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Idaho director weary of wolf-facts distortion

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Since Idaho's main wolf biologist, Jim Hayden, made a routine presentation on the status of the state's wolf population to the state Fish and Game Commission two weeks ago, the spin on the numbers has been dizzying — and distorting.

IFG Director Virgil Moore says enough already: It's time for advocacy groups to stop crying wolf.

Here 's an op-ed piece Moore has released to lay out the facts the agency has compiled about Idaho's wolf population.

By Virgil Moore/Director, Idaho Fish and Game

It’s important for state agencies to understand and respect differing points of view.  But when a few advocacy groups try to grab headlines by skewing Idaho Fish and Game scientific wolf monitoring data in ways that simply aren’t true, it’s also important to set the record straight. 

Here are the facts:

  • Idaho has more than 100 documented wolf packs and over 600 wolves.  Idaho’s wolf population far exceeds federal recovery levels of 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves.
  • After meeting federal recovery levels in 2002, Idaho’s wolf population grew largely unchecked for the remainder of the decade, resulting in increased conflicts with other big game populations and livestock. 
  • After 4 harvest seasons since the 2011 delisting, livestock depredations have declined.  Wolf predation continues to have unacceptable impacts to some elk populations, but there are signs elk populations are responding positively to wolf management.
  • Wolves in Idaho continue to be prolific and resilient.  Idaho will keep managing wolves to have a sustainable, delisted population and to reduce conflicts with people, livestock, and other big game populations.

Despite these facts, a few advocacy groups chose to take the breeding pair metric out of context to make claims that Idaho wolves are “teetering on the brink of endangered status once again.”  That’s hogwash.  And it’s the kind of polarizing misinformation that undermines responsible wildlife conservation and management in Idaho.

Confirming a pack meets U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s narrow definition of a “breeding pair” is costly and labor-intensive.  With vast reductions in federal funding to the state and Nez Perce Tribe for wolf monitoring, Fish and Game has focused our effort on demonstrating Idaho has at least 15 “breeding pairs” to comply with federal recovery requirements.  Idaho closely surveyed 30 packs and confirmed that 22 of them met the breeding pair standard at the end of 2014.  Because Idaho has shown it is well above federal recovery levels, we may rely on less intensive monitoring for the other 70 + packs as we complete our final 2014 population estimates.  One can assume these 70+ packs include some additional breeding pairs.  We will publish our annual monitoring report in March.

As trained scientists, Idaho Fish and Game stands by our data and our wildlife management plans.  We manage wolves to ensure we keep state management authority and address conflicts with people, livestock, and other big game populations.

I hope people who truly care about wildlife conservation ignore the exaggerations and misinformation and help Fish and Game focus on the real issues affecting Idaho’s wildlife.

Montana tries profit incentive to boost wolf control

PREDATORS — Montana hunters and trappers aren't killing enough wolves to keep the population down to state management goals. So…

Montana hunters, trappers may now export wolf pelts
In order to keep hunters and trappers interested in wolves, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks successfully requested tags from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, that allow the export of endangered species while adhering to management practices that ensure the continuation of the species.
—Missoula Independent;

Backcountry Film Festival tonight in Spokane; Feb. 13 in CdA

WINTERSPORTS —

The Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival touring films will show at more than 100 venues this year, including the Inland Northwest;

  • Tonight, Jan. 29, 7 p.m., at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane. Tickets: $12 at Mountain Gear, 2002 N. Division St., or TicketsWest.  Sponsored by Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance, or #speak4thepeak.
  • Feb. 13, 7 p.m., at the Eagles Club in Coeur d’Alene, 209 Sherman Ave. Tickets: $7. Sponsored by the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness and the Idaho Conservation League. For more information: www.idahoconservation.org, or call (208) 265-9565.

See my Sunday story about the film fest in Spokane.

