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Smith River floaters not ready to be bear savvy

CAMPING — Just about every outdoor park  and forest in North America that has bears requires bear-resistant camping methods. 

But even in the wake of having to kill eight bears that had become camp robbers, Montana lags…

Montana Parks Board won't require bear-proof food containers on Smith River
Over the past two years, eight black bears were killed along the Smith River corridor due to conflicts with people floating the river, prompting the staff of the agency to recommend that campers and boaters use bear-proof containers, a recommendation the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board rejected. Instead the board ordered parks staff to come up with other recommendations to keep bears from being attracted to camps and stops along the river. The board will take up before permits to float the river are issued next spring.

Waterfowlers should be on watch for avian flu

HUNTING — Although it's mainly a West Side issue at this point, all Washington waterfowlers should be on avian influenza alert after two birds have been documented with the disease this month.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking for the public's help in monitoring for the disease.

Meanwhile, hunters should review the following common-sense precautions, which are always recommended to reduce the risk of contracting any wildlife disease:

  • Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.
  • Wear rubber gloves while cleaning game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Wash tools and work surfaces used to clean game birds with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10 percent solution of chlorine bleach.
  • “ Separate raw meat, and anything it touches, from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.
  • “ Cook game birds thoroughly. Meat should reach an internal temperature of 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites.

State wildlife managers ask that anyone who sees a wild bird that is sick or dead call WDFW at (800) 606-8768. They are particularly interested in waterfowl and birds such as eagles, hawks, falcons, ravens, and gulls that prey on them or scavenge their carcasses.

Finally, Mt. Spokane to open; all area ski resorts operating

WINTERSPORTS — Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park has announced it will open for the first time this season on Wednesday — Christmas Eve. Although the base is thin — just 7 inches at the lodge — more snow is in the forecast.

That means all of Inland Northwest ski resorts will be open through the holidays.

ISP boots eagle watchers off SR97 along Lake CdA

UPDATED 9:35 a.m. with further response from ISP

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagle numbers continue to increase at Lake Coeur d’Alene in time for the annual Eagle Watch event Dec. 27-31.

However, an Idaho State Police trooper gave the boot to some eagle viewers and photographers parked in turnouts along State Route 97 on Monday.

Parking along the highway has occasionally presented a hazard, said Lt. Chris Schenck, ISP spokesman in Coeur d’Alene.

“We're still going to allow people to park there, but they must be off the highway and cannot cause a traffic hazard,” he said. “Safety is our concern. We've had some near misses there in the past.”

The eagles congregate in the Wolf Lodge Bay area from November into January to prey on spawning kokanee. Families and photographers from around the country flock to the area to see eagles perched in trees and swooping down to snatch the land-locked sockeye salmon from the water.

During the peak of the eagle gathering between Christmas and New Year, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Fish and Game sponsor an the Eagle Watch event based out of designated parking areas at the Mineral Ridge boat launch and the Mineral Ridge trailhead.

The areas will be staffed by eagle “ambassadors” to answer questions about bald eagles, explain their lifestyles and habits and assist visitors with high-powered spotting scopes for five days, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., starting Saturday, Dec. 27.

Eagle watching occurs at several areas, from boats and at Higgens Point accessible from Coeur d'Alene.

Most eagle viewers traditionally have driven 8 miles on Interstate 90 east of Coeur d’Alene to take the Wolf Lodge Exit toward Harrison. Several SR 97 turnouts along the lake are frequently used by photographers en route to the Mineral Ridge area.

 But on Monday, some of them were evicted from roadside turnouts.

“An Idaho State Police officer showed up at Wolf Lodge Bay this morning and demanded that all the photographers move their cars from the turnouts along the water’s edge on the south side of the lake,” Matt Shelley said Monday. “People regularly use these turnouts to park, avoiding the mile-long walk from a parking area about one mile farther south.  

“Apparently a number of the locals, some of whom are out virtually every day, were parked well beyond the white fog line (marking the edge of the highway). They objected to the officer’s order and were told they could move their cars or they would be cited or go to jail.  

“Everyone left, including the ISP officer, but, of course, a new batch of eagle watchers who had not received the edict came along and once again filled the turnouts.”

“We had complaints of people in the roadway,” Lt. Schenck said. A few cars were illegally parked, so the officers chose to clear out everyone, he said.

People cannot be posing a hazard to traffic as they park or walk along the road, he said.

BLM officials regularly warn eagle watchers to stay off SR 97. Apparently the thrill of watching the eagles makes them forget they’re on a state highway, they say.

“Each year hundreds of viewers travel to the Mineral Ridge area to take in the eagles, so the BLM would like to remind travelers to be extra cautious when driving, parking or walking along State Highway 97,” said Suzanne Endsley, BLM spokeswoman in Coeur d’Alene. “The travel way is not restricted, and pedestrians should be respectful of drivers by not walking in the center of the road or using the shoulder to scout for eagles,” she said in the media release for Eagle Watch week.

