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49 Degrees North ski passes honored by other resorts

WINTERSPORTS — Season pass holders at 49 Degrees North aren't being left out in the warm-er than normal weather that's forced the northeastern Washington resort to shut down lifts until more snow falls.

While waiting for winter to return to the mountain, several other resorts are honoring 49 Degrees 2014-15 season passes.

You can enjoy 3 FREE DAYS of skiing at Bluewood and Mission Ridge and 5 FREE DAYS at White Pass.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which has fired up snow-making equipment, is offering 49 Degrees pass holders 1 FREE DAY TICKET through March 6.  Check in at the Guest Services counter.

  • Be sure to check on current conditions before heading to any of the resorts in the Northwest.

Bald eagles Marching into quality family time

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles are mating and getting their families started. This video clip from a Hanover, Penn., web cam aimed at an eagle nest shows an eagle pair making a quick change of guard as they incubate eggs in cold February weather.

Good parenting examples, eagles.


Clearwater Collaborative says working together works

PUBLIC LANDS — The Clearwater Basin Collaborative, a working group of various interests, from recreation and conservation to the timber industry, has issued a report listing its accomplishments in working out management issues for the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forests.

Even though some will say they come up short, the accomplishments are much more impressive than management gridlock.

Following is my summary of the summary just posted by the Collaborative's office:

Title IV of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 established the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.  The legislation provided funding authority for the Secretary of Agriculture to request up to $40 million annually from fiscal years 2009-2019 to implement major ecological restoration treatments on national forest system lands. 

The legislation required proposals be developed collaboratively.

The Clearwater Basin Collaborative, formally convened by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo in 2008, is a group of individuals with diverse interests who work primarily with the Forest Service to develop solutions to complex natural resource issues in north-central Idaho. 

The Nez Perce and Clearwater Forests recognized the opportunity for a new approach to land management.  Partnerships were formed to pen a proposal to restore conditions within the 1.4-million-acre Selway-Middle Fork ecosystem.  The proposal was comprehensive and unique because it included a landscape that swept across areas of intensive management into the vast, wild Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

The Selway-Middle Fork project was one of 10 selected nationally and, from fiscal years 2010-2014, has received more than $16 million to implement restoration activities.  Matching contributions of nearly $13.2 million have been generated in the form of money, products and in-kind services over the same period.

The money was a windfall essential to accomplishing mission-critical work in an era of shrinking agency budgets. 

“Motorized enthusiasts, hikers, anglers, hunters, private landowners, youth and woods workers have all benefited from restoration activities associated with this program,” said Joe Hudson, Moose Creek District ranger.

Highlights include:

  • 17,000 acres of weeds have been treated using a variety of methods from 2010 through 2014.  Many of these treatments occurred at trailheads or along trails that access the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
  • Watershed improvements include more than 63 miles of stream improvements, the replacement of 15 culverts that were undersized and/or prevented fish passage, and decommissioning of more than 66 miles of unneeded roads. The work was done in partnership with the Nez Perce Tribe
  • 47 miles of roads have been improved and 729 miles maintained, helping to reduce sediment getting to area streams. 
  • 3,500 miles of trail have been maintained and improved since 2010. Much of the work also reduces sediment moving into streams.
  • Timber thinning to reduce national forest fuels that would sustain wildfire have helped protect private landowners, particularly near Lowell and Syringa. More than 65,000 acres have been treated, reducing the likelihood of intense wildfires within treatment areas.
  • Vegetative restoration treatments contributed to commercial forest products beneficial to local communities.  So far, more than 48 MMBF (million board feet) of commercial timber have been sold within the CFLR area, and more than 16.5 MMBF harvested.  Smaller diameter materials and biomass have been removed whenever possible and used by a number of local businesses to produce commercial products such as posts, pellets and paper products.
  • People benefited directly from the programs, including the Clearwater Basin Youth Conservation Corps, providing employment and natural resource on-the-job training for six young people in 2013 and another 20 in 2014.  Plans are underway to continue and possibly expand the program in 2015.
  • Jobs created by the programs peaked in 2013 with more than 70 local jobs created or maintained related to commercial forest product activities.  Another 80 jobs were created or maintained in association with other restoration activities.  These numbers are expected to increase as larger-scale vegetative restoration activities are approved.

A 60-person monitoring advisory group comprised of citizens, academia, interest groups, agencies and the Nez Perce Tribe is keeping an eye on the programs.


Corps completes dredging in Snake-Clearwater rivers

RIVERS — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today completed maintenance dredging in the barging channel and two port berthing areas in the Snake and Clearwater rivers where accumulated sediment had interfered with navigation.

"Dredging was performed to meet a current immediate need to re-establish the federal navigation channel to its Congressionally authorized dimensions of 250 feet wide by 14 feet deep at Minimum Operating Pool (MOP) elevation," the Corps said in a release.

Dredging began Jan. 12 after protests by fish-related groups and a court ruling about the environmental impacts of the project.

Maintenance dredging was completed this year in accordance with the Corps' comprehensive Programmatic Sediment Management Plan (PSMP) during the annual winter in-water work window, Dec. 15 through Feb. 28, when salmonid fish are less likely to be present in the river, although steelhead continue to move over the Snake River dams.

Maintenance dredging last occurred in the lower Snake River navigation channel in the winter of 2005-2006.

"Navigation on the lower Snake River is now safer," said Lt. Col. Timothy Vail, Walla Walla District Commander. "We considered potential alternatives, determined dredging was the only effective short-term tool for addressing problem sediment."

Dredging initially took place at the downstream lock approach of Ice Harbor Dam, then later on the Lower Granite Lock and Dam pool at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers in the Lewiston-Clarkston area, including Port of Lewiston and Port of Clarkston berthing areas.

The ports obtained their own dredging permits and paid for dredging of their berthing areas.

The Corps says dredged materials were used to construct additional shallow-water fish habitat near Knoxway Canyon (River Mile 116), about 23 miles downstream of Clarkston.

Free ‘Fishing Frenzy’ seminars set for Saturday

Six bass and walleye seminars are scheduled on Saturday, Feb. 28, during the February Fishing Frenzy at Spokane Valley Marine, 7915 E. Sprague Ave.  The presentations will be made by local anglers as well as Bassmaster pro John Murray.

The one-day event involves prize giveaways and seminars, including:

9 a.m. – Bass fishing with David Slater.

9:45 a.m. – Walleye fishing with Greg Koch.

10:30 a.m. – Bass fishing with Tyler Brinks.

Noon – Free pizza lunch.

1:30 p.m. – Bass pro fishing with John Murray.

2:45 p.m. – Lowrance electronics with Mike Pentony.

