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Hike or bike with a group in Saturday’s trail day events

TRAILS — Three bike rides and eight hikes coordinated by the Inland Northwest Trails Coalition are being led on Saturday in the Spokane area — one near Reardan — by local trails-related groups and they're inviting you to join them.

Check out details about the Opening Day for Trails celebration:

RSVP for a bike ride or hike below. Share the Facebook event with friends.
You're not required to attend an organized hike to attend the celebration (bottom)! 


Tandem Bike Ride @ 10am
Spokane City Parks

Mountain Bike Ride: 7 Mile Trailhead (7903 W Missoula Rd) @ 10am
Riverside State Park Foundation

Ben Burr Park @ 10am
Southgate Neighborhood Council


Glenrose Conservation Area (Ferris HS parking lot at 37th & Ray) @ 10 am
Dishman Hills Conservancy

Dishman Hills Natural Area (625 S Sargent Rd) @ 12pm
Dishman Hills Conservancy

Fish Lake Trail Trailhead @ 10am
Hobnailers Hiking Club

Location TBA @ 10am
Spokane Mountaineers

Deep Creek (Meet at Riverside State Park’s Ranger Station) @ 10am
Riverside State Park Foundation

Audubon Lake Wildlife Area @ 10am

McKenzie Conservation Area @ 10am
Ms Adventures - Women Only

18 Downtown Bridges: (Leaving from Kendall Yards) @ 4 p.m.
Rich Landers, guidebook author

Opening Day Celebration at Kendall Yards (1335 W Summit Pkwy) @ 2pm

Meet for snacks, trail talk and celebration!

Tribe releases 10K net pen trout in Rufus Woods

FISHING — The Colville Tribe released 10,000 triploid rainbow trout weighing about 2 pounds each in Lake Rufus Woods on Thursday, making the reservoir between Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams a likely hot spot for anglers this weekend

"There hasn't been a lot of escapement from the aquaculture net pens in recent years, so we've been stocking the waters for fishermen," said Bret Nine, Resident Fish Program manager.

Thursday's trout release follows the stocking of about 5,500 rainbows in the 1.5-2 pound range into the Columbia River reservoir on  Feb. 24, he said.

Some of the trout are tagged for research.  Anglers are asked to give information from the tags to creel clerks at the fishing access points.

Anglers also can report their tagged fish and see stocking data online.

Schweitzer, Silver ski resorts closing Sunday

WINTERSPORTS — They fought the good fight, but this strange winter is winning.  Schweitzer Mountain and Silver Mountain ski resort swill close for the season after the end of operations on Sunday, officials announced today.

The resorts normally are open at least through spring break.

That brings the lift-skiing season in our area to a close.

Lookout Pass has announced it's closed for the season.

Mount Spokane has been closed for weeks.

See story about Schweitzer.

Silver Mountain posted this info at 4:15 p.m.:

Operating Sunday 3/29 9am-3pm. Saturday weather is looking pretty nasty but Sunday looks like a fantastic sunny day to enjoy some skiing, boarding and chilling on the patio with a Hawaiian Luau themed BBQ and patio party! Lift tickets will be just $29 and current pass holders from any other ski area can get a ticket for just $19. Additionally, current Silver Mountain Pass Holders can bring a buddy for just $19. Sunday afternoon Ski & Splash is back as well- just $29 for an afternoon lift ticket and then hit the waterpark for some surfing or floating the lazy river!

This is our last planned day of operations for the season.

Last call for skiers: Schweitzer, Silver plan to close


WINTERSPORTS — They fought the good fight, but this strange winter is winning.  Schweitzer Mountain and Silver Mountain ski resorts will close for the season after the end of operations on Sunday, officials announced today.

See story about Schweitzer.

Silver Mountain posted this info at 4:15 p.m.:

Operating Sunday 3/29 9am-3pm. Saturday weather is looking pretty nasty but Sunday looks like a fantastic sunny day to enjoy some skiing, boarding and chilling on the patio with a Hawaiian Luau themed BBQ and patio party! Lift tickets will be just $29 and current pass holders from any other ski area can get a ticket for just $19. Additionally, current Silver Mountain Pass Holders can bring a buddy for just $19. Sunday afternoon Ski & Splash is back as well- just $29 for an afternoon lift ticket and then hit the waterpark for some surfing or floating the lazy river!

