Latest from The Spokesman-Review
WILDLIFE — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has approved purchasing 4,200 acres of a Douglas County ranch to protect shrub-steppe habitat for wildlife, especially for threatened sharp-tailed grouse, and provide public access for outdoor recreation.
It's the first phase of the state's plan to purchase virtually all 20,500 acres of the Grand Coulee Ranch, which borders 14 miles of the Columbia River including Lake Rufus Woods backed up behind Chief Joseph Dam.
The commission voted on the proposal and supported the long-range plan during its weekend meeting in Pasco.
The Grand Coulee Ranch also provides the potential for building a fishing access on the state side of Lake Rufus Woods across from the Colville Indian Reservation.
While similar huge acquisitions in Asotin County have generated controversy, Douglas County commissioners have formally supported the state's plans to purchase the Grand Coulee Ranch.
The land in the first-phase purchase, located about five miles northwest of the town of Grand Coulee is being sold for the assessed value of $1.8 million. The purchase is possible because of a grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Once the sale is closed, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will manage the land as part of the Wells Wildlife Area.
WILDLIFE — A highly visible prescribed fire is scheduled to be ignited on a portion of the Colville National Forest today, reminding the public that this is the “good fire” season in national forests throughout the Northwest.
- Fire and smoke will be highly visible from Kettle Falls, WA and those traveling over Sherman Pass or recreating on Lake Roosevelt . The Paradise Peak Project is located approximately 7 miles west of Kettle Falls.
Although their budgets are limited and the window of safe opportunity is small, managers of forests around the region are setting fires carefully planned to sweep up hillsides and burn away thick understory fuels. The burns reduce the chance that fires in future years will grow big and destructive.
At the same time, because they don't burn extremely hot like a summer wildfire, the controlled burns quickly rejuvenate forage for big-game species.
The Methow Valley Ranger District recently cancelled a planned controlled burn near Winthrop after hearing concerns from local residents weary and wary after Washington's largest wildfires on record raged through their region this summer.
Understood. But let's hope residents soon realize that well-timed controlled fires are the best prescription for minimizing fire danger in the future as well as bringing back habitat for the region's fire-troubled mule deer herd.
Says the Colville National Forest in a release today:
The objective of these prescribed fires is to reduce the accumulation of dense undergrowth to reduce fire danger and to improve wildlife and big game wildlife habitat. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation supports these prescribed fire objectives and provides grant funding to the Forest Service to help fund these efforts. This project is also part of the larger Paradise Peak Big Game Improvement Project, which also includes other large prescribed fire units and thinning units.
WILDLIFE — State agencies and conservation groups have closed a $1.55 million deal to secure 2,893 acres of wildlife habitat especially important to the Yakima elk herd.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Friday that the deal was made to purchase the private land 15 miles northwest of Yakima with help from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Cowiche Canyon Conservancy and Department of Ecology.
The two land parcels serve as habitat to a variety of wildlife and as an important connection between summer and winter range for the Yakima elk herd and have been used historically for grazing, said Mike Livingston, WDFW southcentral region director. The properties will be managed as part of WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation negotiated the deal with the landowner and paid for half of the cost of the land appraisal.
“We need to recognize and thank the private owners, the Tieton Cattle Association, which kept the native grasses and forbs in great condition while grazing their cattle on this same land during the summer,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of lands and conservation.
The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy paid the other half of the appraisal and will manage the grazing on the property through a grazing easement.
“It's not often you get to protect nearly 3,000 acres of habitat and also protect a sustainable historic grazing operation that produces locally sourced grass-fed beef, ” says Betsy Bloomfield, executive director of the conservancy. “The combination of habitat and recreation protection with a cultural legacy makes this a wonderful project.”
DOE and the Kennewick Irrigation District provided the funding to acquire the land to mitigate for the loss of shrub-steppe habitat that was converted to agricultural land. Funds also came from the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan through DOE.
See more information in this story by the Yakima Herald-Republic.
ENVIRONMENT — The Heartland is no longer the land of milkweed and honey for monarchs.
Study links farming methods in U.S. to rapid decline of Monarch butterflies
A new study published last week in the Journal of Animal Ecology said a change in farming practices in the Midwest of the United States that led to a rapid decline of milkweed, where monarch butterflies lay their eggs in the spring and summer, is tied to the marked decline in the number of the butterflies.
