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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

20 moose tags added to North Idaho hunts

HUNTING — The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has set seasons for moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats for 2015, adding moose tags for the Panhandle Region and adding new hunts farther south for bighorn sheep.

The new rules will include the following changes:

  • Panhandle Region: Add 20 additional antlered moose tags and additional hunting opportunity for antlerless moose hunts.
  • Clearwater Region: Extend season for bighorn sheep late controlled hunt in Unit 17; Split mountain goat hunt area creating two hunts and adding two tags.
  • Southwest Region: Add new hunt for bighorn sheep controlled hunt with two tags in Hunt Area 19A;  Reallocate tags for California bighorn sheep controlled hunts in two hunt areas.
  • Magic Valley Region: Add a new controlled hunt for one antlered moose.
  • Southeast Region: Add an archery only controlled hunt with two tags for moose, reorganize hunt areas and reduce antlered moose tags by two; Reallocate controlled hunts for antlerless moose, reorganize hunt areas and reduce tags by five.
  • Upper Snake: No Changes
  • Salmon Region: Expand hunt area 29 to include Unit 37 for antlered moose controlled hunts; Combine bighorn sheep hunt areas 28-2 and 28-3.

Specifics of these changes will be available in the new rules brochure available at license vendors, Fish and Game offices and online by the end of February.

Man fined $30K for shooting grizzlies

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Montana man's excuse that grizzlies were a threat to his grandchildren didn't fly in court.

Everett Skunkcap, 75, accused of killing three grizzly bears near his Browning home last summer has been ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Skunkcap was sentenced in connection with his guilty plea to one count of taking a threatened species.

Skunkcap said during a hearing earlier this month that he killed all three bears in defense of his grandchildren who were 100 feet away at the time.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston also gave Skunkcap a six-month jail term, which was suspended on the condition that he pay the restitution in a timely manner.

Senators work on cental Idaho wilderness plan

WILDERNESS — Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Risch derailed a 2010 wilderness bill but says he’s working now with U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson on a scaled-down version as others attempt to persuade President Barack Obama to designate a central Idaho area a national monument.

Risch, a Republican, tells the Idaho Statesman that he’s looking forward to carrying a bill that he says is a collaborative product.

The smaller version of Simpson’s Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act would create three wilderness areas totaling about 295,000 acres, about 37,000 acres less than the earlier version. Not everyone is pleased with the latest iteration.

“This is a disappointing departure from the legislation we supported,” said Craig Gehrke, Idaho director for The Wilderness Society. “We don’t support the removal of thousands of acres of proposed wilderness and are discouraged to see this as a new starting point for congressional consideration.”

Part of the reason for the push on the wilderness bill is the potential designation of a national monument. Some groups are asking Obama to use his executive power under the Antiquities Act to create a 592,000-acre national monument that includes the rugged Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

“I spoke to Interior Secretary (Sally) Jewell and U.S. Forest Service Chief (Tom) Tidwell this week and received assurances from both that if (CIEDRA) were enacted, there would be no need or desire for a national monument by the administration,” Simpson said.

Simpson has said that Obama administration officials have told him that no national monument will be designated for six months, giving Simpson time to get the wilderness bill through Congress. It’s not clear when the bill might be introduced.

Custer County Commission Chairman Wayne Butts opposed the 2010 version. He prefers the more recent idea for wilderness designation rather than a national monument, though.

“I would have to call that the lesser of two evils,” Butts said.

Deep-well irrigation impacts in Eastern Washington discussed

ENVIRONMENT — Duck hunters and anglers are noticing the difference, and it's nothing new to cattle ranchers and farmers.

Ground water levels are getting lower in much of Eastern Washington and deep-well irrigation is part of the issue.

Sportsmen can get up to speed on what's going on by attending this program sponsored by the Columbia Basin Geological Society:

Long Term Water Level Trends in the Odessa Subarea, Eastern Washington

Who: By Guy Gregory, Washington Department of Ecology

When: Wednesday, Jan. 28, 6 p.m. social hour, 7 p.m. presentation

Where: Jack & Dan’s, 1226 N Hamilton St.

Sportsmen rally against public land transfers

PUBLIC LANDS — Sportsman's groups are organizing a voice against efforts in Western states to eliminate federal control of public land.

Lawmakers in Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming are spending considerable money and effort in attempts to get state control of federal public lands within their borders.

Read a few recent stories on these efforts:

I've contended this movement is more about political gain and corporate greed than it is about doing what's best for the wildlife, the land and the public. State governments are much more vulnerable to succumbing to special interests than federal land managers.

Last week at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, a campaign was launched against efforts by special interests to transfer or sell America’s federal public lands.

The growing coalition of groups and businesses includes the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wild Turkey Federation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited, Dallas Safari Club, Mystery Ranch Backpacks, Sitka Gear, First Lite, Costa, Simms Fishing Products and Sage.

The coalition supports a grassroots effort by sportsmen to urge lawmakers to reject any actions that would deprive citizens of their public lands.

A new report, “Locked Out: Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access,” released by the campaign, details takeover attempts in some Western states that would jeopardize public access to the rich hunting, fishing and outdoor traditions provided by the nation’s public lands.

“America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands provide irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and public access for hunting and fishing,” said Joel Webster, director of the TRCP Center for Western Lands. “More than 72 percent of Western sportsmen depend on these lands for access to hunting."

The management of America’s vast system of public lands carries an enormous price tag, and state budgets could be stretched beyond their ability should they take over their ownership, with widespread industrial development and the eventual sale of these lands to private interests being the expected result, the campaign outlines. "If privatized, millions of acres of the nation’s most valuable lands and waters would be closed to public access, and an American birthright would be lost."  

Fresh, wet snow perfect for tracking critters

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I was late into the office this morning, delayed by urgent messages from a variety of critters.

