The shooting of a nesting female loon in Ferry County around May 9 is the latest tragedy pegging northeastern Washington as a foul place for rare fowl.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials confirmed Wednesday that a common loon, a diving, fish-eating waterfowl, was shot in the neck at Long Lake in the Colville National Forest south of Republic.
The lake is stocked with cutthroat trout and limited to fly fishing and is one of only 13 lakes in northeastern Washington where loons have been known to nest.
The female loon had been observed sitting on her eggs on May 6. Her male partner has not been reported since then.
The thrilling and hauntingly wild loon calls – known to hush intense campfire conversations – have been silenced.
The loss brings the number of confirmed nesting loon pairs down to six in northeastern Washington and fewer than 14 in the entire state.
Loons are a protected species, yet shooters have killed three birds when they are vulnerable during nesting season three years in a row, including:
•A female observed with a partner looking for a nest site at Beth Lake in Okanogan County in 2008.
•A male shot while his mate was nesting at Yocum Lake in Pend Oreille County in 2009. The shooter, who said he’d been having some fun with his drinking buddies, was caught and fined.
The killing in northeast Washington extends to other birds under federal protection. Among them:
•A trumpeter swan shot near Colville in December. A $2,000 reward was offered but no one was cited.
•A bald eagle shot in Riverside State Park in March – the second eagle reported killed in the area this spring. A $2,500 reward is offered.
But this month’s shooting of a common loon for the third consecutive year has left two of the state’s leading loon observers hunting for answers.
“Is it because people are angry about restrictions or competition for fish?” asked Ginger Gumm, of Loon Lake.
Gumm and her partner, Daniel Poleschook Jr., have been studying and photographing the region’s loons since 1996.
“We persuaded the Fish and Wildlife Department to stock more fish where loons have been nesting so there would be plenty for loons and for fishermen,” Gumm said.
The Forest Service last year posted a sign at Long Lake asking visitors to keep their boats out of the wetland areas at the lake to prevent disturbing the nesting loons.
“People should be willing to make that little sacrifice,” Gumm said. “They have the rest of the lake.”
Gumm and Poleschook last winter proposed a ban on small lead fishing tackle at the 13 lakes where they’ve documented loons nesting.
Area loons have died from lead poisoning after ingesting a single lead sinker, they said.
But while the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department recently named Gumm and Poleschook the 2010 Wildlife Educators of the Year, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission turned down the lead restrictions proposal under pressure from the fishing industry.
“When we started studying the loons 14 years ago we found six nesting pairs in northeastern Washington,” she said. “The number went up to a high of 10, and now, with all the killing, we’re back down to six.”
Washington is on the fringe of common loon range. The loss of one bird in a nesting pair often means the loss of a nesting territory for years because there aren’t enough birds to quickly fill the empty slot, Gumm said.
The Long Lake pair was observed checking out the place in 2008.
“They didn’t nest then, but they returned last year and hatched one chick,” Gumm said.
“They were back again this year and everything was going great – maybe more chicks this time – until this.
“It’s just sad to see how much impact senseless people can have.”