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Huckleberry picking banned in Idaho Panhandle forests

PUBLIC LANDS — In the latest  and worst-case scenario of federal government overreach, huckleberry picking will be prohibited on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests in 2015.

Although the formal announcement hasn't been made, Priest Lake blogger Pecky Cox spilled the berries today after beating the bureaucratic bushes for the scoop:

A long and complicated battle between Federal bureaucracies, State horticulture analysts and assorted restaurant and grocery interests has resulted in, once again, a Federal agency  taking charge of a long and historic family and commercial activity.  Picking Huckleberries in the National Forest will now be closed for the 2015 season by Federal Mandate.

The Department of Agriculture is the leading arm of the Federal Government that has pushed for  the new regulations on picking, using, consuming and selling the Huckleberry fruit taken from Forest Service lands.  The regulation has been under consideration for over two years and was signed Monday. 

The Huckleberry fruit, known best by it's heavy crops in Northern Idaho, has  been, a popular tourist attraction and a family activity for over a hundred years. The fruit is featured as a base for Huckleberry Pies, Ice Cream and the world famous Elkins Resort Daiquiri at Priest Lake, Idaho.  

Click HERE for the rest of Cox's article. 

Disabled hunters: apply for access permit drawing by Friday

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

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

RAMROD — bike ride around Rainier lottery entry closes today

CYCLING —Today is the last day for very fit bicyclists to enter the lottery to become one of the 800 riders allowed to enter the annual RAMROD on July 30.

The Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day, a premiere ultra-marathon cycling event by the Redmond Cycling Club, challenges riders with 10,000 feet of climbing in 168 miles. Cost: $5 lottery fee, $90 if selected.

Baby boom of orcas in Washington waters

MARINE MAMMALS — The endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters is experiencing a baby boom with a fourth calf orca documented this winter.

The newborn was spotted Monday by whale-watching crews and a naturalist in the waters of British Columbia, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 29 whale-watching operators in Washington and British Columbia. Here's more info from an Associated Press story:

The orca was swimming with other members of the J-pod, one of three families of orcas that are protected in Washington and Canada.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor, confirmed the birth to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The center keeps the official census of endangered southern resident killer whales for the federal government.

The birth brings the population to 81, still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.

“This one looked quite plump and healthy,” said Balcomb, who reviewed photographs of the newborn. “We’re getting there. We wish all these babies well. They look good.”

While he and others hailed the birth of four baby orcas since December, they cautioned that the survival rate for babies is about 50 percent.

“Given where we were four months ago, it’s certainly the trend we’re hoping for,” Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said Tuesday.

“It’s still far too early to think we’re out of the woods yet,” said Hanson, who studies the orcas.

Michael Harris, executive director with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, “Who doesn’t love baby orcas, right?” But he, too, urged measured optimism.

“We’re going to keep a careful watch on these babies and our fingers crossed,” he added.

The newest orca was spotted Monday swimming with a calf that was born in December and a female whale. Another calf was born to the J-pod in early February, while a calf in the L-pod was observed in late February.

Balcomb said he thinks the baby’s mother could be J-16, the female whale it was swimming with Monday. But it may be some time before the relationships are sorted out, he added.

Wanapum reservoir levels up; boat launches reopening

BOATING — With about $69 million in repairs to a cracked spillway completed at Wanapum Dam, water levels on the Columbia River reservoir are being brought up to normal levels and boat ramps are being readied to use for the first time in more than a year.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will reopen two boat launches and nearly 20 miles of the remaining shoreline above the Wanapum reservoir to public use on Wednesday, April 1.

Sunland Estates and Yo Yo Rock boat ramps near Vantage were among dozens of recreational sites that were closed to public access in March 2014 as the Grant County Public Utility District lowered water levels 26 feet for spillway repairs.

The crack was detected in February 2014 and the reservoir was lowered 26 feet about the time salmon and steelhead were beginning to stage for upstream spawning runs. The state and PUD worked to minimize any impact the dam repairs had on salmon migrations.

