Latest from The Spokesman-Review
HUNTING — An outbreak of avian influenza in a private game farm in Okanogan County is forcing federal and state agriculture officials to kill up to 5,000 ducks, geese, chickens, pheasants and turkeys.
About 40 birds at a game farm for private hunting and bird-dog training in Riverside, Washington, were sick and died over the weekend. The birds tested positive for bird flu on Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Washington announced it would kill birds from the flock and establish a six-mile quarantine around it to contain the disease.
The flock represents the largest number of birds the state has had to test and possibly kill during 2015 bird flu outbreaks.
"As recently as November, the flock owners had tests run on their birds which, at that time, showed no sign of avian influenza in the flock," Agriculture officials said in a statement.
Other outbreaks of the avian flu have been reported in Clallam, Benton and Franklin county, but involved much smaller numbers of poultry. Washington state has now lifted a quarantine in the Tri-Cities but one in Port Angeles remains. No new cases have been found in either location.
An outbreak in California led to 146,000 turkeys being killed at a commercial operation. Several countries including China have banned poultry and eggs from the United States.
HUNTING — Eastern Washington's upland bird hunting seasons for partridge and quail ended at 5:15 p.m. today.
That means my English setter is going to be a little less than fulfilled every day from now until the mountain grouse seasons open on Sept. 1.
Even the Seahawks' Richard Sherman could take a lesson from Scout on the disciplines of focus and determination in the field.
Scout would rather hunt than eat, as you can see from the photo. When I've had the privilege of owning a good hunting dog, my goal has always been to get it out on birds twice a week during the seasons. I fulfilled that commitment to his blood line pretty well this year with brief exceptions for elk season and a New Years break for skiing.
By the end of the hunting seasons, Scout is lean and hard like the basalt cliffs he contours in pursuit of chukar scent.
He'll get an unwanted chance to fatten up for a few months. We'll both have to chew on the taunting but promising memory of a flock of chukars cackling from a rock band above us as we descended from their haunts for the last time this season.
HUNTING — Soaking wet, heading into a brisk wind with two pounds of Palouse mud on each boot — today could have been a miserable hunting experience until this "double your pleasure" moment with Zuni and Scout.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Gunnison sage grouse will be listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.
The listing was a downgrade from an earlier agency recommendation — and an acknowledgement of work by Native American tribes and private land owners in Colorado and Utah to cut the threats to the bird in an effort to avoid an endangered listing, according to a Salt Lake Tribune story by Brett Prettyman.
“Efforts by Utah and Colorado, private landowners and tribes have reduced the threats to the bird,” said wildlife service director Dan Ashe. “These investments and protections that have been put in place will pay enormous dividends in the future.”
Wednesday’s announcement left conservationists and state wildlife managers disappointed, but for different reasons. Utah wildlife officials want no federal protection and the wildlife conservation groups want the endangered listing.
The listing comes with an option for a special rule that allows federal officials to relax some ESA restrictions to allow ranchers, farmers and landowners in Colorado and Utah committed to grouse conservation to continue their practies without new restrictions.
Gunnison sage grouse were recognized as a separate species from Greater sage grouse in 2000 and were soon after designated as a candidate for listing under the ESA.
A small percentage of the estimated 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse population inhabits two areas in San Juan County near Monticello. The majority of the birds live in southwestern Colorado.
Conservation advocates say “threatened” status does not provide enough protection for the birds.
“Imperiled by irresponsible grazing, oil and gas drilling, residential development, roads, powerlines and the cumulative impacts of these threats, the fewer than 5,000 remaining Gunnison sage grouse need the strongest possible protections to ensure they survive and recover,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “The science is clear: This spectacular dancing bird is endangered and should be afforded the highest level of protection.”
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director Greg Sheehan, however, says more can be done to protect the birds without a federal listing.
“Placing the bird under the oversight of the federal government will greatly reduce our ability to help the bird,” Sheehan said. “Putting the bird under the management authority of the federal government will create roadblocks that will make it difficult to complete work to help the species.”
