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Another sportsmen’s group offers wolf-culling incentive

PREDATORS — A third sportsmen's organization has stepped up with incentives that encourage hunters to bag a wolf to help give relief to struggling elk herds before Montana's wolf hunting season ends in February, according to a story in the Ravalli Republic.

So far, the incentives have not made much of a difference.

Safari Club International's Western Montana Chapter announced recently it will raffle off the taxidermy of a wolf pelt to successful wolf hunters this year. The prize is worth an estimated $750.

That organization is the third that has offered a prize or a check to hunters bagging a wolf this season. The others are:

  • The Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association started the incentives by starting a raffle for a rifle to wolf hunters successful in the southern reaches of the Bitterroot.
  • The Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife followed with a photo contest that offered successful wolf hunters $100 and an annual membership for photographs of dead wolves.

All of the groups say the incentives are necessary to encourage hunters to take to the field and learn new techniques needed to bag a wolf.

Read more: http://www.ravallirepublic.com/news/local/article_a27bd780-35b7-11e1-8834-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz1iQajaWmR

Bats, wolves prominent in Wildlife Society’s top 2011 stories list

WILDLIFE — Gov. Butch Otter cried wolf by declaring the predators a “disaster emergency” in Idaho last year, according to The Wildlife Society, the international organization of wildlife professionals.

The group's newsletter editors ranked that story No. 1 in their list of Top 10 Wildlife News Stories for 2011.

Other top stories include white-nose syndrome in bats plus stories on wolves, pronghorns and my column in The Spokesman-Review about a Wenatchee-area trail-cam that caught eight cougars in one photo. (Unfortunately, the Wildlife Society linked to a watered-down rewrite by somebody else.)

Read on to see the group's top wildlife stories.

Survey confirms 27 wolves, including three breeding pairs, in Washington

WILDLIFE — The annual year-end survey of the Washington’s five confirmed wolf packs has documented three successful breeding pairs and a total of at least 27 wolves, the state Fish and Wildlife Department says in a media release posted today.

Click here for details on the packs and summaries of the 2011 survey.

The tally, conducted through field work and aerial monitoring, found two of the successful breeding pairs in the Eastern Washington wolf-recovery region and one in the North Cascades recovery region. A successful wolf breeding pair is defined as an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive until the end of the calendar year.

Evidence of unconfirmed packs was noted in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington and at Hozomeen in the North Cascades, as well as transient single wolves, according to Rocky Beach, WDFW’s wildlife diversity program manager.

“We will continue to follow up on all reports of possible wolf sightings,” Beach said. “We will be working again this spring and summer to confirm new packs and pups and to capture and fit additional wolves with radio

Under the recently adopted Washington wolf conservation and management plan, wolves will be removed from the state’s endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three wolf-recovery regions (four pairs in Eastern Washington, four pairs in North Cascades, four pairs in South Cascades/Northwest Coast, and three pairs in any recovery region).

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) currently is protected by the state as an endangered species throughout Washington and is federally listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state.

Read on for more details from the December wolf survey:

Snow-starved Bogus Basin eliminates jobs, cuts pay

WINTER SPORTS — All of the region's ski resorts would like to have more snow. But at least the ones in the Inland Northwest have coverage.  

At southern Idaho's Bogus Basin, the situation is grim, as you see in this report that just moved on the AP wire.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The stingy snow gods are forcing a ski resort above Idaho’s capital to dramatically reduce costs.

Bogus Basin Mountain Resort is eliminating positions, cutting year-round workers’ pay and scaling back capital projects after its lifts remained idle during the holidays, traditionally one of its most-lucrative revenue periods.

Its general manager and chief financial officer plan to work without pay for an extended period, while other positions were eliminated.

There’s almost no chance the resort will open by Friday. If it doesn’t, that would make this the latest opening in the 69-year-old resort’s history.

The latest previous opening was Jan. 6, way back in 1989.

Bogus Basin makes much of its money through annual season pass sales, but it still relies on day-pass customers for a significant share of its revenue.

Ice fishing still possible, but be careful out there

FISHING — Ice fishing is still good in areas of the Idaho Panhandle, “but you have to be a bit more careful to keep from going swimming, especially around the shoreline,” said Jim Hayden of Idaho Fish and Game. The warming trend has made ice less safe in many areas. 

