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Bonner County commissioners endorse Scotchman Peaks Wilderness

Updated 5 p.m. with quotes and more detail.

PUBLIC LANDS — Bonner County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday calling for the U.S. Congress to designate the Idaho portion of the Scotchman Peaks as a wilderness.

This is another milestone in an effort to protect a worthy spread of  mountain real estate northeast of Lake Pend Oreille.

“The Scotchmans is a perfect area for wilderness,” said Cary Kelly, chairman of the three-man board.

“There’s not a lot of timber that could be used because of the soil composition and terrain and no big mining interests. There’s not really any opposition other than from the element that doesn’t want any federal rules on our forests.”

The entire 88,000-acre wilderness area proposal straddles the Idaho-Montana border in the Kaniksu and Kootenai national forests.

The steep, rocky, mountainous area northeast of Lake Pend Oreille has been recommended for wilderness by Forest Service management plans that were debated for more than a decade and approved in January.

The Idaho side of the proposed wilderness area encompasses about 14,000 acres of national forest land, including Bonner County's tallest mountain. Scotchman Peak, elevation 7,009 feet, is a popular hiking and mountain goat viewing destination overlooking Clark Fork.

“It’s one of the few areas that commissioners can support as wilderness,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of the exception to the rule.”  

The Sandpoint-based Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness was founded in 2005 to work with the region's communities, elected officials and outdoors enthusiasts to find common ground for protecting the roadless area.

“We appreciate the leadership and support from the Bonner County Commission,” said Phil Hough, the friends group’s executive director.

Individual commissioners in adjoining Sanders County, Montana, have shown support for the wilderness, he said. Other formal endorsements have been approved by the Sandpoint City Council and Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce as well as the current and former Montana governors, he said.

“For a county commission to offer unanimous support for wilderness, while not unheard of, is pretty unusual,” Hough said. “It’s a reflection of the widespread support for the wilderness among residents of Bonner County and around the region.”

Kelly said the Bonner County board has supported the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness proposal since 2006, but the time was ripe for a formal endorsement.

 “Only Congress can designate wilderness, and the (friends) group is trying to move forward with the proposal in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

“Most attempts at declaring wilderness probably are not very popular with a Republican conservative House and Senate. But we’re looking at the exception to the rule and the commission is urging Idaho congressmen and senators to try to support this proposal.”

Brad Smith, North Idaho conservation association with the Idaho Conservation League, was at the meeting and reported the vote on his ICL blog.  Smith posted the following resolution approved by the board of commissioners:

WHEREAS the Scotchman Peaks provide outstanding views and recreational opportunities to residents and visitors of Bonner County, Idaho; and

WHEREAS the Scotchman Peaks contribute to the economic vitality of the region through recreation, tourism and as an attraction which draws individuals and businesses to our area; and

WHEREAS the Scotchman Peaks provide habitat to a diversity of native flora and fauna; and

WHEREAS there is broad public support amongst residents of Bonner County to protect the Scotchman Peaks; and

WHEREAS protecting the Scotchman Peaks will benefit current and future generations of Bonner County by endowing them with an enduring resource of wilderness.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Bonner County Board of Commissioners call upon the United States Congress to enact legislation designating the Idaho portion of the Scotchman Peaks as a wilderness area, consistent with the boundary delineated in the revised Land Management Plan for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

S-R Readers’ Outdoor Photo Gallery captures March moments

OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHY — Newspaper editors knew the great outdoors would provide inspiration when they put out the call for your images, but the photographic talent readers are sharing has surpassed all expectations.

The Spokesman-Review Readers Outdoor Photos web page hasn't just been popular — it's become a regular pit stop for a breath of fresh air.

Equipped with cameras ranging from smartphones to SLRs with monster lenses, readers aren't just sending snapshots of big fish.  They're providing a broad perspective of what's up outside, one photo at a time.

Since the online feature debuted a year ago, more than 650 images have been uploaded at spokesman.com/outdoors

People are telling us where they're going, what they're doing outdoors and what catches their eye.

The photos offer insight on the changing of seasons, the emergence of wildflowers and the return of migratory birds.

The Spokane River, with all of its moods and the recreation it provides, is a popular subject. So are sunsets — the kind that make you vow to be out there next time weather serves up such a beautiful end of the day.

But some photos are coming from west in the scablands, south in the big-river canyon lands and northeast from high in the wilderness where readers are sharing sights many folks would never see.

Our March 2015 Readers Outdoors Photo Gallery may be the best overall monthly collection since the online feature debuted last year. 

I tried to pick  the top 10 and failed miserably at narrowing it down that tight. 

I'm posting my picks for the top 25 images (above) from the photos uploaded this month, and I'm still leaving out a lot of shots that caught my interest.

Some of the images are excellent because of their photo quality. Others are great because they capture a moment to enlighten us about the outdoors. Some are appreciated real-time field reports on conditions.

The images capture the flows of rivers and waterfalls from downtown Spokane to Towell Falls on Rock Creek south of Sprague.

They chronicle where the snow is, and where it isn't anymore.

Photographers looked this month up to capture porcupines and birds in trees as well as the full moon. They gazed down to picture the first flowers bursting from the soil, marmots venturing from their holes, lady bird beetles swarming in the duff and amphibians emerging from the recently thawed pond mud.

It's not surprising that people head out with cameras at night chasing the Northern Lights, although the quality of the results has us begging for more solar flares

More enlightening, perhaps, is how many hikers and even cyclists leave the warmth of home to enjoy the quiet under the stars.

