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Outdoors blog

Archive for December 2013

Fly tying classes set at Silver Bow shop

FLY FISHING — A series of fly tying classes is set at Silver Bow Fly Shop, 13210 E. Indiana Ave., to help anglers gear up for the upcoming seasons.  Info: 924-9998

Beginner Fly Tying

What: Learn the basic to fly tying and 6 patterns in 2 nights. 

When: Jan 6/7  6-8:30pm

Cost: $50. Includes use of tools/materials.

Saturday Beginner Fly Tying

What: Learn easy and fun beginner flies in 1 day!

When: Saturday January 11  10am-2pm

Cost: $40. Includes use of tools/materials.

Beyond the Basics Fly Tying

What: Learn more advanced flies / techniques that can be applied to hundreds more.

When: Jan 13/14  6-8:30pm

Cost: $50. Includes use of tools/materials.

Washington State Parks host New Year’s Day hikes

HIKING – State Parks across Washington are sponsoring family-oriented New Year’s Day hikes to get the  year off on the right foot. Events in the Spokane area include:

Mount Spokane, 10 a.m. — Snowshoe along Trail 130 for a 2- to 4-mile, round-trip hike. Meet at the snowmobile parking lot. A Seasonal Sno-Park Permit and a Special Groomed Trail Permit or a One-Day Sno-Park Permit and a Discover Pass are required for vehicle access to the event. (Purchase Sno-Park permits online at Snowshoes are required, and pets are allowed on a leash.

Riverside State Park, 1 p.m. — Take the foot bridge over the Spokane River for a hike on the Bowl and Pitcher River Trail. Participants will see the unique basalt rock formations cut by the Spokane River known as the Bowl and Pitcher. Meet in the Bowl and Pitcher swing bridge parking lot. Snowshoes may be required. Pets on leash are allowed. 

Cutting the fog for a day of pheasant hunting

HUNTING — Luckily, I could pass the time this morning listening to the last of the NPR Sunday morning news program as I waited for the fog to lift, but my dog was more than anxious to get out.

When I finally had couple hundred yards of visibility over the Palouse, I put my English setter, Scout, on the ground and we swept through the frosty landscape trying to get the most out of the late phase of the pheasant hunting season.

Tip:   Go for gentle terrain.  Since last weekend, the slopes have been coated with thin snow or ice, making steep hills treacherous for walking, especially side-hilling.  I aborted a chukar hunt last Sunday for fear of killing myself, and things haven't improved too much.

Another snowshoe trail marked on Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS — Yesterday I noted two snowshoeing trails recently marked on Mount Spokane for all to follow.

Today, snowshoer Warren D. Walker announced that another route has been flagged (tape to be removed at end of season).  Here's his notice:

New OFF-TRAIL option to hike to Bald Knob.

A winter trail is marked (flagged) from Trail 100 up to Bald Knob (dashed line on map). The route is approximate – and goes cross country. Just follow the engineer tape. This completes a loop trail to Bald Knob – or as an alternate return route from the CCC Cabin to the parking lot. The double tape is the trail head as seen From Trail 100 - just beyond the first creek drainage - just look uphill.

The printable map of snowshoeing routes on the Friends of Mount Spokane website was recently updated.

Great Scott! First nordic event of season is Sunday

WINTER SPORTS — The first nordic event of the season will be held Sunday at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, but skinny skiers won't be the only participants

The Great Scott race has divisions for snowshoers and snowbikers as well as a nordic division.  Competitors can come solo or enter the team spring relay.

Register at the Hermit's Hollow Tubing Yurt 8:30-9:30 a.m.  Nordic race starts at 10 a.m. followed by snowbiking at 11:30.

Info: Schweitzer Activity Center, (208) 255-3081.

Some cougar hunting areas to close

HUNTING —  Cougar hunts in several areas of the state will close at dusk on Dec. 31 as harvest guidelines for the animals have been reached in those areas, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday.

Eight of the 49 cougar hunt areas will close, including Game Management Units (GMUs) 105, 117, 149, 154, 157, 162, 163, 328, 329, 335, 336, 340, 342, 346, 382, 388, 560, 574, and 578.

Those GMUs are in portions of Stevens, Pend Oreille, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, Kittitas, Yakima, Klickitat, and Cowlitz counties.

This is the second year the department has managed cougar hunts under a plan approved by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2012, said Dave Ware, WDFW Game Division manager.

That plan establishes harvest guidelines for specific areas of the state, based on cougar populations in those areas, said Ware. Under the plan, WDFW can close areas where cougar harvest meets or exceeds guidelines, while continuing to allow for hunting opportunities elsewhere.

“The goal is to preserve a variety of cougar age classes in numerous areas throughout the state, particularly older animals which tend to be more effective at maintaining sustainable populations,” Ware said.

Last year, hunters harvested 156 cougars statewide, up from 145 in 2011 and 108 in 2010. Ware said the number of cougars harvested this season is expected to be similar to last year.

Ware reminds hunters that during the late-season cougar hunt – Jan. 1 through March 31 – other areas of the state could close early. Before going afield, hunters should check WDFW’s website or call the cougar hunting hotline (866-364-4868) to check which areas of the state remain open.

Any additional closures will be posted on the website and hotline, both of which will be updated weekly.

Biologist: Feeding elk in masses an invitation for disease

Former USFWS biologist: Wyoming elk feedgrounds disaster in the making
Bruce Smith, a longtime biologist at the National Elk Refuge, gives Idaho credit for phasing out its elk feeding operations and said that Wyoming's persistence in continuing to feed elk during the winter will likely cause an epidemic of chronic wasting disease, which is always fatal, and could force the state to kill a large number of animals to stop the spread of the disease.
— Jackson Hole News & Guide

Snowshoe loop trail marked near Mount Spokane nordic area

WINTER SPORTS —  The Friends of Mt. Spokane State Park, which have a list of trails and routes posted on their website, have opened a new 1.3-mile snowshoe route that starts near the Mount Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park.  Here's a description, posted today by Cris Currie, the friends group president:
It's called the Trail 260 Loop and starts just below the Selkirk Lodge. From the Lodge, hike east and downhill and cross the Linder Ridge Road. Go around the closed sign to the pink flagging and then head straight downhill. 
If you are on the groomed Nordic trail, you have gone to far! Just find the easiest way and head straight down until you get the to Condo Road. There is no flagging or trail on this portion of the route.
Turn right on the road and pass through a large logged area with great views. After going around a bend and crossing over a wooded stream, there will be another small logged area. Head uphill into the logged area, following some more pink flagging, and then find Trail 260 heading to the right. It is an old logging road that gradually climbs the hill back to the starting point.
I opened up the trail last summer and trimmed it a few weeks ago. Yesterday I tracked the whole route and added some more flagging. I would consider it an intermediate trail and it took me less than an hour. You can easily extend it by hiking more of the Condo Road in either direction.
The road is on Inland Empire Paper Co. property until it enters the SnowBlaze property. If you follow it east, you will come to the groomed Nordic trails at the bridge. (Snowshoeing is prohibited on the groomed ski trails.) 
Trail 260 was going to be a snowmobile route to get the machines off the Linder Ridge Road until IEPCO banned snowmobiling completely from their property. So now we can use it as a snowshoe route! Enjoy!
Also today, snowshoeing volunteer Warren D. Walker signed the Trail 140 route to the Mount Spokane summit.
Snow conditions currently are, shall we say, very firm at Mount Spokane, with an icy crust over softer snow, as the photo of Currie (above) indicates.

Mount Spokane snowshoeing trail marked to summit

WINTER SPORTS — Snowshoer and state park volunteer Warren D. Walker got up very early this morning to be high on the slopes of Mount Spokane for sunrise.

To get even more from his outing, with the permission of park staff, he marked a trail for snowshoers to follow.

I hiked today to see the sunrise from the top and to finish marking Trail 140. Did both. Trail 140 is now marked from Bear Creek Lodge to the summit. A good return route from the top is off the back on Trail 140 down to the CCC Cabin then back on 130/131 to the snowmobile parking lot.

Studies conflict on whether Idaho would lose in federal lands takeover

PUBLIC LANDS — Who do you believe on this issue?

 Analysis paints different picture of Idaho taking over federal lands
The Idaho Conservation League released an economic analysis done by a Wilderness Society economist with a Ph.D. from Northern Arizona University's School of Forestry that said the cumulative cost of Idaho taking control over most of the federal government's lands within its borders would be $2 billion over 20 years, while the analysis done by the state Department of Lands earlier this year said the state could reap between $51 million and $75 million annually in net revenue from managing those lands.
—Idaho Mountain Express 

Trophy-size bummer for elk hunter with bull of a lifetime

HUNTING — A friend sent a message of holidays woe that only a lifelong hunter, who knows the odds of bagging a trophy bull elk, can fully appreciate. 

Read a Christmas letter today from a guy I hunted with a few times, back in the '80s. This year he shot a record-book bull elk at 11 yards in the first half-hour of the archery season. He took the head to a Thurston County taxidermist for mounting. On December 5, my friend, a lieutenant in the Olympia Fire Department, heard that the shop was on fire. Later, he drove out to take a look and noticed that there were few remains of any mounts in the ashes.

The fire since has been ruled an arson to cover a burglary, and the biggest trophy of Brian's life is gone.

Eagle’s comeback testament to Endangered Species Act

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  As wildlife lovers and their families flock to Lake Coeur d'Alene Eagle Watch activities to view congregating bald eagles in Wolf Lodge Bay this week, let's not forget that very few if any bald eagles would be gracing our Inland Northwest skies if it weren't for the foresight of the lawmakers who passed Endangered Species Act in 1973.

Bald eagles, grizzlies living reminders of federal law's success
President Richard Nixon signed the federal Endangered Species Act into law on Dec. 28, 1973, and in Montana, bald eagles and grizzly bears have rebounded because of the law's protections.


Photos capture wildlife’s view of the holiday season

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Here's a glimpse of the holiday season from the view of the region's critters, courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Idaho’s version of “reindeer” more elusive than ever

ENDANGERED SPECIES — You were more likely to see Santa's reindeer last night than Idaho's wild version of the critter.

Woodland caribou were once fairly common in North Idaho. Trapping records from the 1880s indicate that caribou thrived in northern Idaho and could be found as far south as the Clearwater River, according to the latest feature in the Idaho Fish and Game Department's 75th anniversary series of reports.

But it's been all downhill in the 1900s for these remarkable creatures.  Read on for the story from IFG:

Merry Christmas, on and off the slopes

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

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


Roskelley first American to receive Golden Ice Axe award

CLIMBING — Spokane alpinist John Roskelley, 65 — one of the world's premier mountaineers in the 60s, 70s and 80s — will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Piolet d’Or in Chamonix, France, in late March 2014. The honor is given to those “whose spirit inspired subsequent generations.”

Roskelley is the first American and sixth recipient of the Golden Ice Axe. He built his climbing reputation with first ascents in the Canadian Rockies before heading farther afield to achieve first ascents and notable ascents of 7,000 and 8,000 meter peaks in Nepal, India and Pakistan.

He's also an author and former Spokane County commissioner. He was named to the Northwest Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. He got his start as a climber as a teenager in the Spokane Mountaineers club.

Roskelley is best known for climbs such as Dhaulagiri, Nanda Devi, Trango Tower, Gaurishankar, K2, Uli Biaho, Cholatse and Tawache, all without supplemental oxygen.

His character is depicted in the movie Storm and Sorrow in the High Pamirs, a tragic 1974 international climb in which he narrowly escaped death in an avalanche that killed companions.

Also in 1974, on an impulse, he joined Spokane climber Chris Kopczynski to become the first Americans to climb the Eiger.

In 2003 and the twilight of his major climbing accomplishments, Roskelley scaled Mount Everest with his son, Jess, 20, who was the youngest American to summit the world's highest peak at the time.

Perhaps his most remarkable climb was in 1980, when Roskelley joined three other Spokane climbers — Kopczynski, Jim States and Kim Momb for a four-man alpine ascent of Makalu, the world's third highest peak. Roskelley was the only member of the group to summit as he became the first American to reach the goal.

The technical difficulties of the route “were of a level never before attained in Himalayan climbing,” Roskelley wrote in the American Alpine Journal

Roskelley told Rock and Ice magazine that the lifetime achievement award is “a surprise to me, given the hundreds of exceptional climbers throughout the world. I will be accepting it on behalf of all of my teammates through the years who made this possible. After all, I couldn’t have reached the summits of so many classics without them.”

The mountaineering awards have been given by the French magazine Montagnes and The Groupe de Haute Montagne since 1991.

In 2009, the first Lifetime Achievement Award was given to famed Italian climber Walter Bonatti. The award went to  Reinhold Messner in 2010, Doug Scott in 2011, Robert Paragot in 2012 and Kurt Diemberger in 2013.

Mount Spokane gears up; beer served at Vista House


Mount Spokane is gearing up for holiday crowds at the alpine and nordic areas. Here's the latest:
The historic stone Vista House at the mountain summit will open Dec. 26 and stay open daily through the holiday break.  After Jan. 5 it will be open weekends and holidays. New this year, canned beer will be served along with the usual soups, snacks and hot chocolate.  The Vista House is at the top of Chair 1 and is a popular destination for backcountry snowshoers. 
The Mount Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park is scheduled to be groomed tonight even though the groomer normally doesn't operate on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “We're going to take care of the new snow we got and keep it groomed probably six days a week instead of five through the Christmas break,” said Steve Christensen, state park manager.
A snowshoe hike is being organized by the park staff and volunteers for Jan. 1, starting at 10 a.m. from the snowmobile parking lot located before the road drops down to the alpine ski area.  Sno-Park permits will be required for vehicles.

