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Outdoors blog

Archive for March 2013

Sandhill Crane Festival set with birds, speakers

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Organizers have assembled a collection of field trips and speakers while nature is supplying the wildlife for the 16th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival.  Sign up in advance on the website; many activities fill quickly.

Events kick off Friday (April 5) with boat tours on Potholes Reservoir and a “biking for cranes” tour.

Saturday’s events include tours of burrowing owl/ground squirrel habitat, tours that feature geology shaped by prehistoric flooding, tours of prime crane viewing locations, and dozens of lectures at Othello High School. Lecture topics this year will cover everything from crane biology to wildlife photography.

  • Idie Ulsh, master birder and former president of Seattle Audbon, will be the banquet speaker on Saturday night during the silent auction. 

Vendors, children’s activities, and the opportunity to view raptors up close and in person will be also available throughout the day on Saturday. More tours will be available on Sunday.

The Othello farming community plays a central role in supporting crane migration each year. Cranes and other migrating birds feast on corn and grain left over from last year’s harvest, and some fields are left open through the migration season to allow birds the chance to rest during their travels.

Avalanche reporters find slushy conditions

WINTER SPORTS — “We had it going on for a while, the melt-freeze I mean,” said Kevin Davis in today Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center weekly forecast.  

“Last weekend the conditions were great and if you could have had this week off you would have been getting into some corn snow conditions. No solid overnight freeze put an end to that and you'll find slushy snow prevailing.  

“Possibly a little dust on crust up north and to the south will be slush on slush.  

“Be careful on steep terrain if you venture out today and this weekend.  Use you spring travel techniques.  I'll post that next week.  This is our last official advisory this winter.”

Lake Roosevelt near summer level for weekend

BOATING — The level of Lake Roosevelt was at at the summer-like elevation of 1282.00  feet this morning, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects the level to rise only slightly to1282.6 by Sunday.

The elevation likely will drop to about 1279.9 by April 10. Currently, Grand Coulee Dam is being operated to meet flood control elevations.

The current flood control elevations are as follows:

  • March 31 - 1282.6 feet
  • April 30 - 1265.1 feet

These elevations can and probably will change with the April water supply forecast scheduled for announcement the second week of April.

Get daily lake level forecast by phone, updated daily at 3 p.m: (800) 824-4916.

Better yet, check out this new NOAA site with Roosevelt levels and a list of boat launching elevations on the same page.

National forests require firewood permits

PUBLIC LANDS — Cutting firewood for personal or commercial use from national forests requires a permit. Peronal use permits go on sale Monday (April 1).

  • Exception: Colville National Forest permit sales have been delayed until April 8 because of printing delays. Info: (509) 684-7000.

Idaho Panhandle National Forests firewood permits are on sale. The minimum permit available is $20 for  4cords. Woodcutters may purchase multiple permits, up to a maximum of 12 cords of firewood per season.

The Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District also offers an online “permit by mail” system. From the webpage, customers can print the application, fill it out, and mail it along with a check or money order for payment to either the Fernan Office in Coeur d’Alene or the Smelterville Office in the Silver Valley. Your firewood permit will be mailed to you within one business day from receipt of your application.
 
This year the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District is also providing additional maps and instructions with each permit to assist firewood cutters.
 
Info: Silver Valley office, (208) 783-2363 or Fernan office, (208) 664-2318.

Survive spring break: 10 tips for outbound college students

WATER SPORTS — With 3.7 million college students getting ready for a well-earned spring break, history tells us some of them will get hurt or killed, especially around water.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offer these Top 10 tips to help you avoid being a statistic on a lake, stream or ocean.

No. 10: HELP (Heat Escape Lessening Position) can save your life in cold water. This position is where your knees are drawn up to your chest with your arms grasping them together helping retain body temperature until you are rescued. Wet clothing will not weigh you down in the water because water does not weigh more than water, so leave your clothes on.
 
No. 9: Diving could be a neck-breaking experience; never dive into unknown waters.
 
No. 8: Any beach that has breaking waves could have the potential to develop rip currents near the shore that can pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea.If you get caught in one of these narrow rip currents, swim parallel to shore until the current stops pushing you out.
 
No. 7: Never overestimate your swimming abilities, especially in open waters.
 
No 6: Swim only in designated areas.
 
No. 5: Never swim alone.
 
No. 4: Swim and boat sober.
 
No. 3: If you are boating, wear a life jacket even if you know how to swim and don’t expect to enter the water.
 
No. 2: Choose the right life jacket for you and wear it. The new inflatable life jackets are lightweight and the belt-pack style of inflatable life jacket will still allow you to get a great tan.
 
The No. 1: tip that could mean the difference between life and death during your spring break: Don’t let anyone talk you into anything that you don’t want to do. Peer pressure can kill you.

Umatilla requires permits for serious mushroomers

PUBLIC LANDS — Mushrooms are pushing their way up through the warming spring soil in forests around the region, and pickers are heading out to greet them.

National forests generally allow people to pick mushrooms freely, but if you're harvesting more than a few gallons of fungi, you may need a commercial permit, depending on the forest.

In the Blue Mountains, the Umatilla National Forest requires a Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent to park a vehicle at many sites.

In adddition, commercial harvest permits are required for picking more than a gallon of mushrooms on the Oregon side of the Blues or more than five gallons on the Washington side.

The forest offers a 2013 mushroom guide with information on rules and tips on where to pick.

Read on for more details from the Umatilla.

Dishman Hills Buttercup Hike April 6

HIKING – The 47th annual Buttercup Hike, a free family-style guided walk through the Dishman Hills Natural Area, will be led by Dishman Hills Conservancy members on April 6.

Hikers will set out on the two-hour walk at noon from the Camp Caro parking area.

Pre-register.

New walleye rules for Lake Roosevelt, including San Poil and Spokane arms

FISHING — New fishing regulations with more liberal limits take effect Monday, April 1, on Lake Roosevelt, and the lower reaches of the San Poil and Spokane Rivers. 

Here are the details from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Action:  The daily walleye bag limit for Lake Roosevelt, the lower San Poil River, and the lower Spokane River will increase to 16 fish with no size restriction. In addition, the lower Spokane River from mouth (SR 25 Bridge) upstream to 400 feet below Little Falls Dam will open for walleye fishing April 1.

Effective Date:  April 1 at 12:01 a.m. until further notice

Species affected:  Walleye

Locations:

  • Lake Roosevelt;
  • The lower Spokane River from mouth (SR 25 Bridge) to 400 feet below Little Falls Dam; and
  • The lower San Poil River from Boundary Line A upstream to Boundary Line C (as illustrated by the map in the current WDFW “Fishing in Washington” rules pamphlet, or the Fishing section of the WDFW webpage

Reason for action:  In early March, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved new fishing regulations designed to increase harvest on an overabundant walleye populations in Lake Roosevelt and the lower Spokane River. Besides providing additional fishing opportunities for anglers, these changes will help to reduce walleye predation on native fish populations as well as the number of small walleye in those waters. The permanent regulations approved by the Commission will take effect May 1, 2013.

The emergency regulations will effectively initiate these changes April 1, 2013, a month sooner, to expedite the goals of the Commission's permanent rules for Lake Roosevelt and the lower Spokane River. In addition, they apply the 16-fish daily limit for walleye to the lower San Poil River, which also has an overabundance of the species.

Other information:  All other WDFW fishing regulations for Lake Roosevelt, Spokane River, and San Poil River remain in effect. 

Recreational fishing in Lake Roosevelt, and in the San Poil River between Boundary A to Boundary C, requires a Washington State freshwater license and compliance with established State fishing regulations. The Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) have established non-tribal recreational fishing regulations which differ from State regulations in this area. Be advised that anglers fishing in this area may be checked by tribal enforcement officers for a tribal license.

All waters upstream of Boundary C (above the 1310 mean sea elevation) and within the CCT Reservation boundary are under the regulatory authority of the CCT. For CCT fishing information call (509) 634-2110.

Wash. state parks celebrates 100 years with free entry Saturday

PARKS — Washington State Parks were founded 100 years ago this month. In one of many treats and celebrations to come this year, the park system has designated Saturday a “free day:” vechicles will not be required to display the Discover Pass to visit a state park.

The State Parks and Recreation Commission selected most of its 2013 “free days” in conjunction with the National Park Service’s free days. State Parks’ remaining free day schedule for 2013 is as follows:
  • March 30 – in honor of Washington State Parks’ 100th birthday month
  • April 27 and 28 – National Parks Week
  • June 1 – National Trails Day
  • June 8 and 9 – National Get Outdoors Day
  • Aug. 4 – Peak season free day
  • Sept. 28 – National Public Lands Day
  • Nov. 9 -11 – Veterans Day weekend.
The “free days” are in keeping with legislation that created the Discover Pass, a $30 annual or $10 one-day permit required on state-managed recreation lands managed by Washington State Parks, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources.

Idaho extends wolf hunting through June

HUNTING — The Idaho Fish and Game Commission today (March 28) voted to extend the current wolf hunting season in the Middle Fork and part of the Dworshak-Elk City wolf management zones.

The commission extended the wolf hunting season through June 30 in the Middle Fork units 20A, 26 and 27 and in the part of the Dworshak-Elk-City Zone's Unit 16 north of the Selway River.

These seasons were scheduled to end Sunday.

Enviros bristle at possibilty of delisting wolves

ENDANGERED SPECIES — News that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into the possibility of delisting gray wolves from endangered species protections ought to be good news. 

Delisting is the goal of listing. 

Delisting was applauded where' it's already happened — much later than federal scientists, elected officials, state wildlife managers, ranchers and hunters would have liked — in Montana and Washington.

But some western environmental groups are opposing the possibililty that's been circulating in the past few weeks.

On the other hand, 72 members of Congress have signed a petition urging delisting.

Click “continue reading” for the latest from the Associated Press.

Washington confirms 10th wolf pack; more likely

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A new wolf pack has been confirmed in Washington by state wildlife officials, bringing the number of known packs to 10 with AT LEAST four other packs suspected of operating inside or on the state borders.

The photo with this post shows two wolves near an elk carcass in the Pitcher Creek drainage about six miles south of Wenatchee, as reported in the Wenatchee World

In the story, state wildlife biologist Dave Volson doesn't hesitate to point out that this wolf pack could be “new” only in the sense thats it's just been confirmed.  

Wolf reports — many are substantiated but many others are not  — are coming in from a wide range of areas on the state's wolf reporting webpage.  Even the more open spaces of the Palouse region is home to wolves.