Check out the good work readers are posting. Upload your own.

Collectively you're creating a picture story of the outdoors around the Inland Northwest that no other single person could tell.

NW left out of Outside’s ‘Most Incredible Trips’ list

OUTDOOR TRAVEL —

Two spots in Montana have made Outside magazine's list of "The 30 Most Incredible Trips to Take in 2015."

Otherwise, the Northwest was virtually left out in favor of river trips in Fiji, islands in Bermuda, adventuring in Chile, road biking in California and food in Texas.

The exception is a Redmond-based bicycle travel company named "Best for outfitted trips for families." The write-up says:

Roughly 10 percent of Bicycle Adventures’ trips are now geared specifically toward families with preteens in tow. This year the Washington-based company launched three multi-day rides in Oregon, Idaho, and South Dakota that follow car-free bike paths and pass through kid-captivating areas like Mount Rushmore … with stops for ice cream, rafting, and swimming holes. Have younger kids? They’ll pedal tag-alongs hitched to adult bikes, and toddlers and infants can ride in provided trailers. From $2,295.

The Route of the Hiawatha on the Montana-Idaho border got residual praise by being one of the trips Bicycle Adventures features.

Meanwhile, Montana continued to get more attention than any single state with two mentions in the Top 30 list.

  • American Prairie Reserve in northcentral Montana is featured as "Best of the Wild West."
  • Mary May’s on 100 acres along Cottonwood Creek near Bozeman is ranked "Best Airbnb Property."

Outside's list was composed by its two veteran travel writers, Tim Neville and Stephanie Pearson, who scoured "the globe to uncover surprising new ideas."

The story recommends a range of activities at the American Prairie, from camping to mountain biking, wildlife watching and canoeing the nearby Missouri River.

“We’re glad to have Outside’s spotlight shine on all that we’ve accomplished so far," said Sean Gerrity, president of American Prairie Reserve, in a statement. "We hope it will result in more supporters for our ambitious project.”

Mary May's is touted by the Outside writers for the variety of options available from the door of the small studio that rents for $125 a night, such as skiing, a trip to Yellowstone National Park or hiking.

Head missing from Bryce Canyon’s ‘Turtle’ hoodoo

PUBLIC LANDS — The popular "turtle" formation at Bryce Canyon National Park has lost its head. A critical piece of the redrock hoodoo on the Mossy Cave Trail is missing; likely the result of erosion, the Salt Lake Tribune reports

The national park's formations are famous across the world as mysterious natural wonders that create color-splashed settings for photographers. But they're also fragile, as a recent photo published in The Salt Lake Tribune indicated.

Here's more from a story by Brett Prettyman:

Interpretive park ranger Kevin Doxstater said the 75 to 125 pounds of rock in the unique formation, commonly called the Dragon or Turtle, likely broke off naturally due to erosion — perhaps during wintertime freeze-and-thaw cycles, when water seeps into cracks in the siltstone and limestone. Hoodoos throughout the 35,000-acre park are constantly changing.

"It's just further proof of what is happening here," Doxstater said. "Most of what happens is at a slow pace we can't detect. Every once in a while, we get a significant event like this one. It's a cool thing to see."

More than 250 people entered the "Where Is It?" contest when it hit the sltrib.com website March 6.

Only Berg pointed out the difference; she had just made the Mossy Cave hike a few weeks earlier.

It seems likely the turtle lost its head fairly recently, Doxstater said.

"The major erosion at Bryce happens in the winter when water seeps into cracks and then freezes," he added. "We did have a big snow event on Dec. 31 and then March-like weather in January, so that would have been a good opportunity for something like this to happen."

Some people hiking below the rim at Bryce Canyon National Park on Presidents Day weekend noticed smaller signs of erosion that had caused rocks and dirt to slide down the steep slopes.

Doxstater said hoodoos can collapse any time of the year, but the damage is rarely witnessed by people. One notable event happened two years ago when visitors watched as a massive chunk of the Boat Mesa formation near Fairyland Point broke off and tumbled into the canyon.

Other famous southern Utah formations have partially or completely collapsed in recent years.

  • Wall Arch — 71 feet tall and 33 1/2 feet wide — in Arches National Park collapsed in August 2008.
  •  Landscape Arch, 306 feet tall, also on the Devils Garden Trail in Arches, lost a 60-foot-long and 11-foot-wide slab as visitors watched in 1991.

Now that Bryce Canyon's Turtle no longer has its head, the question is: What will they call it?

Spokane Mountaineers recruit trail volunteers for projects

TRAILS — Two outdoor groups will give a program Monday, March 16, about their plans for organizing volunteers to build and maintain trails in the region this summer.   The public is invited.

The Spokane Mountaineers and Washington Trails Association program will begin at 7 p.m. at the  at Mountain Gear Corporate Office, 6021 E. Mansfield in Spokane Valley

Lynn Smith and Holly Weiler will discuss projects the groups did last year as well as introduce work planned for this year. 

Both organizations have had one event so far this year with many more planned in Washington and Idaho, both single and multi-day.

"For the experienced hands its a chance to connect with past trail buddies, and for the many new people who have expressed an interest, its a good time to see what the programs are all about," Smith said. "Bring a friend and show them what you've done and why its so compelling."

