The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers the bull trout population in the Umatilla subbasin a part of the Columbia River Distinct Population Segment, which represents an evolutionarily significant unit (Umatilla/Walla Walla Bull Trout Working Group 1999). Historically, fluvial bull trout would have had access to the Columbia River and its tributaries and been connected to populations in the adjacent basins, forming a larger metapopulation (Buchanan et al. 1997). Construction of Three-Mile Dam and McKay Dam has impacted the fluvial bull trout population and has prevented access to and from the Columbia River. Construction of mainstem dams further isolated the Umatilla bull trout from neighboring populations in the Walla Walla River (Buchanan et al. 1997).
Because of poor water quality conditions in much of the Umatilla subbasin, bull trout are isolated in the headwaters of the Umatilla River and Meacham Creek (Figure 35). Currently, bull trout are found in the mainstem Umatilla River upstream of Thorn Hollow, at elevations above 1600 feet. Spawning and rearing occurs in the North and South Forks of the Umatilla River and in North Fork Meacham Creek. Annual comprehensive spawning surveys conducted between 1994 and 1996 by ODFW, USFS and CTUIR in known or suspected areas of spawning indicate that the majority (81 to 92 percent) of redds are in the North Fork Umatilla River between Coyote and Woodward Creeks (Northrop 1997). Suitable spawning habitat also exists in the East Fork of Meacham Creek, but to date bull trout have not been found there (Buchanan et al. 1997). Year-round use also occurs in Squaw Creek, Ryan Creek, North Fork Umatilla River, Coyote Creek, Shimmiehorn Creek and Meacham Creek, although no spawning has been identified in these areas (Germond et al. 1996, cited in Buchanan et al. 1997). On occasion, bull trout have also been observed at Three Mile Dam, Echo and Mission.
Figure 35. Bull trout distribution, spawning and rearing areas in the Umatilla subbasin
Northrop (1997) defined the bull trout populations in the Umatilla subbasin as comprised of the North Fork and South Fork sub-population and the Meacham Creek sub-population. Buchanan et al. (1997) identified three bull trout populations within the Umatilla subbasin: the North Fork Umatilla, South Fork Umatilla and Meacham Creek populations. The South Fork and Meacham populations have declined from the 1991 status report (Buchanan et al. 1997) and the persistence of bull trout in the Umatilla was considered tenuous by biologists from USFS, CTUIR, and ODFW (Table 25; Northrop 1997). Protective angling regulations have been in place since 1989 and the harvest of bull trout closed since 1994. Tribal angling accounts for some harvest, but most tribal members release bull trout (Buchanan et al. 1997).
Table 25. Status of bull trout populations in the Umatilla subbasin (1991 status: Ratliff and Howell 1992; 1996 Status: Buchanan et al. 1997).
North Fork Umatilla River
Of Special Concern
South Fork Umatilla River
Of Special Concern
No adequate population estimates are available for bull trout at this time (Buchanan et al. 1997). The spawning surveys conducted between 1994 and 1998 found less than 100 redds in the Umatilla subbasin, for all areas combined (Table 26). Biologists attribute the marked increase in bull trout redds in 1998 in part to fishing regulations, introduction of spring chinook (a historic prey of bull trout), public education and changing locations for stocking rainbow in the upper Umatilla River (Umatilla/Walla Walla Bull Trout Working Group 1999). Recent redd count surveys of North Fork populations reflect a significant increase in the past three years (Figure 36). In 1994 spawning ground surveys, thirty-one 250-500 mm fish and one fish greater than 500 mm were located in the Umatilla subbasin, with no available data from subsequent years (Northrop 1997).
Table 26. Bull trout redd counts from 1994-1998 spawning ground surveys (ODFW data cited in Umatilla/Walla Walla Bull Trout Working Group 1999; Northrop 1997).
Number of Redds
Figure 36. North Fork Umatilla bull trout redd survey data for the years 1994-2000 (ODFW data).
Of these, surveyors found the majority (90%) between Coyote Creek and Woodward Creek in the North Fork Umatilla River (ODFW data cited in Umatilla/Walla Walla Bull Trout Working Group 1998). The remaining fish were located in the North Fork Umatilla below Coyote Creek and in the South Fork between Thomas Creek and Shimmiehorn Creek.
Important information pertaining to the status and production of bull trout in the Umatilla subbasin are limited or absent. Identified data gaps for bull trout include fecundity and sex ratios measures, and survival rates (egg-to-adult). No adequate population estimates are available for bull trout at this time (Buchanan et al. 1997). The spawning surveys conducted between 1994 and 1998 showed less than 100 redds in the Umatilla subbasin, for all areas combined (Table 26). Biologists attribute the marked increase in bull trout redds in 1998 in part to fishing regulations, introduction of spring chinook (a historic prey of bull trout), public education and changing locations for stocking rainbow in the upper Umatilla River (Umatilla/Walla Walla Bull Trout Working Group 1999). Recent redd count surveys of North Fork populations reflect a significant increase in the past three years (Figure 36).
