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Lead poisoning documented at some shooting ranges

SHOOTING — Exposure to lead at shooting ranges is a poorly monitored health risk that's affecting shooters and people who work at the facilities in some areas, according to a story in the Seattle Times.

Indoor, outdoor, public and private, gun ranges dot the national landscape like bullet holes riddling a target, as the popularity of shooting has rocketed to new heights with an estimated 40 million recreational shooters annually.

But a hidden risk lies within almost all of America’s estimated 10,000 gun ranges: firing lead-based ammunition spreads vapor and dust filled with lead, an insidious toxin.

Thousands of workers, shooters and their family members have been contaminated at shooting ranges due to poor ventilation and contact with lead-coated surfaces, a Seattle Times investigation has found.

Those most at risk are range workers who inhale airborne lead as they instruct customers and clean up spent ammunition. Lead exposure can cause an array of health problems — from nausea and fatigue to organ damage, mental impairment and even death.

Employees have carried lead residue into their homes on their skin, clothes, shoes and work gear, inadvertently contaminating family members, including children, those most vulnerable to lead’s debilitating health effects.

For the public, shooting firearms is the most common way of getting lead poisoning outside of work, according to national statistics.

Through documents, interviews and a first-of-its-kind analysis of occupational lead-monitoring data, The Times has found reckless shooting-range owners who’ve repeatedly violated workplace-safety laws.

The nation has an estimated 6,000 commercial indoor and outdoor gun ranges, but over the past decade, only 201 have been inspected, according to a Times analysis of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records. Of those inspected, 86 percent violated at least one lead-related standard.

Opening day report: Pheasant hunting better behind a dog

HUNTING — Following a bird dog's nose through pheasant country is one of the most vigorous, intense, satisfying and rewarding forms of hiking. And the results can be delicious.

Kokanee provide fall color near Sullivan Lake

PUBLIC LANDS — Sullivan Lake is a great option for getting out this weekend to enjoy fall colors — on the forest and on the fish!

The Western larch needles are turning yellow and the crimson-colored kokanee are running from the lake into Harvey Creek where they are ripe for easy viewing.

Huge schools of these bright red beauties can be seen from the bridge or creek bank at the south end of the lake as the fish pair with mates for spawning. 

“This intense and exciting event is important to the survival of the species,” says Franklin Pemberton of the Colville National Forest. Visitors are asked to avoid harassing the fish or disturbing the streambed.

The run typically lasts until the middle of December.

Females dig a redd (deposit site) to lay eggs and within a few days die.  Their decaying bodies provide nutrients to the creek and Sullivan Lake vital to the growth of plankton and insect life that will feed next year’s young.  The dying salmon also feed animals like bald eagles, raccoons, and mink.  Kokanee eggs hatch in February and remain in the gravel until spring where they are swept away into Sullivan Lake to start another cycle.

DIRECTIONS:  From Highway 31 south of Ione, take County Road 9345 toward the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station and Sullivan Lake.  The bridge over Harvey Creek is at the south end of the lake. Harvey Creek is closed to fishing.

Info:  (509) 446-7500. 


Hunters tell it like it is at Lynnwood wolf management meeting

ENDANGERED SPECIES — As predicted, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife-sponsored public meeting on wolf management held Tuesday in Lynwood had a different tone than the similar meeting held Oct. 7 in Colville.

The public in Lynnwood blasted the state for killing any wolves even to protect livestock. Cattlemen and hunters in Colville were enraged by the state's reluctance to take out entire packs of wolves.

I've seen little TV or mainstream newspaper reports from the Western Washington meeting in which state wildlife managers explained their wolf management actions and took public comment.

In contrast, the Colville meeting was attended by three TV stations, reporters from The Spokesman-Review and other papers and an AP reporter.  Two different stories were on the AP wire the next day documenting how state officials got their butts chewed in northeastern Washington.

It's safe to say there weren't as many vegan-related bumper stickers on cars parked outside the Colville meeting. No vocally angry cattle ranchers ranted at the Lynnwood meeting, although a few hunters showed up to say what was on their minds.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman Magazine has a thoughtful report on the Lynwood meeting.