Last night's light, wet snow created a fresh page for wildlife to tell the stories of their early-morning lives for trackers to read.

Conditions are perfect. The snow is not too deep or too dry. Detail in the prints is fantastic.  You can see every toe and even the toenails of critters such as raccoons.

Before sunrise as I walked my dogs, I followed a group of three coyotes that had left fresh tracks near my backyard, and not surprisingly I soon came across the splayed hoof prints of four running white-tailed deer.

I saw where an owl had taken a mouse and brushed its wings in the snow.  I followed a raccoon track in Peaceful  Valley under fences, over a barrier and underneath the Maple Street Bridge. The tracks of eight quail where easy to follow to where they were taking breakfast under a feeder.

The Spokane County Library District's "Big Read" is encouraging people to study Jack London's The Call of the Wild this month

The ground around us this morning is like a Preface written by the experts.

Eagles still lingering at Wolf Lodge Bay

WILDLIFE WATCHING —Bald eagles at Lake Coeur d’Alene for their annual gathering to feed on spawning kokanee are dispersing, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist says.

Carrie Hugo, who has surveyed eagles in Wolf Lodge Bay almost weekly since early November, counted 28 eagles Friday – 27 adults and one juvenile.

The peak count this winter was 140 on Dec. 23.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 29, 2011.

Anglers, scientists team to save fish that get ‘the bends’

FISHING — Anglers and scientists are promoting a descending device that saves fish that are released after being hooked in deep water and reeled up to the surface.

Anglers have winced at the bulging eyes and swim bladder protruding from the mouth of fish caught from the depths. The fish are suffering from "the bends," but they're still alive and many will survive if they can be released and returned to the depths quickly.

But if you just toss the fish back in the water, its inflated swim bladder prevents it from submerging.

Weighted devices are being promoted to clip onto a fish's jaw so it can be returned to its original depth as fast as an angler could lower a heavily weighted jig.

The impact of descending devices could be substantial because there are more than 10 million marine recreational fishermen in the U.S. who catch more than 345 million fish a year, saysTom Raftican, president of the Sportfishing Conservancy in a story produced  by National Public Radio.

And these sport fishermen release nearly two-thirds of the fish they reel in, he says.

So the Sportfishing Conservancy has been running workshops around the nation, explaining how and why fishermen should use descending devices. It's an easy pitch to make, Raftican says, because fishermen want to preserve their sport. "I love to fish, and I'd like to see my kids and grandkids out there fishing too," he says.

Dog guards hunter’s body in Ridgefield refuge duck blind

UPDATED, adding breed of dog.

HUNTING DOGS — A yellow Labrador retriever protecting its owner wouldn’t let a manager at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge near Longview, Wash., approach the duck blind where the hunter had fatally collapsed.

Waterfowlers have to admire the devotion of the dog, counter-productive as defensiveness might be in some cases.

The Clark County sheriff’s office says Ridgefield police removed the aggressive dog using a catch pole Tuesday evening and medics confirmed the 54-year-old man was dead, presumably of natural causes.

The Columbian reports the man went hunting at 5 a.m. but didn’t check out at dusk, so the manager went to check on him. A duck he had shot was inside the blind with him.

The yellow Lab was held for a family member to retrieve.

Winter tips for feeding birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Feeding wild birds is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the U.S. While a handout can help birds find the calories needed to survive the winter, improper feeding can spread disease or increase birds' exposure to predators.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game encourages bird enthusiasts to keep a few things in mind to help assure successful bird feeding.

"The location of your feeder and what food it offers is very important for attracting birds," said Deniz Aygen, IDFG wildlife program coordinator. "To attract a variety of birds, many bird watchers use a variety of feeders and foods in several different locations."

Additional suggestions for successful bird feeding include:

  • Place feeders near cover to protect feeding birds from weather and predators. Move feeders if you notice birds striking windows.
  • Birds can be particular about what and where they eat. Sparrows, juncos and doves typically feed on the ground or on a flat platform, while other birds prefer an elevated feeder. Some ground-feeding birds prefer corn, milo or millet, but sunflower seeds are also a popular food. Adding finch or thistle seed can attract pine siskins, goldfinches and house finches. Insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches feed on suet or peanut butter mixtures.
  • If possible, provide water nearby. Specially designed heaters are available to prevent freezing. Once water and food are offered, try to continue through the winter, but don't be concerned if you miss a few days, since feeding birds are mobile and are probably visiting other feeding stations besides yours.
  • Keep feeders and feeding areas clean. Clean feeders regularly by scrubbing with soapy water, followed by a quick rinse in water diluted with a small amount of bleach. Store seed in tight, waterproof containers to prevent mold and to deter rodents.

Balancing critters with agriculture expensive

WILDLIFE CONTROL — On a small scale, I spray my fruit tree for aphids, trap mice that get into my garage and bait yellowjackets that buzz onto my deck.

Farmers and ranchers have similar issues on a gigantic scale.

They get some help from hunters as well as state and federal agencies.

Among the most controversial assistance is the annual boost ag operators get from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.

For perspective, species killed in Idaho by Wildlife Services alone in 2013 include:

  • 196,351 starlings.
  • 2,790 coyotes,
  • 78 wolves,
  • 43 beavers
  • 24 badgers,
  • 7 mountain lions

Idaho Wildlife Services’ fiscal 2014 budget was just under $1.4 million.

Cutthroat revival spawns more research at Priest Lake

FISHING — Note to self: Go fly fishing for cutthroats at Priest Lake this year.

In the late 1970s, I wrote a story about the excellent cutthroat fishing fly fishers enjoyed for the Idaho state fish at Priest Lake an Upper Priest Lake.  One day of "research," involved joining Greg Mauser, the Idaho Fish and Game Department fisheries biologist who was studying the lake's native westslope cutthroats at the time.

