Fishers on Small Forest Ownerships in Western Washington

fisher in western Washington state
A multi-agency program seeks to re-introduce fishers to western Washington state. Photo: US Fish&Wildlife.

Have you ever been called a “weasel”? It might be a high compliment if you consider their status in the animal kingdom!

Weasels are ferocious and swift predators in the family Mustelidae. These amazing and remarkably diverse critters are all basically the same; short legs, sharp eyes and teeth, very sensitive noses and explosive speed and agility. They are adept at capturing different prey species from shrews, mice and birds, to fish, and, in the case of wolverines, deer. Nearly every basic habitat in Washington has a specially adapted weasel: arboreal (marten); skittering through forest undergrowth (long-tailed weasel), cruising high mountain snow fields (wolverine), burrowing underground (badger), living on the ocean (sea otter) or surfing the rapids and swimming after prey in rivers (otter). There are 10 weasel species in Washington, all marvelous in their own way, and all on our landscape today, in part thanks to efforts by determined professionals.

Fishers are the native weasel of low to mid elevation forests. They are a medium-sized weasel, about the size of a house cat, a rich chocolate-dark brown in color and live in complex forest habitats full of down wood, snags and large trees. (Body length, about 36” with tail, and weight, 8-10 pounds). They are slightly larger than marten, who tend to live at higher elevations.

Fisher were extirpated in Washington many years ago due to overharvest, animal control efforts, loss of habitat and the species’ vulnerability to trapping (weasels are suckers for a good scent lure). Wildlife surveys in the 1990s and early 2000s detected no fishers anywhere in Washington. A state recovery plan identified the need to reintroduce these animals if they were to occur in Washington. Efforts to achieve this goal are ongoing, with two releases completed and monitoring ongoing. This work has been successful to the point that WDFW is reaching out to landowners for help with this remarkable effort to reestablish a native species.

In 2008, WDFW, the US Geologic Survey, Conservation Northwest, the British Columbia Ministry of Environment and the National Park Service worked together to conduct the first fisher reintroduction in Olympic National Park. This was followed by another set of releases in the South Cascade Mountains in fall of 2015. All animals were relocated from British Columbia in cooperation with the BC Trappers Association. In 2017, reproduction was documented near Mount Rainier National Park. Fisher reintroduction is shaping up to be a significant success story.

Fishers need forested habitats with abundant small mammal populations (such as mice, voles and squirrels) provided by full canopies, a rich understory, snags and down logs. These habitats are easily provided in well-managed woodlands that include habitat diversity elements such as snags, Habitat or slash piles, and down logs.

The fisher is a candidate for federal species listing due to its rarity across the U.S. landscape. It is still abundant enough in parts of Canada to allow trapping. The reintroduction efforts in Washington state are hoped to result in sustainable populations of this animal in western Washington.

Role of Forestland Owners

The natural range of the species in Washington is now well-occupied by humans, including cities, highways, subdivisions and small forest land ownerships. Our small forest woodlands occupy a key portion of the range of this potentially recovered species. They can quietly exist alongside people as they are small, and feed largely on forestland rodents.

How can the small forest landowner help? The US Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with WDFW is offering a program whereby landowners can sign up and agree to protect fishers if they occur on their lands. In return, the landowner receives protection from any future land use restrictions that could come from fishers being present. This pact is called a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurance (CCAA) and is very straightforward. Some of the terms of the CCA as listed by WDFW are:

  • Work with WDFW wildlife managers to monitor fishers and their dens in the event that a den site is found on one’s property.
  • Avoid harming or disturbing fishers and their young associated with active denning sites (March to September).
  • Report den sites and sick, injured, or dead fishers on one’s property.

A WDFW factsheet explains more about this program.

Western Washington forest
Western Washington forests are excellent habitat for the fisher. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

This is of interest to small forest landowners on the west slope of the Cascades because as the fisher reestablishes itself on the landscape, awareness of the habitat needs of this species, and landowner cooperation, will become essential to the future of this amazing animal.

Fishers are no threat to normal workings of family forest lands, (unless you happen to be a squirrel or a mouse!) and can provide a natural control over damaging rodents in tree farms. Returning this animal to our ecosystem will restore ecological function and a little piece of the amazing richness of Washington’s forests.

For more information on the fisher and the CCAA, please visit the WDFW website, or contact WDFW’s Gary Bell at (360) 902-2412.

