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Alaska road sign: yield to skeeters

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Forget the curve ahead.  Beware of the megafauna.

Colville Forest hosts NatureWatch hikes, tours

FORESTS – Hikes and other free activities are being organized by the Colville National Forest this summer to celebrate Smokey Bear’s 70th birthday and the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

Here's the lineup of NatureWatch events:

July 12: Hike the 3-mile round-trip route to Round Top Mountain in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness with Forest Service wildlife biologist Mike Borysewicz. Meet at 10 a.m. at the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station. The group will drive about 12 miles to the trailhead at Pass Creek Pass.

This trail, rated moderately difficult, passes through a regenerating old burn, subalpine forests and a picturesque alpine meadow, and Borysewicz has a keen eye for birds and wildlife.   Bring sturdy shoes, a hat, water, and a lunch.

Group size is limited to 12 in the wilderness. Pre-register with the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station, (509) 446-7500.

July 19: Hike the 7-mile round-trip route to Columbia Mountain Fire Lookout Cabin on the Kettle Crest with forest archeologist Alicia Beat. Meet at the Kettle Crest parking area along Hwy 20 at 9 a.m. for this moderately difficult trail with 1,400 feet of elevation gain.

Bring  lunch and plenty of water to enjoy the view from the peak, as well as wildflowers, wildlife, history, and restoration of the lookout.

 Aug. 9: Auto-tour to Salmo Mountain Fire Lookout with forest safety manager Sandy Mosconi. Meet at the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station at 9 a.m. The station is a 20-minute drive east of Ione.

The group will drive about 20 miles along Sullivan Creek, stopping along the way to discover the culture and natural history of the area. Parts of this road are high clearance, narrow and have switchbacks. Bring water and your lunch. Salmo Mountain Fire Lookout will provide views of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness and surrounding areas.

Aug 9: Hike Crowell Ridge into the Salmo-Priest wilderness with  Newport-Sullivan Lake District Ranger Gayne Sears. Meet at the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station at 9 a.m. for a rough 60-minute drive to the Sullivan Mountain Lookout.

This is a high-clearance vehicle road for about 4 miles. The group will hike 2 miles along the scenic ridgeline, returning the same way. Sears will talk about the idea of an enduring resource of wilderness and what wilderness means. Discover the culture and natural history of the area.

Bring plenty of water, lunch, and be prepared for a mildly strenuous hike with glorious views of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness.

Group size is limited to 12 in wilderness. Pre-register with the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station, (509) 446-7500.




Does Idaho require a license to bowhunt for fish?

BOWHUNTING — During the hot summer months, archers often turn their attention to carp and other legal targets.  This is called archery fishing, and certain rules apply, according to the Idaho Fish and Game Department's “Ask a conservation officer” series: 

Q: Do I need an archery permit to bow-fish?

A: No. Archery permits are only required for hunting in archery-only seasons. But a valid Idaho fishing license is required to fish with a bow. Fishing with a bow and arrow, crossbow, spear or mechanical device, excluding firearms, is permitted only in the taking of bullfrogs and unprotected nongame fish – such as carp and suckers – and only in those waters during the season set for the taking of game fish. See the 2013-2015 Fishing Seasons and Rules brochure – Page 50 for archery fishing and Page 52 for the definition of nongame fish.


Hanging around at a backcountry camp

HIKING — This may be the ultimate low impact campsite. Comfy, too.

Three-day festival near Libby celebrates wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — A Blackfeet Tribe troubadour and a former chief of the U.S. Forest Service are coming to the Inland Northwest to be part of a three-day event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

An impressive mix of wilderness and wildlife experts plus entertainment and educational programs are scheduled Friday through Sunday, July 11-13, at the Bull River Rod and Gun Club at Bull Lake on State Highway 56 south of Troy and Libby, Montana.

The setting couldn’t be more symbolic. Bull Lake is in a valley between the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness:

The Cabinet Wilderness was among the original 54 wilderness areas designated when Congress enacted the Wilderness Act of 1964.

The Scotchman Peaks wilderness proposal, which straddles the Idaho-Montana border, is the region’s most likely candidate for wilderness designation should the next Congress consider a wilderness bill.

Friday’s program includes a 3 p.m. talk on Grizzlies in the Cabinets by Wayne Kasworm, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly research expert for the region. A program on wilderness advocates will be followed by “Classical Music for the Wild by the Glacier Orchestra.

Capping Friday’s events will be a wilderness movie and performance by Jack Gladstone of the Blackfeet, who illustrates Western Americana through an entertaining fusion of lyric poetry, music and narrative.  

Dale Bosworth, former chief of the Forest Service, will headline’s Saturday’s events with a 7 p.m. presentation on wilderness advocates.

