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Dave Ware, Washington big-game director, wolf policy leader, to retire

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — A man who's been in the fire pit of big-game and wolf policy in Washington for decades says he plans to retire in June.

Dave Ware, currently the Wolf Policy Lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, announced his plans to the state's wolf advisory group in an email on Tuesday.  He was head of the wildlife program for years before agency officials decided last year the wolf issue was so important it needed a dedicated management leader.

Name a controversial big-game policy and Ware was probably the man who had to explain it, take the heat for it and accept the occasional comment of appreciation.  Said Ware:

After 34 years with WDFW and its predecessor agencies (Game and Wildlife), I have decided to retire at the end of June. I have had a great career with the Department and have had many diverse and challenging opportunities, although perhaps none as challenging and potentially rewarding as implementing the Wolf Plan. 

Canada kills 11 wolves to aid dwindling Selkirk caribou

PREDATORS — Eleven wolves were killed in the Southern Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia during a winter effort to reduce predation on endangered woodland caribou that range in Canada as well as in Idaho and Washington.

Another 73 wolves were killed farther north to boost caribou in the South Peace region, the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations announced last week.

The effort began on Jan. 15 and concluded this month. This is the first year of a five-year project of wolf removal that is being employed in conjunction with ongoing habitat protection efforts, British Columbia officials said.

In the South Selkirks, 11 wolves were removed from packs that range into the USA. Of the wolves targeted, seven to 10 remain and are now being monitored to track their movement. To date these wolves have not ranged into caribou areas, so are not candidates for removal.

In the South Peace, 73 wolves were removed, with the majority being in the vicinity of the Moberly and Quintette caribou herds. In one case, six wolves were removed as they were actively stalking 14 caribou.

Both the South Selkirks and South Peace herds have experienced significant losses to wolf predation.

The South Selkirk herd numbered 46 caribou in 2009, declining to 14 in the most recent survey conducted in March 2015. This is a loss of four caribou since the 2014 census. The cause of these recent losses is not known, but likely occurred prior to wolf removal actions being taken. Predation on caribou is more common in the fall and summer

In the four caribou herds in the South Peace (Quintette, Moberly, Scott and Kennedy-Siding), populations are also decreasing and wolves are a key factor. At least 37% of all adult mortalities have been documented as wolf predation.

Hunting and trapping of wolves has not effectively reduced populations and may even split up packs and increase predation rates on caribou. Habitat recovery continues to be an important part of caribou recovery, but cannot address the critical needs of these herds in the short term.

Quick Facts from B.C. government officials:

  • In 2012, the B.C. government endorsed a Peace Northern Caribou implementation plan to increase the population of seven Northern Caribou herds in the south Peace area of B.C.
  • Through a combination of measures the Peace Northern Caribou Plan will ultimately protect over 498,000 ha of high elevation winter range caribou habitat out of a total of 553,477 ha available.
  • In October 2007, the provincial government endorsed the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan
    • Included among the Province's commitments to Mountain Caribou recovery implementation are the protection of 2.2 million hectares of habitat, including 95% of high-suitability Mountain Caribou habitat, from logging and road building and managing recreation to reduce human disturbance.
    • For the South Selkirk herd, a significant portion of core caribou habitat (61,000 ha.) has been closed to snowmobile use and almost all core caribou habitat (108,000 ha.) has been protected from logging and road building.

White turkey with black beard comes to hunter’s decoy

HUNTING — Here's another unusual report from the April 15 opening day of Washington's spring gobbler season. This one, along with several photos, is from long-time Spokane-area hunter Ivan Lines:

Hi Rich: Enjoyed  your turkey hunting story in the paper this morning.  I've experienced all of the same trials and tribulations.

I had an interesting hunt yesterday as well.  At about 6 a.m. I had a snow white male turkey come strutting into my decoys.  He and a normally colored tom were fighting over my hen decoy. 

No dark coloring on this bird except for a black 4-inch beard.  The eye was dark brown or black so I believe this bird was leucistic rather than an albino. 

I've seen pictures of birds with a lot of white on them but never one that was pure white.

The bird hadn't hit the dinner table, yet. No confirmation on whether the drumsticks were white, too.

Hunter-gatherer bags big day on spring gobbler opener

HUNTING — Opening-day reports are rolling in from Inland Northwest wild turkey hunters.

Family firsts, gobbler doubles and other memory-making hunts are already in the history books and the season runs until the end of May.

None so far is any better than the report from Spokane-are fly fishing guide G.L. Britton, who tells most of the story with the photo above:   Gobbler and morels — a true hunter-gatherer delight.

"I can't believe I noticed the morels while I was stumbling down a ridge towards distant gobbling at 7 a.m.!" he said.

The rest of Britton's story?

Then we drove home, and worked the trout over in Long Lake for an hour. Still home before noon!

