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Record run expected for “wild” fall chinook to Snake

 FISHERIES — Good news for the progress of restoring native Snake River salmon runs: Forecasts completed last week predict 17,500 Snake River “wild” fall chinook salmon will return to the mouth of the Columbia. This is a stock protected under the Endangered Species Act.

A record run of 15,400 returned last year. T

the lowest return among records dating back to 1986 was just 772 wild fish in 1998.

In 2009, only 4,086 wild Snake River chinook returned to the mouth of the Columbia.

Read a detailed story in the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Fly pattern raffle boosts conservation

FLY FISHING – The Spokane Fly Fishers annual fly pattern raffle to support fisheries conservation projects is March 9, 6:30 p.m., at St. Francis School Auditorium, 1104 W. Heroy.

Members and public alike can by chances on locally tested and tied patterns as well as escorted fishing trips to area waters.

The public is welcome to buy or donate flies.

Info: (509) 990-4782

New ranger named for Colville’s Republic District

PUBLIC LANDS — The Colville National Forest has named a new district ranger for the Republic District.

Tom Whitford, 20 years with the agency, will take over on March 14. He will replace Steve Rawlings, the forest’s fire management officer, who has served as acting district ranger since November.

Read on for more details.

Free skier abandons snow, hits the surf

SKIING — If the bitter cold is turning you off to hitting the slopes in the Inland Northwest this week, maybe you should consider the possibilities of skiing Hawaii — in the surf!

Check out big-time freeskier Chuck Patterson's switch from the steep and deep to the steep and deep blue seas on skis — complete with plastic ski boots.

Get the complete story from Surf magazine here.

Enchantments reservations go online Monday

BACKPACKING — Reservations for overnight permits to camp in the Enchantment Lakes Basin will be available only online beginning this year, starting Monday.

A popular destination in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, camping in the Enchantments from June 15-Oct. 15 is limited, and permits are picked by lottery each year.

Instead of hand-processing thousands of permits, the Wenatchee River Ranger District has changed to an online system, according to a news release. Applications may be filed beginning Feb. 28. Those who win permits will be notified beginning April 5.

The application fee of $5 per person, per day is the same, but an additional $6 will be charged per permit. Fees pay to administer the system and help fund wilderness rangers and other on-the-ground services.

Hikers can also access alerts and other recreation information through the reservation website. Applications require a profile and password, which can be set up in advance. Those without access to the Internet can call the reservation helpline at (877) 444-6777.

Eagles terrorize Sprague Lake coots

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The winter ice cap was almost gone from Sprague Lake a few days ago, but this week's cold snap has reversed the trend — and that's bad news for the coots that had taken up residence in the open waters. 

Here's the Saturday scoop just received from birder Greg Falco of Sprague:

Today Sprague Lake is almost all frozen (minus 12 for a low at my place).

There are about 5 small openings in the ice with ducks, mostly Common Goldeneye, tightly packed.   The coot flock was in one opening about 40 feet across, and getting smaller.

Twelve bald eagles were standing on the ice around the defenseless coots.  More balds were perched around the lake. 

Nothing scientific, but I’ll say the coot population has been reduced by more than 100 in the past week with about 50 birds left.  I’ll be surprised if any are left tomorrow.

Parks Canada gives cold shoulder to science experts

WILDLIFE — Mike Gibeau, an internationally recognized grizzly bear specialist who spent more than three decades with Parks Canada, is retiring June 3 and the federal agency has no plans to replace him, just as the agency did not replace science manager Cliff White when he retired more than a year ago.

Conservationists say these decisions indicate that Parks Canada has a declining interest in science programs.

See story in the Rocky Mountain Outlook.
  

Wolf poaching in Methow confirmed

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials this week confirmed the killing of an adult male gray wolf, shot in Eastern Washington more than a year ago and dumped in eastern Skagit County.

Investigators believe the wolf was shot somewhere east of Rainy Pass just west of the Methow Valley, according to a Wenatchee World report.