And as always, feel free to contact me with questions or stories about wildlife on your forested woodland. Especially if you think you saw a fisher, or have a photo of one in the wild.

by Ken Bevis, DNR Stewardship Wildlife Biologist,

Secret Eyes in the Woods: Trail Cameras

Mule deer
Mule deer caught by a trail camera with a flash. Photo: Ken Bevis.

Do you sometimes wish you could be invisible out in the woods and just watch what goes by? Maybe at night too? It would be so great to be able to patiently wait for hours, days, even seasons and see the often mysterious wildlife. Hunters who sit on game stands for hours on end know this feeling. Patience is more than a virtue; sometimes it is excruciating, with hours of boredom punctuated by the thrill of a momentary wildlife sighting.

Now, we can do this without suffering the cold, heat, wind, bugs, etc. An array of amazing tools called “trail” or “game” cameras are designed to operate independently, using sensors (usually motion sensors) to automatically trigger a photo or even video. I am no expert on these devices, but I enjoy using one and seeing images gathered by others. Here, I will offer a few thoughts for forest landowners on use of these fantastic devices. Whenever I offer a class to forest landowners, I always ask who has a trail camera, and many do. The stories of the variety of species recorded are impressive.

Camera set up along a deer trai
Camera set-up along a deer trail on a burned area of author’s property. Photo: Ken Bevis.

The first generation of trail cameras used film and became great tools for wildlife biologists trying to capture images of elusive species. They were clunky, however, and required frequent visits to collect and replace the film. Today’s devices are digital and offer multiple capabilities. Here are seven key basics to consider when selecting a camera.

  1. Trigger speed – You want a fast sensor-to-shutter time. If the delay is too long, you will get many empty frames.
  2. Different options for flash – Low glow, infrared and visible. A visible flash can scare wary animals.
  3. Video and still options (some even record sound )
  4. Recovery time – How fast can the camera get the next image after taking a shot? Look also for its “burst mode” — how many photos can be taken in a row. Many cameras allow you to set the burst mode; I recommend a setting of 3 shots.
  5. Ease of mounting the camera on a tree or a frame of some sort.
  6. Battery type and life.
  7. How does it download? Remotely or with a memory card?

Recent generations of trail cameras have all of these features, but it is worth checking the specifications of any brand you consider. Higher end models have more bells and whistles, but often aren’t that different from the “standard” model. Do your homework when shopping the device for there are many out there now.


Where Do I Place the Camera?

Know what distance your needs to get good pictures. Most seem to be designed to photograph larger animals, as opposed to small reptiles and such. Some won’t focus on animal that get extremely close to the lens; however, the camera may have a wide-angle lens that will capture its clearest shots at 10 to 20 feet. Before deploying your camera in the field, practice with it in a known setting and walk in front of it at different distances.

Be sure to check the angle of placement; a camera tipped too far back will give you only shots of the tips of your target’s ears while tilting downward too steeply will produce nice shots of feet only! Point the camera into an open area so you can capture pictures of your target without a lot of obstructions. Place the camera along a game trail or above a small opening in the forest. Make sure you clear away any overhanging branches or tall grass from in front of the camera’s motion sensor, unless you want to look at hundreds of images of a branch or blade of grass moving in the wind (I have done this.). Attaching it to a tree is often the easiest, but using a stand (mine is homemade out of re-bar) allows you to set the camera for the best angles.

To capture animals as they approach and move through the frame, place the camera at an angle to the trail, or directly in the line of the trail. A setup that is perpendicular to a trail will have a lesser chance of getting the whole animal as it walks by. If you have a choice, face the camera northward to prevent harsh light angles in early morning or late afternoon shots. Positioning it to capture images a strategic opening is always a good tactic. Placing a salt or a deer block in the center of the frame can work wonders to attract wildlife (bait is legal in Washington for deer and elk as long it doesn’t exceed 10 gallons).

Here is an interesting testimonial from my friend, Wally Soroka, of Colville, Washington, who provided some of the attached photos:

“Some, if not most, cameras do take pretty decent close-ups. I had a little competition a few years ago with an urban, East Coast relative (where big game was scarce) to see who could get the best mouse shots. In Colville I got a lot of flying squirrel close-ups in my chicken coop at night. And many newer cameras record sound. It’s not high quality audio but does offer a new dimension, like the sound of a drumming grouse to go along with the 10 second video or a curious deer sniffing the camera itself.”

