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Idaho lawmakers vote 5-4 to protect wild big game

WILDLIFE — There's good news and bad news this morning for big-game hunters and wildlife lovers from the 2015 Idaho Legislature:

Thank God — The Senate Agriculture Committee voted today to reject a controversial rule change easing restrictions on importation of farmed elk into the state that brought warnings from state Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore of potential catastrophic impacts to Idaho’s wildlife herds.

The bad news:  The vote was only 5-4.

That means nearly half of the committee was willing to back a rule change sought by domestic elk ranchers at the risk of subjecting wild deer, elk and moose to a deadly parasitic worm.

Can a niche of agricultural interests have that much influence to threatened the entire Idaho hunting industry?

And what about big game in Montana and Washington, both of which could be subjected to meningeal worms if they were transmitted to Idaho game?

Apparently some parliamentary issues continue to dog this issue, so stay tuned.

And stay amazed that elected state lawmakers continue to undervalue the irreplaceable wildlife resources within Idaho borders.

Utah mule deer hunt auctioned for record $390K

HUNTING — A bidder from Canada has set a world record high of $390,000 for the right to hunt one mule deer buck at a Utah state park in November.

"Antelope Island’s big mule deer bucks continue to produce big bucks of the green kind" for state wildlife management programs, writes Brett Prettyman of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Troy Lorenz, a 24-year-old guide from Prince George, British Columbia, made the winning bid during the annual Western Hunting and Conservation Expo held at the Salt Palace Convention Center last weekend.

“Some of the money raised from the auctions helps us run the show, but the majority of it goes to conservation projects to help all wildlife,” said Miles Moretti, president and CEO the Salt Lake-based Mule Deer Foundation. “These auctions are helping to conserve wildlife across the country.”

In all, bids for the Antelope Island mule deer hunt have generated more than $1.4 million for wildlife conservation on the preserve in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.

The Mule Deer Foundation hosts the expo in partnership with Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. The show draws hunting outfitters from across the world.

Here are more details about the hunting permit, the staggering bid and where the money goes from Prettyman's report:

In the auctions, well-heeled hunters spend vast sums of money for the chance to kill trophy animals. Antelope Island State Park’s mule deer herd is not included in Utah’s deer hunt, so the bucks live longer and grow much larger racks.

Last weekend’s hunting permit auctions generated $2.17 million.

Lorenz, according to Expo officials, also was the winning bidder for a statewide mule deer hunting tag in Arizona. That pricetag: $320,000.

Among the bidders for the vaunted Antelope Island mule deer tag was Denny Austad of Idaho. For three years running, Austad had made the winning bid for the permits. In all, he spent $775,000 for the chance to kill a buck each year. Austad also owns the previous world record for a mule deer hunt auction — $310,000 set in 2013 in Utah.

For years, public criticism quashed a proposed mule deer trophy hunt on Antelope Island State Park. But proponents of the hunt eventually went to Utah’s Capitol Hill and convinced lawmakers to mandate a hunt for both mule deer and bighorn sheep in the fall of 2011.

This year, the high bid for a bighorn sheep tag was $85,000. A moose permit drew a record bid of $90,000 at the Expo.

Just two tags are awarded for each species — including one permit open to the public through a lottery.

At the time they created the hunt, Utah legislators required that 90 percent of the money raised from the deer and bighorn auction permits be used for conservation efforts on the island. The other 10 percent goes to the organizers of the auction for costs associated with hosting the event.

The acutions have been so successful, just about a third of the conservation funding has been used.

Antelope Island State Park manager Jeremy Shaw said the money has been spent on a variety of projects and that none has been used as part of the park’s operating budget.

Projects range from restoring freshwater springs to installing water catchments to planting native species, including sagebrush and Mexican cliffrose.

“There is no way we could have done the number of conservation projects on the island that we have without this money,” Shaw said.

Other money has been spent transplanting 200 mule deer from the island to other Utah locations over the past two years. Biologists also attached radio collars to those deer as part of a research project to see how do after being moved.

Those transplants helped bring the island closer to a population objective of 350 to 450 mule deer. Shaw said the current population is roughly 500 animals, but the number increases during hard winters because deer from other areas migrate to the island.

The park manager cautions that the conservation money is not co-mingled with other state park funds.

“There is a perception out there that the hunting permit money is keeping Antelope Island around. All that money is used on conservation,” Shaw said. “We have our own operating budget and we make money each year. The auction money does help with the range conditions, but we don’t need it to run.”

Mule Deer Foundation and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources managers have questioned if the 26,000-acre park ever will be able to use the always-increasing pool of reserved money.

But Utah State Parks director Fred Hayes said lawmakers would have to approve a change in the funding stream to allow money generated by Antelope Island hunting permits to be used on conservation projects in other parts of the state.

Spokane Safari Club conservation banquet March 7

CONSERVATION – The Inland Empire Chapter of Safari Club International will hold its 33rd annual benefit dinner and auction on March 7 at the Mirabeau Park Hotel in Spokane Valley.

The banquet includes door prizes and a variety of raffles and auctions with chances to win firearms, domestic and international hunting and fishing trips, furniture, art and more. 

Organizers say more than 70 percent of the proceeds go to educational programs, scholarships for students working toward degrees in conservation, veterans and physically disabled outdoor activities, humanitarian aid, hunter-rights activities and local projects like tours through the Little Spokane River Fish Hatchery.  

Make reservations online at iesci.org.

Contact: Brenda West at (208) 660-5462 or Brenda.west05@gmail.com.

Veterinarians to Idaho: Don’t risk importing parasitic worm with farmed elk

UPDATE:  Click here for news on the committee's Feb. 24 vote.

WILDLIFE — Despite adamant opposition and warnings by the Idaho Fish and Game Department director, the Idaho Legislature is continuing to pursue a controversial proposal that would ease restrictions on importing and transferring farm-raised elk that could expose wild deer, elk and moose to a deadly parasitic worm.

The rule change is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday in the Idaho Legislature's Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.

This is not just an Idaho issue. Meningeal worms are a problem some scientists have dubbed as "ebola for wildlife."

If the committee approves the rule change, the ramifications will be potentially catastrophic to wild cervids and domestic animals, particularly white-tailed deer as well as mule deer, big horn sheep, exotic deer, elk, moose, caribou, llamas, alpacas, sheep and goats.

If Idaho gets meningeal worm, Washington State will be exposed, too.

Making this change in Idaho is nuts, considering that elk ranchers have safer alternatives.

  • The West just recently has had its eyes reopened to the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease in farmed elk in Utah as well as in Alberta.

This is not a time to roll the dice with a possible travesty that has no known cure for wild big-game populations. 

Don't take my word for it, or just the word of IFG director Virgil Moore. Listen to a pair of Idaho veterinarians who have clearly spelled out their opposition to the rule change in the following letter they've sent to Idaho lawmakers.

A Perfect Storm: Brainworm in Idaho’s Wildlife & Legislature
By Drs. Olin & Karen Balch, Cascade, Idaho

As Valley County veterinarians, we are alarmed about Idaho’s legislative rule proposal to downgrade meningeal worm restrictions for elk importation from east of the 100th meridian, essentially the eastern half of the US.  Current Idaho regulations prohibit elk importation from meningeal worm endemic regions.  The Senate Agricultural Committee chaired by Sen. Jim Rice is scheduled to vote on this issue Tuesday.