Following is the lineup of films coming to the Spokane showing of the Backcountry Film Festival:

  • From the Road (Fischer Creative) – Dynafit team goes to Alaska.
  • Afterglow (Sweetgrass Production) – Skiers light up the backcountry slopes.
  • Backcountry Baker (Jeremy Lurgio) – A Labrador retriever and his owner pursue their love of mountains through backcountry skiing in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains; Best Grassroots Film Award.
  • Out on a Limb (T-bar Films) – An amputee overcomes obstacles through his love for skiing; Best of Festival Award.
  • 95 to Infinity (Doglotion Media) – Brothers Andy and Mike Traslin keep the torch lit for 95 months of winter turns.
  • IRS Traverse (Luc Mehl) – A fun but grueling adventure through Alaska wilderness.
  • Powder Pilgrimage (Joey Howell) – Two friends ski bumming near Valdez; Best of Backcountry Award.
  • Sundog (Sturge Films) – Capturing the dog days of skiing in Patagonia.
  • Higher (Teton Gravity Research) – Pro athlete Jeremy Jones reaches new heights.

Lake Roosevelt camping, boating fees to increase Feb. 9

PUBLIC LANDS — Camping and boat-launching fees will increase starting Feb. 9 at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

The area is among numerous National Park Service units where fees will be increased this year to help maintain facilities.

The camping fee from May 1 to Sept. 30 will be $18 a night; group site use will be $55 per night for 1-25 people, $80 per night for 26-50 people, and $105 per night for 51-75 people.

The off-season camping rate (Oct. 1 to April 30) will be $9.

The boat launching fee will be $8 for a week

The boat launch annual permit will be a single yearly fee of $45.  The discounts are being dropped for buying the permit at different times of the year. 

Discounts for holders of federal America the Beautiful passes for seniors and disabled will continue to get discounts on nightly camping and weekly boat launch permit fees, but regulations do not allow discounts on already discounted items such as yearly boat launch permits.

  • Annual boat launching permits can still be purchased for $30 if purchased before Feb. 9 at pay.gov  or at Coulee Hardware in Grand Coulee, Forth Spokane Store or Kettle Falls Harvest Foods.

The current fees at Lake Roosevelt were established in 1995.  Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area is permitted to retain and utilize fees collected for improvements to visitor services, officials said.

Planned projects include continued improvements to comfort stations, enlarging the parking lot at Fort Spokane boat launch, improving the Crescent Bay launch and day use areas, and improving the Fort Spokane water system.

Be the 12th player on the slopes - for $12

WINTERSPORTS — Acknowledging that there might be some serious competition for visitors this weekend, Stevens Pass Ski Area as well as Silver Mountain are deflating ticket prices on Super Bowl Sunday.

Silver Mountain is offering all-day tickets for $12.

Stevens Pass is offering $12 lift tickets good for 4 hours — just enough time to hit the slopes before funneling into the lodges for Super Bowl festivities or make way back home for the big game.

The resort is offering only 1,200 of the $12 ticket vouchers, which are available online.

Idaho whitewater river trip applications due Saturday

WATERSPORTS — River permits or the region’s world-class rafting streams are among the most coveted recreation reservations in the West — and Saturday, Jan. 31, is the deadline to apply.

River runners sometimes can obtain no-show permits for the Selway, Salmon, Middle Fork Salmon and Hells Canyon Snake rivers. Also, a portion of available permits may be held back and issued daily at ranger stations.

But locking in a reservation for a major river trip is key to planning.

Savvy trippers get a group of people to apply for dates to boost their chances in lottery drawings. Maximum group size on the rivers generally is around 30. Midweek launch dates tend to be easier to get than Friday-Sunday dates.

The toughest permit to bag is for the Selway, with odds of 1 in 52 last year. The easiest permit is the Snake River in Hells Canyon, with odds of 1 in 7.

Following are some of the most sought-after permits in the region.

• Idaho’s Selway, Salmon, Middle Fork Salmon and the Snake River in Hells Canyon.

Deadline for online applications (no paper applications allowed): Jan. 31. Details: http://1.usa.gov/15VvY8k.

• Montana’s Smith River, a classic 59-mile multiday floating and fishing experience in Central Montana.

Deadline for applications: Feb. 19. Details: fwp.mt.gov.

