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Sign up for flatwater kayak trips to explore Spokane River

RIVER RUNNING — Don't delay to sign up for some or all of the remaining Meet Me at the River guided paddling trips organized by the Spokane River Forum to introduce the public to the great river running through us.

Since Meet Me at The River began in 2008, 430 community members have traveled all or part of the river with people who have expertise in everything from the wildlfie to the sewage treatment plant.

“Our goal is to have fun while introducing more and more people to this iconic community resource,” said Andy Dunau, the Forum's executive director. Equipment and professional guides provided for all trips.

Read on for a list of remaining trips. Places are limited.

Discover Pass required starting today at state parks and other state lands

 STATE LANDS — Starting today, the new Discover Pass authorized by the Washington Legislature will be required for vehicle access to nearly 7 million acres of Washington state-managed recreation lands – including campgrounds, parks, wildlife areas, trails, natural areas, wilderness areas and water access points.

The $30 seasonal vehicle permit ($10 daily) will be required at state parks and lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

The passes are sold at face value at state parks. A $2 dealer fee is added at sport retailers.  Fees totaling $5 for the $30 annual pass are added when purchased online.

Sportsmen who have hunting and fishing licenses automatically get a pass for fish and wildlife lands and boat access sites.  But that Fish and Wildlife Vehicle Access Pass does not work for state parks and DNR lands. 

Read my recent story for more details.

Check this story for answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

Click here for a summary of other passes one might need in the Pacific Northwest for outdoor recreation on private, state and federal lands.

Hummingbirds not above a handout

BIRDWATCHING — Living in a hummingbird migratory route has its benefits for close-up bird observation.

When the activity was peaking at her feeder, Abagail  Alfano of Pine, La., put a sugar-water solution in a red plastic cup and didn't have to wait long before she had a swarm of feathered friends.

She said they lit light as a feather on her hand.

Getting higher hiking in North Idaho

TRAILS — Here's the view David Braun recently caught from the top of North Chilco Peak, a nice 4-mile round-trip hike in North Idaho east of Athol.

Bat fungus already has two species on the ropes

ENDANGERED WILDLIFE — A devastating fungus that has killed off caves full of bats could soon be blamed for threatening the existence of two bat species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday that it was launching a 90-day investigation into whether the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The two species are the first to be evaluated - and would be the first to be classified as endangered and threatened - because of white-nose syndrome.

Since its discovery in 2006 in the East, the deadly disease - named for the sugary smudges it leaves on noses and wings - has killed more than one million cave-dwelling bats and is moving westward.

State and federal agencies have taken steps to halt its spread, including barring people from caves.

Glacier Park great for bikes, hikes; Logan Pass still not open

NATIONAL PARKS — It's snow go for vehicles driving over Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road this holiday weekend.

For the third time in the Montana park's 100-year history, the uppermost reaches of Going-to-the-Sun Road will remain closed to visitors during the Fourth of July weekend.

Park plowing crews have reached Logan Pass but they're still trying to chew through The Big Drift — the last snow obstacle to be cleared on the Sun Road. The drift is estimated at 50-60 feet deep, a depth normally seen on Memorial Day weekend. Get status reports here.

But bikes are allowed on the road to that point, and the park transit system is operating on the road, which is closed to other vehicles.

Note: Rivers, streams and creeks in the park are flowing close to flood stage this weekend.

Drowning is the most prominent cause of death in Glacier National Park.

Info: (406) 888-7800.

Read on for the other dates the Sun Road was closed this late.

Black bear sought in attack near Colville

DANGEROUS WILDLIFE — Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers are searching for a black bear reported to have attacked a female jogger northeast of Colville Thursday.

Stevens County Sheriff’s officials say a 36-year-old woman was attacked by a black bear while she was jogging in the late morning on a trail between Thomas and Gillette lakes, 17 miles northeast of Colville on the Colville National Forest.

She dropped to the ground into a protective fetal position and the bear batted at her and then left the area. Later in the day she was treated and released at Mount Carmel Hospital in Colville.

Today WDFW officials were notified of the incident by the Sheriff’s office. State and federal wildlife staffs are investigating and placing bear traps. They may use dogs to find the bear.

USFS campgrounds are maintained at Thomas and Gillette lakes.

Read on for details, who to call in the case of a wildlife problem and tips for camping in bear country. 

