short-earred owl

Statewide Audubon Accomplishments

Oregon Audubon conservation leaders meet each fall to discuss their collective environmental concerns for the coming year. All 12 Oregon Chapters participated this fall and besides setting priorities for 2022, we also reviewed accomplishments based on last year’s goals. Here are the brief highlights, mostly good this year!

1: Defense of Federal Lands and Laws 

      • The change in administration has allowed the conservation community to move from defense to offense. There is significant damage to be repaired from the last four years as well as opportunity to advance new initiatives.
      • The Biden Administration has reversed efforts to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by restoring incidental take provisions.
      • The Biden Administration has reversed efforts to weaken Northern Spotted Owl protections by restoring most of the critical habitat designations that were removed under the Trump Administration.

2: Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

      • The Klamath faced one of the worst droughts on record in 2021, and it was anticipated that it would see one of the worst botulism outbreaks ever as a result in the Klamath.
      • Klamath Audubon and Portland Audubon meet regularly with National Audubon to discuss short- and long-term strategies related to the Klamath.

3: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

      • The refuge is advancing a new 6-year, $6 million OWEB grant which includes development and implementation of a strategy to restore Malheur Lake.

4: Forests

      • After more than a year of negotiations, conservation and timber interests did reach agreement on expanding riparian protections on private forests managed under the Oregon Forest Practices Act. The agreements include expanding riparian buffers for fish and non-fish bearing streams, protections for steep slopes and debris channels, expanded road standards, improved culvert standards, and improved protection for beaver. The Governor has made this her top legislative priority for 2022.

5: Oceans

      • The Audubon Society of Lincoln City held a series of events in August for “Marine Reserve Awareness Month,” and in cooperation with Oregon Shores, produced a well-attended “Beyond the Beach” webinar series.
      • Oregon Audubon Chapters supported Marine Reserve designations at Cape Lookout and Cape Foulweather.

6: Marbled Murrelets

      • Following the critical July decision to uplist the murrelet from threatened to endangered under the state ESA, the ODFW Commission approved a list of state agencies that will be required to develop murrelet management plans.

7: Greater Sage-grouse

      • Sage grouse population levels improved in Oregon in 2021 relative to recent prior years. However, the longer-term population trajectory is concerning, and we expect that there will be renewed effort to list the species under the ESA in coming years.

8: California Condors

      • In March, the USFWS published a final ruling on the CA Condor release site in Redwood National Park. The final rule designates this population as experimental and exempts most incidental take “…provided the take is unintentional and not due to negligent conduct.”

9: Streaked Horned Larks

      • In maintaining “threatened” status, the new USFWS proposed rule further weakens protections in section 4(d) by reducing liability concerns for landowners, recommends expanding the exception for incidental take for certain non-Federal land agricultural activities, and are scheduled to have the final proposed rule draft out in April 2022.

10: ODFW Reform and Funding

      • Beside continued lobbying for new conservation voices on the Commission, several bills related to ODFW in the 2021 legislature secured funding for the Conservation and Recreation Fund, an Anti-poaching Campaign, and ODFW Habitat Division.

11: Climate Change

      • There were several climate-related bills in the 2021 legislative session spearheaded by Oregon Conservation Network (OCN). Audubon has not been particularly active on these bills.

12: Beavers

      • The ODFW Commission rejected a petition to eliminate beaver trapping on federal lands.
      • There are new protections for beaver on private forest lands embedded in the OFPA agreements.

13: Dark Skies Initiative

      • Portland Audubon has received funding to expand of dark skies programming statewide, already including East Cascades, Lane County, and Salem Chapters.
      • Kalmiopsis Audubon Society finally succeeded in passing an upgraded Dark Sky lighting ordinance in the city of Port Orford.
      • Lane County Audubon Society posted new content regarding bird safe practices: Preventing Window and Building Collisions: Mt. Pisgah Arboretum – Lane County Audubon Society

14: Cats and Birds

      • No statewide actions or strategies were undertaken.

