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BLM bans campfires on its Eastern Washington lands

PUBLIC LANDS —  Extreme fire danger has prompted the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to join Washington state agencies in prohibiting campfires in Eastern Washington, including in developed recreation areas.

The federal agency's fire managers enacted initial fire restrictions in mid-July. Today they updated the restrictions to prohibit the building, maintaining, attending or using a fire of any type, including charcoal briquette fires on lands administered by the BLM’s Spokane District.

An exemption is made for liquefied and bottled gas stoves and heaters provided they are used within an area at least 10 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.

The updated fire restriction will be effective beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

The fire restrictions apply to all BLM managed lands in the following Eastern Washington counties: Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman, and Yakima counties. Restrictions are in place until further notice.

In addition to prohibiting campfires, restrictions on the use of off-road vehicles, smoking, shooting of exploding targets and the use of fireworks is still in effect. A complete, signed fire restriction order can be found at the following websites: 

Roosevelt cedar grove reopens, but only for day use

CAMPING — The Forest Service has re-opened Stagger Inn, the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars and Granite Falls, but visitors will be allowed in the area only during daytime. Camping will not be allowed this season.

The sites were closed last summer for removing hazardous trees after a camper in a tent was killed by a tree that came crashing down in a severe wind storm.

Although hazardous trees have been removed, forest officials say they're still concerned about the stability of some trees in the area.

“We recognize the importance and value of the site to generations of campers and will do our best to deem the site safe for camping in the future” said Matt Davis, Priest Lake District Ranger.

“Over the course of the next year the Forest Service will be monitoring other trees and soil conditions on the site determining if additional tress need to be removed and whether to open the site for camping in the future.”

High winds on the night of August 25th, 2013 caused several trees to become weakened and damaged in the Stagger Inn Campground, resulting in several fallen trees and causing one fatality at the campground.

Info: Priest Lake Ranger District, (208) 443-6839.

Campground hosts have insight on choosing an RV

CAMPING — Choosing an RV for camping is intensely personal. “You'll get a different answer from almost everyone you talk to,” said Larry Dach, a Spokane natives who retired and became a full-time RVer with his wife, Susan.

The Dachs have a lifestyle that involves regular stints as campground hosts. This summer, they're at the Dragoon Creek Campground just north of Spokane so they can be close to family.

Their constant connection to RV enthusiasts have given them insights on tailoring RVs to their lifestyle.

“Cost is a major consideration for people like us, of course,” Larry said. “But when you’re living in an RV full time you have to make choices that are more expensive than people who simply recreate in them on weekends.  

“Everlube axles are a must when you're on the road all the time. Less expensive fifth wheels have axles that need lubing every 3000 miles. I'd be pulling the hubs all the time.”

Susan and Larry chose a Discover America Luxury Suite fifth wheel they bought used along with a diesel pickup. Their initial investment was far lower than someone who buys a motor home.

They also not that size of a rig can limit where they apply as campground hosts.

“Ours is 33 feet, but at some of the more remote campgrounds, the spaces available are limited to 25-28 feet,” Larry said.

They have friends who love their 42 foot motor home. “They cost more initially and to operate… and have smaller windows for less light inside the living space than our fifth wheel. But they can be easier to park – a motorhome can park where I can’t.

“They have more underneath storage and you can tow a small car for getting around. They have advantages.”

“Room inside the fifth wheel isn’t a problem because we move to stay with the warmer weather so we can be outside most of the time,” Susan said.

“My sister remarked, “Oh, you’re getting to Spokane just when the weather’s getting nice,'” Susan said. “I answered, 'Yeah, that’s the plan.'”

Dragoon Campground reopening north of Spokane

CAMPING — The closure sign for Dragoon Creek Campground was removed Wednesday after this photo was snapped and the campground is scheduled to open Friday in time for the Memorial Day weekend. The campground, managed by the state Department of Natural Resources, has been closed five of the past six years.

