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Disease kills 30 bighorns near Yellowstone

WILDLIFE —  Montana wildlife officials say an apparent pneumonia outbreak has killed about 30 bighorn sheep from two herds in the Gardiner area near the border of Yellowstone National Park.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist Karen Loveless of Livingston tells The Billings Gazette the die-off seems to be slowing down. At least 10 sheep were reported dead by mid-December.

Lab tests will determine the cause of death, but pneumonia is the likely culprit. Loveless says one lamb tested positive for bacteria that attack the lungs, causing symptoms similar to pneumonia.

A small group of 25 to 30 animals that live at the base of Tom Miner Basin is down to 17 sheep. The rest of the sheep were lost from a herd near Cinnabar that last totaled 90 animals.

Loveless says the outbreak has not spread to bighorn sheep in Yellowstone National Park.

"The bighorn sheep are native to the area," reports Gazette outdoor writer Brett French. "Evidence has even been found in the surrounding canyons of ancient traps and blinds used by hunters in the region thousands of years ago."

Following is French's full report with a lot more heartbreaking details.

About 30 bighorn sheep — roughly one-third of two herds that live in the Gardiner area — have died this winter, probably from an outbreak of pneumonia.

“It seems to be slowing down,” said Karen Loveless, a wildlife biologist for Fish, Wildlife and Parks based in Livingston. “But I did just get another report of a dead sheep.”

Whether that bighorn died of disease won’t be known until laboratory tests can be completed. Loveless was also awaiting lab results from earlier samples taken from dead bighorns. But the first dead lamb did test positive for bacteria that attack the sheep’s lungs, causing symptoms similar to pneumonia.

Oddly, the two herds that have taken the biggest hit are fairly far apart. One, a small group of about 25 to 30 that lives at the base of Tom Miner Basin, has dwindled to 17 sheep. The other herd, near Cinnabar, last totaled about 90 bighorn sheep, but getting a current count has been difficult because the animals disperse after the December rut, Loveless said. Yet she noted that most of the dead sheep have been from the Cinnabar herd.

Almost the entire lamb crop from the two herds has been decimated and Loveless said some “really big, beautiful rams” have also been found dead in the last couple of weeks. Luckily, the disease has not spread to bighorn sheep that live in nearby Yellowstone National Park.

“That’s amazing, because we know that they mix,” Loveless said.

The bighorn sheep are native to the area. Evidence has even been found in the surrounding canyons of ancient traps and blinds used by hunters in the region thousands of years ago.

As far as Loveless knows, this is the first time the Gardiner-area sheep have been infected and died. The bacteria that leads to the death of bighorns is common in domestic sheep and goats. Close contact between the animals can lead to infection in bighorn sheep. Two landowners in the area raise domestic sheep.

Loveless is hopeful that the bighorn sheep will rebound like a nearby group. A herd near Point of Rocks suffered a die-off of about 20 animals, with the group dwindling to 30 sheep, two years ago. That herd has now rebounded to about 50.

“So far, it seems like their lamb numbers are pretty good,” Loveless said. “That could potentially happen in the Cinnabar and Tom Miner herds.”

A herd of bighorn sheep that inhabits a portion of the Tendoy Mountains, in southwestern Montana near Lima, hasn’t fared so well. After suffering a die-off from pneumonia, the herd has been unable to rebound despite several supplemental transplants by FWP from other bighorn herds.

On Thursday the Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized the department to proceed with actions to possibly eliminate the remaining 50 bighorns in the Tendoy herd so it could be repopulated with disease-free bighorn sheep. Before that can happen, an environmental assessment will be completed.

FWP’s initial proposal is to remove all of the bighorns with an open hunting season, which could take two years, predicted John Vore, wildlife management section chief. In expectation of that, the commission approved not issuing the usual one either-sex bighorn sheep tag for the area and to reconfigure the hunting district to exclude a bighorn herd that migrates back and forth to Idaho.

Commissioner Dan Vermillion, of Livingston, praised the department for “taking this bold step” after coming under fire for not moving fast enough to restore bighorn sheep to more of their historic range, as called for under the state’s bighorn sheep management plan.

Members of the public were more cautious.

Glenn Hockett, volunteer president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association, suggested the department pursue a conservation easement with the nearby landowner who raises sheep to preclude their grazing.

Retired wildlife biologist Jim Bailey, of the GWA, questioned FWP’s plan, saying that removing bighorns resistant to disease is a bad idea.