While Utah and Colorado have provided impressive efforts to restore the species, Ashe said the Fish and Wildlife Service is bound to make listing decisions based on the best available science.
“The law asked us to consider the current and foreseeable future,” Ashe said. “We believe the best science points that while not facing an emminent risk of extinction, which would warrant an endangered listing, that a threatened listing under the Endangered Species Act is the appropriate conclusion.”
Colorado governor John Hickenlooper indicated earlier this week his state would sue if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grouse as endangered or threatened.
The birds, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, were historically found in the Four Corners area of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.
Gunnison sage grouse are about 1/3 smaller than Greater sage grouse and males show distinct, white barring on their tail feathers.
HUNTING — As Washington has been scaling down its pheasant release program the past few years, other states are looking at giving pen-raised birds the boot.
Wyoming mulls future of pheasant farms
Since 1937, Wyoming has been raising pheasants on two farms to be released in the fall for hunters, but the cost of operating the farms is now $664,000, roughly $22 for each of the 30,000 birds released in the fall, while licenses and stamps fund just 9 percent of the program's overall cost, and the state Game and Fish Department is taking a hard look at whether the program should continue.
HUNTING — Washington's youth-only upland bird season was a success for Robert Estuar and his son, and the family Lab.
"Took 14 year old Diego and dog Bella out Sunday to Fishtrap Lake for the youth pheasant hunt," the happy father reported. "Didn't take long to find the birds. So grateful to live in a region with so many recreational opportunities for our youth!"
The Estuars hunted at one of 27 pheasant release sites in Eastern Washington
- Hint: The youngsters didn't kill all the pheasants released prior to the youth season. The release sites present a bird dog training opportunity before the general season opens.
Also, some of the remaining pen-raised birds likely survived the coyotes and hawks long enough to seed the field for the Geezer Pheasant Season — Sept. 22-26 — for licensed hunters age 65 and older.
Pheasants will be stocked at the site about three more times during the fall, including the week of Thanksgiving.
- Non-toxic shot must be used for hunting on pheasant release sites.
THREATENED SPECIES — Montana is trying to head off restrictive endangered species protections for a once abundant prairie species.
Montana governor announces sage grouse protection plan
On Tuesday, Gov. Steve Bullock announced the plan to protect sage grouse that includes a "no-occupancy" zone for six-tenths of a mile around active breeding areas in Montana, smaller than the one-mile zone recommended by an advisory council but larger than that recommended by the oil and gas industry.
THREATENED SPECIES — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has ordered restrictions on future oil drilling and other activities blamed for driving down sage grouse populations.
With today’s executive order, Montana joins other Western states rushing to head off federal intervention with the birds, according to a story by the Associated Press.
See the full story below.
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday ordered restrictions on oil drilling and other activities blamed for driving down sage grouse populations as Montana falls into step with states across the West rushing to head off federal intervention for the ground-dwelling bird.
The order establishes no-occupancy zones to protect the birds that extend six-tenths of a mile in all directions around active sage grouse breeding grounds. Roads could not be built in those areas, and oil exploration would be allowed only on a seasonal basis when the breeding grounds are not active.
The restrictions — similar to rules in place in Wyoming — are aimed at preventing disturbances that could disrupt breeding success for the chicken-sized birds.
But the no-occupancy zones are far smaller than the 1-mile radius recommended in January by an advisory council established by the governor. Representatives of the oil and gas industry had pushed for the smaller area.
Sage grouse range across 11 western states and two Canadian provinces. The birds have lost more than half their historic habitat to agriculture, energy exploration and other development. They also suffer periodic fatal outbreaks of West Nile virus.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a September 2015 deadline to make an initial determination on whether sage grouse should be added to the list of threatened and endangered species. Before that date arrives, Montana and other states hope to demonstrate that sweeping federal protections aren’t needed because of measures already in place at the local level.
That’s what happened with another Montana species proposed for federal protections — Arctic grayling. The cold-water fish recently were denied protections by federal officials who cited work being done in Montana to restore their population.
