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Groups highlight trail projects past and future

PUBLIC LANDS – Volunteer trail projects past and future will be highlighted in a program by the Spokane Mountaineers and Washington Trails Association on Monday, June 17, at 7 p.m., at the Mountain Gear Headquarters, 6021 E. Mansfield.

“The Mountaineers have a long history of giving back to our local trails,” said Lynn Smith, the club’s trail-maintenance program coordinator. “Whether working on our own or in conjunction with other organizations, we understand that stewardship goes hand-in-hand with recreation, and volunteers are a crucial part of the process – especially in this era of shrinking budgets.”

More projects are planned this year in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, he said.

Comment requested on proposed wildlife land acquisitions

PUBLIC LANDS — More than 700 acres along the Kettle River in Ferry County is among 13 proposed land acquisition areas for fish, wildlife and related recreation the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering in the next three years. 

The agency has posted details of the properties on its website and is asking the public to comment on the proposals.

The proposed acquisitions — general and specific — include a 150-acre addition to the Reardan Audubon Lake for migratory birds and bird watching and 3,750 acres for the fourth phase of the the 4-0 ranch acquisitions along the Grande Ronde River to boost everything from steelhead to elk as well as public access. 

The parcels also include 2,200 acres in Okanogan County geared to habitat for sharptailed grouse and hunting for other species.

Most of the individual projects are described within their "geographic envelope" – the general area that includes the parcels being considered for acquisition.  An envelope is used for planning purposes only.  Should the department desire to acquire a particular parcel. WDFW will contact the landowner to determine his or her interest before initiating any acquisition proposal.  The department develops acquisition agreements only with willing property owners.

WDFW will not use operating budget funds for these land acquisitions. Instead, the department will seek state and federal grants for most of the proposed acquisitions. Potential grant sources include the State of Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and federal grants through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (also known as "Section 6" funds) and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

Fish and Wildlife officials plan to refer to public comments as they present the proposals at the state’s annual Land Acquisition Coordinating Forum in March. The statewide forum brings together state agencies, local governments, non-governmental organizations, tribes, landowners and other citizens to share ideas about state land actions for habitat and recreation purposes. 

Clearwater over-snow travel maps out in January

WINTER SPORTS — Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests plan to have the Clearwater Over Snow  Vehicle Use Maps (OSVUMs) available to the public by mid-January.

At that, forest officials plan implementation road and area closures that will be spelled out on the map. 

OSVUMs are the winter travel map for the Clearwater National Forest. The Clearwater Motor Vehicle Use Map designating forest roads, trails and areas open to motor vehicle use has been available since November, 2013 and is posted on the forest's website.  

Read on for the explanation forest officials gave in a media release:

It was a 65ish day on Scotchman Peak

HIKING  — Jim Mellen, a hyperactive North Idaho member of the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, celebrated his 65th birthday on Wednesday by hiking Forest Service Trail 65 for the 7-mile roundtrip — to the top of Scotchman Peak.

He snowboarded down and posted these photos, including the one (above) of the view from the peak's 7,009-foot summit overlooking Lake Pend Oreille.

Teanaway purchase becomes Washington’s first state forest

PUBLIC LANDS — The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and Forterra today announced the purchase of 50,272 acres in the headwaters of the Yakima Basin watershed.

The area, with benefits ranging from the watershed's importance to irrigators to the outdoor recreation opportunities, is being designated the Teanaway Community Forest.

The $97 million Teanaway acquisition is the largest single land transaction in Washington State in 45 years and reflects more than a decade of collaboration involving many organizations and individuals, state officials said in a media release. 

The property will become Washington's first Community Forest, a model designed to empower communities to partner with DNR to purchase forests that support local economies and public recreation, said Peter Goldmark, Commissioner of Public Lands. 

The forest will be managed through a partnership between DNR and WDFW, with input from the local community and interested stakeholders.

