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Hear sage advice about restoring scablands

CONSERVATION — The Nature Conservancy’s Arid Lands Program will shed some light on the importance Eastern Washington shrub-steppe habitats during a slide program on Wednesday, 7 p.m., sponsored by Spokane Audubon Society.

The free program will be presented at the Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave.

See a map for directions.

Wilderness advocates present case for Columbia Highlands at REI

CONSERVATION — Exploring Northwest Washington's Columbia Highlands, a multi-media program, will be presented Wednesday, 7 p.m., at the Spokane REI store by Conservation Northwest and several related groups.

Explore portions of the Colville National Forest that make up some of the most wildlife rich and uncrowded recreational destinations in the state, and learn why some groups are working to protect them as wilderness.

Sign-up online to reserve a seat in the limited space available for this free presentation.

Why won’t this Initiative fly at Washington Legislature?

OLYMPIA — Even these tough times, we should be able to get bipartisan support in Olympia for this well-thought out proposal.

Forest land swap brewing on Idaho Panhandle

CONSERVATION — The U.S. Forest Service is working on a land exchange with Stimson Lumber Co. to protect wildlife habitat near Hope, Idaho.

The deal is expected to close this summer. The Idaho Panhandle National Forests will trade 995 acres for 922 acres of Stimson land.

Stimson’s land includes low elevation elk habitat, including winter range, travel corridors and calving grounds; grizzly bear habitat; and west slope cutthroat trout habitat. The Forest Service would trade land north of Bayview in the Three Sisters Peaks area and another parcel two miles west of Hoodoo Lake. The federal land doesn’t have public access and has lower quality wildlife habitat.

Forest Service spokesman Jason Kirchner said the trade is based on swapping parcels of equal values, which results in slightly more federal land exchanged. Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation worked on the deal.

This is the second good-news land deal for wildlife announced by private timber companies in the Panhandle in recent months.  My December story reported another major non-development deal near McArthur Lake involving Forest Capital Partners.

Sportsmen not ignoring conservation issues in Washington, D.C.

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION — They don't make the evening news headlines, but sportsmen's groups working the halls of Congress are vital to wildlife conservation as the first hearings begin for the 2012 Farm Bill.

Getting a few positive votes on these measures can do more for putting food on the table for wildlife than 500 sportsmen's fundraising banquets.

Read on for the latest from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a bipartisan group that has its act together.

Spokane can take pride in its outdoor volunteer spirit

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CONSERVATION — Workers from kids to senior citizens gave up the first beautiful Saturday of a soggy spring to pull weeds, build trail, obliterate unauthorized routes, groom a native plant garden and pick up trash during the community work project at the Dishman Hills Natural Area today.

More than 330 people volunteered to help.

The event was sponsored by REI and several outdoor groups, who served a pizza lunch to the throng after the work. 

Then I noticed quite a few people slipping off into the hills to enjoy the work nature had done.  The trails were quiet, that is until you came near a pond. Then the racket of chorus frogs — some call them tree frogs — would almost shake the trees.

Grass widows and buttercups were blooming. The buds of serviceberries are ready to pop open in brilliant white blooms — just give them a couple warm weeks.  And arrowleaf balsamroots are showing their heads and ready to shoot up from the ground.

Join the group to spruce up Dishman Hills

NATURAL AREAS — Volunteers are signing up for the Dishman Hills Service Project to plant trees, pull weeds, and spruce up the city's much-loved natural area on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Several hundred helpers — individuals and groups — are expected to spread out into the natural area after meeting first  at Camp Caro, 625 S. Sargent Rd., Spokane Valley (just south of Appleway Blvd.)

Please register here. The first 100 to register will get a free event t-shirt!

REI is sponsoring the event. Groups chipping in include The Dishman Hills Natural Area Association, Spokane Mountaineers, The Lands Council, Spokane County Parks and Recreation, Inland Northwest Land Trust, Gonzaga University, the Inland Northwest Backcountry Horsemen and Sierra Club Inner City Outings.

 Bring work gloves and water bottles, and come prepared for dirty work and the weather!

Coffee, water and light snacks will be provided, and the event will conclude with a pizza party and live bluegrass music!

Registration is recommended, but everyone is welcome on the day of the event.

Shed antler hunters taking a toll on winter-weary game

WINTERING WILDLIFE — The growth and competition involved with the hobby of shed-antler gathering continues to pose concerns for wildlife managers throughout the West.

Here's a distrubing KATU TV report from Washington's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, a major wintering area for the Yakima elk herd.

The start of spring means a whole new danger for elk. At a time when many animals struggle to re-adjust to life after winter, people's fixation on elk antlers could prove disastrous.