 “People were not sure why this has suddenly become an issue,” Shelley said. “That long walk from the parking area is a fairly tall order given the heavy tripods, 600mm lenses and other equipment needed to get good shots of the eagles.”

 “But in this case the officer said no parking at all was allowed in the turnouts.”

Spokane Valley photographer Craig Goodwin said he talked to some of the photographers that had been evicted.

“No cars were over the white line,” he said. “Things apparently got pretty heated with threats of arrest because of the pushback from the photographers. The closure forced many more people to walk the shoulderless road. Probably not the best day in policing history.”

 Said Shelley, “People watching the eagles must park in the turnouts, not in the road, which I don't believe anyone would argue with. But the officer touched a nerve with the local eagle watchers, understandably, by effectively closing the turnouts to parking.”

Dogs can inflict tough love on poor-gun-handling hunters

HUNTING — Abiding by the laws and never putting a loaded gun into a vehicle prevents countless firearms accidents.

Beyond that, a hunter who's around children or animals must be especially vigilant to firearms safety, often beyond the law.

I like the actions-open approach to any dealing with a bird dog in the field, as the photo above shows.

The story below illustrates the consequences of ignoring basic firearms safety, especially around pets.

SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) – Police in northern Wyoming say a rifle discharged after a dog apparently stepped on it, injuring a 46-year-old man.

Johnson County Sheriff Steve Kozisek says the bullet struck Richard L. Fipps, of Sheridan, in the arm on Monday.

The injury is not life-threatening but Fipps is being treated in a hospital in Billings.

Kozisek said Fipps and two others were in a remote area trying to move a vehicle that had become stuck. Fipps was standing beside his truck when he told his dog to move from the front seat to the back seat.

The sheriff says a rifle was on the back seat and it discharged toward Fipps.

Read about another incident in which a dog shot its hunting partner.


Forest Service chief honors Cabinets recreation staffer

PUBLIC LANDS — A Western Montana man and former wilderness ranger recently received a national award for tending to the recreation programs in the Cabinet Mountains and wilderness area.

Joel Sather, recreation technician on the Cabinet Ranger District, traveled recently with his wife Carmin to Washington, D.C., to accept a Chief’s Award from US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Sather, who has worked for the Forest Service for 25 years, primarily on the Kootenai National Forest, was one of only 14 Forest Service employees nationwide to win the Chief’s Award for 2014.

Sather was presented his award for his efforts in partnership, volunteers and outdoor education. He was lauded for his work on motorized recreation trails, getting kids involved in stewardship and wilderness investigation, his work on Star Peak Historic Trail #999, and coordinating volunteer efforts from diverse groups.

In his thank-you speech, Sather got a laugh from the audience when he admitted to not knowing quite yet which way was north in D.C., and that he was more comfortable in a pair of boots and a backpack with a cross-cut saw on his shoulder.

“I’m proud to be able to represent the recreation program on the Cabinet Ranger District and the Kootenai National Forest as a whole,” he said in short remarks. “In regards to this award, I was simply doing my job. A huge ‘thank you’ goes out to the Cabinet Ranger District wilderness and trail crew, and the volunteers and partners who do a tremendous amount of great work for us, including Cabinet Ridge Riders, Cabinet Resource Group, Cabinet Backcountry Horsemen and Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.”

“Joel certainly deserves the honor,” said Friends of Scotchman Peaks Program Coordinator Sandy Compton. “He’s a great partner. His energy and commitment to his job have been a huge catalyst for helping his volunteer partners get things done, not only on his district but on adjoining districts as well.”

Sather, who grew up in Lincoln County and graduated from Libby High School, was the wilderness ranger in the western half of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness for six seasons in the late 1990s. He accepted the recreation technician job on the Cabinet District in 2010. He and his wife Carmin have two children and live in Noxon.

Clinics prep skiers, dogs for skijoring

WINTERSPORTS — Skiers can learn to have a wild time with their dogs during skijoring clinics this season.

Skijoring is a sport in which a person wearing skis is drawn over snow dog-sledding style by one or more dogs. Clinics include:

  • Jan. 8 at the Spokane REI store. Spaces limited. Sign up in advance. The in-store clinic (no dogs allowed) will discuss the sport, equipment, local opportunities and what it takes to get started.
  • Jan. 11 or later, an on-snow clinic with dogs is being organized by Skijor Spokane, a group organized on Facebook.

At Mount Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park, the times and groomed nordic trails open to skijoring have expanded dramatically this year: Skijoring will be allowed:

  • Noon to dusk on Sundays and all day on Wednesdays.
  • On Upper Tripps, but uphill only. That means skijorers going out Lower Tripps from Brickel Creek Bridge No. 1 may turn around at Tripps Knob or continue to climb Upper Tripps.
  •  On Mica Road to the end at Junction 8.