Acquisition of the property is a key step in implementing the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, an initiative developed by a coalition of public and private organizations to safeguard the basin's water supply, restore fisheries, conserve habitat, preserve working lands, and enhance recreational opportunities. 

Read on for details on how this came to be.

Hunters, birders eye forest herbicide use in NE Washington

FORESTS – A Stimson Lumber Co. application to spray herbicides on forest land in Pend Oreille County is drawing concern from wildlife enthusiasts.

Timber companies have been getting permits from the Washington Department of Natural Resources for aerial spraying for years to kill brush that competes in harvested areas with newly planted trees.

But birding groups and some hunters are concerned about the toll the herbicides are taking on native plants and the birds and wildlife that depnd on them, expecially moose.

The Stimson application is for prime moose habitat in the Skookum Lake-Half Moon Lake area as well as around North Baldy and Pelke Divide.

Hikers, berry pickers sharing woods with hunters this month

HUNTING/HIKING — August is a prime month for backpacking in the Inland Northwest and it's also the month in which some hunting seasons open, luring sportsmen with bows or rifles into the same mountains.

Danger levels are very low, but safety-minded hikers wear some bright clothing this time of year.

In Washington:

Black bear hunting seasons opened Aug. 1 in Western Washington and much of the Casdades and Columbia Basin zones. The Northeastern B and Okanogan zones will open Aug. 15.

More seasons, including forest grouse and morning dove, will open Sept. 1.

In Idaho:

Archery seasons for mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk open Aug. 30 and run through September.

In the warm weather of summer, hunters should consider hunting in the higher country. Hunters have an ethical and legal obligation to salvage the edible portions of their kill. But meat spoilage is an important concern during hot weather.

The key to preserving meat is starting the cooling process quickly. Game animals should be skinned immediately and quartered in most cases and transported quickly to cold storage facilities. Early season hunters may consider using large ice chests to keep game meat cool and clean. Removing meat from the bones also helps speed cooling. 

GAO report: 3 of 4 Forest Service trails below standards

HIKING — A new federal report says only one-quarter of U.S. Forest Service trails meet the agency’s own standards as it attempts to catch up with a $524 million maintenance deficit.

The is the latest news, coming out after my recent localized story: Budget cuts leave recreation areas looking for outside help.

The Missoulian this week looked into the Government Accountability Office's nation-wide report on trail conditions.

Two groups petitioned members of Congress to look into the matter, since the last similar study was done in 1989. U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and Jim Moran, D-Va., officially requested the study.

“With the important exception of maintaining forest health to combat wildfires and insect kill, there is no other activity in the Forest Service’s portfolio that is more important than ensuring the public’s access to our forests and wilderness areas,” Lummis said in a statement, where she also described the trails maintenance program as “held together by Band-Aids and bailing wire.”

The Government Accountability Office report released on June 27 found the Forest Service did some maintenance on 37 percent of its 158,000 miles of trail in fiscal 2012. But it estimated another $314 million in deferred maintenance remained on the to-do list, along with $210 million in unfinished annual maintenance, capital improvements and operations. In its recommendations, the GAO called for closer work with volunteers to get projects done.

That’s already a working assumption for groups like the Backcountry Horsemen, according to Montana state chairman Mark Himmel.

“We asked the Forest Service for a punch list of places that needed work,” Himmel said after returning from a brush-clearing trip on the Continental Divide Trail near Rogers Pass. “The guy said throw a dart at the map. Wherever it hits needs work. We’re a maintenance organization. We pick up the slack and make it work. We know there’s budget cutbacks. I don’t know where it’s going to go, except to just keep at it.”

What to know before you go to forests for holiday

PUBLIC LANDS — Fireworks are prohibited year-around on national forests, BLM lands, state wildlife lands and most other public lands. 

That's the first rule to know before heading out for the Fourth of July holiday.