—Toronto Globe and Mail
WILDLIFE – Nine counties in Washington have been granted nearly $180,000 for habitat projects and research from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
The 2014 grants will affect nearly 1,600 acres in Asotin, Cowlitz, Jefferson, King, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Pierce, Skamania and Yakima Counties.
The money will boost local, state and federal programs for prescribed burns, forest thinning, meadow restoration, noxious weed treatments and other projects, said David Allen, RMEF president.
“We also committed considerable resources toward three different elk studies including one focused on determining the cause of hoof rot,” he said.
RMEF volunteers in Washington raised the money through banquets and activities.
Since 1985, RMEF and its partners completed 521 different conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Washington.
Read on for the specific projects funded by the 2014 grants.
CONSERVATION — A Spokane man who won a big lottery jackpot put wildlife on the top of his list of benefactors from the windfall.
Kelly Cruz, 53, a local carpenter, scored a win in the Lucky for Life scratch ticket and will receive $1,000 a week for life.
That's a bit short of the mega millions jackpots we hear about every few months, but still a nice security blanket for anyone to win and still enough to give a man a shot at opening his wallet to a worthy cause.
According to today's story in The Spokesman-Review:
“With the money, he plans to buy a lifetime membership in the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and probably will give to more causes. But he doesn’t plan to move or make major changes in his life.
The Missoula-based RMEF, which has about 200,000 members, raises money and recruits volunteers to improve habitat for a wide range of wildlife, especially elk, across the country. A lifetime membership will set Cruz back for a week and a half of lottery winnings — a noble share to the cause.
Since it was founded in 1984, RMEF has:
- Protected and enhanced more than 6.4 million acres
- Opened and/or secured for public access for hunting and other outdoor recreation more than 667,000 acres
The group also has organized more than 8,500 projects for permanent land protection, habitat stewardship, elk restoration, conservation education and hunting heritage.
PUBLIC LANDS — Slow-moving fires are planned for about 1,150 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management scablands southwest of Spokane near Fishtrap Lake starting this week to boost wildlife habitat and reduce the chance of intense wild fires during summer and fall.
The Spokane District will be conducting prescribed fires in the Fishtrap area of Spokane and Lincoln Counties, approximately 8.5 miles northeast of Sprague during the period from Wednesday, Jan. 15, through Feb. 28, depending on weather.
Smoke may be visible on active ignition days and for several days following, officials said, noting these burns are part of BLM's region-wide fire control program. A program of prescribed burns can help reduce the intensity and damage cause by natural fires, such as those that have burned in Lincoln County in recent years (photo above).
Prescribed fire is used to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, and increase public and firefighter safety. It also helps meet a variety of resource management objectives: reducing hazardous fuels (surface or ladder fuels), and restoring habitats and ecosystems. To restore fire to its natural role in forests and rangelands, trained experts employ low intensity prescribed fire in the spring and fall, when weather conditions minimize escape and allow for controlled burning.
WILDLIFE — Idaho Fish and Game's monthly presentation for sportsmen is featuring habitat biologists:
COEUR d’ALENE SPORTSMEN’S
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2013
Breakfast.. $7.50 includes tax and gratuity
Lake City Senior Center, 1916 N. Lakewood Dr.
Coeur d’Alene, ID ~ Time – 6:30 AM
Habitat biologists will discuss Wildlife Management Area Plans for the northern Panhandle.
Stop in for breakfast, have a cup of coffee, and visit with IDFG staff and sportsmen like yourself.
Biennial report tracks changes in Yellowstone National Park
The Yellowstone Center for Resources released its biennial report on conditions within Yellowstone National Park and the 2013 “Vital Signs” said that drier conditions were reported across the park in the past two years as precipitation has declined, visitor numbers have increased, while populations of elk, trumpeter swans and three species of fish have declined.
—Bozeman Daily Chronicle;
PUBLIC LANDS — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is planning to conduct prescribed fires in the Huckleberry Mountains area in Stevens County Dec. 12-Jan. 31, according to the Spokane District Office.
About 153 acres of public land will be burned, and smoke may be visible on active ignition days and subsequent days. The overall goal of this burn is to reduce the fire hazard and intensity.