Said Walgamott, taking off on one hunter's assurance that wolves eventually would be hunted in Washington despite the arguments that no wolves should be killed:

Really, it’s a success story when you can get to the point that hunts on any species can be held, kind of like the comeback of elk that allowed for seasons in this state by the early 1900s, whitetails in Missouri by 1931 and elsewhere in the East, bandtail pigeons by the early 2000s in the Northwest.

Washington's wolf management plan requires 15 successful breeding pairs in three distinct regions of the state for three straight years, or 18 in any one region before wolves would be hunted in the state.

By contrast, Oregon state rules call for launching a delisting process for wolves when Eastern Oregon has four breeding pairs for three consecutive years.  That delisting from endangered species rules could start next year judging from the progress wolves are making.

Washington has a tough road to travel in the next few years as wolves continue to expand.  Walgamott let Nate Pamplin, WDFW's wildlife program director have the last word in his report on the Lynnwood meeting:

Even as a self-identified counselor gave WDFW’s crew some psychoanalysis about a little chart they put together that showed what the agency hears from both sides, Pamplin noted:

“I don’t have the easy button. We heard a lot of good ideas tonight. We’re going to recover wolves. We’re going to manage wolf-livestock conflicts. We know wolf-ungulate issues are coming. We need to do better outreach.”


Salmon ID chart helps Clearwater anglers identify catch

FISHING — Idaho's first specific coho fishing season opens today on the Clearwater River.

You can keep coho regardless of whether their adipose fins are clipped or unclipped in the mainstem or designated sections of the Middle Fork and North Fork below Dworshak Dam.

But since fall chinook is closed to harvest and unmarked steelhead must be released, anglers must be clear on identifying coho.

This chart should help.

Trail cam captures shot of Selkirk mountain caribou

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services fudges on the issue, the mountain caribou is the rarest big game species in the United States and therefore the most endangered.

So capturing a photo of a Selkirk mountain caribou isn't just a big deal, says Kalispel Tribe wildlife biologist Bart George — It's “The Holy Grail for trail cam pictures!”

That is, if Sasquatch isn't.

Washout temporarily closes Beauty Creek Road

PUBLIC LANDS — Recent rains and flooding have caused a washout on Forest Road 438, also known as the Beauty Creek Road.  The route is temporarily closed while Idaho Panhandle National Forests crews repair the damage between mile marker 1 and mile marker 4.4.

Flood damage has made the road impassable, but an alternate route accessing the upper reaches of Beauty Creek is available through Forest Road 439, near Mount Coeur d’Alene.

Barriers and road closure signs are posted at the entrance to FR 438.

Info: Coeur ‘d Alene River Ranger District,  (208) 664-2318.

Fishing’s better when God is on your side

FISHING — I, too, have had days like this with my fishing buddies.

TU offers $1K for top wild steelhead essay

FISHING — A good tale about steelhead will earn somebody $1,000 next month.

Trout Unlimited has launched an essay contest for authors angling for the cash prize and a spot in TROUT Magazine.

Entries must focus on wild steelhead and be no more than 500 words.

The winning essay will be read aloud at TU’s Nov. 20 launch of its new Wild Steelhead Initiative in Seattle.

“We’re looking for good stories about wild steelhead and why so many of us are willing endure even the worst conditions - frigid water, rain, sleet, snow - for hours, even days at a time in hopes of catching just one of these amazing fish,” said Shauna Sherard, TU’s northwest region communications director. “Wild steelhead have captured the souls and imaginations of American anglers for generations. Surely there are stories to tell, and TU wants to help die-hard steelheaders tell them.”

Wild steelhead in the Pacific Northwest still persist, but 70 percent of the region’s stocks require federal protection.

Here's TU's pitch:

The upcoming campaign will focus on improving wild steelhead numbers and the opportunity for anglers to pursue them. Until now, efforts have been focused on local watersheds and specific runs of wild steelhead. TU hopes to shine some much-needed light on the challenges wild steelhead face if they are to once again swim in historic numbers from southern Alaska all the way to southern California.

Pre-season ski swaps great for gearing up

WINTERSPORTS – Used equipment and new but year-old products will be coming out of closets and warehouses for great deals at annual ski- and winter-gear swaps in the next two week.