Emergency rule OKs crossbows for turkey hunts

HUNTING —  For the first time, crossbows became legal to use for hunting wild turkeys this morning as Washington's spring gobbler season opened.

The change was allowed by an emergency rule vote of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission announced on Tuesday.

The commission made the change at its meeting last week in Tumwater. Hunting regulation changes usually take a month or more before they go into effect.  However, to avoid confusion, the commission decided to enact the rule with the opening of the season rather than midway through the season.

 The regulation pertaining to legal weapons for turkey hunting has been changed to read:

"It is unlawful to hunt turkey with a weapon other than shotgun shooting #4 or smaller shot, bow and arrow, crossbow, or muzzle loading shotgun shooting #4 or smaller shot."

North Idaho’s Extreme Huntress faces out-of-state license charges

HUNTING — North Idaho's famed Extreme Huntress from Bonner County is in hot water on charges of violating hunting permit regulations while she was vying for a national TV crown. She says she's not guilty. Her day in court is scheduled for April 20.

The Spokesman-Review was among many, many media outlets that tracked Amanda Rochelle Lowrey in 2013 on her trail toward the 2014 Extreme Huntress title.

However, according to the Hagadone News Network, Lowrey who garnered national acclaim after winning the televised hunting competition, is charged with violating hunting laws in North Dakota.

Lowrey is charged with making misrepresentations on a hunting permit application and unlawfully possessing big game, according to court documents filed in Divide County, North Dakota, the Sandpoint Daily Bee reports.

Lowrey pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor offenses and a pretrial conference is set for April 20 in Crosby, N.D.

Extreme Huntress officials made this comment on the contest Facebook page:

Many Extreme Huntress fans have contacted us today with concerns about the recent news media reports regarding Amanda Lowrey and potential game violations. We were contacted by investigators from both Idaho and North Dakota fish and game departments in January 2014. We fully cooperated with their investigation and suspended any further competition activities with Amanda pending the outcome of the case.

Since this legal case is ongoing, we don't have a final determination of A…manda's status at this time.

We hold all our competitors to the highest levels of sportsmanship and ethics. We have a zero-tolerance policy, as listed on competition rules and entry form, for any competitor violating fish and game laws.

We look forward to our upcoming production and hope all sportsman will make adhering to our fish and game laws priority number one.

Here are more details from the Hagadone story by Keith Kinnaird:

The alleged offenses date to 2013, when Lowrey was competing for the Extreme Huntress title on the "Eye of the Hunter" program on NBC Sports. Lowrey became a semifinalist following a head-to-head hunting skills challenge in Texas, then advanced and won the Extreme Huntress trophy.

Within days of Lowrey winning the accolade in 2014, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game investigator requested that the North Dakota Game and Fish Department check its records for Lowrey's name, court records show.

Lowrey, an affidavit of probable cause said, purchased a resident hunting and fishing license in February 2013 and listed an address in Zahl, N.D. A search of her Facebook page indicated that she lived there from August 2012 to April 2013.

However, Lowrey purchased a resident deer license in Idaho in November 2012, according to Idaho Fish and Game records. She stated during her Extreme Huntress campaign that she was a Sandpoint resident.

Lowrey's Facebook page contained a photo of her posing with a mule deer which she said she harvested in North Dakota. The photo's geolocation metadata indicated the photo was taken near Epping, N.D., the affidavit said.

Subsequent Facebook posts by Lowrey indicated she harvested the buck while archery hunting, although North Dakota Game and Fish could find no record of her obtaining an archery license.

Fish and Game officers interviewed Lowrey on March 10 and she explained that her husband had been living and working in North Dakota and said the buck photo posted to Facebook was actually taken in Idaho, according to the affidavit.

Lowrey later called Idaho Fish and Game investigator Dave Overman and apologized for lying during the interview. Lowrey recanted her claim that the buck was harvested in Idaho and told Overman that she hit the deer with her truck in North Dakota and kept the animal but neglected to get a permit to possess it.

Lowrey said she posted the picture to Facebook during the North Dakota hunting season to gain publicity for the Extreme Huntress competition, the affidavit alleges.

Seymour Robert Jordan, a Divide County state's attorney, declined to comment on Monday. Lowrey deferred comment on Thursday and did not respond to a follow-up request on Monday.

It’s the season for special hunt permit applications

HUNTING — Hunters hoping to fulfill their dreams in the fall hunts had better be thinking ahead.  Special permit application deadlines are coming up.

Special license drawing deadlines by state include:

IDAHO

  • April 30 for moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat. 

Info: fishandgame.idaho.gov

MONTANA

  • March 31 for multiple-season permits
  • May 1 for bison, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat.
  • June 1 for the elk B, deer B and antelope.

Info: fwp.mt.gov .