See a good roundup of recent wolf-related activity and news —  including how wolf management is factoring into the state Senate confirmation hearings for Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners and a Washington-collared wolf killed legally in British Columbia — in the latest Wolf Howler report by Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman.

Celebrities flock in for Othello Sandhill Crane Festival

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The headline attraction at the annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival has already arrived for the April 5-7 series of programs, field trips and banquets based out of Othello and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

More than 1,000 sandhill cranes were at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge last weekend, said Spokane outdoor photographer Craig Goodwin.

Of course, plent of other birds, including long-billed curlews, and waterfowl, are enjoyed by viewers on festival field trips.

Dredging’s impact on Snake River fish quietly debated

RIVERS – The Corps of Engineers’ plan to dredge portions of the Lower Snake River is a touchy issue politically, economically and in regard so salmon and steelhead.

I know this because none of the fisheries biologists I contacted this month would comment. They all referred me to managers who referred me to documents their agencies were filing – on or after the public comment period that ended Tuesday for environmental impact statement on the Corps’ sediment management plan,

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game submitted comments to the Governor's Office to be incorporated into a package of State comments on the draft EIS.

Dredging is proposed at three sites in Lower Granite Reservoir and below Ice Harbor Dam because sediment buildup, an expected problem associated with dams, is interfering with commercial navigation.

Sam Mace of Save our Wild Salmon, says there’s a better idea that would be cheaper and more sustainable in the long run:   Breach the dams.

Maintenance and operations costs for the lower Snake River barge transportation corridor greatly exceed its economic benefits, she says.

“With a growing project backlog and deepening federal deficits, these new analyses raise serious questions about the lower Snake waterway’s economic viability, and its burden to local communities and American taxpayers.”

The byproduct of such economic responsibility would be boosting endangered salmon runs with a natural, free-flowing river.

Wolverine, lynx, fishers studied in Montana

WILDLIFE — Montana's big Crown of the Continent wilderness areas are providing fertile ground for research on wolverines, lynx and fishers, as you can read in this Missoulian story.

This research eventually will blend with similar efforts in Idaho and Washington to help get a better profile of the life and needs of these off-the-radar creatures.

Lookout Pass attracts record number of skiers, snowboarders

WINTER SPORTS — With 10 operating days left in the season, Lookout Pass Ski and Rereation Area announced today that it's already set a record for skier/snowboarder visits.

Lookout CEO Phil Edholm says the resort logged a total of 64,450 visits as of Sunday, topping the record of 64,291 visits set last season.

Here's the schedule for the rest of the season at Lookout Pass:

  • March 28-April 1
  • April 4-7
  • Last day of operation, Saturday, April 13.

Climber’s photos document shrinking Cascades glaciers

CLIMBING — Northwest climber/photographer Alan Kearney has an ongoing project to photograph Cascades glaciers from the same spot he photographed them on climbing trips decades ago.

As you might expect, having read anything about climate change in the past few decades, the glaciers show considerable shrinkage. See one of his stories and photo comparisons here

Also check out his blog for other stories and photos.

Ticks: tiny wolves at work on area moose

WILDLIFE — Hans Krauss, a Spokane Valley wildlife enthusiast and photographer, shot these photos of a bull moose in the Ponderosa neighborhood a few days ago. 

What first caught his eye are the bases of where antlers had fallen off, and where the new antler growth soon will be sprouting.

But my first reaction was, “That poor bugger is infested with ticks.”  If the grayish look, and the hair rubbed off in patches including the ears aren't an obvious clue, the engorged ticks on the moose's rump are graphic.

Indeed, Krauss's email with the photos came while I was on the phone conducting an interview with Rich Harris, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist in charge of special big-game species, such as moose. I was researching the decline of moost published for stories published in the Sunday Outdoors section:

I forwarded the photos to Harris, who in turn forwarded the photos to Kristen Mansfield, the state's wildlife veterinarian.  Here are their comments:

__________________________

Kristin:

…. Would appreciate your ideas. Rich Landers sent me these photos yesterday, nice close up of a bull photographed yesterday. He looks somewhat emaciated to me, and I wonder if this amount of grey color is shedding, old age, ticks, normal end of winter condition, or other? What do you think?

— Rich Harris

___________________________

Rich,

The whitish-grayish coloring of the legs is normal.

The thin hair and whitish-grayish coloring in the saddle area, neck, and rump are where he's been scratching at winter ticks. I think you can even see several ticks in his perineal area.

He does look thin, but not really emaciated to me. Kind of what I'd expect this time of year in an animal that appears to have had a miserable winter dealing with lots of ticks.

— Kristen Mansfield

Steelheading remains good on Idaho rivers

FISHING — Steelhead have been working their way into tributaries as they near their spawning areas after a long migration that started last year. Many anglers love this time of year, when the fish are more accessible in the smaller streams.

Recent angler surveys show catch rates to be 11 hours per fish caught on the Salmon River upstream of the East Fork, 17 hours per fish caught on the Little Salmon River, and 8 hours per fish caught on the South Fork Clearwater River, the Idaho Fish and Game Department says.

Steelhead fishing is considered very good anytime catch rates are lower than 20 hours per fish caught.    

The spring harvest season closes March 31 on the Salmon River from the Lake Creek Bridge to Long Tom Creek – three-quarters of a mile upstream from the Middle Fork Salmon River.

But anglers can continue fishing through April 30 in most other steelhead waters, except the Little Salmon River, which stays open until May 15.

Other open waters include:

Snake Riverfrom the Washington state line at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers upstream to Hells Canyon Dam.

Clearwater RiverMainstem and Middle Fork from its mouth upstream to Clear Creek.

North Fork Clearwater Riverfrom its mouth upstream to Dworshak Dam.

South Fork Clearwater Riverfrom its mouth upstream to the confluence of American and Red Rivers.

Salmon Riverfrom its mouth upstream to the posted boundary 100 yards downstream of the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery weir near Stanley.  Except the reach from the Lake Creek Bridge to Long Tom Creek, which closes March 31.

Spring steelhead limits are three fish per day and nine in possession with no more than 20 fish for the season. Once limits are reached, the angler must stop fishing, even catch and release.

Steelhead anglers may use only barbless hooks, and may keep only hatchery steelhead marked with a clipped adipose fin, as evidenced by a healed scar. All other steelhead must be released immediately.

Consult Idaho's 2013-2015 fishing rules book for special restrictions and limits.

Idaho has required a valid 2013 fishing license and steelhead permit since Jan. 1 in order to fish for steelhead.

Canada mines taint Elk River fishery in B.C., threaten downstream fisheries

FISHERIES — A new study says a metal-like element called selenium is leeching from coal mines into the Elk river drainage in southeastern British Columbia, threatening fish habitat in Canada and downstream in Montana.

The study found five coal mines in the Elk River Valley are causing toxic pollution, and four of the coal mines are planning expansions.

The Elk River in the area near Fernie, British Columbia, is a fishing stream prized by fly fishers.

The Missoulian reports a new coal mine proposal and three exploration projects are also under way.

The executive director of a conservation group called Wildsight says the selenium affects reproductive organs in fish and could lead to a population collapse.

The Elk River joins the Kootenai River at Lake Koocanusa.

The study was commissioned by Glacier National Park and carried out by the University of Montana’s Ric Hauer and Erin Sexton.

Expect more information on this alarming development.

Forest Service proposes restrictions on appeals

PUBLIC LANDS — The U.S. Forest Service is proposing changes to the process people use to challenge timber sales and other agency decisions.

New guidelines expected to be unveiled later this week would require anyone interested in challenging agency actions to fully take part in the public review process and file formal objections before agency administrators make final policy decisions, according to a story published today in the Lewiston Tribune.

Read on for more of the story and concerns of conservation groups from the story just moved by the Associated Press.

Utah’s $50 bounty on coyotes questioned

PREDATORS — Bounties are back!

Utah's plan to kill coyotes to save mule deer questioned

A decline in mule deer over the past generation prompted the Utah Legislature to create a $50 bounty to encourage hunters to kill coyotes. However, some scientists question whether the coyotes are to blame for the decline in mule deer and if the bounty program is really working.  — New York Times

Spring gets slow start for birders near Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge

WILDLIFE WATCHING — As spring returns to northeastern Washington, Mike Munts, wildlife biologist at the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge has resumed his periodic updates on refuge wildlife watching.

“It has been a bit of slow start,” he reported Sunday. T”he lakes and ponds are just starting to break up but the river has mostly thawed and Hatch Lake on the drive out from Colville is opening up so it should not be too much longer here.

“Temperatures have in the 50s the last couple of days and birds are starting to trickle in.”

One notable species seen this weekend is a white-winged crossbill.

Click continued ready for Munts' list of birds seen on the refuge in the past two weeks:

Clouds of snow geese darken skies in Montana

WILDLIFE WATCHING — More than 50,000 snow geese have been resting at Freezeout Lake near Great Falls, Mont., on their annual spring migration.

Snow geese are the only waterfowl I know of that are hunted during spring migrations as part of an effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce the overpopulated birds and reduce the damage they've been doing for years to their arctic nesting areas. 

But because the geese travel in such large groups with so many wary eyes, the are difficult to hunt, and their populations have not been brought under control. 

Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson caught a relatively small group of the migrants in the air at Freezout that filled his frame.  Here's his observation:

They are back in force! Worth the trip if you like seeing large amounts of Snow Geese.
 
The hardest part for us is all of the other “Watchers”. We probably saw 25 or 30 other cars on a weekday.
 
The neat part about this image  is that when I took it, I could have taken 6 or 7 shots across and had the same amount of geese in the frame. Wow !

Salmon, steelhead issues topic of Tri-Cities meeting

FISHING – Washington fisheries managers will explain forecasts and rules for salmon and steelhead fishing in the Columbia Basin in a public meeting Wednesday (March 27), 5 p.m.-9 p.m. at the Benton PUD building, 2721 W. 10th Ave. in Kennewick.

Discussion topics will range from new barbless hook requirements to pre-season forecasts, including those for salmon and steelhead upstream of McNary Dam.

This season, salmon and steelhead anglers are required to use barbless hooks on the mainstem Columbia River downstream of the Washington-Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. The rule is likely to be applied to the entire Columbia and its tributaries.

The meeting is part of the salmon season-setting process known as North of Falcon, which involves representatives from federal, state and tribal governments and recreational and commercial fishing industries. Final salmon fishing seasons will be adopted in early April at the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Portland.

Locals tell of winter rafting expedition in Grand Canyon

RIVERS –  Lynn and Stan Mrzygod will recount their recent 30-day, 300-mile, self-guided winter excursion through the wild rapids in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in a slide program sponsored by the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club on Monday, 7 p.m. at Mountain Gear corporate offices, 6021 E. Mansfield in Spokane Valley.

