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Outdoors blog

Archive for December 2012

Get it on for endangered wildlife with free condoms

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Center for Biological Diversity is distributing 50,000 free Endangered Species Condoms for holiday and New Year’s Eve celebrations around the country.

More than 600 volunteer distributors are handing out the condoms at events in all 50 states.

The condoms are part of the Center’s 7 Billion and Counting campaign focusing on the effects of rapid human population growth on rare plants and animals.

Barbless hooks required Jan. 1 on much of Columbia River

FISHING — Starting New Year’s Day, anglers will be required to use barbless hooks until further notice when fishing for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat on a large section of the Columbia River.

The rule will affect sport fisheries from the mouth of the Columbia River – including the north jetty – upstream to the state border with Oregon, 17 miles upstream from McNary Dam, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says. 

Under the new rule, anglers may still use single-point, double-point, or treble hooks in those waters, so long as any barbs have been filed off or pinched down.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, which sets policy for WDFW, is scheduled to take action next month on the new draft policy that includes a ban on barbed hooks and a variety of other management changes.

State fishery managers said the immediate need for the rule is to make Washington’s fishing regulations consistent with those in Oregon, where that state’s fish and wildlife commission recently approved a broad-based measure that prohibits Oregonian license holders from using barbed hooks on the Columbia River starting Jan. 1.

Read on for more information from the WDFW:

Eagle numbers down to 180 but birds putting on show at Lake CdA

UPDATE: Disregard the previous post about a record count of bald eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene. I got the numbers wrong. Updated version below:

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles were crowd pleasers at Lake Coeur d'Alene today, although the number of eagles counted in the Wolf Lodge Bay area has declined from last week.

Hundreds of spectators took advantage of Eagle Watch Week to see the baldies congregate to feast on spawning kokanee salmon.

But the number of eagles tallied in the weekly survey was 183, said Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist.

That's down from 260 bald eagles counted on Dec. 19. The count was 204 eagles counted on Dec. 13, 121 eagles on Dec. 5 and 100 eagles counted on Nov. 27 — during their annual spectacle.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.

Nevertheless, it was a good day for viewing and watching the eagles fish.
 
“Lots of activity in Wolf Lodge and Beauty Bay,” said Hugo, noting that she counted 140 adult bald eagles (white heads) and 43 imature eagles. “Lots of folks out viewing and photographing. It was a good day.”
 
Eagle Watch Week runs through Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., with eagle experts and spotting scopes available for visitors at the Mineral Ridge boat ramp and trailhead. Take I-90 east of Coeur d'Alene and take the Wolf Lodge exit.
 
The number of eagles could go up or down in in the coming days, but there will be plenty for spectators to enjoy.

Eagle numbers down to 180 but birds putting on show at Lake CdA

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UPDATE:  Disregard the previous post about a record count of bald eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene.  I got the numbers wrong.   Updated version below:

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles were crowd pleasers at Lake Coeur d'Alene today, although the number of eagles counted in the Wolf Lodge Bay area has declined from last week.

Hundreds of spectators took advantage of Eagle Watch Week to see the baldies congregate to feast on spawning kokanee salmon.

But the number of eagles tallied in the weekly survey was  183, said Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist. 

 That's down from 260 bald eagles counted on Dec. 19. The count was 204 eagles counted on Dec. 13, 121 eagles on Dec. 5 and 100 eagles counted on Nov. 27 — during their annual spectacle.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.

Nevertheless, it was a good day for viewing and watching the eagles fish.
 
“Lots of activity in Wolf Lodge and Beauty Bay,” said Hugo, noting that she counted 140 adult bald eagles (white heads) and 43 imature eagles. “Lots of folks out viewing and photographing. It was a good day.”
 
Eagle Watch Week runs through Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., with eagle experts and spotting scopes available for visitors at the Mineral Ridge boat ramp and trailhead. Take I-90 east of Coeur d'Alene and take the Wolf Lodge exit.
 
The number of eagles could go up or down in in the coming days, but there will be plenty for spectators to enjoy.

Pheasant season closes before other upland birds

BIRD HUNTING — Upland bird hunters should be aware that the Eastern Washington pheasant season closes Jan. 13 while the season for other upland birds — quail, chukars, Huns — runs through the Martin Luther King holiday and closes on Jan. 21.

Most waterfowl seasons run through Jan. 27.

Start the year off with a group hike in Riverside State Park

HIKING — Here's a way to rally on New Years Day:  Walk it off!

Riverside State Park in Spokane is among 13 parks in the state beckoning walkers to ring in the new year — and celebrate the 100th year of Washington State Parks — with a group hike.

The First Day hike begins Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. at the swinging bridge parking lot in the Bowl and Pitcher Area. Visitors will explore the Bowl and Pitcher River Trail and see the dramatic winter whitewater rapids of the Spokane River. The hike is open to participants of all ages. On-leash dogs are allowed.

State Parks’ partner and friends groups will provide hot chocolate for hike participants. Hikers are encouraged to pack water and dress according to weather conditions.

See more information about specific First Day Hikes across the state.

New Idaho fishing rules kick in Jan. 1

FISHING — Idaho anglers have a list of new fishing rules that take effect Jan. 1.

In the Panhandle Region, Lake Pend Oreille is in the spotlight for several notable changes:

  • Kokanee fishing will be allowed for the first time since 1999, with a six-fish daily limit.
  • The open season and $15 bounty on rainbow trout will be eliminated. Anglers will be able to keep up to six rainbows a day, only one over 20 inches. The bounty on mackinaw remains in place.
  • The Clark Fork River and tributaries will be closed to rainbow trout harvest Dec. 1 through the Friday before Memorial Day weekend to protect spawners.

Cutthroat trout will get more protection in a new rule that requires anglers in the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe river drainages to release any trout with red/orange slashes under the jaw. The new rule is to address the difficulty anglers were having properly distinguishing protected cutthroat trout with “cuttbow” hybrids.

Priest Lake's kokanee limit is being reduced from 15 to 6.

A complete listing of Idaho's new fishing rules is available on the IDFG website or in the new fishing rules pamplet available where fishing licenses are sold. 

Snowmobile registrations down in Idaho

 

WINTER SPORTS – Idaho snowmobile registrations, which fund trail grooming and access plowing, were down by nearly 8,800 early this month, probably because of meager snowfall to start the season.

That means Idaho Parks and Recreation collected $286,000 less for its snowmobiling programs, or about 20 percent less money for this winter than last winter, the Idaho Statesman reports. 

It’s the first time since 2009 that statewide snowmobile registrations dipped below 30,000, according to Todd Wernex, trails specialist for Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. 

It’s common that fewer snowmobilers register their sleds after a winter with low snowfall, he said. 

Snowmobilers in some areas of the state could find fewer trails groomed, or trails groomed less often, this winter. 

Schweitzer records deepest early-season snowpack in 30 years

WINTER SPORTS — Buried with more than 180 inches of snowfall this season, Schweitzer Mountain Resort reports the deepest early-season snowpack since records were started during the 1982-83 season.

Schweitzer has been able to open all 2,900 acres of terrain with a village depth of 77 inches and a summit depth of 109 inches, the resort reports.

“It feels like February” said Arlene Cook, Schweitzer’s Ski Patrol director. “When you can’t count the number of powder days you’ve had in December, you know it’s been a good season.”

Schweitzer began tracking daily snow reports in in 1976, but the records didn't include summit or village snow depths until the 1983, a resort spokesman said. Daily, year-to-date, snow totals weren’t calculated until the 2001-2002 season.

Schweitzer’s 180 inches of snowfall to date also is the most on record.

Bald eagle drops in on viewer at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Carlene Hardt heard about the huge numbers of bald eagles congregating at Lake Coeur d'Alene and finally made time on Sunday to go out and see for herself.

“I was NOT disappointed,” she said in an email. “I saw LOTS of bald eagles! I have been out there a few times in the past but this is the first time I had the opportunity to see one eating in a tree right behind me! The eagle sure did eat the fish fast!

Indeed, the photo she made (above) is an eagle egg's view of an adult baldy finishing the last few bites of a spawning kokanee.

The annual Eagle Watch Week begins today with experts and spotting scopes available in the Wolf Lodge Bay area.
  

Mule deer buck roughs up dead foe

HUNTING — Although the story in the video doesn't totally add up, this footage illustrates the power and violence two rutting mule deer bucks devote to battle — even if one of the bucks is dead.

The hunters probably picked up a rifle sooner for self defense just in case the attacking buck decided they were worth fighting, too.

A mule deer buck is a big load to pack around, but this buck whips his deceased foe around as though it were a rag doll. 

95th annual Spokesman-Review Trapshoot starts Jan. 6

SHOOTING – Clubs from around the region are registering for The Spokesman-Review Trapshoot, celebrating the 95th year of the annual winter event.

Participants shoot their 25 target rounds each Sunday for eight weeks at their own clubs in Washington, Idaho and Montana and email their results, which are compiled into standings on the newspaper’s Sports webpage.

The competition starts Jan. 6. (NOTE:  I reported the wrong date earlier in this post.)

Info: email joep@spokesman.com.

Eagle Watch Week Dec. 26-30 at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A bounty of at least 260 bald eagles counted last week bodes well for the annual Eagle Watch Week, Dec. 26-30, along the eastern shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The eagles are congregating for their annual winter feast of spawning kokanee in Wolf Lodge Bay.

BLM and Idaho Department of Fish and Game will have staffers at two interpretive — Mineral Ridge boat launch and Mineral Ridge Trailhead.

DIRECTIONS: Go east of Coeur d'Alene about 8 miles on Interstate 90. Take the Wolf Lodge Exit. Both of the staffed viewing areas are along Highway 97.

Eagle ambassadors will have high-power spotting scopes, mounted displays and interpretive materials available 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In the case of bad weather, check for cancelations or updates by calling (208) 769-5048 after 9 a.m. each day. BLM will also post a message on the Coeur d’Alene Field Office webpage.

