Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower (Mimulus patulus)

Mimulus patulus - "Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower"
"Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower"
Mimulus patulus
Asotin Wildlife Area
© Dr. Don Johnson (Click to enlarge)

Mimulus patulus Occurence & Habitat

Springs and seeps are unique habitats that occur where subterranean water emerges from an aquifer. In the semi-arid and arid west, these unique sources of water are particularly important ‘oasis’ habitats for wildlife, especially during drought and heat.  Their relatively consistent temperatures and chemistry provides for  “hotspots” of biological diversity – many of the more fragile plants and wildlife found in these habitats require very specific conditions and will not persist with the greater water temperature, chemistry, and flow fluctuations that occur downstream.  Generally in the west, from a distance you may identify springs and seeps by the presence of an aspen clone or other green, lush vegetative expressions on the slopes of an otherwise tan, dry hillside.  Up close you’ll find a microclimate of mosses and unique plant-life.  If you’re lucky, you may happen-upon a wet-spot blanketed by butterflies attracted to its mineral-waters and gathering energy in the sun.

The rare Mimulus patulus (Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower) occurs within basaltic seeps in northeast Oregon, and on ephemeral seeps of southern exposures in eastern Washington (Asotin and Okanogan counties), in relatively undisturbed, winter-wet, summer-dry, canyon grassland habitat where fine gravels sit atop bedrock.

Seep habitat in which above photo of Mimulus patulus was taken, Smoothing Iron - Asotin Wildlife Area © Dr. Don Johnson
Seep habitat in which above photo of Mimulus patulus was taken – Smoothing Iron, Asotin Wildlife Area © Dr. Don Johnson
The identification of the Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower within the Smoothing Iron unit of the Asotin Wildlife Area in eastern Washington, where these photos are taken, is regarded as a great discovery, there are fewer than five known populations remaining in Washington state.  It is a State Threatened Species.

Politicized state management threatens the Stalk-leaved Monkeyflower

One would hope that the discovery of such a rare flower within a wildlife preserve would come with some relief.  After all, the Asotin Wildlife Area was purchased to “provide habitat for salmonid species residing in George Ck and Asotin Creek as well as upland wildlife as mitigation for losses of wildlife habitat due to dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers”.   The landscape in which M. patulus was recently discovered had been rested from the greatest threat to its persistence, livestock grazing, from 2003 to 2007.

That changed when Washington Governor Christine Gregoire struck an ugly political deal to open state wildlife areas to grazing, instructing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to work with the Washington Cattleman’s Association (WCA) to provide these lands, free of charge, to WCA ranchers under the guise of a “pilot project” to determine whether grazing the landscape is beneficial to wildlife habitat.

Livestock grazing on Asotin Wildlife Area © Katie Fite 2007
Livestock grazing on Asotin Wildlife Area © Katie Fite 2007
For M. patulus livestock grazing is a significant threat as sustained visitation by livestock introduces non-native weeds, cattle directly trample the plant, and unlike other more transient wildlife that frequent springs and seeps, livestock congregate around these critical sources of water – pounding them to dirt and mud.  The State Recovery Plan for M. patulus calls for the removal of cattle.

Sacred Cow trumps all else on Washington wildlife areas

The state of Washington grazed cattle on the Smoothing Iron “pasture” (Dr. Don Johnson’s photo above) pursuant to the three year “pilot project” in October  2007 and May 2008.  In June of 2008, the landscape had been grazed so bare that the hillside washed away into South Fork Asotin Creek, dumping enormous amounts of sediment into the endangered salmonid stream habitat for which the landscape was originally intended to preserve.  Western Watersheds Project, accompanied by an experienced sedimentation geologist and a fisheries biologist, also prepared riparian and upland reports following the 2008 season detailing the cattle’s impact to the fisheries habitat including, among other things, the presence of a bovine carcass rotting in a stream.  Even Washington State University (WSU) monitors, contracted by WDFW to  the project, have documented the abusive grazing taking place.  The results of the “pilot project” inquiry are very clearly demonstrating that grazing Washington wildlife areas is not beneficial to wildlife habitat – it’s just the opposite.