2015 fishing rules reflect strong Columbia River spring chinook run

FISHING — Anticipating another strong return of spring chinook salmon, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today set the initial 2015 fishing season to run through April 10 on the lower Columbia River.

Catch guidelines are based on a projected run of 312,600 adult spring chinook to the Columbia — just shy of last year's banner return, said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam will be allowed to catch an estimated 11,500 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is available in early May.

Another 1,200 adult upriver chinook are reserved for anglers fishing upriver from Bonneville Dam to the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles above McNary Dam. Additional fish have also been reserved for the Snake River sport fishery.

"The stage is set for another great fishery this year," Roler said in a media release. "Not only is the run forecast well above average, but water conditions also appear to be favorable for the upcoming season."

From March 1 through April 10, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one marked, hatchery-reared adult spring chinook as part of their daily catch limit. The sport fishery will close in that area on three Tuesdays - March 24, March 31, and April 7 - to accommodate potential commercial fisheries.

Spring chinook fishing is currently open on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Under the new rules, the fishery for boat and bank anglers will expand upriver to Beacon Rock on March 1, with bank fishing also allowed from Beacon Rock upriver to the fishing boundary just below Bonneville Dam.

Upstream of Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through May 6 between the Tower Island powerlines (six miles below The Dalles Dam) and the Washington/Oregon state line. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time.

Anglers fishing upstream of Bonneville Dam will also be limited to one marked, hatchery-reared adult spring chinook per day from March 16 through May 6. The fishing area above Bonneville Dam extends upriver to the Washington/Oregon state line.

Barbless hooks are required in both areas, and anglers must release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.

Roler noted that this year's projected run includes 232,500 upriver spring chinook salmon bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam - well above the 10-year average of 178,000 upriver fish.

Similar to past years, Washington and Oregon will manage the fishery with a 30 percent buffer on the upriver chinook forecast until more is known about the actual magnitude of the return and an in-season run update is available, he said.

"We'll continue to take a conservative approach in managing the fishery," Roler said. "If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in the spring."

In addition to setting fishing seasons for spring chinook salmon, representatives for Washington and Oregon also approved fishing rules for this year's eulachon smelt fishery. Regulations for both fisheries will be posted on WDFW's website by January 29.

Man who shot wolf, didn’t report, opts for jury trial

PREDATORS — A North Idaho man says he will take his chances with a jury rather than pay a $200 fine for shooting a wolf without a hunting tag.

“It’s going to be really hard to find a jury in North Idaho that finds me guilty for shooting a wolf to save my stinking dogs,” Forrest Mize told The Coeur d’Alene Press in a story today.

Mize, 53, faces a misdemeanor charge of possessing a wolf without a tag, not for the shooting of the wolf, which is a game animal in Idaho that can be legally hunted.

The same charges would apply if he'd have shot a mountain lion without a tag and kept it. Shooting an animal in self defense or defense of property is allowed if it can be proved, but state law says the animal must be turned over to authorities.

Here are more details from the Associated Press:

Mize said he was hiking with his pets last month when they came upon the wolf. Mize said he feared the animal was about to attack, so he shot it with the gun he was carrying for protection.

He said he decided he wanted to keep the pelt, and so he bought a hunting tag and took the carcass to a taxidermist.

But wildlife officials say it’s illegal to shoot a wolf without a tag and then buy a tag afterward. Authorities said Mize should have simply reported shooting the wolf and the circumstances involved.

Because Mize didn’t have a valid tag when he killed the wolf, wildlife officials confiscated the pelt, which can be worth hundreds of dollars.

Mize turned down Kootenai County prosecutors’ offer Tuesday of a $200 fine if he pleads guilty.

“I did the right thing, I just did it in the wrong order,” Mize said. “I’m not going to buy a tag (in advance), because I don’t hunt for wolves.”

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh confirmed the offer was made.

Wilderness vs. monument for Boulder White-Clouds?

PUBLIC LANDS — Some Idaho groups are supporting national monument status for the Boulder-White Clouds rather than a compromise wilderness bill.