See this blog post for tips on CdA eagle viewing areas.

Merry Christmas, on and off the slopes

WINTER SPORTS — Have a happy, holy and safe holiday in and out of doors.

See the Idaho Panhandle avalanche advisory if you're heading to the mountains.

Use the kid-keeping tip above at your own risk.

Cheers!

Tribes moving ahead on wolf management plans

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Here's the latest on gray wolf management plans being developed by the Colville and Spokane Tribes in a story by Capital Press

Snowshoeing conditions ideal at Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS — Local outdoorsman Tanner Grant offered this photo today to prove his opinion that snowshoeing conditions are ideal at Mount Spokane State Park this week.

Palouse woman finalist for national Extreme Huntress title

 

HUNTING – Thia Anderson, a mother of three boys and nurse practitioner who works in Pullman, is among 10 finalists from across the country in the Extreme Huntress 2013 Contest presented by Tahoe Films.

She needs online votes from supporters by Jan. 1 to help her win the title and an Alaska brown bear hunting trip that will be filmed for TV.

Anderson, who volunteers as a hunter education instructor, wrote an essay that first attracted the judges’ attention in their quest to find the world’s most hardcore female hunter. Here's an excerpt:

“I am lucky to have many opportunities to hunt the way I love to hunt: unguided, spot-and-stalk on public land,” she said,noting that stalking a bear ranks as her most rewarding hunt so far.

”I spotted a bear on a ridge a half mile away, with one hour of shooting light left. While my husband watched with binoculars from the opposite ridge, I hurried down the steep canyon and up the other side and was able to stalk to within 75 yards and drop the tremendous 300-plus-pound color-phase boar with one shot.

“Being an extreme huntress is not about the number of animals taken, the size of trophies on the wall, or the exotic places visited. It is about having a passion to hunt that is so ingrained and intense that absolutely nothing will keep you from doing what you love the most. I am such a huntress and I have never met anyone, man or woman, quite like me.”

Click here to check out the 10 finalists, VOTE and earn a chance to win prizes. 

Trout Unlimited wary of genetically engineered salmon

FISHERIES — Trout Unlimited officials are disturbed by this week's news that the federal Food and Drug Adminstration finds no danger in raising or eating farmed salmon genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as natural salmon.
 
Here's the statement from TU:
Trout Unlimited is concerned that the Food and Drug Administration’s ‘finding of no significant impact’ is a premature ‘green light’ for the eventual production of genetically engineered salmon for human consumption. First, we want to ensure that threats to wild salmon populations from genetically engineered salmon are understood and completely prevented, both for the protection of economically vital commercial salmon fishing industry and the growing recreational salmon fishing sector.
 
Second, we want to ensure that a more detailed environmental impact review isn’t the more appropriate process for this issue rather than a simple FDA environmental assessment, which is far less thorough (and, frankly, is the FDA the correct agency to analyze environmental impact?).
 
Third, prior to permit approval it must be clear that an effective regulatory framework exists so that impacts to wild fisheries and aquatic ecosystems are prevented, and future permit applications receive an appropriate level of scientific analysis and public scrutiny to understand and avoid environmental risk.
 
Trout Unlimited will be reviewing the environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact to see whether an adequate analysis of potential threats has been completed by the agencies with expertise in aquatic ecosystems.

Cheap snowshoe rentals Saturday at Mountain Gear

WINTER SPORTS — To heck with shopping: Saturday is prime time for a cheap snowshoeing date. Introduce somebody new to the sport.

Mountain Gear is offering $5 snowshoe rentals Saturday (Dec. 22) at the retail store, 2002 N. Division.

Rent a pair of new Atlas 10 Series snowshoes for 24 hours for less than it costs to buy a burger. First come first served starting at 10 a.m.

Coming up:

Jan. 20:  $5 cross-country ski rentals for 24 hours.

Jan 26: $5 snowshoe rentals for 24 hours.

Info: 325-9000.

 

Groomed nordic tracks on Ferry County Rail Trail

WINTER SPORTS — Beautiful cross-country skiing tracks have been groomed into the Ferry County Rail Trail along the Kettle River today.
 
Retired Forest Service recreation specialist Keith Wakefield used a snowmobile to groom the trails today, supported by donations by members of the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners.
 
The group will sponsor a Rail Trail Ski Day in Curlew on Jan. 12, featuring free use of nordic ski gear and free ski lessons for beginners.

Last season’s Stevens Pass avalanche tragedy detailed

WINTER SPORTS — Our newspaper covered the Feb. 19, 2012, avalanche tragedy that killed three expert skiers at Stevens Pass, and I wrote a column that week explaining why avalanche tragedies must be explored.

And my blog followed up with a video interview with a survior and a blog post and series of links to help focus on the group effect that allows even experts to become blind to potential disaster.

But 10 months later, The New York Times has put together a long, in-depth, informative and fascinating multi-media report on the incident. 

It's called, Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek — A group of world-class skiers and snowboarders set out to ski Tunnel Creek. Then the mountain moved.

Fence hangs up elk, briefly, at highway crossing

WILDLIFE — This video of a huge herd of wintering elk crossing a highway near Helena, Mont., has several interesting elements.

First, it's awesome to see so many wild elk after hunting so hard for them during the elk seasons and concluding that most of the elk in North America had vanished.

But after nursing my English Setter, Scout, through two gory run-ins with barbed wire during this year's bird hunting seasons (the latest is pictured at left), I was especially interested in seeing the elk hanging up in the barbed-wire fence before they could cross the highway. This is especially noticeable toward the end of the video.

I always hear that elk are hard on fences.

But it's pretty safe to say that the millions of miles of fences — especially barbed wire — stretched across our Western landscape are pretty darned hard on wildlife, too.

Hunters have incentive to file reports by Jan. 10

HUNTING — Hunters have a chance to win one of nine 2013 special hunting permits if they report this year’s hunting activities for black bear, deer, elk, or turkey to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife by Jan. 10.

Hunters who file their mandatory reports by phone or online by the deadline will be included in a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those permits will be valid from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2013.

To qualify for the drawing, hunters must submit a report for each black bear, deer, elk, or turkey tag they purchased and for each special hunting permit they received in 2012.

All hunters, whether successful or not, are required to submit hunting reports for those species by Jan. 31. Failure to meet the deadline can result in a $10 fine, payable before a hunter can purchase a 2013 license.

Dave Ware, WDFW game manager, said the annual hunting reports are an important source of information for managing the resource and developing future hunting seasons.

“The drawing for special permits is designed to give hunters an extra incentive to file their reports early,” said Dave Ware, WDFW game manager. “If everyone waits until the last minute, it creates problems with reporting.”

Hunters can report by phone (877 945-3492) or on the WDFW online reporting site.

Hunters should be prepared to give the game management unit they hunted and their individual WILD identification number, which is printed on license documents.

More information the WDFW’s incentive permit drawing is available on page 17 of the 2012 Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Video captures near disastrous avalanche accident at Crystal Mountain

AVALANCHE — A woman who was buried by an avalanche at Crystal Mountain on Wednesday was rescued by a group of skiers, one of whom had a helmet cam on during the entire event.

She was wearing no avalanche beacon to help her rescuers with the search, according to news reports, but that's not confirmed here.

This chilling video shows how very, very close she came to dying in a tomb of snow and how her well trained and equipped rescuers kept calm, focused and did the job.

There's no gore here, but a lot to see, hear and absorb if you're a backcountry skier, snowshoer or snowmobiler.

The avalanche happened at minute 4:30 in the video. The rescuers found her and were yelling to give her a breath at 12 minutes — more than 7 minutes after she was buried!

After a visit to a hospital, she was OK.

Unbelievable.

Dog owners warned: wolf trapping season is open

Quote of the day:

“We would like to caution people about the fact that there are live traps in the area. They legally can be there. People should probably keep their dogs on a leash or leave their dogs at home.”

Bitterroot National Forest recreation technician Erica Strayer, warning that wolf traps are set near some cross-country ski trails around Montana's Lake Como  —Ravalli Republic

Centennial Trail surely must have more than 350 “friends”

 TRAILS — Numbers stood out to me in several cases as I researched today's Outdoors column on the Spokane River Centennial Trail, a 37-mile ribbon of park that's the envy of cities across the country.

Four years ago, Riverside State Park had two full-time Centennial Trail rangers and a seasonal maintenance crew.  State budgets cuts have slashed the staffing to one seasonal ranger.  Period.

The trail is used about 2 million times a year, yet only 350 people are signed up as members of the Friends of the Centennial Trail, a group that's critical to the sustainability and development of the trail.

Even if you never set foot, bike or skate on the trail, it's worth supporting just to have it there for our citizens and our visitors and to keep the river shores open to the public going into a future that will see even more pressure for riverside development.

Check out the Friends of the Spokane River Centennial Trail website and consider becoming a member or making an additional contribution to the Trail Builders Fund.

Business booming at Spokane gun stores

GUNS — The Valley White Elephant Store sold out its inventory of semi-automatic rifles and clips today, according to a clerk who called in the news this afternoon.

Personally, I have enough firearms. I'd rather spend more money on fishing tackle, and give teachers a raise.

Bald eagle count up to 260 today at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A total of 260 bald eagles were counted today (Dec. 19) in the Wolf Lodge Bay area of Lake Coeur d'Alene — up from 204 eagles counted on Dec. 13, 121 eagles counted on Dec. 5 and 100 eagles counted on Nov. 27 — during their annual congregation to feast on spawning kokanee.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.

BLM wildlife biologist Carrie Hugo endured difficult conditions durring the weekly count today as she tallied 208 adults (white heads), 49 immature eagls and 3 unknown.

Said Hugo: “There was a lot of soaring today and it made for difficult counting.  I wish they would just be still for a couple of hours!  Just kidding.  It was also snowing pretty good at the end of the count in Beauty Bay which made for difficult counting.  

