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Fire activity causes Colville Forest to close huge areas to public access

WILDFIRES — Much of the 1.1-million-acre Colville National Forest is off-limits to public access under six fire-related temporary closures, including the Vulcan closure posted today.

The closures restrict popular northeastern Washington forest areas for hunting, hiking and other recreation — including most of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness.

The closures are detailed on the forests "alerts and notices" webpage. For example, Sullivan Lake developed campgrounds remain open, but the roads, trails and area north, east and south of the popular lake are closed because of fire danger and firefighting activity.

Here's the official wording for the restricted areas where trails, roads and other travel are closed until further notice:

Vulcan/Trout Creek Closure

Colville National Forest land north of State Route 20, west of State Highway 21, South of the Canadian border and east of the Okanogan Forest Boundary is temporally closed to public access until further notice due to fire suppression activities and large fire activity.  Forest Order 15-21-08

Sullivan Lake Area Closure

The temporary closure includes the Sullivan Lake Ranger District south of the U.S.-Canada border, west of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests boundary, north of Forest Service Road 1936 (Paupac Road) and north of Forest Service Road 1935 (Harvey Creek Road) and east of Forest Service Trail 504, Forest Service Road 2200-241 (Sullivan Creek Road) and Highway 31 north to the Canadian border.  This closures does not affect Mill Pond, Sullivan Lake, Noisy Creek or Edgewater Campgrounds. Forest Order and Map 15-21-07

Swan Lake and southwestern Kettle Crest Closure

Colville National Forest land north of the Colville Indian Reservation, west of the Kettle Crest (district boundary), South of State Route 20 (Sherman Pass) and east of the Okanogan Forest Boundary is temporally closed to public access until further notice due to fire suppression activities and large fire activity.  This includes, but is not limited to Swan Lake, Ferry Lake, Long Lake Campgrounds, Snow Peak Shelter and all trails, road and improvements within the closure area.

NOTE: State Route 20, 21 and Highway 395 are not affected by this closure.  Any road closures will be reflected on the WADOT Website.

Stickpin Fire Closure

Colville National Forest land north of State Route 20 (Sherman Pass) to Canadian border, west of highway 395 and East of State Route 21(Curlew Highway) is temporarily closed until further due to fire suppression activities and large fire activity. Forest Order 15-21-05 PDF

NOTE: Highway 20, 21 and 395 are not affected by this closure.  Any road closures will be reflected on the WADOT Website.

  • All methods of travel and use are prohibited on National Forest System Roads and Trails north of State Route 20 (Sherman Pass) to Canadian border, west of highway 395 and East of State Route 21(Curlew Highway). 

Newport Area Closure

Due to extreme fire behavior on the Tower Fire, a mandatory evacuation order has been issued for Browns Lake, North Skookum and South Skookum Campgrounds.

Closed along designated portions of National Forest area, East of the Forest Service Boundary along C 9445, north of C 4708 (Smackout Road), West of the BPA power lines  and south of the Abercrombie Trail as shown on the attached map, on the Newport-Sullivan Lake Ranger District of the Colville National Forest. Forest Order 15-21-14 and Map PDF

Baldy Fire Closure - Forest Order

Starting Aug. 5, Pursuant to 36 CFR 261.58(b), 36 CFR 261.53(e), 36 CFR 261.54(b) and (e), 36 CFR261.55 (a) and (b) the following acts are prohibited on designated portions of National Forest area, East of the Forest Service Boundary along C 9445, north of C 4708 (Smackout Road), West of the BPA power lines and south of the Abercrombie Trail as shown on the attached map, on the Newport-Sullivan Lake Ranger District of the Colville National Forest.

Cow dog hits the trail with hikers; feasts on hi-cal food

HIKING — Duke the cattle dog caught the attention of several readers who enjoyed the Sunday Outdoors story about hiking 100 miles through the Pasayten Wilderness of northcentral Washington.

Indeed, Duke — a two-year-old shelter dog —  is a hiking star, taking on the mileage with little difficulty.

One question asked:  Did he carry his food?

Before the trek, Duke was eased onto a diet of special high-calorie dry food (more expensive, too). This enabled his owner, Samantha Journot, to give him the needed calories with less bulk and weight. Pet specialty shops are good places to shop for these specialty foods. 

Duke carried all of his food, plus a pint water bottle and collapsible bowl to help him through the long waterless stretches the hikers encountered.  He also carried a folding trowel, which was used to bury his dumps — as well those of other members of the trip.

How did Duke's feet endure the 100 miles

Duke already had been trail toughened before the trek.  Being young, he had a lot of energy to waste.  Journot carried a long leash to keep him from bolting after ground squirrels in meadows, where he could do harm to his feet. By Day 3, Duke wasn't wasting too much energy. He lay down and rested when the group did. This helped save his feet.  However, after 70 miles, we had a hot day on the PCT and the rocky trail was sizzling.  Journot put booties on Duke, which he adapted to quickly. They definitely helped him, but they didn't fit well. We had to duct tape them into place with marginal results. 

With Duke in mind, we got up at 3 a.m. the last day and had 15 miles done shortly after 1. Duke did much better by getting him of the trail sooner.  Temperature in Twisp as we hit the pub for a late lunch and the cheeseburgers we were craving: 100 Degrees! The Twisp River Pub has a dog-friendly shaded deck with water bowls for dogs.

As for dog booties, you definitely want to have them for your dog on a multi-day trek.  I think the simpler the better. One dog enthusiast recommends checking out dogbooties.com.

Grizzly suspected of killing Yellowstone hiker captured

Update 8/11/15 — One cub has been caught in addition to the female grizzly and rangers are trying to catch another cub seen in a trail camera image put out near the seen of the incident.

WILDLIFE — A female grizzly bear suspected of killing a hiker on Friday has been captured in a trap today, Yellowstone National Park officials report. The cub suspected of being with her was not caught.

If DNA testing determines the grizzly is responsible for the hiker's death, it will be euthanized, they said.

Seasonal park employee Lance Crosby, 63, of Billings was killed last week while hiking alone off-trail without bear spray, according to officials. His body was found Friday about a half-mile from the nearest developed trail, near an area known as Lake Village.

A park ranger found him “partially consumed” a half-mile from the Elephant Back Loop Trail in a “popular off-trail area he was known to frequent,” according to a National Park Service statement.

Crosby was the sixth person killed since 2010 by grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone area, which has an estimated 750 grizzlies and includes the park and surrounding portions of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Here's more from the Associated Press:

Encounters between humans and grizzlies bears have risen sharply in recent decades as the region’s grizzly population expanded. But relatively few lead to death or injury, and park officials say the risk of being attacked by a bear is comparable to the chances of being struck by lightning.

Park biologists set a trap Friday that caught a female bear at the scene of the attack but not the cub believed to have been with her.

If testing confirms the sow was involved in Crosby’s death, it will be killed, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said. The cub, if captured, could be killed or adopted by a zoo or rehabilitation center.

Crosby had worked as a nurse in the park’s medical clinics over five seasons and was described as an experienced hiker, officials said.

“At this point in time, I have no knowledge that it could have been avoided,” Wenk said. “He was in an area that’s frequently used, a popular area that people went to. It’s not like he was bushwhacking through the forest.”

Bruising around puncture wounds on Crosby’s forearms suggested he had tried to defend himself, officials said.