This ought to be an excellent way to chill out after a busy weekend.

Lake Roosevelt water levels staying high

BOATING — The level of Lake Roosevelt is about 1280.60 feet, and it's trending up almost to summer-like levels with little beach showing on the shorelines..

The elevation of Lake Roosevelt is expected to rise over the next week. It is antipated the elevation will be in the 1279 - 1281 range through the end of the Month.

The current flood control elevations the maximum elevation targets for Lake Roosevelt are:

  • March 31 - 1282.6 feet
  • April 30 - 1265.1 feet

These elevations can and probably will change with the April water supply forecast scheduled for announcement the second week of April.

Get daily lake level forecast by phone, updated daily at 3 p.m: (800) 824-4916.

Better yet, check out this new NOAA site with Roosevelt levels and a list of boat launching elevations on the same page.

Storms left avalanche hazard in area mountains

WINTER SPORTS — “A lot of snow in the past week, and it fell with a lot of wind,” warns Kevin Davis in today's weekly advisory from the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center. 

Winds were mainly out of the west so use caution on the easterly aspects, NE through SE.  I found a decent slab over a weak layer of facets on a north aspect in the Selkirks yesterday and I wouldn't have been on any steep and exposed slopes with that under me. 

No shooting cracks or whumphing but if you dig down through the powdery snow you'll hit an ice crust, isolate a column on that and give er a whack and see what happens.  Go or no go?  It'll settle a little bit today but check it again this weekend.  Great conditions out there right now. 
  

Meeting centers on impact of wolves on big game

PREDATORS— The potential impact of wolves on northeastern Washington game species such as deer and elk will be discussed in a public meeting set by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday (March 27) in Colville.

State and local wildlife managers will present information on wolf monitoring in the area along with population trends and harvest data for white-tailed deer, elk and moose.

They’ll also discuss the status of wolves in the region and the impact wolves have had on deer and elk populations in other western states, according to a WDFW media release.

Dave Ware, WDFW game manager, said the department has not documented any measureable impacts from wolves on game species in Washington, but recognizes that reports from other states have raised public concerns.

“We want to talk to people in northeast Washington about this issue because that’s the area of the state that has the largest number of wolves,” Ware said. “We’d encourage area residents who have concerns to attend this meeting.”

Boundary Dam relicensing approved; Millpond removal OKed

RIVERS — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved a new 42-year license for Boundary Dam on the Pend Oreille River downstream from Metaline Falls. Boundary, built in 1967, is the largest hydroelectric dam owned by Seattle City Light and produces 25 percent of the city's electric power.

Recreationists will benefit from several conditions of the relicensing process and negotiations, underway since 2004. Kayakers in particular are applauding the concurrent federal approval for removing Millpond Dam on Sullivan Creek, a tributary to the Pend Oreille River.

Millpond Dam is a 134-foot-long, 55-foot-high concrete dam with an 850-foot-long, 10-foot-high earthen dike that creates a 63-acre reservoir just downstream from Sullivan Lake. Millpond Dam has blocked Sullivan Creek since 1909.

The Washington Department of Ecology approved a permit for dam removal last year.

Removal should be completed within the next five years.

Dam removal settlement talks began in 2008 when American Whitewater, the US Forest Service, and the State of Washington successfully challenged a federal decision to give up jurisdiction over the dam, which had not generated power since 1956, according to Kevin Colburn, writing on the American Whitewater website.

Seattle City and Light eventually agreed to a settlement in March of 2010 to fund the removal of Millpond Dam as a condition for relicensing Boundary Dam.

While maintaining Boundary Dam as an important economic engine, providing 50 well-paying jobs, generating tax revenue for Pend Oreille County, Seattle City Light has agreed to fund recreational opportunities, such as:
  • New recreational trails on the east side of the reservoir.
  • New non-motorized boat access with parking and facilities at the Metaline Falls Portage.
  • Upgrades to six dispersed recreation sites along the Boundary reservoir, including sanitation systems, picnic tables, fire rings and watercraft land and tie-up areas.
  • Improvements to Metaline Park in the town of Metaline.
  • New interpretation and education sites throughout the Boundary project area. 

The removal of Millpond Dam also is expected to benefit native redband and cutthroat trout, as well as mountain whitefish, by improving stream temperatures, restoring sediment to the areas downstream of the dam, and likely restoring fish passage.

In addition, the dam removal will expose whitewater rapids not seen for over a century. American Whitewater produced images predicting what the restored area might look like.

“Our re-licensing process was unique,” said Seattle City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco. “We undertook a process of close collaboration with all stakeholders to reach an agreement for the protection and enhancement of native fish and wildlife; the expansion of recreational and cultural amenities; and to ensure the water quality of the Pend Oreille River and its tributaries.”

 “It’s also unique because there is a second settlement agreement that includes the removal of Mill Pond Dam as part of the decommissioning of the Pend Oreille PUD’s Sullivan Project, providing valuable new habitat for threatened native fish species, as well as new recreation opportunities,” Carrasco said.
 
The decision becomes final after all settling parties have had a chance to review the documents and raise any concerns with FERC over the order that was issued Wednesday.
 
Facts about Boundary Dam:
  • Began generating power in 1967
  • Cost to build: $94 million
  • 740’ long and 340’ tall
  • A thin-arch structure, it is 32’ thick at the base and just 8’ thick at the crest
  • Produces up to 1,040 megawatts of power
 FERC's order also will require the construction of a cold-water release pipe and a new release schedule for Sullivan Dam, which will remain in place at the outlet of Sullivan Lake. These measures will improve downstream fish habitat, and will provide significant paddling opportunities in September and October in the Class IV/V canyon section of Sullivan Creek, American Whitewater says.
The settlement calls for adding wood and rock habitat structures to sections of Sullivan Creek up and downstream of the canyon and the structures will be installed with recreational boating considerations in mind.

Montana turns tide on wolves; first year since 2004

PREDATORS — Montana wildlife officials say they've finally turned the tide on the growth of gray wolf populations that generally have been increasing since the 1900s.
 
At least 625 wolves inhabited Montana at the end of 2012 according to state wildlife managers in a summary of a federally required annual wolf conservation and management report released today.
Montana's verified minimum wolf count decreased more than 4 percent in 2012, compared to a 15 percent increase in 2011 and an eight percent increase in 2010 despite  open hunting seasons.
 
The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually verified by FWP wolf specialists at the end of the year. Actual numbers likely are higher.
 
The 625 wolves are in 147 packs with and 37 breeding pairs.
 
While it's the first time since 2004 that the minimum count has decreased, Montana’s minimum wolf pack and breeding pairs estimates increased slightly from 2011.
 
The 2012 calculation, however, doesn't include the 95 wolves taken by hunters and trappers between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28 of this year.
 
“We're making some progress,” said FWP Director Jeff Hagener. “Confirmed livestock loss has been on a general downward trend since 2009, and we have more tools now for affecting wolf populations. In some areas, where hunting, trapping and livestock-depredation removals have been effective, it looks like the wolf population's growth has been curbed this year. In other areas the population may be leveling off, but we have more work to do. There are still places where we need to manage for a better balance among other Montana wildlife and with Montana's livestock producers and their families.”

Fly fishing Expo starts Friday in Lewiston

FLY FISHING — The fifth annual  North Idaho Fly Fishing Expo opens in Lewiston on Friday (March 22) and runs through Saturday at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston.

Organized by the Kelly Creek Flycasters, the Expo features a series of presentations by luminary anglers and fisheries professionals, sessions that introduce people to the sport, displays of the latest gear by vendors and a steady stream of live fly tying.

One presenter, for example, will explain how poppers, the stubby, cork-like lures that are known to induce aggressive strikes from bass, can also drive steelhead to make explosive top-water hits.

Al Buhr of Salem, Ore., told Lewiston Tribune outdoor writer Eric Barker that steelhead returning to the Snake River and its tributaries are particularly prone to the patterns that draw attention when they are twitched or popped across the water’s surface.

“Oh man, I’m telling you, it’s a mind blower,” he told Barker. “I’ve had as many as five strikes on one swing. I’ve had them come completely out of the water like a trout to pounce on that fly.”

Buhr, author of two fly fishing books and a well-known spey casting instructor, is billed as one of the star presenters.

The expo will be followed by a banquet on Saturday. Tickets to the banquet are available from club members. There is no cost to attend the expo but there is a charge for some of the workshops.

Friends of Bluff planning future for South Hill trails

PUBLIC LANDS — The Friends of the Bluff is beginning to develop a comprehensive plan for the popular trails on the south-facing slope of city-owned land on the South Hill.

The group already has set “sustainable trails” as the highest priority.

The public meeting set for Wednesday (March 27), 6:30 p.m., at St Stephens Episcopal Church will consider questions such as:

  • What is a sustainable trail?
  • What is a “multi-use” trail on the Bluff?
  • When do we have enough trails on the Bluff?
  • How do we maintain existing trails?
  • When do we decommission unsustainable trails?
  • Trail signage or no signage?

Info: Diana Roberts, 477-2167

Email: robertsd@wsu.edu

Tonight: Trails groups update region’s growing routes

OUTGOING – The Inland Northwest Trails Coalition has rounded up a dozen local leaders in trails-related efforts for the annual “state of the trails” presentations tonight (March 21) starting at 6 p.m. at Mountain Gear Headquarters, 6021 E. Mansfield Ave. in Spokane Valley. 

This is the place for trail users to learn where they can get involved in trail projects.

Natural areas will be covered, including the Dishman Hills, Palisades Park and Spokane County Conservation Futures areas.

The Centennial Trail, Trolley Trail and Fish Lake Trail will be reviewed as well as the expanding hiking, biking and nordic ski trail systems at Mount Spokane.

Progress on the Spokane River water trail will be updated and the Washington Trails Association will detail this season’s trails maintenance projects from Spokane County to the Salmo-Priest Wilderness.

Lunell Haught, INTC coordinator, said the consortium of outdoor recreation and conservation groups has pulled together to encourage city and county governments to engage in regional trail planning.

The group’s vision, she said, “is a system of paths, trails and open space corridors that connect neighborhoods, community and regional parks and conservation land in our region to engage people in muscle-powered recreational and conservation opportunities, promote active transportation and preserve open space to enhance our region’s quality of life.”

Deer poacher soothes conscience with $6,000 donation

WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT — Saying he’s been burdened with guilt, an anonymous man has mailed Washington wildlife officials $6,000 to compensate for deer he said he killed illegally – more than 40 years ago.