CTUIR monitoring and evaluation crews have observed mountain whitefish throughout the mainstem of the Umatilla River in low abundance (RM 0-90). Mountain whitefish comprised 6% of salmonids collected during electrofishing surveys during the summer of 1995 from the upper portion of the Umatilla River (RM 82-90). CTUIR has also observed a low abundance (<0.2% of salmonids) in Meacham Creek and the Umatilla from RM 60 to 82 during the summer of 1993. During the winter and spring, several mountain whitefish have been observed at Westland Dam (RM 29) and in backwaters near the mouth. Some adult mountain whitefish remain in the lower river during the summer in cool water refuge areas as 12 (267-408 mm) were collected during surveys in 1996 from RM 1 to RM 52 during June, July and August of 1996 (Contor et al. 1994-2000).
Historically, Pacific lamprey (Lampetra tridentata) were abundant in this subbasin (Close et al. 1995, Jackson et al. 1997, 1998). The Umatilla River was primarily utilized for fishing by the Umatilla, Cayuse, Nez Perce and Columbia River Tribes (Swindell 1941; Lane and Lane 1979). Much of the lamprey harvest occurred at the current site of Three Mile Dam prior to construction of the dam. Harvest also occurred in the North and South Forks of the Umatilla River (Swindell 1941; Lane and Lane 1979). The historic use of lamprey by the Tribes has been well documented. For example, in 1812, Wilson Price Hunt led members of the Astor party down the Umatilla River on a voyage to the Columbia River. In July of 1812, Hunt and his party traded with the Indians for lamprey. The following is a quote from Robert Stuart’s Narratives: “Saturday 25th- This day we found intolerably hot, and after coming 15 miles stopped at an Indian Village where traded 4 horses having in the course of our [today’s] journey procured 5 others- Here we got some Lamper Eels, which with a Kind of Chub seem peculiar to these waters above the Falls- Stayed here the 26th”.
A photographer, Lee Moorehouse, took photos of Umatilla Indians in 1903 near the mouth of the Umatilla River drying lamprey during the summer months (Close et al. 1995).
Pacific lamprey populations in the Umatilla River basin are depressed. Currently, the Umatilla River basin does not support a tribal harvest of Pacific lamprey. Data from systematic surveys of lamprey abundance in the past are unavailable, but screen-trap records from the Umatilla Basin for several years were reviewed as an indicator of abundance. In 1986, 1988-90, and 1992-94 records show that no juvenile lamprey were captured at any of the screen-trap boxes in this subbasin. Brian Kilgore, current ODFW screen trap operator, stated that no lamprey were captured in 1997 and 1998 in the Umatilla River basin. From December 1994 to May 1996, eleven adults and 57 juveniles were sampled by ODFW (S. Knapp, ODFW, personal communication 1997) at a rotary-screw trap (RM 1.0) below Three Mile Falls Dam, and at West Extension Irrigation District canal at Three Mile Falls Dam (RM 3.7). In 1997, ODFW (C. Kern, ODFW, personal communication 1997) captured 298 juvenile Pacific lamprey in the rotary-screw trap. Lamprey were keyed to species and length measurements were taken. Lengths ranged from 65 to 170 mm. In addition, electrofishing for salmonids by the Umatilla Basin Natural Production Monitoring and Evaluation Project produced one live, one dead, and one near dead adult Pacific lamprey below Three Mile Falls Dam in June 1996 (Contor et al. 1998). From September through October 1998, CTUIR staff captured nine ammocoetes below RM 6. In 1997 and 1998, CTUIR did not capture any adult Pacific lamprey at the Three Mile Falls Dam adult trap (B. Zimmerman, CTUIR, personal communication 1997, 1998). Zimmerman observed one adult Pacific lamprey at Westland Irrigation Diversion (RM 27) in July of 1996, and 12 adult Pacific lamprey in the ladder at Three Mile Falls Dam during dewatering in April 1996. Technicians have observed one or two adult Pacific lamprey several times per year in the viewing window and ladder at Three Mile Falls Dam during spring operations. To monitor adult counts of Pacific lamprey, CTUIR staff installed video recorders at the viewing window at Three Mile Falls Dam (RM 3.7) in June 1998. To date, 5 upstream migrating lamprey have been observed at the window. However, the existing bar space could allow upstream migrating lamprey to go behind the fish ladder and avoid detection.
Shellfish were an important food for tribal peoples of the Columbia River. Native Americans in the interior Columbia River Basin harvested freshwater mussels for at least 10,000 years (Lyman 1984). Ethnographic surveys of Columbia Basin tribes reported that Native Americans collected mussels in late summer and in late winter through early spring during salmon fishing (Spinden 1908, Ray 1933, Post 1938). A few tribal elders from the Columbia and Snake River basins recalled that mussels were collected whenever conditions of the rivers were favorable (Hunn 1990). Tribal harvesters collected mussels by hand and, when wading was not possible, they used forked sticks (Post 1938). They prepared mussels for consumption by baking, broiling, steaming, and drying (Spinden 1908, Post 1938). A Umatilla tribal elder remembered his parents trading fish for dried mussels as late as the 1930s (Eli Quaempts, CTUIR tribal member, personal communication 1996). Ray (1942) also reported that the Umatilla tribe ate boiled freshwater mussels and clams.
