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BYOW for drinking to BLM sites at Lake CdA

PUBLIC LANDS — Drinking water systems are not operating at some popular Bureau of Land Management recreation areas on Lake Coeur d'Alene this summer, another victim of limited funding for federal agencies.

If you are planning to take in the views along the Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail or enjoying a picnic at BLM’s Beauty Bay site, you’ll need to bring drinking water with you this summer.  The water systems at both locations are not functioning, and because of budget impacts from sequestration, funding to fix them is not available.

To further complicate getting the water systems operational, the BLM’s Coeur d’Alene Field Office is unable to conduct the necessary bi-weekly water sampling in order to meet the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) drinking water standards due to a lack of personnel, said BLM spokeswoman Suzanne Endsley.

The failure of Congress to act on the sequestration legislation resulted in a 50 percent reduction in staffing for BLM's recreation department in the Coeur d'Alene district.

Click here to see the recreational opportunites the district provides.

Plan ahead for free forest access on June 8

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal land managers offer free entry to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year.

  • The next freebie is June 8, Great Outdoors Day, with free access to national forest lands such as the Umatilla and Okanogan-Wenatche forest areas where the Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent is otherwise required. 

The 13 Fee-Free Days in 2013 include three holidays that involve ALL federal lands such as national parks, forests, BLM lands and wildlife refuges — Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 28), and Veterans Day Weekend (Nov. 9-11).

A list of other dates and participating agencies is listed below. The fee waiver does not cover expanded amenity or user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Aug. 15, National Park Service Birthday — National Park Service

Sept. 28, National Public Lands Day — National Park Service, Fish & wildlfie Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service.

Oct. 13, National Wildlfie Refuge Day — Fish and Wildlife Service

Nov. 9-11, Veterans Day Weekend — National Park Service, Fish & wildlfie Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service.

Additionally, active duty military members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass that provides entrance to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program also offers a free lifetime pass for people with disabilities, a $10 lifetime senior pass for those age 62 and over, and an $80 annual pass for the general public.

Interior Secretary Jewell keynotes Ducks Unlimited convention

 

PUBLIC LANDS — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will speak at the annual  Ducks Unlimited convention this week during a visit to Portland in her first West Coast trip since she was sworn in last month.

Today Jewell and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales are set to announce nearly two dozen conservation projects to help boost youth employment, the Department of the Interior says.

On Friday, she, Gov. John Kitzhaber and a representative from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will sign an agreement to speed the review and permitting of energy generation and power transmission projects in the Northwest.

Not just anyone can comment on Castle Rocks climbing closure; here’s what’s up…

By the way, after I posted the AP story a few posts down about the BLM’s decision to close off climbing access at the popular Castle Rocks in eastern Idaho, a reader asked for a link to where people could offer public comments. That turned out to be a good question, and opened up kind of a can of worms. I couldn’t find anything on the BLM’s website, so I contacted them. It turns out they’re not in a public comment period on the Castle Rocks climbing access issue, they’re in a 30-day “protest period.” That means the decision’s already been made, but they won’t carry it out until after they review and consider any protests filed during that period, which started April 17 and runs for 30 days.

However, and this is a big however, the only people who can protest during this protest period are those who submitted public comments during the public comment period, which ran from August to December of 2011. Mike Courtney, Burley field manager for the BLM, said anyone who participated in that public comment period got a green card by certified mail instructing them of their opportunity to protest the decision. The date in their card is the date on which their 30-day clock starts ticking. Plus, the only protests that can be raised are issues that were submitted for consideration in the planning process that ended in December of 2011.

The public is clearly concerned about this issue, and also equally confused about the process. “We’re getting hundreds of emails,” Courtney said. “We’ll go through ‘em.” But according to the formal process the BLM must follow, those emails can’t be considered. “Using this process, they’re not going to get weighed in the decision,” he said. Many of those sending the emails, however, commented in the earlier process, he said, and are eligible to participate in the protest period.

Here's how to find out about the protest process: Go to this link, and then click on “Castle Rocks Proposed Decision Record and FONSI.” (FONSI, it turns out, has nothing to do with Henry Winkler, and instead is a federal-ese acronym that stands for “Finding Of No Significant Impact.”) That will take you to a 12-page PDF document; the instructions for filing protests are on Page 6. Courtney said, “You’ve got to read that document. It’s very specific.” For example, protests may not be filed by email; only by hard copy, and they go to D.C.