Plastic bits in steelhead’s gut worries angler

FISHING — Somebody's trashing our fisheries. Something to think about next time you're tempted to buy bottled water or vote on a plastic bag law.

B.C. angler snags steelhead, finds guts filled with plastic
A British Columbia man who caught a steelhead last week on the Vedder River found several pieces of plastic inside the fish when he cut it open, and he put out the call to see if other anglers had similar experiences. Dr. Peter Ross, director of the ocean pollution research program at the Vancouver Aquarium, said it's likely the steelhead ingested the plastic in the ocean.
—Calgary Herald

Alberta grizzlies fond of highway crossings for wildlife

WILDLIFE — Here's more support for highway crossings for wildlife that are showing up in projects around Washington and Idaho:

Research finds grizzly bears prefer overpasses in park in Alberta
Bow Valley-based scientist Tony Clevenger has released his findings of 17 years of study on grizzly bear use of overpasses and underpasses in Banff National Park, which revealed that grizzly bears generally prefer overpasses to underpasses.
— Rocky Mountain Outlook

Report: Oregon wolves multiplied, expanded in 2014

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Oregon has released its draft 2014 Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Annual Report and it's available online.

The report, required by the federal government for states dealing with gray wolf recovery, includes the 2014 update for Oregon’s Wolf Population.

  • Nine wolf packs and six new pairs of wolves were documented in Oregon in 2014.
  • Oregon’s minimum known wolf population at the end of 2014 was 77 wolves, including eight breeding pairs.

At the end of 2013, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials estimated a minimum of 64 wolves in the state in eight packs including four breeding pairs.

Washington is still working on its 2014 surveys and report.  Officials say lack of snow for tracking and boosting aerial surveys has made it more difficult than usual to evaluate the state's wolf population.

Ice Age Floods experts set programs, field trips, hikes

GEOLOGY — There's no better way to soak up the science and history of how the Inland Northwest landscape was shaped than to join in some of the events scheduled this season by area geologists and experts in the Ice Age Floods.

The Cheney-Spokane Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute has a excellent schedule of events ranging from lectures and field trips to a rugged hike. Check them out.

MARCH 12 —  Free lecture, “The Incredible Shrinking Glacial Lake:  A Nonfiction Account of the Rise and Downfall of Glacial Lake Columbia,” 7 p.m.,  Eastern Washington University Science Building, Room 137, in Cheney.

Earth scientist, Michael McCollum presents the incredible story, 20,000 years in the making. He'll describe a 3,000 year onslaught by catastrophic Floods whose sediments finally overtook the lake’s accommodation space and the continuing assault by incremental headward erosion of the southwest bedrock battlements at Grand Coulee, followed by the final betrayal in which global warming caused the disappearance of the once supportive Okanogan ice lobe. 

MARCH 14 — Hike (rated "most difficult"), Palouse Canyon to Palouse Falls, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., covers 8 miles on and off trail. Begins under railroad bridge near Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery, near Washtucna, Washington. 

Leaders Lloyd Stoess and Gene Kiver, emphasize the Ice Age Floods story as well as Native American and settlement history. Participants must be in good shape, with no serious heart or vertigo problems, and capable of hiking at least 3 miles on rugged terrain without a break. Fee: $10 for students/teachers, $20 for chapter members and  $30 for non-members. 

MAY 8 — Free lecture, “Lower Grand Coulee and Crab Creek Floodways,” 7 p.m., JFK Library Auditorium, EWU Campus, Cheney

Gene Kiver, who taught geology at EWU for 32 years, will give an overview of the Missoula Floods through the Grand Coulee and the merging with floodwaters that descended through the Telford-Crab Creek Scabland.  A complex of minor coulees occur along Interstate 90 and other areas.  Scabland features of note include large flood bars, giant current ripples, and recessional cataract canyons.

MAY 9 — Spring field trip, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Gene Kiver and Bruce Bjornstad, authors of the field guide "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods," are the guides and lecturers on deluxe buses to sites of Ice Age Floods features through Lower Grand Coulee.  A fee is charged.

OTHER TRIPS coming up, with more details to be posted on the local chapter website include:

May 31, Saturday, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.  “Floods, Flowers, and Feathers Festival” at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Cheney.  This is a free public event.

June 2, Tuesday, 7-9 p.m., Vic Baker will lecture at Spokane Community College, The Lair Auditorium.

Sep. 19, Saturday, IAFI Field Trip, Wenatchee.

Oct. 23, Friday, 7-9 p.m., IAFICS Membership Meeting and John Buchanan will lecture “Big, Bigger, Biggest:  A Comparative Look at Megafloods”

October —Two Hikes. Details to come.

Montana to survey Missouri River anglers

FISHING — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will interview anglers starting in March 2 on the Missouri River between Holter Dam and the town of Cascade to get a better idea of angler usage and their opinions about the popular trout fishing river.

The creel census will run through December. It will be the first in-person angler survey on the river since 2002.

A statewide mail-in creel survey also will be done this year.

Anglers at boat launches and along the river banks will be asked to answer a one-page questionnaire about catch rates, harvest rates, angler satisfaction, angler use and their opinion about the river’s fisheries management.

The blue-ribbon stretch of the Missouri runs about 33 miles and is the most popular trout fishing river in the state, based on the most recent data.

In 2013, the river recorded 170,850 angler days.

The second most popular river is the Bighorn River in southeast Montana with 138,474 angler days.

Report: Columbia salmon restoration won’t happen overnight

FISHING — Salmon recovery efforts in Washington appear to be making a difference – more salmon are returning home in some areas, although significant work remains – according to a new report released by the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office.

“Washington State has been investing in salmon recovery for more than a decade, and we are starting to see some results,” said Kaleen Cottingham director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, home of the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, which created the report and Web site. “That’s heartening. But we also see that we have a long way to go until all salmon species are healthy enough to be removed from the endangered species list,” she continued in a media release.

The newly released State of Salmon in Watersheds Executive Summary and interactive Web site show Washington’s progress in trying to recover the 15 populations declared as at risk of extinction by the federal government and listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Web site puts online live data from many sources around the state and offers interactive story maps from efforts statewide.

Some findings from the report:

  • Nearly half of the 15 salmon populations are increasing.
  • Measurements of the amount of water in streams and rivers show that majority of the monitoring stations assessed have stable or increasing flows. Having enough water in streams and rivers is important for keeping the water cool enough for salmon to thrive.
  • 75 percent of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hatchery programs meet or are expected to meet scientific standards to ensure conservation of wild salmon and steelhead, compared with only 18 percent of hatcheries meeting those standards in 1998.
  • Shoreline armoring in Puget Sound, through bulkheads and riprap, is increasing at a rate of about a mile a year. This substantially exceeds the amount of shoreline being restored. Hardening shorelines deprives young salmon of food and shelter.

