Latest from The Spokesman-Review
ENDANGERED SPECIES — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today that wildlife biologists have been tracking a gray wolf that has likely dispersed from Oregon into Siskiyou County in northern California.
The presence of this new wolf – whose sex and specific origins have yet to be determined – is another hint that gray wolves are on the verge of returning to California.
After nearly a century without wolves being present in the state, this new wolf is the second in the last four years known to cross the border into the Golden State.
In recent years, wandering wolf OR-7 —named for the tag it received when captured and collared by Oregon biologists — was made famous for several trips into the California. This year, OR-7 found a mate, bred and started the Rogue Pack in Oregon’s southern Cascades, not far from the California border.
HUNTING — Resident and nonresident hunters can buy remaining nonresident big-game tags as second tags for discounted prices of $199 for deer and $350 for elk, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials announced last week.
The discount is being offered only during August.
In September, sale of nonresident tags used as second tags will increase to $300 and $415, excluding vendor fees.
Here are details from IFG:
- Any hunter who has purchased a hunting license and a 2015 deer or elk tag at the regular resident or nonresident prices can buy a discounted second tag for the same species.
- Tags are sold on a first come, first served basis and supplies are limited to the available nonresident tag quota.
- Tags are available at Fish and Game offices and license and tag vendors, online at fishandgame.idaho.gov, or by calling 1-800-554-8685.
Fish and Game sold discounted deer and elk tags last year as an incentive for hunters to buy the remaining quota of nonresident tags, but commissioners decided this year to limit the discount sale to August.
The nonresident quota is 12,815 elk tags and 15,500 deer tags, and since 2008, a portion of the nonresident quota has gone unsold.
But Fish and Game has seen increased tag sales due in part to improved deer and elk hunting in Idaho and a better economy, write IFG spokesman Roger Phillips. Through July, sale of nonresident elk tags is up 25 percent over the same period last year, and up 14 percent for deer tags, he said.
Fish and Game is forecasting better deer and elk hunting this year because of mild winters and excellent survival of deer and elk.
Nonresident tag quotas are factored into projected harvest rates, so Fish and Game officials don’t expect increased sales, either as nonresident tags or second tags, will lead to overharvesting of deer or elk, Phillips said.
Last year, hunters using second tags accounted for 2.5 percent of the statewide elk harvest and 3 percent of the statewide deer harvest.
While this is the second year of discounted nonresident tags sold as second tags, the program is not new. Nonresident deer and elk tags have been sold as second tags since 2000.
ENVIRONMENT — The Sierra Club is making some good points, backed by science and history, regarding the current trended toward allowing oil drilling into waters that would impact the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
I've been there to see it first hand, and have followed the campaign to drill in the refuge and remote associated waters. A Deepwater Horizon-type oil spill in the arctic would cause unspeakable harm to the fragile ecosystems.
The Obama administration inched a little closer to disaster last month when it issued almost-but-not-quite final approval to Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the club says.
"Letting Shell into the Arctic makes no sense," says Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "It's a case of taking huge risks to get something we don't need…. When this or any other administration flirts with selling more oil leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, we'll be there, in the courts and in the streets."
FISHING — The late Fenton Roskelley, Spokane newspaper outdoor writer for 45 years, would be floating higher than a freshly-treated dry fly to learn than his rods, reels and other fly fishing gear were used last week — during his grandson's honeymoon.
"Grandpa would be so proud," said Allison (Spencer) Roskelley after her trip to the Yellowstone River. She was taking a post-wedding break with her new husband, Jess Roskelley, who's the son of former Spokane County Commissioner and world-class climber John Roskelley.
Allison said she was referring to her own grandpa Chuck, also an avid fisherman, as well as to "Ross," as many of us knew the Spokane scribe and charter member of the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club.
"We were using all of Fenton's old gear," Allison said.
Jess Roskelley's closet is mostly full of climbing gear. His latest big adventure, scaling Anapurna, was foiled by the devastating spring earthquakes in Nepal.
I wanted to avoid prying too much, but I couldn't help but ask Allison for more details about her honeymoon with Jess. She was quick with an answer that also would have made Ross proud:
No specific hatches. Hoppers were working the best. It was so much fun - the Yellowstone is absolutely gorgeous. We were catching browns and a couple rainbows too. I had never fly fished before! Definitely want to continue the sport. Our friend had a little fiberglass row boat that we were using. So much fun.
WILDLIFE — Critters in one of Canada's signature national parks already face hazards from zooming traffic. And now…
Canada's plan to spend $67M to widen highway in Banff park questioned
Several members of an advisory group charged with making Banff National Park safer for wildlife said they were stunned to learn that the Canadian government planned to spend $67 million to widen the Bow Valley Parkway that passes through the Alberta park. The decision they said will lead to increased speeds on the parkway, putting wildlife at higher risk.
HUNTING — Eighteen lucky hunters will have an opportunity to hunt for deer this fall on the 6,000-acre Charles and Mary Eder unit of the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area in northeastern Okanogan County.
Applications for the “limited-entry” deer hunt must be made by Aug. 14 on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/permits/scotchcreek/ or by contacting the WDFW northcentral region office, (509) 754-4624.
A random drawing and will select 18 hunters to receive access permits to the portion of the wildlife area near Oroville.
“This is part of our effort to provide quality hunting opportunities in Washington,” said Matt Monda, WDFW northcentral regional wildlife manager. “This drawing is open to the general public without any additional fees beyond the cost of a hunting license and the standard tags.”
Six of the access permits will be reserved for bow hunters, six for muzzleloaders and six for hunters using modern firearms.