Bosworth crafted the 2005 Travel Management Rule in response to the growth of off-highway vehicle use, which had more than doubled between 1982 and 2000. The rule allows OHVs to travel in national forests only on roads or routes specifically designated for their use.

Also on the Saturday schedule are programs on Wild Yoga, Critter Crafts, Backcountry Horses, Skulls and Skins, Native Americans in the Cabinets, Early Pioneers, Birds of the Wild, Kid in the Wild puppet show and more capped with evening music by two groups, Naples and Huckleberry Jam.

All three days include food vendors, a beer tent, horseshoe tossing, kayak rentals and a group campfire at the lake’s edge.

The lineup is worth camping on site or looking into a motel room at Libby or one of several national Forest campgrounds in the area.

 Sunday’s programs cover compass skills, fly tying, a wilderness ranger reunion and primitive skills demonstrations.

  •  Another wilderness celebration with programs on wildlife photography, grizzly bears, changing directions in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and more is scheduled for Aug. 23, noon-9 p.m. in Libby Riverfront Park. The Libby event will features a 7 p.m. family concert by the popular Wylie and the Wild West Show.

Butterfly count set at Little Pend Oreille Refuge

WILDLIFE WATCHING —The Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge has been marking its 75th anniversary with public events this summer. Next on the schedule:

  • July 12: Butterfly Count, starts 9:30 a.m. at refuge headquarters; great for the family. Bring lunch.

Info:  (509) 684-8384, fws.gov/littlependoreille

Directions from Spokane: Drive U.S. 395 north to Arden (about 6 miles south of Colville). Turn right on Hall Road. At the stop sign, turn left onto Old Arden Hwy. Take the third right run onto Artman-Gibson Road. Go about 4 miles. At four-way intersection, turn right onto Kitt-Narcisse Road and follow it for 2.2 miles. Where road forks, bear right onto Bear Creek Road. Follow this dirt road 3.3 miles to refuge headquarters.

Biologists eye fish passage at jury-rigged Columbia dam fish ladders

FISHING — Salmon appear to be migrating up the Columbia River unimpeded by hastily engineered fish ladder extensions prompted by the drawdown and repairs to fix a crack in Wanapum Dam.

However, fish biologists are still concerned whether good fish passage will continue as the river level continues to drop into summer flows.

It's never a good time to have a crack in a dam on a major river, but fish biologists and anglers are sweating the possibility of a setback to years of effort, not to mention billions of dollars, to restore Columbia River salmon runs.

If this year's bountiful runs of sockeye and fall chinook can't make it upstream to spawning areas, the loss would affect the fishery for years.

“So far it looks good because sockeye have been coming up over Priest Rapids Dam at more than 20,000 a day plus a couple thousand summer chinook and they're not stacking up and having trouble getting over Wanapum (the next dam upstream),” Jeff Korth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager in Ephrata, said last week. (Thursday).

The sockeye run normally peaks over Priest Rapids around July 10, he said. Crowding and chaos could still occur.

From Wanapum, the salmon head up toward Rocky Reach Dam in a 40-mile stretch of reservoir that's been lowered about 20 feet to accommodate the dam repairs.

“It's interesting that the first six miles below Rocky Reach are flowing much like the original river and we expected the salmon to move up faster than they do under normal reservoir levels and less flow,” Korth said.  “But we monitored spring chinook passage and the lower level didn't make any significant difference.”

The lowered reservoir behind Wanapum Dam is closed to boating and shoreline foot access mostly to protect archeological sites.

At Rocky Reach, dam workers already have installed extensions to the fish ladder. They are currently underwater.

“When the flows drop to about 100,000 cfs at the bottom off Rock Island, the extensions will be exposed and we're hoping the fish can move up,” Korth said.

“We won't know for sure until we reach those flows in mid- or late-July.”

Keeping dogs out of wolf traps on Idaho agenda

WILDLIFE — A report on how to keep domestic dogs from being caught in traps set for wolves will be presented among other agenda items during the Idaho Fish and Game Commission meeting Wednesday and Thursday, July 9 -10, at the Salmon Region Office, 99 Highway 93 North in Salmon.

A public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 9. Members of the public who want to address the Commission on any topic having to do with Fish and Game business may do so at the public hearing.

On Thursday July 10, the meeting will begin at 8 a.m.  Agenda items include season setting for mourning dove, sandhill crane and fall Chinook salmon. The Commission will hear from staff regarding the recommendations from the Regional Working Groups on:

  • Reducing conflicts between trapping and domestic dogs;
  • Possible discounting of nonresident deer and elk tags;
  • Nonresident deer and elk tag outfitter set-aside tags;
  • Acquisition of land for a potential Wildlife Management Area;
  • Release of bighorn sheep tags for auction and lottery;
  • A wolverine management plan.

