Prairie Habitat Management Joint Base Lewis-McChord 2014 Annual Report

The largest and most intact prairies in the South Sound region today exist on training areas of Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). Moreover, JBLM prairies are among the highest-quality representatives of this rare landscape, and support populations of federal-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori), federal-threatened streaked-horned lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata), and 2 sub-species of the federal-threatened Mazama pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama glacialis, T. m. yelmensis). JBLM prairies are also valued military-training lands that have even been sustained, in part by certain military activities (e.g., artillery-caused fire, maintenance of structure for training purposes).

The Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) works closely through a Cooperative Agreement with the Directorate of Public Works, Fish & Wildlife Division to maintain and enhance habitats for federally-listed and other rare prairie-obligate species. Our goal is to improve overall prairie quality while incurring no net loss to overall military-training objectives. We started to collaboratively develop spatially-explicit prairie-habitat management strategies in 2014 with JBLM Fish & Wildlife to identify, prioritize, and plan management activities. These strategies include a habitat-monitoring component that provides robust landscape-scale measures of prairie condition that will be used to assess efficacy of management activities, and help identify and plan on-going management targets and actions.

We also initiated a number of research projects in 2014 to refine our knowledge of South Sound prairie systems and improve habitat-management techniques. These projects included a collaborative effort with Washington State Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to investigate the role of nectar plant composition and patch density in adult selection of larval-host patches, and may contribute to the refinement of our definition of checkerspot habitat and result in more effective enhancement efforts of checkerspot habitat. We also initiated a plug-survival study to examine longevity and recruitment of key checkerspot-resource plantings (i.e., Puget Sound balsamroot [Balsamorhiza deltoidea], harsh paintbrush [Castilleja hispida], and Virginia strawberry [Fragaria virginiana]) where intensive checkerspot-habitat enhancements are currently being implemented (i.e., Training Area 15), or may occur in the future (i.e., Johnson Prairie, South Weir Prairie). Moreover, we began a pilot effort to investigate influence of day-of-burn conditions on prescribed-fire behavior and post-burn severity, and plan to expand our effort to include prairie-habitat monitoring data to examine and document how burn conditions impact habitat quality over time. Each research project builds upon previous studies or existing knowledge, and results will help guide future investigations and improve efficacy of on-the-ground management actions.

This report describes habitat management actions performed by CNLM in 2014 across 4 broad categories: Management Strategy Development, Prairie-habitat Monitoring, Prairie-habitat Enhancements, and Research.