Video: Where the powder skiers were today

WINTER SPORTS — Skiers and boarders who work at Big Mountain out of Whitefish didn't need to see ads to lure them to the mountain this morning. They heard the powder horn loud and clear.

Here's a short video of today's action put together by Whitefish photographer Craig “Snow” Moore and friends.  It's just a glimpse of what's to come.

Teen outdoor writing contests stories a treat

WRITING CONTEST — I've been reading the entries for the annual Spokesman-Review Outdoor Writing Contest for high school students for 28 years and it's still a pleasure and a fascinating glimpse into the minds of the region's teenagers.

If you didn't see the stories of the four contest finalists in the Sunday Outdoors section, check them out.

Wolf hunting derby highlights myths of extremists

HUNTING — I'm not big on contests that promote killing predators, but it's almost humorous to watch the reaction to the two-day wolf-coyote hunting derby being promoted for Dec. 28-29, out of Salmon, ID.

The controversy is like putting a spotlight on the extremist views of wolf reintroduction and the perpetuation of myths about wolves.

Sunday's story by the Associated Press did a decent job of pointing out the claims and the BS.

“This is a wolf massacre,” said Wayne Pacelle, the Washington, D.C.-based animal-rights group’s president, in a letter to members Thursday that was geared more to fundraising opportunity than to reality. 

  • Fact: Only 1-3 wolves are likely to be killed by the 300 or so hunters who are predicted to sign up. Wolf hunting has proved to be very difficult as detailed by Idaho Fish and Game Department wolf harvest statistics.

Shane McAfee, who guides clients on hunts around Salmon, Idaho, organized the derby mainly to boost local business and  raise awareness about a parasite he believes could be transmitted from wolf feces to domestic dogs and possibly humans.

  • Facts: “Echinococcus granulosis is one of many naturally occurring parasites that occur in wildlife,” said Idaho state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn. Human infections are rarely reported in Idaho. A firm link between humans and wolves isn’t established.
  • A human would have to come into oral contact with a wolf’s feces to contract the tapeworm, a WSU expert says.
  • A 2011 report produced by Mark Drew, state wildlife veterinarian with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, found just a few documented human cases that may have originated in Idaho. All were reported before wolves were reintroduced 18 years ago.
  • In 2011, Hahn issued a call to Idaho’s medical community for possible cases as concerns among some wolf foes surfaced about the parasite being transmitted to humans from the predators.
  • In an interview last week, Hahn told the AP that effort found human cases in Idaho among people who had brought the parasite in from other countries, but no evidence of transmission in Idaho.

People concerned about the parasite should take appropriate precautions, she said: Treat their dogs and cats for tapeworm, practice good hygiene, avoid harvesting sick animals, and wear rubber gloves when field dressing wild game, among other things.

“Precautions for Echinococcus are really no different than for a host of other diseases that occur naturally in the environment and can infect humans.” 



Snowshoers find good views from Mount Spokane

UPDATE 12/23/13 at 2:10 p.m.:  The historic stone Vista House at the mountain summit will open Dec. 26 and stay open daily through the holiday break, according to Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park.  After Jan. 5 it will be open weekends and holidays. New this year, canned beer will be served along with the usual soups, snacks and hot chocolate. 

WINTER SPORTS — While fog shrouded low-lying ares in the region Saturday, local snowshoer Don Story climbed to the summit of Mount Spokane for sunshine and sweeping views. Here's his comment:

Gorgeous day on the mountain Saturday. We went up 131 to the summit. Great time, but were disappointed to find the Vista House not open yet. What's up with that?

Wild mushroomer goes ornamental over Christmas

WILD EDIBLES — For Metaline Falls mycologist Drew Parker, Christmas is the season to reflect on the Return of the Fungi, as you can see in the photo above.

Meantime, would you be shocked to discover that the secular tradition of Santa Claus and the flying reindeer was based on consumption of psychedelic fungi, the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)?  Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service scientists, read the story here, and never look at Santa the same way again!

Clearwater over-snow travel maps out in January

WINTER SPORTS — Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests plan to have the Clearwater Over Snow  Vehicle Use Maps (OSVUMs) available to the public by mid-January.

At that, forest officials plan implementation road and area closures that will be spelled out on the map. 

OSVUMs are the winter travel map for the Clearwater National Forest. The Clearwater Motor Vehicle Use Map designating forest roads, trails and areas open to motor vehicle use has been available since November, 2013 and is posted on the forest's website.  

Read on for the explanation forest officials gave in a media release:

Holiday crabs: Can you dig it?

SHELLFISHING — Clam diggers can ring in the new year with an eight-day razor clam dig on ocean beaches that starts Dec. 29 and stretches through Jan. 5.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has approved the dig after marine toxin tests showed the clams are safe to eat.

As in previous openings, all digs are scheduled on evening tides. No digging will be allowed on any beach before noon.

“Digging razor clams on New Year's Day is a holiday tradition for a lot of Northwest families,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW shellfish manager. “Fortunately, the tides allowed us to keep that tradition alive this year.”

Upcoming digs are scheduled on the following dates, beaches and low tides:

  • Dec. 29, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Dec. 30, Monday, 4:55 p.m.; -0.9 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Dec. 31, Tuesday, 5:42 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis, 
  • Jan. 1, Wednesday, 6:29 p.m.; -1.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 2, Thursday, 7:15 p.m.; -1.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 3, Friday, 8:00 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 4, Saturday, 8:45 p.m.; -0.9 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Jan. 5, Sunday, 9:31 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors

Under state law, diggers can take 15 razor clams per day and are required to keep the first 15 they dig. Each digger's clams must be kept in a separate container.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2013-14 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW's website and from license vendors around the state.

Additional digs are tentatively scheduled later in January and in February, but have not yet been approved. For more information, see the WDFW Razor Clam webpage.  

Landers is always on the hunt for fowl weather

HUNTING — When I heard the weather report calling for nasty weather today I looked at Scout and said, “Sounds like a perfect day to call in sick and go hunting!”

I was right.  Perfect morning, except for the roads on the return trip.

My advice now:  It's a perfect day to stay home!

Bend to host 2015 x-c mountain bike championships

MOUNTAIN BIKING — USA Cycling has announced the locations for several of championships for 2015 and 2016, which includes taking the cross country mountain bike nationals to Bend, Ore. 

Dates have not been announced, but the mountain bike nationals will likely have an impact on the selection of the U.S. team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Along with the cross country nationals, Bend will host the Enduro National Championships on Mount Bachelor. Enduro events will be replacing the Super D competition. 

  • The professional criterium nationals are in Greenville, S.C.;
  • Amateur and para-cycling road nationals are in North Lake Tahoe, Calif.;
  • Marathon mountain bike nationals are in Columbia County, Ga.;
  • Gravity mountain bike nationals will be at Mammoth Mountain in California;
  • Collegiate mountain bike nationals are at Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia

Area resorts offer cool deal for 5th graders

WINTER SPORTS — Once again, fifth-grade students are being treated like royalty at Inland Northwest ski resorts, with free skiing and other discounts.

The Fifth Grade Ski or Ride Free Passport, costs $20, entitles students to three free lift tickets at each of the participating mountains, including 49 Degrees North, Mt. Spokane Silver Mountain and Lookout Pass.

Resorts also offer free or discounted ski rentals and lessons.

Parents and siblings accompanying the fifth- graders sometimes can get discounts.

Get more details, download applications or apply online.

Bill would raise duck stamp to $25

CONSERVATION — A bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate today to increase the price of the federal duck stamp to $25. The current price of $15 was set more than 20 years ago, in 1991.

“We appreciate the introduction of a federal duck stamp increase bill by Senators Begich, Baucus, Coons and Tester to meet very real on-the-ground wetland habitat conservation needs,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall in a statement supporting the action. “We are committed to seeing this legislation signed into law and look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the aisle to enact this.”

Since its enactment in 1934, the federal duck stamp program has protected more than 6 million acres of wetlands – an area the size of Vermont – through expenditures of more than $750 million. This has contributed to the conservation of more than 2.5 million acres in the Prairie Pothole Region, including the protection of 7,000 waterfowl production areas totaling 675,000 acres.

Land values have drastically increased since the last price increase in the 1990s. In Minnesota, for example, land has increased from an average price of $400 to $1,400 an acre since 1998, an increase of 250 percent. While the duck stamp price remains stagnant, the cost to conserve land and habitats that host waterfowl and other species has increased dramatically.

At its current price, the buying power of the federal duck stamp has never been lower over its 79-year history, DU says. 

The Congressional Budget Office found that because the federal duck stamp is a user fee, such a price increase would have no net impact on federal spending.

“Once again, sportsmen and women have demonstrated their willingness to pay for conservation by supporting a long-overdue increase from $15 to $25. With 98 cents of every $1 from duck stamp receipts going to conserve wetlands habitat, it is vital that the cost of the stamp keep up with inflation and land acquisition costs,” Hall said.

Most bears hibernating, but not all of them

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A wolf trapper has answered the question on whether all of Montana's bears have snuggled in dens to hibernate through winter.

A steel leg-hold trap set for a wolf nabbed a 4-year-old male grizzly bear instead on a ranch west of Dupuyer on Tuesday, prompting Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to help the trapper tranquilized and release the bear.

  • The photo above indicates the glowing eyes in the spotlight beam were all the officers saw when they drove up in the dark to encounter the trapped grizzly.

If a bear has plenty of food available, it won't necessarily head into its den, even in mid-December, wildlife biologists said.

Read on for the story from the Great Falls Tribune.

Trapper group asks wolf trappers to stay clear of ski trails

TRAPPING — With wolf trappers and hunters crossing paths with recreationists on public lands, a Montana trapping group this week appealed to trappers to use common sense and keep traps away from popular recreation trails.

This action comes after:

On Wednesday, the Montana Trappers Association announced it wants trappers to think twice about setting traps anywhere near the dog-friendly cross-country ski trails at Lake Como in Montana's Bitterroot Valley.

Read on for the story by Perry Backus of the Ravali Republic.

Congressional committee OKs Montana forestry-wilderness bill

PUBLIC LANDS —  A bill by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, (D-Mont.) to expand wilderness and mandate more logging on federal lands in Montana has passed its first test, according to the Associated Press .

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted today to move the Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act to the full Senate.

The approval comes despite opposition by Republicans on the committee. The measure designates 640,000 acres of forest as permanent wilderness while calling for logging on 100,000 acres.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski argued that is not a fair trade.

Tester introduced the bill during his first term in 2009, touting it as a compromise between environmentalists and loggers. 

  • Did Murkowski travel to Montana to attend any of the many meetings Tester organized to get feedback from conservationists, hunters, anglers, loggers and timber industry representatives as he worked up the proposed legislation? Seems like Tester can't be too far off the mark. He survived a re-election bid in 2011. 

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon said Tester made it clear that he will continue to work with people in Montana to make sure the measure works.


Smelt making comeback in Columbia system

FISHING — The fading art of smelt dipping — bagging swarms of the oily ocean fish with long-handled nets as they migrate into rivers — may be up for a revival. That's good news for all sorts of fishermen, since smelt not only are human food source but also an important prey base for sport fish.

Click “continue reading” for the scoop, so to speak, from Allen Thomas of the Columbian.

Migrations Part 3: Birds can’t fly away from habitat issues

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Yesterday, in the Idaho Fish and Game Department's 75th anniversary series of “reminders” on wildlife topics, I featured the second of a three-part post on migrations — Part 2: Fish.  The first installment was on Tuesday, Part 1: Roadkill and how the carnage along highways pegs critter movements.

Today, we look at Part 3: Birds.


Mammals do it. Birds and fish do it. Even insects do it.

They migrate as part of their inborn strategy for survival, and the arrival of winter triggers a massive migration of all kinds of wildlife.

They may travel a thousand miles or a few feet. The distance is not what defines migration; it’s that animals move between habitats during the year to survive. They may move for many reasons – to find food, breed or raise their young. Migration is a tool they use when a habitat no longer meets their needs.

Migration patterns and routes are ancient and have been influenced by the natural features of the land, water and air. The same natural features that foster wildlife movement are also attractive to human activities. Roads bisect open spaces. Wind turbines pop up on ridgelines. Dams block rivers. Communication towers light up the night sky. Houses are built in key habitat. And human structures frequently become problems for migrating wildlife.


All types of birds migrate. Some travel huge distances and while others simply move up and down a mountainside.

In Idaho, we often associate migration with waterfowl. They migrate by the thousands and noisily announce their coming and goings. Idaho is part of the migratory route called the Pacific Flyway.

Structures, such as power lines, wind farms and offshore oil-rigs, have been known to affect migratory birds. Habitat destruction by land use changes is the biggest threat, and shallow wetlands that are stopover and wintering sites for migratory birds are particularly threatened by draining and reclamation for human use.

Eagle count soars to 129 at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The annual bald eagle gathering at Lake Coeur d'Alene continues to grow, with plenty of birds for viewing as “eagle ambassadors” gear up for the annual Eagle Watch Week activities during the holiday school break.

Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted 129 bald eagles today in the Wolf Lodge Bay area.  That's up from 86 eagles counted last week and up from 57 eagles counted two weeks ago during her weekly survey.

For decades, the eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured to the northeast corner of the lake from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in the bay.