“But the high level of activity made for good viewing, very close up in some cases.  At the Mineral Ridge Trail head there were 3 in the cottonwood trees right next to the parking lot and the Mineral Ridge Boat Launch also had a several eagles perched nearby and soaring over the water.

The big county of eagles bodes well for the annual Eagle Watch Week, Dec. 26-30 along the eastern shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene.  BLM and Idaho Department of Fish and Game will have staffers at two interpretive — Mineral Ridge boat launch and Mineral Ridge Trailhead.  

DIRECTIONS: Go east of Coeur d'Alene about 8 miles on Interstate 90. Take the Wolf Lodge Exit. Both of the staffed viewing areas are along Highway 97.

Eagle ambassadors will have high-power spotting scopes, mounted displays and interpretive materials  available 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

In the case of bad weather, check for cancelations or updates by calling (208) 769-5048 after 9 a.m. each day. BLM will also post a message on the Coeur d’Alene Field Office webpage

See this blog post for tips on CdA eagle viewing areas.

Sullivan Bridge project should include river access for paddlers

RIVERS — Plans for replacing Sullivan Road's deteriorating west bridge over the Spokane River apparently include provision for recreational river access, according to canoe, kayaking and rafting groups that have been meeting with Spokane Valley planners.

“Had a very good meeting with engineers and City of the Valley officials last week and it looks like some new access is in the works when the project is done,” said Paul Delaney in an email to members of Northwest Whitewater.

City planners will explain the project in detail during a public presentations at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Jan. 9 at CenterPlace, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley. 

Waters sports enthusiasts should be involved with this process to lend their support to keeping river access on the agenda.

Piles of new snow a joyous danger to skiing powder hounds

WINTER SPORTS — Following the big storms is a thrill for skiers and boarders, but noting yesterday's close call with an avalanche at Crystal Mountain, please enjoy the powder of today's incoming storm with a measure of caution.

This near-tragedy follows the burial of skiers at Schweitzer Mountain Resort earlier this month.

Today's Associated Press report has details:

Young woman buried

in WA avalanche rescued unhurt

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, Wash. (AP) — A young woman buried by an avalanche for at least 10 minutes Tuesday at Washington’s Crystal Mountain ski resort was rescued unharmed, the head of the resort’s ski patrol said.

She was part of a party of three skiing in a steep area of expert terrain when the trio triggered a small avalanche, said Paul Baugher, ski patrol director. Two young men were partially buried but able to dig themselves out.

They or nearby skiers immediately called the Crystal Ski Patrol emergency number and a ski patrol member reached the spot within five minutes, Baugher said. Ski patrol personnel and other skiers equipped with collapsible metal probes searched the area and found the buried woman.

“They were able to get this gal out in 10-15 minutes,” Baugher said Tuesday night, adding she was checked out by a doctor and was fine. He didn’t have additional details about the skier.

The buried skier was not equipped with an avalanche locator beacon or an air bag. Baugher estimated she was “a couple of feet down.”

“There is air in the snow, you can breathe that for a while,” he said.

A major storm this week dumped more than 40 inches of snow on Crystal in about 36 hours, Baugher said.

“This is one of those things that creates phenomenal powder skiing but with that comes an increase in the avalanche hazard,” he said, adding avalanche control crews had been working all day.

Ski patrol personnel were pre-positioned in the area because they had just completed some avalanche control work nearby. No avalanche control work had been done in the “random little pocket” where the slide occurred because “you would never expect an avalanche in this particular place,” Baugher said.

He stressed that “this came out great” because everyone was prepared — the young woman was skiing with companions who could report where she was last seen, skiers had the direct number for the ski patrol, patrol personnel were nearby and everyone involved had the equipment needed for a quick, effective search.

“There’s always luck,” he said. “But when a good outcome comes, we make a lot of that. The skiers helped make some of their own luck.”

Crystal Mountain is located on the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
  

CdA Audubon logs record Christmas Bird Count

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Shirley Sturts has just posting this detailed wrap-up of the Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count.  It's one of thousands of Christmas Bird Counts underway this  month in the region and throughout North America.

Here are the details from CdA, where participants logged the highest number of individual birds in 22-year history of the club's participation in the century-old count:

The CDA CBC was held Dec. 15 with 30 field counters 12 feeder counters.

  • We had 73 species and 10,223 individuals.
  • In 22 years of this count, this is our highest number of individuals. Previous record was 10,119 in 2007.
  • We tied with ‘03 and ‘07 for the most species.

The highlight of our CBC are the high number of hawks we counted:

  • Northern Harrier 8
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
  • Cooper’s Hawk 3
  • Red-tailed Hawk 43 (previous record 26 in 2001)
  • Rough-legged Hawk 19 (previous record 20 in 1993)
  • Buteo sp 7 (previous record 3 in 2011)
  • American Kestrel 18 (previous record 15 in 1999)
  • Merlin 1
  • Possible Peregrine or Prairie Falcon

 Of interest:

  • Gray Partridge 4
  • Snowy Owl 1
  • Spotted Towhee 1 ( observed three other CBC but only cw)

New to the count:

  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet

See CdA Audubon's Christmas Bird Count web page.

See a chart for the CdA count from 1991 – 2012.

Columbia River sturgeon seasons open Jan. 1

FISHING — The winter portion of sturgeon season in Bonneville pool of the mid-Columbia River will open Jan. 1 and continue through Feb. 10 or until 1,150 fish are retained by anglers, reports Allen Thomas of the Vancouver Columbian.

A summer portion of the retention season is anticipated in mid-June, similar to 2012.

Washington and Oregon officials approved the Bonneville pool sturgeon sport-fishing rules on Tuesday.
 
Read on for more details from the Columbian's story.

Cougars may have bigger impact on elk than wolves

PREDATORS — While the war on wolves continues, mountain lions haven't been fasting.

Montana turns its focus to mountain lions in Bitterroot study

At midpoint of a three-year study of elk in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists were surprised to learn the role mountain lions have played in elk deaths, and they have begun a yearlong study of the big cats in the valley to learn more about that population. — Ravalli Republic

Feds agree to review endangered status of caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES — “Maybe you got a point there,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seemed to say today as it annouced its response to a petition questioning whether the Southern Selkirk Mountains Population of Woodland Caribou deserves status as an endangered species.

The petition to remove the rarest mammal to venture into the USA from Endangered Species Act protection was filed in May, 2012, by the Pacific Legal Foundation (representing Bonner County, Idaho), and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association.

The southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou was protected under the ESA in 1983 as an endangered species stemming from the threats posed by poaching, habitat loss due to timber harvest and wildfire, motor vehicle collisions and genetic problems through inbreeding. It occupies high-mountain habitat in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington and southern British Columbia.

Most of the controversy over caribou protections stems from the habitat issues that have precluded winter snowmobiling into their high habitat at their most vulnerable time of year.

The Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a dramatic scaling back from its original recommendation for designating critical caribou habitat in the Selkirks.

Brian T. Kelly, the Service’s Idaho State Supervisor, said today that the separate petition from Idaho groups “questions whether the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou warrants listing under ESA. Our initial review found that information in the petition was substantial enough to conduct an in-depth status review.”

More information is available on the Idaho website for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.http://www.fws.gov/idaho/

Here's the viewpoint of the petitioners.  (I must point out that this website uses a photo of the barren ground caribou that roams this Alaska tundra by the hundreds of thousands. This woodland caribou that range into Idaho and Washington are a different subspecies that has a much smaller population.) 

Here is the viewpoint of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Court says anti-whaling group must keep 500 yards from ships

MARINE MAMMALS — A U.S. appeals court has ordered American anti-whaling activists to keep 500 yards away from Japanese whaling ships off Antarctica, the Associated Press reports.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction Monday against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which sends vessels every December to disrupt whale killings by Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research.

The three-judge panel ordered Sea Shepherd not to attack or approach any of the Japanese vessels until it can rule on the merits of an appeal from whaling groups.

Japan’s whaling fleet kills up to 1,000 whales a year, as allowed by the International Whaling Commission. Japan is permitted to hunt the animals as long as they are killed for research and not commercial purposes.

But whale meat not used for study is sold as food in Japan, and critics say that’s the real reason for the hunts.

Sea Shepherd activists use stink bombs, lasers and other nonlethal means to interfere with the whalers. The group argues that its activities are supported by international law and that American courts don’t have jurisdiction in the Southern Ocean.

In a news release, the group’s president, Paul Watson, said it is evaluating the court’s order.

“I can tell you with complete certainty, however, that Sea Shepherd remains committed to upholding the integrity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and ensuring the whalers go home with zero whales killed,” he said.

The organization’s vessels have not yet reached the Southern Ocean, the AP reported today.

Public running out of room, money to handle wild horses

PUBLIC LANDS — It's well past time to override the emotional argument that wild horses are above proven wildlife management methods that protect the landscape and habitat for that species as well as other wildlife.

U.S. is running out of options for wild horse management

With 50,000 wild horses corralled in holding facilities in the United States and an estimated 11,000 more roaming the range beyond what those wild lands are capable of supporting, the U.S. policy on wild horses has reached a tipping point. — New York Times

Fly tying classes set for January at Silver Bow

FISHING – Two fly tying courses are coming up at Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane Valley:

For steelheaders, Jan. 5, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.: learn modern patterns. $50.

For beginners, Jan 7-8, 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m.: learn six effective patterns. $50.

Pre-register: (509) 924-9998.

Schweitzer Mountain raises $30K for Sandpoint charities

WINTER SPORTS — Schweitzer Mountain Resort reports it's donating $30,570 from a (Dec. 14) fund-raising event with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Community Cancer Services and the Bonner Partners in Care Clinic. It was Schweitzer’s first major event of the winter season.