Anglers blocked off failing Rocky Ford Creek bridge

FISHING — Anglers are getting the run around at Rocky Ford Creek, a fly-fishing holy water north of Moses Lake. The issue:  Lack of money to fix the lower footbridge.

Since wading is prohibited at the desert spring creek, anglers have only one way to cross the stream — the upper bridge.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed the lower Rocky Ford Creek footbridge for safety reasons.  Chad Jackson, district fisheries biologist in Ephrata explains:

During the spring of 2013, WDFW engineers inspected the lower RFC footbridge and due to public safety concerns and liability instructed Region 2 Lands Division staff to close the footbridge to public use.  Bank erosion along the eastern and western shorelines has caused the footbridge approaches to fail and compromised the wooden piers the footbridge rests on. 

Essentially, it’s at risk of tipping or collapsing.  Unfortunately, there is no quick or easy fix to the footbridge to safely re-open it for public use.  WDFW will need to replace, and possible relocated, the existing footbridge.  Early cost estimates to replace the footbridge range between $100,00 to $160,000 and covers permitting, materials, engineering, and labor. 

WDFW has requested capital funds (legislatively appropriated) and applied for grants through the Recreation and Conservation Office.  To date, our funding attempts have been unsuccessful.  However, WDFW will continue to look for funds to replace the footbridge. 

In the meantime, anglers wanting to fish from the east shoreline of RFC will need to cross at the upper footbridge and hike downstream. 

Perhaps the 20 clubs in the Washington Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers will look into giving this effort a boost.

Photo: Bobcat visits Northwest Neighborhood

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A bobcat made a guest appearance in a northwest neighborhood recently.
The photo was captured by Sarah Lathrop above Park Boulevard at Glass and H streets — just above Downriver Golf Course. It was posted on the Northwest Neighborhood - Spokane Facebook page.
David Taylor, a mail carrier, had this comment:

Saw this little guy on my mail route a few weeks ago, didn't get a picture but just found out a neighbor did, this is just above Downriver golf course. I see all kinds of wildlife, like deer, coyotes, turkeys, skunks, et.c., never thought I'd see one of these. We were about 10 feet apart. He went his way, I continued on mine. I call him Bob.


Methow Valley nordic trails on record pace for grooming

WINTERSPORTS — The foot of snow that accumulated on Methow Valley cross-country ski and fat biking trails last night isn't the most impressive number from Washington's Nordic Nirvana.  

Get a load of the season's accumulated miles of grooming in today's Methow Trails report:

The first official day of winter brings a welcome storm that dropped 8-12 inches of very dense snow. These storms are great season builders/extenders and has gone a long way to leveling the trail platform. To celebrate we groomed just about the entire trail system; Winthrop, Sun Mtn., Rendezvous, and Mazama. Sun forecast for the upcoming holiday so it should be a very magical time. We are fortunate enough to be one of only a few ski areas in the region that has good skiing so consider an early holiday trip. We have already groomed more than 2,700 miles of trail and on pace to have a record setting year.

The Methow Valley’s skiing, scenery, and trails are world class with a 120-mile (200K) trail system for skiing in peaceful, freshly groomed and uncrowded conditions.

The nordic ski trail system is divided into four areas, all connected by the Methow Community Trail, which includes a suspension bridge crossing the Methow River, trailheads, and lodges along the way.

Rain, wind, mud… time to let the bird dogs loose!

HUNTING — Soaking wet, heading into a brisk wind with two pounds of Palouse mud on each boot — today could have been a miserable hunting experience until this “double your pleasure” moment with Zuni and Scout.

Snowshoe hut looks lonesome on brown ground

WINTERSPORTS —  Brown-earth-weary skiers, boarders and snowshoers aren't giving up hope in Idaho.

“The snowshoe hut is ready for the season,” reports Geoff Harvey of the Panhandle Nordic Club after rigging up the warming structure on the Fourth of July pass winter trail system and installing the wood-burning stove.  “All we need now is snow.”

The club's 24th annual “Best Hand Fun Ski and Snowshoe” event is set for Jan. 3 at the pass in conjunction with Idaho's Free Ski Day, when the state Park N Ski vehicle sticker requirement is waived.

Check in at Fourth of July Pass starting at 10 a.m. Then take off at your own pace at 11:30 a.m.  Prizes and refreshments provided.

The event is a fundraiser for the club, which maintains the winter trails at the pass.

“The event is a go no matter what the conditions are,” said Jim McMillen, club president.  “We expect snow but if there isn't any, we'll go for a hike.”

Nordic skiing gets boost at Chief Joseph Pass

WINTERSPORTS — Montana's Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club is getting a boost from Lost Trail Powder Mountain to keep the nordic trails at Chief Joseph Pass groomed, even after a big dump of powder snow.