The victim’s family said through a park spokeswoman that they had no plans to release any statements or conduct interviews and asked that all media requests be directed to park officials.

Yellowstone receives more than 3 million visits a year from tourists who journey from around the world to view its geysers and other thermal features and abundant wildlife.

Hikers who enter backcountry areas are advised to stay on trails, travel in groups of three or more and carry mace-like bear spray in case of an encounter.

“It’s an individual’s personal choice to carry bear spray. It’s something we highly recommend because it has been shown to be an effective deterrent in the case of a bear charge,” park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said.

The last fatality caused by a bear attack occurred in 2011, a year when two people were killed in separate incidents. Those deaths were the first to occur in the park in 25 years.

“Since 1916, the first year anyone was recorded being killed by a bear in the park, there have been eight fatalities,” said Yellowstone Park spokeswoman Julena Campbell. “It’s very rare.”

Parker Ridge fire closing trails in Idaho Selkirks

HIKING — A wildfire in the Idaho Panhandle is affecting popular hiking trails northwest of Bonners Ferry. Here's the latest report from the Forest Service:

Fisher Peak Trail #14 and dispersed campsites along that route are now closed due to increased fire activity from the nearby Parker Ridge Fire.  The fire has already closed the Parker Ridge Trail #221.  Both trails link to the popular Pacific Northwest Trail system, forcing a reroute of the trail three miles north to Long Canyon Trail.

Recent fire activity on the 401-acre Parker Ridge Fire seven miles southwest of Porthill forced fire managers to close the trail.  The lightning strike fire on the Bonners Ferry Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is burning in timber and brush and being monitored by firefighters.  Sudden changing weather conditions could push the fire into open trail areas.

Sign-in logs have been posted at the Trout Creek, Pyramid, and Long Canyon trailheads to help locate hikers in case changing fire conditions.  Hikers are requested to use the sign-in logs at the three trailheads in case firefighters need to account for them and/or evacuate them in case of an emergency.

 

Obama signs Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill

PUBLIC LANDS — Less than three days after the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill approving the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains area for wilderness designation, President Barack Obama has signed the bill into law, ending a 40-year effort.

Obama signed the Senate's approval of H.R. 1138, the “Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act,” which designates three new wilderness areas (encompassing about 275,665 acres) in Idaho as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System; releases four wilderness study areas so that the land would be managed for multiple-use activities; and provides for several land conveyances in Idaho.

Following are remarks by the President during the signing of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act in the Oval Office at 9:05 a.m. PDT:

     THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, over the last six years, the American people have worked really hard to bounce back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  We got jobs numbers today, showing that America created another 210,000 new jobs.  That makes 65 consecutive months of private sector job growth.  This is the strongest two-year run of private sector job growth that we've seen in the last 15 years.  And it is a testament I think to the incredible ingenuity and resilience and hard work of the American people.

     So, even as we continue to focus on rebuilding our economy, providing more opportunity, one of the things that we've also been trying to focus on is leaving a legacy for the next generation in preserving this incredible beauty, the God-given blessings that we've received — those of us who live here in the United States of America.

     I think everybody here knows that one of the prettiest states that we have with some of the greatest national treasures is the great state of Idaho.  I am very proud to be able to sign this piece of legislation, enacted by the House of Representatives, entitled the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act.  And what this does is it designates three additional wilderness designations in the great state of Idaho. 

This is a remarkable area.  It is used by fishermen, hunters, rafters, people taking hikes.  It is not only beautiful, but it’s also an important economic engine for the state — attracting tourism, creating jobs.  And thanks to the work of a broad-based coalition of folks in Idaho, but spearheaded here in Congress by Congressman Mike Simpson — who was able to receive not a single “no” vote — (laughter) — which does not happen often in the House of Representatives — something that folks have been working on for quite some time is going to be reality.

And so we want to congratulate all of them.  We want to urge the American people to visit these new, incredible wilderness areas, and recognize that not only will this give opportunities to people in Idaho, but it's going to be there for future generations as well.

One last point I want to make — we want to be thinking during the course of this summer about the firefighters who are taking on some really tough fires all across the Western states. As I've noted before, we've seen a consistent escalation of the severity and the length of wildfire season.  And a lot of that is attributable to the fact that climate change is going to be raising temperatures and creating less water, more vulnerability to a lot of forests out there.  

One of the things we're trying to work on with Congress is making sure that we are able to properly fund firefighting efforts, but also that we're engaged in the kind of conservation planning to ensure that we're preventing fires from happening in the first place. 

And so that's a project that, at least in the Western states, you get a lot of bipartisan support for.  Hopefully we'll be able to get that same kind of support here in Washington.

So, again, congratulations to all of you.  Mike, congratulations for the great work you’ve done.

I will now sign this designation.

(The bill is signed.)

There you go.  Good job.  (Applause.) 

Here's a news report on the signing with details on the wilderness areas from the Associated Press:

 

By KEITH RIDLER/Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — President Barack Obama on Friday signed a wilderness bill protecting 275,000 acres in central Idaho.

Obama signed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act in the Oval Office with Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho and others behind him.

“This is a remarkable area,” the president said. “It is not only beautiful, but it’s also an important economic engine for the state — attracting tourism, creating jobs.”

The legislation creates three new wilderness areas in the rugged Boulder and White Cloud mountains. They are the 138-square-mile Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, the 142-square-mile White Clouds Wilderness and the 183-square-mile Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.

Simpson had been working on wilderness designation for 15 years, trying to balance the interests of ranchers, recreationists and environmental groups. Some groups had been pushing Obama to designate a much larger area a national monument. Simpson and others have said that threat likely played a role in the wilderness bill getting through the U.S. House and Senate.

“The Boulder White Clouds area is now protected, in perpetuity, by the gold standard of preservation designations,” Simpson said in a statement.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Thomas with the Sawtooth National Forest said boundary signs for the three wilderness areas could start going up in a month, and that the agency hopes to have maps available this fall.

The Forest Service is responsible for managing all of the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, and all of the White Clouds Wilderness except for 450 acres, which is being managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Of the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, the majority is being managed by the Forest Service, with about 37 square miles managed by the BLM.

The agencies have three years to create a joint management plan for the wilderness areas, said Jesse Bender, a BLM spokeswoman based in Idaho Falls. She said the larger of the BLM wilderness portions was already a wilderness study area.

“The management won’t change significantly,” she said. “It’s going to be an evolving process for us.”

Both agencies said they’re still absorbing information and weren’t immediately able to say what initial steps were planned.

“We have a lot to learn about this,” Thomas said. “We have a lot to figure out.”

It’s not clear whether a wilderness designation will increase or decrease the number of visitors to the area. Thomas noted the Sawtooth National Recreation Area already draws 1.5 million visitors annually.

The legislation includes an option allowing grazing permit holders on land within or adjacent to the newly created wilderness areas to voluntarily retire their permits and be eligible for compensation from outside groups.

Custer County, where officials oppose restrictions on public lands, is receiving $5 million under the legislation for a county health clinic and road improvements.

Custer and Blaine counties are also each receiving individual parcels of land for various uses.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had this statement on the signing:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today commended President Obama for signing into law a bill that designates three new wilderness areas encompassing about 275,665 acres in Idaho as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System; releases four wilderness study areas so that the land may be managed for multiple-use activities; and provides for several land conveyances in Idaho.