Here are more considerations from the Idaho Panhandle National Forests:

Responsible Motorized Use.  Please stay on designated routes and obtain the appropriate travel maps before you go. On the Colville National Forest as well as the Coeur d’Alene River, Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint and Priest Lake Ranger Districts visitors should carry the FREE Motorized Vehicle Use Maps, available at Forest Service Offices. 

  • The Colville National Forest "Motorized Use Map" can be viewed online under Maps and Publications.

No mud bogging is allowed anywhere on National Forest System lands.  State traffic laws apply to all motor vehicles including off-highway vehicles (OHVs) and motorcycles of all types.

For the latest information on road conditions, including restrictions, closures and construction, visit the national Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ “Road Status” web page.       

Camping.  Camping is allowed for up to 14 days within any 30-day period in developed recreation sites, undeveloped recreation sites, campgrounds, wilderness areas and other general forest areas. Visit the Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ “Recreation” web page to check the status of your favorite site.

Campfire Safety. Even if it’s “green,” please practice good sense by using caution with fire and smoking at all times, in all places.  Drown, stir and check your campfire for heat with your bare hand.  ALL fires must be DEAD OUT when left unattended and before leaving the site.

Keep it Clean to Avoid Bear Encounters!  Proper food storage practices are recommended throughout the Idaho Panhandle National Forests and are required on the Sandpoint, Priest Lake and Bonners Ferry Districts. Bears often develop a strong liking for human and pet foods.  Store food in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof containers. Keep sleeping areas, tents and sleeping bags free from food and food odors. Wash up, change clothes and remove all scented articles nearby before going to bed.  Wild bears avoid people, but bears conditioned to human food can be aggressive and may be euthanized if problems occur. For more information on safety in bear country visit our “Food Storage” web page.

More info: contact your local Idaho Panhandle Forest Service office.

Clearwater Collaborative reaches landmark agreement

The Lewiston Tribune reports that the Clearwater Collaborative, a group that includes environmentalists, lumber companies, the Nez Perce Tribe and local and state officials, has reached an agreement intended to restore wildlife habitat and protect pristine areas while also allowing economic activities such as logging in the Clearwater Basin in northern Idaho. "We believe this balanced package is the blueprint for breaking the gridlock that has paralyzed land management actions in the past," said Alex Irby of Orofino, a co-chairman of the group.

The group has been meeting since 2008; its landmark agreement proposes new wilderness and wild and scenic river designations, an increase in timber harvest from areas with roads, and economic development and financial support for timber-dependent counties. Click below for a full report from the Tribune via the AP.

Check road, trail conditions before you go

FORESTS — A trail closure notice just issued by the Colville National Forest is a reminder that roads, trails and campgrounds are subject to the whims of nature, even on a holiday weekend.  

Call ahead to forest offices to check on any last-minute closures that could foil your plans.


Upper North Fork Trail #507 will be closed to public use until a washed out bridge can be replaced, Colville Forest officials announced this morning. 

The #507 trail is a connector trail that connects the upper portion of the North Fork of Sullivan Creek to the #515 Crowell Ridge Trail in the Salmo Priest Wilderness.

Info: Sullivan Lake Ranger Station at (509) 446-7500.

Wilderness films make case for Scotchmans


PUBLIC LANDS — Two short documentaries about the grassroots effort to secure wilderness status for the Scotchman Peaks northeast of Lake Pend Oreille will be presented Thursday (April 25) at Gonzaga University.

The films and a presentation by the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness will begin at 7 p.m. at the Jepson Center’s Wolff Auditorium.

“The Fight for Wilderness in Our Backyard” is one in a series of presentations for the Earth Week activities sponsored by GU students.

The local effort to designate a Scotchman Peaks Wilderness northeast of Lake Pend Oreille has been a classy act from the beginning — starting with the founding of the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness in 2005.

The effort is revealed in all its home-grown glory in the documentary, Grass Routes: Changing the Conversation.

A second film, “En Plein Air” chronicles the experiences of artists during a five-day trek through the Scotchma Peaks as they capture the natural beauty of the area through their artistic styles.

