ongoing effort to protect and irrigate in the hopes of increasing the chances of survival. Over the summer the Tribal Stewards crew removed old wooded exclosures from around many trees and shrubs while beginning the process of constructing new wires structures. This weekend we finished the job by weeding, mulching and fencing the remaining 11 plants.

Meanwhile, an additional contingency of our work crew set to the task of planting willows behind the existing willow wall. This wall is meant to reduce disturbance to wildlife utilizing Marshall Pond, but is currently in a state of disrepair. The long term solution to this is to grow willow tall and dense enough to create a living wall. Eventually the existing structure will be removed. The living wall will screen the pond from the adjacent Marshall Trail while providing nesting and resting habitat for a variety of birds. 

Our team also transplanted clumps of beautiful native Great Basin Rye to the trail area. This bunch grass is expected to out-compete the existing non-natives that occupy the space. It will take repeated transplant efforts, but we expect that our annual fall work parties will chip away at this year after year.

Finally, a third team of volunteers set about installing new plant identification placards throughout Refuge headquarters. Earlier in the year residential volunteer John Roth, botanist and retired science teacher, set about identifying as many unique trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers as he could find! It was quite the task, but he came up with an extensive list from which 60+ placards were ordered. Following the census, volunteers Jeff and Liz Jones of Bend worked at placing numbered garden stakes and producing a GPS map that correspond with John’s list. Placing these ID placards was the final piece of this project that John began in June. A huge thank you is owed to everyone who was a part of this process. We see projects like this one as vital to the transformation of the outdoor space at Headquarters feeling more interactive and informative to visitors.

With so many people coming together from across the state to join us for this work party we are moved by the generosity and good nature of our Friends and Members. We look forward to spring when we can see the results of our hard work and come together again for our next work party!

Great Basin, Great Dark Skies

Written by Teresa Wicks, Portland Audubon Society Eastern Oregon Field Coordinator/Photo by Tara Lemezis, Portland Audubon

and suddenly I saw
the heavens
Unfastened
and open,
Planets,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
Riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
Void,
likeness, image of
Mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.”

-Excerpt from “Poetry” by Pablo Neruda

This excerpt by Neruda so accurately captures the feeling of looking at night skies from within the Great Basin. Layers upon layers of stars, dancing across the sky and through space. Astral calendars and maps, guiding humans and wildlife since time immemorial.

Unfortunately, light pollution is drowning out our access to dark skies and nocturnal nature (Fig. 1). Images of the U.S show that most of the eastern U.S. experiences some amount of light pollution. Moving west through the central U.S., the points of light become smaller, giving the appearance of largely “unfettered” dark skies. However, when you look at images of light pollution measuring the quality of night sky, we find that little of the U.S. experiences “truly dark” skies (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Lights of the United States. This image shows the concentration of lights on the U.S. landscape.
Figure 2. Dark Sky quality across the United States. The Bortle Scale measures skies from “truly dark” (black or dark gray areas) to “inner city” (pale gray areas). 

The Great Basin happens to be one of these areas, and we here in Harney County are lucky enough to be almost in the center of a large patch of truly dark sky (though if you look closely, you can see the effects of artificial light in Burns). Efforts to protect these dark skies are underway. One such effort is a partnership between Portland Audubon and the Burns District BLM to obtain Dark Sky Wilderness designation for the Steens Mountain Wilderness, under the International Dark Sky Association. Though this designation isn’t a legislative one, and thus lacks “teeth,” it is still an important part of recognizing the importance of dark skies and public lands for wildlife and human health.

Dark sky features, such as stars and the Milky Way, are important navigational tools for migrating birds and other wildlife. Additionally, nocturnal species developed specific circadian rhythms (patterns of light/dark) that dictate sleep, mating, flowering, migration, and other stages of diverse life cycles. When light pollution disrupts these patterns, there can be serious consequences. For example, today, lights from large cities represent the brightest point on island horizons, causing baby sea turtles to travel toward cities and away from the ocean upon hatching. In humans, prolonged exposure to artificial light has been linked to sleep disorders, obesity, and heart disease by the American Medical Association. 

What can you do to support dark skies? Changing light bulbs to “warm light” LED bulbs is a great start. These LED bulbs don’t include light in the blue spectrum and are therefore better for humans, wildlife, and mitigating light pollution. Another important step you can take is turning off unnecessary nighttime lighting, including but not limited to porch lights and other outdoor lighting. You can also support Lights Out programs in your area. For more information about what you can do to support human and wildlife health, follow the link to Portland Audubon’s Light’s Out page

Image of the Bortle Scale and Dark Sky Quality. Burns, OR is in the “green” column, while the Steens are in the far right “black” column. What do your dark skies look like?

A New Look for Malheur

Written by Carey Goss, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Specialist/Photos by USFWS

On your next visit to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, you can expect to be welcomed with new interpretation and directional signs.

For the past several years, the Refuge has been working diligently on improving an integrated set of orientation features for visitors to easily find accurate, timely and appropriate information and feel welcomed. We want our visitors to not only be aware of their options for safely pursuing self-guided activities, but to feel welcomed. This effort consists primarily of new trailhead and interpretive signs aimed at providing enhanced wildlife observation, photography opportunities and interpretive opportunities while connecting visitors with historic and natural resources. 