Eagle numbers are down from the past few years. Today's count of 129 eagles compares with 260 during the same week last year, Hugo said.

“At any rate, they are increasing and I saw floating kokanee and a good amount of fishing so there is still plenty of high quality viewing out there,” she said “At one point there were 17 eagles soaring between Wolf Point and Higgens Point.”


The annual Eagle Watch Week, Dec. 26-30, is a good time to bring the family out for eagle viewing to take advantage of display and spotting scopes set up by people who know a lot about eagles.

The activity is based at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Mineral Ridge boat launch and trailhead on SR 97 south of I-90 from the Wolf Lodge Exit. 

Beginning Dec. 26, the BLM will partner with Idaho Department of Fish and Game and other “eagle ambassadors” to answer questions about bald eagles, their lifestyles and habits and assist visitors with high-powered spotting scopes.

In case of severe weather, check the “Eagle Watch Hotline” —(208) 769-5048 after 9 a.m., Dec. 26-30 — to be sure activities have not been curtailed.


The Spokesman-Review has set up a web page where readers can upload some of the great images they're snapping of eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene.  Check it out, especially Tim Colquhoun's map of the best eagle viewing areas at the northeast end of the lake.

Protection elusive for elusive wolverine

USFWS again extends comment period on protection of wolverines
A dispute on the reliability of conflicting research on wolverines was cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its decision to extend by six months the public comment period on a proposal to put the elusive species under federal protection.

Conservation group staffer admits to elk poaching

HUNTING — The Idaho director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition has pleaded guilty to charges of illegally killing and wasting elk, according to an Idaho State Journal report.

Marv Hoyt is set to retire from his position at the end of this month following and Idaho Fish and Game Department investigation that led to his admissions last month that he illegally killed and wasted two elk, coalition staff confirmed to the Journal.

Photo: Is this Chewelah buck too big to be real?

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I received this photo from a reader in northeastern Washington.  It's labeled simply, “Chewelah buck.”

Is it too big to be true?

Migrations Part 2: Fish can’t always go with flow

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Yesterday, in the Idaho Fish and Game Department's 75th anniversary series of “reminders”  on wildlife topics, I featured the first of a three-part post on migrations — Part 1:Mammals.

Today, we look at Part 2: Fish.

Mammals do it. Birds and fish do it. Even insects do it.

They migrate as part of their inborn strategy for survival, and the arrival of winter triggers a massive migration of all kinds of wildlife.

They may travel a thousand miles or a few feet. The distance is not what defines migration; it’s that animals move between habitats during the year to survive. They may move for many reasons – to find food, breed or raise their young. Migration is a tool they use when a habitat no longer meets their needs.

Migration patterns and routes are ancient and have been influenced by the natural features of the land, water and air. The same natural features that foster wildlife movement are also attractive to human activities. Roads bisect open spaces. Wind turbines pop up on ridgelines. Dams block rivers. Communication towers light up the night sky. Houses are built in key habitat. And human structures frequently become problems for migrating wildlife.


One of Idaho’s most dramatic wildlife migrations is its anadromous fish runs.

Salmon and steelhead travel from Idaho’s mountain streams to the ocean as juveniles, then return as adults to their home waters in Idaho to spawn. For sockeye and Chinook salmon this adds up to 1,800 river miles round trip.

Fish biologists have discovered that many other kinds of fish migrate as well, including bull trout, cutthroat and rainbow trout, suckers, to name a few. The three of the biggest obstacles to fish when they migrate are:

  • Culverts that allow a stream to flow under a road. They can become obstacles for fish passage if the water‘s energy lowers the downside river bed, creating an impassable barrier to fish going upstream. In other northwestern states, surveys have documented that the majority of road culverts may be partial or complete fish passage barriers.   
  • Unscreened water diversions that direct water into irrigation canals. They can also direct fish into the canals and onto farmers’ fields. This is called entrainment and in some instances can result in significant losses to native fish populations.
  • Dams installed for irrigation and power production. Many also block fish migrations.

Idaho Fish and Game works with private and public partners to reduce the impacts of these barriers for migrating fish. For water diversions, fish screens are installed to keep fish out of the canals. Problem culverts can be replaced with newer designs or replaced with bridges to allow fish passage.  

Although difficult and expensive, many dams can be retrofitted with fish ladders to allow safe passage of native fishes to spawning and rearing grounds. Some dams are too high for conventional fish ladders so alternative methods of providing passage must be explored like trapping and moving fish above the blockage.

Tomorrow, Part 3: Birds.


Seattle runner with local ties wins trip to Everest Marathon

ENDURANCE SPORTS — Former Spokane runner Delaney Nye of Seattle had his name drawn yesterday for a grand prize featuring a trip to a world of hurt — to Nepal for the 2014 Everest Marathon.

Nye learned today that he is the winner of the Ultimate Trail Race Contest, sponsored by Trail Runner, Mammut and One World Trekking.  The huge prize package includes: 

  • Roundtrip airfare to Kathmandu in May,
  • 19 nights in Nepal including hotels and full-service tented camping in the Himalayas,
  • Entry into the 2014 Everest Marathon,
  • Trekking opportunities,
  • A Mammut trail-running gear prize package and more.

Nye entered at the last minute after reading about the contest in a Trail Runner magazine he bought at Auntie's Bookstore last week. He was visiting Spokane to take care of his young niece while his sister, Adrian Rogers, was preparing for the birth of her second child. 

On Dec. 7, he finished 10th in the Death Valley Trail Marathon in 3:48:50.

Now he'll have to think a lot higher.

The Everest Marathon on May 29, 2014, is billed as the world's highest ultra extreme marathon. The race, which will start at elevation 17,600 feet at the base of the Khumbu Icefall, celebrates the anniversary of the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, completed by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

Revenge for outdoor prank has no time limit

OUTDOOR COMPANIONS — In 1980 I stuffed a few rocks into Gary Cassel's backpack in the darkness before our group of Spokane Mountaineers began climbing Mount Hood. He carried 10 pounds of rocks up AND down before he found them back at camp. What a man!

Thirty-three years later, he's hiring impressionable young hit-women to carry out his revenge. I'm finding rocks in the strangest places.

“I don't get mad,” he told me back then at the base of Hood with a car-salesman grin on his face. “I get even.”

Idaho predator hunting derby targets wolves, coyotes

HUNTING — A predator hunting derby organized out of Salmon will offer trophies and cash prizes up to $1,000 to hunters who kill wolves and coyotes on Dec. 28-29.

The “Two-Day Coyote and Wolf Derby” is sponsored by Idaho for Wildlife, a nonprofit whose aim is “to fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations” to impose restrictions on hunting or guns, according to the group's website.

Participants must check in at the derby headquarters in Salmon, a hub of predator resentment among ranchers and hunting guides who contend wolves and coyotes threaten livestock and big game animals prized by sportsmen.

The tournament offers cash and trophies to two-person teams for hunting categories such as bagging the largest wolf and the most female coyotes. Children as young as 10 can compete in the youth division.

Idaho opened wolves to licensed hunting as a management tool more than two years ago after the federal government declared wolf recovery accomplished in Idaho and Montana. 

Idaho Department of Fish and Game wolf manager Jason Husseman said the upcoming event is believed to be the first competitive wolf shoot to be held in the continental United States since 1974, when wolves across the country came under federal Endangered Species Act protections, according to Laura Zuckerman, reporting for Reuters from Salmon.

The report quotes derby organizer Shane McAfee as saying media inquiries were not welcome. But outfitters and wolf experts say wolf hunting is difficult and very few wolves are expected to be killed.

Idaho Statesman columnist Rocky Barker says the derby organizers don't need to be defensive, just sportsman-like:

Of course, if (McAfee) were to defend publicly his public event he might point to the big buck contests that are are everywhere during deer season nationwide. How about big fish contests?

The issue of course is respect for the quarry. Predator derbies, which have been held across the West for years largely have held their targets up for ridicule, not respect.

A predator management policy adopted 13 years ago by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission states:  “Fish and Game will not support any contests or similar activities involving the taking of predators which may portray hunting in an unethical fashion, devalue the predator, and which may be offensive to the general public.

Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say that while the derby rules are within legal hunting parameters, the agency is not involved in the event.

Whitetail buck advertises half-off sale

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The whitetail deer antler shed season has begun, according to Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

Deer, moose and elk will be dropping their antlers one at a time through February to make room on their heads for next season's crop of what I understand is the fastest-growing tissue among mammals.

Velvet sprouts will be evident in May and the new antlers will be in full velvet bloom in August before the blood flow dries up and they start hardening.

The big bulls and bucks then will rub off the velvet and polish the antlers as they rake brush and saplings in preparation for the rut.

Report: Alberta woodland caribou rapidly declining

ENDANGERED SPECIES — There appears to be no refuge for woodland caribou, which already has become the most endangered big game species in the United States.

Report says the number of woodland caribou on the decline in Alberta
A study published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology tied a rapid decline in woodland caribou numbers to increased industrial development, and called for an aggressive campaign to protect habitat to help the species stabilize.
—Calgary Herald

Wolf proponents organize against delisting

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  A coalition of 29 pro-wolf organizations says it submitted 101,416  comments today to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service favoring continued protection for wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

Members of the Pacific Wolf Coalition say they have organized in response to the Obama administration’s plan to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves. They say the comments on behalf of the coalition’s members and supporters in the Pacific West are among a million comments collected nationwide expressing Americans’ disapproval of the Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove federal protections from gray wolves across most of the continental United States.

“The gray wolf is one of the most iconic creatures of the American landscape and wolves play a vital role in America’s wilderness and natural heritage,” said Pamela Flick, California representative of Defenders of Wildlife. “Californians, Oregonians and Washingtonians want to see healthy wolf populations in the Pacific West. In fact, recent polling clearly demonstrates overwhelming support for efforts to restore wolves to suitable habitat in our region. Removing protections would be ignoring the voices of the majority.”

Read on for a list of the groups in the coalition.

Idaho targets two wilderness wolf packs for elk damage

PREDATORS — State wildlife officials have hired a hunter to eliminate two wolf packs in a federal wilderness area in central Idaho because officials say they are eating too many elk calves, according to the Associated Press.

Fish and Game Bureau Chief Jeff Gould tells the Idaho Statesman that hunters are having a difficult time getting into the Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness, so the agency hired hunter-trapper Gus Thoreson of Salmon to kill the wolves in the Golden and Monumental packs.

The U.S. Forest Service allowed the state agency to use an airstrip and cabin in the Payette National Forest as a base.

Fish and Game paid $22,500 for aerial killing of 14 wolves in the Lolo area in 2012. Gould said Monday he didn’t know how much the agency would end up paying for Thoreson’s salary and expenses.

Migrations Part 1: Roadkill pegs critter movements

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Migrations are the topic of this week's wildlife story series Idaho Fish and Game is presenting online during the department's 75th anniversary observance.

In Part 1 of the three-part post of “reminders” on migrations, the department notes that mammal movements can be tracked, in part, by roadkill.

And while there are plenty of carcasses to remind us that wildlife is moving along North Idaho roads, the Panhandle's toll doesn't rank close to the carnage found along highways in other portions of the state.  Here's the first part of the IFG migrations post to raise awareness about issues facing wildlife:


Mammals do it. Birds and fish do it. Even insects do it.

They migrate as part of their inborn strategy for survival, and the arrival of winter triggers a massive migration of all kinds of wildlife.

They may travel a thousand miles or a few feet. The distance is not what defines migration; it’s that animals move between habitats during the year to survive. They may move for many reasons – to find food, breed or raise their young. Migration is a tool they use when a habitat no longer meets their needs.

Migration patterns and routes are ancient and have been influenced by the natural features of the land, water and air. The same natural features that foster wildlife movement are also attractive to human activities. Roads bisect open spaces. Wind turbines pop up on ridgelines. Dams block rivers. Communication towers light up the night sky. Houses are built in key habitat. And human structures frequently become problems for migrating wildlife.


Wildlife and vehicle collisions are the most visible conflict between migrating wildlife and roads. More than 5,000 deer, elk and moose were killed by cars on Idaho’s roads in 2011.

Information is gathered through a Road Kill database. 

In known hotspots around Idaho up to 100 or more animals are killed crossing roads every year. Some of these include:

  • Interstate 15, between Pocatello and Inkom, cuts through a major deer migration corridor.
  • Highway 75 north of Salmon, where 55 bighorn sheep have been killed since 1986.
  • Highway 30, from east of Montpelier to Wyoming, where up to 6,000 deer and elk cross the road, has one of the worst wildlife road mortality rates in southeast Idaho.          
  • Highway 20 in the Island Park area is known for collisions with elk and moose.
  • Highway 95 from the Canadian border to just south of Coeur d’Alene where 900 animals, most of them white-tailed deer, were hit by cars in 2011.
  • Highway 21 northeast of Boise repeatedly crosses the primary migration route of up to 9,000 deer and elk in the Boise Mountains. Hundreds of deer and elk are hit every winter along this road.

Sometimes money, talent and motivation score a win for wildlife. Examples include the wildlife underpass on Highway 21 outside of Boise, another underpass recently built into Highway 95 just north of Coeur d’Alene, and wildlife fencing along Interstate 15 outside of Pocatello. 

Tomorrow, Part 2: Fish.

Washington surveys public on wildlife management

WILDLIFE — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is conducting a public opinion survey to help identify key wildlife issues to be addressed in the department’s 2015-2021 Game Management Plan.