“Idaho’s Boulder White Clouds is a spectacular corner of our country and is absolutely deserving of the recognition and permanent protection it achieves today. I look forward to getting back out to the region in the future to fully appreciate these new wilderness areas.

“Congressman Simpson’s legislation reflects years of meaningful engagement with ranchers, hikers, hunters, tribes and other stakeholders to ensure that the management plan meets the needs of current and future generations. I applaud Congressman Simpson and Senator Risch, whose efforts will benefit generations of Americans to come who will be able to enjoy this stunning area just as we do today.

“There are many bills pending in Congress to recognize special lands and waters across our nation that are deserving of protection, and I am hopeful that Congress will be inspired by what happened with Boulder White Clouds to move pending legislation forward expeditiously.”

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act designates three areas to become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, including the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (117,000 acres), White Clouds Wilderness (91,000 acres) and Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (88,000 acres). These protected areas preserve approximately 276,000 acres of high mountain backcountry with crystal lakes and abundant wildlife.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages more than 24,000 acres of the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, and 450 acres of the White Clouds Wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service manages the other federal lands within the wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act, signed into law in 1964, established the highest level of conservation protection for federal lands.

Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill headed for Obama’s signature

UPDATED with local reaction 2:05 p.m.

PUBLIC LANDS — Acting quickly after Monday's committee approval, the U.S. Senate today unanimously approved a bill to officially designate the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness in central Idaho.

The quick action — which follows more than 40 years of debate among ranchers, recreationists, environmental groups and politicians — protects more than 275,000 acres of public land as wilderness, the country's most restrictive federal public land designation.  No motorized vehicles or equipment or even mechanized gear such as bicycles are allowed in wilderness areas.

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. James E. Risch (R-ID). A companion bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), cleared the U.S House of Representatives on July 27. The measure is headed to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Boulder-White Cloud Mountains feature 10,000-foot peaks, sparkling alpine lakes, flower-filled meadows and a wild mix of wildlife. The region is already well-known for hunting, fishing and other recreation.

The plan approved by Congress creates three new wilderness areas in the rugged Boulder and White Cloud Mountains:

  • The 138-square-mile Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness,
  • The 142-square-mile White Clouds Wilderness,
  • The 183-square-mile Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.

Passage of the bill comes after four decades of debate and proposals.  A stalemate let President Obama to consider the Boulder White-Clouds for national monument status, which he could accomplish by executive order.

The national monument option was favored by mountain bikers so they could keep more of their riding areas open under the less-restrictive monument regulations.

The political teamwork needed to pass the Boulder White-Clouds bill is encouraging to Phil Hough, executive director of the Sandpoint-based Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. The group has been working for nearly a decade to garner support for protecting an 88,000-acre roadless area that straddles the Montana-Idaho border northeast of Lake Pend Oreille.

"This is an historic day," he said Tuesday. "Not only have we preserved this fabulous wild area in central Idaho, but we've also reached a moment in time when the Idaho delegation came together to craft an Idaho solution for wilderness.

"The Owyhee Wilderness in southern Idaho was designated six years ago in an omnibus bill, but you have to go back to the 1980s for the last time the Idaho delegation came together to support wilderness."

Hough, who traveled to Washington, D.C., in May to meet with the Idaho delegation, says the Scotchman Peaks are in good position to be the next Idaho candidate for wilderness.  The Bonner County Commission joined other groups in support of the Scotchman's proposal earlier this year.

John Roskelley, former Spokane County Commissioner, worked in the Boulder-White Clouds in 1972 for the U.S. Bureau of Mines mapping and sampling hundreds of old claims and mines.

"This land was up for Wilderness designation and our job was to determine the mineral wealth that was left after a hundred years of gold and silver mining," he said.

"It's a beautiful mountainous area, but it has been abused by miners and loggers. As a designated wilderness, the area will be a great draw for hikers and backpackers."

The Boulder White-Clouds bill had diverse support of groups including the Sawtooth Society, the Custer County Commission, East Fork of the Salmon River Ranchers, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Outfitters and Guides, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Idaho Conservation League, the Wilderness Society, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Sierra Club and the Idaho Recreation Council, which represents motorcycle and snowmobile riders.

“Pew has worked with the Idaho delegation and local partners for more than a decade to move this legislation forward," said Mike Matz of the Pew Charitable Trusts public lands program, as he thanked the Idaho delegation for their persistence.

"It has been a challenging path over many years, with difficult compromises required of all stakeholders. But perseverance, a balanced agreement, and solid local support have made passage a reality in the House and Senate and shown that wilderness is truly our country’s common ground."

Following is a video featuring the Idaho delegation presentations on the Senate floor before the unanimous vote to approve the Boulder White-Clouds Wilderness:

 

Backpacking basics programs this week at REI

HIKING — A Backpacking Basics presentation geared to the Inland Northwest will be presented Tuesday, 7 p.m., by the staff at the Spokane REI store, 1125 N. Monroe St.

A presentation geared to lightweight backpacking is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

Pre-register for the free programs at rei.com/spokane.

Bloomsday mile-by-mile course guide online

FITNESS — Bloomsday is more than a run or walk to celebrate fitness.

It's an extravaganza — as you can see here in a Bloomsday mile-by-mile guide (use it in your mobile device!) prepared by S-R graphic artist Molly Quinn.

In case  you're wondering, Molly is a daughter of Sylvia Quinn, a Bloomsday Perennial age-group star.

Olympics Enchanted Valley closed to camping as hiker trash lures bears

CAMPING — Sloppy campers have trashed the opportunity for hikers to tent overnight in the popular Enchanted Valley of Olympic National Park, at least for the next 30 days.

Backpackers reported cleaning up pasta and trash left behind by hikers ahead of them earlier this month, the Washington Trails Association reports.

Black bears were lured in by the food and were reported to be unafraid of people.

"Park staff closed the popular valley to overnight camping for 30 days," WTA reports. "During the closure, rangers and wildlife biologists will monitor the situation."

 

"Bears that eat human food come to consider people as a food source, and are extremely dangerous," said Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. "Sadly, bears have gotten into and consumed human food this spring in Enchanted Valley and we have closed the area to camping effective immediately."

 

Pack it in, pack it out is the standard rule in national parks and national forests, including camping areas in the Colville and Idaho Panhandle national forests.  Wildlife that becomes conditioned to eating human food become a risk of injury or disease.  Usually, it's the critters that lose.

Pledge to keep trails clean

Tonight: The Making of ‘100 Hikes’

TRAILS — The Spokane Mountaineers are planning a series of events this year to celebrate the club’s centennial, including a free program, The Making of 100 Hikes, starting at 7 p.m. on Monday at Mountain Gear Corporate Offices, 6021 N. Mansfield.

Rich Landers — that's me — guidebook author and The Spokesman-Review’s outdoors editor, will offer insight into the years of effort that went into selecting and researching 100 of the region’s best routes for the popular regional guidebook.

Decades of Spokane Mountaineers’ outings to their favorite trails laid the groundwork for what would become the bible for the region’s hikers.

Rainier’s Wonderland Trail booked for season

HIKING — Mount Rainier National Park has stopped taking reservations for the popular Wonderland Trail because of a overwhelming surge in demand this year.

