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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Kodiak Brown Bears Love Their Elderberries

Kodiak bear
It's no surprise that many of Kodiak's bears rely on salmon for a large part of their diet - but questions remain about how bears move across a landscape to "surf" the variable timing of returning salmon, what factors influence their choice of fishing areas, and when bears may utilize other food resources like berries. Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS

In 2014, researchers uncovered something odd at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. While studying the relationship between Kodiak brown bears and salmon, they saw the bears largely abandon salmon streams in July and August to chow down on elderberries

This year, the Kodiak Bear Crew (refuge bear biologist William Leacock, University of Montana doctoral student Will Deacy, biological science technician Caroline Cheung, and volunteers Shelby Flemming, Kristina Hsu and Andy Orlando) spent May through October in the remote southwest corner of the refuge to learn more about the ecological relationship between the spawning runs of the sockeye salmon and the Kodiak brown bear. 

PHOTOS: Explore Kodiak Refuge and its Bears


Fighting to Keep Toxics out of the Environment

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Jay Davis
Jay Davis (brown, FWS jacket) and others pour runoff collected from Seattle highways into a large tank at Grovers Hatchery in 2012. Photo by Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Jay Davis, a resource contaminant specialist in our Pacific Region, works with environmental toxics. Jay says he asks, “What does pollution do, what do contaminants do to fish and birds and other wildlife?”

Both Jay’s parents were in the pharmaceutical industry, and from them he learned that “if you take too much of anything you can kill yourself.” So maybe there is some toxicology in his blood.

But his undergraduate degree is in marine biology, and he says he spent a lot of time raising fish, shrimp and other aquatic organisms. “Every once in a while, you have this one tank that didn’t do well, and then you start to try to figure this out. Is the water quality not good enough or is there a particular contaminant, disease or pathogen causing a problem?”

What really made him say “Wow! I’m interested in pollution,” though, were large beachings or mass strandings of whales or dolphins. After strandings, he says, “oftentimes people will wonder if contaminants or pollution played a role in that.”


Douglas Fir: A Wildlife Hero

Red-Shafted Flicker
This photo, "Handsome" is copyright (c) 2009 Minette Layne and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

When I decided to get a tattoo of an evergreen, it was obvious which species to get. I was born and raised in Oregon, where the state tree is the Douglas fir. I grew up stomping (respectfully) through forests of the towering giants. This tree is a fantastic reminder of home. As a kid my family called me "Sunshine," which fit perfectly because Douglas firs appreciate the sun. This tree means a lot to me, and I'm not the only one. This tree is somewhat of a wildlife hero.

Myth of the Mouse and the Douglas Fir

Pacific northwest legend has it that long ago there was a great fire. All the forest animals frantically fled, trying to escape the flames. The tiny mice, with their short legs, were unable to outrun the fire. They stopped to ask the trees of the forest for help. The big-leaf maple, red cedar and other trees ignored their plea.

Finally, the giant Douglas fir offered protection. The mice climbed up the fire-resistant bark and scurried into the tree's cones. The mice survived the great fire and still today, you can see the hind legs and tails of mice sticking out from the scales of a Douglas fir cone. 

Douglas Fir Cones
You can see what looks like the hind legs and tails of forest mice (based on the myth) sticking out. This photo, "Douglas-fir Cones" is copyright (c) 2011 Tom Brandt and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Wildlife Benefits of Douglas Firs

Myth or not, these trees provide incredible benefits to wildlife. As we move into winter, keep in mind all those wild Christmas trees out there. Below you'll find just a few of the many reasons to appreciate Douglas firs and other evergreens for supporting wildlife.


Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers eat insects from the tree. The red tree vole, beavers, porcupines and deer eat its needles. Pine white butterfly larvae and several species of moth larvae will also consume the foliage.

Porcupines will eat the sweet inner bark of younger trees in the winter, and bears will eat the inner bark in the spring. Squirrels, chipmunks, siskins and crossbills are among the many species that eat seeds from the cones.

Squirrel Eating Douglas Fir Seeds
A squirrel feeds on the seeds of a Douglas fir cone by peeling off each scale, discarding the scale and removing the seed. This photo, "Squirrel Eating Douglas Fir Seeds" is copyright (c) 2008 grogotte and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Cover & Shelter

Cavity nesting birds, like woodpeckers and owls, and small mammals including and flying squirrels use Douglas firs for homes, shade and shelter.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl in Douglas Fir
A northern saw-whet owl takes shelter in the branches of a Douglas fir. This photo, "Sleepy" is copyright (c) 2013 Andrew Friesen and made available with special permission. All rights reserved. 


Red tree voles obtain their water from the trees by licking moisture off the needles. Absolutely amazing.


The organic matter and tree surface of Douglas firs also support a variety of mosses, lichens and mushrooms that can’t be forgotten!

Douglas Fir Mushrooms
This photo, "Douglas Fir Mushrooms" is courtesy of Alice Poulson, U.S. Forest Service.


-- Dani Tinker, Digital Content Specialist

Minnow as Metaphor: Rio Grande Silvery Minnow Conservation

New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office biologists net Rio Grande silvery minnow. Photo by USFWS

Stewart Jacks, Assistant Regional Director of Fisheries in our Southwest Region talks about the no-longer-quite-so-grand Rio Grande and our work to conserve this New Mexican fish.

