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Hunters, hikers must be flexible during wild wildfire season

UPDATED 3:20 p.m. with news of Porcupine Bay closure.

WILDFIRES — Check ahead and be careful when selecting a place to hunt, hike or boat in the next few weeks.

I provide key links to agency wildfire updates that include information about some of the vast land closures in today's Outdoors story:

Each agency also has specific information, such as this list of closures from the Colville National Forest:

While access closures are restricting where hunters can go as season open this month, state agencies won't be delaying hunting season dates.

Meanwhile, wildlife is being impacted by fires, too, but wildlife managers are mostly worried about the impacts today's fires will have on wildlife survival this winter:

See a map of Inland Northwest fire activity.

Momma bear, 5 cubs, play in kiddie pool

WILDLIFE WATCHING — This video of a black bear sow with FIVE cubs seeking relief from summer heat is worth enduring the entry commercial for a few minutes of wildlife observation.

Momma bear immediately recognizes the cool water haven in a New Jersey family's backyard, but the cubs are more cautious, some of them testing the waters by dipping a paw and backing in slowly.

As they cool and become more comfortable in the setting, all the bears, including Momma, become more active and playful, leaving NONE of the toys and playground equipment in the family's backyard untested.

A lot of black bear learning is going on in this scene … some of it not so healthy for the future of the bears living at the edge of human development.

  • Moose like kiddie pools, too, as we've noted in the Spokane area for years.   See the story and photo from this month in Spokane Valley.

View from above raises pall of concern

UPDATED 1:45 p.m. with news of fire-related Lake Roosevelt boat launch closures.

WILDFIRES — I flew from Seattle to Spokane this morning after 10 days off the grid in Alaska. Heartbreaking is the first word that came to mind as I watched the smoke rising from east of the Cascades and spreading eastward across the state, mixing with the grayness rising from fires farther east.

Heartbreaking was the word that came to mind even before reading the details of fallen young firefighters in the newspaper's Wildfires 2015 coverage.

Wildfires in Eastern Washington and North Idaho were out of control on Thursday — and that was BEFORE winds last night and today whipped the flames to a new level.  Reports coming in today are not good

Ray Kresek, retired firefighter and fire lookout historian, reminds us:

On Aug. 20, 1910, the Great Idaho Fire burned 3,000,000 acres in two days, killed 87 firefighters, and destroyed five towns.  Numerous fires between Spokane & Glacier Park, Salmon River & Canada all blew up in a windstorm similar to the one predicted to hit NE Washington (Friday, Aug. 21).  This is the most critical wildfire situation NE Washington has seen in modern history. 

Hunters must be tuned in to the serious fire situation as hunting seasons begin opening. Private timberlands are closed to public access and many areas of public lands are restricted in one way or another, with road access being closed to new areas on a daily basis.

Fishermen are affected in many areas, such as those who might be planning to travel the Gold Pass route from St. Regis to the St. Joe River.  Road 50 over Gold Pass has been closed by the Snow Peak Complex fires.

Campers and backpackers have to pick their destinations carefully, too.  Numerous trails have been closed by fire activity throughout the region, including Scotchman Peak trail, one of the most popular trails in North Idaho. The Scotchman fire, which started northeast of Clark Fork on Aug. 13, is reported at 2,876 acres today.

And certainly, I hope no one needs a reminder to forgo campfires, smoking and any other potential fire-causing actions.

Even boaters have to make a plan to avoid fire closures.  Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, has closed all boat ramps and day-use areas in the Kettle Falls District except for the Kettle Falls marina and boat ramp due to expanding wildfires.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) just announced that federal emergency aid has been made available to the State of Washington to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts in the area affected by wildfires beginning on August 13, 2015, and continuing.

Here's a snapshot of SOME of the out-of-control wildfires in the region on Thursday. The reports will be much worse before the winds subside today:

GOODELL (Newhalem).  8/20: 2,000 ac. 0 ppl. 0 eng. 0% contained.

CHELAN (Antoine, Deer).  8/14. 8/20:  68,500 ac.  526 ppl. 51 eng.  30% contained.

WOLVERINE (Holden, Stehekin).  6/29. 8/20: 41,000 ac. 217 ppl. 1 eng.  10% contained.