Ducks Unlimited applauds Fish and Wildlife director confirmation

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The U.S. Senate Thursday evening confirmed Daniel Ashe as the 16th director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ashe, a career employee of the agency, assumed his duties immediately.

Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited — and the FWS director from 2005-2009 — praised the Senate action.

“I have known and worked with Dan for more than 15 years,” Hall said. “He’s a strong supporter of wildlife resources, an avid outdoorsman and a committed conservationist. The Fish and Wildlife Service is an important partner to Ducks Unlimited, and we look forward to working together to tackle the challenges facing wetlands and waterfowl today.”

Ashe has served as the Service's deputy director since August 2009. From 2003 to 2009, he was the science advisor to the Service's director with broad responsibility to develop and implement the agency's scientific policy and programs for resource management.

Bear experts confirm North Cascades bear was grizzly

WILDLIFE — A team of government and independent grizzly bear experts has confirmed that a bear photographed by a hiker n North Cascades National Park in October 2010 was a grizzly bear, according to a statement just released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency says this was the first “confirmed photograph” of a grizzly bear in the North Cascades in perhaps half a century.  Another sighting confirmed by tracks and evidence was recorded in 1996.

A panel of experts identified the grizzly in a photo taken last October in the upper Cascade River watershed by Joe Sebille. The Mount Vernon man says he was hiking near Marblemount when he saw the bear and snapped the cell phone photo.

Friends persuaded him to share the photo with the North Cascades National Park.

A member of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, Becki Heath, says it’s a significant event in the recovery of the bear. Fewer than 20 grizzlies are believed to live in Washington’s North Cascades. The bears are protected under state and federal law.

At nearly 10,000 square miles, the North Cascades Ecosystem is the second largest of six official grizzly bear recovery zones designated by the federal government and the only one outside of the Rocky Mountains. State and federal agencies have been working to recover the North Cascades grizzlies for more than two decades.

Read on for more.

Dworshak Reservoir nearly at full pool

BOATING — Dworshak Reservoir is within 5 feet of full pool today. That's lower than normal for the Fourth of July holiday, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still leaving room for the unusually high, late snowpack to pour out of the mountains.

Officials flew the headwaters Tuesday and determined about 10 percent of the area was still snow covered.

“We’ll be at about 1 foot from full pool (1,600 feet) on July 5, and anticipate reaching full pool by July 10,” said Steve Hall, Corps reservoir manager.

All campgrounds and boat ramps are open.

Info: Dworshak Dam Visitor Center, (208) 476-1255. 

Dworshak Dam Visitor Center is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Avalanche damage extensive to Glacier’s Sperry Chalet

NATIONAL PARKS — A century-old rock chalet in Glacier National Park that was damaged by a winter avalanche may be open for only a few weeks this summer after crews working to ready the backcountry hotel for the tourist season found additional damage to the two-story lodging and its kitchen building.

The Missoulian reports that workers giving the buildings a more thorough inspection have found damage to the roofs and rafters from the heavy snow load this winter.

In a post on the chalet's web site Thursday, chalet coordinator Kevin Warrington said repair crews will need complete access to the hotel for much of July as well as in late August and September.

Sperry Chalet's season was scheduled to begin July 8, but all reservations are being cancelled through July 19. Reservations in September and some in the last week of August also are being canceled.

Read on for details.

Roosevelt headed toward full pool; keep camp up from shore

COLUMBIA RIVER — Lake Roosevelt continues to fill rapidly and is expected to reach full pool - elev. 1,290 feet — on July 11, the Bureau of Reclamation says.

Meantine, miles of inviting sandy beaches are beckoning campers at Lake Roosevelt, but rapidly rising lake levels warrant caution when pitching tents.

Lake Roosevelt's level is above 1,280 feet today. 

Holiday campers note: The lake will continue to rise more than a foot a day through the 4th of July to around 1,285 on Tuesday.

Shoreline campers should make camp away from the water’s edge.  Boats should be securely anchored or tied securely to the shoreline to avoid having them drift out into the lake.

The rising lake levels have opened boat launching at most of Roosevelt's 22 public boat launches.

See the Lake Roosevelt minimum levels for boat launching chart, and keep watching the current water elevation

For a daily forecast by phone, call (800) 824-4916. Recording is updated at 3 p.m.

Roosevelt's rising water levels are floating up debris from the shoreline. Beware.

