IN PRAISE OF THE RAINBOW CREW
Photos and Story By Beth Marlin Lichter

Beth01

 Northwest Youth Corps Rainbow Crew/Pierce NWR
Left to Right:   Ryan Witwicki Faddegon, Lake Dyer, Lane Lundeen, Ellie Perryman, Kaia Elms
Photo: Beth Marlin Lichter


They come from all over. They did not know each other before this summer job began. Together they are the Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) LGBTQ Inclusion Corps known as the Rainbow Conservation Crew. Selected by Leah Grimmer, Program Coordinator for NYC in Washington State, their first 8-week assignment brought them to Pierce National Wildlife Refuge on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area for habitat restoration work.

Pierce is not developed for public use because its wildlife inhabitants, some of them endangered species, are skittish around humans and activity on trails would be disruptive. Take for instance the native Western Pond Turtle, one of only two native turtle species in Washington listed endangered by the State of Washington and a priority species in the protected habitat of Pierce National Wildlife Refuge. These native turtles love wetlands. They can live to be 70, nest on dry land but feed and breed in water. Their healthy environment has been greatly reduced due to human caused reduction of habitat, and introduction of invasive species.  One of the target invasive plants at Pierce is the fast-spreading Himalayan Blackberry, which creates impenetrable thickets that outcompetes native plants. I can tell you firsthand that the turtles at Pierce don’t appreciate human presence. Standing a good distance away from a group resting on a sun baked log in the water, the raising of my camera alarmed them and caused them to disperse. Off the log and into the water they went.

Beth02

Western Pond Turtle/Pierce NWR  Photo: Jared Strawderman


The arrival of the Rainbow Crew at the beginning of June 2022 was most welcomed. Using brush cutters, they worked in the rain and in the heat, at eradicating huge swaths of blackberry, opening upland habitat for Pierce’s endangered turtles.  It’s hard work, lots of thorns to contend with and then of course there’s the Pacific Northwest weather throwing all kinds of extreme conditions into the mix. First two weeks on the job, the Rainbow Crew experienced a wave of atmospheric rivers which deluged the refuge with several inches of rain. Then came a couple of intense heat waves. Sleeping in tents, sharing meal prep, dealing with mosquitoes and hornets was challenging. The only option for bathing is a plunge into the chilly waters of the Columbia River. But despite the lack of homey amenities, on the morning I arrived to interview them in late July, I was greeted by a group deeply committed to the job they were assigned. They were upbeat and there was lots of laughter. Camaraderie was palpable. So was kindness and a feeling of inclusivity. Throw in pride and gratitude for having been selected for the job along with curiosity and enthusiasm for where this might lead to. Clearly it’s a win-win situation. Pierce National Wildlife Refuge gets much needed habitat restoration and a diverse crew of young adults comes together in rugged conditions to do good and grow spiritually as well as professionally.

Meet Lane Lundeen (Top Photo, Center) from Fowler Kansas, south of Dodge City. He is a Rainbow Inclusion Crew Leader working for Northwest Youth Corps (NYC). This is his first job, having recently graduated from Kansas State University, and he considers it a great opportunity to see what the wildlife and land conservation industries are all about. Lane is pretty happy with the experience already. “I always wanted to help an endangered species, so this is awesome! To do habitat restoration for the Western Pond Turtle…it’s a great first job.” Clearly he has solid leadership skills as well as knowledge in the fields of fisheries, wildlife, conservation and biology. It’s quite a complicated task, managing the work and being responsible for the comfort, safety and well being of his crew members while camping on an undeveloped National Wildlife Refuge.

