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Aerial photos define Banks Lake drawdown, good fishing holes

FISHING — The jury's still out on how much the lowest maintenance drawdown in Banks Lake's history will impact the reservoir's popular sport fisheries.

But opportunistic bass, walleye, whitefish and panfish anglers are making photos and detailed notes of exposed structure they'll want to explore with hook and line when the water levels begin returning to normal levels this winter.

And agencies are taking advantage of the drawdown to make some recreational improvements to boat launches, docks and other facilities, including Coulee City Marina.

The Bureau of Reclamation is giving anglers a boost by releasing a series of aerial photos taken on Nov. 15 with the 27-mile long lake's level down 31 feet from full pool.

The aerial photos, plus others snapped from the ground to show boat launching improvements, were snagged and posted along with updates by Andy Walgamott on his Northwest Sportsman magazine website.

The Banks Lake level was 1,538 feet last week, covering only 19,600 surface acres — about a third less than at the 27,694 acres it covers at full pool with the level 31 feet higher.

Avalanche awareness classes scheduled by Idaho Panhandle experts

WINTER SPORTS —  Backcountry travelers are urged to sign up for one of several free avalanche classes being presented by the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center as well as Idaho State Parks and Recreation.

While groups can book special avalanche classes — The Spokane Mountaineers have a session booked in January — here are public sessions scheduled so far:

In Sandpoint, the following two-hour presentations start at 6 p.m. in the new Forest Service Building, west of town on the way to Dover.

Dec. 15, “Beacon Practice Avy Gear Review.”

Jan. 10, “Fire and Ice, Risk Assessment and Situational Awareness.”

Jan. 27-28, Special indoor and outdoor training especially for snowmobilers. (Check it out at Idaho State Parks snowmobile eduation program)

Feb. 10, “Ten Years of Avalanche Fatalities in North Idaho.”

Info: Kevin Davis  (208) 265-6686

A Silver Valley class, “Avalanche Awareness, Route Finding, and Rescue,” is sent for Jan. 21 at the Forest Service building in Smelterville. The indoors session starts at 10 a.m. followed in the afternoon by a field session for beacon practice and rescue training at Mullan Pass.

Info: Dan Frigard, (208) 883-2131.

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho State Parks and the Avalanche Center will conduct free classes especially for snowmobilers on Jan. 13-14.

Info: Idaho State Parks snowmobile eduation program or call Marc Hildesheim, North Region trails specialist, (208) 769-1511.

The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center will begin issuing regular avalanche advisories on Friday mornings beginning Dec. 16, said Kevin Davis, Forest Service hydro tech in Sandpoint.

The center is working on a new website with information that will be available to smartphones.

Idaho has its fill of ‘down under’ hunters

HUNTING/POACHING — Three Australians on a North Ameican hunting trip have been sent packing, but not before Idaho officials fined them thousands of dollars for elk poaching and told the bad apples they could never return to hunt in Idaho and virtually anywhere else in the United States.

All three paid thousands of dollars in fines and restitution in an Elmore County courtwhile forfeiting two hunting rifles before the long plane trip back home.

Read on for the details from Idaho Fish and Game.

It’s official: snow closes North Cascades Highway for season

MOUNTAIN ROADS — The Washington Transportation Department decided today to close the North Cascades Highway for the winter.

The 37-mile section of Highway 20 was temporarily shut down Nov. 15, and the department made it final today with heavy snow in the forecast.

The highway between Diablo and Mazama is the northernmost route across the Cascades. It’s typically closed in the late fall by avalanches and reopened in the spring.

This is a harbinger of great news for Methow Valley nordic skiers.  Enough snow has accumulated in the valley to allow many off the cross country ski trails to be packed by groomers pulling rollers.

Wild week for wildlife police: 48 arrests, 24 warnings made

HUNTING/POACHING — Hunters relished wintery conditions that coincided with the onset of the rut last week. Conditions were good for filling a tag in the final days of the late rifle whitetail buck hunt, which ended Saturday in northeastern Washington.