Hunter bids 100K for Idaho bighorn tag

HUNTING — Idaho’s bighorn sheep auction tag sold for $100,000 to an online bidder at the national Wild Sheep Foundation Sheep Show in Reno Saturday night — the fifth-highest winning bid since the program started in 1988.

This permit is valid for use in all open bighorn sheep hunt areas in 2015 throughout Idaho, including Hunt Area 11; Hells Canyon.

The Washington bighorn auction tag sold this year for $77,500 for a tag to hunt California bighorn sheep within the state.  "We're very pleased with that bid," said Rich Harris, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife special species coordinator.

Since 1988, the Idaho auction tag has generated more than $1.85 million for bighorn sheep research and management, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say.

Money raised through the auction goes towards research and management of bighorn sheep in Idaho with special emphasis on restoring populations along the Salmon River and in Hells Canyon. The funds are also used as match to leverage additional funds from the federal government.

The annual bighorn sheep lottery tag provides hunters with another coveted opportunity. The drawing is held on the last Wednesday in July. The Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation’s raffle tickets are on sale with no limit to the number of tickets purchased per individual.

An application will also be available in Fish and Game’s 2015 Moose, Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat Seasons and Rules coming out in February.

Last year, more than 3,000 hunters from all over the United States participated in the raffle. Since 1992, the sale of tickets for the lottery tag drawing has generated nearly $1 million. These funds are also used for the benefit and enhancement of bighorn sheep in Idaho.

  • For a closer look at Idaho’s bighorn sheep check out this video.

Hunter bids 100K for Idaho bighorn tag

HUNTING — Idaho’s bighorn sheep auction tag sold for $100,000 to an online bidder at the national Wild Sheep Foundation Sheep Show in Reno Saturday night — the fifth-highest winning bid since the program started in 1988.

This permit is valid for use in all open bighorn sheep hunt areas in 2015 throughout Idaho, including Hunt Area 11; Hells Canyon.

Since 1988, the auction tag has generated more than $1.85 million for bighorn sheep research and management, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say.

Money raised through the auction goes towards research and management of bighorn sheep in Idaho with special emphasis on restoring populations along the Salmon River and in Hells Canyon. The funds are also used as match to leverage additional funds from the federal government.

The annual bighorn sheep lottery tag provides hunters with another coveted opportunity. The drawing is held on the last Wednesday in July. The Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation’s raffle tickets are on sale with no limit to the number of tickets purchased per individual.

An application will also be available in Fish and Game’s 2015 Moose, Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat Seasons and Rules coming out in February.

Last year, more than 3,000 hunters from all over the United States participated in the raffle. Since 1992, the sale of tickets for the lottery tag drawing has generated nearly $1 million. These funds are also used for the benefit and enhancement of bighorn sheep in Idaho.

  • For a closer look at Idaho’s bighorn sheep check out this video.

Idaho trophy species rule proposals revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study: Wolf impact significant on Minnesota moose

BIG GAME — Wolves likely have played a bigger role in the serious decline of northeast Minnesota’s moose population than originally believed, and there’s no evidence yet that climate change has been a major factor, according to a new analysis by renowned Minnesota wolf researcher Dave Mech.

The story was reported last week by Doug Smith of the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.

Mech doesn’t dismiss climate change as a possible factor in the declining moose herd, but said evidence presented in earlier research done by the Department of Natural Resources "just doesn’t hold up."

Instead, an increasing wolf population in at least part of the northeast moose range might have contributed to the decline, Mech and John Fieberg, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, concluded in a recently published paper. The state’s northeast moose herd has fallen 50 percent since 2006, to an estimated 4,350 animals last winter.

In the earlier studies, DNR researchers considered the statewide wolf population stable between 2000 and 2010, which was correct, Mech said. But they didn’t consider that the wolf population in an area that Mech has been studying - which overlaps part of a moose study area - had increased to the highest levels in 40 years.

"My data tends to indicate the problem was there were more wolves," Mech said in an interview. "But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only answer. Is there some change affecting moose that allows wolves to take more of them, or is it merely that there’s more wolves?"

If wolves are a major factor in the moose decline, Mech said the DNR could allow hunters to kill more wolves in the moose range until the population recovers.

Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor, who in 2013 began conducting an adult moose mortality study using radio-collared animals, said the previous DNR studies looked at overall mortality, but researchers weren’t able to determine cause of death in most cases.

"We assumed wolves were accounting for a portion of that mortality, but we didn’t know how much," she said.

