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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Get it on for endangered wildlife with free condoms

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Center for Biological Diversity is distributing 50,000 free Endangered Species Condoms for holiday and New Year’s Eve celebrations around the country.

More than 600 volunteer distributors are handing out the condoms at events in all 50 states.

The condoms are part of the Center’s 7 Billion and Counting campaign focusing on the effects of rapid human population growth on rare plants and animals.

Fence hangs up elk, briefly, at highway crossing

WILDLIFE — This video of a huge herd of wintering elk crossing a highway near Helena, Mont., has several interesting elements.

First, it's awesome to see so many wild elk after hunting so hard for them during the elk seasons and concluding that most of the elk in North America had vanished.

But after nursing my English Setter, Scout, through two gory run-ins with barbed wire during this year's bird hunting seasons (the latest is pictured at left), I was especially interested in seeing the elk hanging up in the barbed-wire fence before they could cross the highway. This is especially noticeable toward the end of the video.

I always hear that elk are hard on fences.

But it's pretty safe to say that the millions of miles of fences — especially barbed wire — stretched across our Western landscape are pretty darned hard on wildlife, too.

Public running out of room, money to handle wild horses

PUBLIC LANDS — It's well past time to override the emotional argument that wild horses are above proven wildlife management methods that protect the landscape and habitat for that species as well as other wildlife.

U.S. is running out of options for wild horse management

With 50,000 wild horses corralled in holding facilities in the United States and an estimated 11,000 more roaming the range beyond what those wild lands are capable of supporting, the U.S. policy on wild horses has reached a tipping point. — New York Times

Photographer focuses on battling bighorn rams

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bighorn rams defy the concussion issue plaguing the sport of football.

With unbelievable power they reserved for the mating seasons, males prove their superiority with a challenging ram by squaring off and rising to their hind feet to "ram" their horns together. The impact sounds like the boom of a high-powered rifle.  They usually back off to collect themselves, their eyes bugged out and rolling a bit — then they often do it again!   And AGAIN.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson scored big time with bighorns this month as he found a group of rams vying for the distinction to breed.

He not only scored great profiles and head-ramming photos, but also one of the best photos I've seen of an unusually aggressive ram launching a foe airborne with a blow to the ribs. Ouch!

He also got a shots of the broken, or "broomed" ends of the tough horns on some rams after their breeding-right battles. 

Finally, he visited the bighorns recently as the rut apparently had wound down, showing rams that looked a bit exhausted from the wear and tear.

  • Click "continue reading" to see a small selection of the "thousands of images" Jaime and his photographer wife Lisa shot of this band of wild sheep.
  • See video of bighorn rams in battle.

In some ways, now’s better than the good ol’ days for wildlife

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Of course there are ups and downs, but overall this isn't a bad time to be among the critters.

Montana wildlife numbers better now than 50 years ago

Most of Montana's suite of wildlife species are doing better than they were 50 years ago. The reasons for the resurgence are mixed, with federal protection of some species playing a part, protection of habitat another. — Billings Gazette

Feds consider hunting season on Yellowstone-area grizzlies

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Federal authorities are laying groundwork for possible trophy grizzly bear hunts around the Yellowstone area as soon as 2014, the AP reports.

It's the surest sign yet that more than 30 years of federal protection for grizzlies in the area is nearing an end as their population recovers.

When is the best time to read the Outdoors Blog?

READER REACTION:  A woman just made this comment to me (slightly smiling): 

"I don't know why I read the Outdoors Blog while I'm eating lunch."

Apparently she's reacting to the graphic and educational and fascinating if not gross post of the local snowy owl giving a new definition to the term "expelled" at Mt. Spokane High School.

Question: Is there a BEST TIME to read the Outdoors Blog?  

Could hunters save animal-infested suburbia?

WILDLIFE — The good news: Wildlife populations in the U.S. have experienced an astonishing resurgence.

