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Four area ski resorts opening this weekend

UPDATED 2:35 p.m. on 1-27-14 — 49 Degrees postpones opening because of warm weather.

WINTERSPORTS — Four ski resorts in the Inland Northwest have announced they plan to be running lifts this weekend. Skiing will be on limited terrain until more snow falls; ticket prices are reduced.

49° North Mountain Resort near Chewelah had planned to open to skiers and snowboarders on Friday, but announced Thursday that warm weather is forcing the opening to be postponed.  Check the resort's snow report for possible opening on Saturday.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort near Sandpoint opened last weekend and will resume operations Friday.

Lookout Pass ski area off Interstate 90 on the Idaho-Montana border will open Friday.  “We received 7” of new snow overnight, 15” since Saturday,” Phil Edholm, Lookout's president, said today. “Our base is currently 14” to 22” and it’s still snowing.

Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg will open Saturday.

Mount Spokane State Park cross-country skiing trails had only about six inches of snow today, reported Jerry Johnson, Park Ranger. With warm temperatures and rain in the forecast he said, “It's likely to be fairly grim up here until the colder temperatures move in on the weekend.”

We won’t be talking turkey at Thanksgiving

The family we're joining for Thanksgiving dinner today are long-time outdoors-loving friends with daughters the same age as ours.

Early this morning, their daughter Elise texted my daughter, Hillary with an urgent message:

“Do you know any good games to play?  Because if you don't, we're going to have to suffer through a lot of fishing talk.”

North Cascades Highway closed for season

OUTDOOR TRAVEL —The North Cascades Highway is closed for the winter after an avalanche assessment on Tuesday determined transportation workers could not safely reopen it.

The 37-mile stretch of Highway 20 between Mazama and Newhalem closes every winter due to avalanche danger.

The highway temporarily closed at 9:30 a.m. Sunday after a snowslide in the Liberty Bell zone east of Washington Pass.

Between 15 and 20 inches of new snow is forecast at high elevations through the Thanksgiving holiday period, state Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Adamson said.

Last year, the highway closed for the season on Dec. 3. It reopened on May 8.

Chinook and Cayuse passes also have been closed for the season after heavy weekend snow.  Chinook is on Highway 410 and Cayuse on Highway 123, both are in the Cascades on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park.

Gray wolf news updates 11-26-2014

PREDATORS — It's been a quiet week in the region some people would like to call Wolfbegone.

But here are a few notes about the species as wolves continues to recover their native range in the Northwest.

A Whitman County wolf shooting case is in the hands of county prosecutor Denis Tracy.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife turned its evidence over to the prosecutor on Nov. 19 with the possibility that the man who shot a wolf around Oct. 12 could be charged with a misdemeanor for killing an animal that's protected in far-Eastern Washington by state endangered species laws. The agency turned over the evidence after receiving DNA lab results that confirmed the animal was a wolf and not a wolf hybrid.
 
Tracy's office staff said today that the prosecutor is still investigating the case before making the decision on whether to prosecute the case. The identity of the shooter has not been released although WDFW officers described the man as a county farmer. The original WDFW report said the man chased the wolf in a vehicle and shot it in a Palouse farm field about 15 miles southwest of Pullman.
 
“We're not recommending anything,” said Steve Crown, Fish and Wildlife Department chief. “We're simply referring the facts of the case in our report. It's up to the prosecutor to examine the facts and the case law and decide whether to bring charges.”
 
Making the decision to prosecute is a big deal.
  • Although exemptions are made for killing a wolf to protect life or livestock, unlawful taking of a state endangered species is punishable by sentences of up to a year in jail and fines up to $5,000.

  • The only wolf-killing case to be prosecuted in Washington resulted in Twisp ranching family members being ordered to pay fines totaling $50,000 in 2012 for killing two Lookout Pack wolves in 2008.

A Kittitas County wolf-killing case remains under investigation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Brent Lawrence said Tuesday no arrests have been made in the October shooting of an adult breeding female belonging to the Teanaway Pack near Salmon la Sac. Conservation groups have offered a $15,000 reward in the case.

The wolf was found by state and federal wildlife officials Oct. 28 in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The female was wearing a telemetry collar and was shot in the hindquarters. Investigators say she likely was killed around Oct. 17.