We cruised over the glass-smooth water along the shoreline in his powerboat. When we saw a pod of rising cutthroats in the distance, Mauser would cut the engine so we'd drift into the path of the oncoming trout.  When the rises approached casting distance, we'd lay out a dry fly ahead of the surface-dimpling cutties — and wham!  It was a blast.

The cutthroat fishery throughout the Idaho Panhandle, including Lake Coeur d'Alene and Priest Lake, was in a downward trend at the time. The decline persisted.

But recently, the Priest Lake cutthroats have been increasing.

Changes in habitats — especially to spawning tributaries — and changing fish communities, such as the infiltration of non-native lake trout, raised havoc with the cutthroat's centuries of adaptation.

Fishery managers, with their options limited, banned the harvest of cutthroat at Priest (and many other Panhandle waters).

The fish responded.

I ran into Mauser this fall. He said it wasn't like the good ol' days, but the autumn dry fly fishing for cutthroats was pretty darned good.

Fish and Game researchers have been sampling the fishery in order to monitor trout abundance. Cutthroats caught in sampling gillnets ranged to 18 inches long.

With only one year of surveys, the numbers per net don't mean too much except that they had consistent catches throughout Priest Lake. That's good news. Perhaps better news will come from follow-up surveys in upcoming years.

Time to apply for volunteer campground host positions

CAMPING — State and federal agencies are beginning to solicit applications for volunteer campground host positions in some choice spots to park an RV for the summer.  Here's a notice from an national forest in Idaho as an example of the offerings available in state parks, national forests and other public lands across the country.

The Nez Perce–Clearwater National Forests are looking for energetic, good-natured people to serve as campground hosts for the 2015 season at at two campgrounds.  The most important job of a Campground Host is to provide an enjoyable camping experience for the public.  Hosts are expected to assist visitors with information about the campground and local recreation opportunities.  They must work well with people, be personable and neat in appearance, and be physically able to perform the following tasks:

  • Clean and stock restrooms
  • Clean fire rings, picnic tables and pick up litter
  • Mow and weed-eat campsites and roadways
  • Maintain a Daily Visitor Log

Hosts are needed generally Memorial Day through Labor Day with a weekly schedule of Thursday through Monday, including holidays.  The season length and work week may vary by site.  Volunteers must provide their own self-contained trailer and generator.  The Forest Service will provide a campsite with water,  propane,  gas and a subsistence allowance (may vary by site). Host campsite at the sites below do not have electric hook up (must supply own generator) . 

Host positions are open at the following sites:  Red River Campground  near Elk City and Spring Bar Campground on the main Salmon River.

Please contact Samuel Manifold at 208-983-4018.

State Parks considers letting farmers use rail trails

PARKS — A proposal to allow farmers and ranchers to occasional use Washington rail trails will be considered by the State Parks and Recreation Commission at a regular meeting Jan. 29 in Tumwater.

The policy proposal would permit certain limited non-recreational motorized use of state park long-distance trail corridors, such as the John Wayne Trail.

The trail corridors are legally set aside for non-motorized recreation only.

"In the interest of being good neighbors, State Parks is seeking additional flexibility and consistency—for example, allowing farmers to use the trail right-of-way to access their fields," Parks officials say in a media release.

"The policy would set guidelines for permits and is intended to ensure agency responsiveness to such requests, while providing oversight to prevent adverse effects on recreationists and to recoup the cost of any trail damage from allowed motorized uses.

The meeting is set for 9 a.m., Jan. 29, in the Labor and Industries Auditorium, 7273 Linderson Way S.W., Tumwater.

According to the meeting agenda, the commission also will consider adoption of policy statements to provide direction for the agency’s real estate management activities in four areas: recreation business activities; enterprise lands; land transfers and exchanges with other government jurisdictions; and land leases from other jurisdictions.

State Parks manages approximately 124 developed parks, marine parks, heritage sites and properties, altogether totaling approximately 120,000 acres statewide. The agency manages leases on some properties, while holding others for future park and trail development.

In other business, the Commission will consider adoption of the 2015 director’s performance agreement, an annual work plan for the agency and director. Several reports will be presented, including reports on the agency’s Boating Programs, Interpretive Program, Discover Pass, current finances and 2015-17 budget requests and a legislative report.

Skiers set visitation records at Lookout Pass

WINTERSPORTS — Lookout Pass ski area has had some record-breaking skier visit days in January, according to owner Phil Edholm.

The resort off I-90 at the Idaho-Montana state line posted these numbers:

  • Saturday, Jan. 17, single day attendance record of 2, 243 skier visits.
  • Saturday, Jan. 10, single day Free Ski School lesson program record with 403 kids in attendance.

Reardan Audubon Lake expanding for birds, birdwatchers

CONSERVATION — A non-profit land trust has stepped up to secure wetlands important to migrating waterfowl and other birds in Lincoln County along U.S. 2 west of Spokane.

The Inland Northwest Land Trust has purchased 150 acres adjoining the 277-acre Reardan Audubon Lake Wildlife Area, a nature preserve in Reardan managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Spokane-based land trust plans to sell the channeled scablands property to the state agency when funds become available. The deal assures the area's wetlands, vernal pools, alkaline mud flats and basalt features will remain undeveloped for wildlife.

Garry Schalla, INLT executive director, said state wildlife officials were given an option by the owner last year to buy the land, but the state needs about two years or more to apply for state funding through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

“INLT was the lead organization in the original 2006 acquisition, so when Audubon and WDFW called on us, we were glad to help out,” said Chris DeForest, INLT conservation director. The deal was closed Jan. 15.