Soroka placed a camera along an old logging road and tied a duck wing (from the previous hunting season) to a bush in the field of view. This drew the curiosity of the cat, and he got the attached shot of a cougar (see photo of Soroka with inset of his cougar photo).

trailside use of trail cam to photograph a cougar
Soroka shows where he tied a duck wing (from a harvested animal) to a shrub alongside a trail. Later, his trail camera photographed a cougar (inset) looking up at the wing. Photo: Ken Bevis.

I once placed a camera over a rotting deer carcass I found in the forest, and got a fascinating series of pictures of ravens, vultures, magpies, coyote and even a golden eagle working the carcass (see photo). Over the next few weeks my photos showed the carcass disappearing a little bit at a time.

Golden eagle on deer carcass
Golden eagle on deer carcass. Photo: Ken Bevis.

A friendly forest landowner from the Blue Mountains shared with me a series of amazing pictures of deer, elk, cougar and bear all from the same small junction of old logging roads on his property. It was a natural crossroads through which it seems every wild thing in the area passed and he had strategically placed a camera to catch the action.

A trail camera can do more than grab candid shots of animals. It can help you read your landscape. What animals are out there and where are they moving? Consider also what will be your target species? Deer are the easiest as they are generally common and use easily identified trails. Less common are the predator species such as cougar, bobcat, coyote or bear. Sometimes a raccoon, skunk or weasel makes an appearance too, and even birds. These are the prizes for trail camera users.

Many Choices and Uses

There are many brands of trail cameras out there now, with prices ranging from $70 to $500. Most are just over $100. I have heard varying reports on brands, and no complaints for any of the newer generation cameras. Most are self-contained with a small digital card that can be removed and viewed on a computer, and there are image review functions too. There are even some now that will let you look at your images remotely on a smart phone. I am sure some are better than others, and I will defer that discussion for real experts. I have an older camera that I need to replace, so please send me feedback as to what has worked best for you.

Cougar near Winthrop, WA,
Cougar near Winthrop, WA, caught by a camera placed on active winter trail. Photo: Scott Fitkin.

Trail cameras are now a favorite tool for wildlife biologists, hunters, naturalists and landowners for seeing things we otherwise would seldom know occur. There is a vast data set out there of wildlife information that was never available before. They can also be useful for security, too, by placing them along roads or overlooking a property to photograph whoever happens to come by.

And if you don’t have one yet, well, birthdays and Christmas are coming up.

Send me some of your best Trail Cam shots and permission to use them in your email and I’ll do a future article featuring “The Best of Small Forest Landowner Trail Camera Photos,” with a photo credit. You can be published!

(Thanks to Ed Styskel for his excellent article in the Spring 2017 issue of Northwest Woodlands magazine).

By Ken Bevis, DNR Stewardship Wildlife Biologist,

Ways to Connect: The Chehalis Basin Partnership and Lead Entity

Chehalis Basin Watershed Management Plan
Two local groups offer helpful information and other resources to Chehalis basin landowners concerned about watershed management, salmon recovery and other issues.

NOTE: The following article by Kirsten Harma, Watershed Coordinator, Chehalis Basin Partnership, was mistakenly attributed to another author when first published. Our apologies for this error.

Clean, abundant water is critical to all residents of the Chehalis River Watershed. Salmon are valued by recreational and tribal fishers and contribute to the local economy. Two local groups have been active over the past two decades ensuring that these natural resources are protected for generations to come. The following article shares information about the history of these groups, and what resources they can offer to small forest landowners.

Chehalis Basin Partnership

The Chehalis Basin Partnership’s founding members recognized that water can cause problems – whether there is too much of it or not enough in the right place at the right time. They also recognized that there were emerging opportunities for local input on managing water throughout an entire landscape. The Chehalis Basin Partnership formed in 1998 to bring people together to find ways to reach shared goals for water management in the lands that compose the Chehalis River Watershed.

The partnership prepared the Chehalis Basin Watershed Management Plan, which was adopted by member cities, counties, ports and the Chehalis Tribe in 2004. Key recommendations were preventing water quality degradation, ensuring that enough water remains in streams for human communities and wildlife, and developing approaches to keep agriculture and forestry on the land.

The plan recommends improving water quality through protecting healthy, high quality waterways so they don’t become impaired, and finding voluntary methods to clean up waterways and the lands that surround them. It recommends making sure there is enough water for people and fish through conducting studies to better understand the connection between water withdrawals from wells and the amount of water available in streams, and developing a ‘toolbox’ with information on flexible strategies for meeting water rights needs, among many other approaches.