Museum records indicate four species were historically present in the Umatilla River (T. J. Frest, personal communication 1998). These species are the western pearlshell (Margaritifera falcata), western ridgemussel (Gonidiea angulata), Oregon floater (Anodonta oregonensis), and California floater (Anodonta californiensis).
The Umatilla/Willow subbasin is inhabited by approximately seven amphibian species, 251 bird species, 72 mammal species, and 14 reptile species during all or part of the year (Appendix C). The list of wildlife species present in the subbasin was constructed using the coarse scale (1:2,000,0000) species maps developed by ICBEMP and updated based on the experience of local wildlife biologists. The list may not include all vertebrate species ever observed in the subbasin and may contain species that rarely or no longer occur in the subbasin.
Of the 344 wildlife species listed in Appendix C, many are of special concern to the wildlife managers in the subbasin. Thirty-two have listed status in Oregon or at the federal level (Table 27; Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2000a). The subbasin is also home to many valuable game species. Game species harvested in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin in 1999 included mule and white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk, black bear, cougar, turkey, pheasant, California quail, chukar, Hungarian partridge, forest grouse, snipe, morning dove, and multiple waterfowl species. Trapped furbearers include badger, beaver, coyote, mink, muskrat, otter, skunk and weasel.
Table 27. Listed wildlife species of the Umatilla/Willow subbasin
Landbirds include all migratory and resident birds in the subbasin. These birds account for a significant portion of the biological diversity in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin. Approximately 207 species of landbirds occur in the subbasin; making up about 69% of the terrestrial fauna species (Appendix C). Fire suppression, timber management, and the resulting changes in the structure and distribution of vegetation communities have influenced the distribution and abundance of many avian species (Marcot et al. 1997). Some species that have declined in abundance regionally include white-headed woodpecker, flammulated owls, and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (Saab and Rich 1997; Andelman and Stock 1994; Table 28). Conversely, past practices have increased habitat suitability for some species. Species that have increasing or stable trends in the region include Wilson’s warbler, chipping sparrow, varied thrush, and western tanager (Saab and Rich 1997; Andelman and Stock 1994). Implementation of the conservation recommendations for priority habitats and species defined by Altman and Holmes (2000a, 2000b) in the Conservation Strategy’s for Landbirds of Oregon and Washington is considered the best strategy for conservation of the subbasin’s landbird populations.
Table 28. Landbird species inhabiting the Umatilla/Willow subbasin with declining population trends
Primary Habitat for Breeding
Coniferous forest, grassland
Coniferous forest, riparian
Coniferous forest, riparian
Coniferous forest, riparian
Coniferous forest, riparian
Coniferous forest, riparian
Coniferous forest, riparian
Coniferous forest, riparian
Grassland, cliff, rock, talus
Coniferous forest, riparian
Coniferous forest, riparian
Coniferous forest, riparian
Western meadow lark3
1Species identified as having a significant declining population trend by Andleman and Stock 1994
2Species identified as a high concern to management by Saab and Rich 1997
3Species identified by Andleman and Stock 1994 and Saab and Rich 1997
Focal species were selected to represent groups of species of management concern in the subbasin (Table 29). Target species used for the McNary and John Day hydroelectric facility Habitat Evaluation Procedure (HEP) loss assessment were selected to represent measured losses previously amended into the NWPPC program (Childs et al. 1997; U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1980). Focal species also were selected based on forest, shrub steppe, and wetland/riparian habitat requirements, since habitat loss is the primary factor in the population declines of many of the subbasin’s wildlife species.
Table 29. Target Species Selected for the John Day and McNary Projects
RATIONALE FOR SELECTION
A representative of migratory shorebirds, which use the sparsely vegetated islands, mudflats, shorelines, and sand and gravel bars associated with the John Day and McNary Project areas. This habitat comprised the third largest loss of terrestrial acreage resulting from hydropower development in the John Day and McNary project areas.
A migratory bird of national significance. Sensitive to island nesting habitat and associated shoreline brooding areas. Cultural significance.
Great Blue Heron
Carnivore, which forages on a variety of vertebrates in shallow water. The sand/gravel/cobble/mud shorelines of the reservoirs are commonly used as foraging areas. Existing HEP model available, which is sensitive to changes in these habitats. Cultural significance.
Represents species, which reproduce in riparian shrub habitat and make extensive use of adjacent wetlands. Existing HEP model, which is sensitive to the targeted habitats - riparian shrub and adjacent wetlands.
Representative of species utilizing mature forest canopies. Forest cavity nesters. HEP model available.
Carnivorous furbearer, feeds on wide variety of vertebrates. Utilizes shoreline and adjacent shallow water habitats. HEP model available. Cultural significance.