The area originally was dubbed Audubon Lake decades ago after bird watchers started tuning in to the large variety of bird species that pass through the Reardan area, especially during spring and fall migrations.

The wildlife area is a stop on the Northeast Washington Birding Palouse to Pines Trail developed by Audubon Washington. It's also a notable feature on the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

The 80-acre main lake and wetlands on the north side of Reardan are at the headwaters of Deep Creek and Crab Creek.

“Although most of our work is to help private individuals conserve their own land, this will eventually be a public preserve,” Schalla said. 

The Land Trust plans to clean up the site and work with state and local agencies and organizations to design a trail system that gives birders and school groups access to viewing the wildlife while shielding sensitive areas, he said.

Idaho poll finds 90 percent support for grazing public lands

PUBLIC LANDS — A new statewide poll found that 90 percent of Idaho residents approve of livestock grazing as a legitimate use of public lands, the same percentage as guided recreation and mountain biking.

The survey conducted by the University of Idaho Social Science Research Unit for the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission found that:

  • 98 percent of those surveyed by telephone approve of hiking and camping on public lands.
  • 71 percent approved of logging on public lands.
  • 65 percent approve of the use of motorized recreation, such as ATVs and motorbikes, on public lands.

The survey completed in December was based on 585 telephone surveys with Idaho residents, says Gretchen Hyde, executive director of the commission, in a media release.  More than half of the survey participants have lived in Idaho for more than 30 years, and participants represent a diverse cross-section of political ideology, she said.

The IRRC is a state agency that, according to his website, "seeks to increase public understanding about the balanced management of public rangelands."

Using public lands for energy development and transmission lines received the lowest level of support for uses posed in the survey — at 62 percent.

Public approval of livestock grazing on public lands went up 1 percent since 2010, and 10 points since 2001, according to previous polls conducted for IRRC by the University of  Idaho. 

"We're pleased to see public support for livestock grazing on public lands increasing," said Chris Black, IRRC board chairman and a Bruneau Rancher who has received a BLM national stewardship award for exemplary livestock management on public lands. "We think Idahoans are seeing improved range management when they're out recreating on rangelands and forests.

"We feel it's important to show real people doing tangible things to improve public lands, the environment and threatened and endangered species, including candidate species such as sage grouse," Black continued. "That's what is expected in 21st Century public lands management."

IRRC officials said they commissioned the poll to understand the overall perception of Idaho residents about grazing, and how those perceptions might be evolving due to changes in Idaho's population demographics.

In a wildlife-related question, the poll found that 84 percent of the respondents recognize that private ranchlands provide important wildlife habitat. On a scale of 1-7, 68 percent of the  respondents rated the value of private farms and ranches for wildlife as being a 5 or higher.  In addition:

  • 79 percent believe that sheep and cattle ranchers manage rangelands in a responsible manner.
  • 82 percent believe that livestock grazing should continue to be part of public lands management.

In a series of questions rating the credibility or reliability of information provided to the public, ranchers and scientists rated 84 percent and 83 percent reliable, while BLM officials received a reliability rating of 80 percent and environmentalists received a rating of 55 percent. 

UI officials say the poll is statistically valid, sampling a broad cross-section of Idaho's rural and urban residents, an equal number of males and females, and mobile phone users as well as landline users.   

For a copy of UI public opinion survey, email sstuebner@cableone.net.

Salamander spotlights ignorance of Idaho lawmakers

WILDLIFE — Usually it's not earth-shaking stuff when school kids approach a legislative body with a campaign to name an official state something-or-other.

But Monday's House State Affairs Committee hearing in Boise on a 14-year-old girl's request to name the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian turned out to be an exposé.

  • The meeting is covered in this story by S-R Idaho Capital reporter Betsy Russell.

Several legislators, including some from North Idaho, boldly demonstrated their ignorance by informing the eight-grade student that distinguishing the salamander could prompt federal intervention with endangered species regulations.

“My whole concern is potential federal overreach," said Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls. "In North Idaho we have the water litigation going. I just am in fear that something could be impacted if it became an endangered species.”

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, stood up a pitiful role model for the student — and all students — with his confession: “I’m sorry, and I commend you for what you have done and the due diligence you’ve done to bring this to our attention. When I grew up (in Utah), and I was a young boy, in our swimming hole there were salamanders, we called them water dogs. … I learned to despise them. … They were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy. And I’ve not gotten over that. So to elevate them to the status of being the state amphibian, I’m not there yet.”

God help us.

In voting down the proposal, a majority of committee members shunned the advice of the Idaho attorney general, who guaranteed the state designation would have nothing whatsoever to do with encouraging federal endangered species protections.

And the panel displayed blatant ignorance on the layers of science and process involved with triggering federal intervention on behalf of a species.

Here are a couple of choice quotes from brighter lights at the Idaho House hearing:

  • “A salamander may be of little consequence to some adults, but I’ll tell you, the Idaho giant salamander that reaches 13 inches in length is a big deal to a fourth-grader. It stimulates their imagination.” 

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, who urged passage of the bill.

  • “It is a mistake to ever overestimate the ignorance of the Idaho Legislature…. This is just absurd.” 

Frank Lundberg, a longtime Idaho herpetologist who testified in favor of the bill.


Video: how to keep your dog out of a trap

TRAPS — A new educational video – Avoiding Wildlife Traps While Walking your Dog is available on Idaho Fish and Game’s website.    

The 9-minute video shows the variety of traps and snares dog owners may encounter while hiking or walking their pets and how to recognize them.

Some traps and trap sets can be visible if you know what to look for. However, many traps will be difficult to spot; it depends on the species targeted.

The video, below, will help dog owners make decisions about whether to keep their dogs on-leash in certain areas.