The agreement calls for the resort to deploy the ski hill’s new PistenBully groomer to keep the 11 miles of classic ski trail and 19 miles of multi-use trail smooth for the growing number of winter enthusiasts who have discovered the area.

Last year, the club documented 9,000 user days at the area, President Mike Hoyt told the Ravalli Republic. But when the the big storms hit — the area at the end of the Bitterroot Valley is famous for powder — the club sometimes had too much of a good thing to groom with its snowmobile groomer.

Those numbers don’t include most of the people on snowmobiles, fat tire bikers or dogsledders using the multiple use trails.

The PistenBully will be used to groom the multi-use trail. Lost Trail Powder Mountain owner Scott Grasser has purchased a smaller grooming machine to groom the classic ski trail system that winds through the forest on a narrower set of roads that are too small for the traditional sized groomer.

Word is continuing to spread about all the improvements that are occurring at the winter recreation area at Lost Trail and Chief Joseph passes.

Four years ago, Hoyt said there were about 5,000 to 6,000 people using the area through the winter months. That usage has taken a major jump over the last couple of years.

Utah condor chick lost; AZ chicks soaring

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Endangered California condors appear to be two-for three this year in efforts to recover the endangered species to historic range in Arizona and Utah.

While no carcass has been spotted or found, biologists following the first documented California condor chick hatched in Utah have reluctantly conceded that the rare raptor has died, reports Brett Prettyman of the Salt Lake Tribune.

“The loss of Utah’s first chick is a hard reminder that critters have a tough go of it in the wild. It’s just a shame that we weren’t able to recover a carcass to examine what might have provided clues as to the cause of death,” said Chris Parish, condor program director for The Peregrine Fund.

National Park Service, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Peregrine Fund biologists also confirmed the existence of the chick without actually seeing it this past spring, based on the behavior of the adult pair.

Here are details from Prettyman's report:

Condors 337 (male) and 409 (female) displayed enough courtship and chick feeding behavior in the spring to give the biologists enough confidence to say a chick had hatched in a remote nest cave high on a cliff in Zion National Park.

Behaviors the adults are displaying now are a major reason the biologists elected to declare the chick as deceased. The adults remain in Zion National Park, but are not returning to the nest or delivering food.

The chick was expected to leave the nest for its first flight sometime in November. Condors have the longest fledging period of all North American birds, roughly six months.

The cause of the suspected death remains a question and will likely remain a question.

“How it happened is speculation at this point. It could have been a number of things,” Parish said.

The chick could have attempted to fledge and perished, but no body has been discovered in the area below the cave nest. The body could have been consumed by another animal.

This was the first chick for condors 337 and 409 and it is possible they failed to provide the care required to get the young bird to fledging stage.

Lead poisoning, according to Parish, has led to 50 percent of deaths of the experimental population of California condors released in the Vermillion Cliffs area of Arizona in 1996. Officials have confirmed 29 condor deaths related to lead poisoning since 2000.

Lead is ingested by the condors scavenging on the remains of wildlife or domestic livestock killed with firearms. Efforts in Utah and Arizona to get ranchers and hunters to use lead-free ammunition and to remove gut piles from the field has helped reduce condor mortality in recent years.

It is possible the chick could have perished from lead poisoning, but it is highly likely that the parents ate the same carrion and they appear to be healthy.

Even condors that learn to fly face a 60 percent chance of dying within the first year, according to Parish.

While biologists are disappointed to declare the Utah chick a loss, they are excited that two other chicks born in the wild in Arizona are flying and appear healthy.

The condor breeding season is just getting underway and biologists will be watching the Utah parents closely. “They can start laying eggs as early as February,” Parish said. “It is possible this pair may try again.”

It is also possible they may choose the same nest cave.

Biologists had considered trying to reach the nest to see if they could confirm the chick’s death, but storms have made it dangerous.

As time has gone by, the likelihood of determining the cause of death has dropped, even assuming the carcass is still in the cave.

“Ravens may have already cleaned out the cave,” Parish said.

CdA bald eagle count nearly doubles in a week

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The number of bald eagles has nearly doubled since last week for their annual gathering to feast on kokanee spawning in the northeastern corner of Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted 66 bald eagles Tuesday — 58 adults and 8 immature — in the Wolf Lodge Bay area.  That's up from 34 eagles counted last Wednesday during her weekly survey. Two weeks ago she counted 18.

Bald eagles traditionally show up from early November into January for a winter feast of spawning kokanee.

This year, the gathering has been slower to grow.  On Dec. 16, 2013, Hugo counted 129 bald eagles in the Wolf Lodge Bay area. The 2013 bald eagle count at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked at 217 on Dec. 30.

Jim Fredericks, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional fisheries manager, said efforts to improve kokanee numbers and spawning in Lake Pend Oreille has attracted dozens of bald eagles, which avoided the lake 15 years ago when the kokanee population was nearly a bust. Granite Creek attracted swarms of spawners to the Bayview area.