The meeting will include updates on the FY 2016 preliminary budget, legislative proposals, and status reports concerning Migratory game birds and Sage-grouse.

A complete agenda will be available by today on Fish and Game’s website.

Forest Service seeks Pacific Northwest Trail advisers

TRAILS — The U.S. Forest Service is seeking volunteers to serve on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Council to help plan future upgrades — much work and many decisions will have to be made — for the 1,200-mile route from the Olympic Peninsula east through Glacier National Park.

The trail traverses through three national parks and seven national forests, including about 125 miles through the Colville National Forest.

The route is not a continuous trail. It links existing trails, roads and cross-country routes from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide area.

The Council, established under the National Trails System Act, will provide recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture about matters relating to the administration and management of the Pacific Northwest Trail, specifically advising on trail uses, establishing a trail corridor, and prioritizing future projects.

The trail was first mapped and promoted 30 years ago by the founding members of the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail in 2009, the PNT connects people and communities  in Montana, Idaho and Washington. “Interested candidates should have a desire to perpetuate and protect the characteristics and values of the Trail while taking into consideration other public interests along the Trail corridor,” the Forest Service says. “Members will serve a two year term and may serve consecutive terms.”

The first Council meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 2015, and will meet approximately twice a year for three years.

Applications are due by Sept. 30.

Contact Matt McGrath, Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Program Manager, (425) 783-6199; email: mtmcgrath@fs.fed.us.

Beartooth Highway recognized for historical significance

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — I have a special fondness for the Beartooth Highway between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Mont.  My father was a laborer who helped build the engineering marvel during the major construction period, 1932-1936.  But more on that in a bit….

Here's the latest news about the road that Charles Kuralt called “the most beautiful drive in America:”  The Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

A 60-mile stretch of U.S. 212 has been officially named the Red Lodge - Cooke City Approach Road Historic District.  

It’s part of a 68-mile highway that runs from Red Lodge, Montana, into northern Wyoming, on to Cooke City in Montana and then back down to the Wyoming border where it meets the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  

The highway is nationally significant for substantially increasing recreational development and tourism in Yellowstone and the region. The road is also recognized for its distinctive engineering and the methods of high-altitude road construction used in its construction.  

It is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming at 10,947 feet and in Montana at 10,350 feet.   

Personally, it's an access route to some of my favorite hiking and fishing destination in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area.

I have a map of the area from the 1930s on which my dad marked Beartooth area hike-in lakes and the type of fishing he experience at each one as he explored with a fishing rod in hand on days off.  Dad, who would be 94 if he were still alive, told me he would catch fish in the early season and bury them in the snow until he was finished for the day. Then he'd pack them down to the construction camp, where he'd quickly be everyone's friend.

Only once did he have to share the fish with a bear who'd found his cache, he said.

Fire, fireworks restricted or banned from public lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Campfires, fireworks and exploding targets are prohibited outside of designated sites on state and federal lands. Agencies are emphasizing those rules in a large-scale fire prevention effort on the eve of the Fourth of July holiday.

Generally speaking, campfires are allowed only in fire pits at developed campgrounds in national parks, most national forests and all state lands. 

Fireworks and exploding targets enjoyed by shooters are banned.

Even shooting at normal targets is banned on some state wildlife areas in Central Washington.

Boating over “the bar?” Harrowing account of a Columbia River tragedy

FISHING — “Even as a retired cop, Lonn Sweeney didn't expect to save anyone's life June 20 when he piloted his 24-foot Duckworth ocean hardtop, Teresa D, over the Columbia River bar, but he was certainly prepared for it,” writes Oregon outdoor scribe Bill Monroe in a story of tragedy and lessons learned.

  • The story is a must-read for anyone planning to pilot a a fishing boat over the infamous rough water caused by the surge of the Columbia River meeting the tides of the Pacific Ocean.

“And at least some of the five survivors from a capsizing on the world's trademark-for-treachery ocean crossing owe their lives to his caution – a lesson learned on the cusp of a predicted stellar coastwide ocean salmon season and record run past Buoy 10,” Monroe reported.

Lt. Scott McGrew, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard station at Cape Disappointment, said the accident is under investigation. He credited Sweeney and his crew with saving lives before his 47-footers could get to the scene.

Spokane River access open at stateline site

WATERSPORTS — A launch site for drift boats, paddling craft and rafts has been remodeled and reopened at the stateline just downstream from the I-90 Bridge.

