Friday, October 11, 2013

A Day in the Oahees

Idaho’s Treasure Valley is an irrigated desert surrounded by mountains. The valley is the home to bees and beekeepers. Abundant flowering plants in urban and suburban landscapes plus a diversity of flowering agricultural crops supply bees with nectar and pollen in exchange for pollination. The result is fruit and seed. Warm fall days in the valley find large numbers of insects—both beneficial and pest. Flowering plants are heavily visited by honey bees, sweat bees, and numerous other small native bees. Yellow jackets, those dangerous and easily irritated ground-dwelling wasps, are in great abundance. Unlike honey bees which sting only to defend their nest, yellow jackets sting unprovoked. Flies are in such abundance that local stores can’t keep swatters in stock. Their numbers can probably be attributed to recent rainfalls moistening the waste from the area’s livestock.

A day’s trip into the Oahee Mountains adjacent to the valley finds mule deer grazing on annual grasses greening the draughty mountain slopes. Here, along the old Oregon Trail we find abandoned gold and silver mines and the remains of miners’ cabins. As we climb in altitude, fall flowers, scattered among the sage brush and junipers, do not reveal their pollinators—likely night-flying moths and bats. Willow and aspen trees grow below mountain springs. Beavers turn spring-fed streams into lush marshes, even at altitude in these volcanic mountains, named “Oahee” for “Hawaii” by their Hawaiian settlers. A trip into the Oahees reveals the delicate balance and interrelationship between the plants, mammals, insects, and other pollinators in this ecosystem of thin soil and scarce rainfall. The pollinators help produce the seed for plants which provide food for wildlife—deer, mountain sheep and goats, and wild horses—as well as herds of open-range cattle. The waste from the mammals carries nutrients high into the mountains to fertilize the plant life. Northern harriers soar across mountain slopes searching for small mammals gathering seeds. Unknowingly, through pollination, bees, bats, and moths feed hawks, cattle, and deer.