USFWS is leading the investigation because the shooting occurred in the two-thirds of the state in which wolves are federally protected. Wolves also are protected state endangered species laws.

An unlawful taking of a federal endangered species is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

A hunter was cleared for shooting at stalking wolf on Oct. 30 in Stevens County.The animal ran way, but the hunter reported to officials that he thought it had been hit.

A Smackout Pack wolf was found dead Feb. 9 near Cedar Lake in northeast Stevens County. Conservation groups joined with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer a $22,500 reward for information about the case. However, the case still has not been solved.

An anti-wolf group called  Washington Residents Against Wolves has initiated an billboard campaign in Spokane.

BLM has denied a permit for a predator derby based out of Salmon, Idaho. Organizers say they'll hold the derby on national forest land.

The first gray wolf in northern Arizona in more than 70 years was confirmed by wildlife officials this week. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Humphrey said Friday that analysis of the animal’s scat shows it’s from the Northern Rockies population at least 450 miles away. It was first spotted by a tourist in early November.

Idaho predator derby ruling a win, win, win

WILDLIFE — Looks like everyone's a winner in this deal.

  • The Idaho predator derby organizers wanted to make a point that they don't like wolves.  And they're point was made on a huge stage of publicity.
  • No wolves were killed in a previous derby even though licensed wolf hunting is legal in Idaho.
  • Pro-wolf groups wanted to make their case and line their coffers with donations. Opportunity seized; mission accomplished.

BLM rescinds permit for Idaho for Wildlife's predator derby
A week after Bureau of Land Management Idaho Falls District Manager Joe Kraayenbrink issued a permit to Idaho for Wildlife to expand its predator derby onto BLM lands, Kraayenbrink rescinded that permit, citing modifications made in the derby's regulations. Idaho for Wildlife Executive Director Steve Alder said he believes the two lawsuits filed after the permit was issued and “D.C. bureaucrats” led to the permit being pulled. Alder said the derby would go on as scheduled on U.S. Forest Service and private lands.
—Idaho Mountain Express

Sno-Park permits soon required at Mount Spokane

WINTERSPORTS — The change from Discover Passes to Sno-Park Permits is one of the transitions underway at Mount Spokane State Park as snow begins to pile up and road plowing begins.

Starting Dec.1, vehicles accessing the cross-country skiing and snowshoer parking areas will be required to have Washington Sno-Park permits. The permits can be purchased from a variety of vendors as well as online.

Until then, vehicles accessing the park will still be required to display a Washington Discover Pass, says Steve Christensen park manger, noting that the Sno-Park system is a separate account in state recreation budgeting.

Customers parking at the Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park do not need a vehicle pass — but only when the resort is open and operating.  The ski area has not announced an opening date.

Pacific bluefin tuna record caught by Ellensburg angler

FISHING — Sam Ellinger of Ellensburg has set a state record for the largest Pacific bluefin tuna caught off the coast of Washington, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed.  

The 39.20-pound tuna measured 41 inches and was caught 28 miles offshore southwest of Grays Harbor.

Ellinger, a student at Central Washington University, said he began the day early and was bait-fishing with anchovies, “from the crack of dawn until it got dark.”

“Catching a fish this size was pretty exhausting,” he said.  “We didn't know what we hooked until we got it on the boat.”

The previous Pacific bluefin tuna record was caught in 2012 by Patrick Fagan while fishing 35 miles offshore from Westport.

Pacific bluefin tuna facts courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

  • Among the largest and fastest fish in the ocean.
  • Streamlined to reduce drag around their fins for energy conservation on long-distance journeys. Tuna also can become super-streamlined by retracting or folding fins against the body so water flows even more smoothly over their bodies.
  • Capable of swimming 12-18 mph for brief periods.
  • Unlike most fish, tuna are warm-blooded and can heat their bodies to 11 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding water. This added warmth helps their muscles work faster and more efficiently.
  • Consume as much as five percent of their body weight daily and must continually swim with their mouths open to force water over their gills, supercharging their blood-rich muscles with oxygen.
  • Migrate more than 6,000 nautical miles to the eastern Pacific, eventually returning to their birth waters to spawn off of Okinawa, between Taiwan and the Philippines and in the Sea of Japan.
  • Overfished throughout the world.

