Welcome to the Land Conservancy's blog, Exploring Our Region! We will be featuring various contributors in this space. Enjoy!

Member Perks Featured Business

Owner, Scott Keith
Northwest Outdoor Store Owner, Scott Keith next to his new bar top.

Outdoor Gear and Local Beer
Business partner, The Northwest Outdoor Store, expands into a meeting place

There’s great support in our community for conservation. From our members and volunteers to local agencies and businesses, we are not alone in the Rogue River region when it comes to enjoying and preserving the great outdoors. Scott Keith, owner of The Northwest Outdoor Store in Medford's Bear Creek Shopping Center, is aligned with the vision of connecting people to nature as a means to save the spaces we love. That is why Scott is a Business Partner in our membership program. Support from businesses like Scott’s helps to ensure the natural wealth of wild, recreational and working lands endures forever, benefiting people, plants and wildlife.

Outdoor kids gear & toys
The Northwest Outdoor Store offers more gear and toys for kids.

All members of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy can enjoy the many products and services this “trading post” has to offer with our special 10% discount. In addition to the outdoor clothing, camping gear, field guides, and equipment rentals, the Outdoor Store has expanded its square footage and business model. Scott has created a space for outdoor enthusiasts to gather for a local beer, cider or kombucha as well as warm drinks and a panini sandwiches. The vision is for groups to meet up, park-n-ride in the large parking lot, head out on an adventure, then gather back to reflect with a tasty beverage. 

Local outdoor clubs like the Southern Oregon Nordic Club are welcome to host small meetings in the friendly space. Scott installed a vise for tieing fishing flys to support another use of the renovated space. The line of products now includes an Oregon gifts section plus more science, educational and kid’s toys and games. Although still gathering items, Scott has reserved a spot in the shop for high quality used gear on a consignment basis.

Snowshoes for rental
Snowshoe rentals are $10. Kayaks and SUPs are for rent in the boating months. 

We are grateful for the continued support of the Northwest Outdoor Store and their commitment to preserving the natural character and heritage of Southern Oregon. Be sure to follow them on Facebook or email to stay updated on all the exciting developments, sales and events. 

Visit our Membership page to find out about all our Membership Business Partners and how to become a member today.

Volunteers survey fairy shrimp
Molly Morison (on right) gathers volunteers to examine a water sample from a seasonal pool.

By Matt Cosca
January 27, 2016

On an overcast mid-January day, I joined a group of volunteers led by Molly Morison of the Nature Conservancy on behalf of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy in search of the vernal pool fairy shrimp. Although small (6-25mm in length), the shrimp (Branchinecta lynchi) have the potential to help the Rogue Valley in a big way. The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy is in the process of acquiring a 352-acre parcel of pristine riparian habitat along the Rogue River. The property is truly spectacular with one and a half miles of river front, a 16-acre island and an incredible gallery forest. In order to purchase the property, SOLC is reaching out to individual donors and applying for a variety of state and federal grants. The presence of a threatened species, such as the vernal pool fairy shrimp, would only improve the property’s standing as an important preserve for the area’s natural and cultural heritage. Finding the tiny fairy shrimp, however, would require a sharp eye and a little bit of luck.

Netting vernal pool samples
Volunteers, Matt Cosca & Audrey Harper net a pool to sample for the federally listed endangered fairy shrimp.

We headed out focused and optimistic that the fairy shrimp would be swimming out among the short grasses. Vernal pools are temporary bodies of water that fill shallow depressions along the Rogue Valley floor. These pools provide habitat for a unique group of plants and animals. I dipped my net into the first shallow pool, walked the length of it, and deposited my catch into a small white tray filled with water. At first glance the catch was modest. Algae converged in the center and small pieces of grass drifted along the surface, but within a few seconds the tiny world of the vernal pools came to life. Water boatman paddled through the grass, seed shrimp floated aimlessly, predacious dytiscid beetle larvae flexed their impressive jaws and water fleas, potentially the rare and endemic Dumontia oregonensis, spread out their small bodies and flaunted everything that a five millimeter water flea can. It was an impressive show of well adapted organisms flourishing in an small and impermanent environment, but still something was missing. There were no fairy shrimp.