Salmon recovery work has created nearly 7,500 jobs and generated $763 million in economic activity since 1999, said Brian Abbott, the executive coordinator for the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office. "Most of that money (80 percent) stays in the county where the restoration work occurred, which is a big help to the economies of rural communities.”

“We just have to recognize that recovering salmon isn’t going to happen overnight," Cottingham said. "Preserving salmon essentially helps us preserve our way of life. That’s worth the effort.”


Near Recovery Goal

  • Hood Canal summer chum
  • Snake River fall Chinook

Below Recovery Goal

  • Middle Columbia River steelhead
  • Lake Ozette sockeye
  • Snake River spring and summer Chinook
  • Upper Columbia River steelhead

     Consistently Low

  • Lower Columbia River fall Chinook
  • Lower Columbia River spring Chinook
  • Lower Columbia River steelhead
  • Snake River steelhead    


  • Lower Columbia River chum
  • Puget Sound Chinook
  • Puget Sound steelhead
  • Upper Columbia River spring Chinook

     Insufficient Data

  • Lower Columbia River coho

Idaho lawmakers vote 5-4 to protect wild big game

WILDLIFE — There's good news and bad news this morning for big-game hunters and wildlife lovers from the 2015 Idaho Legislature:

Thank God — The Senate Agriculture Committee voted today to reject a controversial rule change easing restrictions on importation of farmed elk into the state that brought warnings from state Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore of potential catastrophic impacts to Idaho’s wildlife herds.

The bad news:  The vote was only 5-4.

That means nearly half of the committee was willing to back a rule change sought by domestic elk ranchers at the risk of subjecting wild deer, elk and moose to a deadly parasitic worm.

Can a niche of agricultural interests have that much influence to threatened the entire Idaho hunting industry?

And what about big game in Montana and Washington, both of which could be subjected to meningeal worms if they were transmitted to Idaho game?

Apparently some parliamentary issues continue to dog this issue, so stay tuned.

And stay amazed that elected state lawmakers continue to undervalue the irreplaceable wildlife resources within Idaho borders.

New Mexico explores plan for 500-mile trail across state

TRAILS — Take note, Idaho, Montana and Washington:  When state legislators aren't wasting their time trying to take over federal lands, they have time to research positive advances for recreation and tourism, such as this:

New Mexico legislators launch effort to build 500-mile statewide trail
Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, introduced legislation Thursday to create a commission to study the best route for the proposed 500-mile Rio Grande Trail, that would stretch across New Mexico from Colorado to Texas and pass through the state's scenic areas, monuments and cultural areas.
—Durango Herald

Utah mule deer hunt auctioned for record $390K

HUNTING — A bidder from Canada has set a world record high of $390,000 for the right to hunt one mule deer buck at a Utah state park in November.

"Antelope Island’s big mule deer bucks continue to produce big bucks of the green kind" for state wildlife management programs, writes Brett Prettyman of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Troy Lorenz, a 24-year-old guide from Prince George, British Columbia, made the winning bid during the annual Western Hunting and Conservation Expo held at the Salt Palace Convention Center last weekend.

“Some of the money raised from the auctions helps us run the show, but the majority of it goes to conservation projects to help all wildlife,” said Miles Moretti, president and CEO the Salt Lake-based Mule Deer Foundation. “These auctions are helping to conserve wildlife across the country.”

In all, bids for the Antelope Island mule deer hunt have generated more than $1.4 million for wildlife conservation on the preserve in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.

The Mule Deer Foundation hosts the expo in partnership with Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. The show draws hunting outfitters from across the world.

Here are more details about the hunting permit, the staggering bid and where the money goes from Prettyman's report:

In the auctions, well-heeled hunters spend vast sums of money for the chance to kill trophy animals. Antelope Island State Park’s mule deer herd is not included in Utah’s deer hunt, so the bucks live longer and grow much larger racks.

Last weekend’s hunting permit auctions generated $2.17 million.

Lorenz, according to Expo officials, also was the winning bidder for a statewide mule deer hunting tag in Arizona. That pricetag: $320,000.

Among the bidders for the vaunted Antelope Island mule deer tag was Denny Austad of Idaho. For three years running, Austad had made the winning bid for the permits. In all, he spent $775,000 for the chance to kill a buck each year. Austad also owns the previous world record for a mule deer hunt auction — $310,000 set in 2013 in Utah.

For years, public criticism quashed a proposed mule deer trophy hunt on Antelope Island State Park. But proponents of the hunt eventually went to Utah’s Capitol Hill and convinced lawmakers to mandate a hunt for both mule deer and bighorn sheep in the fall of 2011.

This year, the high bid for a bighorn sheep tag was $85,000. A moose permit drew a record bid of $90,000 at the Expo.

Just two tags are awarded for each species — including one permit open to the public through a lottery.

At the time they created the hunt, Utah legislators required that 90 percent of the money raised from the deer and bighorn auction permits be used for conservation efforts on the island. The other 10 percent goes to the organizers of the auction for costs associated with hosting the event.

The acutions have been so successful, just about a third of the conservation funding has been used.

Antelope Island State Park manager Jeremy Shaw said the money has been spent on a variety of projects and that none has been used as part of the park’s operating budget.

Projects range from restoring freshwater springs to installing water catchments to planting native species, including sagebrush and Mexican cliffrose.

“There is no way we could have done the number of conservation projects on the island that we have without this money,” Shaw said.

Other money has been spent transplanting 200 mule deer from the island to other Utah locations over the past two years. Biologists also attached radio collars to those deer as part of a research project to see how do after being moved.

Those transplants helped bring the island closer to a population objective of 350 to 450 mule deer. Shaw said the current population is roughly 500 animals, but the number increases during hard winters because deer from other areas migrate to the island.

The park manager cautions that the conservation money is not co-mingled with other state park funds.

“There is a perception out there that the hunting permit money is keeping Antelope Island around. All that money is used on conservation,” Shaw said. “We have our own operating budget and we make money each year. The auction money does help with the range conditions, but we don’t need it to run.”

Mule Deer Foundation and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources managers have questioned if the 26,000-acre park ever will be able to use the always-increasing pool of reserved money.

But Utah State Parks director Fred Hayes said lawmakers would have to approve a change in the funding stream to allow money generated by Antelope Island hunting permits to be used on conservation projects in other parts of the state.

Spokane Safari Club conservation banquet March 7

CONSERVATION – The Inland Empire Chapter of Safari Club International will hold its 33rd annual benefit dinner and auction on March 7 at the Mirabeau Park Hotel in Spokane Valley.

