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Flying Squirrels

Flying squirrels help the forests they live in!

Flying squirrels help the forests they live in!

Truffles, also known as hypogeous fungi, live a mysterious existence, fruiting below ground in the mineral soil/organic layer interface. While their mushroom relatives fruit above ground and loudly display their wild array of colors, textures and shapes, truffles quietly play out their important roles out of human sight. Truffles provide food for various mammals (and in turn the predators), and their mycorrhizal fungi networks contribute to the health of certain trees, including Douglas-fir. Flying squirrels are adept at hunting for truffles, drawn by the aroma. The truffle spores and bacteria pass through the squirrels’ digestive tracts, ready to colonize the roots of nearby trees and understory plants with mycorrhizal fungi.

“Mycorrhizal fungi enhance the ability of trees to absorb water and nutrients from soil, and they move photosynthetic carbohydrates from trees into the soil,” explains Andy Carey, former research biologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station in Olympia, WA. “In turn, this carbon supports a vast array of microbes, insects, nematodes, bacteria, and other organisms in the soil.1” Fungal networks actually “take up minerals and water from soil and transport them into the fine feeder roots for use by the host plant.2”

Several species of truffles grow in Eastern WA, when fir, pine, hazelnut or other tree species establish mycorrhizal relationships with truffle-forming fungi species. Squirrels and other forest-dwelling mammals play an essential role in dispersing fungal spores, thus helping to complete the web of life in the forest. “Truffle species also perform many important ecosystem functions including organic matter decomposition, nutrient cycling and retention, soil aggregation, and transferring energy through soil food webs. These functions contribute to the overall health, resiliency, and sustainability of forest ecosystems.2”

1. Science Findings, Issue 60
2. Diversity, Ecology, and Conservation of Truffle Fungi in Forests of the Pacific Northwest, Trappe et al,

Flying squirrel in nesting box photo by Chloe Lahondere and Clement Vinauger
Flying squirrel in Lost Lake nesting box photo by Chloe Lahondere and Clement Vinauger

Supporting the Northern flying squirrel is one way that natural resource professionals are working to recover the threatened spotted owl. Learn more:

Read the lyrics to our song about fungi and flying squirrels on the Wild Mushrooms and Fungi Ecology event page.

What Can You Do?

Building a habitat pile
  1. If you enjoy fishing, you can use fishing weights made from non-poisonous materials such as bismuth, steel, clay, rock, ceramic and tungsten-nickel alloy. Non-lead jigs and other tackle are also available. You can find these supplies locally in hardware and sporting goods stores. If you don’t see non-lead tackle, ask for it so the store managers know you care. Many people love to see loons and other lead-sensitive wildlife while they fish. Please pass this information along to others!
  2. You can also stay informed about issues related to rotenone treatment of highland lakes by the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, and provide public input whenever it is solicited. Read about OHA’s concerns about waterfowl–including impacts on Loons and Black Terns–in our
  3. Through ongoing volunteer help, OHA has been steadily improving the habitat for wildlife at the Lost Lake Preserve. View our photo album of habitat enhancement projects!



Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana luteiventris) at Lost Lake

A wide variety of amphibians find everything they need to thrive in the Lost Lake Wetland.

The wetland hosts a healthy population of the State Candidate Species, Rana luteiventris, the Columbia Spotted Frog. This species is abundant in the Lost Lake wetland, though statewide it is ranked by the Natural Heritage Program as “Apparently Secure,” meaning that while they are at fairly low risk of extinction or elimination, there is “possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors.”


The recently reestablished beaver population in the Lost Lake wetland improves wetland function. Significant increases in the water storage capacity of the wetland caused by beaver activity will not only benefit the hydrology of the wetland and the nesting waterbird and plant populations, but will provide additional water for late season flows into the Myers Creek subwatershed.

Beaver dams built beginning in the summer of 2010, holding water back–making it available during late season flows


Another waterbird of note that has traditionally nested at Lost Lake is the Black Tern, a Category 2 candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and a bird-at-risk on the Washington Gap Analysis list. According to the Seattle Audubon Society (2008), Black Tern numbers have “decreased since the 1960s due in part to the destruction or degradation of much of their breeding…habitat.”

You may see these black and silver birds swooping to pluck food from the surface of Lost Lake or foraging in flight as they seize flying insects from the air. In order to nest, the Black Tern needs habitat with extensive cover vegetation as well as open water. Like the loon, the small and graceful tern nests on floating debris or near the water, making the Lost Lake non-combustible motor rule a key factor for successful nesting for both species.


Community involvement is also needed to protect nesting waterbird populations. Of particular interest is the Common Loon (Gavia immer), a rare breeder in Washington and a sensitive species ranked as imperiled in the state. More Common Loon chicks have been produced on record at Lost Lake than any other lake in Washington. While Lost Lake has historically been a successful nesting place for Common Loons, the loon population is in jeopardy.

Beginning in the 1980’s, lifelong area resident Roy Visser began observing nesting loons and recording their behavior. For fifteen years, Ginger Gumm and Daniel Poleschook, Jr. of the Loon Lake Loon Association (LLLA), with the help of Patti Baumgardner from the USFS, have conducted a study of Eastern WA loons, which has confirmed lead toxicosis as a cause of loon death at Lost Lake and as the cause of 39% of all loon deaths in WA State.

View and compare data for WA Common Loons, compiled by Daniel and Ginger Poleschook (Excel spreadsheets):

According to the LLLA, loons most commonly take in lead by ingesting fish on an active or broken fishing line. Additionally, when loons scoop up pebbles from the bottom of the lake to help grind their food, they can swallow lead fishing sinkers. Terns, geese, dabbling ducks, swans, mergansers as well as small mammals can also be poisoned, and the lead moves through the food chain, affecting eagles and other predators. A bird with lead poisoning cannot keep balance, breathe or fly properly, adequately eat or care for young, and often dies within two to three weeks. Just one lead sinker is enough to kill a loon.

In December, 2010, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved restrictions on the use of lead fishing tackle at 13 lakes with nesting common loons, including Lost Lake. Please help spread the word that lead-free tackle must now be used at Lost Lake, and help others understand how important this is to wildlife. Lead is also toxic to humans; a piece of lead as small as a grain of sand is enough to poison a child (Centers for Disease Control, 1991).

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