Four bald eagles show up at lake CdA, so far

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Four bald eagles were counted today at Lake Coeur d'Alene in the weekly fall survey conducted during the annual fall-winter congregation at the northeast corner of the lake.

That's up from zero birds counted last Wednesday by U.S. Bureau of Land Management biologist Carrie Hugo in her first survey of the season.

Eagles were at Higgens Point and in the Beauty Bay area this week, she said.

For decades, the eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in Wolf Lodge Bay.

“It is not too unusual for the count to be very low (in mid-November),” she said.

The 2013 bald eagle count at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked at 217 on Dec. 30.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Wolf Lodge Bay on Dec. 29, 2011.

Snake River dredging challenged by fishing groups

FISHING — A decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin dredging a silted-in shipping channel in the Snake River near Lewiston is facing a court challenge by Northwest fishing and conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The groups said in a media release that they're “taking legal action against costly, illegal dredging on the lower Snake River aimed at propping up an outdated, environmentally destructive, money-losing waterway.”

Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, filed a complaint Monday with Seattle’s U.S. District Court challenging the Corps’ approval of a $6.7 million lower Snake River dredging project scheduled to begin in mid-December.

The legal action is backed by Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute of Fisheries Resources, Washington Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Friends of the Clearwater.

  • A larger group of fish and river advocacy groups had filed these comments on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Corps plan.

Following is text from the media release stating the position of the environmental groups:

Dredging behind lower Granite Dam is the centerpiece of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla district’s ill-advised plan for maintaining the little-used barging corridor between Pasco, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho.

Though shipping on the Columbia River waterway remains robust, traffic on the lower Snake is so low that it qualifies for the Corps’ own “negligible use” project category.

The Corps’ Walla Walla District released its draft sediment management plan two years ago, asserting that dredging would provide $25 million in benefits but offering no supporting economic analysis.

Fishing and conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe have challenged the Corps plan because it puts salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey at serious risk, purposefully dodges any real look at alternatives to dredging, and ignores the shaky economic justification for the barge corridor created by the four lower Snake River dams.

Despite thousands of comments noting the plan’s glaring errors and omissions, the Corps last week issued a record of decision adopting the plan. The agency immediately signed a contract with a dredging contractor to begin work Dec. 15.

“The lower Snake waterway exacts an enormous price from taxpayers as well as from wild salmon, steelhead, and Pacific Lamprey”, said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “The Corps has failed to look at any alternatives to dredging this winter, and fails to provide an honest assessment of the fiscal and environmental costs involved in shoring up this out-of-date waterway.”

“These four dams are responsible for pushing the Snake River’s wild salmon and steelhead to the edge of extinction.” said SOS executive director Joseph Bogaard. “Climate change and other factors are making the lower Snake River dams ever more deadly to migrating fish while the economic justification for this waterway is slipping away.”

Over the past 15 years, the lower Snake waterway’s freight volume has declined 64 percent as farmers and other shippers move their products to trucks or rail. Maintenance expenses, meanwhile, have surged. Lewiston faces a chronic crisis of sedimentation and U.S. taxpayers now effectively subsidize every barge leaving Lewiston to the tune of about $18,000.

Navigation is the primary purpose of these dams. They generate significant power primarily in  the spring, when power demand and prices are low and the Northwest is awash in hydropower— so much so that wind farms are often forced to shut down.

“Every year, the federal government spends increasing amounts of tax dollars to prop up four obsolete dams on the lower Snake River,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Our specific claims include violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act.”

“Little thought has been given to the long-term economic and environmental consequences of long-term dredging,” said Gary MacFarlane of Friends of the Clearwater.

Mining in the Cabinets: It’s a question of wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — I'm getting mixed reviews in comments and emails about my Sunday Outdoors story: Not-so-wild wilderness: Mining proposals threaten Cabinet Mountains streams, lakes and grizzlies.

Some people say I featured only wilderness activists and that there's really nothing to worry about regarding the mining proposals surrounding the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwestern Montana.

Besides, we all need the metals miners extract, they point out.

Roger.

But the point of the story, and the sidebar focused on the impacts of the mining on grizzly bears, is that while state and federal agencies are poring over mounds of documents on the impacts of each mine proposal, no agency appears to be sizing up the CUMULATIVE IMPACTS of both new mine proposals plus the re-starting of the existing Troy Mine plus the proposals for more motorized vehicle access in the Kootenai National Forest management plan.