The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness is a volunteer-driven group of more than 3,900 supporters from North Idaho and Western Montana working to protect the 88,000-acre Scotchman Peaks roadless area through wilderness designation. The area straddles the borders of Idaho and Montana as well as the boundaries between the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai national forests.

Umatilla requires permits for serious mushroomers

PUBLIC LANDS — Mushrooms are pushing their way up through the warming spring soil in forests around the region, and pickers are heading out to greet them.

National forests generally allow people to pick mushrooms freely, but if you're harvesting more than a few gallons of fungi, you may need a commercial permit, depending on the forest.

In the Blue Mountains, the Umatilla National Forest requires a Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent to park a vehicle at many sites.

In adddition, commercial harvest permits are required for picking more than a gallon of mushrooms on the Oregon side of the Blues or more than five gallons on the Washington side.

The forest offers a 2013 mushroom guide with information on rules and tips on where to pick.

Read on for more details from the Umatilla.

Wildlife benefits of prescribed burns easy to see

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Sinlahekin Wildlife Area manager Dale Swedberg doesn't just preach the gospel of rejuvenating wildlife habitat with controlled prescribed fires — he'll let you see for yourself.

A website with an eye-opening collection of photos compares historic photos of the Sinlanhekin Wildlife Area with photos of the same locations made in recent years.

 While the northcentral Washington landscape near Loomis has been improved in some ways, the most glaring observation is the increase in tree cover due to fire supression in the past 90 years.  Trees are good, but too many of them clogging the landscape eliminates the habitat diversity needed by wildlife.

Fire has been around as long as life because fire depends on living things to produce the fuels fire needs to exist. A person would think that there might be some important connections developed in such a long relationship. — Dale Swedberg

Resources for learning more about prescribed burns include:

Film documents grassroots effort for Scotchman Peaks wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — The local effort to designate a Scotchman Peaks Wilderness northeast of Lake Pend Oreille has been a classy act from the beginning — starting with the founding of the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness in 2005.

This week, the effort will be revealed in all its home-grown glory with the debut of the film documentary, Grass Routes: Changing the Conversation.

The 27-minute film will premier on Thursday, 7 p.m., at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint.

The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness is a volunteer-driven group of more than 3,900 supporters from North Idaho and Western Montana working to protect the 88,000-acre Scotchman Peaks roadless area through wilderness designation. The area straddles the borders of Idaho and Montana as well as the boundaries between the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai national forests

Grass Routes details how the group, knowning the values of wilderness for important assets such as wildlife and water quality, has reached out to address the concerns of everyone involved — including local, state and federal government agencies and politicians, mining companies, timber companies, recreational groups and local residents.

The premier will include a few words by local stakeholders and the filmmakers.

The film will be shown this spring at Gonzaga University, likely at the end of April.

Fires planned to boost wildlife habitat

WILDLIFE — Starting as early as Monday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to ignite controlled burns on parts of two wildlife areas in northeast Washington to reduce wildfire risks and enhance wildlife habitat.

Depending on weather conditions, controlled burns are set for parts of state's Sherman Creek Wildlife Area on the west side of Lake Roosevelt in Ferry County and at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County.
The controlled burns – planned for March, April and May – will cover about 600 acres, and will be conducted on parcels ranging from 15 acres to several hundred acres, said Dale Swedberg, manager of WDFW’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area. Additional burns are planned for next fall and the spring of 2014.
Swedberg said the burns in both wildlife areas were delayed from last fall, when burn bans followed by heavy rain prompted WDFW to wait until this year, he said.
Read on for more details.

Oregon wilderness bills reintroduced in Senate

FORESTS –  Longstanding proposals to protect rivers and forests in Oregon as wilderness areas have been reintroduced in Congress by Oregon’s two senators.

