Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, Yakima, WA


Protecting our shrub-steppe and
connecting people to this vanishing landscape

Programs and Projects

Experience Shrub-Steppe Projects

Project Butterfly "Trail Talks" Field Education Program
Butterfly Safari Project Wine Country to Wild Country
  South Rim Trail


"To date, I have recorded 64 species flying at Snow Mountain Ranch. This is about a third of the species known from the Pacific Northwest, and exceeds the number of species known from Great Britain!" - Dr. David James, WSU

Cowiche Canyon Conservancy’s “Project Butterfly"

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What is Project Butterfly?

A locally designed conservation and science program for kids of all ages, Project Butterfly highlights the astonishing diversity of butterflies found on Snow Mountain Ranch, a conservation and recreation site owned and managed by the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy (CCC).

Who does it serve?

CCC wants to engage local school districts, families and communities in celebrating our treasure trove of the  “Jewels of the Air” we have right in our own back yards.  Butterflies delight us all, and provide a great teaching framework for basic science, ecology, applied restoration, applied agricultural research, art, and writing.  There is also a direct JamesdaughterApexMtBCAug08 037 copy.jpgconnection between beneficial insect refuges and the agricultural industry—areas like Snow Mountain Ranch serve as critical habitat for pollinators and pest predators. 

How does Project Butterfly work?

Cowiche Canyon Conservancy is investing in on-the-ground protection and restoration with butterflies in mind. There is a reason why we have such a rich diversity of butterflies--we have a variety of native habitats that support all life stages of many kinds of butterflies. We are working to protect what we have, and share the science of butterfly ecology.

We have established a “Children’s Butterfly Garden”, a special reserve at Snow Mountain Ranch that will be set aside for education, restoration and study.  The “Garden” occupies a site that contains the habitat zones the butterflies use, with a “Swallowtail Trail” meandering through a much larger landscape. 

Desired Outcomes for Project Butterfly?

We want to connect our community to the value of conserving their unique butterfly “hotspot” by:  

  • demonstrating the significant beneficial effects of pollinators
  • offering an outdoor “learning laboratory” for all class levels
  • increasing volunteerism at Snow Mountain Ranch and Cowiche Canyon
  • demonstrating an “ecosystem services markets” model by documenting “willingness to pay” for conservation benefits
  • creating an “ecotourism’ opportunity for Yakima

“Trail Talks" Field Education Program

We held our first “Project Butterfly” field trips with kindergarten children in the spring of 2012, and decided we wanted to deliver a more focused and content rich experience for kids of all ages.  A great group of CCC Volunteers developed learning modules we call our "Trail Talks" program. Each "Trail Talk" has a fascinating natural history lesson and fun interactive learning activity.  Big school groups can come out to the site, break into small groups and rotate through these wonderful learning stations, delivered by trained CCC Volunteers.

See our Trail Talks "menu" here


Butterfly Safari Project

Explore our own natural wonder of winged migration with Cowiche Canyon Conservancy and Dr. David James of WSU, who are working together on a project to tag wild butterflies and track their migration from CCC’s Snow Mountain Ranch Preserve to the Cascades and back.

Dr. David James, WSU Research Entomologist and co-author of the book Life Histories of the Cascadia Butterflies, has trained Cowiche Canyon Conservancy volunteer docents in the art and science of capturing and tagging the large and showy Coronis Fritillary (Argynnis coronis)   butterflies at the CCC Snow Mountain Ranch preserve.  The tags are small paper discs with pre-printed serial numbers and contact information allowing volunteers to look for tagged butterflies as they migrate up to the high ridgelines and mountain slopes to the west.  The theory is that the butterflies follow the blooming flowers up in elevation through the hot summer months, and return in the fall to lay their eggs.  This will be the first time the migration will be recorded, with a scientific paper planned to document the results.