Sage grouse are known for an elaborate mating ritual in which males strut around breeding grounds known as leks and puff out their breasts — a colorful display meant to attract females and drive away other males.
Last year’s count of male sage grouse on leks in Montana was the lowest recorded since 1980.
The changes between the council’s recommendation and Bullocks’s order were downplayed by Janet Ellis with Montana Audubon, a member of the governor’s advisory council. Ellis called the order “a place to start” and said she was told by state officials future adjustments could be made as needed.
“(Sage grouse) are the iconic, Big Sky Country species because they depend on landscapes that are sage brush as far as the eye can see,” Ellis said. “The ultimate goal is to maintain our sage grouse populations in the state of Montana. This program allows us to do that.”
Montana Petroleum Association executive director Dave Galt said his group prodded the state to adopt a smaller no-occupancy zone after the council’s recommendations were announced in January. He said oil and gas companies still would have to curtail some their work in order to comply.
“It’s going to impact everyone. But we believe, based on the experience in Wyoming, that we can still operate under these conditions,” Galt said.
In response to the bird’s low population, Montana wildlife commissioners in July closed all or parts of 32 counties to sage-grouse hunting. They also shortened the hunting season from two months to one.
HUNTING — Forest grouse and dove hunting seasons open Monday, giving hunters the first glimpse of how well birds pulled off their hatches in the wet weeks of June.
Is your dog fit and trained? Probably not.
The bigger question is, "How did the pheasants do?"
I don't know the answer and there's precious little official information, since state fish and wildlife biologists do very little survey work on game birds anymore.
Prairie game birds such as Hungarian partridge and pheasants are ground nesters. They llay lots of eggs, 10-15 per nest in nature's hedge against the high odds of a chick hatching and surviving.
Both species incubate their eggs about 23-24 days. They'll renest if the nest is destroyed, though usually not after the eggs hatch. Chicks that die from a wet, cold snap in June or a bad July hailstorm will not be replaced that year.
That's why hunters appreciate the birds that make it this far. They're the survivors.
HUNTING — This youth pheasant hunting clinic near Genesee, Idaho, isn't until Oct. 4, but sign up early. Space is limited.
Requirements: Kids must be ages 10-16 with Idaho hunting license and an adult companion age 18 or older.
Register with Idaho Fish and Game's Lewiston office, (208) 799-5010.
HUNTING — Reacting to concerns about sage grouse being headed toward endangered species status, Idaho has approved a restrictive 2014 hunting season for the once prolific prairie birds.
The season will run from Sept. 20-26, with a daily bag limit of one bird, and a possession limit of two birds. That's similar to seasons sent in recent years. But the area where the grouse had be hunted in southern Idaho has been reduced.
- Montana also has scaled back sage grouse hunting areas this year.
Sage-grouse are proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act; primarily due to habitat loss from wildfire, human infrastructure and invasive plants like cheat grass. Sage-grouse experts have determined that carefully regulated hunting is not a primary threat to populations. Idaho Fish and Game officials say they monitor sage-grouse annually to ensure hunting will not compromise the population.
The 2014 season will take place in most of the same areas as last year’s hunt with the exception of a new closure in the Greater Curlew Valley, which covers most of Power and Oneida Counties, and a portion of Cassia County. Males at sage-grouse leks in this area have declined 53 percent since 2011.
The Sage-grouse Seasons and Rules brochures, including a map of areas open to sage-grouse hunting, will be available soon at all license vendors, Fish and Game offices, and on Fish and Game’s website.
HUNTING — Idaho is considering more restrictions on hunting sage grouse, including closures on south-state areas where the number of males at breeding grounds has declined more than 50 percent in three years.
- Montana already has decided to close sage grouse hunting in some districts this year.
Sage-grouse are proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act; primarily due to habitat loss from such things as wildfire and invasive plants like cheat grass, department officials say. "Sage-grouse experts have determined that carefully regulated hunting is not a primary threat to populations, and Fish and Game closely monitors sage-grouse annually to ensure hunting will not compromise the population," the agency said in media release.