The bills would expand the Oregon Caves National Monument and Wild Rogue Wilderness in southwestern Oregon, create new wilderness along the John Day River in Central Oregon, and create the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness to protect old growth forest in the Coast Range on the Siuslaw National Forest. They also would elevate Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protections for the Chetco River in southwestern Oregon, and the Molalla River south of Portland.

Some of the areas were first proposed for wilderness 30 years ago.

Read on for more details on the current legislation as reported by the Associated Press.

Trails group recruiting volunteers for summer trail projects

OUTDO – The Washington Trails Association is recruiting volunteers for an ambitious lineup of trail-building and maintenance projects in far Eastern Washington this season.

Every year as the budgets for parks and forests dwindle, volunteers become more important, said Jane Baker, local WTA trail crew leader in Spokane.

 The work parties range for day-jobs at the Rocks of Sharon to multi-day trips in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness that combine backpacking with trail clearing.

WTA is a third of the way to meeting the 2,000-hours of work at Liberty Lake County Park the group pledged in order to get a state grant.  The first of several work parties planned at Liberty Lake is set for March 16, followed by work in April, May, June and July.

Other project areas include the  Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, Dishman Hills, Mount Spokane and Sullivan Lake.

Sign up online.

Info: (206_ 625-1367.

Good news, bad news about forest beetle infestations

PUBLIC LANDS — A pine beetle outbreak that has left many Western states with vast stands of dead and dying trees has eased for the second consecutive year, the U.S. Forest Service says.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that more trees are dying at higher elevations as beetles take advantage of warm winters to gain a new foothold.

And with trees on roughly 42 million acres killed by various beetles since 2000, it could take decades for some forests to fully recover.

Read the story here.

Colville repairing bridge on upper Barnaby Creek

FORESTS — Until a bridge is repaired, access to the Barnaby Buttes Trailhead and many prized huckleberry picking patches on the Colville National Forest will require a much longer drive for those used to accessing them off of South Fork Sherman Creek Road.

The South Fork of Sherman Creek Bridge on Barnaby Creek Road, Forest Service Road (FS RD) 2014000, has been closed because of damage sustained in the July 20 wind storm, officials reported today.

Read on for details.

Forest Capital sells timberlands in northeast Washington

PRIVATE TIMBERLANDS — Forest Capital Partners, which has a regional office in Colville, has sold its 1.88 million-acre timberland portfolio to Hancock Timber Resource Group and Molpus Woodlands Group.

FCP, with headquarters in Portland and Boston, paid $1.65 billion for the timberland in a 2005 deal with Boise-Cascade. The financial terms of what it sold for have not been disclosed.

“We will continue current practice for public access,” said Hancock spokesman Brian Carmichael responding to questions from The Spokesman-Review. “We have no plans for changes at Colville office.”

Hancock Timber is acquiring 573,000 acres in Oregon, 376,000 acres in Louisiana, 264,000 acres in Washington and 138,000 acres in Idaho.

Molpus is buying 286,000 acres in Minnesota, 110,000 acres in Louisiana and 138,000 acres in Idaho.

Dick Molpus is the president of Molpus Woodlands Group, which acquires, manages and sells timberland as an investment vehicle for pension funds, college endowments and wealthy individual investors.

He describes the timberlands as highly productive and ideally situated near timber markets with competitive pricing.

Win a forest photo contest without leaving town

FORESTS — The U.S. Forest Service has announced its My Neighborhood Forest photo contest, celebrating America’s urban and community forests.

The Grand Prize winner will receive $200 in outdoor gear courtesy of the National Forest Foundation.

The contest, which runs through July 22, seeks to highlight the natural beauty that spring and summer bring to U.S. neighborhoods, communities and cities, as well as the crucial role of trees in the places we call home.

Visit Challenge.gov for more details on the prizes and contest rules.

Tussock moth infestation found in Blue Mountains

FORESTS — The Washington Department of Natural Resources has discovered a new infestation of Douglas-fir tussock moths that occurred last summer in the Blue Mountains of Washington and Oregon.