This is our last planned day of operations for the season.

China Bend climbing area closed for eagle nesting

CLIMBING — A portion of the China Bend climbing area has been closed to protect nesting eagles, Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area officials announced Wednesday.

The closure shuts down an area upstream from Kettle Falls to all public use until July 15.

The area includes Park Serviced lands at the west end of the cliff formation known as the China Bend climbing area’s “Main Wall.”

A map of the closure is on the park web site: nps.gov/laro.

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 15-25 in Idaho and April 15-31 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."

Tonight! International Fly Fishing Film Fest in Spokane

FISHING — The International Fly Fishing Film Festival coming to the Bing Crosby Theater TONIGHT, ( March 25) is a benefit for a boat access site on the Spokane River.

That's reason enough to go, but showgoers won't be disappointed. The films are cool.

Tickets are available in advance through the festival website or through Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane Valley.

Following is the list of the selected fly-fishing films edited for the two-hour show (plus 10-minute intermission) along with links for trailers to whet your appetite. 

"Sensei" (Trailer) - Official Selection, IF4™ 2015 from IF4™ on Vimeo.

In the film "Sensei" (above) Fly Fusion’s steelhead editor, April Vokey, teaches fly-fishing sensation, Hank Patterson, how to Spey cast for steelhead. Hank is a “quick study” and it’s not long before he’s passing along his newfound casting knowledge to other anglers, whether they’re looking for advice or not. Eventually, Hank transitions into the role of expert and is able to impart his sage advice to April as well. In his travels, Hank reveals many sides: the angler, the student, the teacher, the artist and the philosopher. About the only thing he doesn’t know is if his good looks get in the way of the fly-angling world taking him seriously.

Title Liquid Gold, produced by Keith Brauneis Productions

This film documents a 70-mile trek through a mountain region of California to reach several alpine lakes in pursuit of Golden Trout.  The film is produced in association California Trout and seeks to communicate a message of conservation.

No Man's Landm, produced by Hooké

The group of three from Hooke embark on a 10-day adventure throughout the Ungava region of Northern Quebec and Labrador. They fly into remote locations by helicopter in search of wild Atlantic Salmon and Arctic char. Throughout their adventures the group encounters numerous black bears, polar bears and big fish. They soon find out that these fish are hard to catch and need to change their strategy.

Bermuda Love Triangle, produced by Marc Crapo

The Bremuda Love Triangle is a narrated film in which Marc Crapo details an excursion to San Juan, Bermuda and Miami in search of Tarpon on the fly.

Recapture, produced by Shane Scherholz, Mike Percelli and John Jinishian

Recapture is one man's tribute to his father and all he loved about the sport of fly-fishing. After mourning his fathers passing, Mike Percelli realizes it is time to stop living in the past and create new memories with new friends. He returns to the waters where his father once taught him, to gain closure, and share his knowledge. From student to mentor, one man copes with his loss while he shares his passion for fly-fishing with others.

Distracted, produced by Western Waters Media

Follow the adventure of four friends as they travel in search of four cutthroat species in four states. Bonneville, Snake River Fine-spotted, Colorado, and Westslope Cutthroat trout are all on the menu. Watch as they get "distracted" by other large fish species, tricycles, and lost items. See what a run-in with a true, once-in-a-lifetime trophy cutthroat trout looks like and the fun, emotional journey that got them there.

Secrets,  produced by Fly Fusion Films

Places exist where oversized bull trout are plentiful, but where footprints from wading boots do not exist. When anglers stumble across these remote and untouched valleys, they really only have one option: take a hard drive worth of footage and never tell another living soul about the location. In the short film "Secrets", join Fly Fusion’s editors Jim McLennan and Derek Bird, and the magazine’s social media coordinator Paula Shearer, as they chopper into one of these secret locations. What they experience is beyond anything they could ever imagine.