A species common to shrub-steppe/grassland habitat, the largest terrestrial habitat type flooded by the hydroelectric projects. This bird is well known for its melodious song, feeds primarily on insects and seeds.
A species commonly associated with the shrub-steppe/grassland habitat. This game bird feeds on seeds and greens in brushy and grassland areas.
The mallard utilizes a broad range of cover types including riparian herb, emergent wetlands, and islands for nesting, brood rearing, and wintering habitat. Recreational significance.
This woodpecker represents a species, which feeds and reproduces in a tree environment. The downy woodpecker HEP model was selected to measure the riparian tree cover type. Its diet is primarily insects with some seeds and fruits.
Extirpated species and managed species were also selected as focal species to address reintroduction and game management concerns. By managing for species representative of important components of the functioning ecosystem, many other species will also be conserved.
Forest-Dependent Focal Species
Approximately 21% of the subbasin consists of forested habitat (Figure 17). Changes in composition and structure of forested habitats has negatively impacted habitat suitability for many forest-dependent species. Listed species dependent on forest habitat types that may inhabit the subbasin include Northern goshawk, olive-sided flycatcher, pileated woodpecker, northern pygmy owl, wolverine, lynx, black-backed woodpecker, and three-toed woodpecker (Csuti et al. 1997). White-headed woodpecker, Lewis’s woodpecker, flammulated owl, MacGillvray’s warbler, Canada lynx, and wolverine were selected as focal species; these species depend on a variety of forest types and structures.
The current status and distribution of the white-headed woodpecker in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin is undetermined. However, the woodpecker occurs throughout the Blue Mountains Ecological Reporting Unit (ERU) (Wisdom et al. 2000). Gabrielson and Jewett (1940) reported this bird was a regular permanent resident of the large structure ponderosa pine forests of eastern Oregon. More recently, however, Gilligan et al. (1994) found that severely degraded habitats in the Blue Mountains have resulted in this bird being “now quite scarce.” 19 of the 54 5th field HUCs in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin historically contained source habitat for the white-headed woodpecker according to ICBEMP analysis. Source habitats in 14 of these 19 HUCs have declined, in 12 HUCs by ≥ 60% (Wisdom et al. 2000). The woodpecker has been occasionally observed in the mid to upper elevations of the subbasin since 1985 (Charles Gobar, USFS, personal communication January 2001).
The current status and distribution of the flammulated owl in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin is unknown. Flammulated owls are broadly distributed throughout the Blue Mountain ERU, although the availability of source habitats for the species has declined (Wisdom et al. 2000). Flammulated owls have been documented in or adjacent to the Umatilla/Willow subbasin (Charles Gobar, USFS, personal communication January 2001). Flammulated owls depend on late seral ponderosa pine forests with high densities of snags, typically nesting in cavities abandoned by northern flicker and pileated woodpecker (Marshall et al. 1996). The flammulated owl was selected as a focal species to represent species dependent on late seral ponderosa pine.
Regionally, the MacGillivray’s warbler has exhibited a non-significant short-term (1980-1996) declining trend of 2.1% per year (Altman and Holmes 2000a, 2000b). The current population status and distribution of MacGillivray’s warbler in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin is undetermined. However, the warbler has been documented numerous times in or adjacent to the subbasin over the last few years (Pyle et al. 1999). Preferred habitat for the warbler includes mixed conifer forests with a dense shrub layer in openings or understory (Altman and Holmes 2000a, 2000b). The MacGillivray’s warbler is vulnerable to cowbird parasitism in areas where habitat fragmentation has allowed cowbirds to colonize. Reductions in shrub cover due to grazing intensity, wildfires, herbicide treatments, and prescribed burns can reduce the suitability of habitats for the MacGillivray’s warbler (Altman and Holmes 2000a, 2000b).
The current population status and distribution of the Canada lynx in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin is unknown. Surveys failed to detect the lynx within and adjacent to the subbasin in 1999 and the species may have been extirpated from the area (Stinson 2000). The secretive nature of the lynx makes it difficult to conclusively establish its presence or absence. The lynx was recently listed federally as threatened and is naturally rare in the subbasin (Stinson 2000). Three unconfirmed sightings of lynx have occurred west of Tollgate along State Route 244 within the last five years (Charles Gobar, USFS, personal communication January 2001). Preferred habitat for the lynx consists of high elevation (>4500’) stands of cold and cool forest types with a mosaic of structural stages for foraging and denning. Primary habitat consists of subalpine fir, Englemann spruce, and lodgepole pine (Ruediger et al. 2000; Ruggiero et al. 1999). Lynx habitat occurs at higher elevations in the forested areas of the subbasin. Portions of USFS Lynx Analysis Units (LAU) #2, #3, #5, and #6 occur in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin.
Current population status and distribution of wolverine in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin is unknown. Winter snow track surveys were conducted in 1991 and 1992 for wolverine just east of the subbasin. Miscellaneous unconfirmed sightings have occurred near the western edge of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness area within the last five years (Charles Gobar, USFS, personal communication January 2001). The wolverine prefers high elevation conifer forest types with a sufficient food source and limited exposure to human interference. Although occurrence was never common, the wolverine inhabited mountainous regions throughout the subbasin. Connectivity of boreal forest habitats and seclusion for winter den sites are key factors for this wilderness species (Marshall et al. 1996).