Idaho Fish and Game is seeking public input on sage-grouse hunting proposals through Aug. 5. Upland bird managers will present sage-grouse hunting season recommendations to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at their Aug. 11 meeting.
Recommendations are based on the current 3-year running average of male sage-grouse counted at leks (breeding sites) to counts from 1996–2000 when Idaho began intensified surveys statewide. Current sage-grouse lek data indicate that many populations could be hunted at the “restrictive” level.
Idaho is considering two options for the 2014 season:
- Option A: no change from the 2013 season.
- Restrictive: Seven-day, one-bird daily limit statewide within sage-grouse range, except in designated closed areas, Sept. 20-26.
- Closed: East Idaho Uplands area in southeastern Idaho; Washington and Adams counties; Eastern Owyhee County and western Twin Falls County; and Elmore County.
- Option B: same as Option A, but would add a new closure in parts of Bannock, Cassia, Oneida, and Power counties. Males at leks in this area have declined by 53% since 2011.
HUNTING — Having grown up in eastern Montana, where huge coveys of sage grouse were common sights, this is a jaw-dropper:
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a plan Thursday to close all or parts of 32 counties to sage-grouse hunting and to shorten the hunting season from two months to one.
Commissioners voted unanimously for the plan in response to low numbers from this spring’s count of the game birds on their breeding grounds. The count was the lowest since 1980, and the federal government is considering listing the bird as a threatened or endangered species next year across the West.
- Hunters killed more than 2,800 sage grouse in Montana in 2012, compared with about 45,000 in 1983.
Loss of habitat is the primary reason the prairie grouse species has declined, but state wildlife officials say hunting can accelerate the decline once the population dips to a certain level.
The state’s management plan calls for closures if the number of male sage grouse drops below 45 percent of the long-term average count for three years. Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency officials say two of the state’s management zones are below that threshold this year, and the third is hovering right at it.
The closures include eastern Montana, the area in the northern part of the state above U.S. Highway 2 and isolated populations such as the Shields Valley.
That will leave a swath of 13 counties across the central part of the state and six southwestern Montana counties open to hunting sage grouse this fall. Eleven western and northwestern counties are considered out of the sage grouse’s range and were already closed to hunting.
The commission also approved guidelines to reopening the closed hunting grounds. The public process for reopening an area can begin once the count exceeds the 45 percent long-term average for three years, or is higher than that average count in any given year.
According to the Associated Press:
Agency officials earlier this year proposed canceling the 2014 hunt, but they came up with this new plan after receiving more than 200 comments, mostly negative. Hunting groups reluctantly agreed with the changed proposal.
“Hunting isn’t the reason sage grouse is in decline in Montana or the rest of the West. It’s habitat loss,” said Ben Deeble of the Big Sky Upland Game Bird Association. What’s more, he added, banning hunting hasn’t proven to be an effective way to restore population numbers.
Sage grouse live in sagebrush and grasslands. They are known for gathering in spring in breeding grounds called leks, where the males puff themselves out and dance for females searching for mates.
HUNTING – A rattlesnake aversion clinic for dogs, using live adult and juvenile snakes, put on by Natural Solutions of California is set for June 27 in Lewiston. Cost: $70.
Pre-register to schedule individual time slot: (208) 413-3032 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
HUNTING — Monday was a bittersweet day to be out with a bird dog. The last of Eastern Washington's upland bird hunting seasons — for chukar and quail — ended Monday afternoon.
My English setter, Scout, is lean, rock hard, tough footed and season hardened for finding birds in some of the most rugged and gravity-challening bird hunting terrain on the planet.
Now, the season of rest poses the challenge for hunter and dog to maintain the toughness for next fall.
HUNTING — The Eastern Washington pheasant hunting season closes Sunday. With the weekend forecast calling for winds gusting to 48 mph, I'm guessing the birds will be running like lighting and flying the speed of sound.