In Search of Grande, produced by Anglers Eye Media

This film follows two anglers deep into the Baja in search of the Grande Rooster; one of the most challenging fish in all of the Sea of Cortez.  What begins as a healthy competition between two friends morphs into a partnership between three anglers who set out to accomplish the daunting task of finding the fish and documenting the adventure.

Idaho anglers to enjoy earliest spring chinook opener

FISHING — The earliest spring chinook fishing to be approved for Idaho waters will begin April 25.

The state Fish and Game Commission Tuesday approved seasons and rules for the spring salmon season during its meeting in Boise.

The rules are based on a projected spring chinook run similar in numbers to the 2014 returns.  Last year's Idaho chinook season opened on April 26.

As of Sunday, March 22, almost 500 chinook had been counted at Bonneville Dam, the first of eight dams salmon pass on their journey to Idaho. While this number is larger than for the same date since 2004, it is a small fraction of the number of spring chinook salmon expected in Idaho.

The seasons are based on a projected sport harvest of about 11,700 adipose-clipped chinook salmon in the Clearwater, Snake, lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers.

Season closures to be made as fisheries managers assess the run and harvest as they progress.

In the Clearwater Basin, except for the South Fork Clearwater River, limits are set at four fish per day, only one of which may be an adult. The possession limit in these parts of the Clearwater River drainage will be twelve fish, only three of which may be adults.

In the South Fork Clearwater, lower Salmon, Little Salmon and Snake River fisheries, anglers will be allowed to keep four fish per day, only two of which may be adults. The possession limit in these fisheries will be twelve fish, of which only six may be adults.

The season limit will be 20 adult chinook salmon for seasons prior to September 1. Adult chinook salmon are defined as those 24 inches and longer.

Other rules and special restrictions for the Chinook salmon fishery will be available in the 2015 spring Chinook salmon brochure.

The Commission is tentatively set to consider Chinook salmon fisheries on the South Fork Salmon and upper Salmon Rivers at its May meeting. Fish return to those areas later than to the Clearwater River and Rapid River Hatcheries, giving managers more time to develop fishery proposals for those areas.

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.

Court: Endangered Selkirk caribou critical habitat must be revisted

UPDATED 4:50 p.m. with response from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — In response to a lawsuit from a coalition of six conservation organizations, a federal court on Monday ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its 2013 decision to reduce by 90 percent its designation of critical habitat for the endangered mountain caribou.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, The Lands Council, Idaho Conservation League and Defenders of Wildlife, and were represented by attorney Laurie Rule of Advocates for the West.

According to information from the Center for Biological Diversity, the court found that the agency had not given the public sufficient opportunity to comment on the final designation, which slashed protected habitat for the beleaguered caribou from a proposed 375,562 acres to a mere 30,010 acres. 

  • The Selkirk caribou are the most at-risk game species in the United States, with numbers plummeting so low that neighboring Canada is planning to remove two wolf packs to give the prey a break.

“We can recover mountain caribou in Idaho and Washington, but it can't be done without protecting their habitat,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I'm encouraged the lower 48's last caribou will get another chance at being awarded the amount of critical habitat that will truly foster their recovery.” 

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said the court ruled that a procedural error occurred when the public was not afforded the opportunity to review and comment on the Fish and Wildlife Service's analysis of Canadian habitat in the agency's final determination on critical habitat for woodland caribou.

"The Court directed the Service to correct the procedural error," said Mike Carrier, state supervisor for the Service’s Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, in an emailed statement.

"The Service is working with the Department of Justice to review the decision and options," he said. “The Service continues to work closely with states, Tribes, First Nations and conservation groups to develop and implement much-needed short and long-term recovery actions for woodland caribou.”

Woodland caribou once ranged across much of the northern lower 48 states, including the northern Rocky Mountains, upper Midwest and Northeast. The last remaining population in the northern Rocky Mountains was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1984.

In response to a 2002 petition from the conservation groups, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designation of more than 375,000 acres in 2011. But then, in a sharp reversal in 2012, the agency designated only about 30,000 acres for the animals, arguing that caribou primarily reside in Canada now and that conservation efforts there are sufficient.

