San Juan Preservation Trust

Island Dispatch | April 2016

Snakes, Bats and Voles, Oh My!


Adam Leache

What do garter snakes, bats, and voles have in common?

They have faces only a mother could love, often elicit squeals of fright, and are subjects of research conducted this past summer on nature preserves owned by The San Juan Preservation Trust.

Islands provide researchers an excellent laboratory for scientific inquiry into why species occur in isolated places. The Galapagos Islands of Ecuador offer a tremendous opportunity to study many species that are uniquely distributed there. Similar research is underway in the San Juan Islands that is exploring the distribution and variation of species in our own island setting.

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Leonard Jones, a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington, is using genetic data from three species of garter snakes (Thamnophis sp.) to determine how different island populations vary genetically. This data will reveal how much these snakes move between the islands and breed, and which snakes from the mainland are most closely related (and therefore represent the likely population source for our island snakes).

While Leonard searches the ground for snakes on our Sundstrom and Red Mill Farm Preserves, Rochelle Kelly scans the skies for bats. Over the course of the last two years, Kelly, who is also a PhD candidate at the UW, has focused on clarifying the distribution of, and differences between, bat species and how they may be influenced by the isolation of these islands. Last summer, Kelly captured between two and seven species per island, collecting DNA and fecal samples before releasing them. Of particular note was Kelly’s discovery on our Vendovi Island Preserve of exclusively bachelor colonies of California and Yuma myotis (small brown bats). While the male-only population remains a mystery to be further explored, Kelly’s findings suggest that even small and remote islands provide valuable habitat for bats.

The “Shaw Island Townsend’s vole” (Microtus townsendii pugeti) is considered a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW). Though named for Shaw Island, this Townsend’s vole is known to inhabit 16 islands in our archipelago. WDFW biologist Ruth Milner is investigating this species’ distribution and genetic relationship with the mainland’s Townsend’s voles, conducting some of her work on SJPT’s Peach Preserve on Guemes Island. Her research will help WDFW prioritize conservation actions and understand how small mammals on individual islands may be related.

While the work of these scientists furthers their own academic disciplines, it also helps us gain a deeper understanding of the animals that live on San Juan Preservation Trust properties. By learning who is occupying these landscapes, we can better craft our management plans to ensure quality of habitat that these species need to flourish.
WANTED: YOUR ROAD AND CAT KILLS! You can contribute to these scientists’ research by saving dead voles and snakes found in the San Juan Islands. If the specimen is still fresh and intact, it should be placed in a ziplock bag and frozen. Please provide information on date of collection and either a precise address or GPS coordinates where found. Voles can be sent to Ruth Milner, WDFW (email to coordinate delivery). Contact Leonard Jones ( with specimens of any snake.


Preservation Trust’s 37th Annual Meeting

We are pleased to announce that local historian Mike Vouri will be guest presenter at our 2016 Annual Meeting. Vouri recently retired after two decades as Chief of Interpretation and Historian for San Juan Island National Historical Park. Vouri, who has written extensively about the history of San Juan Island, has teamed up with his wife Julia on a new book that will be released in the near future. The presentation will provide a fascinating glimpse into the early days of island life. “I’ll be looking at preservation in terms of historic footprints. Our islands are full of them. They remind us of who we are and how far we have come,” says Vouri.

Join us on May 7 at the San Juan Island Yacht Club, just a short walk from the ferry landing. Over lunch with your family of SJPT members, Executive Director Tim Seifert will brief you on recent accomplishments and current projects. Following the lunch program, an optional, naturalist-led hike on the recently-acquired (but not yet paid for!) Zylstra Lake property is offered to all.

To register for the Annual Meeting and optional field trip, please call us at (360)378-2461 or mail $20 per person to PO Box 759, Friday Harbor, WA 98250. We hope to see you on May 7!

Saturday, May 7 • San Juan Island Yacht Club • 273 Front St., Friday Harbor Luncheon 11:30 am–1:30 pm • Hike 1:30–3:30 pm

Ferdi Businger


The San Juan Preservation Trust’s mission to protect and care for island land has been successful thanks to you, the people who voluntarily support this work with financial gifts and sweat equity. Our volunteer Board of Trustees, who live in communities throughout the archipelago, are representing you as they strive to ensure the effectiveness and integrity of our work. Contributing expertise in the areas of finance, law, fundraising, land management, communications and governance, they grapple with the big questions and plan for the long-term. The SJPT Nominating Committee, chaired by trustee Geoff Dunbar, has put forth a stellar slate of trustee candidates for 2016, and current SJPT members are requested to vote prior to the May 7 Annual Meeting. These individuals come from the fields of architecture, science and academia, community planning and business, and they have at least one trait in common – they care deeply about preserving the San Juan Islands.

The candidates are:
(Please click on the name of each trustee-candidate for bio.)

At Large Positions: Willy Borner – Shaw Island, Sarah Hart – San Juan Island, Joann Otto – San Juan Island, Phil Sherburne – Decatur Island
Lopez Island:  Nancy Greene – Lopez Island

Your Support…Forever
The Gann Society is a group of individuals who have notified us that they have provided for the San Juan Preservation Trust in their will. Their bequests will help protect the San Juan Islands in perpetuity.