The Stateline access site includes parking and native landscaping planted by the Spokane Conservation District and volunteer groups on 800 feet of shoreline, said Andy Dunau of Spokane River Forum.

The forum has  details about this access site and others on the Spokane River Water Trail website.

Another 3-day Grande Ronde spring chinook season set

FISHING — The lower Grande Ronde River will re-open for an additional three days of fishing for spring chinook salmon Saturday through Monday from the Highway 129 Bridge upstream approximately 12 miles to the farthest upstream Oregon/Washington boundary line.

Last week the stretch was opened for a test fishery for the first time in 40 years. Fewer anglers than expected showed up, so Oregon and Washington decided to try again. There’s hatchery fish there and they want them caught!

Anglers will have a daily catch limit of SEVEN hatchery chinook salmon (marked by a clipped adipose fin), only TWO of which can be adult chinook. Anglers must stop fishing for the day when they reach their daily limit of adult hatchery chinook salmon.

In addition, anglers must use barbless hooks no larger than 5/8 inch from point to shank. A night closure also is in effect.

Anglers cannot remove any chinook salmon from the water unless it is retained as part of the daily catch limit.

The Grande Ronde River fishery is co-managed by Washington and Oregon under concurrent fishing regulations.

Return tags in salmon, steelhead for $25

FISHING — Area fishermen can get a $25 bonus if they catch a fish with a radio telemetry tag in the Snake, Columbia or Willamette Rivers.

Just return the tag to University of Idaho researchers and the check's in the mail.

The tagged fish are part of an ongoing effort to boost stocks of steelhead trout, chinook salmon and Pacific lamprey.  The small tags monitor fish behavior and distribution.

The tags range in size from about three inches to smaller than a dime and can be detected by the presence of a wire from the fish's mouth or body. All but the smallest bear a UI label to assist in identification.

“The best way for anglers to return transmitters for cash reward is through our website” said Chris Caudill, leader of the project. “There is a pdf form to fill out and then return to UI. The return of transmitters to UI by anglers, hatcheries, agency personnel and others provides critical data on the final fate and location of the radio-tagged fish.”

UI researchers say the return of the transmitters is essential to supporting the goals of the project, which include:

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of fish ladders designed and built specifically for Pacific lamprey, an important native fish species. These lamprey passage systems were designed in collaboration with NOAA-Fisheries, the US Army Corps of Engineers and UI College of Natural Resources graduate students. They were installed at Bonneville and John Day dams on the Columbia River. This study aims to increase successful lamprey migrations through passageways at hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. If successful, dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers may install fish ladders in the new design, which may increase Pacific lamprey that are important to the heritage and culture of the region's indigenous Indian tribes.
  • Radio-tagging and monitoring adult salmon and steelhead at lower Columbia and Snake River dams. Data gathered through radio telemetry will help scientists determine how modification to dams affects passage and fates of the adult fish throughout the Federal Columbia River Power System.
  • Radio-tagging and monitoring Chinook salmon and steelhead to determine migration patterns and pre-spawn mortality rates in the Willamette River Valley and its numerous tributaries with dams. Currently, many adult salmon reach spawning grounds, but die prior to reproducing for unknown reasons, potentially limiting productivity. The salmon and steelhead studies will contribute to regional salmon recovery efforts currently underway by regional, federal, state and tribal agencies.

This project is supported by a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and additional participants include: the UI Echohydraulics Research Laboratory in Boise, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Oregon State University's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

Idaho trails group targets Grouse Mountain trail

TRAILS —  The Idaho Trails Association is looking for volunteers to help out on a one-day project in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest northeast of Sandpoint next Wednesday (July 9).

“We will be constructing a puncheon walkway to go over a bog hole about a mile from the summit of Grouse Mountain,” said project leader Phil Hough. “When completed the bridge will help make hiker access easier, safer and decrease impact on the landscape.”

Volunteers will enjoy a moderately strenuous three-mile hike on the Grouse Mountain Trail through lush forests with filtered views to get to the project site. Afterwards a short climb to a great outlook will provide stunning panoramas as a reward.

“We like to combine some moderately hard work with some moderately hard hiking and some killer views” Hough said Phil Hough.

Hough and his wife and hiking partner Deb Hunsicker found snow when they scouted the route more than a week ago, but the white stuff should be gone and replaced with wildflowers by July 9.

Send your kids to “wildlife” camp near Coeur d’Alene

NATURE — WREN, a Coeur d'Alene-based environmental education and conservation nonprofit organization, is accepting applications for its July 11-12 wildlife camp for youths ages 11-13.

The campers will meet in Coeur d'Alene before heading to wildlife education field trips in the lower Coeur d'Alene River chain lakes one day and Farragut State Park on the other.