The bad news: All those animals are now our neighbors.

See the story: America Gone Wild in the Wall Street Journal.

Video: Officer frees bull moose tangled in swing

WILDLIFE — A moose was freed from a strange backyard entanglement this summer thanks to a brave Utah deputy and a pair of cutters.

Maybe you read the story about the bold and unusual rescue.

But the video above offers a clearer image. 

Anyone who's tried to handle deer, elk or moose for research or whatever can tell you that one lightning-fast kick can cause serious damage.

Good work, officer. 

Moose doubles as Minnesota Clydesdale?

CRITTER STUFF — OK, I can't verify this, nor do I need to.  But the story of the photo goes like this:

Only in Nordern Minnesnowta! 

This guy raised an abandoned moose calf with his horses, and believe it or not, he has trained it for skidding logs and other hauling tasks. Given the 2,000 pounds of robust muscle, and the splayed, sure-grip hooves, he claims it is the best work animal he has.

He says the secret to keeping the moose around is a sweet salt lick, although, during the rut he disappears for a couple of weeks, but always comes home.

For the record:  I new this was a fake when I posted it.  But I didn't know there was an authentic photo of a moose being harnessed as a beast of burden. Thanks to a reader, check it out here.

Dog owners beware: wolf trapping season to open

PREDATORS — For the second year, wolves will be join furbearers as targets during Idaho’s winter trapping season.

Although trappers must take a course in safe techniques before they can purchase a wolf-trapping license, bird hunters and other people who let their dogs run freely in the wilds of the Idaho Panhandle should familiarize themselves with techniques for releasing a pet from a foothold trap or neck snare.

The wolf trapping season is set for Nov. 15-March 31 in most of Idaho's Panhandle zone. The exception is that wolf trapping is prohibited in hunting units 2 and 3, which generally includes the region from Priest River and the west shore of Lake Pend Oreille south to the Coeur d’Alene area.

The rules are fairly liberal for wolf trappers:

Trapping regulations prohibit traps from the center and within 5 feet of center line of all maintained designated public trails and from the surface and right of way of all maintained designated public roads. Ground traps are prohibited within 300 feet of any designated public campground, picnic area and trailhead.

Idaho’s point of view is that hound hunters, hunters with bird dogs and other pet owners have a responsibility to keep track of and maintain control of their pets. Perhaps a good pair of wire cutters should be on your belt, too.

Releasing a pet from a snare trap can be tricky. Dog owners should bone up for the possibility.

This website has the best information I've found.

Trail cam scores mountain lions’ family portrait

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Trail cams are opening our eyes to rarely seen intimate lives of reclusive animals.

There's no better example than the photo above of four cougars in Montana — likely a mother an her three adult-size offspring.

Drew Shearer, a Bitterroot Valley bowhunter, has been using a remote motion-detecting camera to scout for game in his hunting areas. Inadvertently, he's captured this photo and many other astonishing images of wildlife in the Sapphire Mountains that make even professional wildlife photographers lick their chops.

See the story and more photos from the Missoulian.

Vote online to boost North Idaho wolverine study

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — The Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness once again is asking people to vote online before Sunday (Oct. 28) to help the group garner $27,600 in requested grants from Zoo Boise that would be applied to wolverine research in the Idaho Panhandle.

Visit the Zoo Boise projects website for details and to vote.

Review the the wolverine proposal and the other finalists and then vote for your two favorites in each category. The four projects with the most votes will each receive a grant from the total of $110,000 the zoo is awarding in 2012. One vote session per person is allowed.

The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness has partnered with Idaho Fish and Game and the Idaho Conservation League on a proposal for an Idaho Panhandle Wolverine Study.

Wolverines (Gulo gulo) have been classified as ‘warranted but precluded’ for listing as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Only about 35 breeding wolverine females were known to be roaming the lower 48 states two years ago.

Read on for more details about the North Idaho project.

