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Bonner County mulls options to challenge Selkirk caribou habitat protection

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Bonner County commissioners may challenge a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to designated 375,562 acres as critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou in the southern Selkirk Mountains.

The issue is on the meeting agenda for Tuesday, when the commissioners may discuss invoking a federal rule that requires agencies to coordinate with local officials on land use matters, according to a report in the Sandpoint Daily Bee on Friday.

“We have a dog in this fight and we have tools that have never been used before,” Commission Chairman Cornel Rasor told the newspaper.

The FWS estimates about 45 woodland caribou exist in the southern Selkirks.

The proposal to protect habitat is chilling to businesses at Priest Lake, where residents a few years ago were rocked by Forest Service restrictions on snowmobile entry into the Selkirk caribou recovery zone.

Bonner County Commissioners already have established a Property Rights Council that is challenging federal Environmental Protection Agency standards on developing wetlands around Priest Lake, as detailed in this report by the Boise Weekly

Four-year effort protects 10,000 acres in Cascades for wildlife

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION — Good things don't always come quick and easy.

Hunters and other conservationists are reminded of that this week as a deal closed to seal four years of negotiations by a partnership of conservation groups and state agencies. The project blocks up and protects about 10,000 acres of public land for big-game and other wildlife in the east and central Cascades.

The deal has foresight to secure the real estate elk and other critters need from winter to summer range.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the most recent purchase in November, using funding from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Grant Program.

But the negotiations and original purchases of land were undertaken by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and The Nature Conservancy. The land was purchased from Plum Creek Timber Company to prevent the land from being developed or subdivided as well as to maintain public access.

The first phase of the project was completed in 2009, securing 2,675-acres.

Read on for details from a just-issued RMEF media release a day after the final phase of the deal was closed.

Bears denning for hibernation; have you checked your basement lately?

WILDLIFE — Imagine the surprise of a cable TV technician who made a service call to a New Jersey man's home and found a 550-pound bear snoozing in the dirt-floor cellar.  The bear had been living there for weeks and had brought in twigs and leaves to make a cozy nest.

The repairman said he heard a growl, and saw an enormous black bear waking up in the corner. He didn’t stick around to make friends with the animal.

“I just freaked out, threw my tools, ran out of the basement,” he told reporters.

Animal Control officers were able to tranquillize the bear and relocate him to nearby public land.

Salmon anglers get good forecast for 2012 runs

SALMON FISHING — Preliminary forecasts for salmon returns, announced this week, give anglers three good reasons to look forward to 2012:

  • Upriver spring chinook, expected to be the fourth largest since at least 1980.
  • Summer chinook, could be the largest since at least 1980.
  • Sockeye, tentatively expected to be the largest since at least 1938. (Record is 387,900 fish in 2010).

The 2012 preliminary forecast for upriver Columbia River spring chinook — which includes Snake River fish bound for Idaho —  is 314,200 fish compared with this year's forecast of 198,400 and an actual return of 221,200, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials say.

If the forecast holds for next year, it would be the fourth largest dating back to 1938. The largest recorded return was 440,300 in 2001.

The second largest occurred in 2002 when 335,000 upriver springers returned and the third largest was 315,000 in 2010.

The Upper Columbia spring chinook forecast in 2012 is 32,600 compared to a 22,400 forecast last year and an actual return of 16,500.

The Snake River spring/summer forecast in 2012 is 168,000 compared to 91,700 last year (127,500 was actual return). The Snake River wild spring chinook is 39,000 in 2012 compared to 24,700 last year (31,600).

The Columbia River spring chinook are prized by anglers for their tasty, Omega-3 laced, red-orange-colored meat, which is similar to fish from Alaska's Copper River, says Mark Yuasa of the Seattle Times.

Looking further ahead the Upper Columbia summer chinook forecast also looks very promising.

Website points bargain hunters to Salt Lake ski vacations

WINTER SPORTS —  A national travel website is advising clients that Salt Lake County is the place to go for an affordable skiing or snowboarding vacation.

A frugal traveler visit a Salt Lake-area resort for $239, according to a TripIndex Ski program launched this week by TripAdvisor.com.

By contrast, the most expensive destination is Vail, which costs $746. Park City is third on that list at $667, about $6 cheaper than a trip to Aspen. Two other Colorado resorts, Telluride and Steamboat Springs, round out the top five in the most-expensive list.