The goal of keeping forestry and agriculture on the land was included in the watershed plan because these land uses contribute significant benefits to the basin environment and economy. Forestry and agriculture constitute the least intensive use of land by people within the watershed, and provide benefits to water quality and quantity. For example, forests act as a natural storage facility by helping retain water from rainy seasons into drier ones. The plan recommends developing policies and economic approaches that encourage preservation of forest and agricultural lands, and educating the broader public about the connection between land use and water and the importance of these land uses to our economy.

The plan’s goals and recommendations have become more relevant that ever in the decade since the document was first released. The Chehalis Basin Partnership is working to achieve the vision laid out the Chehalis Basin Watershed Management Plan through member organizations and volunteer efforts around the basin: but there is a lot more still to be done.

The Chehalis Basin Partnership meets monthly to share information about priority water resource topics and to exchange ideas on Plan implementation. Over the past year, the group has hosted presentations on the Department of Ecology’s water rights curtailments issued for the basin in May, DNR’s Forest Practices program, and opportunities and challenges for agriculture in the basin. Interested citizens are always welcome to attend. If you there is a water-related topic you would like to learn more about, feel free to suggest it to the Partnership’s Coordinator for inclusion in a future meeting.

For the meeting schedule and information on speakers and presentation topics, see the “Events” tab on the Chehalis Basin Partnership’s webpage at:

Chehalis Basin Lead Entity

Another priority identified in the Chehalis Basin Watershed Management Plan is making sure conditions exist in our streams and rivers to support sustainable runs of wild salmon. After the state of Washington passed salmon recovery legislation in 1998, a local committee convened to take on the task of writing a plan for salmon habitat restoration and protection, and then finding on-the-ground, voluntary, community supported projects that can best implement that plan. This group, the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity, brings together technical experts that can identify scientifically sound restoration projects, and community members that ensure projects align with local social, cultural and economic values.

Chehalis River Basin Watershed
Private landowners have a number of opportunities to participate in managing and restoring the Chehalis River Basin Watershed .

The Chehalis Basin Lead Entity has the important role of getting salmon recovery funding to public and private landowners to conduct voluntary restoration and protection work on their land. Since 1999, they have helped get funding to 141 projects around the watershed.

Types of projects eligible for funding include:

  • Correcting barriers to salmon migration (e.g., barrier culverts)
  • Planting native shrubs and trees on stream banks
  • Installing large woody material to create habitat in a stream
  • Protecting key habitat areas through property acquisition or easement

The Lead Entity sends out a call for project applications in early February each year, with final funding approval by a state panel occurring in December. If you have an idea for a salmon habitat restoration project on your land, contact the Lead Entity Coordinator for information about how to proceed with developing your project idea.

The committee also is looking for new volunteers who have a passion for protecting salmon and healthy watersheds. Contact the Lead Entity Coordinator if you would like to serve on the project review team.

To learn more about the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity, visit them online at

By Kirsten Harma, Watershed Coordinator, Chehalis Basin Partnership

Pile it on! Habitat Piles for Wildlife

Habitat pile n
Habitat pile near Cle Elum in Kittitas County. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

The basic needs of wildlife: food, water, space and cover. We all ponder how to provide these on our small forest lands?

Food is based on plant diversity, which can feed herbivores of various types, which in turn feed carnivores. Water is from creeks, puddles, ponds or simply vegetation. Space, well, they work out their territories.

And, finally, there is cover: a critical place for animals to rest and raise their young, and a place to escape from predators and save energy for the next effort at survival. Different wildlife species use many types of cover according to their size and life histories. These can include terrain features, such as ridgelines to break the wind, rocky outcrops, tall grass, hollow trees, dense brush, logs and accumulations of vegetative material in thickets. These occur in nature but we also can manipulate these features to benefit wildlife.

In nature, a blown-down tree can be a cover oasis for many critters; down logs a home for many, many decades. These natural concentrations of down and near-ground dead wood are a boon for wildlife.

Many species are naturally associated with down wood and branchy habitats on the ground. Numerous small mammals such as voles, chipmunks, squirrels will use down wood and piles. Their predators show up — long tailed weasels, marten and fisher — and use this material both for cover and as a hunting ground. Amphibians and reptiles, salamanders, lizards and snakes, will live in and around down wood as it provides similar benefits. Many birds will use these woody sanctuaries for cover and nest alongside down logs and under piles of branches on the ground. Bears and cougars cuddle up to down wood and rest in thickets.

lage skash pile
If left alone, a large slash pile may become a sheltering and foraging area for many types of wildlife. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

In managing forest land, we often generate large quantities of loose woody material; slash, in other words. The enormous volume of woody branches and trees stem pieces that present a disposal dilemma to landowners and managers also represents a rich, and routinely overlooked, opportunity for wildlife habitat enhancement. This material can be consolidated and provide much needed cover in a managed forest setting.