Officials are releasing some information about the incident, hoping the public can help solve the case. Wolves are protected in Washington by state and federal endangered species laws.

The animal was shot and skinned, said Mike Cenci, WDFW deputy chief of enforcement.

State and federal authorities are investigating two other wolf poaching cases, one from 2008 in the same part of northern Washington and a September case in northeastern Oregon.

Cenci said a citizen reported the most recent wolf poaching.

Cenci would not say whether they believe the latest confirmed wolf poaching was from the Lookout Pack, the state’s first documented breeding wolf pack in 70 years. The pack makes its home in the Methow Valley and surrounding hills.

“Big” expectations for spring chinook run

FISHING — Big is still the operative term for the spring chinook salmon fishery nosing into the Columbia River.

Last year it was a big run. This year the emphasis is on the proportion of fish in the run that are big.

The forecast is for 198,400 upriver spring chinook returning to the Columbia bound for upstream this year, close to the 10-year average — the eighth largest run since 1980 — but well below last year's huge run of 423,000 fish.

The upside: more than 100,000 of those fish are forecast to be five-year-olds, going 18-30 pounds or larger, compared to only 26,000 of the larger fish last spring, said Joe Hymer, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department salmon specialist in Vancouver.

In other words, expect fewer chinook than last year but a much higher percentage of five-year-old jumbo kings.

Of the 198,400 upriver spring chinook expected to return to the mouth of the Columbia, about 66,000 should be hatchery fish bound for the Snake River and 24,000 should be wild Snake River fish.

Last year about 134,000 chinook bound for the Snake River returned at least as far as the mouth of the Columbia.

Idaho and Washington fish and wildlife managers will meet in March to discuss Snake River spring chinook seasons. If approved, about 600 chinook could be harvested from the lower Snake River, Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists say.

Glen Mendel, WDFW fisheries biologist in Dayton, said it's unlikely the state will be able to open all four areas where fishing was allowed in 2010.

Rep. Hastings vows to block breaching Snake River dams

RIVERS — Speaking to the  Pasco-Kennewick Rotary Club on Wednesday, Congressman Doc Hastings, R-WA,  said he’ll use his position as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee to block any bills related to breaching lower Snake River dams.

Hastings said salmon runs are recovering under current management practices and dam breaching is the last resort.

The Tri-City Herald reports Hastings as saying he’s concerned that tearing down any Snake River dam puts every other dam at risk.

Environmentalists favor removing dams to restore Snake River salmon runs.

REI recalling 160 Novara Fusion bikes

BICYCLING — REI is recalling about 160 bicycles because of a potential fall hazard.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says the alloy steerer tube on certain Nova Fusion bicycles could separate from the fork, causing the rider to lose control, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

No injuries have been reported, but there has been one report of the tube detaching.

The recall is for bikes with serial numbers U95Y07321, U96Y28393, or in the sequential range of the last four digits U96Y28876 through U96Y29128. (Serial numbers are located on the underside of the bike)

These bikes were sold at REI stores nationwide and at REI.com from November 2009 to November 2010 for between $600 and $900.

The company says consumers should stop riding the bicycles and contact their local REI store or the REI customer service center to arrange for a replacement fork to be installed free of charge.

Consumer Contact: REI at (800) 426-4840 anytime or go to the recall page of REI’s website.

Option cites removal of Lake Roosevelt cabins

PUBLIC LANDS — The National Park Service may require the removal of 25 private cabins that have been built and upgraded over many years within the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area northwest of Spokane.

That’s one of three options in an environmental assessment released Thursday by the agency. The other two options would allow the private cabins to remain under five-year leases. The public will have 45 days to comment before the Park Service is scheduled to make a decision.

The cabins were authorized in the 1950s to encourage recreational use of the lake. They are located at Rickey Point and Sherman Creek. If the removal option is chosen, the owners would have to remove the cabins when the current leases expire.

Chilly Hilly bicycle tour to live up to name this weekend

BICYCLING — Western Washington's annual “Chilly Hilly” bicycle tour should live up to its name this weekend.