The sum of these threats warrants public attention, hence the story.

The Forest Service declined to answer my prepared questions that focused on cumulative impacts.

The process seems to overlook the wilderness as a whole.

“There’s no advocacy group for the wilderness in Sanders County. It wouldn’t be a popular position. But when I’m hiking in there, I also see lots of people form Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and Missoula, and none of them seems to know about the mines.

“A lot of people in Sanders County don’t think people from other areas don’t have a voice in the issue because they don’t live here. But the wilderness belongs to everyone.

     — Jim Costello, SaveOurCabinets.org

It’s wilderness: Either you’re for or against it.”

     —Mary Crowe Costello, Rock Creek Alliance

Lake Roosevelt launch permits available online

UPDATED with 2015 fees.

WATERSPORTS – Annual permits for launching any vessel at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation area can be purchased online in a new page on pay.gov.

Details and a link are on the Lake Roosevelt website.

Permits cost $6 for a week, $20 for the rest of 2014.

Starting Dec. 1, permits for 2015 available for $30.  Boaters and anglers would be wise to buy 2015 permits early to beat a possible boat launch fee increase the Park Services has proposed.  It could kick into effect as early as January.

For Golden Age, Golden Access and Interagency Senior or Access Pass cardholders, fees are discounted 50 percent. When purchasing a seasonal boat launch permit, the 50% discount will be given once in a calendar year for one permit only.  If multiple permits are purchased at one time, only one will be discounted.

Banff Mountain Films lineup listed for Spokane

ADVENTURE — The lineup of films for the three-day run of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Spokane has been decided — just hours before the first films will be shown tonight starting at 7 p.m. at The Bing Crosby Theater.

Shows are sold out for all three nights.

World Tour host — better known as the World Tour road warrior — Holly Elliott met with Phil Bridgers of Mountain Gear met this afternoon at No-Li Brewery to work through the options. They take a lot of care in getting a good mix of 7-9 films of varying lengths and subject matter each night. No repeats through the three-night run.

Elliott already has been on road with screenings in Montana, but Spokane is among the first of hundreds of shows across the globe through September. She says The Bing is one of her favorite venues for sound, intimacy and the atmosphere of the facility and the crowd.

Read on for the lineup in Spokane:

FRIDAY

Vasu Sojitra - Out on a Limb

Tumwater Solitude

Cerro Torre (Best Film: Climbing)

Intermission

Delta Dawn (Best Short Film)

Forgotten Dirt

The Little Things - Meghann O' Brien

Sufferfest 2 - Desert Alpine (People's Choice Award: Radical Reels)

SATURDAY

Danny MacAskill - The Ridge

Caleb

Love in the Tetons

Sculpted in Time - The Wiseman

And Then We Swam (Best Film: Exploration and Adventure)

Intermission

Mending the Line (People's Choice Award at Banff)

Just Keep Running

Valley Uprising - The Golden Age (Grand Prize winner)

Afterglow

SUNDAY

Touch

Happy Winter

Arctic Swell

Tashi and the Monk (Best Film: Mountain Culture)

Intermission

Africa Fusion

14C

Into the Empty Quarter

Wild Women - Faith Dickey

Sun Dog

Let’s name Mt. Spokane’s new downhill ski runs

WINTERSPORTS — Now that the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission has approved the controversial expansion of the downhill skiing area at Mount Spokane State Park, much more work must be done.

More planning is needed, plus permitting, installing a chairlift and building seven new ski runs totaling 74 acres through  279 acres of pristine mountain habitat on the northwest side of the mountain. 

The least the public can do is help Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park name the seven new runs!

A few suggestions to start the process:

  1. Missing Lynx
  2. Former Getaway
  3. Backcountry Found
  4. Wild Hare
  5. Close to Home
  6. Almost Schweitzer
  7. Compromise

Report: sage grouse need large buffer from drilling

WILDLIFE — A government study with significant implications for the U.S. energy industry says the breeding grounds of a struggling bird species need a 3-mile or larger buffer from oil and gas drilling, wind farms and solar projects.

The Associated Press reports that’s a much larger protective zone for the greater sage grouse than some states and federal agencies have adopted as the Obama administration weighs new protections for the bird.