The park will still have some walk-up permits available this summer.

The Wonderland Trail is nearly 95 miles long and circumnavigates Mount Rainier.

Park Superintendent Randy King says requests for either the full circuit or large portions of the trail have been in high demand this year. Within the first two weeks of the reservation window, the number of applicants exceeded the space that can be reserved at backcountry camps along the trail.

Think of Bloomsday as a start, not a finish

FITNESS — Spokane’s 39th annual Bloomsday run is set for May 3, but the deadline for registering without a late fee is Tuesday, April 14.

If you’re a serious runner or wheelchair athlete, you probably know all about the age divisions and potential for awards.

If  you’re just an average runner, jogger or walker, the huge moving celebration offers a group incentive to be your personal best for 7.46 miles.

Your reward will be a great t-shirt and motivation to continue pursuing the goal of good health and fitness.

A lot of people think, "I want to finish the race." 

I'd rather think of it as training for the next adventure, perhaps a wilderness backpacking trek, a goal just another few steps beyond….

It's hard to buy such inspiration nowadays. The entry fee is only $18.

Thirsty Wenatchee eyes water in Alpine Lakes Wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — Dam and diversion projects or expansions are being proposed on lakes within Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness up to satisfy Chelan County water needs and/or desires.

The Department of Ecology's Office of the Columbia River is funding and sponsoring proposals to increase water diversions from seven lakes in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Cascades wilderness that flow into Icicle Creek:  Colchuck, Eightmile, Upper and Lower Snow, Nada, Upper Klonaqua and Square Lakes.

Rachael Paschal Osborn, a public interest water lawyer in Spokane, has posted a four-part series of articles describing the Alpine Lakes proposed projects on her Naiads website:

  • Part 1 describes the "Genesis of the Icicle Work Group.
  • Part 2 discusses the Eightmile Lake Restoration-Storage project.
  • Part 3 discusses the Upper Klonaqua Lake pipeline proposal.
  • Part 4 discusses the Alpine Lakes Automation-Storage project.

"In 2012, the Office of the Columbia River funded Chelan County to form a "collaborative work group" to address Icicle Creek water quantity issues," she says. "Ostensibly the purpose of the Icicle Work Group (IWG) is to solve instream flow problems in Icicle Creek while obtaining more water from the system for out-of-stream uses."

The Office of the Columbia River has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and is seeking another $3.5 million to continue the IWG work into the 2015-17 biennium and wind through a dizzying process of state and federal laws, including the Wilderness Act.

"The Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation District  holds grandfathered easements and water rights that allow it to store and divert water from the Alpine Lakes," Osborn says. "Leavenworth Fish Hatchery (owned by US Bureau of Reclamation, operated by US Fish & Wildlife Service) also holds a water right for Snow & Nada Lakes.  The scope of these interests is a matter for evaluation as well."

Osborn said wilderness advocates should weigh in on the matter, since options are available that would be less invasive to one of Washington's most prized wilderness areas.

"Rather than divert additional water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, water solutions for Icicle Creek could be found through more sustainable approaches," she said. For example, "Approximately 117 cfs of new instream flow could be added to a 6-mile length of Icicle Creek (downstream of Snow Creek) by moving the Icicle Peshastin Irrigation District's take-out point downstream to the Wenatchee River.

"Water conservation opportunities are substantial."

  • For more information about the Icicle Work Group, see the Chelan County website, and read the Naiads series, Parts 1-4 (links above).

Utah spends $12 million exploring federal lands takeover

PUBLIC LANDS — Proponents of states taking over federal lands are bringing irony and greed to new levels, and they're not necessarily high.

Utah lawmakers approved more than $12 million in funding at this year’s session for their fight to wrest control of public lands from the federal government and extract natural resources from them, the Associated Press reports.

Among other things, the funds will go toward lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and others involved in Utah’s demand for title to 31 million acres of public lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Republican legislators say the funding is necessary to protect state interests in the face of what they call federal overreach on issues such as grazing, mining and oil and gas leasing.

“We need to have additional people on the ground to analyze the data,” Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “There is a lot of analysis (by federal scientists) that is not being done properly.”

Critics say GOP lawmakers are guilty of their own overreach at the expense of taxpayers and genuine progress on land management.

Meanwhile, here's more from the recent AP story from Utah:

“It’s an us-versus-them mentality. It’s an under-seige mentality that wants to create and foster an adversarial relationship with the federal government,” said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. “This is not a productive way to carry on a rational dialogue to solve these problems on the ground.”

Lawmakers directed $1 million to Utah’s Constitutional Defense Council to litigate a “states’ rights” lawsuit and another $1 million to the Attorney General’s Office for “multi-stage sage grouse litigation.” Legislators also assigned another $1 million to contracts — already worth $2 million — for crafting legal and public relations strategies for the public lands fight.

The Utah-based nonprofit Big Game Forever received $2.5 million to pressure federal officials to remove protection for the gray wolf and not to list the Greater sage grouse as an endangered species, while the state Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office will get nearly $5 million beyond its $2.3 million base budget mostly to finance Utah’s quest for title to 12,000 disputed roads.

Before the session ended this week, lawmakers also earmarked $1.5 million to help counties craft resource management plans by July 1, 2016. The public lands office would incorporate them into a single statewide plan showing the public how the state would manage public lands.

But conservationists say counties would not have nearly enough money or time to craft meaningful plans.

“What they will get is a 10-page plan that says ‘drill, baby, drill’ and ‘log, baby, log,”’ said Tim Wagner, a Salt Lake City environmental activist. “They are not interested at all in responsible management of these lands. Their only interest is in extractive use. I wish they would quit blowing smoke and mirrors.”

Spokane Mountaineers recruit trail volunteers for projects

TRAILS — Two outdoor groups will give a program Monday, March 16, about their plans for organizing volunteers to build and maintain trails in the region this summer.   The public is invited.

The Spokane Mountaineers and Washington Trails Association program will begin at 7 p.m. at the  at Mountain Gear Corporate Office, 6021 E. Mansfield in Spokane Valley

Lynn Smith and Holly Weiler will discuss projects the groups did last year as well as introduce work planned for this year. 

Both organizations have had one event so far this year with many more planned in Washington and Idaho, both single and multi-day.

"For the experienced hands its a chance to connect with past trail buddies, and for the many new people who have expressed an interest, its a good time to see what the programs are all about," Smith said. "Bring a friend and show them what you've done and why its so compelling."

Potential trail volunteers can contact Weiler at hmweiler@yahoo.com or Smith at kslynndeb@Hotmail.com.

Video captures 2,600-mile hike of PCT in 4 minutes

TRAILS — Andy Davidhazy hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in 2013 and 2014 and snapped a selfie every mile to document the route.

He's compiled the images into a four-minute time-lapse video (below) that flies viewers ground-level from Mexico through Callifornia, Oregon and Washington to the trail's northern terminus near the U.S.-Canada border.

"The end of the trail is just the beginning of the story," says Davidhazy, who's producing a short film, Lost or Found: Life after 2600 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, due for release this spring.

Here are more details about the time-lapse video (above) from Davidhazy:

The Pacific Crest Trail travels 2660 miles through the mountains of California, Oregon and Washington, starting at the Mexico border fence near the small town of Campo, CA, and finishing just across the Canadian border in Manning Park, British Columbia. It took about 5 months to complete and I lost 50 pounds in process. Total elevation change was about 450,000 feet, with the high point being 13,200 feet at Forester Pass in the High Sierras. I documented the physical transformation of the environment and myself by taking a selfie on trail every single mile of the hike.