Poachers seemed to like the conditions, too. Washington Fish and Wildlife Department police made 48 arrests and issued 24 warnings during the past week in the Spokane Region.

Failure to tag a deer or using someone else’s tag on a deer were common infractions, but officers also were ticketing for violations including littering and road-hunting to spotlighting and shooting bucks that didn’t meet the new four-point minimum in Units 117 and 121.

Read on for details about just a few of the more interesting citations and investigations area officers had to deal with in the past week.

Anglers not holding a high standard along Snake River

FISHING – Anglers along the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers have been leaving a lot to be desired in the categories of ethics and compliance with fishing rules.

On a recent boat patrol along the Snake River upstream from Clarkston, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department police found plenty of lawbreakers.

Fourteen citations were issued in the fourhour patrol, reports Capt. Mike Whorton, department enforcement supervisor in Spokane.  

Montana may sell 7,200 acres of state land

PUBLIC LANDS — Montana is considering the sale of 7,280 acres of its lands in northeastern Montana’s Daniels County, 49 tracts ranging from 5 to 360 acres, according to the Billings Gazette.

“Over the years, landowners and others in Daniels County have urged the Department (of Natural Resources and Conservation) to initiate sale of lands due to the large amount of state land in the western half of the county,” Hoyt Richards, Glasgow Unit manager for the DNRC’s Trust Land Management Division, wrote in an email. 

Roughly half of western Daniels County is in state ownership, designated as a large block of blue lands on maps. The state land piled up in Daniels County by a quirk of fate. When the federal government granted states every section 16 and 36 in each township to be held in trust for educational purposes, areas such as national parks and reservations were excluded.

Read on for more of the story by Gazette Outdoors reporter Brett French.

Idaho web cams: Links for ski areas, highways

WINTER SPORTS — Technology has made it easier than ever to monitor snow conditions for the region's mountain passes and winter sports resorts. 

Click on the following links for web cam views of your favorite North Idaho ski area or the road to get there.

IDAHO Web Cams


Fourth of July Pass

Lookout Pass

Palouse Divide (ID-6, Harvard Hill)

Priest Lake

Schweitzer Mountain

Silver Mountain

Washington web cams: Links for ski areas, highways

WINTER SPORTS — Technology has made it easier than ever to monitor snow conditions for the region's mountain passes and winter sports resorts. 

Click on the following links for web cam views of your favorite Washington ski area or the road to get there.


Blewett Pass

49 Degrees North

Loup Loup

Mount Rainier

Mount Spokane

Sherman Pass

Snoqualmie Pass

Stevens Pass

White Pass


Montana web cams: Links for ski areas, highways

WINTER SPORTS — Technology has made it easier than ever to monitor snow conditions for the region's mountain passes and winter sports resorts.

Click on the following links for web cam views of your favorite Montana ski area or the road to get there.


Big Mountain

Big Sky

Discovery Basin

Lost Trail Pass

Montana Snow Bowl

British Columbia web cams: Links for ski areas, highways

WINTER SPORTS — Technology has made it easier than ever to monitor snow conditions for the region's mountain passes and winter sports resorts.

Click on the following links for web cam views of your favorite British Columbia ski area or the road to get there.

CANADA Web Cams 

 All British Columbia Highways


Big White


Kicking Horse


Kootenay Pass (Salmo-Creston Highway/Stagleap Park)

Lake Louise


Red Mountain


Silver Star


Tonight: Banff Mountain Film Festival ending 3-day run at The Bing

ADVENTURE FILMS — Adventure lovers have been feasting at a very full plate of films in Spokane during the three-day run of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour at the Bing Crosby Theater. The lineup of films was selected Friday morning by Mountain Gear staffers. A series of 21 films — seven a night — is being shown in a different lineup each day starting tonight.

Friday night was a real crowd pleaser with full range of emotion and stunning photography. Saturday featured something new for the World Tour:  A filmmaker introducing his film, and he was a local — Jordan Halland of Coeur d'Alene, who helped film the Ice Climbing crowd pleaser Blue Obsession.