Photo of fairy shrimp
Close up photo of a fairy shrimp.

    We spent the next two hours skimming any body of water that we could from long, deep vernal pools to standing water only a few centimeters deep. It was clear that each vernal pool had its own signature. An algal body that dominates one pool may not be found in any of the others, and seed shrimp abundant in one pool may be absent from the neighboring one. I started to see the vernal pools not as one interconnected aquatic ecosystem, but as a chain of islands.  Differences in size, shape and water chemistry could support a diverse range of aquatic organisms and exclude others. This idea that each pool was unique made our original optimism persist throughout the hunt. There was a feeling that every new pool we stumbled upon could provide the right conditions for the evasive fairy shrimp to bloom.  We were thorough, we were patient and in the end, after testing thirty-six vernal pools, we left empty handed.

Jeff LaLande showing a found artifact
Archeologist, Jeff LaLande found a pestle most likely left by Native Americans who lived and traveled to this stretch of the Rogue River.

    Although we found no fairy shrimp, our day was far from unsuccessful. Jeff LaLande, a retired Forest Service archeologist, found a wealth of artifacts from the Takelma or Shasta tribes throughout the preserve. In addition, I left feeling like I’d found a group of kindred souls. Conservation is a human endeavor. While we may focus on preserving a landscape or saving a species, what brings me back to the conservation community is finding people that enjoy a rainy morning ankle deep in a vernal pool. A place like the Rogue River Preserve can provide that experience for generations to come, with or without the fairy shrimp.

Photos taken by Teresa Fernandez of SOLC.

Tracker Tom Brown describes tracking as reading the earth as a manuscript. It takes a lifetime to learn to interpret the earth’s script like a master tracker or ecologist, but learning the tracks of a few common critters you might find in the snow in our mountains isn’t too hard. Probably the most common tracks you’ll see while snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, besides dogs and humans, are the brush rabbit and Douglas squirrel – two remarkable animals that stay active during winter. Track patterns and behavior are especially important in identifying tracks in the snow. 

Brush rabbit tracks in snow

Note the hind feet of this brush rabbit track are in front of the much smaller front feet and that the front feet are placed almost in a vertical line to one another. The direction of travel in this photo is to the right.

Rabbit and Squirrel tracks

Relative size and track depth can be telling – for instance cougar and lynx prints in the snow are often the same size, but the cougar prints sink deeper into the snow. Here note how much bigger and deeper the brush rabbit tracks are compared to the Douglas squirrel. Also notice how the smaller front feet prints of the squirrel are parallel not vertical to one another like the rabbit’s prints.

Brush Rabbit hind footclaws

Getting clear prints of an animal’s feet in the snow is less common than seeing broad print patterns. For this brush rabbit print, note the four claws on the hind feet. If you want to look for more clear foot prints, follow the tracks to a more protected area under shrubs or trees. Please respect the animals though: following tracks to a live animal can be very disruptive especially during the winter, a time of less resources and harsher conditions.

Red squirrel

A Douglas squirrel is one of the red squirrels in North America. Illustration by Ellsworth Jaeger from Tracks and Trailcraft, 1948.

Douglas squirrel tracks.

Kevin TalbertKevin shared a few words with us about his life's work and what inspired him to join our board:

"I moved to the Rogue Valley in 1979, seduced by my first professional job as an administrator at Southern Oregon State College, the culture of Ashland, and the regional opportunities for outdoor activities.  My job managing Extended Campus Programs allowed me to be active in community affairs and involved with area economic development.  More recently, I’ve been involved in the governance of Rogue Community College and a wide variety of Southern Oregon nonprofits and voluntary associations.


