WINTER SPORTS — Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson and his wife, Lisa, of Lincoln jumped at the chance Wednesday offered to strap into their snowshoes for a walk through a cold clear day and deep powder in Western Montana.
Broke trail to the top of Rogers Pass this afternoon (snowshoes). It is approx.. 1.5 to 2 miles to the top with an elevation gain of about 1000 feet.
There was between one and two feet of snow for the entire trail. Cold and clear day – we got on top just in time for the warm sunset light!
As it set – it got cold! When we eventually got back to the truck, it was 10 degrees below zero. Considering we were 1000 feet higher, we estimate It was closer to -15 on top!
PUBLIC LANDS — Perhaps researchers are offering some insight on how wildlife and hunters are feeling the squeeze of humanity in rural areas — and why forest fire fighting costs continue to soar.
Private development along the edges of most public forests in Oregon and Washington more than doubled since the 1970s, a new study conducted by the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station has found.
The study, which used aerial photography to inventory structures at the fringes of public forests, is the first to look at development trends in the two states before and after the enactment of land use laws. The findings are reported in Changes in Development Near Public Forest Lands in Oregon and Washington, 1974-2005: Implications for Management, a report published by the PNW Station.
“Although public forests are not necessarily directly subject to development, they still face management issues at their edges because of indirect development pressure,” said David Azuma, a research forester at the station who led the study.
In Oregon and Washington, about half of all forest lands are publicly owned and managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Forestry, and Washington Department of Natural Resources. Using a fine-scale grid of points on air photos across the two states, Azuma and colleagues classified areas outside of federal lands for land use and then recorded the number of structures within a 321-meter radius of each of these points.
“Quantifying the increases in structures in areas that have not been converted in land use can serve as a surrogate for the broader risk associated with development near public lands,” Azuma said.
Among the study’s findings:
The study’s findings suggest that areas with increasing development should probably expect continued development. The work can help agencies that manage public forests to better plan for management options at the edges of their land.
The report is available online.
PUBLIC LANDS — A proposal by Idaho lawmakers to assume control of millions of acres of federal land statewide earned mixed reviews today, with supporters calling it an essential step to revitalizing rural economies and critics panning it as a financial boondoggle, according to a story that's just been moved by the Associated Press.
The Federal Lands Interim Committee meeting gave lawmakers their first chance to gauge public opinion on a plan calling on the federal government to cede much of the public land it oversees in Idaho to the state, writes AP's Todd Dvorak in Boise.
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a resolution making a case for the land transfer and the committee is spending two years to study the merits before submitting a recommendation in 2015.
Those encouraging lawmakers Wednesday included leaders of tea party groups, foresters who’ve seen local economies struggle amid declines in timber cutting and the shutdown of sawmills and county leaders frustrated with the management of national forest lands.
Ken Postma, a former forester for wood products company Boise-Cascade, argued the state would be a better steward of the forests and more amenable to expanding logging and other activities.
Read on for more of the story from the Associated Press:
ENDANGERED SPECIES — Wolf sightings have been reported in Whitman County off and on for several years, but last week, Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists were able to verify wolf tracks in the Palouse.
Two biologists verified one set of wolf tracks in the Rock Lake area, about two miles from where wolf sightings had been reported in the Ewan area.
They surmise the wolves may be wandering in from packs established in Idaho, just a short hop away for a wandering wolf.
Wolf tracks are huge in the canine world, measuring at least 4 inches long — twice the size of a coyote track.
HUNTING — A few birds may still be hanging on at hunting sites for the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement and Release Program.
The final release of farm-raised rooster pheasants was made a last week, just before Thanksgiving at sites near Fishtrap Lake, Sherman Creek Wildlife Area, Snake River and 20 other areas in the region.
Despite the non-toxic shot requirement enacted in 2011, these release public land sites have continued to be popular since the program began in the late 1990s. It's especially popular with hunters who don’t have access to hunt private land.
The first releases of the year occurred at all sites before the Sept. 21-22 youth upland bird season. Two additional releases were scheduled at the sites during the general pheasant season.
Only about half the sites were stocked with birds for the Oct. 19 opener, said Joey McCanna, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. The other sites were stocked the following week, he said.
The agency does not divulge which sites will be stocked when.
This bit of chance and inconvenience dates back to the bad experiences agency staff had years ago when hunters often waited at designated sites for the game farm trucks to show up. In some cases, greedy hunters created dangerous situations, sometimes even blasting away as the birds were being released.
Times have changed in other ways since the early years of the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program, when the Washington Legislature required 80 percent of the funding to be spent on releasing birds while the rest was earmarked for pheasant habitat efforts.