Courtney said, “People who have not been engaged but want to engage now should work through the Access Fund.” That’s a non-profit rock climbing advocacy group based in Boulder, Colo., that’s been engaged throughout the project; see its website here. Policy analyst R.D. Pascoe is the contact person there on this issue. “I submitted the protest today,” he told Eye on Boise. The group's “Action Center” page on the issue can be seen here.

Pascoe said, “We’ve worked closely with the state park and the BLM and the Forest Service since 2003 at least to try to work out a climbing management plan.” That plan was adopted to govern climbing at the Castle Rocks State Park portion of the area in 2003, he said, and “it has been used successfully there this whole time.” Pascoe said if the protests aren’t successful, his group will consider a lawsuit.

 

BLM may close popular climbing area to protect artifacts

PUBLIC LANDS — The federal Bureau of Land Management may permanently close a popular climbing site in southeastern Idaho, over opposition from local rock climbers who argue the plan is too restrictive and was pushed through without stakeholder input.

The Associated Press resports the 400-acre area known as Castle Rocks has been closed off and on to climbers since 2003, and may close permanently sometime this summer. Agency officials say they hope make a decision this month, depending how much feedback they receive from the public.

Mike Courtney, BLM field manager in Burley, said both the Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute tribes consider the land sacred and are worried cultural resources could be destroyed if climbing continues. BLM surveys have determined the region contains important archaeological resources and artifacts, including spearheads dating back thousands of years.

Read on for more details.

Interior Secretary Jewell leads reporter to fresh air for interview

PUBLIC LANDS — Sally Jewell puts her best foot forward….

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hits the trail in her new role

New York Times Reporter John M. Broder recently joined recently confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on a hike in order to talk about her new role of managing public lands.

Interior serves as steward for approximately 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands; oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters; is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states; and upholds trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

Jewell is no stranger to the mountains, as you can see in the 2010 photo (above) taken as she was climbing Mount Rainier.

Plan ahead for free week of entry at national parks

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal land managers offer free entry to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year. 

But none of the perks are as sweet as the week of entry-fee-free days coming up at national parks:

  • Celebrate National Park week with no entry fees April 22-26.

The 13 Fee-Free Days in 2013 include three holidays that involve ALL federal lands such as national parks, forests, BLM lands and wildlife refuges — Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 28), and Veterans Day Weekend (Nov. 9-11). 

A list of other dates and participating agencies is listed below. The fee waiver does not cover expanded amenity or user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

June 8, Great Outdoors Day — U.S. Forest Service

Aug. 15, National Park Service Birthday — National Park Service

Sept. 28, National Public Lands Day — National Park Service, Fish & wildlfie Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service.

Oct. 13, National Wildlfie Refuge Day — Fish and Wildlife Service

Nov. 9-11, Veterans Day Weekend — National Park Service, Fish & wildlfie Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service.

Additionally, active duty military members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass that provides entrance to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program also offers a free lifetime pass for people with disabilities, a $10 lifetime senior pass for those age 62 and over, and an $80 annual pass for the general public.

Only 13 state senators support federal lands in Idaho

PUBLIC LANDS — Would you trust the state of Idaho to manage the national forests, rangelands and parks in the best interest of a full range of the public, recreation and wildlife?

Quotable:

“Senators, the only reason you want title to a land is to sell it. And I don't think Idaho should be for sale.”

Idaho Sen. Michelle Stennett, one of 13 who voted against House Concurrent Resolution 22, which demands Congress transfer federal lands in Idaho to the state.
- Idaho Mountain Express

Idaho lawmakers continue quest to take over federal lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Idaho state lawmkers supporting House Concurrent Resolution 22 say they don’t intend to sell off the federal land, but to manage it more efficiently.

Many people in the realm of recreation are not fond of the idea of the state — not widely acclaimed as a perfect public land steward — taking over land currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.

  • A hearing is scheduled at the Capitol in Boise for Tuesday morning before the House State Affairs Committee.

The resolution’s premise is that the federal government broke its promise to the states to dispose of all its lands and give the states 5 percent of the revenue.

Most legal scholars agree that the federal government had the right to change its mind, but there is a minority view that the states’ claim may be held as constitutional. That view passed the Utah Legislature last year, catching the interest of lawmakers in Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Read on for the details in an Associated Press story originating from the Idaho Statesman.