The information gathered from the survey will help WDFW update its current plan, originally developed in 2003 and updated in 2009. The plan guides the long-term management of game species, and is used to develop three-year hunting packages that set annual regulations for hunting seasons.

The survey is available on WDFW’s website through Jan. 3. 

The opinion survey addresses a number of game management issues, including:

  • Hunter recruitment and retention
  • Hunting regulations
  • Land access for hunting
  • Wildlife conflict
  • Habitat enhancement
  • Specific species

WDFW officials say they will incorporate survey results into a draft plan, which will go out for public comment next spring. The plan will be considered for final approval by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission next summer.

Hanford Reach steelhead fishing rusty in December

FISHING — The Columbia River steelhead fishing report for December in the Hanford Reach isn't anything to get excited about.  Here's the summary just posted by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist Paul Hoffarth in the Tri-Cities:

Cold weather has kept anglers away from the water in December. Only 82 angler trips taken in December so far.  Through December 15, staff interviewed 18 anglers with 1 wild steelhead released.  

Red Hot Chili Peppers sign skateboard to boost rail trail auction

TRAILS — A hot band is music to the ears of rail-trail developers in northeastern Washington this week.

The Ferry County Rail Trail is getting a boost by members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who've autographed a skateboard that's being auctioned on eBay this week to benefit the 501(c)(3) non-profit Ferry County Rail Trail Partners

The group is developing a 25-mile trail in northeastern Washington between Republic and Canada, mostly along the Kettle River.

This isn't the first time top-name musicians have stepped up for the cause.

How do these big names get interested in a trail in a Washington county populated by fewer than 8,000 people — a fraction the size of the audience that signs up for just one of their concerts?

Bob Whittaker (center in photo at left), tour manager for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, also lives in a cabin near Republic and has been helping spearhead the project. He got the Peppers to sign the skateboard in Brazil on Nov. 9, 2013 when the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs opened for the Peppers while on tour in Rio de Janeiro.

Whittaker, son of Jim Whittaker, who was on the first American team to climb Mount Everest, purchased the skateboard. The eBay auction item also includes the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' day sheet, set list and Bob's passes for the event in Brazil.

This skateboard isn't just a pretty wall hanger. The 9.5” x 34” Hendrix model, mid-sized longboard deck was handcrafted, signed and dated by the artisans at El Phante in Rio de Janeiro.

Montana mule deer declining; does to be protected

HUNTING — In what’s being called a “bold” move, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission gave initial approval Thursday to convert all but a few mule deer tags to antlered only, which would prohibit taking does in light of what appears to be a rapidly dwindling population, according to the Helena Independent Record.

In addition, the commission is proposing to eliminate almost all of the “B” licenses for mule deer statewide and for white-tailed deer in most of regions 4, 5 and 6; these licenses allow people to harvest more than one deer of the same species. About 30,000 B licenses were issued last year at a cost of $10 for residents and $75 for nonresidents.

The moves are supported by a wide range of hunting organizations, whose representatives noted that their members are seeing anywhere from a 60 to 90 percent drop in the number of deer on the landscape. It’s something commission members said they’ve also noticed.

Read on for more details.


Idaho Fish and Game habitat experts discuss plans for Panhandle

WILDLIFE — Idaho Fish and Game's monthly presentation for sportsmen is featuring habitat biologists:




Breakfast.. $7.50 includes tax and gratuity

Lake City Senior Center, 1916 N. Lakewood Dr.

Coeur d’Alene, ID ~ Time – 6:30 AM

Habitat biologists will discuss Wildlife Management Area Plans for the northern Panhandle.

Stop in for breakfast, have a cup of coffee, and visit with IDFG staff and sportsmen like yourself.

Snowshoers put up hut at Fourth of July Pass

WINTER SPORTS —  Members of the Panhandle Nordic Club put up a Snowshoe Hut on Twisted Klister System this week. A wood stove soon will be installed.

The snow is still thin, but the it's good to know shelter is there for the winter days ahead.


Montana youth elk hunt an embarrassment to the sport

HUNTING — A mess of elk were slaughtered or wounded in a youth elk hunt that was marred by greedy adults last week in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula

The story by the Ravali Republic is among the saddest reports on sport hunting I've read all year.  

Click “continue reading” and check it out if you want to ruin your day.

Yellowstone grizzlies recovered, panel says

THREATENED SPECIES — A panel of wildlife officials says it’s time to lift Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

An Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee spokesman says the panel’s members voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of ending the federal protections, the Associated Press reports.

The committee’s recommendation will be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency could propose a rule by mid-2014 to end protections.

Scientists say there are more than 700 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming following a decades-long recovery.

Revoking the animal’s threatened species status would open the door to limited hunting, but other conservation measures would stay in place.

Environmental groups worried about climate change say it’s too early to take the bears off the threatened list.

Idaho closes Rose Lake access during construction

FISHING — The Rose Lake Access Area managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will be closed to public access this winter.  The closure is needed for public safety during an access site improvement construction project southeast of Fourth of July Pass.

Construction and closure of the site will begin the week of December 16, 2013.

The project involves converting the Rose Lake Boat Launch from a primitive site to a modern facility.  Numerous improvements will be completed that will make the site much more useful to anglers and boaters, the agency says.  Parking will be expanded and moved closer to the water than is currently available.  Plans include 20 or more parking spaces that are more convenient than those currently available.

A new road to the boat ramp will be built that will access an enhanced loading area.  ADA accessible parking will be created near the docks and ramps.  A new double lane launch surface is planned, as is a new boarding dock system.  A boat pre-launch prep area will be constructed.  Surfaces will be covered with asphalt.

Info: Idaho Fish and Game Panhandle Region office, (208) 769-1414. 

Now’s the time to map out next year’s hiking adventure

TRAILS — Now's the time to plan next year's major backpacking excursions for more reasons than one.  

Permits need to be secured in some cases, and if the trip is in the West, now's the best time to buy specially designed topos from Green Trails Maps.

The company is offering FREE SHIPPING on map orders through Dec. 15 from its Web Store.  

While they are based on USGS topograhic maps, Green Trails maps are better for hikers because they are enhanced with on-the-ground research to detail trails and trail mileages.

Founded in 1973, Green Trails doesn't cover every place you might want to go.  But the 140 or so topographic recreation map titles the company has chosen to publish cover  the most spectacular mountain, beach desert areas North America, including Washington and Oregon's Cascade Mountains, the Olympic Peninsula, Mount Rainier's Wonderland Trail and western wilderness areas.

Green Trails maps show the most current trail, road, and access information to national forests, national parks, state and local parks, and other public lands in a clear, compact and convenient format and scale.  

Some of the most recently revised Green Trails maps include the Goat Rocks Wilderness, Alpine Lakes/Stevens Pass and Columbia Gorge East.

Viral video: Spokane hunters free antler-locked bucks

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Two whitetail bucks that locked their antlers in battle near Liberty Lake during the rutting season set the stage for a ghoulish drama video that's gone viral on YouTube.

Pete Caruso of Spokane and Eric Martin of Colbert were heading out toward Mica to hunt predators on Nov. 15 when they spotted three coyotes feeding on what they initially thought was a gut pile — until a buck rose up from the bloody melee.

The coyotes were chewing on the haunches of a dead buck whose antlers were locked with a buck that was still very much alive and struggling futilely to break away. The dead buck had died, possibly of a broken neck, in what must have been one heck of a battle for mating dominance that night.

After spooking away the coyotes and sizing up the situation, the two hunters and two other men moved in to help. They risked harm from the still-alive buck's flying hooves and sharp antler points as they struggled to unlock the entangled antlers.

Caruso captured the ordeal on video as one unidentified man sat on the bloody, mangled carcass of the dead buck to give Martin and the other man more leverage for twisting the antlers apart.

The best part of the video comes at the end, when the freed buck sprints away, offering a classic whitetail leap as if to say “Yahoo!” as it disappears over the horizon.

“Eric and I are starting working to start an outdoorsman video club for hunting and wildlife action clips,” Caruso said. 

This video clip of Martin using a decoy and predator call to lure a cougar into close range is an example. Check out the look on the cougar's face when it senses it's been had. 

Stay tuned. 

Yellowstone Park report indicates changes affecting critters

Biennial report tracks changes in Yellowstone National Park
The Yellowstone Center for Resources released its biennial report on conditions within Yellowstone National Park and the 2013 “Vital Signs” said that drier conditions were reported across the park in the past two years as precipitation has declined, visitor numbers have increased, while populations of elk, trumpeter swans and three species of fish have declined.
—Bozeman Daily Chronicle;

Has modern bowhunting gone ethically off-target?

HUNTING — My Outdoors column today features a model bowhunter who recruited capable help and went the extra grueling mile to track and retrieve a whitetail buck (above) after his arrow missed the vitals.

But what about other archers, especially during the bowhunting seasons that target rutting bucks and bugling elk?

There are no good current statistics to support the argument, but all hunters wince at the amount of wounding loss that comes up in conversations. Add it all up and the number of lost animals appears to be significant if not disgraceful.

The advantages archers get in season timing coupled with the advances in archery equipment, trail cams and the increased reliance on baiting apparently has lured more undesirables into the bowhunting ranks. 

A lot of luck and years are invested in a trophy buck or bull.  

We should all be thinking of ways, rules and standards to minimize the waste of such coveted resources.

Sun Valley follows trend of restrictions on uphill skiing

WINTER SPORTS — First it was Colorado resorts, then Montana's Big Mountain out of Whitefish.  The Sun Valley report clearly defines the Forest Service and ski industry concern for backcountry skiers launching their trips from resort slopes.

Idaho resort puts limits on uphill skiers
Sun Valley Resort officials said the dramatic increase of folks trekking uphill on Old Baldy forced them to make a policy change that bans uphill skiers between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., the hours of operation for the Idaho resort
—Idaho Mountain Express 

National Outdoor Book Awards name best reads

OUTDOOR LITERATURE — A clash between politics and nature is front and center among the winners of the 2013 National Outdoor Book Awards.

Krista Schlyer in her winning book “Continental Divide” reports on the controversial border wall between the United States and Mexico and its effect on the natural environment.

“This is a groundbreaking work,” said Ron Watters, the Chair of the National Outdoor Book Awards. “The effects of the border wall on the environment have been left out of the national discourse, but Krista Schlyer casts a bright light on this forgotten part of the debate.”

Schlyer's book won the Nature and Environment category, one of 10 categories which make up the National Outdoor Book Awards sponsored by the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation, Idaho State University and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

When Congress authorized the border wall, it allowed the Department of Homeland Security to waive all environmental laws, and as a result, according to Schlyer, the wall has devastated wildlife migration paths. It has also rerouted human traffic through the most pristine and sensitive of wild lands.

“This book is an important work on nature, and it's timely,” said Watters. “It is the judges' hope that the book plays a role in jump-starting a more fully informed debate on the wall.”

Read on for more details and a list of all the winners, including the award for children's books.

Anglers boost EWU football fever with fly tying contest

FLY FISHING — Some fly fishermen briefly distracted from their sport by the Eastern Washington University football team's pursuit of the FCS championship are trying to hook even more enthusiasm with a little fly-tying incentive.

Before the third-ranked EWU Eagles take on Jacksonville State at the Inferno on Saturday, the EWU alums at the Evolution Anglers blog are continuing their tradition of wrapping up championship quality “inferno” flies.

They're teaming with blogger Big Mills and running a contest in which participants can win some fan-catching and perhaps fish catching flies tied by the talented bloggers.

Here are the details from the bloggers:

All you have to do to enter is wrap up a steelhead fly that incorporates red (the more red the better) and email it to me,, post it on our facebook page, or (the preferred method) post it on Instagram and tag it #infernoflies and @evoanglers and @millsfly.  Friday evening after mills and I have tossed back a couple we will have a very serious text message conversation (since we live 5 hours apart) and decide what our favorite fly is.  The winner will be announced Saturday morning.  The flies that we tie will be shipped to your door Monday morning.  Make sure to check out our social media outlets to see the flies you'll win, they will be posted before the end of the week. 

Study finds at least 42 grizzlies in Cabinet, Yaak

THREATENED SPECIES — A “hair of the bear” study has accounted for at least 42 grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River drainage regions of northwestern Montana, according to the Associated Press.

Research leader Kate Kendall reported her findings to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Tuesday, the Missoulian reported.

Researchers used about 800 scent-baited “hair corrals” where rings of barbed wire snagged hair as the animals stepped over or under it to investigate the scent. They also collected samples in about 1,200 places where bears naturally stop to scratch their backs, such as trees, posts and poles in a 3,750-square-mile area in the mountains above Eureka, Libby, Trout Creek, Yaak and Troy.

The samples, collected in 2012 and analyzed this year, identified 38 grizzlies by their DNA. Researchers also knew about four collared bears whose DNA didn’t appear in the samples.

“That’s the rock-solid minimum count we detected,” research leader Kate Kendall told the committee at its meeting in Missoula. Including visiting bears and bears that died during the study, the figure could be as high as 54, she said.

The number is important because the health of the grizzly population influences how much logging and mining can take place in the area.

Read on for more details from the AP.

Fish poacher charged for trying to run over wildlife agent

WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT — The bad news from Banks Lake is that an apparently organized criminal element of Eastern European descent continues to thumb its nose at Washington fish and wildlife regulations and kill massive amounts of sportfish.

The good news is that by allegedly attempting to run over a fish and wildlife officer who caught him illegally gillnetting whitefish on Thursday night, one of their ilk may have gone far enough to get a sentence that goes beyond a fine and a slap on the wrist for his crime.