The film fest is a virtual sellout, but a few tickets may still be available for tonight. Call Mountain Gear for possible leftovers, 325-9000.

Click on the popular intro footage (above) of short clips from all the festival films to get a taste for what's to come.

Mountain Gear staffers (left) met with World Tour hostess Michelle de Camp of the Banff Mountain Film Festival Friday afternoon to choose the lineup of films. Expect a heavy and sometimes powerful mix of drama, action and stunning photography this year. 

Their goal was to offer variety every night from the movies licensed for the show. Following is the lineup in order:


All.I.Can — A visually stunning film featuring time-lapse sequences, creative visuals, great skiers and deep powder and environmental messages. Voted Best Feature-length Mountain Film,

Treeverse — Five days will people who never set their feet on the ground.

Trail Collector — Vignettes of riding various mountain biking trails — the only fat-tire flick in the World Tour this year.

 Kadoma — A movie about kayaking in the Congo, with a dramatic ending that could not have been scripted. Voted Best Film on Expedition and Adventure.

Reel Rock: Ice Revolution — Takes ice climbing to a new level.

C.A.R.C.A. — One man's quest to revolutionize the world of animal avalanche rescue.

The Freedom Chair — A great competitive skier finds a new way to win out of necessity. Voted Best Film on Mountain Sports.


On Assignment Jimmy Chin — A look behind the scenes of a passionate Yosemite climber.

Solitaire — A different kind of ski movie rising from the desert of South Africa.

Seasons: Fall — A 4-minute moody kayaking flick made on Washington's White Salmon River, part of a four-season series.

Spoil — An environmental film that avoids preachiness and relies on visuals to make its point about development and its potential impact on a special line of bears. Voted Best Film on Mountain Environment and Ranked #2 in People’s Choice voting at the Festival in Banff.

23 Feet — Three young women head out on a prolonged road trip to find the meaning of a simple life.

Blue Obsession — Jordan Halland — a heart throb in crampons — sets out on an unusual and artistic ice climbing adventure in Alaska glaciers near Juneau.

Cold — Follows mountaineers as they learn why 16 other expeditions had failed to climb an 8,000 meter Pakistan peak during winter. Grand Prize Winner at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and likely to make you hesitate to ever complain about the cold.


Ski Bums Never Die— A light, inspiring short movie about characters you might see this year when you travel north to hit the slopes at Whitewater Ski Area near Nelson, B.C.

Chasing Water — An honest look at the length of the Colorado River. Voted Best Short Mountain Film.

Seasons: Winter — Perhaps the best of the  four seasons series, a 4-minute flick of winter kayaking with some nifty toboggan entries and a cheerful cameo appearance by river otters.

On the Trail of Genghis Khan: The Last Frontier — Australian Tim Cope get's more than he expected as he follows the conqueror's epic 10,000-kilometer route. The 1 1/2-year expedition took 3 1/2 years.  Banff film viewers reportedly fall in love with the main character. Winner of the People's Choice Award at Banff.

Sketchy Andy — Hang on to your seats as a dirtbag climber takes the discipline of slacklining into the future.

Towers of Ennedi — Veteran climber Mark Synnott – known more for his far-flung adventures than his technical accomplishments – brings young climbing stars Alex Honnold and James Pearson to the Ennedi and its unclimbed rock towers in Chad, Africa.

Reel Rock: Origins - Obe and Ashima — A climbing gym innovator works with a 9-year-old child climbing prodigy.

Read more about the Banff Mountani Film Festival World tour.

Silver Mountain moves up opening date to Monday

WINTER SPORTSSilver Mountain Resort has just announced it will open lifts for skiing on Monday morning, moving up the date four days from an annoucement made a few days ago.

Steady snowfall in the region's mountains this week has given skiers and snowboarders a wealth of early season options.

Lookout Pass opened Friday to rave reviews from powder hounds. Schweitzer and 49 Degrees North opened today.