FIRST CREEK (Lake Chelan).  8/14. 8/20: 1,900 ac. 192 ppl. 27 eng. Evacuated.

BLACK CANYON (Pateros).  8/20: 11,400. 15 ppl. 2 eng. 0%

OKANOGAN (Lime, Blue, Tunk, Beaver, N Omak).  8/10. 8/20: 91,300 ac. 729 ppl. 65 eng. {Lime 47,600, Tunk 7,800, Beaver 32,000}.  4 towns evacuated.

TWISP RIVER.  8/19. 8/20: 8,000 ac.  Twisp, Winthrop evacuated.

NINEMILE (Oroville).  8/15: 4,700 ac.  80% contained.

NORTH STAR (Colville IR).  8/20: 55,000 ac. 282 ppl. 12 eng. 0%.

KETTLE CREST (Stickpin).  8/20: 41,500 ac. 431 ppl. 7 heli. 33 eng.  0%.

GRAVES (Sherman Pass).  8/20: 1,600 ac. 11 ppl. 3 eng.  0%.

GOLD HILL (Kettle Falls).  8/20: 550 ac. 144 ppl. 8 eng. 

CARPENTER (Fruitland).  8/20:  9,600 ac. 300 ppl. 32 eng.  10%.

MARBLE (Addy/Arden).  8/20: 3,100 ac. 47 ppl. 7 eng.  10%.

KANIKSU (S Baldy, Tower).  8/20: 8,300 ac. 234 ppl. 7 eng.  0%.

PARKER (Bonners Fy, ID).  8/20: 6,000 ac.

GRIZZLY (Pomeroy, WA).  8/20: 12,000 ac. 106 ppl. 5 eng.

Washington State wildlife plan open to public comment

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Washington's State Wildlife Action Plan, which identifies 268 fish and wildlife species with the greatest conservation needs, has been updated and state officials are taking public comment through Sept. 11.

The plan describes key risks to those species and conservation measures designed to ensure their long-term survival.

The draft plan is available on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, along with instructions for submitting comments.

WDFW staff will provide an overview of the plan via webinar on Aug. 20. Registration information on the webinar is available on the website noted above. 

“This updated plan is designed to guide agency priorities, research efforts and conservation actions over the next decade,” said Penny Becker, WDFW’s wildlife diversity manager. “It will also qualify our state to continue receiving federal grants aimed at conserving fish and wildlife species at risk of decline.”

States are required to develop wildlife action plans and update them every 10 years to qualify for State Wildlife Grants (SWG), administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

WDFW developed Washington’s first plan – then called a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plan – in 2005, Becker said. Since then, the state has received $1.2 million in SWG funding for conservation activities each year, she said.

Projects supported by those funds range from restoring habitat for the greater sage grouse in Eastern Washington to reintroducing the native fisher on the Olympic Peninsula.

“A major goal of the federal wildlife grants is to help states keep common species common,” Becker said. “That is also a key goal of our state action plan.”

Obama criticized for opening door to arctic oil drilling, wildlife destruction

ENVIRONMENT — The Sierra Club is making some good points, backed by science and history, regarding the current trended toward allowing oil drilling into waters that would impact the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

I've been there to see it first hand, and have followed the campaign to drill in the refuge and remote associated waters. A Deepwater Horizon-type oil spill in the arctic would cause unspeakable harm to the fragile ecosystems.

The Obama administration inched a little closer to disaster last month when it issued almost-but-not-quite final approval to Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the club says.

"Letting Shell into the Arctic makes no sense," says Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "It's a case of taking huge risks to get something we don't need…. When this or any other administration flirts with selling more oil leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, we'll be there, in the courts and in the streets."

$67 million plan to widen Banff highway bad news for wildlife

WILDLIFE — Critters in one of Canada's signature national parks already face hazards from zooming traffic.  And now…

Canada's plan to spend $67M to widen highway in Banff park questioned
Several members of an advisory group charged with making Banff National Park safer for wildlife said they were stunned to learn that the Canadian government planned to spend $67 million to widen the Bow Valley Parkway that passes through the Alberta park. The decision they said will lead to increased speeds on the parkway, putting wildlife at higher risk.
—Calgary Herald

Tale of 2 photos: Whitetails young and old in growth stages

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Deer are growing like crazy this month, young and old alike.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson gives us a snapshot of the stage deer are in after capturing both of these photos in a single day.

