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Idaho Panhandle wolf toll up to 58

PREDATORS — Idaho hunters and trappers have killed a total of 58 wolves in the Idaho Panhandle region with another five weeks left in the seasons that started last fall.

At least 318 wolves had been reported killed by hunters and trappers across the state as of Wednesday.

The graph above includes the Idaho Panhandle harvest though Wednesday, with projections to the end of the season based on the average take the past four weeks, said Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d'Alene.

Hayden explained:

Right now it looks like the final harvest should be pushing 80 wolves in the Panhandle.  That’s a significant number.  From 1998 through 2009, the Panhandle wolf population grew by at least 26 percent per year (and probably pretty close to this number).  Based loosely on areas where we do have decent information, it appears that the final reported harvest will probably be a little over 30 percent of the pre-season wolf population.  That harvest rate may be enough to hold the population in check in general, within limits of local variation.

In this region, we’ve conducted 15 wolf trapping classes, with two additional final classes scheduled by the first of March.  Nearly 450 folks will have gone through the wolf trapper education program this year.  As experience builds, this group will become more and more effective in helping to manage our wolf population.

Mission accomplished: 42 wolves killed in Idaho’s Lolo Zone

PREDATORS — Wolf culling has ended for the season in the Lolo Zone as aerial gunners, trappers and sport hunters have killed a total of 42 wolves since spring 2011, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials reported this afternoon.

With moose and elk populations at critical low levels, Idaho went to the extraordinary measures of enlisting aerial shooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlfie Services to kill 14 of the wolves from a helicopter in early February.

State officials say the Lolo Zone wolf numbers have been reduced by about half but as may as 50 or so still remain in the zone bordering Montana.

As of today, Feb. 22, hunters and trappers have taken a total of 318 wolves across the state since seasons opened last fall.

See an followup story with reaction from wildlfie groups here.

Read on for more details.

Calif. game commission president getting ripped for cougar hunt

HUNTING — Californians love and protect their mountain lions, even though the state is among the few where cougars have attacked and killed people in the past 20 years.

But the president of the California Fish and Game Commission is getting pressure to resign after he booked a perfectly legal mountain lion hunt in Idaho and filled his tag.

The incident is highlighted in this Huckleberries post by Dave Oliveria.

Bhutan trekking show funds opposition to Mt. Spokane ski expansion

Tonight's program on trekking in an exotic land is aimed at funding a local issue at Mount Spokane.

Spokane mountaineer John Roskelley will present a program on trekking in Bhutan tonight, 6 p.m., at the Community Building, 35 W. Main.

Donations benefit Save Mt. Spokane Coalition. RSVP: aswan@landscouncil.org.

The Spokane Mountaineers has voted to join The Lands Council in opposing a plan to expand the alpine ski area at Mount Spokane.

Roskelley, a mountaineer and former Spokane County commissioner, has been an outspoken opponent to adding a chairlift and opening ski runs on what's now considered the "backside" of the Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park.

Trout expert speaks about Lake Pend Oreille

FISHING – The Lake Pend Oreille Fishery Recovery Task Force and Idaho Fish and Game Department will update the status of trout and kokanee in Lake Pend Oreille at the annual “State of the Lake” public meeting tonight

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Ponderay Events Center by the Bonner Mall north of Sandpoint.

Wisconsin-based lake trout expert Mike Hansen will offer his perspective on the program to control lake trout and restore the Pend Oreille kokanee fishery.

Presentations will summarize 2011 predator removal, including lake trout netting, telemetry, Angler Incentive Program and response of the lake’s fishery to recovery efforts.

Info: (208) 769-1414.

Update: What’s this truck doing on Antoine Peak?

CONSERVATION FUTURES — Getting a ticket.

That's the answer the hiker wanted to hear after he snapped this photo of an vehicle that had been illegally driven into the Spokane County Conservation Futures land that rises up behind East Valley High School.

The ruts these clowns created will remain as a reminder of their selfishness. They went beyond the locked gates and got stuck on roads that are closed to unauthorized vehicles to protect the area and its wildlife.