Hog Canyon waterfall beckons early season hikers

HIKING — Fishing success is tapering off at Hog Canyon Lake west of Spokane near Fishtrap Lake, but the hiking season is underway.

The waterfall that flows into the lake's upper end was flowing nicely on Saturday. A dozen or so anglers were trying to catch rainbow trout in the winter fishing lake that closes for the season at the end of March while several groups of hikers were walking — and backpack camping — along the shoreline on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

  • See a post from a previous year.

Fishing at Fishtrap Lake, which should be excellent this year, opens the fourth Saturday in April.

BLM seeks hosts for North Idaho campgrounds

PUBLIC LANDS — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is looking for camp hosts for two campgrounds in its Coeur d’Alene District, in the Idaho Panhandle.

Mica Bay Boaters Park, about 10 minutes south of Coeur d’Alene, is a boat-in recreation site that offers 15 campsites, a picnic pavilion, fishing docks and a swim area. RVcamping is available for the camp host, but no one else. Here, the camp host performs minor maintenance such as lawn mowing and weed trimming with tools provided by the BLM. The host also monitors visitor use and provides information to users about the site and surrounding area. The work schedule for this opportunity is Thursday through Sunday, as well as one additional floating day during the week.

  • Info: John Mottern, Mica Bay Boater Park ranger, (208) 769-5002.

Hammer Creek Recreation Site offers 12 campsites along the Lower Salmon River south of Grangeville. A popular camping, picnicking and swimming destination, it’s also a common put-in site for rafters floating the river. Here, the camp host makes visitor contacts, provides area information and assists with minor maintenance such as painting, cleaning and weed trimming. The BLM is seeking a host that would live on-site from mid-June through Thanksgiving.

  • Info: Joe O’Neill, Hammer Creek Recreation Site outdoor recreation planner, (208) 962-3683.

 Click here for general information on both sites.

Obama nominates REI’s CEO for Secretary of Interior

PUBLIC LANDS — Sally Jewell, Recreational Equipment Inc. Chief Executive Sally Jewell is being nominated by President Obama to lead the Interior Department in his second term.

Jewell, 56, has served as the Washington-state-based outdoor retailer's CEO since 2005. She started her career as a petroleum engineer working in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Colorado for Mobil Oil Corp. She then moved to the banking industry, before joining the REI board in 1996 and becoming chief operations officer four years later.

She has been credited with expanding the Washington state-based retailer's Internet operations and contributing company resources to environmental stewardship.

Jewell was on the Avista Corp. board of directors from May 1997 through May 2003.

If confirmed by the Senate, she will replace current Secretary Ken Salazar, who plans to step down to return to Colorado.

REACTION

-Tim Wigley, president, Western Energy Alliance, which represents the oil and natural gas industry in the West.

Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation's energy portfolio.

-Chris Wood, president and CEO, Trout Unlimited

Sally Jewell would make a great Secretary of Interior. Her background suggests that she would bring needed balance to energy development on public lands. Her stewardship of REI demonstrates that she understands the interests of anglers and hunters and would serve as an aggressive advocate within the White House for protecting fish and game habitat and hunting and angling opportunity. She is a practical, no-nonsense leader who would bring a sense of purpose to implementing the oil and gas reforms that have remained largely on the shelf. She is a strong pick.

-Sen. Patty Murray:

President Obama has chosen an accomplished leader as the next Secretary of Interior. I have enjoyed a strong working relationship with Sally Jewell, who has proven to be an effective CEO in the business community, and will bring that skill set to the Cabinet. She understands the tremendous asset that our public lands are, particularly to the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation based economy. Additionally, American families could have no greater advocate for their continued use, enjoyment and protection of our National Parks and natural treasures. I look forward to working with Sally and President Obama as they shape and implement policies at the Department of Interior.

 -Jim Lyon, National Wildlife Federation senior vice president for conservation programs:

        Sally Jewell is a business leader who knows that conserving America’s natural resources is fundamentally linked to a healthy and strong economy. Outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion to America’s economy and delivers $49 billion in tax revenue annually, but faces a critical challenge as Washington considers even more cuts to conservation programs on top of steep cuts already made. Hunters, anglers, hikers, kayakers, bird watchers and all who value and cherish the outdoors and wildlife will benefit from her first hand understanding of Americans’ passion for protecting our natural treasures.