The banquet includes door prizes and a variety of raffles and auctions with chances to win firearms, domestic and international hunting and fishing trips, furniture, art and more. 

Organizers say more than 70 percent of the proceeds go to educational programs, scholarships for students working toward degrees in conservation, veterans and physically disabled outdoor activities, humanitarian aid, hunter-rights activities and local projects like tours through the Little Spokane River Fish Hatchery.  

Make reservations online at iesci.org.

Contact: Brenda West at (208) 660-5462 or Brenda.west05@gmail.com.

Idaho plan seeks to protect sage grouse habitat

THREATENED SPECIES —  The effort continues to avoid the restrictions that would go along with having an endangered native bird on western prairies.

The Idaho Department of Lands has put forward a draft plan to protect sage grouse habitat on state endowment land as part an effort to avoid a federal listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

The state agency that manages more than 2.4 million acres last week released the 33-page document that’s intended to guide activities on the nearly 700,000 acres of state land deemed important habitat for the football-sized bird, according to the Associated Press.

The plan has critics, especially regarding its guidelines for grazing.

The state agency is taking comments on its Proposed Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan through March 2. Later in March, the Idaho Land Board and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will vote on whether to approve the plan.

According to the AP:

The plan aims to protect habitat by creating enforceable stipulations in state leases, permits and easements. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will likely take Idaho’s plan into consideration when the agency makes a decision about listing sage grouse. That decision is expected in the fall.

“What the Service is looking for is mechanisms that provide certainty,” said Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of Lands. “Just saying we’re going to do something without having mechanisms to make sure they get done won’t work.”

Idaho’s plan covers an array of activities that occur on state lands. Those include solar, wind and geothermal energy projects as well as oil and gas exploration and development. Mining and grazing are also covered as is the granting of rights of way. Also included are fire prevention and mitigation efforts to minimize loss of sage grouse habitat.

Agency officials said the plan complements Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s sage grouse plan he submitted for federal officials to consider as the government eyes protections. A listing could have ramifications for agriculture and energy, possibly damaging the economies of the 11 Western states where the bird resides.

In Idaho, about 10.5 million acres are designated either core or important sage grouse habitat. Of those 10.5 million acres, about 700,000 acres are Idaho endowment lands, or about 6.5 percent.

While Idaho endowment land with sage grouse habitat represents a small percentage of sage grouse habitat overall, the 700,000 acres nonetheless represent 44 percent of endowment rangeland in Idaho. So a sage grouse listing would likely decrease how much money the state can produce from its endowment rangelands.

The money generated from endowment land mostly goes to public schools. The Idaho Department of Lands is tasked with producing the most amount of money from the endowment land over the long run. That means the state agency is now trying to find a way to meet its mandate while also protecting sage grouse habitat.

“It’s a balance,” Schultz said, “but we think in the long run avoiding a listing is a good thing. If the bird gets listed, we will still have to have a strategy where we do not take birds.”

Schultz said his agency doesn’t have authority over private land but the agency’s plan contains conservation measures for private landholders that will be voluntary. A listing of sage grouse would also require private land owners to avoid activities that harm the bird or its habitat.

Travis Bruner of Western Watersheds Project, a conservation group based in central Idaho, said the plan lacks credibility when it comes to cattle grazing.

The plan states that, “Grazing has been determined to not be a primary threat to sage-grouse in Idaho.” The plan also calls for targeted grazing to reduce fire fuels and the use of grazing to help restore areas burned in rangeland fires.

“They seem to deny that there are any negative impacts at all on sage grouse due to grazing,” Bruner said. “That’s contrary to science.”

The state agency is taking comments on its Proposed Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan through March 2. Later in March, the Idaho Land Board and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will vote on whether to approve the plan.

Veterinarians to Idaho: Don’t risk importing parasitic worm with farmed elk

UPDATE:  Click here for news on the committee's Feb. 24 vote.

WILDLIFE — Despite adamant opposition and warnings by the Idaho Fish and Game Department director, the Idaho Legislature is continuing to pursue a controversial proposal that would ease restrictions on importing and transferring farm-raised elk that could expose wild deer, elk and moose to a deadly parasitic worm.

The rule change is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday in the Idaho Legislature's Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.

This is not just an Idaho issue. Meningeal worms are a problem some scientists have dubbed as "ebola for wildlife."

If the committee approves the rule change, the ramifications will be potentially catastrophic to wild cervids and domestic animals, particularly white-tailed deer as well as mule deer, big horn sheep, exotic deer, elk, moose, caribou, llamas, alpacas, sheep and goats.

If Idaho gets meningeal worm, Washington State will be exposed, too.

Making this change in Idaho is nuts, considering that elk ranchers have safer alternatives.

  • The West just recently has had its eyes reopened to the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease in farmed elk in Utah as well as in Alberta.

This is not a time to roll the dice with a possible travesty that has no known cure for wild big-game populations. 

Don't take my word for it, or just the word of IFG director Virgil Moore. Listen to a pair of Idaho veterinarians who have clearly spelled out their opposition to the rule change in the following letter they've sent to Idaho lawmakers.

A Perfect Storm: Brainworm in Idaho’s Wildlife & Legislature
By Drs. Olin & Karen Balch, Cascade, Idaho

As Valley County veterinarians, we are alarmed about Idaho’s legislative rule proposal to downgrade meningeal worm restrictions for elk importation from east of the 100th meridian, essentially the eastern half of the US.  Current Idaho regulations prohibit elk importation from meningeal worm endemic regions.  The Senate Agricultural Committee chaired by Sen. Jim Rice is scheduled to vote on this issue Tuesday.

Likely, few Idahoans are familiar with meningeal worm disease or Brainworm.   Briefly, adult meningeal worms live in the central nervous system of white-tailed deer (definitive host) without harming that species.  The life cycle involves larva excreted in white-tailed deer feces; the larva then matures to an infective stage in a snail or slug (intermediate host).  Deer or other forage browsers inadvertently ingest snails or slugs carrying the disease while feeding.  Brainworm as a species is so successful that 80% of white-tailed deer in some eastern locations are infected.  Unfortunately, the adult meningeal worm living in the CNS is neither treatable nor identifiable.

Successfulness of numerous elk reintroduction efforts in eastern US have been marred by documented Brainworm mortality from 3% in Michigan, 24% in Kentucky, to 50% in Pennsylvania.  Scientific studies conclusively prove that elk can perpetuate this disease by shedding infective larva but do not necessarily die from Brainworm.  Brainworm in elk and mule deer is devastating; Brainworm in moose is catastrophic.  Minnesota moose population plummeted so drastically that the 2013 and 2014 Minnesota moose hunting seasons were cancelled.