Likely, few Idahoans are familiar with meningeal worm disease or Brainworm.   Briefly, adult meningeal worms live in the central nervous system of white-tailed deer (definitive host) without harming that species.  The life cycle involves larva excreted in white-tailed deer feces; the larva then matures to an infective stage in a snail or slug (intermediate host).  Deer or other forage browsers inadvertently ingest snails or slugs carrying the disease while feeding.  Brainworm as a species is so successful that 80% of white-tailed deer in some eastern locations are infected.  Unfortunately, the adult meningeal worm living in the CNS is neither treatable nor identifiable.

Successfulness of numerous elk reintroduction efforts in eastern US have been marred by documented Brainworm mortality from 3% in Michigan, 24% in Kentucky, to 50% in Pennsylvania.  Scientific studies conclusively prove that elk can perpetuate this disease by shedding infective larva but do not necessarily die from Brainworm.  Brainworm in elk and mule deer is devastating; Brainworm in moose is catastrophic.  Minnesota moose population plummeted so drastically that the 2013 and 2014 Minnesota moose hunting seasons were cancelled.

Idaho has arguably the biggest US concentration of cervid wildlife (deer, elk, and moose), all of which can be infected with Brainworm.  We have abundant white-tailed deer, and our species of snail and slugs are suitable intermediate hosts.  We have all the makings of a perfect storm: 

1) the definitive host, white-tailed deer,

2) the intermediate host, slugs and snails, and

3) huge herds of wild cervids as previously-unexposed, vulnerable bystanders.  

The match would be a meningeal-worm infected captive elk introduced into some Idaho elk farm visited by white-tailed deer.  Once Idaho white-tailed deer are infected, Brainworm will be an unquenchable wildfire in Idaho’s wild cervids.

Elk breeders apparently feel that their livelihood is imperiled by their inability to bring in fresh elk genetics from eastern US.  We question why A.I. (artificial insemination) would not be the safe solution for obtaining new elk genetics; although seemingly all eastern US elk are descendants of western Rocky Mountain elk transplants.

We are baffled by elk farmer’s insistence that it is discrimination that elk meningeal–worm import regulations are not as lenient as import requirements of domestic animals (such as llamas, sheep, and horses) which can also be Brainworm infected.  However, these domestic animals have not been shown to pass viable larva capable of perpetuating the disease. 

As veterinarians, we believe animal import requirements should not be a matter of “fairness” but rather a scientific matter of the species’ specific physiology, the specific disease manifestation in that species, and the transmissibility of the disease to other animals or humans.   For example, horses and cattle can become rabid and transmit that almost invariably fatal disease, but are not required to have proof of rabies vaccination for import into Idaho.   Is it discrimination that dog owners must rabies vaccinate and show proof of vaccination to enter Idaho when similar requirements do not exist for owners of horses and cattle?

We are also baffled why state legislators are so willing to jettison the official June 23, 2014, written advice of IDFG Director Moore:  “It is imperative that the prohibition be maintained.”

Video proof: Getting too close to moose is stupid

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Did I overstate the potential danger posed by loveable-looking moose in today's Outdoors column?

I think not, despite what a few readers said in email comments. I have video proof you can view at the end of this post.

First, check out this message from Cameron Hughes, who learned to respect moose for their size and dicey dispositions while living in Alaska:

Your "moose issues" article will hopefully help to enlighten some of the general public to leave moose alone!
 
I certainly understand the difficult decisions that the F&W Officers face when confronted with a "problem" moose and in my opinion, the event in Fairfield was initiated by a number of people who don't understand the big picture of a habituated moose.
 
I lived in AK for about 18 years, 6 of which were in Anchorage, where moose are ubiquitous during the winter months. I was there when two people were killed by moose in the city. One being the infamous video of when an individual was entering the UAA Sports center and was stomped to death by an agitated moose. Coincidentally, I had entered and left that same door into the UAA sports center with my two young children earlier that day to watch the UAA hockey team practice. Fortunately, the moose wasn't around at the time I was there. If it had been, I would have chosen another exit.
 
Point is, the people of Anchorage had learned to leave, for the most part, the moose alone and to avoid them as much as possible. I suppose seeing a moose wasn't a novelty as it is around here. I drilled it into my son and daughter's head that when playing outside and a moose wanders into the neighborhood to come back in the house immediately until the moose had moved on.
 
While living in Western AK, the Eskimos in the area had a greater fear, or perhaps a better word would be respect, of moose than they did of grizzly bears. I think that tells one something about the possible danger posed by a moose.

This video graphically illustrates why all moose should be given a wide berth:

Video illustrates the hazard of being with a loose dog in moose country. This guy was lucky.

Some moose will run when approached, others will charge, as this moron discovers.

Avoid all of these dangerous learning experiences by reading the guidelines for coexisting with moose on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Woman keeps hunting through generations

HUNTING — Roberta Wise, 71, of Kennewick has been recalling a long, fruitful family history of hunting and fishing — and she's never been on the sidelines just because she's a girl.

Wise submitted photos and a story to a contest the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department is sponsoring to select the cover photo for the 2015-16 state hunting regulations pamphlet.

This year's them for the cover photo contest is “Women: Hunting Through the Generations.”  Deadline for submitting photos is March 1. See http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/sharephotos/contest.html

For Wise, entering the contest opened a well of memories.

"I was given my first fly rod when I was 8 years old and have been an avid fisherwoman since then," she said, noting that her father learned hunting and fishing from friends and was eager to involve his wife and daughter. "I also fell in love during those childhood years outdoors with birds and became a birdwatcher."

Following are passages from a remembrance she wrote, concluding with a wish for her family:

From as far back as I can remember as a child I was taught gun safety.  As a child I followed my father deer hunting, or sat on a stand with my mother while she was deer hunting.  When I was old enough to begin shooting, there were many days of target practice leading up to my first deer season.  My hunting was sitting with my mother on a stand where we shared one gun.  Mom had it for a half hour, then it was my turn for the next half hour. 

I did not start bird hunting until I was married in 1965.  First my husband and I hunted waterfowl with our first dog, a Labrador retriever.  As soon as our three children (two boys and a girl) were old enough to accompany us, they went along to sit in the blind.  They loved getting to eat cookies and drink hot chocolate all morning.  Over the years we owned five Labradors.

My two boys and their friend were with me in 1979 when I harvested a buck in Oregon.  Both boys received shotguns as their high school graduation gift from Mom and Dad. Both sons are good hunters and hunt every year, one in Washington and one in Idaho.  Our son-in-law has also taken up hunting after joining this family.

Our sons introduced us to upland bird hunting when they took up that endeavor during college years, and we fell in love with the sport.  Our youngest son gave us a Vizsla pup.  He said it is our “stay young program” —  keep up with the dog afield and it will help us stay young. 

We do very much enjoy upland hunting with our dog and have enjoyed our three oldest grandchildren, who live in our town, being able to accompany us often.  The day the family picture was taken (inset), the oldest granddaughter said she wanted a gun for her twelfth birthday and the younger girl said she wants to hunt when she grows up.   I told them both they need to take Hunter Safety classes as the next step. 

Our upland bird hunt in S.E. Oregon each of the last three years with our youngest son has included him carrying their daughter (now age 3) in a backpack while hunting (with hearing protection for her).  Of course taking care of an infant, diaper changes and all, while hunting is a challenge and slows down the pursuit of game, but she so loves it.

