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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.

$10 lift tickets at Schweitzer benefit local cancer patients

WINTER SPORTSCommunity Cancer Services of Sandpoint and Schweitzer Mountain Resort will team to offer $10 lift tickets Friday as a fundraiser, with 100% of ticket proceeds to be donated to local cancer care, resort officials announced today.

Schweitzer plans to have all 2,900 acres of skiable terrain open and operate eight lifts — including everything but the Sunnyside Double. Lifts will run from 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

“We really look forward to hosting A Day for Heather each year,” said Schweitzer President and CEO, Tom Chasse.

Tickets are available for purchase in Sandpoint at Sandpoint Sports, Panhandle State Bank, and Pend d'Oreille Winery as well as at Schweitzer.

Rufus Woods triploids fewer but bigger

FISHING — Here's the latest fishing report from Lake Rufus Woods on the Columbia River downstream from Grande Coulee Dam.

It comes from Anton Jones (above with a 9-pound triploid rainbow) of Darrell & Dad's Family Guide Service.

This is a great time to fish Rufus Woods for triploid rainbows.  The numbers aren’t what they were a couple of months ago, but the average size is better. 

Troll smile blade flies just under the surface or cast one quarter ounce black roostertails to catch fish around the lower three net pens.  If that isn’t happening, move up to the lower pens and fish green or red Pautzke’s fire bait off the bottom with a slip sinker rig. 

If the current is pushing good, add a Mack’s smile blade in front of the bait to attract those fat boys. 

State Parks issues release on decision to reduce staff

STATE PARKS — The Washington Parks and Recreation Commisison released a statement to the media Wednesday afternoon regarding its plans to reduce expenses by about $11 million.

About 160 jobs are at risk among the agency's 516 full-time employees.

Read on for  the full statement.

Whitetail bucks still on prowl as late archery seasons continue

BOWHUNTING — Idaho archers have about two weeks to shop for a whitetail buck before Christmas.

Rutting activity lingers in the West as Idaho Panhandle bowhunters take their last shot in a season that opens Saturday in selected units and runs through Dec. 24.

They're too late for a chance at the bruiser pictured above, taken by Spokane dog trainer Dan Hoke at the edge of a clearcut near Lake Pend Oreille while the rut was still hot and heavy just before the rifle seasons ended.

But hunters and wildlife watchers are seeing more of the same across the region. In fact, bucks in some areas appear to be in a peak phase of covering ground.

In Eastern Washington, where most of the archery buck hunting opportunity will end Dec. 15, Brandon Enevold of Spokane says bucks are still defending areas in pursuit of late-estrus does.

Read on for his recent field observations and those of a local farmer

Aerial survey plots Columbia Basin waterfowl congregations

WATERFOWL HUNTING — Mikal Moore, state waterfowl biologist, compiled data Wednesday from the season’s first aerial waterfowl surveys over the Columbia River Basin on Monday and Tuesday.

Bottomline: Northerns are here.

“There a lot of new birds in the area, probably recently arrived, that seem to be staging in large groups at well-established reserves and private hunting clubs”, she said. The ducks were not yet well distributed and widely available to hunters, but many opportunities exist, she said.

Waterfowlers will want to read on for details from her observations.

Survey gives mixed review for allowing electronic decoys in WA

WATERFOWL HUNTING — After mechanical “Robo Duck” decoys were invented in the late 90s, Washington waterfowl hunters enjoyed a few seasons to sample their effectiveness.

Many hunters liked what they saw as the wings caused movement in the air and water to lure waterfowl from afar.

But a majority of sportsmen and wildlife managers thought they were so effective they could eventually lead to reduced limits or shorter seasons.

In 2001, the Fish and Wildlife Department conducted a casual survey of hunters and found that 34 percent opposed use of mechanical decoys, 46 percent would be in favor of using them if it did not result in loss of hunting opportunity and 20 percent favored mechanical decoys unconditionally.

A 2006 survey found 40 percent opposition, 49 percent in favor if no restrictions resulted and 11 percent in favor unconditionally.

This fall, sportsmen on the Washington Waterfowl Advisory Group voted 7-5 to support a proposal reinstating use of battery-operated or other electronic decoys. This would bring Washington into alignment with Idaho and Montana, which have no restrictions on mechanical decoys.

The proposal made the list of items being considered for the 2012-2014 Washington hunting regulations.

In November, the WDFW conducted one more email survey among hunters who had purchased state waterfowl license endorsements in the past two years. Of the 3,500 responses:

  • 29 percent opposed use of electronic decoys,
  • 57 percent favored their use if they did not lead to hunting restrictions,
  • 14 percent favored their use unconditionally.