Build a pile

Can we mimic this habitat feature on our small woodlands? Absolutely! One particular wildlife friendly landowner in Northwest Washington said to me after I had expressed admiration for her numerous piles, “The quickest thing you can do to benefit the most species of wildlife is build a pile.” I think she is correct.

And there are some best practices for building these piles, but first, some terminology for what I like to call “habitat piles.”

brush pile
Over time, casually thrown together brush piles will collapse and become less inviting to wildlife. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Slash Pile – Unconsolidated logging debris, usually piled with a large machine and often in very large concentrations, thanks to today’s mechanized logging operations. Often burned, leaving a large sterilized patch of earth, (at least in the short term). If simply left alone, a slash pile can become a valuable habitat feature over the long term.

Brush Pile – Small diameter branches and shrub cuttings piled into a dense mass. Although often burned by landowners, an intact brush pile will provide good habitat for a few years. As decay works on the material, brush piles tend to collapse and all interstitial space is lost in a relatively short time, thus reducing the habitat value for many types of wildlife.

constructed habitat pile
With some forethought given to its construction, a brush pile can become a home to several generations of wildlife, including squirrels and hare. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Habitat Pile – A deliberately constructed edifice, often using materials produced by land management activities. A habitat pile uses design criteria to optimize wildlife use and assure longer term viability of the habitat structure. Deliberately located, constructed and maintained over time.

Any pile can be good habitat for a period of time. Old slash piles often have considerable evidence of wildlife use. Leave them when you can. And I always encourage landowners to create some piles and maintain them.

Guidelines for piles

Here are a few best practices to build piles that attract and support desirable wildlife:

Quantity: As a target, I suggest two piles per acre, about 100 feet apart, preferably in clusters of three to allow birds and small mammals to live in more than one pile. In dry country where fire is a concern, make sure the piles are not placed under trees where they could act as ladder fuels for fire.

Design: The goal is to create a long-lived structure with internal openings for wildlife to use. Therefore, larger material goes into the lowest layers forming the base while smaller material (such as small branches) goes over the top. You’ll also want the pile deep enough so provide wildlife secure cover in the middle of the pile.

Wood suspended above the ground dries out and rots more slowly than wood touching the moist ground so look for creative solutions, such as building around a log, stump, rock pile or other base structure (get creative and try using cinderblocks or other materials). This will provide a basis for the hollow core of the structure and help these spaces persist for a longer time as the wood decays.

habitat pile under construction
This future habitat pile near White Salmon will become a home to wildlife for many years. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

If using small diameter logs from a tree thinning, place them in several triangular-shaped piles next to each other so as to create a tunnel-like structure (chipmunks love this). Use these piles as the base and proceed to put criss-crossing layers at least 3-5 deep above the base. More layers are better. Neatness is not necessary.

Top the structure with layers of fine branches at least 18” deep, or 6-10 layers. Green branches are generally ok, with one exception. Avoid using green ponderosa pine boughs between January and August to avoid creating a breeding ground for ips bark beetles. If you have larger stems, try to dry them out as much as possible before creating your pile. Once the pile is dry and established, risk from “bad bugs” is gone.

Here is some wisdom from our own Glen Kohler, DNR bug expert extraordinaire:

“Bark beetles feed and breed in the inner bark layer (phloem). They prefer dead material like slash and downed trees because it is not defended by pitch and it produces more offspring. There are a few bark beetles like Ips pine engravers and Douglas-fir beetle that are notorious for building up damaging outbreaks in freshly killed branches and trees. Fortunately, green branches and downed trees are only useful to them for one season because they can’t survive in dry phloem. Pine material over 3” diameter pose a risk for outbreaks of Ips pine engravers in eastern Washington. Smaller branches cut or broken from August through December will likely dry before beetles fly in spring.

Large pine stems will not dry in a few months, so are still a risk. Anything to speed drying like cutting into firewood lengths or bark removal will reduce risk. Avoid leaving green pine boughs between January and July. There are no aggressive bark beetle species that builds up damaging populations in dead non-pine conifers under 8” diameter.”