The man visited one of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s Eastern Washington offices a few weeks ago and confessed to an officer that he had killed three whitetail does illegally between 1967 and 1970, officials said Wednesday.

Penalties for poaching antlerless deer can range from $200 to $2,000, but the man’s crimes are well past the statute of limitations.

An officer told the man he could sign up with the agency for volunteer jobs to soothe his conscience, but the man said he lived out of the area.

Last week, a $6,000 check was delivered to the department’s Olympia Headquarters as a donation to the enforcement division, confirmed Mike Cenci, deputy chief.

“This doesn’t happen,” Cenci said. “We do get donations, but if any were related to misdeeds or conscience, we’re not aware of it.”

In a letter with the check, the man, identified only as Roy, wrote:

“My conscience has not allowed me to put this sin to rest until now. I know that God has forgiven me and hope that WDFW will as well.”

Cenci told Northwest Sportsman editor Andy Walgamott that he remains curious:

“I’d like to meet the man, frankly. We all repent in different ways…. I’d ask him, ‘What made you turn the corner?’”

Idaho sets rules for falconers to take wild peregrines

WILDLIFE — Idaho will allow up to two peregrine falcons a year to be taken from the wild by selected falconers under rules adopted by the state Fish and Game Commission Tuesday.

Rules allow the take of nestling or juvenile wild peregrine falcons during open seasons from 2013 through 2015. The capture season runs May 1-Aug. 31.

Read on for more details and history.

2013-14 Wash. wolf costs estimated at $2.3 million

UPDATED at 3:20 p.m. with clarification on costs provided by WDFW.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The cost of managing protected wolves in Washington is likely to increase by more than 200 percent from the past two years to about $2.3 million in 2013-14, a state wildlife official told legislators in Olympia this morning.

Dave Ware of the Department of Fish and Wildlife gave the figure for the biennium in his testimony during a public hearing on wolf-related legislation before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

In November, Ware had estimated the state had spent $376,000 by that time in 2012 on wolf management, including $76,500 to eliminate the cattle-killing Wedge Pack in northern Stevens County.

But this morning, Ware said the full-year total from all wolf efforts for 2012 was $750,000.

With the population of wolves growing rapidly — doubling in a year under endangered species protections — the costs will increase as the state is obliged to work with livestock producers, investigate cases of domestic animals and livestock attacked or killed by wolves and dedicate more staff in the field to trapping, researching and monitoring wolf packs.

  • See the report from today's hearing by S-R Olympia Bureau writer Jim Camden, detailing a wolf attack on a dog in a Twisp family's yard.

Lawmakers are considering two bills that would raise funds for wolf programs by creating a wolf-themed vehicle license plate or tapping a surcharge to all personalized license plates.

The agency hopes to avoid robbing money from other wildlife programs to manage the rivival of wolves, Ware said in an interview after his testimony.

“There’s not a lot of support from the hunting community for subsidizing wolf management, at least while wolves are still protected as an endangered species and not open to hunting,” Ware said.

Budgets for big-game programs are larger than the wolf management budget, but the agency is struggling to catch up with big-game monitoring that gives a clear picture of how much the growing wolf populations is impacting their prey base of deer, elk and moose.

See another recap of today's hearing by Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman.  

The NW Sportsman post notes — as many of us have while we observe and report on the historic re-entry of wolves to the region— that conservation groups continue to oppose the killing of wolves. They continue to ignore wolf experts who say wolves must be killed in some situations to help ease the impact to rural people and the social tension, a necessary step that will work in favor of wolves in the long run.

Spokane Mountaineers annual Backpack School walks the talk

HIKING– The Spokane Mountaineers are gearing up for their annual Backpack School, an excellent resource for novice and intermediate hikers who want to develop hiking skills and contacts.

  • Deadline to sign up is Friday (March 22).
  • The Friday-evening classes start April 5 and run for seven weeks, along with some Saturday field sessions, culminating with a two-night graduation backpacking trip.

Session topics include gear, clothing, navigation, first-aid and wilderness cooking with the support of a club that leads weekly group hikes.

“Participants learn to be confident and comfortable in the backcountry and make some new friends to share adventures with,” said school co-leader Chuck Huber.

Cost: $35 plus club membership.

Info: 939-2644 or email chuckmatic@gmail.com509.

Entrants needed by April 1 for Pedal Around a Glacier, Eh! bike tour

BICYCLING — As I compile bicycling events for The Spokesman-Review's 2013 Cycling Events Calendar, I came across this troubling message from  Lorne Westnedge, organizer for the venerable Pedal Around a Glacier, Eh! bicycle tour, sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Nelson, British Columbia.

We are hoping to host another Pedal Around a Glacier, Eh! (P.A.G.E.) ride on June 1 & 2, 2013.  However, we need a minimum number of riders to sign up by April 1st in order for us to continue.  The minimum number is 20, and we are not there yet.

PAGE starts in Nelson for a two-day,140-mile ride along Kokanee and Slocan Lakes and twice across the spine of the Selkirk Mountains to loop around Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. Overnight in New Denver along Slocan Lake.  Cost: $95.

Spokane-area instructors groomed for fly fishing in the schools

FLY FISHING — An instructor training program for the National Fishing in Schools Program — a nationwide program that brings outdoor education indoors to students in grades 6-12 — is set for Sunday (March 24) at the Loon Lake Elementary School.

The idea is to give more adults the skills and tools to get kids hooked on a lifetime sport.

Info: Sondra Collins, (509) 710-8329.

  

Wolves targets of legislation, bullets, traps, rumors

PREDATORS – Here’s a lengthy update on gray wolf news, issues and activities in the region, including bills being considered this week:

WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE 

Still alive in Olympia is a bill that could let landowners kill wolves caught in the act of attacking pets or livestock.

Senate Bill 5187, introduced by Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday morning (March 20).

While some conservation groups oppose most measures that involve killing wolves, which are listed as endangered in Washington, state Fish and Wildlife officials tend to support the bill.

Wyoming, Montana and Idaho had similar laws in place between 1995 and 2003, and only three wolves were shot by landowners during those years, said Nate Pamplin, the state’s wildlife division director.  

“There are some positive aspects of this bill,” he told the Seattle Times. While the impact to wolf populations would be negligible, “It can help reduce animosity between ranchers and the government because people will feel like they can protect their property.”

Senate Bill 5193, also introduced by Smith and supported by WDFW, would designate up to $50,000 a year in department funding to compensate ranchers for livestock losses from wolves and tap special license plates receipts for some of the funds.

IDAHO LEGISLATURE

A bill that could tap a sportsman-funded Idaho Fish and Game Department account and raise money to compensate ranchers and help control wolf damage has been sent to the House floor with a “do-pass” recommendation from the Agricultural Affairs Committee.

House Bill 278 was introduced by Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican rancher from Midvale.

WOLF SIGHTINGS

Among the many wolf sightings reported in the region, some are more credible than others, including the black wolf wearing a collar and running with another wolf west of St. John, Wash., in recent months. The collar was not attached in Washington. It could be from Idaho, but the collar apparently is no longer transmitting so there’s been no confirmation.

The responses I received from Washington and Idaho wildlife biologists offer a little insight into the vaguery of research tools.

“The wolf could be from either Idaho or Montana (or even B.C. I guess),” said Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Panhandle Regional wildlife manager.

“All of us have plenty of collars that have gone off the air, or dispersed.”

Wolves get around, he said, noting a collared wolf seen in Washington could have originated from Idaho, Oregon, Montana or even British Columbia.

“I did get a call several weeks ago now from a Washington bio about this wolf.  We have not collared any black wolves in this region, but a couple days prior we had reports of two wolf tracks near Windy Bay, on the west side of Lake CDA, so that lends credence to the theory that those two wolves came from/through Idaho. 

“We have four collars active in the Panhandle, three south of I90 and one north of the corridor.”

Glen Hickey, Idaho Fish and Game in Lewiston, emphasized Hayden’s point about wolves getting around.

 “One wolf collared in a study in Unit 10 north of Orofino and was killed by a hunter in unit 39 south of Lowman – third of the wat acorss the state, he said. “Another one collared in the same study area was harvested in Montana near Helena. Given that backdrop, it’s anyone’s guess where that wolf in Washington came from.”

Wolf OR7 came back to Oregon on March 12. The wolf, born and fixed with a GPS collar in Oregon, crossed into California on Dec. 28, 2011.  It was a rock star as the only known wolf in the state.  Back home after more than 14 months, it joins at least 53 other wolves documented in Oregon.

WOLF MEETINGS

The potential impact of wolves on northeastern Washington game species such as deer and elk will be discussed in a public meeting set by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday (March 27) in Colville.

The meeting is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Colville Ag Trade Center, 317 West Astor Ave.

WOLF TRAPPING

The Idaho Clearwater Region’s last wolf trapper education course of the season will be held March 30 in Lewiston. 

Idaho sets 2013 big-game hunting seasons, rules

HUNTING — A general cow elk season will not return in North Idaho, but controlled permits for antlerless elk hunting will be increased statewide under the 2013 hunting seasons for deer, elk, pronghorn, black bear, mountain lion and gray wolf adopted today in Boise by the Fish and Game Commission.

The new seasons also include an increase in pronghorn tags and expanded wolf hunting and trapping seasons. 

Wolf hunting on private lands in the Idaho Panhandle will be allowed year round.

  • Details of the 2013 big game hunting seasons will be posted on the Fish and Game website. The 2013 Hunting Seasons printed brochure will be available at license vendors in late April.

Read on for highlights of rule changes provided by the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

Salmon holding facility planned on Methow River near Twisp

FISHERIES — The Methow Valley News has the latest development for salmon recovery on the Methow River.

Migrating waterfowl making a buzz at Turnbull

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Migrating waterfowl are providing plenty of noise and action for birdwatchers visiting Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge this week.   Here's today's report from Mike Rule, refuge wildlife biologist:

For the past week there have been over 100 white swans on Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge's Cheever Lake. Mixed in are a few hundred northern pintail, wigeon, and mallards.  Common golden-eyes , hooded mergansers, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks, and  a few canvasbacks were also observed.  

Last year's nesting pair of trumpeter swans and their off spring have been hanging out in Middle Pine Lake.  Common snipe have been winnowing the last two mornings. 

In case you're not familiar with the northern pintail, it's a subtly-colored puddle duck species that ranks high in eye appeal and aerodynamics.  Here's a tip of the hat to The Designer, and to Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson for the photo reminder.