Centennial Trail flush with nesting birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Serious birdwatchers are finding plenty to see and hear along the Spokane River Centennial Trail this week.   Here's part of a report posted today by Tina Blewett on Inland Northwest Birders.
Went on a walk on the Centennial Trail yesterday and saw a lovely number of species, but what was great was the number of birds on nests we also found.  We parked at the access point near the YMCA off the Pines Street Exit off I-90 and walked downstream.  
Active nests we found: Black-headed grosbeak, cedar waxwing, American Robin, cliff swallow, eastern kingbird, and European starling (boo!).  We also saw a lot of birds provisioning chicks or saw chicks: American robin, cedar waxwing, and several times pygmy nuthatches.  
The place was so crowded with cedar waxwings, seemed like we saw a different pair, or an adult with a chick every couple hundred feet; they were fun.  
We also saw an interesting behavior.  Near the Eastern kingbird nest, a male bullock's oriole came right up to the nest with the adult kingbird right there, and it appeared as if the oriole tried to stick its head in the nest.  The kingbird chased it away.  And we had a fun time watching a Bewick's wren bask in the sun, and sing it's cheerful song.  
Great little place for a lunchbreak!

Detour starting for White Salmon River rafters

RIVER RUNNING — Boater passage under the Northwestern Lake bridge on the Washington's White Salmon River will be closed beginning Tuesday.

The White Salmon River, a popular whitewater rafting attraction, flows south from glaciers on Mount Adams, entering the Columbia River by the town of Hood River, Ore.  See map.

Condit Dam is 3.3 miles from the mouth and just inside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

PacifiCorp is rebuilding the bridge as part of the removal of Condit Dam. During the work, a temporary take-out will be located at cabin 12 just upstream of the bridge on the Skamania County side. A boat barrier will direct boaters to the location.

The temporary site is not as easy as using the Northwestern Lake boat ramp. It will take multiple rafters to move the boat and the grade is uphill.

Info: PacifiCorp at (503) 331-4361.

Discover Pass sales pick up; enforcement begins Tuesday

STATE LANDS — Employees from three Washignton state agencies will spend the Fourth of July weekend reminding people they need the pass for their vehicles, according to Virginia Painter, spokeswoman for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Enforcement of the new Discover Pass will begin Tuesday at state parks and state land managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. 

Vehicles already have been required to have state vehicle passes at Washington Fish and Wildlife access sites, such as Libert Lake boat launch.  There's no grace period at those sites.

At least 8,745 annual Discover Passes and 30 one-day passes had been sold as of noon Thursday.
Painter said an additional $550,000 came from dealers outside of the Fish and Wildlife system, who bought them to resell to customers.
She said total revenue from all sources so far is $813,000. The money is needed to keep state parks open and fund management of other state recreation lands, she said.

Centennial Trail has new Maringo Drive trailhead

TRAILS — A new 12-vehicle parking lot and trailhead for the Spokane River Centennial Trail officially opens today east of Argonne Road at the end of Maringo Drive.

See map.

The new facilities were built by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, with the support of the Friends of the Centennial Trail, Washington State Park Foundation and Inland Empire Paper Co.

This much-needed parking lot will enable trail users to avoid parking in a residential area. The Maringo Trailhead already included restroom facilities and a drinking fountain.

Coast remains hot destination for salmon fishing

SALMON FISHING — The Washington Coast remains the highlight of early summer salmon fishing, as two other popular inner-marine areas open today.

“Ilwaco had the highest catch with 1.14 fish per person (25 percent was chinook, and the rest was hatchery coho),” Wendy Beeghly, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist, told Ron Yuasa of the Seattle Times. “Neah Bay was the other hot spot with 1.2 fish per person. We also saw pinks caught all the way down to Westport, and hardly ever see them this early.”

At Westport, the catch was 0.7 fish per rod, and fish seemed to be more scattered than they'd been early last week, Yuasa said.  At La Push they averaged one fish per rod, with almost all hatchery coho.

Read on for more details from Yuasa's report.

Sun Valley Bike Festival features 400 miles of single track

CYCLING — Sun Valley is unveiling a new cycling event this summer — the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival with events running July 11-17.  

The festival showcases the area’s 400-plus miles of continuous single track trail and 32 miles of multi-use paved bike paths.