Beth03

NYC Rainbow Crew/Pierce NWR  Left to Right: Lane Lundeen, Kaia Elms, Jared Strawderman of Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, Ryan Witwicki Faddegon, Lake Dyer, Ellie Perryman

Photo: Beth Marlin Lichter


Ryan Witwicki Faddegon (Top Photo, On Far Left in Red Jacket) was born in Canada and raised in San Francisco. He is on a mission. He wants to be an example for people like him with disabilities that make it challenging to secure work. Ryan applied for this job seeking community and adventure, having worked with such groups as Mission:Wolf in Colorado and the Student Conservation Association at AmeriCorps. His bucket list includes helping in the recovery of endangered species so the job at Pierce, improving Western Pond Turtle habitat, has been very rewarding. The beauty of the refuge is also greatly appreciated by Ryan. He loves walking down to the beautiful Columbia River. What does he want to do next? Well, he does have another item on the bucket list stemming from his experience with trail maintenance. Ryan would like to help create more trails accessible to disabled people. Meanwhile, he’s soaking up all the goodness that connection and important work have to offer at Pierce.

Lake Dyer (Top Photo, Second From Left) was raised north of Austin, Texas. He heard about NYC through his boyfriend. Lake is a self-described computer person who can sit at a desk for days at a time. He couldn’t have landed himself in a more contrasting landscape…extreme storms, intense heat, the physicality of removing blackberry coupled with barebones tent camping. I wanted to know how it was going for him. “It’s been a nice change of scenery and a really good experience so far. The first night it was really cold. I shivered through the night but I adapted.” I’m guessing that adapting to the discomfort of living and working outside in variable conditions becomes more tolerable in the company of kind and respectful co-workers.



Beth04

Simon Strawderman looking for the “campers” atop Beacon Rock, looking East towards Pierce NWR       Photo: Jared Strawderman


Yes, eight weeks sleeping in a little tent without the comforts of home, trying to keep spiders and rain from getting inside, is tiring. But the whole crew agrees it’s worth it for the privilege of getting to know what life is like on a National Wildlife Refuge where human activity is very limited. The refuge exists due to a land donation by Lena Pierce of 319 acres, with the intention of providing habitat for Canada Geese. Other wildlife residents include Roosevelt Elk, Black Bears and there is also a Purple Martin banding program. Pierce National WIldlife Refuge was established in 1983 protecting not only the wildlife, but Hardy Creek which runs through it, an important Chum Salmon run.

Ellie Perryman (Top Photo, Second From Right) is from Bend, Oregon, studying biology, about to start her junior year at Boise State University. This job was posted in biology department emails by her advisor and the Rainbow Inclusion part resonated with her. The time spent at Pierce so far has been remarkable for Ellie, living in the middle of a wildlife refuge as it transitions from being inundated with water due to heavy Spring rains, into meadows bursting with wildflowers and migrating birds. As the water goes down, the environment changes, new habitat emerging for the next species moving through the migratory route known as the Pacific Flyway. Career wise, Ellie is connecting with US Fish & Wildlife Services personnel through this job and surely it will be a stepping stone as she explores work opportunities in her field of interest.

Kaia Elms (Top Photo, Far Right) is from Honolulu, Hawaii, now living in Seattle, Washington. She is at a crossroads in life. Not sure what to do. Like the other Rainbow Crew members, Kaia is hoping that this summer’s extraordinary field job will prove pivotal in what comes next. In my experience, group wilderness adventures bond you to the people you’re with, even if you come together with very little in common. That commonality bubbles up to the surface quickly when conditions are adverse and require paying attention to everyone’s well-being. You learn a lot about yourself in these circumstances. It’s definitely been a learning experience for Kaia, who says that while on a hunt for clarity regarding what comes next, the Pierce job has made clear what she does not want to do. She loves being outdoors and says that conservation is appealing. Anyone who can still claim to love nature after camping in wind-driven relentless Pacific Northwest rain for days on end and then being baked in the sun while eradicating blackberries is probably well-suited to a job in conservation.

beth05

Cindy McCormack leads the crew to the Purple Martin Nesting Gourds/Pierce NWR
Photo: Jared Strawderman

A highlight of the field crew’s summer was the day Cindy McCormack came to the refuge. She is a volunteer who leads the Purple Martin Banding Program, which supports collecting data for the Western Purple Martin Working Group. A member of the Passerine family, Purple Martins are swallows whose numbers have declined 25% from 1996 to 2019. They are rapid fliers, catching insects such as Dragonflies, midair. Nesting gourds have been erected at Pierce, Steigerwald Lake and other local refuges to monitor and aid in recovery. After arriving at Pierce on a warm morning in late July, Cindy led us to the gourds which were lowered so we could see if the newly hatched birds inside were old enough to be banded.