The rancher whose stock are grazing state wildlife lands for free and whose cattle is responsible for the degraded fisheries and flower habitat responded to the WSU cautionary recommendation that livestock use be drastically reduced by stating, “They seem to have lost sight of what they were hired to do” adding, “WSU was only hired to do the monitoring of the grass on this pasture, not to take over and be in charge of making a grazing plan and setting the number of cattle allowed to graze on the pasture.” … “Leave the grazing plans to the Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.”  As he sees it the pounding hooves “help get grasses that have gone to seed to make contact with the soil”, certain pastures “have south slopes and mountain grasses that needs impacted to be good habitat for wildlife”, and “the cattle are disturbing the ground to promote new growth. The cattle have eaten off the old grass as to allow new grasses to now become established.”  This is surely the kind of reasoning that’ll knock those contracted WSU Range Specialists, the sedimentary geologist, and the fisheries biologist down and out of their ivory tower !  Unfortunately, in the politicized west, it’s not a joke.  It’s a common belief in the Western Cowboy Culture that the landscape needs quality wildlife habitat beaten out of it – a kind of ‘tough love’ stewardship.  Left alone, the wild goes to waste. 

Despite the over $1 million spent on the “pilot project” amidst a WDFW budget shortfall prompting Gov. Gregoire to call for a $30 million cut to the WDFW budget – potentially costing 180 state wildlife employees their jobs; despite the lost soils, the discovery of Mimulus patulus, the spread of weeds, the degraded condition of the fisheries, and the too frequent near death experiences of employees, WDFW under direction of Governor Christin Gregoire’s misplaced political ambition, has ignored the science on Asotin Wildlife Area and again intends to turn cattle out onto the Asotin Wildlife Area next month.  It’s too bad for the tiny Mimulus patulus, the WDFW has embraced the Cattleman’s Association’s Western Cowboy Culture of ‘tough love’ stewardship and intends to beat quality habitat from out of the landscape – including the most fragile springs and seeps, habitats that will not respond favorably. The Department may even issue an extension of the lease for 5 years.

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  1. Virginia Avatar

    Brian – this is a tragic story. Isn’t the governor a Democrat? It sounds like she is a democrat just like Wyoming’s Freudenthal or Montana’s Schweitzer. What is with these people advocating for cattlemen? It is disgusting. Wonder what the people of beautiful Washington are thinking to elect her.

    I posted this where you intended it Virginia – Admin

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      She is a Democrat. We had quite a blowout on the this blog last year with a Washington conservation group who think she is just fine.

      Maybe she is on some things, but my impression of her is pretty negative.

    2. Brian Ertz Avatar

      From what I understand, the speculation about why Gregoire is doing this involves :

      1. The hope to score political points with voters in Eastern Washington, you may remember – Gregoire was elected by the narrowest of margins. This would be a very foolish reason – rural voters in Eastern Washington aren’t going to vote for Gregoire.

      2. The issue was raised by a conservationist in Washington, one that Ralph alludes to having a conversation on this blog, is that by allowing cattleman to graze on wildlife areas, Gregoire hopes to court local commissioners and members of the state legislature from rural districts in order to build political capital, perhaps to find room in the budget for state dollars and/or local buy-in for use of federal/BPA mitigation dollars to acquire new lands. This again, would be an absurd motive – IMO:
      (a) it trades quality across many landscapes for quantity (and not much quantity) – diluting protections on existing acquisitions is bad – a slippery slope, especially when such imperiled species are involved – salmon, steelhead, bull trout, Mimulus patulus, Spalding’s catchfly, Sage grouse, pygmy rabbit. And ultimately this gets at the root of why “Open-space conservationism” can be very dangerous to plant and wildlife species and to science-guided management when it is used as a vehicle to amplify extractive use across public landscapes for which strict standards of conservation should be legally applied & enforced.

      This second argument is similarly absurd, as Ralph states – the push to develop is significantly depressed (even if the cows versus condo argument were legit – IT ISN’T). Additionally, state wildlife managers are undergoing a significant budget shortfall – as mentioned. There is not the money to buy new lands with state dollars, nor the staff to manage grazing now – let alone after Gregoire’s cuts.

      The “pilot project” was shrouded in the promise that this would be an experimental project that would involve strict oversight and would be used to determine whether grazing the wildlife areas is appropriate or not. It’s clear now, given the disastrous results on the landscape, that a determination that it is not appropriate was never going to be made – Washington would, as nearly all public land and wildlife managers do – gin up any justification, no matter how absurd, to keep the cattle on the landscape.