The closest bargain destination spot to Spokane is listed as Banff, Alberta.

If you need another good reason to go to Utah, consider this:

Per-gallon price for gasoline dips under $3 in Utah
It's been some time since Utah drivers paid less than $3 a gallon for gasoline, but prices have fallen more than 25 cents a gallon lately, putting Utah tied for 10th with Kansas for low prices of the fuel.
—Salt Lake Tribune

Aerial wolf hunting criticizm is merely shooting the breeze

PREDATORS — Last week, Idaho Fish and Game officials announced they will be using aerial gunning from helicopters to help reduce the number of wolves along the Idaho -Montana border in an effort to give a hurting elk herd some breathing room to recover.

The Los Angeles Times seized upon this story, not so much on the effort to keep the prey base healthy, but on the professionalism of the federal agents assigned to control wildlife.

The paper leads with concern raised by a 2006 photo of government gunners in a plane with more than 50 decals of wolf paw prints fixed to the fuselage much as WW II aces signified the number of enemy aircraft they downed.

But really: These guys have a job to do, and a very dangerous one at that. The goal is to reduce the number of wolves. Each wolf kill is logged and detailed in required reports.

It's no different than the goal to reduce the number of lake trout in Lake Pend Oreille to help bring back the kokanee.

Does it really make any difference that some of the wolves will be dispatched from an aircraft or that some of the shooters marked their efforts with decals on a plane  years ago?

No.

Read on for a report on the IFG announcement as published in the Lewiston Morning Tribune.

Elk to be shot at Snoqualmie golf course

WILDLIFE — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department is getting ready to tee off on elk that have been tearing up the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge golf course, about 30 miles east of Seattle.

Some people are upset by the “damage hunt,” which will involve a few sportsmen who have completed the state's master hunter requirements.

But the protests should have occured when the golf course and other development was proposed in wildlife winter range. The rest is inevitable.

Since hazing efforts have failed, wildlife officials hope that killing a few of the elk will persuade the herd of about 25 to move to less expensive turf. 

For details on the hunt, which could start this weekend, read the Seattle PI online story.

Decline in Kootenai bull trout affects fishing rules

FISHERIES — This fall’s bull trout spawning was 78 percent of the 10-year average in streams feeding Montana’s Kootenai River below Libby Dam, and 70 percent of the 10-year average in streams feeding Lake Koocanusa north of the dam.

A decline in redd counts in both drainages over the last few years prompted Montana biologists to recommend changes in fishing regulations that had allowed angler to keep two bull trout per year from Lake Koocanusa, one of the few places anglers are allowed to keep the threatened species.

Last year, that limit was lowered to one bull trout and a change to catch-and-release only regulations for 2012 was approved by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission on Nov. 10.

JetFeet: The next big thing at the lake

WATER SPORTS — Any you thought jet skis were anoying.

Report: Terns, cormorants tanking 15-20 percent of Columbia smolts

FISHERIES — Combined losses of juvenile salmon and steelhead to predation by Caspian terns and double-crested cormorants in the Columbia River estuary were about 27 million smolts this year, according to a preliminary report by to federal and Oregon State University researchers.

If that number holds up, that consumption by avian predators nesting on East Sand Island would represent a toll of 15-20 percent on the overall number of hatchery and wild fish that survived their journey down the Snake, Willamette and Columbia rivers and tributaries to near the Columbia’s mouth.

Of that total, an estimated 22.6 million smolts were taken by the double-crested cormorants, which is up from 19 million in 2010.

Read details from researchers in this Columbia Basin Bulletin report.

Paqlite takes ‘glow-in-dark’ to higher level

NEW GEAR – The UVPaqlite is worth checking out in case you have an application for a portable light source that does NOT require batteries, bulbs, electricity or chemical activation.

These glow-in-the-dark ‘lights in a bag’ charge even by cloudy daylight, will illuminate 3-6 person tents, provide light all night, yet they weigh less than an egg.

The manufacturer says they can be re-worked forever.

Zoologist turned artist paints the real deal

FISHING — A friend, who loves fishing and the outdoors, was asked by the company what he wanted for a retirement gift, he thought long an hard about the choice for such a momentous occasion.