The process of stopping to take a picture every mile had a big impact on my actual experience of doing the hike. I had to be well aware of where I was at all times, which was quite annoying in that it made it difficult to get in a zone and maintain good momentum. That said, I am happy to have done it, and it provided a good conversation starter with so many hikers that I would meet along the way. I love seeing so many wonderful faces popping up in pictures in unexpected places.

For the purposes of showing the Pacific Crest Trail in it's entirety, this video is actually a combination of two hikes. Mile 0 through 2424 was done in 2013, before an early snow storm dumped more than six feet of snow on the trail north of Snoqualmie Pass, WA making it impassable at the time. So I road walked the rest of the way to Canada along the Iron Horse Trail and Highway 97 north to Osoyoos, British Columbia. I went back in 2014 to hike the missed portion of the PCT from 2424 to the trail's Northern Terminus at mile 2660. The snow storm and road walk will feature in the upcoming short film, Lost or Found: Life after 2600 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Duo completes first winter thru-hike of Pacific Crest Trail

TRAILS — Two California men on Monday, March 2, completed the first winter thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail after 132 days of walking, skiing and snowshoeing along the 2,650-mile route from Canada to their finish at the Mexico border.

Never mind that they took time off the trail at Christmas and were blessed with an extremely low snowpack in the Cascades and Sierras this season: Shawn Forry, 33, of Midpines, Calif., and Justin Lichter, 34, of Truckee, Calif., still had to slog through snow and slush, skirt cornices and avalanche danger and endure bitter cold and frostbite in their carefully chosen ultra-light clothing and gear totaling about 18 pounds apiece.

The trek wasn't a lark. Before setting out on the PCT on Oct. 21, the two men had combined had more than 55,000 miles of trail hiking experience in seven different countries. They knew the PCT would be brutal in winter and set their goal on finishing in April.

Lichter, a ski patroller, had more than 35,000 miles of backcountry experience around the world before this trek and Forry, trail name "Pepper," is an instructor with with Outward Bound California who'd logged more than 15,000 miles. The two also had completed a 150-mile ski-and-hike trip last year between the Sonora Pass and Mammoth Lakes.

Roughly 1,300 to 1,500 hikers attempt to thru-hike the PCT each year, and just more than half of them finish even though most of them travel south to north beginning in late April so they can finish in September or October and avoid the additional challenges of winter.

“When he told me it has never been done before I kind of said ‘you know there is probably a reason,”’ Forry's father, Randy Forry, told the Reno-Gazette-Journal.  The risk associated with the winter trek was such that before Lichter and Forry decided to attempt it, many within the hiking community would have considered it foolhardy.  

The Pacific Crest Trail's popularity has boomed since 2012 after the release of Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and has received another big boost from the recent film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon. In February, the Pacific Crest Trail Association announced a new permit system to limit the number of hikers who can start from the trail’s southern terminus to 50 people a day starting this spring.

But unlike summer hikers, Forry and Lichter had to be prepared to deal with issues on their own.

“Generally you’re around enough people that if something happened to you, someone would come along in 24 hours at the latest,”  Whitney LaRuffa says in a wrap-up report posted today by Outside Magazine online. LaRuffa, an experienced thru-hiker and the President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West, had high regard for the two winter trekkers who, during a 1,700-mile stretch from Snoqualmie Pass in Washington to north of Walker Pass in California, didn’t see another soul.

One of the pluses of hiking the PCT, say's Lichter, is then when they take a rest day or resupply, they can nab a motel room at cheap winter rates. But there's no softening the nights on the trail.

“What Shawn and Justin have done is really remarkable,” said Jack Haskel, who kept track of the effort in his blog as trail information specialist for the PCTA.

“For them to be able to plan a hike that completely goes against that norm and faces all those challenges, rather than structuring their hike to avoid them, makes what they’ve done unique and exceptionally challenging,” Heather Anderson told Outside. Anderson set the self-supported speed record on the PCT in 2013.

Long-distance backpacking seminar in CdA

HIKING — Long-distance hikers can take the mystery out of planning by taking advantage of a special event on Feb. 21 in Coeur d'Alene.

  • Are you planning a long-distance hike or know someone who is?
  • Is your pack too dang heavy?
  • Have questions about how to cook on trail, or how to resupply?
  • Are you PCT, CDT or AT curious?

Perhaps the Inland NW Winter Ruck is the place for you to be, says veteran long-distance hiker Phil Hough of Sandpoint.
The event is set for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Feb. 21 at Lake City Community Church, 6000 N. Ramsey Rd. in Couer d'Alene, sponsored by the American Long-Distance Hiking Association-West.

Topics Include:
  • Leave No Trace Ethics …
  • The PCT, CDT, and AT and what you need to know
  • Trail and town etiquette
  • Food, Safety and navigation
The event offers One on One & Group Q&A with experienced Long Distance Hikers and "Triple Crown"members of ALDHA-West who will be there on site to help

Chili lunch and refreshments will be provided. $10.00 donation, $5 for ALDHA-West members

Most people agree federal lands belong to all, not to states

PUBLIC LANDS — As several Western states — including Washington — continue to debate legislation that seeks to take over federal lands within their borders, the majority of people seem to have a clearer understanding of who owns what.

A nonpartisan survey of Rocky Mountain state voters found 68 percent consider federal public lands as “American places” rather than places that belong to the people of individual states, the Missoulian reports.

“It was striking to see they grasp these are American places by a 2-to-1 margin,” Republican pollster Lori Weigel said of the 2015 Western States Survey released on Tuesday. "And there was significant intensity behind that. A greater proportion of people felt strongly about that.”

In Montana, 58 percent of respondents thought federal lands belonged to everyone in the nation, with 49 percent saying they felt strongly that way.

Those who thought of public lands as state places belonging to the people of Montana totaled 35 percent, with 27 percent considering that a strongly held opinion.

However, Montana was not as strongly in favor of federal ownership as some other states. Coloradans supported the “American place” idea by 72 percent, and Arizona backed it with 71 percent.

Only Wyoming was below Montana, with 54 percent supporting federal ownership and 37 percent favoring state ownership. The remainders (about 9 percent in each state) either believed in shared ownership or didn’t have an opinion.

The telephone study reached 2,400 voters in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Each state had 400 registered voters participate, divided equally among Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The margin of error was 2.9 percent up or down for the whole survey and 4.9 percent for individual states.

Overall, the poll found mountain-state residents considered the outdoors as a top reason for their choice of where to live.

Meanwhile in Montana, several outdoor, conservation and hunting groups are organizing a gathering on Feb. 16 at the state Capitol in Helena to demand that elected officials reject any efforts that would take away their public lands and deny them of their outdoor heritage.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen, and former Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton will address the crowd, as will business owner Adrienne Marx and Randy Newberg, host of the popular cable television show, “Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg.”

The event is being organized by Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Wildlife Federation.

This coalition plans to present a petition to Gov. Bullock rejecting any efforts to seize American lands. So far, nearly 3,000 people have signed the petition. More than a thousand signed it within 24 hours of when the petition appeared online at mtgreatoutdoors.org.