“This is one step out of many that are needed to stop the decline of this small caribou herd that likely once numbered in the hundreds,” said Tim Layser, wildlife biologist with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance. “With adequate protection from the impacts of off-trail snowmobiling and other threats, caribou numbers can once again be given a chance for recovery in the United States, although other issues need to be addressed.”

Mountain caribou are a unique form of woodland caribou adapted to surviving winters of deep snow, with dinner-plate-sized hooves that work like snowshoes and an ability to subsist for three to four months at a time on nothing but arboreal lichens found on old-growth trees. U.S. caribou are part of a population that straddles the border with British Columbia, with fewer than 20 animals found on the U.S. side of the border in recent years.      


Record razor clamming season planned on Washington Coast

SHELLFISHING — A series of razor clam digs proposed for April and May would cap a season packed with more “beach days” than any time in the past 25 years, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says.

After a nine-day opening that runs through today, state shellfish managers are planning another 24 days of digging on morning low tides at various beaches from April 4 through May 17.

Final approval of those digs depends on the results of marine toxin tests, which have consistently shown this season that the clams are safe to eat.

“We’ve had a great season so far and we expect it to continue that way in the months ahead,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. “We have an abundance of clams on most beaches, which makes for some terrific digging opportunities.”

Proposed digging days in April and May, along with the remaining digs in March, are posted on WDFW’s website.

Diggers are required to keep the first 15 clams they dig. Each digger's clams must be kept in a separate container. No digging is allowed on any beach after noon.

Counting the new dates in April and May, Ayres said WDFW plans to provide a total of 286 “beach days” of digging on Washington beaches this season – the highest number since 1989. He defined a “beach day” as one beach open for a single day, so four beaches open for one day counts as four beach days.

Annual razor clam seasons typically end in mid-to-late May, when the clams begin to spawn and are less desirable for eating, Ayres said.

Diggers need a valid 2015-16 fishing license to participate in razor clam digs effective April 1, the beginning of the new license year.

State fishing and hunting licenses are available from dealers as well as online  or by phone (866) 246-9453.

Threatened species notice

Wildlife biologists are trying to educate clam diggers to avoid disturbing snowy plovers and streaked horned larks. Both species nest in the soft, dry sand at Leadbetter Point on the Long Beach Peninsula and on a section of Twin Harbors beach.

The snowy plover is a small bird with gray wings and a white breast. The lark is a small bird with a pale yellow breast and brown back. Male larks have a black mask, breast band and “horns.” Both species are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“Nesting season for snowy plovers and streaked horned larks begins in early April, coinciding with the scheduled clam digs,” said Anthony Novack, district biologist for WDFW. “Snowy plover nests are difficult to see, so it’s easy to disturb or destroy them without even being aware of it. If an adult is scared off its nest, it leaves the eggs exposed to predators like crows and ravens.”

To protect these birds, the department asks that clam diggers avoid the dunes and areas of the beach with soft, dry sand. When driving to a clam-digging area, diggers should enter the beach only at designated access points and stay on the hard-packed sand near or below the high tide line, Novack said.

Clam digging dates in May for Copalis and Mocrocks will be announced after harvest from the April digs has been analyzed. Upcoming digs in April and May are scheduled on the following dates, pending favorable marine toxin results:

  • April 4, Saturday, 7:23 a.m.; 0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • April 5, Sunday, 7:57 a.m.; 0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • April 6, Monday, 8:32 a.m.; 0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 7, Tuesday, 9:09 a.m.; 0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 8, Wednesday, 9:48 a.m.; 0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 9, Thursday, 10:32 a.m.; 0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 10, Friday, 11:23 a.m.; 0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 17, Friday, 6:03 a.m.; -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • April 18, Saturday, 6:52 a.m.; -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • April 19, Sunday, 7:39 a.m.; -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • April 20, Monday, 8:25 a.m.; -1.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 21, Tuesday, 9:11 a.m.; -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 22, Wednesday, 9:57 a.m.; -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 23, Thursday, 10:46 a.m.; -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 24, Friday, 11:38 a.m.; 0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 2, Saturday, 6:23 a.m., 0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 3, Sunday, 6:59 a.m., -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 7, Thursday, 9:30 a.m., -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 8, Friday, 10:14 a.m., -0.7 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 9, Saturday, 11:03 a.m., -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 10, Sunday, 11:58 a.m., -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 15, Friday, 4:58 a.m., -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 16, Saturday, 5:50 a.m., -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • May 17, Sunday, 6:38 a.m., -1.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors

Bonner County commissioners endorse Scotchman Peaks Wilderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REI racks up record year selling outdoor gear

OUTDOOR RETAILING — The funky economy couldn't keep outdoors enthusiasts cowering for long.

Recreational Equipment, Inc., says its sales soared to $2.2 billion, up 9.9 percent from 2013 — the biggest annual increase since 2010, when the Kent-based retailer and its customers were bouncing back from the recession.

The REI Co-Op was founded in 1938. Jim Whittaker, who became the first  American to climb Mount Everest in 1963, became REI's first full-time employee and was CEO in the 1960s.

A more recent REI CEO, Sally Jewell, is U.S. Secretary of Interior.

CdA students sprouting native plant garden on Blackwell Island

PUBLIC LANDS — Lake City High School students will be helping restore native plants to Blackwell Island Recreation Area this week in a project coordinated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Coeur d'Alene District.

Students in the school's advanced placement Environmental Science course helped sow the seeds in January for the new native plant and pollinator garden at the popular Lake Coeur d'Alene recreation site. 

BLM botanist LeAnn Abell and Jasmine Williams of the Coeur d’Alene Forest Nursery helped the students start a variety of native north Idaho plants such as blanket flower, Idaho fescue, and yarrow.  Through the winter, the students tended the small plants and prepared them for their future home at the native plant garden.

On Thursday, March 26, about 35 students from Lake City High, along with volunteers from Kootenai County Master Gardeners, the Idaho Native Plant Society, The Lands Council and the University of Idaho’s Confluence Project, will join for a day-long planting event.

A grant the WREN Foundation received from the Idaho Botanical Garden will help provide funding for interpretive signs at the area.  Benches and other amenities will be added later this spring.   

“The creation of this interpretive garden brings a long-time vision together”, said Abell, noting that some of the work started last summer. 

All shrubs and plants established in the garden will be representative of inland northwest species. 

Blackwell Island Recreation Site opens for the season on May 21.

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.

Pike fishing seminar Thursday at Mark’s Marine

FISHING — Brock Morrow of the North Idaho Pike Association will discuss fishing for pike in the Inland Northwest in a free seminar — the latest in the six-week series of seminars sponsored by Mark's Marine in Hayden.

The seminar will start at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 26, at 14355 N. Government Way.

With several large pike reported out North Idaho lakes in recent weeks, Morrow will be accompanied by several association members to cover more water and tips.

The remaining seminars in this year's series, same time, same place, are:

April 2 – Lake Roosevelt trout fishing with Benita Galland  and

Lake Pend Oreille rainbow fishing with Roger Blackstone.

April 9 – Lowrance electronics with Mike Pentony

S-R Readers’ Outdoor Photo Gallery captures March moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kid-fishing trout ponds had a catch for one child

FISHING — Most kids walked away with big smiles from the trout-stuffed pools at the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show last week.

The annual event at Spokane County Fair and Expo Center features Fishing World, where kids get the hang of hooking up with hatchery rainbows.

Volunteers from the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council bait the hooks, assist the kids and give them an option of taking their catch home or donating them to a charity kitchen.

Four-year-old Tyler Smith of Spokane was good with all of this until the end.

The son of Jaime and T.J. Smith didn't realize they were going to bonk the trout on the head.

"When they fish as a family, they catch and release," explained his grandpa, Don Hanlon.

Tyler posed for the obligatory hero shot with a nice trout and a big frown.