"They can't recover from the stress we put them under and they're more susceptible to disease, to bad weather, and to predators," said Captain Richard Mann, Fish and Wildlife Police.

This is the time of year when many elk lose their antlers. A pair can easily top $100 on the black market, and it's routine for folks to roam into restricted areas looking for antlers. Often times elk are nearby. As powerful as elk look, they are actually quite fragile.

"When you run them or stress them, they can get so stressed that it actually kills them," Mann said.

Wildlife officials have found several dead elk this month alone. To combat the problem, a dozen security cameras were recently set up around the Oak Creek feeding station.

Wildlife officials in Washington want to remind everyone that trespassing onto protected land could land you a $200 fine. They say the penalties are stiff because the results are often tragic.

Washington conservation projects earn Elk Foundation funding

WILDLIFE HABITAT — Elk research at Mt. St. Helens and habitat improvements on four national forests and other public lands in Washington headline a just-announced slate of projects selected for 2011 grants from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The far-east side of the state isn't overlooked, with prescribed burn habitat improvement projects set for Asotin, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.

The new RMEF grants total $156,380 with an impact on up to 100,000 acres, officials said. The money usually is leveraged with money from other groups or agencies for more benefits on the ground

Read on for more details.

Conservation groups lost political capital in wolf issue

CONSERVATION — The environmental movement is facing serious challenges in the current political and economic climate. 

Considering bills in state legislatures and in Congress, some conservationists believe they've lost considerable political capitol in their tough stance to prolonging endangered species status for the gray wolf int he Northern Rockies.

"But where some see those challenges as symptoms of larger issues - more money in politics or more polarization in Congress - others see a clear need for the environmental movement to change tactics or face serious consequences," according to the Bozeman Chronicle in a series of stories titled Conservation at a Crossroads.

The paper has taken an insightful look at the state of the regional conservation movement.

More Coverage

Oregon finds abusers of wildlife tax benefit

CONSERVATION — An Oregon tax incentive to preserve wildlife habitat has been grossly abused by some property owners forcing the state to put the brakes on new sign ups until oversight is beefed up.

In one case, a homeowner received tax deductions for "wildlife habitat" turned into a dirt-bike motorcycle play area.

The following d detailed story recently appeared in the Bend Bulletin.

The Lands Council prepping for annual banquet

ENVIRONMENT — A few tickets remain available for The Lands Council's 16th annual April Showers auction and banquet on April 16 at The DoubleTree Hotel in Spokane.

The event always features good food and wine along with live and silent auction items in a fundraiser to benefit the group's efforts to preserve, protect and revitalize Inland Northwest forests, water & wildlife.
  • Tickets: $60 per individual or $400 per table of eight.
  • Reservations: Amanda Swan, 209-2851.

Ducks Unlimited shooting and dining for wetlands

CONSERVATION– Ducks Unlimited has scheduled several upcoming fundraising events to benefit wetlands conservation. Amont them:

April 2 Coyote Falls Sporting Clays fun shoot near Almira. Practice starts 9:30 a.m., event at 10:30 a.m. Preregister by Wednesday: (509) 639-0168 or email coyotefallssporting@gmail.com.

April 7 – Spokane DU annual dinner, doors open at 5:30 p.m. at The Lincoln Center, 1316 N. Lincoln St. Tickets $50 single, $275 sponsor.

Contact Gordon Hester, 755-7576 or register online.

Centennial Trail, Turnbull fundraisers this week

CONSERVATION — Two worthy local outdoor causes are having fun feasts and auctions this weekend:

The Centennial Trail's third annual Adventure Auction is Friday at Northern Quest Casino. 

Friends of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge will hold their fourth annual dinner and auction on Sunday, noon-4 p.m., at the Lincoln Center, 1316 N. Lincoln St. in Spokane.

  • Tickets cost $25 for Friends members and $30 for nonmembers. Price includes a pasta dinner. Info: CraigCorder, 2cbird@hughes.net

The Friends of Turnbull event helps fund Turnbull’s environmental education programs, which have introduced thousands of children to quality nature experiences. 

Pullman Ducks Unlimited banquet is Saturday

CONSERVATION — Pullman Ducks Unlimited will hold its annual banquet  and auction Saturday, March 26, at Banyan’s Restaurant at the Palouse Ridge Golf Course. 

Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m.; dinner served at 7 and live auction at 8.  

Tickets: Jeremy Lessmann, (509) 330-1822.

Idaho offers ‘wilderness’ license plate

CONSERVATION — Idaho is offering several new specialty vehicle license plates this year, including one that benefits mountain biking programs and one to help manage Idaho's premier wilderness areas.