Groups weigh in on Idaho U.S. Rep. Simpson's wilderness bill
Idaho U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch introduced legislation last week to prevent presidents from using powers under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate areas national monuments.Meanwhile, their colleague in the House, Rep. Mike Simpson, introduced a new version of his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act that would create three new wilderness areas in the state. Simpson's bill would protect an area that some in Idaho have been pressing President Obama to designate a national monument. While Simpson and Risch are collaborating, The Wilderness Society, Idaho Conservation League and the Wood River Bicycle Coalition still prefer national monument status.

Updated: Spokane River flow rules below paddlers’ expectations

UPDATED Jan. 28, 10:55 a.m. with more explanation from Department of Ecology.

RIVERS — The state of Washington adopted new state rule on  instream flows for the Spokane River today, but the levels are likely to disappoint rafters and environmental groups, who had pushed for higher flows, according to a story filed by S-R reporter Becky Kramer.

The instream flow for the river’s main stem varies by season, peaking at 6,500 cubic feet per second in late spring where the river roars through downtown Spokane, and tapering to 850 cubic feet per second in late summer. Each cubic foot of water is about 7 ½ gallons.

River advocates posted this detailed reaction of their disappointment for the adopted rules:

Today river advocates criticized the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) for adopting a flow rule for the Spokane River that allows further dewatering of the popular urban river.  The Spokane River flows from Lake Coeur d’Alene through eastern Washington to its confluence with the Columbia River.   The River supports important fisheries and wildlife, and a vibrant boating and recreation industry.  Two thousand people sent comments to the agency opposing the draft rule and asking that river flows be protected.

“This is a terrible decision for the Spokane River and our community,” said Paul Delaney, a co-founder and board member of the Northwest Whitewater Association in Spokane who has been running the river for 35 years.  “They never talked to us.  They never did the basic use surveys of thousands of people who use the river.  And then the agency disregarded basic survey information we provided on boating use of the Spokane River.  In the end, the agency’s decision jeopardizes the Spokane River and the water future for this part of eastern Washington.”

The state rule sets flows for the Spokane River, including summertime low flows at 850 cubic feet per second (cfs).   Flows that are not protected eventually will be taken for out-of-stream water uses, including Idaho pumpers, the City of Spokane, and the Office of the Columbia River’s Spokane-Rathdrum ASR project.   

Although Ecology has defended its decision by pointing to a study that concludes that the 850cfs flow is good for fish, scientists have since pointed out that the study is inadequate for setting flows needed by Spokane River fish.   The proposed flows are also inadequate for salmon fisheries, which are proposed for restoration in the Spokane River.

In setting flows, the Department of Ecology failed to consult with boaters who use the Spokane River.  American Whitewater undertook a survey asking Spokane River boaters about their flow preferences.  Survey results show that all boaters prefer flows higher than 1000 cfs and most prefer flows in the range of 5000 cfs.   Flows less than 1000 cfs are considered unfavorable to boaters and can cause damage to some craft.

“Excluding rafters, kayakers, and canoeists in setting flows is a dangerous move for Washington State’s rivers,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, senior water policy advisor with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP).  “Water may be political currency, but we also have stewardship responsibilities to protect the state’s rivers.”

Ecology also failed to do basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge.  CELP released an atlas of 37 key observation points of the Spokane River’s downriver reach, starting at the Monroe Street bridge in downtown Spokane.  The study documents five different flows ranging from 2,800 to 1,000 cfs.

“We need to protect our rivers; the water frontier is over,” said Osborn.   “The law is clearly on the side of the Spokane River:  ‘Perennial rivers and streams of the state shall be retained with base flows necessary to provide for preservation of wildlife, fish, scenic, aesthetic and other environmental values, and navigational values.’”

Brook Beeler, DOE communication manager, submitted further explanation from agency officials:

The rule to preserve and protect flow was written to balance all of the community’s needs for the river, including fish, recreation, water use and hydropower.