Since stabilizing the dam, the utility has been raising water levels and restoring public access to areas of the 37-mile-long reservoir since January.

However, only this week has the water risen high enough to open the shoreline farther north in the Quilomene area to the public, said Jim Brown, WDFW regional director for northcentral Washington.

WDFW made major improvements to the Sunland Estates and Yo Yo boat launches while water levels were low, installing armor matting at the end of those ramps to provide a smooth launch surface, he said.

Snooze and lose on region’s most popular 2015 cycling events

CYCLING — Bicyclists can relax until spring before planning most of their 2015 cycling season, with help from The Spokesman-Review's 2015 Northwest Bicycling Events Calendar.

But the following popular winter, spring and summer rides come and go, or in a few cases, came and went, before you knew it. They're popularity causes them to sell out so quickly you have to be planning or making your application in February.

Act now on rides that still have openings.

Chilly Hilly: Feb. 22, COMPLETED, traditionally the region’s first notable cycling events of the season. The 42nd annual event starts with an early-morning ferry ride from Seattle before unleashing cyclists on a 33-mile route around Bainbridge Island that bags 2,675 feet of cumulative elevation. Put it on your list to start the 2016 season. Organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club; cascade.org.

STOKR: Scenic Tour of the Kootenai River, May 9-10, SOLD OUT, has ride-length options ranging from 37 to 98 miles each day along the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa out of Libby, Mont., to benefit Habitat for Humanity. Registration open Feb. 14-28 for the lottery drawing to select 450 riders; libbymt.com/events.

Mazama Ride, June 20-21: SOLD OUT, runs 75 miles each day on North Cascades Highway from Marblemount to Mazama for the overnight and back, by Redmond Cycling Club. $145-$195; redmondcyclingclub.org.

RATPOD: Ride Around the Pioneers in One Day, June 27, STILL OPEN, the 14th annual one-day, 130-mile ride from Dillon, Mont., through the Big Hole Valley of southwestern Montana, along wilderness areas and above the Big Hole River, fundraiser to benefit Camp Mak-A-Dream. Online registration opened March 3 and will continue until cap of 650 riders is reached; ratpod.org.

STP: Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, July 11-12, SOLD OUT BUT OPTIONS POSSIBLE, the largest multiday bicycle event in the Northwest, has riders pedaling 200 miles from Seattle to Portland in one or two days. Registration opened in January Cascade Bicycle Club members; and in February for nonmembers. The 10,000-rider limit has been reached in February in the past, but it sold out this year on March 8. Check website on June 1 for possible reopening of registration to fill refunded spaces; cascade.org.

RAMROD: July 30, LOTTERY ENTRY CLOSES MARCH 31. Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day, a premiere one-day ultra-marathon cycling event by the Redmond Cycling Club, 10,000 feet of climbing in 168 miles. $95; redmondcyclingclub.org.

RSVP2:  Aug. 15-16, STILL OPEN, Cascade Bicycle Club ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party, 106 miles on day 1 and 82 miles on day 2 into Canada. Return by chartered bus. The RSVP1 leaves a day earlier, but is already sold out. $150; cascade.org.

Cycle Oregon: Sept. 12-19, STILL OPEN, billed as “the best bike ride in America,” the ultra-supported tour moves to a different route each year supported by local communities. A spin-off weekend event is set for July 10-12. The 2015 routes will be in the Hells Canyon-Wallowas area. Fills quickly; cycleoregon.com.

WaCanId Ride: Sept. 14-19, STILL OPEN, the annual international tour on paved roads encircling the Selkirk Mountains of Washington, Canada and Idaho. The six-day event covers 350 miles, North America’s longest free ferry ride and includes sag support and the services of seven Rotary Clubs. Space limited; (888) 823-2626, www.wacanid.org.

South Hill Bluff ‘friends’ to assess accomplishments

TRAILS — 'The Bluff: Wildlife Nirvana, Crossroads or Death Trap?' — That's the title of the keynote address planned for the annual public meeting of the Friends of the (South Hill) Bluff on Tuesday, (March 31) 6:30 p.m. at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, 5720 S. Perry St.