The ground-dwelling bird ranges across 11 Western states. Its population dropped sharply in recent decades due to disease, pressure from the energy industry, wildfires and other factors.

Here's the rest of a still-evolving story by AP writer Matthew Brown:

Monday’s finding from the U.S. Geological Survey comes as state and federal officials scramble to come up with conservation measures to protect the grouse ahead of a court-ordered September 2015 decision on protections.

The USGS report represents a compilation of scientific studies aimed at seeing what it takes to protect the bird.

It was requested by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that oversees millions of acres of sage grouse habitat and also regulates the energy industry across much of the West.

It said a buffer of at least a 3.1-mile radius around sage grouse breeding sites known as leks would provide considerable protections for the bird. That radius would equal a circle around the leks covering 30 square miles.

By comparison, Montana and Wyoming have adopted management plans for the bird that call for a buffer of six-tenths of a mile around leks in key sage grouse habitat. That’s an area of less than 4 square miles.

The USGS did not recommend specific management recommendations. But survey scientists said it should help the Interior Department as it crafts a conservation strategy for the birds.

Carol Schuler, USGS senior science adviser, said that land managers also need to take into consideration local conditions across the grouse’s sprawling, 257,000-square-mile habitat.

“The buffer distances in this report can be useful in developing conservation measures, but should be used in conjunction with conservation planning that considers other factors,” she said.

A related bird, the Gunnison sage grouse of Utah and Colorado, received federal protection as a threatened species on Nov. 12.

State Parks board approves expansion of Mt. Spokane ski area

PUBLIC LANDS — A proposal to expand downhill skiing at Mount Spokane was approved by the Washington Parks Commission today during a meeting in Spokane.

The proposal has been years in the making.

By a 5-2 vote, commissioners approved the designation of the land for skiing, then in a separate vote approved the ski development plan.

See the full story from the meeting by reporter Becky Kramer.

Numerous stories and editorials have followed this proposal over the years.  Some of the most recent samples include:

Nordic skiing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea

WINTERSPORTS — Cross-country skiing is an active way to glide through winter, as S-R columnists explored in the paper this week.

But several readers pointed out that they prefer other less athletic ways to endure the snowy months.  Among them, Gary Polser, who writes:

My Story! Years ago the wife and I lived on 27 acres north of Spokane at Riverside.  We worked at FAFB.  Having been raised in California, I was not familiar with Skiing.  Cross-country skiing sounded like maybe fun on my property.  I checked out some skiing equipment at the base Rec Hall.  Installed same on feet at back deck of house.  Started out in the back parking area.  Made it about six feet and fell on my behind.  Took off the skis and never tried it again.

Perhaps it's a blessing that Gary found some other winter pastime after suffering little more than a bruised ego.

Better to cut your losses early before enduring more serious cross-country skiing rites of passage, such as frostbite and Nordic Nipple.

Bald eagles slow to show at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The annual winter congregation of bald eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene has not yet started, according to biologists who surveyed the north end of the lake on Wednesday.

For decades, the eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured to the northeast corner of the lake from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in Wolf Lodge Bay.

“No eagles at all,” said Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, reporting on her first weekly eagle survey of the season.

“I'd bet they are up on (Lake) Pend Oreille as I have had one report of eight eagles out on the ice.” 

  • A reader has pointed out that numerous bald eagles are on other rivers, such as the Clearwater, where big runs of fall chinook and coho are providing plenty of food for scavengers. Recovery of these runs may be changing eagle movements even though numbers throughout the region could be increasing.

The recovery of Pend Oreille's kokanee population in recent years may be giving bald eagles more choices.

Last year at this time Hugo counted only three bald eagles at Wolf Lodge Bay.  “It is not too unusual for the count to be very low (in mid-November),” she said.

But the 2013 bald eagle count at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked at 217 on Dec. 30.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Lake CdA's Wolf Lodge Bay on Dec. 29, 2011.

Antlers, meat seized in Asotin County trophy elk poaching case

POACHING — After receiving multiple tips throughout the week, Washington Fish and Wildlife Police, with the help of Idaho Fish and Game Officers, identified two suspects in the poaching of two bull elk in the Anatone area on Nov. 2.