This year at age 71 I am still deer hunting and successfully shot my buck during general season with my son and 8-year-old grandson watching, photographing me with my buck, and helping me care for the deer.  We all enjoy eating venison.

I have been asked by each of our three children to help them teach their children what I taught them — to love all of what is to be found afield in the beauty and wonder of nature, the importance of taking care of the resources we have been given, and appreciation for landowners’ great gift of allowing you to hunt on their property. 

I hope my grandchildren will grow up as well-rounded outdoorsmen and women with values that all others, landowners and sportsmen, can admire.  

I hope the hunting and fishing tradition will carry forward to many more generations in our family.

Elk Foundation chapters set local banquets

HUNTING — Area chapters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are organizing their annual fund-raising banquets to raise money for wildlife habitat enhancement projects throughout the region.

Since 1984, the Missoula-based foundation says it joined agencies and other partners to conserve or enhance 6.6 million acres of North America’s finest elk country. 

The annual chapter banquet dinner-auction evenings are the primary fund-raising events, generating remarkable community support over the years.

"We have reached over $1 million raised from our local banquets helping to ensure the future of elk and wildlife habitat," said Jason Johnston of the Idaho Panhandle Chapter.

RMEF chapter Big Game Banquets coming up in this region include:

Saturday (Feb. 21) — Spokane Chapter, Mirabeau Park Hotel, 1100 N. Sullivan Rd. Info: Rich Furry, (509) 290-3557.

March 14Pend Oreille Chapter, American Legion Post 217, Cusick. Info: Darlynn Thompson, (509) 671-6346.

March 14 — Shoshone Chapter. Info: Frosty Greenfield, (208) 512-2015.

March 21Idaho Panhandle Chapter, Best Western PLUS, 506 W. Appleway Ave. in Coeur d’Alene. Info: Elliot or Deanna Taub, (208) 691-1824.

March 28 — Palouse Whitepine. Info: Debbie Brood, (208) 596-9310.

April 18 — Selkirk Crest Big Game Banquet in Sandpoint. Info: Jade Smith, (208) 255-9331.

RMEF has plenty of reason to be proud of its members accomplishments.

2014 highlights:

 • Celebrated 30th anniversary including 30 Years of RMEF Volunteers

 • Improved 135,000 acres of elk habitat in 22 states toward an overall lifetime mark
 of more than 6.6 million acres

 • Completed 625 habitat enhancement, hunting heritage and other conservation
 outreach projects bringing lifetime number of projects to 9,278

 • Opened or secured access to 61,817 acres toward an overall lifetime mark of more
 than 769,000 acres

 • Received a four-star rating—the highest possible—from Charity Navigator for the
  sixth consecutive year which positions RMEF among the top three percent of all
 charities rated by the service

 • Provided more than $1.6 million in Torstenson Family Endowment funding for
 RMEF’s four core mission programs

 • Assisted with elk restoration efforts in Wisconsin and finalized efforts to augment
 elk herds in Virginia

 • Sixth consecutive year of record membership, totaling 205,249 as of
 December 31, 2014

 • Record attendance of 28,000 at inaugural Hunter Christmas Exposition

 • Topped 200,000 Facebook followers

Will Idaho roll dice with wild deer, elk populations?

HUNTING — An obscure rule change sought by domestic elk ranchers could wreak havoc on Idaho’s hunting industry by introducing a deadly parasite into wild game populations – something some Idaho veterinarians are describing as “Ebola for wildlife.”

Elk ranchers say their proposal is safe, but they can't prove that.  Nor can they say for sure that elk won't escape game farms and present a risk to valuable wild herds  that cannot easily be rounded up for any kind of treatment to disease.

  • Remember the brazen case of Rex Rammel, the Idaho veterinarian and anti-government game rancher who said he could control his pen-raised elk, but couldn't. Then he bad-mouthed Idaho Fish and Game and took the agency to court for shooting his escaped elk in order to protect wild herds.

The deadly parasite in farm-raised elk that worries state wildlife officials is a threat worth confronting, scientists say.

Idaho Sportsmen Caucus Advisory Council President Larry Fry is encouraging lawmakers to keep current import restrictions in place.

“If you think wolves are bad for elk, wait until this worm gets in them,” he said.

Ruby Creek wolf caught, taken to Wolf Haven

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A wolf that had become habituated to humans, and could cause problems if left in the wild, was captured Wednesday (Feb. 11) by state wildlife officials in northeast Washington and placed in a Western Washington wolf sanctuary.

The adult female wolf, the last known member of the Ruby Creek pack, was captured near Ione in Pend Oreille County where she had spent months living near people, domestic dogs and livestock.

  • I was with state trappers when they caught and collared the Ruby Creek wolf in 2013 and later wrote this story about her value to research. At that time, she was the only known wolf frequenting the area.

Dave Ware, wolf policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the wolf’s behavior prompted concerns she would breed with a domestic dog, produce wolf-dog hybrids in the wild, and become increasingly associated with humans.

“This is a rare situation,” Ware said. “We know that placing wolves in captivity is not an option every time there is a problem. In this case, however, we believe permanent placement in a wolf sanctuary is a good match given the animal’s habituation to humans.”

Since last fall, the Pend Oreille County Commission has urged WDFW to move the wolf out of Ione, Ware said. Yet, she eluded capture and remained in the area despite the department’s efforts to trap her.

After the wolf’s capture, she was spayed and transported for permanent placement to Wolf Haven International, a non-profit wolf sanctuary and wildlife education facility in Thurston County.

“The female wolf was received last night and she’s in good health,” said Diane Gallegos, director of Wolf Haven International. “We’ve been coordinating with the department for several months now, and we are pleased to be able to accommodate this wolf.”

If the wolf does not adapt well to life in captivity, according to criteria developed by the department and Wolf Haven, she will be euthanized.

Ware said the decision to place the wolf in captivity was made after discussions with WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group of citizens, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the Pend Oreille County Commission.

“We discussed the pros and cons of possible actions, including translocation, euthanasia, or placement in captivity,” Ware said. “We appreciate the generous offer by Wolf Haven staff to take this individual into their care.” 

The Ruby Creek pack was confirmed by WDFW in 2013 when two adult female wolves were found traveling together in the area of Ruby Creek south of Ione. A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves traveling together. Last winter, after the other female mated with a domestic dog, it was captured, spayed and returned to the wild. That wolf was struck and killed by a motor vehicle on a road this spring.

The gray wolf is listed by the state as an endangered species throughout Washington and is federally listed as an endangered species in the western two-thirds of the state. WDFW is working to recover the state’s gray wolf population, guided by a citizen-developed plan to address conflicts with livestock and other impacts.

See more info here.

Panel tackles wolf issues Thursday at Gonzaga

ENDANGERED SPECIES —Six panelists with different viewpoints will speak on the revival of wolves in the Northwest during a program tonight, 7 p.m., at Gonzaga University’s Jepson Center, Wolff Auditorium, 502 E. Boone Ave.

Moderated by Rich Landers, Outdoors editor at The Spokesman-Review, the discussion about the merits and woes of wolf reintroduction will range from the perspectives of a hunter, cattleman, wildlife biologist, philosopher, conservationist and ethicist.

The audience will be invited to submit questions.

The program is sponsored by Humanities Washington and organized by the Spokane County Library District.

Chronic wasting disease found in Alberta elk farm

WILDLIFE — Just recently we heard about a case of chronic wasting disease involving a bull elk on a Utah game farm.