But there's some consolation, the hiker reports. They had to pick up the beer cans they littered in the area and the county issued the driver dude a $134 citation.

Hats off to the hiker who took the time to take the photo and make the case so the county could bring some justice to the vandals.

Lewiston hiking author opens hike trails website

HIKING — Mary Aegerter, a hiking author from Lewiston, has opened a Hiking from HERE website featuring some of her favorite hikes in the region geared to hikers leaving from the Lewiston-Pullman areas.

She plans to change the offerings every few weeks.

Currently, she's offering information on early-season hikes at the BLM's Escure Ranch south of Sprague, WA, as well as Rapid River near Riggins, ID. 

Washington snowmobiler killed in Montana avalanche

WINTER SPORTS — I'm working with other media to help get word out the avalanche conditions are dangerous throughout much of the region.  The latest of at least five avalanche deaths reported in the region in the past three days occurred Monday in northwestern Montana.

Two Washington snowmobilers were caught in an avalanche that killed a man from southeastern Washington.

The Flathead County sheriff's office says the slide occurred at 4 p.m. Monday about 12 miles east of Kalispell in the Lost Johnny drainage of the South Fork of the Flathead River.

Undersheriff Jordan White says 33-year-old Charles John Dundon III of Connell, Wash., triggered the slide as he rode his snowmobile across an open slope. Dundon and another man were caught in the slide, but the second man wasn't buried.

Dundon is the fifth person to die in an avalanche in Montana this winter.


Today, the West Central Montana Avalanche Center upgraded the avalanche danger to “high” in the Rattlesnake, southern Swan and southern Mission mountains above 5,000 feet. The center said the ski patrol at Snowbowl is reporting that ski cuts are producing dangerous slab avalanches.

Bitterroot Mountains avalanche danger will be raised to “high” once snow starts falling, the avalanche center said.

In southeastern Montana, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center rated the avalanche danger as “high” on wind-loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees in the Bridger, Gallatin and Madison ranges, the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone and the mountains around Cooke City.

“Today is not a day to trifle with the snowpack,” the center said in its report. “It’s ornery and getting more dangerous as more snow falls and wind blows.”

Why should we comment on avalanche tragedy?

WINTER SPORTS — Like other commentary's on Sunday's avalanche fatalities in the North Cascades, my column today is getting some people to think and learn.

Other readers are reacting emotionally and telling writers and the experts we quote that we have no business analyzing avalanche incidents.

The people involved in the Stevens Pass avalanche tragedy were carrying equipment and using safety techniques that were adopted after experts had investigated previous accidents.

Skiers who enjoy the backcountry will add what they learn from Sunday's incidents in the Cascades to make their next outing safer.

No one is saying they shouldn’t do it.  Objective people are saying look, understand, learn.

  • Start with this website of video avalanche tutorials.  "A Dozen More Turns" is a must see. It was made by the sister of an avalanche victim who saw the value in analyzing a tragedy so others might learn and live.
  • Subscribe to the region's avalanche advisories. They're conveniently linked from a tabs on the S-R outdoors web page.
  • View two video interviews: (1) Elyse Saugstad , who credits an avalanche airbag backpack for helping her survive the Stevens Pass avalanche, (2) KHQ-TV's Dave Cotton interviewing me on the lure of skiing backcountry.
  • Read todays New York Times story on western avalanche fatalities this season.
  • See my blog post with numerous links for more information about the Stevens Pass avalanche incident.
  • Bookmark the website for avalanche.org, for authoritative discussion and links of avalanche awareness. 

What’s this truck doing on Antoine Peak?

COUNTY PARKS — A hiker sent in this photo of a pickup stuck on Antoine Peak, the Conservation Futures area above East Valley High School.

The mountain is managed by Spokane County Parks. No unauthorized motorized vehicle access is allowed.

My question to the hiker:

I wonder if this is another example of the sad way maintenenace workers leave ruts in the access road as they maintain the radio towers on top of the peak, or whether it's another case of vandals disregarding the "No Motor Vehicles" signs and locked gates.