Beth06

Lane Lundeen Checks Inside a Purple Martin Nesting Gourd for Baby Birds/Pierce NWR    Photo: Jared Strawderman


The optimal age for banding is between 11 and 22 days. Gently removing the young birds from their nests, Cindy showed us Purple Martin growth charts and it was obvious that these birds were newly hatched, only a day or two old. 



Beth07

Cindy McCormack Demonstrates How To Determine the Age of a Purple Martin

Photo: Jared Strawderman

This year Cindy tells us that eggs are hatching later than normal and that’s because of the relentless rain we had in the Spring. Purple Martins depend upon flying insects so cold snaps and prolonged storms slow things down to the point where birds can starve. When the birds are old enough to be banded in a couple of weeks, she’ll return and put two bands on each nestling, a green one for Washington State and a silver one which is the Federal Bird ID. These Purple Martins need all the habitat help they can get. They are colonial nesters, preferring cavities like Woodpecker holes, but prime spots such as those are getting harder to come by. Other cavity nesting species like invasive European Starlings and Swallow species who start nesting earlier, claim coveted nesting real estate such as pre-made cavities in trees and crowd out the Purple Martins. Watching them dip and dart over the meadow, as they grab insects to bring back to the nest, it’s hard to imagine that by the end of Summer they will be migrating down to their Winter spot in the Amazon Basin of South America with the whole family.

Beth08

Ellie Perryman Shields Precious Cargo From the Sun/Determining the Age of Purple Martins for Banding/Pierce NWR       Photo: Jared Strawderman



Beth09

Purple Martin Nesting Gourds/Pierce NWR

Photo: Jared Strawderman

Jared Straderman, Stewardship & Community Engagement Coordinator for the Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, explains the importance of the work being done by the Northwest Youth Corps this Summer. “The Stewards’ mission is to support the three National WIldlife Refuges in the Gorge…Steigerwald Lake, Franz Lake, and Pierce. There is an overwhelming amount of invasive species impacting habitat here.” He says, “We depend upon partners like NYC’s Rainbow Crew as well as volunteers for much needed restoration work.”

beth10

Jared Strawderman by the Columbia River/Pierce NWR

Photo: Beth Marlin Lichter

Pierce National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. It encompasses 329 acres of wetlands on the north side of the Columbia River in Washington State. This Summer the Western Pond Turtles, Purple Martins and all the birds and wildlife, both residents and migratory nesters at Pierce, benefited from the work accomplished by the Rainbow Crew. After breaking camp and bidding farewell to their temporary wild and extraordinary home, the crew departed for another field assignment in another remote part of Washington.
Thank you Northwest Youth Corps. Thank you Lane for exemplary leadership in guiding your crew through two months of serious environmental repair at Pierce. And thank you Crew members for doing the hard work. Us Gorge Refuge Stewards wish you well in pursuit of your dreams.

Beth11

Northwest Youth Corps Rainbow Crew/Pierce NWR Left to Right Lake Dyer, Lane Lundeen, Ryan Witwicki Faddegon, Kaia Elms, Ellie Perryman


TRAIL USAGE AT STEIGERWALD

Story and Photos By Beth Marlin Lichter


Beth 1

Gibbons Creek Once Again Flows Into The Columbia River 


Everyone experiences nature differently. Some people like to sit on a park bench and watch children roll down a hill. Others like to jog in nature or ride a bike through it. Being outdoors in wild places is especially enjoyable  when you can safely bring your dog, so dog owners are always looking for trails they can share with their canine companions. One thing all these folks have in common is the sense of well-being, harmony and tranquility that pervades the psyche as the rush of human activity recedes and Mother Nature sweeps you into her unique environment. But before setting out for an adventure in a conserved area, it’s important to know whose land you’re on and what uses are permitted.