This week, belated news about the disease showing up at an elk farm in Canada:

Alberta game-farm elk tests positive for chronic-wasting disease
It's been more than a decade since chronic-wasting disease was found on a game farm in Alberta, where there are more than 200 elk farms that produce more than $10 million annually in product sales. But Alberta Agriculture spokesman Mike Long said Monday that the disease had been found on an undisclosed game farm in the province in January. Some are questioning why the announcement was delayed for so long.
—Calgary Herald

See more information about the disease across the continent by the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.

Most people agree federal lands belong to all, not to states

PUBLIC LANDS — As several Western states — including Washington — continue to debate legislation that seeks to take over federal lands within their borders, the majority of people seem to have a clearer understanding of who owns what.

A nonpartisan survey of Rocky Mountain state voters found 68 percent consider federal public lands as “American places” rather than places that belong to the people of individual states, the Missoulian reports.

“It was striking to see they grasp these are American places by a 2-to-1 margin,” Republican pollster Lori Weigel said of the 2015 Western States Survey released on Tuesday. "And there was significant intensity behind that. A greater proportion of people felt strongly about that.”

In Montana, 58 percent of respondents thought federal lands belonged to everyone in the nation, with 49 percent saying they felt strongly that way.

Those who thought of public lands as state places belonging to the people of Montana totaled 35 percent, with 27 percent considering that a strongly held opinion.

However, Montana was not as strongly in favor of federal ownership as some other states. Coloradans supported the “American place” idea by 72 percent, and Arizona backed it with 71 percent.

Only Wyoming was below Montana, with 54 percent supporting federal ownership and 37 percent favoring state ownership. The remainders (about 9 percent in each state) either believed in shared ownership or didn’t have an opinion.

The telephone study reached 2,400 voters in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Each state had 400 registered voters participate, divided equally among Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The margin of error was 2.9 percent up or down for the whole survey and 4.9 percent for individual states.

Overall, the poll found mountain-state residents considered the outdoors as a top reason for their choice of where to live.

Meanwhile in Montana, several outdoor, conservation and hunting groups are organizing a gathering on Feb. 16 at the state Capitol in Helena to demand that elected officials reject any efforts that would take away their public lands and deny them of their outdoor heritage.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen, and former Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton will address the crowd, as will business owner Adrienne Marx and Randy Newberg, host of the popular cable television show, “Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg.”

The event is being organized by Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Wildlife Federation.

This coalition plans to present a petition to Gov. Bullock rejecting any efforts to seize American lands. So far, nearly 3,000 people have signed the petition. More than a thousand signed it within 24 hours of when the petition appeared online at mtgreatoutdoors.org.

Here's more info from the coalition:

This week, Sen. Jennifer Fielder introduced the first of dozens of bills she and other legislators are working on this session that are aimed at transferring American lands into state ownership, a move that would saddle Montana with the $250 million price tag of managing the lands and force the state into selling those lands off to the highest bidder.

“This rally is about letting our elected officials know that Montanans flatly reject any effort to privatize lands that belong to all Americans and provide the backbone to a $3 billion state outdoor economy, an economy that keeps small towns like mine alive,” says Addrien Marx, a business owner in Seeley Lake and member of Montana Wilderness Association’s state council.

One of Fielder’s bills, to prohibit the sale of American lands transferred to the state, has already drawn strong criticism from Montanans for its disingenuousness.

“This is just a political stunt to shield Fielder’s agenda to seize public lands,” says Dave Chadwick, executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation. “If she succeeds in her public land takeover, future lawmakers will be forced to sell off those lands to keep from bankrupting the state.”

Another of Fielder’s bills would have the state conduct an economic study of transferring public lands to the state. Utah spent $2 million of taxpayers’ money in conducting a lands transfer study. The study concluded that such a transfer would tie Utah’s economy to the volatile oil market and force the state into industrializing public lands

Outdoor groups rally at state capitols against federal land grabs

PUBLIC LANDS — Sportsmen's groups and outdoors business have scheduled rallies at the Idaho and Montana capitols to protest efforts by some state lawmakers to take control of federal public lands. The groups contend state takeovers would ultimate result in the public losing access to millions of acres of land critical to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.

In Boise, noon-2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12, speakers will call for keeping public lands public and urge Idahoans to sign a petition supporting that stance. The rally is being organized by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

In Helena, on Monday, Feb. 16, rally speakers will include Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen, and former Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton, along with business owner Adrienne Marx and Randy Newberg, host of the popular cable television show, “Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg.” The event is being organized by Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Wildlife Federation.

  • Read a story about campaigns to speak out against the legislation in Western states.

In Montana, a coalition plans to present a petition to Gov. Bullock rejecting any efforts to seize American lands. So far, nearly 3,000 people have signed the petition. More than a thousand signed it within 24 hours of when the petition appeared online.

Here's more info from the coalition:

This week, Sen. Jennifer Fielder introduced the first of dozens of bills she and other legislators are working on this session that are aimed at transferring American lands into state ownership, a move that would saddle Montana with the $250 million price tag of managing the lands and force the state into selling those lands off to the highest bidder.

“This rally is about letting our elected officials know that Montanans flatly reject any effort to privatize lands that belong to all Americans and provide the backbone to a $3 billion state outdoor economy, an economy that keeps small towns like mine alive,” says Addrien Marx, a business owner in Seeley Lake and member of Montana Wilderness Association’s state council.

One of Fielder’s bills, to prohibit the sale of American lands transferred to the state, has already drawn strong criticism from Montanans for its disingenuousness.

“This is just a political stunt to shield Fielder’s agenda to seize public lands,” says Dave Chadwick, executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation. “If she succeeds in her public land takeover, future lawmakers will be forced to sell off those lands to keep from bankrupting the state.”

Another of Fielder’s bills would have the state conduct an economic study of transferring public lands to the state. Utah spent $2 million of taxpayers’ money in conducting a lands transfer study. The study concluded that such a transfer would tie Utah’s economy to the volatile oil market and force the state into industrializing public lands

In Idaho, the legislature is attempting to wrest control of up to 34 million acres of federal public lands. Currently, legislators are considering a measure so that “modifications to Idaho’s statutes and State Constitution can be made to effectuate these policy goals.” A related proposal would spend a half-million dollars of state funds (plus an additional quarter-million every following year) to actively pursue options for transferring ownership of federal lands in Idaho to the state.

According to organizers of the Boise rally:

Idaho cannot shoulder the enormous costs associated with fighting wildfires, maintaining roads and trails, treating noxious weeds and conducting habitat restoration on these lands. The transfer of federal lands to Idaho would result in one likely outcome: the fire sale of these lands to the highest bidder – billionaires and foreign corporations who may neither understand nor value America’s outdoor heritage. Once privatized, these lands will become off limits to most sportsmen in perpetuity.

Washington elk tag bags $50,000 at RMEF auction

HUNTING — Sportsmen recently bid $50,000 to $200,000 for elk hunting packages offered by seven states to raise money for wildlife habitat conservation.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation raised a total of $655,000 for fish and wildlife agencies in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington. The states offered a total of seven elk tags and one big-game enhancement package for the recent Hunter's Rendezvous Auction held in Tucson.

Washington's any-bull tag for Eastern Washington fetched $50,000.  Idaho did not offer a tag.

“One hundred percent of the funds raised from the auction of these special big game state permits go back to the individual states,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “These permits are a public trust and returning all of the proceeds they generate at this national event to the states for the benefit of wildlife and conservation is just the right thing to do.”