Potential trail volunteers can contact Weiler at hmweiler@yahoo.com or Smith at kslynndeb@Hotmail.com.

Video captures 2,600-mile hike of PCT in 4 minutes

TRAILS — Andy Davidhazy hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in 2013 and 2014 and snapped a selfie every mile to document the route.

He's compiled the images into a four-minute time-lapse video (below) that flies viewers ground-level from Mexico through Callifornia, Oregon and Washington to the trail's northern terminus near the U.S.-Canada border.

"The end of the trail is just the beginning of the story," says Davidhazy, who's producing a short film, Lost or Found: Life after 2600 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, due for release this spring.

Here are more details about the time-lapse video (above) from Davidhazy:

The Pacific Crest Trail travels 2660 miles through the mountains of California, Oregon and Washington, starting at the Mexico border fence near the small town of Campo, CA, and finishing just across the Canadian border in Manning Park, British Columbia. It took about 5 months to complete and I lost 50 pounds in process. Total elevation change was about 450,000 feet, with the high point being 13,200 feet at Forester Pass in the High Sierras. I documented the physical transformation of the environment and myself by taking a selfie on trail every single mile of the hike.

The process of stopping to take a picture every mile had a big impact on my actual experience of doing the hike. I had to be well aware of where I was at all times, which was quite annoying in that it made it difficult to get in a zone and maintain good momentum. That said, I am happy to have done it, and it provided a good conversation starter with so many hikers that I would meet along the way. I love seeing so many wonderful faces popping up in pictures in unexpected places.

For the purposes of showing the Pacific Crest Trail in it's entirety, this video is actually a combination of two hikes. Mile 0 through 2424 was done in 2013, before an early snow storm dumped more than six feet of snow on the trail north of Snoqualmie Pass, WA making it impassable at the time. So I road walked the rest of the way to Canada along the Iron Horse Trail and Highway 97 north to Osoyoos, British Columbia. I went back in 2014 to hike the missed portion of the PCT from 2424 to the trail's Northern Terminus at mile 2660. The snow storm and road walk will feature in the upcoming short film, Lost or Found: Life after 2600 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Mineral Ridge Trail to close for hazardous tree removal

HIKING — The Mineral Ridge Scenic Area off the northeast portion of Lake Coeur d'Alene, including the popular Mineral Ridge Trail, will be temporarily closed next week for hazardous tree removal, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials say. 

The Beauty Bay-area closure is scheduled for Monday, March 16, through Thursday, March 19. 

The temporary closure applies to the parking area, picnic shelter, hiking trails and surrounding BLM-managed lands within the recreation area.

As an alternative hiking and recreation area, the Coeur d’Alene Field Office suggests visitors check out the Blue Creek Bay area, which is a short drive north of Mineral Ridge and offers several hiking options, a day use picnic area and fishing docks. 

See more information on BLM recreation areas in the Coeur d'Alene region.

Grizzly bears on verge of official recovery in Montana

THREATENED SPECIES — As wildlife officials put their finger to the wind on the potential for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades, Montana is getting ready to claim Endangered Species success.

National forests in Montana prepare for delisting of grizzly bears
The grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in Northwest Montana has been increasing by 4 percent annually for the past decade, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a plan to remove federal protections from that population of bears, and on Friday, the five national forests in that area of Montana released a draft forest plan amendment to ensure that personnel in the Flathead, Lolo, Bitterroot, Lewis and Clark and Helena national forests are all on the same page for grizzly bear management.
— Missoulian

Grizzly bears in Cascades generate mixed emotions

Updated March 10, 2015.

THREATENED SPECIES — While there's support for reintroducing grizzly bears into the North Cascades to spark a regional recovery effort, the sentiment certainly isn't unanimous at the public meetings that are being conducted in communities along Washington's iconic mountain range.

Duo completes first winter thru-hike of Pacific Crest Trail

TRAILS — Two California men on Monday, March 2, completed the first winter thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail after 132 days of walking, skiing and snowshoeing along the 2,650-mile route from Canada to their finish at the Mexico border.

Never mind that they took time off the trail at Christmas and were blessed with an extremely low snowpack in the Cascades and Sierras this season: Shawn Forry, 33, of Midpines, Calif., and Justin Lichter, 34, of Truckee, Calif., still had to slog through snow and slush, skirt cornices and avalanche danger and endure bitter cold and frostbite in their carefully chosen ultra-light clothing and gear totaling about 18 pounds apiece.

The trek wasn't a lark. Before setting out on the PCT on Oct. 21, the two men had combined had more than 55,000 miles of trail hiking experience in seven different countries. They knew the PCT would be brutal in winter and set their goal on finishing in April.

Lichter, a ski patroller, had more than 35,000 miles of backcountry experience around the world before this trek and Forry, trail name "Pepper," is an instructor with with Outward Bound California who'd logged more than 15,000 miles. The two also had completed a 150-mile ski-and-hike trip last year between the Sonora Pass and Mammoth Lakes.

Roughly 1,300 to 1,500 hikers attempt to thru-hike the PCT each year, and just more than half of them finish even though most of them travel south to north beginning in late April so they can finish in September or October and avoid the additional challenges of winter.

“When he told me it has never been done before I kind of said ‘you know there is probably a reason,”’ Forry's father, Randy Forry, told the Reno-Gazette-Journal.  The risk associated with the winter trek was such that before Lichter and Forry decided to attempt it, many within the hiking community would have considered it foolhardy.  