His answer:

Not unless Busch Light cans tossed about are part of "maintenance." Already sent the ranger an email with this shot & a couple others.

BLM proposes fee increases at Lake CdA sites

BOATING – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is proposing recreation fee increase for sites around Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Daily boat launch fees at Blackwell Island and Mineral Ridge would increase from $4 to $6 and season passes would increase from $30 to $40.  

Tent camping fees at Mica Bay Boater Park, Killarney Lake Recreation Site, Huckleberry Campground and Windy Bay Boater Park would rise from $8 to $10 a night. 

Trailer camping fees at Huckleberry Campground along the St. Joe River are proposed to increase from $15 to $18 a night.

No fee increases have been proposed for the U.S. Forest Service sites in the area.

The proposals will be considered by BLM’s District Resource Advisory Council  Wednesday (Feb. 22)  at the BLM office, 3815 Schreiber Way.

Info: (208) 769-5004.

Paws & Poles event leads to fun on skis, snowshoes

WINTER SPORTS — It's time for skiers and snowshoers to hitch a ride behind their dogs and sign up for the sixth annual Paws & Poles Race. The event that benefits SpokAnimal CARE is set for March 3 at 49 Degrees North.

Enter a 5-kilometer cross-country skijoring race or leash up to your dog for a 3K snowshoe race.  Both races will begin at 11 a.m. at the resort's Nordic Center. 

Registration opens at 9 a.m. Entry fee: $20.

Pre-register at Mountain Gear in Spokane. Info: 325-9000.

See photos of last year's event here.

Author to read from Grizzly Manifesto at Gonzaga

WILDLIFE — Canadian conservation author Jeff Gailus will read from his book “The Grizzly Manifesto” at Gonzaga University this week, sponsored by the university's Environmental Studies Speaker Series.

The program will start at 7 p.m., Wednesday, (Feb. 22) in the Jepson Center’s Wolff Auditorium. Gailus plans to read from his book and discuss the future of grizzly bears in the United States and Canada.

Gailus has developed extensive knowledge of grizzlies, following them from Yellowstone National Park through the Canadian Rockies to the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area (pronounced musk-quah-ke-chee-kah) in northern British Columbia.

The free event, open to the public, is titled, “A Grizzly Tale of Two Countries: Grizzly Bear Management and Recovery across the Medicine Line.”

Videos: Stevens Pass avalanche tragedy from two angles

Elyse Saugstad describes surviving the Stevens Pass-area avalanche.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


My Monday interview with KHQ regarding the lure of skiing out of bounds.

Update: more video interviews regarding Stevens Pass avalanche tragedy

WINTER SPORTS — Pro skier pro skier Elyse Saugstad gave a TV interview this morning answering questions about the ABS Avalanche Airbag device she credits with saving her life Sunday in the deadly avalanche that killed three of her companions near Stevens Pass.

If asked the question, I'm sure Saugstad would point out that the airbag would not have helped her if the avalanche had rammed her into a tree or rock. But in this case it helped, and it's worth checking out, investigating, learning, understanding….

The three were skiing in a group of 13 friends that included both local and visiting skiers, according to ESPN Freeskiing editor Megan Michelson, who was among the skiers in the group.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center had issued a warning for high avalanche danger for areas above 5,000 feet.
Across the West, there had been 13 avalanche deaths this season as of Feb. 16, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which tracks avalanche deaths in the U.S.

Update: device credited with saving skier in deadly avalanche

WINTER SPORTS — Pro skier  pro skier Elyse Saugstad gave a TV interview this morning answering questions about the ABS Avalanche Airbag device she credits with saving her life Sunday in the deadly avalanche that killed three of her companions near Stevens Pass.

If asked the question, I'm sure Saugstad would point out that the airbag would not have helped her if the avalanche had rammed her into a tree or rock. But in this case it helped, and it's worth checking out, investigating, learning, understanding….