The money supports on-the-ground conservation projects that benefit habitat for elk, deer and other wildlife, and assists state agencies dealing with budgetary challenges, he said.

These limited tags are very rare and deemed “special” because they often feature extended seasons that may cover an entire state with some exceptions. State agencies provide the remainder of their tags through general application, a draw system, and over-the-counter opportunities ensuring that the everyday hunter has the opportunity to hunt.

“The revenue generated from only one tag can make a substantial difference for all our wildlife and also for improving hunting opportunity,” Allen said.

State special permits auctioned by RMEF include:
• Arizona Special Elk Tag, $140,000
• Colorado Special Elk Permit, $34,000
• Montana Special Elk Permit, $28,500
• Nevada Heritage Rocky Mountain Elk Tag, $100,000
• New Mexico Enhancement Package, $200,000
• New Mexico Special Elk License, $50,000
• Pennsylvania Elk Permit, $52,500
• Washington East Side Elk Permit, $50,000

Wolf Advisory Group expands from 9 to 18 members

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Nine members have been added to the committee that advises the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on wolf recovery and management.

Their appointments, for two-year terms that run through 2016, bring the Wolf Advisory Group’s membership to 18.

Jim Unsworth, who assumed duties as the agency's director this month, said the new members will bring diverse personal and professional backgrounds to the group that makes recommendations to guide the department’s implementation of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

WDFW formed the group in 2013, with nine members representing the interests of wolf advocates, cattle ranchers, and hunters. Unsworth said the new members bring a wider range of perspectives and, for example, include a science teacher and a member of the state’s largest hiking association.

“Wolf recovery has been and will continue to be a very challenging issue, and the advisory group members will provide valuable advice on how to achieve the goals of the wolf plan,” said Unsworth.

Dave Ware, the department’s wolf policy lead, said more than 50 people applied for the new positions following the department’s announcement in October that it was seeking to expand the group. Ware said WDFW placed a priority on selecting people from diverse backgrounds who have the ability to share information about the advisory group’s discussions within their own networks of contacts.

The Defenders of Wildlife, which opened an office in Washington for the first time less than a year ago, has a new representative in the group.

Ware said the nine people who served as original members or alternates will continue to serve through 2016. Their continued presence will lend stability and continuity to the advisory group, he said.

The group’s next meeting is planned for March, with details to be announced on the Wolf Advisory Group website:
 
Washington Wolf Advisory Group members (new members in boldface) and their affiliations are:

  • Bob Aegeter of Bellingham, Sierra Club
  • Shawn Cantrell of Seattle, Defenders of Wildlife
  • Tim Coleman of Republic, Kettle Range Conservation Group
  • Dave Dashiell of Hunters, Cattle Producers of Washington
  • Don Dashiell of Colville, Stevens County Commissioner
  • Tom Davis of Olympia, Washington Farm Bureau
  • Dave Duncan of Ellensburg, Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation
  • Tom Erskine of Camas, Washington Trails Association
  • Jack Field of Ellensburg, Washington State Cattlemen’s Association
  • Diane Gallegos of Tenino, Wolf Haven International
  • Janey Howe of Colville, science teacher and part-time range rider
  • Molly Linville of Palisades, independent cattle rancher
  • Nick Martinez of Moxee, Washington State Sheep Producers
  • Dan McKinley of Spangle, Mule Deer Foundation
  • Dan Paul of Seattle, Humane Society of the United States
  • Mark Pidgeon of Bellevue, Hunters Heritage Council
  • Lisa Stone of Shelton, hunter
  • Paula Swedeen of Olympia, Conservation Northwest

Hunters applying for Idaho spring bear, turkey hunts

HUNTING — Applications for Idaho spring black bear hunts must be filed by Feb. 15 and spring turkey controlled hunt applications must be in by March 1. 

Other Idaho spring dates to note:

  • April 1 — Leftover controlled hunt tags for spring turkey and bear controlled hunts go on sale.
  • April 8 —  Youth turkey hunts open.
  • April 15 — Spring turkey and spring black bear seasons start, with some controlled hunts opening later.

Hunters may apply for controlled hunts at any hunting and fishing license vendor; Fish and Game office; with a credit card by calling 1-800-55HUNT5; or online.

Spring 2015 bear controlled hunt information is in the 2014 Big Game Seasons and Rules book.

Spring turkey controlled hunt information is available in the 2014-2015 Upland Game, Furbearer and Turkey Seasons and Rules book. Both are available at all license vendors, Fish and Game offices and online.

Legal scholars: Utah’s push for US land would hurt public

PUBLIC LANDS — Utah’s push to wrest control of 31 million acres of federally controlled land would lead to less public access, less public involvement in land-use decisions and more drilling and strip mining, according to a new report by legal scholars.

The report, by the University of Utah law school’s Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, also concludes the move could lead to a better chance of imperiled plants and wildlife winning protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The report was co-authored by Bob Keiter, the Stegner center’s director, and John Ruple, who served in the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office under former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

The story comes from the Salt Lake Tribune via the Associated Press:

“The public would have less, not more, input into land management, and all who utilize what are now public lands — industry and recreation interests alike — would likely see the cost of access increase substantially,” Ruple said. “In short, the public would suffer from this misguided effort.”

Utah Assistant Attorney General Tony Rampton disputed the report’s finding that state control would lead to diminished public access and rampant drilling and strip mining.

“One of the largest economic drivers (in Utah) is tourism and recreation,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It is in the state’s interest to preserve, protect and promote that activity, just as much as mineral development. It’s all about balance.”

Utah’s Republican governor and legislators argue local officials would be better land managers and state control would make money for the state. They passed a 2012 law demanding the federal government hand over the land by 2015, but the federal government failed to do so.

The land demand does not include national parks, wilderness areas and national monuments, with the exception of the roughly 3,000-square-mile Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah and its underground coal reserves.

The Stegner report concludes the 2012 law does nothing to ensure that the public continues to enjoy the same level of access and involvement in decision-making as guaranteed under federal law. The report urges the Legislature to establish management priorities and mandate resource inventories for transferred lands and to enact a state version of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

“Enactment of such statutes in states seeking to take over public lands would send a much-needed message about transparency, accountability and commitment to the public interest,” they wrote.

But Rampton said the state has no interest in approving NEPA, the landmark 1969 federal law that requires analysis and disclosure of project impacts on public lands.

“The review is so drawn-out and provides no certainty, but rather extenuates uncertainty,” he told The Tribune. “The feds can’t act quickly because they have to deal with this process and when they finish the process, they have to deal with litigation.”

Republican lawmakers in December said a report, produced by three state universities, shows it won’t be a financial burden for Utah if the state manages to succeed in its push to take control of the land.

But Ruple said Utah would have to substantially increase energy production to cover the costs of managing lands and to protect the revenue stream counties now enjoy from federal royalties, which amounted to more than $180 million in 2013.

“Instead of a potential surplus, we see a potential deficit,” he said. “The only realistic option is more development.”