The Pacific Crest Trail's popularity has boomed since 2012 after the release of Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and has received another big boost from the recent film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon. In February, the Pacific Crest Trail Association announced a new permit system to limit the number of hikers who can start from the trail’s southern terminus to 50 people a day starting this spring.

But unlike summer hikers, Forry and Lichter had to be prepared to deal with issues on their own.

“Generally you’re around enough people that if something happened to you, someone would come along in 24 hours at the latest,”  Whitney LaRuffa says in a wrap-up report posted today by Outside Magazine online. LaRuffa, an experienced thru-hiker and the President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West, had high regard for the two winter trekkers who, during a 1,700-mile stretch from Snoqualmie Pass in Washington to north of Walker Pass in California, didn’t see another soul.

One of the pluses of hiking the PCT, say's Lichter, is then when they take a rest day or resupply, they can nab a motel room at cheap winter rates. But there's no softening the nights on the trail.

“What Shawn and Justin have done is really remarkable,” said Jack Haskel, who kept track of the effort in his blog as trail information specialist for the PCTA.

“For them to be able to plan a hike that completely goes against that norm and faces all those challenges, rather than structuring their hike to avoid them, makes what they’ve done unique and exceptionally challenging,” Heather Anderson told Outside. Anderson set the self-supported speed record on the PCT in 2013.

Scablands trails bloom for explorers in March

TRAILS — Trails through the sage-steppe scablands of Eastern Washington are among the first to welcome hikers and mountain bikers in March.

Sunday was a perfect day to bike the single-track and double track through along the basalt-rimmed canyon and blooming buttercups of the Odessa-Pacific Lake Trail.  More flowers will be blooming by the end of the month.

The 13-mile route is described in detail in the guidebook Day Hiking Eastern Washington.

Notes:

  • Deep-well irrigation has lowered the water table dramatically in this area. Pacific Lake is just one of the victims. Bobs Lakes, in the basin ahead of the biker, are history. But one big surprise: Bobs Lakes spring is still flowing.
  • Haven't detected any ticks yet, but will hold off on official word since they have a way of showing up on my wife's pillow a day or two later.

Ice Age Floods experts set programs, field trips, hikes

GEOLOGY — There's no better way to soak up the science and history of how the Inland Northwest landscape was shaped than to join in some of the events scheduled this season by area geologists and experts in the Ice Age Floods.

The Cheney-Spokane Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute has a excellent schedule of events ranging from lectures and field trips to a rugged hike. Check them out.

MARCH 12 —  Free lecture, “The Incredible Shrinking Glacial Lake:  A Nonfiction Account of the Rise and Downfall of Glacial Lake Columbia,” 7 p.m.,  Eastern Washington University Science Building, Room 137, in Cheney.

Earth scientist, Michael McCollum presents the incredible story, 20,000 years in the making. He'll describe a 3,000 year onslaught by catastrophic Floods whose sediments finally overtook the lake’s accommodation space and the continuing assault by incremental headward erosion of the southwest bedrock battlements at Grand Coulee, followed by the final betrayal in which global warming caused the disappearance of the once supportive Okanogan ice lobe. 

MARCH 14 — Hike (rated "most difficult"), Palouse Canyon to Palouse Falls, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., covers 8 miles on and off trail. Begins under railroad bridge near Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery, near Washtucna, Washington. 

Leaders Lloyd Stoess and Gene Kiver, emphasize the Ice Age Floods story as well as Native American and settlement history. Participants must be in good shape, with no serious heart or vertigo problems, and capable of hiking at least 3 miles on rugged terrain without a break. Fee: $10 for students/teachers, $20 for chapter members and  $30 for non-members. 

MAY 8 — Free lecture, “Lower Grand Coulee and Crab Creek Floodways,” 7 p.m., JFK Library Auditorium, EWU Campus, Cheney

Gene Kiver, who taught geology at EWU for 32 years, will give an overview of the Missoula Floods through the Grand Coulee and the merging with floodwaters that descended through the Telford-Crab Creek Scabland.  A complex of minor coulees occur along Interstate 90 and other areas.  Scabland features of note include large flood bars, giant current ripples, and recessional cataract canyons.

MAY 9 — Spring field trip, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Gene Kiver and Bruce Bjornstad, authors of the field guide "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods," are the guides and lecturers on deluxe buses to sites of Ice Age Floods features through Lower Grand Coulee.  A fee is charged.

OTHER TRIPS coming up, with more details to be posted on the local chapter website include:

May 31, Saturday, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.  “Floods, Flowers, and Feathers Festival” at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Cheney.  This is a free public event.

June 2, Tuesday, 7-9 p.m., Vic Baker will lecture at Spokane Community College, The Lair Auditorium.

Sep. 19, Saturday, IAFI Field Trip, Wenatchee.

Oct. 23, Friday, 7-9 p.m., IAFICS Membership Meeting and John Buchanan will lecture “Big, Bigger, Biggest:  A Comparative Look at Megafloods”

October —Two Hikes. Details to come.

Another live tree hacked along South Hill bluff trails

PUBLIC LANDS — Apparently we have an axe-swinging landscape terrorist on the loose who's getting some sort of warped pleasure from vandalizing live trees along the popular public trails on the South Hill bluff.

Another ponderosa pine was crudely hacked down in the last few days, says trails user Chris Lang, who snapped the photo above today near the first tree that was reported being hacked down below 37th and High Drive on Feb. 10.

