Mimulus patulus Occurence & Habitat
Springs and seeps are unique habitats that occur where subterranean water emerges from an aquifer. In the semi-arid and arid west, these unique sources of water are particularly important ‘oasis’ habitats for wildlife, especially during drought and heat. Their relatively consistent temperatures and chemistry provides for “hotspots” of biological diversity – many of the more fragile plants and wildlife found in these habitats require very specific conditions and will not persist with the greater water temperature, chemistry, and flow fluctuations that occur downstream. Generally in the west, from a distance you may identify springs and seeps by the presence of an aspen clone or other green, lush vegetative expressions on the slopes of an otherwise tan, dry hillside. Up close you’ll find a microclimate of mosses and unique plant-life. If you’re lucky, you may happen-upon a wet-spot blanketed by butterflies attracted to its mineral-waters and gathering energy in the sun.
The rare Mimulus patulus (Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower) occurs within basaltic seeps in northeast Oregon, and on ephemeral seeps of southern exposures in eastern Washington (Asotin and Okanogan counties), in relatively undisturbed, winter-wet, summer-dry, canyon grassland habitat where fine gravels sit atop bedrock.The identification of the Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower within the Smoothing Iron unit of the Asotin Wildlife Area in eastern Washington, where these photos are taken, is regarded as a great discovery, there are fewer than five known populations remaining in Washington state. It is a State Threatened Species.
Politicized state management threatens the Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower
One would hope that the discovery of such a rare flower within a wildlife preserve would come with some relief. After all, the Asotin Wildlife Area was purchased to “provide habitat for salmonid species residing in George Ck and Asotin Creek as well as upland wildlife as mitigation for losses of wildlife habitat due to dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers”. The landscape in which M. patulus was recently discovered had been rested from the greatest threat to its persistence, livestock grazing, from 2003 to 2007.
That changed when Washington Governor Christine Gregoire struck an ugly political deal to open state wildlife areas to grazing, instructing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to work with the Washington Cattleman’s Association (WCA) to provide these lands, free of charge, to WCA ranchers under the guise of a “pilot project” to determine whether grazing the landscape is beneficial to wildlife habitat.For M. patulus livestock grazing is a significant threat as sustained visitation by livestock introduces non-native weeds, cattle directly trample the plant, and unlike other more transient wildlife that frequent springs and seeps, livestock congregate around these critical sources of water – pounding them to dirt and mud. The State Recovery Plan for M. patulus calls for the removal of cattle.
Sacred Cow trumps all else on Washington wildlife areas
The state of Washington grazed cattle on the Smoothing Iron “pasture” (Dr. Don Johnson’s photo above) pursuant to the three year “pilot project” in October 2007 and May 2008. In June of 2008, the landscape had been grazed so bare that the hillside washed away into South Fork Asotin Creek, dumping enormous amounts of sediment into the endangered salmonid stream habitat for which the landscape was originally intended to preserve. Western Watersheds Project, accompanied by an experienced sedimentation geologist and a fisheries biologist, also prepared riparian and upland reports following the 2008 season detailing the cattle’s impact to the fisheries habitat including, among other things, the presence of a bovine carcass rotting in a stream. Even Washington State University (WSU) monitors, contracted by WDFW to the project, have documented the abusive grazing taking place. The results of the “pilot project” inquiry are very clearly demonstrating that grazing Washington wildlife areas is not beneficial to wildlife habitat – it’s just the opposite.
The rancher whose stock are grazing state wildlife lands for free and whose cattle is responsible for the degraded fisheries and flower habitat responded to the WSU cautionary recommendation that livestock use be drastically reduced by stating, “They seem to have lost sight of what they were hired to do” adding, “WSU was only hired to do the monitoring of the grass on this pasture, not to take over and be in charge of making a grazing plan and setting the number of cattle allowed to graze on the pasture.” … “Leave the grazing plans to the Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.” As he sees it the pounding hooves “help get grasses that have gone to seed to make contact with the soil”, certain pastures “have south slopes and mountain grasses that needs impacted to be good habitat for wildlife”, and “the cattle are disturbing the ground to promote new growth. The cattle have eaten off the old grass as to allow new grasses to now become established.” This is surely the kind of reasoning that’ll knock those contracted WSU Range Specialists, the sedimentary geologist, and the fisheries biologist down and out of their ivory tower ! Unfortunately, in the politicized west, it’s not a joke. It’s a common belief in the Western Cowboy Culture that the landscape needs quality wildlife habitat beaten out of it – a kind of ‘tough love’ stewardship. Left alone, the wild goes to waste.
Despite the over $1 million spent on the “pilot project” amidst a WDFW budget shortfall prompting Gov. Gregoire to call for a $30 million cut to the WDFW budget – potentially costing 180 state wildlife employees their jobs; despite the lost soils, the discovery of Mimulus patulus, the spread of weeds, the degraded condition of the fisheries, and the too frequent near death experiences of employees, WDFW under direction of Governor Christin Gregoire’s misplaced political ambition, has ignored the science on Asotin Wildlife Area and again intends to turn cattle out onto the Asotin Wildlife Area next month. It’s too bad for the tiny Mimulus patulus, the WDFW has embraced the Cattleman’s Association’s Western Cowboy Culture of ‘tough love’ stewardship and intends to beat quality habitat from out of the landscape – including the most fragile springs and seeps, habitats that will not respond favorably. The Department may even issue an extension of the lease for 5 years.