If you need a reminder that the Earth is held together by stone, look to the Sandia and Manzano mountains in central New Mexico. Born of what must have been violent tremors, the Rio Grande slices down a natural rift left behind by massive movements of whole plates of planet Earth that birthed these mountains. Where the southern Rockies end, these new and different mountains emerge. From Placitas to El Paso the west face of a long chain of dry crags reveal the past.

In these tilted wedges, the remains of sea-dwelling creatures swim forever entombed in limestone 10,000 feet above sea level. Along this front of friable mountains, few people live. Night skies are inky black and you feel you can still reach out and touch the cosmos rarely concealed by clouds. No clouds—no rain. The sky governs fate in the American Southwest.

The Rio Grande, as grand as it is, is not the river it once was. Despite the remoteness and sparse population, the river has been thoroughly humanized by command of its water. Rio Bravo del Norte, as the river is called in Mexico, has lost its bravado.  It is wild and turbulent no more. A river that once flushed with spring snowmelt and summer freshets—pulses of water that told native minnows ”it’s time to spawn”—has been weakened by manmade structures.

A river wide and braided that carved new paths under its own power, as rivers are in the habit of doing, is now rather oddly perched above its own floodplain through long reaches. Under the summer heat, sun and sand may soak it up leaving cakes of mud and pools soon to pass. Fresh sodden spring sediment rich with ripe cottonwood seeds that regenerate mosaics of riparian woodlands are historic artifacts as prickly water-sucking non-native trees now dominate the depleted river’s rigid course.


Signs of Hope from Paris Climate Conference

Emily Powell

The North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) is a conservation partnership, consisting of federal agencies, states, tribes, universities and private organizations working together to find common goals and to share information and coordinate actions from southeast Virginia north to Atlantic Canada.

LCC staffer Emily Powell shares a personal account of her experience at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Read her story

Thinking Like an Ocean

Sea otter
A territorial male sea otter in Moss Landing forages for shore crabs in the pickleweed. Photo by Lilian Carswell/USFWS

Recovery of Southern sea otters requires more than rescuing the species from the brink of extinction -- recovery is also about the restoration of ecological relationships. Lilian Carswell, the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Marine Conservation Coordinator, discusses these complex ecological relationships.

Read the full story

Costa Rica and U.S. Strengthen Conservation Partnership

A squirrel monkey living in Corcovado National Park, which is one of the biodiversity hotspots that will benefit from collaborative conservation efforts that continue to build in Central America. Photo by Christian Haugen on Flickr under a Creative Commons license 

On November 11, the governments of Costa Rica and the United States signed a new agreement to further collaborate on important conservation initiatives throughout Costa Rica.


Meet the Biologist

 Melissa Mata-Gonzales  

Melissa Mata-Gonzales is the lead biologist for 15  fish species in New Mexico and is also the Tribal Liaison for our New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office.

"The best part of my job is developing working relationships with state, federal, tribal and private partners to conserve threatened and endangered species," says Melissa. "As a young fish biologist, I am really interested and excited about working with species and their habitats, but as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, I am learning about all the people and organizations that are necessary for conserving a species. For example, we worked with both the Navajo Nation and the Zuni Tribe for the Zuni bluehead sucker listing recommendation in order to gather the most scientifically current species information, and to ensure we fully understand tribal needs and sensitivity. Together, we were able to develop a Fisheries Management Plan to aid in the conservation and recovery of the Zuni bluehead sucker."

Melissa is one of New Mexico's best and brightest, she holds two Masters degrees from Michigan State University; one in fisheries and the other in applied statistics. For fun, Melissa enjoys coaching basketball and is currently the girls' basketball coach at Del Note High School in Albuquerque, NM. ¡Ándale pues, Melissa!

Making a Future for Lesser Prairie-Chickens in New Mexico

lesser prairie-chicken
Lesser prairie-chicken in southeastern New Mexico. Photo by USFWS

The lesser prairie-chicken had an iconic presence in the plains of southeastern New Mexico.  Each spring, visitors from around the world would flock to the heart of lesser prairie-chicken country to participate in the annual High Plains Prairie-Chicken Festival in Milnesand, New Mexico.  The entire community fed, housed, and entertained guests, who would get up before dawn to watch amorous male chickens strut and boom as the sun came up over the eastern plains.  Unfortunately this festival has not been scheduled for several years because the prairie-chicken population dropped to levels that no longer sustained recreational viewing.   In fact, the population of lesser prairie-chickens in New Mexico fell from an estimated 9,443 birds in 2008 to only 637 in 2014. The dramatic decline was primarily driven by extreme drought.

Read about recovery efforts

Endangered Fish Rediscovered in Arizona’s Santa Cruz River

Gila topminnow
Gila topminnows. Photo Courtesy George Andrejko / Arizona Game and Fish Department

After a 10-year absence, the Gila topminnow has returned to the Santa Cruz River in southern Arizona. Last month, researchers found the native Arizona species, listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1967, in the river near the U.S.-Mexico border during the annual fish survey.

Surface flows along most of the Santa Cruz River originate from effluent (cleaned wastewater) and have historically been so polluted that no fish of any kind were found for several years and odor alone was a deterrent to recreation. Scientists believe that cleaner water is what led to the fish’s return.

The implications of the endangered topminnow discovery extend far beyond Santa Cruz County, and even beyond Arizona. Many southwestern rivers and streams depend on effluent for continued flows. As water becomes ever scarcer in the desert southwest, the value of wastewater inputs will only increase.

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