Mark Nuetzmann, Wildlife Biologist
June 14, 2021
The Yakima Valley Audubon Society endorses the Yakama Nation proposal for research into topics in subalpine and alpine areas of the Yakama Nation. With climate change, the subalpine ecosystem may well be driven upslope on Mt. Adams, at a pace faster than alpine plant communities can colonize the recent lava flows that characterize the mountain, thus jeopardizing habitat for the focal species in this project, such as white-tailed ptarmigan, Cascade red fox, wolverine, and mountain goat, among others. All species have very restricted habitat requirements. For example, the Yakima Valley Audubon Society has, for the past 20 years or so, undertaken searches for white-tailed ptarmigan in Yakima County without success, though the species is well-documented from Mt. Rainier, just to the northwest of Mt. Adams, the area of the Yakama Nation’s primary interest. One year we searched on Mt. Adams, though not in the area of a credible recent report at the Climber's Camp on the southeast slopes. We are thus excited at the prospect our interest in ptarmigan is shared by the Yakama Nation.
In addition to willow thickets, we might suggest a focus on alder (Alnus sp.) thickets, particularly (Alnus sinuata ) in avalanche chutes, as potential winter habitat.
In addition to the ptarmigan study, we also endorse research into whitebark pine, an imperiled keystone species throughout its range in western North America. Halting the decline of this species (by blister rust and pine beetle infestations) is of paramount importance to preserving alpine ecology in the region, especially for Clark’s nutcracker. Since the Yakama Nation first proposed this research in 2017, this species of jay has declined precipitously along the east slopes of the Cascsdes in south-central Washington to the point where there are only a handful of recent reports, as chronicled in eBird. The decline of this species in this region may well be tied to the massive die-off of whitebark pine, making the Yakima Nation’s proposed study all the more imperative.
Mountain goats are another interesting element in the alpine zone in this region. Loss of their habitat due to changes in the subalpine and alpine ecosystems brought on by warming climate are yet another reason for prompt research as proposed by the Yakama Nation.
Too, we also support investigations in to snowmobile trespassing as disturbance to alpine wildlife and ecosystems may be heightened in the long winter months, perhaps triggering the need for stricter surveillance of this recreation form.
If successful in obtaining the grant, Yakima Auduboners would be excited, too, in participating in these projects, as the need arises.
Yakima Valley Audubon Society Conservation Chair