So using green ponderosa pine logs can potentially create a reservoir for bark beetles, but this doesn’t always happen. If there are already beetles apparent in the local and adjacent stands, this risk is higher. Often, with great quantities of thinning material, it is a risk landowners are willing to take.

Working strictly by hand, make the piles 12 to 15-feet in diameter and 6 to 8-feet high, with enough material to provide a core that has openings for small animals to use for cover. This size can be constructed by hand, and will optimize the “edge effect” of the pile. Larger piles are excellent, and if you have access to a machine, make them 20-feet by 20’ and 10’ high, but still using the same principles of larger material in the core.

On mechanized logging landings, ask your contractor to put aside a separate pile of larger woody pieces for you to use later. (This is also a great source of firewood so you don’t have to look to your snags — also great for wildlife habitat — for fuel.)

Smaller piles are fine, too. Consolidating branches into dense little teepees around stumps and logs can provide some cover for some small animal.

sparrow on habitat pile
Habitat piles aren’t just for mammals. Birds like this sparrow look to habitat piles for their abundant sources of food. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Habitat piles can work very well with thinning regimes. Contractors can be directed to create and leave some piles with the material they are disposing of anyway. We help many landowners who have overstocked, dense stands of timber that wonder what to do with all the material produced by their thinning projects. Saving a few of these piles, but burning, chipping or scattering the rest, is a good way to enhance wildlife habitat while accomplishing the objectives of the thinning.

I have heard anecdotes about cougars leaping out of piles being worked, turkeys nesting in them, lots of squirrel cone caches and lots of perching songbirds. Send me your stories and photos of what you saw in your habitat pile.

Habitat piles are a great tool for providing homes for many small wildlife species on your woodlands.

By Ken Bevis, Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, Washington State Department Natural Resources. 

For more information, to tell Ken a pile/critter story, or to schedule a Stewardship visit to your property, please contact him at: or call him at (360) 489-4802


There’s Something Batty Going on

little brown bat
The little brown bat is found throughout Washington state. Photo: WDFW

There’s something batty going on with these little mammals. I mean, c’mon, they look like flying mice! The German word for bat is “Fledermous”, meaning “fluttering mouse.” Mammals can’t fly, can they?

Let’s ask Wikipedia:

“Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. By contrast, other mammals said to fly, such as flying squirrels … can only glide for short distances. Bats do not flap their entire forelimbs, as birds do, but instead flap their spread-out digits, which are very long and covered with a thin membrane or patagium.” Wikipedia, 2016

Bats are some of the most diverse and amazing animals in the world; in fact, they second most varied mammal group behind rodents. There are more than 1,300 species of bats in the world with the highest diversity in tropical realms such as Columbia and Indonesia. Yet bats occur in virtually all non-polar environments.

bat close up
Bats are the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. Photo: Teri Pieper

In Washington we have 15 species of bat, some of which migrate in the cold months to either hibernaculum sites (often suitable caves) or places where insects are available. Little brown bats have been found to migrate 200-800 km (125 to 500 miles) to hibernate. We actually know very little about bat migration.

Bats have a plethora of specialized behaviors besides flight, such as echolocation, hanging upside down, migration and hibernation.

Bats emit high frequency sounds that bounce off of their flying insect prey, (yes, it is radar), and this enables them to locate prey even in total darkness. They also use this amazing ability to fly in places full of obstacles and navigate in darkness. Toothed whales (like dolphins or sperm whales) also have this ability, and even a few tiny shrews.

Bats are scary looking, sort of, but really are just plain cute. No, our Washington species don’t eat blood. No, they don’t get in your hair. And, no, you won’t get rabies from them unless you happen to handle and get bitten by the rare individual carrying rabies. Bats are good to have around; really good.

Ecosystem Roles

As insectivores, bats are very important to the ecosystem. Bats help to keep in balance the many, many species of insects that can wreak havoc with our crops. Birds take the flying insectivore day shift while bats take over at night. A single little brown bat can eat its weight in flying insects in a single night. That’s a lot of mosquitoes that would have bitten us; it’s also a great many harmful agricultural pests that could have eaten our crops. No wonder that bats are considered “keystone” species in the environment.

Townsend’s big eared bat
A Townsend’s big eared bat near Mazama, Wash. Photo: Scott Fitkin

They fly about in those amazing tight maneuvers, catching insects in flight, often using their wings like ball gloves and deflecting the bug in close enough to their mouth to eat. If you ever find yourself at twilight in a place where you can watch bats flying, such as on a still lake in the summer, be sure to stop and marvel. They are amazing.