WDFW Officers Sabo and King, along with Asotin County Sheriff’s deputies, obtained a search warrant for a cabin near Anatone and recovered the two trophy elk heads, elk meat and a third carcass belonging to an elk calf.
 
Unfortunately, the majority of the elk meat was not salvageable, they said.
 
More than 15 deer, elk, and moose heads, many of them trophy class, were seized for additional follow-up investigation.
 
Multiple charges are being filed with the Asotin County Prosecutors office.

Wild turkeys window shopping in Dayton

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Downtown Dayton, Wash., is a hot spot for wild turkeys, who apparently feel at home on Main Street even in the week before Thanksgiving.

Reports the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

This was the scene in downtown Dayton (Columbia County) this week.  Hunters are hoping at least some of these big birds “head for the hills” come Thursday, Nov. 20, when the late fall general either sex wild turkey hunting season opens in eastern WA game management units.

Details on that season here.

Trail cams stolen from I-90 wildlife collision study

WILDLIFE — I don't have numbers, but I have enough information from hunters, wildlife watchers and wildlife researchers to confidently say that theft of trail cameras has reached epidemic levels.

I've seen posts from a few anonymous thieves rationalizing their behavior by saying they don't want people snooping into land they love or they don't want other hunters figuring out what they already know. 

But the greedy creeps are still thieves, any way you look at it.

Here's news of another assault on ethics, research and public safety.

Nine wildlife cameras used to track elk near North Bend have been stolen.

The Transportation Department was using the cameras in a project to prevent elk collisions on Interstate 90.

Workers noticed nine of the project's 18 Reconyx cameras missing on November 10th. The cameras had protective steel boxes, media cards, and shielded padlocks. Some were camouflaged into their surroundings to deter people from stealing them.

Crews removed nine other remaining cameras as a precaution.

One of the cameras took a picture (above) of a possible suspect, a man with a bandanna over his face.

“These cameras were doing important work that were able to help us build something that could really stop these collisions from happening,” said Harmony Weinberg, DOT public information officer. “It was really crucial work.”

Gonzaga ranked in top 10 colleges — for skiers!

WINTERSPORTS — In addition to the weekly diet of national ratings for basketball teams, Gonzaga University this week has made a list of top 10 colleges for students and their quest for “higher shreducation.”

Holy sitz-mark!

The list has been posted by Freeskier Magazine in a story that evaluates colleges based on 16 factors, including distance to winter resorts, number of resorts within 100 miles, average annual snowfall of closest resort, transportation offerings, number of ski movies on campus and number of courses related to snow.

Some emphasis also is afforded to normal education advantages in the criteria, including percent of students winning grant aid, professor-student ratio and graduation rate.

Accounting for the tight ranking with Montana State University in Bozeman was the the Zags' ability to score in the relatively exclusive category titled “Is Weed Legal?”

Says the magazine:

Gonzaga University, home to the Bulldogs, is a private Roman Catholic university located in Spokane, Washington, on the southern edge of the rugged Selkirk Mountains. While Spokane only receives an average of 11 inches of annual snowfall, Mount Spokane, a mere 26 mile distance away, receives 300-plus, and resorts like Schweitzer, Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain and 49 Degrees North are all within driving distance.

The survey appears to be a snub at Eastern Washington University, where the money students save on tuition would allow them to buy season passes at all the nearby resorts, including Schweitzer.

But Western Washington University proudly represents Washington state schools on the list, boosted by the prolific snowfall at nearby Mount Baker.

The No. 1 school for skiers received this glowing review:

The University of Utah is the undisputed king of ski colleges. Located in Salt Lake City, almost every ski area in the state is located within 100-miles, each of which offer up Utah’s abundant, bone-dry snow. The closest resort—Snowbird—is a quick 16-mile drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon, so if you schedule your classes right, you can be nipple deep all morning and still make it back in time for Biology 101.

Here's the full list:

  1. University of Utah
  2. Sierra Nevada College
  3.  University of Colorado at Boulder
  4. Westminster College
  5. University of Alaska Anchorage
  6. Montana State University
  7. Gonzaga University
  8. University of Nevada Reno
  9. Western Washington University
  10. University of Denver

Schweitzer sets limited opening for skiers on Saturday

WINTERSPORTS — Schweitzer Mountain Resort will open for the season at 9 a.m. on Saturday officials say. A lift will operate through Sunday with 150 acres available for skiing out of the resort's 2,900 acres of terrain.