Shrub Steppe-Dependent Focal Species
Shrub steppe communities consist of one or more layers of perennial grass with a conspicuous but discontinuous layer of shrubs above (Daubenmire 1988). A number of wildlife species associated with shrub steppe and grassland habitats are listed as Oregon Sensitive Species. These include the long-billed curlew, loggerhead shrike, sage sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, Swainson’s hawk, black-throated sparrow, sagebrush lizard, Washington ground squirrel, and white-tailed jackrabbit (Table 27). The loggerhead shrike ferruginous hawk, grasshopper sparrow, sage sparrow, and Washington ground squirrel and pronghorn were selected as focal species for this habitat type (Altman and Holmes 2000a, 2000b; Leu 1995).
Data from USFWS breeding bird survey shows a highly significant decline (p < .01 of 2.7% a year for the species in the Columbia plateau region from 1968 to 1998 (Sauer et al. 1999). The loggerhead shrike is associated primarily with sagebrush and juniper steppe, particularly high-density tall sagebrush plants with a variety of understory conditions (Altman and Holmes 2000a, 2000b). However, bare soil understory (including that with cryptogrammic crust) is favored by feeding shrikes (Leu 1995). According to ICBEMP analysis, the big sagebrush habitat type has declined approximately 50% in the Columbia plateau (Wisdom et al. 2000). Remaining large big sagebrush patches in the Umatilla/Willow subbasins are confined to the Navy bombing range near Boardman and the adjacent undeveloped state-owned lands at the Boeing Agri-Industrial Complex. Virtually all remaining sagebrush habitats in the subbasin are dominated by a cheatgrass understory that further reduces shrike use and increases fire frequency and intensity. A three year nesting study (Holmes and Geupel 1998) of loggerhead shrikes near Boardman showed a 36% nest success rate.
The ferruginous hawk is listed as a state threatened species and is dependent on large areas of shrub steppe and grassland habitat (Marshall et al. 1996). Rabbits and hares, ground squirrels, pocket gophers, and kangaroo rats make up 94.6% of the prey base for ferruginous hawks (Olendorff 1993). Gabrielson and Jewett (1940) found 28 nests in northern Morrow and Umatilla Counties. Only a fraction of that number occurs today in the low elevation habitat portion of the subbasin (Russ Morgan, ODFW, personal communication February 2001). Foothill grassland portions of the subbasin continue to harbor ferruginous hawks, but their stability is unknown. Declining populations and a reduction in breeding range is attributed to conversion of habitat to cultivated agriculture, nest site losses, decline in prey populations (i.e. ground squirrels), off-road vehicle use, and other forms of human disturbance (Marshal et al. 1996).
The grasshopper sparrow occurs throughout the Umatilla/Willow subbasin. Holmes and Geupel (1998) showed this bird is positively correlated with perennial bunchgrass cover and negatively associated with shrub cover and density in the lower elevation portion of the Columbia plateau. Janes (1983) showed the species was most abundant in the foothill grassland areas of the subbasin and preferred north-facing slopes with undisturbed bunchgrass and lupine (Lupinus leucophilus). Highly fragmented and poor condition small habitat areas provide little value to this species. Cultivated and irrigated lands in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin represent a loss of habitat except on CRP lands where bunchgrasses are well established (Altman and Holmes 2000a, 2000b). However, it is unknown whether these CRP fields support viable populations of grasshopper sparrows.
Once abundant in northern Morrow and Umatilla Counties (Gabrielson and Jewett 1940), this bird occurs only on a few small remaining habitat tracts today. The sage sparrow is a sagebrush obligate that prefers large tracts of dense sagebrush. Within these areas its presence is negatively correlated with cheatgrass and other dense ground-covering plants in the sage understory (Holmes and Geupel 1998). In Washington it was absent on patches of sagebrush smaller than 130 ha (325 ac) (M. Vanderhaegen unpubl. data). Habitats with dense sagebrush and native bunchgrass, cryptogamic crust, and/or bare soil in the understory are among the rarest in the Umatilla/Willow Creek subbasins (Russ Morgan, ODFW, personal communication February 2001). Of the 86% loss of big sagebrush habitat in the subbasin, most has been lost in the lower elevation areas to farming (Kagan et al. 2000). The only remaining area supporting nesting sage sparrows in the Umatilla/Willow Creek subbasins is the Navy Bombing Range near Boardman. In 1998, a large fire (and the post-fire cheatgrass invasion) at that facility eliminated approximately 60% of the known sage sparrow habitat.