Instructors are professional wildlife biologists and educators.  Fun, hands-on activities include field trips, live raptors, a butterfly survey and outdoor games. 

A living history presentation about the animals Lewis & Clark discovered and other features are new for this year’s camp.  Students will also explore wildlife tracking and bird identification.  They will learn how scientists study wild animals and their habitats.  

Pre-registration is required.  Cost: $75. 

Info:Jenny Taylor, (208) 755-4216. 

Air Force helicopter rescues Marble Creek rafter

WATERSPORTS — The benefits of living near an Air Force Base with skilled rescue helicopter pilots have paid off for recreationists, most recently in a one-weekend blitz to help a Pacific Crest Trail hiker as well as a Spokane Valley rafter on a tributary to the St. Joe River.

Airmen from the 36th Rescue Flight answered the call to save not only one, but two lives in one weekend. We're just getting the details.

On June 13 at 5:30 p.m., the crew received a call that a kayaker was stranded 70 miles southeast of Fairchild Air Force Base, according to a report by Airman 1st Class Janelle Patiño of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs.

Within a few hours, the crew launched the UH-1N Huey and was enroute to the man's location.

Bart Rayniak, a retired Spokesman-Review photograher, had been kayaking near where Marble Creek flows into the St. Joe's River when his cataraft flipped, ejecting him into the cold water.

“There were some challenges that occurred during the rescue due to the weather, but the crew of Rescue 48 never gave up,” said Maj. Jennings Marshall, the 36th RQF commander. “At 8:30 p.m., Capt. Nate Jolls, a 36th RQF pilot, with the survivor on board, began an approach back toward the ambulance where Maj. Montsho Corppetts, a 336th Training Support Squadron medic, was waiting.”

“I was never able to truly thank my rescuers,” Rayniak told the base reporter. “They were so wonderful! They put their lives on the line to save mine. They were amazing flyers and crew. They were professional and caring. Damn good at what they do. I will always be grateful.”

A logging operation this year apparently has caused logs to slide into the river and increase the hazard for floaters during high water, the only time Marble Creek is navigable for rafts and kayaks.

  • Rayniak has not been available for further comment to the S-R.

Friends recovered his cataraft the next day. The video in the post below indicates the velocity of the water and the hazards in the Marble Creek posed by a logging operation. A look at this brief video explains why Rayniak couldn't just swim to safety even though he was fully decked out with dry suit and life vest.

Two days later, on June 15, the crew received a call at approximately 11:30 a.m. that there was an injured hiker along the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern Washington needing quick extraction.

“He had been walking along a steep and snowy section of the trail when he slipped and tumbled down the mountainside, hitting a tree and breaking several ribs,” Marshall said. “Fortunately, his hiking buddy was able to call for help.”

Capt. Erik Greendyke, the 36th RQF operations supervisor, worked with Marshall to assemble a crew. The crew then launched at 1 p.m. and followed the Methow River past Mazama, Wash., to the hiker's location.

“Other hikers prepared a bright orange tent along the ridgeline that helped us immediately identify the area with minimal searching,” Marshall said. “As soon as we rescued the injured hiker and his hiker buddy, the survivor was then loaded onto an ambulance with the help of Capt. Josiah Hart, the 36th RQF standardization and evaluation liaison officer, and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Poe, a 36th RQF special missions aviator, and departed for the hospital.”

Helicopter rescue operations can be dangerous, but the 36th RQF crews constantly train to maintain proficiency in rescue operations as part of the mission to support the Air Force's only Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school.

“We take great effort to ensure rescues are executed safely and with as little risk as possible,” Marshall said. “Our normal training missions take place at Fairchild and in the Colville National Forest and we have been tasked to perform civilian rescues throughout the Pacific Northwest in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.”

Finally, Glacier Park’s “Sun” road set to open

NATIONAL PARKS – Postponed by a late storm and flooding, the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is expected to be open to vehicle travel by this weekend, allowing access to Logan Pass.

While most snow removal efforts are being completed and snow above the road is being monitored and removed, road crews continue to sweep debris from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, install removable guard rails and road signage, and prepare the Logan Pass Visitor Center and area for opening. 

The park’s free, optional shuttle system that provides shuttle services along the Going-to-the-Sun Road will continue limited operations to The Loop on the west side, until the entire length of the road opens.

The west-side vehicle closure remains at Avalanche and the east-side closure remains at Jackson Glacier Overlook. Closures will continue at their respective locations until the entire length of the road is open to vehicle travel.

Hiker-biker access on the west side of the park is currently available from Avalanche to Bird Woman Overlook. There is no hiker-biker access on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road due to road rehabilitation work.   

  • Get information on the shuttle system,visit . 
  • Click here for current information on park roads, weather conditions, and visitor services.