One photo shows a whitetail fawn playing and showing the size and strength it's developed less than two months after it was born.

The other photo features a mature whitetail buck with still-forming antlers in velvet that began sprouting from its bare skull this spring.  In August this fast-growing tissue will harden like bone and he'll begin rubbing off the fuzzy velvet to become a specimen that will catch the eye of more than one type of creature this fall.

El Niño 2015 on record-setting trend; will drought turn to snow?

WEATHER — The present El Niño event, on the cusp of attaining “strong” intensity, has a chance to overtake the record 1997 event, reports Jason Samenow, Washington Post weather writer.

The 2015 El Niño — defined by the expanding, deepening pool of warmer-than-normal ocean water in the tropical Pacific — has steadily grown stronger since the spring.

The presence of a strong El Niño almost ensures that 2015 will become the warmest on record for Earth and will have ripple effects on weather patterns all over the world, Samenow writes.

I'm not a weather expert, but I do remember that the winters of 1997 and 1998 were great for skiing but devastating to winter wildlife. Those were big set-back years for big-game herds, especially in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

Stay tuned.

Condoms for humans could mean salvation for critters

ENDANGERED SPECIES — An environmental group is handing out free condoms in Washington to save endangered species.

No, these are not special condoms for northern pike in an attempt to ward off a threat to struggling salmon stocks.

The condoms are ordinary "rubbers" in packaging that stresses the impact human population growth has in crowding species off the planet.

On Saturday, as part of World Population Day, the Center for Biological Diversity says it distributed 10,000 free Endangered Species Condom in 27 states where the group says species featured on the condom packages are most endangered.

I've personally made a more permanent commitment in this regard, but I welcome the effort to highlight the pressure human population growth puts on local wildlife.

Volunteers in Washington distributed packages featuring the sea otter.

It also could have featured, say, the woodland caribou or pygmy rabbit.

“Sea otters along the Washington coast, once nearly wiped out by the fur trade, today face threats from fishing gear, oil spills and a changing climate,” said Leigh Moyer, the Center’s population organizer. “The fate of these charismatic animals is linked to our growing human population and demand for resources.”

The Endangered Species Condoms are wrapped in colorful packages featuring six different endangered species and information to help volunteers start the conversation about the impact of runaway human population growth on polar bears, monarch butterflies and other imperiled wildlife. The Center says it has given away 600,000 free Endangered Species Condoms since 2009.

 “Human population growth and increased consumption are driving extinction rates 1,000 times higher than the normal background rate,” said Moyer. “These condoms are a great way to get the conversation started about a serious issue.

"When we have dedicated volunteers distribute condoms in their neighborhoods and explain that extinction isn’t just a problem somewhere else but a problem everywhere, including in our own backyards, individuals can make better decisions for their families and for all wildlife, including local species.”

Scientists say Earth is undergoing its sixth mass wildlife extinction. While previous extinction periods were driven by geological or cosmic factors, the current crisis is caused by human activities.

World Population Day was designated by the United Nations in 1989 to raise awareness about global population issues. More than 7 billion people inhabit the planet, with the United States ranked as the third-most populous country in the world.

Grizzly bear researchers working near Sullivan Lake

WILDLIFE — Federal grizzly bear researchers are working near the Salmo-Priest Wilderness to trap and fit GPS collars on grizzly bears.

The researchers also are trying to get DNA samples from other bears to help determine the number of grizzlies in the Idaho-Washington Selkirk Mountains.

"No captures and no mortality to report as yet this season," said Wayne Kasworm, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service research leader based in Libby.

"The trap crew is working around Sullivan Lake area and we have several people out setting up corrals with trail cameras to try to snag hair and get pictures of bears throughout the recovery area. 

"The trap crew will probably move into the Priest Lake basin during June."

Last summer, the crew caught and collared one adult male grizzly bear.  

The trap team also captured 10 black bears (7 males and 3 females) that were ear tagged and released at the site of capture.

The study has collared 6 grizzly bears (1 male and 5 females), although one female's collar detached for recovery last fall. That collar had been on the bear since 2012. 

The collars are programmed to detach as they reach the limits of their batteries. Researchers can then restore an expensive collar and reuse it rather than have it uselessly dangling around a bear's neck.