Idaho has arguably the biggest US concentration of cervid wildlife (deer, elk, and moose), all of which can be infected with Brainworm.  We have abundant white-tailed deer, and our species of snail and slugs are suitable intermediate hosts.  We have all the makings of a perfect storm: 

1) the definitive host, white-tailed deer,

2) the intermediate host, slugs and snails, and

3) huge herds of wild cervids as previously-unexposed, vulnerable bystanders.  

The match would be a meningeal-worm infected captive elk introduced into some Idaho elk farm visited by white-tailed deer.  Once Idaho white-tailed deer are infected, Brainworm will be an unquenchable wildfire in Idaho’s wild cervids.

Elk breeders apparently feel that their livelihood is imperiled by their inability to bring in fresh elk genetics from eastern US.  We question why A.I. (artificial insemination) would not be the safe solution for obtaining new elk genetics; although seemingly all eastern US elk are descendants of western Rocky Mountain elk transplants.

We are baffled by elk farmer’s insistence that it is discrimination that elk meningeal–worm import regulations are not as lenient as import requirements of domestic animals (such as llamas, sheep, and horses) which can also be Brainworm infected.  However, these domestic animals have not been shown to pass viable larva capable of perpetuating the disease. 

As veterinarians, we believe animal import requirements should not be a matter of “fairness” but rather a scientific matter of the species’ specific physiology, the specific disease manifestation in that species, and the transmissibility of the disease to other animals or humans.   For example, horses and cattle can become rabid and transmit that almost invariably fatal disease, but are not required to have proof of rabies vaccination for import into Idaho.   Is it discrimination that dog owners must rabies vaccinate and show proof of vaccination to enter Idaho when similar requirements do not exist for owners of horses and cattle?

We are also baffled why state legislators are so willing to jettison the official June 23, 2014, written advice of IDFG Director Moore:  “It is imperative that the prohibition be maintained.”

Another live tree hacked along South Hill bluff trails

PUBLIC LANDS — Apparently we have an axe-swinging landscape terrorist on the loose who's getting some sort of warped pleasure from vandalizing live trees along the popular public trails on the South Hill bluff.

Another ponderosa pine was crudely hacked down in the last few days, says trails user Chris Lang, who snapped the photo above today near the first tree that was reported being hacked down below 37th and High Drive on Feb. 10.

The local group, Friends of the Bluff has done so much hard labor and work to maintain the trails and thin and prune the bluff forest to make the area less fire-prone.

But this tree-whacker apparently is no friend of the bluff.

These trees cannot be seen by homes along High Drive and are not in thick forested areas that are a still in need of planned and controlled thinning.

Keep an eye out for this jerk.

Tundra swans flocking to region’s open water

Updated with field report.

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Recent unseasonably warm weather has invited birds into the region, including tundra swans that are finding open water from eastern Washington into the Silver Valley of North Idaho.

Their migration farther north isn't likely to kick into high gear for awhile, but today there are a couple hundred tundra swans back at Killarney Lake along the Lower Coeur d'Alene River. 

Update Feb. 22:

Jay Groepper got the news above and made a beeline with his bike to check out the migration.  Here's his report:

Just got back from the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. Saw about 200 swans from Blackrock to Harrison on the trail and 600 to 700 on Killarney lake. Thanks for the tip!

Steelhead seasons changing in Upper Columbia tributaries

FISHING — Steelheading was opened today on another section of the Wenatchee River, but the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department says a section of the Methow River will close to steelheading on March 1.

Following are details on these and other Upper Columbia region rivers from the state agency, which regularly updates these types of changing regulations on its website.


  • Open an additional section of the Wenatchee River above Leavenworth on Feb. 21, 2015, to fishing for hatchery steelhead. 
  • Close a section of the Methow River in Winthrop on March 1, 2015, to fishing for steelhead. 

Fishing area locations and effective dates:

Areas that will open to fishing for steelhead one hour before sunrise on Feb. 21, 2015, until further notice include:

  • Wenatchee River:  From the Icicle River Road Bridge to 400 feet below Tumwater Dam.

Reason for changes:  Recent analysis of ongoing steelhead fisheries in the upper Columbia River shows that opening the new fishery in the upper basin will not exceed impact limits on natural-origin steelhead established by NOAA-Fisheries under section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act. Expanding the fishery on the Wenatchee River will increase fishing opportunities for hatchery steelhead, reduce the proportion of hatchery fish on the spawning grounds, and further reduce competition between natural origin and hatchery juvenile production.

Areas that will close to fishing for steelhead one hour after sunset on March 1, 2015, (Sunday) until further notice include:

  • Methow River:  From the upstream boundary of Heckendorn Park (across from East 20 Pizza) to the Highway 20 Bridge in Winthrop, WA.

Reason for changes: Closed area will be utilized by Winthrop National Fish Hatchery personnel to capture natural origin steelhead broodstock to meet hatchery production and genetic management goals.

Ongoing regulations:

Areas that will continue to be open for steelhead angling until further notice include:

  • Mainstem Columbia River:  From Rock Island Dam to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam.
  • Wenatchee River:  From the mouth to the Icicle Road Bridge, including the Icicle River from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam.
  • Entiat River:  From the mouth to approximately ½ mile upstream to a point perpendicular with the intersection of the Entiat River Road and Hedding Street.
  • Methow River:  From the mouth to the upstream boundary of Heckendorn Park in Winthrop and from Highway 20 bridge in Winthrop to the confluence of the Chewuch River. Fishing from a floating device is prohibited from the second powerline crossing (1 mile upstream from the mouth) to the first Hwy 153 Bridge (4 miles upstream from the mouth).
  • Similkameen River:  From the mouth to 400 feet below Enloe Dam.
  • Okanogan River:  From the mouth to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville.

Areas of the Okanogan River that will close to steelhead angling one hour after sunset Feb. 28, 2015, include:

  • Okanogan River: From the first power line crossing downstream of the Hwy 155 Bridge in Omak (Coulee Dam Credit Union Building) to the mouth of Omak Creek.
  • Okanogan River:  From the Tonasket Bridge (4th street) downstream to the Tonasket Lagoons Park boat launch.

General rules for all locations open to steelhead fishing:

  • Mandatory retention of hatchery steelhead, identified by a missing adipose fin with a healed scar at the location of the clipped fin.
  • Daily limit two (2) adipose fin clipped hatchery steelhead.
  • Selective gear rules and night closure are in effect for all steelhead fishery areas, except the use of bait is allowed on the mainstem Columbia River.
  • Adipose present steelhead must be released unharmed and cannot be removed from the water prior to release.
  • Release all steelhead with a floy (anchor) tag attached and/or one or more round 1/4 inch in diameter holes punched in the caudal (tail) fin.
  • Motorized vessels are not allowed on the Wenatchee and Icicle rivers (Chelan County ordinance 7.20.190 Motorboat restrictions). 