Having grown up on a farm in Minnesota and knowing something about agriculture, I could appreciate the unique biodiversity of Southern Oregon.  I found there were mountains to ski and climb, rivers to raft and fish, and access to the nearby ocean beaches.  Even more, it seemed there was almost unlimited access to public lands with forests, trails, and places to discover.  I felt incredibly lucky.  I still do, but in the past 36 years, I’ve learned a few things about the environment I so value.

I’ve come to see how fragile our precious environment is and how easily we could lose much of the natural world we cherish.  My experiences volunteering with OSU’s Master Gardener, Recycling, and Land Steward programs and at The Nature Conservancy preserves as well as my recent campaign for county commissioner all contributed to my motivation to work for sustainability.  These and other experiences also led to my interest in the SOLC.

SOLC’s work seems to me to be one of the most important ways that we can manage and preserve this part of the natural world for those that come after us.  I am excited to join the Board and add my time and effort to a dedicated group of staff and volunteers.

My wife Barbara manages Jackson County Animal Services (the “Shelter”) and thus our lives are shared with foster dogs and rescues, but we still find time for the outdoor adventures we love and participating in the rich culture of our valley."

View our full list of the Board of Directors and contact options.

Patrick and Carlyn DuffyDoes the name Bobby Ewing ring a bell? Perhaps you watched the TV series Dallas back in the 1970s and 80s? If you did, you may recall Patrick Duffy, who starred as Bobby Ewing alongside Larry Hagman in the popular series that ran from 1978 to 1991. Patrick also starred in many other TV shows and movies and continues to direct shows and theater productions.

Patrick and his wife Carlyn are residents of the Rogue Valley, having moved here nearly 25 years ago. They reside along the Rogue River near Shady Cove where they live a quiet life enjoying nature and the river’s beauty. Recently, they stepped forward to lead SOLC’s Heart of the Rogue campaign to acquire 352 acres of pristine habitat upstream from Dodge Bridge.

“We can’t think of any other project that we’d rather put our energy toward,” says Patrick, “or a better organization to be involved with than the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.” These words were echoed at the 37th anniversary Conservation Celebration, where Patrick served as Master of Ceremonies.

Joining the Duffys to support the Heart of the Rogue Campaign are other Rogue Valley celebrities and community leaders including Jim Belushi, Mike and Laura Naumes, Harry Piper, Dan and Lisa O’Connor, Bill and Eileen Leavens, Paul and Ann Hill, Nancy Tait and Jeff Monosoff, and Patsy Smullin among others.

These individuals have formed the Heart of the Rogue Campaign Council to promote the project and advocate for its success. “The acquisition is moving forward,” says Diane Garcia, executive director of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy. “We’re in a quiet phase of raising funds now, and we are applying for state and federal funding as well as to private foundations. We’re looking for individuals who are interested in the project’s success and can help us score a home run,” she adds.

The total cost of the campaign is $3.5 million which includes a long-term management endowment fund of $800,000. “We want to make sure we have the capacity to  manage the land in perpetuity,” says Craig Harper, Conservation Project Manager for SOLC. “It’s such a unique property; one of the largest intact pieces along the middle Rogue. We’ve taken a few hundred folks out there, from state and federal agencies to foundation representatives, ecologists and scientists and everyone agrees: this property needs to be saved.”

The property has been owned by the same family for 72 years. It was purchased in 1943 by Robert Ruhl, the publisher and editor of the Medford Mail Tribune from 1919 to the mid 1950s. Today, his 17 grandchildren and great-grandchildren comprise the MacArthur Family LLC. They hope that the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy will keep their family’s legacy of caring for the land alive.  Maria MacArthur, Robert Ruhl’s granddaughter affirms her family’s goal: “If we can succeed in placing this land in the hands of those who will preserve its unique ecology and natural beauty, then we will have fulfilled our family’s mission as stewards of this special place.”

For more information about the Rogue River Preserve and the Heart of the Rogue Campaign with graphs, a map and an info brochure visit landconserve.org/content/conserve-heart-rogue.

Conserved lands connect kids with nature and prepare them for a bright future

Staff member Kristi Mergenthaler takes a moment to pose with a group of kids learning about birds and trees.