Washington Ground Squirrel
The entire range of the Washington ground squirrel in Oregon occurs within the Umatilla/Willow subbasins and a small portion of the Walla Walla subbasin (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2000c). The squirrel was listed as endangered by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in January of 2000 and has been petitioned for federal listing across its entire range. It inhabits undeveloped shrub steppe and grassland habitats, particularly those with deep loam soils. The primary causes of decline in the subbasin are loss of habitat, primarily the conversion of shrub steppe habitat areas to agriculture. Fragmentation and isolation of remaining habitat blocks presents further threats to the species. It is estimated that fewer than 200 independent colonies exist in the Oregon portion of the Columbia plateau today (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2000c). Remaining critical habitats for this species are lands at the Boardman Naval training facility, adjacent habitats at the south end of the Boeing Lease Lands, and BLM and private lands around Horn Butte (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2000c).
The pronghorn was historically distributed throughout the Columbia basin. Its range is currently limited to large grassland tracts (primarily privately owned) in the southern foothills of the Umatilla/Willow subbasin. Several hundred pronghorn are estimated to inhabit the subbasin, with approximately 45 hunting tags available during an October season (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2000b). The Umatilla Army Depot includes a fenced-in population of more than 100 pronghorn that have been used since the 1990s for a trap and transplant program in eastern Oregon (Kevin Blakely, ODFW, personal communication February 2001).
Wetland and Riparian-Dependent Species
Declines in the quality and quantity of wetland habitat in the subbasin have negatively impacted the wildlife populations that depend on this habitat type. Of the eight amphibian species in the subbasin (Appendix C), the northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens), spotted frog (Rana pretiosa), western toad (Bufo boreas), and Woodhouse's toad (Bufo woodhousii) are listed as sensitive by ODFW. Of these, the northern leopard frog and spotted frog are sublisted as critical, while the western toad and Woodhouse's toad are considered vulnerable and peripheral or naturally rare, respectively (Marshal et al. 1996).
The current status and distribution of the spotted frog in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin is undetermined. However, the frog occurs sporadically throughout the Blue Mountains. The spotted frog has occasionally been observed in the middle and lower elevations of the subbasin since 1995. Preferred habitat for the frog consists of marsh, permanent ponds, and slow streams with abundant aquatic vegetation (Marshal et al. 1996). Suitable habitat for the spotted frog can be found in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin along numerous streams and a few wet meadows or seeps. The spotted frog was formerly considered threatened in western Oregon by ODFW, but subsequently sublisted to critical due to lack of documentation on its disappearance. It is currently a Category 2 species on USFWS’ Notice of Review for its entire range (Marshal et al. 1996).
The current status of painted turtle populations in the subbasin is unknown, although a declining trend due to unsuccessful recruitment throughout Oregon has been documented. A study of the Irrigon Wildlife Area population found that recruitment of young turtles was poor. On a statewide basis over 75% of turtles found exceeded 10 years of age (Oregon Natural Heritage Data Base). Factors contributing to turtle declines include the introduction of bullfrogs, which predate on young turtles (Crogan n.d.) and possibly wetland and riparian habitat succession.
Currently, the bald eagle is not known to nest in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin. Wintering eagles are occasionally observed in the subbasin, but their population status and distribution is undetermined. Preferred nesting habitat for bald eagles is predominately coniferous, uneven-aged stands with a late seral component near a large body of water that supports an adequate food supply (Marshall et al. 1996). Wintering and potential nesting habitat occurs along the larger streams and rivers in the subbasin.
The current status and distribution of Lewis’s woodpecker in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin is undetermined, as breeding bird survey information is inadequate to assess the status of this species. However, the woodpecker has been known to occur in or adjacent to the subbasin. Preferred habitat for the woodpecker includes open riparian cottonwoods with a brush understory. It is an excellent focal species for large structure riparian cottonwood stands with associated large snags (Altman and Holmes 2000a, 2000b). Habitat for Lewis’s woodpecker occurs in the riparian woodlands of the Umatilla/Willow subbasin. However, Wisdom et al. (2000) reported a decline of source habitat for this species in the Columbia Plateau of 97%. Bock (1970) reported that this species is also highly dependent on insect abundance in riparian habitats.
Altman and Holmes (2000a, 2000b) identified the red-eyed vireo as a riparian woodland canopy foliage focal species. The red-eyed vireo is an obligate for mature, riparian deciduous forest with high canopy closure and foliage volume. Regional breeding bird surveys indicate the red-eyed vireo has experienced a highly significant long-term (1966-1996) declining trend of 3.1% per year and a highly significant short-term (1980-1996) declining trend of 3.0% per year (Altman and Holmes 2000a, 2000b). The vireo is known to occur in the subbasin along low elevation streams. Preferred habitat for the vireo includes mature, riparian deciduous forest with high canopy closure and foliage volume. Protection of habitat for the red-eyed vireo should provide habitat for many of the riparian-dependent wildlife species in the subbasin.
Based on nationwide forest statistical reports, the UNF supported one of the largest Rocky Mountain elk herds in the country during the 1970s and 1980s (U. S. Forest Service 1990). Elk densities in the subbasin are still among the highest in Oregon state (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1986). The Umatilla/Willow subbasin contains portions of the Mt Emily, Ukiah, and Heppner Wildlife Management Units (WMU). Currently the Umatilla/Willow watershed supports approximately 8,400 elk (Mark Kirsch, ODFW, personal communication February 2001). Approximately 1,500 of these elk summer in the Grande Ronde subbasin, but winter in the McKay and East Birch Creek portions of the Umatilla subbasin (Mark Kirsch, ODFW, personal communication February 2001).