The river is a complex system and its flow is dependent on a variety of factors. They include seasonal weather, groundwater use, and operation of hydropower facilities on the river. The higher flows requested by many recreational users have rarely been seen in summer on the Spokane River since the Post Falls Dam was constructed in 1907.

It is important to note that instream flow rules do not add water to the river — they are a regulatory threshold to determine whether there is water available for new uses. The rule doesn’t require business, water providers or local government to add water to the river. In order to increase river flow, the hydropower operations on the river would need to change, which is governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license process – not the instream flow rule.

Existing water rights like the city of Spokane’s right and other water providers cannot be affected by the rule. New requests for water in Washington will be individually evaluated to determine if water is available and in the public’s interest to issue new water use permits.

We are committed to working with local governments, environmental advocates, local businesses and the community on water management decisions to preserve a clean and flowing Spokane River.

For more information, see these links:

Cheap .22 ammo top attraction at Portland sportsmen’s show

SHOOTING — Remember when Jim Zumbo and fishing demo tanks stocked with real fish were the big attractions advertized by sportsman show promoters?

Times have changed:  A promotion getting big attention for the  Pacific Northwest Sportsmen's Show in Portland next week is a chance for 15,000 gun owners to score a brick of cheap .22 rimfire ammunition.

Each day of the show, Cascade Farm and Outdoor of Walla Walla will sell 6,000 short bricks (300 rounds) for $20 each, or 6.7 cents per round, reports Oregon outdoor writer Bill Monroe.

"They're CCI, 36-grain, copper-plated, hollow-point cartridges.That's how many permits will be issued on a first-come basis to show attendees – exhibitors included – allowing them to buy inexpensive short 'bricks' of .22 caliber long rifle ammunition."

Details are posted online. The show runs Feb. 4-8 at the Portland Expo Center.

Shooters are well aware that .22 rimfire ammo, the most popular recreational shooting caliber, has been in short supply for years. Panic buying and hoarding apparently was prompted by consumer hysteria that President Obama somehow had the power to confiscate guns and stockpile ammo.

"Few major sources in the Portland area had any (.22 ammo) at all in a cursory check this past week," Monroe said. "Prices for those that did ranged from 16 to 20 cents per round. American ammunition manufacturers are racing to keep up with demand, but some retailers are importing .22 ammo from Mexico."

"Brick" is a term for a small container, usually cardboard, holding smaller boxes of .22 ammunition, usually 40 or 50 rounds. Years ago, a brick was always 500 rounds. Today total cartridges in a 22 brick varies from 300-500 rounds.

Oregon wolf census prompts talk of de-listing from ESA protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Oregon's prolific gray wolves have moved into a new recovery management phase that gives ranchers more flexibility in dealing with threats to their animals, including shooting wolves caught chasing livestock.

In the most recent census, wolves have hit the threshold for consideration as early as June of taking them off the state endangered species list.

 Wildlife biologists documented seven breeding pairs of wolves in Oregon in 2014, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday.  Confirmation of at least four breeding pairs for the third consecutive year in eastern Oregon moves the eastern part of the state to Phase 2 of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

“This is an important step for Oregon," said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator. "Wolves have now met one of the initial milestones envisioned by the public and the Commission.

"In the past seven years, Oregon has gone from no known wolves, to resident and reproducing wolves, and now to meeting our conservation objective for the eastern part of the state.”

In addition to breeding pairs, the department documented four new pairs of wolves in 2014, including confirmation of a second wolf in the Keno Unit last week.

Of the state's nine known wolf packs, only the Imnaha Pack is not a breeding pair. The Umatilla River pack still needs to be surveyed. 

A breeding pair is a pair of adult wolves which produce at least two pups that survive to the end of each year. Six of Oregon’s 2014 breeding pairs are in eastern Oregon.

Most known wolf activity, including eight of the nine known wolf packs, is east of Highways 395-78-95. This is the area of the state where wolves are also delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act.

Wolf-livestock conflict in this area is now managed under Phase 2 rules of the Oregon Wolf Plan. Non-lethal measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflict are still emphasized in Phase 2, but livestock producers now have more flexibility to protect their livestock.