To bring you up to speed on some of the activity related to criminal gillnetting of sportfish:

The latest incident occurred late the Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013.  Here's the report from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police Facebook page:
Late Thursday night, Sergeant (Mike) Jewell and Officer (Wil) Smith were patrolling Banks Lake (Grant County) after receiving several reports of subjects illegally netting whitefish in the area. Unfortunately, this activity has become all too common during the late fall and early winter when thousands of these fish begin to gather to spawn. Although each angler is already allowed to retain 15 fish per day using hook and line, sadly, that doesn’t seem to satisfy the greed of some.

While checking areas of the shoreline in the dark, the two Officers located numerous bags of fish hidden in the rocks, as well as several illegal gill nets deployed in the water north of the Million Dollar Mile. Expecting the culprits to return and retrieve their illegal bounty, the Officers hid nearby and waited.

Just as suspected, a van pulled up around midnight and five people jumped out to retrieve the nets and begin loading the fish into the vehicle. When the officers tried to contact the wayward group, the suspects fled in the van, nearly striking Officer Smith in the process. As the Officers continued their pursuit over 40 miles, they watched as the suspects threw bags of fish and illegal nets out the side of the van in an effort to dispose of the evidence. The pursuit ended on Highway 2 near the town of Douglas in Douglas County, where the suspects were finally stopped. Several Deputies from Douglas County and a State Trooper from the Wenatchee area arrived to assist WDFW Police Officers. Once the suspects were apprehended, the Officers went back and recovered over 175 fish and three gill nets from the shoulder of the roadway.
The driver of the van, Mikhail N. Mitsevich, 38, of Everett, was booked into the Grant County Jail on felony charges of attempting to elude police and 2nd degree assault (the officer would have had to be hit in order to bump it up to 1st degree) for nearly running over Officer Smith. The other four accomplices were all charged with multiple gross misdemeanor fishing violations and the vehicle was seized.

Mountain lion kills wolf in rare documented event

PREDATORS — This kitty didn't run.

 Female mountain lion makes a meal of young wolf in W. Wyoming
Mountain lions lose their share of cubs to wolves.  The cats are generally programmed to climb a tree and avoid confrontations that could leave them injured.  But a female mountain lion with kittens recently killed a young wolf in western Wyoming. Because the cat was fixed with a tracking collar, scientists monitoring the mountain lion were able to document a rare event among predators.
— Jackson Hole New & Guide

BLM to set prescribed burns in Stevens County

PUBLIC LANDS — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is planning to conduct prescribed fires in the Huckleberry Mountains area in Stevens County Dec. 12-Jan. 31, according to the Spokane District Office.

About 153 acres of public land will be burned, and smoke may be visible on active ignition days and subsequent days. The overall goal of this burn is to reduce the fire hazard and intensity.

Generally, controlled burns also improve wildlife habitat.

Says BLM:

Prescribed fire is used in BLM's fire management program to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, and increase public and firefighter safety. It also helps meet a variety of resource management objectives: reducing hazardous fuels (surface or ladder fuels), and restoring habitats and ecosystems. To restore fire to its natural role in forests and rangelands, trained experts employ low intensity prescribed fire in the spring and fall, when weather conditions minimize escape and allow for controlled burning.

The legal descriptions of the prescribed fire areas are Township 29 North, Range 37 East, Sections 1, 6, 12, 13, 18, 19, 24, and Township 31 North, Range 39 East, Sections 9, 10, and 34. The project areas are located approximately 10 miles northwest of the town of Wellpinit, Washington and 10 miles southwest of Chewelah, WA. The units are bordered by other BLM public lands and Washington Department of Natural Resources lands. 



Deer takes icy plunge to flee mountain lion

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson and his wife, Lisa, were in the right place at the right time to see a killer wildlife drama play out on  below-zero temperatures on Monday.  I'll let Jaime explain:

We had a really amazing thing happen today. We were heading up a mountain road to get to a whitetail deer spot that we frequent when we spotted a nice 5x5 whitetail right across the river from us. It has been sub-zero here

for several days and the river has four or five feet of ice on each side frozen. Slush is flowing down the river. River is four or five feet deep. It looks really really cold. I was photographing the buck when all of the sudden, he looked behind him and bolted. In an instant, he was gone. I lowered my camera to see what was up. Then, to our left - a doe whitetail on the opposite side of the river was running full steam towards us (towards the river). Before I could get my camera raised, she jumped with all of her might over the icy edge of the river strait into the swift current. Reminded me of a kid jumping into a deep swimming hole except it was almost zero, I couldn’t believe what I saw – (what was she thinking).

Then, right behind her – a mountain lion appeared. He hit the brakes when he saw us, turned and vanished instantly (no pictures). The doe was swept downstream about a hundred feet or so before she could get started up on the ice. She managed (after several attempts) to get her front legs up on the ice, but couldn’t seem to get her hind legs up. She laid there for a few minutes and then flailed until her hind legs got up. We could tell she was freezing, but could do nothing. She walked about 15 feet and shook as much water off as she could, barely able to walk. She eventually laid down and stayed there for the next six hours. She eventually got up and fed away.


It’s a steal! Just $10 for 2014 calendar featuring local birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Talk about local. This annual calendar features images of local birds captured by local birder-photographers. 

More eagles at Lake CdA, plus other places to find them

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The number of bald eagles is increasing at their traditional winter feast of spawning kokanee at Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted 86 bald eagles today in the Wolf Lodge Bay area.  That's up from 57 eagles counted during her weekly survey last Tuesday.

“This time last year I counted 203 eagles,” Hugo said. “Today there were 23 in Beauty Bay and a handful that were nice and visible between Boothe Park and Higgens Point.” 

The eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured to the northeast corner of the lake from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in the bay.

The Spokesman Review has set up a web page where readers can upload some of the great images they're snapping of eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene.  Check it out, especially Tim Colquhoun's map of the best eagle viewing areas at the northeast end of the lake.

Read on for a story about eagle-watching areas in Western Washington.   And to expand your horizons even more, realize that the author didn't mention the good chances of seeing bald eagles along the Clearwater River near Orofino or the Methow River between Carlton and Winthrop or the Clark Fork River near St. Regis or all along Lake Roosevelt and even the lower Spokane River — all likely winter spots to see bald eagles, one of the classic success stories of the Endangered Species Act.

Hastings shuns environmental angle to Columbia River Treaty

RIVERS — Talks on revising the Columbia River Treaty aren't getting off to a great start from the perspective of fishermen:

Hastings: Leave ecosystem out of Columbia River Treaty — Capital Press

Wolf hunter who shot skier’s malamute hasn’t apologized

HUNTING — The story of a Montana wolf hunter shooting a pet malamute as it romped with its owner near Lolo Pass in November is a long way from being as dead as the dog.

USA Today has just posted a story rehashing and updating the Nov. 18 reports that an unnamed hunter in camouflage shot one of three malamutes being exercised on a closed forest road as its owner, Layne Spence, cross-country skied with them.

While law enforcement officials still say no laws were broken, Spence of Missoula contends state law prohibits hunters from shooting on or across roadways an that hunters should always identify their prey before shooting.

He points out that a hunter could be fined for not positively determining whether an elk is a cow or a spike.  Spence contends his malamute, Little Dave, did not look like a wolf. Indeed, a duck hunter must be able to tell the difference between a mallard hen and a mallard drake in all lighting conditions.

But what gets me, a lifelong hunter, is buried deep in the USA Today story when Spence points out he doesn't want to get the hunter into bad trouble. Mainly, he said, “I just want an apology.”

Holy smokes.  You shoot a guy's dog while he's yelling at you to stop and you don't have the guts to say “I'm sorry.”

This hunter ranks in my memory as one of the most despicable representatives of the sport of hunting, not to mention the human race.

Warm up your bird ID before Christmas Bird Count

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Can you ID these two birds?  If not, you may want to attend one of the Audubon Society programs tonight and Wednesday on identifying wintering birds.

  • Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife experts say both birds are male finches and despite the difference in photo size here, they are about the same size in real life.
    The one on the left is a house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) and the one on the right is a Cassin’s finch (Carpodacus cassinii).
    Cassin’s bright red cap ends sharply at brown-streaked nape and its tail is strongly notched. House finch’s red is more on the front of its head under a brown cap, and the red color can vary to orange or even yellow; house finch also has a more square tail.

Counties challenge Clearwater National Forest travel plan in court

PUBLIC LANDS — A week after conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit against the new Clearwater National Forest Travel Management Plan, two Idaho counties have filed suit against the plan that closes 200 miles of national forest trails to motorized vehicles.

Idaho and Clearwater counties charge that forest officials failed to adequately consult with local authorities while drafting the travel plan enacted last year.

County officials also claim forest planners didn’t properly analyze the plan’s local economic impact and allege the forest created de facto wilderness areas by banning motorcycles and mountain bikes from areas previously recommended for wilderness.

“We thought we better take a stand,” Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert told The Lewiston Tribune. “We get ran over all the time by the Forest Service. We picked a battle where we think we are on solid ground and hope we will prevail.”

Forest officials did not offer an immediate response sought by The Associated Press today on the new legal challenge.

Commissioners from both counties say they were compelled to file a lawsuit after their administrative appeal of the travel plan was denied by the agency.

The lawsuit is the latest filed against the forest and its 2012 travel policy.

Last week, three environmental groups sued in federal court, contending the forest plan allows too much access for motorized vehicles, a policy they say will ultimately harm wildlife habitat. The environmental groups allege the travel plan violates a 1987 plan by allowing motorized vehicle use in areas the agency had pledged to protect as prime habitat for elk.

Federal laws require agencies like the Forest Service to coordinate their actions and plans with state and local governments.

The case brought by the counties alleges agency officials made little effort to coordinate the travel plan with the counties, who favor more motorized access when possible.

“We didn’t really see any attempt to do that,” Ebert told the Morning Tribune. “They just sort of disregarded us.”

Idaho Fish and Game licenses had humble beginnings

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Hunting and fishing licenses are the topic of this week's history in perspective piece from Idaho Fish and Game as the department celebrates its 75th anniversary.  

Read on for some interesting details.

Join Idaho live-chat on hunting, fishing licenses

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Idaho Fish and Game staffers will host a live online chat on Wednesday, Dec. 11, to talk to hunters and anglers about hunting and fishing licenses.

The chat is set for noon to 2 p.m., Mountain Time.

Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions, provide feedback and learn more about hunting and fishing license options and programs.

New this year is the option to buy a three-year license, for convenience and a small savings. A three-year hunting license costs $34.75, instead of the yearly $12.75; and a three-year fishing license costs $73.75 instead of the yearly $25.75.

To participate click on the chat link on the Fish and Game website.

Sportsman Channel stays in red; signs Palin as show host

OUTDOORS TV — The Sportsman Channel said Monday it has hired Sarah Palin to be host of a weekly outdoors-oriented program that will celebrate the “red, wild and blue” lifestyle, according to the Associated Press.

The program, “Amazing America,” will debut in April. The Sportsman Channel is in some 32 million homes, less than one-third of American households with television, with programming geared to people interested in hunting, fishing and shooting. Palin's show will include a series of stories about personalities and activities in that vein.

Owners of The Sportsman Channel tried and failed this year to buy its chief competitor, the Outdoors Channel, which airs in slightly more households. The effort attracted some controversy because Leo Hindery Jr., a media executive whose company owns The Sportsman Channel, is a Democratic fundraiser and regarded warily by politically conservative outdoor enthusiasts who worried about what he might do to Outdoors.

Some of the content on The Sportsman Channel suggests they shouldn't be too concerned.

Besides the upcoming Palin series, Sportsman airs a series with conservative activist and rock musician Ted Nugent. Sportsman also airs a TV version of the National Rifle Association-sponsored radio show, “NRA News, Cam & Co.,” each weekday and “NRA Guns & Gold,” a show about guns styled after “Antiques Roadshow.”

Harvey said The Sportsman Channel has no interest in being politically polarizing.

“It's not our intention at Sportsman to take any political position,” he said. “This lifestyle, coast to coast, crosses every type of political spectrum.”

“It's very important to have somebody of (Palin's) stature as a personality on Sportsman because it validates the whole category for everybody,” said Gavin Harvey, network CEO.

The Sportsman Channel has ordered 12 episodes of the series to start. It's the first of a three-series deal between the network and the busy nonfiction production company Pilgrim Studios.

“The network showcases a lifestyle that I love and celebrate every day and it's great to be a part of their team,” Palin said in a statement provided by the network.

Since her failed bid for the vice presidency in 2008, the former Alaska governor has worked as a commentator on Fox News Channel and was host of a short-lived series about her home state, “Sarah Palin's Alaska,” that ran on the TLC network.

Another high profile show on Sportsman that ran this summer, “Aporkalypse: 2013,” was about the growth in the feral pig population.

10 things learned from Christmas Bird Count data

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Local Audubon Society chapters have tapped professional biologists to present special pre-Christmas Bird Count programs on identifying and understanding “winter birds:”

Whether you're gearing up for joining a group outing during the Audubon Society's 114th annual Christmas Bird Count or simply brushing up on your bird identification skills, check out one of these free programs:

Coeur d’Alene Audubon will feature Carrie Hugo, BLM wildlife biologist, on Tuesday (Dec. 10), 7 p.m., at Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Rd. in Coeur d’Alene.