” Watch you don’t sneak out onto the ice, and not be able to sneak back off when it warms up later in the day,” Hayden warned.

By the way, Idaho requires sportsmen to buy 2012 fishing and hunting licenses starting Jan. 1.

  • In Washington, current licenses are valid through April 31. 

El Ninia gives region a dry shoulder so far

We thought that first big snowstorm just before Thanksgiving was the beginning of the predicted big snow accumulation associated with an El Ninia year. 

However, to date, Idaho has accumulated only 73 percent of normal snowpack.

Check out this SnoTel chart to see where the snow is — and isn't.

Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Department Panhandle Region wildlife manager, says he needs a lot more snow in a hurry in order to do his winter aerial elk surveys.

Normal snowpack is needed to concentrate the elk on wintering areas and make them stand out for the count.

Groups take sides on relaxing rules on motorized access to roadless areas

CONSERVATION — Opinions among wildlife conservationists regarding legislation that could allow more motor vehicle use in federal roadless areas. 

Which side do you take?

Hunting, fishing groups join environmentalists to fight federal legislation
Members of Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development are joining the National Wildlife Federation and other similar organizations to oppose House Resolution 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011, while Safari International and the National Rifle Association support the legislation.
—Durango Herald (Colorado News Connection); Dec. 31

Echo Ridge nordic ski area opens above Lake Chelan

WINTER SPORTS — The recent snow fall was just what the Chelan Ranger District needed to officially open the Echo Ridge Ski Area for cross country skiing and snow shoeing.

All but one of the area's trails are packed and tracked, giving skiers and snowshoers access to 25 miles of routes, some of which offer a high overlook of Lake Chelan.

Day passes cost $10 per adult and dcan be purchased at the trailhead. There's no charge for skiers or snowshoers age 17 and under.

Season passes are $70 at the Chelan Ranger District office in Chelan, (509) 682-4900.

See access info and grooming updates here.

Wolf collared in Washington trapped, killed in Idaho

WILDLIFE — Many of the wolves in northeastern Washington moved in naturally from Idaho.  But the Gem State is a dangerous place for the wolves to return.

A radio-collared wolf from the Diamond Pack in east-central Pend Oreille County was killed Dec. 20 by a trapper in North Idaho a few hundred yards east of the stateline.

Trappers have reported taking at least six wolves in the Idaho Panhandle during the state's first trapping season, which started Nov. 15 and runs through March 15.  Hunters have reported taking 28 wolves so far this season in the Panhandle, counting the one checked in at Coeur d'Alene on Tuesday.

Statewide, hunters have tagged at least 173 wolves in Idaho so far this season and trappers have reported taking 24.

The wolf trapped Dec. 20 was one of four Washington wolves wearing radio collars to track the movements of the Diamond Pack, which wanders along the stateline, as well as the Salmo Pack that roams the boundary with Canada.

“We will get the radio collar back,” said Madonna Luers, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Spokeswoman in Spokane in an interview with Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.

Meantime, here's the latest Idaho Panhandle wolf report posted Tuesday evening by Jim Hayden, Fish and Game regional wildlife manager.

Wolf Harvest

Checked another wolf today, so we’re at 28 wolves taken in the Panhandle via hunting, and 6 via trapping.  By this date two years ago, we had taken just 13 wolves.  (In fact, the 14thwolf didn’t come until Feb. 2.)  We ended up with 24 legal wolf kills two years ago (there were also 4 illegal kills added for a total of 28). 

So, we’re taking more wolves than we did two years ago, even if just hunting is considered.  Will we have more wolves at the end of the season than we did two years ago or less?  There might be plenty of folks willing to say they know.  I’m not one of them.  There are just too many unknowns – did we take more wolves simply because there are more around?  Are hunters more effective than they were two years ago?  Both?  Neither?

Sportsmen help Forest Service acquire land overlooking Lake Pend Oreille

CONSERVATION — On the south face of the Cabinet Mountains overlooking Lake Pend Oreille, 921 acres of elk and moose wintering range have been permanently secured for wildlife habitat and public access in a land-exchange signed Dec. 22.

The swap between Stimson Lumber Co. and the Idaho Panhandle National Forests was made possible in part by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Formerly owned by Stimson Lumber, area has become part of the adjoining Kaniksu National Forest. In exchange, Stimson received a similar amount of U.S. Forest Service acreage in the form of small isolated tracts that are not connected to the main body of the national forest.