His decision:   An acrylic painting by Spokane artist (and zoologist) Melissa Cole, who specializes in fish and other creatures from the water.

Check out Cole's online gallery.

Cole graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Zoology. She has spent time working in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic in environmental education, as a dive guide in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, and as a naturalist guide in Baja, Mexico. She has written more than 30 children's natural history books and travels with her husband, Brandon, a wildlife photographer specializing in marine life.

State asking anglers to help target Pend Oreille River pike

FISHING — It's no secret that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is more than a little concerned about the burgeoning population of northern pike in the Pend Oreille River upstream from Box Canyon Dam.

The main worry is the potential impact pike could have on salmon and steelhead smolts downstream on the Columbia River.

Today the WDFW made it official: The agency has announced it's gearing up for a spring campaign to halt the advance of the voracious, non-native fish toward the Columbia River.

State fishery managers plan to enlist anglers to remove as many northern pike as possible from the Pend Oreille River, a conduit for pike moving downstream from Idaho and Montana.

A new webpage outlines the proliferation of northern pike in the river since 2004 and the threat they pose to native fish species.

Biological surveys conducted in conjunction with the Kalispel Tribe and Eastern Washington University document a dramatic decline in native minnows, largemouth bass, yellow perch and other fish species that inhabit the 55-mile Box Canyon Reservoir.

Read on for more details from a WDFW media release, and the meat of the fishing rule change WDFW is seeking to help expedite the process:

Endangered species get stamp of approval

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Stamp your mail with a note of confidence in the Endangered Species Act by purchasing the recently introduced Save Vanishing Species semipostal stamp, available at post offices.

Although there's no similar tool for dedicating a few cents to this good cause when you send an email, the stamp is an easy and inexpensive way to help conserve wild tigers, rhinos, elephants, great apes and marine turtles around the world — every time you mail a letter.

By purchasing the stamps, which feature the image of an Amur tiger cub, at a rate of 55 cents per stamp — slightly above the cost of first-class postage — the public can directly contribute to the on-the-ground conservation programs overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders programs.

“The Save Vanishing Species stamp offers the public a convenient way to help conserve some of the world’s most endangered animals, from the white rhino to the mountain gorilla to the leatherback marine turtle,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

This is the first U.S. postage stamp issued in the 164-year history of the Postal Service that will raise funds for international wildlife conservation.

The five funds enacted so far by Congress are:

The African Elephant Conservation Act of 1988, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994, the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1998, the Great Apes Conservation Act of 2000, and the Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2004.

 

To learn more about the Wildlife Without Borders Multinational Species Conservation Funds and the Save Vanishing Species stamp, visit: www.fws.gov/international/semipostal.Follow the Service’s International Program on Twitter @USFWSInternatl and on Facebook, USFWSInternationalAffairs.

Sign up: Nordic Kids put families on skis at Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS —  Kids ages 5-15 are the focus of the popular Nordic Kids cross-country skiing program at Mount Spokane, but parents who need a primer don’t have to sit around.

Spokane Nordic Ski Education Foundation is taking registration for Saturday skiing lessons that start Jan. 7 and run most Saturdays through March 3. Last year, 150 kids joined groups led by volunteer instructors through the season.

“This is a family sport, so we decided last year to have a lesson for parents who needed help with nordic skiing,” said Alison Liaboe, Nordic Kids co-organizer.

“That was a real hit. So this year, we’re offering three free lessons to parents who enroll their kids in the program.”

Also new, five of the volunteer coaches will be certified instructors.

Participants must become members of SNSEF ($30 per family).

Cost for the seven weekend Nordic Kids sessions is $50.

Sign up online.


  

Use local calendar to make a date with wildlife

BIRDING — Consider it a perfect gift to yourself or someone else who’ll enjoy daily reminders of the feathered friends found in the region.

The Spokane Audubon Society's Birds of Eastern Washington 2012 calendar features local birds photographed by the group's members

Cost: $12 if ordered by mail through the SAS website.

Or pay just $10 if you pick it up in person while attending the club’s informative monthly program:

Winter Birds of Spokane, Wednesday ( Dec. 14), 7 p.m., presented by SFCC biology professor Gary Blevins at Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave.

See detailed directions.

Idaho calling copters, trappers to cull Lolo wolves

PREDATORS — Idaho Fish and Game Department plans to use helicopter gunners and government trappers to kill wolves roaming the Lolo Zone, a remote, rugged area in the north-central part of the state once populated by some of Idaho's biggest elk herds.