Other information: 

Anglers should be aware that fishing rules are subject to change and that rivers can close at any time due to impacts on natural origin steelhead. Adhering to the mandatory retention of adipose clipped steelhead is vital in allowing the fishery to continue and to provide the maximum benefit to natural origin fish.

All anglers must possess a valid fishing license and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement to participate in these fisheries. Revenue from the endorsement supports salmon or steelhead seasons on many rivers in the Columbia River system, including enforcing fishery regulations and monitoring the upper Columbia River steelhead fisheries. The endorsement has generated more than $1 million annually for WDFW to maintain and increase fishing opportunities throughout the Columbia River Basin.

Wolf bills debated in Washington Legislature

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  House and Senate committees in the 2015 Washington Legislature considered bills Wednesday to deal with the issue of livestock-killing wolves in eastern Washington, according to a report by Jacob Rummel of Washington State University's Murrow News Service

The bills are aimed at speeding up the distribution of wolves in the state so they can be declared "recovered" and "delisted" from state endangered species protections. 

Reports Rummel:

The wolf conservation and management plan adopted in 2011 by the Department of Fish and Wildlife requires three regions of the state to host at least four breeding pairs of wolves each. The eastern Washington region reached this goal before the other two regions.

"The distribution has not gone, I think, as the plan expected," said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, the primary sponsor of a bill that amends the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plan for wolf recovery. "We’ve got a huge number in one area of the state and they’re not dispersing as quickly as we hoped."

Under federal law, gray wolves are considered an endangered species in the western two-thirds of the state, but not in the eastern third. State law classifies gray wolves as endangered throughout the entire state.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said he has one constituent producer that lost 300 sheep to wolves. Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, said the wolf population is starting to become a problem in Kittitas County as well.

"The support for wolves is by and large on this (west) side of the mountains, where there are no wolves," Warnick said.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Natural Resource and Parks Committee both heard public testimony on Wednesday for bills that address the wolf population difficulties.

Opponents of the bills said it’s not yet the time to amend the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plan because it would unnecessarily disrupt the restoration of wolves in the state.

"What would be appropriate is some sort of funding for effective conflict avoidance measures that can keep wolves and livestock safe while this process moves forward," said Elizabeth Ruther, the Northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

Kretz’s bill would alter the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plan by changing the metric of success from the number of wolf breeding pairs to the number of wolf packs, but opponents of the bill said this metric is not accurate enough.

"After recovery I agree that tracking of breeding pairs will not be necessary," said Diane Gallegos, the executive director for Wolf Haven International.

Another bill considered in the Senate Natural Resource and Parks Committee would allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to take lethal action against wolves in specific instances after non-lethal prevention methods have been tried and failed. Warnick is a co-sponsor on this bill.

"Wolves, like other predatory animals, become acclimated and they will go after the least resistant food source," Warnick said. "So, when they discover livestock we need to try to discourage them."

Coffeepot Lake boat launch closed by low water

BOATING — Low water levels will prevent the boat launch at Coffeepot Lake from being opened to anglers when the lake's fishing season opens March 1.

U.S. Bureau of Land management officials say the unusually low water levels would lead to boat trailers getting stuck in the deep mud.

Small boats not requiring trailers can still be launched from the shoreline but larger boats will not be able to access the ramp. Recreation managers at the BLM’s Spokane District will reopen the boat launch when conditions improve.

“We want to get the word out to those who might be planning a fishing trip that the launch is closed so they can make alternative plans,” said Steve Smith, outdoor recreation planner for BLM’s Spokane District.  “Right now we need Mother Nature’s help in order to get the water levels back up!”

Low precipitation levels may be a factor as well as the lowering of the area's water table by deep-well irrigation, a practice that's become controversial in the region.

An alternative fishing site is the BLM’s nearby Upper Twin Lake just northeast of Coffeepot, where water levels are higher and the boat launch is open for trailered boats.  Both sites are located west of Harrington, Washington.

Both lake's have perch fishing, but Coffeepot — a quality fishing lake with special regulations and a ban on bait — is especially popular with fly fishers who cast for the lake's rainbow trout.

  • Click here for more information on Coffeepot Lake and Upper Twin Lake.

Video proof: Getting too close to moose is stupid

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Did I overstate the potential danger posed by loveable-looking moose in today's Outdoors column?

I think not, despite what a few readers said in email comments. I have video proof you can view at the end of this post.

First, check out this message from Cameron Hughes, who learned to respect moose for their size and dicey dispositions while living in Alaska:

Your "moose issues" article will hopefully help to enlighten some of the general public to leave moose alone!
I certainly understand the difficult decisions that the F&W Officers face when confronted with a "problem" moose and in my opinion, the event in Fairfield was initiated by a number of people who don't understand the big picture of a habituated moose.
I lived in AK for about 18 years, 6 of which were in Anchorage, where moose are ubiquitous during the winter months. I was there when two people were killed by moose in the city. One being the infamous video of when an individual was entering the UAA Sports center and was stomped to death by an agitated moose. Coincidentally, I had entered and left that same door into the UAA sports center with my two young children earlier that day to watch the UAA hockey team practice. Fortunately, the moose wasn't around at the time I was there. If it had been, I would have chosen another exit.
Point is, the people of Anchorage had learned to leave, for the most part, the moose alone and to avoid them as much as possible. I suppose seeing a moose wasn't a novelty as it is around here. I drilled it into my son and daughter's head that when playing outside and a moose wanders into the neighborhood to come back in the house immediately until the moose had moved on.
While living in Western AK, the Eskimos in the area had a greater fear, or perhaps a better word would be respect, of moose than they did of grizzly bears. I think that tells one something about the possible danger posed by a moose.

This video graphically illustrates why all moose should be given a wide berth:

Video illustrates the hazard of being with a loose dog in moose country. This guy was lucky.

Some moose will run when approached, others will charge, as this moron discovers.

Avoid all of these dangerous learning experiences by reading the guidelines for coexisting with moose on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Snow machines restricted on Yellowstone’s fading snow pack

NATIONAL PARKS — Snowmobiles and metal-tracked vehicles are being prohibited between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park because of a lack of snow on the ground.

Restrictions were put in place Tuesday morning because large portions of visible pavement on many areas along the road, Yellowstone park officials said in a statement.

“This results in unsafe operating conditions for snowmobiles and snowcoaches with ski steering,” the statement said.

