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Much left unsettled

Sun., Dec. 28, 2008

Small steps forward leave plenty of work still to be done

Some years stand out for accomplishment, but 2008 seems to be notable for unfinished business in the great outdoors.

Some examples from near and far:

•Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge officials, after eight years of discussion and study, authorized hunting for the first time since the refuge was established in 1937. The first seasons for limited elk hunting and one weekend of youth waterfowling could be allowed in 2009, although the plan still must negotiate a tangle of federal red tape and legal challenges.

• Sullivan Lake’s future could be a letdown if the Pend Oreille PUD and Colville National Forest go ahead with a proposal to remove dams. The plan would lower the lake nearly 25 feet from the level people and facilities have adjusted to for nearly a century.

•While Idaho finally settled on a federal lands roadless area management plan stemming from discontent over the Clinton administration’s 2000 roadless rule, work on national forest travel planning creeps along.

Most of the region’s national forests continued the tedium of travel management planning that will determine which roads and trails will be open to motorized vehicles, including ATVs and motorcycles.

Only the Palouse Ranger District enacted a travel plan and proceeded with off-highway vehicle travel management the Forest Service is requiring across the country.

•While Washington’s Wild Sky Wilderness was finally approved by Congress, little consensus was achieved between pro-wilderness and anti-wilderness groups in six public meetings on wilderness proposals in the Colville National Forest. The first official package of recommendations isn’t likely to be released until spring of 2010.

• Releases of sage grouse to Lincoln County and an unofficial release of mountain quail to Tubbs Hill in Coeur d’Alene were attempted, Results were less than encouraging.

•Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area began taking public comment for managing issues such as crowded access areas, cabin leases, human sanitation problems on undeveloped beaches, weed infestations and more on the 154-mile Columbia River Reservoir. No decisions, yet.

•The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department held statewide meetings before preparing rule changes for hunting seasons in 2009-2011. Still to be determined is a near 50-50 split in public comment on whether to go to three-point minimum for whitetail bucks in a few northeast Washington units.

•The Bush administration released a spending plan that would cut the Forest Service budget 8 percent in 2009, a plan that hinted at reducing the agency’s work force by nearly 10 percent. And that was the scenario when the economy still looked relatively hopeful.

•Farm Bill attempts to prevent the deterioration of the federal Conservation Reserve Program were uncertain. CRP pays farmers to pull the plows and cows off 30 million acres of erodible land so it can be planted with vegetation to conserve soils, protect water supplies and provide cover for wildlife.

•The 10 easternmost counties of Washington were hurting for wildlife enforcement during the peak of the fall hunting seasons, with officer vacancies in Whitman, Pend Oreille and Garfield counties. Statewide, officer numbers continue to be down. The current budget crisis offers little hope for relief.

• Lawsuits stalled a Washington Fish and Wildlife plan to partner with ranchers by allowing limited grazing on state wildlife lands.

•BLM proposed no-shooting zones near Fishtrap lake.

• A 14-year-old Western Washington hunter, accompanied by a 16-year-old, shot and killed a 54-year-old woman who was hiking in Skagit County. The hunter said he mistook her for a bear. State legislators have indicated they will consider age restrictions on hunters in 2009.

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