Hunters are allowed to take only one deer, as authorized by their general hunting license.
Deer-hunting seasons for the area are Sept. 1-30 for bow hunters, Oct. 3-11 for muzzleloaders, and Oct. 17-27 for hunters using modern firearms.
The results of the drawing will be available on WDFW’s website the last week of August. Hunters who are drawn will receive an access permit and a boundary map in the mail.
PADDLING — If you're considering a great exotic guided sea-kayaking and hiking adventure, take a tip from National Geographic Traveler, which gave high ratings to an Inland Northwest company that thinks globally.
Compelling Corsica, a unique sea kayaking and mountain hiking adventure vacation from ROW Sea Kayak Adventures based in Coeur d'Alene, was named one of National Geographic Traveler magazine's 2015 Tours of the Lifetime.
The distinction is impressive. In it's 10th year, the 2015 list features 50 of the world's best-guided trips chosen by the editors. The magazine says "the 50 best guided tours selected this year offer authentic travel experiences that are sure to leave participants engaged and ensconced in culture."
See the list and details about the all 50 trips in National Geographic Traveler magazine's May 2015 online issue.
Compelling Corsica combines sea kayaking in the blue waters of the island, exploring coves and sea caves in the Gulf of Porto, and trekking a segment of the Grande Randonnée 20 (GR20), a long-distance trail that runs north-south along Corsica's granite spine. The activity is fueled by local charcuterie, sheep-milk cheeses and wine. ROW Adventures co-owner Peter Grubb will lead this year's trip, scheduled for September.
"We are eager to share the wild island of Corsica, a relatively unknown destination in France that I personally scouted, and to do it in a way that blends meaningful and authentic cultural interchange with active adventure," Grubb said.
PUBLIC LANDS – The Washington Recreation and Conservation office has awarded more than $110 million to 268 projects to build parks and boating facilities, provide access to shorelines, maintain trails and conserve working farms and important wildlife habitat.
Spokane County will get $2.32 million for parks projects ranging from enhancing urban playing fields and a trail round the Manito Park Mirror Pond to building trails and trailheads for Antoine Peak, Mica Peak and a phase of the Appleway Trail in the Valley.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife was awarded $474,000 to buy 80 acres for motorized boating access to Chapman Lake, about 26 miles southwest of Spokane. Anglers lost access to this 128-acre lake and its trout, kokanee and bass when the resort owners locked their gates to the public in 2011.
Asotin County will benefit from $4.4 million in grants, most of which will go to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to help with a multi-phased purchase of the 4-0 Ranch along the Grande Ronde River. The property will allow hunting and fishing access and secure important winter range for elk, deer and bighorn sheep.
Another $324,500 will go to upgrading the boat ramp and other facilities at Heller Bar on the Snake River to help with overcrowding.
“These grants are important to our economy because they help local communities create the kinds of places that people want to live and work, and tourists want to visit,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Washington’s outdoor recreation industry is as important to our economy as our technology and aerospace industries.”
The grants this year were awarded to 37 of the state’s 39 counties through seven grant programs funded by the 2015 Washington Legislature along with federal funding.
King and Pierce counties were the top grant winners, garnering a total of $27 million.
Proposed projects were evaluated and ranked through a competitive process by a committee of citizens with expertise in recreation and conservation issues. About half of the proposals across the state were funded, officials said.
Of the $110 million in grants, nearly $32 million goes to build or improve parks, nearly $12 million to improve facilities for boaters, about $26 million to maintaining trails, $4 million to conserving working farms and $27 million to protecting important wildlife
PUBLIC LANDS — Boulder Cave Day Use Site on the Naches Ranger District has reopened after a year-long closure for site improvements.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has scheduled a re-opening celebration for the popular attraction, including the trail built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. The event is set for 2 p.m.-4 p.m. on Thursday, July 30.
Bruce Whitmore, a local resident and retired school teacher who has been visiting the Boulder Cave area since the 1950’s, will speak at the event.
“Boulder Cave is an extraordinary place and I would like to express my appreciation for the Forest Service’s investment in making the area a better place for recreation and an outdoor platform for great science and geology enjoyment,” Whitmore said.
Cave visitors should bring sturdy walking shoes, water and a good headlamp.
- See a writeup on the cave by the Washington Trails Association.
Site improvements include a new water system, new benches along the river trail and expanded parking. Now that the trail has re-opened, visitors are able to take the short hike up to the cave, stroll along the river, and enjoy picnicking with friends and family members.
- From Naches, WA take Highway 12 W for 4.4 miles and continue onto Highway 410 W and follow for another 20.9 miles. Then turn left on Forest Road 1704 / Old River Road and travel 1 mile to the Boulder Cave Recreation area.
- Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent required.
Info: Naches Ranger District, (509) 653-1401; http://www.fs.usda.gov/okawen.
PUBLIC LANDS — Vehicle break-ins are not uncommon at state parks and trailheads around the region.
That was the focus of a post I made in April after a local climber returned to the parking area to find his car window smashed.
The post brought back bad memories for another reader, who writes this to help remind other recreationists to leave nothing valuable in their vehicles.
Your blog of a car broken into brings back bad memories. We have had our Toyota Camry driver's side window smashed out, not once but twice while we were kayaking the Little Spokane last year. Once we were parked at the painted Indian petroglyphs and once at the take out by the Spokane house. Neither time did we have anything in the seats or floorboards of the car.
Both times they had popped the trunk with the inside lever. We were smart enough to have nothing in the trunk either. Both times were on weekdays as opposed to weekends. Once there were about 15 cars in the parking lot but for some reason they picked our car to break into. No one in the parking lot that we questioned had seen anything unusual.