HUNTING — Luckily, I could pass the time this morning listening to the last of the NPR Sunday morning news program as I waited for the fog to lift, but my dog was more than anxious to get out.
When I finally had couple hundred yards of visibility over the Palouse, I put my English setter, Scout, on the ground and we swept through the frosty landscape trying to get the most out of the late phase of the pheasant hunting season.
Tip: Go for gentle terrain. Since last weekend, the slopes have been coated with thin snow or ice, making steep hills treacherous for walking, especially side-hilling. I aborted a chukar hunt last Sunday for fear of killing myself, and things haven't improved too much.
HUNTING — This is a note to the person who discovered a little public land quail honey-spot I've hunted for 30 years.
You apparently had a good day recently. I don't really care how many birds you killed or missed, but I found at least six of the red 12-gauge 7 1/2-shot shell casings you left littering the sage brush on just a few acres of land. I have no idea how many I didn't see.
I don't know who you are, but I have this vision of you being a pig.
Responsible hunters should clean up all of their litter, especially plastic shot shell hulls that will remain an eyesore in the field to give all hunters a black eye for decades.
HUNTING — Hunting dusky grouse with a pointing dog is one part bliss and several parts misery and despair.
Duskies — the name given a decade ago to the former "blue grouse" east of the Cascades — are notoriously fickle about holding to a point.
They might hold, as did the one pictured above, or they may not.
They might fly up in a tree and look at you or they may flush at the hint that you're coming their way and rocket downhill a quarter mile into the timber.
They like high ridges and openings at the edges of timber. Often the terrain is rocky.
It can be tough going — and tough shooting.
I liken dusky hunting to a chukar hunt with timber mixed in to increase the shooting difficulty factor.
I was one for three on Saturday with two other birds flushing a full 40 yards away from Scout's solid point.
HUNTING DOGS — Even if the pheasant hunting season weren't days away, Jack Dolan and his wife would be sick that their six-month old German shorthair pointer has gone missing.
The dog ran off after it was lightly struck by a vehicle late Sunday afternoon just west of Medical Lake and the Veteran's Cemetery near the Dolan's driveway at Hallet and Espanola roads.
The dog's name is Chip. His collar was broken off by the impact. He panicked and ran across a field and out of sight. Although there's no collar on him now, he has been micro-chipped and can be identified by a veterinarian.
The family points out that Chip could have covered a lot of ground, so they're posting signs in Reardan, Airway Heights and around the region.
If anyone sees, finds or hears anything that could lead to this dog, please call Dolan at (509) 389-8481.
Dolan, 72, was featured this summer in an S-R story about the extraordinary hunter education course he's been teaching as a volunteer leader for 26 years. This dog, shown in the photo above, is his prized possession.
HUNTING — I marvel at my English setter, and all the various faithful breeds preferred by my friends. Here's one angle on why.
If you can…
- Start the day without caffeine.
- Always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains.
- Resist complaining and boring people with your troubles.
- Eat the same food every day and be grateful for it.
- Understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time
- Overlook it when those you love take it out on you when through no fault of yours, something goes wrong.
- Take criticism and blame without resentment.
- Ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him/her.
- Resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend
- Face the world without lies and deceit.
- Conquer tension without medical help.
- Relax without liquor.
- Sleep without the aid of drugs.
- Honestly say deep in your heart that you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion or politics.
….Then, you are ALMOST as good as your dog.
HUNTING — I had some interesting conversations over meals with a professor from Iran a few years ago centered on our common love for hunting chukars. We don't hear much about that part of Middle Eastern culture, but he was a solid enthusiast for walking the steep river canyons and swinging a shotgun for sport.
I made my gaffe when I expressed dismay that he hunted alone without a bird dog. He winced a bit but was polite.
Still clueless, I invited him to hunt with me and experience the excitement of hunting behind a pointing dog.
He respectfully declined and that was that.