The research is a joint effort with British Columbia, in cooperation with the states of Washington and Idaho.  Canada researchers worked in the Selkirks north of Highway 3 last year and collared 9 grizzly bears (7 males and 2 females).

Kasworm is monitoring those bears, too, as part of this project to peg grizzly population trends.

Biologists present clinic on living with moose

WILDLIFE – Moose have found their way into Spokane-area neighborhoods in a big way in recent years.

This is good, until it goes bad with an 800-pound critter stomping through playgrounds, breaking down fences, chasing dogs, bolting across heavily-traveled roads and defending their calves.

Tips on living peacefully and safely with moose will be shared with the public by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff:

  • Tuesday, April 28, 6:30 p.m., South Hill Library, 3324 S. Perry St.
  • May 11, 6:30 p.m., North Spokane Library, 44 E. Hawthorne Rd.
  • May 20, 6 p.m., Fish and Wildlife Department Eastern Regional Office, 2315 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley.

Wildlife biologists, conflict specialists, and enforcement officers will present information about moose biology, including habitat use and
movements, how to safely handle situations when moose wander into urban areas and when and where to call for assistance.

Wild turkey suppression planned on Spokane’s South Hill

WILDLIFE — A meeting to enlist volunteers in curbing the growth of wild turkey flocks on the Manito Park area is set for 6:30 p.m. tonight (March 30) at Spokane’s South Hill Library.

Candace Bennett, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department conflict specialist, is organizing a “wild turkey Easter egg hunt” over several weeks to treat eggs in some wild turkey nests so they don’t hatch.

The number of wild turkeys has grown to nuisance levels on the South Hill, but what's out there will mushroom significantly if all of the nesting hens are allowed to pull off new clutches this spring.


Video proof: Getting too close to moose is stupid

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Did I overstate the potential danger posed by loveable-looking moose in today's Outdoors column?

I think not, despite what a few readers said in email comments. I have video proof you can view at the end of this post.

First, check out this message from Cameron Hughes, who learned to respect moose for their size and dicey dispositions while living in Alaska:

Your "moose issues" article will hopefully help to enlighten some of the general public to leave moose alone!
I certainly understand the difficult decisions that the F&W Officers face when confronted with a "problem" moose and in my opinion, the event in Fairfield was initiated by a number of people who don't understand the big picture of a habituated moose.
I lived in AK for about 18 years, 6 of which were in Anchorage, where moose are ubiquitous during the winter months. I was there when two people were killed by moose in the city. One being the infamous video of when an individual was entering the UAA Sports center and was stomped to death by an agitated moose. Coincidentally, I had entered and left that same door into the UAA sports center with my two young children earlier that day to watch the UAA hockey team practice. Fortunately, the moose wasn't around at the time I was there. If it had been, I would have chosen another exit.
Point is, the people of Anchorage had learned to leave, for the most part, the moose alone and to avoid them as much as possible. I suppose seeing a moose wasn't a novelty as it is around here. I drilled it into my son and daughter's head that when playing outside and a moose wanders into the neighborhood to come back in the house immediately until the moose had moved on.
While living in Western AK, the Eskimos in the area had a greater fear, or perhaps a better word would be respect, of moose than they did of grizzly bears. I think that tells one something about the possible danger posed by a moose.

This video graphically illustrates why all moose should be given a wide berth:

Video illustrates the hazard of being with a loose dog in moose country. This guy was lucky.

Some moose will run when approached, others will charge, as this moron discovers.

Avoid all of these dangerous learning experiences by reading the guidelines for coexisting with moose on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Fresh, wet snow perfect for tracking critters

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I was late into the office this morning, delayed by urgent messages from a variety of critters.

Last night's light, wet snow created a fresh page for wildlife to tell the stories of their early-morning lives for trackers to read.

Conditions are perfect. The snow is not too deep or too dry. Detail in the prints is fantastic.  You can see every toe and even the toenails of critters such as raccoons.

Before sunrise as I walked my dogs, I followed a group of three coyotes that had left fresh tracks near my backyard, and not surprisingly I soon came across the splayed hoof prints of four running white-tailed deer.