It is very frustrating. It makes us not want to go kayaking.
It would seem to me since it seems to happen so often the police would be more involved. I often wonder if I should just leave my car unlocked with a note in the window that it is unlocked with nothing of value in it. Perhaps that way they would open the door, check it out and leave it alone.
Wish there was a good solution.
Thanks for listening and pointing out the recent occurrence to the public.
UPDATE, 2:20 p.m.: Sockeye closure has been announced starting Sunday, July 26, a half our after sunset upper Columbia from Rocky Reach Dam upstream to Chief Joseph Dam. More details coming.
FISHING — Despite an early facade of excellent sockeye fishing success, the third-largest run on record is in dire straits and Washington fish managers are considering a possible early closure of the prized season in the upper Columbia River.
About half the sockeye run appears to have perished in the low flows and warm water conditions they've endured this year in their taxing migration up the Columbia toward spawning areas, says Jeff Korth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager based in Ephrata.
State fish managers have not responded so far today regarding the status of the proposal.
Oregon and Washington have both enacted emergency fishing rules for some waters that might help fisheries to some degree in this freak year of low snowpack and early runoff that's ravaged the region's summer river flows.
Sturgeon fishing was closed this month after dozens if not hundreds of the decades-old giants were found dead in mid-Columbia reservoirs. The sturgeon were stuffed with sockeye and at least some of those sockeye were suffering from bacterial infections promoted by the warm waters.
In early July, biologists were already trying to figure out why 200,000 of the sockeye counted over Bonneville Dam did not make it upstream with their peers to swim over McNary Dam.
- To date, 503,000 sockeye have been counted swimming over Bonneville, the first dam they encounter on the Columbia on their migration from the ocean. About 270,000 have been counted over McNary as they enter the upper Columbia at the Tri-Cities.
Last week, government fish scientists monitoring the Columbia, Snake and Southwest British Columbia sockeye returns began coming up with enough evidence to describe the situation among themselves in terms such as "catastrophic."
Columbia water temperatures have started to tick downward a degree or two and may continue in cooler weather forecast through this weekend. Whether that's enough change to enable more sockeye to survive remains to be seen.
Korth said the forecast weatehr isn't going to be enough. "We desperately need the cooler weather," he said in an email, "but it's to get the remaining fish up the Okanogan River and through Osoyoos Lake."
Idaho began trucking some of its endangered Snake River sockeye upstream to hatcheries in hopes of saving enough broodstock to continue a run they've had encouraging results in rebuilding from virtually nothing.
The salmon seasons attract thousands of anglers to the Columbia system rivers. A closure would be a huge blow to local economies in towns such as Brewster.
Summer chinook, which are moving up the Columbia in record numbers, apparently are not suffering so much in the warm flows and there's been no discussion of closing chinook fishing.
But the sockeye run is hurting and future sockeye runs may be in jeopardy, Korth said.
On July 1, Korth had a gut feeling things could get bad as I interviewed him for a story about the upper Columbia salmon season opener, which produced very good success rates.
“More than three salmon per angler is darned good opening-day fishing,” Korth said. But he couldn't ignore the other numbers on his radar.
Even then, the sockeye were stalled below the mouth of the Okanogan River, which was far above mean temperatures and well above the 72-degree threshold that prevents the fish from continuing their run. Normally the fish rush when they can uptream to the deep, cool waters in Canada's Osoyoos Lake where they hunker until conditions are right for them to spawn.
This week, Columbia River water out of Wells Dam below Brewster was a livable 65 degrees for sockeye (71 at Bonneville). However, Okanogan River temps were as high as 84 degrees.
“We had 15,000 (sockeye) try to make the run up (the Okanogan) the other day and they all died,” Korth says in a story Thursday about the proposed closure by Northwest Sportsman editor Andy Walgamott.
Korth knew anglers would do well in catching the sockeye stacking up below the Okanogan and looking for a cool place to go.
“It’s going to be a dicey year for managing that stock – but a good year for fishing,” he said.
Now he's wondering how fish managers can assure that enough sockeye survive disease and fishermen to make it upstream to spawn and continue the run for the future.
Korth, who says he's waiting today for a response from fisheries officials in Olympia, explained to Northwest Sportsman:
- With the hot water providing ideal conditions for culimnaris bacteria to thrive, a fish’s wounds from scraping on rocks and fish ladders are quickly infected, leading to lesions.
- Migrating salmon need more oxygen because of the high metabolic rate needed to swim against currents, but warm waters tend to have less dissolved oxygen.
Lake Wenatchee sockeye may not even meet escapement goals, much less return in numbers high enough for a fishing season, which had been scheduled to open last weekend. Korth believes half of the Lake Wenatchee run has died, too. Fewer than 12,000 of the 106,000 forecast have returned so far over Tumwater Dam.
- Half of the sockeye in the Brewster pool are likely to die instead of reaching Canada’s Okanagan and tributaries to spawn in September and October.
- Upper Columbia salmon anglers so far have caught around 20,000 sockeye during a fishery that’s been described as “nothing short of fantastic.” (Anglers caught about 40,000 during the entire 2014 season.)
“I just hope it’s not too much,” Korth told Walgamott. “Just a couple months ago we were all rejoicing because of the (salmon) forecasts.”
Korth says he’s proposed closing the Upper Columbia for sockeye, but a final decision is up to state fishery managers in Olympia.
They have not responded to queries this morning.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Two against one and the bald eagle still came out on top, according to photographer Davide Canales, who snapped this once-in-a-lifetime photo from his kayak on Prince William Sound in Alaska while on an 11-day expedition from Valdez to Whittier.
