Tag: Silver Creek Preserve

Cool Green Scientist: Dayna Gross

The Conservancy’s conservation manager for the Silver Creek area in Idaho is a Jill-of-all-trades and a master of opposites, blending a love for art and science, of things big and small, of being active and sitting still. Meet Dayna.

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Citizen Science: The Lost Ladybug Project

Preserve manager Dayna Gross’ sons were already skilled bug collectors. Now their hobby is contributing to a conservation science effort to understand ladybug population declines. You can help, too. Grab a net, head out into your backyard and join the Lost Ladybug Project.

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The Traveling Naturalist: Solid Gold in the Rockies

Introducing The Traveling Naturalist, a new series featuring natural wonders and biological curiosities for the science-inclined wanderer.

The Rocky Mountains in the spring are a botanist’s delight, with many hills, mountain meadows and buttes awash in color. Wildflowers – many of them with interesting natural and human histories – can be easily found on your public lands. Some exist in bright but tiny cluster on alpine peaks while others cover meadows in a palette of seemingly solid color.

My favorite: the flower that paints many foothills bright gold throughout the West, arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata).

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Scientific Illustration: More than Pretty Pictures

Scientific illustration is more than just pretty pictures — a point made quite clearly in my own work at the Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve, as we tried to convey restoration plans to the general public.

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed painting flowers, insects, and landscapes. There is something so enjoyable about capturing colors and textures in paintings.

In the last ten years this hobby has expanded into my work: illustration has become key in how I view the world, understand conservation and communicate ideas.

Science has always relied on visual representation to convey key concepts. While representation has varied from Audubon’s bird paintings to high-tech GPS imagery, illustration has at is core always been about conveying information.

However, while we have inarguably made amazing advancements in information technology, high-tech does not always mean “easy to understand.”

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Notes from Silver Creek: Computer Modeling for Stream Conservation

What effects will land use changes have on a stream and its wildlife? How do conservation managers know what will happen in a stream when a restoration project takes place? Will it really lower water temperatures? Will fish thrive?

Surely conservationists can’t see into the future? 

Actually, stream managers now use sophisticated computer modeling to predict the outcomes of their activities. These models allow them to see how planting native shrubs, for instance, will alter stream flows and water temperatures.

In 2010, The Nature Conservancy was contacted by Maria Loinaz, a PhD candidate  at the Technical University of Denmark and the University of Idaho.  She was interested in developing a hydrologic model of the Silver Creek watershed using software called MIKE SHE/Ecolab.

This software is changing the way stream managers engage in restoration. It incorporates data on both groundwater and surface water, including stream flow, precipitation, vegetation and soils to accurately predict the effects of a new activity on a stream.

Maria proposed using the MIKE SHE program to model the groundwater and surface water systems and use the EcoLab program to build a water temperature model. Together these would allow her to model what happens to stream temperatures when riparian buffers were planted or stream flows increased.  Maria also wanted to incorporate fish data to see whether she could model where, based on the hydrology and temperature, fish would thrive in the system.

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Big Fish: Rodent-Eating Trout

As an avid fly fisher, I had heard the stories.

By day, the trout of Silver Creek—a clear, spring-fed stream in southern Idaho—fed on tiny mayflies and caddis flies. The water dimpled as trout sipped the profuse insect life from the surface. People like me used equally tiny artificial flies to try to  mimic said insects, often an exercise in extreme frustration.

By night, though, river monsters ruled: giant brown trout cruised the depths, occasionally surfacing to gulp down any hapless rodents that fell into the stream.

There’s something appealing, at least to an angler, about a trout that attacks mammals. Maybe it’s the thought of our favorite water transforming into a scene from Jaws.

Maybe it’s an antidote to the frustrations of tying delicate flies that practically require a microscope:  If I came back at night, I could just chuck a giant hairball!

But these mice-gulping trout always carried a strong whiff of, well, the classic fishing story. High on drama. Short on fact.

Silver Creek, after all, is one of the most-studied trout streams in the world. And there were no confirmed reports of trout dining on rodents.

Silver Creek also has one of the highest densities of aquatic invertebrates anywhere. The trout surely had easier prey than the occasional mouse.

Then biologists examined some brown trout stomachs.

What they found wasn’t pretty.

But it sure did validate some heretofore questionable fishing stories.

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Notes from Silver Creek: Natural Born Scientists

It was a normal Sunday for us.  Mid-morning, we walked down to the creek to throw some rocks in the water and look for critters.

My boys were standing on the bridge, throwing stones, and I walked down the road to get them a few more rocks.  My five year old, Ben, said to me, “Mom, don’t go over there.”

I asked why and he said, “Because there is a bird asleep in that tree.”

I looked up and sure enough, a nighthawk was sound asleep on one of the horizontal branches.  I asked Ben how he knew it was there and he looked at me like I was not the smartest person in the world and said, “Because there’s a bunch of bird poop on the ground there.”

Watching my boys grow up on The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve in south-central Idaho–where I work as manager–I am amazed on a daily basis how much they notice. 

They know exactly where to find big spiders (“where there are lots of bugs, Mom”), the big black beetles (walking across the dry spots along the road, of course), the ladybugs (on that pokey green plant) and the frogs (where the banks hang over the water).

They have learned habitats simply by looking for the bugs and critters that live there.  Long before formal training, they have keen observational skills and know what questions to ask.

They are, in essence, highly effective little scientists.

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