In the Umatilla/Willow watershed, elk primarily summer in high elevation, publicly owned forest lands (Mark Kirsch, ODFW, personal communication February 2001). In the winter, elk move into the lower elevation foothills (Mark Kirsch, ODFW, personal communication February 2001) (Figure 29). The Umatilla/Willow subbasin contains approximately 690 sq/mi of winter elk range and 680 sq/mi of summer elk range (Figure 37). A GIS comparison of the winter elk range and subbasin ownership coverage indicates that 82% of the winter elk range in the Umatilla/Willow assessment area is privately owned. The limited availability of publicly owned winter elk range may force elk to feed in agricultural areas, causing increasing conflicts with landowners.
Figure 37. Winter and summer elk ranges in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin
Two Odocoileus species occur in the subbasin, the mule deer (Odecoileus hemionus) and the white-tailed deer (Odecoileus virginianus). Mule deer dominate in upper elevation forested habitats and arid lowland areas. White-tailed deer are the dominant deer species in riparian areas with a constant flowing water source and in foothill areas with hawthorn groves in the draws and hillsides (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers 1997). However, the extreme susceptibility of white-tailed deer to the disease Blue Tongue contributes to a separation between habitats used by the two species. White-tailed deer are usually not found in arid habitats due to the prevalence of Blue Tongue in these environments (Davis et al. 1981).
Mule deer populations for the Umatilla/Willow subbasin are below the ODFW’s management objective of 1,900 animals. Mule deer populations in Oregon peaked during the mid-1950s and early 1960s, but have declined since then. Overgrazing of domestic livestock and increases in large predator populations are considered factors in the decline (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1990).
Cougar are prevalent in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin. The number of cougar hunters and cougars harvested has increased steadily since hunting seasons were authorized in 1970 (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1993b). Complaints of cougar damage in the region have increased since 1986. This is considered a reflection of both increasing cougar populations and increasing human encroachment into cougar habitat. Open mixed-conifer type forests are thought to be the best habitat types for supporting cougar in eastern Oregon (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1993a). Cougar densities are around 1 per 8 square miles in the forested region of the subbasin (Akenson et al. 1993).
The black bear is an indicator of ecosystem health (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1993a) and among the nine species determined by Cederholm et al. (2000) to have a strong consistent link to salmon. High levels of bear predation on elk calves may be a factor in poor calf recruitment rates (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1993a).
The Umatilla/Willow subbasin provides high quality black bear habitat and sustains a relatively large black bear population. Bear distribution is widespread from the forested summits, through the riparian areas, and down slope to the dryland wheat fields of the foothills. Bear densities in and around the subbasin are estimated at 0.3 bears per square mile (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1993a).
Consistent annual harvest of beaver, river otter, mink, muskrat, raccoon, badger, red fox and bobcat reported by licensed fur takers indicates a healthy population throughout the subbasin in appropriate habitats (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2000b). Beaver and river otter activity and distribution occurs from the Columbia River to mid-elevation forested regions throughout the Umatilla/Willow subbasin drainage (Mark Kirsch, ODFW, personal communication January 2001). Private landowner damage (agriculture and residences) from beaver is a major component of ODFW activities. The red fox population probably originated as feral animals from several abandoned fur farms. Bobcat harvest is regulated through mandatory reporting on harvest cards and season bag limits; annual harvest is analyzed for sex/age structure (Kevin Blakely, ODFW, personal communication January 2001).
Migratory Game Birds
Numerous migratory game bird species are common in the subbasin including mourning dove, common snipe, ducks, mergansers, coots, and geese. Mourning dove and snipe populations in the region are considered stable, while waterfowl populations have experienced a significant increase (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 1999). Waterfowl population increases have been attributed to the increase in habitat as a result of the advent of irrigated agricultural practices following the construction of the John Day and McNary hydroelectric facilities. More recently the increasing popularity of corn as a crop in the subbasin has increased the food available to waterfowl. The Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge is estimated to support between 200,000-460,000 waterfowl each winter. As waterfowl populations in the Umatilla/ Willow subbasin have increased, those in neighboring areas including the Hanford reach and the northern Columbia Basin have declined (Lloyd 1983). In an attempt to redistribute waterfowl populations in the subbasin wildlife managers have increased the area where waterfowl hunting is permitted.