Commercial snowcoaches with rubber tracks or commercial wheeled vehicles are still permitted.

To no one’s surprise, the unusually warm weather and lack of snowfall is the culprit, Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said Wednesday.

“It’s just been such a long stretch of above-normal temperatures and not much snow,” Bartlett told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “It’s been so warm. It’s definitely not normal.”

The weather, Bartlett said, so far has not affected winter travel in other portions of the park — including the highway leading north from Jackson Hole through the South Entrance.

Conditions on other interior Yellowstone roads remain “fair to good,” Yellowstone’s statement said.

“Park staff members continue to closely monitor oversnow road conditions and weather forecasts,” it read. “Improving or deteriorating conditions may prompt further changes to motorized oversnow access in the coming days.”

More winterlike conditions were expected to return Friday and Saturday with cold and snow predicted by the National Weather Service.

Interior roads in the park would ordinarily be open to winter travel through early to mid-March.

A fast-diminishing snowpack isn’t the rule everywhere in Yellowstone.

“There are areas in the park that are at or above their normal snow levels,” Bartlett said.

A 7,860-foot monitoring site at the Lewis Lake Divide showed that the snow depth Wednesday in southern Yellowstone’s high country was about 62 inches. Measured by its water weight, the snowpack was 89 percent of the long-term median, according to the University of Wyoming’s online Water Resource Data System.

The warmth so far hasn’t affected normal winter activities in Grand Teton National Park, spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.

“We don’t really have any problems here as a result of the warmer temperatures,” Skaggs said.

The freeze-thaw cycle has made for good “crust cruising” on skate skies, she said, and ice fishing is still occurring on Jackson Lake.

Photo: Great gray owl lives large

WILDLIFE WATCHING — With huge size and disproportionately large head, the great gray owl is a standout in the region's woods.

The bird's range — mostly in boreal forests — includes an area near Republic, Wash., as well as a fork of habitat south through far-eastern and North Idaho and a swath of Western Montana.  Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson says considers himself very lucky to have great grays nesting just a few minutes from his home.

The largest owl in Montana - very social, they don’t seem to mind our presence. Hands down, our favorite type of owls.

Canyon wren, RVers enjoying Riverside State Park

HIKING — The report from local Audubon Society birders out for a hike in Riverside State Park today is like music to my ears.

Fran Haywood was near the Bowl and Pitcher when she was serenaded by the cascading call of a canyon wren — one of my favorite songsters.

  • Click here for more information about canyon wrens and a link to hear their song.

Fran's observations:

Went to Riverside State Park in Spokane.  Walked across the swinging bridge and along the trail to the left where I found several singing Canyon Wrens. One was on the rock slide just before the trail drops down towards the river. Funny, how there songs seem to be coming from above where they actually are. They really like the slide areas.

Also had flocks of Pygmy Nuthatch.  Many people enjoying our spring-like weather with 5 RV's in the campground.

Canyon wrens also were heard calling along the Little Spokane River Natural Area on Monday, reports Rick Eichstaedt.

Climbing Grand Teton can be ‘virtually’ risk-free

CLIMBING — A new website seeks to give Internet viewers a taste of the mountaineering journey up Grand Teton’s 13,770-foot summit.

Grand Teton National Park’s new web-based interactive climb takes viewers from the trailhead to the summit with maps, video, audio clips and photos. 

It’s aimed at students as well prospective climbers and arm-chair adventures with an interest in scaliong the highest peak in the Teton Range.  

Viewers also can watch a video of a helicopter rescue on the peak or listen to the call of the area's wild animals such as the yellow-bellied marmot.

The virtual tour tops out on the summit. 

Woman keeps hunting through generations

HUNTING — Roberta Wise, 71, of Kennewick has been recalling a long, fruitful family history of hunting and fishing — and she's never been on the sidelines just because she's a girl.

Wise submitted photos and a story to a contest the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department is sponsoring to select the cover photo for the 2015-16 state hunting regulations pamphlet.

This year's them for the cover photo contest is “Women: Hunting Through the Generations.”  Deadline for submitting photos is March 1. See http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/sharephotos/contest.html

For Wise, entering the contest opened a well of memories.

"I was given my first fly rod when I was 8 years old and have been an avid fisherwoman since then," she said, noting that her father learned hunting and fishing from friends and was eager to involve his wife and daughter. "I also fell in love during those childhood years outdoors with birds and became a birdwatcher."

Following are passages from a remembrance she wrote, concluding with a wish for her family:

From as far back as I can remember as a child I was taught gun safety.  As a child I followed my father deer hunting, or sat on a stand with my mother while she was deer hunting.  When I was old enough to begin shooting, there were many days of target practice leading up to my first deer season.  My hunting was sitting with my mother on a stand where we shared one gun.  Mom had it for a half hour, then it was my turn for the next half hour. 

I did not start bird hunting until I was married in 1965.  First my husband and I hunted waterfowl with our first dog, a Labrador retriever.  As soon as our three children (two boys and a girl) were old enough to accompany us, they went along to sit in the blind.  They loved getting to eat cookies and drink hot chocolate all morning.  Over the years we owned five Labradors.

My two boys and their friend were with me in 1979 when I harvested a buck in Oregon.  Both boys received shotguns as their high school graduation gift from Mom and Dad. Both sons are good hunters and hunt every year, one in Washington and one in Idaho.  Our son-in-law has also taken up hunting after joining this family.

Our sons introduced us to upland bird hunting when they took up that endeavor during college years, and we fell in love with the sport.  Our youngest son gave us a Vizsla pup.  He said it is our “stay young program” —  keep up with the dog afield and it will help us stay young. 

We do very much enjoy upland hunting with our dog and have enjoyed our three oldest grandchildren, who live in our town, being able to accompany us often.  The day the family picture was taken (inset), the oldest granddaughter said she wanted a gun for her twelfth birthday and the younger girl said she wants to hunt when she grows up.   I told them both they need to take Hunter Safety classes as the next step. 

Our upland bird hunt in S.E. Oregon each of the last three years with our youngest son has included him carrying their daughter (now age 3) in a backpack while hunting (with hearing protection for her).  Of course taking care of an infant, diaper changes and all, while hunting is a challenge and slows down the pursuit of game, but she so loves it.

This year at age 71 I am still deer hunting and successfully shot my buck during general season with my son and 8-year-old grandson watching, photographing me with my buck, and helping me care for the deer.  We all enjoy eating venison.

I have been asked by each of our three children to help them teach their children what I taught them — to love all of what is to be found afield in the beauty and wonder of nature, the importance of taking care of the resources we have been given, and appreciation for landowners’ great gift of allowing you to hunt on their property. 