Later I learned that buying and selling dogs is illegal in Iran. Iran’s parliament also passed a bill to criminalize dog ownership, declaring the phenomenon a sign of “vulgar Western values.”
Pursuing birds without a dog would leave a huge hole in my experience, so I'll be hunting my chukars here in the United States of America, which has the highest dog population in the world.
France has the second highest and some South American countries may rival our country for dog populations, except nobody seems to own all the strays that roam the streets.
HUNTING — A clinic for owners of pointing dogs of all ages and abilities is set by the Spokane Bird Dog Association for 8 a.m.-noon on June 8 at the club's Espanola training grounds west of Medical Lake.
Pro trainer Dan Hoke of Dunfur Kennels will present a clinic, after which participants can work their own dogs on pigeons and chukars provided by the club.
Cost: $20. Bring a lunch.
Preregister with Bill Colyar to assure enough birds are ordered, (509) 953-8682.
HUNTING – Although the signs went up on enrolled fields last fall, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s new Quality Hunt Reservation System didn't come online until today — just in time for the spring gobbler season that runs Monday through May 31.
Selected private lands enrolled in access agreements are available to hunters who can book reservations up to three weeks in advance.
- See instructions and sign up at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/hunting_access/private_lands.
By this fall, the agency expects hold drawings for reserving the most popular areas as hunters catch on.
Officials also say they want to hear your comments by email at email@example.com.
HUNTING — Yep, a good bird dog pup can be a handful for a few months, but he'll be worth his adult weight in gold for a hunter, as a companion and a working dog.
I saw this handsome three-week-old German shorthair pointer at Dunfur Kennel off I-90 near the Four Lakes Exit.
HUNTING – “I hunt therefore I am (what)?”
Everyone might have a different word to fill in the blank in that phrase: condemnable, capable, cold-hearted, complete….
Fill in he blank as you see fit, but not before you give me a shot at explaining why an animal lover and wildlife conservationist would chose to be a hunter.
I’ll be giving a program on the topic Wednesday (Feb. 13) for the Spokane Audubon Society’s open meeting, 7:30 p.m., at Riverview Retirement Community, Village Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave.
- Click here for directions to the meeting location.
Sportsmen are among the most ardent year-round wildlife watchers and they contribute generously to wildlife conservation.
Moreover, animals are delicious.
But those are just a few of many reasons I hunt.
CONSERVATTION — Quail Unlimited president Bill Bowles has announced on QU website that the nation's oldest quail advocacy group has folded .
Mismanagement in the national conservation group's operations has been charged for several years.
Bowles advised members to turn their allegiance to Quail Forever and related organization, Pheasants Forever, to continue the fundamental work of advocacy for upland bird habitat preservation and restoration.
That's a good recommendation. Quail Forever/Pheasants Forever have a 4-star Charity Navigator rating.
HUNTING — I wrapped up the chukar hunting season today scrambling around the slippery slopes of the Snake River canyon with my buddy Jim Kujala and my trusty English setter, Scout.
The dog was pretty iced up from finding birds in the morning frost with temperatures in the teens, but by noon we found some sun breaking through the fog for a lunch break.
We packed away some chukars for the dinner table and great memories of another season.
Tip of the hat to six-year old bird dogs. They don't get any better than that.
HUNTING — It was cold and dreary Saturday and my friends all had excuses for not going chukar hunting.
But my English setter was more than ready. With temps in the teens, the footing was good and a dusting of snow helped in the search for birds.
It's good to have a friend willing to go any time, any day … especially a friend who runs his butt off finding birds and lets you do all the shooting!
HUNTING — If you were running away from your troubles, the Palouse was a good place to be pheasant hunting on Tuesday. Visibilty was minimal. A good place to hide.
Hunting partner Torsten Kjellstrand caught a photo of me (photo above) through the fog cruising the edge of a wheat field trying to catch up to our dogs.
Unlike planes at the Spokane airport, pheasants have no trouble taking off in the fog, but we're using the visibilty issues and lack of instruments for our limited success in getting many roosters to "land" for our dogs to retrieve.