Saving Columbian whitetails rife with pitfalls

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Wildlife agents plan to use a helicopter to drive deer into nets TODAY (March 19) at a refuge along the Columbia River at Cathlamet, Wash.

They hope to capture about a dozen endangered Columbian white-tailed deer at the Julia Butler-Hansen Refuge to move them to a refuge near Ridgefield.

An effort that began in January to move about 50 deer isn’t going as well as wildlife officials hoped, according to the Daily News:

  • Agents have captured 23 deer, but one died while being transported, apparently from stress.
  • Another was later found dead and three more were killed at Ridgefield by a coyote or other predator.

Officials are moving the deer because they fear a dike will break, flooding the refuge.

Women, climate change topic of Gonzaga environmental series talk

ENVIRONMENT – Sustainability expert Gloria Flora will be in Spokane this week to discuss how women worldwide are confronting the challenge of climate change.

The free public lecture titled, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat: Women and the Global Response to Climate Change” at 5:30 p.m., Friday (March 22) in the Wolff Auditorium of Gonzaga University's Jepson Center.

The lecture is part of the Gonzaga Environmental Studies Speaker Series — which recently sponsored Dr. Jane Goodall — and is sponsored by the Gonzaga environmental studies, and women’s and gender studies departments.

Read on for more details about Flora and her quest to keep flora and fauna functioning on earth.

Upper Columbia steelhead forecast buoys anglers

FISHING — The steelhead forecast for the Columbia and Snake rivers — just released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife — calls for a sizeable increase in the number of fish that provided great fishing last summer in the upper Columbia River.

Joe Hymer, the WDFW salmon-steelhead monitor in Vancouver, release a fact sheet noting that 339,000 upriver summer steelhead are predicted to return to the Columbia River this year, about 110,000 more than returned in 2012.

The forecast calls for:

  • 291,000 A-runs (compared with 311,800 forecast in 2012 and 192,200 actural returns) 
  • 31,600 B-runs primarily bound for Idaho's Clearwater River (compared with 52,800 forecast and 27,700 actual returns in 2012)
  • 16,600 Skamanias, fish that return to the Columbia Gorge, Deschutes River and on upstream to Columbia tributaries in Okanogan County as well as into the Snake bound for Central Idaho (compared with 15,700 forecast and 10,900 actual returns in 2012).

See the attached document for the latest forecast for spring chinook (not looking so good), summer chinook (looking better than last year) sockeye (less than half of last year's bumper crop but still decent) and steelhead.


Documents:

Court say crashing into anchored boat isn’t illegal; county appeals

BOATING — Idaho boaters may want to upgrade their vessels to the equivalent of old Iron Sides if a court ruling on negligent boat driving holds.

Bonner County is appealing a North Idaho magistrate court judge’s ruling that the state’s statute regarding the negligent operation of a vessel is unconstitutionally vague.

That's good news for the boaters who crashed into anchored boats at Priest Lake last summer.

Read on for details from the Associated Press.

Idaho lawmakers continue quest to take over federal lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Idaho state lawmkers supporting House Concurrent Resolution 22 say they don’t intend to sell off the federal land, but to manage it more efficiently.

Many people in the realm of recreation are not fond of the idea of the state — not widely acclaimed as a perfect public land steward — taking over land currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.

  • A hearing is scheduled at the Capitol in Boise for Tuesday morning before the House State Affairs Committee.

The resolution’s premise is that the federal government broke its promise to the states to dispose of all its lands and give the states 5 percent of the revenue.

Most legal scholars agree that the federal government had the right to change its mind, but there is a minority view that the states’ claim may be held as constitutional. That view passed the Utah Legislature last year, catching the interest of lawmakers in Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Read on for the details in an Associated Press story originating from the Idaho Statesman.

They’re back! Sea lions, salmon converge at Bonneville Dam

PREDATORS — It's become an annual spring event. Hungry sea lions follow endangered salmon runs up the Columbia River and feast on them at the bottom of the Bonneville Dam.

If the sea lions are caught in the act, they can be killed by state workers under a court judgment that gives priority to endangered salmon stocks.

 A campaign to stop the killing is becoming an annual tradition as well.

Hog Canyon waterfall beckons early season hikers

HIKING — Fishing success is tapering off at Hog Canyon Lake west of Spokane near Fishtrap Lake, but the hiking season is underway.

The waterfall that flows into the lake's upper end was flowing nicely on Saturday. A dozen or so anglers were trying to catch rainbow trout in the winter fishing lake that closes for the season at the end of March while several groups of hikers were walking — and backpack camping — along the shoreline on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

  • See a post from a previous year.

Fishing at Fishtrap Lake, which should be excellent this year, opens the fourth Saturday in April.

Backpackers face work, joy on circumnavigation hikes, Landers says

HIKING — TONIGHT (March 18) I'll be presenting a free slide program, “Hiking Full Circle: The Pains and Pleasures of the Wonderland Trail, the Tour du Mont Blanc and other Loop Trips” for the Spokane Mountaineers — and you're invited.

The program starts at 7 p.m. at Mountain Gear Headquarters, 6021 E. Mansfield Ave. in Spokane Valley.

Remember, the critical “opening day” is near to apply for backcountry camping permits needed for hiking around Mount Rainier.

The Tour de Blanc is the classic circumnavitation trek in Europe.

And there are plenty more loop trips to consider right here in the Inland Northwest. 

Rich Landers, Outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review, has been a Spokane Mountaineers member since 1977.  Landers, author of 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest and Paddling Washington, has co—authored a new hiking guidebook, Day Hiking Eastern Washington, that will be published this spring.

State can’t compensate owner of dog attacked by Methow wolves

ENDANGERED SPECIES — State law is barring the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlfie from paying the vet bill for a dog that was attacked by a wolf last week in the Methow Valley, the agency has posted.

However, in the future, pet owners could be reimbursed if their animals are injured when they tangle with wolves under a bill that passed the state Senate earlier this week.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman has a detailed report on the incident and the stage it sets.

Climate change not kind to kindly pikas

WILDLIFE — Researchers are documenting how climate change is dealing a skimpy hand to the chipper pika, the “rock rabbits” of the high mountain talus slopes, as reported in this Idaho Statesman story.

Remember, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied endangered species protections for the pika in 2010.

Fly fishers find large rainbows at Coffeepot Lake

FLY FISHING — The first group outing of the year for the Spokane Fly Fishers — Saturday at Coffeepot Lake west of Harrington — was a BIG occasion for some of the anglers - with rainbow trout up to 21 inches long.

Read on for the detailed report from club member Mike Berube.

Wash. commission amends recently adopted fishing rules

FISHING — In an unusual  move, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, meeting in a conference call today, reconsidered and amended several fishing regulation it had adopted at its March 1 meeting in Moses Lake.

The changes include increasing the annual limit for white sturgeon in the Columbia River from one to two, as well as changes related to Western Washington fisheries such as thresher sharks, rockfish and cabezon.

Read on for the details from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Methow River steelhead fishing to close Sunday

FISHING — Dang, the catching was so good, the limit of disturbance to wild fish stocks has been reached, forcing the state to announce this afternoon that fishing for steelhead and whitefish in the Methow and Chewuch rivers will close on Sunday evening.

Steelheading will continue in portions of the upper Columbia, Okanogan, Wenatchee and Similkameen rivers.

Read on for all the details just released from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Dishman Hills group sets celebration, honors Hamilton

OUTCONSERVE – The Dishman Hills Conservancy will celebrate 47 years of securing prized Spokane County conservation areas at the group’s annual dinner, March 23, at All Saints Lutheran Church, 315 S. Spruce in Brown’s Addition.

Special honors will go to Michael Hamilton, who’s helped open public access to the Rocks of Sharon and other areas during his 20 years as the group’s president.

Sign up for the dinner by March 19 at www.dishmanhills.org or call Mary Weathers, 448-6462.

Photographer documents grizzly out of its den

WILDLIFE — It's time to start packing your bear spray again.

Grizzly bears are emerging from their winter dens pretty much right on schedule.

This photograph comes this week from Yellowstone Tour Guides, which has quite an assortment of photos showing the park's wildlife winning and losing the struggle to survive winter.

Avalanche forecast: Warm temps prompt caution for snow goers

WINTER SPORTS — Warm temperatures have softened snow to the tops of the region's mountains this week, according to avalanche forecasters who were out in the Selkirk Mountains Thursday.

“It may have tightened up a bit at the higher elevations but it was wet yesterday, to the top,” says Kevin Davis in the intro to today's report on avalanche conditions from the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center.

“Temperatures seem to be coming down a bit, from 40 last night, but they may go up before they drop back down.  When its this warm you want to be a little more cautious of steep terrain.  

“Some surface slushies were running yesterday.  More snow on the way by Saturday night, with strong west winds.”

Nordic skiing free at Echo Ridge

WINTER SPORTS –The Chelan Ranger District is offering free cross country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking at Echo Ridge Nordic Ski Area.

Trail grooming, conducted by the Lake Chelan Nordic Club, has ended for the year, but many trails still have enough snow for skiing, a U.S. Forest Service news release said Thursday.

Travelers should be prepared for snow, ice or mud on the Forest Service roads.

Info: Chelan Ranger District, (509) 682-4900.

  • MOUNT SPOKANE nordic skiing trails were groomed this week but grooming has stopped until the snow on the mountain freezes again — likely not until Sunday night, park rangers say. Sno-Park permits are required.

Delay in lynx recovery spurs federal lawsuit

PREDATORS – Wildlife advocates have asked a federal court to force the government to come up with a recovery plan for Canada lynx 13 years after the snow-loving wild cats were declared a threatened species.

A lawsuit filed Thursday alleges the long delay by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violates federal law.

Four environmental groups want the U.S. District Court in Montana to set a date for the agency to adopt a “road map” that would detail what’s needed for lynx to recover.

A Fish and Wildlife spokesman declined comment on the lawsuit.

It’s unknown how many lynx survive in the U.S. They are rarely seen across a 14-state range that includes portions of the Northeast, the Rocky Mountains, the western Great Lakes and the Cascade Range of Washington and Oregon.

Yellowstone elk herd decline continues

WILDLIFE — A major elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana is still in a decline that’s reduced the population by 80 percent in 20 years.

Scientists from the park and the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks said the Northern Yellowstone elk herd is down 6 percent this winter, to 3,915 animals.

The herd peaked at about 20,000 animals in 1992. That was just a few years before gray wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone area from Canada after being absent from the region for decades.

Also taking a toll on the herd have been hunters, other predators including mountain lions and bears, and harsh winters.