-Mike Nussman, American Sportfishing Association president and CEO:

From an industry perspective, Sally Jewell understands the important role that our public waters and lands have in supporting the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. Given its responsibility for managing approximately one-fifth of the nation’s lands and waters, the Department of the Interior has a significant role in providing recreational fishing opportunities and conserving the nation’s fisheries resources.

Idaho lawmakers want ultimate public handout: federal land

PUBLIC LANDS — In another example of their self-centered approach to the outdoors and the world, Idaho lawmakers are suggesting they are going to waste state time and money making a stab and taking over federal lands within Idaho's borders.

You're not expecting public support on this, are you?

Click “continue reading” to see the Associated Press report on Monday's Statehouse meeting in Boise.

Public running out of room, money to handle wild horses

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

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

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

BLM names citizen advisors for CdA District

PUBLIC LANDS — Six new members have been appointed to the Bureau of Land Management’s Coeur d’Alene District citizen-based Resource Advisory Council. 

The appointees will serve a three-year term and advise the BLM on public lands issues.

“I want to welcome our new and reappointed RAC members and commend them for their commitment to public service,” said Coeur d’Alene District Manager Gary Cooper.  “Their counsel will serve the BLM well as the agency carries out its multiple-use mission.”

The RACs, composed of citizens chosen for their expertise in natural resource issues, help the BLM carry out its stewardship of 245 million acres – the largest land portfolio of any Federal agency.  The BLM has established 29 RACs across the West, where most BLM-managed land is located.  Each RAC consists of 10 to 15 members with an interest in public land management, such as conservationists, outdoor recreationists, ranchers, Tribal officials, state and local government officials, academics and others.

The newly appointed and reappointed members of the Coeur d’Alene District RAC, and the area they represent on the committee, include:

•  Linda Rider, Grazing Industry

•  Douglas Boggan, Dispersed Recreation

•  David Uberuaga, Environmental Organizations

• Jerry Shriner, Wild Horse and Burro

• Tommy Stroschein, Public-at-Large

•  Chris Goetz, Public-at-Large

 Info: 208-769-5004.

BLM’s Fishtrap Lake trails mostly untouched by fire

PUBLIC LANDS — The 350-acre fire on BLM land that prompted a temporary evacuation of Fishtrap Lake Resort recently was fairly well contained with minimal damange, officials say.

The photo above shows the edges of the fire burning up to the Farmer Landing trailhead west of Fishtrap Lake.

“Horseback riding and hiking along the trail from that trailhead should still be through unburned landscape,” said Steven Smith, BLM recreation manager in Spokane.

“So far, about 54 different fires in Eastern Washington have affected BLM lands,” said Scott Pavey, Spokane District spokesman, noting that some fires farther west are still burning. “A rough total of about 42,500 BLM acres have burned.”

BLM bans night-time use of Skinny Dipper Hot Springs on public-safety grounds

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has ordered Skinny Dipper Hot Springs in Boise County closed to all recreational use from sunset to sunrise, allowing only daytime use of the hot springs along the Banks-Lowman Highway along with the parking lot and access trail. “The closure will help provide for public safety,” the agency said in a news release. “Since 2004, there have been several fatalities, assaults and numerous injuries associated with night-time use of the area.”

BLM Advisory Council meets Wednesday

PUBLIC LANDS — The Eastern Washington Resource Advisory Council (RAC) will hold a meeting on May 23 in Moses Lake focusing on the East Side and San Juan Resource Management Plan and the Forest Plan Revision for the Colville National Forest.

The meeting will run 10 a.m.-4 p.m in the Hardin Room of the ATEC Building at Big Bend Community College, 7662 N.E. Chanute St. 

The meeting will be open to the public and there will be an opportunity for public comments at 10:00 a.m.

The Eastern Washington RAC is comprised of 15 members from a variety of backgrounds who are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. The Eastern Washington RAC provides advice to the Bureau of Land Management Spokane District Manager and the Colville National Forest Supervisor regarding management of federal public land in eastern Washington.

For info about the Eastern Washington RAC contact the Spokane BLM District Office, 1103 N. Fancher Rd, or call (509) 536-1200.

Migratory bird day events set in Inland Northwest

WILDLIFE WATCHING — National Migratory Bird Day has inspired several upcoming events in the Inland Northwest:

Saturday (May 19): Birding activities at Blue Creek Bay on Lake Coeur d'Alene, 9:30 am-12:30 pm, an event for all ages. Info: BLM wildlife biologist Carrie Hugo, 208-769-5048; or Suzanne Endsley, BLM public affairs, 208-769-5004.