Thousands of bicyclists are expected to take part Sunday in the 33-mile bike trek around Bainbridge Island. The National Weather Service says rain is in the forecast, with Sunday temperatures in the low 40s.

Cascade Bicycle Club, which organizes the tour, says more than 6,000 riders took part last year.

Robins looking forward to spring, too

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bird feeders are especially alive with activity in this cold weather as birds — and other wildlife — look for easy calories.  To get a cross section of species, you need seed feeders filled separatel with black sunflower seeds and others with niger as well as suet feeders, such as the one attracting the flicker above.

Meantime, some birds just want you to provide bushes for cover, especially if they still hold berries and fruit from last season.

Here's a birding update from North Idaho comes via Dave Oliveria's Huckleberries online:

“The Arctic chill and accompanying snow storm brought about 20 robins to seek shelter in the trees and shrubs around our Post Falls home on Thursday,” posts Kerri Thoreson on her Facebook page. “The sight of the birds made me wistful for springtime. More photos of our red-breasted visitors.”

More photos of Kerri's robins here.

Avalanche advisory: now is safer than later

WINTER SPORTS — The Inland Northwest avalanche advisory issued this morning notes that snow that accumulated in the cold temperatures of recent storm is light enough to warrant only “considerable” avalanche danger in many (not all) areas.  But a change is expected around Sunday.

The coldest snow temperatues recorded this morning at the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center was -18F at Hidden Lake in the northern Selkirks.  

“This cold weather is weakening the entire pack but most significantly in the upper 3 feet where we have some weak layers around crusts and changing density storm snow,” said Kevin Davis, center director.  “Luckily, for now the load from the new snow this week is light and it is not adding alot of stress to these weak layers.  It is most unstable where wind-loaded or hardened by wind.  The situation will change on Sunday when we get rising temperatures and more snow, and this will bury another layer of surface hoar.  Enjoy it now, bundle up, and be safe.”

Ice fisherman jigs up a whopper

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FISHING — The arctic weather chilling the Inland Northwest is firming the surface at some lakes and pushing the reset button for ice anglers.

If you're looking for a wall-hanger fish to brag about this weekend, try to guess where the angler in this video is fishing — and be sure to cut a big enough hole.

Silver Bow offers crash course in fly fishing

What:  Beginner fly fishing class on basics to get started in a one-day crash course. Covers equipment, knots and gear, trout habits and the flies they like, reading water, presenting, fly casting and fishing local waters.

Where:  Silver Bow Fly Shop, 13210 E. Indiana Ave. in Spokane Valley.

When: Saturday March 12th, 9:30a.m.-3p.m.

Cost:  $30:

Instructor: Angela Morgan

Sign up: (509) 924-9998

Jennings: Who’s flying high at Schweitzer?

SKIING — Fireworks will pierce the cold mountain air tonight and Saturday around a stunning display of aerial skiing stunts during  the Yoke's Outrageous Air Show at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. 

S-R skiing columnist Bill Jennings has the down to earth story on the Olympian who makes aerials look easy.

Weekly fishing report: Ready for March openers?

FISHING — The weather isn't necessarily cooperating, but Al Liere is on the ball with a preview of the region's lakes that are opening for fishing on March 1. Check it out in his weekly Hunting & Fishing Report.

Lowe looks for aid to document unmatched Eiger climb

CLIMBING — Jeff Lowe is an icon familiar to anyone who paid attention to climbing from the 70s into the 90s until MS began ravaging his body.

The first ice climb of Bridal Veil Falls and his problem solving to conquer the route known a Octopussy put him on the covers of Sports Illustrated as well as the major climbing mags.

But his nine-day ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in 1991 stands alone.  His Metanoia route has never been successfully followed.

This video gives a glimpse of a documentary, narrated by Jon Krakauer, that already has a good start at chronicling this landmark climb by the man who introduced mixed climbing to the world.

But the project is short of funds.