The following fundraisers help finance area ski patrols and racing groups:

An Idaho first: Coho fishing to open on Clearwater

FISHING — In a milestone for Snake River system salmon fisheries, the state Fish and Game Commission has approved a coho fishing season for the Clearwater River — the first specific coho season to be set in Idaho.

The season for coho with clipped and unclipped adipose fins will run from Friday, Oct. 17, to Nov. 16 on the mainstem and Middle Fork Clearwater River from the mouth upstream to Clear Creek, and on the North Fork Clearwater River downstream from Dworshak Dam.

  • Anglers will be allowed to keep two coho a day. The possession limit will be six, and the season limit will be ten.
  • Coho limits are separate from those for fall chinook.
  • Anglers must have a valid salmon permit to legally harvest coho, and any coho harvested must be recorded on that permit.
  • Any coho processed before transport must have the skin intact, with the adipose fin attached.

The Clearwater River upstream of Memorial Bridge remain closed to fall chinook fishing.

According to a Fish and Game Department release, Idaho coho have adapted to changing river conditions more poorly than Idaho’s other anadromous species, and were technically extinct for decades, before the Nez Perce Tribe began a recovery program using eggs from other locations.

That program has resulted in growing returns, including this year’s run.

As of Tuesday, Oct. 14, nearly 15,000 coho had passed Lower Granite Dam.

“Without the Nez Perce tribe’s efforts, Idaho sport anglers would not be getting this opportunity,” said Anadromous Fisheries Manager Pete Hassemer. 

Coho released from the Nez Perce Tribe’s hatchery program have not had their adipose fins clipped, so the Commission has also approved a temporary change in the rules regarding harvest. Anglers may keep Coho Salmon with an adipose fin during the one month season, and are encouraged to carefully identify any salmon before harvest.

A guide to fish identification in Idaho is printed in our general fishing seasons and rules brochure.  

Fall chinook with adipose fins must still be released unharmed

Coho salmon, also known as “silver salmon,” are anadromous fish. That means they are born in freshwater, migrate to saltwater, and return to freshwater to spawn. Adult coho range from 8-12 pounds. They are a bright silver color in the ocean, but turn red when spawning. Upper and lower jaws become “hooked” as Coho approach spawning. Sharp teeth appear on tongue and roof of mouth. Spotting on tail fin is limited to the upper half. Coho have black mouths and white gums.

Winter knocks: Beartooth Pass closed for season

WINTERSPORTS — Winter conditions are finally starting to bare their teen in the high mountains.

Beartooth Pass on the Montana-Wyoming border is closed for the winter and significant snowfall is forecast today for the Washington Cascades.

Forecasters say 3-to-7 inches of snow are possible in Washington at the Sunrise Ranger Station at Mount Rainier. Snow also is expected at Artist Point at Mount Baker and Washington Pass on the North Cascades Highway.

With the snow level at 5,500 feet, Snoqualmie, Stevens and White passes will likely just see rain showers.

Forecasters expect rain showers across Washington into Saturday but a drier day on Sunday.

The Montana and Wyoming departments of transportation say the scenic highway into Yellowstone National Park is closed to traffic from Vista Point south of Red Lodge, Montana, to its intersection with the Chief Joseph Highway in Wyoming. U.S. Highway 212 from the Chief Joseph Highway intersection to Cooke City, Montana, remains open.

The pass is expected to re-open in late May, weather permitting.

Glacier Park grizzly shooter case dismissed

WILDLIFE — The case against a Texas man accused of illegally discharging a firearm in Glacier National Park this summer, when he shot a grizzly bear he said was charging him, went no further than his not-guilty plea in a federal court late last month, the Missoulian reports

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has dismissed the charge against 57-year-old Brian D. Murphy.

The charge was dismissed with prejudice, meaning a final determination has been made based on the merits of the case. Murphy cannot be re-charged at a later date, reports Vince Devlin.

Here's the rest of Devlin's report;

Murphy’s attorney, Jason T. Holden of Great Falls, called it a “perfect scenario to have a case dismissed with prejudice.”

“The government did the right thing because Mr. Murphy did the right thing,” Holden said, adding that Murphy “had every right to act in defense of his life.”

Holden described his client as a part-time Montana resident who spends summers in the state, and is “an avid hiker and photographer with great respect for our national parks, their resources and wildlife.”