Nocturnal animals like bats need cover to hide in during the day. They roost and breed in the right season, in “just right” cracks, holes and crevices around the environment.  In nature, these are in rock (such as caves) and trees, particularly dead trees with access to places inside of the wood or under the bark. Hibernaculum sites are particularly sensitive and rare, with just the right combination of temperature and humidity.

Bat Populations at Risk

But bats are in trouble. Besides being sometimes reviled for reasons of superstition or wrong-headedness, there are big environmental troubles out there.

White Nose Syndrome has been decimating bat colonies in hibernation in the eastern United States. It is a fungus that can live in the cool, moist conditions where clustered bats congregate during hibernation. Their respiratory systems clog up and they die — by the millions. It is feared that up to 80 percent of eastern U.S. bats have perished in recent years. Unfortunately, a case of this disease was detected in Washington state just last year. Please contact the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife if you find a sick or dead bat, or if you notice bats unable to fly. You can report your observations online.

It is also known that many thousands of bats are killed each year by collisions with wind turbine blades and/or rapid pressure change at turbines that can rupture blood vessels. (Bat Conservation International, 2016). As we transition to renewable energies, bats fatalities are apparently one unforeseen consequence of wind power. How this mortality will effect overall populations is unknown.

And habitat loss continues. Native forests, wetlands and prairies are converted to urban or suburban uses every day, completely erasing bat habitat. Standing dead trees with cavities and loose bark are routinely destroyed, removed for safety concerns, perceived aesthetics (dead trees are “ugly”) or for products such as fuel wood.

Landowners to the Rescue

Loose bark can provide bat roosts. Photo: Ken Bevis

What can we do to help bats? This is where our small forest landowners come in. The most important action is provide habitat that will give the bats in our environment the best chance to persist. Here are some steps you can take on your property:

Wildlife Trees: Bats rest under loose bark or in cavities and cracks of old trees. Stands of trees, especially larger diameter and dead trees, can provide critical habitat for bats to survive. We can help bats by keeping standing dead trees with loose bark, cracks and cavities on the landscape. The importance of dead trees as habitat cannot be overstated, especially those near forest openings and water.

Boxes: Many people want to help bats by building (or buying) a bat box. This is a simple thing you can do, but it must be properly constructed and located. Remember, a box is a mimic of loose bark or a tree cavity. Sometimes, it takes quite a while for bats to find boxes, so if they aren’t being used, move them. Bat Conservation International has volumes of information about bats and about bat box construction and placement, including plans for building a 4-chambered bat box.

Water Features: As small forest landowners your lands and trees can provide much critical habitat for bats, particularly in larger diameter, standing dead, or decadent, trees near water. Bats love to feed above small, still water bodies where insects are abundant and winds are gentle. Many small landowners have ponds, creeks or are near these water bodies. With trees, bats gain resting habitat close to feeding areas so they can keep working all night long.

Old sheds, cabins and shake roofs also provide bat habitat. In addition to building maintaining bat habitat structures, look around your property for existing structures, such an old shed, that could be prime real estate for bats.

If they get in your house, there are good ways to deal with that without resorting to killing them. Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Living with Wildlife series has good ideas for non-lethal removal of bats in your personal belfry.

Remember – bats are an amazing element of our Washington environment. Learn about them and help them by providing some habitat on your woodland.

For more information take a look at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Bat Conservation Plan

Visit the website of Bat Conservation International to find lots of interesting material.

Don’t’ forget, habitat is the key to wildlife.

The world needs bats.

Wildlife Habitat is One of the Joys of Owning Forestland

Natural cover
Natural cover helps wildlife shelter from predators. Photo: Ken Bevis.

By Ken Bevis, Wildlife Biologist, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office,

One of the greatest joys of owning forestland must be encountering wildlife—the swish and leap of a deer’s rump as it vaults a down log, flickering, silvery trout in forested streams, and drumming grouse often heard but rarely seen. Take a walk with any small forest landowner, and you’ll hear these stories, even from those who don’t list wildlife habitat as their primary reason for owning forestland.

If you’re among the 60 percent of small forest landowners who list “Nature/Biodiversity” as one of your primary reasons for holding forestlands, you certainly value those encounters. A new publication by the Woodland Fish and Wildlife Publication Project, entitled Family Forests and Wildlife: Vigorous Forests and Healthy Wildlife, offers key information on enhancing wildlife’s access to food and water, providing protective cover and enough habitat space. Family Forests and Wildlife gives resources for finding further information and guidance for how one might identify which species are resident.