North Idaho cutthroat need help from cool heads

FISHING —  Warmer water temperatures being recorded in North Idaho streams and rivers are creating unhealthy conditions for trout, especially the region's westslope cutthroats, Idaho environmental officials said.

A recent analysis by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality shows that nearly 900 miles of streams in Kootenai and Shoshone counties are reaching temperatures up to 80 degrees in warmer months, well above the optimal temperature of 55 degrees or colder for trout species that attract legions of fly fishers.

The biggest factor to the warming trend is excessive sun exposure and lack of tree cover that provides shade and protection, Kajsa Stromberg, DEQ spokeswoman, told the Coeur d'Alene Press in a story published Tuesday.

In addition, Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game studies over the years have documented major losses of deep holes and stream structure trout would seek to survive such conditions. Historic mining, logging and road-building practices contributed to the problems.

The region most affected by the warmer waters is the North Fork Coeur d'Alene River Sub basin, a region with a national reputation for producing great cutthroat trout fishing.

The warmer temperatures have a variety of negative impacts on trout, from making the fish lethargic to heightened risk and exposure to potentially threatening disease.

THE GOOD NEWS is that the DEQ is proposing a plan to lower water temperatures and improve access to colder, deeper waters to help reverse the warming trend.

  • The strategy includes building more rock structures and logs to narrow and deepen channels and improving access fish have to cold-water channels and natural springs. The plan, now open for public review and comment, would also protect more of the region's shoreline trees from timber harvest managed by the U.S. Forest Service and provide incentives to private landowners.

The agency is taking written comments on the proposal until April 10, followed by a public hearing. The agency will also submit its draft plan to the Environmental Protection Agency for review.

THE BAD NEWS is that the online reaction to the CdA Press story on this issue was dominated by comments suggesting the DEQ's proposal is an example of government waste or a “liberal” reaction to climate change. 

God help us if such ignorance is allowed to guide our stewardship of natural resources.

Wildlife benefits of prescribed burns easy to see

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Sinlahekin Wildlife Area manager Dale Swedberg doesn't just preach the gospel of rejuvenating wildlife habitat with controlled prescribed fires — he'll let you see for yourself.

A website with an eye-opening collection of photos compares historic photos of the Sinlanhekin Wildlife Area with photos of the same locations made in recent years.

 While the northcentral Washington landscape near Loomis has been improved in some ways, the most glaring observation is the increase in tree cover due to fire supression in the past 90 years.  Trees are good, but too many of them clogging the landscape eliminates the habitat diversity needed by wildlife.

Fire has been around as long as life because fire depends on living things to produce the fuels fire needs to exist. A person would think that there might be some important connections developed in such a long relationship. — Dale Swedberg

Resources for learning more about prescribed burns include:

Commission to reconsider some Wash. fishing rules adopted last week

FISHING — In an unusual procedure, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is reconsidering some of the fishing regulations the nine-member panel adopted on March 1 during its rule-setting meeting in Moses Lake.

Reconsideration of at least four rules is on the agenda for a conference call meeting set for Friday (March 15).

Miranda Wecker, commission chair, said she wants to make sure the commissioners get all the information they need to make the proper decisions.

“We tried to fit too much into one day at Moses Lake,” she said, noting that she's heard some information since the meeting that should be discussed “to make sure we make the proper decisions.”

Commissioners will be allowed to reconsider any of the 2013 sport fishing rules that were adopted, since they have not yet been officially filed.

She said the four topics sure to be discussed include rockfish retention in Puget Sound, catch-and-release fishing for sharks and regulations and seasons for sturgeon and cabezon.

Sandpoint among National Geographic’s top ‘emerging’ ski towns

WINTER SPORTS — Although I thought Sandpoint had arrived long ago, the North Idaho town has just been  named one of the nation’s “top 10 emerging ski towns” in the March 2013 issue of  National Geographic’s Adventure magazine.

“These 10 North American ski towns may not have the name recognition of the world’s best-known destinations, but that’s just fine with them. These are the local’s favorites, the up-and-comers. They’re real towns, often cheaper and friendlier than the big dogs—at least for now. If you’re on the hunt for great skiing without the crowds and glitz, read on.” said the article's author, Aaron Teasdale.

Sandpoint, and more specifically, the 2,900 acres of ski terrain at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, is described as being ”Best For: Non-extreme skiers and boarders seeking the famed tree skiing of the Selkirks without the trip to Canada.”

Other ski towns in the Top 10 include Red Lodge, Mont.; Ogden, Utah; Reno, Nev.; Revelstoke, B.C.; Nelson, B.C.; Driggs, Idaho; Mammoth, Calif.; Waitsfield, Vt.; and Durango, Colo.

The article asked locals in each town for suggestions on where to eat, sleep and spend time away from the ski hill, as well as the best ski run on the mountain.

Fishing’s fair, but angler catches limit of ticks

FISHING — Spring-like conditions are advancing in leaps and bounds, as indicated by the experience of a friend who went fly fishing on Crab Creek in Lincoln County twice in the past 10 days.

On the first trip he hit a hatch, caught and released quite a few fish and encountered no ticks.

Buoyed by that experience, he returned to the creek on Monday.

“I caught four fish, and plucked off 25 ticks,” he said.  “The tick season has arrived. I'll be fishing elsewhere.”

Ski or snowboard 24 Hours for Hank at Schweitzer

WINTER SPORTS — The 5th Annual 24 Hours of Schweitzer is less then two weeks away! Is your team of skiers or snowboarders signed up? 

This first-class event set for March 22-23 raises money to find a cure for a rare disease by inviting teams or individuals to get pledges and run the slopes of Schweitzer, accumating as much vertical as possible in 24 hours.

Also known as “24 Hours for Hank” —  honoring Hank Sturgis of Sandpoint, a 6 year old who has been diagnosed with cystinosis — the event seeks participants to rack up the vertical for bragging rights and a good cause.

To date the foundation has raised more than $500,000 for the Cystinosis Research Foundation.

The Awards Dinner and Auction on Saturday night at Schweitzer Mountain Resort has 100 live and silent auction items and 25 raffle items to raise additional money from skiers and non-skiers alike.

Idaho commission to consider hunting season proposals

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will consider proposed changes to seasons on deer, elk, pronghorn, bear, lion and gray wolf during a meeting Monday and Tuesday, March 18 and 19 in Boise.

A public comment period begins at 7 p.m.

Routine agenda items include a legislative update and a presentation on bighorn sheep translocation. Commissioners will consider proposed rules for capturing wild peregrine falcons for falconry.

In the afternoon, commissioners will meet with the House Resources and Conservation Committee at the Statehouse.

Later in the day, fisheries managers will provide an update on the forecast for spring and summer Chinook salmon to Idaho. They expect to return to the commission in April with recommendations for 2013 Chinook fisheries in the Clearwater, Salmon and Snake river drainages.

Other agenda items include a briefing on rules for game animals and an update on the elk management plan revision. Commissioners also will hear a presentation on how the agency monitors and determines whether predation is a limiting factor on sage-grouse and what procedures are used to direct control efforts.

Film documents grassroots effort for Scotchman Peaks wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — The local effort to designate a Scotchman Peaks Wilderness northeast of Lake Pend Oreille has been a classy act from the beginning — starting with the founding of the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness in 2005.

This week, the effort will be revealed in all its home-grown glory with the debut of the film documentary, Grass Routes: Changing the Conversation.

The 27-minute film will premier on Thursday, 7 p.m., at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint.

The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness is a volunteer-driven group of more than 3,900 supporters from North Idaho and Western Montana working to protect the 88,000-acre Scotchman Peaks roadless area through wilderness designation. The area straddles the borders of Idaho and Montana as well as the boundaries between the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai national forests

Grass Routes details how the group, knowning the values of wilderness for important assets such as wildlife and water quality, has reached out to address the concerns of everyone involved — including local, state and federal government agencies and politicians, mining companies, timber companies, recreational groups and local residents.

The premier will include a few words by local stakeholders and the filmmakers.

The film will be shown this spring at Gonzaga University, likely at the end of April.

Montana big-game hunting applications due March 15

HUNTING — Time's running out for hunters planning to make applications for Montana's special deer and elk hunting permits and non-resident combo licenses. 

The deadline is Friday.

See details here.

IFG organizing Panhandle advisory group

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The Idaho Fish and Game Department is putting together a regional citizen advisory group to help guide the managment of game and non-game species.

The public is invited to the first meeting starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, at the IDFG regional office, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave. in Coeur d’Alene.

Anyone interested in participating as a member of this group is encouraged to contact IDFG at (208) 769-1414 in advance of the meeting. The agency will provide a variety of pizzas and beverages.

  • The group is likely to meet three or four times and conclude its efforts by mid-May.

The regional advisory groups around the state are a result of the August 2012 Idaho Wildlife Summit that attracted nearly 500 people statewide, with additional people participating via an online video stream.

The purpose of the event was to bring together wildlife enthusiasts including hunters, anglers, birders, and wildlife viewers to find common ground for moving forward in building Idaho’s remarkable wildlife legacy.

Of the summit participants:

82 percent purchased a hunting, fishing or trapping license within the past two years.

90 percent watched or photographed wildlife within the past two years.

91 percent said abundant wildlife is an important reason for living in Idaho.

Fun shoot, boat safety featured at Palouse DU event

CONSERVATION — A two-hour fun shoot plus demonstrations on boating safety, retriever handling and using decoys use demonstrations will be featured at a March 24 fund-raising event at the Colton Boosters Gun Club sponsored by the Palouse Chapter of Ducks Unlimited.

A duck calling lesson for kids also is planned.

The activities will start at 1:30 p.m. Porky’s Pit Barbeque of Pullman serve pulled pork and chicken at 4 p.m., followed by the Ducks Unlimited raffles and auctions.  The event will wrap up by 6 p.m. 

A 25-bird round of trap costs $2.50 for kids and $3.75 for adults; the youngsters will have their own shooting line and coaches.  Shooting will start by 2pm and end at 3:30pm.

“We are hoping to have some other outdoor demonstrations as well, perhaps bird-watching,  bow-hunting or fishing clubs will participate,” says DU District Chair Joe Ford.  “There’s a lot of ways to have fun outdoors, and DU projects benefit over 900 species of fish and wildlife.  It’s so much more than just ducks!”

After the guns go quiet at 3:30, the Greenwing kids will get a lesson in calling waterfowl, followed by a brief kids calling contest (calls are provided). There will also be a demonstration of hunting dog work.  

Adult beverages will be available from the Colton Boosters Club after the fun shoot.

Admission: $40 for a single adult, $70 per couple, and $30 for kids under 17.  