Generally, controlled burns also improve wildlife habitat.
Prescribed fire is used in BLM's fire management program to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, and increase public and firefighter safety. It also helps meet a variety of resource management objectives: reducing hazardous fuels (surface or ladder fuels), and restoring habitats and ecosystems. To restore fire to its natural role in forests and rangelands, trained experts employ low intensity prescribed fire in the spring and fall, when weather conditions minimize escape and allow for controlled burning.
The legal descriptions of the prescribed fire areas are Township 29 North, Range 37 East, Sections 1, 6, 12, 13, 18, 19, 24, and Township 31 North, Range 39 East, Sections 9, 10, and 34. The project areas are located approximately 10 miles northwest of the town of Wellpinit, Washington and 10 miles southwest of Chewelah, WA. The units are bordered by other BLM public lands and Washington Department of Natural Resources lands.
Habitat loss blamed for decline in monarch butterflies, wild bees
The return of the monarch butterflies to central Mexico didn't happen on Nov. 1 this year, but instead just a fraction of the millions of butterflies expected straggled in a week late, and the decline of that species, along with a slate of other insects including wild bees, has been linked to the loss of vegetation the insects need to survive.
—New York Times
WILDLIFE — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation says it is transferring $223,943 in grants and other funding to help boost elk habitat programs in Idaho, including $50,000 for the wolf management program.
The funding is directed mostly to nine counties including Boundary, Clearwater, Latah and Shoshone.
Projects include controlled burns and weed control to boost big-game forage with the goal of reestablishing healthy elk habitat and populations, RMEF officials said.
“It’s no secret elk populations and habitat declined over the last few decades in north-central Idaho. RMEF is stepping up funding and research efforts and working with our partners to address improvements,” said David Allen, RMEF president. “We are also increasing our efforts to assist and strengthen the state’s wolf management program.”
Conservation groups are challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to shrink protected habitat by more than 90 percent for the last caribou herd in the Lower 48 states. After proposing that 375,000 acres in North Idaho and Northeast Washington be protected for endangered mountain caribou, the Service abruptly changed course last November, protecting only 30,010 acres. Federal officials failed to explain why habitat originally deemed essential to recovering the South Selkirk caribou herd wasn’t included in the final plan, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Idaho’s District Court. “They appeared to cave in to political pressure,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs/Becky Kramer, SR. More here. (AP file photo)
Question: Do you support this lawsuit?
CONSERVATION — Rance Block of Liberty Lake was honored today for decades of work to protect wildlife habitat and sportsmen's access to the outdoors across the West, especially in Eastern Washington.
Block left a 15-year career at Boeing to join the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and dedicate his negotiation talents to conservation. Block recently retired from RMEF after 20 years during which he had a direct hand in protecting more than 130,000 acres of wildlife habitat in six western states.
“One would think that I have great anecdotes about kicking the dirt with Rance and a land-owner or dawn hikes to spot wildlife … I don't,” said Peter Dykstra, Coalition board president who presented the award. “I know him from countless hours in community rooms working with communities to overcome differences, find common ground, and build dreams protecting vital wildlife habitat. The reality of conservation work is that you spend a lot of times indoors and not a lot of time outdoors.”
In his address, Block highlighted his work on the Rock Creek project as an example of how unconventional community partnerships and grants from sources like the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program can help preserve access for all outdoor enthusiasts.
The project near Naches protected more than 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat, addressing the problem of checker-board ownership that put access to the area in jeopardy.
The project, which closed in late 2012, garnered broad support from elected and business leaders in the community in addition to recreationists.
He was involved in several similar efforts to block up checkerboarded land that will boost efforts to maintain the big-game habitat as well as assure public access.
Block offered some advice to conservationists looking to expand partnerships:
“It's important to have a cup of coffee and listen to the needs of elected officials … potential partners … of outdoor users,” Block said. “In conservation work, there are a lot of potential partners that often go ignored when you're looking for supporters. It is important to recognize that people utilize our public lands differently and it's important to find ways to incorporate their support.”
He also noted that many of the breakfast's almost 700 attendees, most of them were over the age of 35. Block encouraged everyone in the room to take time to listen to the younger generation and craft programs that appeal to future conservationists.
