2011 OUTDOORS: Lingering snow, high water affects boaters, anglers, bears
Spring lasted about five months in the Inland Northwest in 2011.
Whitewater river rafters enjoyed their longest season in years, but most Montana fishing guides weren’t so thrilled. Fishing trips were canceled through mid-July as most rivers remained swollen from the region’s hefty snow- pack.
“I’ve worked out of Sand- point since 1978,” said Mary Ann Hamilton, Forest Service trails coordinator. “I can’t remember a year when hikers weren’t at least getting close to Harrison and other Selkirk Mountains lakes by the Fourth of July. This year the road access will still be blocked miles away from many trailheads.”
Mount Spokane’s summit road was not open until after the July 4 holiday for the first time in years, and neither was the Gold Pass road between St. Regis and the St. Joe River.
The fishing picked up about the time the chairlifts finally closed on July 16 at Crystal Mountain Resort near Mount Rainier – ending the longest season in the resort’s 48-year history.
Deadly season: Lingering snow and high water contributed to making 2011 unusually deadly for river runners and climbers.
The Inland Northwest logged four hiker-climber deaths related to slipping and sliding on snow slopes in the Alpine Lakes, Glacier Park and Mount Baker. Three deaths occurred in July.
By mid-August at least 16 drownings had been reported in rivers, including the Deschutes and Kettle. At least eight from the Wenatchee to Blackfoot, Lochsa, Salmon, North Fork Payette and Owyhee – involved paddlers in full whitewater gear and PFDs.
Grizzly bears were forced by lingering mountain snow to stay in the lowlands longer than normal, leading to an increase of incidents with humans.
High profile cases started in May with a North Idaho man killing a grizzly in his yard ostensibly to protect his family. But later he faced federal charges for shooting a protected species.
The first grizzly mauling fatality in Yellowstone in 25 years occurred on July 6. Another man was killed by the same bear in the park a few weeks later. Both deaths likely could have been avoided by following recommended procedures such as hiking with a group and not running from an approaching grizzly, experts said.
In September, a black bear hunter shot and wounded a protected grizzly near the Idaho-Montana border not far from Canada. The wounded bear attacked the shooter’s partner when they were tracking it down. The hunter succeeded in shooting and killing the attacking bear, but one of his bullets passed through the grizzly and killed his partner.
A preliminary U.S. Fish and Wildlife report cited 83 human-grizzly incidents in 2011 around Yellowstone Park and northwestern Montana.
About 38 percent of the incidents involved hunters, 35 percent hikers and the rest a mix of anglers, campers and ranch hands.
Federal land managers were active on a major scale in the region.
• Colville National Forest was among several beginning revisions of forest management plans that include a wide range of proposals, including areas to be considered for wilderness protection. Early public meetings were contentious.
• The Colville also released a long-delayed proposed plan to give ORVs more room to roam at the south end of the forest, including areas with trails that had been illegally made by motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
• The BLM began scoping the public for comments on managing everything from energy and grazing to shooting and motor vehicle use on the 445,000 acres it manages in Eastern Washington and the San Juan Islands.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating 375,562 acres of mostly high-elevation areas in the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho and Washington as critical habitat for woodland caribou. Bonner County officials vowed a legal challenge.
• Forest Service officials in Idaho continue to struggle with public opposition to plans that would block up national forest land in the upper Lochsa River by trading scattered public lands to a private timber company.
State land managers made notable strides and acquisitions:
• 7,711 acres in the Cascades west of Yakima were acquired from Plum Creek Timber Co. by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with help from The Nature Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The long-sought deal protects wildlife habitat from lowland winter range up to the high summer range areas.
• 2,200 acres bordering the Grande Ronde River in Asotin County were approved for acquisition by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. The land, considered prime wildlife habitat, will be added to the Blue Mountains Wildlife Area Complex in the first of several phases proposed for acquiring the 12,000-acre 4-O Livestock and Land Co.
• Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park will be allowed to expand into old-growth forest terrain and wetlands on the mountain’s northwest face after a controversial plan was approved by a 4-0 vote of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
• Washington public lands officials began convening foresters, scientists and other experts in an effort to contain a pending epidemic of insect infestations east of the Cascades.
Spokane County and the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association made strides in piecing together a “Dream Trail Project” of land acquisitions or easements along a ridge to create a corridor for humans and wildlife in a natural area that’s ripe for subdivision and development.
The corridor would stretch nearly 6 miles as the crow flies from Appleway Boulevard at Dishman Hills Natural Area southward to the Rocks of Sharon Conservation Area.
Spokane County took advantage of deeply discounted real estate to acquire or make motions to add several gems to its Conservation Futures Program of natural areas funded by county taxpayers and Washington Wildlife and Recreation grants:
• Antoine Peak, the final phase to secure the 1,066-acre conservation area just north of East Valley High School.
• Saltese Uplands, 552 acres above Saltese Flats in the shadow of Mica Peak.
• MacKenzie Reserve, a 110-acre addition to Liberty Lake Regional Park.
• McLellan addition, 590 acres including one-third mile of shoreline from the State Department of Natural Resources.
• Stone Property, 160 acres west of Tower Mountain, depending on the county’s ability to purchase the adjacent 136-acre McCollum property.
• Big Rock, 80-acre addition to the Rocks of Sharon and Iller Creek conservation areas, providing public access from Stevens Creek Road.
Fish and wildlife managers had plenty of issues to handle, including:
• The northern pike explosion in the Pend Oreille River – celebrated by anglers and mourned by fisheries biologists – prompted the WFWD to step up efforts to control the predators.
Backed by surveys, agency officials began taking a stand to stop the spread of northern pike to reduce the threat of impacts to salmon and steelhead fisheries downstream in the Columbia.
• Wolf trapping seasons debuted in Idaho, along with the return of wolf hunting to thin the predator’s population. The state said it would try to reduce wolf numbers in the remote Lolo Zone by aerial gunning.
• Wolverine researchers found the first verified den in the North Cascades as research was stepped up in the Cabinets and in Oregon’s Wallowas.
• Kings Lake in Pend Oreille County, a broodstock lake for the region’s hatchery cutthroat eggs, was rehabilitated and restocked with genetically pure cutthroats.
• A Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission after more than two years of effort. At least five breeding wolf packs had been confirmed in the state.
• A four-point minimum antler restriction for whitetail bucks was established in Game Management Units 117 and 121 of northeastern Washington – the state’s two most popular whitetail deer hunting units.
• Invasive species inspection stations along Idaho highways intercepted and decontaminated at least 24 boats with quagga mussels.
That may not seem like a huge catch from more than 40,000 boat inspections, but experts say an infestation would cause havoc with aquatic ecosystems as well as boats, irrigation and other infrastructure.