Each Spring, students from local elementary schools join us to learn about rocks, bugs, and the freshly budding trees and plants in the Oredson-Todd Woods. The program, “Loving the Land,” is coordinated by the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

“Kids just love to get outside this time of year,” says staff member Kristi Mergenthaler. “We’re excited to offer this great opportunity to learn about nature each year, especially given school budget cuts.  We encourage the kids to explore their outdoor classroom on all different levels.  Afterward, they get to bring their parents out - and teach them, too!”

Fourth and fifth grade students rotate through three activity stations located along the trails in the Oredson-Todd Woods, learning first-hand about the water, rocks, bugs, trees, and plants - all with the guidance of trained volunteers.

In five years, more than 1,100 students from throughout the Rogue Valley have attended this program, made possible with support from the Oregon Parks Foundation Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, the Rogue Valley Audubon Society, and our generous supporters.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy has conserved a number of other lands that are regularly used as outdoor classrooms, including:
•    White Oak Farm,
•    Alder Creek Children’s Forest,
•    The Jacksonville Woodlands,
•    Eagle Mill Farm, and
•    C2 Ranch.

Photo credit: John Bruckman

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy is dedicated to protecting traditional livelihoods like farming, ranching, and timber production.  That’s because a strong economy and conserved lands go hand-in-hand.  Without careful and strategic conservation, we would not have locally grown food and other agricultural products.  That’s why we’ve made it a priority to protect agricultural lands and working forests in Southern Oregon.

Agricultural Lands
Rogue Valley agriculture remains a fundamental part of our region’s economy and significantly contributes to the scenic character and quality of life important to communities. Orchards and vegetable farms occupy much of the prime irrigated farmland in the valley bottom. Increasingly, vineyards cover the low foothills and slopes around the bottomlands which are less suitable for field crops. Ranches operate on the irrigated pastures and in the oak woodlands and grasslands of the foothills. Small organic and truck farms and other specialty operations also abound in rural locations throughout the Rogue Valley.

However, land that can support these agricultural activities is very limited in Southern Oregon. Much of this land is located in the valley bottoms and adjacent low country along the Rogue, Applegate, and Illinois Rivers, and their larger tributaries. These lands represent a small percent of the total land area of the Rogue Basin, yet they are the same areas where population growth and development is occurring. For example, the Bear Creek Valley, which includes the cities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Central Point, and Jacksonville, contains one the most extensive areas of
valuable agricultural soils in southwest Oregon, as well as the largest and fastest growing population.

Working Forests
Responsibly managed working forests provide benefit to the public and for the environment through a sustainable supply of wood products, jobs for rural communities, diverse vegetation, wildlife habitat, as well as clean air and water. Private timber companies own many acres of land in the counties with smaller parcels owned by individuals and family partnerships.

Some privately owned forestlands are managed primarily for the inherent economic values that they offer—especially production of forest products such as logs, lumber and other products that support the forest industry. However, private forestlands are increasingly being managed to retain, protect and promote both economic and ecologic values. Most often occurring on non-industrial private small woodland parcels, these types of forestlands have come to be known as working forests.

Goals for working forests often include managing for older larger trees of long-lived species. Goals may also include creation or enhancement of special habitats for a variety of plant and animal species. Healthy forests across landscapes have a diversity of seral stages just as a healthy human population has a diversity of age classes.

Activities in working forests are carefully planned over time with basic guiding principles such as:

  • focusing on what will remain (or be created) in the forest after an activity rather than what will be removed;
  • maintaining the productive capacity of soils;
  • using systems that replicate natural disturbances, such as fire, wherever possible;
  • encouraging diversity and growth of species that might naturally occur on that particular site;
  • avoiding fragmentation of plant and animal habitat (often caused by roads and large clearcuts); and
  • evaluating the site as part of a larger ecosystem with respect to adjacent lands and sensitive areas such as riparian areas.