beth 2

Transition Signage from the Multi-use River Trail along the Columbia River, onto the Steigerwald NWR Mountain View Trail


beth 3


Juliette Fernandez is the Refuge Manager for Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Pierce National Wildlife Refuge. Her happy place is out on the trails, cell phone tucked away, immersed in the solitary pursuit of experiencing the surroundings. Employed by the U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service, she is responsible for assessing and reporting on the fine balance between Refuge habitat and human visitation/usage. I consulted with Juliette on a hot topic. Why are so many people unaware of, or not abiding by the restrictions regarding use on the reconstructed Steigerwald trail system?



Beth 4

In order to address this issue, Juliette provided me with critical information regarding the mission of National Wildlife Refuges and why they differ from other parks.

 

“We are the only system of Federal lands devoted specifically to wildlife. Refuges are a network of diverse and strategically located habitats across the nation. More than 567 Refuges serve as havens for hundreds of endangered species and native plants and animals. Each Refuge is established for a specific purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its land and waters.”

 

“The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

 

That means, wildlife first, and as I chat with Juliette I’m learning about compatibility. What is a compatible use of a National Wildlife Refuge?

 

“A compatible use is any proposed or existing wildlife-dependent recreational use or other use of a National Wildlife Refuge that, based on our sound professional judgement, will not materially interfere with or detract from fulfilling the mission of the Refuge System or the purposes of the Refuge.”

 

Steigerwald Lake, being an important waterfowl Refuge, has in place, restrictions to protect that population and all wildlife dependent upon its resources. For instance, imagine that you are walking your dog, even leashed, along the narrow Gibbons Creek Art Trail and she disturbs a nesting bird. That bird might flush and abandon her chicks. Your dog has then had a negative impact on Refuge wildlife. While your sweet Labrador Retriever pup is experiencing an extremely stimulating walk, bird calls alerting others to the presence of a predator, signal stress in the environmental community.


beth 5

Cinnamon Teal Duck at Redtail Lake/Steigerwald Lake NWR/June 2022.

Wildlife first. So, no dogs. Joggers and bicyclists are also prohibited from entering Steigerwald as they too cause disruption to wildlife. Although there is prominent signage at the trailhead in the parking lot, the last time I visited Steigerwald I saw dogs and bicyclists entering the Refuge.

 

I have a theory. Because the Mountain View Trail, which begins in the Refuge parking lot, is a levee, same width as the multi-use River Trail by the Columbia River, and because it seems like one trail is a continuation of the other, people assume they have similar restrictions. Dogs and joggers and bicyclists and horses are permitted on the River Trail. But that hypothesis does not explain why people who clearly see the signs, choose to ignore them.

 

According to Juliette Fernandez, all Refuges are closed to public uses until those uses have been evaluated and compatibility has been established. The reports she writes are shared with the Regional Chief of Refuges and determinations are made regarding existing and proposed allowances.

 

At Steigerwald appropriate uses include wildlife observation, photography, education and interpretive walks, with an emphasis on community outreach and inclusivity. 

 

The wildlife population at Steigerwald is obviously thriving and that is because we have gone to great lengths to protect and enhance habitat. Now we need to get the word out to the general public so everyone understands how important it is to honor the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

 

On Saturday, June 25th 2022, Jared Strawderman led a Let’s Go Birding Together walk at Steigerwald, welcoming the LGBTQ community to the Refuge. I was stationed with another Gorge Stewards Ambassador, Matt, at the observation point on the Mountain View Trail, where we were excited to show visitors close-up views of rarely seen wildlife through spotting scopes.



Beth 6

This American Bittern, usually well hidden amongst the reeds, popped up for us to observe. We are their protectors, committed to maintaining a safe environment conducive to the proliferation of life at Steigerwald.

It’s a beautiful place to come and take a walk. So much to observe and learn about. We just need to tread lightly.