At the beginning of your trip to Malheur, stop at the Narrows Pullout along Highway 205. New interpretive panels have been installed and the information therein will serve as a gateway for your experience at the Refuge. We suggest visiting Refuge headquarters afterwards, which will be a good starting point for your visit. The Visitor Center, Nature Center & Store, along with the George Benson Natural History Museum, are located at the Refuge headquarters. Knowledgeable volunteers and staff will be available to provide information and answer any questions. Headquarters also has new interpretive panels at the Malheur Lake Overlook and Marshall Pond Trail. 

As you begin to explore the Refuge, you will notice new welcome and orientation panels at all entrance points. Each entrance will have the basic information for visitors to be aware of their options for self-guided activities with a little story of what you may experience in that section of the Refuge. 

Whether you travel along Hwy 205 or the Blitzen Valley Auto Tour route you will find yourself at the Buena Vista Overlook. This is a must-stop after experiencing the landscape and solitude of the northern half of the Refuge. The interpretive panels have been updated and you will find one of our new trailhead signs at the base and the top of the overlook. These new trailhead signs are located at each of our trailheads. 

If you haven’t visited Krumbo Reservoir, south of Buena Vista Overlook, we suggest you do. The reservoir may be off the beaten path, but provides an opportunity to view some seasonal ponds and one of the deepest water sources on the Refuge. You will be welcomed with trailhead signs along the way to the reservoir and at the reservoir and beautiful viewing areas. 

Once you have made it to the southern tip of the Refuge, please stop at the historic P Ranch. At the parking area, you will be welcomed with new interpretive panels, trailhead signs and sitting areas. A portion of the P Ranch area is also one of the locations where angling is permitted including Krumbo Reservoir and East Canal. East Canal is another stop we encourage visitors to check out.

East Canal is located near Page Springs Campground and provides visitors an option to walk the route or drive. At the entrance of East Canal, there will be information to help guide you. 

Now that your trip is close to being over, don’t forget to stop at the Frenchglen Wayside across from the Frenchglen Hotel. New interpretive panels will highlight areas near the Refuge that you can explore and an entrance to the Barnes Springs Footpath. If you happen to visit in the late summer or fall, please make a stop at the historic Sod House Ranch (open August 15 – October 15). Sod House Ranch provides an opportunity to take a step back into time. If volunteers are not available to provide a guided tour, you will have new interpretive panels to share the story of the past. 

Malheur is a wonderful place for visitors and with the new interpretation and directional signs we hope you leave the Refuge with a memorable experience that fosters a connection between yourself and nature, and with an appreciation of the Refuge’s unique resources. 

A Volunteer’s Appreciation

Written by Isabelle Fleuraud, FOMR Volunteer/Photo courtesy of Isabelle Fleuraud

Five and a half years ago, my family unexpectedly moved to Harney County from Tucson, AZ. A year before that, my husband took his new post here, and so I accompanied him on the long drive from Southern Arizona to South East Oregon. And because, as a naturalist and aspiring geologist, he always seeks the most winding and least traveled path, I first discovered Harney County via the full 133 miles of OR Hwy 205 – known in part as the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway – from Denio, NV to Burns, OR. Along the way, on that late September day, we stopped at the historic Frenchglen hotel for a picnic, from where I first discovered the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge; that day, we traveled the full length of Malheur Refuge and also stopped at the headquarters and at the Narrows. Over the next few years, we made many visits to the Malheur Refuge, exploring how the vast landscape, wetland vegetation and abundant wildlife magically change with the seasons. In 2016, we helped with the post-Malheur Occupation cleanup and were introduced to, and began supporting the Friends of Malheur, and at last, this spring, I decided to start volunteering here under the guidance of the Friends’ remarkable executive director, Janelle Wicks.

Once a week, as I get up early and make the 36 mile drive to Refuge Headquarters, encountering at most a handful of cars between the old Hines Lumber Mill ruins at the edge of town and the CCC-built headquarters, it’s as if I moved to another world for the day. And the drive home always takes me an extra 20 minutes as I can never resist the temptation to stop along the way to observe and attempt to photograph the late afternoon light flooding the extraordinary landscape.

In late spring and early summer, after I was trained to use the cash register system, I worked mostly in the lovely Crane’s Nest gift shop, book store and visitor center, interacting with birders and visitors eager to share how delighted they are to be at Malheur and to inquire about the Refuge and its wildlife, while making sure the store shelves were well stocked and neatly presented. By mid-July, as the number of visitors began to drop, Janelle trained me on how to generate and print thank you letters for new members, and carry out various inventory and other necessary office tasks. It is fair to say that Janelle is an utter delight to work for, as her great organizational, supervisory and teaching skills are enhanced by her unending kindness and positivity. Meeting other volunteers from far away in Oregon and all over the country, who stay for weeks and months at the newly renovated RV site located at the headquarters, has also been immensely enriching. Being a small part of this amazing team of dedicated volunteers has been as awe-inspiring as the natural environment we are helping protect and preserve.

Marshall Pond Work Party

Are you are looking for an excuse to enjoy the Refuge one more time this season? Please join us for a beautification project at headquarters. We’ll be planting potted willows which will screen the Marshall pond from the trail and provide habitat for nesting songbirds, transplanting clumps of our native Great Basin rye grass, and planting perennial flowers around the nature center to keep our pollinators happy.

We can arrange a trip up to the Steens where the aspens will be in all their autumn glory.

We have the tools you will need and can provide housing for the first 7 folks that sign up; which you can do by contacting Alice Elshoff at 541 389-3543 or calice58@gmail.com