He said the gull on top finally gave up and the eagle sealed the deal on a meal.
WILDFIRES — A mountain biker who answered the call in the wild is responsible for starting the 73-acre Hull Fire that scorched more than 73 acres in the Boise foothills, according to U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials, who confirmed:
A man was cycling in the foothills when he stopped to defecate in a ravine. Afterwards, the man tried to get rid of the waste by lighting his toilet paper on fire. The man apparently tried to bury the burning waste to extinguish it, but an ember spread to nearby dry grass.
"I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go," BLM spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao told KTVB.com.
"We've had this before, actually - it doesn't happen very often - but when people have to go, um, they will often burn their toilet paper just as kind of an environmental concern, to not litter, basically, but in these fuel types, it's not a good idea," she said.
In other words, burning TP in fire-prone areas stinks.
Bilbao said the man came forward and told the BLM he might be responsible for the blaze. The man's story matched "evidence" found at the scene, according to investigators.
Police have not yet decided whether to charge the man with a crime or hold him financially responsible for fire-fighting costs. He received a citation for starting a fire. The man's name has not been released.
PARKS — Hikers and paddlers are regaining most, but not all, access to the Little Spokane River Natural Area after trails and a trailhead were closed by a 176-acre wildfire that was ignited July 6.
The shuttle service for paddlers offered by Spokane Parks and Recreation has resumed, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturdays through Sept. 5.
- Register for shuttles at spokaneparks.org or meet them at the access.
The Painted Rocks Trailhead on Rutter Parkway has been reopened and closure signs have been removed on the trails to Knothead and the overlook area in the fire zone above the river, said Chris Guidotti, Riverside State Park manager.
“What remains closed is the segment of trail along the Little Spokane River between Painted Rocks and Highway 291,” he said. “That stretch is below a steep hillside where fire has taken away the vegetation and made the area susceptible to rockfall.
“The Department of Natural Resources recommended we keep that trail closed until there’s a substantial amount of rain to settle it down.”
Hikers heading up to Knothead – a scabrock overlook – from Painted Rocks or Highway 291 trailheads will not be able to make a loop trip until the closure is lifted, he said.
Also, hikers will notice that a bulldozer was used to widen and remove vegetation on some of the trails stretches to provide vehicle access and improve fire line. The path is wide, powdery dirt.
“It will be a different hiking experience for a while,” Guidotti said, noting the mountain bikes are prohibited in the natural area trails from St. George’s School downstream to Highway 291.
Crews have cut down snags that posed an immediate danger to hikers on the trails, he said.
“We’ll be going in there this fall and trying to deal with weeds and erosion control.”
The Little Spokane River shuttle will run hourly on Saturdays from St. George’s river access to Painted Rocks and Highway 291 river accesses, said Ryan Griffith, city parks outdoors program manager.
During the period from Monday through Aug. 14, construction is scheduled to close through traffic on Rutter Parkway from the intersection at Indian Trail to West Hatch Road.
“This will make our shuttle take a bit longer during that time as we will use an alternate route,” Griffith said.
WEATHER — The present El Niño event, on the cusp of attaining “strong” intensity, has a chance to overtake the record 1997 event, reports Jason Samenow, Washington Post weather writer.
The 2015 El Niño — defined by the expanding, deepening pool of warmer-than-normal ocean water in the tropical Pacific — has steadily grown stronger since the spring.
The presence of a strong El Niño almost ensures that 2015 will become the warmest on record for Earth and will have ripple effects on weather patterns all over the world, Samenow writes.
I'm not a weather expert, but I do remember that the winters of 1997 and 1998 were great for skiing but devastating to winter wildlife. Those were big set-back years for big-game herds, especially in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
FISHING — Federal officials say 160,000 juvenile salmon from a fish hatchery in central Oregon were transported by truck to a hatchery in Washington in an effort to save the fish from unusually high water temperatures.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday said the spring Chinooks’ 100-mile trip from the Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery to a hatchery in Little White Salmon took place last week. In addition to juvenile fish, 680 adult fish were also transferred.
Daytime river temperatures at the Warm Springs hatchery are exceeding 70 degrees, considered potentially deadly for salmon. But at the Little
White Salmon hatchery in the Columbia River Gorge, they’re in the low 50s.
Officials said the transferred fish are being monitored and are doing well.
MARINE MAMMALS — Researchers have counted 81 killer whales, including four babies born since last winter, in the annual July tally of endangered Puget Sound orcas.
Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research, which keeps the official census of Puget Sound killer whales for the federal government, says they have photo confirmation of each whale.
Balcomb says it’s good news that the four baby orcas have passed “the dangerous part,” though they’re not in the clear yet.
The population of 81 orcas is higher than last year’s count of 78 whales in July. But it’s still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.
UPDATE 7/22/15 — Event canceled for 2015 because of fire danger and considerations for private timber land involved in the routes, says race organizer Dan DeRuyter. Inland Empire Paper Co. and other private timber companies throughout the region have restricted public access during this dry summer.
BICYCLING — A new mountain biking event is bruin on Mount Spokane.
The Mt. Spokane Hucklebeary Epic will debut Aug. 8 with three timed ride options of 20, 40 and 60 miles on routes in Mount Spokane State Park and Inland Empire Paper Co. lands.
Only the most focused mountain bikers will post personal bests in this event, since huckleberries will be ripe around the course.
No bonus points are offered for purple fingers at the finish line.
However, aid stations with food and drink will be on the course, too — and a party is planned for the finish.