Specifically, producers in the easternmost portion of the state are allowed to shoot a wolf caught chasing livestock under certain circumstances.

West of Highways 395-78-95, wolves remain listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates all take and harassment of wolves where wolves are federally listed. The only known wolves in this area are the Rogue Pack (OR7) and two new wolves recently confirmed in the Keno Unit.

ODFW  biologists are working to complete 2014 wolf population counts for the annual state wolf report required from all Northern Rockies wolf recovery states by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The transition to Phase 2 also marks the initiation of the state delisting process in Oregon as outlined in the Wolf Plan. ODFW will begin conducting a full status review and will present the results of that review to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in April. 

Delisting from the Oregon List of Endangered Species is a public process and the Commission could make their decision as early as June 2015.

“The Wolf Plan is working and the wolf population in Oregon expanding as the original crafters of the Plan thought it would,” said Brett Brownscombe, ODFW interim deputy director.  “We should embrace this wildlife success as wolves’ return to the Oregon landscape and ensure management approaches are also in place to address the challenges that come with wolves.”

Spokane River flow rules below paddlers’ expectations

UPDATED Jan. 28, 10:45 a.m. with more explanation from Department of ecology.

UPDATED at 5:25 p.m. with comments from river advocates.

RIVERS — The state of Washington adopted new state rule on  instream flows for the Spokane River today, but the levels are likely to disappoint rafters and environmental groups, who had pushed for higher flows, according to a story filed by S-R reporter Becky Kramer.

The instream flow for the river’s main stem varies by season, peaking at 6,500 cubic feet per second in late spring where the river roars through downtown Spokane, and tapering to 850 cubic feet per second in late summer. Each cubic foot of water is about 7 ½ gallons.

River advocates posted this detailed reaction of their disappointment for the adopted rules:

Today river advocates criticized the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) for adopting a flow rule for the Spokane River that allows further dewatering of the popular urban river.  The Spokane River flows from Lake Coeur d’Alene through eastern Washington to its confluence with the Columbia River.   The River supports important fisheries and wildlife, and a vibrant boating and recreation industry.  Two thousand people sent comments to the agency opposing the draft rule and asking that river flows be protected.

“This is a terrible decision for the Spokane River and our community,” said Paul Delaney, a co-founder and board member of the Northwest Whitewater Association in Spokane who has been running the river for 35 years.  “They never talked to us.  They never did the basic use surveys of thousands of people who use the river.  And then the agency disregarded basic survey information we provided on boating use of the Spokane River.  In the end, the agency’s decision jeopardizes the Spokane River and the water future for this part of eastern Washington.”

The state rule sets flows for the Spokane River, including summertime low flows at 850 cubic feet per second (cfs).   Flows that are not protected eventually will be taken for out-of-stream water uses, including Idaho pumpers, the City of Spokane, and the Office of the Columbia River’s Spokane-Rathdrum ASR project.   

Although Ecology has defended its decision by pointing to a study that concludes that the 850cfs flow is good for fish, scientists have since pointed out that the study is inadequate for setting flows needed by Spokane River fish.   The proposed flows are also inadequate for salmon fisheries, which are proposed for restoration in the Spokane River.

In setting flows, the Department of Ecology failed to consult with boaters who use the Spokane River.  American Whitewater undertook a survey asking Spokane River boaters about their flow preferences.  Survey results show that all boaters prefer flows higher than 1000 cfs and most prefer flows in the range of 5000 cfs.   Flows less than 1000 cfs are considered unfavorable to boaters and can cause damage to some craft.

“Excluding rafters, kayakers, and canoeists in setting flows is a dangerous move for Washington State’s rivers,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, senior water policy advisor with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP).  “Water may be political currency, but we also have stewardship responsibilities to protect the state’s rivers.”

Ecology also failed to do basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge.  CELP released an atlas of 37 key observation points of the Spokane River’s downriver reach, starting at the Monroe Street bridge in downtown Spokane.  The study documents five different flows ranging from 2,800 to 1,000 cfs.