  • The price includes DU membership and a DU cap, as well as dinner.  Shooting fees are collected from participants by the gun club. 

Tickets will be available through the national DU website, or by calling (509) 288- 7013 or (541) 979-9025.

Walleye fishing seminar Thursday in Hayden

FISHING — Greg Koch of the Spokane Walleye Club will present a seminar on fishing for walleye Thursday (March 14) at the second in a series of free fishing seminars at Mark’s Marine, 14355 N. Government Way in Hayden.

The seminars run 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Refreshments are served and prizes are awarded.

Other scheduled seminars include:

  • March 21 – Pike fishing by local guide Jeff Smith of Fins and Feathers.
  • March 28 –Bass fishing by Tony Mccalmant and Jim Grassi.
  • April 4 – Seminar Topic to be announced.
  • April 11– Lowrance Electronics by Mike Pentony, Navico/Lowrance pro staff.

Ocean chinook quotas likely lower than 2012

FISHING — Anglers fishing along the Washington coast will likely see a lower catch quota for chinook salmon this year, while the quota for coho is expected to be similar to last season, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Monday night.

Three options for ocean salmon fisheries approved today by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) anticipate a lower abundance of lower Columbia River hatchery chinook in the ocean, but an increase in Columbia River hatchery coho. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

Read on for details about the three options for  2013 salmon fisheries package the council will consider in April.

Sequestration curbs plows, delays Yellowstone’s spring opening

PARKS — The giant yellow snowplows that wake Yellowstone from its winter slumber every March are idled, waiting for the sun to make up for federal budget cuts that are forcing the park to open late for peak season.

According to a Washington Post story, mandatory cuts kicked in three days before the plows were to start clearing snow and ice from 300 roads at altitudes that reach 11,000 feet.

Faced with an order from Washington to slice $1.8 million from his budget, the park superintendent, Dan Wenk, had considered his options, and delaying the plows was a better choice than cutting his already barebones staff of rangers and seasonal employees.

National Parks are just one of many agencies weighing choices being forced by the budget reductions known as sequestration.

Snowy owls to be detailed in owl researcher’s program

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The life history of the snowy owl will be described in a free program by Denver Holt, founder of the Owl Research Institute, Tuesday (March 12) at the Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Road in Coeur d’Alene, sponsored by Coeur d’Alene Audubon Society.

Read on for good background on this arctic visitors to this region supplied by the Institute and the Audubon Society:

CdA Audubon members have eagle eyes for birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A group of Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society members has a little contest to see how many species they can see in a year from their homes.  You can bet the binoculars and spotting scopes are always on hand.

While all members of the club set a record of 209 species in 2012 for their Kootenai County big year, this group of 10 couples chipped in a whopping 110 species without venturing beyond their back yards.

Click here to see the report of the species they recorded.

Read on for a summary of their findings compiled by member Dough Ward.

San Juans Islands, Glacier Park on Lonely Planet’s list

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — Two premier outdoor recreation areas within a day’s access from Spokane are listed among the Lonely Planet's Top 10 U.S. Destinations for 2013.

The San Juan Islands are No. 3 on the list and dubbed “The Gourmet Archipelago.” The writer notes the three main islands – San Juan, Orcas and Lopez – support two vineyards, a lavender farm, an alpaca ranch and weekend farmers’ markets that ply everything from artichokes to marionberries.”

From the outdoor recreation angle, the islands are standouts for bicycling, sailing and sea kayaking. “Hop on a bike, explore the beaches and enjoy the scenery, but be sure to eat!” the author says, noting several fine restaurants.

Glacier National Park is ranked No. 10 — perhaps a little low from a outdoor enthusiast's point of view, but that’s just as well, considering the Lonely Planet’s top 10 list is viewed by 12 million people a year.

“A relatively new shuttle system offers an eco-friendly alternative. But go soon,” the author warns. “The park’s 25 glaciers are melting – and could be gone altogether by 2030 if current climate changes continue!”

Here's full list of Lonely Planet's Top 10 U.S. Destinations for 2013:

  1. Louisville, KY
  2. Fairbanks, AK
  3. San Juan Islands, WA
  4. Philadelphia, PA
  5. American Samoa
  6. Eastern Sierras, CA
  7. Northern Maine, ME
  8. Twin Cities, MN (Minneapolis and St. Paul)
  9. Verde Valley, AZ
  10. Glacier National Park, MT

Fires planned to boost wildlife habitat

WILDLIFE — Starting as early as Monday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to ignite controlled burns on parts of two wildlife areas in northeast Washington to reduce wildfire risks and enhance wildlife habitat.

Depending on weather conditions, controlled burns are set for parts of state's Sherman Creek Wildlife Area on the west side of Lake Roosevelt in Ferry County and at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County.
The controlled burns – planned for March, April and May – will cover about 600 acres, and will be conducted on parcels ranging from 15 acres to several hundred acres, said Dale Swedberg, manager of WDFW’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area. Additional burns are planned for next fall and the spring of 2014.
Swedberg said the burns in both wildlife areas were delayed from last fall, when burn bans followed by heavy rain prompted WDFW to wait until this year, he said.
Read on for more details.

Spokane Valley plans trail in city core

TRAILS — A proposed bike-pedestrian trail through the heart of Spokane Valley will be discussed at a community workshop Monday, March 11, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Spokane Valley City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague, Suite 101. 

The proposed 12-foot wide trail would run about 2.2 miles down the old Milwaukee right-of-way, between University Road and Evergreen Road and between Sprague and 4thAvenue. Future extensions would be possible.

City of Spokane Valley Public Works staff members and design planning consultants will be on hand to introduce the project, review maps, and help gather input from the community.

Info: Steve Worley, project manager, 720-5014, email sworley@spokanevalley.org.

Great gray owl lives large over field mice

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The great gray owl, widely distributed in the boreal forests of the north, also is found in a narrow swath of home range that runs south through far Eastern Washington, the Idaho Panhandle and Western Washington.

But seeing them is rare.  I know birders who'd drive hundreds of miles to watch a great gray owl.

That's why Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson knew he was privileged to spend hours on three different occasions last week — shooting thousands of frames from his cameras — with a couple of the owls as they fed in a Montana forest meadow.

This particular bird kept flying and landing near me. She would then sit quietly listening. Often, she would look directly toward the snow and then lose interest.
 
Every once in a while, she would not lose interest. She would silently fly and dive into the snow on the ground. She would go completely under the snow – Just her wing tips would stick out. Then, she would right herself and enjoy the fruits of her hunt. Sad for the mouse, but it is the circle of life.

She was probably 20 feet away on this dive. One cool thing, check out the bottom half of the beak – cool curve!

Even though great grays are huge owls, they have a taste for small rodents. They locate hidden prey with the help of large facial disks that funnel sound to their ears.  Using their heft, they've been known to dive for a rodent with enough force to crash through a snow crust that's thick enough to hold a 180-pound person. 

Video: What’s Up With Fat Bikes?

WINTER SPORTS — Fat bikes, snow bikes…. whatever you call them, they're catching on year-round with a niche of the cycling community that's mobilizing on ballooned out tires.  Get a glimpse of from the saddle in this video: What's Up With Fat Bikes?

Oregon wilderness bills reintroduced in Senate

FORESTS –  Longstanding proposals to protect rivers and forests in Oregon as wilderness areas have been reintroduced in Congress by Oregon’s two senators.

The bills would expand the Oregon Caves National Monument and Wild Rogue Wilderness in southwestern Oregon, create new wilderness along the John Day River in Central Oregon, and create the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness to protect old growth forest in the Coast Range on the Siuslaw National Forest. They also would elevate Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protections for the Chetco River in southwestern Oregon, and the Molalla River south of Portland.

Some of the areas were first proposed for wilderness 30 years ago.

Read on for more details on the current legislation as reported by the Associated Press.

Trails group recruiting volunteers for summer trail projects

OUTDO – The Washington Trails Association is recruiting volunteers for an ambitious lineup of trail-building and maintenance projects in far Eastern Washington this season.

Every year as the budgets for parks and forests dwindle, volunteers become more important, said Jane Baker, local WTA trail crew leader in Spokane.

 The work parties range for day-jobs at the Rocks of Sharon to multi-day trips in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness that combine backpacking with trail clearing.

WTA is a third of the way to meeting the 2,000-hours of work at Liberty Lake County Park the group pledged in order to get a state grant.  The first of several work parties planned at Liberty Lake is set for March 16, followed by work in April, May, June and July.

Other project areas include the  Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, Dishman Hills, Mount Spokane and Sullivan Lake.

Sign up online.

Info: (206_ 625-1367.

Alberta ranchers want hunts on problem grizzlies

ENDANGERED SPECIES – Although Alberta grizzly bears are officially a threatened species in recovery mode, ranchers are asking officials to resume hunting at least for the problem bears in the southwestern corner of the province.

A grizzly bear recovery plan was initiated in 2008 after studies found fewer than 700 grizzlies left in Alberta. Grizzly hunting had be curbed in 2006.

Continued research indicates the bear population healthier than previously known in some areas, especially in the southwest.

Across the province, 15 grizzly bears were killed in 2012 by poachers, motorists and landowners: one problem bear was destroyed; five were killed in self-defence; four were hit on roads; two were poached; and two were mistaken by hunters for black bears. One death was ruled as an unknown cause.

Read more in this Calgary Herald story.

Commission approves new fishing rules; purchases wildlife land

FISHING — The Spokane River will be open to walleye fishing year round starting May 1 and the daily limit in Lake Roosevelt will increase from eight walleye a day to 16. 

This is just a sampling of the 70 sportfishing rules adopted March 1 during the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Moses Lake.

The commission also approved purchase of land in Asotin County, the second in a multi-phase, multi-year plan to secure the 4-0 Ranch as part of the Blue Mountains Wildlife Area complex.

Read on for more details from the commission meeting.

Energy bar truly puts a hop in your step

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“It's about time.”
Florence Vaccarello Dunkel, associate professor of entomology at Montana State University, about a Utah company that is marketing an energy bar made with ground up crickets.
- Salt Lake Tribune

Elk decline in Idaho’s Unit 11; fewer permits likely

HUNTING — The number of bull permits offered in Idaho’s Unit 11 is expected to drop following recent elk surveys that show a decline in both bulls and calves there, according to Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune.

The unit south of Lewiston is sometimes called Waha for the small community there, or simply Craig Mountain, after the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management area. It is a trophy bull-hunting destination and its abundant elk population has supported a popular cow hunt. People must win a permit in the state’s controlled hunt lottery to hunt there.