Saturday (May 19): “Floods, Flowers and Feathers,” a new festival at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge that will feature elements of the Ice Age Floods that shaped the land along with the flora and fauna that flourish in this special channeled scablands habitat, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Info: (509) 235-4723. Some events can be reserved online.

May 26:  Bird Walk at Turnbull Wildlife Refuge to see birds in breeding plumage. Info: Marian Frobe, 328-0621.

June 2: a birding field trip to Hawk Creek area of Lake Roosevelt. Novices will be teamed with experts in groups. Contact Nancy Williams by May 22nd at (509) 536-1281, or e-mail nwilliam@blm.gov.

Blackwell Island launch opens May 23 for CdA boaters

BOATING —The Bureau of Land Management’s Blackwell Island boat launch and recreation area will open on May 23 in one of the annual harbingers of th Lake Coeur d’Alene boating season.  

The popular site is just south of Coeur d’Alene along Highway 95.  

Season passes cost $40.  The annual pass covers both Blackwell Island recreation site and Mineral Ridge boat launch.   Daily rates at Blackwell Island are $6 per day.

BLM staff will be on-site during the Memorial Day weekend to sell season passes.  Cash or check is required for on-site purchases; credit card purchases may be made at the BLM’s Coeur d’Alene District office during business hours at 3815 Schreiber Way in Coeur d’Alene. 

Blackwell Island recreation site offers picnic facilities, including a large pavilion that is available on a rental basis; wildlife viewing along the boardwalk trail; walking paths and four boat launch lanes.

Info: 208-769-5000.

Officials, ranchers aim to keep sage grouse off endangered list

OUTDOORS — As sage grouse have been strutting during the spring mating season, ranchers are working with state and federal officials to keep the prairie grouse from becoming the spotted owl of the West.

The iconic bird with the showy mating dance is experiencing population declines, and government land managers, with help from ranchers and conservation groups, are pouring tens of millions of dollars and rewriting dozens of management plans to protect habitat where the birds still thrive.

Click here to see a Great Falls Tribune story and videos about sage grouse efforts in Montana.

The goal of the sweeping plans, occurring on both private and public lands in 11 states, is to increase the population and avert the listing of the bird as a threatened and endangered species, which experts say would bring tougher restrictions on grazing and energy development.

“It would just have catastrophic impacts on our food and energy security, much of which comes out of the West,” said Dave Naugle, a wildlife professor at the University of Montana who is serving as science adviser for the national sage grouse initiative headed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Reduced rate offered at Idaho BLM sites to May 15

PUBLIC LANDS – Discounts on fees for popular North Idaho Bureau of Land Management recreation sites are available through May 15.

 The first fee increase since 2005 will start May 16 at areas around Lake Coeur d’Alene to help maintain the facilities.

 Daily rates will increase at Blackwell Island Recreation Area and the Mineral Ridge Launch area from $4 to $6 per day.   Tent camping at Mica Bay Boater Park, Killarney Lake Recreation Site, Huckleberry Campground and Windy Bay Boater Park will be $10 per night, a $2 increase.  

Trailer camping fees at  Huckleberry Campground along the St. Joe River will rise to $18 per night. 

Season passes for Blackwell Island and Mineral Ridge boat launches cost $30 at BLM’s office in Coeur d’Alene, but the fee will increase to $40 on May 16.  

Most recreation sites are open with the exception of the Blackwell Island Recreation Site.  Because opening the site depends on water levels, the tentative date is set for May 23.  

Kayaker claims first descent of Towell Falls

PADDLING — Brian Jamieson claimed the first kayak descent of Towell Falls Saturday in the BLM's Rock Creek/Escure Ranch area 20 miles south of Sprague

The proof is captured here by photographer Michael Kinney (Tag Ur it Photography).

BLM reopens Rock Creek-Escure Ranch; seeks leads on vandalism

PUBLIC LANDS — A popular U.S. Bureau of Land Management recreation area about 20 miles south of Sprague has been reopened after the agency repaired about $5,000 in damages caused by vandals.

The Rock Creek/Escure Ranch suffered damage to fences and other facilities in a crime spree that occurred around March 15, said BLM recreation planner Steve Smith. A toilet was damaged, bridge signs were ruined and two kiosks were knocked, including one built by an Eagle Scout.