Murphy, he said, did not fire his .357 revolver until the charging bear – a grizzly, Holden said DNA tests later confirmed – was 7 to 10 feet away, and not until bear spray discharged when the animal was 15 to 25 feet away failed to deter it.

The wounded bear was never located. DNA samples were obtained from blood and fur at the scene.


Murphy was hiking the Mount Brown Lookout Trail, one of Glacier’s most challenging, on Saturday, July 26.

Although he was hiking alone, which park officials advise against, Murphy was wearing bear bells and packing bear spray, Holden said, and also “yelping” to warn any bears in the area of his approach, and because he was aware other hikers were behind him on the trail.

“When Mr. Murphy first saw the bear it was running down a hill toward the other hikers,” Holden said. “He yelled, ‘Bear!’ to warn them, and as soon as he yelled, the bear turned and came straight at him.”

Murphy first discharged his bear spray using his left hand, and when that didn’t stop the animal, fired with the .357 in his right hand, according to Holden.

“The bear fell back and was motionless,” Holden said. Murphy “withdrew and double-timed it out of there, taking the two hikers who were behind him with him. He stopped everyone else on the trail, too, told the first ranger he came to what had happened, and fully and voluntarily cooperated with rangers.”

When rangers arrived at the scene the grizzly was gone, but there was evidence it had been wounded. Murphy turned his revolver over to rangers, who reported it contained five unspent rounds and one spent casing.


While a 2010 federal law makes it legal to carry firearms in national parks, it remains illegal to discharge one in many of them, including Glacier.

Murphy was not charged by park rangers with the misdemeanor, which carries a $500 fine, until nearly two months later.

Holden appeared on his behalf in West Glacier on Sept. 26 to enter the not-guilty plea in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong.

“I informed the court we would raise the affirmative defense of self-defense, and after we presented our case to the government, they agreed it was an appropriate case to dismiss with prejudice,” Holden said.

Michael S. Lahr, an assistant U.S. attorney in Helena, filed the motion to dismiss the charge with prejudice. Strong granted the motion Thursday.

Lahr did not return a message Tuesday seeking comment.

“In a situation such as Mr. Murphy’s, where his life was in mortal danger, he has a right to defend his life,” Holden said. “That is not against the law, and that’s why the government dismissed this case.”

“I don’t want to give the wrong impression,” he went on. “You can’t willy-nilly fire a gun in a national park – you can’t. You can’t if a bear is 50 feet from you. But this was a full, straight-on charge and attack.”

Centennial Trail temporarily rerouted around Sullivan Bridge

TRAILS — The Spokane River Centennial Trail at Sullivan Bridge is being closed during the daytime hours this week because of construction.

The closures started today,  7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and will continue through Friday, Spokane Valley engineers say.

Workers are building a protective trail covering beneath the northbound bridge. 

Signs are redirecting trail users via Indiana Avenue between the old Mission Avenue trailhead and the ramp located west of the bridge.

Dry landscape hampers some deer hunters, but not all

HUNTING — Looking at some of the nice bucks taken on the Oct. 11-12 opening weekend of the Washington modern rifle deer hunting season can prompt sportsman to rethink their grousing about the lack of perfect conditions.

Sure it was dry and warm. Success rates were not great.

But some hunters who put themselves in the right places at the right times were handsomely rewarded, as the photo above indicates.

The Deer Park check station last weekend saw 81 deer hunters with nine deer compared with last year’s 91 hunters bringing in 12 deer.

“Officers thought weekend hunting pressure was about normal,” said Madonna Luers, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Spokane.

Kevin Robinette, department regional wildlife manager, expects more hunting action and success with cooler, wetter weather predicted for this weekend — and especially during the late buck season that runs Nov. 8-19 in northeastern Washington units 105, 108, 111, 113, 117, 121 and 124

The Winthrop Check Station interviewed 106 hunters on opening weekend compared with 107 last year, suggesting hunting pressure is about the same in the Methow Valley. 

“On the other hand, we checked only 20 deer as opposed to 30 last year indicating success rate is down,” said Scott Fitkin, area wildlife biologist. 

“My guess is that the reduced success is mostly a function of the exceptionally mild weather we’ve had thus far this fall, and changes is deer distribution and hunter distribution caused by the (2014 Carlton Complex) fires.