Conservation goals across landscapes can only be met with the engaged participation of private forest ownerships Common activities in working forests include removing small diameter trees and selected brush to reduce fire danger and enhance growth of preferred species, low intensity underburning through carefully prescribed fires, pruning branches of remaining trees, as well as careful selection of commercially viable trees to be removed within the context of broader more ecologically appropriate goals and objectives.

In the words of ecologist Tom Atzet, “Managing forested ecosystems relies on science and art with a healthy dose of humility.”

Home Page Photo Credit: Thomas Kirchen Photography

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy is dedicated to saving the places which make our region one of the most biologically interesting places in the world.  Working with our partners, we have identified a number of key habitats which deserve permanent protection from human encroachment.

We are working to protect:
•    Oak Woodland, Chaparral, and Grasslands,
•    Ultramafic Landscapes, and
•    Older Forests.

Oak Woodland, Chaparral, and Grasslands
Key habitat types are identified as important due to their role in supporting high biologic diversity and rare or declining plants and animals.  In western Oregon and Washington, less than 1% of oak woodland and savanna remains following European settlement.

This endangered habitat, occupying primarily private lands on the valley floor and lower mountain slopes in the Rogue Basin, has been converted to farms, ranches, cities, industrial zones, and residential areas - while fire suppression has interrupted the natural fire frequency, shifting oak woodlands into mixed conifer forests. Invasive non-native plants like Himalayan blackberry and Scot’s broom reduce the survival and growth of oak seedlings as well as other native wildflowers.

In Southern Oregon, the oak savanna complex forms a mosaic of open oak savanna, denser oak woodland, chaparral and meadow. This mix of habitat types is one of the many factors that enhance biodiversity due to the “edge effect.”

The edge effect is an ecological term that describes how the juxtaposition of a variety of habitats increases the tendency to support a greater number of plant and wildlife species. For instance, Gentner’s fritillaria (Fritillaria gentneri), a federally endangered red  lily only found in our region, is most often found where oak woodland or chaparral habitats intersect with other habitat types.

In the spring, oak savannas support a beautiful carpet of native wildflowers and provide critical habitat for numerous neotropical songbirds. Large tracts of the oak savanna complex also provide important wildlife corridors offering dispersal through changing climate and connectivity to other protected lands.

Ultramafic Landscapes
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has identified Strategic Opportunity Areas for important habitats such as oak woodlands. The Klamath-Siskiyou region is one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America, second only to the Appalachian Mountain region.

The Klamath-Siskiyous support an exceedingly high number of plant and animal species. One primary reason for this biodiversity is due to the complex geology of the region including the largest concentration of ultramafic bedrock in North America.

Ultramafic bedrock originates from mantle rock deep in the earth’s crust, including rocks like serpentine and peridotite. Serpentine rocks are green and slippery looking while peridotite is knobby and red to black. Ultramafic means that the rocks are high in iron and magnesium. Soils derived from these rocks weather to a striking red color.

Many rare, threatened, and endangered plants are associated with ultramafic soils such as cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica), Lee’s lewisia, (Lewisia leeana), and Waldo gentian (Gentiana setigera). Some of these rare plants are endemic to the region and grow nowhere else. At least 40 species in Southwest Oregon and Northwest California are considered endemic serpentine plants.

About 11% of federal and state listed rare plants in the Klamath Siskiyou region only grow in ultramafic soils. A number of unique vegetation types, such as Darlingtonia fens, Jeffrey pine savanna, and Port-Orford-cedar riparian areas are also associated with ultramafic soils. Some lands, such as the Jeffrey pine savanna, can often be seen at a distance appearing more barren than surrounding landscapes due to the harsher growing conditions.

Older Forests
Older Forest habitats refer to those areas where trees are large enough to support the variety of species associated with “old growth,” such as spotted owls, red tree voles, Cyperpidium orchids (mountain lady slipper and the clustered lady slipper), and other fauna and flora. Habitat associated with older forests (also called late successional habitat) is often synonymous with northern spotted owl habitat and may refer to those areas commonly used for nesting and roosting.