But now officials are finding how much impact wolves are having on moose mortality. The study radio collars alert researchers when an animal has died, and provide GPS coordinates so they can be quickly located and a cause of death determined.

So far in the study, the overall mortality rate is 26 percent, which is a concern. Normal stable moose populations have an 8 to 12 percent mortality rate. Wolves have accounted for 55 percent of the mortality (17 of 31 deaths); the rest died from health issues.

"The level of wolf predation on the adults is well in line with what we’d expect," Carstensen said. "It’s the overall mortality 61/87from all causes63/87 that has us concerned."

She noted that the northwest moose herd plummeted from about 4,000 in the ’80s to fewer than 100 today, and wolves had nothing to do with that. Those moose died from health-related issues, possibly driven by climate changes.

And, she said, adult moose in the northeast keep dying in summer, fall and early winter "when they shouldn’t be dying."

Carstensen said the results from current ongoing moose studies, which also include moose calves, habitat and diet, should eventually provide researchers with answers to the mystery. "There still might not be a smoking gun; it might be very complex," she said.

So far, in a different study involving collared moose calves, 67 percent of the mortality was due to wolves.

"Wolf predation is probably a little higher than we expected," DNR researcher Glenn DelGiudice said. "But we knew it would be a main source," he said, and it’s far too early to draw any conclusions.

He is planning on collaring more moose calves next spring, and said several years of data are needed.

Mech’s latest report says the northeast moose population was relatively unaffected by wolves from 1997 to about 2003 and that wolf numbers tended to parallel moose numbers. However, after the wolf population in his study area jumped 81 percent between 2000 and 2006 - from 44 animals to 81 - moose numbers began declining.

"We don’t know how far and wide that increase 61/87in the wolf population63/87 took place, but it did in our study area, and that area was adjacent to the moose study area," Mech said. He said it’s reasonable to surmise the wolf population in the rest of the moose study area also was rising, rather than remaining stable, as it was elsewhere.

Moose are a prime food source for wolves in the northeast, so as the moose population declines, one would expect the wolf population to eventually fall, too. "That seems to be happening in our study area," Mech said. The wolf population there increased until 2012, but he said it appears to have since declined.

The DNR estimated the state’s wolf population last winter at 2,423, stable from 2013.

So if the wolf population in moose country is declining, will moose rebound?

"That depends on what’s going on," Mech said. "If it’s strictly wolves, the moose population will recover. But if there are other factors involved - parasites, disease or warming temperatures, then it’s hard to say."

And if wolves turn out to be a major factor, then the DNR will have to decide whether to try to lower the population of one iconic animal to try to boost the population of another.

Trail cam captures shot of Selkirk mountain caribou

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

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

That is, if Sasquatch isn't.

Ponderosa moose family livin’ the life

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

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

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

Hells Canyon bighorns removed for disease study

WILDLIFE —  Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife workers used helicopter net gunners Wednesday to capture eight infected bighorn ewes along the Grande Ronde River.  

The wild sheep are to be transported to a South Dakota State University facility for research on  pneumonia outbreaks that have been deadly to the bighorn sheep in the Hell's Canyon area as well as in the Yakima River area and in Montana.

Here's more detail on the capture and research project from Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune:

Bighorn sheep near Heller Bar infected with a newly discovered strain of the deadly pneumonia bacteria that has plagued wild sheep herds for decades will be captured and taken to a South Dakota research facility this week.

The capture is designed to prevent the spread of the new strain, which is killing both adults and lambs, to other nearby herds.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Idaho Department of Fish and Game plan to use a helicopter to capture eight ewes that are an isolated subgroup to the Black Butte Herd. They will be trucked to South Dakota State University, where scientists are studying the disease. Any sheep that can’t be captured will be euthanized, according to a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The larger Black Butte Herd was initially infected with the bacteria, which causes pneumonia, in a 1995 outbreak that was traced to contact between bighorn sheep and a domestic goat. Die-offs of bighorn sheep throughout the West have followed contact between wild sheep and domestic goats and domestic sheep.

The 1995 outbreak led to mass die-offs of wild sheep throughout the Hells Canyon region.

In general, animals that survived the initial outbreak have been able to live normal lives and reproduce. But their lambs often suffer high rates of mortality year after year.