WASHINGTON

  • May 20  — Deer, elk, mountain goat, moose, bighorn sheep and turkey
  • July 15 for buying 2015 big-game raffle permit hunt tickets

Info: wdfw.wa.gov/hunting

Enviros haggle over Idaho wolf numbers

PREDATORS — There's no way and no reason to count every single wolf in Idaho.  But some environmental groups that need to stay in the headlines to keep the outrage and money flowing are contesting Idaho's recently released 2014 year-end wolf population estimates.

Despite the criticism and dire predictions from enviros since wolves were removed from the endangered species list, the predators have continued to propagate and maintain strong — some would say excessive — populations.

The Associated Press gives a lot of ink to one group's speculation in this story that moved on the wire Sunday:

By KEITH RIDLER/Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho officials are overestimating the number of wolves in the state for a number reasons including relying on sightings by hunters rather than using only trained professionals, a conservation group said.

“Since 2009 more than 1,300 wolves have been hunted or trapped in Idaho, and another nearly 500 have been lethally removed from Idaho’s landscape,” Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “In the face of these astounding numbers, it’s no wonder that Idaho may have experienced a nearly 50 percent drop in breeding pairs.”

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game in a 70-page report released April 3 said there were at least 770 wolves in the state, with a minimum of 26 breeding pairs, as of Dec. 31, 2014. The Center notes that’s a steep drop from the 49 breeding pairs in 2009, when wolves in Idaho reached their peak.

The Center also questions the state agency’s estimate of 6.5 wolves per pack, a key number as it’s part of an equation — when multiplied by the number of packs in the state— to tally the overall population.

Jim Hayden, a biologist with Fish and Game, defended the state report’s estimate of the minimum number of wolves in Idaho. Hayden is listed as an editor of the report.

“The 770 is a number we’re very confident with,” he said. “We know the actual truth is higher than that, we just don’t know how far higher.”

He said the agency stopped counting breeding pairs of wolves after surveying 43 packs because it’s expensive and the number had cleared the minimum as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency could retake management control of the Idaho wolf population if numbers fall below certain criteria.

If the state fails to maintain 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves over any three-year period, or if the population falls below 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in any year, the federal agency could take over.

Mike Jimenez, Northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, said the federal agency reviewed Idaho’s methodology and is confident in the numbers.

“From our perspective, they are far above recovery goals,” he said. “How to manage wolves and hunt wolves — that’s a state issue.”

The wolf population has grown so much, Jimenez said, that biologists can no longer rely on using radio collars when doing counts.

“We’re way past that,” he said. “We have a very large wolf population in the Northern Rockies. We’re trying to reduce the need for radio collars.”

Fish and Wildlife estimates that a minimum of 1,783 wolves in more than 300 packs roamed the six-state region at the end of last year.

Hayden said that radio collars on 32 packs in Idaho were used by Fish and Game to come up with 6.5 wolves per pack, which is an increase from 5.4 wolves per pack the previous year.

But he said the agency is relying more on remote cameras and, this spring, will be collecting scat at wolf rendezvous sites to get DNA samples. The DNA can help determine pack size and the number of pups. He noted the wolf population is expected to jump 40 percent with the addition of pups this spring.

The DNA can also be used to help determine harvest levels by hunters.

Some groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, would rather there be no harvest.

“We don’t think wolves should be hunted at all,” Santarsiere said. “But with such aggressive killing of a species so recently considered endangered, there at least needs to be careful monitoring.”

Hunting rules adopted: 4-point rule dropped; baiting tabled

HUNTING – Proposals to restrict the use of bait for hunting were tabled by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission today, April 10, but the panel adopted a slate of hunting changes including elimination of a four-point buck rule in Northeastern Washington.

Many of the rules approved by the commission at the Tumwater meeting will expand hunting opportunities. Among them:

  • Adding two days to the modern firearm season for mule deer. 
  • Adding more opportunity for antlerless whitetail hunting in northeastern Washington, notably for youth, senior and disabled hunters.
  • Shifting archery elk season to start the Saturday after Labor Day to provide hunting in cooler weather. 
  • Doubling the amount of spring bear permits in northeast Washington.
  • Allowing elk hunters using muzzleloaders to hunt in more game management units.
  • Increasing moose permits to 170 from 136 in the northeast part of the state, where moose populations are near an all-time high.

The commission did not adopt a controversial proposal to restrict the use of bait when hunting for deer and elk, even though neighboring states such as Idaho already prohibit baiting. The panel directed the Department of Fish and Wildlife to work up new options for consideration next year.

The new rules will be in the 2015 Big Game Hunting pamphlet to be published this spring and online here.