Please take a moment to read our past newsletters: Newsletter Archive

IN PRAISE OF THE RAINBOW CREW

Photos and Story By Beth Marlin Lichter

Beth01

 Northwest Youth Corps Rainbow Crew/Pierce NWR
Left to Right:   Ryan Witwicki Faddegon, Lake Dyer, Lane Lundeen, Ellie Perryman, Kaia Elms
Photo: Beth Marlin Lichter


They come from all over. They did not know each other before this summer job began. Together they are the Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) LGBTQ Inclusion Corps known as the Rainbow Conservation Crew. Selected by Leah Grimmer, Program Coordinator for NYC in Washington State, their first 8-week assignment brought them to Pierce National Wildlife Refuge on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area for habitat restoration work.

Pierce is not developed for public use because its wildlife inhabitants, some of them endangered species, are skittish around humans and activity on trails would be disruptive. Take for instance the native Western Pond Turtle, one of only two native turtle species in Washington listed endangered by the State of Washington and a priority species in the protected habitat of Pierce National Wildlife Refuge. These native turtles love wetlands. They can live to be 70, nest on dry land but feed and breed in water. Their healthy environment has been greatly reduced due to human caused reduction of habitat, and introduction of invasive species.  One of the target invasive plants at Pierce is the fast-spreading Himalayan Blackberry, which creates impenetrable thickets that outcompetes native plants. I can tell you firsthand that the turtles at Pierce don’t appreciate human presence. Standing a good distance away from a group resting on a sun baked log in the water, the raising of my camera alarmed them and caused them to disperse. Off the log and into the water they went.

Beth02

Western Pond Turtle/Pierce NWR  Photo: Jared Strawderman


The arrival of the Rainbow Crew at the beginning of June 2022 was most welcomed. Using brush cutters, they worked in the rain and in the heat, at eradicating huge swaths of blackberry, opening upland habitat for Pierce’s endangered turtles.  It’s hard work, lots of thorns to contend with and then of course there’s the Pacific Northwest weather throwing all kinds of extreme conditions into the mix. First two weeks on the job, the Rainbow Crew experienced a wave of atmospheric rivers which deluged the refuge with several inches of rain. Then came a couple of intense heat waves. Sleeping in tents, sharing meal prep, dealing with mosquitoes and hornets was challenging. The only option for bathing is a plunge into the chilly waters of the Columbia River. But despite the lack of homey amenities, on the morning I arrived to interview them in late July, I was greeted by a group deeply committed to the job they were assigned. They were upbeat and there was lots of laughter. Camaraderie was palpable. So was kindness and a feeling of inclusivity. Throw in pride and gratitude for having been selected for the job along with curiosity and enthusiasm for where this might lead to. Clearly it’s a win-win situation. Pierce National Wildlife Refuge gets much needed habitat restoration and a diverse crew of young adults comes together in rugged conditions to do good and grow spiritually as well as professionally.

Meet Lane Lundeen (Top Photo, Center) from Fowler Kansas, south of Dodge City. He is a Rainbow Inclusion Crew Leader working for Northwest Youth Corps (NYC). This is his first job, having recently graduated from Kansas State University, and he considers it a great opportunity to see what the wildlife and land conservation industries are all about. Lane is pretty happy with the experience already. “I always wanted to help an endangered species, so this is awesome! To do habitat restoration for the Western Pond Turtle…it’s a great first job.” Clearly he has solid leadership skills as well as knowledge in the fields of fisheries, wildlife, conservation and biology. It’s quite a complicated task, managing the work and being responsible for the comfort, safety and well being of his crew members while camping on an undeveloped National Wildlife Refuge.

