Manager’s Meanderings for Fall 2013

This issue I’m short on time and long on news so let’s get to it.

We’ve decided to postpone the log barn restoration project, planned for September, until next year.  Both the Regional Historian and the Regional Restoration Carpenter that guided our work last year are running out of time while working on their own local projects .  Frankly, with our own planned and unplanned work running up against the end of summer, we could use the delay ourselves.  We did have the logs collected from the refuge sawn into dimensional lumber (with the old timey looking circular saw marks) that we’ll use for restoring the barn floor. They should be well seasoned by the time we revisit the project next year.

We continue to make progress on the new auto tour.  Kelly and Gary have completed several of the gravel parking lots and pull-off areas with help from the fire crew and our colleague Jim Tucker from Kootenai NWR.  It sounds like some of the new interpretive signs may go in the ground next week.  Hooray!

Our contract for repairing Olson Creek Road went off without a hitch (well, there were a couple but…).  Knife River provided the gravel and grader to repair a few miles of the road, changing it from a tooth jarring, water gouged test of endurance to a smooth, well-draining roadway.  I love it when a plan comes together!

McDowell Lake and Potter’s Pond have been management challenges all summer.  Last spring the water control structure (aka the big metal pipe sticking out of the dam) at McDowell Lake, installed in 1972, started leaking.  The lake dropped about an inch per day for several weeks until now it’s about six feet lower that it should be, seeming to have stabilized at the current level.   The permanent fix is to drain the lake, open the dam to access the metal pipe and replace it.  Expensive, but we’re looking at tackling that next year.  In the near future we think we have a short term fix that will be buy us time until we can properly plan the replacement project.  One piece of good news is that an underwater survey of the lake failed to find any Eurasia milfoil remaining after our treatment to control that noxious invader.  The bad news was the surveyors noticed a suspicious blue-green algae bloom that has since been identified as Microsystis.  Why is that important?  Micorsystis is species of algae that contains a toxin that’s dangerous to mammals when ingested.  This algae is native and occurs naturally, rarely causing problems unless conditions encourage its growth.  We speculate that a combination of the herbicide treatment we did to control milfoil also killed some native vegetation, providing an upsurge on nutrients for the algae to feed on, coupled with the reduced lake volume due to the control structure failing and warm summer temperatures, created a “Perfect Storm” for Microsystis.  We’ve posted the lake to warn users to not let their pets drink the water, assuming pet owners will get the hint and not drink it themselves!  The good news is the cooler temperatures we normally experience after Labor Day will take care of the algae for this year.  Repairs to the water control structure and rebounding aquatic plants should discourage this from happening again.

Potter’s Pond has presented its own set of challenges this summer.  In mid-summer it also started losing water.  Its water control structure, similar to the one in McDowell Lake, but installed in 1960, also failed.  These things have been in place for 40 and 50 years respectively and they fail the same summer?!  It never rains, it pours.  Same story as McDowell, expensive to replace, but we’ve devised a short term fix we hope will buy us time.  Unfortunately it required a complete draining of the pond and the loss of the trout it contained.  But, we’re biologists and need to look at the big picture.  The thirty or so fish I saw floating near the  shore as the pond drained were gone in two days, eaten by bald eagles, coyotes and whoever else followed their nose.  Circle of life, right?  We’re now refilling the pond, but late summer is not the best time for stream flows, so it will take a while.

I don’t want to leave you with the idea the summer was all problems, so I’ll conclude on a final high note.  Volunteers from the Washington Trail Association have been working with Friends Group members on the new Big Pine hiking trail for the last two years.  In mid –August they put the finishing touches on it!  The trail is about a half a mile long, and includes a spur with an interpretive sign overlooking the Rookery Road beaver ponds.   This is our third developed trail and will be one of the stops along the new auto tour.   With those accomplishments in mind, it’s been a great summer

P.S.  Thanks to the Friends Group for again hosting the staff appreciation cookout.  Always a good time and we appreciate it!