This video is available on the Idaho Fish and Game Department trapping webpage  along with a companion 8-minute video released earlier, Releasing Your Dog from a Trap that explains how a variety of traps work and how to release your dog from traps.

Although Fish and Game does not know exactly how many dogs are caught in traps each year and not reported, trapper harvest reports indicate an increasing number of incidental dog catches over the last several years.

In the 2012-2013 trapping season, 32 accidental dog captures were documented and 52 dog captures were reported during the 2013-2014 season. Several resulted in dog deaths.

Here's the first Idaho report in 2015 that's come to public attention:

Hunting dog survives being caught in snare

TWIN FALLS, ID (AP) – An eastern Idaho hunting dog survived getting caught in a snare trap meant for coyotes by remaining calm.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game spokesman Dan Kelsey said the 5-year-old Weimaraner’s leash training likely stopped her from pulling against the snare and choking herself to death.

Leslie Soderquist was running her dog on 35 acres of family land next to a canal.

She heard the dog’s yips and was able to free it.

Kelsey found four more snares, one about 75 yards from Soderquist’s house.

Kelsey said the trapper received permission from another landowner and won’t be cited.

Soderquist said she now carries cable cutters.


Methow Nordic Fest for skis, bikes, snowshoes

WINTERSPORTS — The annual Methow Valley Nordic Festival based in Winthrop, Wash., kicks off Friday, Jan 23, for a three-day weekend to celebrate nordic skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking and winter trail running. 

To sweeten the event, Methow Trails, Winthrop Mountain Sports and other local business partners are offering:

  • Free cross-country skiing all day (no trail passes required)
  • Free rentals at participating businesses
  • Free ski lessons courtesy of Methow Valley Ski School
  • Free fat bike demo hosted by Methow Cycle and Sport

Saturday, Jan.24, events include:

  • 30k classic ski race from Winthrop to Mazama as part of a one or two day skiing competition. 
  • Winter trail runners can enjoy a 9k or a 15k winter trail run organized by Rainshadow Running
  • Free skate ski clinic for runners hosted by Methow Endurance
  • Free snowshoe nature tour begins at 11:00am from two Methow Valley locations.
  • Nordic Festival Dinner, a fundraiser for the Methow Valley Ski Team. 

Sunday, Jan. 25, events include:

  • ​The 30k Pursuit skate ski (race, tour, or relay) from Mazama to Winthrop with post-race party. 

Methow Trails is North America’s largest cross-country ski area with more than 120 miles of groomed trails where visitors 17 and under and those 75 and older ski free everyday.


Public land holdings expand in Montana’s Blackfoot drainage

PUBLIC LANDS — There's more room for conservation and for roaming in a famous, wilderness-fed tributary to the Clark Fork River.

BLM buys 4,312 acres of land in Montana's Blackfoot Valley for $3.5M
The 1,280 acres along Chamberlin Creek and 3,032 acres of Morrison Mountain the Nature Conservancy sold to the Bureau of Land Management late last month were part of the 89,000 acres Plum Creek Timber Co. sold to the Nature Conservancy in 2000.

The Missoulian offers a map showing the parcels.

Ultimate heli-skiing holiday is rich experience

WINTERSPORTS — Most doctors and lawyers can save their time and skip this notice, which is aimed at the truly rich people who love jet-set traveling, heli-skiing, gear, first-class food, accommodations and pampering.

Canadian Mountain Holidays, the world’s largest heli-ski operator, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in many ways, including an offer for the "ultimate heli-ski experience."

The word "ultimate" has been overused for  years, but in this case it might be appropriate.  The one-week package will set back the lucky group of up to 10 a smart CDN $549,500. Taxes are extra, but if you can afford the asking price you don't need to worry.

  • Actually, the cost isn't THAT high when you consider it flushes out to only about $60K apiece for full group of 10.

CMH Heli-Skiing first took a handful of skiers by helicopter to carve a few turns in the British Columbia backcountry 50 years ago, it was among the most decadent things to happen to skiing since the invention of the sport. The company introduced the innovation is offering  the most extravagant private powder party ever.

A private jet will be provided to whisk the group to CMH Valemount, one of the most exclusive ski lodges in the world.  The executive chef will be flown in from the world-famous Nobu restaurant to whip up exquisite culinary creations courtesy.

Leave the old rags and rock boards at home. The package includes a full line of limited edition CMH ski gear - including jackets, pants, gloves, goggles and skis or snowboards – waiting for all of you courtesy of the CMH’s industry-leading partners.

Here's the deal maker: the company promises to fly this exclusive group in a Bell 212 helicopter to a legendary area drenched in a winter’s worth of base and powder in the virgin terrain of CMH McBride. CHM says no one has skied or snowboarded there for years. 

If you have the dough, CHM Heli-Skiing says it plans to deliver the most exciting alpine adventure of all time.

“It seems fitting to celebrate our jubilee year by dreaming up the most amazing Heli-Ski experience we could ever imagine,” says Joe Flannery, president of CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures.

Here's what the "ultimate experiece" trip includes:

  • Seven days and nights of private Heli-Skiing at CMH Valemount for up to 10 people with exclusive access to the CMH McBride tenure, April 11 – 18, 2015.
  • Private jet transportation provided by Chapman Freeborn from New York City to Valemount.*
  • All dinners catered by a private chef from Nobu restaurant.
  • Evening wine pairings from the world’s finest vintages.
  • Dedicated personal concierge on hand throughout.
  • Limited edition CMH-branded Arc’teryx ski jacket and pants, Smith googles and Hestra gloves.
  • Limited edition Atomic skis or Burton snowboards and transportation bags.
  • Private videographer to capture and record the entire trip.
  • A surprise 50th Anniversary welcome gift.

Again, all of this for a mere $549,500 (Canadian) + taxes.