      This is why activists do not trust land/wildlife-managers nor ranchers’ “try and see” promises about ‘better management’ — by the time it’s time to ‘see’, the landscape is wasted and interest has blown over – the inertia to graze is set.

      State land managers in Washington need to admit this project’s failure and get back to the work of preserving that habitat – without the money, time and energy drain that coddling these cowboys involves.

  2. Barb Avatar

    I honestly don’t think the majority of voters understand the destruction of livestock grazing on both the habitat and the native animals.

    Some see grazing as preferrable to development.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I think you are right. It took me an embarrassingly long time to see what livestock had done to the arid and semi-arid lands of the west.

    One happy effect of our unhappy economic situation is that the claim, “I’ll subdivide if you don’t give me some preference I want,” is not very credible.

    1. Tilly Avatar

      My favorite responses to the subdivision argument:

      1. Pick an area that has subdivisions. Ask if it used to be grazed. If so, grazing didn’t prevent the subdivisions, did it?

      2. Ask a rancher whether, if his/her permit will be extended forever, whether they will promise not to subdivide. They never will.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


        That is damned smart! 😉

      2. jdubya Avatar

        Didn’t they kind of do that (#2) in the Sawtooth valley where grazing will be permitted for ever but additional building/subdivision banned? I don’t know all of the specifics of that “sight easement” or whatever it is, and I’m not defending the hooved locust, just asking…

        1. DB Avatar

          Right. I think SNRA legislation allowed for payment to landowners for scenic easements to allow contiuation of grazing in exchange for not subdividing or “out of character” development. Also, the Nature Conservancy has purchased conservation easements for protection of Silver Creek, among other places.

        2. Tilly Avatar

          JDubya, You make a good point that it might work if required by law. However, if it is not, a rancher will protect his/her financial interests and will not voluntarily give up the option of subdividing. Not really slamming them for that decision, just pointing out that money is what drives development decisions, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

  4. kt Avatar

    These are lands are owned by the state, and were specifically acquired for fish and wildlife.

    There have been federal funds spent on their acquisition, including as “mitigation” for salmon and steelhead.

    WDFW needs to pay the taxpayers back.

    I also keep thinking the Cattlemen must have some deep dirt on Gregoire – either that or Washington state is trying to wipe out its rare species (like the state and Cattlemen grazing operation did with the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit at Sagebrush Flat) – so that all manner of development can run amok on state-controlled lands. With the lands free of any constraints related to rare species, “multiple abuse management” can be imposed. What do you do with wildlife areas without wildlife anymore? Why – develop them!

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      It should be a good investigative report, KT. There is something fishy or amazingly stupid about Gregoire and the cows.

      Unfortunately the Seattle P-I just stopping publishing and the Seattle Times is in trouble too.

    2. Layton Avatar


      Are you referring to the land in the “Sawtooth valley” that jdubya talked about??

      Cuz I really think what he is referring to is a Senic Easement and it’s not a state thing. It’s form of a federal “buyout” where the land can be used for it’s current usage(s) but can’t be developed. That was done a lot in the Sawtooth NRA to keep folks from subdividing their ranches.

      1. Layton Avatar

        hell, I know I can spell scenic properly if I really try hard!!

      2. Brian Ertz Avatar


        KT’s post was made before the others – additionally, I think KT is referring to commercial development on state lands – like the potential expansion of wind on the heels of abusive grazing in Whiskey Dick – the CRM process, and its permissiveness with grazing, is what drove the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit to extinction. In this case, the CRM and grazing is being promoted by an industrial wind farm, too, that has also fragmented sage grouse habitats.

        The idea is that if you run one extractive commercial use roughshod over the habitat and species restrictions on a landscape – it’s easier to move another development in, especially if the habitat is so fragmented or a population of a species is extirpated to such a degree that the landscape falls off the map for wildlife managers looking to preserve viable habitats.

  5. Virginia Avatar

    Brian and Ralph – thank you for keeping this information at the forefront of your blog and for explaining it so well to those of us who are not biologists. We have spent many years in the backcountry of our area, mountain biking (only on allowed trails and NO wilderness) and hiking and observing. When we come upon lands that have been grazed for years and are across from lands that have not had cattle on them for even just a short time – it is obvious that grazing destroys these lands and everything on them. It is hard to believe that people actually claim that grazing is good for lands/wildlife and will make the grasses healthier, but I just read that declaration on the NewWest website. Wow! I also resent it when I am hiking in to fish at Granite Lake in the Beartooths, and I have to skirt the cows and their feces on the trail. It is a beautiful area and I am outraged that cattle are allowed on this fragile land, which is mostly swampy surrounding the trail.