More public comment will be taken on revised proposals in January before the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission consider the hunting rules package again in March.

Ardent waterfowl hunter Kent Contreras of northeastern Washington said he’s on the fence, along with most hunters.

“They definitely are effective at bringing in ducks and geese,” he said while hunting Saturday. “I’ve heard from hunters in other states who say mechanical decoys become less effective the more waterfowl see them. But motion in a decoy spread is always effective.”

Paddlers plunge over 90-foot falls for video

KAYAKING — A trio of kayakers raised the eyebrows of local officials recently by paddling over 90-foot Noccalula Falls in Etowah County, Alabama.

See the story.

The paddlers risked big fines and a tongue lashing by doing the stunt for a video — "Watershed: Land of Giants" —  they plan to release online around Christmas.

Still, their feat of daring and survival pales to the 2009 leap of faith Tyler Bradt made when he set a world record for waterfall paddling by surviving his 186-foot kayak plunge over Palouse Falls in Eastern Washington.

See the video here.

Incidentally, Bradt reportedly injured his spine on Oregon's Abiqua Creek on March 20. A Facebook post said his L1 was pulled apart and his surgeon predicted 12 weeks for recovery. 

Bowhunters give lighted nocks big vote of approval in WA email survey

BOWHUNTING — A proposal to allow lighted nocks to be used on arrows for bowhunting seasons in Washington got a big vote of confidence for bowhunters in an email survey conducted last month by the Fish and Wildlife Department.

The survey results were released to The Spokesman-Review this afternoon. The proposal had been opposed by some groups, notably the state's traditional bowhunters.

The proposal comes from Spokane hunter Jim Sutton, who couldn’t even get his idea discussed at the Spokane public meeting held this summer to gather public comment on the first round of proposals.

In a Spokesman-Review story published this summer, Sutton argued that lighted nocks are allowed for hunting in many states because they help archers recover wounded game as well as retrieve lost arrows from the field.

Even though the Pope and Young Club has been dragging its feet on the issue, the trend is changing.

Survey results:

  • 86 percent favored the use of lighted nocks,
  • 10 percent said no lighted nocks should be allowed,
  • 4 percent were undecided.

Dave Ware, WDFW big-game manager in Olympia said 3,800 people responded to the email survey presented to hunters who'd purchased archery tags in the past two years.

Washington has about 24,000 licensed archery deer hunters and 22,000 archery elk hunters, he said.

The proposal will be worked into the package of revised proposals to be presented for more public review in January and ultimately to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for a vote in March.

Gregoire fills two vacancies on Fish and Wildlife Commission

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Larry Carpenter, a Mount Vernon boat dealer and long-time sportfishing enthusiast, and Jay Kehne, an Omak conservationist, sheep farmer and hunter, have been appointed to vacant positions on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The commission is a nine-member panel that makes policy for the state Fish and Wildlife Department and sets rules such those for hunting and fishing seasons.

The announcedment was made today by Gov. Chris Gregoire's office.

Carpenter is likely to be a strong voice for salmon and steelhead sportfishing. 

Kehne likely falls in the category of wolf advocate, considering he’s the Okanogan outreach coordinator for Conservation Northwest, but he has a well-rounded resume of credentials.

Here's some insight from a "Living with Wolves" program report by Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic.

During his 31-year career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kehne’s worked to provide conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers.  He’s worked with conservation easements involving counties as well as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

He’s a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Mule Deer Foundation.

Kehne is the replacement for Spokane’s George Orr, who retired from the commission at the end of his term a year ago.

CdA bald eagle survey canceled this week

BIRDWATCHING — The weekly fall/winter survey of bald eagles congregating at Lake Coeur d'Alene has been cancelled this week as BLM staffers are in training meetings.

But the birds are there by the dozens, as you learned last week in this blog post followed by a more detailed account in my Thursday column.

A survey early next week should give us an update on whether the eagles continue to set a pace toward record numbers for their annual gathering to feast on spawning kokanee at Wolf Lodge Bay.

30% of State Parks employees getting pink slips

PUBLIC LANDS — Nearly a third of Washington’s year-round state parks staffers are being notified this week that they likely will be laid off as a result of lagging sales of the new Discover Pass, according to the News Tribune in Tacoma.

Seasonal jobs will replace most of the 161 positions targeted in Tuesday’s action by the State Parks and Recreation Commission. Some of the same employees might end up taking those jobs, but only for about five months of the year.

The background for thise decision was detailed in my Sunday story, Cash-strapped State Parks banking on Discover Pass, new approach.