Incidentally, the WWRC knows a few things about partnerships and conservation. Since it was founded 24 years ago, WWRC has leveraged $1.1 billion in government grants and appropriations and private donations to fund over 1,000 projects across the state. The money has used to create playgrounds for disabled kids, build urban and rural trails, buy wildlife habitat, secure farmland from development, provide new water access and more.
Read on for details about the Joan Thomas Award:
WILDLIFE — As mentioned in today's outdoors column about elk management in the Blue Mountains, Washington wildlife managers report good results from a program that signs contracts with farmers and ranchers to improve elk habitat and reduce big-game depredation issues on their lands.
One of the tactics is to plant “lure crops” to attract elk to higher elevation plots so they won't be so tempted to come down and ravage expensive crops such as garbanzo beans.
Remote camera photos such as the one above show elk using these food plots. Here's the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlfie field report that went with this and other photos:
Elk Lure Crops: Conflict Specialist Rasley met with two farmers on Wilson Hollow in Walla Walla County “regarding no elk damage.” Both farmers said, “This is the first time in over 20 years we have not had 60 plus head of elk in our garbs.” They asked what the reasoning was and Rasley showed them both where all 68 head of elk are living now; in our newly planted lure crops some five miles up the road.
HABITAT — Keep your fingers crossed, ranchers, farmers and hunters. Maybe this will work — and yellow starthistle will be next!
WSU researcher puts cheatgrass enemy to test in Idaho
Ann Kennedy believes ACK55, a bacteria that naturally occurs in soils, is a natural enemy of cheatgrass, and the Washington State University is putting the bacteria to the test on cheatgrass on a 7-acre plot at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge in Canyon County.
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.
Idaho delegation lauds new, smaller caribou habitat designation; ICL says it’s not enough for recovery
Idaho's congressional delegation is praising the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for its final designation of critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains, which, instead of the original 375,552 acres, designates just 30,010 acres, only 6,029 of it in Idaho. That Idaho habitat is all on national forest land in Boundary County; no land in Bonner County was included.
“I am pleased that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listened to the public outcry regarding the impacts this expanded critical habitat designation would have had upon people's livelihoods,” said 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador. “This is an example of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recognizing the need for improved species management and we applaud the efforts of the men and women on the ground in Idaho who made this decision.”
Sen. Jim Risch called the final designation “more realistic than the initial proposal,” and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson called it a “reasonable and fact-based decision.” Click below for their full statements.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Conservation League noted that the number of caribou has dropped from 46 in 2009 to just 27 in 2012. Brad Smith, ICL conservation associate in Sandpoint, said of the new habitat designation: “Unfortunately, this represents that habitat used by an imperiled herd rather than a recovered herd. More habitat must be protected to have a growing herd and achieve recovery.” He released a Q&A on the caribou habitat designation; you can read it here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) ― A northern Idaho county and a snowmobile group have sued the U.S. Department of Interior in federal court, the latest step in their bid to have Endangered Species Act protections lifted from rare woodland caribou that roam the U.S-Canadian border region. Bonner County and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association filed their complaint Thursday in U.S. District Court. They're being represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group. Their complaint contends U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has failed to act on their petition lodged earlier this year contending the caribou were improperly given ESA protections starting in 1983. They want Salazar to make a decision on the petition ― and to pay for their lawsuit. Four caribou were counted south of the Canadian border during an aerial census last winter.
NATIVE PLANTS — The huckleberry bush, the most revered shrub in the Inland Northwest, is getting less respect as berry pickers succumb to greed.
Practices are getting so bad, the Forest Service has issued a media release warning that recently observed practices — such as CUTTING OFF A BUSH SO BERRIES COULD BE MORE EASILY PICKED — are against the law and punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.
It's safe to say most huckleberry plant abusers aren't among the families returning to their favorite huckleberry hot spots generation after generation. None of these people wants to damage plants and reduce the harvest of future years.
However, many people may not realize the senseless and improper use of rake-like huckleberry pickers also damages the berry bushes.
Meanwhile, read on for more information on the latest damaging practices reported by the Forest Service.
PUBLIC LANDS — Fires were purposely set on the Colville National Forest last week to provide two big dividends later this summer: a hedge against catastrophic wildfire and a boom in lush tender growth to feed elk.