Report any tips that might lead to the arrest of the vandals to the BLM Spokane District Office, 1103 N. Fancher Road, Spokane, Washington, or call (509) 536-1200.

The Rock Creek management area, which straddles the Adams-Whitman county line, includes about 13,000 acres of grassland, basalt cliffs and glacial potholes managed as a sheep and cattle ranch for about 70 years before being acquired in 1999 by the BLM.

The area is popular with springtime hikers and mountain bikers. A network of roads and trails lace rangeland, leading to Wall Lake, Perch Lake, and Turtle Lake, as well Towell Falls on Rock Creek (pictured above).

The road that leads three miles to Towell Falls is ideal for hiking and biking at this time of year, before the road is open to motorized vehicle traffic in mid-April until a summer fire-season closure.

Rock Creek opens to fishing on June 2. The lakes are open year-round.

IF YOU GO

Towell Falls are an enjoyable destination 6-mile round trip from the ranch recreation parking area on an old ranch road. Be ready for ticks and aware that rattlesnakes are around.

Directions: From I-90 at Sprague, go about 12 miles south on state Highway 23 and at a sharp left turn in the paved highway, turn right onto graveled Davis Road. Continue about 6.5 miles south, staying on Davis Road past the Revere habitat management area. Turn left onto Jordan-Knott Road, cross the bridge over Rock Creek and continue a little more than 3 miles to the Escure Ranch access road, well-marked on the right.

From here, it's 2.5 miles in to the ranch houses and trailhead.

Vandalism forces temporary closure of BLM’s Escure Ranch, Rock Creek

PUBLIC LANDS — A popular U.S. Bureau of Land Management recreation area about 20 miles south of Sprague has been closed as the agency repairs about $5,000 in damages caused by vandals.

The Rock Creek/Escure Ranch suffered damage to fences and other facilities in a crime spree that occurred around March 15, said BLM recreation planner Steve Smith. A toilet was damaged, bridge signs were ruined and two kiosks were knocked, including one built by an Eagle Scout.

The BLM has been investigating the incident and officials say repairs should be complete so the area can by reopened by the weekend.

The Rock Creek management area, which straddles the Adams-Whitman county line, includes about 13,000 acres of grassland, basalt cliffs and glacial potholes managed as a sheep and cattle ranch before being acquired in 1999 by the BLM.

The area is popular with springtime hikers and mountain bikers. A network of roads and trails lace rangeland, leading to Wall Lake, Perch Lake, and Turtle Lake, as well Towell Falls on Rock Creek (pictured above).

The road that leads three miles to Towell Falls is ideal for hiking and biking at this time of year, before the road is open to motorized vehicle traffic in mid-April until a summer fire-season closure.

Rock Creek opens to fishing on June 2. The lakes are open year-round.

IF YOU GO

Towell Falls are an enjoyable destination 6-mile round trip from the ranch recreation parking area on an old ranch road. Be ready for ticks and aware that rattlesnakes are around.

Directions: From I-90 at Sprague, go about 12 miles south on state Highway 23 and at a sharp left turn in the paved highway, turn right onto graveled Davis Road. Continue about 6.5 miles south, staying on Davis Road past the Revere habitat management area. Turn left onto Jordan-Knott Road, cross the bridge over Rock Creek and continue a little more than 3 miles to the Escure Ranch access road, well-marked on the right.

From here (when the closure is lifted) it's 2.5 miles in to the ranch houses and trailhead.

Sage-country hike near Odessa picturesque, tick-free

HIKING — I made some footprints on the BLM's Pacific Lake/Lakeview Ranch near Odessa on Wednesday. The 40-degree day was perfect for hiking this dry country studded with magnificent basalt rock formations.

The area's signature end-to-end hike is featured in my guidebook, 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.

Downside to hiking this week: The wildflowers are not yet blooming.

Upside: The tick's aren't active.

BLM proposes fee increases at Lake CdA sites

BOATING – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is proposing recreation fee increase for sites around Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Daily boat launch fees at Blackwell Island and Mineral Ridge would increase from $4 to $6 and season passes would increase from $30 to $40.  

Tent camping fees at Mica Bay Boater Park, Killarney Lake Recreation Site, Huckleberry Campground and Windy Bay Boater Park would rise from $8 to $10 a night. 

Trailer camping fees at Huckleberry Campground along the St. Joe River are proposed to increase from $15 to $18 a night.

No fee increases have been proposed for the U.S. Forest Service sites in the area.