The three were skiing in a group of 13 friends that included both local and visiting skiers, according to ESPN Freeskiing editor Megan Michelson, who was among the skiers in the group.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center had issued a warning for high avalanche danger for areas above 5,000 feet.
Across the West, there had been 13 avalanche deaths this season as of Feb. 16, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which tracks avalanche deaths in the U.S.

Steelheaders reporting good catches in Snake and Grande Ronde

FISHING - Friday was a shirt-sleeve day with plenty of action for Grande Ronde River steelheaders.

Dennis Matsuda and Dan Hansen of Spokane caught and released 13 steelhead during the day, some of them beautifully fall bright fish.

Not bad for February.

Giant airbag provides soft landing at Lookout Pass Terrain Park

WINTER SPORTS - Skiers and riders can perform bold new tricks in the terrain park with greatly reduced risk at Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area, Feb. 24-26.

A large inflatable air bag will be in place Friday through Sunday below the biggest ramp at Lookout’s Exit 0 terrain park, located directly above the base lodge.

Read on for details from Lookout Pass spokesman Bill Jennings.

Milestone: 100,000 boaters complete safety course

BOATING — The Washington State Boating Program reached a milestone in its mandatory boater education program last week, issuing card number 100,000.

David Eckols of Seattle won tickets to a Seattle Seahawks game for being the 100,000th boater card recipient.

See my recent column pointing out that since January, all Washington powerboat drivers age 40 and and younger must  have a boater education card to operate a boat powered by a 15 horsepower motor or larger.

Last year, the Boating Programs recorded 17 boating fatalities, the lowest number in 10 years. According to Washington State Parks Director, Don Hoch, educated boaters are less likely to be involved in boating accidents than non-educated boaters.

“Since the program started in 2008 we have had an outstanding compliance rate,” says Hoch. “The great news is that we are starting to see a reduction in boating fatalities, property damage and injuries. We hope this trend continues.”

Read on for more details about Washington boater education requirement.

Rathdrum angler returns to Bassmaster Classic

TOURNAMENT FISHING — Brandon Palaniuk, 24, of Rathdrum, Idaho, has been pre-fishing this weekend, warming up with the 50 anglers competing in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 24-26, on the Red River near Shreveport-Bossier City, LA.

This is the second consecutive year Palaniuk has qualified for the “Super Bowl” of tournament bass fishing.

Palaniuk caught a lot of attention in last year's main event. The youngest competitor in the 2011 classic and the only angler to qualify from the West, He finished in fourth place, winning $30,000. 

This year, four anglers from the West are in contention, including Josh Polfer of Nampa, Idaho, and Californians Jared Lintner and Iah Monroe. 

Read on for more details on Palaniuk and the ESPN Bassmaster Classic TV coverage scheduled for the following week.

Expert to speak on polar bears in Colville

WILDLIFE – An internationally recognized polar bear expert who moved to Stevens County will present a slide program about the threatened status of the arctic bruins at 7 p.m., March 2, at the Colville Community College.

Steven Amstrup, who’s studied polar bears in Alaska for 30 years, will discuss the impacts of global warming on the bears, followed by a question-answer period.

The program is sponsored by the Friends of the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.

The S-R recently reported that Amstrup, who worked at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center, is one of 29 conservations up for a prestigious $100,000 Indianapolis Prize for 2012, to be awarded Sept. 29.

Mount Spokane today flashback to old days of nordic skiing

WINTER SPORTS — Last night's storm dumped about 10 inches of new powder on the Mount Spokane cross-country ski trails, so much so fast the groomer couldn't keep up with it.

Deja vu.  It was like heading up to the mountain 30 years ago before big groomers.

A backcountry skiing Mecca.

People venturing out and breaking trail for others to follow.

I heard one guy grousing that the trails weren't groomed to perfection as he tried to plow through five inches of powder that had fallen after the groomer has passed.

He simply had the wrong tools on his feet for the conditions.  Skiers on classic or touring skis had big smiles on their faces.

It was a great day to step out in the winter woods and back in time.