All of the lands involved are in Bonner County, Idaho.

Read on for information from the elk foundation:

Idaho Panhandle releases draft forest management plan for comment

NATIONAL FORESTS — Ten years in the making, a draft forest plan and environmental impact statement were released today by the Idaho Panhandle National Forests for 90 days of public comment.

Forest officials say the proposed plan covering a wide range of issues from fire management to roadless areas was shaped by science, collaboration, laws and input gathered at 30 public meeting and more than 140 public community-based work groups.

Open house meetings to review the plan and learn how to submit comments are scheduled 5 p.m.-7 p.m. as follows:

  • Coeur d’Alene, Jan. 10, Fernan Office
  • St. Maries, Jan. 11, St. Maries Ranger District Office
  • Smelterville, Jan. 12, Silver Valley Office
  • Bonners Ferry, Jan. 17, Bonners Ferry Ranger District Office
  • Priest Lake, Jan. 19, Priest Lake Ranger District Office
  • Sandpoint, Jan. 23, Sandpoint Ranger District Office

The draft plan attempts to  address multiple-use demands on the St. Joe, Coeur d'Alene and Kaniksu national forests.

According to Panhandle forests officials, it sets the foundation to address the ecological and social needs of forest stakeholders, while protecting water and restoring forests that began a century ago with the Weeks Act.

The Draft Plan helps address supplying clean water, restoring and maintaining ecosystems, improving the resistance and resiliency of the forest vegetation to undesirable disturbances and potential climate change effects, providing financially and ecologically sustainable access to the forest, offering a diversity of recreation opportunities including remote settings and utilizing best available science.

The draft plan documents are available online. For more info, call (208) 765-7417 or email r1_kipz_revision@fs.fed.us.

Applications start today for floating Montana’s Smith River

RIVER RUNNING — Applications for permits to float Montana's popular Smith River this spring and summer are available starting today.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will accept applications for permits to float the Smith River State Park and River Corridor through Feb. 15, and Smith River Super Permit lottery chances will also be available starting today, with chances sold through March 15.

Here's a more detailed story on the applications from The Billings Gazette.

Here's a link on floating the Smith River from the Montana FWP website.

Here are photos and the story I wrote after floating and fishing the river — an experience that should be on every floater-flyfisher's bucket list.

Rufus Woods triploids taking the bait

FISHING — Bait fishing for triploid rainbow trout has been hot at Lake Rufus Woods, especially  near the lower net pens, says Anton Jones of Darrell and Dad's Family Guide Service.

New flavors of Pautzke baits work, he said.

“Mallow Balls O’ Fire, American Wildfire, Atomic Garlic and Garlic Wildfire all got woofed when the bite was on,” he said, noting that they continued to get fish when the faster bite had turned off. 

“Refine your old slip sinker bait fishing techniques for better success at Rufus,” he said.

  • “First, lengthen your leaders.  Instead of 2 to 3 feet, your leaders should be 4 to 6 feet. 
  • “Second, vary your weight as the current changes.  To be consistent you have to be able to feel the bottom.  You can be going 70 to over 90 feet deep to get at these pellet-eating fish. 
  • “Third, use a big chunk of bait.  We usually are putting a gob of bait big enough to hide a #4 hook.  
  • “Finally, don’t just let it sit there.  If you don’t get bit, move the bait.  Recast often.”

2011 visuals: How 60 Minutes filmed Honnold’s free-solo in Yosemite

CLIMBING — The extraordinary skill of big-wall rock climber Alex Honnold, 26, was put to the mainstream in 2011 by a CBS filming crew willing to go out of their comfort zone. 

Honnold, 26, said he is at peace thousands of feet off the ground, but how do you find cameramen who feel the same way for a a “60 Minutes” assignment to film Alex's ascent of Sentinel in Yosemite National Park?

CBS assembled a dream team of photographers and riggers, who spent two days assembling an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys so they could film the climb with 12 cameras from the valley floor to the summit.

The video above talks about the filming of the feature on this young climbing phenom.

Watch Lara Logan's full “60 Minutes” report on Alex Honnold here.

Commission to consider fishing proposals

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The last round of public comment on proposed 2012 fishing rules will be taken at the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Jan. 6-7 in Olympia.