    Kt – your quote in the New York Times was awesome and thank you again for your advocacy for wildlife and wild places!

  6. Barb Avatar

    This is just my opinion, but if anyone is trying to sway public opinion on cattle grazing, I would try to refrain from using the term “fragile” too much as pertaining to the land. Most of the general public does not believe land is “fragile.”

    You could point to the strip mining remnants but they will say “Oh that’s because arsenic was used….”

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      Huh? This land is very fragile. It is easily broken by livestock grazing as is evident by what has occurred already.

      This could be said for the whole state of Nevada as well which is a desert environment. Essentially it has been devastated by livestock grazing and is on the verge of collapse ecologically.

      I think fragile is a very good term in describing these lands.

  7. DB Avatar


    You are right but Barb’s point was to “sway public opinion…refrain from using fragile..” You and I and everyone on this blog knows how fragile and vulnerable desert ecosystems are to domestic grazing. I’ll bet even Ken Salazar knows. But I’m not sure that Crapo and Minnick know and I’m sure Barack Obama doesn’t, as well as a bunch of influential public we need to win over, to get livestock reduced or eliminated from western public lands.

    Instead of “fragile” let’s just describe the consequences of grazing on soil crusts and resultant weed invasions, fires, erosion, and plant and animal species loss. Instead of fragile explain why an apparently innocuous fence, pipeline road, or turbine tower cause the same.

    I think we get too caught up in talking to each other and need to focus more on getting the undecided to relate. Terms like “fragile” and “the last remaining example of…” label our arguments as coming from a bunch of wild eyed enviros and not from the highly informed and concerned environmentalists we are.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    DB has a good point. Certain words don’t work with the general public. Take “biodiversity.”

    To a person who hasn’t heard of the concept, it might imply that you don’t like to bathe often enough. 😉

  9. Brian Ertz Avatar

    the web of life is very vulnerable to activities that disturb and impact them. This is particularly true in places where there is not a lot of water – like the desert. Water makes plants and microbiotic organisms (microscopic life) grow. Because the desert does not get very much water, the plants and life that has evolved to exist on the landscapes grows very slowly. Because the various plants, animals, and microscopic life in the soil all depend on each-other, when one is lost or significantly affected, all the others are impacted and diminished. Recovering from this impact can be very slow, because there is so little water to nourish growth and activity.

    There is a point at which the web of life, all supporting itself and building its resilience as a condition of its interdependent relationships, can become so impacted that it becomes less complex – the relationships between creatures break down and become fewer and fewer as there are fewer and fewer creatures and conditions with which to have relationships (eating, hiding, stooping, favorable temperatures, food, everything that you can imagine that might help a plant or animal survive) . This is what scientists consider a “simplified” state. The web of life has fewer ‘strands’ and relationships upon which to co-mutually support all within its diverse community.

    At some point, there is a breaking point, where the community has become so impoverished that it may spiral down and become less and less vibrant and less able to support as many plants and animals as it once was.

    The desert is “fragile” because it takes so little disturbance to impoverish/degrade those relationships that make for a strong web of life. that “breaking point” is more ‘brittle’ because there is not the water to make everything recover faster – it takes too long to restore the diverse expressions of life interrelating with eachother.

    cattle in the desert are like bulls in a china shop. there are few places where there is water – and those places are the same places the cattle like to wallow in for that very reason. the diverse web of life is lost.

  10. kt Avatar

    Minnick sure should know – He has spent time out in the Idaho desert. He is just chooses to try to out-Repub the Republicans.

    More and more of the folks I talk to are calling his office and saying Hey! They voted – and donated -for a Democrat, not a Blue Dog boot-licker. Give me my money back! AND that Sali would have been preferable – because he was harmless.

    1. jdubya Avatar

      We have been living in Utah with Matheson doing the same thing for years now. This is the new breed of western democrat. Vote like a republican but claim you are not.

      It does make for an easier state convention nomination, though.

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Brian Ertz