“Spawning gravel was layered onto the lake bottom this year in Idlewilde Bay near the Farragut boat ramp and the kokanee found it in a big way,” said Andy Dux, Pend Oreille Lake fisheries project leader. “The shoreline is littered with thousands of kokanee carcasses.”

But more and more eagles are finding their way, per tradition, to Lake CdA, where the kokanee population continues to be healthy, Fredericks said.

Plenty of birds are showing up for good photo ops.

Craig Goodwin, pastor of Millwood Community Presbyterian Church and outdoor photographer, proves that with the photo above.

Stay tuned for what's likely to be a lot more eagles at Wolf Lodge Bay during the peak period that's coming up.


Tips sought in Ione-area elk poaching case

POACHING — Washington Fish and Wildlife Police are asking the public for tips to help solve an elk poaching case in Pend Oreille County near Ione.

Around midnight on Dec. 2, 2014, a spike bull elk was unlawfully killed by someone using a spotlight and high-powered rifle at about milepost 2 on Sullivan Lake Road.

According to officer Severin Erickson:

 A full size pickup (unknown color) possibly with an extended cab was seen spotlighting the elk herd.  One shot was fired from the suspect vehicle. This was the only bull left in this herd after hunting season. The suspect vehicle was then seen leaving the area. Sheriff’s deputies arrived on scene within 15 minutes, but were unable to locate the suspects. The suspects did not return.  It is unknown why the suspects left the elk to waste.

These types of poachers are stealing from all of us ethical sportsmen and women.

  • If anyone has any information that might lead to an arrest,  contact Officer Severin Erickson on his cell phone at (509) 671-0086.
  • Poaching activity also can be reported by calling 1-877-933-9847, or by emailing WDFW at reportpoaching@dfw.wa.gov.

You always have the choice to remain anonymous when reporting.

Violator information that leads to a conviction, could be eligible for a cash reward (up to $500), or hunting bonus points (up to 10 points). Hunting bonus points provide a greatly improved chance for drawing special permits for hunting. 

In addition to these rewards offered by WDFW, the Pend Oreille County Sportsman’s Club is also offering a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest in this case.

Biologists collar 24 moose in northeastern Washington

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists recently battled difficult weather to capture 28 moose and put radio collars on 24 moose in northeastern Washington. That brings the total to more than 50 collared moose involved in the state's first major study of the species.

A gunner in a helicopter targeted the moose with tranquilizer darts while ground crews rushed in to take blood samples, measurements and other information before attaching the collars that hold GPS transmitters.

The project began last year with the capture of 28 adult cow moose for a five-year study of their habits, movements and survival rates.

Researchers monitor the moose year-round.

Bighorn sheep dying of pneumonia near Yellowstone

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  Disease that's ravaged wild sheep in parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana in recent years has shown up in one of America's most prized wildlife preserves.

A pneumonia outbreak has killed at least ten bighorn sheep near Yellowstone National Park.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks officials said Monday that the outbreak was in the Upper Yellowstone sheep herd near Gardiner, where bighorns are often highly visible to the public.

The dead animals include a mix of rams, lambs, and one adult ewe.

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 research has shown that bacteria can be transmitted from healthy domestic sheep to bighorn sheep, causing pneumonia in the wild sheep.

Related reading:


Idaho trophy species rule proposals revealed

HUNTING — An increase in Idaho Panhandle moose hunting opportunity and other proposals for next year's trophy big-game seasons will be presented at an open house meeting, 3 p.m.-6 p.m., on Thursday, Dec. 18 at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Panhandle Region Office, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave. in Coeur d’Alene.

Meetings are being held on statewide proposals affecting hunting for moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. However, no changes are proposed for mountain goat or bighorn sheep hunting in the Panhandle.

The open house format allows visitors to attend at any time during the session to visit with Fish and Game personnel about the proposals.

The Panhandle Region proposal includes the addition of 20 bull moose tags:

Unit 4 would have a long season (Sept. 15-Dec. 1) with an increase from 15 tags to 20 tags.  “Harvest success rates have been high in Unit 4 and the average number of days of hunting to harvest a moose in the unit is decreasing,” said Phil Cooper, department spokesman. “There has not been a decrease in antler spread of harvested bulls, and this proposal would increase hunter opportunity.”

Two new short season hunts are proposed for Unit 5 with five permits in each hunt. One hunt would run Oct. 1-14 and the other Nov. 1-14.  The current long season in Unit 5 would not change.  The moose population size and bull and calf ratios indicate Unit 5 can withstand increased hunting, he said.

Unit 6 currently has three moose hunts, including one long hunt from Sept. 15-Dec. 1. Each of the hunts has had 15 tags.   The proposed season would increase the number of tags in the long hunt to 20.  The two shorter seasons would not change in dates or permit levels under the current proposal. 