The commission also will consider increasing the number of multiple-season hunting permits available

Multiple-season hunting permits allow selected hunters to hunt for deer or elk during all general hunting seasons, rather than having to choose among archery, muzzleloader or modern firearm seasons. Hunting data show that the wider range of options increases hunters’ chance of success in the field.

WDFW has proposed increasing the number multiple-season hunting permits available each year to 8,500 deer permits and 1,250 elk permits. In 2011, WDFW conducted a drawing for 4,000 deer permits and 850 elk permits from among the hunters who paid an application fee. 

State wildlife managers say increasing those permit levels will not pose a risk to Washington wildlife, adding that fees generated by applicants for a higher number of permits would be used to expand efforts to prevent property damage caused by wildlife.

See the Fish and Wildlife's complete meeting agenda.

See all the details and proposals on the WDFW 2012 fishing proposals web page.

Here are details of the specific proposal to allow bait fishing on the Kettle River: 

Skywatching: Meteor showers peak tonight

SKYWATCHING — The peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower peaks tonight around 11 a.m. or midnight into early Wednesday, with an estimated 40 to 100 meteors per hour.

The best viewing may come a few hours later when the moon sets, according to a story in the Denver Post. Sporadic meteors may be seen a few days after the peak.

Meteor showers, which occur when Earth passes through debris shed by comets and asteroids, are usually named for the constellation from which they appear to radiate.

Rising above it all to be in chukar country

BIRD HUNTING — The fog was packed into the Snake River valley today. Steelheaders were scattered up and down the river. 

But Scout, my English setter, led up up above it all and nearly to the rim to find this first covey of chukars.

A great day in the field, and we're both bushed.

Must be time to go back to work after a great holiday.

Methow Valley ski trails welcome holiday skiers

NORDIC SKIING — Time to brag: My visits to trout streams have ended weeks of good fishing; showing up at a campsites brought in hail storms. 

But my Friday effort to ski with family 6 miles into the wood-heated Rendezvous Hut for a three-day overnight up in the Methow Valley lured in a near white-out snowfall. In less than two hours as we skied,  the high country was smothered in 5 inches of beautiful new snow for our visit.


STEELHEAD anglers were hitting most of the hot spots on the Methow River while I was diving back to Spokane on  Sunday.

National Parks, other federal lands list 2013 dates for free admission

PUBLIC LANDS — The Interior Department has announced dates in 2013, ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day to Veterans Day, when more than 2,000 national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and other federal lands will offer free admission. 

The fee waiver does not cover expanded amenity or user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Tourism and outdoor recreation also are economic engines in communities across the country, the agency noted in a release. Recreation on federal lands in 2009 provided 440,000 jobs and contributed $55 billion to the economy.

Some groups don't have to wait for a holiday to get special rates for visiting federal public lands.

  • Active-duty military members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass that provides entrance to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service.
  • The America the Beautiful Pass Program also offers a free lifetime pass for people with disabilities, a $10 lifetime senior pass for those age 62 and older and a $80 annual pass for the general public.

But the fee-free days will give both first time and repeat visitors a good reason to spend time in these extraordinary places, Interior officials said.

2013 fee free days

Here is a breakdown of the days and which agencies are offering free admission:

Jan. 21: Martin Luther King Jr. Day - The National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will waive their entrance fees and the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation will waive their standard amenity fees.

April 22-26: National Park Week - National Park Service.

June 8: Get Outdoors Day - U.S. Forest Service

Aug. 25: 97th birthday of the National Park Service.

Oct. 13: National Wildlife Refuge Day - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Sept. 18: National Public Lands Day - National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Nov. 9-11: Veterans Day weekend - National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Idaho Park N’Ski areas offer free access Jan. 7

WINTER SPORTS – Idaho Park N’ Ski areas —  such as Farragut State Park, Priest Lake State Park and Fourth of July Pass — will offer free access to groomed trails for nordic skiing and snowshoeing on Saturday (Jan. 7).

Free Ski-Snowshoe Day is promoted by Idaho State Parks and Recreation Department at 18 designated Park N’ Ski areas and snow-belt state parks.   

Some areas will have special events that offer free ski/snowshoe clinics, equipment rentals and/or refreshments.