The event, which has solo and team options, is a fundraiser for trail building and maintenance in the park, says organizer Dan DeRuyter — $5 of every registration will be donated to the Friends of Mt. Spokane State Park and Spokane Nordic.
Here's the Aug. 8 schedule staging out of the Selkirk Lodge parking area:
- 8 a.m. start for The Epic (60-mile ride), $75 entry.
- 9 a.m. start for The Grinder (40-mile ride), $65 entry.
- 9:15 a.m. start for The Taste (20-mile ride), $55 entry.
Primitive camping options also are available at the parking area the night before the event.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — A bison flipped a woman into the air as she posed for a selfie with the massive beast today, prompting Yellowstone National Park officials to step up warnings for tourists to keep their distance.
The dangerous encounter was the fifth run-in between park-goers and bison this year.
Park officials told the Associated Press that the 43-year-old Mississippi woman turned her back on the animal to get a photo with it near the Fairy Falls trailhead just outside Old Faithful.
Someone nearby saw the woman and her daughter about 6 yards from the animal and warned they were too close just before it came at them.
They tried to run, but the bison caught the woman and tossed her with its head.
The woman’s family drove her to a nearby clinic where she was treated for minor injuries.
“The (woman) said they knew they were doing something wrong but thought it was OK because other people were nearby,” park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said. “People are getting way too close.”
In separate incidents earlier this year, bison gored a 68-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl and tossed an off-trail teenager and an Australian tourist into the air.
Five bison encounters resulting in injuries is unusual during a tourist season, Bartlett said.
“We typically have one or two per year,” she said.
One factor that could be contributing to added encounters is increased attendance at the park this year, Bartlett said.
The park had more than 780,000 recreational visits in June, a 17 percent increase over June 2014 and 12 percent more than the previous record set in June 2010. July and August are the busiest months of the year for tourists.
Yellowstone prohibits people from getting within 25 yards of bison and within 100 yards of bears and wolves.
WILDFIRES — An expanding fire that recently broke out in Glacier National Park is a prime example of why hikers and campers need to call ahead, browse the Web and stay tuned in to the impact wildfires might have on their plans.
Heck, just getting to the North Cascades on Interstate 90 has been a hassle this week because of wildfire-caused highway closures near George.
The Newby Lake Fire in the Pasayten Wilderness of northcentral Washington has been blocking access to the popular Horseshoe Basin area for weeks. Although that closure could end soon, firefighters have responded to 14 fires after some 150 lightning strikes blanketed the area northeast of Tonasket Sunday night.
Fires are burning in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and other notable areas. And in this drought year, more are sure to come.
The Blue Creek Fire in the Blue Mountains has prompted trail closures on the Walla Walla Ranger District for public and firefighter safety. Forest Road 6400 (Skyline Road) from the junction of Forest Road 4600 to the junction of Forest Road 6500 is temporarily closed.
But Glacier Park is the most notable hot spot this week. Here's the latest information, just received:
The Reynolds Creek Wildland Fire on the east side of Glacier National Park is estimated at 2,000 acres.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed between the St. Mary entrance on the east side and Big Bend on the west side.
The St. Mary Campground is being evacuated. The campground has approximately 148 sites.
The Rising Sun Motor Inn, operated by Glacier National Park Lodges, and the Rising Sun Campground were evacuated Tuesday evening.
The St. Mary Visitor Center will close to the public at 12 p.m. today, July 22. It will be used as a fire staging area. The duration of the closure is unknown at this time.
Park rangers and personnel are searching for backcountry hikers in the area to evacuate them and direct them to safety. The parking areas of the St. Mary Visitor Center and the Apgar Visitor Center have been established as gathering areas for park visitors that may have been separated from their group.
The park is assisting visitors retrieve their vehicles that were left along the Going-to-the-Sun Road yesterday due to fire activity in the area. One vehicle was consumed by the fire.
The fire is moving quickly in heavy timber with extreme spread potential. The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning in effect from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. today for Glacier National Park. This warning means that critical fire weather conditions are anticipated, including strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures. These conditions may create explosive fire growth potential.
Preplanning is being conducted for possible evacuation in the St. Mary area. National Park Service personnel are working in cooperation with Glacier County Sheriff’s Office and Blackfeet Emergency Management.
All interpretive programs in the St. Mary Valley are cancelled until further notice. There is a temporary flight restriction over the fire area.
A fire information phone line has been established at 406-732-7791.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Somebody may have learned a lesson in this critter encounter described by Catherine Temple, an avid birder from Clarkston:
I watched an interesting interaction this morning between an osprey and great blue heron. The osprey was dive bombing and chasing the heron all over the sky until it finally knocked it down in deep water in a pond. I'm assuming the heron had taken or attempted to take a baby from the osprey nest or perhaps just got too close. I have seen heron take prairie dogs so a baby osprey would probably not be a problem except when the parents get mad. I don't think I'd want a ticked off osprey coming after me!
Updated 6:15 p.m.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — A cow on a grazing allotment near Cle Elum, Washington, was killed by a wolf, federal officials say. It's the first confirmed case of livestock depredation in that area during wolf recovery in the state.
The cow’s carcass was discovered last Thursday by a Washington State University graduate student doing research on wolves. The kill was in the range of the Teanaway pack.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife experts found gnawing and bite marks on the yearling Angus that were consistent with a wolf kill. Tracks, scat and hair were found in the area and GPS collar locations confirmed that a wolf had been at the site.
The livestock producer operates under a grazing permit issued by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and a livestock damage prevention agreement with the state that’s designed to reduce the risk of wolf kills through the use of range riders and other measures.
The producer is one of seven Washington ranchers currently partnering with Conservation Northwest to implement range riders, which are herd supervisors that help deter depredations as the region’s wolf population recovers and their territory.
