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Pinyon Pines and Pinyon Jays


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#1 teledork

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 04:16 PM

This is an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

For more information on the destruction of Pinyon Pine forests and how you can help:

http://www.pinyonjuniperforests.org/    and     https://suwa.org/cha...tation-removal/

 

 

We’ve Got To Fight For Their Right To Party

 

A group of jays is quite appropriately called a party. A group of Pinyon Jays is a big party - the kind of party the neighbors would call the cops on. I used to try and count them as they flew overhead but I would usually end up laughing and losing my place while the dog ran and hid beneath something. It rarely happens now. The Pinyon Jays are not around here much anymore. 

 

 There are still some Pinyon Pines scattered around my house and the homes of my neighbors but many of them were cut down or have succumbed to drought, insects and mistletoe. In the larger area of our watershed tens of thousands of acres of Pinyon/Juniper forest have burned in wildfires. The remaining Pinyon/Juniper forests in this region have been subjected to “thinning” supposedly to reduce the fire risk or to increase Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) for deer browse or to “save” the Sage Grouse. I think the reasons for cutting Pinyon Pines changes according to the audience and/or whatever may be a current hot topic. I was told the trees were “encroaching”. When I mentioned the concept of plant succession my contact at the Bureau of Land Management stopped responding to my emails. I also have observed that Bitterbrush has regrown from old crowns after wildfire but does not appear to be moving into the footprints of trees which were cut down.   

 

Pinyon Jays are omnivores, sometimes eating insects and even small vertebrates, but the bulk of their diet is made up of the seeds (nuts) from the Pinyon Pine. Pinyon nuts rarely fall to the ground so the jays have to stick their beaks into the hellishly sticky cone to retrieve the seed. Humans who collect pine nuts often have a set of clothing dedicated to that specific purpose.  Pinyon Jays lack the feathers other birds have around their nostrils which would be chronically globbed with pitch. I am always in awe of how these kind of things work out. Pinyon Jays also have an expandable esophagus which can hold a few dozen pine nuts until they can be regurgitated and buried. A mated pair of birds knows of one another’s stash. Uneaten seeds often become trees. 

 

Pinyon Jays are social and monogamous. Their parties can number up to 500 individuals and most birds remain in the party they grew up in. They breed earlier in the year than any other passerine (perching bird) perhaps because the sight of green Pinyon cones will stimulate sperm and ovum development. I imagine Pinyon Jays could have some unusual pick-up lines. They nest in parties as well. There will be one nest on the the south side of each tree over a large area and yearling birds will help feed their younger brothers and sisters. As the young become flighted they will congregate in one location. The adult birds can always pick their hungry kids out of the bunch. They all look the same to me. Pinyon Jays will return to nest in the same area year after year as long as there is food available. 

 

As long as there is food available. As long as there are Pinyon Pines. 

 

Pinyon Jays are considered a vulnerable species. The Pinyon Jay was placed on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List of bird species that are “most at risk of extinction without significant action”. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey the Pinyon Jay populations fell 85% between 1966 and 2015. The decline is due to loss of habitat. The loss of habitat is due to deliberate decimation of the Pinyon/Juniper forests along with drought and an increase in devastating wildfires. As was mentioned above the reasons for decimating Pinyon/Juniper forests are varied. 

 

In some areas the entire forest has been ripped from the ground by dragging a huge chain between two pieces of heavy machinery. Around my region it has been hand cut and maybe one tree on a grid of about every hundred feet or so has been allowed to live. A few clusters of trees have been tolerated. Pinyon Jays, like many creatures, thrive on edges but this is nothing but edge. There is no place to put a colony of several hundred nests. And the drought means the few remaining trees rarely produce viable seed. And even if there were seeds the Pinyon Jays are gone. The remaining trees may be the last. There is no one to disperse the seed. I can walk up the hill above my house and find groves of young trees in an area that burned 40 years ago. I have crawled through acres of cheat grass in areas that have burned within the past 20 years and not found a single infant Pinyon Pine. In one nearby location a group of people from a local and a national environmental organization spent a day removing Pinyon seedlings from an area which was clear cut in the first big push several years ago. The goal is to protect the Sage Grouse from predatory Ravens who will perch in the pines. I wish I had participated. Maybe I could have saved the trees I found. No, it would not have made much of a difference except to my heart. I don’t agree with sacrificing one species for another. The Pinyon Jay is headed for extinction too. 

 

Last week I ran outside when I heard the jays. It had been so long since I had tried to count them. It had been so long since there had been a party of jays flying over my house. You will hear them before you see them. First there is the vanguard - a few widely spaced birds. Then small groups. Then larger groups. The cawing is becoming loud. I have lost count even before the largest portion of the party flies overhead. Then smaller groups. Then a few stragglers, often making a substantial amount of noise themselves. And I always wait a moment after I think they are gone because there is always one more. And then it is quiet. This time I cried. 

 

notes

 

  1. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pinyon_jay/lifehistory
  2. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/jay-and-pine-intertwined/

 


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The difference between using derogatory terms to describe someone because you don’t like where they parked and telling the person to “get the **** out of here and never fucking come back” is only quantitative. 

 

 inspired by a quote from Erich Fromm’s “Anatomy of Human Destructiveness”.