Spokane Audubon will feature Gary Blevins, Spokane Falls Community College biology professor on Wednesday (Dec. 11), 7 p.m., at Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave. Driving directions:

The Christmas Bird Count has provided an abundance of data to scientists and researchers. According to the Spokane Auduabon Society, some of the conclusions drawn or supported from the study of CBC data include:
  1. Birds are not climate skeptics, having spoken with their wings. (Many North American species’ winter ranges have moved northward and inland.)
  2. The Bald Eagle is back; the Endangered Species Act works.
  3. Many of America's most familiar and beloved birds are in serious decline, including Evening Grosbeak, Field and Grasshopper Sparrows, Snow Buntings and Ruffed Grouse.
  4. Eurasian Collared-Doves have invaded the US.
  5. Peregrine Falcons are reclaiming territory they had disappeared from in the 1950s-60s.
  6. Sage-grouse are in deep trouble.
  7. More and more hummingbirds are staying in the USA and Canada for winter.
  8. “Eastern” House Finches having been moving west for 60 years.
  9. How fast and how far West Nile virus has spread.
  10. Birds are early indicators of environmental problems that can affect people (see #1).

State seeks tips on trophy whitetail poached near Republic

HUNTING — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife requests information leading to the arrest of suspects involved in the killing of a trophy white-tailed deer near Republic in northeast Washington’s Ferry County. 

The deer may have been killed near Gibraltar Mountain and Sherman Pass near the end of November.

Contact the WDFW Eastern Region Office at 892-1001. 

Information can also be reported anonymously through WDFW poaching hotline, 1-877-933-9847, or online.  

Aron Ralston, `127 Hours’ figure, arrested on assault charges

UPDATED 2:20 P.M. — Ralston reportedly off the hook.

ADVENTURERS — Aron Ralston, the Colorado adventurer whose self-amputation ordeal was made into the movie “127 Hours,” was arrested in Denver on allegations of domestic violence after police say he and his girlfriend got into an altercation, according to the Associated Press.

However, TMZ has reported that charges against Ralston were dismissed while his girlfriend remained in jail.

Ralston and Vita Shannon were both booked Sunday on charges of assault and “wrongs to minors.”

Police said the second charge is used when children are present during an incident but not necessarily hurt. Police documents say their 8-week-old child was present at the time of the altercation.

Ralston cut off his forearm to free himself from a dislodged boulder in a Utah canyon in 2003.

He was “canyoneering” — making his way down a narrow canyon — at the time. After five days with little food and water, he broke his arm and then amputated it with a dull knife to escape.

He detailed his struggles in a book, “Between a Rock and Hard Place,” which was adapted into the Oscar-nominated “127 Hours.”

Ralston became a celebrity, making inspirational speeches and championing environmental causes.

He also continued his adventurous life using prosthetics he helped develop. He completed a nine-year project to scale the highest point in all 50 states and became the first person to solo climb all 59 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in winter. 

Read on for more details about the arrest and charges.

Clearwater travel plan challenged by conservationists

PUBLIC LANDS — Three conservation groups say they filed a lawsuit on Dec. 5th in Idaho Federal District Court challenging the Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan. The recently released plan determines which trails and roads will be open to motorized vehicles and which areas of the national forest will be open to snowmobiles.

The plan defers the decision on the ultimate size and extent of the road system.

The Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Sierra Club contend that rather than protect key wildlife habitat and wild areas, as prescribed in the forest plan, the travel plan allows motorized vehicles to enter sensitive wildlife habitat in the
backcountry on trails not designed for motorized use.
The organizations also contend that the travel plan does not minimize summer or winter off-road vehicle damage or minimize damage to wildlife habitat, watersheds or quiet recreation.
Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater says the 1987 Clearwater National Forest plan was supposed to protect the natural resources with its specific standards set for the protection of wildlife in certain backcountry areas. 
“Since then, motorized vehicles have been essentially unregulated on backcountry trails, severely degrading both terrestrial and aquatic habitat,” he said. “Roadless areas that are prime wilderness candidates, including Weitas Creek and Pot Mountain, have
been overrun with motorized use.”
The plaintiffs note that the Forest Service did not even fully protect its limited recommended wilderness
from motorized vehicles. “Even the biologically unique Fish Lake in Kelly Creek, an area recommended for wilderness by the Forest Service, was not protected from vehicle use,” says Al Poplawsky of the Sierra Club. “The resource damage from vehicle use in this area has been so serious that the Forest Service has had to close the trail during wet periods in recent years. The trail to the lake and areas around the lake are littered with vehicle parts and broken glass. It would make more sense to just close the entire area to vehicle use.”

Livestock growers boost fees to help fund wolf control

PREDATORS — The number of livestock killed by wolves in Idaho has decreased in recent years, notably after the species was delisted and public hunting and trapping seasons were set on wolves.

 To maintain the trend despite reduced federal funding of animal control programs, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members have passed a proposal to raise the state brand renewal fee by $25 to increase funding for wolf-control efforts by Idaho Wildlife Services.

The farm bureau acted Thursday at its annual meeting in Sun Valley, the Capital Press reported

Idaho Wildlife Services has lost about $750,000 in funding since 2010, reducing the agency’s total budget to $2.1 million.

The agency said the state this year has had 77 confirmed or probable wolf kills of cattle and 565 sheep kills. The number of confirmed or probable wolf depredations so far in 2013 is down 26 percent from 2011. 

“It’s slowly working its way down again,” said Idaho Wildlife Services State Director Todd Grimm, attributing some of the decrease to sport hunting seasons for wolves. “Hunting season has absolutely made a difference.”

The minimum estimated wolf population in Idaho peaked in 2009 at 856 and has gradually decreased to 683, officials said.

Read on for more details from the Associated Press report based on the Capital Press story:

Bald eagle ends mystery of South Hill missing cat

PREDATORS — Notice to the owner of the black cat missing on the South Hill:  We may have solved the mystery.. 

Says Facebook friend Dan Barth, who posted this photo: 

If you are missing your black cat… this friendly neighborhood bald eagle has relocated it…. 

Loose-running cats kill millions of song-birds each year.  

Perhaps this is the big bird's symbolic way of trying to even the score.

Sprague Lake surface shines for ice sailors

WINTER SPORTS — Sprague Lake set up some perfectly slick, shiny, hard, clear ice for skaters and the area's rarest breed of sailors.  

Dave Farmer of Revival Lighting is an ice sailor who rallied up catsailing partner Frank Caccavo and declared Saturday “opening day” of their season in the following report:

7 am, and the thermo reads out a nice round number, 0 degrees F, the low point in this week of Arctic air sittin' on the Inland Empire.  Just enough to finally skim over the shallower lakes in my neighborhood.  Wind predicted, maybe 15 out of the NNE.  I still need to load up, and attend to a task or two on the boat trailer, slow work in these temps! 
Frank and I roll up to Sprague Lake just before noon, under a cloudless sky, greeted by some of the sweetest ice we've ever seen in these few year of pursuing this bizarre hobby.  The breeze is less than predicted, but that makes the low temps tolerable, and this slick surface promises easy gliding.  We've picked up an assistant, a local pilot and skydiver who recognized the contraption atop Frank's Subaru as an iceboat, and pulled him over to inquire.  He helps us rig the two craft, and we launch into light air and glorious sunshine!
For the first time, I've got the runner alignment spot on right out of the box, and with an ever increasing sensitivity to my machine, I can coax her up near 30 mph in the maybe 10 mph puffs, and by studying the telltales and steering lightly, I can keep rolling in the lulls.  So rewarding to be able to see progress in my ability to keep her powered up when there's nearly no pressure.
We carefully expand our terrain, watching for thin ice, and even a couple of holes of open water.   The surface finally froze over when the winds we've had all week finally subsided enough to let it solidify, so there are rough patches separating  magnificent expanses of hard, hard plate so clear you can see bottom 10 feet down.
The precious sun allows us extended rides, with few breaks for adjustments, feeding, and warming up.  The breeze diminshes as the sun seeks the horizon, but I stay for the show, and the ever optimistic hope the the wind might wind up for just one more ride, such is the addiction.  I  tear down in the afterglow, and motor home with that ever sought ofter inner smile.  Season on!

Video: See black bear test BearVault food canister

CAMPING — My Sunday Outdoors feature story focuses on bear-proof food canisters — where they are being required for campers and which one to buy.

The video above looks at the story from the bear's point of view.

This bear is very determined, but it doesn't get a reward for trying to steal a camper's food out of a BearVault brand container.

Palouse Falls stunning at 10 degrees

STATE PARKS — Jon Jonckers of Spokane found stunning contrasts at Palouse Falls State Park as mist from the 185-foot waterfall froze on the surrounding cliffs in the 10-degree temperatures on Saturday. 

Mount Spokane nordic trails ‘hard as rock’

WINTER SPORTS — Saturday will be a better day to wax your cross-country skis than to use them.  

According to today's grooming report, there's been no grooming on the Mount Spokane nordic trails for a few days because the snow is ice and in some places “hard as a rock.”

Snowshoer Warren D. Walker found the footing firm and the Vista House coated with frost on the mountain summit this week (above).

Steelheading to close on upper Columbia

FISHING — Steelhead fisheries will close one hour after sunset on Sunday, Dec. 8, on the upper Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to Wells Dam and on the Wenatchee and Icicle rivers.

Fishing for whitefish will also close on the Wenatchee River.

The closures will not affect the Okanogan River, Similkameen River, Methow River, and mainstem Columbia River from Wells Dam upstream to Chief Joseph Dam. Those fisheries will remain open until further notice under previously published rules.

Jeff Korth, regional fish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the closures are necessary to keep impacts on wild steelhead within limits established under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“This year's run is smaller than in recent years and contains a relatively high proportion of wild steelhead,” Korth said. “Because of that, we saw an increase in the rate of encounters with natural-origin fish in some fishing areas.”

Although anglers must release any wild, unmarked steelhead they intercept in area fisheries, some of those fish do not survive and are counted toward ESA impact limits.

The federal permit authorizing the steelhead fisheries sets a maximum allowable mortality of natural-origin steelhead to accommodate variations in run strength and angling effort on specific waters. WDFW closely monitors the fisheries and enforces fishing rules to protect wild steelhead.

The primary reason the upper Columbia steelhead fisheries are permitted is to remove excess hatchery fish from spawning grounds, said Korth, noting that those fisheries provide popular recreational fishing opportunities and economic benefits for rural communities throughout the region.

WDFW fisheries managers are analyzing fishery impacts to date, and will produce a steelhead run update next month, Korth said. Some areas could be reopened at a later date for additional fishing opportunities, and anglers should keep a close eye on the WDFW website for these possibilities.

Read on for specific details about the closure:

Columbia River Treaty hearing set in Pasco Monday

RIVERS — Discussions on revising the Columbia River Treaty are picking up, as the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee plans a field hearing Monday, Dec. 9, in Pasco to learn about regional impacts of the treaty with Canada.

Changes in the treaty could have profound impacts on hydropower management and fishing.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the committee, has concerns about the upcoming renegotiation of the treaty and the United States’ draft recommendations for possible changes.

He scheduled the hearing for 9 a.m. in the Pasco City Council Chambers, 525 N. Third Ave.

Read on for more from the Associated Press:

Frosty morning on the Spokane River

RIVERS — It's a steamy scene on the Spokane River this morning, in a wintery sort of way. 

Objections to Panhandle Forests plan available online

PUBLIC LANDS — The 22 formal objections filed to the Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ revised forest plan were made available for review this week.

The revision of the plan last revised in 1987 was released in September and is meant to guide forest management of everything from timber production to roadless areas for the next 15 years or so.

The objections can be reviewed on Idaho Panhandle National Forests “Objections Received” webpage.

People interested in an objection can file a request to participate in any resolution meetings that are scheduled.

For example:

  • Old stands of pines, cedars and firs don’t have enough protections under the Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ draft management plan, according to environmental groups, who say the big trees need more safeguards.
  • The plan's recommendations for wilderness are criticized for being too much as well as too little.
  • Objections from the Shoshone County Commission, including issues about snowmobiling, were so extensive they had to be separated into two online files.

The Forest Service has 90 days to respond to the objections.


Audubon Society invites newbies to programs on winter birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Excellent programs on winter birding are planned next week, a spinoff in the birding social event of the year.

Local Audubon Society chapters have tapped professional biologists to present special pre-Christmas Bird Count programs on identifying and understanding “winter birds:”

Whether you're gearing up for joining a group outing during the Audubon Society's 114th annual Christmas Bird Count or simply brushing up on your bird identification skills, check out one of these free programs:

Coeur d’Alene Audubon will feature Carrie Hugo, BLM wildlife biologist, on Tuesday (Dec. 10), 7 p.m., at Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Rd. in Coeur d’Alene.

Spokane Audubon will feature Gary Blevins, Spokane Falls Community College biology professor on Wednesday (Dec. 11), 7 p.m., at Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave. Driving directions:

The Audubon Chapters also welcome newcomers on the Christmas Bird Count field trips they've organized.  Following are the dates and the leader contacts:


Coeur d’Alene: Dec. 14; Shirley Sturts, (208) 664-5318,

Moscow: Dec. 14; Kas Dumroese,

Lewiston: Dec. 15; contact Bryan Jamieson,

Sandpoint: Dec. 14; Rich Del Carlo, (208) 265-8989,

Bonners Ferry: Dec. 28; Jan Rose (208) 267-7791,

Spirit Lake: Jan. 2; Shirley Sturts.