Elsewhere:

Wyoming county, group team up to oppose federal lands bills
Sweetwater County commissioners urged the state legislators representing the Wyoming county to not support either of the two federal lands bills currently before the state Legislature. In addition, on Thursday the Wyoming Sportsmen Alliance distributed a handout to legislators taking the same stance.
—Casper Star-Tribune;

Wyoming legislators should OK study of state management of federal lands
There are two bills under consideration by the Wyoming Legislature this session dealing with federal lands, one that demands the federal government hand over lands within the state's borders and another that would study management of federal lands by the state, and while the seizure bill goes too far, studying state management of federal lands would be worthwhile, if only to allow the public users of state lands to document their concerns about such management.
—Casper Star-Tribune

Prosecutor still mum on charges for Whitman County wolf shooting

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A Whitman County man who shot a gray wolf last fall told investigators the animal did not pose an imminent threat to humans or livestock.

Officers investigating the October 12 shooting say Jonathan M. Rasmussen and his wife did not indicate the wolf posed a threat at the time of the shooting south of Pullman, according to a report released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife after a public records request by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

Fish and Wildlife police say they found evidence of unlawful taking of wildlife and recommended a misdemeanor charge be filed.

State Fish and Wildlife officials turned over the case to Whitman County prosecutor Denis Tracy on Nov. 19. The prosecutor's office confirms that the case is still under consideration and no charges have been filed.

Under Washington state endangered species protections, it is illegal to shoot a wolf unless it is attacking livestock or people.

Updated: Yellowstone elk increase as wolf numbers decline

Updated Feb. 5, noon, with info about corresponding decline of Yellowstone wolves.

WILDLIFE — Wildlife officials have tallied a 24 percent increase in the size of an elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana.

But they say it’s too soon to know if the change marks a turnaround for a population long in decline.

The 2015 winter survey of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd counted 4,844 elk. That’s almost 1,000 animals more than the last count in 2013 and the highest number since 2010.

Park biologist Doug Smith says a higher survival rate for newborn calves last year likely helped boost the population.

The well-known herd peaked at almost 20,000 animals in 1994, just before carnivorous gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995.

Also taking a toll on the herd have been hunters, other predators and harsh winters.

Research has shown that the elk were overpopulated in the mid-90s and that the park's ecosystems, including aspens, have benefited to a more natural balance since wolves were reintroduced.

However, sportsmen's groups say a 75 percent decline in the area's elk herd is overkill.

Variable factors?

Wolf factor

The park's wolf population has dropped substantially since 2007. Park-wide, the number of wolves in Yellowstone declined from 171 in December 2007 to 82 in December 2012. Most of the decrease has been in packs on the northern range, where it has been attributed primarily to the decline in the elk population there. Disease, primarily distemper and possibly mange, have also been factors in the population decline. Wolves also have been killing each other in territorial contests.

Here's a Feb. 5 story with more details from the Associated Press:

By MATTHEW BROWN

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife officials tallied a 24 percent population increase this winter for a well-known elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana, but said it was too soon to know if the change marks a turnaround for a herd long in decline.

The 2015 winter survey of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd counted 4,844 elk. That’s almost 1,000 more animals than the last reliable count, in 2013, and the highest number since 2010.

A higher survival rate for newborn calves last year likely helped boost the population, according to biologists Doug Smith with Yellowstone and Karen Loveless with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The herd, which is widely known among hunters and wildlife watchers, peaked at almost 20,000 animals in the early 1990s. That was soon before carnivorous gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, helping drive down elk numbers that also took a toll from heavy hunting, other predators and harsh winters.

State wildlife officials responded by first reducing and eventually eliminating in 2011 a late-season elk hunt near Gardiner that at one point issued permits for more than 1,000 elk annually.

Loveless said this winter’s jump in the herd’s numbers is not enough to immediately justify any additional hunting.

“I’d want to see at least a few years of population stability before we were to increase the (elk) harvest,” she said.

The 2015 winter survey counted more than 1,130 elk inside the park and more than 3,700 in adjacent areas of Montana.

Wolf numbers on the herd’s range have dropped by roughly half in recent years, from 94 to 42 of the predators. Park biologists said the decline suggests wolves could be beginning to respond to fewer elk.

A study is planned next winter to gauge the accuracy of the annual elk survey, Smith said. Participants will include researchers from the park, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Certainly the news is good. The numbers are up. Is it a true indication of a trend? I can’t say,” Smith said. “We want to know what’s going on with these elk. They are iconic in this region.”

Last year’s survey was not completed because of poor weather conditions.

Photo: winter gathering place for elk

WILDLIFE WATCHING — As hard as they are to find during hunting season, here's proof that a few elk survived the guns, highways and wolves of Western Montana.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson counted more than 450 elk in four herds along winter range areas near Lincoln, Montana, in one day this week.

Updated: More groups speak out against states’ federal land grab

Updated Feb. 4 at 11:30 a.m. with news of final Idaho report on federal transfer proposals.

PUBLIC LANDS — The evidence, logic and sentiment is mounting against the sham some legislators are continuing as they court private interest groups by stumping for state take-overs of federal public land. 

The movements in several Western states are being exposed as a threat to public access of prized outdoor destinations as well as a waste of legislative time and taxpayer dollars.

The cause has rallied a growing number of sportsmen's groups and outdoor business.

Here's the latest in the news:

Idaho legislators should stop wasting time on federal lands transfer
There has been enough time and effort expended on Idaho legislators' study of taking over management of federal lands and/or the outright transfer of those lands to the state. Given what the past two years of such study has yielded, i.e., that the campaign for such a transfer originated outside the borders of the Gem State and that the Idaho Statehood Act and Constitution specifically forbid "any further or other grants of land for any purpose" from the federal government, to name a couple, it's time the issue be laid to rest, and state legislators focus on the real issues faced by Idahoans.

A guest editorial by Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate for the Idaho Conservation League.
—Idaho Statesman

That's just a hint at the slippery slope state control of public recreation and multi-use lands could lead to:

Idaho state parks seeks bill to allow corporate sponsors
Although Idaho law doesn't specifically ban the use of corporate sponsors for Idaho state parks, it doesn't specifically allow it either, and state parks officials are seeking a bill to do so.
—The Spokesman-Review

Finally — for now — here's a story about the final committee report on Idaho lawmakers' two-year effort to be land barons:

Public lands takeover advice: Don’t sue feds

By William L. Spence / Lewiston Tribune

BOISE - Idaho lawmakers still want to improve management practices on public lands, but they say suing the federal government isn’t the right strategy to accomplish that goal.

After nearly two years of study, the Idaho Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Task Force adopted its final report Friday, Jan. 30.

The document concludes suing the government to try and acquire ownership of public lands "would be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, without a great deal of certainty as to the outcome While not eliminating litigation as an alternative, the committee found it is not the preferred path to resolve federal land management issues."

The task force has held nearly a dozen public meetings since 2013, taking comments from people across the state.

The report notes there was "consistent support for continued public access" to the federal lands, and little support for selling such lands. People also felt "current management of federal lands isn’t producing the array of multiple-use benefits" originally contemplated.

The economic rationale for owning the land was limited, according to the report.

While there was substantial debate on this issue, a study from the University of Idaho’s Policy Analysis Group found net revenue from state management of federal timberlands would have ranged from a loss of $6 million to a profit of $129 million per year, depending on harvest levels and timber prices. If highway maintenance, recreation and rangeland management costs were added in, the state would lose anywhere from $24 million to $111 million. That would be partially offset by as much as $58 million per year in income tax revenue from the thousands of jobs that would be created.

An alternative analysis estimated Idaho would lose $1.5 billion over the first decade of state ownership, and that upward of 2,500 mostly rural jobs would be lost.

The primary lesson from the committee’s work, according to the report, was that "much more work needs to be done to improve the management of federal lands in the state."