As with other special habitats, there are far fewer older forests in southwest Oregon than 100 years ago due to logging, development, and wildfire—factors which continue to threaten these areas––especially on private lands. In our region the size of trees used by spotted owls is often much smaller than that used by owls further north in Oregon and Washington.

Home Page Photo Credit: Lee Webb

We are blessed with the best volunteers! Peter Kleinhenz just graduated from the Masters of Environmental Education Program at Southern Oregon University, but while in school, he still found the time this year to volunteer his time with us. At the last Ashland Where You At, a fun natural history community education event at Standing Stone, he dazzled the crowd with a short and passionate presentation on local snakes. More recently, Peter, with his reptile-loving friend Colin Guiley, conducted a preliminary reptile and amphibian survey of the Rogue River Preserve. While flipping over rocks, they found many critters, most notably a Common Kingsnake.  Although this snake isn’t ALL that common in Oregon.

See below excerpts from Peter and Colin's report: Herpetofauna Observations.

May 16, 2015
Rogue River Property near Dodge Bridge

Species: Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula)
Where Observed:  Juvenile found under a small (6 inch diameter) rock where grown-over road meets middle terrace south of access road.
Status: Rare. Only one juvenile was observed during an extremely thorough search in prime habitat targeting this species. This species can be secretive but conditions were conducive to finding them. A breeding population likely exists on the property, but densities are probably low.

Significance of Common Kingsnake Observation
The common king snake has the second-most limited range of any snake living in Oregon. The species has been observed on a few occasions in the Applegate Valley but, otherwise, it lives in the Rogue River valley of Jackson and Josephine Counties with an isolated population persisting east of Roseburg in Douglas County. The species is considered “Sensitive – Vulnerable” in the state of Oregon. Colin Guiley has searched for snakes in southern Oregon for over 25 years and the individual found in this survey was the first he has seen in the state. The observation of a juvenile confirms that the species is breeding on the property. Colin Guiley and I believe that the property probably represents one of the best remaining habitats for this species in southern Oregon. There is abundant cover, food, and room for dispersal at the site. The connectivity the property has to the adjoining park is also critical for a species like the common kingsnake to persist in the region over time.

Issues As They Relate to Reptiles and Amphibians
The prevalence of Himalayan Blackberry at the site, especially on the edge of the floodplain forest south of the access road is probably affecting reptiles negatively. The blackberry can cover basking structures like logs and rocks, and favors edge habitats that are also favored by most snakes that live on the property.

Bullfrogs are probably affecting amphibian populations in a negative way on the property. These voracious predators can consume not only frogs and salamanders, but small snakes and turtles as well. It is possible that the property could house a population of Western Toad (species of concern) and/or Long-toed Salamander but neither species is likely to be present in areas of high bullfrog density.


Other species spotted at the Preserve:

Species: Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla)
Where Observed: Tadpoles observed in floodplain pools south of access road.
Status: Abundant in floodplain habitat.

Species: Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)
Where Observed: Tadpoles observed in floodplain pools south of access road.
Status: Abundant in floodplain habitat.

Species: Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)
Where Observed: Basking on railroad ties near entrance gate, on protruding rocks above middle terrace south of access road, under rocks flipped on middle terrace north of access road.
Status: Abundant wherever basking structures are present

Species: Western Skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus)
Where Observed: Under logs in open buckbrush south of access road, under rocks on slope above middle terrace south of access road, under rocks and logs flipped on middle terrace north of access road.
Status: Abundant. Observed every time cover was flipped in areas where plenty of rocks and logs littered the ground.

Species: Southern Aligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata)
Where Observed: At base of buckbrush south of access road, south of access road on middle terrace near large log, near rock outcrop west of Rogue River slough on north end of property, juvenile seen along middle terrace slope north of access road.
Status: Common. Seen throughout the property but not flipped as often as expected.