Indian Mountain: Jan. 5; Don Heikkila, (208) 659-3389,


Pullman: Dec. 14; Marie Dymkoski,

Colville: Dec. 14; Barbara Harding, (509) 684-8384,

Pend Oreille River: Dec. 15; John Stuart, (509) 447-2644,

Clarkston: Dec. 15; Bryan Jamieson,

Chewelah: Dec. 21; Mike Munts (509) 684-8384,

Spokane: Dec. 29; Alan McCoy, 448-3123, 

Andrus steps up to support Boulder-White Cloud monument

PUBLIC LANDS — Cecil Andrus, former Idaho governor and Interior secretary, is among several prominent Idahoans to appear in a new ad campaign supporting national monument designation for the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains.  

Andrus has called for protecting the area near Ketchum for several years as Congress has failed to move the legislation introduced by Rep. Simpson in each of the last six Congressional sessions.

In the print ad, which debuted today in the Idaho Statesman, Andrus says, “My career has been about common-sense conservation in line with Idaho values. National Monument status will protect the area’s fish and wildlife habitat, while keeping it open to hunting, fishing and other recreational uses that greatly benefit our economy.”

According to the Idaho Conservation League, the campaign also features Ketchum businessmen Bob Rosso and Tom Nickel, former State Representative Wendy Jaquet, and sportsman Tyler Jackson, who back monument designation “for businesses,” “to keep tourists coming,” “for future generations,” and for “plentiful fish and game.”

A new economic study released by the Idaho Outdoor Business Council showed that creation of a BWC monument could add between $3.7-12.3 million in revenue and support as many as 150 new jobs. 

Andrus, a longtime supporter of legislative protection of the Boulder-White Clouds says Congressional stalemate helped convince him to advocate for national monument status for the area.

“It’s time to resolve the debate in a reasonable way that will conserve and protect one of the nation’s last great unspoiled landscapes. I now believe that the protection so richly deserved for this place can only be accomplished by presidential action – the creation of a national monument.”

The campaign, which will run over the next few months, is cosponsored by the ICL and The Pew Charitable Trusts, which have been working to safeguard the Boulder-White Cloud area for more than a decade.

Northern hawk owl lures local birders to Moscow area

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The online alerts have been buzzing this week with news of a northern hawk owl hanging out out around Moscow — a rare sighting that's attracting life-listing birdwatchers from around the region.

The hawk owl was still there this morning, according to this post from Kirsten Dahl.

The Northern Hawk-Owl is still present as of 7:30 am this morning.  It is perched on top of a bush just east of the Hwy 8/Blaine intersection, along the bike trail.

The photo above is by Moscow birder Terry Gray. Here's a story about the occasion by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune:

MOSCOW - When Lori Nelson heard about the northern hawk owl, she quickly devised a plan.

She dropped her son off at school Wednesday morning in Richland and headed east to the Palouse. By noon, she was standing under a tree near the Eastside Marketplace and admiring the rare bird that normally stays well north of the U.S.-Canada border.

“He has feathered feet, that is so cool,” she said. “It’s (a) once-in-a-lifetime bird for me. I may not get a chance to see one again.”

Many avid bird-watchers keep lists of all the species they have spotted. When a rare bird is found, they spread the word so others can not only enjoy it but also add to their lists.

The rare visitor was first spotted Tuesday morning and positively identified as a hawk owl that afternoon by Terry Gray of Moscow. He filled out a rare bird report and news of it quickly made the rounds via email listserves and websites like Local birders from Moscow, Pullman, Lewiston soon showed up to take a look and perhaps add a bird to their life lists.

“It’s kind of cool. It’s amazing how fast word gets out there through the different listserves and ebird on rare bird sightings,” said Gray. “It’s kind of fun.”

Later in the day, people from farther away started to show up. Gray said he met a carload of women from Boise who headed north as soon as they got word.

Keith Carlson of Lewiston was one of the early arrivals and said the bird didn’t disappoint.

“He’s a real piece of work,” he said. “He just sits there and he’s an experienced hunter. I saw him try to, and to catch, two mice this morning. He just sits in one or two trees and watches. All of a sudden he launches off and boom, he catches one and flies back up and eats it.”

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, northern hawk owls prefer coniferous or mixed forests near open areas. They live year-round in Canada and Alaska. When food is scare during tough winters, the birds sometimes move south in large numbers, known as an irruption. Gray said there is no evidence this bird is associated with an irruption.

Backcountry skiers in spotlight at resorts this season

WINTER SPORTS — Backcountry skiers who use alpine ski resorts that operate on public land are being scrutinized this season.

Here's a story from last month.

Here's the latest:

Uphill skiers at Montana resort warned to use designated routes
There are two routes uphill skiers at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana may use to access the powder under their own power, and a U.S. Forest Service official who works with the resort on its special permit warned skiers to stick to those routes to avoid additional regulations on the practice. —Flathead Beacon 

2014 spring chinook forecast sees more fish

FISHING — The chart above, just released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, is an early forecast for spring and summer chinook returning to the Columbia River next year.

The numbers suggest that almost twice as many spring chinook will return to the system to delight anglers in 2014 while the numbers of summer chinook bound for the upper Columbia could be slightly down.

The numbers will be updated several times over the coming months.

Snowshoer has eye for scenic location

WINTER SPORTS —  Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson and his wife, Lisa, of Lincoln jumped at the chance Wednesday offered to strap into their snowshoes for a walk through a cold clear day and deep powder in Western Montana.

Broke trail to the top of Rogers Pass this afternoon (snowshoes). It is approx.. 1.5 to 2 miles to the top with an elevation gain of about 1000 feet.

There was between one and two feet of snow for the entire trail. Cold and clear day – we got on top just in time for the warm sunset light!

As it set – it got cold! When we eventually got back to the truck, it was 10 degrees below zero. Considering we were 1000 feet higher, we estimate It was closer to -15 on top!

Study reveals increasing development along forest boundaries

PUBLIC LANDS — Perhaps researchers are offering some insight on how wildlife and hunters are feeling the squeeze of humanity in rural areas — and why forest fire fighting costs continue to soar.

Private development along the edges of most public forests in Oregon and Washington more than doubled since the 1970s, a new study conducted by the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station has found.

The study, which used aerial photography to inventory structures at the fringes of public forests, is the first to look at development trends in the two states before and after the enactment of land use laws. The findings are reported in Changes in Development Near Public Forest Lands in Oregon and Washington, 1974-2005: Implications for Management, a report published by the PNW Station.

“Although public forests are not necessarily directly subject to development, they still face management issues at their edges because of indirect development pressure,” said David Azuma, a research forester at the station who led the study.

In Oregon and Washington, about half of all forest lands are publicly owned and managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Forestry, and Washington Department of Natural Resources. Using a fine-scale grid of points on air photos across the two states, Azuma and colleagues classified areas outside of federal lands for land use and then recorded the number of structures within a 321-meter radius of each of these points.

“Quantifying the increases in structures in areas that have not been converted in land use can serve as a surrogate for the broader risk associated with development near public lands,” Azuma said.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Structure density within 1 kilometer of public forest more than doubled for each of the public owner groups between the 1970s and the mid-2000s.
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources lands are the most developed along their edges, with an average of 11 structures per square kilometer within 1 kilometer of their land – a rate that is more than twice that of lands managed by the other public land owners.
  • In Oregon, the greatest amount of development occurred along the edges of Bureau of Land Management forests, where there is an average of 4.4 structures per square kilometer within 1 kilometer and 19.5 structures within 2 to 5 kilometers of their land.
  • The greatest increases in structure density along public forest borders occurred in Pierce, King, Snohomish, and Clark Counties in Washington, and in Deschutes County in Oregon.

The study’s findings suggest that areas with increasing development should probably expect continued development. The work can help agencies that manage public forests to better plan for management options at the edges of their land.

  • The study also verifies the attention Washington state agencies and groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and The Nature Conservancy have given to “blocking up” forest lands that are in checkerboard ownership.  See story and links.

The report is available online

Idaho lawmakers get divided testimony on taking over federal lands

PUBLIC LANDS — A proposal by Idaho lawmakers to assume control of millions of acres of federal land statewide earned mixed reviews today, with supporters calling it an essential step to revitalizing rural economies and critics panning it as a financial boondoggle, according to a story that's just been moved by the Associated Press.

The Federal Lands Interim Committee meeting gave lawmakers their first chance to gauge public opinion on a plan calling on the federal government to cede much of the public land it oversees in Idaho to the state, writes AP's Todd Dvorak in Boise.

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a resolution making a case for the land transfer and the committee is spending two years to study the merits before submitting a recommendation in 2015.

Those encouraging lawmakers Wednesday included leaders of tea party groups, foresters who’ve seen local economies struggle amid declines in timber cutting and the shutdown of sawmills and county leaders frustrated with the management of national forest lands.

Ken Postma, a former forester for wood products company Boise-Cascade, argued the state would be a better steward of the forests and more amenable to expanding logging and other activities.

Read on for more of the story from the Associated Press:

Wolf tracks verified in Whitman County

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Wolf sightings have been reported in Whitman County off and on for several years, but last week, Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists were able to verify wolf tracks in the Palouse.

Two biologists verified one set of wolf tracks in the Rock Lake area, about two miles from where wolf sightings had been reported in the Ewan area.

They surmise the wolves may be wandering in from packs established in Idaho, just a short hop away for a wandering wolf.

Wolf tracks are huge in the canine world, measuring at least 4 inches long — twice the size of a coyote track.

  • The agency last week had to denounce rumors that it was releasing wolves in the Palouse and that wolves had attacked horses.

Last shot at Eastern Washington pheasant release sites

HUNTING — A few birds may still be hanging on at hunting sites for the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement and Release Program

The final release of farm-raised rooster pheasants was made a last week, just before Thanksgiving at sites near Fishtrap Lake, Sherman Creek Wildlife Area, Snake River and 20 other areas in the region.

Despite the non-toxic shot requirement enacted in 2011, these release public land sites have continued to be popular since the program began in the late 1990s. It's especially popular with hunters who don’t have access to hunt private land.

The first releases of the year occurred at all sites before the Sept. 21-22 youth upland bird season. Two additional releases were scheduled at the sites during the general pheasant season.

Only about half the sites were stocked with birds for the Oct. 19 opener, said Joey McCanna, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. The other sites were stocked the following week, he said. 

The agency does not divulge which sites will be stocked when.

This bit of chance and inconvenience dates back to the bad experiences agency staff had years ago when hunters often waited at designated sites for the game farm trucks to show up.  In some cases, greedy hunters created dangerous situations, sometimes even blasting away as the birds were being released.

Times have changed in other ways since the early years of the  Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program, when the Washington Legislature required 80 percent of the funding to be spent on releasing birds while the rest was earmarked for pheasant habitat efforts.

In 2008, about $270,000 was spent to release birds on the East Side and about $32,000 went to habitat.

That year, with legislative approval, Washington Fish and Wildlife managers  approved a phased-in schedule to reduce the number of birds planted until the spending equaled about 50 percent for birds and 50 percent for habitat.

“We’re right about there this year,” McCanna said, noting that 11,350 rooster pheasants were released at the sites this year.  That’s down from 11,820 last year and down from more than 20,000 birds in the initial years.

Hunter groups have supported the department’s emphasis on working with farmers to enhance habitat for wild pheasants. Methods include developing plantings that improve pheasant productivity on lands seeded into the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

Chart simplifies Mount Spokane’s winter access pass requirements

WINTER SPORTS — My recent blog post on the transitions at Mount Spokane State Park indicated the biggest change this seasons is the elimination of the Discover Pass for WINTER vehicle access to the park through March 31.

The handy chart above, courtesy of the Spokane REI store, helps illustrate the change.

Read the story for details.

High-tech shooting target revives old thrill of plinking cans



SHOOTING — This is a great idea, at least in the minds of those of us who honed our early shooting skills by plinking tin cans.

LaserLyte®, a company specializing firearms laser technologies, has released an entertaining Laser-Plinking-Can. When hit with a laser from any of the LaserLyte® training cartridges or other laser trainer tools, the cans react by jumping up and falling over just as a real can would.

This reaction is all powered by a 9-volt battery and a spring loaded plunger released by a solenoid. To reset the cans, simply stand them up and depress the plunger. The battery will last for about 8,000 shots.

The Laser Plinking Can Set provides hours of training and entertainment indoors or outdoors without the cost of ammunition, need for a special range — or the clean-up of cans after the session! 

Climate change dampens wolverine endangered species listing

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  An organization of wildlife officials for Western states is asking the federal government to delay a possible listing for wolverines as a threatened species, which could mean an end to trapping outside Alaska for the animal’s fur.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife objects to any listing based solely on fears climate change could shrink the wolverine’s wintry terrain along the spine of the Rocky Mountains and other Western ranges.

“Climate change models are not a reason to list species under the Endangered Species Act,” Bill Bates, a representative from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, told The Tribune.

Bates said the population of wolverines has actually increased since the time of European settlement, even though it’s estimated fewer than 300 of the elusive, snow-loving carnivores roam the mountain ranges of the Lower 48 states.

“We can wait and see what happens with climate change in the next 20 to 30 years,” Bates said.

Federal officials say they aren’t trying to use the wolverine as a means to regulate greenhouse gases, but they say it’s a fact climate change threatens the wolverine as much as it does the polar bear. The Interior Department listed polar bears as threatened five years ago because of loss of their primary habitat, sea ice, due to climate warming.

In January, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed protections for the wolverine throughout the continental U.S. It opened a public comment period that’s set to end on Monday.

Read on for more of the story moved by the Associated Press.