The campground is unusual in that:

  • It's 15 minutes from Spokane.
  • No fee is charged.
  • Washington Discover Passes are required on vehicles
  • No pets are allowed.
  • The campground gate is locked at 8 p.m. and remains locked until 7 a.m. 

See my story about the campground reopening and my column about the new campground hosts, which had to be secured before the campground could reopen.

Forest Service safety measures create firewood at campgrounds

CAMPING — Campers are finding a windfall of sorts at campgrounds around the region — plenty of firewood available on the ground, ready to scavenge, cut, split and use.

Forest Service crews worked overtime before the holiday weekend to identify and cut down potentially dangerous trees at developed camping sites after a man was killed in his tent during an intense Aug. 25 storm toppled a huge tree in the Stagger Inn Campground northwest of Priest Lake.

The crews moved quickly, often leaving the wood for campers to use. This tree, for example, was conveniently dropped on the border of a campsite in Gypsy Meadows on the Colville National Forest northeast of Sullivan Lake.

Priest Lake campground closed for hazardous tree removal

CAMPING — Beaver Creek Campground at the northwest end of Priest Lake has been closed today and visitors are being evacuated after Forest Service inspectors discovered more than 40 hazardous trees that must be removed for visitor safety.

The Beaver Creek boat launch and canoe portage areas northeast of Nordman are outside of the campground and will remain open, officials said, but the campground closure will continue through one of the most popular camping weekends of the year.

The agency ordered inspections of national forest sites in North Idaho after a Sandpoint man was killed by a 200-foot-tall tree that fell on his tent in Stagger Inn Campground during a severe thunderstorm on Sunday night.

Kyle L. Garrett, 48, was killed by the uprooted tree northwest of Priest Lake. A 52-year-old woman was injured and treated for non-life threatening injuries.

Forest Service officials and local law enforcement are evacuating the Beaver Creek Campground today and suggesting alternate camping sites, said Jason Kirchner, Idaho Panhandle National Forests spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.

Campers with reservations through the Labor Day holiday weekend will be notified by email and given a refund for their advance fees through a federal reservation website, he said.

“Closing a popular campground before a holiday weekend is a terribly difficult decision but, in this case there are too many dangerous trees to remove before the weekend, so closure is our only option to ensure a safe environment,” said Mary Farnsworth, forest supervisor.

Crews have been assessing the conditions of developed recreation sites throughout the Idaho Panhandle National Forest since Monday, Kirchner said. In many sites crews have already identified and removed dozens of hazardous trees from campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads.

Beaver Creek Campground, which is northeast of Nordman, is the only site where danger is extensive enough to require a temporary closure for tree removal, he said.

tHowever, a handful of smaller recreation sites are still being assessed today.

For the latest status of the ongoing storm damage assessment visit Inciweb.org.

A number of alternate campgrounds are available in the Priest Lake area, including Outlet Campground, Luby Bay Campground, Reeder Bay Campground and Osprey Campground. These sites all include “first come, first served” sites and reservation sites.

Check Recreation.gov for reservations and status of these and other Forest Service campgrounds or call (877) 444-6777.

No survey of sites outside campgrounds

The current assessment of hazardous trees does not include areas outside of developed recreation sites so it is vitally important for forest visitors to understand that hazardous trees may be present anywhere on the national forest. Visitors are encouraged to take a hard look at their surroundings when recreating throughout the forest, and especially when selecting a campsite. Hazardous trees are not always readily apparent, but some obvious indicators of dangerous trees include damage to roots, branches or trunk; insect infestations; leaning trees; or dead trees. These types of trees are especially hazardous when the wind is blowing. For more information of identifying and avoiding dangerous trees please download the Idaho Panhandle National Forest’s Hazard Tree Safety Flyer.

For more information on recreation opportunities on your National Forest please contact your local US Forest Service Office.

Camper killed by falling tree in storm; Panhandle forests evaluating campgrounds

UPDATED: 2:55 p.m.