Trapping efforts will begin later this month, coinciding with the current hunting and trapping season for wolves, said Dave Cadwallader, the agency's regional supervisor in Lewiston. Helicopter gunning will begin later this winter.

See more details from the AP report.

Also:

Montana wildlife commission extends wolf hunt season to Feb. 15
At its meeting on Thursday, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission voted to extend the state's wolf hunt season from Dec. 31 to Feb. 15, since only 106 of the state's quota of 220 wolves have been killed thus far.

Montana FWP OKs plan to let ranchers use hunters to remove wolves
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission approved a policy that will allow ranchers to use hunters, as well as federal wildlife agents, to remove problem wolves.

— Helena Independent Record

Is it too early to call it a snowy owl invasion?

BIRDING — Snowy owls migrating from the arctic  to northern states stand out in a crowd, or even on a rural fencepost.  Numerous sightings are causing a stir about whether this is a boom year for the white-feathered visitors.

Read on for some perspective and interesting details via Inland Northwest Birders from long-time bird observer Bud Anderson of Bow, Wash., a spokesman for the Falcon Research Group:

Tribal fishing scaffolds at Drano Lake a blight for everyone

FISHING — Winds blasting through the Columbia River Gorge in November damaged several of the tribal netting scaffolds built along the shore at Drano Lake, a popular sport-fishing spot, reports the Vancouver Columbian

Among the platforms damaged partially is one of two built this spring at “Social Security Beach,’’ a bank-fishing location on the west side of Drano where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to build an access ramp for disabled sportsmen, reports Allen Thomas.

Tribal platforms started appearing in Drano Lake, a large backwater of the Columbia River at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River in Skamania County, on Memorial Day weekend.

The Fish, Wildlife and Law Enforcement Committee of the Yakama Tribal Council on May 31 authorized platform and hook-and-line gear in Drano Lake, one of several tributaries fished by the Yakama tribe.

Last week, more than a dozen scaffolds, overturned structures, partial or damaged platforms and piles of lumber littered the shores of Drano Lake.

Read on for the rest of the report.

Hunter education easier than evern in Oregon

HUNTING — Oregon is the first state in the nation to integrate hunter education registration with license sales, according to a report by outdoor blogger Bill Monroe for Oregon Live.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has cleared the path to end the last-minute lack of a required hunter-education course before a youth heads to the field.

In the past, kids and parents have often waited until too late to register or take the courses, most of which are administered in late winter, spring and early summer, before hunting seasons begin. Monroe explained.

Some of that wrinkle was ironed out with the addition of an online course and workbook that cuts out attendance at a classroom session, Monroe said. But the course's field day remains a requirement for completion and registration is still required.

That just got easier last week with the addition of a fast, virtually effortless online registration feature.

Students and/or their parents may now go online and choose to take the hunter education course entirely in a classroom setting or by independent study (online or by workbook). Independent students must pass a required field day that includes live fire exercises before getting certified.

Youngsters or their parents may also register at any license sales agent or department office that sells licenses and tags. Previously, they had to email or telephone class instructors.

Services set for Harold van Riper, salmon angler and 1950s GU hoop star

FISHING — Harold Van Riper, a former Gonzaga University basketball star who moved to the Olympic Peninsula to found a popular salmon fishing resort, passed away recently. He was 80.

The former owner of Van Riper's Resort at Sekiu in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca was born on Dec. 11, 1930, in Wilmar, Minn.

“Harold was one of the best mooching anglers around, and you'd always see him fishing off Mussolini Rock usually with a big king bending over his rod,” said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Associaiton, in a story by Mark Yuasa of the Seattle Times.

Van Riper attended Gonzaga University where he was a standout center for the basketball team between 1949 and 1953. His daughter, Monica, later became a standout hoopster at Eastern Washington University.

Services are set for 1 p.m., Dec. 18 at the Sequim Prairie Grange, 290 Macleay Road in Sequim. Memorial contributions can be made to the Neah Bay or Clallam Bay School athletic programs.
  

Kehne notes baseline for role as wildlife commissioner

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Jay Kehe, 57, of Omak has been appointed to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission as one of the three required East Side representatives on the nine-member panel.