The new strain, discovered this summer, appears to be more deadly. Rich Harris, manager of sheep, goats and moose for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Olympia, said adult sheep that have previously been exposed to the mycoplasma ovipneumoniae bacteria are dying from the new strain. Wildlife managers want to remove animals exposed to the bacteria prior to the onset of the bighorn mating period, which begins later this month. Rams travel beyond their normal home ranges while looking for mates during that rut, leaving open the possibility that a ram could mate with the ewes and then carry the new strain to other herds. Harris said the new strain has not been detected in sheep outside of the ewes living near Heller Bar.

"We believe these ewes are not only a remnant population with little chance of recovery, but a threat to other bighorn herds throughout Hells Canyon," Harris said.

The new strain was identified by researchers at Washington State University. Harris said the bacteria has no adverse effects on humans and there is little risk to other animals.

Wildlife managers don’t know where the new strain came from or if there has been new contact between wild sheep and domestic sheep or goats.

Infected bighorn sheep to be removed from southeast Washington

WILDLIFE – State wildlife officials plan to capture and remove eight bighorn ewes in southeast Washington this week to curb the spread of a bacteria deadly to other wild sheep in the area.

A contractor for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Idaho Department of Fish and Game will attempt to capture the animals near the confluence of the Grande Ronde and Snake rivers in southeast Asotin County using nets launched from a helicopter, Washington officials just announced in a media release.

The sheep will be transported in slings under the helicopter to a staging area near Heller Bar on the Snake River, and then loaded into a trailer.

The sheep will be taken to a captive facility at South Dakota State University where bighorn research is already under way to learn more about how to manage the bacterium Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae that causes fatal pneumonia in susceptible bighorns.

Any animals evading live capture will be euthanized, officials said.

Rich Harris, wildlife manager for WDFW, said the bacteria has no adverse effects on humans and there are no appreciable risks of exposing other animals during the capture and transport operation because it has poor survival beyond the respiratory system of sheep and goats.

“We believe these ewes are not only a remnant population with little chance of recovery, but a threat to other bighorn herds throughout Hells Canyon,” Harris said.

The sheep are a subgroup of the Black Butte herd, said Harris. The Black Butte herd historically included as many as 215 animals — including Washington's largest rams.

But it has suffered from pneumonia-related poor lamb survival on and off since an all-age outbreak in 1995 reduced the herd significantly. The ongoing pneumonia in lambs has prevented population recovery.

Over the past 20 years, bighorn sheep in the Hells Canyon region along both sides of the Snake River have suffered from pneumonia.

Typically adult bighorns surviving initial outbreaks of bacterial pneumonia have normal survival and reproduction, but few lambs survive to adulthood.

Researchers this summer discovered that in addition to 100 percent mortality in lambs, many of the relatively isolated ewes in the portion of the Black Butte herd range showed signs of pneumonia. Analyses conducted by the Washington State University diagnostic laboratory revealed that these ewes and their deceased lambs had contracted a new strain of the bacteria that appears to kill bighorns regardless of their prior exposure.

Harris said the inter-agency decision was made to remove the sheep now to keep them from spreading the bacteria to other animals during the mating season, which begins later this month.

Past outbreaks among bighorn sheep in Washington and other parts of the western United States have been linked to contact between wild sheep and domestic sheep or goats.  These domestic animals carry Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae but are unaffected by the bacteria.

The outbreak of the Black Butte herd in 1995 is believed to have originated from contact with a domestic goat. It is unknown at this time if there has been additional contact between domestic goats or sheep and the Black Butte bighorns.

New Mexico pronghorn buck is world record

HUNTING — A pronghorn killed by New Mexico trophy hunter Mike Gallo’s has been certified  this month by the Boone and Crockett Club as the new world record.

Gallo shot the animal, often called an antelope, in Socorro County, New Mexico, in September 2013. It's official score is 96 4/8 Boone and Crockett points

The buck surpassed the existing record — which was a tie of 95 points held for more than a decade ago by two pronghorns taken in Arizona — by 1 1/2 inches. That's a huge margin. In fact, it's the widest margin between any of B&C’s 3,400 entries for trophy pronghorn.

The left horn of the new record antelope measures 18 4/8 inches, and the right horn measures 18 3/8 inches. The prongs measure 7 inches on the right and 6 5/8 inches on the left.

“Records reflect success in big game conservation,” said Richard Hale, chairman of the Club’s Records of North American Big Game Committee, in a press release. “Remember, the pronghorn was once nearly lost, much like the bison, until sportsmen led an era of wildlife recovery. Now the species is flourishing. And the fact that such incredible specimens exist today says a lot about how far we have come, and how bright the future might be.”