CAMPING — Idaho Panhandle National Forests staffers are scrambling to assess tree damage at developed forest sites after a visitor was killed in the Stagger Inn Campground northwest of Priest Lake by a damaged tree related to thunder storms on Sunday night.

Kyle L. Garrett, 48, of Sandpoint, died when a 200-foot-tall tree uprooted and fell on his tent, according to the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office. A 52-year-old woman was also injured and was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

The Stagger Inn is a small primitive campground at the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars in Pend Oreille County just west of the Idaho state line.

Other campgrounds are being evaluated before the Labor Day holiday.

Here's the info from Panhandle Forests spokesman Jason Kirchner:

High winds throughout the Idaho Panhandle last night caused numerous trees to weaken and fall resulting in one fatality at the USDA Forest Service’s Stagger Inn Campground in Pend Orielle County, Wash. Investigation into the accident is being led by the Pend Orielle County Sheriff’s Department. Due to these hazardous conditions, and in advance of the Labor Day holiday weekend, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest has begun a widespread assessment of its developed recreation sites to identify additional areas where storm damage may have weakened trees. Rapid assessments of campgrounds, picnic areas and other developed recreation sites will determine whether temporary closures are needed to provide for public safety until crews are able to remove hazardous trees.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident at our campground and are making every effort to ensure that last night’s storm damage has not left hazard trees in our developed recreation sites,” said Idaho Panhandle National Forest Supervisor Mary Farnsworth.

To ensure a rapid and comprehensive response to last night’s storm damage the forest has activated an Incident Management Team, like those used to manage wildfires and other emergencies, to quickly assess and manage hazards discovered in recreation sites across the forest. Assessment will focus only on developed sites, such as campgrounds and picnic areas. Further assessment updates, including any temporary closures will be posted at www.inciweb.org.

It is vitally important for forest visitors to understand that hazardous trees may be present anywhere on the national forest. Visitors are encouraged to take a hard look at their surroundings when recreating throughout the forest, and especially when selecting a campsite. Hazardous trees are not always readily apparent, but some obvious indicators of dangerous trees include damage to roots, branches or trunk; insect infestations; leaning trees; or dead trees. These types of trees are especially hazardous when the wind is blowing.

Colville National Forest reports alarming budget decline, especially in recreation

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal resource acengies are suffering big budget hits, as I pointed out on my Sunday Outdoors story.

Here's a spotlight on the issues, using an example close to home:

ALARMING NUMBERS FROM THE COLVILLE NF

The 1.1 million-acre Colville National Forest spans 3 counties in Washington. This year its overall operating budget is about $16 million, employing about 150 permanent staff and 100 temporary workers. Forest officials round out the figures with these trends:

62 percent decrease in employees since the early 1990s.

5 percent reduction in overall budget in each

of past four years.

46 percent decrease in road maintenance contracting

budget in the past two years.

64 percent reduction in the already meager recreation budget expected in the next year.

Remorseful camper contributes to junk-food elk

CAMPING — Many families consider Memorial Day weekend the kickoff for the camping season. Unfortunately, it's also the start of some bad habits for wildlife attracted to the food and garbage campers make available.

Luring wildlife to camping areas with food creates pests that can bother or injure campers that follow. In some cases, especially with bears, a junk-food addict usually must to be killed for public safety.

Also, wildlife attracted to food are  more likely to be around roads where they can be hurt in vehicle collisions. 

But even with that knowledge already firmly in his camping routine, James Pelland was chagrined to find elk rustling through untended garbage at his camp over the weekend.   Here's his report and heads up to other campers.

“My family and I enjoy floating and camping up on the N.Fk CDA. Over the years we've seen plenty of deer, elk and moose.

“Around 5 a.m. Monday morning I woke to what sounded like something rummaging through our camp gear. I had gone to bed early and left it up to my wife and daughter, who were enjoying the campfire, to make sure our site was properly “secured” (food put away etc). I poked my head out of the tent and saw our small trash bag had been left hanging on a tree and the elk (not raccoons, not crows) in the attached picture were helping themselves to leftover pita chips and clam chowder. The yearling was using its nose to try to open our cooler!

