Many mammals live in the Opal Creek watershed and can be seen on a regular basis, from the tiny deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) to the black bear (Ursus americanus) or elk (Cervus canadensis). Many mammals are active at night, and the smallest ones are almost all nocturnal. They live in a wide variety of habitats, from subterranean moles to airborne bats to the wide-ranging terrestrial mountain lion.
Herbivorous white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) can be seen many mornings in Jawbone Flats quietly munching on foliage. Bobcats (Lynx rufus) and Mountain lions (Felis concolor) are our main carnivores, and their scat is regularly seen in and around Jawbone Flats. There have been a number of sightings of these cats in recent years. These species are easier to detect in the winter when their tracks can be found in the snow. The Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods Wildernesses are also home to black bears, which can be regularly seen in the meadows of Mt. Beachie and near the headwaters of Opal Creek. They feed in late summer on the profusion of blueberries and huckleberries found throughout the watershed.
Other carnivores include river otters (Lutra canadensis) that feed on fish and amphibians. Omnivorous raccoons (Procyon lotor) live in and around Jawbone Flats and forage by night in the creeks and forest.
There are twelve bat species found in the Pacific Northwest and the Opal Creek watershed provides habitat for all twelve of these species. Bats forage at night over waterways and above the canopy where insects tend to congregate. One bat species that is rare throughout its range but is found in much higher numbers in old-growth forests like Opal Creek is the Silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans). This bat is found in old-growth forests where it nests in broken branches or old woodpecker holes. As the name implies, this species has silver-tipped hairs that allow it to camouflage against the gray lichen-coated bark of old-growth tree trunks. Bats are important to the ecosystem in many ways; their guano contributes much-needed phosphorous to the forest and transfers aquatic nutrients to the inner forest where they roost. Bats also help to control pest populations that might otherwise eat plants.
Other insectivorous mammals are the subterranean Trowbridge shrew (Sorex trowbridgii) and Coast mole (Scapanus orarius), which make their home in the soil rhizosphere, the area in soil where most plant roots are found. These species are essential in the dissemination of mycorrhizal fungus spores, as well as in creating underground air spaces that decrease soil compaction. Some species such as the Red tree vole (Phenacomys longicaudus) and the Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) live much of their lives in the forest canopy and are the main food for the Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis). Many mammals eat mushrooms and other fungi and act as dispersal vectors for the spores of these organisms.
Mammals are important links in the forest ecosystem and are at home in Opal Creek. Please leave any that you see in peace–take care to not disturb them and respect their space.