Here's more info from the coalition:

This week, Sen. Jennifer Fielder introduced the first of dozens of bills she and other legislators are working on this session that are aimed at transferring American lands into state ownership, a move that would saddle Montana with the $250 million price tag of managing the lands and force the state into selling those lands off to the highest bidder.

“This rally is about letting our elected officials know that Montanans flatly reject any effort to privatize lands that belong to all Americans and provide the backbone to a $3 billion state outdoor economy, an economy that keeps small towns like mine alive,” says Addrien Marx, a business owner in Seeley Lake and member of Montana Wilderness Association’s state council.

One of Fielder’s bills, to prohibit the sale of American lands transferred to the state, has already drawn strong criticism from Montanans for its disingenuousness.

“This is just a political stunt to shield Fielder’s agenda to seize public lands,” says Dave Chadwick, executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation. “If she succeeds in her public land takeover, future lawmakers will be forced to sell off those lands to keep from bankrupting the state.”

Another of Fielder’s bills would have the state conduct an economic study of transferring public lands to the state. Utah spent $2 million of taxpayers’ money in conducting a lands transfer study. The study concluded that such a transfer would tie Utah’s economy to the volatile oil market and force the state into industrializing public lands

Outdoor groups rally at state capitols against federal land grabs

PUBLIC LANDS — Sportsmen's groups and outdoors business have scheduled rallies at the Idaho and Montana capitols to protest efforts by some state lawmakers to take control of federal public lands. The groups contend state takeovers would ultimate result in the public losing access to millions of acres of land critical to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.

In Boise, noon-2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12, speakers will call for keeping public lands public and urge Idahoans to sign a petition supporting that stance. The rally is being organized by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

In Helena, on Monday, Feb. 16, rally speakers will include Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen, and former Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton, along with business owner Adrienne Marx and Randy Newberg, host of the popular cable television show, “Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg.” The event is being organized by Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Wildlife Federation.

  • Read a story about campaigns to speak out against the legislation in Western states.

In Montana, a coalition plans to present a petition to Gov. Bullock rejecting any efforts to seize American lands. So far, nearly 3,000 people have signed the petition. More than a thousand signed it within 24 hours of when the petition appeared online.

Here's more info from the coalition:

This week, Sen. Jennifer Fielder introduced the first of dozens of bills she and other legislators are working on this session that are aimed at transferring American lands into state ownership, a move that would saddle Montana with the $250 million price tag of managing the lands and force the state into selling those lands off to the highest bidder.

“This rally is about letting our elected officials know that Montanans flatly reject any effort to privatize lands that belong to all Americans and provide the backbone to a $3 billion state outdoor economy, an economy that keeps small towns like mine alive,” says Addrien Marx, a business owner in Seeley Lake and member of Montana Wilderness Association’s state council.

One of Fielder’s bills, to prohibit the sale of American lands transferred to the state, has already drawn strong criticism from Montanans for its disingenuousness.

“This is just a political stunt to shield Fielder’s agenda to seize public lands,” says Dave Chadwick, executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation. “If she succeeds in her public land takeover, future lawmakers will be forced to sell off those lands to keep from bankrupting the state.”

Another of Fielder’s bills would have the state conduct an economic study of transferring public lands to the state. Utah spent $2 million of taxpayers’ money in conducting a lands transfer study. The study concluded that such a transfer would tie Utah’s economy to the volatile oil market and force the state into industrializing public lands

In Idaho, the legislature is attempting to wrest control of up to 34 million acres of federal public lands. Currently, legislators are considering a measure so that “modifications to Idaho’s statutes and State Constitution can be made to effectuate these policy goals.” A related proposal would spend a half-million dollars of state funds (plus an additional quarter-million every following year) to actively pursue options for transferring ownership of federal lands in Idaho to the state.

According to organizers of the Boise rally:

Idaho cannot shoulder the enormous costs associated with fighting wildfires, maintaining roads and trails, treating noxious weeds and conducting habitat restoration on these lands. The transfer of federal lands to Idaho would result in one likely outcome: the fire sale of these lands to the highest bidder – billionaires and foreign corporations who may neither understand nor value America’s outdoor heritage. Once privatized, these lands will become off limits to most sportsmen in perpetuity.

Legal scholars: Utah’s push for US land would hurt public

PUBLIC LANDS — Utah’s push to wrest control of 31 million acres of federally controlled land would lead to less public access, less public involvement in land-use decisions and more drilling and strip mining, according to a new report by legal scholars.

The report, by the University of Utah law school’s Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, also concludes the move could lead to a better chance of imperiled plants and wildlife winning protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The report was co-authored by Bob Keiter, the Stegner center’s director, and John Ruple, who served in the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office under former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

The story comes from the Salt Lake Tribune via the Associated Press:

“The public would have less, not more, input into land management, and all who utilize what are now public lands — industry and recreation interests alike — would likely see the cost of access increase substantially,” Ruple said. “In short, the public would suffer from this misguided effort.”

Utah Assistant Attorney General Tony Rampton disputed the report’s finding that state control would lead to diminished public access and rampant drilling and strip mining.

“One of the largest economic drivers (in Utah) is tourism and recreation,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It is in the state’s interest to preserve, protect and promote that activity, just as much as mineral development. It’s all about balance.”

Utah’s Republican governor and legislators argue local officials would be better land managers and state control would make money for the state. They passed a 2012 law demanding the federal government hand over the land by 2015, but the federal government failed to do so.

The land demand does not include national parks, wilderness areas and national monuments, with the exception of the roughly 3,000-square-mile Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah and its underground coal reserves.

The Stegner report concludes the 2012 law does nothing to ensure that the public continues to enjoy the same level of access and involvement in decision-making as guaranteed under federal law. The report urges the Legislature to establish management priorities and mandate resource inventories for transferred lands and to enact a state version of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

“Enactment of such statutes in states seeking to take over public lands would send a much-needed message about transparency, accountability and commitment to the public interest,” they wrote.

But Rampton said the state has no interest in approving NEPA, the landmark 1969 federal law that requires analysis and disclosure of project impacts on public lands.

“The review is so drawn-out and provides no certainty, but rather extenuates uncertainty,” he told The Tribune. “The feds can’t act quickly because they have to deal with this process and when they finish the process, they have to deal with litigation.”

Republican lawmakers in December said a report, produced by three state universities, shows it won’t be a financial burden for Utah if the state manages to succeed in its push to take control of the land.

But Ruple said Utah would have to substantially increase energy production to cover the costs of managing lands and to protect the revenue stream counties now enjoy from federal royalties, which amounted to more than $180 million in 2013.

“Instead of a potential surplus, we see a potential deficit,” he said. “The only realistic option is more development.”

Elsewhere:

Wyoming county, group team up to oppose federal lands bills
Sweetwater County commissioners urged the state legislators representing the Wyoming county to not support either of the two federal lands bills currently before the state Legislature. In addition, on Thursday the Wyoming Sportsmen Alliance distributed a handout to legislators taking the same stance.
—Casper Star-Tribune;

Wyoming legislators should OK study of state management of federal lands
There are two bills under consideration by the Wyoming Legislature this session dealing with federal lands, one that demands the federal government hand over lands within the state's borders and another that would study management of federal lands by the state, and while the seizure bill goes too far, studying state management of federal lands would be worthwhile, if only to allow the public users of state lands to document their concerns about such management.
—Casper Star-Tribune

Yellowstone to charge backcountry permit fee

NATIONAL PARKS — Yellowstone National Park will require an overnight backcountry permit fee starting May 1.