Light defoliation caused by the moths was mapped across 9,000 acres of the Umatilla National Forest, with Washington accounting for 7,800 acres, according to a DNR press release and following report from the Associated Press.

Most of the defoliation occurred in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area, but it may spread and increase in severity this year, the state Department of Natural Resources said Monday.

Officials say another tussock moth outbreak that affected 1,600 acres in eastern Spokane County in 2011 will likely end this year.

In nearby northern Idaho, approximately 68,000 acres with tussock moth defoliation were recorded in 2011 and that outbreak may spread this year, the DNR said.

The defoliation can reduce growth, cause top-kill, and may make some trees vulnerable to attack by bark beetles. An outbreak typically kills up to 40 percent of the trees in an area.

The outbreak in the Blue Mountains primarily affects grand fir, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, and some spruce.

Recreation can be affected in areas with tussock moth present because the hairs found on caterpillars, cocoons, and egg masses are a skin irritant to many people, the DNR said.

The last outbreak in the Blue Mountains occurred from 2000-2002.

Outbreaks typically collapse within two to four years due to a buildup of natural enemies, such as disease and parasites.

The Washington DNR said new damage becomes most noticeable in July and is often worst in the tops of trees.

Pine beetle boring in on famous Canadian parks

NATIONAL PARKS —  Mountain pine beetles that have taken a high toll on the forests of British Columbia are poised to inflict major damage to Jasper National Park and possibly Mount Robson National Park, researchers say.

Read the update from the Edmonton Journal.

Neighbornhood workshop on fire risk reduction for the High Drive Bluff on Thursday

URBAN FORESTS — The Friends of the High Drive Bluff are organizing a discussion on the proposed Fire Risk Reduction Plan for that popular South Hill recreation area on Thursday, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m., at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, 5720 S. Perry St.

Anyone interested in the Bluff is welcome and encouraged to participate.
Last spring, community members identified fire risk reduction as a high priority for the Bluff and for neighboring homes. Attend this workshop to learn details of the plan, get answers to your questions, and learn how you can help with the project.

Contact: Diana Roberts, WSU Spokane County Extension, (509) 477-2167, email robertsd@wsu.edu

St. Joe River access still blocked from St. Regis

FISHING — A portion of the popular St. Regis Road (Forest Highway 50) with access to the St. Joe River will continue to be closed through Monday noon for culvert replacement in the Bear Springs and Float Creek Area.

That means anglers headed for the upper St. Joe will need to use an alternate route.  Alternatives include:

Moon Pass Road out of Wallace, brings you down the North Fork to the St. Joe close to Avery.

Forest Road 339 over Float Saddle and down Quartz Creek to the upper Joe (recommended for high-clearance vehicles).

Info: St. Joe Ranger District  (208) 245-2531.

Mount Rainier offers hope for whitebark pine woes

NATURE — The whitebark pine is making news as a potential candidate for Endangered Species protections, and the domino impacts on species ranging from Clark's nutcrackers to grizzly bears.

The whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree, is on the decline in the West, brought down by drought, bugs and warmer temperatures, but scientists say the pines on Washington state's Mount Rainier could provide seeds for a healthier, surviving species.

Get the details in this story by Craig Welch of the Seattle Times.

100 blazes: Canada starts fire season with a bang

FORESTS —  While fire season seems virtually impossible in the Inland Northwest during this long, wet spring, the smoke that smudged into Central Washington over the holiday weekend was a reminder of what may be on its way.

More than 100 wildfires are burning in Canada, reports Sean Hopkins of the Washington State Department of Ecology:

Most of the smoke came from fires 150 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta.  It’s amazing the smoke traveled more than 850 miles south to impact Central WA.  

Air Quality is good now but it did get into the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range for a few hours on Sunday afternoon.  
The town of Slave Lake, Alberta, was completely engulfed within an hour, destroying at least 40 percent of the town of 7,000.  Amazingly no injuries or fatalities reported yet.