Swinomish inventories wildlife in Kukutali Preserve

A masked shrew was the smallest animal found during the wildlife survey on Kukutali Preserve
A masked shrew was the smallest animal found during the wildlife survey in Kukutali Preserve

The Swinomish Tribe is conducting a terrestrial wildlife inventory on the Kukutali Preserve, which it has jointly managed with the state of Washington since 2010.

The nearly 100-acre preserve includes Kiket Island, as well as the smaller Flagstaff Island and an adjacent portion of Fidalgo Island on the Swinomish reservation.

During the first year of a two-year survey, Swinomish wildlife biologist Peter McBride discovered one priority species – a Townsend’s big-eared bat – but was surprised to not yet observe certain common species such as chipmunks, possums and skunks.

If it turns out overall terrestrial species diversity is low on Kukutali, it could be due to limited fresh water in the preserve.

The inventory was conducted using direct observation, wildlife cameras and live traps.

“With a wildlife inventory, you cast a wide net, using multiple techniques,” McBride said. “The local distribution of many species remains poorly documented, and you can expect a few surprises among a long list of plausible if not necessarily likely species for an area. This is the nature – and indeed, a primary motive – of inventory work in a preserve.”

Among the 15 non-marine mammals documented during the first year of the survey, McBride noted three non-native species that pose potential concerns for the wildlife preserve.

“Domestic dogs and cats are significant predators,” he said. The cats appear to be feral, but McBride said that efforts to exclude these animals from Kukutali should be considered.

Non-native Eastern cottontail rabbits also are present, and McBride recommends assessing whether they are significantly affecting the island’s vegetation. Thus far they have not been recorded in the most sensitive areas.

Deer mice appear to be the most ubiquitous rodent in the preserve, and the smallest mammal found was a masked shrew. Ticks were found on both the mice and the shrews, raising the question of human disease concerns. Both of these mammals are known to carry Lyme disease and hantavirus in other areas, though these illnesses have not been documented on the Swinomish reservation.

Black-tailed deer also made numerous appearances on the wildlife cameras. In the future, McBride hopes to trap and fit the deer with global positioning system (GPS) collars to determine their home ranges, seasonal habitat preferences, fawning grounds and causes of mortality.

In addition to terrestrial vertebrates, McBride is monitoring for bald eagles and northern goshawks, which are species of concern, as well as marbled murrelets and spotted owls, which are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. He mapped trees that were suitable murrelet habitat, but did not detect any of the seabirds in the forested areas. Nor did he find goshawks or spotted owls, though two other owl species have been confirmed so far.

“Unlike the other species, the eagle had the grace to show up and keep things entertaining,” he said. During the year of surveys, a pair of eagles fledged one young.

For more information, contact: Peter McBride, wildlife biologist, Swinomish Tribe, 360-708-2030 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].