“We feel sorry for furthering the habituation of these elk to people and people food, and feel sorry for the elk. The camp  hosts told us that the elk drink the soapy water from their cleaning pail.”

Then Pelland pointed out:

I remember a couple years ago a bear chewed on someone's ear through his tent near St. Regis… The camper got there at night and didn't notice that the previous folks had left a huge food mess. My buddy and I had driven right past that site the next day on our way to fishing… I always remember that story and don't need a bear chewing on my ear (or worse).

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.

Black bears hanging out at English Point near Hayden Lake

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — A black bear sow and her cub have been frequenting the English Point recreation trail near Hayden Lake, Forest Services officials say.

No reports of aggressive behavior from the bears have been received at the Panhandle National Forests headquarters in Coeur d'Alene, “but it remains important for the public to exercise caution and give the bears plenty of space to ensure future bear encounters are uneventful,” said Jason Kirchner, forest public affairs officer.

“Bear sightings are not unusual but due to the unpredictable nature of bears the public needs to understand that some caution should be taken whenever they are in bear country,” said Coeur d’Alene River District Ranger Chad Hudson.

BEAR ENCOUNTER GUIDELINES

Should you encounter a bear:

  • Stay calm. Group together, pick up small children and assess the situation. Prepare to use your bear spray.
  • Do not run or make sudden movements, it may instinctively cause the bear to charge you.
  • Give bears a chance to identify you as human, and not a threat. If the bear stands up, it is trying to see, hear and smell you better.
  • Talk firmly in a low-pitched voice while backing away. Avoid direct eye contact as bears may perceive this as a challenge or threat.
  • Continue to back away slowly and cautiously, retreating to a place of safety. Monitor the animal’s response, and adjust your actions accordingly.

More info: Center for Wildlife Information or your local Forest Service office.

Corps closes Columbia campgrounds early; campers irked

PUBLIC LANDS — Citing budget cuts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed several camgrounds on the Columbia River on Tuesday — weeks earlier than normal.

The move surprised campers as they were evicted on Tuesday in picture-perfect weather for being in a campsite with their families.

Read the Tri-City Herald story.

See a list of Walla Walla District recreation sites and closure announcements.

It probably didn't help the Walla Walla District's budget last week as crews had to clean up trash from 3,000 partiers at the corps' Illia Dunes recreation site on the Snake River.

Colville Forest releases revised South End motorized use plan

FORESTS – The Colville National Forest is seeking comments on a revised proposal to regulate dispersed camping and designate and expand roads and trails open to motorized recreation.

Comments are due by the end of August on the South End Project scoping notice and plans for the Tacoma, Chewelah and Calispell drainages).

  • See the revised proposals in the document attached to this post.

The original plan was appealed last winter by conservation groups.

The project goals include designating an expanded system of routes for motor vehicle use.


Documents:

E. coli contamination found at Pioneer Park Campground near Newport

CAMPING — E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria was discovered Aug. 4 in the drinking water at the Pioneer Park Campground in Pend Oreille County.

Today Colville National Forest officials said the Newport Ranger District had notified guests who recently stayed at the campground if contact information was available.

No reports of illness had been received, they said. 

While the campground three miles from Newport remains open, the drinking water system has been shut down while the Forest Service investigates the source of contamination.

Info: Contact the Newport Ranger District (509) 447-7300.

Colville forest crews still clearing storm blowdowns

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NATIONAL FORESTS — Crews have reopened all the primary roads on the Colville National Forest since a July 20 storm leveled trees on roughly 4,000 acres of the 1.1 million-acre forest.  Most of the damage was on the Republic Ranger District.

Some of the seconary roads and trails are still plugged with trees that were toppled by the storm — or weakened so much that they're still falling.