Lake Lenore a letdown, fly fisher says

FISHING — Fishing for Lahontan cutthroats at Lake Lenore leaves a lot to be desired, according to recent reports from fly fishers.
  • Perhaps it has nothing to do with illegal gillnetting operations that have been busted in recent years (photo above).
Terry Mauer offered this report from last week:
DEAD. Saw no fish, saw no fisherpersons, saw no evidence anyone had even pulled into the north end parking area or walked along the north end bank.
The lake shallows had a much-more-than-usual sticky green slime, the water generally looked awful.
The stream that comes over from the other lake and provides the fish with some hope of spawning - hahahahaha - has not enough water in it for a large minnow to try to swim up into.
My view — and from a non-scientific or limnolgist's /biologist's standpoint —
is: we have probably lost this lake for at least the time being.
Too bad.

Photo: meadowlark brightens the prairie

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Western meadowlark has a way of brightening anyone's day during a walk through the Eastern Washington prairies.

Not just with its brilliant spring breeding plumage, but also with its song:

Thanks to Ferry County photographer J.Foster Fanning for the photo (top) and the reminder that there's more than one reason to get outdoors this month.

Oregon Coast touts outdoor options for spring break

OUTDOOR RECREATION — Planning a special spring break family vacation can be as simple as heading to the Oregon Coast.

Whale watching is particularly popular, with boating tours that take tourists close to the creaturs. Special land-based activities are planned for March 21-28 through Oregon Parks and Recreation.


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.

Time to apply for Youth Conservation Corps at Lake Roosevelt

NATIONAL PARKS — Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area is accepting applications for 8-12 positions in the 2015 summer Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program.  

The positions will be at Spring Canyon, Fort Spokane, Hunters, Gifford and Kettle Falls. 

Applicants, age 15 through 18, should indicate the area or areas where they would like to work June 15-Aug. 9. It's a nonresident program, so they must be able to get to the work site from home.

 Participants will be paid a minimum wage for a 40-hour work week. 

Contact the National Park Service for a YCC application form.  Applications will be accepted through April 24, 2015.  Info: Ron Sacchi, 509-754-7821 or Alberta Gonzales 509-754-7857. 

Panel at UI discusses breaching Snake River Dams

RIVERS — A panel discussion titled Lower Snake River Dam Breaching: Embracing the Inevitable. Saving Money, Saving Salmon is scheduled for noon on Monday, March 23, in the University of Idaho Commons (Whitewater Room) in Moscow.

The free event is sponsored by the Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition, in conjunction with the University of Idaho Ecology & Conservation Biology Club and Friends of the Clearwater.

Panelists include:

  • Jim Waddell, retired Deputy District Engineer Walla Walla District -Army Corps of Engineers,
  • Kevin Lewis, Conservation Policy Director Idaho Rivers United,
  • Sam Mace, Inland Northwest Director Save our Wild Salmon
  • Linwood Laughy, dam breaching advocate.

Organizers say the panel will examine the decline of commercial navigation on the lower Snake River, the high costs of operating and maintaining the dams, replacing hydropower produced by the dams, potential extinction of wild chinook and the socio-economic benefits of a free-flowing Snake River.

A second discussion will take place at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Church of the Palouse, 420 E. Second St. in Moscow.

Upper Priest Lake paddlers get cold reception

PADDLING — In case you think winter's over, check out this field report from a pair of canoeists who thought they'd take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and lack of snow last weekend to beat the boating crowd to Upper Priest Lake.

"OK, sooooo… We were really keen on canoeing into Upper Priest, but Old Man Winter is still in full control there," writes Mike Wootton, who posted a photo of Kristina Kripaitis posed along the ice-covered north end of the the main Priest Lake.

Kripaitis and Wootton had set out to paddle their gear and camp at the Upper on Saturday and Sunday. But they found main Priest Lake  completely frozen over at the Beaver Creek put-in.

"We were thinking run-off and wind would have been our challenge through The Thorofare, but finding ice really caught us by surprise," Kripaitis said.

"What a difference a couple miles on the lake can make," she added, noting that most of Priest Lake has been ice-free.

Not to be deterred….

"We drove back to Reeder Bay and launched there to paddle out to Kalispell Island," she said. "Had the entire Island to ourselves over the weekend so that was pretty awesome."