Salmon fishing season opens on upper Columbia today

FISHING — Today is the first day of fishing for the good run of chinook and the forecast giant run of sockeye salmon headed to the upper reaches of the Columbia River.

Chinook, unmolested by fishing lures, have been swimming over Priest Rapids Dam at a rate of 2,000 a day. Sockeye are getting their legs.

Where are you?

Lawsuit filed to protect lynx from Idaho traps

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the governor of Idaho and other state officials to halt trapping that can harm or kill Canada lynx, one of the rarest cats in the United States.

The lawsuit charges Gov. Butch Otter, the director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and members of the state Fish and Game Commission with violations of the Endangered Species Act resulting from state permitting that leads to trapping of lynx, a threatened species numbering as few as 100 animals in Idaho.

The state has not taken action to satisfy the previous complaints, the organizations said in filing the suit. The groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center.

The groups say increases in fur prices, especially for bobcat, have increased interest in trapping and cited at least three confirmed incidents of lynx being unintentionally trapped in the last two years.

The groups say the Idaho Department of Fish and Game should develop a conservation plan with measures to minimize incidental trapping of lynx. Such a plan would include restrictions on body-crushing and steel-jaw traps and snares, reporting requirements, and a daily trap check requirement throughout lynx habitat. They say similar lawsuits in Minnesota and Maine have led to such restrictions.

Last year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed more than 26 million acres of critical habitat across six states for the Canada lynx, which faces ongoing threats from habitat destruction and reduced snowpack from climate change.

Lynx are medium-sized, long-legged cats, ranging up to 24 pounds. They are generally nocturnal and well adapted to hunting snowshoe hare at high elevations.

The lawsuit, which was filed today in federal district court in Boise, can be read here.

Forest Service road work will cause delays near Pass Creek Pass

PUBLIC LANDS — National Forest travelers headed to the Pass Creek Pass area of the Colville National Forest, including the south trailhead for the Shedroof Divide and the Grassy Top Mountain trail, could experience delays this month on certain days.

The Forest Service and Border Patrol are doing heavy road maintenance on Forest Service Road 302 (Idaho) and Forest Service Road 22 (Washington).  This road system, known to locals and mapping as “Pass Creek Pass”, connects travelers between Nordman, Idaho, and Metaline Falls, Washington.

Although the road will remain open during construction, drivers may experience occasional 2-3 hour delays.

This project will improve the drivability, safety and drainage of this road system, says Jason Kirchner, Idaho Panhandles National Forest Spokesman.

Drivers are encouraged to use an alternate route due to the possibility of 2–3 hour delays (or longer), mostly during weekdays including:

  • July 1– July 3, 2014
  • July 7–July 9, 2014
  •  July 15– July 20, 2014

“The work will be only in Washington, but will take place on both the Colville and IPNF although the majority of the work will be on the IPNF side,” Kirchner said. “This is one of those areas where the IPNF slops over into Washington by a few miles. So, anybody approaching the trail heads at the top may experience delays from both sides, but mainly the IPNF side.”

“We recognize the importance of this route for the pubic traveling between Washington and Idaho to recreate in the northern portions of the Priest Lake and Newport Ranger Districts” noted Matt Davis, Priest Lake District Ranger.  “Over the course of the next two months the Forest Service in conjunction with the Border Patrol contractors will be working to improve the road for the overall safety of the public.”

Info: Sandpoint Ranger District at (208) 263-5111 or the Priest Lake Ranger District at (208) 443-6839.

Northern pike can’t get food stamps

FISHING — An angler took a shot at me in the Sunday Sports Letters regarding my Thursday column updating the northern pike suppression effort on the Pend Oreille River downstream from Newport. 

That's fine. All opinions are welcome.

But he insinuates that I “didn't tell you” something. 

Actually, I expected anglers to understand that if northern pike were left to proliferate in the river with consumption rates of more than 17 million forage fish a year, ultimately they would deplete the food base not only for themselves but also for the largemouth and smallmouth bass that anglers enjoy catching.

Leaving the non-native pike population to go unchecked had a brief window of excitement and prosperity and was already beginning to deteriorate into a lose-lose deal for everyone when pike suppression was enacted.

Photo: Whitetail buck in velvet

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A promising sight to behold.

Thanks to Western Western Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson for this week's antler-development update.

Groups help state acquire Plum Creek lands in Cascades

PUBLIC LANDS — The Nature Conservancy has purchased 1,280 acres of timberland from Plum Creek in the Manastash area west of Ellensburg, and transferred it to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to be managed as part of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.

This acquisition is the most recent in a decade-long project to eliminate a “checkerboard pattern” of public and private land and create large blocks of public lands in the Cascade Mountains.