I saw where an owl had taken a mouse and brushed its wings in the snow.  I followed a raccoon track in Peaceful  Valley under fences, over a barrier and underneath the Maple Street Bridge. The tracks of eight quail where easy to follow to where they were taking breakfast under a feeder.

The Spokane County Library District's "Big Read" is encouraging people to study Jack London's The Call of the Wild this month

The ground around us this morning is like a Preface written by the experts.

Kentucky to transfer 150 elk to Wisconsin to help build herd

HUNTING — Here in the West, hunters still scratch their heads to associate elk with anyplace west of the Rockies.  But times have changed — Kentucky is stepping up to help jump-start an elk herd in Wisconsin.

Since Kentucky’s elk herd began with seven elk from Kansas in 1997, the population has boomed to 10,000. Now the commonwealth is helping to build a new herd in Wisconsin.

According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, the agency will provide Wisconsin with 150 cows, calves and yearling male elk trapped from areas with high complaints about nuisance elk. The transfers will take place over the next 3-5 years, financed by Wisconsin.

In return, Wisconsin will help develop forest habitat in eastern Kentucky to benefit wildlife, especially ruffed grouse.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employees will assist with the trapping and disease testing in Kentucky.

The Montana-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will supply additional support. The foundation was instrumental in establishing Kentucky’s elk herd, which was boosted by releases of more than 1,500 elk from six states — Kansas, Utah, Oregon, North Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico.

Photo: Bobcat visits Northwest Neighborhood

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A bobcat made a guest appearance in a northwest neighborhood recently.
The photo was captured by Sarah Lathrop above Park Boulevard at Glass and H streets — just above Downriver Golf Course. It was posted on the Northwest Neighborhood - Spokane Facebook page.
David Taylor, a mail carrier, had this comment:

Saw this little guy on my mail route a few weeks ago, didn't get a picture but just found out a neighbor did, this is just above Downriver golf course. I see all kinds of wildlife, like deer, coyotes, turkeys, skunks, et.c., never thought I'd see one of these. We were about 10 feet apart. He went his way, I continued on mine. I call him Bob.


Idaho trophy species rule proposals revealed

HUNTING — An increase in Idaho Panhandle moose hunting opportunity and other proposals for next year's trophy big-game seasons will be presented at an open house meeting, 3 p.m.-6 p.m., on Thursday, Dec. 18 at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Panhandle Region Office, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave. in Coeur d’Alene.

Meetings are being held on statewide proposals affecting hunting for moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. However, no changes are proposed for mountain goat or bighorn sheep hunting in the Panhandle.

The open house format allows visitors to attend at any time during the session to visit with Fish and Game personnel about the proposals.

The Panhandle Region proposal includes the addition of 20 bull moose tags:

Unit 4 would have a long season (Sept. 15-Dec. 1) with an increase from 15 tags to 20 tags.  "Harvest success rates have been high in Unit 4 and the average number of days of hunting to harvest a moose in the unit is decreasing," said Phil Cooper, department spokesman. "There has not been a decrease in antler spread of harvested bulls, and this proposal would increase hunter opportunity."

Two new short season hunts are proposed for Unit 5 with five permits in each hunt. One hunt would run Oct. 1-14 and the other Nov. 1-14.  The current long season in Unit 5 would not change.  The moose population size and bull and calf ratios indicate Unit 5 can withstand increased hunting, he said.

Unit 6 currently has three moose hunts, including one long hunt from Sept. 15-Dec. 1. Each of the hunts has had 15 tags.   The proposed season would increase the number of tags in the long hunt to 20.  The two shorter seasons would not change in dates or permit levels under the current proposal. 

"The change is proposed because harvest rates are high, the average number of days hunted to take a moose is decreasing, and there has not been a decrease in the antler spread of harvested bulls from Unit 6," Cooper said.

All comments will be presented to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission prior to setting the seasons at their meeting on Jan. 22.

Tracks: wildlife stories in the snow

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The weather presented only one brief opportunity for good tracking conditions through fresh snow during the nine-day Washington modern firearms elk hunting season that ended on Sunday.

Fresh snow is to hunters what the pages of a book are to voracious readers. We long for it.

Even though I tried to focus on elk tracks on the one day of snow we had in the Blue Mountains last week, I couldn't help but be sidetracked by other creatures and the stories they left in the snow for me to read.