Skiers will be limited to Midway, with the Basin Express chair lift scheduled to operate from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during opening weekend.

“Even though we’re only opening with limited operations, we’re very excited to get the season started in the Inland Northwest,” says President/CEO Tom Chasse.  “The fact that we have anything to offer is a direct result of pre-season brush cutting, our snowmaking capability and our dedication to the skiers/boarders of the region.”

Schweitzer will close mid-week and then re-open on Friday, Nov. 28, for the weekend. 

With new snow in the forecast over the weekend, the resort hopes to expand the terrain and add the Musical Chairs lift for Thanksgiving weekend.

Lift tickets this weekend will cost $40 for everyone except for children 6 and under who will ski free. 

Schweitzer’s Sunday-Friday passholders may also ski this Saturday and next, at no charge.

Sunday Solution tickets will be available on Sunday, half day ticket are $25 if purchased in advance online, or $35 at the ticket window.

Schweitzer has received only 5 inches of natural snow so far this season in the village but colder than usual temperatures in the last week provided optimal snow making conditions, officials said.

Skiing and snowboarding is recommended on groomed trails as early season conditions exist with variable snowpack.

On mountain parking will be free this weekend and the shuttle from the “Red Barn” parking lot will be running on the midweek schedule. 

Info: (208) 263-9562.

  • 49 Degrees North officials say they're still waiting for more snow before making an announcement.

Idaho farm-raised elk get loose near Yellowstone

WILDLIFE —  State officials say 28 domestic elk escaped from a hunting ranch in eastern Idaho near Yellowstone National Park but only one is unaccounted for and it’s wounded, according to the Associated Press.

Veterinarian Scott Leibsle of the Idaho Department of Agriculture says Broadmouth Canyon Ranch near Firth reported within 24 hours the Sunday escape.

States have strict rules regarding fencing and treatment of domestic elk to prevent the health and genetic influences they might have on wild elk.

Ranch owner and former NFL player Rulon Jones told The Associated Press on Wednesday that 12 elk escaped and five had to be shot. He put the loss of the five elk at $10,000.

The reason for the discrepancy in the number of escaped elk isn’t clear.

Leibsle said Wednesday the agency is waiting for a final report. He says the ranch has met all state requirements for disease testing of captive elk.

Route to Olympic Hot Springs reopened

TRAILS — Olympic National Park has reopened a road and trailhead leading to Olympic Hot Springs.

The Kitsap Sun reports Olympic Hot Springs Road and the Boulder Creek Trailhead had been closed for three years while workers dismantled the Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River. The trail leads 2.5 miles to the undeveloped springs, where nudity is common.

The park says the hot springs underwent ecosystem restoration during the closure. Visitors are asked to camp only in designated areas, avoid stepping on plants and pack out whatever you pack in.

The Seattle Times has more info here.

Poachers kill two trophy bighorn rams in Asotin County

POACHING — Two trophy class bighorn rams were illegally killed up Asotin Creek on the Asotin Creek Wildlife area last weekend.  

“One was shot and wounded and we just found it (Tuesday),” said Paul Mosman, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife police sergeant in Clarkston. He said the ram  probably died Saturday or Sunday and was possibly seen last Wednesday with an injured shoulder. 

“The second ram had a radio collar and the only thing we found was the collar cut off and thrown in the brush,” he said.

Tips on the cases can be made to Officer Matt Sabo, (509) 780-9843 or to Mosman, (509) 710-5707.

Only one permit for bighorn sheep was offered this year for this coveted area.

“This level of harvest is unsustainable on the Asotin Creek herd over the long run,” Mosman said.

A third ram was killed in the same vicinity last weekend by a Nez Perce tribal hunter exercising his tribal hunting rights, Mosman said, noting that a Nez Perce Tribal conservation officer dropped off the research collar the animal was wearing.

Study: Polar bears decline 40 percent in a decade

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The heat is on this indicator species. Who's next?

