Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Wildlife of Montana and Wymoning

A talk given by Chris Smith on Friday 13th February 2015 to the Louth Area Group of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

Chris went on a grand tour from Calgary in Canada through the American states of Montana and Wyoming. We were treated to a wonderful slide show of the majestic scenery of the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, quite a contrast to Lincolnshire!  Chris gave us a lot of information of the history of the European settlers as they advanced into this area in the 19th century, particularly the
Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804, 
and of their conflict with the native populations, the remnants of which proudly maintain aspects of their traditional culture to this day.  Chris had brought an interesting display of First Nation crafts and artefacts to the meeting.  We also heard a good deal about the history of American Western film-making, much of which was shot in this area.

There was wildlife too! The met the Pronghorn Antelope, Antilocapra americana.  It's the fastest western hemisphere mammal and can sustain high speeds over great distances.  They are creatures of the semi-arid grasslands, migrating over great distances in the high plains region.  Quite numerous, there are more pronghorns than people in Wyoming.

The Yellow Arrowleaf, Balsamorhiza sagittata, is a common flower on the dry foothills of the Rockies.

The Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus, is a woodpecker common in Montana and Wyoming.

Other wildlife that Chris Smith showed us included several birds:
  • Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  • Mountain Bluebird, Sialia currucoides
  • Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia
  • Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  • Red Headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus

Rodents are represented by the large Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Cynomys ludovicianus, which was first described by Lewis and Clark in 1804.

Slightly smaller is the Richardson's Ground Squirrel, Urocitellus richardsonii,
and smaller still, Montana is home to three species of Chipmunk:
  • Yellow-pine Chipmunk, Tamias amoenus 
  • Least Chipmunk, Tamias minimus
  • Red-tailed Chipmunk, Tamias ruficuaudus

Appaloosa horses are found wild in parts of Wyoming.  These are thought to have descended from introductions from Europe in the 16th century, the American native horse having become extinct in the Pleistocene.  By the 18th century there were several million horses living wild across North America.

The Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa, is a large tree with a typically dark olive colour that gave rise to the name 'Black Hills of Dakota' but it is Montana that has adopted it as its 'state tree'.

Finally we saw pictures of a herd of Buffalo or Plains bison, Bison bison bison.  Before the arrival of Europeans it is estimated that there were some 25 million Bison but they were hunted to virtual extinction. A natural population of about 3000 now survives in the Yellowstone National Park and a total of some 500000 live on various ranches in the USA and Canada.

The evening closed with Chris's partner, Sylvie, singing Oh Shenandoah, the traditional American folk song the lyrics of which tell of a French trader travelling down the Missouri River who fell in love with the daughter of an Algonquian chief, Shenandoah.  Chris then read a First Nation prayer.

This is a view of the upper end of Cow Island, in the Missouri. It lies just below the mouth of Cow Creek. The island is created from sediments washing out from Cow Creek in flood season. This is one of the larger islands in the Missouri. It forms a natural crossing point on the Missouri. During the steamboat era (1860 to the mid 1880's) the Missouri was the path way to the mines in western Montana. Above this point the Missouri had many rapids. In the summer and fall, the river levels dropped, and steamboats could not get up to Ft. Benton, the up river terminus. They had to drop their cargoes here. This area became known as Cow Island Landing. The freight was then north and west hauled up Cow Creek, through the Missouri Breaks and out onto the northern Montana plains and on to Ft. Benton. In ancient times Cow Island was a Missouri River crossing point for bison and nomadic Indians. Now the bison and Indians are gone, as are the steamboats. Cow Island lies in a remote and isolated area of the Missouri Breaks in Montana. Source

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Beavers in Lincolnshire?

The European Beaver, Castor fiber.

The beavers of the Otter River have won a reprieve. The government, through the agency of Natural England, has pulled back from its plan to capture and remove the beavers and granted the Devon Wildlife Trust the responsibility to monitor their health and welfare, at least for an experimental five year period.

Stephen Morris, writing in the Guardian, reported the news with some useful background and another piece in the Guardian by John Lister-Kaye discusses the established beaver colonies in Scotland.

A framework for decision-making was set up by Natural England in 2009 with the publication of their report, The feasibility and acceptability of reintroducing the European beaver to England (NECR002). The report can be downloaded here.

Morris writes that "The trial could lead to the re-introduction of the creature across England."  and Andrew Sells, Natural England’s chairman commented: “Future decisions by Natural England on the release of beavers will, in large part, be informed by results of this trial."  

So while it is unlikely that Natural England will grant further reintroduction licences during the coming five-year trial period, after that, if all goes well, a wider programme may be considered.  It is worth noting that in each of France and Germany the beaver populations may be as high as 10000, there could be 70000 in Norway and even a couple of hundred in Belgium and the Netherlands.

However, according to a BBC report, Natural Resources Wales may look for faster progress.  Tim Jones, executive director of operations for north and mid Wales at Natural Resources Wales, said: "The possibility of reintroducing beavers to Welsh rivers needs serious consideration.  They have the potential to help us improve the quality of our natural resources including water quality, wildlife and fish populations."

Perhaps now is the time we should be considering other sites suitable for beaver occupation.  If a population can be sustained in such a densely settled and intensively farmed nation as the Netherlands, surely space can be found in Lincolnshire.

The Environment Agency is shortly to commence work on flood alleviation schemes on the Rivers Lud and Bain to protect Louth and Horncastle.  Perhaps beavers might help.