“The change is proposed because harvest rates are high, the average number of days hunted to take a moose is decreasing, and there has not been a decrease in the antler spread of harvested bulls from Unit 6,” Cooper said.

All comments will be presented to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission prior to setting the seasons at their meeting on Jan. 22.

Illegal gillnetters caught with 376 whitefish from Banks Lake

POACHING — Men illegally using gillnets to catch hundreds of whitefish from Banks Lake were  busted by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police on Dec. 8.
The crime is similar to other gross cases of fish poaching from prized lakes in Grant County in recent years.
WDFW police were focusing day and night patrols on Banks Lake near Coulee City for what they call in their report the “annual whitefish netting and snagging season.”
The poachers, they say, target fish that are nearing the peak of the spawn and gathering in large numbers along the rocky shorelines.

On the night of Dec. 7 and early morning of Dec. 8, officers observed three men fishing with gillnets from the rock face along Dry Falls Dam. Says the report:
“Their van was hidden in the sagebrush nearby and the men were fishing in an area where it would have been impossible to apprehend them safely while also preventing them from destroying evidence. Officer Smith stayed hidden in the rocks above them for several hours, relaying their activity to other officers until they finally gathered up all of their fish and nets to leave. As they returned to their vehicle, officers swept in and took all three into custody as they attempted to flee on foot.
Officer Varyvoda did an outstanding job conversing with the suspects in Ukrainian and Russian to obtain statements.
A total of seven gill nets were seized which were used to harvest 376 whitefish and one trout.
All three men were booked into the Grant County Jail on multiple charges. The fish were donated to charity.

Photo: Area winter resorts still begging for snow

WINTERSPORTS — “It was 57 degrees at 9 p.m. Tuesday” at the Mt. Spokane Ski Area chairlift — and barely any snow in sight at the base, reports local outdoorsman Ken Vanden Heuvel. (See photo above from the Mt. Spokane web cam).

2014 will rank among the slowest starts to the ski and snowboard seasons at area winter resorts.

Stay tuned to the ski reports.

Check out Web cam links for ski areas and highways around the region at Spokesman.com/outdoors.

34 bald eagles counted at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted 34 bald eagles today in the Wolf Lodge Bay area of Lake Coeur d'Alene.  That's up from 18 eagles counted last week during her weekly survey. Two weeks ago she counted only four.

Bald eagles traditionally show up from early November into January for a winter feast of spawning kokanee.

However, last year by the second week of December Hugo had counted 57 eagles and in 2012 the count was well over 130 eagles.

The 2013 bald eagle count at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked at 217 on Dec. 30.

Hugo said she plans to survey areas on Lake Pend Oreille to see if the lake's revival of kokanee at has siphoned off some of the eagle interest in Lake CdA.

Winter Wonderland family event set at Riverside State Park

PARKS — Get the family into the spirit of the season this weekend during the third annual Winter Wonderland celebration in Riverside State Park.

The Bowl and Pitcher area will be buzzing with a visit from Santa Claus and hay rides. Enjoy a holiday stroll on the illuminated Swinging Bridge, festive lights in the campgrounds and shelter, campfires.  Hot chocolate and cookies will be available for purchase.

The event runs 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.,Friday-Sunday, Dec. 12-14, sponsored by the Inland Empire Toyota Dealers and Riverside State Park Foundation. The Bowl and Pitcher is at 4427 N. Aubrey L. White Parkway.

Each night visitors will have a chance to win a pair of lift tickets to 49º North Mountain.

The event is a fundraiser for Riverside State Park projects.  Admission is $5 or free for children age 3 and younger.

The Washington Discover Pass requirement is waived for people attending this event.

Info: (509) 465-5064.


Travel: Birding in McAllen, Texas

    The stereotype of the avid birdwatcher is classic: a well-equipped enthusiast wearing the latest outdoor gear, carrying the biggest lens, peering into the trees through the most expensive binoculars, traveling to all the most exotic corners of the globe to be able to check another bird off the official life list.

    But there are just as many of us who simply want to be where the birds are. We carry our mid-priced super-zoom cameras and our mid-priced binoculars and we take great pleasure in seeing the beautiful creatures that fill the air with music and the skies with color.

    That’s what drew me to McAllen, Texas. As one of the premier birding locations in the country, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas is home to 9 World Bird Centers. Thanks to the region’s temperate sub-tropical climate there are more than 400 species of birds which live in or pass through the area and, for the most part, you don’t need anything more than a good pair of eyes to see them.

    Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, just 5 miles from McAllen, is a birder’s delight. The 760-acre park adjoins another 1,700 acres of federal wildlife refuge. Cars are not allowed in the park but a trolley makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds.