Beth03

NYC Rainbow Crew/Pierce NWR  Left to Right: Lane Lundeen, Kaia Elms, Jared Strawderman of Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, Ryan Witwicki Faddegon, Lake Dyer, Ellie Perryman

Photo: Beth Marlin Lichter


Ryan Witwicki Faddegon (Top Photo, On Far Left in Red Jacket) was born in Canada and raised in San Francisco. He is on a mission. He wants to be an example for people like him with disabilities that make it challenging to secure work. Ryan applied for this job seeking community and adventure, having worked with such groups as Mission:Wolf in Colorado and the Student Conservation Association at AmeriCorps. His bucket list includes helping in the recovery of endangered species so the job at Pierce, improving Western Pond Turtle habitat, has been very rewarding. The beauty of the refuge is also greatly appreciated by Ryan. He loves walking down to the beautiful Columbia River. What does he want to do next? Well, he does have another item on the bucket list stemming from his experience with trail maintenance. Ryan would like to help create more trails accessible to disabled people. Meanwhile, he’s soaking up all the goodness that connection and important work have to offer at Pierce.

Lake Dyer (Top Photo, Second From Left) was raised north of Austin, Texas. He heard about NYC through his boyfriend. Lake is a self-described computer person who can sit at a desk for days at a time. He couldn’t have landed himself in a more contrasting landscape…extreme storms, intense heat, the physicality of removing blackberry coupled with barebones tent camping. I wanted to know how it was going for him. “It’s been a nice change of scenery and a really good experience so far. The first night it was really cold. I shivered through the night but I adapted.” I’m guessing that adapting to the discomfort of living and working outside in variable conditions becomes more tolerable in the company of kind and respectful co-workers.



Beth04

Simon Strawderman looking for the “campers” atop Beacon Rock, looking East towards Pierce NWR       Photo: Jared Strawderman


Yes, eight weeks sleeping in a little tent without the comforts of home, trying to keep spiders and rain from getting inside, is tiring. But the whole crew agrees it’s worth it for the privilege of getting to know what life is like on a National Wildlife Refuge where human activity is very limited. The refuge exists due to a land donation by Lena Pierce of 319 acres, with the intention of providing habitat for Canada Geese. Other wildlife residents include Roosevelt Elk, Black Bears and there is also a Purple Martin banding program. Pierce National WIldlife Refuge was established in 1983 protecting not only the wildlife, but Hardy Creek which runs through it, an important Chum Salmon run.

Ellie Perryman (Top Photo, Second From Right) is from Bend, Oregon, studying biology, about to start her junior year at Boise State University. This job was posted in biology department emails by her advisor and the Rainbow Inclusion part resonated with her. The time spent at Pierce so far has been remarkable for Ellie, living in the middle of a wildlife refuge as it transitions from being inundated with water due to heavy Spring rains, into meadows bursting with wildflowers and migrating birds. As the water goes down, the environment changes, new habitat emerging for the next species moving through the migratory route known as the Pacific Flyway. Career wise, Ellie is connecting with US Fish & Wildlife Services personnel through this job and surely it will be a stepping stone as she explores work opportunities in her field of interest.

Kaia Elms (Top Photo, Far Right) is from Honolulu, Hawaii, now living in Seattle, Washington. She is at a crossroads in life. Not sure what to do. Like the other Rainbow Crew members, Kaia is hoping that this summer’s extraordinary field job will prove pivotal in what comes next. In my experience, group wilderness adventures bond you to the people you’re with, even if you come together with very little in common. That commonality bubbles up to the surface quickly when conditions are adverse and require paying attention to everyone’s well-being. You learn a lot about yourself in these circumstances. It’s definitely been a learning experience for Kaia, who says that while on a hunt for clarity regarding what comes next, the Pierce job has made clear what she does not want to do. She loves being outdoors and says that conservation is appealing. Anyone who can still claim to love nature after camping in wind-driven relentless Pacific Northwest rain for days on end and then being baked in the sun while eradicating blackberries is probably well-suited to a job in conservation.

beth05

Cindy McCormack leads the crew to the Purple Martin Nesting Gourds/Pierce NWR
Photo: Jared Strawderman

A highlight of the field crew’s summer was the day Cindy McCormack came to the refuge. She is a volunteer who leads the Purple Martin Banding Program, which supports collecting data for the Western Purple Martin Working Group. A member of the Passerine family, Purple Martins are swallows whose numbers have declined 25% from 1996 to 2019. They are rapid fliers, catching insects such as Dragonflies, midair. Nesting gourds have been erected at Pierce, Steigerwald Lake and other local refuges to monitor and aid in recovery. After arriving at Pierce on a warm morning in late July, Cindy led us to the gourds which were lowered so we could see if the newly hatched birds inside were old enough to be banded.