Here's more information on some of the actions taken today from WDFW public information officer Craig Bartlett:

  • Two more days for modern-firearm mule deer season:  At hunters’ request, WDFW evaluated harvest levels and hunter-participation rates and agreed to propose two additional days of hunting. Those extra days will be added to the end of the season.
  • Later start for archery elk season:  Several years ago, the season was moved to early September, raising concerns about wildfire closures and meat-handling safety in late summer. Under the new rules, the season will start the Saturday after Labor Day and run for 13 days.
  • More GMUs for early muzzleloader elk season:  Historically, fewer game management units (GMUs) have been open to elk hunters using muzzleloaders than to other groups. Under the new rules, 27 more GMUs will be open to muzzleloaders.
  • Moose permits will rise in northeast:  With moose populations in northeastern Washington near an all-time high, we can make more tags available. Moose permit areas have also changed, creating even more hunting opportunities. 
  • More antlerless whitetail hunting in northeast:  Antlerless deer opportunities in northeastern Washington were dramatically reduced in recent years by the effects of some hard winters. Many of those hunting opportunities are being restored now that the herds are showing signs of recovery.
  • Maximizing multi-season deer permits: To make the most of multi-season deer permits, the Commission has authorized WDFW to sell permits that were not picked up by raffle drawing winners. These “left over” permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis after Aug.1 to hunters whose names were not drawn.
  • Extended hunting seasons for cougar: The cougar harvest in most areas of the state never reaches the guidelines set in the Game Management Plan. This year’s hunting seasons will be extended into April to increase hunting opportunities wherever possible. However, hunters should be sure to check the hotline, because the late season is still subject to closure based on harvest results and the harvest guidelines.

Openings remain for mentored youth turkey hunts

HUNTING — This is amazing: A few openings for youth mentored turkey hunts in Idaho's Clearwater Region are not yet filled — and the Idaho youth-only wild turkey season is already open.

This is a great opportunity to have a kid age 10-15 go one-on-one with an experienced turkey hunter in a program sponsored by Idaho Fish and Game in the youth season that continues through Tuesday, April 14.

Here are details from the Lewiston office:

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game still has openings in their youth mentored hunt program to take youths aged 10-15 on mentored turkey hunts this year.  Youths must have a valid hunting license and turkey tag, but there are no other costs to participate.  IDFG will provide a shotgun, ammunition, and all other necessary equipment for the hunt. 

Department personnel will take youngsters out for a morning (or afternoon) hunt in pursuit of these wily birds.

Contact Bill Seybold, (208) 799-5010 with questions or to schedule a hunt.

One week from today: Gobble, Gobble!

HUNTING — A landowner who generously allows me to hunt wild turkeys on his property sent me the photo, above, on April 1, to whet my appetite for April 15.

That's one week from today.

I'll be ready — will you?

All of the rules for Idaho and Washington are in pamphlets at license dealers or online. Check them out before your hunt.

  • Washington's youth-only season for hunters under age 16 iwas last weekend, April 4-5.
  • Idaho's youth-only season for hunters age 10-14 starts today and runs April 8-14.
  • General spring gobbler seasons run April 15-May 25 in Idaho and April 15-May 31 in Washington.

Two spring gobbler tags are available to hunters in both states, and fall seasons also are set.

REMINDER:  Spring black bear hunting seasons have already opened or will be opening April 15 in many areas of Washington and Idaho.

Mule Deer Foundation banquet Saturday in Spokane

WILDLIFE — The Mule Deer Foundation’s Spokane Chapter will hold its annual local fundraising banquet Saturday, April 11, with dinner starting at 6 p.m. at Mukogawa Fort Wright Commons, 4000 W. Randolph Rd.

The foundation’s Washington chapters have put nearly 150 percent of the money they raise at chapter banquets directly into on-the-ground projects because of matching money from the national organization, said state coordinator Dan McKinley.

The Mule Deer Foundation is dedicated to preserving mule deer habitat and boosting muley populations that are dwindling in many areas of the West despite being prized by wildlife viewers as well as hunters.

Most recently, the foundation has provided funding to state wildlife managers for projects such as re-seeding habitat charred by last year’s Carlton Complex fires, donating robotic deer decoys to wildlife police for curbing poaching and supporting researchers with funding and volunteer help.

Email: spokanechaptermdf@gmail.com

Info: muledeer.org

Kittitas County man charged for shooting, wasting 30-plus deer

POACHING — A clueless landowner, who described deer on his property as "rodents," has been charged with shooting and killing more than 30 deer over several  years and leaving them to rot on his property near Thorpe, Washington.

According to the Daily Record, Rodney Arnold Lang, 63, told Washington Fish and Wildlife police that he had a right to defend his property from deer that came into his land and orchard.

The man never filed a complaint or claim for any wildlife damage, department officials said.

He apparently followed only two of the three S's:  He Shot and Shut up, but he didn't Shovel.

Thanks go out to the neighbor who saw some carcasses and a pile of bones from the past and turned in the selfish poacher.

Wild turkey for dinner: Youth gobbler season starts today

HUNTING — Washington's two-day youth-only wild turkey hunting season opens today, April 4, 2015, and licensed hunters under 16 years of age are rising to the occasion.

It's the first of several spring turkey seasons opening this month in the Inland Northwest.