There's no mention of whether the Weather Gods have given their blessings to this deal.

But please, if you jump at this once-in-a-lifetime skiing vacation because of this blog post, don't embarrass me by being cheap with tips for the guides.

End of upland bird seasons tough day for hunting dogs

HUNTING — Eastern Washington's upland bird hunting seasons for partridge and quail ended at 5:15 p.m. today.

That means my English setter is going to be a little less than fulfilled every day from now until the mountain grouse seasons open on Sept. 1.

Even the Seahawks' Richard Sherman could take a lesson from Scout on the disciplines of focus and determination in the field.

Scout would rather hunt than eat, as you can see from the photo. When I've had the privilege of owning a good hunting dog, my goal has always been to get it out on birds twice a week during the seasons. I fulfilled that commitment to his blood line pretty well this year with brief exceptions for elk season and a New Years break for skiing.

By the end of the hunting seasons, Scout is lean and hard like the basalt cliffs he contours in pursuit of chukar scent.

He'll get an unwanted chance to fatten up for a few months. We'll both have to chew on the taunting but promising memory of a flock of chukars cackling from a rock band above us as we descended from their haunts for the last time this season.

Canada lynx reviewed for endangered status

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is starting a review of federally protected Canada lynx at a time when the largest population of the cats in the Lower 48 appears to be poised for a decline, according to the Associated Press.

The end of clear-cutting in Maine with the Forest Practices Act of 1989 has allowed forests to fill in, taking away some of the habitat preferred by snowshoe hares upon which lynx feed, potentially reducing populations of both species, said Jim Zelenak, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana.

The latest estimates from federal scientists put the number of Canada lynx in Maine at about 500; that’s fewer than a state estimate of 750 to 1,000 lynx five years ago.

“There’s quite a bit of discussion about what is an appropriate number of lynx to shoot for in Maine,” Zelenak said. “That is something we’ll talk about in the status review.”

The lynx population grew in Maine after clear-cutting — in large part to eradicate spruce budworm — in the 1970s and 1980s created the ideal habitat for snowshoe hares. The pest, largely eradicated today, eats the needles of fir and spruce trees.

Historically, there have been smaller numbers of lynx in New Hampshire, where they’re thought to have spread from Maine. There also have been lynx sightings in Vermont.

There’s still hope that habitat can be maintained for the hares that provide subsistence to the lynx population.

Federal wildlife and conservation officials have worked with four land owners to manage about 600,000 acres for lynx by cutting 40 percent of the trees, then returning six to eight years later to cut the remainder, said Mark McCollough, an endangered species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Maine.

The five-year review, to be completed by this summer, is the first since Canada lynx were declared threatened in 2000. Designations of critical habitat have been made in parts of Maine, Wyoming, Washington State, Montana, Idaho and Minnesota.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will gather the best scientific information to clarify threats that could jeopardize lynx populations; the information will be used in determining whether or not a formal recovery plan is needed, Zelenak said.

Under a separate process, the agency has been working with the state of Maine on an incidental take program.

Animal welfare advocates are renewing their call for tighter trapping restrictions in Maine after two Canada lynx got caught in traps and died. Maine put temporary restrictions in place for a 90-day period, giving state officials time to craft a longer-term solution before the next trapping season begins in late October.

Disease kills 30 bighorns near Yellowstone

WILDLIFE —  Montana wildlife officials say an apparent pneumonia outbreak has killed about 30 bighorn sheep from two herds in the Gardiner area near the border of Yellowstone National Park.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist Karen Loveless of Livingston tells The Billings Gazette the die-off seems to be slowing down. At least 10 sheep were reported dead by mid-December.

Lab tests will determine the cause of death, but pneumonia is the likely culprit. Loveless says one lamb tested positive for bacteria that attack the lungs, causing symptoms similar to pneumonia.

A small group of 25 to 30 animals that live at the base of Tom Miner Basin is down to 17 sheep. The rest of the sheep were lost from a herd near Cinnabar that last totaled 90 animals.

Loveless says the outbreak has not spread to bighorn sheep in Yellowstone National Park.

"The bighorn sheep are native to the area," reports Gazette outdoor writer Brett French. "Evidence has even been found in the surrounding canyons of ancient traps and blinds used by hunters in the region thousands of years ago."

Following is French's full report with a lot more heartbreaking details.

About 30 bighorn sheep — roughly one-third of two herds that live in the Gardiner area — have died this winter, probably from an outbreak of pneumonia.

“It seems to be slowing down,” said Karen Loveless, a wildlife biologist for Fish, Wildlife and Parks based in Livingston. “But I did just get another report of a dead sheep.”

Whether that bighorn died of disease won’t be known until laboratory tests can be completed. Loveless was also awaiting lab results from earlier samples taken from dead bighorns. But the first dead lamb did test positive for bacteria that attack the sheep’s lungs, causing symptoms similar to pneumonia.

Oddly, the two herds that have taken the biggest hit are fairly far apart. One, a small group of about 25 to 30 that lives at the base of Tom Miner Basin, has dwindled to 17 sheep. The other herd, near Cinnabar, last totaled about 90 bighorn sheep, but getting a current count has been difficult because the animals disperse after the December rut, Loveless said. Yet she noted that most of the dead sheep have been from the Cinnabar herd.

Almost the entire lamb crop from the two herds has been decimated and Loveless said some “really big, beautiful rams” have also been found dead in the last couple of weeks. Luckily, the disease has not spread to bighorn sheep that live in nearby Yellowstone National Park.

“That’s amazing, because we know that they mix,” Loveless said.

The bighorn sheep are native to the area. Evidence has even been found in the surrounding canyons of ancient traps and blinds used by hunters in the region thousands of years ago.

