Weather Wise

Crocuses blooming in February? Temperatures in the 50s for several weeks straight? What does it all mean?

On Washington’s birthday, we had crocuses blooming in the yard and tulips six inches tall while the bird bath, despite a heating unit, was nearly frozen solid. Back east, Boston is playing with seven feet of snow and our grandkids in Tennessee have had five snow days off in a row from school.

February is predicted to be the warmest ever recorded in eastern Idaho with a string of 50+ degree days that felt more like April than February. I thrust a shovel into my garden and it sank up to my foot. The frost from a Thanksgiving cold snap seems to have completely given way to the unseasonably warm February.

The weather is a little nutty right now and that leads to a question of what the impacts might be. Will we pay later for the holiday from the cold we experienced in February? The answer is a definite maybe.

The warm temperatures and slight snow cover have certainly been a boon to wintering big game. For at least the third year in a row, winter conditions have been favorable and this winter may have been the best yet. Fawns and calves that might have been culled by more normal winter weather will survive to pass on their genes.

However, there is a flip side to this. If the remainder of the year is just as dry as what we are currently experiencing in the valley, forage production on summer range could suffer. Mothers giving birth to calves and fawns this spring may find it difficult to obtain enough quality groceries to produce the milk their offspring will need to thrive. Mothers may enter next winter without the security blanket of extra fat and their babies may be undernourished. Even a normal winter following a dry summer can see higher than normal mortality.

Reservoirs are much more dependent on snowpack high in the drainages than on rainfall or snow in lower elevations.  With all the warm weather and blue sky days, it might be surprising to realize that the Snake River drainage above Palisades is actually above the norm for this time of year. Henrys Fork is about normal, but the Big Lost, Willow Creek and Camas Creek are all substantially less than normal. Wetland habitats in these drainages may suffer this year.

The biggest impact of the unseasonable warm spell may be on vegetation. As with the crocuses in my yard, other plants may be duped into thinking it is okay to exit dormancy and begin springtime activity. A return of cold weather may kill them. A few years ago, unseasonably warm days in early March were followed by a week of nights in the low 20s. The west half of my two 10 year old apricots were fooled into waking up and then were killed by the low temperatures. Other vegetation could be similarly damaged from awakening too soon.

All said and done though, we may never know the real impacts, if any, of the warmest February on record. What do you think?

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho