WDFW takes Important Step in Post-fire Habitat Recovery

Wildfires that tortured the Pacific Northwest in September did a number on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area (Swanson Lakes), located about 10 miles south of the town of Creston.

Swanson Lakes is a 21,000-acre tract of native grasslands nestled among the channeled scablands of the Columbia Plateau. Shrub-steppe and riparian/wetlands comprise the dominant habitats and much of the area is rangeland, with some old Conservation Reserve Program fields. The undulating landscape is characterized by numerous pothole and rim rock lakes and one intermittent stream.

Z Lake in the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area is one example of the unique channeled scablands and shrubby habitat. Photo courtesy of WDFW.

In western habitats, wildfire threatens native vegetation in two ways. First, given our rangeland’s generally unnatural fire cycles from fire management and encroaching invasive species, wildfires often burn much hotter than they would in pristine habitats. Fires that are too hot scorch the seed bank and possibly the underground root structure of native shrubs like sagebrush, damaging the plant’s potential to regenerate. Second, invasive weeds are incredibly prolific and competitive. In the case of the earth being blackened down to bare soil, weeds can quickly flourish, outcompeting native plants, often by simply covering the area, effectively shading out the native species.

Fortunately, WDFW was poised to respond, leveraging funds in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to quickly apply native grass seed mix to the charred Swanson Lakes landscape. Aerial seed drops covered about 930 acres on October 22nd, scattering two varieties of bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, Sandberg bluegrass, and prairie dune grass across Swanson Lakes and a portion of adjacent BLM lands, said Mike Finch, WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area Assistant Manager.

Fall is not the ideal season to sow grasses, but the timing could not have been better. The WDFW and BLM made the seed drops in October to ensure native seeds were available to germinate on the exposed soil ahead of any invasive species seeds. Additionally, wet snow that fell October 23rd and 24th worked well to soak the seed into the soil surface, increasing the likelihood of establishment through good seed-to-soil contact. The WDFW plans to return with machinery in drier conditions to scratch the seeds slightly deeper into the soil surface.

Finch mentioned that Swanson Lakes was one of three areas receiving fall seed drops. The areas were prioritized for immediate reseeding due to their deeper soils, being more likely to establish and sustain healthy native grasses by allowing roots to grow down into moist soils for good summer survival. Understanding site conditions and prioritizing restoration efforts is important for project success and the best use of resources, particularly with the cost of native grass seed as high as $200 per acre, plus application time.

Native grass seed being dropped in Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area, October 22nd. Photo courtesy of Mike Finch, WDFW.

Native shrub-steppe communities are a critical part of the ecosystem in the arid west, providing food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. The sharp-tailed grouse, for example, is an iconic western prairie grouse species that thrives in shrub-steppe habitat. Precisely why maintaining quality native habitat in Swanson Lakes is of critical importance. The area was acquired by the Bonneville Power Administration, primarily as a wildlife mitigation project for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, a state “threatened” species.

By leveraging funding and relationships with the BLM, and making smart decisions on the use of available resources, WDFW can sustain unique and important shrub-steppe habitat areas like Swanson Lakes to benefit wildlife and the public user well into the future.

Down-rigging for Spring Kokanee

Peering over the gunnel of a 24-foot Wooldridge, the high snow-capped peaks towered over the cold blue of Lake Chelan, Washington. Whitecaps broke and lapped at the shoreline as high gusts blew a fine spray off the top like dust from a table. Five of us cast shifty glances, kicked gravel, and hoped someone else would make the call; either go for it or go home. With reluctant agreement, we filed aboard the vessel with tempered enthusiasm. There were no alternatives. It was too early in the spring to fish most other waters, due either to regulations or incredibly cold or high water. With nothing to lose, except maybe our lunch from being tossed by the swells, we seized an opportunity to probe the depths for one of the west’s intriguing adipose fins.

Did you know there are at least 78 lakes and reservoirs with fishable kokanee populations between Washington State and Wyoming?  Kokanee are landlocked sockeye salmon that offer exciting opportunity in deep water when other fisheries may not be open or fishable. Read more at Angler Pros.

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Sierra Gold: Striking it Rich

Our last mile of ascent traversed what appeared to be a glacial spillway. What looked like a talus slope from afar turned out to be a massive boulder-strewn drainage between two granite walls. The fisherman’s trail was no longer discernable, so in classic Chas fashion, he picked the most difficult route; straight up.

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The feeling of amazement as I gazed for the first time upon the rich auburn belly, buttery yellow flanks, olive-sized parr marks, and overall marvel of a true golden trout in the Sierra Nevada backcountry will not soon depart.

But a trip into the Sierra Nevada range has its challenges. Learn what every angler should know to be successful in the Sierra Nevada alpine at Angler Pros.

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Think Pink for Silver Salmon on the Fly

Doing your homework prior to a salmon fishing destination trip to Alaska can help cut out the guess work and manage expectations. In this post, I present some key information from an epic experience that will put you on silver (coho) salmon on the fly. The best advice? Think pink!

Read the full post here at Anger Pros.

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A Plug for Big River Walleye

In the frothy toss of the dam tailrace, the little Smoker bobbed and dodged like a duck floating down a river rapid. Luckily, the dam was spilling only a minor volume, so conditions were still safe. The game plan was to drop a couple plugs behind the boat and troll across of the unique terrain that lay below the surface of the conflicting currents.

What to Look For

On the big river, walleye are generally structure-oriented in the sense that boulders, rock piles, troughs, and other terrain variations provide velocity breaks and concealment that fish can use to their advantage as forage passes by with the flow. Our target habitat was shelves and drop-offs in a depth range of 18-25 feet.

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Read the full post here, at Angler Pros.