Mckayla Gibbons bagged her first turkey on the opening morning. Her proud father, Jerrod, posted this prize photo minutes later.

The youth season is a great family experience. Focus is on the kids and making sure they have a fun, fascinating and safe introduction to the sport.

Sportsmen donate robotic deer to wildlife police

WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT — Robotic white-tailed deer decoys and metal detectors costing more than $5,000 have been donated by the Spokane Valley-based Northwest Sportsman’s Club for use by state wildlife police.

The remotely-controlled decoys and highly sensitive metal detectors will be used by officers in the greater Spokane area to make poaching cases. 

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Mike Sprecher said the donations provide equipment not otherwise available in program budgets.  The donation is just the latest example of the club’s efforts to support the department, he said. 

In the past the club has donated night-vision goggles, paintball guns for wildlife conflict work, and a winch for moving tranquilized moose and other large animals. Club members have volunteered time to assist with Lincoln Cliffs bighorn sheep and Turnbull elk capture and marking projects, fish fin-clipping and kids fishing events.

“We appreciate the support of this small, local group,” Sprecher said. “Community involvement is crucial to our mission of preserving, protecting and perpetuating Washington’s fish and wildlife populations.”

An annual fundraising auction held in January allows the group to support the department and many other environmental, educational and charitable organizations, said Theresa Belknap, club spokeswoman.

Montana reports decrease in wolves, attacks on livestock

PREDATORS — Gray wolf numbers in Montana declined 12 percent last year and livestock attacks by the predators took an even sharper drop after four years of regulated hunting and trapping.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said a minimum 554 wolves were counted statewide at the end of 2014, down from 627 wolves verified in 2013. The actual number of wolves is estimated to be 27 percent to 37 percent higher than the minimum count, officials said.

Montana verified 134 wolf packs, down from152 the previous year, while verified breeding pairs increased to 33 from 28 counted at the end of 2013. The numbers are reported in the agency's annual wolf conservation and management report released this week as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Livestock attacks by wolves declined 46 percent from 2013, reaching an eight-year low. Officials said 35 cattle, six sheep and one horse were killed.

Montana's gray wolf population peaked at 653 verified animals in 2011. That same year, Congress lifted federal protections for the animals across much of the Northern Rockies, opening the door to licensed hunting and trapping for the first time in decades.

Hunters and trappers killed 206 wolves in Montana during a winter harvest that ended last month.

Overall, FWP Director Jeff Hagener said Montana's wolf population continues to be very healthy and far above federal recovery goals while the state takes action to reduce livestock losses.

The total number of known wolf mortalities during 2014 was 308, down from 335 in 2013, with 301 of these mortalities being human-related, including 213 legal harvests, 57 control actions to further reduce livestock depredations (down from 75 in 2013), 11 vehicle strikes, 10 illegal killings, 6 killed under the newly-enacted Montana State Senate Bill 200, 2 capture related mortalities, 1 euthanized due to poor health and 1 legal tribal harvest. In addition, 1 wolf died of natural causes and 6 of unknown causes.

"Montana’s wolf management program seeks to manage wolves just like we do other wildlife—in balance with their habitat, with other wildlife species and with the people who live here," Hagener said.

The recovery of the wolf in the Northern Rockies remains one of the fastest endangered species comebacks on record. In the mid 1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 66 wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Montana and Idaho began monitoring the wolf population, and managing livestock conflicts in 2004. After several court challenges wolves were successfully delisted from Endangered Species protections in 2011.

The delisting of wolves in 2011 allows Montana and Idaho (also Wyoming, to a lesser degree for lack of cooperation) to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed, which is guided by state management plans, administrative rules, and laws.

Disabled hunters: apply for access permit drawing by Friday

HUNTING – Friday, April 3, is the deadline to apply for one of 25 disabled hunter vehicle access permits to access otherwise gated areas on Inland Empire Paper Company lands. Permits will be distributed in a lottery drawing.

Applications are available through the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, (509) 328-6429, or on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, wdfw.wa.gov/accessibility.

Spring gobbler hunting seasons coming up

HUNTING — Spring wild turkey hunting seasons are knocking on the door.

All of the rules for Idaho and Washington are in pamphlets at license dealers or online. Check them out before your hunt.

  • Washington's youth-only season for hunters under age 16 is April 4-5.
  • Idaho's youth-only season for hunters age 10-14 is April 8-14.
  • General spring gobbler seasons run April 15-May 25 in Idaho and April 15-May 31 in Washington.

Two spring gobbler tags are available to hunters in both states, and fall seasons also are set.

"Spring turkey hunting holds a special allure for many hunters," says Phil Cooper, Idaho Fish and Game Department spokesman in Coeur d'Alene. Calling a gobbling male turkey into range is an exciting challenge for all hunters, novice to experienced hunters alike.

"If the hunter moves or blinks at the wrong moment, the turkey can spook and be gone in a fraction of a second," he said.

