COURSE CARE
A proper wildlife inventory can be proof of the quality of an environmental management program April 17, 2012 By Eli McGallian

Snoqualmie Ridge's bird inventory in suburban Seattle boasts 67 species, including tree swallows and violet-green swallows that are attracted to the course's nest boxes. (USGA Green Section)

This story was first published in the September-October 2005 issue of the Green Section Record. 

I’ve always been interested in making the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge (Snoqualmie, Wash.) the best it can be, and, in particular, having the course serve the community as an environmental asset. But doing so takes more than just talk; it takes practice and proof.

When we initially applied for certification in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Golf Program, we submitted a basic list of wildlife species we'd seen on the golf course. But it seemed important to get a more comprehensive and accurate picture of the wildlife found on the course throughout the year. We also wanted to get people not normally associated with golf out on the course so they could see the kinds of things we are doing to care for the environment. A wildlife inventory would help to inform our management, as well as a skeptical public.

To accomplish this goal, we invited the East Lake Washington Audubon Society to conduct a 12-month bird and wildlife inventory at TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge. With 12 separate visits to the course, the surveyors were bound to see more types of wildlife than with just one or two visits.

We contacted Joyce Meyer of the East Lake Washington Audubon Society, and she was very excited about the project. She and fellow Audubon member Hugh Jennings volunteered to come to the course each month to conduct the survey. They used a golf cart to go around just in front of or behind the agronomy staff. Joyce and Hugh started early in the morning and spent three to four hours each visit. They worked independently and did not disrupt the play of golf.

Joyce reported sightings verbally, when there was time to meet. But she also produced a wonderful data set, which includes the names and numbers of each bird species seen, what they were doing (e.g., perching, eating, nesting, singing, etc.), and when and where they were seen.

At the end of the 12 months, Joyce and Hugh had identified 67 different species of birds. In all, 2,841 individual birds were counted. We learned that our uncut grassland areas are used by savannah sparrows from March through September, and that western meadowlarks also benefit from the unmown areas. Our wildlife inventory will be useful for making decisions about future nest box placement, landscape plantings, and habitat management.

It was also excellent to get positive feedback from non-golfers regarding the golf course as a place for wildlife. "It was exciting to see birds such as pileated woodpecker, sora, Wilson's snipe, western sandpiper, spotted sandpiper, black-throated gray warbler, and MacGillvray's warbler," reported Joyce.

I thought of the idea of having members interested in bird watching join the surveyors only after the conclusion of the survey. This would have provided more interaction with the membership and boosted the project's educational value. Other courses interested in this type of project might consider asking the surveyors to host a tour with golfers.

With our inventory in hand, we can continue to expand our environmental management at Snoqualmie Ridge. But we can also do something more to let people know we're an environmental asset: prove it.

Eli McGallian is the assistant superintendent of TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge in Snoqualmie, Wash., a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary since 2000. 

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