Winning a bull permit may be harder to do this year. Bull numbers have taken a sharp dive since the last survey in 2009.

“Bull numbers fell to 222 from 367, which is a substantial decline,” said Jay Crenshaw, regional wildlife manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston. “But to put that in perspective, in 2002 when we flew, we had 220 bulls, so we kind of fell back to 2002 levels.”

 Read on for more of Barker's report.

High-tech gloves connect with touch-screen gadgets

WINTER SPORTS — Bummed out because you can't operate your smartphone, iPod Touch or touch-screen GPS unit while wearing gloves?

Misery spawns invention.

Check out the video above to see how you can keep your fingers warm and still be connected with Agloves.

39-year-old black bear ready to emerge from den

WILDLIFE — Minnesota wildlife biologists have a long history with the oldest wild black bear known to be roaming free in the woods (videoed in her den, above).

Tagged No. 56 by researchers in 1981, the the 39-year-old sow is still in her winter den in the Chippewa National Forest.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, No. 56 has outlived virtually all of the 550 black bears the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources collared and tracked in the past four decades.

In addition to the research data, she's also produced about 28 cubs in her lifetime, with her last litter at the twilight age of 25. Nowadays, the old girl is no longer in the mood for parenting or exhaustive courtships, researchers say.

In the summer before denning this winter, No.56 mostly meandered around the forest and took a lot of long naps.  Although she had recently lost some weight and a few teeth, biologists say she’s still in pretty good health.

March is the month bears normally begin emerging from their dens In the Rocky Mountains. Males generally are the first to come out. Sows with cubs usually emerge weeks later.

March 1 fishing opener produced decent catches

FISHING — Anglers who got out for the March 1 opening of certain lakes in Eastern Washington had little trouble caching limits in the Columbia Basin, but it was slower in southeastern Washington.

Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologists said anglers averaged 2.5 fish per angler in the Tucannon River impoundments… at Blue, Rainbow and Spring lakes.

But it was much better in the Basin.  Read on for a full report, including the “quality fishing” lakes, from Chad Jackson, WDFW fisheries biologist in Ephrata.

Owyhee River Journals author presents program, video

RIVERS — Bonnie Olin, author of Owyhee River Journals, will present a program and video about her experiences on Thursday (March 7), at 7 p.m. at Jack and Dan's Bar and Grill, corner of Hamilton Stree and Sharp Avenue.

The program is free, but reservations are required by Wednesday to reserve a seat in the limited space. Contact Northwest Whitewater Association:

email spokanerafterguy@comcast.net or phone/text: 509-220-8018.

The Owyhee canyons in southwestern Idaho and Oregon — flushed with rushes of whitewater — are wild country, much of it proposed for wilderness.

“A trip into the Owyhee still allows you to feel like you are the first and only person to have set foot there,” she says.” It is here that it is still possible to “unplug” completely from the modern world, Olin said.  It is one of the last places in the lower 48 states in which you do not require a permit to “just go.”

Spring chinook forecast causing Idaho to be conservative

FISHING — Jacks, the overly eager salmon that return from the ocean before they have grown to full size, could be the saving grace of spring chinook fishing on the Clearwater River.

This year’s return of spring chinook to the Clearwater and its tributaries is predicted to be just over the threshold needed to hold a fishing season, write's Eric Barker in the Lewiston Tribune. 

Fisheries managers are expecting the state’s harvest share could be as low as 300 adults. For context, last year the state had a harvest share of about 5,000 adults on the Clearwater.

Because of the low return, biologists are proposing to start with conservative regulations and expand fishing opportunities if the run comes in as strong or stronger than forecasted.

Idaho Fish and Game fishery personnel have set up meetings to present the latest information on this year’s chinook salmon runs and discuss stratgies for managing the runs in the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers.

The meetings begin at 6 a.m. as follows:

  • Lewiston: Monday (March 4) at Idaho Fish and Game Office, 3316 16th St.
  • Orofino: Tuesday (March 5), IDFG Clearwater Hatchery, 118 Hatchery Roe Dr., located northwest of Ahsahka Bridge.
  • Riggins: Wednesday (March 6 at 6 p.m. Mountain Time), Best Western Salmon Rapids Lodge, 1010 S. Main St.

Comments also can be emailed to Joe DuPont, fisheries manager in Lewiston, joe.dupont@idfg.idaho.gov.

Read on for more spring chinook details and proposals from the Lewistown Tribune story.

Sign up for Tundra Swan Festival, tour and speakers

WILDLIFE WATCHING —

OUTFIELD – The celebrities already have arrived, as at least 200 tundra swans were jammed into a creek-thawed ribbon of open water in the otherwise frozen Calispell Lake on Wednesday.

The lake should be open and even more birds on hand for the annual Pend Oreille Valley Tundra Swan Festival activities March 16, based out of the the Camas Wellness Center, 1981 N. LeClerc Road in Usk.

The festival greets hundreds of swans that migrate through the Pend Oreille River Valley in February and March, resting and feeding on Calispell Lake, designated an Important Bird Area, during the journey to their breeding grounds.

Visitors will be bused from the center to view the swans at Calispell Lake followed by a lunch and presentation by bird and wildlife experts on a range of topics.

Cost: $10 adults, $5 for children under 13.

Pre-register by March 8.

Presenters during lunch include:

Gary Blevins, Spokane Falls Community College.

TOPIC: “What does Audubon Christmas Bird Count data tell us about how climate change is affecting bird population?”

Bart George, Wildlife Biologist III, Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

TOPIC: “The Selkirk Mountains Forest Carnivore Survey, 2012 - 2013”

Matt Berger, Wildlife Project Manager, Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

TOPIC: “Kalispel Tribal Lands Bobolink 2012 Project update, in cooperation with Audubon Washington”

Mike Lithgow, Director, Pend Oreille County Community Planning Department.

 TOPIC: “Birds on the Water: Legends of the River”

The festival is sponsored by the Natural Resources Department of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and the Pend Oreille River Tourism Alliance.

Fishing seminar series starts with Pend Oreille trolling tips

FISHING — Lake Pend Oreille fishing expert Roy Stokes will present the first in a wide-ranging series of free fishing seminars Thursday (March 7) at Mark’s Marine, 14355 N. Government Way in Hayden.

Stokes will be demonstrating planer boarding and trolling techniques in the first of six scheduled weekly seminars, all of which run 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m.  Refreshments are served and prizes are awarded.

Other scheduled seminars include:

  • March 14 – Walleye fishing by Greg Koch of the Spokane Walleye Club.
  • March 21 – Pike fishing by local guide Jeff Smith of Fins and Feathers.
  • March 28 –Bass fishing by Tony Mccalmant and Jim Grassi.
  • April 4 – Seminar Topic to be announced.
  • April 11– Lowrance Electronics by Mike Pentony, Navico/Lowrance pro staff.

Video: Take a moment to relax with wildlife

WILDLIFE — Before you launch into another week, pause for a soothing couple of minutes with wintering wildlife accompanied by Kenny G's tenor sax: Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Traditional muzzleader, pioneer craft show in Monroe

SHOOTING — The annual Muzzleloading Arms and Pioneer Craft Show – sponsors say it's the largest show devoted to black-powder arms — will be held March 9-10 at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe.

Presented by the Cascade Mountain Men, the show will be a showcase for traditional (pre-1840) muzzle loading firearms.

Gun builders will be there giving tips on their crafts among 300 traders and exhibitors.

Even non-shooters might be interested in the leather and fur goods, Native American crafts, period clothing and camping gear, beads, art and more.

Trader info: (425) 890-7208.

Lake Roosevelt water levels to be steady

RESERVOIRS — The level of Lake Roosevelt was 1275 today and likely will be stable for a while.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation antipates the elevation will be in the 1275 -1276 range through the next week. Currently, Grand Coulee Dam is being operated to meet the minimum tailwater requirement of 11.8 feet below Bonneville Dam for chum.

The flood control levels are the maximum elevation for Lake Roosevelt. Other factors such as power demand or supplying water downstream for fish can result in elevations under the flood control elevations.

The flood control elevations are as follows:

  • March 31 - 1282.3 feet
  • April 30 - 1260.8 feet

These elevations can and probably will change with the March water supply forecast.

This is only a prediction and can change due to weather events, power demand or other unforeseen power emergencies.

Get daily lake level forecast by phone, updated daily at 3 p.m: (800) 824-4916.

Also, check out this new NOAA site with Roosevelt levels and a list of boat launching elevations on the same page.

IFG offers rules, tips for “shed” hunters

WILDLIFE — It's the shed antler-horn scavenging season.  I hope people who are out hunting for them realize this is a stressful time for wildlife. Moving big game off their wintering areas this time of year can be as deadly as giving them a slow-acting poison.

Some wildlife areas have special access restrictions during late winter and spring.

Here's a shed-hunting Q & A from Idaho Fish and Game:

Q. I want to collect shed antlers, what sort of license do I need and what sort of restrictions are there?

A. You don’t need a license, and the only restrictions are on access and travel on the land. Horn hunters, like other outdoor recreationists, must secure permission to cross or look for antlers on private land, and they must abide by transportation restrictions on federal and state public lands.

Horn hunting typically starts in early spring. Deer, elk and moose shed their antlers over the winter, following the mating seasons.

Pronghorn is the only species with horns to annually shed its horn sheath. Just after mating season, the pronghorn sheds its horns and only the permanent core remains. The horns of bighorn sheep that have died of natural causes also may be recovered but may not be sold, bartered or transferred to another person without a permit from Fish and Game.

Bighorn sheep horns must be permanently marked with a metal pin at an Idaho Fish and Game regional office within 30 days of recovery.

Horn hunters are asked to avoid disturbing animals during winter while they are conserving their resources trying to make it through to spring.

March 15 is first Montana deadline for hunters

HUNTING — Sportmen hoping to hunt big-game in Montana need to start plannning, now.

Deadlines are coming up in March, May and June to apply for permits and special licenses, according to the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks:

            March 15 — deadline to apply for 2013 buck deer and bull elk hunting permits.  Successful applicants will receive their permits in April.

            May 1 — deadline to apply for moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison licenses.

            June 1 — deadline to apply for antlerless Deer B, Elk B, and all antelope licenses. Cow elk hunting opportunities are available as “Elk B” licenses; and doe hunting opportunities are available as “Deer B” licenses.

Applications for the May 1 and June 1 deadlines will be available in mid-March.

Montana’s eight-page application packet contains all the information hunters need to apply for special big-game hunts.

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About this blog

News, field reports and insights on the Great Outdoors.

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

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