Gallo isn't a stranger to the record books. In addition to the world record, he has killed the top three pronghorns in New Mexico.

New Mexico is second in pronghorn entries in Boone and Crockett records, with 627. Wyoming is first, with 1,154.

Bull moose a picture of autumn

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

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

Hiker finds Blue Mountains elk herded up with young in tow

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Blue Mountains delivered a Yellowstone-like wildlife watching experience for hiker Ken Vanden Heuvel of Newman Lake last weekend.

He was solo hiking one of the ridge trails that lead into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness when he came across a herd of elk — at least 46 cows, yearlings and calves.

I cropped in on the left portion of Ken's main photo for a blow-up shot of the left portion of the herd where at least 12 calves were concentrated for protection.  

"When they came back up the ridge in front of me, the calves were whining," Ken said, noting that he held still to watch the spectacle. "As I waited for them to cross, a few of the calves were nursing."

A few weeks ago, the cows were all off on their own delivering their young of the year.  As soon as the calves were strong enough, they joined up with other cows and yearlings for strength in numbers — more eyes and ears to help detect danger from predators.

This looks like a good crop.

The bulls, by the way, are off on their own — until September

Washington game plan focus of meeting for hunters

WILDLIFE — A proposed plan for managing game animals in Washington will be presented in a public meeting starting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 19, at the Double Tree by Hilton Spokane City Center, 322 N. Spokane Falls Court.

The plan will help Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials guide management of species from deer to wolves.

Key issues considered in the draft plan include:

  • Promoting hunter recruitment and retention;
  • Managing predator/prey relationships;
  • Maintaining hunter access to timberlands;
  • Managing wolves after they are no longer classified as an endangered species; and
  • Possible new rules requiring the use of non-toxic shot.

Final recommendations for the six-year plan will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for a public hearing in August and adoption in September. 

Also in August, the agency will hold meetings on possible changes in Washington’s hunting rules for the 2015-17 seasons. 

Washington developing game management plan; meetings set

HUNTING — The public is getting a chance to help shape the Washington's game management plan at a series of public “open house” meetings scheduled by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) this month.

The public can also comment on key aspects of the six-year plan via an on-line survey, from today through July 18.

The meetings are scheduled to run in Eastern Washington from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. as follows:

  • June 17 – Wenatchee, Red Lion Inn Wenatchee , 1225 N. Wenatchee Ave.
  • June 18 – Kennewick, Red Lion Inn Kennewick, N. 1101 Columbia Center Blvd.
  • June 19 – Spokane, Double Tree by Hilton Spokane City Center, 322 N. Spokane Falls Court..

Once adopted, the plan will be used by WDFW to guide development of hunting seasons and other management policies in future years, said Dave Ware, WDFW game program manager.

“We want to hear people’s concerns, especially those that address significant conservation or management issues,” he said.

  • Key issues in the draft plan include:
  • Hunter recruitment and retention.
  • Hunter access to timberlands.
  • Possible new rules requiring the use of non-toxic shot. 
  • New proposals for managing predator/prey relationships.
  • Developing a plan to manage wolves after they are no longer classified as an endangered species.

Ware said comments received at the public meetings and from the online survey will be used to develop additional recommendations, which will be available for further review.

Final recommendations will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for a public hearing in August and adoption in September.

Lone fawns rarely deserted by Mother Deerest

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A wildlife population explosion takes place around this time every year and anyone can stumble onto a baby critter virtually anywhere outside. 

"Wild bird and mammal species typically produce young in the spring and early summer," says Phil Cooper of the Idaho Fish and Game Department. "This allows the young to have time to gain the strength and size needed to survive the challenges of winter, or the rigors and dangers of fall migration."

Wildlife managers make little attempt to hover and protect individual fawns and calves being born to deer, elk and moose this spring. Nature is geared to some surviving and some perishing to the benefit of other wildlife.

Wild animal newborns are particularly vulnerable to predators in the first few days of life until they are able to run or fly well enough to escape predation.

Predators such as wolves, mountain lions, bears, bobcats, eagles, raccoons, skunks, weasels and other species need to eat to survive. Nature provides for them.

But nature shouldn't have to provide for domestic dogs and cats.

Pet owners can reduce wildlife injury or death to wild newborns during this critical period by keeping pets confined.  Although pets may have plenty of food available, their predatory instincts can take over when allowed to run at large. 