Colville National Forest crews have completed a 320-acre prescribed fire in the Sullivan Creek drainage in northern Pend Oreille County just east of the Cascade Cut-off Road (Forest Road 2200250).
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation helped fund the effort to improve local forage for big game, reduce hazardous fuels in the forest and re-introduce fire into the ecosystem.
Read on for details.
WILDLIFE — Dave Leptich, habitat specialist for the Idaho Fish and Game Department, has planned a highly interactive discussion for tonight in his program on wildlife habitat, Sponsored by the Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society.
Place: Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey, in Coeur d'Alene.
Time: 7: p.m.
Program: “Wildlife Habitat Fundamentals”
The audience should come away with a more complex view of wildlife habitat and a framework from which to understand and interpret management decisions and actions.
Leptich is a Regional Habitat Biologist with the agency. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Resources from the University of Idaho, and a Master of Science Degree in Wildlife Management from the University of Maine.
FISHERIES — The Inland Northwest netted millions for fish and wildlie habitat restoration from a total of $53 million grants recently awarded from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund primarily aimed at boosting endangered species.
States must contribute a minimum match of 25 percent of the estimated program costs of approved projects, or 10 percent when two or more states or territories implement a joint project.
In Washington, state partners will receive $4.6 million in grants benefiting dozens of species.
The Eastern Washington projects include:
- Methow Watershed, $3.5 million, for Phase 8, in Okanogan County, Wash., to secure 2,700 acres and additional stream frontage protecting spawning and rearing habitat for listed salmonids, landscape corridors for listed carnivores and their mule deer prey, and habitat for at least 23 at-risk species covered by the Plum Creek Habitat Conservation Plan.
- Northern Blue Mountains Bull Trout Recovery, $712,650, (Asotin and Columbia counties) to conserve bull trout habitat through a combination of land acquisition and conservation easements on at least five key properties totaling 2,872 acres along the northern rim of the Umatilla National Forest in both the Touchet River and Asotin Creek watersheds. These efforts will also protect important winter range for populations of elk and deer in the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington, thereby providing the primary food source for natural re-colonization by gray wolves.
Western Montana partners landed $4 million for funding a conservation easement on 9,300 acres of the Stimson Forestlands Conservation Project in Missoula County to benefit fish and wildlife.
See a complete list of the National 2011 grant awards under these programs.
CONSERVATION — A free gardening class on Drought Resistant Grasses, Lawn Alternatives and Installing a Drip Irrigation System will be offered from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on six different dates this month at six Little Spokane Watershed Fire Stations:
The class, being repeated due to popular demand, will be presented by Water Smart Outreach Coordinator, Dixie Chichester, from WSU Pend Oreille County Extension on the following schedule:
- Aug 9, Diamond Lake Fire Station # 31, 325272 Highway 2 (West of Newport);
- Aug 15, Sacheen Lake Fire Station #32, 6131 Highway 211, (NW of Newport);
- Aug 16, Mead Fire Station #44,17207 N Newport Highway (Across from Cat Tails);
- Aug 18, Riverside Fire Station #46, 3818 E. Deer Park – Milan Road;
- Aug 23, Deer Park Fire Station #41, 315 East A Street;
- Aug 25, Colbert Fire Station # 49, 302 W Monroe.
Every class is free, thanks to sponsorship by the Little Spokane Water Smart Alliance (LSWSA), but pre-registration will reserve handouts and allow notification if class is canceled.
Call (509) 447-2401 or email email@example.com .
The LSWSA also currently offers $100 rebates to homeowners in the Little Spokane River Watershed who purchase qualifying Energy Star clothes washers and Water Sense efficient toilets.
For further information about the rebates visit www.littlespokanewatersmart .org or call (509) 447-6454 (Pend Oreille County) or (509) 477-3604 (Spokane and Stevens Counties).
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.
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.
HABITAT — Pend Oreille County property owners can learn to manage pests and noxious weeds and sign up for neighborhood cost-share assistance in a free March 26 workshop offered by WSU Pend Oreille County Extension and the Weed Board.
The event runs 8 a.m.-noon at Camas Center for Community Wellness, 1821 N. LeClerc Rd. in Usk.
Pre-register: (509) 447-2402 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read on for details.