The resort offered skiing for $10 a person and 3,000 tickets were sold for the Community Day.

“To see such a large turnout for an event like this really illustrates what kind of community this is,” said Schweitzer Activities and Events Director Mary-Weber Quinn. “We support and care about each other, and I think that was shown here today.”

Simple rig catches Lake Roosevelt trout from shore or boat

FISHING — Lake Roosevelt rainbows like those pictured above can be caught November-March from shore as well as from a boat by casting a bait rig. Look for a shoreline shelf under 10-15 feet of water and cast near the drop-off into deeper water.

A proven rig cast from a spinning rod includes:

  • 8-pound monofilament line.
  • 24-30 inches of 10-pound leader (extra heavy to take a beating with fewer breakoffs) below a snap swivel and 3/8- to 1/2-ounce sliding sinker.
  • No. 2 bait hook baited with a mini-marshmallow or PowerBait and piece of nightcrawler.

Experienced anglers have a half dozen hook-and-leader rigs ready to change onto the snap swivel if necessary so they can keep fishing when the bite is on. Keeping at least one rig in the water as a school of rainbows circulates through an area is an excellent application for the two-pole endorsement. 

The rainbows tend to be most active for a short period in early morning and again in the afternoon, although they can be caught throughout the day and night.

A five-fish limit of rainbow trout from Lake Roosevelt is a beauty to behold in December, when the fish released from net pens in summer have had a chance to go wild putting on length and girth.

These are healthy, lovely and delicious fish.

Lower expectations for 2013 spring chinook returns

FISHING —  A spring chinook run of 141,400 — the poorest in six years — is forecast to enter the Columbia River destined for upstream of Bonneville Dam,  according to figures released by Washington and Oregon fish managers this week.

“The forecast is down from what we're used to seeing in recent years, but it's still not one of the worst ever and could be an average-size return,” said Kathryn Kostow, Oregon Fish and Wildlife and Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee chairman, comparing data back to the 1980s.

“This is awful,’’ said Larry Snyder, president of the Vancouver Wildlife League and an avid spring chinook angler in a Vancouver Columbian story by Allen Thomas. “I don’t see a very long season this year.’’

Preliminary numbers for summer and fall chinook heading up the Columbia look to be in good shape, but the early forecast for sockeye is about half of the record returns that prompted a huge turnout of boats this summer.

Predictions on spring chinook returns vary wildly and can be inaccurate. Last year's forecast of 314,200, which would have been the fourth-largest since 1980, fell far short at 203,100.

The largest spring chinook return on record was 416,500 (364,600 was the forecast) in 2001, and the worst was 9,800 (12,000) in 1995.

The forecast in tributaries above Bonneville Dam such as Wind River, White Salmon River and Drano Lake usually come out in late January.

Fishing seasons will be decided Jan. 30 by state, federal and tribal fishery managers in Portland. 

New signs mark expanded nordic trails system at Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS — While many skiers were enjoying the new layer of light snow and 25-degree temperatures at Mount Spokane State Park today, a group of volunteers was helping nordic skiers stay on course in the expanded cross-country trail system.

Pictured above from left, Drew Schlieder, Sam Schlieder and George Momany from Spokane Nordic Ski Association were taking down old signs on the north half of the trail system and replacing them with signs that included  more than 12 kilometers of new groom trails added this season.  The total groomed trails system at Mount Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park is more than 42 kilometers.

“I'd like to be giving my skis a workout instead of riding this snowmobile,” said Momany, ” but I'm glad to be doing this (to help keep skiers stay oriented).

The new trails will be added temporarily to the old signs with a laminate since this season is a test with Inland Empire Paper Company to see how the program works to expand grooming from the state park onto private timber lands.

“We don't want to invest $1,500 in new signs until we're sure the program will continue,” Momany said. 

Inland Northwest 2012-2013 nordic skiing events listed

WINTER SPORTS — Nordic skiers have plenty of options for special events or competition in the Inland Northwest.

The 35th annual Langlauf 10-kilmeter classic citizens race, set for Feb. 10 at Mount Spokane, is among the largest and all participants qualify for thousands of dollars in prizes.

 Langlauf is one of four events – two classic and two freestyle – in the Selkirk Nordic Series. Participants are eligible for prizes, while the top skiers compete for bragging rights as the region’s fastest overall skier. Racers must combine scores on at least one classic and one freestyle race.

“The goal of the series is to increase participation in Nordic racing as a recreational activity for adults,” said Spokane Nordic Ski Association member Al Pokorny, who helped link the events.

The other three events are the Cougar Gulch race at Schweitzer Jan. 15, Chewelah Peak Challenge at 49 Degrees North on Feb. 2 and the series event to be held in the bustling atmosphere of the Group Health/ Providence Health Care Challenge Junior Nordic Qualifier races at Mount Spokane on Feb. 23.

The Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA) and other groups around Winthrop have the most ambitious schedule of events in the region.

Read on for a long list of notable regional 2012-2013 nordic skiing events.

Saturday is hunters’ last shot at wild turkeys

HUNTING — Late wild turkey hunting sesaons will close Saturday (Dec. 15) evening in designagted areas of Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

Washington late fall turkey season has been open since Nov. 20 in Game Management Units 105-142, 149-154 and 162-186. The limit is one turkey of either sex.

North Idaho's fall general season also will close Saturday evening in Game Management Units 1, 2 (except Farragut State Park and Farragut WMA) 3, 4, 4A, 5 and 6.

However, Idaho's fall general season will continue through Dec. 31 in units 8, 8A, 10A, 11, 11A, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 18. This hunt is open on private lands only. Hunters must have permission from the landowner.

Snowy owl still a regular at Mt. Spokane High School

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The snowy owl that's been hanging out on or near Mt. Spokane High School for the past month is showing no signs of giving up what must be a great hunting area — and a certain celebrity status.

Here's today's report from local birder Craig Goodwin, who's been having fun visiting the area with his camera.

The Snowy owl at Mt. Spokane High School was on a light post in front of Mt. Spokane Church yesterday afternoon before moving to the light poles across from the high school and then heading to the top of the small grain tower. A friend who is a teacher at the high school told me the students and teachers have been very interested in the owl and they plan to include it in their upcoming school newsletter. The school secretary has named the owl Henrietta. 

DU restates zero tollerance for hunting violators

HUNTING — Ducks Unlimited officials in Idaho restated their zero-tollerance policy for illegal hunting tactics last week after a former volunteer chapter chairman from Hagerman was convicted of baiting ducks with corn.

Ducks Unlimited leaders condemned Steele’s hunting tactics, not only as a violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act but also the ethics of fair-chase that govern hunting, the Associated Press reports.

Mond Warren, the group’s regional director in Nampa, called corn baiting akin to using salt to lure big game such as elk nearer to hunters’ scopes.

“We have a zero tolerance for any type of game violation,” Warren said. “It’s a very stringent policy, there’s no wavering on it. Our job is waterfowl conservation and wetland conservation.”

Warren might have used  better analogy.  Putting out salt or even bait for big-game  hunting is illegal in Idaho but legal in Washington.

Baiting for waterfowl and other migratory birds is strictly forbidden in all states by federal law.

 Read on for the entire Associated Press story about the baiting case.

Avalanche at Schweitzer points out ice layer

WINTER SPORTS — I'm just picking up on in-bounds snow slides that buried at least two skiers last Friday on the Headwall at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Both were rescued by other skiers and no injuries were reported, but apparently the situations could have easily gone the other way.

Conditions change, but the main thing to be aware of is the underlying ice layer that could persist in some areas.

Read on for Schweitzer avalanche incident posts from last week on Epicski.com:

Ortovox 3+ avalanche transceivers recalled for defect

WINTER SPORTS — Ortovox has issued a recall notice for Ortovox 3+ avalanche beacons within certain serial number ranges.

During search training, avalanche transceivers of the ORTOVOX 3+ model switched to transmission mode unintentionally after 120 seconds in search mode. Internal tests showed that a certain production batch of the 3+ can exhibit this behavior.We are responding immediately and, as a precaution, are recalling all devices shipped to vendors after October 17, 2012, for inspection and a software update. These devices can no longer be used without an update.

The manufactuer's website allows customers to check their website for the range of beacons that are being recalled.  If you have this product, check this out before taking it into the field.

  • Click here for Inland Northwest Avalanche advisories.

Bald eagle count soars to 204 at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A total of 204 bald eagles were counted today (Dec. 13) in the Wolf Lodge Bay area of Lake Coeur d'Alene, up from 121 eagles counted on Dec. 5 and 100 eagles counted on Nov. 27 during their annual congregation to feast on spawning kokanee.

Today's tally compares with 259 eagles surveyed during this same week in 2011, said BLM wildlife biologist Carrie Hugo. Last year's corresponding count had mushroomed with a surge of eagles arriving in the seven days after 136 eagles were counted in the first week of December, survey statistics show.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.

Some eagles may be turning their attention to the big run of kokanee at Lake Pend Oreille that starting rebuilding the last two years at Granite Creek, Idaho Fish and Game biologists say.  At least 130 eagles were counted there last week.

Nevertheless, the show at Lake Coeur d'Alene's Wolf Lodge Bay, right off Interstate 90, is as good as ever, Hugo said.

“There were oodles of them in Beauty Bay and the viewing was great today,” she said, noting that she counted 157 adults (white heads) and 47 juveniles. “Last year on Dec.16, I counted 215 adults and 44 juveniles.”

See this blog post for tips on CdA eagle viewing areas.

Lake Roosevelt trout a picture of perfection

FISHING — A five-fish limit of rainbow trout from Lake Roosevelt is a beauty to behold in December, when the fish released from net pens in summer have had a chance to go wild putting on length and girth.

These are healthy, lovely and delicious fish.

Limits have been coming easily on most days since mid November, although Wednesday was an exception.  Anglers I fished with and interviewed had to work long, hard hours to scratch out a limit.