    But the thing Bentsen offers that makes all the difference for the casual birder is a bird blind strategically placed near a feeding station. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities. Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. This makes it possible to get a pretty good photo with a point-and-shoot camera or even, if conditions are right, with a cellphone. All you have to do is sit and watch the show.

    January and February are prime months for birdwatching and we were there on an unseasonably cold (for Texas) November day, during a weather event that had most of the country in the deep freeze. Temperatures hovered in the high 40s and the sky was overcast. But the birds kept coming to feed. I sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter again and again without disturbing the birds. Great Kiskadees swooped down in front of me and drank from the small pool of water. Green jays postured and fluttered at the feeders. A golden-fronted woodpecker fed at the peanut butter log. It was great fun.

    When the trolly came around I surrendered my seat in the bird blind knowing I’d managed to get one or two good photos with what I had on hand. I don’t have a formal list, but I could have checked off a few that day:

    Green jay. Check
    Great Kiskadee. Check.
    Golden-fronted woodpecker. Check
    All for the price of the park’s $5 admission.

    Birding can be an expensive hobby. But, in the right place, it can simply be great fun at little expense. I can see now how the whole enthusiast thing gets started, though. The one bird I’d heard so much about but didn’t get to see was the beautiful Altimira Oriole. I saw a nest that had been blown down in a storm but no bird, so I feel like I didn’t quite finish what I started. I guess I’ll have to go back to McAllen. With an official list.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com


Whitetail buck a warrior, survivor

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The dust has settled from the rut. Whitetail bucks are licking their wounds and trying to recover their strength after the rigors of avoiding hunters while displaying dominance and winning the chance to mate.

But it's a tough life, even for the bucks on the top of the heap.  The fighting, and mating is over, and buck hunting seasons are closed.

Now — winter.

“This guy is a warrior,” says Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson. “He had a really close call jousting – almost lost his left eye!”

Wilderness compromises don’t please everyone

PUBLIC LANDS — While some groups are pleased with compromises that have prompted Congress to finally take some action on wilderness bills and other public lands initiatives, some groups say the deals went too far.

Groups ask senators to pull public lands package from defense bill
On Monday, 47 environmental groups asked U.S. senators to pull the package of public lands bills attached to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act. They charged that the positive aspects of protecting areas as wilderness were heavily outweighed by others that changed grazing policies, moved massive mining projects forward and removed protections for other areas.
—Great Falls Tribune

Spots available for tonight’s free avalanche class at REI

WINTERSPORTS — Don't miss this chance to be prepared for the winter backcountry travel season.

At last check, there were at least 15 spots available for tonight's FREE Avalanche Awareness workshop at the Spokane REI Store, 1125 N Monroe St.

The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education Avalanche Awareness Workshop is for any winter backcountry traveler, whether you ski, snowshoe, snowboard or snowmobile.

Recognition of avalanche danger is an essential and potentially lifesaving skill.

This session introduces and explains where and why avalanches occur and provides a basic approach to managing risk in the backcountry.

Learn to access local avalanche bulletins and weather reports, recognize basic signs of avalanche danger, and learn simple ways to help avoid avalanche danger.

Washington to adopt new guidelines for game management

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The final revised draft of Washington's 2015-2021Game Management Plan is scheduled for a vote on Thursday in a public involvement process that started in June.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will present 325-pages of documents for approval on the first day of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission's Dec. 11-12 meeting in Olympia.

The current status of the state's big-game, small-game, game bird and waterfowl species is summarized in the plan along with hints at the agency's options for maintaining or enhancing the populations.

Points sportsmen and other wildlife enthusiasts should keep on their radar include:

  • The plan acknowledges that sales of hunting licenses continue to decline, a trend that could affect the role of hunting in managing wildlife damage.
  • A beefed up section on predator/prey management guidelines owes to the increased presence of wolves since the last plan was created. One principle stands clear in the agency's guidelines: “Conservation, ecological, economic, recreational, and societal values will be considered” in predator-prey management actions.
  • Getting the lead out of hunting and fishing activities continues to be a statewide goal. Use of non-toxic ammunition for hunting and gear for fishing will be promoted. Expect to see more surveys, programs and possibly more restrictions on lead ammunition and gear.
  • Gaining more hunter access on private land is cited as a priority.
  • Use of bait in hunting is prominently addressed under the discussion of Hunter Ethics and Fair Chase. The agency proposes to “facilitate public debate of regulations for use of electronic equipment and baiting of wildlife for purposes of hunting” during discussions of each three-year hunting rules package, a season-setting process that operates under the guidelines laid out in the Game Management Plan.

The draft 2015-21 Game Management Plan was revised in October. The Revised Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement document includes 127 pages of public comments received as late as Nov. 17 along with agency responses.