The wildernes plate, sponsored by the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation, benefits trail maintenance and wilderness stewardship in Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

The specialty plate was released in February featuring wilderness artwork from Boise artist Ward Hooper, a native of Grangeville. 

Read on for details for Idaho residents wanting to buy one of these specialty plates.

Lake Roosevelt offers 10 youth summer positions

OUTDOOR YOUTH — A local follow-up to yesterday's post on outdoor-related summer jobs for youths:

The Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area soon will be hiring for 10 Youth Conservation Corps positions for youths 15-18 years old.  Work starts in June . The youths work 40-hours a week through August.

Applications are due by March 31.

Contact Sue Halverson, 509-725-2715, extension 20 at Fort Spokane, or Ron Sacchi, 509-633-9441, extension 141 at Coulee Dam, or  Pat Michael 509-738-6366, extension 102 at Kettle Falls.

Standard Hummers are excessive, but this…

CONSERVATION — "Nothing says 'excess' like Vegas and a four axle, 40-foot long strech "Hummer" limousine," said Phil Hough of Sandpoint, who's visiting Sin City this week for a conservation conference.

"No, this was NOT the airport shuttle we took," said the spokesman for the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

Plan for expanding Mount Spokane ski area presented tonight

STATE PARKS — The latest step in a long effort to expand the downhill ski area at Mount Spokane State Park will be explained in a public workshop with time for public comment tonight, 6:30 p.m., in Building 17 at Spokane Falls Community College, 3410 W. Fort George Wright Dr. in Spokane.

The proposal by concessionaire Mount Spokane 2000 would expand the the Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park  by 279 acres into an 800-acre portion of the 13,919-acre state park on the west side of the mountain that does not yet have a formal land-use classification.

The expansion would include one ski lift and seven new ski runs. Mount Spokane 2000 would be responsible for the costs of improvements and additional expenses.

Ski area proponents say the expansion is necessary for the resort to stay competitive and would bring managed skiing back to the best snow area on the mountain. See our page 1 story from this week and last week's column by ski writer Bill Jennings.

Opponents to the proposal say the west side of the mountain — which has some old growth timber and meadows and wetlands important to wildlife — should be classified as Natural Forest Area, which would allow current recreation uses to continue but prevent the installation of a ski lift and cutting swaths into the forest.

Robert Kennedy Jr. to speak on clean water in Spokane, Sandpoint

CONSERVATION — Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an international leader in the cause for clean and healthy waterways, will be in Sandpoint on May 18 and Spokane on May 19 to promote cleaning up and protecting two of the inland Northwest’s signature waterways.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s support for local organizations like the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and Spokane Riverkeeper is deeply inspiring,” says Jennifer Ekstrom, Lake PendOreille Waterkeeper.

“His presence is clearly a help to our efforts to raise public awareness about the critical issues we work on every day.”

Kennedy will speak at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint  at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday May 18th. Tickets for the Sandpoint appearance are $15 general, and $5 for students.

On Thursday May 19, he will speak at 7:30 p.m. at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox in Spokane, where admission will be $17 general and $7 for students. (Spokane tickets include a $2 historic preservation fee.)

Read on for more about Kennedy and his background in water issues and the Riverkeeper projects. 

Dine for ducks

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION – The Pullman, Washington Chapter of Ducks Unlimited will hold its annual fund-raising banquet on March 26  at Banyan’s Restaurant, 1260 NE Palouse Ridge Road on the WSU Golf Course. 

Doors will open at 5:30, with raffles, games and silent auctions during the social hour followed by a buffet dinner and live auction.

Ducks Unlimited is a non-profit organization dedicated to waterfowl and wetlands conservation.

Since its inception in 1937, DU has conserved more than 10 million acres of habitat throughout North America for a large variety of species.  

Several projects in Washington State have helped salmon as well as waterfowl by rehabilitating estuaries and riparian habitat.

 For tickets and information on the Pullman event, contact  Robert “Bo” Ingham (509) 592-8855), Joe Ford (509) 872-3030 or go online.

Olympia gives cold shoulder to East Side conservation effort

PUBLIC LANDS — Ah, Sunday — time to relax and perhaps put a little energy into local conservation efforts by sending an e-mail to your state representatives to support funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

As I explained in my Thursday column, Gov. Chris Greqoire has proposed the 20-year-old program that issues grants STATEWIDE for conserving parks, habitat, open spaces and working farms should get no funding this year.  Meantime her staff has proposed $20 million for similar but largely low-ranked programs ONLY in Puget Sound.

At stake are several East Side projects that scientists already have scrutinized and ranked high for their merits to wildlife and public recreation.  Among them is the third and final phase of Spokane County's Antoine Peak acquisition, which has been funded largely by our own Spokane County Conservation Futures Program.