CdA bald eagle count booms from 11 to 57 in a week

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles are finally showing some interest in their traditional winter feast of spawning kokanee at Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted only 57 bald eagles today in the Wolf Lodge Bay area.  That's up from two eagles counted during her weekly survey two weeks ago and up from 11 counted last week.

However, the 57 eagles counted today — 46 adults (white heads), 10 immatures (under 4 years old) and one unknown — amount to less than half of the eagles counted in Wolf Lodge Bay last year at this time, Hugo said.

The eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured to the northeast corner of the lake from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in the bay.

“Last year I counted 121 bald eagles — 84 adults and 37 immature,” Hugo said, noting that today's survey conditions were cold and windy and many eagles were soaring in the breeze. “Let's see if the cold snap this week freezes some lakes up north and sends a big pulse (of eagles) our way!”

Spokane eliminates bicycle-pedestrian coordinator job

CYCLING — I've just learned that the city of Spokane is eliminating its Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator position.

As of Dec. 21, Grant Wencel, who's held the postion for more than four years, will be terminated and the job will go dark.

Here is a reaction from Bradley Bleck, who's been closely involved with the recent advances in bicycling routes and status in city transportation planning:

As someone who has served on the (Bicycling Advisory Board) for nearly seven years as a volunteer and member, who worked to help bring a bike/ped coordinator to the city, I can only see it as a significant step in the wrong direction, one that will make both recreational and utilitarian cycling in the city much less a priority. 

Snow closes North Cascades Highway for season

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — After finding a 12-foot deep avalanche along a 150-foot stretch of highway below Liberty Bell Mountain this morning, the state Department of Transportation has decided to keep the North Cascades Highway closed for the winter, according to the Associated Press.

The state temporarily closed the mountain pass between Mazama and Newhalem on Sunday afternoon due to heavy snow and high winds. Road crews went back to assess whether the road could be safely reopened today, and determined it could not, said DOT spokesman Jeff Adamson.

He said other avalanche chutes along the highway were filled with snow and unstable.

The highway closes every winter due to avalanche danger. Most years, the highway closes sometime in November, although it remained open into early December several years in its 40-year history. Last year, it closed for the season on Nov. 19.

This year the highway — a gateway to North Cascades National Park — reopened April 16, weeks earlier than last year because of a thinner snow pack. 

Are wildlife animals prey, partners or pests?

WILDLIFE — Time magazine indicates the good ol' days of hunting are changing, and our bloated civilization has turned a corner in the way we regard wildlife.

We've reduced animals such as deer and turkeys to pest status, the story contends.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman shares a few thoughts on the national news weekly's latest cover story.

Bonner County digs deep to oppose wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — Bonner County Commissioners got most of what they wanted in changes to recommended wilderness in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests revised management plan just released this fall.

But they want more. I mean they want less.

Actually, they want none.

SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — Bonner County commissioners in northern Idaho are urging the U.S. Forest Service not to designate any more lands as potential federally protected wilderness in the Kootenai and Panhandle national forests.

The Bonner County Daily Bee reports in a story on Sunday that commissioners say there are other ways for pristine areas to be preserved.

Commissioner Mike Nielsen says Scotchman Peak needs to be protected but that wilderness protection would isolate adjacent areas where trails are groomed for snowmobile riders.

A draft forest management plan released in October recommends making more than 25,000 acres of the Scotchman Peaks area in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana part of a federally protected wilderness.

The recommended area for the Scotchman Peaks has widespread support and mountain goats that need protection from the advances of motorized winter recreation.

Bonner County officials are just one faction.  Read on for a Lewiston Tribune story about another point of view regarding the IPNF wilderness recommendations.

Oregon wolf pack approaches limit for kill order


PREDATORS — The latest livestock attack by Oregon’s Snake River wolf pack puts it one bite away from a potential state kill order, according to Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press.

An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife report released Monday says the rancher who found a wounded cow Nov. 21 in the rugged country between the Imnaha and Snake rivers had taken required nonlethal steps to deter wolf attacks. Those steps included cleaning up old cow carcasses, putting out radio-activated alarm boxes and checking the cattle up to five times a day.

The report says bite marks on the cow’s hindquarters were characteristics of wolf attacks. The wounds were estimated to be a week or two old, and a GPS tracking collar put the pack in the area at that time.

New rules established under a legal settlement allow officials to consider a kill order after four qualifying attacks by a wolf pack in six months, the AP reports. The most recent attack makes three for the Snake River pack since October.

Unlike other states trying to control wolves in cattle country, Oregon has adopted specific rules requiring ranchers to take nonlethal steps to deter wolf attacks before the state can shoot a wolf for attacking livestock. The rules were the result of a legal settlement of a lawsuit from conservation groups.

Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild, one of plaintiffs, says the department is faithfully carrying out the new rules. He noted that the number of attacks by the Imnaha pack has gone down as nonlethal efforts have gone up. The Imnaha pack was Oregon’s first and had the most livestock kills last year when a decision to shoot two of its members was blocked by court order.

“I think the agency deserves a lot of credit for following the letter of the plan, putting out reports and making them public, which is a big change over where we were a couple years ago,” Pedery said.

Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the department, said more ranchers have bought into nonlethal control in the range of the Imnaha pack, where they have been dealing with wolves for a longer time. However, it is still uncertain whether the nonlethal controls are responsible, he said.

Morgan added that the Imnaha pack is made up of different wolves, except for the breeding pair, than when the pack was more actively attacking livestock. Young adults have moved on, and the pack has at least seven new pups.

Rancher Rod Childers, who negotiated the rules on behalf of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said ranchers are still frustrated with the slow pace of the process, which can take a week or more to confirm a kill and determine whether it qualifies under the rules.

“People are learning it’s here and we’ve got to deal with it,” he said of the seven confirmed wolf packs in northeastern Oregon. “We just want it dealt with in a more timely manner than what it is.” 

TransAm bicycle touring rides in the family

CYCLING — Pedaling a bicycle across the United States is the equivalent of a graduate degree in American Studies, only you'll be in better shape than when you started.

I made the journey in 1976 betwixt college and career (left), and on Monday my daughter, Hillary, at the same age, finished her TransAm trip 37 years later.

My favorite youngest daughter and her cycling partner Katy Howell reached St. Augustine, Fla., completing the Adventure Cycling Association's Southern Tier Route across the USA. Hillary started riding in September from San Francisco to San Diego, and then eastward through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Whahoo!

I told her it was going to be cold when she returns to Spokane at the end of the week. She said she'd wear wool socks under her Chacos.

My main word of advice to Hillary before she departed was to focus on the people, not on making the miles.  She and Katy excelled at meeting people.  They have a trail of friends now.

Following is Hillary's first look back at her travels in a post after reaching the Atlantic:

After 2 months and over 3,000 miles of blood, sweat, and gears (and tears!), I finally made it to the Atlantic Coast on my bicicleta! It has been a truly profound experience - traveling with only women in a part of the US that is so different from my Washingtonian bubble of a reality that it felt like a completely different country. I never ceased to be blown away by the incredible hospitality we encountered… countless people who accepted us as complete strangers into their homes… who provided us with the luxuries of a warm shower, a fresh,fluffy towel, or a home-cooked meal. The guardian angels who warned us of sketchy towns to avoid or gave us a lift when we got lost and ended up on gravel roads. Although many warned us of the crazies that were out to get us, we encountered only nice and gracious people. This journey has made me deeply appreciate my life and the freedoms I have - the freedom to travel, to be educated, to ultimately leave my home town and see a different state, or 8… Or the whole world! The access to fresh, local food… Access to recycling and composting and environmental awareness. But most of all, a self-confidence that I couldn't have acquired any other way. A belief in myself, and a belief in humanity… That humans are innately good. Thanks to all of you who helped me fulfill my dream. But now, I am looking forward to having more than 4 pairs of underwear! 

WDFW photo contest may put your hunting camp on a cover

HUNTING — Hunting camps are full of traditions and camaraderie, and often they're pretty darned photogenic.

 Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials want to capture that feeling for the cover of the 2014-15 hunting regulations pamphlet that hundreds of thousands of sportsmen will pore over next year. 

Hunting camps are the them of the agency's third-annual Big Game Regulations Pamphlet Contest

  • Photos should be at least 1 MB in size – preferably larger – to ensure a quality print job. 
  • Photos should not include items that could appear to endorse specific companies or products.  Examples include logos or labels on sporting goods, foods, alcoholic and non‑alcoholic beverages, etc. 
  • Contest participants may enter multiple photos, but must enter each individually.

All submissions must be received by by the agency by March 1, 2014.

The winner’s photo will be featured on the cover of next year’s Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations Pamphlet. 

Local land trust has conserved 14,694 acres

CONSERVATION — Some landowners have a deep attachment to their property and its value to wildlife, water, scenery, tradition and other values.  We can all be thankful to them.

Since 1991, Inland Northwest Land Trust has helped private landowners get tax advantages and peace of mind on the way to protecting 14,694 acres – with more acres added soon!

Here's a word from the local land trust, a local non-profit working for everyone's future an acre at a time.

We work with willing private landowners to protect the region’s natural lands, waters and forests for the benefit of wildlife, our community and future generations. You make our mission possible by your commitment to our region.

Supporting Inland Northwest Land Trust on Giving Tuesday celebrates and encourages a national movement for charitable activities helping non-profit organizations AND provides an additional $2 for every $1 donated to us thanks to an Extra Gift Challenge Grant throughout December.  

Call the Inland Northwest Land Trust office, (509) 328-2939 or mail a check to Inland Northwest Land Trust, 35 W Main Avenue, Suite 210, Spokane, WA 99201.

Big Sky bigger than ever as three ski resorts merge

WINTER SPORTS — The  expansion of Big Sky Resort in Montana is BIG news in every way.

The resort's owners purchased neighboring resorts, Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks in August, and debuted the transformed mega resort — now the largest in the country — during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“The acquisitions make Big Sky the big boy on the U.S. alpine skiing and snowboarding scene,” says Brett  French of the Billings Gazette. “The combination means more than 30 lifts, 4,350 vertical feet of drop and 5,750 total acres for riders to roam. In comparison, the other big dog — the tony Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado — has about 5,300 acres and 3,450 vertical feet.”

The new Big Sky is treating skiers to the longest vertical run in the lower 48 states.

Read on for details from the Gazette story:

Hanford Reach steelhead catch lagging

FISHING — Through November 30, anglers have harvested a total of 243 steelhead in the Hanford Reach (Hwy 395 to old Hanford townsite), according to a report just posted by Paul Hoffarth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist for the area.

  • Roughly 50 percent of the steelhead encountered to date have been unclipped.
  • Both catch and harvest are well below last year’s fishery and the 10-year average. 
  • Anglers are averaging 20 pole hours for one hatchery steelhead. 
  • Bank anglers are faring a bit better than the boat anglers. 

Fly-fishing phenom April Vokey shines on camera as well as on river

FLY FISHING — My Sunday Outdoors feature story about Fly Gal founder April Vokey and her recent visit to Spokane was just a minor installment in an international series of media segments focusing on this bright light in the fly fishing industry. 

A few weeks later, she would be followed by a film crew to Belize before returning to her home-region in the Skeena area of British Columbia for a week of filming with a crew from 60 Minutes Sports (see trailer above). The segment aired in early November on Showtime.

Here are some of the highlights from my April Vokey story:

  • “I don’t like fluff in people, life or flies.”
  •  Among the most remarkable if not phenomenal details in Vokey’s life is that she’d become a hard-core steelhead fly fisher by the age of 16 without the direct influence of fishing parents.
  • “Late-night parties found drunken classmates stumbling through self-discovery as I soberly snuck out early to be on the river for first light.”
  • “I wanted it so bad that come hell or high water I did it every day to see how I’d do and get better at it,” she told me. “I’ve never had a 9-to-5 job.”
  • “It has always been a shame to me that fly fishing is perceived as a man’s sport. There is truly nothing overly masculine about it.” 
  • “Woman in a male-dominated sport – I feel I’m so far past that now,” she told me. “I live the sport every single day of my life.”

  • “I prefer to be thought of as an angler with integrity, someone who considers it a pleasure and a privilege to share what I know. ”

Two weeks ago Vokey, 30, was in Missoula giving seminars. This week she's fishing in Chile.

The British Columbia fly fishing guide says she's been to about 20 countries for fishing. “I don't go to a country if I can't go fishing,” she said.

  • Check out Vokey's blog.
  • See the March 2013 post in which she sheds light on her teenage years. “It took all of my courage to write that,” she told me.

Good hunting is no excuse for littering

HUNTING — This is a note to the person who discovered a little public land quail honey-spot I've hunted for 30 years.

You apparently had a good day recently.  I don't really care how many birds you killed or missed, but I found at least six of the red 12-gauge 7 1/2-shot shell casings you left littering the sage brush on just a few acres of land.  I have no idea how many I didn't see.

I don't know who you are, but I have this vision of you being a pig.

Responsible hunters should clean up all of their litter, especially plastic shot shell hulls that will remain an eyesore in the field to give all hunters a black eye for decades. 

Audubon selling 2014 Birds of Eastern Washington calendar

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A Steller’s jay photographed in the foothills of Mount Spokane by Ron Dexter is one of 12 birds featured in the Spokane Audubon Society’s 2014 Birds of Eastern Washington Calendar.   

The calendars are a bargain at $10.

Order them at the club's online store.

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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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About Rich

Rich Landers (@SRoutside) 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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