A lack of snowpack in our mountains last winter, combined with this summer’s higher than normal temperatures and lower than normal rainfall, has resulted in drought conditions, and now wildfires, throughout much of Washington.
Fish, of course, have been affected by low river and stream flows and high water temperatures, and steps have been taken to help them survive, including fish passage obstacle removals and restrictions on fishing.
But what about the wildlife in your backyard and other places you enjoy seeing them? How can we help birds, small and large mammals, and reptiles and amphibians survive these drastic conditions?
Widespread and severe drought will ultimately reduce productivity of many wildlife species – it’s Mother Nature’s way of adapting. So in the long run and big picture, you probably can’t help populations as a whole.
But we all care about individual animals we see and there are ways to ease their struggle for survival.
If you already have a yard or garden full of native, drought-tolerant perennial plants, especially those that provide food in some way for wildlife, you’re already helping.
If not, there’s no time like fall to add these kinds of plants to your landscape to help wildlife in future severe conditions — especially considering climate change and the idea that these conditions could become our “new normal”.
Native cedars, firs, junipers, pines, hawthorns, maples, sumacs, and oaks, are trees that don’t need a lot of watering and continue to provide seeds or berries or other sources of food for many animals when other food sources dry up.
Native, drought-tolerant shrubs that do the same include bitterbrush, buffaloberry, chokecherry, currants, hazelnut, mock-orange, ninebark, oceanspray, Oregon grape, potentilla, rabbitbrush, sagebrush salal, serviceberry, snowberry, and wild rose.
Native flowers that won’t take as much water and provide food, including nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies, include aster, balsamroot, blanketflower, California poppy, campanula, daisy fleabane, delphinium, fireweed, lupine, milkweed, penstemon, scarlet gilia, and yarrow.
You can learn more about these kinds of plants in the “Landscaping for Wildlife” book by our North Puget Sound Regional Wildlife Program Manager Russell Link, available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/
More immediate relief for wild animals in drought conditions is of course water. Provide sources of open water for drinking and bathing (birds bathe to maintain clean feathers and thermoregulatory systems, which include cooling.) Learn more about creating bird baths and ponds at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/
Keep whatever vegetation you have, native or not, irrigated, to provide shade, cool cover, and plant succulence. To conserve water during drought conditions, forego watering bluegrass lawns and just water plants that provide wildlife food and cover.
Wildlife stressed by drought conditions can also be helped by removing the additional stress of harassment or predation by domestic animals. Keep cats and dogs confined.
If you live or recreate in an area near wildfires burning this summer, you could see wild animals moving out of their traditional habitat and into unfamiliar ground where they’re seeking food and cover. Although some animals die in wildfires, most move out temporarily, sometimes to the frustration of orchardists, irrigated crop farmers, and gardeners. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) works with landowners in those situations to address wildlife damage problems, but it’s usually a relatively short-term issue. Fall rains and winter snows often restore vegetation to burned areas quickly and animals move back to familiar terrain.
To learn more about how WDFW is working with the Department of Ecology and other state agencies, the federal government, tribes and conservation groups to respond to the drought and help minimize its impact on fish and wildlife, seehttp://wdfw.wa.gov/