The cuts will mean less building maintenance and reaction to winter weather and damages.

The Legislature has cut off parks from state tax funding, banking on the belief that citizens love parks so much they'll buy the Discover Pass to support the system.

But that hasn't been the case, so far.

The parks commission Tuesday agreed to bridge the gap by dipping into reserves and making $11 million in cuts.

“We’re not giving up on the Discover Pass, saying it’s a failure or anything,” said the acting deputy director of parks, Ilene Frisch. “It’s a brand new program that hasn’t had time to gel yet.”

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, and Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, introduced legislation last week that will allow the passes to transfer between two cars — dealing with one of the main public complaints about the Discover Pass vehicle access permit that debuted this year.

“Let’s hope that the changes we’re making will increase the revenue stream,” Ranker told the TNT. “If it doesn’t, then we need to come back together and we need to have a very serious discussion” about revenue.

CdA fly fishing guide living large in Argentina

FLY FISHING — From the looks of the photo above, Joe Roope of Castaway Fly Shop in Coeur d'Alene had a good time last week living large with the fat rainbows on Argentina's Jurassic Lake.

Hunters, trappers making dent in Panhandle wolf population

PREDATORS — Hunters and trappers are making a little progress in reducing the number of wolves in Idaho, with North Idaho hunters doing better than they did during the last wolf season in 2009-2010.

Here's this week's update from Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and  Game Department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d'Alene.:

Wolf harvest in the Panhandle is at 25 to date, slightly higher than we had in all of the 2009/10 season. During 2009, we had 24 hunter kills by the end of March. (There were also 4 illegal kills in 2009, giving us the final tally of 28.)

The wolf trapping season has been open for 3 weeks. Only 1 wolf has been reported taken by trapping in the state so far (in the Clearwater), although many trappers may have still been deer hunting (season closed last Thursday).

Outdoors can play enjoyable role in a kid’s Christmas

FAMILIES — Aidan Long puts his muscle into bringing home the Monana family's 2011 Christmas tree last weekend.

"No freshly felled fir ever smelled so sweet to me," said his dad, Ben.

A family get-to-gether isn't the only reason to go to a tree farm or buy a Forest Service permit and harvest your own tree, according to five good reasons from The Nature Conservancy.

Street skiing video in Trail, B.C., is a classic

JP Auclair Street Segment (from All.I.Can.) from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

SKIING — This street-skiing video clip from the ski film All.I.Can. is one of my favorite moments from the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour that ran three nights at The Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane.

It required skill and a sense of humor. It makes fun of all the virgin powder films people die to make.

It features J.P. Auclair making a wild trip down through the dirty urban snow lining the steep streets in Trail, British Columbia.  It's way more imaginative than screaming off cliffs. Very cool.

Colbert Report chimes in on social media trend to Me Reporting

MEDIA — It's off the unbeaten path of the Outdoors Blog, but not by far.   Check out the Colbert Report for an update on where journalism and the public's interesting on good reporting is headed.

Tribes balk at plan for hunters to cull elk at Hanford Reach monument

HUNTING — The Fish and Wildlife Service may allow hunting on Hanford Reach National Monument land near Rattlesnake Mountain to cull a herd of elk damaging nearby wheat fields.

Over several years, managers hope to reduce the heard of about 700 elk to about 350.

But area Indian tribes are balking at the proposal, as reported by Northwest Public Radio.

See the agency's draft plan. Deadline to comment is Dec. 30.

The Tri-City Herald reports the Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comment this month on the proposed elk hunt that would take place next fall.

The hunt would be limited to 10 hunters a day and would be managed by the state Fish and Wildlife Department and the Yakama Nation.

The Energy Department opposed an elk hunt in 2005 but is not opposing the current proposal because cleanup work has been completed in the area.

Group working on Stevens Peak winter backcountry plan eyes Lookout Pass expansion

WINTER SPORTS — The Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition has posted an updated map showing a proposed Stevens Peak Backcountry Winter Non-Motorized Area. The proposal is geared to maintaining a sanctuary of peacefulness among the expansion plans for the Lookout Pass Ski Area as well as the expanding range of snowmobiles.

The group also is addressing some scrutiny to the location of a yurt proposed by North Idaho College.

The SPBC is working to preserve a winter non-motorized recreation area of about 6,500 acres in the Idaho Panhandle and Lolo national forests near Lookout Pass.

Grizzly bear social status concerns IFG official

ENDANGERED SPECIES — This quote highlights a valid concern wildlife managers have in balancing the biology and social status/politics of managing grizzly bears, not to mention wolves:

"I worry we will lose the general public on the side of this animal if we don't get something done. They will not tolerate lots of human mortality, and they won't tolerate being afraid of having a bear on your elk when you're hunting."