Today could be a different story.

Wolf killed on Spokane Indian Reservation

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A gray wolf has been killed on the Spokane Indian Reservation by a tribal member who was trapping other species, according to B.J. Kieffer, the tribe's Natural Resources Department director.

“The incidental take occurred (Dec. 10) within the boundaries of the reservation, and within the jurisdiction of the Spokane Tribe,” he said in a media release.

Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials say the wolf is likely a member of the Huckleberry Pack, noting that its range overlaps a portion of the reservation.

Wolves are protected by state endangered species rules outside of the reservation.

The Spokane Tribe is still in the process of developing a wolf management plan for its 157,376-acre reservation and has no designated trapping or hunting seasons for wolves.

The Colville Confederated Tribes have formally opened a wolf hunting season for tribal members on their 1.4 million-acre reservation with a quota of nine wolves. No wolves have been reported killed in the hunt.

Officials from both tribes say protecting big game is important to their tribal members, who rely on deer, elk and moose for subsistence.

At least 10 wolves have been killed in Washington this year through official or accidentalt actions, notes a report by Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman magazine:

This region of Washington is part of the zone in the Northern Rockies where gray wolves were Congressionally delisted in spring 2011. Additionally, the Spokanes and Colvilles are sovereign nations and can manage animals on their reservations as they see fit.

There are at least six other packs in Northeast Washington, including two on the Colville Reservation, two suspected ones and new activity in the area where the Wedge Pack was eliminated for cattle depredations.

The Huckleberry Pack is suspected by state wolf managers of being involved in sheep depredations in northwest Spokane County in early summer.

There have been calls for state delisting and translocation of wolves in Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties and elsewhere in Washington east of, roughly, Highways 97 and 17.

At least ten Washington wolves have now been killed this year through management actions, legal hunts or other incidents, including the seven Wedge wolves shot by state gunners, one that went to BC on a walkabout and another member of a cross-border pack that was on the Idaho side earlier this hunting season.

A pup that was eartagged by a state trapper in July was also discovered dead.

That that many wolves have died may be alarming for some, but it also means that their numbers are strong, especially so in Washington’s gamey northeast corner.

Meanwhile, the Washington Department of  Fish and Wildlife has been active with wolf issues on various fronts, including public education presentations.

In addition, officers have:

  • Met with landowners about the range rider program to deter wolves from livestock during spring, summer and fall.
  • Responded to a reported wolf attack in Loon Lake.  The party reported her dog had been injured and its leg had to be amputated.  She said she saw a silver or grey dog, which was bigger than a coyote, near her residence a few weeks back.  Officers advised her to immediately report any more sightings and preserve any evidence found in the future.
  • Used radio telemetry to verify the wolf known as OR-16 (yearling wolf dispersing from Oregon) is in Garfield County. 
  • Worked with cattlemen to develop a Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreement that would set guidelines for livestock operations in wolf country and detail responses to wolf activity available from the state.
  • Toured the area between the Columbia and Kettle Rivers in northern Stevens County where agency gunners wiped out seven wolves in the Wedge Pack after they'd inflicted a out 17 confirmed attacks on cattle.  No tracks were seen in fresh snow on that tour, but locals have reported seeing wolf tracks in new snow since that time.

10 ways to encourage activity during holiday break

FITNESS — Cheer up your child's holiday break by giving them a chance to be in better shape when school reconvenes in January.

Here are a few modest suggestions to help break the epidemic of TV and computer laziness:

  • While on vacation, play with children when you can and join the fun. Bring a football, basketball or even Hoola Hoop.
  • Hand deliver holiday cards and cookies to the neighbor.
  • While watching TV, have a contest to wee who can invent a new, fun exercise during commercial breaks.
  • Create A Holiday Tradition- Ideas include a ski trip, snowshoe trek, a trip to the woods to cut a Christmas Tree, or a visit to the skating rink – replace sedentary holiday traditions with more active ones.
  • Sign up for an inexpensive outing of snowshoeing or skiing organized by Spokane Parks and Recreation outdoors program.
  • Buy Active Holiday presents for the kids that will get them up and moving.  A jump rope, the good ol’ favorite Twister or even a movement based video gaming system like Xbox Kinect or Wii Sports.
  • Create Your Own Winter Olympics with friends and neighbors.  Kids who don’t want to participate can help judge.
  • Walk to see Holiday Decorations and Lights – instead of piling in the car to drive around the  neighborhood, walk to see the holiday lights.
  • Take the dogs for a walking tour of neighborhood decorations.
  • Visit indoor activity centers, such as the the great aquatic facilities at the  YMCA or YWCA.
  • Go tracking if there's snow at a local Conservation Futures area. Bring a field guide to animal tracks and see what you can find.

Altai skis open house Saturday in Curlew

WINTER SPORTS — Three-pin skiing guru Nils Larsen of Curlew is exposing his latest wares this weekend, inspired by his 2005 expedition to the remote Altai Mountains of China.

See a video of Larsen's exposure to the backcountry horsemen who made skis to keep track of their stock over the deep winter snow at the flanks of the Himalaya. They nailed horse skin to the bottoms to give them grip.

These skis inspired the Hok model of Altai Skis (both pictured above).  The Hok is short and fat with a simple three-pin binding (or a more  traditional strap binding) and a built-in skin patch on the bottom.  They are great for bushwhacking, variable snow conditions and just dinking around — a hybrid snowshoe-ski.

The Demo Day is Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. with guided tours to try the skis on snow.  The day concludes with the Open House starting at 4 p.m. at the Altai Skis Shop in Curlew, with refreshments from Republic Brewing Co.

Info: 509.779.0030.

 

Photographer focuses on battling bighorn rams

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bighorn rams defy the concussion issue plaguing the sport of football.

With unbelievable power they reserved for the mating seasons, males prove their superiority with a challenging ram by squaring off and rising to their hind feet to “ram” their horns together. The impact sounds like the boom of a high-powered rifle.  They usually back off to collect themselves, their eyes bugged out and rolling a bit — then they often do it again!   And AGAIN.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson scored big time with bighorns this month as he found a group of rams vying for the distinction to breed.

He not only scored great profiles and head-ramming photos, but also one of the best photos I've seen of an unusually aggressive ram launching a foe airborne with a blow to the ribs. Ouch!

He also got a shots of the broken, or “broomed” ends of the tough horns on some rams after their breeding-right battles. 

Finally, he visited the bighorns recently as the rut apparently had wound down, showing rams that looked a bit exhausted from the wear and tear.

  • Click “continue reading” to see a small selection of the “thousands of images” Jaime and his photographer wife Lisa shot of this band of wild sheep.
  • See video of bighorn rams in battle.

National Park group honors Dicks for conservation

PUBLIC LANDS — Retiring Congressman Norm Dicks has receive a conservation award from a national parks group.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees has awarded its highest honor, The George B. Hartzog Award, to Rep. Norm Dicks, D-WA, for his career-long support of America’s national parks and the National Park Service.

Hartzog, Parks director from 1964 to 1972, expanded the National Park System and worked with Congress to achieve comprehensive funding of the national parks.     

Dicks has served on the Interior appropriations subcommittee since being elected to Congress in 1976. 

While he supported a wide range of parks from the Everglades to Yosemite, Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula is a notable gem in Dicks’ district.  He was an early supporter of removing the dams that significantly impacted the park ecosystem and blocked the passage of anadromous fish. 

The Congressman was a key player in securing the passage of the Elwha River Restoration Act in 1992.  After passage of this act, Dicks helped secure 15 consecutive appropriations to make dam removal a reality.

In a press release, the parks retiree group called that “an unheard of accomplishment.”  

The Elwha Dam is gone, and the Glines Canyon Dam will be gone next year.  The Elwha River will be free flowing, and the restoration of a major ecosystem, within a nationally and internationally recognized park, is on its way.

Upon receiving the award, Congressman Dicks said, “this is a great honor and I deeply appreciate the recognition for one of the most enduring causes of my career on the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee — improving and expanding our National Parks. These are the ‘crown jewels’ of the American landscape and I am proud of what we did in Congress during my tenure to improve the visitor experience at all of our park units.”                                                                                                                                       

Ducks Unlimited looking for helpers Thursday in Spokane

CONSERVATION — Ducks Unlimited is holding a recruitment meeting Thursday (Dec. 13) in Spokane for people interested in helping organize a fundraiser for wildlife habitat projects.

DU is a nonprofit (501.c.3), volunteer run, conservation organization, that covers the USA, Mexico and Canada.

Bernard Brown, DU's senior regional director for Washington, will meet with conservation-minded waterfowl enthusiasts from 5 p.m.-6 p.m. at O’Doherty’s Irish Grille, 525 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Contact Brown at (509) 860-1510 or email Bernard Brown bbrown@ducks.org.

Public can comment on getting nets out of lower Columbia

SALMON FISHING — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will take public comment on a proposed plan to restructure salmon and sturgeon fisheries on the lower Columbia River at a meeting Dec. 14-15 in Olympia.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 Friday to approve the plan, which forces commercial gillnets out of the rive rand into the tributaries.

  • Here's another report on the Oregon Commission's vote from the Vancouver Columbian.

In mid-November, a work group made up of representatives from Washington and Oregon developed a set of recommendations to restructure salmon and sturgeon fisheries in the lower Columbia River.

Members of the Tri-State Steelheaders are trying to get the commission to looking into aspects of spring chinook management that, in their opinion, short-change Eastern Washington sport fishermen.

For example, they say in the letter document attached below, “37 percent of the Columbia River Salmon & Steelhead Endorsements are purchased by anglers in communities located in Eastern Washington, while only 12 percent of the  harvest for spring chinook has been allowed to occur above Bonneville Dam.”

Click “continue reading” below for a list of key provisions in the proposed plan as cited by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Also on the commission's Dec. 14-15 meeting agenda are proposed rules for compensating livestock operators for losses to bears, cougars and wolves.