Be mindful of safety when planning and executing a hunt.

If you're using a decoy, here are tips from the National Wild Turkey Federation:

  • Decoys should be set 20 yards in front of a hunter in an area with a clear sight line of 100 yards.
  • Sit down with your back to a tree wider than your shoulders. 
  • Should another hunter come into view, call out to the hunter in a clear voice to let them know you are there. 
  • Do not use a turkey call to alert the hunter to your presence, and do not wave your hands.  Your hand motions, in line with a decoy, could give the other hunter the illusion that the decoy is a moving turkey.

"When you decide to move to another location, look around carefully to see that no other hunters are approaching before you move," Cooper says. "You might even see a silent turkey approaching that you had not known was in the area."

"Never make turkey calls as you walk.  Your movement, combined with the turkey sounds you are making, could be all it takes to allow another hunter to create the image of a turkey in their mind."

Bighorn sheep die-off closes hunting area near Yellowstone

 

HUNTING — A bighorn sheep die-off caused by disease has triggered the closure of hunting for the animals just outside Yellowstone National Park.

Montana Wildlife officials said Monday that at least 34 bighorn sheep have died in the pneumonia outbreak that began late last year near Gardiner, Montana. That’s almost 40 percent of the herd that ranges in the Gardiner and Cinnabar areas north of Yellowstone.

Wildlife commissioners issued the closure during a Monday conference call and said it would reopen when the population recovers.

Sheep in the Gardiner area have experienced smaller pneumonia outbreaks in the past few years.

There are domestic sheep in the same area. State officials say bacteria can be transmitted from healthy domestic sheep to bighorn sheep, causing pneumonia in the wild animals.

Idaho commission could expand hunting seasons

HUNTING — Proposals for Idaho's 2015 big game hunting seasons that expand opportunity in many areas will be considered today at the Idaho Fish and Game Commission meeting in Boise.

Much of the additional opportunity will be available to deer hunters, as another mild winter has kept populations high, wildlife officials say.

Also on the commission's agenda is a series of proposals regarding elk hunts, many of which address depredation concerns. The proposals also include some specific changes in relatively isolated areas.

Oregon House votes to outlaw hunting with drones

HUNTING — It's not often that I would side with the Humane Society of the United States on a hunting issue, but here's an exception: Lawmakers in the state House voted unanimously Wednesday to outlaw the use of drones for hunting or fishing in Oregon.

While there’s no evidence that Oregon hunters or anglers have been using drones, the bill’s proponents said it’s happened elsewhere, the Associated Press reports.

“Drones have no place in sport hunting, fishing or trapping,” said Rep. Brad Witt, a Democrat from Clatskanie who sponsored the bill. “They are simply antithetical to the principle of fair chase and fair catch.”

The bill orders the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to adopt a rule banning the use of unmanned vehicles to track, harass or scout fish and wildlife. It passed in a 59-0 vote, sending it to the Senate.

The Humane Society of the United States says Oregon would join Colorado, Montana and Alaska in prohibiting drones for hunting. Similar prohibitions have also been proposed in Vermont, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York and Illinois, according to the organization.

  • Washington Fish and Wildlife officials say drones are prohibited under existing regulations that restrict the use of electronic devices for hunting.

Drones would give hunters an unfair advantage over the animals they target, said Scott Beckstead, the Humane Society’s Oregon director. The bill’s supporters say wildlife populations might dwindle if drones are widely used to scout or kill game.

“You’re using technology to locate game rather than engaging in sort of the fair chase and the traditional stalking methods that most responsible hunters adhere to,” Beckstead said of the prospect of hunting with drones.

Shed hunters under scrutiny in Washington Legislature

WILDLIFE — Some people are criticizing as overkill a bill in the Washington Legislature related to collecting shed antlers.

The bill, HB 1627, which so far has huge support among lawmakers, would black out the gray area of shed-antler hunters unleashing a dog to chase deer and elk on private property to cause the antlers to fall off.

  • See the story from Wednesday's legislative committee hearing by S-R Olympia reporter Jim Camden.

But rather than criticize the bill as another needless law, let's confront the fact that deer, elk and moose are winter-weary in March and they need to be left alone to put on fat. The females are bearing young that will be born in May and June.  The males are still recovering from the rigors of the rut.

It might be cool that people are training their dogs to sniff out shed antlers.

But give some people a short leash and they want a mile. 

To let dogs chase big-game in March for the collecting antlers is greedy and stupid.

If anything, the law doesn't go far enough.   It should include stiffer penalties for people who disturb big game on winter ranges, public or private, and especially for those who send their dogs chasing deer, elk and moose.

Utah spends $12 million exploring federal lands takeover

PUBLIC LANDS — Proponents of states taking over federal lands are bringing irony and greed to new levels, and they're not necessarily high.

Utah lawmakers approved more than $12 million in funding at this year’s session for their fight to wrest control of public lands from the federal government and extract natural resources from them, the Associated Press reports.