Read on for a list of scheduled events:

Another record eagle count logged today at CdA Lake

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A record 273 bald eagles was counted today — Dec. 29 — at Lake Coeur d'Alene, making this the best year ever to take in the annual Eagle Watch Week activities.

Bald eagles are gathering in record numbers at in the Wolf Lodge Bay to feast on spawning kokanee.

Here's the information just received from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which conducts the weekly surveys.

The count is up from last week and the likely reason why is due to snow covering the trees during last Thursday’s count. Snow of course acts as camouflage for the adults especially. Today’s weather is ideal for counting! Carrie Hugo, wildlife biologist, noted that she counted over 35 eagles in the Blue Creek Bay area which is unusually high for that location. She thought it may be due to the windy conditions and that the bay offers some protection.

One important item for Eagle Watch: due to high winds yesterday, we were unable to have the spotting scopes, information pamphlets and the canopy tents up. Today, due to winds earlier we only held the Watch site at the Mineral Ridge Trailhead location. We just can’t risk the scopes or the display birds being blown over. We are watching tomorrow’s weather closely as it appears wind may again be a factor. We plan to have staff out but may not be able to have scopes or informational materials available.

Eagle Watch Week runs through Sunday.

 Drive east east from Coeur d’Alene on Interstate-90 and take Wolf Lodge Exit 22. Follow Highay 97 south a short way to exhibits and spotting scopes at the Mineral Ridge boat ramp. The volunteers will be on hand to offer information about the eagles from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. each day through next Sunday.

Cruise boat tours geared to eagle watching will launch daily this week from the Coeur d’Alene Resort this weekend. Book seats on resort’s website or call (208) 765-4000.

Is selfishness a factor in Pend Oreille River northern pike debate?

FISHING — Some anglers share at least one trait with northern pike. They apparently wouldn't hesitate to eat their own kind.

Advocates of letting nature take its course in the invasion of northern pike down the Pend Oreille River seem to have little concern for the anglers downstream in the Columbia River.

While many anglers are enjoying the chance to catch pike in Pend Oreille County, state wildlife managers are concerned that increasing numbers and distribution of northern pike could impact vulnerable native species of trout, other game fish and non-game fish and even salmon and steelhead farther down the Columbia River system.

“That’s a big concern,” said John Whalen, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department regional fisheries manager. “If northern pike start spreading down the Columbia River, they could create significant ecological and economic damage.”

Perhaps pike advocates have not been paying attention to the decades of efforts and billions of dollars devoted to restoring salmon and steelhead runs damaged by hydropower projects. 

Do they know how much interest and economic impact has been generated by bringing back these fisheries from the mouth of the Columbia up to Chief Joseph Dam?

Other western states that have non-native populations of northern pike, are facing challenges similar to Washington. Although northern pike are native to much of Alaska, they are not native to the south-central part of the state where they have been illegally stocked and are considered invasive.

According to WDFW, pike have caused severe damage to native trout and salmon runs in several south-central Alaska watersheds and Washington is trying to learn from those events in order to prevent similar damage from occurring here.

WDFW is accept comments through Dec. 30 on proposed fishing regulations changes, including liberalizing the effort to reduce pike numbers in the Pend Oreille River.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will be hearing public comment on proposed fishing regulations when it meets Jan. 6-7 in Olympia.

The commission is scheduled to take action on those proposals at a public meeting Feb. 3-4 in Olympia.


Tree entrapment: lessons to learn for winter backcountry skiers

WINTER SPORTS — A hoot of a day in deep pow can come to a suffocating end should you fall and become trapped upside down in a tree well.

This real-life accident and rescue is worth viewing and discussing.

It points out the obvious value of skiing in a group.

Two other points come to mind immediately

  • Backcountry skiers should have their shovels accessible and ready to use NOW.
  • And EVERYBODY should have a shovel ready to use NOW.

Rednecks go gourmet in Jerky of the Month Club

OUTDOOR FOOD — Hey, a jerky of the month club is better than a fruit cake every month.


California condors show progress in reintroduction

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The recovery program to restore the California condor in Arizona has reached its 15th anniversary this month with reason to celebrate.

More than 70 condors are flying wild in the southwest skies.

The Peregrine Fund breeds condors at its World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise and releases them to the wild at its release facility in Arizona. The fund monitors and treats them for lead poisoning and other problems.