The proposals will be considered by BLM’s District Resource Advisory Council  Wednesday (Feb. 22)  at the BLM office, 3815 Schreiber Way.

Info: (208) 769-5004.

National Parks, other federal lands list 2013 dates for free admission

PUBLIC LANDS — The Interior Department has announced dates in 2013, ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day to Veterans Day, when more than 2,000 national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and other federal lands will offer free admission. 

The fee waiver does not cover expanded amenity or user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Tourism and outdoor recreation also are economic engines in communities across the country, the agency noted in a release. Recreation on federal lands in 2009 provided 440,000 jobs and contributed $55 billion to the economy.

Some groups don't have to wait for a holiday to get special rates for visiting federal public lands.

  • Active-duty military members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass that provides entrance to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service.
  • The America the Beautiful Pass Program also offers a free lifetime pass for people with disabilities, a $10 lifetime senior pass for those age 62 and older and a $80 annual pass for the general public.

But the fee-free days will give both first time and repeat visitors a good reason to spend time in these extraordinary places, Interior officials said.

2013 fee free days

Here is a breakdown of the days and which agencies are offering free admission:

Jan. 21: Martin Luther King Jr. Day - The National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will waive their entrance fees and the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation will waive their standard amenity fees.

April 22-26: National Park Week - National Park Service.

June 8: Get Outdoors Day - U.S. Forest Service

Aug. 25: 97th birthday of the National Park Service.

Oct. 13: National Wildlife Refuge Day - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Sept. 18: National Public Lands Day - National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Nov. 9-11: Veterans Day weekend - National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Another record eagle count logged today at CdA Lake

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A record 273 bald eagles was counted today — Dec. 29 — at Lake Coeur d'Alene, making this the best year ever to take in the annual Eagle Watch Week activities.

Bald eagles are gathering in record numbers at in the Wolf Lodge Bay to feast on spawning kokanee.

Here's the information just received from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which conducts the weekly surveys.

The count is up from last week and the likely reason why is due to snow covering the trees during last Thursday’s count. Snow of course acts as camouflage for the adults especially. Today’s weather is ideal for counting! Carrie Hugo, wildlife biologist, noted that she counted over 35 eagles in the Blue Creek Bay area which is unusually high for that location. She thought it may be due to the windy conditions and that the bay offers some protection.

One important item for Eagle Watch: due to high winds yesterday, we were unable to have the spotting scopes, information pamphlets and the canopy tents up. Today, due to winds earlier we only held the Watch site at the Mineral Ridge Trailhead location. We just can’t risk the scopes or the display birds being blown over. We are watching tomorrow’s weather closely as it appears wind may again be a factor. We plan to have staff out but may not be able to have scopes or informational materials available.

Eagle Watch Week runs through Sunday.

 Drive east east from Coeur d’Alene on Interstate-90 and take Wolf Lodge Exit 22. Follow Highay 97 south a short way to exhibits and spotting scopes at the Mineral Ridge boat ramp. The volunteers will be on hand to offer information about the eagles from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. each day through next Sunday.

Cruise boat tours geared to eagle watching will launch daily this week from the Coeur d’Alene Resort this weekend. Book seats on resort’s website or call (208) 765-4000.

Bald eagle numbers may be peaking at CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The number of bald eagles gathering at Lake Coeur d'Alene appears to have peaked or may be declining slightly after last week's record count of 259 birds in Wolf Lodge Bay.

In today's survey, a total of 237 bald eagles — 204 adults and 33 immature — were counted in the weekly survey by BLM wildlife biologist Carrie Hugo.  That's down slightly, but Hugo notes in the survey report that viewing conditions were fairly difficult because of the sun shining into her spotting scope and snow on the trees making it difficult to pick out the white heads of the adults.

The 2010 peak count — a record at that time — was 254 bald eagles surveyed on Dec. 23.

“As usual, lots of birds were seen on the south shore across from Higgens Point and many were on the west side of Beauty Bay,” Hugo said. 

“Lots of Eagle Watchers out today as well.  The Mineral Ridge Trailhead parking lot was packed!  There are still many kokanee floundering around and there were plenty of opportunities to see eagles fishing on the wing today.”

Eagle Watch Week runs Dec. 26-Jan. 1, with volunteers offering information and offering use of spotting scopes 10 a.m.-3 p.m. south of the Wolf Lodge exit 22 from Interstate 90.