In this case, my pursuit of wapiti was interrupted by a fling with, perhaps, chickati.

Bedtime coming soon for grizzly cub

WILDLIFE WATCHING — This grizzly bear cub photographed last month by Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson appears to have had a great first year in the field.

In a few weeks, depending on the weather, this cub, its sibling and mother will be snuggling into a den for a long winter's nap.

Grizzly cubs usually spend three years with their mothers before heading off on their own.

Says Johnson:

We were able to spend some time this fall with a sow grizzly and her two cubs.

It was a lot of fun watching mom teach the two cubs how to eat berries from the bushes.

This image is one of the cubs walking through the berries.

Trail cam captures shot of Selkirk mountain caribou

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services fudges on the issue, the mountain caribou is the rarest big game species in the United States and therefore the most endangered.

So capturing a photo of a Selkirk mountain caribou isn't just a big deal, says Kalispel Tribe wildlife biologist Bart George — It's "The Holy Grail for trail cam pictures!"

That is, if Sasquatch isn't.

Even in national parks, wildlife subject to vehicle collisions

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Why did the deer cross the road and risk its life against speeding vehicles?

Because it wanted to get to the other side, the way it evolved to move from cover to feed, bedding spot to water, and summer range to winter range over the centuries.

Tough year for wildlife in Canada's mountain parks
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 6, 10 black bears and one grizzly bear were struck and killed by vehicles or trains in Yoho and Kootenay national parks in B.C. and Banff National Park in Alberta; 16 elk have died on the parks' roads, as have five moose, three wolves and one cougar. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Ponderosa moose family livin’ the life

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Moose in wild and not-so-wild areas are popular subjects for in Inland Northwest shutterbugs, as one can see in a glance on our Readers' Outdoor Photo Gallery.

But some neighborhoods are more oriented to family living than others.

"This moose family visits us frequently in the Ponderosa neighborhood," said Bob Fulton as he emailed the photo.

Name that bear: contest at Idaho zoo seeks to name grizzly

WILDLIFE — The Pocatello Zoo is holding the contest to name a grizzly bear that was moved into the facility after it became too accustomed roaming around rural residences in Wyoming.

The 2-year-old female grizzly that was recently relocated to the zoo from the Shoshone National Forest.

Submit names by Oct. 12 to pocatellozoosociety@gmail.com or call the Zoo at (208) 234-6264.

Zoo staff will choose three finalist names from the submissions, and the public will have a chance to vote online, via phone and at ZooBoo starting Oct 13. Voters are required to donate a minimum of $1 along with their vote. The winning name will be the one that gets the most donations and will be announced on Oct. 27.

The grizzly bear is currently in quarantine at the zoo, but will eventually be on exhibit with the zoo’s matriarch bear, Stripes.

“We are thrilled to be able to give this girl a home,” zoo administrator, Peter Pruett said. “She needed to be relocated and we have a beautiful home for her here at the Pocatello Zoo.

Videos capture bears with cat-scratch fever

Get Adobe Flash player

WILDLIFE WATCHING  — The trail cam video of an Okanogan County black bear turning a scented tree into a massage parlor (at right) has been amusing thousands of viewers since it was posted this week by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin.

If you like the video posted here, you'll LOVE this video of GRIZZLY BEARS scratching their way into ecstasy — complete with music — in Banff National Park, Alberta.

Study: World’s wildlife decline 52% since 1970

WILDLIFE WATCHING — According to a new study, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that the overall number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish declined 52 percent between 1970 and 2010.

Previous surveys released in 2012 pegged the decline at 28 percent, but a closer look at losses in Latin America and Southeast Asia provided even more sobering numbers.

Humans are the root of the problem, where unregulated hunting, overfishing, deforestation, pollution and various forms of habitat destruction are taking their toll.

WWF scientists found that some bird, fish, reptile and mammal populations are increasing, some are stable and some are declining. But the declining populations are declining so sharply that the overall trend is down — and Earth has lost half its wildlife overall.

The bleakest outlook is for freshwater populations — fish, frogs, shorebirds — which have declined 76 percent. Habitat loss and water pollution are the main drivers.


Bull moose a picture of autumn

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson caught this bull moose last week feeding among autumn colors.