Consequently, the task force is recommending that the state establish a commission or office to continue monitoring the issue, while also pursing collaborative opportunities with the federal government that allow the state to play a greater role in the management of public lands.

The recommendations will be presented to legislative leaders for possible action this session.

 


Documents:

New Idaho board spending $4,600 per wolf in control effort

PREDATORS — Idaho’s new wolf depredation control board reported to state lawmakers today that since it was launched July 1, it’s spent $140,000 to kill 31 wolves, all of which were attacking livestock, according to a report just posted by S-R Idaho capital reporter Betsy Russell.

Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, said, “That’s $4,600 per wolf. As the wolf population grows, how are we going to sustain this type of expense?”

Pray tell?

Washington lawmakers join federal land transfer bandwagon

PUBLIC LANDS — A bill has been introduced in Washington — SB 5405 — that would form a task force to look into federal land ownership in Washington, with an eye to “to study the risks, options, and benefits of transferring certain federal lands in the state to an alternative ownership.”

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman fleshes out the state Senate perps involved in this waste of time and money.

Read a few recent stories on these efforts in several other western states:

News of the Washington bill comes shortly after national sportsmen's groups and businesses launched a campaign to oppose state movements to take over federal lands, with the high likelihood that they would later become privatized in some way.

Within Washington are 12.7 million acres of federal land, including 9.3 million acres of national forests, 1.8 million acres of national parks, 429,000 acres of BLM ground, and 182,000 acres of national wildlife refuges. This is land we can't afford to be vulnerable to special interests.

“America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands provide irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and public access for hunting and fishing,” said Joel Webster, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “More than 72 percent of Western sportsmen depend on these lands for access to hunting."

Chronic wasting disease found in Utah bull elk

HUNTING — A bull elk shot in a private northern Utah hunting park has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), Utah Department of Agriculture officials confirmed to the Salt Lake Tribune Friday.

Confirmation of the neurological disease's presence means the approximately 20 wild deer and two moose fenced in on the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch in Liberty will have to be killed to be tested, reports outdoor writer Brett Prettyman.

The entire herd of elk — more than 60 animals — at the Howe's Elk Ranching operation near Blanding, where the CWD-positive bull came from, will also have to be destroyed and tested.

"The bull came from the farm in southeastern Utah as part of a group of 11 bulls," said Utah state veterinarian Warren Hess. Hunters at the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch killed nine of the bulls, and tests on one of them came back positive, he said. As a result, ranch owners killed the last two bull elk. "We are waiting for the results on those animals," Hess said.

Broadmouth Canyon Ranch is owned by the family of former Utah State University football player and National Football League All-Pro Rulon Jones. The state has had issues with fence breaches at Broadmouth Canyon in the past. The family also operates an elk hunting ranch in Idaho and two hunting ranches in Mexico.

Hess said the department is not aware of any movement of elk from the Utah ranch to the Idaho ranch, which is in the Blackfoot Mountains.

Hess said Howe's Elk Ranch is under quarantine while the state works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to seek compensation for the elk. The CWD-infected bull had been at the Liberty hunting park for less than three weeks when it was killed. The state mandates testing of all animals killed at private elk farms or hunting parks, and the bull's results came back positive just before Christmas.

"There wasn't a long exposure and so far that is the only animal to test positive," Hess said. "We have two areas of concern: the park itself and the deer inside the park and the chance of them being infected and getting back out."

It is unknown where the elk at Howe's Elk Ranch picked up CWD. Hess said records show there has been no movement of elk into the the Blanding ranch for the past five years.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) officials are making plans to hunt the deer and moose in the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch enclosure to test for CWD and to prevent them from escaping and reaching other wild animals.

"We will work with the Department of Agriculture to minimize the risk of contact between domestic and wild animals," said DWR's mammals coordinator Leslie McFarlane, who oversees the state's wildlife disease program.

Chronic wasting disease is not new to Utah wildlife. The disease is sometimes compared to mad cow disease, but is not deemed to be transmittable to humans.

It first showed up in Utah in 2002 when a buck mule deer killed during the rifle hunt near Vernal tested positive. A doe mule deer found dead in a field near Moab in 2003 was the second known case of CWD in Utah. Since then, according to McFarlane, there have 62 cases of CWD in Utah. Two elk have been confirmed to have CWD.

A map showing the distribution of CWD in Utah between 2003 and 2013 shows no evidence of the malady near Liberty where the Broadmouth Canyon hunting park is located.

DWR biologists conduct annual CWD testing in areas where it is prevalent and at random locations across the state to monitor Utah's herds.

"We will increase our monitoring around the two facilities by looking at live animals that appear sick and doing tests on road kill," McFarlane said. "If people see sick animals we would ask that they let us know."

Hess said operators at both elk facilities have been working with the Department of Agriculture to address the issue.

East slope Cascades wildlife area management plan released

CONSERVATION — The Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access Plan — a guidebook for managing 230,000 acres of state lands — has been released by the Washington state departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The recreation plan covers lands from the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range to the Columbia River.

The plan addresses recreation in the Naneum Ridge State Forest, managed by DNR, the Colockum Wildlife Area, and the Quilomene and Whiskey Dick units of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, managed by WDFW.

Following is a summary from a release posted by the two agencies:

The recreation plan culminates a 3-year planning process and collaborative effort between the agencies, local user and community groups, and a volunteer advisory committee, which included members from a wide range of interests. Committee members donated more than 1,200 hours of volunteer time in 20 public meetings.

“The public played an integral role,” said Brock Milliern, statewide recreation manager for the agencies. “By planning proactively we can ensure that recreation develops here in a way respects the local desire to maintain rural and agricultural activities, meets the agencies’ needs, and expands sustainable recreation and economic opportunities for the public and surrounding communities.”

The plan will guide DNR and WDFW in sustainable management of the recreation planning area for the next 10 to 15 years.

“This was a huge effort by the committee members, the public and the agencies to find balance among competing interests for fish, wildlife, land management and compatible recreation,” said Mike Livingston, regional director for WDFW. “This plan sets us up to achieve that balance.” 

Recreation Opportunities
As the plan is implemented, DNR and WDFW will continue to consult with local groups to expand safe and sustainable recreation opportunities for the public and surrounding communities.

Opportunities include:

  •  Providing and maintaining the Green Dot road network, which offers a system for public vehicle and off-road vehicle use and access to recreation opportunities throughout the planning area. WDFW will offer more Green Dot roads on its lands in Kittitas County.
  •  Providing trail opportunities for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking in the forested portions of the Naneum Ridge State Forest and the Colockum Wildlife Area, including a north-south trail in the northern and western sections of the planning area that will offer greater access to recreation.
  •  Providing off-road trail opportunities for motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, and 4X4s, through discussion with user groups and the public.
  • Developing a non-motorized winter trail system and a new non-motorized parking area in the Stemilt Basin area.
  • Continuing to provide snowmobile access in the planning area.
  •  Improving road and trail linkages to public land west of the planning area, including the Wenatchee National Forest.
  • WDFW plans to pursue partnership opportunities with local governments and non-profit organizations to design, develop, manage and maintain a shooting range facility.

Wasting moose could cost N. Idaho man up to $20K in penalties

POACHING — A North Idaho man authorities say shot and killed two moose and left one to rot is facing felony charges of taking and wasting wildlife.