Partnerships including the state agency, TNC, the Yakama Nation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have brought more than 25,000 acres of private timberlands into public ownership as part of the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative.

The program assures public access to these lands as it heads off the possibility of the timber company selling the properties to private interests that could install locked gates.

“These particular sections are full of streams and tributaries that flow into the Yakima River,” TNC says in a media release. “Conserving this forest will protect valuable river habitat for wildlife as well as ensure water downstream for people, fish, and the rich agriculture of the Yakima Valley.

Plum Creek has played an important role in keeping these forests intact while the Conservancy brought together financing to bring them into public ownership.

  • “Protecting the streams and forests in this region supports the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Plan, assuring water for people, salmon, wildlife and farms into the future,” said Mike Stevens, Washington state director for The Nature Conservancy.
  • “Plum Creek recognizes the public benefits of this project and is pleased to participate in the partnership that achieved this important conservation outcome,” said Jerry Sorensen, senior director of land management for Plum Creek.
  • “Together, we’re ensuring that the public will continue to have access to this land for fishing, hunting, hiking and camping,” said Mike Livingston, Southcentral Region director for WDFW. “This diverse habitat supports threatened and endangered species such as bull trout, steelhead, spotted owls and wolves, as well as big-game such as mule deer and elk.”

The Washington Department of Ecology provided funding for this project through its Office of Columbia River.

Sinlahekin wildlife celebration has eye on critters tiny to large

WILDLIFE — The 75th anniversary celebration for Washington’s first wildlife area – the Sinlahekin in northcentral Okanogan County near Loomis– continues with free public field trips and presentations on butterflies, bats, deer and more on Saturday and Sunday, July 5-6.

Sponsored by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the July 5-6 sessions are the second in the “Explore the Sinlahekin – Past and Present” summer weekend series on the area’s fauna, flora, geology and history.

Sessions are led by scientists, researchers, and experts from colleges and universities and other natural resource management agencies, along with WDFW staff.

Saturday's offerings include a butterfly tour and programs on grassland ecology, “Predators, Parasitoids, Pollinators and Pretty Insects,”  “Deer and Moose,” and ending with an evening program on bats.

Sunday's activities include a butterfly tour and programs on “Restoring Altered Habitat,” “Dragonflies and Damselflies,” and “Deer and Moose.”                    

The Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, which covers 14,314 acres west of U.S. Highway 97 between Loomis and Conconully, was established in 1939 to protect winter range for mule deer. The first parcels of mule deer winter range were purchased with revenue from a federal tax on hunting arms and ammunition. The area’s diversity of fish and wildlife today draws not just hunters and fishers, but also wildlife watchers, hikers, campers, and other outdoor recreationists.

Travel: Riverboat Cruise Brings Columbia River History to Life

    For history lovers, like me, there is something deeply important about following the footsteps of the men and women who came before us. That’s often what compels us to travel, to put ourselves in the place where important things—significant events that shaped the world we live in now—happened. 


    Here in the Northwest we are especially fortunate. With vast undeveloped stretches of plains and prairies, dense forests and ranges of jagged mountains, much of the landscape is no different that it was when the first explorers moved into the area. Here, you can step into a landscape that, in places, has changed very little since the first people, and later the first explorers, arrived. 


    That’s why I boarded Un-Cruise Adventures S. S. Legacy in Portland for a small-ship heritage voyage up the Columbia and Snake rivers. This was a bucket-list trip for me. I’ve driven along the Columbia, taken the train through the gorge, flown over it by plane and helicopter. But I’d never explored the area the way it was originally done: by river. 


    It’s hard to imagine the Columbia River, although known and deeply important to Native Americans, was not discovered until the 1700s. and it was almost another century before a fur trader by the name of Robert Gray first sailed into it and named the fierce river for his ship—the Columbia Rediviva. And that it was still a mystery when Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery in 1804. 


    From the moment we boarded the replica coastal cruiser, before we even cruised out of Portland and the greenness of the Pacific Northwest, we were steeped in history. We were met by costumed guides and interpreters and they continued to bring to life the stories of the men and women who settled the area as we moved upriver. 


    At the first dam, the Bonneville Dam (there would be seven more locks and dams on the journey) we are still surrounded by forest and miles of fertile land rising up to meet mountains that look like giant thorns piercing the low clouds. We leave the ship to tour the dam and fish ladders.


    At The Dalles, the end of the Oregon Trail, things began to change. We entered the high desert that covers so much of central and south-central Oregon and Washington. Green gives way to gold. 