Mount Spokane officials say they plan to open on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Idaho Panhandle avalanche expert sizes up current conditions

WINTER SPORTS — The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center will begin issuing regular avalanche advisories on Friday mornings beginning Dec. 16, said Kevin Davis, Forest Service hydro tech in Sandpoint.

The center is working on a new website with information that will be available to smartphones.

Meantime, read on for Davis’s observations on current conditions for winter backcountry travelers.

49 Degrees North joins bandwagon; chairlifts to open Saturday

WINTER SPORTS — Officials from 49 Degrees North ski area have just announced that a big dump of snow in the past 48 hours will allow them to open chairlifts and start their season on Saturday.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort and Lookout Pass also will be open

Schweitzer will open Saturday; Lookout Pass opened today.

Here's the word received from 49 Degrees North, slightly revised from what the resort sent earlier today:

OPENING DAY IS SATURDAY! 16 inches of new snow in the past 48 hours with more on the way today.

The mountain will be open Saturday through Tuesday from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Chairs 1,2,3,5 will be running with access to hundreds of snow covered acres.

Lift tickets will be $40 for everyone 7 years and older on SATURDAY.

We will close Wednesday and reopen again Thursday for Thanksgiving Weekend. Due to early season conditions, we advise skiers and riders to stay on the groomed terrain.

Cantwell, Inslee lead effort to protect roadless forests

CONSERVATION — Two Washington lawmakers led a bipartisan group of 131 sponsors to introduce legislation Thursday to assure an administrative rule protecting 58.5 million acres of wild roadless areas on America's public lands

Led by Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington, a group of sponsored by 20 Senate and 111 bipartisan House co-sponsors introduced the legislation to bolster the recent Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

The Roadless Area Conservation Act will confirm long-term protections against damaging commercial logging and road-building for vulnerable wildlands on 30 percent of the 193-million-acre National Forest System, shielding roadless areas from political tides and whims of future administrations.

Roadless areas provide many benefits to Americans and wildlife: They safeguard the source of drinking water of 60 million Americans; they contain some of the most important fish and wildlife habitat in National Forests; and they provide abundant opportunities for quality outdoor recreation such as hunting, fishing, and backpacking, supporting an industry that contributes an estimated $730 billion to the U.S. economy each year.

National forests cover 9.2 million acres of Washington – about one-fifth of the state’s total land mass. There are two million acres of inventoried roadless areas in the Evergreen State, including sites like Kettle River Range, Dark Divide and Lena Lake.

Sen. Cantwell's office prepared this report highlighting the economic, environmental and societal benefits that roadless areas provide.

Whitetail bucks on the move for hunters as season nears close

DEER HUNTING — I saw my first buck yesterday as I walked my dogs near my house at 4 a.m.  — in my neighbor's driveway just south of Spokane.  Nice five-point whitetail with nose to the ground, lifted only to let my dogs know he'd take them on if they came any closer.

Then I drove with a friend for an hour north to try to find another buck during daylight where I could hunt.

Indeed, I got into deer. Had one buck walk 40 yards upwind of my stand at 9:45 a.m. — nose to ground just like the one near my house — but I couldn't quickly make a positive ID that he had at least four antler points on one side. He didn't respond to calls.  He was on a quest.

The rut is on and the bucks are active as Washington's late whitetail buck season ticks down. The season ends at the close of hunting hours on Saturday.  (North Idaho hunters have until December.) Conditions couldn't be better, although deer numbers clearly are down from the good ol' days.

Note: The photo above shows a fine whitetail buck taken a few days ago near Omak by Shawn Ankney. Here's the report from Jason Verbeck of Okanogan Outfitters:

The whitetail but has begun around here. I thought you'd enjoy this great buck that was taken from around our area.  The mule deer migration also has just begun. The whitetail buck (above) is a monster, huh.  Washington state is very underestimated for the quality of our bucks.    Personally I am happy with it staying that way. 