Kripaitis and Wootton, by the way, are experienced paddlers and that was a good thing as the couple launched their canoe into the open waters of Priest Lake. Even with their skills, they still wore dry suits, which would have been essential to survival in the cold water on the chance that they would capsize.

"We were sitting pretty low with the extra dry firewood we opted to haul over," Kripaitis said, noting that the wind picked up and whitecaps formed. "We were happy when we reached the shore!

"Our paddle back on Sunday afternoon was smooth as glass…just the sparkling rain droplets decorating the surface!"

Despite the blustery weather, "We had a great weekend and stayed dry and warm with the right gear!" she said. 

"A rainy day camping on Priest is better than a sunny day in town."

Idaho river dredgers want it all in effort to snub feds

RIVERS — The latest anti-government greediness to surface in the 2015 Idaho Legislature is the effort by gold dredgers who want to have their way with some of the state's cherished fishing streams. 

But they're trying to soften the impact of that potential resource destruction by suggesting they're actually just trying to fight federal overreach.  And everybody's OK with that — right?

Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, is sponsoring a bill, approved in committee and headed for a House vote, says the state comprehensive water plan "shall allow for recreational prospecting and small-scale dredge mining without regulation, restriction, limitation or prohibition." It also exempts dredge miners from state laws prohibiting the alteration of stream channels, as well as state water quality requirements.

Following is a more detailed account from Boise by William Spence of the Lewiston Tribune:

BOISE - A revamped dredge mining bill that exempts small-scale gold miners from state regulation narrowly prevailed in the Idaho House Resources and Conservation Committee Tuesday and now goes to the full House.

An earlier version of the legislation exempted dredge miners from federal regulations. It was pulled, however, because of concerns about violating the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

The new measure takes a different approach, protecting miners from state regulations - even though the proponents themselves said they "enjoy" Idaho’s permitting process.

The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, says the state comprehensive water plan "shall allow for recreational prospecting and small-scale dredge mining without regulation, restriction, limitation or prohibition." It also exempts dredge miners from state laws prohibiting the alteration of stream channels, as well as state water quality requirements.

Don Smith, a Riggins dredge miner who presented the bill for Shepherd, offered a lengthy legal argument, defending the proposed protections based on the 1872 Mining Act and the U.S. and Idaho constitutions.

"The issue in Idaho is that some (dredge mining) permits have been denied," he said. "This is in violation of federal law, the Constitution and the spirit of the state Constitution."

Forrest Goodrum, a Boise attorney representing the Ada County Fish and Game League, said if miners have such a strong legal case against regulation, they should take it to a judge, not to the Legislature.

"I’ve been a practicing attorney for over 40 years, and this bill is one of the worst mishmashes I’ve ever seen offered to a legislative body," he said. "They’re asserting that the Mining Act supersedes all other regulation. If they think they have a case, the courthouse is within walking distance. Why try the case here?"

Several dredge miners spoke in favor of the bill, saying it’s a small step toward the larger goal of pushing back against the federal government.

"The way to boil a frog is to slowly turn up the heat," said Jay Wilson. "In my opinion, the federal government is trying to boil us. … We live in a free country, but we’re being regulated to death. It’s choking the economy. You guys have the ability to step up and do what’s right. This bill is the state taking the pot away from the federal government."

Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, questioned that logic. He noted dredge miners have never complained about state regulations; the focus has always been on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"If the federal regulations are still in place, explain to me how this fixes the problem," he said.

David Claiborne, a Boise attorney who helped rewrite the bill, said it’s part of a longer-term effort.

"The process employed by state agencies just compounds the problems miners have to go through at the federal level," he said. "We have to approach this incrementally. We’re not going to be able to address everything in one bill. We’re also working on the federal issues with Idaho’s congressional delegation."

Several Resources Committee members said they were uncomfortable giving dredge miners a complete pass from state regulations. However, a motion to send the bill to the House amending order for changes failed on a 10-7 vote.

A motion to send the bill to the House floor with a favorable recommendation then passed on a 9-8 vote. If it’s approved in the House, it will move to the Senate for further action.



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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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