The local group, Friends of the Bluff has done so much hard labor and work to maintain the trails and thin and prune the bluff forest to make the area less fire-prone.

But this tree-whacker apparently is no friend of the bluff.

These trees cannot be seen by homes along High Drive and are not in thick forested areas that are a still in need of planned and controlled thinning.

Keep an eye out for this jerk.

Procrastinators lose on BC hiking, paddling reservations

HIKING — You snooze you loose for popular summer outdoor destinations in Canada.

British Columbia’s top hiking and paddling destinations are most surely available to adventurers who have their travel itineraries ready to apply the minute online reservations are accepted. High on the advance planning list are:

  • Lake O’Hara, a heavily restricted hiking paradise in Yoho National Park near Field, allows visitors to book campsites starting April 1. Call in the morning of the day three months in advance of your preferred reservation start.
  • West Coast Trail, a challenging but classic trek in Pacific Rim National Park, will be taking reservations online or by phone starting in mid-April for the entire prime hiking season, June 15-Sept. 15.
  • Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, a classic week-long paddling loop formed by lakes and rivers, requires backcountry reservations that can be made for the entire summer season starting each year on Jan. 2.

Blood-thirsty ticks on the prowl

NATURE — People weren't the only critters motivated by unseasonably warm weather to be active outdoors in the past week.

Ticks are on the prowl, I've heard from several reports — from anglers at Crab Creek in Lincoln County east to the hikers at the Iller Creek/Rocks of Sharon area in Spokane Valley.

Perfect timing!  There's nothing like a full tick check for Valentine's Day.

Comments sought on restoring grizzlies to North Cascades

WILDLIFE — A tentative federal proposal to restore grizzly bears in the North Cascades will be explained at public meetings next month.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service are taking public comments for an environmental impact statement before deciding whether to take an active role in restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades Ecosystem.

The first meeting is 5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. on March 3 at the Red Barn in Winthrop. Other meetings will follow in Okanogan, Wenatchee, Cle Elum, Seattle and Bellingham.

Online comments will be accepted through March 26 at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/NCEG

The grizzly bear was federally listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 United States in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.

“The Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan calls on us to fully consider the restoration of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades, and this process will ensure we solicit public input before putting any plan into action,” said Robyn Thorson, FWS Pacific regional director.

Several conservation groups already have indicated their support for grizzly restoration.

Fewer than 20 grizzlies are known to roam the North Cascades ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles in the United States and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia.  The United States portion includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas plus the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie national forests. 

A few grizzly bears have recently been sighted in the Canadian part of the ecosystem, but no grizzlies have been confirmed in the United States portion since a hiker documented one with a photo in 2010.

Details on the public open-house meetings:

Winthrop    March 3, 5-7:30 pm
    Red Barn Upper Meeting Room
    51 N. Hwy 20
    Winthrop, WA 98862

Okanogan    March 4, 5-7:30 pm
    Okanogan PUD Meeting Room
    1331 2nd Ave N
    Okanogan, WA 98840

Wenatchee    March 5, 6-8:30 pm
    Chelan County PUD Auditorium
    327 N. Wenatchee Ave.
    Wenatchee, WA 98801

Cle Elum    March 9, 5-7:30 pm
    Putnam Centennial Center Meeting Room
    719 East 3rd Street
    Cle Elum, WA 98922

Seattle    March 10, 5-7:30 pm
    Seattle Pacific University Bertona Classroom 1
    103 West Bertona
    Seattle, WA 98119

Bellingham    March 11, 5-7:30 pm
    Bellingham Central Library Lecture Room
    210 Central Avenue
    Bellingham, WA 98227

Long-distance backpacking seminar in CdA

HIKING — Long-distance hikers can take the mystery out of planning by taking advantage of a special event on Feb. 21 in Coeur d'Alene.

  • Are you planning a long-distance hike or know someone who is?
  • Is your pack too dang heavy?
  • Have questions about how to cook on trail, or how to resupply?
  • Are you PCT, CDT or AT curious?

Perhaps the Inland NW Winter Ruck is the place for you to be, says veteran long-distance hiker Phil Hough of Sandpoint.
The event is set for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Feb. 21 at Lake City Community Church, 6000 N. Ramsey Rd. in Couer d'Alene, sponsored by the American Long-Distance Hiking Association-West.

Topics Include:
  • Leave No Trace Ethics …
  • The PCT, CDT, and AT and what you need to know
  • Trail and town etiquette
  • Food, Safety and navigation
The event offers One on One & Group Q&A with experienced Long Distance Hikers and "Triple Crown"members of ALDHA-West who will be there on site to help

Chili lunch and refreshments will be provided. $10.00 donation, $5 for ALDHA-West members

Live tree hacked down along South Hill Bluff trails

TRAILS — Trails users on the South Hill Bluff today found a live ponderosa pine crudely hacked down by someone using an ax.

The apparent vandalism is below 37th and High Drive.

A lot of people have chipped in to create the trail system and the Friends of the Bluff have organized clean ups as well applying forestry techniques and hundreds of hours of volunteer effort to make the bluff more fire safe.

But this tree was in the open, providing nothing but healthy shade and habitat.

What the hell?

Yellowstone to charge backcountry permit fee

NATIONAL PARKS — Yellowstone National Park will require an overnight backcountry permit fee starting May 1.

The National Park Service says the money raised from the new fee will help pay the costs of running the park’s backcountry program.