“We need to protect our rivers; the water frontier is over,” said Osborn.   “The law is clearly on the side of the Spokane River:  ‘Perennial rivers and streams of the state shall be retained with base flows necessary to provide for preservation of wildlife, fish, scenic, aesthetic and other environmental values, and navigational values.’”

Brook Beeler, DOE communication manager, submitted further explanation from agency officials:

The rule to preserve and protect flow was written to balance all of the community’s needs for the river, including fish, recreation, water use and hydropower.

The river is a complex system and its flow is dependent on a variety of factors. They include seasonal weather, groundwater use, and operation of hydropower facilities on the river. The higher flows requested by many recreational users have rarely been seen in summer on the Spokane River since the Post Falls Dam was constructed in 1907.

It is important to note that instream flow rules do not add water to the river — they are a regulatory threshold to determine whether there is water available for new uses. The rule doesn’t require business, water providers or local government to add water to the river. In order to increase river flow, the hydropower operations on the river would need to change, which is governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license process – not the instream flow rule.

Existing water rights like the city of Spokane’s right and other water providers cannot be affected by the rule. New requests for water in Washington will be individually evaluated to determine if water is available and in the public’s interest to issue new water use permits.

We are committed to working with local governments, environmental advocates, local businesses and the community on water management decisions to preserve a clean and flowing Spokane River.

For more information, see these links:

Forest Service sets rule for oversnow vehicles

WINTERSPORTS — Just-released news of special interest to backcountry skiers and snowmobilers alike:

The U.S. Forest Service today released the final policy for managing snowmobile and other "over-snow" vehicle use on national forests and grasslands. As directed by court order, the policy requires that roads, trails and areas where over-snow vehicle use can occur be specifically designated by local Forest Service mangers. Previously, managers had the discretion to decide whether to designate specific areas for over-snow vehicle use.

Following are details in the agency's announcement:

"The Forest Service always seeks to provide a wide range of motorized and non-motorized recreational opportunities," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "This policy maintains community input and local decision-making so that those with knowledge of local areas can decide how to best balance natural resource issues with legitimate recreational uses of national forest land."

Many forests and grasslands currently have oversnow designations—more than 40 percent of national forests where snow depths can accommodate over-snow vehicles have guidance consistent with the final policy—and the agency has directed all remaining forest supervisors where the policy applies to make the providing local guidance a priority. The policy maintains the requirement that all designations must be made with public input as well as ensure protection of natural resources, such as water and soils and wildlife, while continuing appropriate recreational opportunities for over-snow and other recreational uses. The court's order ensures that the final policy also provides consistency across all forests and grasslands by requiring designation of areas where over-snow use is allowed.

The policy, scheduled to be published on Wednesday, Jan. 28 in the Federal Register, is formalized in 30 days. The Forest Service reviewed more than 20,000 comments on the proposed guidelines, which were published in June, 2014.

The best-known use of over-snow vehicles is recreation. However, over snow vehicles are also used for other purposes such as gathering firewood and subsistence hunting. Nationally, the U.S. Forest Service manages more than 200,000 miles of roads and 47,000 miles of trails that are open to motor-vehicle use. These roads and trails vary from single-track trails used by motorcycles to roads designed for high-clearance vehicles such as logging trucks.

The final policy will preserve existing decisions governing over-snow vehicle use that were made under previous authorities with public involvement; allow decisions for over-snow vehicle use to be made independently or in conjunction with decisions for other types of motor vehicle use; and local units will create over-snow vehicle use maps separate from use maps for other kinds of motor vehicles.

The mission of the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the Nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

Only in Minnesota: 20,000 ice fishing holes in one lake

FISHING — I'm guessing the photo above will never be matched at Sprague Lake or anyplace in Idaho or Washington.

 Minnesotans take ice fishing seriously.

An estimated 10,000 anglers headed for Gull Lake last week for the annual $150,000 Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza. The most impressive number is the 20,000 holes the organizers augered in advance for the contestants. 

Even with power augers, that's serious dedication for what they call the "largest charitable ice fishing contest in the world."