As far as Loveless knows, this is the first time the Gardiner-area sheep have been infected and died. The bacteria that leads to the death of bighorns is common in domestic sheep and goats. Close contact between the animals can lead to infection in bighorn sheep. Two landowners in the area raise domestic sheep.

Loveless is hopeful that the bighorn sheep will rebound like a nearby group. A herd near Point of Rocks suffered a die-off of about 20 animals, with the group dwindling to 30 sheep, two years ago. That herd has now rebounded to about 50.

“So far, it seems like their lamb numbers are pretty good,” Loveless said. “That could potentially happen in the Cinnabar and Tom Miner herds.”

A herd of bighorn sheep that inhabits a portion of the Tendoy Mountains, in southwestern Montana near Lima, hasn’t fared so well. After suffering a die-off from pneumonia, the herd has been unable to rebound despite several supplemental transplants by FWP from other bighorn herds.

On Thursday the Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized the department to proceed with actions to possibly eliminate the remaining 50 bighorns in the Tendoy herd so it could be repopulated with disease-free bighorn sheep. Before that can happen, an environmental assessment will be completed.

FWP’s initial proposal is to remove all of the bighorns with an open hunting season, which could take two years, predicted John Vore, wildlife management section chief. In expectation of that, the commission approved not issuing the usual one either-sex bighorn sheep tag for the area and to reconfigure the hunting district to exclude a bighorn herd that migrates back and forth to Idaho.

Commissioner Dan Vermillion, of Livingston, praised the department for “taking this bold step” after coming under fire for not moving fast enough to restore bighorn sheep to more of their historic range, as called for under the state’s bighorn sheep management plan.

Members of the public were more cautious.

Glenn Hockett, volunteer president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association, suggested the department pursue a conservation easement with the nearby landowner who raises sheep to preclude their grazing.

Retired wildlife biologist Jim Bailey, of the GWA, questioned FWP’s plan, saying that removing bighorns resistant to disease is a bad idea.

Sign up: Women’s beginner snowshoeing clinic

WINTERSPORTS — Only a few spots left. Get on it, ladies.

REI Spokane has set a FREE Women's Snowshoe Basics class for Thursday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m.

Register here to save your seat.

Giant rainbow trout caught in NF Clearwater

FISHING — An Idaho angler fishing the North Fork of the Clearwater River caught the big one he had to let get away.

On Jan. 8, Larry Warren landed a rainbow trout downstream from Dworshak Dam that would easily be a new state record, but he couldn’t legally keep it.

Any rainbow trout longer than 20 inches with an intact adipose fin is legally considered a steelhead and must be released if caught in waters where steelhead might be found.

Wild steelhead (ocean going cousins of rainbow trout) are protected in the Snake River system under the Endangered Species Act.

Hatchery steelhead are marked by removing the adipose fin. In order to ensure wild steelhead are protected in Idaho waters, Fish and Game requires all rainbow trout longer than 20 inches be released unharmed in waters where wild steelhead naturally return.

Warren landed the monster rainbow and knew he had no choice but to let it go, but he and his fishing companion took photographs and weighed and measured the giant before putting it back in the water.

Their scale put the rainbow at 28.37 pounds. They say it was 32 inches long with an amazing girth of 28.5 inches.

Idaho Fish and Game staffers tested the scale the anglers used, and found it to be relatively accurate, but in order to qualify for a place in Idaho’s record books, a fish must be weighed on a certified scale.

Fish and Game officials say they see photos of giant rainbows landed on steelhead streams from time to time, and anecdotal information suggests these fish are caught more often than some might think.

Once a rainbow trout reaches 20 inches in waters that might contain wild steelhead, it receives protection that rainbows in other waters don’t share. Since 2010, all trout in the Clearwater and North Fork Clearwater were excluded from harvest to protect adult and juvenile steelhead.

Even though this fish was likely stocked as a sterile 10-inch rainbow trout intended for harvest around seven years ago, it has received the same protection as wild rainbows in catch-and-release only waters like the upper Henry’s Fork. If not for that protection, it is unlikely those fish would survive long enough to attain that size.

The fish also had the advantage of living below a dam, giving it access to some pretty easy food coming out of the Dworshak’s turbines.

Regardless of whether this fish could or should have made it into Idaho’s record books, here's the best news: 

  • Somebody caught it and got a photo record of the catch.
  • Now it's back in the river to make the day for another angler.

Tucannon hatchery steelhead must be retained by anglers

FISHING — You catch em, you keep em according to a new rule going into effect Monday, Jan. 19, for hatchery-marked steelhead in the Tucannon River.  There's also a change in whitefish rules.

Here's the notice from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Action:  Rule changes for steelhead and whitefish fisheries.
Rule change for definition of the mouth of the Tucannon River.
Closes fishing effective March 1, 2015.

Effective date: Jan. 19 through Feb. 28, 2015; closed March 1, 2015.

Species affected: Hatchery steelhead (with missing adipose fin) and whitefish.

  1. All (hatchery origin) steelhead with a missing adipose fin landed in the Tucannon River) must be retained. Catch and release of hatchery steelhead is not allowed.

  2. Anglers may retain up to 15 whitefish and 2 hatchery steelhead, but must release all other fish.

  3. Barbless hooks are required.

  4. Release all wild steelhead.

  5. The area from Marengo (at Turner Road Bridge) upstream is closed to fishing.

Location:  For this emergency regulation, the Tucannon River is defined as the water lying south of a line of sight from an orange diamond-shaped sign attached to the Hwy 261 guard rail (northwest of the Tucannon River and adjacent to/downstream from the rest area turn off), running southeast across to the eastern, unsubmerged shoreline of the Tucannon River (point of land spit). The large embayment between the eastern shoreline of the Tucannon River and the rock bluff to the east along the south shore of the Snake River is considered part of the Snake River.