Pronghorns give North America distinction

WILDLIFE — I go home to my hunting roots in Montana every year at this time, and the photo below (click continue reading) by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson illustrates one of the reasons why.

A photo I made from my annual Montana hunting trip, above, illustrates several more reasons.

Read on for a few biological pointers on why the pronghorn (also called antelope) is so special.

Elk rut winding down; bulls headed for deep, dark woods

HUNTING — Just in time for the the big-game rifle seasons, the elk rut is winding down and the big bulls will be slinking away from their harems to recover and hide in thick dark woods — wherever they can avoid attention from huners and wolves.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson caught the the bull above in September, during the peak of its glory — and vulnerability. 

Now the bull's world is all about surviving through winter.

Moose on the loose around town

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Moose are looking for love this time of year, and, as in humans, it can make them goofy.

This is OK when they're out in the woods, but it's not uncommon to see moose around Spokane, Post Falls, Coeur d'Alene and other towns in the region. 

Give moose a wide berth. Enjoy them from a distance.

Here's a report from Spokane's South Hill by Robert Estuar:

Might be time to remind people to be wary of moose off the South Hill bluff. I mountain bike the trails about 4 times per week and I've seen moose on 4 separate occasions over the past 3 weeks.

Yesterday around 6 pm, I happened on 3 moose (looked like a cow and 2 calves) about 25 feet off the trail. I've seen the moose on the lower trails -southwest of the powerlines.

Great to have wildlife sightings so close to home but I worry about problem interactions with people and their dogs.

Garden expert Pat Munts offers more on the subject today in this column.

Whitetail bucks playing make-believe with their antlers

WILDLIFE — The mating season for white-tailed deer is a month or more away, but bucks already are tuning up.

Montana wildlife photographer Jaime Johnson has been noticing bucks testing their new growth.
For the past week, we’ve noticed the whitetail rattling antlers. Nothing serious, more for fun.
Tonight we observed these bucks jousting. One would watch while the other two rattled antlers.
Then they would switch and the observer would join in while another watched.

Wyoming whitetails die from disease

HUNTING — Tough times for deer in a corner of Wyoming, similar to the outbreak that swept through portions of Montana two years ago:

Whitetail deer die-off in NE Wyoming worst in decades
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department said epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, a disease spread by a biting gnat, has caused the worst die-off of whitetail deer in northeast Wyoming in decades.

California bans hound hunting for bears

HUNTING — Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning hound hunting for bears in California, 16 years after Washington state did the same thing by voter initative

Both campaigns were primed and pumped by the Humane Society of the United States and other anti-hunting groups.

Black bear slaughter prompted by feeding

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Don't bite the hand that feeds wildlife.

Chop it off.

Montana wildlife agents euthanize five food-conditioned bears
After neighbors complained about someone in Heron feeding bears, Montana wildlife agents investigated and found five, well-fed food-conditioned black bears that they had to kill.

Photographer leaves no doubt: elk are in the rut

WILDLIFE — In case you had any doubts about the elk mating season being in full swing, Montana wildlife photographer Jaime Johnson offers this photographic evidence.

Notice I didn't say this is image is proof.  After all, hitch-hiking is legal in Montana.

Never trust your hunting dog with a gun

HUNTING — Two men, on opposite sides of the world, have been shot by their alleged best friends, reports News.com.au.

One man's shooting trip in Utah, US took a surprise turn when he was shot in the buttocks - by his own dog.

Meanwhile in France, a 55-year-old hunter had to have his right hand amputated after his dog accidentally shot him has said he doesn't blame the pet, which he still considers "adorable".

Read more.

Losing Rammel no loss to Idaho elk, hunters

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — It's one thing to be an anti-government blowhard. 

It's another thing to be detrimental to Idaho's public resources and the state's very valuable wild elk herds.

Good riddance, Rex Rammel.

See the story here, and we hope it's the last we hear of him.

