Wildlife & Botanical Programs

The Priest Rapids Project is home to a variety of native amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and plants. The riparian habitat (green, vegetated areas on each side of streams and rivers) provides a valuable and otherwise scarce resource. This habitat is used by more than 60 different animal species documented in the Project area.

Big game species include mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk and California bighorn sheep, which are commonly seen on the west side of the Wanapum reservoir. A large number of bird species use the Columbia River, nearby lakes and ponds as stopover habitat in the region. In addition to common waterfowl such as mallard duck and Canada geese, a large number of water birds can also be observed, including loons, cormorants and great blue heron. Upland game fowl in this area include chukar and California quail. Birds of prey common to the Project vicinity are red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, bald eagles and great-horned owls.

Plant species include big sage brush, gray rabbit brush, bitter brush, blue bunch grass, needle and thread grass, indian rice grass and other species unique to shrub-steppe habitat.  Plants also include rare species such as Northern wormwood.  Plant management programs strive to maintain native riparian and shrub-steppe habitats while controlling non-native and invasive plants such as purple loosestrife, kochia and knapweed.

(Click on the photos in slider below for full size.)

  • Photo of Riparian Habitat along the Columbia River.
    Riparian Habitat

    In arid environments such as Grant County, riparian zones around water sources provide a “ribbon of green” surrounded by upland shrub-steppe communities. These areas benefit both humans and wildlife. For management purposes, riparian habitat includes vegetated areas adjacent to aquatic systems that provide food and cover for wildlife, as well as areas that may not be well vegetated, but do provide movement corridors for many species. Grant PUD manages riparian areas along both banks of the Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to just below Priest Rapids Dam, a distance of approximately 58 river miles. Vegetation management in riparian and adjacent shrub-steppe areas includes protecting functioning habitat, restoring degraded habitat and implementing biologic, mechanical and chemical weed control.

    (Photo credit: EcoPerspectives, LLC)

  • Photo of Canada Goose flying during the fall season.
    Canada Goose

    A common site in Grant County, the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is one of the most iconic and recognizable birds throughout the country, sounding their distinctive “Ahonk! Ahonk!” call. During fall hunting season, this species is one of the most targeted birds in the state. Grant PUD has installed and maintains 10 goose nesting tubs distributed throughout the project area. In February, Canada geese mating pairs form, followed by nesting in March and April with goslings leaving the nest in May. In the Priest Rapids Project Area, biologists have observed geese nesting on rock cliffs, on the ground along shorelines and on islands throughout the Wanapum and Priest Rapids reservoirs.

    (Photo credit: Dan Walker)

  • Photo of Blue Heron perched on a rock along a riverbed.
    Great Blue Heron

    Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodia) are common to the near-shore zones of aquatic areas. Nesting habitat is ideally mature stands of evergreen or deciduous trees, referred to as a “rookery.” Great Blue Heron serves as an indicator of overall environmental health, bridging freshwater and upland habitat areas. Grant PUD biologists often encounter this species during boat-based and shoreline surveys, suggesting healthy riparian and shallow-water habitat within which Great Blue Heron roost, nest and feed. While recreating within the Priest Rapids Project you may spot a heron rookery on Crescent Bar or on Goose Island.

    (Photo credit: Dan Walker)

  • Photo of 3 White Pelicans landing in the Columbia River.
    American White Pelicans

    American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), unlike brown pelicans, do not dive. The inland waters of eastern Washington support a significant number of non-breeding American white pelicans throughout the year. Nonbreeding American white pelicans can be found along the Columbia River from The Dalles through Chief Joseph pool, including Priest Rapids and Wanapum Reservoirs managed by Grant PUD. The American White Pelican is a State Endangered and federally-protected species. The effects of this piscivorous (fish-eating) species on protected salmon and steelhead is not well understood. However, studies being conducted by Grant PUD biologists suggest that other bird species like Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) have a more direct effect on protected fish species like steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

    (Photo credit: Dan Walker)

  • Photo of a Wood Duck in a bird house along the Columbia River.
    Wood Duck

    Female wood ducks (Aix sponsa) are easily identified by their large eyes, surrounded by a back-tapered white ring. Wood ducks nest in large tree cavities adjacent to wet habitats able to provide sufficient food. Once threatened with near-extinction in the early to mid-20th century, this species has experienced a healthy population rebound in part due to nest boxes creating new nesting opportunities. Grant PUD has installed and maintains over 50 wood duck nest boxes and over 100 waterfowl nest structures as part of the Priest Rapids Hydroelectric Project. May is an important month for plants and animals. Stay on trails and tread lightly in riparian areas to avoid hurting hatching ducks and emerging vegetation.

    (Photo credit: Carson Keeler)

  • Photo of wormwood in a plastic bag with a zip tie around the base.
    Northern Wormwood

    Northern Wormwood (Artemisia borealis var. wormskioldii) is a perennial plant in the aster family (Asteraceae). The species is listed as state endangered and a candidate for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Grant County population occurs along the shore of the Columbia River and on several “islands.” This population appears to be restricted to an area of compacted cobbles and gravels with varying amounts of sand and little, if any, soil development. With one of the few known populations of this species located within its managed lands, Grant PUD has been working collaboratively with state and federal agencies to manage this species. Grant PUD has conducted demographic monitoring, installed fencing to limit vehicle access to the area and actively controls noxious weeds that occur at the site. Grant PUD has also collected seeds (pictured here) for experimental planting and storage in a seed bank.