The National Park Service says the money raised from the new fee will help pay the costs of running the park’s backcountry program.

Under the new fee, anyone obtaining a permit to stay overnight in the backcountry between Memorial Day and Sept. 10 will have to pay a per-person, per night permit fee for all individuals 9 years of age or older.

Backpackers and boaters will pay $3.00 per-person, per night, with groups of 5 or more paying a total of $15 per night. Stock users will be charged $5.00 per-person, per night.

Visitors may purchase an annual backcountry pass for $25.

Hiker permit quotas adopted to spread out ‘Wild’ crowd on PCT

HIKING — Growing numbers of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Mexico-to-Canada route made increasingly popular by the movie “Wild,” have led officials to take steps to alleviate traffic.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association announced on Wednesday a new permitting system that will limit to 50 the number of long-distance hikers heading north each day from San Diego County.

An online application process will allow hikers to schedule start dates and view projected hiker density on any given day.

The PCTA’s Jack Haskel says the goal is not to limit the number of hikers, but to spread them out.

The trail starts near Campo, California, and stretches 2,650 miles before ending at the Canadian border.

Haskel says since the movie came out in December, website traffic is up 300 percent.

Updated: More groups speak out against states’ federal land grab

Updated Feb. 4 at 11:30 a.m. with news of final Idaho report on federal transfer proposals.

PUBLIC LANDS — The evidence, logic and sentiment is mounting against the sham some legislators are continuing as they court private interest groups by stumping for state take-overs of federal public land. 

The movements in several Western states are being exposed as a threat to public access of prized outdoor destinations as well as a waste of legislative time and taxpayer dollars.

The cause has rallied a growing number of sportsmen's groups and outdoor business.

Here's the latest in the news:

Idaho legislators should stop wasting time on federal lands transfer
There has been enough time and effort expended on Idaho legislators' study of taking over management of federal lands and/or the outright transfer of those lands to the state. Given what the past two years of such study has yielded, i.e., that the campaign for such a transfer originated outside the borders of the Gem State and that the Idaho Statehood Act and Constitution specifically forbid "any further or other grants of land for any purpose" from the federal government, to name a couple, it's time the issue be laid to rest, and state legislators focus on the real issues faced by Idahoans.

A guest editorial by Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate for the Idaho Conservation League.
—Idaho Statesman

That's just a hint at the slippery slope state control of public recreation and multi-use lands could lead to:

Idaho state parks seeks bill to allow corporate sponsors
Although Idaho law doesn't specifically ban the use of corporate sponsors for Idaho state parks, it doesn't specifically allow it either, and state parks officials are seeking a bill to do so.
—The Spokesman-Review

Finally — for now — here's a story about the final committee report on Idaho lawmakers' two-year effort to be land barons:

Public lands takeover advice: Don’t sue feds

By William L. Spence / Lewiston Tribune

BOISE - Idaho lawmakers still want to improve management practices on public lands, but they say suing the federal government isn’t the right strategy to accomplish that goal.

After nearly two years of study, the Idaho Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Task Force adopted its final report Friday, Jan. 30.

The document concludes suing the government to try and acquire ownership of public lands "would be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, without a great deal of certainty as to the outcome While not eliminating litigation as an alternative, the committee found it is not the preferred path to resolve federal land management issues."

The task force has held nearly a dozen public meetings since 2013, taking comments from people across the state.

The report notes there was "consistent support for continued public access" to the federal lands, and little support for selling such lands. People also felt "current management of federal lands isn’t producing the array of multiple-use benefits" originally contemplated.

The economic rationale for owning the land was limited, according to the report.

While there was substantial debate on this issue, a study from the University of Idaho’s Policy Analysis Group found net revenue from state management of federal timberlands would have ranged from a loss of $6 million to a profit of $129 million per year, depending on harvest levels and timber prices. If highway maintenance, recreation and rangeland management costs were added in, the state would lose anywhere from $24 million to $111 million. That would be partially offset by as much as $58 million per year in income tax revenue from the thousands of jobs that would be created.

An alternative analysis estimated Idaho would lose $1.5 billion over the first decade of state ownership, and that upward of 2,500 mostly rural jobs would be lost.

The primary lesson from the committee’s work, according to the report, was that "much more work needs to be done to improve the management of federal lands in the state."

Consequently, the task force is recommending that the state establish a commission or office to continue monitoring the issue, while also pursing collaborative opportunities with the federal government that allow the state to play a greater role in the management of public lands.

The recommendations will be presented to legislative leaders for possible action this session.

 


Documents:

Washington lawmakers join federal land transfer bandwagon

PUBLIC LANDS — A bill has been introduced in Washington — SB 5405 — that would form a task force to look into federal land ownership in Washington, with an eye to “to study the risks, options, and benefits of transferring certain federal lands in the state to an alternative ownership.”

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman fleshes out the state Senate perps involved in this waste of time and money.

Read a few recent stories on these efforts in several other western states:

News of the Washington bill comes shortly after national sportsmen's groups and businesses launched a campaign to oppose state movements to take over federal lands, with the high likelihood that they would later become privatized in some way.

Within Washington are 12.7 million acres of federal land, including 9.3 million acres of national forests, 1.8 million acres of national parks, 429,000 acres of BLM ground, and 182,000 acres of national wildlife refuges. This is land we can't afford to be vulnerable to special interests.

“America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands provide irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and public access for hunting and fishing,” said Joel Webster, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “More than 72 percent of Western sportsmen depend on these lands for access to hunting."

Sportsmen rally against public land transfers

Updated with note about new Washington legislation.

PUBLIC LANDS — Sportsman's groups are organizing a voice against efforts in Western states to eliminate federal control of public land.

Lawmakers in Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming — and most recently, Washington — are spending considerable money and effort in attempts to get state control of federal public lands within their borders.

Read a few recent stories on these efforts:

I've contended this movement is more about political gain and corporate greed than it is about doing what's best for the wildlife, the land and the public. State governments are much more vulnerable to succumbing to special interests than federal land managers.

Last week at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, a campaign was launched against efforts by special interests to transfer or sell America’s federal public lands.

The growing coalition of groups and businesses includes the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wild Turkey Federation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited, Dallas Safari Club, Mystery Ranch Backpacks, Sitka Gear, First Lite, Costa, Simms Fishing Products and Sage.

The coalition supports a grassroots effort by sportsmen to urge lawmakers to reject any actions that would deprive citizens of their public lands.

Most recently, a bill has been introduced in Washington — SB 5405 — that would form a task force to look into federal land ownership in Washington, with an eye to “to study the risks, options, and benefits of transferring certain federal lands in the state to an alternative ownership.”

Within Washington are 12.7 million acres of federal land, including 9.3 million acres of national forests, 1.8 million acres of national parks, 429,000 acres of BLM ground, and 182,000 acres of national wildlife refuges.

A new report, “Locked Out: Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access,” released by the campaign, details takeover attempts in some Western states that would jeopardize public access to the rich hunting, fishing and outdoor traditions provided by the nation’s public lands.

“America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands provide irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and public access for hunting and fishing,” said Joel Webster, director of the TRCP Center for Western Lands. “More than 72 percent of Western sportsmen depend on these lands for access to hunting."

The management of America’s vast system of public lands carries an enormous price tag, and state budgets could be stretched beyond their ability should they take over their ownership, with widespread industrial development and the eventual sale of these lands to private interests being the expected result, the campaign outlines. "If privatized, millions of acres of the nation’s most valuable lands and waters would be closed to public access, and an American birthright would be lost."  

Hikers halfway on winter thru-hike of PCT

HIKING — Shawn Forry if Midpines, Calif., and Justin Lichter of Truckee, Calif., are attempting to be the first to complete a documented thru-hike of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail during winter.

Having started in Canada in late October, they're near Lake Tahoe this week, more than halfway toward their destination at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Pacific Crest Trail Association blogger Jack "Found" Haskel. They hope to finish in April.

"They’ve walked so far that the metal on their snowshoes is wearing thin," Haskel reports. "Soon, they’ll switch to skis."

From frostbite and drenching rain to friendships and stunning and quiet landscapes, their journey is remarkable. The feat requires skill, experience in snow-camping and winter travel plus avalanche awareness, and some luck. Many experts say it's crazy and dangerous.

Lichter, a ski patroller, has more than 35,000 miles of backcountry experience around the world and Forry more than 15,000 miles, according to the  Reno Gazette-Journal. The two also completed a 150-mile ski-and-hike trip last year between the Sonora Pass and Mammoth Lakes.

The light snowfall that plagued the region's ski areas in the early season was a boon to the PCT hikers, who've been snowshoeing 20-mile days since Christmas.

One of the pluses of hiking the PCT, say's Lichter, is then when they take a rest day or resupply, they can nab a motel room at cheap winter rates.

Congress finally gives wilderness a nod

PUBLIC LANDS — Congress shook its inability to work across the aisle this week and passed public lands legislation that's been years in the making. 

The U.S. House on Thursday passed a defense spending bill containing a broad public lands package for the West.

In Montana, it provides new wilderness on the Rocky Mountain Front, a ban on mining near Glacier National Park and changes supporting oil exploration and grazing on federal land.

The bill adds 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and designating 208,000 acres along the Front as a conservation management area.

In Washington, the bill expands the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area by 22,000 acres.

It also creates a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which includes the B Reactor at Hanford.

It's not all perfect from anyone's point of view.  But many experts say it's better than stalemate.

The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration, where a vote is expected next week.

Value of getting together

The Missoulian has a story — Report tracks successes of conservation collaboration in Montana — indicating that collaborative groups have helped shake the shackles of a do-nothing Congress in public lands issues.

The story cites the "Collaboration at a Crossroads" report from the Wilderness Society, which examines 15 of the 37 active roundtables on land-use in Montana. Among them is the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, which worked on the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act passed Thursday by the House.

Will Reese Witherspoon spur a backpacking boom?

HIKING — Industry insiders are wondering whether the soon-to-be-released movie "Wild" featuring Reese Witherspoon will provide the boost for backpacking that A River Runs Through It, featuring Brad Pitt, bestowed on fly fishing.

The buzz is already buzzing.

“The movie follows the book by Cheryl Strayed, a woman who traversed more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself.

Media outlets already are hyping backpacking destinations as they spin-off news about the book and movie.

Pacific Northwest writer Craig Romano, my co-author for the guidebook Day Hiking Eastern Washington, is quoted in a Fox News piece on hiking along with a list of "best hikes"  most of which I agree with, except I hate "best hikes" lists.

Here are Romano's recommendations for top North American hikes to add to your bucket list.

1. The John Muir Trail - Pacific Crest Loop
This 211 mile long section of Pacific Crest Trail features stunning cliffs, lakes, granite peaks and canyons. The trails pass through some of America's most stunning backdrops, including Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Hikers can take the trail going North or South but travel during the winter months is not advised.

2. Old Rag Mountain - Shenandoah National Park
Described as one of the most beautiful and "most dangerous" hikes in the country by the National Park Service, this nine-mile loop contains many rocky paths and a significant change in elevation. For this reason, the park discourages young children and shorter adults from attempting the seven to eight hour trek. Despite the difficult terrain, this trail can be very crowded on weekends so if you have some free time during the week, head over the Shenandoah and be the king or queen or your own mountain for the day.

3. Lincoln Woods Trail - New Hampshire

White Mountain National Forest is home to over 1,200 miles of non-motorized trails for all levels of hikers. But for novice hikers, Lincoln Woods Trail affords great views on a popular route with relatively stable terrain. Summer hikers can take bait and tackle gar along to fish in the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River. In the Fall, enjoy spectacular Northeastern leaf foliage colors, a favorite time of year for Romano.

4.Devils Garden Primitive Loop - Arches National Park

This difficult trek traverses over seven miles of rocky terrain but hikers are sure to witness some of the most breathtaking views Arches has to offer. The National Park Service estimates this hike will take between three to five hours to bring plenty of water. Not recommended when rock is wet or snowy.

5. Florida National Scenic Trail
While hiking usually brings to mind mountainous terrain, Romano says there are great hikes to be find anywhere nature exists. "The Florida Trail is almost 1,400 miles and it has great sections for long distance hikers." If you're just starting, it might be better to stay out of the Everglades unless you're with an experienced hiker. Whether you're looking for wildlife, interesting marine species or a better understanding of the Florida ecosystem, the Florida Trail has something for everyone.

6. Forest Park - Portland
"People living in urban area have great hiking networks right in their backyards. Especially Portland," says Romano. He recommends Forest Park with its more than 80 miles of scenic Northwest wildlife. For hikers young and old, Forest Park Conservancy even has its own app with maps of hiking trails, weather updates and other details.

7. Mount Rainier National Park - Washington

"I've hiked all over the U.S. but some of my all time favorite trails are in Washington— I just love the diversity of mountains, wildlife, forested scenery and even wildflowers," says Romano. Among his favorites in the Pacific Northwest: Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades. All National Parks are popular tourist destinations. Rainier is the smallest of three making it a great destination for new hikers; Olympic is the largest and features more diverse terrain.

8. Porcupine Mountain State Park - Michigan

While most hikers tend to gravitate to the East or West Coasts, great trails can be found everywhere. On Michigan's Upper Peninsula, take a walk along Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountain State Park. This scenic trail has high peaks, sparkling rivers, waterfalls and more. Campers will also find a fully loaded RV amenities area for over night adventures.

9. Appalachian Trail - Fitzgerald Falls near Greenwood Lake, NY

This scenic section of the Appalachian Trail is a perfect spot for city-dwellers. Just an hour and a half from New York City, Greenwood Lake is known for its pristine waters and summer aquatic activities. This 4.6 mile loop involves moderate climbing ability to reach the summit of Mombasha High Point. History buffs will enjoy exploring an abandoned settlement along the trail and on a clear day, views of New York City can be seen on the Southern horizon.

Read more of the buzz about the movie Wild:
 
—“Wild” stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman who takes on an arduous solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail
—Reese Witherspoon Sounds Like A Feminist In 'Wild' Because She Is One

—'Wild' writer says actress Reese Witherspoon 'honored' her story

—Behind the scenes of Wild