STATE PARKS – Washington drivers who renew their license tabs starting in September will be donating $5 to the operation of state parks unless they chose to “opt out.”
The state Department of Licensing has redesigned its vehicle registration notices to reflect changes approved earlier this year by the Legislature.
This replaces a method that required vehicle owners to add $5 or more to their registration payment if they wanted to give money to parks.
Contributions are expected to generate about $22 million over the next two years.
Without the contributions, state budget writers said dozens of the state’s 125 parks would have closed.
Tacoma News Tribune
Boats in jam on Yakima
RAFTING –Rescue officials in two counties had to scramble when a flotilla of 18 rafts came apart on a dangerous stretch of the Yakima River last Friday.
Three groups of rafts were trapped by three separate logjams, and 39 people from Seattle, Auburn and Renton were pulled from the river between Ellensburg and Yakima. No one was injured, although some of the people were swept under the logjams.
Kittitas Sheriff’s deputies issued a news release saying the mishap was a reminder that the river is extremely dangerous from the Umptanum Bridge south of Ellensburg to the Ringer Road launch.
Hawk decline detected in dunes
WILDLIFE – Ferruginous hawks, a threatened species in Washington, are at their lowest counts since field surveying began 30 years ago, according to state and federal wildlife biologists.
Studies in the Juniper Dunes area in Franklin County east of Pasco indicate that undisturbed habitat is declining along with the hawks, said Jason Lowe, wildlife biologist from the Bureau of Land Management’s Eastern Washington office in Spokane
The hawks, which can be mistaken for an eagle because their wingspan can reach 4 feet or more, prefer the desert and open grasslands.
Jackrabbits and small mammals like ground squirrels make up their diet.
While 17 nesting pairs were observed in the dunes in 1987, only four were spotted last year and just one this year.
In March, BLM closed some areas of the dunes to all-terrain vehicle use.
However, a decline in jackrabbits in the Mid-Columbia may be the biggest reason for the decline in ferruginous hawks, Lowe said.
Wildlife director meets the public
WDFW – Phil Anderson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife interim director will travel to Brewster on Sept. 9 for an annual public meeting to discuss fish and wildlife issues in northcentral Washington.
The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at the Columbia Cove Recreation building, 508 W. Cliff Ave.
Topics for discussion include Upper Columbia River salmon and steelhead selective fishing management issues, tribal and recreational fisheries, enforcement and more.
Regional department staff will be on hand to help answer questions during the informal forum.
Nature a draw in poor economy
NATIONAL PARKS – It could be the upside of the economic downturn: Visits to national parks are up nearly 4 percent this year.
The National Park Service said Monday that 127.7 million visits were made to national parks in the first six months of the year, an increase of about 4.5 million over the same period in 2008.
In June alone, visits to national parks increased by more than 700,000 compared to June of last year.
“America’s national parks and public lands provide affordable and accessible recreational opportunities from coast to coast,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Officials credit the three weekends with no entry fees for part of the spike in park visits, but say visits were up even before the fee waivers began in June.
More than 900,000 people visited Yellowstone in July, an all-time record for monthly visits and a jump of 94,000 visits over 2008.
Al Nash, a spokesman for Yellowstone, said the free weekends promotion likely played a role in the increase, but said a bigger factor was a dramatic drop in gas prices from a year ago.
“If you compare the cost of visiting a national park to any other type of tourism or entertainment it just reflects what a great value we are,” Nash said.
Helena deer to be culled
URBAN WILDLIFE – The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission has given tentative approval to allow an additional 150 mule deer to be killed in Helena between Nov. 13 and March 31.
In the past two years, wildlife officials have killed 200 deer from the Montana capital, where multiplying deer have become a nuisance and even a threat within city limits.
Some of Helena’s 30,000 residents like the animals’ presence but others complain about property damage, traffic obstruction and risk to people and pets.
Meat from the deer is donated to a Helena food bank.