The Bonner County Daily Bee reports in a story on Sunday that 59-year-old Richard L. Bolin Jr. of Dalton Gardens is scheduled to appear in Bonner County Magistrate Court on Feb. 27.

Authorities say that hunters reported to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in September 2012 that Bolin shot and killed two moose in the Lost Creek drainage, the Associated Press says.

Authorities say Bolin later told a conservation officer he mistook the second, larger moose for the smaller moose he shot first. The first moose was left to rot, as was part of the second.

Bolin faces civil penalties of up to $20,000.

Lake Roosevelt bighorns to be collared for research

WILDLIFE — Bighorn sheep near in Lincoln County near Lake Roosevelt will wearing new neck gear for research later this month.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans use a helicopter contractor capture to bighorns from the Lincoln Cliffs herd on Feb. 10, weather permitting.

Up to 20 of the wild sheep will be ear-tagged and nine will be equipped with GPS tracking collars, said Carrie Lowe, state wildlife biologist. The sheep will be released so biologists can better monitor their movements, productivity, and survival.

The sheep will be captured with nets shot from the helicopter, then transported to a staging area for handling and blood sampling by a ground crew.

The department is working to secure permission to access private land in the Lincoln and Whitestone Rock areas near the Lake Roosevelt shoreline for the work.

Wildlife area closed Feb. 1 to protect wintering elk

WILDLIFE — Under a state plan adopted eight years ago, about 44,000 acres of wildlife land in Kittitas County east of Ellensburg will be closed to motor vehicles Feb. 1 through April 30 to protect wintering elk.

The winter closure includes portions of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, which is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The closure only restricts motorized vehicle access; the public may still access the area by foot, horseback, or mountain bike, wildlife officials say.

The area subject to the closure is north of the Vantage Highway, south of Quilomene Ridge Road, east of the Wild Horse Wind Farm and west of the Columbia River. This is the eighth year of the seasonal closure of the wildlife area lands, said Scott McCorquodale, WDFW regional wildlife manager.

About 2,000 elk - nearly half the Colockum elk herd - winter on the Whiskey Dick and Quilomene sections of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.

"Vehicle traffic can disturb these elk and reduce their use of habitat near roads," McCorquodale said. "Reducing vehicle traffic on the wildlife area also may encourage wintering elk to remain on the public land rather than straying to nearby private lands."

The winter closure is included in the new Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access Plan, developed over three years by WDFW and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and released today. The plan addresses recreation and public access for roughly 230,000 acres of DNR and WDFW land stretching from the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range to the Columbia River.

One road that receives minimal winter traffic, will remain open to the public. The road travels south from Quilomene Ridge Road along Jackknife Ridge to the northern boundary of the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. From there, a three-mile stretch of road through the park ultimately connects with Old Vantage Highway. Washington State Parks manages the park road under a permit system, providing free permits onsite.

The three-month seasonal closure is consistent with winter-range closures elsewhere in the state, including the Oak Creek and Wenas wildlife areas.

Seasonal closures also occur on critical big-game winter ranges in several other western states, including Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming. 

Wyoming balks as feds plan sheep grazing cuts to save bighorns

WILDLIFE — Federal efforts to reduce chances that domestic sheep will spread disease to beleaguered bighorns is hitting a fence in Wyoming.

Some Wyoming lawmakers are pushing to protect domestic sheep in the state from a possible federal effort to remove them from public lands, the Associated Press reports:

Here is the latest from AP, although the story does not point out that the federal action has been prompted by massive die-offs of bighorn sheep in states such as Washington and Montana.

The U.S. Forest Service recently curtailed domestic sheep grazing on the Payette National Forest in Idaho to protect bighorn sheep from disease. The agency is developing a larger plan to consider whether it needs to curtail domestic sheep in Wyoming and other western states to reduce the threat to bighorns.

Domestic sheep producers in Idaho and elsewhere last year appealed the Forest Service’s decision to curtail grazing on the Payette National Forest to a federal appeals court in San Francisco. Wool growers’ associations in Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho have joined the fight.

Amy Hendrickson, executive director of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, said Thursday the prospect of coming federal cuts to grazing allotments has created great concern among sheep operators in the state.

“It’s hard for a lot of our producers to make management decisions, decisions what to do, because they just don’t know whether they’re going to be able to graze or not,” Hendrickson said.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, is sponsoring a bill to codify in Wyoming law a plan that state agencies have used for the past 10 years to resolve possible conflicts between wild and domestic sheep. Recognizing the plan in state law will put the state on firmer legal ground if it has to fight any federal effort to evict domestic sheep producers, he said.

State management agencies, hunting groups and grazing interests worked together to devise the Wyoming plan in 2004. It ranks sheep areas in the state according to their value, placing the greatest restrictions on domestic sheep in the prime bighorn areas.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve been operating under a handshake,” Hicks said. “In Wyoming it works really well, to the point that the agencies have adopted it.”

The Wyoming Wool Growers Association and the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, a wild sheep conservation group, intervened together against environmental groups that filed a federal lawsuit alleging that domestic sheep grazing threatened a small bighorn herd on the Medicine Bow National Forest. A decision in that lawsuit is still pending.

Hicks sponsored legislation that became law two years ago specifying that if concern over bighorns in the Medicine Bow National Forest threatened existing domestic sheep operators that the state would remove the wild sheep.

Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer, is sponsoring similar legislation this year that would specify the state would remove a herd of bighorns from the Darby Mountain area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest if the federal government proposed to cut domestic sheep operations there.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last summer expressing concerns about the Forest Service’s development of its forthcoming sheep plan.

The governors told Vilsack that new grazing allotments had to be identified before any domestic sheep producers were displaced from grazing allotments. Members of Congress from around the West have voiced similar concerns to agency officials.

Jessica Crowder, policy adviser for Mead, said Thursday that the Region 4 office of the U.S. Forest Service, headquartered in Ogden, Utah, is preparing the sheep risk assessment. Crowder said she expects the Forest Service will share more information with states in the West in coming months.

Attempts to reach Forest Service officials for comment on the pending plan were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Lauren M. Rule, an Oregon lawyer, represents environmental groups challenging domestic sheep grazing on both the Payette and Medicine Bow national forests.

Rule said Thursday she doesn’t see how codifying Wyoming’s existing sheep plan would help the state if the Forest Service proposes cuts in grazing. She said the existence of a state sheep plan in Idaho didn’t stop federal action to reduce grazing there.

Bird flu strikes Okanogan game farm; pheasants to be destroyed

HUNTING — An outbreak of avian influenza in a private game farm in Okanogan County is forcing federal and state agriculture officials to kill up to 5,000 ducks, geese, chickens, pheasants and turkeys.

About 40 birds at a game farm for private hunting and bird-dog training in Riverside, Washington, were sick and died over the weekend. The birds tested positive for bird flu on Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Washington announced it would kill birds from the flock and establish a six-mile quarantine around it to contain the disease.

The flock represents the largest number of birds the state has had to test and possibly kill during 2015 bird flu outbreaks.

"As recently as November, the flock owners had tests run on their birds which, at that time, showed no sign of avian influenza in the flock," Agriculture officials said in a statement.

Other outbreaks of the avian flu have been reported in Clallam, Benton and Franklin county, but involved much smaller numbers of poultry. Washington state has now lifted a quarantine in the Tri-Cities but one in Port Angeles remains. No new cases have been found in either location.

An outbreak in California led to 146,000 turkeys being killed at a commercial operation. Several countries including China have banned poultry and eggs from the United States.