In 2008, about $270,000 was spent to release birds on the East Side and about $32,000 went to habitat.
That year, with legislative approval, Washington Fish and Wildlife managers approved a phased-in schedule to reduce the number of birds planted until the spending equaled about 50 percent for birds and 50 percent for habitat.
“We’re right about there this year,” McCanna said, noting that 11,350 rooster pheasants were released at the sites this year. That’s down from 11,820 last year and down from more than 20,000 birds in the initial years.
Hunter groups have supported the department’s emphasis on working with farmers to enhance habitat for wild pheasants. Methods include developing plantings that improve pheasant productivity on lands seeded into the federal Conservation Reserve Program.
WINTER SPORTS — My recent blog post on the transitions at Mount Spokane State Park indicated the biggest change this seasons is the elimination of the Discover Pass for WINTER vehicle access to the park through March 31.
The handy chart above, courtesy of the Spokane REI store, helps illustrate the change.
Read the story for details.
SHOOTING — This is a great idea, at least in the minds of those of us who honed our early shooting skills by plinking tin cans.
LaserLyte®, a company specializing firearms laser technologies, has released an entertaining Laser-Plinking-Can. When hit with a laser from any of the LaserLyte® training cartridges or other laser trainer tools, the cans react by jumping up and falling over just as a real can would.
This reaction is all powered by a 9-volt battery and a spring loaded plunger released by a solenoid. To reset the cans, simply stand them up and depress the plunger. The battery will last for about 8,000 shots.
The Laser Plinking Can Set provides hours of training and entertainment indoors or outdoors without the cost of ammunition, need for a special range — or the clean-up of cans after the session!
ENDANGERED SPECIES — An organization of wildlife officials for Western states is asking the federal government to delay a possible listing for wolverines as a threatened species, which could mean an end to trapping outside Alaska for the animal’s fur.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife objects to any listing based solely on fears climate change could shrink the wolverine’s wintry terrain along the spine of the Rocky Mountains and other Western ranges.
“Climate change models are not a reason to list species under the Endangered Species Act,” Bill Bates, a representative from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, told The Tribune.
Bates said the population of wolverines has actually increased since the time of European settlement, even though it’s estimated fewer than 300 of the elusive, snow-loving carnivores roam the mountain ranges of the Lower 48 states.
“We can wait and see what happens with climate change in the next 20 to 30 years,” Bates said.
Federal officials say they aren’t trying to use the wolverine as a means to regulate greenhouse gases, but they say it’s a fact climate change threatens the wolverine as much as it does the polar bear. The Interior Department listed polar bears as threatened five years ago because of loss of their primary habitat, sea ice, due to climate warming.
In January, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed protections for the wolverine throughout the continental U.S. It opened a public comment period that’s set to end on Monday.
Read on for more of the story moved by the Associated Press.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles are finally showing some interest in their traditional winter feast of spawning kokanee at Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted only 57 bald eagles today in the Wolf Lodge Bay area. That's up from two eagles counted during her weekly survey two weeks ago and up from 11 counted last week.
However, the 57 eagles counted today — 46 adults (white heads), 10 immatures (under 4 years old) and one unknown — amount to less than half of the eagles counted in Wolf Lodge Bay last year at this time, Hugo said.
The eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured to the northeast corner of the lake from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in the bay.
“Last year I counted 121 bald eagles — 84 adults and 37 immature,” Hugo said, noting that today's survey conditions were cold and windy and many eagles were soaring in the breeze. “Let's see if the cold snap this week freezes some lakes up north and sends a big pulse (of eagles) our way!”
CYCLING — I've just learned that the city of Spokane is eliminating its Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator position.
As of Dec. 21, Grant Wencel, who's held the postion for more than four years, will be terminated and the job will go dark.
Here is a reaction from Bradley Bleck, who's been closely involved with the recent advances in bicycling routes and status in city transportation planning:
As someone who has served on the (Bicycling Advisory Board) for nearly seven years as a volunteer and member, who worked to help bring a bike/ped coordinator to the city, I can only see it as a significant step in the wrong direction, one that will make both recreational and utilitarian cycling in the city much less a priority.
OUTDOOR TRAVEL — After finding a 12-foot deep avalanche along a 150-foot stretch of highway below Liberty Bell Mountain this morning, the state Department of Transportation has decided to keep the North Cascades Highway closed for the winter, according to the Associated Press.
The state temporarily closed the mountain pass between Mazama and Newhalem on Sunday afternoon due to heavy snow and high winds. Road crews went back to assess whether the road could be safely reopened today, and determined it could not, said DOT spokesman Jeff Adamson.