3 reported dead in Stevens Pass avalanche

WINTER SPORTS — Three people have died in an avalanche near Stevens Pass ski area, authorities say. Others who had been reported missing were accounted for today, the Seattle PI Online reports.

Sgt. Cindi West of the King County Sheriff's Office said the slide occurred in an out-of-bounds area near the popular resort in the Cascade Mountains. About 14 inches of new powder greeted skiers in the area this morning.
The three were skiing in a group of 13 friends that included both local and visiting skiers, according to ESPN Freeskiing editor Megan Michelson, who was among the skiers in the group.
The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center had issued a warning for high avalanche danger for areas above 5,000 feet.
Across the West, there had been 13 avalanche deaths this season as of Feb. 16, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which tracks avalanche deaths in the U.S.

U.S. House votes to allow oil drilling in ANWR

PUBLIC LANDS — The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday night to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling as a provision of the Transportation bill.

This was proved to be a bad idea for the fragile arctic environemnt and the colossal wildlife values of the arctic plain in the 1990s.  It's still a bad idea.

Wildlife commission approves Okanogan land purchase

CONSERVATION — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the purchase of 165 acres of key fish and wildlife habitat in Okanogan County today during a conference call meeting.

State Fish and Wildlife Department officials say purchasing the land along the Okanogan River about 20 miles north of Omak will allow the agency to protect spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead, and grassland and shrub steppe beneficial to wildlife.  

The property will become part of the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, managed by WDFW to provide habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species as well as public access for outdoor recreation, such as fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing.

The $795,000 purchase price will be funded with grants from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Lake Roosevelt levels begin downward trend

BOATING — The level of Lake Roosevelt was at elevation 1277.60 at 7 a.m. this mornining and headed for a slight downward trend next week to the 1276-1278 range.

The reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam currently is being operated for power demand, Hanford Reach flows and to meet tailwater flows for chum below Bonneville Dam, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reports.

The February Water Supply Forecast has been released and contains flood control elevations.

Flood control elevations are as follows:

  • February 31 – 1290 feet
  • March 31 – 1281.5 feet
  • April 30 – 1253.9 feet

Flood control elevations are the MAXIMUM elevations for Lake Roosevelt to be able to accommodate the anticipated spring runoff. Lake levels can be lower due to increased demand for power, supplementing downstream flows for fish, emergencies, etc. This is the current situation in which the flood control elevation is above the actual level of the lake. The forecast is based upon the weather.

The next flood control forecasts for March and April can and probably will change.

For a daily forecast call (800) 824-4916. This forecast is updated at 3 p.m. each day.

Lunker perch matches 36-year Idaho record

FISHING — An Idaho record yellow perch measuring 16 inches long and weighing 2.6 pounds was caught Feb. 11 in Lake Cascade by Bob Shindelar of Meridian, Idaho, to tie an Idaho record unmatched since 1976.

One angler described the lunker perch as "a smallmouth bass in drag."

Dale Allen, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional fisheries manager, said Cascade has produced several perch longer than 15 inches.

The largest perch tend to be females, which are currently producing eggs that add weight. There's still about a month to six weeks before those fish spawn, Allen said.

Read on for the full story from Roger Phillips, outdoor writer for the Idaho Statesman.

Avalanche advisory: storm could prompt changes

WINTER SPORTS — New snow this week has created good sliding conditions for skiers and snowmobiles. But The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center's weekly advisory cites conditions and areas of concern in the snowpack.

"The southerly aspects were a little firmer with suncrusts and shallower snow but the north aspects had a sufficient amount of new snow and the buried crusts were a little deeper," writes IPAC technician Kevin Davis, reporting to today on his Thursday outing to test the backcountry slopes.  "So was the buried surface hoar.  You can't miss it on the north aspects where its standing proud.  It wasn't shearing easily yesterday but check it today on steep slopes.  Your main concern this weekend will be the new snow, Winter Storm Watch, loading buried surface hoar."

Read on for the complete report.