Reason for action: Wild steelhead returns to the Tucannon River are below management objectives for conservation and for maintaining fisheries under previous rules. Therefore, the fishery for hatchery steelhead must be constrained to provide more protection of naturally produced steelhead in the Tucannon River. The emergency regulations are designed to focus the fishery on removing stray hatchery steelhead that primarily enter the Tucannon River in late summer and fall to prevent them from spawning. The emergency rules also provide a refuge area above Marengo to protect early returning wild steelhead, and close the fishery before March when most of the wild steelhead return to the Tucannon River.

Other Information: Anglers must cease fishing for steelhead for the day once they have retained 2 hatchery steelhead. Adipose fin-clipped fish must have a healed scar at the location of the missing fin. All steelhead with unclipped adipose fins must be immediately released unharmed.

In addition, anglers may not remove any steelhead from the water unless it is retained as part of the daily bag limit. Anglers should be sure to identify their catch because chinook and coho salmon, as well as bull trout are also present in the Tucannon River during this steelhead fishery. Gamefish fisheries re-open in the Tucannon River on the first Saturday in June as described in the May 1, 2014 - June 30, 2015 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet. 

BC to kill wolves in last-ditch effort to save caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Up to 24 wolves in British Columbia just north of Idaho will be shot by helicopter gunners this winter in an effort to save the 18 remaining southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou from extinction.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources formally announced the wolf removal effort on Thursday, but the planning has been underway for more than a year, said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d’Alene.

Both the predators and their prey roam across the U.S.-Canada border into North Idaho and the northeastern corner of Washington. The caribou have been listed as endangered species in the United States since 1984 and they’re also protected in British Columbia.

Idaho and Washington wildlife officials have been consulted as well as First Nations, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canada officials said.

In the South Peace region of the province, officials announced plans to lethally remove 120-160 wolves to save caribou herds threatened by predation. In the four caribou herds that roam that that region, at least 37 percent of all adult mortalities have been documented as wolf predations, Canada officials said.

The South Selkirk herd has declined from 46 caribou in 2009 to 27 in 2012, and to 18 in a survey conducted 10 months ago. Evidence points to wolves being the leading cause of mortality, officials said.

Caribou in the South Selkirk Mountains have been struggling, largely from losses of old-growth habitat and related issues, despite releases of new animals in Canada to bolster the numbers. Snowmobiling has been restricted in most of the core recovery area in Canada and the United States.

“BC considered removing wolves last year,” Wakkinen said. “We authorized them to operate south into Idaho up to 12 miles for any wolf control action to benefit caribou, but they never used it.”

Six of the South Selkirk caribou were captured last winter and radio-collared. While monitoring the animals, Canada researchers learned that two caribou – 11 percent of the remaining herd – were killed by wolves in the past 10 months.

The researchers later captured and fixed radio collars on wolves in two of the three packs in the Selkirk Caribou Recovery Zone to monitor their movements.

“The wolves were collared with the intent of a control action later this winter to eliminate those wolf packs in the caribou recovery area,” Wakkinen said.

Mountain lions also have killed caribou in the wider Purcells-Selkirk region, ministry reports say.

“Two of the wolf packs are north of BC Highway 3 and one is south of the highway and often right on the border in the northern tier of Idaho,” Wakkinen said. Wolves regularly roam the Boundary Lake area of Idaho, he said.

Last week, radio-collared caribou were in Washington “within a sling-shot distance of Canada and Idaho,” Wakkinen said.

Washington has not given Canada officials authority for wolf control, said state Fish and Wildlife wolf policy director Dave Ware.

  • Washington's Wolf Management Plan would prevent state officials from killing wolves even to protect endangered caribou, said Kevin Robinette, department regional wildlife manager in Spokane. "It would be a long process," he said today, noting that Idaho has removed special protections for wolves.

Hunting and trapping of wolves in British Columbia have not effectively reduced populations and may even split up packs and increase predation rates on caribou, officials said.

Habitat recovery continues to be an important part of caribou recovery, but cannot address the critical needs of these herds in the short term, they said.

Idaho girl’s perch declared ice-fishing world record

FISHING — An Idaho girl has landed a national fishing distinction.

Tia Wiese, 12, of Eagle, caught a yellow perch weighing 2 pounds 11.68 ounces on March 1 at Lake Cascade. Shortly afterward, the fish was confirmed as the Idaho state record for the species.

But during a hunting trip in Wisconsin, her father, Gary Wiese, visited the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. He learned of a special world-record category for ice fishing with a tip-up — and the yellow perch record was 2 pounds 6 ounces caught in Massachusetts.

“I knew there were different line class records, but I didn’t know there were records like ice fishing,” Gary said.

The Wieses sent the paperwork on Tia's fish to the Hall of Fame and recently received confirmation that it had been declared the new world record for the largest yellow perch confirmed as being caught while ice fishing using a tip-up rod.

In the late 1990s, Idaho Fish and Game Department fishery managers recognized that Lake Cascade’s perch population had depleted dramatically. Addressing angler appeals, they began a program to rejuvenate the fishery. Thousands of yellow perch were released into Lake Cascade, and those fish successfully spawned, beginning a rapid recovery of the lake’s perch population.

Fifteen years later, Lake Cascade has a strong population of yellow perch. In 2014, anglers were regularly catching them in the 2-pound range. Tia's father caught one almost as big as hers.

While Tia’s state record and world record remain on the books for now, plenty of anglers will be trying to catch a larger perch this year. Yellow perch spawn in early spring, and right now the females preparing for the spring spawn are adding weight as their eggs grow.

The next couple of months will tell whether Tia will retain her place in Idaho’s record books, and at the top of the world’s list of perch caught through the ice using a tip-up.