He said other avalanche chutes along the highway were filled with snow and unstable.
The highway closes every winter due to avalanche danger. Most years, the highway closes sometime in November, although it remained open into early December several years in its 40-year history. Last year, it closed for the season on Nov. 19.
This year the highway — a gateway to North Cascades National Park — reopened April 16, weeks earlier than last year because of a thinner snow pack.
WILDLIFE — Time magazine indicates the good ol' days of hunting are changing, and our bloated civilization has turned a corner in the way we regard wildlife.
We've reduced animals such as deer and turkeys to pest status, the story contends.
Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman shares a few thoughts on the national news weekly's latest cover story.
PUBLIC LANDS — Bonner County Commissioners got most of what they wanted in changes to recommended wilderness in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests revised management plan just released this fall.
But they want more. I mean they want less.
Actually, they want none.
SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — Bonner County commissioners in northern Idaho are urging the U.S. Forest Service not to designate any more lands as potential federally protected wilderness in the Kootenai and Panhandle national forests.
The Bonner County Daily Bee reports in a story on Sunday that commissioners say there are other ways for pristine areas to be preserved.
Commissioner Mike Nielsen says Scotchman Peak needs to be protected but that wilderness protection would isolate adjacent areas where trails are groomed for snowmobile riders.
A draft forest management plan released in October recommends making more than 25,000 acres of the Scotchman Peaks area in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana part of a federally protected wilderness.
The recommended area for the Scotchman Peaks has widespread support and mountain goats that need protection from the advances of motorized winter recreation.
Bonner County officials are just one faction. Read on for a Lewiston Tribune story about another point of view regarding the IPNF wilderness recommendations.
PREDATORS — The latest livestock attack by Oregon’s Snake River wolf pack puts it one bite away from a potential state kill order, according to Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press.
An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife report released Monday says the rancher who found a wounded cow Nov. 21 in the rugged country between the Imnaha and Snake rivers had taken required nonlethal steps to deter wolf attacks. Those steps included cleaning up old cow carcasses, putting out radio-activated alarm boxes and checking the cattle up to five times a day.
The report says bite marks on the cow’s hindquarters were characteristics of wolf attacks. The wounds were estimated to be a week or two old, and a GPS tracking collar put the pack in the area at that time.
New rules established under a legal settlement allow officials to consider a kill order after four qualifying attacks by a wolf pack in six months, the AP reports. The most recent attack makes three for the Snake River pack since October.
Unlike other states trying to control wolves in cattle country, Oregon has adopted specific rules requiring ranchers to take nonlethal steps to deter wolf attacks before the state can shoot a wolf for attacking livestock. The rules were the result of a legal settlement of a lawsuit from conservation groups.
Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild, one of plaintiffs, says the department is faithfully carrying out the new rules. He noted that the number of attacks by the Imnaha pack has gone down as nonlethal efforts have gone up. The Imnaha pack was Oregon’s first and had the most livestock kills last year when a decision to shoot two of its members was blocked by court order.
“I think the agency deserves a lot of credit for following the letter of the plan, putting out reports and making them public, which is a big change over where we were a couple years ago,” Pedery said.
Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the department, said more ranchers have bought into nonlethal control in the range of the Imnaha pack, where they have been dealing with wolves for a longer time. However, it is still uncertain whether the nonlethal controls are responsible, he said.
Morgan added that the Imnaha pack is made up of different wolves, except for the breeding pair, than when the pack was more actively attacking livestock. Young adults have moved on, and the pack has at least seven new pups.
Rancher Rod Childers, who negotiated the rules on behalf of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said ranchers are still frustrated with the slow pace of the process, which can take a week or more to confirm a kill and determine whether it qualifies under the rules.
“People are learning it’s here and we’ve got to deal with it,” he said of the seven confirmed wolf packs in northeastern Oregon. “We just want it dealt with in a more timely manner than what it is.”
CYCLING — Pedaling a bicycle across the United States is the equivalent of a graduate degree in American Studies, only you'll be in better shape than when you started.
I made the journey in 1976 betwixt college and career (left), and on Monday my daughter, Hillary, at the same age, finished her TransAm trip 37 years later.
My favorite youngest daughter and her cycling partner Katy Howell reached St. Augustine, Fla., completing the Adventure Cycling Association's Southern Tier Route across the USA. Hillary started riding in September from San Francisco to San Diego, and then eastward through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Whahoo!
I told her it was going to be cold when she returns to Spokane at the end of the week. She said she'd wear wool socks under her Chacos.