Grizzly cub lets mom worry about dinner


WILDLIFE — Montana wildlife photographer Jaime Johnson braved clouds of mosquitoes to snap these photos last summer in Alaska as bears converged on rivers to feast on spawning salmon.

The cub (top left) seems to be content to daydream while its mother does the work of providing food for a meal.

“This 2.5-year-old cub was just happy to hang out with mother while she looked for fish,” he said. “Whenever mom caught one, she shared with her cub.

“Oh yeah, did I mention the bugs?”
At left, Johnson captured a closeup of a grizzly getting a full deal from its meal.  Perhaps the head of a salmon offers a satisfying crunch to a grizzly's dining experience, much like a crouton on a salad.

Ecology Department reconsidering fish consumption advisories

FISHING — The Washington Department of Ecology is asking fish managers, researchers and consumers to comment by Dec. 30 on a plan to update outdated state fish consumption rates, such as the number of meals of bass one might eat per month before ingesting a toxic load of PCBs.

The rates also are used to identify areas for cleanup.

Washington's current consumption rates were established 20-30 years ago.

Scientists say contamination loads are too high among certain species of fish in certain rivers, lakes or ocean areas. They are particularly concerned about pregnant women and their unborn children.

Ecology's “fish consumption rates” are related but different to the current fish consumption advisories by water body, issued by the state Department of Health.

Read on for an explanation:

Activities abound for nordic skiers, snowshoers

WINTER SPORTS —  Free-heel skiers and snowshoers have plenty of events to sample in the next two weeks. Among them:

Snowshoeing activites organized by Spokane Parks and Recreation include:

  • Winter survival youth camp, Dec. 28-29, to learn snowshoeing and snow shelter building skills.
  • Mount Spokane guided snowshoe tour with transportation, Dec. 31.
  • Women’s guided  Mount Spokane snowshoe tour, Jan. 1.

Info: spokaneparks.org

Nordic skiing lessons, Dec. 31-Jan. 1, taught as a fundraiser by Spokane Nordic junior ski team at Mount Spokane. Info: email selkirkxc@yahoo.com or call 922-6080.


Idaho Ski-Snowshoe Free Day, Jan. 7, at 18 Park N’Ski area across the state. Skiing and snowshoeing lessons at Farragut and Priest Lake state parks.

Info: parksand- recreation.idaho.gov/

Winterfest at 49 Degrees North, Jan. 7-8.

Features more than a dozen activities, seminars and events. EPIC Hill Climb kicks it off on Jan. 7 followed by telemark and cross-country gear demos, free lessons, gate racing,avalanche seminars and evening nordic ski and snowshoe tours.

Jan. 8 includes a nordic ski race and paintball biathlon, plus tours.

Info: mountaingear.com.

Ferry County Rail Trail Ski Day, Jan. 14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. based at trailhead north of Curlew.

Groomed trails as conditions allow, free ski lessons, gear and refreshments.

Info: ferrycountytrail.com.

Ross’s gull brings more reports of good things to see

WILDLIFE WATCHING — More reports are coming in from birdwatchers traveling to Palmer Lake in Okanogan County to enjoy the rare chance to see a Ross's gull.

Check out this Christmas eve report:

So I'm not much of a gull guy, but Washington's second documented Ross's gull was 97 miles from where I live, so I figured I'd better head for Palmer Lake.

I must admit, I got more pumped about the male pileated woodpecker working the trees on the lake side of the No Trespassing apple boxes mid way up Palmer Lake and the convocation of eagles (multiple juvenile bald and a first year golden with white tail band and “wrist patches” just like in Sibley's) that were feeding on a carcass in the field just north of Loomis.

But sure enough, the Ross's was flying back and forth at the north end of the lake at 12:09 pm on 12/24/11. Distant but unmistakable views - the contrast between light gray upper wing and dark gray underwings was very cool. Any biologists care to speculate why this bird has reverse countershading?

A big thank you to the Tweeters who posted locations, the birders who had tracked the bird down this morning, and especially to Mr. Heinlein for finding it and letting us know.

- Roy Myers, Electric City, WA

Writers’ Champs: Outdoor writing contest winners announced

OUTDOORS — Thanks to four great high school writers for taking over my newspaper Outdoors page today, giving me a day off to go outdoors!

Read about the contest and see their stories here.