Watch the USA Cycling’s Olympic Mountain Bike Cross County National Championships on the slopes of Sun Valley’s rugged Baldy Mountain. Other activities include the Avett Brothers in concert, Fat Tire Criterium and “Geared: the Culture of Bicycles” exhibit at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.

At the lower River Run parking areas, a technical Expo will be open daily, featuring top cycling vendors from around the world displaying the newest and latest in cycling gear and equipment.

Another rafter dies on Lochsa River

RIVER RUNNING — The Idaho County sheriff's office says a Missoula man died Wednesday in a rafting accident on the Lochsa River in north-central Idaho, according to the Lewiston Tribune.

Keegan Seth Ginther, 29, died after three or four people had been thrown from a raft around 2:30 p.m. CPR was performed on the river.

The accident reportedly happened in Lochsa Falls Rapid near milepost 112.5 off U.S. Highway 12.

The investigation revealed that Ginther was rafting with four friends from Missoula when the raft flipped in the Lochsa Falls Rapids and spilled all the occupants into the water.  Ginther was unable to get to shore and was swept downriver.  One of the rafters,  Bradley Applegate, 30, was able to get to shore and flagged down a passing vehicle to transport him down river where he pulled Ginther from the water. An EMT started CPR, the report said. 

All parties in the raft were wearing life jackets. 

This is the second drowning in the Lochsa this season and the third drowning in Idaho County in the past seven weeks. 

In addition to Wednesday's drowning, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, resident Randy Eroen drowned while kayaking on the Lochsa River May 28, and on May 11, Jerry Nelson of Kamiah drowned in Lolo Creek while trying to save his dog.

The river was running at about 15,000 cubic feet per second on Wednesday - high for this time of year, but not an unusual flow for the early rafting season.

The Lochsa is well-known for its continuous string of class III and IV rapids.

Read on for the reaction of a Lochsa rafting outfitter as quoted in a Missoulian online report.

Long-distance lady finds life lessons on trail

BACKPACKING — Women (especially) looking for hiking inspiration can score big with a book by an iron-woman who worked her way up the hiking status ranks before setting the supported Appalachian Trail women's record of 57 days to cover 2,175 miles.

That's a brisk average pace of 38 miles per day every day for two months from Georgia to Maine.

Jennifer Pharr (now Pharr-Davis) has captured that epic and the trail leading to it in her book “Becoming Odyssa-Epic Adventures On the Appalachian Trail.”  Blisters and body odor were among the least of her foes.

She'd already hiked the AT plus 9,000 miles on trails across six continents before she worked up to the record-setting effort. All the way she was hiking toward her dreams and goals from “over-confident college graduate” to the owner and operator of Blue Ridge Hiking Company in Asheville, North Carolina.

She makes the case for the long-distance hiker's mantra: Living with less, on the trail and in everyday life, is living free.

And her story reaffirms that wilderness can hold many unexpected life lessons, whether it's at the hand of shocking electric storms or in the tight quarters of a trail shelter with disagreeable companions.


Lame birdwatching joke of the day

CRITTER WATCHING — I take no responsibility for this:

Two robins were sitting in a tree. “I'm really hungry,” the first one said.

“Me, too,” said the second. “Let's fly down and find some lunch.”

They swooped to the ground and found a plot of plowed ground full of worms. They ate and ate and ate and ate until they could eat no more.

“I'm so full I don't think I can fly back up to the tree,” the first robin said.

“Me either. Let's just lie here and bask in the warm sun,” said the second.

“OK,” said the first.

They plopped down, relaxed and soaked in the rays.

But as they dozed, a big fat tom cat sneaked in and gobbled them up.

As he sat satisfied and licking his lips, he thought, “I love baskin' robins.”

Infected steelhead killed at Dworshak Hatchery

FISHERIES — Managers at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery say they have destroyed 332,000 juvenile summer steelhead since April to protect the rest of the hatchery’s fish from a deadly virus.

In April, 240,000 steelhead were destroyed after IHNV was confirmed in some rearing tanks by the Idaho Fish Health Center.

Officials say they still expect to have enough fish to meet their requirements for mitigating the impacts of Dworshak Dam on wild fisheries.

Read on for details.

Tagged salmon must be released on upper Columbia

FISHING — Starting Friday, all chinook and sockeye salmon with external floy (anchor) tags attached must be immediatly released if caught by anglers in the upper Columbia River system, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department announced Wednessday.