Omak feeling all shook up this morning

EARTHQUAKES — Earth-shaking news from northcentral Washington today.A 4.6 mag. earthquake occurred in Omak, Wash., today at 5:09 a.m., and was ~11.9 km deep, according to Andy Buddington of the Spokane Community College geology department. See the seismogram from the SCC station above.

I wonder what Omak hunters thought as they got ready to head out after deer this morning.

Northwest Avalanche Center begins daily forecasting

WINTER SPORTSThe Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center  began daily avalanche forecasting this week, and the season has started with a bang.

An avalanche watch went into effect last night as new snow has piled up in the Cascades and Olympics over the past few days, and more is on the way.

NWAC produces daily mountain weather and avalanche forecasts for the Olympics and Cascade Mountains from Mt Baker to Mt Hood. Backcountry recreationists and those crossing the mountain passes are encouraged to check the avalanche forecast before heading out into the mountains in the winter.

In the Inland Northwest, check the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center.

Banff Mountain Film Festvial starts three-day run at the Bing

ADVENTURE FILMS — Adventure, humor, awareness and awe, plus a   good dose of pucker factor, are coming to   Spokane this weekend in a road show of top outdoor adventure films.

And if you don't already have tickets, you may be out of luck.

The cream of the crop from the 31st annual Banff Mountain Film Festival will be traveling from Alberta to The Bing Crosby Theater tonight through Sunday.

But tickets are sold out through TicketsWest.  Call the Mountain Gear Retail Store, 325-9000, to see if any tickets are left for this popular annual event.

The World Tour shows will take the audience to extremes, from ascending to one of the coldest places on earth to rappelling into the hottest place – to take a sample of molten lava from the bowels of a volcano.

The films feature all sorts of outdoor pursuits, including climbing, wildlife, pedaling and paddling.

See above for the always popular festival film clips compiled into the exciting World Tour into segment.

Then click here for details about this year's festival as well as links for clips on many of the top films.

Obama administration urges new wilderness protections

PUBLIC LANDS — The Obama administration is calling for 18 new wilderness and conservation area declarations in Idaho, Washington and seven other Western states, according to a report released Thursday by the secretary of the Interior.

The administration apparently hopes that significant local support that's already been generated for these areas will prompt a Congress that can’t agree on the simplest things to approve legislation establishing new land protections.

The proposals include creating San Juan Islands National Conservation Area in Washington and protections for the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study Areas in the Boulder-White Clouds region of central Idaho.

The areas have often been under consideration for advanced protection status for years, such as 406,000 acres of wilderness and conservation area proposed for the Sleeping Giant study along the Missouri River’s scenic Holter Lake in Montana.

Bureau of Land Management director Bob Abbey said there is room for more wilderness even as the BLM pushes for more oil, gas and other energy development on its land, the Associated Press reports. The agency pointed out that since 1964, only about 3.5 percent of the land it manages has been declared wilderness.

The proposal is the latest plank in what the administration is calling the America’s Great Outdoor’s initiative. Representatives from all 50 states were asked to identify specific projects in which the federal government could form partnerships as part of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The conservation plans are meant to protect public land, encourage more people to enjoy the outdoors and bolster employment in tourism and recreation.

Online vote names NEW seven wonders of the world

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — A world-wide online pole has named a new list of seven wonders of the world.  Check it out and see if you agree. 

I'm thinking the people who voted on this have not been to the Grand Canyon.

Schweitzer opens lifts Saturday, day after Lookout Pass

WINTER SPORTSSchweitzer Mountain Resort announced today that it will open for the season on Saturday, the earliest opening for the resort since 1984.

About 20 inches of snow was reported at the resort this morning. That combined with the work of a snowmaking system will allow two chair lifts to open.

Reduced prices will be in effect this weekend and mountain parking will be free.

Schweitzer joins Lookout Pass ski area, which announced that it will open Friday.

Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park has announced on its website that it will open on Dec. 3.

Silver Mountain Resort and 49 Degrees North have not set dates for opening.