Under the new fee, anyone obtaining a permit to stay overnight in the backcountry between Memorial Day and Sept. 10 will have to pay a per-person, per night permit fee for all individuals 9 years of age or older.

Backpackers and boaters will pay $3.00 per-person, per night, with groups of 5 or more paying a total of $15 per night. Stock users will be charged $5.00 per-person, per night.

Visitors may purchase an annual backcountry pass for $25.

Hiker permit quotas adopted to spread out ‘Wild’ crowd on PCT

HIKING — Growing numbers of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Mexico-to-Canada route made increasingly popular by the movie “Wild,” have led officials to take steps to alleviate traffic.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association announced on Wednesday a new permitting system that will limit to 50 the number of long-distance hikers heading north each day from San Diego County.

An online application process will allow hikers to schedule start dates and view projected hiker density on any given day.

The PCTA’s Jack Haskel says the goal is not to limit the number of hikers, but to spread them out.

The trail starts near Campo, California, and stretches 2,650 miles before ending at the Canadian border.

Haskel says since the movie came out in December, website traffic is up 300 percent.

Cheap gas, devalued loonie: Time to recreate in Canada

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — The Canadian — Rockies, ski resorts, fishing waters — are calling louder than ever.

Gas is cheaper than it's been in years and the Canadian dollar is low, low, low.

Pack the bags, baby, this a great opportunity to head north across the border.

Plagued primarily by plummeting oil prices, the Canadian dollar — the loonie — reached its lowest value in six years in recent days, trading on the global market for barely 79 cents U.S.

A year ago, anxieties were already rising after the loonie dipped below 90 cents for the first time since mid-2009.

This is troublesome for business that rely on Canadian tourists coming to the US, but it's an invitation for US citizens to visit Canada.

Analysts forecast the loonie may keep dropping in value through spring and potentially summer perhaps as low as 75 cents U.S.

State Parks considers letting farmers use rail trails

PARKS — A proposal to allow farmers and ranchers to occasional use Washington rail trails will be considered by the State Parks and Recreation Commission at a regular meeting Jan. 29 in Tumwater.

The policy proposal would permit certain limited non-recreational motorized use of state park long-distance trail corridors, such as the John Wayne Trail.

The trail corridors are legally set aside for non-motorized recreation only.

"In the interest of being good neighbors, State Parks is seeking additional flexibility and consistency—for example, allowing farmers to use the trail right-of-way to access their fields," Parks officials say in a media release.

"The policy would set guidelines for permits and is intended to ensure agency responsiveness to such requests, while providing oversight to prevent adverse effects on recreationists and to recoup the cost of any trail damage from allowed motorized uses.

The meeting is set for 9 a.m., Jan. 29, in the Labor and Industries Auditorium, 7273 Linderson Way S.W., Tumwater.

According to the meeting agenda, the commission also will consider adoption of policy statements to provide direction for the agency’s real estate management activities in four areas: recreation business activities; enterprise lands; land transfers and exchanges with other government jurisdictions; and land leases from other jurisdictions.

State Parks manages approximately 124 developed parks, marine parks, heritage sites and properties, altogether totaling approximately 120,000 acres statewide. The agency manages leases on some properties, while holding others for future park and trail development.

In other business, the Commission will consider adoption of the 2015 director’s performance agreement, an annual work plan for the agency and director. Several reports will be presented, including reports on the agency’s Boating Programs, Interpretive Program, Discover Pass, current finances and 2015-17 budget requests and a legislative report.

Friends of Mount Spokane to fill board openings

PARKS — The Friends of Mt. Spokane State Park Board of Directors is looking for new members.

The panel of up to 15 members serves as a link between the park manager and park visitors, says Cris Currie, board president.

“It provides management recommendations to the park manager, organizes volunteer park projects and raises funds to help fulfill management plans for improved facilities and education within the park,” he said.

 The group meets 3-5 times a year and is looking for people who have a passion for the park and who can help represent recreational user groups as well as other interests including education, business and environmental protection, Currie says.

For an application, email a letter of interest to criscurrie22@gmail.com.

Hikers halfway on winter thru-hike of PCT

HIKING — Shawn Forry if Midpines, Calif., and Justin Lichter of Truckee, Calif., are attempting to be the first to complete a documented thru-hike of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail during winter.

Having started in Canada in late October, they're near Lake Tahoe this week, more than halfway toward their destination at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Pacific Crest Trail Association blogger Jack "Found" Haskel. They hope to finish in April.

"They’ve walked so far that the metal on their snowshoes is wearing thin," Haskel reports. "Soon, they’ll switch to skis."

From frostbite and drenching rain to friendships and stunning and quiet landscapes, their journey is remarkable. The feat requires skill, experience in snow-camping and winter travel plus avalanche awareness, and some luck. Many experts say it's crazy and dangerous.

Lichter, a ski patroller, has more than 35,000 miles of backcountry experience around the world and Forry more than 15,000 miles, according to the  Reno Gazette-Journal. The two also completed a 150-mile ski-and-hike trip last year between the Sonora Pass and Mammoth Lakes.

The light snowfall that plagued the region's ski areas in the early season was a boon to the PCT hikers, who've been snowshoeing 20-mile days since Christmas.

One of the pluses of hiking the PCT, say's Lichter, is then when they take a rest day or resupply, they can nab a motel room at cheap winter rates.