    (Photo credit: Carson Keeler)

  • Underwater photo of Water milfoil in the Columbia River.
    Eurasian Watermilfoil

    While many species of aquatic vegetation are native to the region, aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum; feathery vegetation pictured here) can grow and spread rapidly, replacing less vigorous native plants. It is a class-B noxious weed in Grant County, entangling boat propellers and clogging irrigation and power generation structures. The most basic way the public can prevent spreading these species is to “Clean, Drain, Dry” gear and equipment used in water. Grant PUD has developed and shares educational material with the public about aquatic invasive species like milfoil. Look for signage at Grant PUD boat launches. Better yet – look out for any aquatic vegetation on your boat and trailer and clean it up before driving away.

    (Photo credit: EcoPerspectives, LLC)

  • Photo of Sagebrush along the columbia river habitats.

    Shrub-steppe communities form the iconic, western landscape of open sagebrush (large plant pictured here) plains and channel scablands. Described as vegetation communities consisting of one or more layers of perennial grass with a discontinuous overstory layer of shrubs, shrub-steppe historically dominated the landscape in eastern Washington. Some of the many species of wildlife that inhabit shrub-steppe can only be found in these arid and semi-arid communities. Sage sparrows, loggerhead shrike, and striped whipsnakes are among the species that depend on sagebrush and are termed “sagebrush obligates.” Grant PUD is actively restoring shrub-steppe vegetation in disturbed areas. However, non-native cheatgrass (Bromus tecorum; beige groundcover pictured here) is very difficult to remove once established and rapidly colonizes burned areas. Avoid use of fireworks, campfires or other fire starters during dry months of the year. When recreating in the Priest Rapids Project area, camp in designated areas only, pack out what you pack in, and stay on established trails.

    (Photo credit: EcoPerspectives, LLC)

  • Photo of a Sulphur Butterfly perched on a sunflower.
    Sulphur Butterfly

    Pictured here is one of several species of butterfly known as the “Sulphur” (Colias sp.). The Clouded and Western Sulphurs are more common, with Alexandra’s and Pink-edged Sulphurs rare but also found in eastern Washington. They range across North America pollinating their preferred nectar species: clovers, milkweeds, sunflowers, and goldenrods - to name a few. While they do not directly target and pollinate human crops species, they are nonetheless part of the chain supporting overall ecosystem health. The worldwide decline of pollinators is expected to have profound effects on both the human economy and natural area biodiversity. While Grant PUD biologists do not monitor or manage insect species, they depend on pollinating species like the Sulphur butterfly for botanical programs.

    (Photo credit: EcoPerspectives, LLC)

  • Photo of Bighorn Sheep in the Priest Rapids Project Area.
    Bighorn Sheep

    By the early 1900s, populations of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) were considered eliminated from Washington State. Transplants have re-established populations in various locations, however ongoing research has been required as the sheep are not thriving as expected. Disease from domestic livestock along with habitat fragmentation and alteration are limiting factors. Grant PUD biologists monitor and help maintain important bighorn sheep habitat in the Priest Rapids Project Area. If you’d like to see bighorn sheep, you might try camping at the recently completed Rocky Coulee Campground. You might just find bighorn sheep visiting your campsite.

    (Photo credit: EcoPerspectives, LLC)

  • Photo of mule deer on hillside in the Priest Rapids Project Area
    Mule Deer

    Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are a common sight in eastern Washington, preferring open forests and sagebrush meadows. They derive their name from their large, mule-like ears. Breeding starts at 1.5 years of age with the rut occurring in November. After 200 days, fawns are born. Mule deer are highly adaptable, inhabiting bunchgrass hillsides of the Columbia River to shrub-steppe to temperate forests. Grant PUD monitors and helps maintain mule deer habitat within the Priest Rapids Project Area. Annually in the spring and fall biologists survey sensitive habitat areas within the Priest Rapids Project Area for human disturbance and damage to habitat. Biologist remove fire rings, habit trails and trash, reseeding disturbed soils. You can help by using recreation areas, and avoid disturbance of important habitat.

    (Photo credit: EcoPerspectives, LLC)

  • Photo of wild turkey's roosting in trees in the Priest Rapids Project Area.
    Wild Turkey

    Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo; pictured here roosting at dusk) prefer hardwood and mixed conifer-hardwood forests with scattered openings such as pastures, fields, orchards and seasonal marshes. They seemingly can adapt to virtually any dense native plant community as long as cover and openings are widely available. Open, mature forest with a variety of interspersion of tree species appear to be preferred. Despite their weight, wild turkeys, unlike their domesticated counterparts, are agile fliers. In ideal habitat of open woodland or wooded grasslands, they may fly beneath the canopy to find perches. While not abundant in arid eastern Washington, they have been observed in the Priest Rapids Project Area. Consider yourself lucky if you spot one while recreating in the Priest Rapids Project Area.

    (Photo credit: John T. Monahan)