People also can help young wildlife by leaving them alone.

Every spring,  fish and wildlife agencies around the region receive several calls a day about deer fawns that people see, with no doe visible in the surrounding area, Cooper said.  Callers are often convinced that the fawn has been injured, abandoned or orphaned.

"While fawns are occasionally injured or orphaned, they are never abandoned," he said.  "An adult doe has extremely strong parenting instincts and will not abandon a fawn."

Wild parents often leave their offspring for long periods while they hunt or gather food.  A doe can leave her fawn hidden in the grass for eight hours until she determines the time is right to return and nurse.

Hanging around a fawn or calf you might discover in the field likely will likely push a doe or cow farther away and deter it from returning.

"IDFG has had fawns brought in by people who say, 'I stayed there and watched it all day, and the doe never came back,'" Cooper said. "Without realizing it, the presence of a person likely kept the doe in hiding."

"If you find a seriously injured animal; or, in those extremely rare instances where you know with certainty that a wild animal has lost its parent, intervention may be appropriate.  Contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for instructions on the next step."

It is illegal to confiscate young wildlife and attempt to raise them on your own, he said, noting that cute babies can become a burden or a danger to people as they mature.

Video: Moose gives birth to twins in backyard

WILDLIFE WATCHING — "Only in Alaska," says Levi Perry in posting a YouTube video of a cow moose giving birth to twins —  in the backyard of his girlfriend's home on the east-side of Anchorage.

The video captured Sunday by Victoria Hickey and Sarah Lochner recaps the birth of one calf and the loving attention of the mother to clean up the youngster. Minutes later you realize that while she was tending to the first-born, she was nonchalantly giving birth to the second calf.

It only takes minutes for her to get them looking clean. The little ones waste no time testing their legs and moving in for dinner.

Tiz the season of renewal! Wildlife watching at its best.

Film: fascinating insight on obstacles to migration

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Last week, Wyoming researchers released their report on the longest mule deer migration in the world, which was happening virtually unrealized for who knows how long.

This amazing short video, using remote camera photography, illustrates the man-made obstacles these mule deer must endure to continue this historic 150-mile route each year from summer to winter range. 

We should think about this Wyoming Migration Project every time we put up a fence or build a road.

Migrations Part 1: Roadkill pegs critter movements

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Migrations are the topic of this week's wildlife story series Idaho Fish and Game is presenting online during the department's 75th anniversary observance.

In Part 1 of the three-part post of "reminders" on migrations, the department notes that mammal movements can be tracked, in part, by roadkill.

And while there are plenty of carcasses to remind us that wildlife is moving along North Idaho roads, the Panhandle's toll doesn't rank close to the carnage found along highways in other portions of the state.  Here's the first part of the IFG migrations post to raise awareness about issues facing wildlife:

Intro

Mammals do it. Birds and fish do it. Even insects do it.

They migrate as part of their inborn strategy for survival, and the arrival of winter triggers a massive migration of all kinds of wildlife.

They may travel a thousand miles or a few feet. The distance is not what defines migration; it’s that animals move between habitats during the year to survive. They may move for many reasons – to find food, breed or raise their young. Migration is a tool they use when a habitat no longer meets their needs.

Migration patterns and routes are ancient and have been influenced by the natural features of the land, water and air. The same natural features that foster wildlife movement are also attractive to human activities. Roads bisect open spaces. Wind turbines pop up on ridgelines. Dams block rivers. Communication towers light up the night sky. Houses are built in key habitat. And human structures frequently become problems for migrating wildlife.

Mammals

Wildlife and vehicle collisions are the most visible conflict between migrating wildlife and roads. More than 5,000 deer, elk and moose were killed by cars on Idaho’s roads in 2011.

Information is gathered through a Road Kill database. 

In known hotspots around Idaho up to 100 or more animals are killed crossing roads every year. Some of these include:

  • Interstate 15, between Pocatello and Inkom, cuts through a major deer migration corridor.
  • Highway 75 north of Salmon, where 55 bighorn sheep have been killed since 1986.
  • Highway 30, from east of Montpelier to Wyoming, where up to 6,000 deer and elk cross the road, has one of the worst wildlife road mortality rates in southeast Idaho.          
  • Highway 20 in the Island Park area is known for collisions with elk and moose.
  • Highway 95 from the Canadian border to just south of Coeur d’Alene where 900 animals, most of them white-tailed deer, were hit by cars in 2011.
  • Highway 21 northeast of Boise repeatedly crosses the primary migration route of up to 9,000 deer and elk in the Boise Mountains. Hundreds of deer and elk are hit every winter along this road.