Ken Bevis, stewardship wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, will evaluate the status of the wildly popular trail system and natural area that stretches below High Drive down to Hangman Creek.

The Friends of the Bluff works to coordinate volunteer to maintain the area, plan for its future, improve trails and forest health and make it fire-safe for the adjoining neighborhoods.

Volunteers upgrade Knothead Trail in Riverside State Park

TRAILS — A popular trail to an overlook near the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers got more TLC last weekend.

Volunteers organized by the Washington Trails Association put in 280 hours of effort that included building a spur to an outcropping viewpoint, reports Cherie Gwinn, Riverside State Park program specialist.

Trailheads for the 6.4-mile loop route are at Indian Painted Rocks as well as just off SR291 north of Nine Mile Falls near the Spokane House.

The route is detailed in Day Hiking Eastern Washington, Hike #84.

Last year, nearly 100 volunteers worked on the trail near the Little Spokane River on June 1 for a National Trails Day event sponsored by REI and WTA.

Reports indicate continued growth in backcountry skiing

WINTERSPORTS — As lift-assisted skiing resorts struggle, more skiers and splitboarders may be taking off on their own.

USFS predicts backcountry skiing to increase 106% over next 3 decades
The National Ski Area Association reports that skier visits to resorts are down about 10 percent since the 2010-11 ski season, but Snow Industries Association reports that backcountry gear sales for equipment used by skiers and snowboarders to access summits under their own power, are up 10 percent over that same period. That suggests that more folks are choosing to make the climb under their own power and ski the backcountry.
—Durango Herald

Wild turkey suppression planned on Spokane’s South Hill

WILDLIFE — A meeting to enlist volunteers in curbing the growth of wild turkey flocks on the Manito Park area is set for 6:30 p.m. tonight (March 30) at Spokane’s South Hill Library.

Candace Bennett, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department conflict specialist, is organizing a “wild turkey Easter egg hunt” over several weeks to treat eggs in some wild turkey nests so they don’t hatch.

The number of wild turkeys has grown to nuisance levels on the South Hill, but what's out there will mushroom significantly if all of the nesting hens are allowed to pull off new clutches this spring.

 

Opening Day for Trails a good start

TRAILS — The outdoor and indoor activities planned for the Opening Day for Trails celebration Saturday in the Spokane area connected a lot of people with outdoor groups and trails in the region.

Participation in the 3 bike tours and 8 guided hikes was good and Greenstone office at Kendall Yards was very busy with hikers learning about all sorts of undertakings, from improving the Centennial Trail and Washington Trails Association trail maintenance projects to the fabulous open spaces being protected by the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program.

The event was organized by the Inland Northwest Trails Coalition.

Forest Service OKs mining under Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness — among the first areas protected by the 1964 Wilderness Act — is another step closer to potential impacts from mining.

USFS gives preliminary OK to copper, silver mine in NW Montana
The U.S. Forest Service will take public comment for 45 days on the final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision approving Spokane-based Mines Management Inc.'s Montanore Mine, an underground copper and silver mine in Northwest Montana about 18 miles from Libby.

The mine is one of two separate mining proposals that would drill from outside the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness into ore bodies within the wilderness borders.

The local economy of this area was rocked when the Troy Mine shut down due to low copper prices. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality must still issue a final permit, and a group led by former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is challenging mining claims. A trial in that matter scheduled in April.

See a story with links to the two mining proposals and insight on the concerns of wilderness and environmental advocates.

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)! 

BIKE RIDES

Tandem Bike Ride @ 10am
Spokane City Parks
RSVP

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

Ben Burr Park @ 10am
Southgate Neighborhood Council
RSVP

HIKES

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

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

Fish Lake Trail Trailhead @ 10am
Hobnailers Hiking Club
RSVP

Location TBA @ 10am
Spokane Mountaineers
RSVP

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

Audubon Lake Wildlife Area @ 10am
RSVP

McKenzie Conservation Area @ 10am
Ms Adventures - Women Only
RSVP

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

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

UPDATED

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.