The main issues identified by the public at the outset of the Game Management Plan process were categorized into several key areas:

  • Scientific/professional management of hunted wildlife
  • Public support for hunting as a management tool
  • Hunter ethics and fair chase
  • Private lands programs and hunter access
  • Tribal hunting
  • Predator management
  • Hunting season regulations
  • Game damage and nuisance
  • Species-specific management issues

New issues or emphasis areas that surfaced during the initial comment period and meetings include:

  • Wildlife Conflict Management
  • Recruitment & Retention of Hunters
  • Disease Impacts
  • Non-toxic Ammunition
  • Re-introduction of pronghorn
  • Wolf Management

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife allowed more time to comment and respond to these topics in the comment period that was extended to Nov. 17.

Note: The 2015-21Game Management Plan is separate at this point from the three-year package of hunting regulations proposals for  2015-17. The deadline for comment on the initial proposals ended earlier this fall.

However, the hunting regulations proposals touch on some of the same topics, including possible restrictions on baiting for big game.

Other issues under consideration by the department for hunting regulations that would take effect starting next year include:

  • Setting spring and fall black bear seasons
  • Early archery elk seasons
  • Modern firearm mule deer seasons
  • Hunting equipment, including non-toxic ammunition, expandable broadheads and crossbows
  • Special permit drawings

Specific recommendations for 2015-17 hunting seasons and rules will be drafted and available for further review in January

Final recommendations for 2015-17 hunting seasons and rules will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for adoption next spring.

National Geographic survival host living ‘rich cultural stew” of adventure

OUTDOOR LIVING — Former Ferris High school science teacher, survival instructor, naturalist and artist Hazen Audel is spotlighting the skills of indigenous people in remote niches of the world for the National Geographic Channel TV series, Survive the Tribe.

My Sunday Outdoors story describes how Audel’s childhood fascination with snakes and spiders put the Spokane native on the path to hunting with bald eagles in Mongolia, dodging stampeding elephants in Kenya, hunting with blowguns in the jungle of Ecuador and learning to spear seals from a kayak in the icy waters of Nunavik.

This photo gallery offers a glimpse of the job Audel calls “a rich cultural stew of outdoor adventure.”

Wolf kills sheep near Whitman-Spokane county line

Updated12:10 p.m. on Dec. 9 with clarification about when sheep are being moved and quotes from sheep farmer involved.

PREDATORS —The first sheep kill attributed to a wolf in Whitman County is being investigated by Washington wildlife officials.

One ewe in a flock of about 1,200 was killed Friday on private land about five miles northeast of Lamont near the Spokane County line, said Joey McCanna, Department of Fish and Wildlife conflict specialist.

“We’ve ruled it a probable wolf kill,” McCanna said, noting that the investigation didn’t come up with all the evidence needed for a confirmation.

Location of the wounds, canine teeth punctures and a broken femur indicated wolf, he said. “But a lot of the rump was eaten, taking away some of the evidence we use, and we could not find viable tracks in the hard ground of the stubble field,” he added.

The dead ewe was one of several sheep that had strayed from the flock where there was a break-down in their enclosure of three-strand electric fence, he said.

Wolf sightings had been reported in the past three weeks in the Lamont area, but no one witnessed the attack, he said.

Two wolves were confirmed in the Lacrosse area last winter.

In October, a wolf was shot about 15 miles southwest of Pullman by a man Fish and Wildlife police described as a Whitman County farmer. Gray wolves are protected by state endangered species laws.

Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy is investigating the evidence turned over by Fish and Wildlife police on Nov. 19. Tracy’s staff said Monday that no decision has been made on whether to prosecute the case.

Fish and Wildlife officers will be working with the livestock producers when they move the Lamont sheep back to a fenced area near their homestead later this month, McCanna said.

“We are not forcing anyone to move livestock in this situation,” said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman. “The sheep are being moved on a normal schedule.”

Meantime, the fenced area has been surrounded with blinking lights. In addition, lights and electrified flagging, called turbo fladry, is being added to the fence where the sheep are being moved as a deterrent to wolves, McCanna said.

The department is lending assistance to make sure any compost areas for livestock carcasses are properly covered with soil to avoid attracting wolves and coyotes, he said.

“We’re going door to door in the area to alert other producers,” he said.

“We'll be trying to find more sightings and sign and if we see that a wolf is using an area we may try to trap it,” he said.

From the Lewiston Tribune:

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say a wolf is probably responsible for killing a sheep near Whitman County Commissioner Art Swannack’s ranch last week in Lamont.

Swannack reported the kill shortly after discovering the sheep on Friday.

“My wife saw the wolf,” he said. “We have an electric fence around 300 acres of stubble. The fence went down during the ice storm Thursday, and the sheep got into our neighbor’s stubble. We were herding them back when my wife saw the wolf. We found the sheep up a draw after that.”

Swannack said he hadn’t seen the wolf again since Friday.

“We’re doing what we can to discourage it from coming back,” he said. “We have guard dogs with our sheep. The department is also supplying some stuff.”