Science & Conservation

This past weekend, several Lava Lakers drove through a mild snowstorm (only three inches in late May, no big) to Redfish Lodge for Idaho Conservation League‘s annual Wild Idaho conference. We ate well, learned much from fellow attendees and drank lots of tea to stay warm. We even reintroduced the concept of snow to baby Duncan.

(can’t you tell he’s thrilled about it)

Tess and Mike both presented at the conference. First, Tess talked about our glorious Pioneer Mountains-Craters of the Moon landscape. She then told the story of our pronghorn migration study and showed a new google earth video we recently created (we promise to post it, once we tweak it a bit more).

Mike then talked about the Pioneers Alliance, a coalition of ranchers, conservationists, scientists, business people, and elected and agency officials. The mission of the Pioneers Alliance is to protect the working farms and ranches and surrounding public lands that, through community-based stewardship, sustain the rugged and unspoiled nature of the land and wildlife of the Pioneer Mountains to Craters of the Moon landscape.

Flowers bloom on a working ranch in the Pioneer Mountains Landscape

We had a wonderful weekend celebrating Idaho’s wild places at one of the most scenic spots in the state.

Redfish Lake


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


We just learned that one of our Lava Lake Science and Conservation board members, Michael Scott, received the George B. Fell Award from the Natural Areas Association. Mike is a professor of wildlife resources at the University of Idaho and was recognized as one of “the giants in conservation biology” for being a world leader in conserving this country’s natural habitat, mentoring colleagues and promoting others in conservation biology.

This award is given in honor of George B. Fell, a founding NAA member who dedicated his life to the protection of Natural Areas. This is the Association’s highest award, and it is reserved for exceptional achievements in any of the areas in which the Natural Areas Association is concerned.

Congratulations to Mike!

Volunteers count birds in the Christmas Count at the Ranch.

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


Maurice Hornocker, one of our Science and Conservation Advisory Board members, was recently featured in the local Wood River Valley paper. The article describes how Maurice’s long career in wildlife biology has accomplished great conservation for big wild cats (like mountain lions) in Idaho and throughout the world. He pioneered field science research methods in the 1960’s, such as the use of radio-telemetry to track carnivores. Maurice’s work is impressive in its global reach, and we were pleased to see him recognized in this article.


You can read the full story here at the Idaho Mountain Express.


Forest Service, Rangeland Manager, and local botany expert John Shelly, kept telling me that we had to go out to Fish Creek to look at what he suspected was a Champion aspen tree. I have to admit, I didn’t initially jump at the suggestion. We have sagebrush that look like they’ve been hitting the steroids, but the aspen don’t generally pop to mind as monstrous.

On an aspen related field trip a couple of summers ago, John and I made a side visit to check out the big trees. When he pointed them out from a distance, I was still quite doubtful that any of those trees were champions. That was until we got up close, where the trees suddenly seemed enormous. Three trees stand together, with one that is clearly the largest.

We got out the measuring tape, submitted the records a couple of days later and anxiously awaited some news. It turned out it to be a champion for Idaho!

It wasn’t the tallest tree on record, but it had the largest diameter. We’re hoping no ambitious beavers decide to take it down as supplies for a second home project. Thanks to John for helping us to figure it out. I promise to listen to any further suggestions he has on trees.


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