Documents:

Should hunting regulations pamphlet include a calendar?

HUNTING — It's safe to say most sportsmen would rather not see the Washington hunting regulations pamphlet get any larger.

But Stevens County hunter Fred Phillips is adamant that something should be added:  a calendar.

Phillips has been writing back and forth to the agency trying to make his case FOR 10 YEARS, but officials have told him, among other things, it would cost money to add more pages to the pamphlet.  A staffer who answered from Olympia said they can't justify adding the extra element considering most hunters have a calendar on their wall, in their rigs or on their smartphones.

Here's Phillips' case:

So let's look at my request from a hunters point of view. First I must reserve vacation time from my employer for next years elk hunt, the 2012 pamphlet on page 46 tells me the season starts Oct 27, but no day, so I must look at calendar for the day.

if I wish to put in for special permits, I go to page 84 and it states I must have the application sent by May 18, but no day. and no calendar to look at.

If I am drawn for special elk season, page 52 informs me it starts Oct. 22. but no day.

This goes on and on in the pamphlet , all dates and no DAYS. A number of years I started getting myself a calendar every year and stapled it to the front page. But his year I said why should I do that? It would be NO trouble for the WDFW to add a calendar for the ease of hunters to utilize this document.

If you look at the 2012 pamphlet, page’s 19, 46, 48, 57 and 80 have more then ample room to incorporate a small calendar. 

Personally, I've never had an problem since I always seem to have a calendar around. BUT, if it's the wildly popular idea Phillips suggests, maybe the free enterprise system could take care of it. 

Perhaps an advertiser looking for a hook to get hunters to check out its ad should include a CALENDAR along with its message.  WDFW could make the stipulation that only one advertiser could sponsor the “calendar ad” each year and charge a premium for the privilege.

Win-Win! 

Colville Tribe: “Wolves starting to have an impact”

ENDANGERED SPECIES — No wolves have been killed yet in the first regulated wolf hunting season within the borders of Washington, the Colville Confederated Tribes report.

Although gray wolves are still protected by state endangered species regulations, the tribe opened a season two weeks ago to tribal members, with an overall quota of nine wolves in three sections of the 1.4 million acre reservation.

“Wolves are starting to have an impact,” a tribal spokesman told the Seattle Times in this report.

Montana panel votes to protect wolves in areas just outside Yellowstone

PREDATORS — After seven of Yellowstone National Park's roughly 88 wolves had been legally shot in recent weeks while traveling outside the park — including five wolves that had been radio-collared for research — Montana wildlife commissioners voted today to close some areas outside the park to wolf hunting and trapping.

The closures were approved on a 4-to-1 vote by Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission, the Associated Press reports.

The most recent to be shot, the collared alpha female from the park's well-known Lamar Canyon pack, was killed last week in Wyoming. The pack is often viewed by park visitors.

Also shot in recent weeks were four collared wolves originally from the park but now living outside it. Three more shot in the vicinity of the park had unknown origins, park officials said.

Saturday is the opening day of Montana’s first wolf trapping season since the animals lost federal protections last year.

With at least five collared wolves from the park shot this year, commissioners say they want to guard against too many being killed.  However, wildlife officials say the statewide wolf harvest is down 18 percent this year.

Before the meeting, Montana wildlife commissioner Shane Colton told the Ravalli Republic, “We don't want to close any area off if we don't have to. But if we keep losing collared wolves … management becomes difficult. We want to do this first trapping season right.”

Ex-duck group president sentenced for duck baiting

HUNTING - The former head of an Idaho group whose mission it is to protect ducks is being punished for using illegal methods to hunt them.

Charles D. Steele of Hagerman was sentenced today to a year of supervised probation, a $2,000 fine and 25 hours of community service in U.S. District Court, according to the Associated Press.

On Sept. 25, he pleaded guilty to violating federal bird-protection laws by baiting ducks placing corn on private farmland near Gooding to attract waterfowl — and enhance hunting opportunities.

The 48-year-old Steele is the former president of the Hagerman Chapter of Ducks Unlimited.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While on probation, Steele is forbidden to hunt in the United States.

Schweitzer benefit features $10 lift tickets Dec. 14

WINTER SPORTS — Schweitzer Mountain Resort will be offering $10 lift tickets on Friday (Dec. 14) with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Community Cancer Services and the Bonner Partners in Care Clinic. The event is Schweitzer’s first major event of the winter season.

Schweitzer plans to have about 2,000 acres of skiable terrain open and operate seven lifts next weekend as it plays host to the Community Day fundraiser. Lifts will run from 9am – 3:30pm.
 
“Community Day is a great opportunity to say “thank you” to our loyal skiers and support two organizations that provide much needed services in Bonner County”, said Schweitzer President and CEO Tom Chasse.
 
Tickets are available in advance at Schweitzer.com or in person at either organization. Early purchasers will be allowed to choose which organization they wish to support. During the day of the event, tickets will be available at the Schweitzer Guest Services, Activity Center and Snow Sports Center.
 
Info: Schweitzer’s Activity Center, (208) 255-3081.

WDFW extends deadline for fishing rules comments

FISHING — The public will have more time to review proposed changes to state sportfishing rules under an extended comment period announced Friday by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Under the new timeline, WDFW will accept written comments through Jan. 29 on the proposed regulations – more than a month longer than previously announced.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, which sets policy for WDFW, also has postponed a public hearing on the proposals until its February meeting in Olympia. Written testimony also can be submitted during that meeting.

The commission is scheduled to take action on the proposed rule changes during its March meeting in Moses Lake.

Craig Burley, WDFW fish division manager, said the public hearing was postponed to allow for additional time to draft the rule language that the commission will consider.

“Making that change also gives people more time to review and provide comments on the proposals,” Burley said.

Click here to review and comment on the proposed rules.

The website includes information on the nearly 70 proposed rules, some of which are recommended by WDFW fishery managers and some of which are not.

G-Prep wrestlers build cedar canoe with teamwork

PADDLING – Gonzaga Prep wresters are pinning their annual fundraising goals on a 17-foot cedar-strip canoe they built with their own hands.

“We started during summer and we’re just doing the hand-caned bamboo seas and putting the finishing touches on it,” team Coach Danny Pearson said last week.

The team is selling tickets to raffle the canoe in a drawing that will be held at the school on Tuesday (Dec. 13).

Click here to see the work in progress and raffle form

Assistant coach Dane Vulcan recruited his father, Doug, to teach the team how to build a Minnesota Canoe Association guide-model boat. Doug Vulcan, a retired wrestling coach in Montana, has been building canoes for 30 years and conducts workshops on the craft.

“Doug is a canoe guru and was really involved last year when we built our first cedar canoe,” Pearson said. “This year he came over to supervise, but we had students and coaches who’d been involved with the first canoe and we could do a lot more of the work.”

Vulcan helped the team build their own forms to shape the elegant canoe that requires a long series of steps to construct. The flat-bottom, no-keel tandem boat is made of Western red cedar strips with mahogany gunwales, thwarts and face plates. It weighs 70 pounds and has a 750-pound capacity.

“Caning the seats is the most tedious work,” Pearson said. “It requires sitting down for hours and weaving.”

The coach went on to explain why they're taking the hands-on approach to fundraising:

“Team building a big part of why we do this. We could sell frozen pizzas to raise money for our travel and equipment, but there’s little benefit to the students other than the money.

“But in building the canoe, the kids come up, sp end a day or two working with each other, milling down the boards, running the table saw and route, troubleshooting and figuring out problems.

“It’s a way for the wrestling team to spend time together other than wrestling.

“This isn’t the easiest or most efficient way to make money, but we want to have a community aspect to our program, and this seems to be a winner.”

  • Canoe raffle tickets are $10, available at Gonzaga Preparatory School, 483-8511.

Fire burns Panhandle warming hut; tips sought

PUBLIC LANDS — Forest Service law enforcement officers are investigating the destruction of the Skitwish Warming Hut, which was discovered this morning to have been destroyed by fire sometime during the past 48 hours.
 
The warming hut is located approximately 14 miles east of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on National Forest System Lands in Skitwish Saddle and is popular among snowmobile enthusiasts in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains.
 
The hut is valued at approximately $30,000 and is maintained by the CDA Snowmobile Club.
 
The hut’s destruction was reported by a local citizen recreating in the area who reported it to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. The cause of the fire is unknown but foul play is suspected.
 
Anyone with information about the fire is encouraged to contact Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Dan Schneider at (208) 664-2318.

Could winter recreation resorts be left out in the warm?

WINTER SPORTS — Warm thoughts for the future of ski areas….

Report pegs cost of warming climate to winter tourism at $2B annually

The “Winter Tourism in Peril” report released Thursday by Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council said that warming temperatures and less snowpack could cut $2 billion annually from the $12.2-billion-a-year winter tourism industry in the United States. — Denver Post

In some ways, now’s better than the good ol’ days for wildlife

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Of course there are ups and downs, but overall this isn't a bad time to be among the critters.

Montana wildlife numbers better now than 50 years ago

Most of Montana's suite of wildlife species are doing better than they were 50 years ago. The reasons for the resurgence are mixed, with federal protection of some species playing a part, protection of habitat another. — Billings Gazette
  

EWU student wins Othello Sandhill Crane Festival art contest

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A graphic design student at Eastern Washington University has captured the grace of the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival's featured attraction in artwork that has won the $500 top prize in the festival's annual art contest.

Xengyeng Xiong's computer-generated design, inspired by traditional origami cranes, will be featured on brochures and posters for the April 5-7 festival based out of Othello.

“I knew that one of (the committee’s) main goals was to attract a wide range of audience, so I wanted to make the poster modern…that’s how I ended up with a very geometric and clean layout design for the poster,” she said.

Biologists, geologists, birders, local farmers, authors, and historians will be leading tours and lectures at the annual event, which highlights the annual migration of the large cranes through the area.