The rule will be in effect through Oct. 15 on the mainstem Columbia River from Priest Rapids Dam upstream to the Highway17 Bridge in Bridgeport, including the Similkameen and Okanogan Rivers.

Read on for details.

Fish scientists cite Snake River dams as threat to fisheries

 FISHERIES — The Western Division of American Fisheries Society says four lower Snake River dams and reservoirs present a significant threat to existence of wild fish.
The group approved a resolution making that point Wednesday during its meeting in Portland.
The group says that based on the best available science, the dams threatened fish populations including wild salmon and steelhead, as well as Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon.
Saving and restoring these imperiled species will require returning a significant portion of the lower Snake River to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams, the resolution says.
A federal judge is expected to issue a verdict on the Obama Administration's salmon plan any day.  
Read on for more details.

Does salmonfly signal Spokane River’s revival?

FLY FISHING — Okay, so I made a little fun in my column last week of a colleague's excitement over finding a single salmonfly in downtown Spokane.

The discovery pales to the days when clouds of salmonflies fed a Spokane River teeming with trout.

But here's an encouragng response from Mike LaScuola of the Spokane Regional Health District's
Environmental Resources Program:

I had to respond to your column today about Jim Kershner finding a salmon fly. I just thought I would let you know that on the roof of the Health District building I routinely check an air monitor and I have found two salmon flies on recent occasions…
Maybe the river is cleaning up a bit.
So there you go, anglers. Soon we'll be tying on a big one.

Eye is on sport crabbers and new larger share of harvest

SHELLFISHING — After a five-year struggle lost by commercial harvesters, recreational crab fishers in Puget Sound have been offered a much-desired fixed season from July 1 until Labor Day, with no quotas for total take.

Commercial crab harvesters must now take a back seat to the recreational crabbers, harvesting from the remainder of the nontribal quota in the fall, according to a story by Christopher Dunagan of the Kitsap Sun.

The new season, approved in October by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, could increase the recreational harvest of Dungeness crabs by 40 percent, according to state estimates. Commercial harvesters could see their share drop from 67 percent to about half the nontribal quota.

Read on for the rest of the story from the Associated Press.

Unbelievable wildlife spectacle bruin at Yellowstone

NATIONAL PARKS — Yellowstone National Park still delivers for wildlife watchers. 

A Spokane family just back from several days in the great Montana-Wyoming park said that among all the wildlife they saw, they were blessed with 24 bears sightings, half of them grizzlies.

To top it off, they also witnessed the sobering drama of wolves taking down an elk calf.

This is better than reality TV.

Avalanches rock and roll on Rainier

NATIONAL PARKS — Some of the biggest rock avalanches in years have been roaring off Mount Rainier the past several days, kicking up billowing clouds of dust and propelling rivers of muddy debris nearly two miles down the volcano’s flanks, according to an Associated Press report.

No one's been hurt, but climbers have had to flee certain areas.

Check out this video of a major slide this week.

Read on for details.

Two-seater bikes stoke rally in Spokane

BICYCLING — More than 600 tandem cycling enthusiasts are freewheeling to Spokane Friday through Sunday to celebrate the holiday weekend in the 26th annual Northwest Tandem Rally.

The Spokane Regional Sports Commission is helping organize the event. Based out of Mukogawa Ft. Wright Institute, the rally includes organized rides of up to 94 miles through the West Plains and through the small towns of the Palouse before they loop back to social events in Spokane.

The “it takes two to tandem” pedalers will head west out of Fort Wright in a mass start for their first ride starting at t 8:30 a.m. on Saturday.

 Read on for more details.

Idaho seeks comment on proposed fishing rules

FISHING — Idaho Fish and Game Department officials are taking public comments through July 8 on proposed changes to fishing rules.

All proposed rules are available on the Fish and Game website .  Comments may be submitted at the links on the web page.

Highlights of Fish and Game’s recommendations include:

  • Allowing filleting of hatchery salmon and steelhead harvested and recorded on a salmon or steelhead permit when certain conditions are met.
  • Allowing use of a gaff hook while archery fishing for nongame fish.
  • Modifying the definition of a “steelhead” in the Salmon, Snake and Clearwater River drainages.
  • A new definition for when a fishing contest permit is needed.
  • New definitions used in the 2011-2012 fishing rules booklet.
  • Making it illegal to mark and release fish.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will act on these proposed rules at the July 28 meeting in Salmon. Adopted rules would not take effect until April 2012.