Courtesy National Park Service
ENTERPRISE — Northeastern Oregonians are leading a grassroots effort to get Spalding’s catchfly, a wildflower endemic to the inland Northwest, removed from the Endangered Species List.
Convinced that the elusive plant with its irregular blooming cycle is more populous than some fear, the Wallowa County Stockgrowers Association asked Kelly Birkmaier, a rancher and rangeland consultant in Joseph, to spearhead a community-wide project to map the county’s Spalding’s catchfly.
The plant is found all over Wallowa County from ridge tops to canyon bottoms, but is most prevalent on the Zumwalt Prairie and around Wallowa Lake. Its range extends north into Eastern Washington, northern Idaho and northwestern Montana. Ever since it was federally listed as threatened in 2001 Birkmaier said there has been ongoing National Environmental Policy Act analysis on federally managed pubic grazing allotments that includes protection of Spalding’s catchfly.
“Stringent mitigation measures have been placed on allotments where catchfly is located,” Birkmaier said.
At the Stockgrowers scholarship dinner in January, Birkmaier asked for volunteers to help locate catchfly on their land. Those who sign up are asked to photograph plants they find and either mark the location with a GPS unit or flag the site. Birkmaier will then go out to confirm the plant’s identity.
If the landowner approves, Birkmaier said she will upload the information into a database run by Oregon Biodiversity Information Center, part of Oregon State University’s Institute for Natural Resources based at Portland State. Created by the legislature in 1979 ORBIC houses the most comprehensive database of rare, threatened and endangered species of Oregon.
“If you have the plant on your land, by law nothing can happen — the government can’t tell you what you can or can’t do, but if someone has catchfly on their property, putting it in the database can help their neighbor grazing on federally managed land.”
Once sites are documented Birkmaier said she will begin monitoring population trends in different areas around the county.
“Then we can start doing soil disturbance monitoring, but it’s going to require funding,” Birkmaier said.
In April Birkmaier received a grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find and document catchfly. Jodie Davalan, a biologist with Fish and Wildlife, said Fish and Wildlife is already funding a contract for catchfly monitoring on the Wallowa Lake moraines for the Wallowa Land Trust.
“It’s not uncommon to find someone who specializes in a particular survey,” Davalan said. “A lot of times it is more efficient to pass money to someone who does this regularly.”
Researchers with The Nature Conservancy’s 33,000-acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve have been documenting catchfly for a couple decades. Manager Jeff Fields said his staff has data eligible for OSU’s database and is happy to share the information.
“Our general goal is supporting ORBIC so it can be as complete as it can be,” Fields said.
Fully involved in the catchfly monitoring effort, Conservancy staff has served on a multi-agency technical committee the last 10 years and alongside the U.S. Forest Service, Fields said his staff has developed successful monitoring methods.
“Across thousands of acres we can get an estimate of population sizes based on a repeatable survey method,” Fields said.
All together, at least 100 new sites have been found in Wallowa County over the last few years, Birkmaier said.
Fields said his staff is going to try to do a small scale case study on the Preserve’s grazed pastures looking for impacts of cattle browse and hoof shear on the plant.
“We want to observe those populations of catchfly before and after livestock grazing,” Fields said.
Wallowa Resources, an Enterprise-based natural resource organization, is also contributing to catchfly monitoring.
Wallowa Resources Director Nils Christoffersen said, “The most productive step now is to get more botanists in the field to assess the distribution and condition of Spalding’s catchfly; not only in the grazing allotments but in the surrounding areas as well.”