The theme for this year’s festival will be “Migration” in honor of the dozens of bird species that travel through central Washington every spring and fall.

The Othello Sandhill Crane Festival is a nonprofit event chaired by an all-volunteer committee, and proceeds generated by the event go toward providing the following year’s festival activities.

Practical outdoorsman eyes wedding dress in closet

HUNTING — I'm thinking this man isn't hunting; he's running scared.

On the other hand, I've always thought it would be cool to haul out my game on a train.

Editorial: Breaching dams cheaper way to save Idaho sockeye

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Another point of view…

Breaching dams a better, cheaper way to save Idaho's sockeye

The Seattle Times' recent article on the federal government's work to save sockeye salmon estimated that the per-fish price tag of raising wild fish in hatcheries was $9,000, a spendy proposition that still has not pulled the species back from the edge of extinction, and a better method would be to remove the dams that block the wild fish's age-old migration from the West Coast to Redfish Lake in Central Idaho, according to an Idaho Statesman editorial.

Click “continue reading” to see the entire editorial:

Another $65 million geared to mitigating mining damage to Clark Fork River

RIVERS — The riches of the Butte-area mining have evaporated in Western Montana as the federal government continues to try to undo the century-old environmental havoc the leftover heavy metals contributed to the Clark Fork River.

The $100-million project to remove Milltown Dam is complete.

Here's the latest step on the course back to a natural river, and wonderful fishery.

Final plan to clean up Upper Clark Fork River in Montana approved

The Trustee Restoration Council charged with allocating the funds from Montana's settlement with Atlantic Richfield Co. over natural resource damage caused by decades of mining in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin signed off on a 20-year plan that will fund $65.5 million worth of projects crafted to improve water and land in Anaconda, Elliston, Drummond and Missoula, and another $40 million on groundwater projects in Butte and Anaconda, and now Gov. Brian Schweitzer must sign off on the plan. — Helena Independent Record

Effort to save woodland caribou has clashed with snowmobiling

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A few rebel snowmobilers helped write a restrictive sentence for Selkirk Mountains snowmobilers with the tracks they left along the Selkirk Crest in the early 2000s. 

Warned to stay away from areas protected for the survival of the last remaining woodland caribou herd venturing into the Lower 48 states, they kept coming, defiantly.

Several conservation groups took to the air, photographed the snowmobile tracks in proximity to wintering caribou areas, and made their case to a federal court, getting an injunction on snowmobiling on a larger area of the crest in 2005 and a court ruling in their favor in 2007.

The closure continues this winter as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Panhandle National Forests continue to work through the science, lawsuits, budget woes and other issues related to managing on-snow motorized recreation with wildlife protection.  (See my Thursday outdoors column.)

Following are links to maps, documents and background stories related to caribou and snowmobiling in the Selkirk Mountains:

2012-2013 map and Snowmobile Guide for Priest Lake, Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint Ranger Districts. The dark purple areas are closed to snowmobiling, with the exception of specific marked routes, because of the 2005 court injunction.

Critical habitat designated for Selkirk woodland caribou, US FWS media release, Nov. 27, 2012

Bonner County files petition to delist caribou, S-R, May 10, 2012

Public land decisions run into roadblocks, S-R, Feb. 26, 2012 

Caribou face precarious prognosis, S-R, Feb. 26, 2012

Caribou protection worries officials, S-R, Dec. 21, 2011

Plan designates land for Selkirk caribou, S-R, Nov. 30, 2011

Agencies increase snowmobile protections for caribou, S-R, Dec. 3, 2010

Lawsuit filed to protect caribou, S-R, Jan. 17, 2009

British Columbia announces caribou plan, S-R, Oct. 18, 2007

U.S. Forest Service crafting caribou plan, March 20, 2007

Caribou buffer zone in Selkirks expanded, S-R, Feb. 28, 2007

Snowmobiles and caribou: Tense trail mix in the Selkirks, S-R, Dec. 17, 2006

British Columbia to transplant more caribou, S-R, Dec. 6  2006

Snowmobilers lose access in court case, S-R, Sept. 26, 2006

Ungroomed ghost town, S-R, Jan. 29, 2006

Group wants snowmobiling halted through caribou land, S-R, Dec. 6, 2005

Caribou numbers desperate, S-R, Nov. 30, 2005

Canada might abandon caribou recovery, Oct. 29, 2005

 Opinion: Caribou lawsuit forced by agency inaction, S-R, Sept. 3, 2005

More snowmobiling restrictions advocated, S-R, Dec. 14, 2004

Caribou facing uphill battle to survive, S-R, July 2, 1997

Caribou transplants survival low, but inching to success, S-R, March 3, 1996

Rare caribou dwindline to 13 in Idaho, S-R, Sept. 3, 1995

More caribou habitat off-limits to snowmobilers, S-R, Jan. 3, 1995

Hunter earns reward for turning in gate-busting ATVers

HUNTING — A national sportsman's conservation group has paid a $500 reward to an Idaho bear hunter who provided the information game wardens needed to cite hunters using all-terrain vehicles in habitat protected from motorized traffic.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a national group of outdoorsmen and women who value hunting and fishing in the peace and quiet of natural conditions, said Holly Endersby, BHA acting director who lives in Pollock, Idaho, in announcing the reward.

The case dates back to spring of 2011, when Ted Koch and two friends were hunting for black bears on the Nez Perce National Forest. They planned to hike into an area where roads had been closed to vehicles, but hike-in hunters were allowed.

As they hiked in, they observed hunters on ATVs driving around the locked gate. They also found bait stations the hunters had left behind.

“We planned to enjoy a quiet evening looking for bears,” Koch said. “Instead, the evening was shattered by noise and exhaust where it did not belong.”

Koch lived in Boise at the time of the hunt, but has since moved to Reno, Nev. He pointed out that he and his hunting partners own dirt bikes or all-terrain vehicles, but stay within the bounds of the law.

“Hunters and wildlife alike need some places entirely apart from the noise and disturbance of motor traffic,” Koch said. “Owning an ATV does not mean you can re-write the rule book.”

Koch noted the license plate numbers of the hunters’ vehicles, took GPS readings, recorded the date and time and wrote detailed descriptions of the riders. He reported the incident to Roy Kinner, a senior conservation officer from Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Grangeville.

“Mr. Koch gave us exactly the kind of information we needed to launch a successful investigation,” Kinner said. “I don’t usually get that kind of high quality information.  It was just priceless.”

In the end, three hunters pleaded guilty to the road closure violations and were fined $500 each. Other charges of leaving bear bait too close to a stream were dismissed.

BHA has a dedicated reward fund for aiding the conviction of law-breakers who abuse public hunting and fishing areas with motorized vehicles.

Bald eagle numbers increase at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  A total of 121 bald eagles were counted Tuesday in the Wolf Lodge Bay area of Lake Coeur d'Alene, up from 100 eagles counted on Nov. 27 during their annual congregation to feast on spawning kokanee.

BLM wildlife biologist Carrie Hugo said she counted 84 adults (white heads) and 37 juveniles this week.

She notes that 36 eagles were spotted on Mineral Ridge, with a lot of flying action around the boat launch around 1 p.m.

More eagles

Lake Coeur d' Alene doesn't have claim to the only eagle congregation in the region, although the Wolf Lodge Bay eagles are the most accessible for viewing.

Idaho Fish and Game Department hatchery workers collecting kokanee eggs on Lake Pend Oreille counted 129 bald eagles last week near Granite Creek, a 45-minute boat ride out of Bayview.

Spokane makes top 10 ‘winter vacation cities’ list

WINTER SPORTS — Spokane has been named to a list of Top 10 Best Winter Vacation Destinations by Livability.com, a national website that highlights more than 500 of America’s best places to live and visit.

Note: It's not clear if Mayor Condon owns this site.

The list highlights “communities that embrace their cool climates and offer residents and visitors a wealth of outdoor recreation, arts and culture, dining and entertainment options.”

Note: Salt Lake City is not on this winter destination list, for some reason.

To narrow down the list, editors started by identifying those cities with an average temperature below freezing and an average annual snowfall over 25 inches.

Editors looked for cities that offer an ample number of outdoor recreation options – cities near ski slopes or frozen lakes or with large open areas perfect for snowshoeing or snowmobiling.

Note: Spokane is on the same list with Casper, Wyo.  (See below).

“Winter can be a great time to travel because often hotels and attractions are more willing to offer discounts to get people in the door,” says John Hood, spokesman for Livability.com. “But just because a city has cold weather does not make it a good winter vacation destination. We chose cities that offer the amenities tourists look for – good, local and independent restaurants, a thriving arts scene, nightlife, shopping, and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities.”

Note: OK, we can go with that.

Says Mr. Hood:

Moonlit snowshoe hikes, snowmobile tours and downhill skiing are just some of the winter activities visitors and residents enjoy in Spokane. A hot nightlife scene, unique restaurants and a large collection of theaters, art galleries and museums provide plenty of ways to stay entertained and warm during Spokane's coldest time of the year.

Spokane's location near five ski mountains, lakes and forests puts it in a prime spot for winter recreation. Spokane's cultural and historic attractions music and art lovers from around the region. An annual Bach Festival, which begins in late January, showcases the city's talented collection of orchestral musicians, while venues like the INB Performing Arts Center, Bing Crosby Theatre, and the Knitting Factory Concert House offers stages for popular rock, pop and country acts.

Top 10 Best Winter Vacation Destinations
1. Anchorage, AK
2. Spokane, WA
3. Minneapolis, MN
4. Traverse City, MI
5. Reno, NV
6. Waukesha, WI
7. Missoula, MT
8. Bangor, ME
9. Concord, NH
10. Casper, WY

Feds consider hunting season on Yellowstone-area grizzlies

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Federal authorities are laying groundwork for possible trophy grizzly bear hunts around the Yellowstone area as soon as 2014, the AP reports.