Sometimes money, talent and motivation score a win for wildlife. Examples include the wildlife underpass on Highway 21 outside of Boise, another underpass recently built into Highway 95 just north of Coeur d’Alene, and wildlife fencing along Interstate 15 outside of Pocatello. 

Tomorrow, Part 2: Fish.

Montana youth elk hunt an embarrassment to the sport

HUNTING — A mess of elk were slaughtered or wounded in a youth elk hunt that was marred by greedy adults last week in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula

The story by the Ravali Republic is among the saddest reports on sport hunting I've read all year.  

Click "continue reading" and check it out if you want to ruin your day.

Wildlife officers note gray area in elk hunting clientele

HUNTING — There's sad news in this comment by Capt. Dan Rahn in the weekly Washington Fish and Wildlife police report for far-eastern Washington following the opening weekend of elk hunting season:

Every officer commented on the overall decline in hunter numbers combined with an apparent aging of the hunter population as a whole.

On the other hand, it's good news for the hunters who continue to pursue elk — less competition overall, and especially in the hard-hunting spots where many elk tend to hide during the season.

 

5 reasons for hunters to score their big-game trophy

HUNTING — Congratulations! You finally killed that trophy specimen that eluded you for many seasons and countless hunts. You made celebratory stops at your buddy’s house and then the local meat processor. The taxidermist is next. But, unlike your previous hunts, this time there’s another consideration—entering your trophy into the Boone and Crockett Club’s records book.

The Boone and Crockett Club records program is the only North American harvest data system that collects information on all species of free-ranging native North American big game taken in fair chase.

Getting listed in the world’s most distinguished hunting-records book involves official measuring, paperwork and a $40 processing fee, all detailed at www.boone-crockett.org, but the rewards are considerable.

Read on for the club's top five reasons to enter a trophy in "the book."

Elk hunter returns to work; faces high expectations

HUNTING — "Did you get your elk?" a colleague asked this morning as I returned to the office after eight days away in the Blue Mountains.

"Yes," I nodded enthusiastically.

"How many?" my co-worker continued.

I grimaced slightly.

"I'm not a hunter," he noted.

Antlers or horns, big ones rack up a hunter’s desire

WILDLIFE — Most hunters know the difference, but in casual conversation it's not uncommon to hear reference to something like a bull elk with "horns" that raked the sky. An elk has antlers, but the colloquial term "horns" rolls easier off the tongue.

Nevertheless, even sportsmen have misconceptions about what it takes to grow antlers and why not every deer and elk that reaches maturity will sport massive headgear, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists.

Here are some basics.

Antlers grow on male members of the deer family, including deer, elk and moose. They fall off each year during winter and grow back during spring and summer.

Horns are permanent growing features on the heads of mountain goats, bighorn sheep and bison.

Exceptions include:

  • Male and female caribou, which are in the deer family, both have antlers.
  • Antelope have horns but they shed the outer covering or sheath each year.

Genetics and nutrition play major roles in horn growth. Generally, genetics determine the form of antlers while nutrition dictates their size. Some deer or elk simply lack the bloodlines to grow trophy-class racks of multiple points and width no matter what they're fed.

A study of white-tailed deer compared the offspring of yearling bucks with relatively large branched antlers versus yearlings with only spikes. Because both sets of deer were captive in the controlled experiment they were fed identical diets. The yearlings with larger antlers sired only 5 percent spikes, while the spike yearlings produced 44 percent spike antlered yearlings.

However, one study of mule deer has shown that in wet years, which mean increased availability of food, there are fewer spike bucks and larger number of yearlings with forked antlers.

Bottom line:  The highest scoring trophy big-game usually are produced from a combination of good genetics and nutrition.

Cow elk hunt has its moments for readers

HUNTING — Numerous comments have come in regarding my Sunday Outdoors feature, "Milking the Cow Elk Tag," a story about what to do with the most coveted permit you never hear a hunter brag about.

Following are phrases in the story that are triggering most of the "right on" and "I remember when" comments in the reader response:

“Can’t eat antlers,” my dad often said. Living through the Great Depression instilled that attitude. It served our family well.

I’ve never seen a cow elk featured on the cover of Field & Stream or Outdoor Life, yet every ordinary-guy elk hunter I know applies for a cow tag.