"The Teanaway ranching operation is currently in its third season partnering with Conservation Northwest’s Range Rider Pilot Project," says Chase Gunnell, commications manager for the Western Washington-based conservation group in a media release. "Up to this point, neither the rancher nor any other Washington ranchers participating in the program had experienced any wolf depredations despite ranching in the area of six different wolf packs. Nor have they had to call in the authorities to lethally remove wolves."
In Washington, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) is federally listed as endangered west of U.S. Highway 97, State Route 17, and U.S. 395. Gray wolves are also listed as endangered by the State of Washington throughout the state.
The incident was reported today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which has jurisdiction over wolf cases in the western third of Washington.
Four cattle near Chewelah were confirmed killed by wolves from the Dirty Shirt Pack between July 5 and July 10.
"We have not documented any depredations since July 10, when we began implementing additional preventive measures," said Donny Martorello, the WDFW wolf policy lead in Olympia. He continued:
"WDFW staff will continue to provide daily updates to the producer and range riders about the location of the pack based on data we obtain from the collared wolf. Range riders will continue working the area, and our staff are actively hazing wolves detected in the vicinity of the livestock.
"If another depredation occurs and we confirm that livestock was killed after July 10, WDFW will offer a permit to the producers with a Forest Service grazing permit within the Dirty Shirt pack territory to kill up to two wolves, in total from the pack, in the vicinity of livestock. That kill permit authority would extend to the producer’s family and hired employees. Department staff working in concert with the producers and range riders would also be instructed to carry out the permit if they encountered a wolf. However, this permit would not authorize the hunting or baiting of wolves by the producers, their family, or WDFW staff.
Stevens County has been Washington's epicenter of wolf pack activity and livestock depredations. Over three years, wolves have attacked and killed livestock in all four corners of the county, from the Canada border near Laurier to the south end of the county near Springdale as well as in the Colville Valley and most recently near Chewelah.
Report wolf sightings or evidence of wolf activity in Washington State to help wildlife manages monitor the recovering species.
FISHING — As good numbers of salmon continue to move up the Columbia and over Bonneville Dam, fish managers on Monday increased the in-season forecast for summer chinook and sockeye, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department reports.
The updated forecast expects 120,000 adult summer chinook and 507,500 sockeye to return to the Columbia River.
- The summer chinook forecast is the largest since at least 1960.
- The sockeye forecast is the third largest on record. P
Preseason forecasts were 73,000 adult summer chinook and 394,000 sockeye.
But many of those sockeye are disappearing upstream before they get to McNary Dam.
Some of those sockeye could be linked to deaths of large sturgeon.
This years warm water and record low flows appear to be less than welcoming to these big salmon runs.
Scientists who are still studying the situation say the warm water conditions could be catastrophic to some fisheries if temperatures don't cool.
Otherwise, there doesn't appear to be a lot they can do other than watch, study and learn
WINTERSPORTS – Spokane Nordic is recruiting volunteers for a trail brush clearing party Saturday at Mount Spokane. Meet 9 a.m. at
Info: Brian Hawkins, 710-5701.
THREATENED SPECIES — Gov. Steve Bullock signed an agreement today with the U.S. Department of Agriculture pledging cooperation on efforts to protect declining populations of greater sage grouse — and, in turn, avoid the economic and political turmoil should the grouse be listed for protections under the Endangered Species Act.
The agreement signed at the Capitol in Helena calls for state, federal and local officials to meet annually to discuss sage grouse conservation. It includes no new spending or regulations, the Associated Press reports.
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller said the agreement should help streamline and coordinate sage grouse conservation efforts on private land in the state. Seventy percent of sage grouse habitat in Montana is on private or state lands.
“It sets up the structure for really accelerating action on the ground,” Weller said of measures to help farmers and ranchers in the state voluntarily protect sage grouse habitat while maintaining grazing lands.
Sage grouse numbers fell dramatically across the western U.S. during the past several decades because of oil and gas drilling, residential and agricultural development and disease.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a Sept. 30 deadline to decide if the chicken-sized grouse needs federal protections, although Congress has blocked additional spending by the agency to put those protections in place.
Montana and other states want to demonstrate that sweeping federal protections aren’t needed.
Montana is the first state to sign such an agreement with the USDA regarding sage grouse. In addition to Bullock, the agreement was signed by representatives of the Agriculture Department and Montana’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
“Our economy, and our Montana way of life depends on all of us working together to ensure a bright future for the grouse and a continued thriving economy,” Bullock said. “The best possible outcome: the management of the bird is to stay within the state of Montana.”
Since 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service through a sage grouse program has invested nearly $300 million to conserve more than 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat in 11 western states in which sage grouse are found.
Weller said Monday that the conservation service plans to spend another $200 million throughout the 11 states, which was announced earlier this year. He did not say how much would go toward efforts in Montana, but he said officials are currently finalizing an investment strategy.
Bullock last year ordered restrictions on future oil drilling and other activities blamed for driving down sage grouse numbers, aligning Montana with other states rushing to head off federal intervention for the ground-dwelling bird. He also created a sage grouse oversight team in addition to the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program.
The legislature earlier this year passed the governor’s bill to establish a fund that in part will be used by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to hire at least five new employees to manage the program.
ENDANGERED SPECIES — As concerns mount for the survival of the Columbia River system's sockeye run during the 2015 drought, fisheries managers are looking at unusual options.
The potential losses are staggering, scientists say, as I pointed out in this revealing blog post last week.
Here's an Associated Press report on an effort to save breeding fish from the endangered stock of Snake River sockeye.