Scotchman Peaks Wilderness group optimistic, plans activities

PUBLIC LANDS — The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness based in North Idaho and Western Montana is celebrating the group's 10th anniversary on a high note this month. 

Recent passage of the Montana Heritage Act indicates that Congress is able — and even somewhat willing — to designate Wilderness, says FSPW program coordinator Sandy Compton.

The group has not yet succeeded in winning official wilderness designation for the 88,000-acre roadless area that straddles the Idaho-Montana border. But since the group was founded in 2005, it's attracted nearly 5,000 "friends," Compton said.

“Our new commission in Bonner County is very supportive,” said FSPW executive director Phil Hough, who's based in Sandpoint. “We’ve worked hard in our two Western Montana counties to gain support in a number of ways, including opening an office in Libby and helping create the Lincoln County Prosperity Forum Series."

  • The 10th anniversary celebration will begin in Sandpoint, Friday, Jan. 9, with live music, silent-auction and picnic-style food at Tango Café in the Columbia Bank. Get tickets here.
  • The FSPW  schedule of winter group hikes begins on Jan. 11 with an easy-to-moderate snowshoe trek up Lightning Creek.
  • March events in Troy and Thompson Falls will feature author and historian Jack Nisbet speaking on David Thompson’s explorations of the Kootenai and Clark Fork valleys in the early 1800s.

Stewardship has joined wilderness advocacy in the group's approach to securing protection for the peaks that overlook Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River. 

FSPW volunteers and staff have contributed hundreds of hours of work to:

  • Build or improve Scotchman Peak Trail 65 and Star Peak Trail 999.
  • Monitor weeds, conduct multi-day white bark pine surveys, work on stream restoration and assist with trailside tree planting for the national forest “Treasured Landscape” program.
  • Coordinate summer hike programs for adults as well as for young children.
  • Assist wolverine researchers by setting and monitoring remote camera stations in Idaho and Montana.
  • Create a Winter Tracks program to teach tracking skills and wildlife monitoring methods to area youth, including kids from Spokane.
  • Plan summer 2015 trail projects on the lower portion of the Scotchman Peak Trail and continue to work on trails in Lightning Creek.

Congress finally gives wilderness a nod

PUBLIC LANDS — Congress shook its inability to work across the aisle this week and passed public lands legislation that's been years in the making. 

The U.S. House on Thursday passed a defense spending bill containing a broad public lands package for the West.

In Montana, it provides new wilderness on the Rocky Mountain Front, a ban on mining near Glacier National Park and changes supporting oil exploration and grazing on federal land.

The bill adds 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and designating 208,000 acres along the Front as a conservation management area.

In Washington, the bill expands the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area by 22,000 acres.

It also creates a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which includes the B Reactor at Hanford.

It's not all perfect from anyone's point of view.  But many experts say it's better than stalemate.

The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration, where a vote is expected next week.

Value of getting together

The Missoulian has a story — Report tracks successes of conservation collaboration in Montana — indicating that collaborative groups have helped shake the shackles of a do-nothing Congress in public lands issues.

The story cites the "Collaboration at a Crossroads" report from the Wilderness Society, which examines 15 of the 37 active roundtables on land-use in Montana. Among them is the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, which worked on the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act passed Thursday by the House.

Will Reese Witherspoon spur a backpacking boom?

HIKING — Industry insiders are wondering whether the soon-to-be-released movie "Wild" featuring Reese Witherspoon will provide the boost for backpacking that A River Runs Through It, featuring Brad Pitt, bestowed on fly fishing.

The buzz is already buzzing.

“The movie follows the book by Cheryl Strayed, a woman who traversed more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself.

Media outlets already are hyping backpacking destinations as they spin-off news about the book and movie.

Pacific Northwest writer Craig Romano, my co-author for the guidebook Day Hiking Eastern Washington, is quoted in a Fox News piece on hiking along with a list of "best hikes"  most of which I agree with, except I hate "best hikes" lists.

Here are Romano's recommendations for top North American hikes to add to your bucket list.

1. The John Muir Trail - Pacific Crest Loop
This 211 mile long section of Pacific Crest Trail features stunning cliffs, lakes, granite peaks and canyons. The trails pass through some of America's most stunning backdrops, including Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Hikers can take the trail going North or South but travel during the winter months is not advised.

2. Old Rag Mountain - Shenandoah National Park
Described as one of the most beautiful and "most dangerous" hikes in the country by the National Park Service, this nine-mile loop contains many rocky paths and a significant change in elevation. For this reason, the park discourages young children and shorter adults from attempting the seven to eight hour trek. Despite the difficult terrain, this trail can be very crowded on weekends so if you have some free time during the week, head over the Shenandoah and be the king or queen or your own mountain for the day.

3. Lincoln Woods Trail - New Hampshire

White Mountain National Forest is home to over 1,200 miles of non-motorized trails for all levels of hikers. But for novice hikers, Lincoln Woods Trail affords great views on a popular route with relatively stable terrain. Summer hikers can take bait and tackle gar along to fish in the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River. In the Fall, enjoy spectacular Northeastern leaf foliage colors, a favorite time of year for Romano.

4.Devils Garden Primitive Loop - Arches National Park

This difficult trek traverses over seven miles of rocky terrain but hikers are sure to witness some of the most breathtaking views Arches has to offer. The National Park Service estimates this hike will take between three to five hours to bring plenty of water. Not recommended when rock is wet or snowy.