Money is tight in the state and conservation planning must be scaled down like everything else. But citizens should rally against this political tinkering with the objective work that's already been done to rank conservation grant requests through WWRP.

Click here for information on contacting your state representatives.

This student internship is outdoors dream job

OUTFIELD — If you know an outdoors-oriented student looking for a summer job, here's one with perks that caught my attention, including $2,000 worth of top-quality outdoor gear, a $2,500 stipend and expenses-paid backcountry trips in multiple states.

The Sierra Club is billing its summer youth ambassador job as the best student internship on the planet.

But the deadline to apply is March 16.

I talked to last year's intern for a story coming in Sunday's Outdoors section. Evan Geary, 23, a graduate of New York University in film, said his three months of outdoor experiences last summer spanned five states and included river rafting in California, backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and working with underprivileged kids on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound.

The youth ambassador, who must be at least 18 and a student or recent high school or college graduate, is based at the San Francisco headquarters and travels to join organized Sierra Club groups and post video blogs about their experiences.

The intern should have a love of the outdoors and the knack for communicating that enthusiasm to others.

Sierra Club Productions equips the intern with video gear. Editing abilities are a plus, but the most important requirements are a good eye for a story and a gift for interviewing people who are passionate about the outdoors.

Internship details, video information

  • Get all the details about the Sierra Club Youth Ambassador Summer Internship at the Sierra Club website.
  • Deadline to make the video application is March 16.
  • The website also includes examples of the short videos Evan Geary made last summer as a Sierra Club intern – including the video he sent in with his application to bag the job.

The youth ambassador will spend the summer video-blogging on different Sierra Club outings sponsored by Inner City Outings, Building Bridges to the Outdoors, and Volunteer Vacations programs.

Conserving working ranches topic of fundraiser

CONSERVATION — John Dawson, a Colville-area cattle rancher, will be featured at a Spokane event this week sponsored by several conservation groups to raise awareness of need to maintain working ranches for the benefit of wildlife.

Read my December feature story about Dawson.

The Dawson family are the first in Stevens County to put their ranch into a conservation easement to assure that it remains a ranch and is not developed.  The move has been lauded by conservation groups, wildlife biologists and cattlemen who know that economic pressures force many of them to develop and price the land out of the reach of the next generation of ranchers.

The event with appetizers and wine is set for Friday at the American West Bank Building lobby, 41 W. Riverside Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m.; program starts at 7.  It's sponsored by Conservation Northwest, Inland Northwest Land Trust and The Lands Council. Sen. Lisa Brown is a host.

RSVP to Crystal Gartner, (509) 570-2166, crystal@conservationnw.org

For more info, read my December feature story about the Dawson's and their conservation easement decision.

Big Rock access priority for Dishman Hills Association

CONSERVATION – Developing a parking area for the south-side access to the Big Rock conservation area near Tower Mountain is a top 2011 priority for The Dishman Hills Natural Area Association, which recently filled all 14 slots on its board.

After three years of negotiations, the non-profit group acquired the 80-acre parcel in Spokane Valley in 2009.

Since 1994, the association has acquired about 500 acres in the Tower Mountain- Big Rock area, said Michael  Hamilton, association president.

The Big Rock-Rocks of Sharon area adjoins Spokane County’s 875-acre Iller Creek Conservation Futures Area, which extends uphill from the Ponderosa neighborhood west of Dishman-Mica Road.

The 2009 deal created about 1,300 acres of Dishman Hills association and county land dedicated to natural-area protection and public, nonmotorized recreation, Hamilton said.

To continue these endeavors, the group needs to continue to cultivate new supporters and donors.

For information on membership and tax-deductible donations, contact Michael Hamilton, 747-8147.

The DHNA’s current slate of trustees includes David Cole, Paul Flanary, Karen Jurasin, Chris Kopczynski, Beatrice Lackaff, David Lill, Bob Ordner, Mary Weathers, Peter Wolbach, Andrew Ashmore, Michael Hamilton, Jeff Lambert, Kris Wolbach and Suzy Dix..

Dishman Hills activities

The group’s traditional Buttercup Hike through the Dishman Hills is set for April 2 followed by the second annual REI-sponsored service day for the natural area on April 9.

See documentary on Skeena River woes

RIVERS — Whether you're a paddler or a steelhead angler, you've probably heard of British Columbia's Skeena River.  It's an iconic natural resource that's threatened, according to a documentary that will be playing in Spokane on Friday.

"Awakening at the Skeena," a film by Andrew Eddy, will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Magic Lantern, 25 W. Main Ave. sponsored by The Lands Council.  A donation to the cause is requested.

To reserve seats, call 209-2382.

For more info, check out The Skeena Watershed Coalition and The Wild Steelhead Coalition.