Outfitted in mud boots and work gloves, a group of students from the Hailey, Idaho Sage School came out to the ranch a few weeks ago to help us with our on-going stream restoration work. Under the tutelage of Farm Manager Tim Bennett, the group of students cut and planted 100 willow stakes and planted some native grass seed. After the work was done, they checked out the lambs and got to meet the Lava Lake Great-horned Owl.

The Sage School is a new, independent school that strives to create meaningful experiences for its students, engage them in the “real world,” assist them in becoming self-aware, connect them to their community, bring out their natural compassion, and engage them in actions to make the world a better place. The school believes that their environment assists its students in becoming fully engaged citizens who are committed to community action, and humanitarian and ecological responsibility. What better opportunity to connect students with their community, and take on ecological responsibility than to contribute to Lava Lake’s restoration work?

When the group arrived at the ranch, Tim showed students how to identify the different willow species, and how to cut stakes from the existing trees. Students then cut 100 willow poles and planted them along our “Phase II” restoration area. We’ve planted some willows here in the past, but needed the Sage School students to help us fill in the gaps from past efforts. After the willows were planted, the group cut each willow pole just above ground level, so that all of the plant’s energy goes into the roots, increasing the chance of survival.

The group then spent some time scattering native grass seeds in an area that was disturbed last year. We hope this leads to new growth and recovery.

The students had a great time checking out the ranch. We really appreciate their help in contributing to our restoration efforts and look forward to working with these awesome kids again in the future!

Great Horned Owl


As further evidence that spring is here, sage grouse are displaying at Lava Lake Ranch! Ranch manager, Tim Bennett, has already seen record numbers of these unique birds this year.
photo by Michael Edminster

Sage grouse are in trouble, with numbers down by 90% over the past century. Ken Salazar recently listed the species in the category of warranted, but precluded from an endangered species status. The Department of the Interior hopes that voluntary efforts funded by increased resources will help improve sage grouse habitat. For example, the NRCS announced a sage grouse initiative, which helps private landowners voluntarily conserve sage-grouse populations and habitat on their working lands.

Jen and Jeni do some planting

Lava Lake has been working hard over the past several years to restore habitat for sage grouse and other wildlife at the main ranch. We’ve been restoring stream corridors and springs, by planting a diverse mix of native plants that provide hiding cover for sage grouse and their broods. With the help of many partners, a 22 acre area has been transformed into important habitat for sage grouse and will continue to improve over time as the wetland plants and native perennials become better established. The use of leks (breeding grounds) by sage grouse this year is an indication that all of the hard work in planning and replanting is paying off.

We recently invited the talented photographer, Michael Edminster, to document some of these amazing species. He captured both of these fantastic sage grouse shots.

Originally uploaded by Mountain Mike


Now that I’m back from my maternity leave, I decided it was time to show 3 month old Duncan about our work to improve habitat at Lava Lake. Or maybe it’s just that he’s still really portable and sleeps so well in the car….
DSC00315I joined up with Tim, David, and Melendez at the ranch to collect willow stakes for our on-going restoration project. Now is the time for collecting willow stakes because the trees are dormant and there are still a few leaves on the trees to help with identification. We started by identifying the different willow species in the existing willow cluster down by the lake.
IMG_2796We found a mix of geyer, whiplash, booth, and coyote willows. We like knowing which species is which, so we can plant a diverse mix of species that are suited to the area. For our current planting, we needed 100 willow stakes that are about 3 feet tall. The great thing about using willows for restoration is that the cuttings are free, as long as you have some existing willows to harvest from and don’t mind spending a couple hours getting intimate with the wild rose thorns and the eye-poking tangle of willow branches.
IMG_2803As you can see in the photos, the new stream channel has some nice meanders and replaces the old channel that was effectively a straight ditch without much in the way of habitat.
IMG_2797The horses were enjoying some late fall pasture and were very curious about Duncan.
At first the willows will put most of their energy into the roots, but in a short time they will be sprouting new shoots and the once treeless channel will be a thing of the past. Once the new stream has a flourishing spread of vegetation, many more birds will be calling this place home.


By Tess O’Sullivan, Program Manager for Science and Conservation

As a continuation of our habitat restoration efforts, we conducted a major planting effort last week along the Copper Creek Riparian Restoration Corridor at Lava Lake. With the help of a crew from Intermountain Aquatics and plants from North Fork Natives,

Planting along the Copper Creek riparian zone

Plantings along the Copper Creek riparian zone

Buffaloberry Farm, Plants of the Wild, and the Kootenai Salish Tribal Nursery, we planted a huge variety of plants along a little over a 1/2 mile stream corridor and 20 acres adjacent to the stream that will be dedicated to habitat for wildlife. Previously all used for growing alfalfa, these areas were planted with a diverse mix of species that will attract wildlife and will be growing adjacent to the ranch’s certified organic hay fields. With the help of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s brillion seeder, the drier areas were seeded with a mix of grasses and forbs including bluebunch wheatgrass, basin wildrye, silver lupine, desert parsley, sainfoin, and northern sweet vetch. We also planted almost 2,000 bitterbrush and sagebrush bare root seedlings and 300 arrowleaf balsamroot plants. Along the stream corridor, we planted red osier dogwood, golden currant, Wood’s rose, silver buffaloberry, chokecherry, serviceberry and douglas hawthorn. In addition to the shrubs, we planted over 1,000 bare-root sedge and rush plugs.
Baltic rush waiting to be planted

Baltic rush waiting to be planted

We were pleased to already see sprouting from many of the willow cuttings planted last year with the help of the Idaho River Menders. It is very exciting to get all of these great plants in the ground and we are crossing our fingers for good survivorship. Spring rains this week have already helped these plants get established.

By Tess O’Sullivan, Program Manager for Science and Conservation

Lava Lake’s habitat restoration work continued yesterday at the Lava Lake Main Ranch. With the help of volunteers, Lava Lake staff and Idaho Department of Fish and Game habitat biologist Alan Sands continued our

The planting crew

The planting crew

collaborative efforts to improve wildlife habitat at Lava Lake. Working in the lower Barn Canyon Creek area, we planted 25 riparian shrubs along the roughly 1,000′ stream course. Chokecherry and hawthorn were planted because they provide an abundance of berries that are highly attractive to birds. Serviceberry and rose were planted to add diversity to the area. In addition, we made cuttings from a few different species of willow at the ranch and planted 75 willow cuttings along this meandering stream path. The upland habitat (approximately 4 and 1/2 acres) were seeded last fall with a forb/grass mix. Yesterday, we planted approximately 200 mountain sagebrush and 200 bitterbrush seedlings and broadcast silver sagebrush seed. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Alan broadcasting the silver sagebrush seed

Alan broadcasting the silver sagebrush seed

donated the seedlings and the seed. These shrubs will play a critical role in holding on to the snowpack over the winter, competing with weeds, and providing hiding cover for nesting birds. We’re now crossing our fingers for spring rain which is in the forecast later this week.