Ruffed grouse, blue grouse, and spruce grouse are native galliformes that inhabit forested areas in the subbasin. Surveys indicate annual variations in harvest numbers for ruffed grouse and blue grouse (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1999). Analysis of grouse wings collected from hunters (1980 to present) documented timing and variations for mean hatch date, hatching range, and sex/age ratios in the harvest (Crawford and Coggins 2000). Ruffed grouse are closely associated with riparian areas throughout the entire year. Blue grouse breed in open foothills and are closely associated with streams, springs, and meadows. Much of the food they require comes from the succulent vegetation or insects in these areas. During spring and summer, blue grouse use stream bottoms and areas with gentle slopes. In the fall they migrate to higher elevations where they spend the winter feeding on fir needles. Large fir trees are a food source for wintering blue grouse and are required for roost sites. Blue grouse exhibit strong site fidelity to their wintering areas in true fir (Abies spp.) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forests (Larsen and Nordstrom 1999). Winter habitat is the most limiting to blue grouse in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin. Source winter habitats have been identified in the headwaters of Butter, Bridge, Birch and Meacham Creeks, but their availability has declined by around 60% since the turn of the century (Wisdom et al. 2000).
Mountain quail are uncommon game birds in the subbasin. Populations in the region are thought to have declined in recent years largely from declining habitat quality. Mountain quail are secretive and rely on brushy habitats that are usually associated with riparian zones. Degradation of riparian corridors is of particular concern for this species. Without well-developed corridors, mountain quail are unable to move between habitat patches and become isolated (Larsen and Nordstrom 1999).
Wild turkey, ring-necked pheasant, California quail, chukar partridge, and Hungarian partridge are galliformes that have been introduced to the Umatilla/Willow subbasin to provide recreational activities. These species are popular game species that have effectively naturalized in the Umatilla/Willow subbasin and wildlife managers in the basin work to maintain their populations. The industrialization of agricultural practices and the reduction in cheatgrass prominence due to yellow star thistle invasion has reduced the subbasin’s suitability for these species and their populations over the last two decades (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1999).
Based on surveys and harvest data, pheasant populations have declined significantly in the past 30 years (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 1999). Pheasant populations in Oregon have most likely declined due to agricultural changes to the landscape. Pheasant harvest in the Columbia basin is still an important game bird recreation in the fall, along with quail hunting
Chukar and Hungarian Partridge
Chukar populations in the region have declined dramatically since the early 1980s due to habitat deterioration, primarily due to weather variability and the spread of noxious weeds. Nesting chukar have been exposed to poor nesting conditions for many years, consisting of drought or wet cold weather during the nesting season. Both conditions contribute to poor nesting success and survival of young.
Sharp Tailed Grouse
Historically the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse inhabited most of eastern Oregon, including the Umatilla/Willow subbasin. Excessive hunting in the mid- to late 19th century caused an initial reduction of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse population and range (Crawford and Coggins 2000). In 1899, L. B. Quimbly of ODFW noted that sharp-tailed grouse were declining rapidly. He ascribed the decrease in abundance to over harvest during winter and expressed the need for hunting restrictions (Crawford and Coggins 2000). Since the turn of the century, the conversion of native habitats to crop production and habitat degradation from livestock grazing has contributed to further population declines and range reduction (Hays et al. 1998). In response to continuing declines in sharp-tailed grouse populations, the Oregon hunting season closed in 1929 and never reopened. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were extirpated from Oregon in the 1960s. The only population of sharp-tailed grouse currently in Oregon was reintroduced to Wallowa County in 1990 (Crawford and Coggins 2000). Due to improved grazing practices and programs like CRP, habitat for sharp-tailed grouse in the subbasin has improved since extirpation. The Umatilla/Willow subbasin is being considered as a potential site for additional sharp-tailed grouse reintroduction efforts (Mark Kirsch, ODFW, personal communication January 2001).
The wolf was extirpated from the region by the early 1900s. Successful reintroduction and management programs in Idaho and Montana have increased wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains, allowing wolves to disperse into and potentially propagate in Oregon. Potential wolf habitat occurs in the forested lands of the subbasin and it is assumed wolves will soon reoccupy the area. Wolf sightings have already occurred in the subbasin but genetic purity has not been established; a high probability exists that most of the animals observed were wolf-dog hybrids (Mark Kirsch, ODFW, personal communication February 2001). The wolf is a habitat generalist that inhabits a variety of plant communities containing a mix of forested and open areas with a good ungulate population. Wolves prefer areas with few roads, avoiding areas with a road density greater than one mile per square mile (Charles Gobar, USFS, personal communication January 2001).
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were native to the Umatilla/Willow subbasin, but were extirpated from Oregon by the 1940s (Umatilla National Forest, 1990). Over hunting, unregulated domestic livestock grazing, and parasites and disease carried by domestic livestock are all considered factors in the extirpation of bighorn sheep. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the Wenaha river drainage in 1983, this area borders the Umatilla/Willow subbasin on the east. The Umatilla/Willow subbasin contains suitable habitat for big horn sheep but is not currently scheduled to receive a transplant due to almost certain contact with domestic sheep grazed on forest service allotments in the subbasin. Domestic sheep carry bacterial pneumonia (Pasturella), which is easily transferred to and fatal for bighorn sheep. At this time bighorn sheep strays that occasionally wander into the subbasin are destroyed by wildlife managers to prevent Pasturella transmission.