My main words of advice to Hillary before she departed was to focus on the people, not on making the miles. She and Katy excelled at meeting people. They have a trail of friends now.
Following is Hillary's first look back at her travels in a post after reaching the Atlantic:
After 2 months and over 3,000 miles of blood, sweat, and gears (and tears!), I finally made it to the Atlantic Coast on my bicicleta! It has been a truly profound experience - traveling with only women in a part of the US that is so different from my Washingtonian bubble of a reality that it felt like a completely different country. I never ceased to be blown away by the incredible hospitality we encountered… countless people who accepted us as complete strangers into their homes… who provided us with the luxuries of a warm shower, a fresh,fluffy towel, or a home-cooked meal. The guardian angels who warned us of sketchy towns to avoid or gave us a lift when we got lost and ended up on gravel roads. Although many warned us of the crazies that were out to get us, we encountered only nice and gracious people. This journey has made me deeply appreciate my life and the freedoms I have - the freedom to travel, to be educated, to ultimately leave my home town and see a different state, or 8… Or the whole world! The access to fresh, local food… Access to recycling and composting and environmental awareness. But most of all, a self-confidence that I couldn't have acquired any other way. A belief in myself, and a belief in humanity… That humans are innately good. Thanks to all of you who helped me fulfill my dream. But now, I am looking forward to having more than 4 pairs of underwear!
HUNTING — Hunting camps are full of traditions and camaraderie, and often they're pretty darned photogenic.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials want to capture that feeling for the cover of the 2014-15 hunting regulations pamphlet that hundreds of thousands of sportsmen will pore over next year.
Hunting camps are the them of the agency's third-annual Big Game Regulations Pamphlet Contest.
All submissions must be received by by the agency by March 1, 2014.
The winner’s photo will be featured on the cover of next year’s Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations Pamphlet.
CONSERVATION — Some landowners have a deep attachment to their property and its value to wildlife, water, scenery, tradition and other values. We can all be thankful to them.
Since 1991, Inland Northwest Land Trust has private landowners get tax advantages and peace of mind, protect 14,694 acres – with more acres added soon!
Here's a word from the local land trust, a local non-profit working for everyone's future an acre at a time.
We work with willing private landowners to protect the region’s natural lands, waters and forests for the benefit of wildlife, our community and future generations. You make our mission possible by your commitment to our region.
Supporting Inland Northwest Land Trust on Giving Tuesday celebrates and encourages a national movement for charitable activities helping non-profit organizations AND provides an additional $2 for every $1 donated to us thanks to an Extra Gift Challenge Grant throughout December.
Call the Inland Northwest Land Trust office, (509) 328-2939 or mail a check to Inland Northwest Land Trust, 35 W Main Avenue, Suite 210, Spokane, WA 99201.
WINTER SPORTS — The expansion of Big Sky Resort in Montana is BIG news in every way.
The resort's owners purchased neighboring resorts, Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks in August, and debuted the transformed mega resort — now the largest in the country — during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“The acquisitions make Big Sky the big boy on the U.S. alpine skiing and snowboarding scene,” says Brett French of the Billings Gazette. “The combination means more than 30 lifts, 4,350 vertical feet of drop and 5,750 total acres for riders to roam. In comparison, the other big dog — the tony Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado — has about 5,300 acres and 3,450 vertical feet.”
The new Big Sky is treating skiers to the longest vertical run in the lower 48 states.
Read on for details from the Gazette story:
FISHING — Through November 30, anglers have harvested a total of 243 steelhead in the Hanford Reach (Hwy 395 to old Hanford townsite), according to a report just posted by Paul Hoffarth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist for the area.
FLY FISHING — My Sunday Outdoors feature story about Fly Gal founder April Vokey and her recent visit to Spokane was just a minor installment in an international series of media segments focusing on this bright light in the fly fishing industry.
A few weeks later, she would be followed by a film crew to Belize before returning to her home-region in the Skeena area of British Columbia for a week of filming with a crew from 60 Minutes Sports (see trailer above). The segment aired in early November on Showtime.
Here are some of the highlights from my April Vokey story:
“Woman in a male-dominated sport – I feel I’m so far past that now,” she told me. “I live the sport every single day of my life.”
“I prefer to be thought of as an angler with integrity, someone who considers it a pleasure and a privilege to share what I know. ”
Two weeks ago Vokey, 30, was in Missoula giving seminars. This week she's fishing in Chile.
The British Columbia fly fishing guide says she's been to about 20 countries for fishing. “I don't go to a country if I can't go fishing,” she said.