I hope my grandchildren will grow up as well-rounded outdoorsmen and women with values that all others, landowners and sportsmen, can admire.  

I hope the hunting and fishing tradition will carry forward to many more generations in our family.

Elk Foundation chapters set local banquets

HUNTING — Area chapters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are organizing their annual fund-raising banquets to raise money for wildlife habitat enhancement projects throughout the region.

Since 1984, the Missoula-based foundation says it joined agencies and other partners to conserve or enhance 6.6 million acres of North America’s finest elk country. 

The annual chapter banquet dinner-auction evenings are the primary fund-raising events, generating remarkable community support over the years.

"We have reached over $1 million raised from our local banquets helping to ensure the future of elk and wildlife habitat," said Jason Johnston of the Idaho Panhandle Chapter.

RMEF chapter Big Game Banquets coming up in this region include:

Saturday (Feb. 21) — Spokane Chapter, Mirabeau Park Hotel, 1100 N. Sullivan Rd. Info: Rich Furry, (509) 290-3557.

March 14Pend Oreille Chapter, American Legion Post 217, Cusick. Info: Darlynn Thompson, (509) 671-6346.

March 14 — Shoshone Chapter. Info: Frosty Greenfield, (208) 512-2015.

March 21Idaho Panhandle Chapter, Best Western PLUS, 506 W. Appleway Ave. in Coeur d’Alene. Info: Elliot or Deanna Taub, (208) 691-1824.

March 28 — Palouse Whitepine. Info: Debbie Brood, (208) 596-9310.

April 18 — Selkirk Crest Big Game Banquet in Sandpoint. Info: Jade Smith, (208) 255-9331.

RMEF has plenty of reason to be proud of its members accomplishments.

2014 highlights:

 • Celebrated 30th anniversary including 30 Years of RMEF Volunteers

 • Improved 135,000 acres of elk habitat in 22 states toward an overall lifetime mark
 of more than 6.6 million acres

 • Completed 625 habitat enhancement, hunting heritage and other conservation
 outreach projects bringing lifetime number of projects to 9,278

 • Opened or secured access to 61,817 acres toward an overall lifetime mark of more
 than 769,000 acres

 • Received a four-star rating—the highest possible—from Charity Navigator for the
  sixth consecutive year which positions RMEF among the top three percent of all
 charities rated by the service

 • Provided more than $1.6 million in Torstenson Family Endowment funding for
 RMEF’s four core mission programs

 • Assisted with elk restoration efforts in Wisconsin and finalized efforts to augment
 elk herds in Virginia

 • Sixth consecutive year of record membership, totaling 205,249 as of
 December 31, 2014

 • Record attendance of 28,000 at inaugural Hunter Christmas Exposition

 • Topped 200,000 Facebook followers

Sportsmen rally against federal land-grab by state

PUBLIC LANDS — A packed Montana Capitol rotunda Monday played host to hundreds of opponents rallying against the proposed transfer of federal land to state ownership, with speakers blasting the idea as the first step toward privatizing public lands, according to a story in the Helena Independent-Record.

Sportsmen and conservation groups organized the rallies in Montana and Idaho.

  • In Boise things were much the same with a different twist on Thursday, hunters and anglers and dredge miners converged separately on the Idaho Capitol demanding diametrically different approaches to managing the federal land and waters of Idaho, reports Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman. One day, about 50 suction-dredge miners and their supporters came from north-central Idaho pressing for passage of a bill that would rescind a federal rule requiring a permit before they can mine for gold. In a rally the next day, more than 150 hunters, anglers, outfitters and owners of outdoor-oriented businesses marched on the Capitol urging lawmakers to keep the state's 35 million acres of national forests, refuges and rangeland under federal management.

In Montana, opponents on Monday called the transfer movement a political stunt and a waste of resources while about a dozen transfer supporters held up signs and handed out literature saying the state can provide better management, writes IR reporter Tom Kuglin.

Hosted by television personality Randy Newberg, speakers including Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President David Allen, former Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton and Gov. Steve Bullock took turns before the vocal crowd. Speakers supported improving federal land management but said that a transfer was not the way to accomplish it.

“There are a lot of issues with federal land management today, but changing ownership is not going to solve those issues,” Allen said. “Don’t give me the answer that ‘States can do it better’ and ask us to buy that. That’s not the answer, it’s a political answer.”

Sponsors such as the Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Wildlife Federation publicized and bussed in transfer opponents for Monday’s rally, with the number of attendees estimated at between 400 and 500.

The public demonstration came as Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, continued to push a transfer agenda. She sponsored a bill last week prohibiting Montana from selling transferred land, and she plans to introduce additional bills preventing the federal government from selling land and calling for a study of the concept. 

Displaying large signs from the Utah-based American Lands Council, transfer supporters called demonstrators hypocritical for opposing Fielder’s bill prohibiting the state's sale of transferred lands.

“We’re here to educate people because a there’s a lot of people spreading misinformation,” said Paul Fielder, the senator’s husband. “It comes down to who can manage land better. We believe people in Montana can.”

With Montana’s small number of congressional representatives and large amount of public land, Montanans are not getting adequate representation for shaping management, Paul Fielder said.

Sen. Fielder was in committee and unavailable for comment.

Speakers hammered the transfer idea for nearly an hour as “half-baked” and driven by out-of-state interests.

Wealthy transfer supporters were “shopping the Montana Legislature,” Newberg said, also declaring that he and the other demonstrators “were not for sale.”

Sexton cited the fiscal responsibility the state would incur under a transfer in her opposition. Firefighting costs in excess of $100 million, loss of federal payments to counties and higher grazing fees for ranchers were just some of the reasons the plan was “pretty crazy,” she said.

Seeley Lake business owner Adrienne Marks and Montana State University student and Conrad native Rebecca Brown noted the importance of public lands to future generations, both economically and culturally.

Fielder’s bills were “gotcha pieces of legislation,” a fiery Bullock said, by setting parameters for a transfer Montanans do not support.

Transfer opponents, including the governor, have long maintained that a transfer would result in an inevitable land sale due to inability to pay for management.

“I have no interest at all in being forced to sell off our heritage in order to manage what’s left over, just like I have no interest in seeing starter castles on the ridge lines of some of our wildest places,” he said.

Time would be better spent working together to hold the federal government accountable for land management, Bullock said.

“Our public lands are not part of the problem; they’re indeed part of the solution. This is jeopardizing what it means to be a Montanan,” he said. “As governor, I will do everything I can to ensure that wholesale transfers of public lands will not occur, not on my watch.”

Video from Montana's Capitol.

Video from Idaho on the issue.