Study finds 40% decline in polar bear numbers in E. Alaska, W. Canada
A study done by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada, as well as other groups, followed polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea from 2001 to 2010, and found that numbers declined 40 percent during that decade.
—Los Angeles Times

Anti-wolf group initiates Spokane billboard campaign

PREDATORS — A newly organized anti-wolf group says it's targeting Spokane with a billboard campaign “to inform  residents about the reality of an increasing number of wolves in Washington State,” according to a media release posted today.

Four billboards featuring a snarling wolf are being put up, according to Washington Residents Against Wolves, an activist group that says it's promoting “sound management of the predator.”

Billboards are up at Lincoln Road and Division Street and Lincoln Road and Market Street.

“The aim of the billboard campaign is to encourage people to ask more questions about what having wolves in Washington really means,” said Luke Hedquist, WARAW member.

“People need to consider the challenges associated with wolves. Wolves can and will attack people, livestock will be killed and maimed, private property will be compromised and local economies will be impacted. We want to make sure people thoroughly understand the issue, so we started by trying to get people’s attention with the billboards.”

The initial billboard message features a photo of a wolf, teeth bared, and the text: “Endangered? No. Deadly? Yes. Good for Washington? Absolutely not.“ A total of eight billboard posters are planned to be up by the end of the month, Hedquist said.

“One of the key items not being discussed is how quickly wolves will deplete wildlife herds in the state,” Hedquist says in the media release.

Washington has about 14 identified wolf packs and had a minimum of 52 wolves before this year's breeding season.

“We know by watching wolves in other states that it is common for the population to increase by 38 percent on average each year,” said Hedquist.

This is bad news not only for predators who must compete for available prey in the affected ecosystems, but also for the communities that depending on seasonal hunting revenue, he said.

“As the elk and other ungulates are impacted by wolves, we will see fewer animals for other predators like cougar and bear; a decline in the number of animals available to hunt and significant impacts to local economies as hunters go elsewhere,” Hedquist said.

“It’s also important to remember that at this point, wolves are not moving across Washington and WDFW is making no moves to either reduce the number of wolves or translocate the Eastern Washington excess to other parts of the state. So we should be prepared for Eastern Washington to bear the full brunt of the cost. Frankly, that cost is unacceptable.”

Northern lights photo has star power

SKYWATCHING — Craig Goodwin, pastor of Millwood Community Presbyterian Church and outdoor photographer, gave us the heads up on Saturday that the weekend was sizing up to be a good opportunity to see the Northern Lights.

Indeed, the aurora borealis did put on a dance, although it wasn't up to great performance standards.

So the photographer juiced it up for the photo above: a composite of 150 individual, 25-second shutter clicks at Sullivan Lake.

Look closely and you can see several shooting stars, he noted.

  • Note: that's the North Star in the center of the circle.  Navigators and photographers have long known that the rotation of the earth offers the “time exposure” effect of all the stars rotating around the North Star.


Goodwin posted this and other fall photos on the S-R's Reader Outdoor Photos page on our website. 

Check them out — and add your best shot to the standout collection.

Lower turnout at area deer checkstations

HUNTING — Fewer hunters turned in to hunter check stations north of Spokane over the weekend compared with last year, but the ratio of deer taken during the late whitetail buck season appears to be about the same.

Some hunters reported the cold snap that clicked in last week coupled with the upswing of the rut had deer moving.

It's not clear whether the cold weather had something to do with the lower turnout of hunters.

Here's the check station report from Kevin Robinette, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional wildlife manager:

The final Northeast Washington Deer Check Stations concluded this weekend with voluntary check stations at the Chattaroy weigh station on Saturday and at the Deer Park weigh station on Sunday.

Weather was sunny and cold.  WDFW Biologists Dana Base and Annemarie Prince  led the efforts with assistance from other agency staff and a cadre of volunteers.

At Chattaroy (Nov 15) the crew interviewed 52 hunters and inspected 11 white-tailed deer (2013 numbers were 88 hunters with 22 whitetails).

At Deer Park (Nov 16) 93 hunters were interviewed with 25 white-tailed deer (2013 – 134 hunters with 30 deer).

Eastern Washington's late buck hunt continues in selected units through Nov. 19.

Mount Spokane nordic warming hut takes shape

WINTERSPORTS — The cozy warming hut destined for the outer reaches of the sprawling 60K Mount Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park was taking shape this weekend, thanks to volunteers from Selkirk Nordic.