ArgynniscoronisMating SMR June 19 2012 005 copy.jpg
Photo by David James
The Three Phases of Butterfly Safari

Phase I:  Tagging the butterflies (Late May through mid- June)

CCC "citizen science" volunteers capture and tag newly hatched butterflies, with the hope of getting as many tagged as possible in the pre-migration stage around the middle of June, when the adults have largely departed the shrub-steppe zone in search of the nectar-bearing flowers they feed on at higher elevations.  The butterflies have been observed as high as 7,000 at the height of summer, where lupines and other high meadow flowers support their “nectar habit”.  The more butterflies that get tagged, the more likely tagged adults will be discovered throughout their migration.

Phase II: Recording sightings (Late June through early September)

As summer progresses and the butterflies move up in elevation, we ask for help from hiking clubs like the Cascadians and the Kinnickinnicks, as well as families, students, and the general hiking public to look for these showy butterflies.  If you see a big orange butterfly with black spots as shown in these pictures, you might be looking at one of our tagged subjects!  Take a picture, and send it in with the date, time and location of the sighting.  Location may be a verbal description of where you are, or GPS coordinates.  Even if you don’t get a picture, let us know if you’ve seen one.  You can use our recording form, or use our “contact us” page to tell us about your sighting.

Phase III:  The return of the butterflies (Late August through late October)

Butterfly habitat in the Cowiche CanyonThe purpose of this project is to document the entire migratory route of the Coronis Fritillary. The big excitement will happen in the fall, starting in at the very end of August and early September, as we start monitoring the flowering Rabbitbrush at Snow Mountain Ranch.  Rabbit Brush is a beautiful flowering shrub with cascades of small yellow flowers that bloom in the fall.  This is a key source of nectar for the returning females, who, it is theorized, will return to their birth place to take advantage of this late-blooming shrub.  The butterflies who return are almost all females, who have been mated and are coming back to the place they were born.  The females will lay their eggs on the dry soil where the spring-blooming sagebrush violets will emerge the following spring.  The eggs will over-winter in the soil, and hatch out as small caterpillars (larvae) to feed on the violets.  In late spring, the caterpillars will form chrysalids (pupae), and undergo the magic of metamorphosis to start the butterfly life cycle again.

This project started in 2013, but will continue each year.  We hope to build a strong record of migration, and ask additional questions about conservation, management, and the long-term survival of our “mini-monarch” migrating butterfly.


Wine Country to Wild Country

Wine Country to Wild CountryWhat could be better than a beautiful hike in Cowiche Canyon?  Visiting wine country at the end of your journey!  Or perhaps stopping at the picturesque setting of vineyards and tasting rooms, picking up a basket of goodies and taking a picnic out to our wild country just over the rim of the canyon?  We are so delighted to share this landscape with the vineyards, raspberries, organic blueberries, orchards, and great neighbors on Naches Heights!  Enjoy the Winery Trail that runs from NHV and Wilridge Wineries down into the Canyon, connecting "Wine Country to Wild Country”. This work demonstrates the important connections between local agriculture and conservation.  Our conserved natural areas are the haven for many, many species of insects beneficial to agriculture, and serves as a unique draw to tourists who can get out to enjoy spectacular hiking a stone’s throw away from wine tasting.


Cowiche Canyon South Rim Trail Project

With the successful purchase of the South Rim property in August of 2013, we began work on developing a new trail system that will connect the Cowiche Uplands trailhead at the Scenic Drive parking lot all the way across the Canyon's South Rim. The South Rim Trail alignment has been scouted and mapped by our Trails Committee volunteers. Work on the trail on CCC property will begin spring 2017. We continue to work with the Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) on securing federal approval to create new trail on the land owned by the BLM. The new trail system has sensational views of Cowiche Creek and the canyon. Users will get to experience the rugged landscape features we all love out there. The trail will be completely sited on land owned by CCC and BLM.

Ongoing Cowiche Canyon Conservancy projects

  • Trail development
  • Native plants restoration, particularly at Snow Mountain Ranch
  • Landscape restoration
  • Trailhead parking lot clean-up and monitoring
  • Preservation of endangered areas that are contiguous with CCC lands
  • Monitoring trails, wildlife, and vegetation


Photograph by David Hagen

Cowiche Canyon Conservancy
P.O. Box 877
Yakima, Washington 98907
Tel. (509) 248-5065
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