 


#2 Wandering Sagebrush

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 07:48 PM

TD, nice write up, as well as a concerning one. I contribute photos to AllAboutBirds fairly frequently and support the Sage Grouse initiative. I had not realized that work to save one species had an impact on another. That bothers me greatly. Send me a PM and I will share my favorite spot for Pinion Jays.

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#3 PaulT

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 08:16 PM

We have a similar situation with sea lions, salmon, and sturgeon in the PNW. The population growrh in protected sea lion population and their now frequent appearance in the Columbia and Willamette rivers has increased predation of endangered salmon and sturgeon. How does one trade off management of one protected species with respect to predation on other protected species?

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#4 teledork

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 10:05 PM

@Wandering Sagebrush - Grouse are not the only reason being given for Pinyon removal and the destruction is, for the most part, going on with out any public input whatsoever. And at the same time permits are being given out for energy exploration in Grouse habitat. http://www.hcn.org/i...-grouse-habitat.

 

I'll send that PM. Thanks!

 

@PaulT - I think there will always be that kind of dilemma when we humans try and "manage" other living things especially when  we continue the activities that endangered the species to begin with. As I understand it the sea lion populations were in trouble and only now have returned to the numbers they once had.  And much like the sage grouse I don't see how the salmon and sturgeon can recover unless and until we stop trashing their home. Perhaps if we could consider entire ecosystems instead of performing triage and frantically trying to save the one species which is worse off it would not be like trying to climb a sand dune. 

 

The deal with Bighorn Sheep in the Sierra Nevada sounds similar to what you are talking about with the sea lions. I don't know how many mountain lions have been killed to protect the Bighorns.  And at the same time domestic sheep have to be kept at a distance and the huge increase in domestic sheep in the northern part of Hoover Wilderness (no bighorns here - yet) is doing damage. Why can't they simply keep the "hoofed locusts" out of the mountains? (I know the answer - because the sheep people want cheap grazing)


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The difference between using derogatory terms to describe someone because you don’t like where they parked and telling the person to “get the **** out of here and never fucking come back” is only quantitative. 

 

 inspired by a quote from Erich Fromm’s “Anatomy of Human Destructiveness”.

 


#5 ski3pin

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Posted 06 February 2018 - 05:43 AM

Well done, Ms. Tele. Thank you for sharing your article.
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#6 Cayuse

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Posted 06 February 2018 - 07:55 PM

Thanks for sharing the article.  I'd seen the SUWA information on the increase in chaining and it seems like we have stepped back in time 50 or 60 years with regards to public lands management.

 

Poor EA is probably rolling over in his grave.  


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#7 Smokecreek1

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Posted 06 February 2018 - 08:56 PM

Nice photo's, but some continued bad news. Sounds like when I first went to work in the BLM in the 70's, thought we'd modified and changed that chaining program allot (for the better) since then.  Chain those junipers so the cows can have all that good crested wheat grass to eat! Seems like he threw out that Sage Grouse agreement there they  had been working on completing for the last several years,  with a bunch of western states!  I thought these guys were all in favor of more local management, but guess the green factor ($$$$) and keeping the energy companies happy won out again.   Boy Am I glad I'm retired and don't have to deal with this stuff anymore!  If you have a chance log on to the BLM retired employee news letter  (PublicLand.Org) to get the latest up dates on what's going on out there and they don't sound to happy. Hear about the proposed new organization, no fun there!

 

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Edited by Smokecreek1, 06 February 2018 - 09:10 PM.

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#8 Lighthawk

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Posted 07 February 2018 - 08:14 AM

Thank you, Ms. Tele for your informative description of the pinyon jay and their plight.  I think we've seen large parties of them south of Hawthorne, NV while hiking at Thanksgiving time.  I didn't have a long telephoto+ camera with me to get a decent shot for ID, but your description (and Steven's photo), and the pinyon forest environment are a good match.  There were literally dozens upon dozens of these happy birds in the trees.

 

I've seen the SUWA.org footage of "chaining" the landscape and it's horrible, IMO.  The Interior Dept of the current administration seems to be hellbent on removing restrictions, and promoting development of mining, drilling and grazing these fragile lands as fast as possible. This includes removal of NM status in Escalante and Bears Ears despite receiving 1.5M public comments to the contrary.  If you like Utah as you saw it last, I would suggest supporting the organizations that are attempting to slow or stop the rush to tear up the landscape for a quick profit and long term damage.   As WTW members, we all appreciate wide open spaces and beautiful landscapes.  I wish it wasn't considered being political to want to preserve the lands as they are for our future generations.


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#9 teledork

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Posted 07 February 2018 - 04:24 PM

@Lighthawk - were you in the Excelsior mountains? There are some Pinyon groves between the Hawthorne road and Hwy 120 in Adobe Valley which are not as dense as other groves but are amazingly large and old trees. And while cattle (and maybe sheep?) are grazed and there are feral horses and burros the region is relatively unvisited.  


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The difference between using derogatory terms to describe someone because you don’t like where they parked and telling the person to “get the **** out of here and never fucking come back” is only quantitative. 

 

 inspired by a quote from Erich Fromm’s “Anatomy of Human Destructiveness”.

 


#10 Lighthawk

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Posted 07 February 2018 - 05:08 PM

Yup, Excelsior Mountains.  It was a mature pinyon forest. 

Good catch, Ms. Teledork!


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