Five sockeye salmon swam in tanks at the Eagle Hatchery this week wearing the scars of their shortened trip to Idaho.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists took the unusual step of capturing the migrating adults in a trap at the Lower Granite Dam southwest of Pullman, Wash., the last of eight dams Idaho salmon swim through on their way from the Pacific to the Sawtooth Valley. That's because the Columbia and Snake rivers are as much as 6 degrees warmer than usual.
Northwest rivers are so warm that salmon and steelhead are dying in tributaries such as the Willamette and Deschutes rivers in Oregon. Oregon and Washington fisheries officials last week announced restrictions on fishing for trout, salmon, steelhead and sturgeon to protect the fish from stress.
When temperatures in the main rivers reach at least 70, the heat places stress on the already challenged migrants that face sea lions, lamprey and the natural wear and tear of fighting the current on their return trip from the ocean to their Idaho spawning grounds.
River temperatures have been gradually rising for 50 years, due in part to the changing climate and the dams, where slackwater reservoirs capture extra solar radiation.
But with this year's temperatures higher than normal, dam and fisheries managers are working overtime to protect endangered wild salmon and steelhead as a federal judge decides whether they are doing enough to keep them from going extinct.
"We ought to take steps wherever we can to help improve fish survival in an unusually warm and bad years," said Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the Save our Wild Salmon Coalition. "Unless the weather changes, we're going to see more fish kills throughout the basin."
In late June the Salmon River climbed to 76 degrees at Whitebird, warm enough to kill salmon and steelhead. Fortunately, the young juveniles, which left their spawning rivers and lakes early this year due to a warmer, earlier runoff, had mostly finished their trip to the Pacific before the heat wave, said Ritchie Graves, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries.
The spring-summer chinook adults also had migrated early upstream, reaching the higher, cooler spawning streams such as the Upper Salmon River, the South Fork of the Salmon, and Marsh and Bear Valley creeks. But the sockeye, which naturally spawn in Redfish and other Sawtooth Valley lakes, have faced the full brunt of the heat wave.
About 3,900 returning Snake River sockeye were detected passing Bonneville Dam east of Portland, the first dam on the Columbia River. Just 234 had passed Lower Granite as of Wednesday, including 15 that Fish and Game biologists had trapped as of Thursday.
At the Eagle Hatchery, the trapped fish swam in some of the same tanks that held Lonesome Larry, the single returning sockeye in 1992 whose genetics began the captive-breeding program.
The sockeye show the effects of the heat stress. One had bulging eyes and a tail shredded down to the flesh. Others had gaping ulcers and sores that were sapping their strength. With so many sockeye apparently killed in the lower rivers, state and federal biologists decided to trap and haul these returning sockeye 320 miles from Washington state to Eagle.
"This is giving them the best chance for survival," said Pete Hassemer, Idaho Fish and Game salmon and steelhead fisheries manager.
But it comes with a cost. The success of the captive breeding program, which produces more than 1,500 sockeye in a good year, is due in part to biologists being able to restore some of the wildness to the sockeye gene pool.
This wildness, or "fitness," as biologists call it, increases the sockeye's productivity and makes more of them able to make the long journey from the gravel of Redfish Lake some 900 miles to the Pacific, and then thousands of miles of swimming and growing in the Pacific before returning to Idaho in the fourth or fifth year of their life.
Capturing them at Lower Granite Dam cuts off their final migration in the Snake, through the Salmon and up to the Sawtooth Valley, 6,500 feet above sea level. That's not the scientists' first choice: It would be better if river conditions allowed the natural migration.
"We want those fish to make that last leg on their own," said Mark Peterson, a senior research biologist for Fish and Game.
"There is some natural selection there we want to tap," Hassemer said.
The first sockeye are expected to arrive at the weir on Redfish Lake Creek anytime. Despite the more than 200 that did pass Lower Granite before trapping began, Fish and Game officials don't expect many to complete the trip.
Part of the challenge has been the warm temperatures at the Lower Granite Dam ladder. At 70 degrees Tuesday, the warm water was forcing salmon to hang in the cooler waters of the tail race below the dam.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on a permanent modification to the ladder to flow cooler water to encourage migration. But the temporary fix isn't bringing temperatures down enough.
On the larger scale, warmer water is going to become a bigger issue for salmon survival as the climate change trend continues, fisheries biologists say. It's different for each species.
Fall chinook below Hells Canyon just experienced the warmest winter temperatures in the Snake since the dam was built, NOAA's Graves said. But the very adaptable fall chinook simply emerged from their eggs earlier.
Fall chinook have delayed their migration until spring in some cases to improve their productivity. Steelhead and other salmon find cold springs along the migration route where they can stage until the rivers cool.
"With climate change, there's going to be winners and losers," said Graves. "With sockeye it's going to be a challenge, but for Snake River fall chinook it may not bother them at all."
HIKING — A Backpacking Basics presentation geared to the Inland Northwest will be presented Tuesday, 7 p.m., by the staff at the Spokane REI store, 1125 N. Monroe St.
A presentation geared to lightweight backpacking is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Pre-register for the free programs at rei.com/spokane.
WILDLIFE — For all of you heading to Alaska or the coastal region of British Columbia, this photo offers a big validation to the guidelines I've been preaching about camping in grizzly country.
Look at that paw and those claws and say after me:
"I will store my food properly, cook away from sleeping areas and carry bear spray."
FISHING — "Catastrophic" is a word that's being used as scientists begin to unravel the mystery of why at least 200,000 sockeye that moved over Bonneville Dam have not made it to McNary Dam fish ladders in this summer's huge salmon runs.