Crews have cleared all secondary roads listed as “open” on the Colville National Forest Interactive Motor Interactive  Vehicle Use Map, said Franklin Pemberton, forest spokesman.  If a road was useable this summer before the storm but not officially designated as “open” to motorized use, crews will not be dispatched to cut out the blowdowns, he said.

“While all roads that were passible prior to the storm event have been cleared of down trees, it is important to note that there are roads that were washed out do to storm activity prior to this event that have not been repaired,” he said.

A list of those roads can be found on the Colville National Forest Web site under Conditions: Road Report

All trailheads are open, but trails can still have trees down across them and potentially weakened trees that could come down.  More trees have fallen on some trails that have been cut out, he said.

“If you're a mountain biker or equestrian headed out on the trails,  you should bring a saw,” he said.

Ten Mile Campground south of Republic (see photos above) remains closed and the Empire Lake dispersed campsites are also closed.

Updates: Republic Ranger District Office, (509) 775-7400.

Some Colville Forest area still inaccessible from storm

NATIONAL FORESTS — A week after a storm and brief surge of hurricane-force winds swept through the region, areas around Priest Lake and especially the Colville National Forest are still clogged with downed trees.

The good news is that powerline crews, government agencies and private citizens have been working their butts off with chain saws and equipment to make progress.  The bad news is that some areas are a big mess and still unaccessible.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area reports all campgrounds and facilities are open.  Priest Lake Range Station reported that some trails got “hammered” with blowdowns, but no specific reports were available. Forest trail crews and volunteers had just finished a logging out 192 miles of trails on the Priest Lake District the week before the storm struck, killing a man in his pickup in the Priest Lake area.

Generally, the Panhandle National Forests came out of the dangerous storm fairly well, said Jason Kirchner, forest spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.

But the Colville Forest's Republic Ranger District and portions of the Collville Indian Reservation, where assistance is still being requested, are a different story.

Here's the word from Colville Forest spokesman Franklin Pemberton:

The impact to recreation specific to the Republic R.D. from this event is severe. 

Crews have made significant progress on getting all of the main forest service (FS) roads open and “passible”.  All of the main FS roads are passible for a full-size pickup truck, but motorhomes, camp trailers and horse trailers are not recommended.  Work continues to open all of the main FS roads completely to larger size vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines and is expected to be completed by this Friday.  Many secondary FS roads remain blocked by down timber and will be opened once all the main roads are completed.

Many roads to trailheads remain blocked and trail conditions are being reported as being blocked by down timber.  All campgrounds are open with the exception of Ten Mile Campground.  Crews will continue to work to open secondary roads that lead to recreation sites and trailheads, but there is no estimate of when this work will be completed.

Forest officials are still recommending that visitors to the Republic R.D. stay in the developed campgrounds and limit their travel on the forest as much as possible.

Contact the Republic Ranger District Office, (509) 775-7400 for specific recreation questions.

Coeur d’Alene River campgrounds closed for repairs

Kit Price and Devils Elbow Campgrounds are temporarily closed to the public while construction crews work to improve the campground water systems and repave roads, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests announced today.

The popular campgrounds on the North Fork of the Cour d’Alene River about 40 miles north of I-90 at Kingston are scheduled to reopen in July.

Info: Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District: Fernan (208) 664-2318 or Smelterville (208) 783-2363.

Montana state parks offer camping reservations

CAMPGROUNDS – A new reservation system debuts Wednesday at 20 of Montana's 54 popular state parks.

Starting at 8 a.m Mountain Time, visitors can phone  toll-free or use the internet to make reservations up to nine months in advance or as close as two days prior to their visit. A few sites at each park will remain available for walk-ins.

ReserveAmerica's phone receptionists have information to help visitors select sites that will accommodate their camper size, number of people and pre-pay fees.  This information along with photos, campground maps, site descriptions, and travel directions will also be available on the website.  A processing fee of $10.00 will be charged for each reservation.

Call (855) 922-6768 toll-free 8 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends.

Montana's parks website has more info about accommodations and directions

Read on to see the list of Montana State Parks offering campsite reservations.