Species: Pacific Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)
Where Observed: One adult found under a large rotting log along east side of middle terrace south of access road, not far from property line.
Status: Likely Common. Although only one was observed, large rodent populations and varied cover led us to believe that the population of gopher snakes on the property was healthy.

Species: Mountain Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans elegans)
Where Observed: Two adults observed on edge of floodplain forest north of access road where the middle terrace meets the blackberry growing on the edge of the forest.
Status: Likely Common. Large numbers of frogs (Pacific Tree Frogs and Bullfrogs) along with varied cover and healthy riparian habitat probably supports a healthy population of this species.

Belly of the Mountain garter snake.

By Kristi Mergenthaler, Land Steward, Southern Oregon Land Conservancy

She was last seen foraging on lupine and Siskiyou mint in a wet meadow on Mt. Ashland in 2006.  She was exquisitely garbed in furry black, yellow, and white and observed carrying orange pollen baskets. The Franklin’s bumble bee was once common in northwest California and southwest Oregon, but now may be extinct.  The rapid decline of honeybees and monarch butterflies is widely reported by the media, but populations of many other pollinators are also declining including native bees.  Sadly, about one-third of bumble bee species may be threatened or critically endangered. 

Why should we care about bumble bees?  If you love mountain wildflowers and the birds that eat their seeds, you should care.  If you like to eat tomatoes, peppers and blueberries, you should care.  Eight percent of the world’s flowering plants depend solely on buzz pollination – a technique bumbles use to obtain pollen from partially closed flowers, like a monkshood flower; they buzz in the note of C against the petals to release pollen.  Imagine bumble music in the frequency of an electric toothbrush, and then, a rain of pollen.

Male bumble bees do not live in the all-female colonies and often sleep alone in flowers.  Imagine never having the chance to peer into a flower and be delighted by a sleeping bumble. 

The threats to bumble bees are overwhelming and include the usual suspects: habitat destruction and degradation, overuse of pesticides, conventional monoculture agriculture, the loss of hedgerows and un-mowed places, over-grazing, and even pathogens originating from the commercial bumble bee industry.

Well “Hope’ is the thing with feathers as Emily Dickinson wrote in a poem AND hope is also furry small buzzing bodies.  We all can help the bumble bee.  Here’s how:

  • Continue to support land conservation and restoration and promote smart development that reduces and mitigates for further habitat fragmentation. 
  • Support organic farms, farms that use integrated pest management, and farmers that plant or retain pollinator habitat.  Thank your farmer for promoting pollinator health.
  • Control noxious invasive weeds that threaten natural areas and reduce flowering plant biodiversity.
  • Reduce or halt the use of insecticides, especially for aesthetic purposes.
  • Be a citizen scientist and participate in Bumble Bee Watch: http://bumblebeewatch.org/.
  • Ask plant nurseries and retailers to not sell plants treated with neonicotinoids, a persistent insecticide especially toxic to pollinators.  Buy insecticide-free flowers from local nurseries.
  • And lastly, plant lots of flowers, preferably native plants arranged in clumps of individual species. The City of Portland published Garden Smart as a guide to alternative choices to common invasive garden plants to help inspire homeowners in their gardening plans.

Choose flowers that bloom resources from early spring to late summer such as early flowering shrubs like Oregon-grape, white-leaf manzanita, and flowering current for the hungry queen bumble bees emerging from hibernation.  Add late-flowering plants like aster, sagebrush, rabbitbrush and goldenrod.  Include some bunchgrasses which provide overwintering sites for solo queens.  And if possible, leave bare patches, brush piles and unmaintained areas for overwintering and nesting sites.  Rip up a part of your lawn and plant more drought-tolerant flowers and try to be tolerant of lawn weeds like dandelion and clover.  If you can, also plant milkweed for monarchs and bees.  And join us in hoping for a report of a Franklin’s bumble bee sighting in the near future.

This is an excerpt from Terra Firma Times, a newsletter of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy. Go here to see the rest of the Summer 2014 newsletter: http://www.landconserve.org/content/back-issues-terra-firma-times.