Beth06

Lane Lundeen Checks Inside a Purple Martin Nesting Gourd for Baby Birds/Pierce NWR    Photo: Jared Strawderman


The optimal age for banding is between 11 and 22 days. Gently removing the young birds from their nests, Cindy showed us Purple Martin growth charts and it was obvious that these birds were newly hatched, only a day or two old. 



Beth07

Cindy McCormack Demonstrates How To Determine the Age of a Purple Martin

Photo: Jared Strawderman

This year Cindy tells us that eggs are hatching later than normal and that’s because of the relentless rain we had in the Spring. Purple Martins depend upon flying insects so cold snaps and prolonged storms slow things down to the point where birds can starve. When the birds are old enough to be banded in a couple of weeks, she’ll return and put two bands on each nestling, a green one for Washington State and a silver one which is the Federal Bird ID. These Purple Martins need all the habitat help they can get. They are colonial nesters, preferring cavities like Woodpecker holes, but prime spots such as those are getting harder to come by. Other cavity nesting species like invasive European Starlings and Swallow species who start nesting earlier, claim coveted nesting real estate such as pre-made cavities in trees and crowd out the Purple Martins. Watching them dip and dart over the meadow, as they grab insects to bring back to the nest, it’s hard to imagine that by the end of Summer they will be migrating down to their Winter spot in the Amazon Basin of South America with the whole family.

Beth08

Ellie Perryman Shields Precious Cargo From the Sun/Determining the Age of Purple Martins for Banding/Pierce NWR       Photo: Jared Strawderman



Beth09

Purple Martin Nesting Gourds/Pierce NWR

Photo: Jared Strawderman

Jared Straderman, Stewardship & Community Engagement Coordinator for the Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, explains the importance of the work being done by the Northwest Youth Corps this Summer. “The Stewards’ mission is to support the three National WIldlife Refuges in the Gorge…Steigerwald Lake, Franz Lake, and Pierce. There is an overwhelming amount of invasive species impacting habitat here.” He says, “We depend upon partners like NYC’s Rainbow Crew as well as volunteers for much needed restoration work.”

beth10

Jared Strawderman by the Columbia River/Pierce NWR

Photo: Beth Marlin Lichter

Pierce National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. It encompasses 329 acres of wetlands on the north side of the Columbia River in Washington State. This Summer the Western Pond Turtles, Purple Martins and all the birds and wildlife, both residents and migratory nesters at Pierce, benefited from the work accomplished by the Rainbow Crew. After breaking camp and bidding farewell to their temporary wild and extraordinary home, the crew departed for another field assignment in another remote part of Washington.
Thank you Northwest Youth Corps. Thank you Lane for exemplary leadership in guiding your crew through two months of serious environmental repair at Pierce. And thank you Crew members for doing the hard work. Us Gorge Refuge Stewards wish you well in pursuit of your dreams.

Beth11

Northwest Youth Corps Rainbow Crew/Pierce NWR Left to Right Lake Dyer, Lane Lundeen, Ryan Witwicki Faddegon, Kaia Elms, Ellie Perryman


TRAIL USAGE AT STEIGERWALD?