Kehne is a conservationist, sheep farmer and hunter.  Along with a 30 year career with the  Natural Resources Conservation Service, he’s the Okanogan outreach coordinator for Conservation Northwest, and a member of  the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Mule Deer Foundation.

Kehn gave this perspective on his outlook as a commissioner who will be deciding fish and wildlife policy for the state, in an interview for a blog post by Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman Magazine:

“Bottom line is, I was a hunter and fisherman before I was anything. I then became a wildlife biologist and then a soil scientist and then spent 30 years working with farmers and ranchers. So my training is to look at things from a scientific perspective, but be sensitive to the very real concerns of ranchers and never never forget my hunting roots. My hunting buddies would disown me if I did that,” Kehne says.

Here's more on Kehne from the Wenatchee World.

Bald eagle numbers continue to soar at Lake CdA

BIRDWATCHING – The season’s third survey of bald eagles congregating at Lake Coeur d’Alene found another big jump in numbers from the previous week.

Today's survey found 112 adults (white heads) and 24 immature eagles (under 4 years old with dark heads) for a total of 136, said Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist.

About 80 eagles were counted at Wolf Lodge Bay last week.

Even more are expected before their numbers peak later this month to feed on spawning kokanee.

The annual Eagle Watch celebration, with displays, experts and spotting scopes, is set for Dec. 26-Jan. 1 in the Wolf Lodge Bay area south of I-90.

Stay tuned for details next week.

Updated: More reaction to adoption of WA wolf plan

ENDANGERED SPECIES — After four years of development, public review and controversy, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission Saturday unanimously adopted a plan that will guide state conservation and management of gray wolves in the state.

The citizen commission approved the Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan at a public meeting in Olympia, according to a media release from Fish and Wildlife Department officials.

Read two detailed accounts of the commission's discussion and vote.

Read reaction to the plan adoption from a wide range of groups.

The plan establishes recovery objectives for gray wolves in three regions in Washington, along with procedures for addressing predation on livestock and impacts on ungulates such as deer, elk and caribou.

Before the final vote, the commission approved several changes to the draft plan, including one that modified the distribution of breeding wolf pairs needed to remove wolves from the state’s endangered species list.

During the past four years, the plan developed by WDFW in conjunction with a 17-member citizen Wolf Working Group has been the focus of 23 public meetings, 65,000 written comments and a blind scientific peer review.

The working group split over the key element of how many breeding packs would be allowed before wolf numbers would be controlled.  The dissenting group wanted the number set at eight breeding pairs.  But the commission adopted the higher number recommended by a majority of the panel.

Key elements of the plan approved by the commission include:

  • Recovery goals:  The plan establishes a recovery objective of 15 breeding pairs of wolves that are present in the state for at least three years. Before gray wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list, at least four of those breeding pairs must be verified in Eastern Washington, four in the northern Cascades, four in the southern Cascades/Northwest coastal area and three others anywhere in the state. The commission also allows WDFW to initiate action to delist gray wolves if 18 breeding pairs are documented during a single year.
  • Livestock protection:  The plan provides a variety of management measures – from technical assistance for landowners to lethal removal – to control wolves that prey on livestock. The plan also establishes conditions for compensating ranchers who lose livestock to wolf predation.
  • Wildlife protection:The plan allows WDFW to use lethal and non-lethal measures to manage wolf predation on at-risk deer, elk and caribou populations if wolf numbers reach or exceed the recovery objective within a region where predation occurs. The commission modified the definition of “at-risk” populations to give WDFW more flexibility in responding to the effect of wolf predation on those animals.

WDFW is not allowed to import wolves from other states or seek to increase the wolf population to historic levels under the parameters set for the new wolf management plan by an associated environmental impact statement.

Read on for more details.

Get up early Saturday for “red” lunar eclipse

SKY WATCHING — Andy Buddngton of the Spokane Community College Science Department recommends that we get an early, glowing start tomorrow.
 
Shortly after 4:30 Saturday morning, we'll be treated to a “red” lunar eclipse.
 
As the NASA science video explains, this is the last one visible from the Pacific states until 2014.

Did tribe devastate Yakima elk herd? Writer investigates

HUNTING — Did you hear the rumor about the Muckleshoot tribal members who went into the mountains west of Yakima and killed something like 400 elk before the hunting season?