Maybe this is why hunters don’t gloat when they draw a cow tag. How humiliating would it be if you didn’t fill it.

My luck changed on the last morning of the season, verifying once again that getting into elk is all about putting in the time.

Following an elk down a slope in the Blue Mountains is like flirting with your best friend’s spouse. There’s no easy way out of the situation, and you make things much worse if you score.

E=mc2: That is, Eating quality equals Miles wild meat must be packed out by muscle power multiplied by the number of Contour lines crossed, squared.

I left the mountains, not with a rack to hang on the wall, but with a trophy for the freezer.

Moose hunter makes once-in-a-lifetime tag count

HUNTING — Alex Harris of Coeur d'Alene has been putting in for Idaho's once-in-a-lifetime bull moose tag for 10 years and even at that he was lucky to draw a 2013 tag.  

Some hunters have applied for decades and are still coming up zip.

So the 37-year-old hunter made his opportunity count.

"I have hunted the St. Joe River drainage in Unit 6 for elk, deer, bear, grouse and turkey since the fall of 1996 and have seen many nice moose in the area where I was lucky enough to spot this monster," he said in an email with the photo above.

"It is also in the same area that my Aunt and Uncle (my hunting mentors) have taken two 40-plus-inch moose in the past." 

This season was different on all counts, since it was Harris who had the moose tag in his pocket.

He said he'd passed up a few smaller bulls during the early stages of his hunt last week, but couldn’t resist the chance to take this bull — the rack measures 52 inches wide — on Sept 19,  the evening of the fifth day of moose season. 

"I will be doing a European mount of the head and (wife willing) will be hanging it in our living room," he said.  "I had to go out and purchase a new freezer in anticipation of the meat returning from the butcher. Enjoyed fresh moose tenderloin last night and probably liver and onions by the end of the week."

Harris's moose-chasing companion found adventure simply by being WITH the holder of a coveted Idaho moose tag:

Hunting partner, heavy lifter, and expert knot tier Jacob Rothrock snapped the photo just before a smaller bull moose charged him trying to get to the newly single cow who had bedded down above us.

WDFW details hunting prospects

HUNTING — Get the skinny on hunting prospects for deer and elk as well as upland birds and other species in the 2013 hunting forecasts posted by The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department.

Area wildlife biologists have posted notes on their observatins of eveything from pheasant crow counds to big-game population trends by district. 

Hunters AND anglers must stop at Idaho check stations

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Idaho law requires hunters AND ANGLERS to stop and Fish and Game check stations.

The code says, "all sportsmen, with or without game, must stop at Fish & Game check stations."

All those who are hunting or fishing that day, or are returning from an overnight hunting or fishing outing, are required to stop.

"Each year, a few sportsmen do not stop at check stations because they were not successful on that specific trip," says Phil Cooper, IFG spokesman in Coeur d'Alene. "They see the signs, but think the instructions don't apply to them and continue on their way. 

"However, information about a trip where nothing was harvested is also recorded.  Citations can be issued to those who have spent the day in the field and do not stop."      

Read on for more details about the two types of check stations the state runs.          

Panhandle still holds big bulls, but young bull numbers down, biologist says

HUNTING — Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager, speaks frankly in a post he just made to update the status of elk and elk hunting on the Idaho Panhandle.

  • Antlerless elk hunting remains severely curtailed, but there are signs of improving population trends in the St. Joe region.
  • Numbers of younger bulls including spikes appears to be down, but the percentage of old bulls is high, so Hayden expects to see some wall hangers coming out of North Idaho this fall.

Read on for his complete post, plus his encouragement for hunters to participate in the development of Idaho's statewide elk management plan for the next 10 years.

IFG will hold an online chat for sportsmen to monitor or ask questions regarding elk management on Thursday, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.

Bowhunters getting the itch for elk

HUNTING — My buddy, Andy, sent me this photo of bull elk passing by his trail cam, which is mounted just 20 yards from his bowhunting blind.

Trust me: you can't really imagine how anxious Andy is for the first week of September, unless you're a bowhunter.

Idaho releases elk plan for comment; Washington’s to come

HUNTING – A proposed 10-year elk management plan has been released for public comment by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.

The plan is posted on the Fish and Game Department’s elk planning webpage

Public comments are due by Sept. 22.

Agency officials will hold a live online chat from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday (Aug. 29) to answer questions about the plan.

  • Washington is planning to release a long-term elk management plan for public review in November or December, Fish and Wildlife Department officials say.