Among other things, the funds will go toward lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and others involved in Utah’s demand for title to 31 million acres of public lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Republican legislators say the funding is necessary to protect state interests in the face of what they call federal overreach on issues such as grazing, mining and oil and gas leasing.

“We need to have additional people on the ground to analyze the data,” Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “There is a lot of analysis (by federal scientists) that is not being done properly.”

Critics say GOP lawmakers are guilty of their own overreach at the expense of taxpayers and genuine progress on land management.

Meanwhile, here's more from the recent AP story from Utah:

“It’s an us-versus-them mentality. It’s an under-seige mentality that wants to create and foster an adversarial relationship with the federal government,” said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. “This is not a productive way to carry on a rational dialogue to solve these problems on the ground.”

Lawmakers directed $1 million to Utah’s Constitutional Defense Council to litigate a “states’ rights” lawsuit and another $1 million to the Attorney General’s Office for “multi-stage sage grouse litigation.” Legislators also assigned another $1 million to contracts — already worth $2 million — for crafting legal and public relations strategies for the public lands fight.

The Utah-based nonprofit Big Game Forever received $2.5 million to pressure federal officials to remove protection for the gray wolf and not to list the Greater sage grouse as an endangered species, while the state Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office will get nearly $5 million beyond its $2.3 million base budget mostly to finance Utah’s quest for title to 12,000 disputed roads.

Before the session ended this week, lawmakers also earmarked $1.5 million to help counties craft resource management plans by July 1, 2016. The public lands office would incorporate them into a single statewide plan showing the public how the state would manage public lands.

But conservationists say counties would not have nearly enough money or time to craft meaningful plans.

“What they will get is a 10-page plan that says ‘drill, baby, drill’ and ‘log, baby, log,”’ said Tim Wagner, a Salt Lake City environmental activist. “They are not interested at all in responsible management of these lands. Their only interest is in extractive use. I wish they would quit blowing smoke and mirrors.”

Hunting rules, including baiting, considered by commission

FISHING – Options for restricting the use of bait in and other hunting season proposals will be presented at the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Friday and Saturday, March20-21, at the Moses Lake Civic Center, 401 S. Balsam.

This is the last chance for public input on a 2015-17 hunting rules package since the February deadline for written comments.

Washington commission to hear hunting proposals

HUNTING — Restrictions on using bait and other possible changes to hunting rules and seasons will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission Friday and Saturday in Moses Lake.

Public comments will be taken on proposed changes to state hunting rules for deer, elk, upland birds and other game species during the public meeting at the Moses Lake Civic Center, 401 S. Balsam St.  This is the last of several opportunities for public comment.

Proposed changes to state hunting rules for 2015 include:

  • Maintaining the current 4-point antler restriction for white-tailed deer in GMUs 117 and 121, or allowing hunters to take “any buck.”
  • Doubling the amount of spring bear permits available in northeast Washington.
  • Extending the hunting season for pheasants in eastern Washington through Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
  • Adding two days to the modern firearm season for mule deer.
  • Limiting or banning the use of bait to hunt deer and elk.

The meeting agenda calls for discussions on other topics, too, including proposed season changes for clams and oysters on 20 Puget Sound public beaches and and update on wolves in Washington.

The commission is scheduled to make final decisions on statewide hunting seasons in April.

North Idaho big-game survey results topic at breakfast

WILDLIFE — An update on North Idaho big-game aerial surveys will be presented by Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager during the monthly public sportsman's breakfast meeting starting 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 17, Lake City Center, 1916 N. Lakewood Dr. in Coeur d'Alene.

Breakfast: $7.50 includes tax and gratuity

Info:  (209) 769-1414 or email nancy.kasner@idfg.idaho.gov.

Wolf bills still lurking Washington Legislature

WILDLIFE — Several of the wolf-related bills introduced in the 2015 Washington Legislature are still alive. 

S-R Olympia Bureau reporter had this update.

A day later, the Wenatchee World ran this update moved by the Associated Press:

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers in both the house and senate passed bills dealing with wolves that are sponsored by Republicans from northeastern counties, where the rapidly increasing wolf population is taking its toll on domestic sheep and cattle.

If they become law, the bills would direct the state to reconsider parts of the state’s wolf recovery plan, examine the impact of wolves on deer, elk and other game animals, and allow endangered species - including wolves - to be removed from the state’s endangered status on a regional instead of a statewide basis.

Sponsors of the bills include Reps. Joel Kretz and Shelly Short, Sen. Brian Dansel, who represent counties in Northeastern Washington, where 12 of the state’s 16 wolf packs live.

Kretz said the bills unfortunately don’t address the immediate problems of livestock owners who have had the largest burden of helping wolves recover. Two of the bills he and Short sponsored got unanimous votes by the House on Tuesday. Kretz said when he first approached Democrats for support early in the session, "They would not even talk to me. To get a unanimous vote on something, it was a long pull on that," he said.

Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest’s executive director, said his group initially opposed Kretz’s bill that calls for reopening the states’ wolf recovery plan, because they believe that plan is solid. But, he said, the House agreed to some changes in the bill which enabled them to support it. "It’s not perfect. Nobody got everything they wanted, but there’s something in it for everybody," he said.

The Senate version lacks key compromises contained in the House bill, and Conservation Northwest does not support it, he said.

Both bills require the state to take another look at its wolf recovery plan and use the most updated available science to recommend changes.

Those changes could include:

Whether recovery should be based on the number of wolf packs instead of breeding pairs.

More options for removing wolves from endangered status.

Whether the three recovery zones should be changed, reduced or consolidated.

Finding reasonable prevention measures for livestock owners.

Reviewing current conditions that lead to killing wolves that have killed livestock.

Whether the current enforcement and penalties for poaching wolves are sufficient deterrents.

Friedman said the added language about poaching - which is not in the Senate bill - is among the reasons Conservation Northwest now supports it.

Legislative support for these bills comes less than a week after the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced a 30 percent increase in the number of wolves it believes are now living in Washington. Four new packs were also discovered.

The agency says at least 68 gray wolves now roam the state. There are 16 wolf packs and at least five successful breeding pairs.

The number of confirmed wolves in North Central Washington actually dropped slightly, from 13 to 11. The Wenatchee Pack remained stable at two wolves, the Lookout Pack near Twisp dropped from five wolves to four, and the Teanaway Pack south of Wenatchee dropped from six wolves to five.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Craig Bartlett noted those are only the wolves the agency managed to confirm, and tracking was difficult this winter due to low snow levels.

Under the state’s current wolf plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list when 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years, distributed among three wolf-recovery regions.

Despite the increase in the number of wolves, the number of documented breeding pairs has remained at five for the last three years, all in either the North Cascades or Eastern Washington area. No wolf packs or breeding pairs have yet been documented in the South Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery region.

Judge orders Forest Service to rework Clearwater travel plan

PUBLIC LANDS —  Environmental groups cited threats to elk habitat in a lawsuit — and a federal federal judge was persuaded this week, ruling that the Clearwater National Forest Travel Management Plan plan must be reworked. He said it violates national environmental laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge in Lewiston made the ruling Thursday.

The 2012 plan closed about 200 miles of trails and a million acres to motorized travel. But some groups said the plan banned motorized travel on too much of the forest and others not enough because it left elk habitat vulnerable.

Here's more detail from the Associated Press.

In late 2013, three environmental groups sued in federal court, contending the forest plan would ultimately harm wildlife habitat. Specifically, the groups said the Forest Service based its travel plan on 1985 document rather than a more recent 1997 plan that gave better information. Lodge in his ruling agreed with the environmental groups.

“The Forest Service’s reasoning to use the outdated calculation because that was the standard that existed at the time the forest plan was drafted does not properly consider the best available science,” Lodge wrote.

Lodge also ruled that the Forest Service only considered several executive orders in a cursory way and didn’t explain how the orders were implemented in the travel management plan. He said the Forest Service might have made the right decisions, but it had to prove they were the right decisions.

“It may very well be that the chosen routes were in fact selected with the minimizing criteria in mind,” he wrote. “It is just not evident from this record that is the case.”

Lodge’s ruling sends the plan back to the Forest Service to be reworked.

Brett Haverstick of Friends of the Clearwater, one of the environmental groups that sued, said he hopes the Forest Service closes trails that could harm elk habitat and other areas.

“It comes down to trying to protect some really critical habitat out there and to make it a better travel plan than it has ever been,” he said.

Shed antlers new highlight at Big Horn Show trophy display

OUTDOOR SHOWS —  Big-game horns and antlers once again will be a featured attraction at the annual Big Horn Outdoor Recreation Show March 19-22 at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center.

Trophies can be entered for official scoring and display in the Trophy Territory hall. New this year is a category for shed antlers.

Enter trophies at the fairgrounds next Wednesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and March 21 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

All trophies will be measured by Boone & Crockett or Pope & Young judges or qualified measurers. Ribbons will be awarded in 11 categories. First place in each species will receive a custom-made belt buckle.

The 55th annual Big Horn Outdoor Recreation show, with more than 300 exhibitors, is sponsored by the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council.

Budget woes leave huge gap in public lands law enforcement

PUBLIC LANDS — Enforcement of laws that protect public lands and resources is taking another blow.

Region 1 of USFS to lose 15 law enforcement jobs
The U.S. Forest Service's Region 1, which covers all of Montana, North Idaho and parts of South Dakota, has 15 open law enforcement jobs that will not be filled because of declining budgets. Compounding the problem, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks law enforcement chief Jim Kropp says his agency is currently down 14 game wardens.
—Missoulian