Where the wild things are

I have received an extraordinary number of calls about black bear and cougar this fall from locations throughout Columbia County. Do these calls represent a dramatic increase in both species? That is less clear. There are several factors that might be in play. First, the dry weather this summer altered the behavior of many animals and birds as they sought water and food. This could have moved both cougar and their prey (mostly deer) to locations closer to houses or at least in a different pattern than in the past. Extensive logging currently taking place in Columbia County may have had a similar effect. Bear were lured closer to houses and farms by the tremendous apple crop this year.

Another factor in the calls may have been the number of people that have installed trail cameras. You can see more easily what may have been there for a very long time. And the speed of social media in pushing out information may also contribute to the perception (or reality) of higher bear and cougar numbers. From my perspective, I think there are more cougar but I am less sure about bear.

How hot was it?

Farmers use “heat units” also known as “growing degree days” to assess when a crop will be ready to harvest or when a particular insect pest might appear. Winegrowers use this information to determine which varieties to plant. If you are interested in taking your own measurements, I can tell you how it is done (it is really simple). So, without further ado, here are the heat unit numbers for the last six years for St. Helens, Rainier, and Clatskanie using, for the plant nerds, a base 50 degrees F.

You can see that, for St. Helens and Clatskanie, it was the hottest growing season (April 1 – October 31st) in the last six years. Rainier was the anomaly, being slightly cooler than the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The gardening results? An excellent tomato season (albeit with some blossom end rot issues), lettuce that got bitter faster, great fruit set in the spring, fantastic wine in the Willamette valley, high water bills, and some tree loss due to excessively dry soils.

The average for St. Helens in this 6 year period was 2446. The average for the previous five year period was about 2200.

Master Gardener™ class signups being taken for 2019 class in St. Helens

The OSU Extension office in Columbia County will be offering the Master Gardener™ training again this spring. This year, we are trying a new schedule that allows people that work to attend. The classes will be held on Mondays from 6pm – 9 pm and on Saturday from 9am-12pm for about 10 weeks starting on February 4th, 2019 at the Extension office in St. Helens. Cost of the program is $100.00 which includes a large resource book. Some scholarships are available. Master Gardeners are responsible for providing volunteer gardening education to the community as partial payback for the training. If interested in the program, call the Extension office at 503 397-3462 for an information packet. Online registration is now available at https://tinyurl.com/ColumbiaMG2019 . We can also send you an application and you can come into our office to sign up.

Bee class Monday, November 19th in St. Helens: The event will be at the OSU Extension office in St. Helens at 6:30 pm. Speakers will present new research gleaned from the recent Oregon State Beekeepers Association Fall Conference It will include the latest research on honeybee health: nutrition, pathogens, and pests such as Varroa mites. All this information is useful to both the backyard beekeeper and commercial beekeeper. The class is free and open to all.

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