5. Florida National Scenic Trail
While hiking usually brings to mind mountainous terrain, Romano says there are great hikes to be find anywhere nature exists. "The Florida Trail is almost 1,400 miles and it has great sections for long distance hikers." If you're just starting, it might be better to stay out of the Everglades unless you're with an experienced hiker. Whether you're looking for wildlife, interesting marine species or a better understanding of the Florida ecosystem, the Florida Trail has something for everyone.

6. Forest Park - Portland
"People living in urban area have great hiking networks right in their backyards. Especially Portland," says Romano. He recommends Forest Park with its more than 80 miles of scenic Northwest wildlife. For hikers young and old, Forest Park Conservancy even has its own app with maps of hiking trails, weather updates and other details.

7. Mount Rainier National Park - Washington

"I've hiked all over the U.S. but some of my all time favorite trails are in Washington— I just love the diversity of mountains, wildlife, forested scenery and even wildflowers," says Romano. Among his favorites in the Pacific Northwest: Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades. All National Parks are popular tourist destinations. Rainier is the smallest of three making it a great destination for new hikers; Olympic is the largest and features more diverse terrain.

8. Porcupine Mountain State Park - Michigan

While most hikers tend to gravitate to the East or West Coasts, great trails can be found everywhere. On Michigan's Upper Peninsula, take a walk along Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountain State Park. This scenic trail has high peaks, sparkling rivers, waterfalls and more. Campers will also find a fully loaded RV amenities area for over night adventures.

9. Appalachian Trail - Fitzgerald Falls near Greenwood Lake, NY

This scenic section of the Appalachian Trail is a perfect spot for city-dwellers. Just an hour and a half from New York City, Greenwood Lake is known for its pristine waters and summer aquatic activities. This 4.6 mile loop involves moderate climbing ability to reach the summit of Mombasha High Point. History buffs will enjoy exploring an abandoned settlement along the trail and on a clear day, views of New York City can be seen on the Southern horizon.

Read more of the buzz about the movie Wild:
 
—“Wild” stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman who takes on an arduous solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail
—Reese Witherspoon Sounds Like A Feminist In 'Wild' Because She Is One

—'Wild' writer says actress Reese Witherspoon 'honored' her story

—Behind the scenes of Wild

Mining in the Cabinets: It’s a question of wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — I'm getting mixed reviews in comments and emails about my Sunday Outdoors story: Not-so-wild wilderness: Mining proposals threaten Cabinet Mountains streams, lakes and grizzlies.

Some people say I featured only wilderness activists and that there's really nothing to worry about regarding the mining proposals surrounding the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwestern Montana.

Besides, we all need the metals miners extract, they point out.

Roger.

But the point of the story, and the sidebar focused on the impacts of the mining on grizzly bears, is that while state and federal agencies are poring over mounds of documents on the impacts of each mine proposal, no agency appears to be sizing up the CUMULATIVE IMPACTS of both new mine proposals plus the re-starting of the existing Troy Mine plus the proposals for more motorized vehicle access in the Kootenai National Forest management plan.

The sum of these threats warrants public attention, hence the story.

The Forest Service declined to answer my prepared questions that focused on cumulative impacts.

"The process seems to overlook the wilderness as a whole.

“There’s no advocacy group for the wilderness in Sanders County. It wouldn’t be a popular position. But when I’m hiking in there, I also see lots of people form Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and Missoula, and none of them seems to know about the mines.

"A lot of people in Sanders County don’t think people from other areas don’t have a voice in the issue because they don’t live here. But the wilderness belongs to everyone.

     — Jim Costello, SaveOurCabinets.org

"It’s wilderness: Either you’re for or against it."

     —Mary Crowe Costello, Rock Creek Alliance

Banff Mountain Films lineup listed for Spokane

ADVENTURE — The lineup of films for the three-day run of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Spokane has been decided — just hours before the first films will be shown tonight starting at 7 p.m. at The Bing Crosby Theater.

Shows are sold out for all three nights.

World Tour host — better known as the World Tour road warrior — Holly Elliott met with Phil Bridgers of Mountain Gear met this afternoon at No-Li Brewery to work through the options. They take a lot of care in getting a good mix of 7-9 films of varying lengths and subject matter each night. No repeats through the three-night run.

Elliott already has been on road with screenings in Montana, but Spokane is among the first of hundreds of shows across the globe through September. She says The Bing is one of her favorite venues for sound, intimacy and the atmosphere of the facility and the crowd.

Read on for the lineup in Spokane:

FRIDAY

Vasu Sojitra - Out on a Limb

Tumwater Solitude

Cerro Torre (Best Film: Climbing)

Intermission

Delta Dawn (Best Short Film)

Forgotten Dirt

The Little Things - Meghann O' Brien

Sufferfest 2 - Desert Alpine (People's Choice Award: Radical Reels)

SATURDAY

Danny MacAskill - The Ridge

Caleb

Love in the Tetons

Sculpted in Time - The Wiseman

And Then We Swam (Best Film: Exploration and Adventure)

Intermission

Mending the Line (People's Choice Award at Banff)

Just Keep Running

Valley Uprising - The Golden Age (Grand Prize winner)

Afterglow

SUNDAY

Touch

Happy Winter

Arctic Swell

Tashi and the Monk (Best Film: Mountain Culture)

Intermission

Africa Fusion

14C

Into the Empty Quarter

Wild Women - Faith Dickey

Sun Dog