Could other communities try this method on smaller scale? This type of accidental habitat creation happens when development projects are abandoned or changed. Other uses, such as community gardens, or educational uses can benefit. Of course we're not suggesting that elk will migrate to the urban areas, but on a small scale this concept CAN bring wildlife diversity to our communities.
Why not make the best of these opportunities?
Tonite Shoreline City Council will be discussing the Aldercrest
photo credit/save cedarbrook
park proposals and what possibilities are available to protect these areas for public use. Habitat and Open Space is one very good potential usage for these large "surplussed" school sites.
Published: Sunday, June 6, 2010
TULALIP — High on this bluff, Tulalip Tribes member Gary Baker enjoys the view across the lush meadow, over the water and out to Camano Head.
Dan Bates / The Herald (click to enlarge)Mike Sevigny walks through the dense meadow on the Tulalip Indian Reservation on May 11. Sevigny was surprised by the amount of reseeding that took place naturally since the meadow was first planted.
Generations ago, Coast Salish people set small wildfires to create meadows like this for hunting and gathering.
Baker, 63, used a backhoe in 2008 to carve out this one.
He remembers removing Scotch broom, Himalayan blackberry and old tires that littered the area. He tore down scrubby trees, salvaged firewood for tribal elders and prepared the soil for planting.
The Bluff Meadow is one of four that the Tulalip Tribes have created among the reservation's 8,000 acres of forest. The Bluff, Upper, Middle and Lower areas combine for about 12 acres of meadowland forage for wildlife.
Tulalip and other local tribes also are part of efforts by the state and a national elk hunters group to improve and maintain several forage meadows in the North Cascades foothills.
“It makes me feel good when I see it now,” Baker said of the Bluff Meadow. “It's beautiful here, and it's gonna work.”
What's working is a growing deer population attracted to the
meadows on the Tulalip reservation. Motion-activated cameras at each of the meadows record the numbers and mark the progress.
First there was a single deer. Then a group of bucks. Today, the camera in the Bluff Meadow is recording the return of young does and their babies, said Mike Sevigny, wildlife manager for the Tulalip Tribes.
“They eat day and night. We don't see skinny animals anymore. The females are healthier and they have healthier young,” Sevigny said.
And this means a healthier population for the tribes to hunt, he said.
Creating meadows for wildlife is not a new concept and not one that benefits only Indian tribes.
The Tulalip, Stillaguamish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes have joined other Point Elliott Treaty tribes to help the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation revitalize and maintain three elk meadows in eastern Skagit and Whatcom counties.
That effort has helped the once-endangered Nooksack elk herd grow to numbers that allow tribal and state-licensed hunters more opportunities to harvest the elk. Last year, the herd had an adequate bull-to-cow ratio to allow for a limited hunt of 50 bull elk: 25 for the nine Point Elliott Treaty tribes and 25 for state-licensed hunters.
The meadows also are designed to encourage the elk herd to remain in the foothills. The idea is that the tasty, nutritious meadow plants will draw the animals out of agricultural areas and away from roads, housing developments and timber plantations.
“Elk can do a lot of damage to young trees, farmland and cars, and nobody wants that,” Sevigny said. “The real test of these meadows will be: Do the animals show up and stick around?”
Elk, called kwah-gwee-chud in the Lushootseed language, are as important to tribal songs and stories as the salmon, Stillaguamish Tribal leader Shawn Yanity said.
“The meat is irreplaceable for our health,” Yanity said. “And the meadows are another way to support and enhance a resource that's important to our culture.”
Yanity also praised the meadow project in the foothills as a way for Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation members, state Fish and Wildlife officials and sister tribes to work together.
“Maintaining the Nooksack herd is nice common ground for all of us,” Yanity said.
In the 1990s, Indians and non-Indian hunters stopped hunting Nooksack elk when it was estimated that the herd that once numbered 1,700 had declined to about 300 animals.
Lenny Thompson, a Mount Vernon hunter, got involved with the national Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation about 10 years ago.
