Landers: Fires blaze, as does wolf issue
Wildfires have smoked out the Inland Northwest hunters and recreationists in many significant areas this month. But before we assess some of the impacts, let’s visit the gray wolf front, which is an apt description of Eastern Washington.
The latest news includes:
More cattle have been confirmed killed or attacked by wolves in the northern Stevens County “wedge” area in recent days, bringing the number killed or injured since mid-July to at least 15. Diamond M Ranch operators say the number likely is higher.
Pro-wolf groups argue that cattlemen aren’t doing enough to protect their herds.
Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials have been unsuccessful at killing any of the Wedge Pack wolves despite more than a month of trying. Recently they’ve been out with night-vision scopes.
With nine of 12 confirmed or suspected Washington wolf packs roaming northeastern Washington, the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association and county commissioners are urging the Fish and Wildlife Department to declare wolves “recovered” at least in Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties so they can be removed from state endangered species protection and managed.
Washington’s wolf management plan requires that wolves be recovered in several portions of the state, including a chunk of Western Washington before that could happen. The plan leaves northeastern Washington to bear the brunt of wolf impacts for a long, long time before the rest of the state must feel the bite.
Wolf experts in and outside of the state are starting to agree that the Wedge Pack appears to have become focused on livestock. That could be their doom. Pro-wolf groups don’t want the alpha female killed because it will disrupt the pack’s social network. Sentiment in Stevens County leans toward eliminating the pack, an alternative that has precedence in Idaho and Montana.
The Diamond M Ranch grazing allotment season on the Colville National Forest area between the Columbia and Kettle rivers ends Oct. 1. If the Wedge Pack has acquired an irresistible taste for livestock, where are they going to go after that?
Idaho’s notable updates include:
A touch of Idaho-style “management” was applied to the Diamond Pack of northeastern Washington last weekend as a Washington man with an Idaho wolf hunting license killed a wolf in the Kalispell Creek area just east of the state line. It’s the second wolf from the Diamond Pack, protected in Washington, to be legally killed in Idaho.
2012 is the first year the Idaho Panhandle has not had a general cow elk season somewhere in the region. Elk cows and calves are not surviving at sustainable levels. Black bears, mountain lions and, especially, wolves are major factors, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say.
Elsewhere: The season limit for wolf hunting in portions of Alaska is 10 per hunter.
Wild fires drove some hunters and hikers out of Wenatchee National Forest areas last weekend, as portions of popular areas such as the Alpine Lake Wilderness were closed for safety.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department has announced fire restrictions – no open fires, smoking or even target shooting – on all state wildlife areas until fire danger subsides.
Most Washington forests have fire restrictions, but none is in effect at this time in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
BLM’s fire restrictions are fully supported by the region’s private landowners. The Apache Pass Fire spread over 24,531 south of Creston last week after erupting during lightning storms on Sept. 9.
The fire charred 1,069 acres of the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area, including some important habitat for sage and sharp-tailed grouse.
Farther south, the Cache Creek Fire along the Snake River, while mostly in Oregon, burned more than 5,300 acres of the 14,000-acre Chief Joseph Wildlife Area in Asotin County south of the Grande Ronde River. The Joseph Creek area took the brunt of the flames and will be fruitless for most hunting this season, officials said.
With all the smoke in the area and daily reports on how much money the state is spending fighting fires this month, some people still don’t get it.
While patrolling BLM lands in the Fishtrap and Hog Canyon lake areas last weekend, wildlife police officer Curt Wood found campers with an open campfire. A couple of weeks earlier, Wood was in the same area helping to evacuate people as a raging wildfire nearby posed a threat.
In these conditions, fines follow smoke.