Boo Boo the bear may get back to the woods

WILDLIFE REHABILITATION — Boo Boo, the black bear cub found by fire crews with second degree burns on all four paws last month,  has been moved to a rehabilitation area in central Idaho.

Idaho Fish and Game biologist Jeff Rohlman picked up the young bruin today at the Humane Society shelter in Boise where he has been recuperating.

Rohlman took the bear to the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary in the mountains outside McCall. The sanctuary is dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife. Since 1989 it has housed and cared for a range of large and small mammals and birds in distress from injury, loss of parents, or loss of habitat.

Boo Boo weighed in at 46 pounds today, up from just 23 pounds when Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian Mark Drew transferred the bear to the Idaho Humane Society on Aug. 31.

He will spend the first night in a pen about the size of a single-car garage, which is attached to a two-acre enclosure at the sanctuary. When released from the pen, he would be free to roam the enclosure.

If he continues to mend, he would be released to wild. Perhaps as soon as later this fall.

He was rescued August 26 by firefighters working on the Mustang Fire burning north of Salmon. His feet were badly burned, and he was treated initially at Idaho Fish and Game's Wildlife Health Lab in Caldwell.

The young bear has continued to improve. No infection in any of his foot pads has been detected despite second-degree burns on all four feet, Drew said.

State auctions Roosevelt shed elk antlers online

WILDLIFE —  More than 200 Roosevelt elk shed antlers seized by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife can be purchased during an online auction that's underway. Bidding for about half of the items will close Sept. 19, and bidding for the other half of the items will close Sept. 20.

Items available during the auction include:

• More than 100 large individual shed antlers.
• Four sets of matched antlers.
• 26 bundles of large shed antlers.
• One large skull cap plate with antlers from a Rocky Mountain bull elk.
• One large set of mounted antlers from a trophy mule deer buck.

To participate in the online auction you must pre-register.

The shed antlers, seized because they were collected illegally, have been sorted into three grades: fresh (picked up the same year as shed), one-year white (picked up one or more years after being shed), and two-year white (picked up two or more years after being shed).

More than 100 of the individual shed antlers have had gross scores determined, many of which qualify for entry into the Boone and Crockett record book, said Sergeant Carl Klein of the WDFW Law Enforcement Program.

Read on for more details:

Video: When people mix with elk in the rut…

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — This BBC film clip offers a glimpse of a town and tourists in the midst of the annual autumn mating season for elk.

The footage is as funny as it is sad to see people so nonchalant and clueless about walking past hormone-charged 800-pound animals with antlers.

Video: How dumb can Yellowstone tourists be around bison?

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Every year we read about a tourist in Yellowstone National Park being hurt or killed by a bison.

The park warns people to give bison plenty of distance; change course if necessary; leave them alone because while they're amazing creatures they're also unpredictable and dangerous.

The same goes with moose we see around the Inland Northwest, and even mountain goats (see previous post).

The incident in this video won't make headlines because nobody was hurt.  But if the child being chased had tripped, it would be a different story.  

This was really stupid, especially since adults are involved.

Hot summer leaves bears vulnerable to traffic

WILDLIFE — A summer heat wave and poor huckleberry crop is causing trouble for bears in the region by forcing the bruins to lower elevations where they run into conflicts with people.

Heads up:  A grizzly has been seen near Priest Lake.  Keep a clean camp and a garbage free cabin area.

The problem has been more than apparent farther norther in Canada.

This year, 16 black bears, a wolverine, several wolves, and countless elk and deer have been killed on the highways and railways in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks.

The human-caused animal death toll keeps rising — due, experts say, to a late spring and hot summer that has kept bears in the valley bottoms, and also to increased traffic speeding through the park.

Read more in this Calgary Herald story.

Whitetail buck offers sure sign fall is coming

BIG GAME — Antlers raw from freshly shed velvet, this whitetail buck's clock is ticking toward the rut.

The image was made last week by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.