The sockeye woes may explain why dozens if not hundreds of 5- to 12-foot-long decades old sturgeon stuffed with sockeye are going belly up in the Columbia between the Tri-Cities and The Dalles.
The Columbia system is plagued with high temperatures and low flows. This is bad news for native fish that need cool water.
Fish managers have enacted fishing restrictions in some areas, but otherwise there isn't a lot they can do about Mother Nature.
The photos above are of sockeye sampled last week at Bonneville Dam by state and federal scientists. The first dead sockeyes were noticed at the dam around June 8. This week, the fish scientists were finding dead fish, both shad and sockeye, in the Bonneville Dam fish ladder.
At the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, sockeye in rough shape were hanging out near the facility.
But the words scientists use to describe what's going on are freakier than the photos.
A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist said this in an email to colleagues:
We have very bad news from the lower Columbia. These pictures are just a little piece of the story. The run is stalled, and the carnage is ugly, with conversion rates from Bonneville to Ice Harbor (for Snake River fish) 2-5%. Temperatures in the John Day reservoir approach 24 degrees, so nothing’s getting through without suffering. Looks like we’re going to lose the last 1/3rd to ½ of the run.
Fish that have passed the Snake are still moving upstream, but can’t get to into the tributaries. The fish that have entered the Wenatchee aren’t passing Tumwater Dam to continue on to Lake Wenatchee, and there’s no cold-water refugia below the dam unless they retreat downstream about 15 km to Peshastin Creek, which is a great steelhead stream but has no holding water for thousands of sockeye. Besides that, the flows are about half normal discharge, the snow’s all melted out of the cold-water source for Peshastin Creek, and they’re diverting water for irrigation, so it’s bound to heat up. For fish that passed Tumwater early, many have piled into a small tributary called Chiwaukum Creek, but it’s about the same size as Peshastin.
The Okanagan fish can’t leave Wells with the US Okanogan at 28 degrees C, and the reservoir is nearly 18 degrees C already. The rate of diseased and injured fish observed in the count windows at Wells seems to increase every day—lots of lamprey scars and descale, and we’re starting to see fungus and bacterial lesions. I don’t think the estuary provides hospitable holding, with lamprey and pinnipeds; so, I’m not sure we can count on a fall resurgence of migrants.
A British Columbia scientist commenting on this email thread among scientists wrote this:
Catastrophic losses of this year’s exceptional returns of adult Sockeye Salmon have begun to occur in the Columbia River given the unprecedented severity of super-optimal temperatures and low flows encountered along their freshwater migration corridor…. It’s probably fair to surmise that we may lose the majority of the nearly 350,000 wild adult Sockeye destined for Canadian portions of the Okanagan if Wells Pool, where they are currently holding, warms to temperatures much greater than 18 degrees Celsius for an appreciable length of time. Regrettably, this is highly likely to occur as temperatures are currently at 17.5 degrees and increasing while the Okanagan River is well in excess of the upper thermal lethal temperature of 25 degrees.
As noted in an earlier bulletin, we are also maintaining a Somass Salmon and Climate Watch given poor environmental conditions for either migration in the Somass River or for holding at the head end of Alberni Inlet. Although some fish managed to access their lakes of origin at Great Central and Sproat in the past few days, conditions are still marginal for passage and stored water released from behind the Great Central Lake Dam to supplement flows to ease passage under high temperature conditions has now been exhausted just as we head into what is on average the driest weeks of the summer-fall interval.
It may be advisable for DFO communications to identify “talking points” and “spokespersons” very soon to get out in front of events that will likely generate intense media interest. I’ve worked on BC salmon populations for more than 40 years and cannot remember anything comparable to what were currently seeing unfold on the coast !
FISHING — Montana, the first Northwest state to enact drought-related fishing restrictions, is encouraging anglers to continue helping the state's wild trout beat the heat and this year's low stream flows.
As the region creeps into the dog days of summer, Montana fisheries managers continue to monitor native trout streams that have endured nearly two months of stressful low and warm water conditions.
"It's always encouraging to see our anglers' willingness to help Montana's trout beat the heat," said Bruce Rich, FWP's chief of fisheries. "We appreciate everyone's effort to help spread the word about what we can all do to help conserve Montana's wild and native trout."
Earlier this month, "hoot owl" fishing regulations were enacted on 13 western Montana streams to reduce impacts on drought-stressed fish. The regulations allow fishing during the coolest hours of the day between midnight and 2 p.m.
"We're just now heading into what are typically the toughest weeks of the summer for water temperatures and flows," Rich said. Addition restrictions aren't expected, but they are possible if conditions deteriorate.
Rich advises anglers to be extra cautious handling trout, urging the use of heavier-than-usual gear and tackle to land fish quickly, rubber-bag landing nets, and keeping fish in the water while the hook is removed and the fish released.
Catch-and-release fish handling techniques that minimize stress to the fish include:
- Use barbless hooks.
- Land fish quickly once they are hooked.
- Keep fish in the water as much as possible and avoid handling them if you can.
- If you do handle a fish, wet your hands before touching it and do so gently.
- Take care not to touch a fish's gills.
Low flows, high water temperatures, and competition for space and food stress most fish, and especially trout. When the need arises FWP's drought policy provides for the use of angling closures when flows drop below critical levels for fish, when water quality is diminished, or when maximum daily water temperatures in a stream reach at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days.
The preferred water temperature for rainbow and brown trout is about 55-57 degrees. Water temperatures of 77 degrees or more can be lethal to trout.
While air and water temperatures have moderated to more seasonal norms recently, stream flows are still critically low.