Outdoors

Weather may lead to wildlife recession

It’s been a long stretch of years since a Northwest state curtailed a hunting season in progress because of weather, but the winter of 2008-2009 is bringing Idaho’s partridge season to halt.

The state’s chukar and gray (Hungarian) partridge seasons will close Friday, Idaho Fish and Game officials announced this week in an emergency order.

That’s three weeks early.

Winter weather isn’t the lone culprit in the emergency order. The major damage was done by cold, wet weather during spring hatches.

Hunters were advised in September that aerial surveys had documented the second consecutive record low year of partridge populations in the Snake River region.

“Recent adverse weather conditions have concentrated birds and may lead to further local reductions in populations,” Idaho officials said in their Tuesday announcement.

Hindsight-foresight: Ten years of easy living – that’s about as much prosperity as big-game animals can expect before nature’s version of a “market adjustment” occurs in the Inland Northwest.

Are we in a wildlife recession? Maybe.

For years, in their pre-hunting season survey reports, wildlife managers referred to the gradual recovery of deer and elk since the devastating winter of 1996-97. The herds were considered back in full bloom from 2005 through 2007.

The bubble burst last year, the first harsh winter in a decade to hammer big game in Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle.

Last year’s heavy snowfall took a predictable toll that played out during this fall’s hunting seasons: North Idaho’s deer harvest was down about 50 percent from 2007.

It’s too early to know how much havoc the current weird winter will wreak with wildlife. The last three weeks have been tough, but not devastating.

Mild weather in February could leave the big-game bottom line in decent shape to begin staging a recovery.

But some wildlife managers note that bad winters seem to come in pairs.

And nobody’s figured out how to save wildlife under a mattress until the recession is over.

Slippery slopes: Skiers and snowmobilers heading into the mountains should stay out of steep terrain at least for the next few days. Midweek avalanche forecasts from throughout the region indicate high avalanche danger, with climax avalanches triggering on their own.

“Avalanches could be large and destructive and run long distances,” said Kevin Davis from the Panhandle Avalanche Center in his midweek report.

Lame duck legacy: In the last months of its eight-year run, the Bush Administration has been issuing a flurry of rules and selling gas and oil leases at a blurring pace.

In November, the White House approved a rule that eases constraints on environmentally damaging oil shale development throughout the West, despite objections from Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who called the decision “hasty and I would even argue reckless.”

The havoc from these and other ill-conceived decisions could play out for years.

The number of oil and gas drilling permits exploded during Bush’s second term, from 3,802 five years ago to an annual average of 7,200 in the past four years, according to a June report by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources.

With time running out on the industry’s sugar daddy, the pace was accelerated in the West.

Sportsmen’s groups were teaming with other conservation groups to challenge some of the leases that threaten wildlife ranging from fish and prairie grouse to mule deer and elk.

Kudos to President Bush for the expansion of marine sanctuaries, perhaps his most significant contribution to fish and wildlife.

But one of his most humiliating goofs in the field of natural resources played out this week. A controversial Forest Service order pushed by the administration was poised to give Plum Creek Timber Co. rights to pave roads through national forest lands to facilitate housing and recreational developments on private timber lands.

The public, ranging from conservation groups to county commissioners, hated this proposal. But it wasn’t the government that cared.

This week, Plum Creek officials abruptly backed off the request, saying they didn’t want a reputation for paving national forests.

The Bush administration hadn’t considered paving forests to be a smudge on its legacy.

You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508, or e-mail to richl@spokesman.com.

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Rich Landers

Rich Landers

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