It's the surest sign yet that more than 30 years of federal protection for grizzlies in the area is nearing an end as their population recovers.

Canada considers bull trout for threatened status

FISHING — Not unexpected….

Canada lists bull trout in Alberta, Saskatchewan as species of concern

On Monday, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed 42 species as at risk, including the bull trout, which is Alberta's provincial fish. — Calgary Herald

Alaska plans 5-year, $30 million study of ailing king salmon stocks

FISHING — Following dismal returns that forced closure of some king salmon fishing seasons this year, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has announced that his Fiscal Year 2014 budget will contain $10 million for the first component of a five-year, $30 million comprehensive Chinook Salmon Research Initiative.

See details in this story by the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Colville Tribe opens wolf hunting season on reservation

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Wolf hunting has arrived in Washington.

Although gray wolves are still listed by the state as an endangered species, the Colville Confederated Tribes have opened a wolf hunting season for tribal members on a portion of their reservation, according to the 2012 Tribal Member South Half Gray Wolf Regulations posted on the tribe's website.

Tribal officials aren't answering calls from the media, but Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman magazine has put together a detailed report on this milestone in wolf management.

The Tribal Council approved a season that opened last week on the south half of the 1.4 million-acre reservation in Okanogan and Ferry Counties where at least two and possibly three packs roam.

At least 12 wolf packs have been identified across Eastern Washington.

The minimum number of wolf packs have not been formed to trigger steps toward a hunting season in Washington outside the reservation, according to the state's Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

Nine permits are available to Colville tribal members, according to the online regulations. The season is posted to run through Feb. 28 or until  hunters have met the quota.

This fall, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers set another milestone in the process of wolves reestablishing themselves in the state by killing an entire wolf pack that had been attacking cattle in northern Stevens County.

Washington freezes Master Hunter Program enrollment

HUNTER EDUCATION – With current enrollment nearing 2,000 hunters, the Master Hunter Permit Program administered by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has stopped accepting new applications for membership until further notice.

The enrollment freeze is designed to give the department time to absorb an increase of nearly 30 percent more certified master hunters over the past four years and clearly define the program’s role, said Sgt. Carl Klein, WDFW program manager.

“Since 1992, the program has produced a highly skilled pool of volunteers that assist the department in controlling wildlife damage,” Klein said. “Now we need to make sure we can utilize the skills of all master hunters.”

Klein said WDFW often calls on master hunters to participate in hunts designed to remove problem animals that damage property or threaten public safety. To maintain their certification, master hunters are required to participate in volunteer projects, ranging from maintaining elk fences to restoring wildlife habitat.

Mike Britton, chair of WDFW’s Master Hunter Advisory Group, said he supports the department’s review of the program.

“There is an urgent need for WDFW to identify priority volunteer needs and to actively engage master hunters in meaningful work,” he said.

When is the best time to read the Outdoors Blog?

READER REACTION:  A woman just made this comment to me (slightly smiling): 

“I don't know why I read the Outdoors Blog while I'm eating lunch.”

Apparently she's reacting to the graphic and educational and fascinating if not gross post of the local snowy owl giving a new definition to the term “expelled” at Mt. Spokane High School.

Question: Is there a BEST TIME to read the Outdoors Blog?  

Idaho anglers need new fishing license Jan. 1

Ask Idaho Fish and Game: New Fishing License

Q.      I just purchased a 2013 Idaho fishing license; can I use it to fish to the end of 2012?

A.      No. To fish in December 2012, you must have a valid 2012 fishing license. The 2013 license is not valid until January 1.

But a resident 2012 season fishing license is still available for $25.75. A resident can buy a one-day license for $11.50 plus $5 for each additional day when purchased at the same time. But a one-day license holder can't buy a salmon or steelhead permit. Resident anglers must first buy a full season fishing license to buy a salmon or steelhead permit for $12.75.

A nonresident daily fishing license is available for $12.75 for the first day and $6 for each additional day, or a three-day license and permit for steelhead is available for $37.50.

See more information on Idaho fishing rules.

  • WASHINGTON's license year begins April 1.

Montana game wardens share bizarre stories from the field

WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT — “Sorry, officer, but I thought that llama was an elk — even after I gutted it out and put it in my pickup.”

Sound like a tall tale? Nope.  Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees have seen some doozy cases over the years, as you'll read in Montana game wardens share some of their stranger tales, published in the Missoula Independent.

Indicentally, the 2009 llama incident mentioned above was well reported at the time.

Hog Canyon, 4th of July Lakes heavy with fish

WINTER FISHING — Hog Canyon had an average turnout, but the pressure was down somewhat at Fourth of July lake when the fisheries opened for their winter trout season on Saturday.

Fishing was good, but anglers had trouble getting their limits after catching two fast fish over 14 inches.

Problem:  Most of the fish are large and you can keep only two fish longer than 14.

Click here for the opening weekend report from Hatch and Williams lakes near Colville.

Following is the Hog Canyon/Fourth of July lakes report from Randall Osborne, Washington Department of Fish Wildlife area fisheries biologist:

Both lakes were ice free for the opener and with the forcast, should stay that way for a while anyway. Both lakes fished relatively well and should be good for quite a while through the season.

Hog Canyon Lake - this lake had a pretty good turnout for the opener. Rainbows averaged 16 inches and ranged from 9 to 20 inches. Average number of fish harvested by anglers that were creeled was 1.9 fish/angler.

Fourth of July Lake - Not the most people I have seen here in past openers, but still a pretty good turnout. Rainbows averaged 17.5 inches and ranged from 15.5 to 21.5 inches. Average number of fish harvested by anglers that were creeled was also 1.9 fish/angler.

When these two lakes are in form, like they are now, they tend to grow trout really, really well. This is the reason for the relatively low harvest rates. Most people harvested their two fish over 14 inches pretty quickly, but struggled a bit finding fish under 14 inches to fill in their limits.

  

Mt. Spokane HS snowy owl puts on digestion clinic

WILDLIFE WATCHING — An arctic migrant snowy owl  continues to treat birdwatchers near Mount Spokane High School, not only by perching and modeling for photos, but also by letting people watch as it hunts nearby for rodents.

Of course, most of what goes in must come out.

You don't need a degree in anatomy to guess that bones are expelled easier from the front end, rather than the rear. 

Owls have a cool way of internally wrapping the sharp bones they ingest in the fur and feathers of their prey. This neat little package, called an owl pellet or casting, is regurgitated — a prize for the curious, picked apart by many biology classes.

Local birder/photographer Ron Dexter caught the snowy owl in an act with his camera.  The photo above might leave you a little breathless to see the size of that pellet.  To the owl, it's just another moment of relief.

Here's Dexter's Monday report:

This is the Snowy Owl that is still hunting early morning and late afternoon at the Mt. Spokane High School on HWY 206.

I captured these images of it a few days ago as it regurgitated the large pellet from it's stomach after acids had eaten all of the meat and blood leaving just the fur and bones to be expelled.

I collected the pellet and disected it at home and found 5 rodent skulls and skeletons. Two of the skulls were twice the size of the other 3.

School students sometimes using charts can identify the exact type of rodent. I suspect the large ones are voles and the smaller ones mice. Lots of fun.

Afterthought:  A reader wonders about the timing of reading these Outdoors Blog posts.

Most Dworshak facilities closing for season

BOATING — Most of the recreation facilities at Dworshak Dam and Reservoir are buttoning up for the winter.

Dam View, Grandad and Canyon Creek campgrounds, and Merrys Bay day-use area are closed for the season and will reopen in the spring 2013 as weather conditions allow.

Dent Acres campground will remain open until Dec. 15, weather permitting, to accommodate late-season hunters.

Big Eddy, Bruces Eddy and the fishing wall area below the dam will remain open for use during the winter season. 

Roads accessing recreation areas can be challenging and icy during inclement weather.

Info: (208) 476-1255 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Lower Columbia gillnet plan could affect anglers on East Side, Idaho

FISHING — As Oregon and Washington consider banning gill nets from the lower Columbia River, some worry the move could have unintended and negative consequences on salmon fisheries in Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Check out this report by the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Could hunters save animal-infested suburbia?

WILDLIFE — The good news: Wildlife populations in the U.S. have experienced an astonishing resurgence.

The bad news: All those animals are now our neighbors.

See the story: America Gone Wild in the Wall Street Journal.

Trout fishing hot for winter season opener at area lakes

FISHING — Trout were present while any sign of ice was absent during Saturday's winter fishing season at several northeastern Washington trout lakes.

Here's Saturday's field report from the Colville area by Bill Baker, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist:

Hatch Lake - No ice…all open water. Rainbows averaged 14.5 inches and ranged from 13-16 inches. Catch rates were decent with most anglers limiting within 2 hours. However, most fishing occurred from shore…not the easiest way to fish Hatch Lake due to its shallow, weedy nature. Few anglers took advantage of the open water to launch a small boat, but those that did were rewarded with quick limits. Given the weather forecast, I suspect that there will be open water for a while longer.

Williams Lake - No ice…all open water. Rainbows averaged 15 inches and ranged from 12.5-17 inches. Catch rates were very good with most anglers limiting within an hour. Similar to Hatch Lake, most anglers were fishing from shore. Shoreline fishing space at Williams Lake is somewhat limited due to the rushes and cattails growing around the edge of the lake. Therefore, as long as open water persists, I recommend fishing from a boat if possible. Trolling, drifting with the wind, or anchoring up and plunking bait should all be very effective.

Click here for the report on Hog Canyon and Fourth of July lakes.

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About this blog

News, field reports and insights on the Great Outdoors.

Rich Landers – hunter, animal lover, hiker, paddler, angler, naturalist and conservationist – has been covering the outdoors beat for more than three decades. His versatility and field research as a trails and waterways guidebook author help him connect issues to a wide range of interests.

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Rich Landers Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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