Active management of your forest land can preserve and enhance habitats for our nearly 400 species of forest associated wildlife in Washington. Many people wonder where to begin in regard to better managing their lands for habitat. Here are a few ideas:

Barred owl with garter snake.
Barred owl with garter snake. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Gather information

Just like a forester doing a stand inventory, do the same with wildlife. Keep a log of your wildlife observations: species, date, time, specific location on the property, and behavior observations. Over the years this log will provide fascinating information about what animals frequent your property and how they survive. Changes may be noted over time. For example, some areas of our state commonly have elk on private forest lands, some do occasionally, and other areas, such as southwest Washington state, are seeing declines due to hoof rot and other factors. Migratory bird arrival and departures can be noted by the first or last observation of species such as the beautiful Western tanager or yellow-rumped warblers. This information can form the basis for many habitat decisions that follow.

Map features

Add wildlife habitat features to the stand maps of your property. Note areas with small wetlands, snag patches, concentrations of rich fruit-bearing shrubs, or well-used travel ways for deer and elk. These features will also change with time, and adding this data layer to your plan is both interesting and useful.


I was pleased to co-author Family Forests and Wildlife: Vigorous Forests and Healthy Wildlife with two of my colleagues from Oregon. This free online publication from the non-profit Woodland Fish and Wildlife Project offers key information about enhancing wildlife access to food and water, providing protective cover and sufficient habitat space. It also lists resources for finding further information and guidance for identifying which species are resident on your property.

Like other publications from the project, Family Forests and Wildlife can be viewed and downloaded for free at You’ll find that the project has many more excellent resources for landowners who want to learn how to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat on their lands.

 Top 10 Tools for Wildlife

  • Keep forests as forests
  • Leave or create down logs
  • Leave or create snags
  • Retain legacy structures such as big old trees and stumps
  • Leave standing live trees for future legacy structure recruitment
  • Provide safe access to water
  • Leave or recruit hardwood and fruiting shrubs across the landscape
  • Leave or recruit hardwood trees across the landscape
  • Maintain well-vegetated riparian buffers

White-nose Syndrome Discovered in Washington Bat

White-nose Syndrome
White-nose syndrome has spread quickly, killing more than 6 million bats in North American since it was first documented in 2006.

White-nose syndrome (WNS) has been confirmed in a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) found near North Bend in April – the first recorded occurrence of this devastating bat disease in western North America. The presence of this disease was verified by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.

WNS has spread quickly among bats in other affected areas, killing more than six million beneficial insect-eating bats in North America since it was first documented nearly a decade ago.

WNS is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.

“We are extremely concerned about the confirmation of WNS in Washington state, about 1,300 miles from the previous westernmost detection of the fungus that causes the disease,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Bats are a crucial part of our ecology and provide essential pest control for our farmers, foresters and city residents, so it is important that we stay focused on stopping the spread of this fungus. People can help by following decontamination guidance to reduce the risk of accidentally transporting the fungus.”

The spread of white-nose symdrome since 2006
map courtesy of

First seen in North America in the winter of 2006/2007 in eastern New York, WNS has now spread to 28 states and five Canadian provinces. USGS microbiologist David Blehert first identified the unknown fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which causes the disease. WNS is named for the fuzzy white fungal growth that is sometimes observed on the muzzles of infected bats.  The fungus invades hibernating bats’ skin and causes damage, especially to delicate wing tissue, and physiologic imbalances that can lead to disturbed hibernation, depleted fat reserves, dehydration and death.

Transmission and precautions

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) veterinarian Katie Haman said the disease is transmitted primarily from bat to bat, although people can carry fungal spores on their clothing, shoes or caving gear.

“The bat found near North Bend most likely had been roused from hibernation and was attempting to feed at a time of very low insect availability,” Haman said. “At this point we don’t know where the infected bat may have spent the winter, but it seems likely that it was somewhere in the central Cascades.”

Haman said Washington state has 15 species of bats that benefit humans by consuming large quantities of insects that can impact forest health and commercial crops.

WDFW advises against handling animals that appear sick or are found dead. If you find dead bats or notice bats exhibiting unusual behavior such as flying outside during the day or during freezing weather, please report your observation to WDFW online or call the WDFW Wildlife Health Hotline at 800-606-8768.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is responsible for bat management and conservation in Washington and will coordinate surveillance and response efforts.

To learn more about WNS and access the most updated decontamination protocols and cave access advisories, visit