The moose, the largest member of the deer family in North America, is in the final stages of rubbing velvet off the huge antlers its grown since spring — a ridiculously short period for developing two massive bones that likely weigh around 15 pounds apiece.

Mountain lion kitten’s captivity serves a purpose

WILDLIFE — A three-week-old mountain lion kitten orphaned in northeastern Washington is headed for a zoo, and that's not all bad, state Fish and Wildlife Department officials say.

 “Education is important at American Zoological Association-accredited zoos, which have on-site staff to teach visitors about the natural history of these critters,” said department cougar specialist Rich Beausoleil.

He said the kitten will be transported to ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania, which has a reputation for good, natural facilities and education.

The kitten found this week in the Kettle Falls area will join the other 32 cougar kittens from Washington that have been rescued over the past 12 years and placed to live out captive lives.

But think of it this way.   These mountain lions are in facilities in urban areas where they’re seen each year by a total of 17 million people.

“These are people who get a chance to learn something about a critter they’d never otherwise see,” said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman in Spokane.

WSU study: Can grizzlies make use of tools?

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — Washington State University researchers are learning whether grizzly bears make and use tools.

With claws and teeth that can rip open anything from a beer can to beaver dens and moose carcasses, it seems as though tools would be unnecessary.

But while it’s too soon to reach a broad scientific conclusion, researchers say at least one female bear at the WSU lab is demonstrating that use of tools comes naturally.

The study, being conducted at WSU’s Bear Research Education and Conservation Center, is documenting eight grizzlies faced with the challenge of getting their claws into a dangling food snack that’s too high to reach, reports Linda Weiford of WSU News. No training is involved. The researchers are chronicling innate learning behavior.

Information gleaned from the study can be used to help wildlife managers solve grizzly-related challenges and problems, according to researchers, and also assist zookeepers in keeping captive bears mentally and physically stimulated. The study should be completed this fall.

“While it’s generally accepted that grizzly bears are intelligent creatures, until now no scientific research had been conducted on their problem-solving skills,” said WSU veterinary biologist Lynne Nelson, who is overseeing the study.

Here are more details from the WSU report:

In WSU’s controlled setting, eight brown bears—three males and five females—are being tested separately and are at various phases of the experiment, said Nelson. To date, a 9-year-old grizzly named Kio has sailed through each phase, essentially nailing the hypothesis that the species is capable of tool use.

Here’s how the study works: Inside the grizzly bears’ play area, a donut is hung on a string from a wire, too high for the animals to reach. First, each bear is tested to see if it will stand on a sawed-off tree stump to reach up and get the donut down. Once this is mastered, researchers move the stump away from the hanging donut and place it on its side.

Here’s where things get challenging. The bear must move the stump until it is positioned underneath the donut and then flip the stump over into a makeshift footstool.

Kio mastered this early: “She manipulates an inanimate object in several steps to help her achieve a goal, which in this case is to obtain food,” said Nelson. “This fits the definition of tool use.”

The other grizzlies are in the process of figuring out the feat, she explained, which confirms what the center’s scientists have long suspected about the keen brain power of bears. Frequently, Nelson and her colleagues witness grizzlies doing remarkable things, including using a single claw in a key-like manner to try to open locks.

Why should humans scientifically assess tool use among America’s greatest predators?

  • “If grizzly bears are capable of using tools to interact with their environment, that’s important for us to know because it provides a fuller picture of how they think,” said WSU veterinary student Alex Waroff, who designed the study and who, with Nelson, tests the bears five mornings a week.
  • “By better understanding their cognitive abilities, we can help reduce encounters that can turn deadly for bears and humans alike,” he said.
  • Such understanding also could shed light on whether the species is capable of manipulating its environment when faced with changes in the wild, such as shifts in habitat conditions or declining food sources, he explained.

Most of the center’s grizzly bears were deemed “problem bears” in the wild and were brought to WSU as an alternative to being shot and killed.

“Grizzlies are smart foragers and they’ll work hard to get at food – which, as we’re seeing, can include some pretty sophisticated strategies,” Nelson said.

Incidentally, the glazed donuts, donated by a local grocery store, are used to entice the bears for the study and aren’t part of their normal diet, said Nelson.

“Yes, they like sweets – just like humans,” she said. “But we’re careful to restrict their intake.”