Check out the video:

Florida’s largest black bear outweighed two Seahawks tackles

WILDLIFE — Florida wildlife officers trapped and killed the biggest Florida black bear on record Sunday in Longwood.The mammoth animal, which had been roaming Seminole County neighborhoods and causing safety concerns for more than a month, weighed 740 pounds — that's heavier than the combined weight of Seattle Seahawks offensive linemen Alvin Bailey (G, 320 pounds) and (Justin Britt (T, 325).

According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the new heavyweight is more than 100 pounds heavier than the previous Florida record, a 620-pound black bear caught in Paisley in 2013.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, The Longwood bear most likely beefed up on a buffet of curbside garbage in addition to the normal  diet of nuts, berries and sabal-palm hearts.

Residents had complained for weeks about a large beast with white chest markings that had been wandering through their yards and streets. State wildlife officials are taking a more aggressive approach to bear conflicts follows the mauling of two Seminole County women and a teen-age girl in the Panhandle during the past 13 months, the injury of a 68-year-old woman in Heathrow and the growing number of human-bear encounters.

But this one was a whopper. Adult male black bears weigh on average about 250 pounds, though they range between 125 and 600 pounds, according to the American Bear Association. Females are usually smaller, though they can tip the scales at 300 pounds or more. The bears in the Seminole County incidents were smaller females with cubs.

Steelheading improves in Idaho’s Clearwater River

FISHING — Anglers fishing the Clearwater River are enjoying a healthy increase in the number of steelhead returning, according to the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

After a lackluster season in 2013-2014, the number of “B-run” steelhead is up in 2015, and anglers are taking advantage.

Creel surveys and angler reports for the week ending on Jan. 25 indicate good success among anglers fishing the Clearwater with 265 anglers reported catching 277 steelhead.

"Numerous anglers have reported catching their daily limit of three hatchery steelhead this month; in some cases harvesting their limit within a few hours," according to the regional fisheries report.

Overall, anglers averaged one fish every five hours during the seven day period, with much of the action taking place on the weekend.

North Fork Clearwater anglers averaged 10 hours per fish during the week of ending Jan. 25. Anglers are not only catching fish in large numbers, they are also catching some large steelhead; as long as 37 inches.

Fishery managers expect angler success to remain high throughout the Clearwater drainage over the next three months. Anglers are also finding steelhead in the Salmon and Snake Rivers, and catch rates are likely to improve as water temperatures rise during the approach of spring.

Oil drilling in Arctic Refuge? 4 top reasons to say no

PUBLIC LANDS — State and Federal scientists have spent many years and millions of dollars documenting the compelling reasons why the United States should avoid drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

  • I visited the refuge in the early 1990s and then again a decade later to see first-hand the reasons this remote wildlife sanctuary needed protection from development.

Last week, President Obama announced, backed by decades of science, he will recommend to Congress that 12.28 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including its biological heart, the coastal plain, be designated as wilderness – the highest level of protection for public lands in the United States.

In a press release, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell released a new Comprehensive Conservation Plan for managing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

4 Top Reasons why wilderness is best for ANWR

(According to the National Wildlife Federation)

  • With its unique wildlife, unspoiled wilderness where natural processes reign, and important habitat for hundreds of arctic wildlife species and fisheries such as arctic char, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System and one of the most important protected areas on the planet.
  • The 19.8 million acres that comprise the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are also home to Native Alaskans, including the Inupiat and Gwich’in, and the resources of the refuge sustain these populations and protect their indigenous traditions and way of life.
  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is critical to wildlife with 26 polar bear dens — 50 percent of all U.S. dens — and a porcupine caribou herd of 160,000.
  • For more than 30 years, the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain has been at the center of an ongoing debate over oil and natural gas drilling. Designating the coastal plain and other areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness will ban oil and gas drilling, and other development in those areas vital to caribou calving.

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 central 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.

Attached is a letter to President Obama signed by 44 staffers who worked for Idaho Sen. Frank Church during his 24 years in Congress as they make their case for a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument in central Idaho.  Note that the staffers include former Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco.


Documents:

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.