“Our first priority is wildlife enhancement, and the tribes have really stepped up and done a lot of work,” Thompson said. “The demise of the herd was due in part to the easy access to the elk. I'd like to see the closure of more logging roads so people have to hike in to hunt.”
Easy access was part of the problem in December when a special archery-only elk season went awry west of Concrete, he said.
A band of elk were shot after congregating in a fenced pasture along busy Highway 20. Lots of people saw the hunt, which upset experienced hunters and animal-rights people alike.
Though the hunt was legal, “what happened was unethical,” Thompson said. “Our forage meadows should help feed the elk and keep them away from the highway.”
Thompson praises Sevigny and the Tulalip meadow team for their work on behalf of the Nooksack elk herd, as does Fish and Wildlife game division manager Dave Ware.
Those involved in the meadows program meet regularly and are in the process of updating the five-year plan for the elk herd, Ware said.
“Whether a forage meadow is on public, timber or tribal land, it's a good thing that benefits everyone,” Ware said. “And the Tulalip meadows sound like perfect forage areas.”
The forest on the Tulalip reservation is dense with 30-year-old Douglas fir trees.
Herbicides previously sprayed on former clear-cut areas kept natural vegetation from returning. After a few decades, the trees created a canopy, blocking out sunlight to plants on the forest floor. In some areas on the reservation, only hardy blackberry vines and other invasive, non-native plants took hold.
It wasn't a pretty sight, Sevigny said.
The decline of wildlife forage areas forced deer to look elsewhere for food and onto farmland and into people's gardens and landscaped yards.
“The fact is deer do not want to eat your garden,” he said. “They would much rather be safe.”
Since 2006, the Tulalip Tribes have spent about $100,000 for staff time and materials for the meadows program. Eventually, Sevigny would like to see 60 to 100 acres of meadows on the reservation.
“When the meadows start looking like a golf course, we'll know we've maxed out on the number of animals that these areas can support,” he said.
Last year, Sevigny and his crew decided to continue their reservation meadow project with the planting of what they call the Middle Meadow.
They staked out a two-acre spot where trees were dying from root rot. Baker brought in the backhoe to push out the dying trees. Before the first frost in October, the team hydro-seeded a mix of three types of clover, chicory, small burnet and rye, along with mulch, lime and fertilizer. The plants are known for their high-quality nutrients, Sevigny said.
By the first of May, the meadow grass was tall enough to provide deer some good escape cover and nice areas for bedding down.
“It blew me away last month,” Sevigny said. “We've been very pleased. Any farmer would be jealous of the number of bees we have in the new meadow.”
Along with the deer, birds, frogs, porcupine, rabbit, raccoon, coyote and cougar have been seen in the meadows.
“It's an amazing amount of wildlife.”
It began simply as a way to enhance wildlife numbers.
Then Sevigny remembers the day he realized that the forage meadows, especially the bluff that overlooks Possession Sound, were not just there to encourage the growth of a deer herd for hunting.
People like to walk their dogs on the bluff or take their kids out for hikes,” he said.
“There's even a marked grave for somebody's dog on one side of the meadow,” Sevigny said, pointing.
Nearby, tribal member Charlie Cortez, 18, searched for a four-leaf clover. Cortez has been part of Sevigny's meadow crew for several years. He's proud of the work they have done.
In the future, they would like to bring back native plants such as Nootka rose, huckleberry and native clover for teas. They also want to encourage the growth of the little trailing blackberry that tribal elders love to pick in the summer.
Cortez smiled as he showed off a fistful of four-leaf clover stems. His boss nodded in appreciation.
Sevigny also remembers the day Darrell Enick, a tribal elder and fish and wildlife enforcement officer, told a story about the Bluff Meadow.
Enick wanted to take his nephew up to the mountains, but he couldn't make the time for the drive. Instead, he told Sevigny, he took the boy up to the bluff for a hike to show him traditional uses for plants and teach him how to get back home if he ever got lost in the woods.
The meadow is a wonderful place for the people of Tulalip to enjoy, Sevigny said.
“So I learned that what's good for the tribe is what's good for wildlife,” he said. “It's been that way from the beginning.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org.