Idaho Game and Fish Deputy Director Jim Unsworth to other members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Commission, at its meeting last week in Montana, about future management of the species.
- Missoulian

Aerial photos capture beauty of North Cascades peaks

MOUNTAINS — Climbers, and everyone else, can enjoy an eagle-eye view of Glacier Peak west of Lake Chelan in a series of photos shot by John Scurlock, a Bellingham firefighter/paramedic who built his own sport plane and uses it to capture interesting aerial scenic photos.

Scurlock has developed an incredible photo gallery website where he has a large inventory of aerial views detailing winter routes and faces on North Cascades peaks and more.

Last week, Scurlock and Steph Abegg photographed Glacier Peak and Mount Stuart, two prized wilderness destinations for the region's mountaineers.

When you go to his website, be sure to click on "view map," which locates the mountains and allows you to click a bubble and see the photo. 

This photograph of upper Glacier peak  looks to the south/southeast.

Here's an interesting view of blowing snow back-lit by the setting sun, taken just as they turned the plane toward home in a steady 40-50 mph wind out of the north at altitude, "a typical clear-weather winter pattern in my experience" Scurlock said.

(Click 'original' below the images to see the largest uploaded sizes.)


Digitized newsreel chronicles first winter ascent of Mount Rainier

MOUNTAINEERING — Historians have digitized a newsreel film that documents the February 1922 first winter ascent of Mount Rainier by Jean and Jacques Landry, Jacques Bergues and newsreel cameraman Charles Perryman, according to historical notes by software development specialist and climber Lowell Skoog of Seattle.

In 2003, Perryman's grandson Steve Turner contacted Lowell Skoog about this film after reading about Perryman's climb in the Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project. This led to an eight-year effort by Skoog to acquire the Perryman newsreel films from Turner for The Mountaineers based in Seattle. The project was completed in October (2011).

"This is a truly historic film," Skoog said. "It was the first motion picture ever taken on the summit of Mount Rainier. It shows the first winter ascent of any significant peak in Washington state, and the highest no less. It is the oldest known climbing or skiing film in Washington."

Notes about this historic ascent can be found at Alpenglow.org.

New Asotin County wildlife area brings Blue Mountains Complex to 68,000 acres

PUBLIC LANDS — The public and wildlife soon will be sharing a new chunk of an elk-friendly ranch and Grande Ronde River access in southern Asotin County. The 2,200-acre parcel bordering the Grande Ronde River was approved for acquisition Saturday by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The land, accessible off the Grande Ronde Road between Boggan’s Oasis and Troy, Ore.,will be the first phase of what is planned to be an even larger acquisition over about 10 years from Milton (Mike) Odom II and the 4-0 Livestock and Land Company LLC.

The area is tentatively being called the Mountain View Project, said Bob Dice, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department wildlife area manager in Clarkston.

The acquisition brings the total acreage in the Blue Mountains Wildlife Area Complex to more than 68,000 acres, Dice said.  The other units in the complex include the Chief Joseph, Asotin Creek and Wooten wildlife areas.

Read on for more details.

IFG seeks tips on elk poaching near Bunco Road

View Larger Map

POACHING — Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials are seeking help in identifying who was responsible for poaching a bull elk near the intersection of Bunco and Nunn Roads. 

The elk was killed sometime between 9:30 p.m. on Sunday (Dec 4) and 6:30 a.m. on Monday (Dec. 5).  The culprits removed the head and much of the meat from the carcass, which was killed in a private field just off the Bunco Road.

 Anyone with information regarding this crime can contact:

  • Citizens Against Poaching Hotline at (800) 632-5999.
  • IDFG Regional Office at (208) 769-1414.
  • or their local Conservation Officer. 

Callers may be eligible for a monetary reward, and may remain anonymous.

Eastern Washington woman reaches milestone for U.S. x-c skiers

NORDIC SKI RACING — Rookie national team member Sadie Bjornsen of Winthrop, Wash., teamed with Alaskan Kikkan Randall to make history for U.S. Women cross-country ski racing by finishing second in the sprint relay at the World Cup finals yesterday in Dusseldorf, Germany.

It’s the first time U.S women have won medals in a sprint relay. 

The U.S. Ski Association says the previous best for U.S. women was a fourth-place finish in a January 2009 Olympic test event at Whistler Olympic Park. 

Norway’s Mari Eide and Maiken Caspersen Falla edged the U.S. team by 1.6 seconds.