WA qualifies for $1 mil grant to boost hunting, fishing access

SPORTSMEN'S ACCESS —  Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials say they plan to use a $1 million federal grant and at least $400,000 from big-game hunting application fees to improve recreational access to private lands in Eastern Washington.

WDFW is one of 11 agencies nationwide to qualify for funding fromthe U.S. Department of Agriculture in the second round of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, established under the 2008 federal Farm Bill.

The public can read details and post comments through Dec. 15  at this website.

“Hunters consistently rank access to suitable hunting areas as one of their top concerns,” said Nate Pamplin, assistant director of the WDFW wildlife program. “With the additional federal funding, we’ll be able to build on current state efforts to expand hunting opportunities for years to come.”

WDFW also received a three-year $1.5 million grant to expand access to hunting and fishing on private lands throughout the state during the first round of the program. The department is currently using that funding to establish contracts with landowners to open their lands to outdoor recreation.

Pamplin said the new $993,231 grant will be used to expand hunting and fishing opportunities in Eastern Washington in several ways:

  • Provide incentives to private landowners to allow hunting on forested properties in Kittitas, Klickitat, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Yakima counties.
  • Work with landowners in Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Walla Walla and Whitman counties to improve habitat enrolled in both the federal Conservation Reserve Program and WDFW access programs, as I described in this story about research to help boost CRP's benefits for pheasants.
  • Initiate a “Feel Free to Fish” program in southeast Washington, paying  private landowners for shoreline access to river fisheries.

Waterfowl hunting website compiles watershed of info

WATERFOWLING — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department has a new waterfowling website ready for hunters to take advantage of the best forecast fall flight of ducks since 1955 — and the foul weather that's ushering them southward and into our region.

The site has information for new or returning waterfowl hunters, ranging from the basics of duck and goose identification to details on hunting locations, equipment, licensing requirements and handling harvested waterfowl.

One portion of the site is devoted to helping hunters zero in on places to hunt waterfowl. The information isn't necessarily specific. Hou'll still have to go out and do your homework. 

The site also is a quick stop for hunters checking on waterfowl regulations and seasons, especially for the more confusing seasons for Canada geese. Goose management in much of Estern Washington restricts hunting to Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, but late fall and winter bring added opportunity on holidays including the Thanksgiving holiday Nov. 24-25, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16.

Skier Jamie Pierre was hot model before avalanche death

EXTREME SKIING — This short video show's an easy day of cliff skiing for Jamie Pierre, the Montana skier and ski-film star who died in an avalanche on Sunday.

The video is fun to watch. Basically it's a commercial for the various ways Go-Pro video cameras can be attached to a skier. And they found a guy who could do it with ease.

Hayden man fined $13,000 for poaching trophy bighorn in Montana

POACHING —  A 64-year-old Idaho North Idaho man has agreed to pay more than $13,000 in restitution and fines and will lose his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for life for illegally obtaining a Montana hunting license and killing a trophy bighorn sheep in north-central Montana, the Associated Press reports.

Roger J. Woodworth of Hayden, Idaho, was sentenced Nov. 6 by District Judge Nels Swandal as part of a plea agreement with Fergus County prosecutors, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials.

FWP officials say Woodworth illegally bought a Montana resident hunting license in 2009, then applied and was drawn in the lottery for a bighorn license in the Missouri River Breaks north of Lewistown, where he shot the ram.

A tip led to the charges against Woodworth, who was required to give up the bighorn sheep trophy mount.

Hunter indicted for killing hiker he thought was a bear

HUNTING — A grand jury in Salem, Ore., indicted a bear hunter Monday on a criminally negligent homicide charge in the shooting death of a hiker near Silver Creek Falls State Park.

If convicted, 67-year-old Eugene Irvin Collier of Turner could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

KVAL reports Collier was hunting with his 12-year-old grandson on Oct. 25 when Collier mistook the hiker for a bear and shot Christopher Ochoa, a 20-year-old from French Camp, Calif., and a Marine reservist who was due to report for active duty later the same day.