Story and Photos By Beth Marlin Lichter


Beth 1

Gibbons Creek Once Again Flows Into The Columbia River 


Everyone experiences nature differently. Some people like to sit on a park bench and watch children roll down a hill. Others like to jog in nature or ride a bike through it. Being outdoors in wild places is especially enjoyable  when you can safely bring your dog, so dog owners are always looking for trails they can share with their canine companions. One thing all these folks have in common is the sense of well-being, harmony and tranquility that pervades the psyche as the rush of human activity recedes and Mother Nature sweeps you into her unique environment. But before setting out for an adventure in a conserved area, it’s important to know whose land you’re on and what uses are permitted.


beth 2

Transition Signage from the Multi-use River Trail along the Columbia River, onto the Steigerwald NWR Mountain View Trail


beth 3


Juliette Fernandez is the Refuge Manager for Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Pierce National Wildlife Refuge. Her happy place is out on the trails, cell phone tucked away, immersed in the solitary pursuit of experiencing the surroundings. Employed by the U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service, she is responsible for assessing and reporting on the fine balance between Refuge habitat and human visitation/usage. I consulted with Juliette on a hot topic. Why are so many people unaware of, or not abiding by the restrictions regarding use on the reconstructed Steigerwald trail system?



Beth 4

In order to address this issue, Juliette provided me with critical information regarding the mission of National Wildlife Refuges and why they differ from other parks.

 

“We are the only system of Federal lands devoted specifically to wildlife. Refuges are a network of diverse and strategically located habitats across the nation. More than 567 Refuges serve as havens for hundreds of endangered species and native plants and animals. Each Refuge is established for a specific purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its land and waters.”

 

“The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

 

That means, wildlife first, and as I chat with Juliette I’m learning about compatibility. What is a compatible use of a National Wildlife Refuge?

 

“A compatible use is any proposed or existing wildlife-dependent recreational use or other use of a National Wildlife Refuge that, based on our sound professional judgement, will not materially interfere with or detract from fulfilling the mission of the Refuge System or the purposes of the Refuge.”

 

Steigerwald Lake, being an important waterfowl Refuge, has in place, restrictions to protect that population and all wildlife dependent upon its resources. For instance, imagine that you are walking your dog, even leashed, along the narrow Gibbons Creek Art Trail and she disturbs a nesting bird. That bird might flush and abandon her chicks. Your dog has then had a negative impact on Refuge wildlife. While your sweet Labrador Retriever pup is experiencing an extremely stimulating walk, bird calls alerting others to the presence of a predator, signal stress in the environmental community.


beth 5

Cinnamon Teal Duck at Redtail Lake/Steigerwald Lake NWR/June 2022.

Wildlife first. So, no dogs. Joggers and bicyclists are also prohibited from entering Steigerwald as they too cause disruption to wildlife. Although there is prominent signage at the trailhead in the parking lot, the last time I visited Steigerwald I saw dogs and bicyclists entering the Refuge.

 

I have a theory. Because the Mountain View Trail, which begins in the Refuge parking lot, is a levee, same width as the multi-use River Trail by the Columbia River, and because it seems like one trail is a continuation of the other, people assume they have similar restrictions. Dogs and joggers and bicyclists and horses are permitted on the River Trail. But that hypothesis does not explain why people who clearly see the signs, choose to ignore them.

 

According to Juliette Fernandez, all Refuges are closed to public uses until those uses have been evaluated and compatibility has been established. The reports she writes are shared with the Regional Chief of Refuges and determinations are made regarding existing and proposed allowances.

 

At Steigerwald appropriate uses include wildlife observation, photography, education and interpretive walks, with an emphasis on community outreach and inclusivity. 

 

The wildlife population at Steigerwald is obviously thriving and that is because we have gone to great lengths to protect and enhance habitat. Now we need to get the word out to the general public so everyone understands how important it is to honor the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

 

On Saturday, June 25th 2022, Jared Strawderman led a Let’s Go Birding Together walk at Steigerwald, welcoming the LGBTQ community to the Refuge. I was stationed with another Gorge Stewards Ambassador, Matt, at the observation point on the Mountain View Trail, where we were excited to show visitors close-up views of rarely seen wildlife through spotting scopes.



Beth 6


This American Bittern, usually well hidden amongst the reeds, popped up for us to observe. We are their protectors, committed to maintaining a safe environment conducive to the proliferation of life at Steigerwald.

It’s a beautiful place to come and take a walk. So much to observe and learn about. We just need to tread lightly.


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