Scott Sandsberry, outdoor writer for the Yakima Herald-Republic, heard the story several times before digging in and getting to the bottom of it in this report.

National forest areas going to pot, official says

PUBLIC LANDS — Marijuana cultivation sites in 20 states on 67 national forests have caused “severe” damage according to U.S. Forest Service director of law enforcement, David Ferrell.

“The illegal cultivation of marijuana on our National Forest System is a clear and present danger to the public and the environment,” said Ferrell, testifying Wednesday before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

“Many marijuana sites found on national forests are under cultivation by drug trafficking organizations that are sophisticated and include armed guards, counter-surveillance methods, logistics support and state-of-the-art growing practices,” Ferrell said.

Washington and Oregon are among the states where major marijuana cultivation sites were discovered this year.

Ferrell gave an example from efforts in California where the Forest Service completed cleanup and restoration on 335 sites which resulted in the removal of more than 130 tons of trash, 300 pounds of pesticides, five tons of fertilizer and nearly 260 miles of irrigation piping.

Costs to clean up a site can reach $5,000 an acre, he said.

Read on for more details from Ferrell's report to Congress.

Who will pay tab for managing wolves?

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has budgeted more than $800,000 to manage wolves in the state during the next two years.

That's less than half of what Idaho and Montana are spending with federal support that's likely to evaporate in the next couple of years.

The $808,099 he recommended to the Legislature includes $608,099 for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to manage wolves in the state’s trophy game area in the northwest corner of the state, according to the Jackson  Hole News & Guide. Another $200,000 would go to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture to kill wolves involved in livestock depredations in about 85 percent of the state where they are classified as predators.

The wolf management money would come from the Wyoming's general fund. Typically, money for Wyoming Game and Fish comes from hunter revenues.

Here in Washington, it's not clear where the money for managing wolves under the recently approved Wolf Conservation and Management Plan will be generated.

And there's only about $25,000 set aside for compensating ranchers for livestock losses at this time.

Video: Kayakers work hard for their whitewater

High Sierra Safety (a full length film) from 7 Finger media on Vimeo.

PADDLING — This nifty video is a nicely filmed, beautifully thought out how-to story about kayakers hiking into one world's most famous Class 5 overnighters.

The group is up for running Upper Cherry Creek near Yosemite National Park, a trip that requires an 11-mile hike with their kayaks before they could put in.

You're likely to learn something by watching this full-length video (above).

Here's a short vignette of the paddling.

Riverside, Mount Spokane parks merging; rangers get pink slips

STATE PARKS — Riverside and Mount Spokane likely will be combined and full-time employees reduced by about 40 percent as Washington State Parks officials scramble to slash the agency’s budget.

A shortfall from lagging Discover Pass sales has left state parks strapped for cash after being cut off from most taxpayer funding by the Washington Legislature.

Decisions are still being made and changed daily after the Parks and Recreation Commission voted Tuesday to eliminate 161 of the agency’s 516 full-time positions.

“At this point, it looks like a done deal that Riverside and Mount Spokane will be combined,” Chris Guidotti, Riverside State Park manager, said today.  He was at his computer making recommendations to the headquarters staff on how the changes might be worked out.

Six of the 14 full-time positions will probably be eliminated, he said.

Riverside has nine full-time rangers plus one other staffer and Mount Spokane has five full-time positions, including three rangers and two staffers geared to road maintenance and equipment repair for the mountain roads.

Steven Christensen, Mount Spokane Park manager, was not available for comment.

“In some cases, full-time employees are being offered five-month positions,” Guidotti said.

“But as it looks today, Riverside and Mount Spokane soon will be operated by fewer people than operate Riverside alone.”

The State Parks and Recreation Commission already had eliminated 80 positions statewide since July 2008.

Riverside State Park covers about 10,000 acres in and around Spokane including the Centennial Trail, Columbia Plateau Trail and Little Spokane River Natural Area. Mount Spokane State Park includes 13,919 acres.

Meanwhile in Olympia, a few people are finally stepping up to say the Discover Pass was ill-conceived policy from the outset, setting the system up for less money, fewer park visits and eventually fewer parks.

Some people at Legislative hearings are making the case that the Legislature should not remove State Parks from General Fund appropriations.

Read on for a report from the Wenatchee World on the carnage to state parks in northcentral Washington.