Randall says in the team announcement that the relay medal topped her individual victory on Saturday as she won the freestyle sprint, her fourth career gold in World Cup sprint.

Bjornsen says she now understands why skiers come back year after year. 

Incidentally, in 2003, at the age of 13, Bjornsen became the youngest women's champion at the annual 10K Langlauf on Mount Spokane.

Real vs fake: Which Christmas tree choice is best for environment?

ENVIRONMENT — According to a video report by The Nature Conservancy, here are the top five reasons why harvesting a real tree for the Christmas holiday might be a better choice for the environment than buying an artificial tree.

ENVIRONMENT — According to The Nature Conservancy, here are the top five reasons why harvesting a real tree for the Christmas holiday is a better choice for the environment than buying an artificial tree.

5. Families have fun and build traditions by heading out to cut their own tree, and real trees smell great in the home.

4. Buying real trees helps keep tree farms in business and helps maintain open space.


3. Real trees are more easily and more thoroughly recycled while fake trees are made of vinyl, one more difficult plastics to dispose.


2. Artificial trees are a double whammy to the environment, requiring fossil fuels for the raw materials and releasing carbon pollution during the manufacturing.


1. Cutting a real tree improves the environment. I must inject that a well-selected tree from the forest can help thin a stand to promote growth of other trees and reduce fire danger. TNC points out that a tree cut from a tree farm usually is replaced by up to three new trees to absorb carbon dioxide out of the air.

Waterfowler’s best friend: Labs don’t balk at winter retrieves

WATERFOWLING — Tank, a bruiser black Lab, races back with a mallard drake before the ripples smooth out in the decoys on the Pend Oreille River Saturday.

Temperatures in the teens didn't even nick the the dog's enthusiam for rounding up all the ducks and geese Kent Contreras could bring down from his Avery Outdoors layout blind. 

After every retrieve he returned, settled down steady by Contreras and looked out as if to say, "Bring it on."

Very cool.

The original plan was to hunt a slough that had been luring ducks by the hundreds. But the cold temps sealed the slough in ice, forcing the Newport-area pair to hunt the open water of the river.

Whitetail rut still making bucks vulnerable to archers

HUNTING — The fat lady has sung for deer hunting seasons in Montana and for rifle hunters in Idaho, but late seasons are still giving hunters a few shots at whitetails in designated areas of eastern Washington.

And the rut's still on to some degree throughout the region.

Remember, the Nov. 20-21 peak of whitetail conceptions pegged by research in the northwestern states is only the top of the bell curve. As we move into the holidays, the season's breedings are on the downhill slope, but there's still action out there for bucks — and hunters.

The Idaho archery hunts open Dec. 10.

With just days remaining in most of the eastern Washington late bowhunting seasons, Chris van Kempen tagged the nice wall-hanger above by taking advantage of the buck's lingering desire to make sure every doe is bred and every competitor is challenged.

"I went out this afternoon got into my stand and did a few rattling sets," he reported Friday. "On the third set, I was able to rattle this buck in to 30 yards! It was awesome I was only in the stand for about a hour and 20 min."

Yes, I have the urge to kick Chris out of jealousy, too — but not before giving him a high-five. 

Video: Squirrel a master problem solver

WILDLIFE — This video has been around for awhile, but it's worth posting again to illustrate how marvelously adaptive wildlife can be. 

Locals help introduce 170,000 young trout to Curlew Lake

FISHING — Next year’s fishing season looks bright at Curlew Lake in Ferry County. About 20 volunteers helped the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department introduce 170,000 rainbow trout, 4-5 inches long, delivered last month to the a net pen tended by the Curlew Lake Association.

Hatchery trucks deposited the fish in predator-proof floating net pens local volunteers constructed and tended from pontoon boats. The fish were allowed to acclimate. Then the nets were slowly towed to the middle of the lake and released where they have a better chance of surviving their initial swim into Curlew without getting ambushed by bass and other predators.

In addition, the volunteers raise about 57,000 rainbow fry from the Spokane Fish Hatchery in net pens near Tiffany’s Resort. The fish are received in May and released in November as 9 inchers with even more capability of avoiding predation. The fish grow about a half inch a month, according to tagging studies facilitated by local volunteers.

Those fish are available to anglers now, but they’ll be about a foot long when anglers start showing up with big expectations in April and even larger for the summer crowds. 

The Curlew Lake Association is doing great things for the local community and anglers far and wide by cleaning those pens, tending the fish and other lake improvement projects during the year.  They welcome new active volunteers.  Info: Bobbi Weller, association president, (509) 755-3690.