Check it out regardless of whether you can or cannot contribute. 

It’s bargain time for Baja sea kayakers

SEA KAYAKING — It's time to quit thinking about a sea-kayaking adventure in the Sea of Cortez and Mexico's Baja California.  It's bargain time to the safe part of Mexico.

I'm just back from a nine-day trip of paddling and camping — The gray whales were parading their newborn calves for us. 

But here's why I'm mentioning this before I run my feature story in the paper:  Air fares have just been slashed.

Alaska Airlines is running a web special that will get you from Spokane to Loreto for about $350 round trip through April 30!

Check out the outfitted trip offerings from Sea Kayak Adventures based in Coeur d'Alene. 

The tough bird dog trainers aren’t chilled by a storm

HUNTING — He saw the storm coming Wednesday, but he had eight dogs scheduled for training and he welcomed the wind and snow flurries as a learning experience.

“You can't just train hunting dogs when it's nice,” said Dan Hoke of Dunfur Kennel off the I-90 Four Lakes Exit .  “Sooner or later you're going to have to hunt or run a field trial in difficult weather, and you want your dog to be accustomed to it.”

But when the storm bloomed into a full-fledged blizzard, he loaded the horses and dogs in the trailer and beat it out of the lonesome Lincoln County scablands.

“Being in the field in a storm isn't so bad, but you don't want to kill yourself and your dogs on the slick roads getting home.”

Eagles join feast of region’s winter kill

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Mount Spokane area birder Ron Dexter knew something was up — or more likely down — when he a lot of raven activity above his home last month.

When he hiked up to investigate, he was not surprised to find the carcass of a dead deer. But he was entrigued at the collection of scavengers it attracted, including coyotes that had departed, their places at the “dinner table” filled by a half dozen ravens, a few magpies, several bald eagles and an immature golden eagle. 

His tip for distinguishing a young golden from an immature bald eagle: A golden has a central wing white markings and the upper half of the tail is white. (See a more detailed explanation by clicking “continue reading” at the bottom.)

“I returned later to set up my remote sensor camera. Over the next few weeks I got photos of up to four bald eagles at a time and two golden eagles, one juvenile and the adult in the photo (above).

In addition there were up to two coyotes, a red-tailed hawk, ravens and magpies. Also, a few deer investigated the scene.”
 
Note: Golden eagles are fairly rare in Spokane County and when they do show up they can be mistaken for immature bald eagles. However, Dexter said he usually see at least one every winter in the foothills of Mount Spokane.

“I have never seen one here during the summertime,” he said. “This indicates to me that they probably do not nest in northeastern Spokane County and are drawn here by the activity of the bald eagles that feed on the winter kill.”

While economy slumps, hunters gain numbers

HUNTING — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week reported a total of 14,974,534 paid license holders for 2009, the largest figure since 2002 and an increase of 526,494 since 2008.

Paid license holders have increased in 24 states in the five-year period from 2005 to 2009.

The 3.6 percent rise in paid license holders represents the largest year-over-year increase since 1974. (A “paid license holder” is one individual regardless of the number of licenses purchased.)

The National Shooting Sports Foundation cites several contributing reasons for the increase:

  • Many state wildlife agencies over the last decade have launched programs to increase hunting participation.
  • A difficult economy motivated hunters to fill their freezers with game rather than store-bought meat.
  • Hunters who were among the unemployed or had their work hours reduced used some of their free time to go hunting.

The hunting heritage has never been more valuable to the country than today, with urbanization and development gobbling up wildlife habitat in critical areas.

The 21 million hunters who have purchased at least one hunting license in the past five years are the backbone of conservation funding in America, contributing more than $1 billion each year through the purchase of licenses, tags, permits and stamps and through excise taxes paid on firearms and ammunition.

The NSSF points out that proceeds from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps, a required purchase for migratory waterfowl hunting, have purchased more than 5 million acres of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Orr out of spotlight, but not out of the money

OUTFIELD — George Orr of Spokane no longer is making his voice heard on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, as explained in my outdoors column today.