    My husband and I spent hours on the top deck, taking it all in, watching freight trains wind along tracks beside the swift, opaque green water of the river, long ribbons of cargo shuttling goods between ports and cities. The sun was high and hot in an endless blue sky laced with contrails and dotted with fat white clouds. 


    Each day we saw more and learned more. We read books from the ship’s library and listened as our guides put human faces on the stories of settling of the West, the area’s importance in wars and commerce. 


    We ate well, gathering for gourmet meals, and socialized well, gathering again for cocktails. We made friends and shared stories with the other passengers, many of whom have led fascinating lives.


    We rode jet boats up the Snake River, deep in the gorge that still bears the evidence of the geological turbulence that created it. 


    We visited Walla Walla, the small city that was once considered the “Paris of the West” delving into the personal stories of the men and women who lived, loved and died there. We tasted the sweet onions that put Walla Walla on the map and the outstanding wines that have reinvented the area and put the wine world on notice.


    We climbed the Astoria Column for a spectacular view and visited Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark rode out a stretch of bad weather so miserable it became part of the history of the area.


    By the time we’d made the round trip back to Portland—back through the series of locks and dams—like Lewis and Clark, we’d made a journey of discovery.


    We live in the Northwest but walking down the gangplank, heading back home, we knew much more about this beautiful part of the country than we did when we’d set out. We’d seen familiar territory with a new view, from the deck of the beautiful ship that carried us, and we’d followed the footsteps of the first people and the wagon trails of those who paved the roads and opened the doors to let us follow.



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





Graham Mountain hike overlooks Silver Valley

HIKING — It's called Coal Creek Trail No. 41, leading up, steeply up in some places, roughly 6 miles from the North Fork Coeur d'Alene River road to Graham Mountain, elev. 5727 feet, overlooking the Silver Valley.

Great views from a former fire lookout sight, looking across to Silver Mountain, up the I-90 corridor to lookout Pass and Stevens Peak.

Trailhead is 12.5 miles up the paved North Fork road from the Kingston Exit off I-90.

Hike is 11 miles round trip with 3,420 feet of elevation gain.

Hiking up to a fire lookout side is almost always worth the effort.


Little Spokane River shuttle starts July 5

WATERSPORTS — No more worrying about getting a lift back to your car at the put-in on Saturdays in July and August.

Ice Age Floods center opens with festival at Dry Falls

GEOLOGY — The Dry Falls Visitor Center south of Coulee City, Washington, will open Saturday, June 28, with a new exhibit and a festival celebrating the unique geologic heritage of Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park.

The annual Flood Fest, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday highlights the Ice Age floods that carved the channeled scablands of Eastern Washington.

Educational stations will be staffed by event partners, including the National Park Service, Ice Age Floods Institute, Coulee Corridor Consortium, Bureau of Reclamation and David Shapiro, author of the popular children’s book “Terra Tempo.” New this year will be the Birds-of-Prey station where visitors can view a live golden eagle and great horned owl.

Three guest speakers are scheduled to present in the Dry Falls Visitor Center Theater:

10 a.m.—Nick Zentner, professor of geology at Central Washington University, discusses how the Grand Coulee and channeled scablands were formed.

1:30 p.m.—Bruce Bjornstad, geologist with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, discusses the extremely diverse topography created by Ice Age Floods.

3 p.m.— Dr. Robert Weaver, professor of biology at Central Washington University, educates visitors about the reptiles and amphibians that call Grand Coulee home.

On Sunday, June 29, geologist Bruce Bjornstad will guide a kayak tour of Deep Lake to explore the local geology of Dry Falls of the Grand Coulee by water. The tour will begin at 9 a.m. at the Deep Lake boat launch in Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park. Participants will need to supply their own watercraft and life jackets for this event.

“New Interpretations of the Ice Age Floods” Exhibit Opening

During this year’s Flood Fest the Dry Falls Visitor Center will host a noon-time grand opening of a new exhibit, “New Interpretations of the Ice Age Floods.” The exhibit explores the geologic history of the Grand Coulee from multiple perspectives, with a focus on the pioneering field work of J. Harlen Bretz and the resulting Ice Age flood debate of the 20th century. The exhibit was developed in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and members of the Ice Age Floods Institute.

A Discover Pass is required to park at the visitor’s center and the boat launch. For more information about the pass.

About the Dry Falls Visitor Center and Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park

The Dry Falls Visitor Center opened to the public in 1966 and serves as a primary destination along the four-state Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail. Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is 4,027-acre camping park located in the heart of the Grand Coulee. The state park offers opportunities to explore this remarkable National Natural Landmark by foot, bike, boat and vehicle.

The visitor center offers Friday night movies and weekend interpretive programs and nature hikes. Visitor Center hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily during the summer months. 

More information about and directions to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park.