15: Columbia River Hydropower System

      • In early 2021, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho (R) released a proposal to breach the 4 Lower Snake River Dams. This mammoth proposal marks a major but very controversial development in the decades-long effort.

16: Predator Control

      • The multi-year experimental control project regarding lethal take of Barred Owls has reached its conclusion with data demonstrating that lethal control of Barred Owls can benefit local Northern Spotted Owls during the effort.
      • The Trump Administration finalized a rule which will allow large-scale killing of Double-crested Cormorants and potentially put western populations at risk.
      • Audubon advocacy effectively prevented raven killing in Baker County in 2021, but expect to see this proposal return.

17: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

      • The working group completed its work on two recommended documents, which were accepted with some edits. The first is a brief DEI statement for OAC chapters to incorporate into their own statements, and the second is a Land Acknowledgement statement with more significant edits anticipated shortly.

– Jim Fairchild, ASC Conservation Chair

ASC Accomplishments

Wanted: Not Dead but Alive!

Western Bluebirds

female western bluebird
Although population numbers are still recovering, the Western Bluebirds are not listed federally or in Oregon.

Bluebird Trail

Streaked Horned Larks

streaked horned lark
Federal status is Threatened and Oregon status is Sensitive

Streaked Horned Lark

Swifts

Vaux's swift
Vaux’s Swifts may look similar to swallows, but they have a cigar-shaped body, longer, more arched wings, and a shorter tail.

Swifts are the most aerial of birds, spending most of their lives on the wing—foraging for flying insects, skimming water from the surface of ponds, mating in midair, and sometimes even sleeping on the wing. Two species occur regularly in western Oregon, both with specialized requirements for the non-airborne parts of their lives. The larger of the two species, Black Swift (Cypseloides niger), nests on rock cliffs behind waterfalls, and only a few regular nesting locations have been found in Oregon. Black Swift is classed as Endangered with key threats believed to include airborne pollutants that reduce aerial insect availability and climate change that could reduce and/or disrupt the seasonal timing of stream flows at waterfalls.

The smaller species, Vaux’s Swift (the first part of the name rhymes with “boxes”) (Chaetura vauxi) is comparatively well-known due to its tendency to use chimneys as roosting and nesting sites. As with its eastern cousin the Chimney Swift, this is an adaptation to large-scale loss of the old-growth forests where large, dead hollow trees once served this function. Much of the population now depends on man-made structures, especially along their southbound migration route through logged and urbanized areas. (Joel Geier)

Compare swifts and swallow at All About Birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This handy site compares appearance, life history, maps, and calls.
Contact ASC Swift Coordinator Mary Garrard

Trumpeter Swans

trumpeter swans
Trumpeter Swans are not a federally listed species but are still recovering from near extinction and only found on one third of their original range.

Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) and Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) winter in our area. Tundra Swans are smaller, far more common, arrive earlier and stay later, and congregate in huge flocks at mid-valley refuges. Trumpeter Swans are the largest wild bird species by weight in North America, with a wingspan close to that of eagles. In our area, wintering Trumpeter Swans typically arrive in mid- to late November and stay through February.

Historically Trumpeter Swans nested across the continent from Alaska to New England and south to the Rio Grande. Early accounts from Oregon suggest that this species was more abundant than Tundra Swans in the mid-1800s. However the population was decimated by hunting for meat, millinery feathers, and skins almost to extinction until a tiny, nonmigratory population was discovered in the Yellowstone area. In 1968 there were still only 3,700 Trumpeters, and in 2015 the population had climbed to 63,000. Although this is an incredible increase, Trumpeter Swans are still missing from nearly two thirds of their original range. Conservation threats include loss of winter habitat, collisions with utility wires, and lead poisoning. Trumpeter Swans are currently Not Listed on the federal Endangered Species List, and no critical habitat or conservation plans are in effect. For further information see the Trumpeter Swan Society website: www.trumpeterswansociety.org. (from Joel Geier, The Chat December 2018)

Marbled Murrelets

marbled murrelet
Marbled Murrelets are listed as Endangered federally and Threatened in Oregon and Washington.

Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) are stout seabirds that are related to puffins. Their range is from coastal Alaska to Baja. The species was first described in 1789, but it was not documented until 1974 that they nest high in old-growth trees. The birds are secretive, nest singly – not in colonies, and both parents only fly inland at night to feed chicks.

Most of the year you can find Marbled Murrelets near the coast on quiet bays or occasionally on coastal lakes. They do not form flocks, rather they are in pairs, spending most of the day foraging in shallow water for small fish and crustaceans. When startled, they fly away from the noise with very fast wingbeats.

Since the 1850s, their population has declined 50 – 80% as nesting habitat is logged and fragmented. Marbled murrelets are also threatened by oil spills near their foraging areas. They are listed as Threatened federally and Sensitive in Oregon. Oregon State University’s College of Forestry began a study in 2015 to understand the nesting needs and preferences of Marbled Murrelets. Researchers tag up to 100 breeding murrelets with tiny transmitters every spring, Ultimately the researchers plan to advise forest managers about factors that affect nesting success.

Vesper Sparrows

vesper sparrow
Vesper Sparrow near Bald Hill Farm with a federal metal band and colored local bands

Vesper Sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus) were named because it was thought their melodious song sounded best in the evening. They live in open grassy fields or prairies, foraging for insects and seeds on bare ground around weed clumps. They often dust-bathe on dirt roads or tilled fields. Males defends nesting territory by singing from a perch on a taller plant, while females often mimic an injury to lure an intruder away.

A scientific study is underway to examine two potential factors that may be contributing to Vesper Sparrow population declines: 1) survivorship (Are birds returning after their migrations and wintering?), and 2) recruitment and dispersal (Is there movement of birds between local sites, and if so how far and what are the conditions that facilitate that exchange). Knowledge gained from this effort will help to target how and where to direct conservation actions for recovery.

Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater sage-grouse
Greater Sage-Grouse are found in 13 western US states and three Canadian provinces. The males puff up to a spherical shape on the lek as they display for potential mates.

Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) are the most visible of >350 plant and wildlife species that depend on sagebrush. Their conservation status was determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 to be Warranted for Listing but Precluded by Higher Priorities. Habitat and population fragmentation, coupled with inadequate regulatory mechanisms to control development on public lands, were the primary factors in the listing decision. Approximately 70% of the current sagebrush distribution within the greater sage-grouse range is public land; the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is responsible for managing half of the sagebrush within the United States. Less than 1% of the sagebrush is within areas protected from land-cover conversion. The remaining public land is managed for multiple uses that include livestock grazing, energy development, and recreation.

Managers have emphasized sage-grouse as indicators of ecosystem health. … Therefore, research is focused on gaining a better understanding of how sagebrush and sage-grouse populations are temporally and spatially interconnected. These relationships then can be significant factors in developing conservation actions that enhance the long-term viability of sagebrush ecosystems. (US Geological Survey project)

California Condors

California condor
California Condors are currently listed as federal Threatened species.

A holdover from prehistoric times, the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is one of our largest and most magnificent birds – and one of the rarest. Soaring over wilderness crags, feeding on carcasses of large dead animals, and reproducing very slowly, condors were not well suited to survival in modern-day southern California. Headed toward extinction in the 1980s, the last birds were brought in from the wild in 1987, to be bred in captivity for eventual release into the wild again. The captive breeding program turned out to be surprisingly successful, and flocks of released condors are surviving in several areas of California and in the region of the Grand Canyon.

Condors roost mornings and evenings and soar on wind currents to forage for carrion during the day. They may find much of their food by watching actions of other scavengers, such as vultures or ravens. Only one egg is laid, and parents trade incubation duties once every 1 – 5 days. Young are capable of flight about 5-6 months after hatching, but may remain dependent on parents for another 6 months. This means that the whole nesting cycle takes more than a year, so condors breed every other year. (National Audubon Society)

Current threats include carcass poisoning and lead ammunition, shooting, and collisions with power lines.  California Condors are federally listed as Endangered. Because their range included Oregon, it is a possibility that reintroduction in the state is possible in the future.

Oregon’s Endangered Species       Federal Endangered Species