Wenatchee Mountains Checker-mallow Recovery

Sidalcea oregana var. calva.
Sidalcea oregana var. calva. Photo by Ben Legler.

Sidalcea oregana var. calva habitat.
Sidalcea oregana var. calva habitat. Photo by Ben Legler.

Botanists conducting a survey.
Botanists from the Forest Service and Washington State Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Program (WNHP) conduct a plant survey. Photo by Ben Legler.

The Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow (Sidalcea oregana var. calva) is an endemic plant found only in mid-elevation wetlands and moist meadows within Chelan County in eastern Washington State. This plant is currently known from only five populations. The largest population has an estimated 11,000 plants and the remaining 4 populations range in size from 8 to 300 individuals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed S. oregana var. calva as endangered on December 22, 1999. Critical habitat was designated for this species on September 6, 2001.

Much of the habitat where this species occurs is unprotected and suitable for rural residential development and for modification by logging or agriculture. The small populations of this species are particularly vulnerable to extirpation from random natural events. High intensity wildfires, which are a concern in this east-side Cascade forest ecosystem, are the most likely random natural threat to the Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow. Recovery will require establishing stable, self-sustaining populations on protected sites and managing or eliminating threats to these populations. The recovery plan recommends actions necessary to assure the recovery of the Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow, including the protection and enhancement of existing populations; the possible establishment of additional populations in areas of suitable habitat within its known historical range; research; monitoring; and outreach.

The Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow is found between elevations ranging from 488 to 1,000 meters (1,600 to 3,300 feet) in the Wenatchee Mountains of Chelan County, Washington. The plant communities where the species is found are usually associated with meadows that have surface water or saturated upper soil profiles during spring and early summer. The species may also be found in open conifer stands dominated by Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine) and Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir), and on the margins of shrub and hardwood thickets when these areas are characterized by saturated soils that are maintained well into the early summer.

In general, the maintenance of the natural hydrologic processes that provide the wetland and moist meadow habitats on which the checker-mallow depends is of critical importance in the conservation of this species.

Botanists from the U.S. Forest Service Wenatchee River Ranger District (WRRD) and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Program (WNHP) have been working together to implement Recovery actions to ensure conservation of the Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow.

The WNHP has established a Natural Area Preserve on Camas Meadow where they have carried out restoration activities to improve habitat to stabilize and, hopefully, increase the Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow population. Last year the WRRD, as part of a larger forest ecosystem restoration project, implemented treatment activities to restore habitat for a population of the Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow on national forest and grassland lands.

The WRRD and WNHP collected baseline demographic data from 1999 to 2003. A graduate student from the University of Washington completed her thesis on factors affecting population growth and persistence of the species in 2003. In 2005, botanists from the WRRD and WNHP carried out an inventory of all known populations. This field season the WNHP will continue a multi-year study to collect data on a weevil associated with the checker-mallow.

The Wenatchee Mountains Checker-mallow Recovery team, with members from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Washington Natural Heritage Program, and the University of Washington, will meet in April to plan recovery activities for the up-coming field season.