But he hasn't lost his sense of humor.

“I love a good debate,” said the former state legislator, a Democrat.

“And in two years, I'm going to have an extra $300 to spend on fishing tackle for my grandkids. After the last presidential election I got three conservative guys to put there money where their mouths were. 

“I bet each one of them that Obama would not take away their guns. They'd better pay up. My grandkids are counting on it.”

Sea lions taking bigger bite out of Columbia River sturgeon

FISHING — Steller sea lions are killing sturgeon at Bonneville Dam almost twice as fast this winter as in 2010, having taken at least 1,000 total since early January, according to a story by Allen Thomas of the Vancouver Columbian.
 
The first California sea lion was spotted at Bonneville Dam on Monday, said  Robert Stansell, a Corps of Engineers biologist. The marine mammals also are ambushing salmon and steelhead at the dam.
 
The highest daily count of Steller sea lions was 21 on Jan. 26. Corps observers have documented at least 32 individual Stellers since Jan. 20. Twenty are confirmed as being seen in past years.
 
No hazing of the sea lions is occuring at Bonneville Dam.

Washington and Oregon officials are waiting for a “letter of authorization'' from the National Marine Fisheries Service before they are allowed to proceed with any sea lion management.

City Parks offers tours on skis, snowshoes

WINTER SPORTS – The first weekend in March is a time to tour for women on skis and families on snowshoes.

The Spokane Parks and Recreation Outdoor Program is sponsoring a family snowshoe tour on March 4 at Mount Spokane. The activity is geared to include active kids as young as 4.

A women’s ski tour of the 49 Degrees North nordic trails is set for Sunday March 5, complete with lunch in the rustic yurt.

Sign-up: Spokane Parks Outdoors Program or (509) 625-6200.

Revised plan to merge natural resource agencies gets committee approval

OLYMPIA — Legislation to merge the Washington’s parks and wildlife agencies into a new Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation was approved Monday by the Senate Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee, but not before compromises were made.

Allen Thomas of the Vancouver Columbian reports the substitute measure retains the current policy and rule-making authority of the Fish and Wildlife Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission. The original proposal supported by Gov. Chris Gregoire would have reduced the panels to advisory roles.

Currently, those commissions hire and fire their agency directors. In 1995, Washington voters approved Initiative 45 to secure the commission's role in hiring and firing the Fish and Wildlfie director. But Gregoire wanted that authority so the director of the new agency would be on the governor's cabinet.

The substitute bill compromises by giving the governor authority to appoint a Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation secretary from a list of five candidates submitted jointly by the wildlife and parks commissions.

Also added to the new department is the state Recreation Conservation office and the law enforcement portion of the state Department of Natural Resources.

The substitute version of Senate Bill 5669 — which changed the name of the proposed new agency from the original Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation — goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Read on for more details.

Proposed Panhandle big-game hunting rules revealed

HUNTING – Idaho Fish and Game biologists just released a preview of proposed changes for Idaho Panhandle big-game hunting rules. They will be presented to sportsmen for their comments the week of March 7 at public meetings still to be scheduled.

Statewide season proposals for 2011 will be coming out sometime the next few days on the Idaho Fish and Game Department website.  Look in the “ Comments and Survey Questions” section in the lower right corner.

Hunting seasons will be set the last week of March at the Idaho Fish and Game Commission meeting in Boise.

Read on for a summary of the Panhandle proposals from Jim Hayden, Idaho Panhandle big-game manager:

Oregon wolves out in the open

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Blue Mountains elk winter in the low open canyon slopes of Oregon, and the recent-arrival gray wolves figured that out fast.

These wolves made themselves at home on the open slopes in northeastern Oregon near Pendleton, where they've been feeding on elk, according to Dale Denney of Bearpaw Outfitters in Colville.

It's an exciting sight for some and an enraging sight for others.

Either way you look at it, it's humbling to watch this 40-second video clip of two wolves taking down an elk.