“Many hunters chose to hunt new areas this year in response to the fires and thus may be less efficient.”

“As for deer distribution, I suspect a lot of deer are still up pretty high given the weather. However, some deer are being taken in the burned areas, so hunters shouldn’t immediately discount those areas. 

“Off and on rain with some high country snow is forecast for this week so conditions and success rates should improve for the remainder of the general season.


Hunters have compelling reasons to take a few minutes to stop into a hunter check station in Washington or Idaho.

Deer Park and Chattaroy check stations are scheduled to be staffed by WDFW biologists, master hunters, hunter education instructors and university wildlife students this weekend for the close of the general season in northeastern Washington.  Check stations also will be staffed during the late buck hunt — Nov. 15 at Chattaroy off Highway 2 and Nov. 16 at Deer Park off Highway 395.

The Winthrop Check Station will be open this weekend at the Red Barn off Highway 20 at the west edge of Winthrop.




Even in national parks, wildlife subject to vehicle collisions

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Why did the deer cross the road and risk its life against speeding vehicles?

Because it wanted to get to the other side, the way it evolved to move from cover to feed, bedding spot to water, and summer range to winter range over the centuries.

Tough year for wildlife in Canada's mountain parks
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 6, 10 black bears and one grizzly bear were struck and killed by vehicles or trains in Yoho and Kootenay national parks in B.C. and Banff National Park in Alberta; 16 elk have died on the parks' roads, as have five moose, three wolves and one cougar. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Salmon catch rate high, pressure declines on Hanford Reach

FISHING — Angling pressure for fall chinook decreased last week at the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River, but the catch rate continues to be high at 2.2 fish per boat, according to the following report from Paul Hoffarth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist in the Tri-Cities:

With the start of several hunting seasons the numbers of anglers fishing for salmon in the Hanford Reach declined slightly from the previous week.  Harvest remained strong at 2.2 chinook landed per boat.  An estimated 2,413 boats fished for salmon in the Hanford Reach this past week.  WDFW staff interviewed anglers from 684boats (1,638 anglers:10,474 pole hours) and 159 bank anglers (679 hours).  An estimated 5,419 Chinook (4,784 adults & 635 jacks) were harvested.   Bank anglers didn’t fare as well only averaging one chinook for each 11 anglers.   There were an estimated 6,012 angler trips for fall Chinook in the Tri-cities this past week. 

For the fall salmon season that started August 1, there have been over 38,000 angler trips harvesting 21,822 adult Chinook, 2,756 jacks, and 162 coho.

The Hanford Reach (Hwy 395 to Priest Rapids Dam) opened to fishing for hatchery steelhead on October 8. The area upstream of the old Hanford townsite wooden powerline towers will only remain open through October 22.  There was very little effort for steelhead this past week with anglers continuing to concentrate on Chinook. 

Yakima River fall chinook fishing action has been slower, but this is the week to be there, Hoffarth says:

This past week WDFW staff interviewed 189 anglers fishing for salmon in the lower Yakima River with 30 adult chinook, 2 Chinook jacks, and 2 coho harvested. Anglers averaged a salmon for every 11 hours of fishing.  This is the last week of the season with the fishery closes after October 22. The fishing is usually the best just before the season closes.

An estimated 264 salmon were caught this past week (247 adult fall Chinook, 8 jacks, and 9 coho) bringing the season total to 877 salmon.

Pen-raised pheasants expensive luxury for hunters

HUNTING — As Washington has been scaling down its pheasant release program the past few years, other states are looking at giving pen-raised birds the boot.

Wyoming mulls future of pheasant farms
Since 1937, Wyoming has been raising pheasants on two farms to be released in the fall for hunters, but the cost of operating the farms is now $664,000, roughly $22 for each of the 30,000 birds released in the fall, while licenses and stamps fund just 9 percent of the program's overall cost, and the state Game and Fish Department is taking a hard look at whether the program should continue.

Wolf shot in Whitman County; charges pending

Updated 8 p.m. with response from state Fish and Wildlife police chief.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A farmer is being investigated in the shooting of a gray wolf in Whitman County on Sunday.

The wolf was shot southwest of Pullman, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers who responded to the scene Sunday after receiving a call.

“They determined that the wolf had been shot by a farmer who had pursued the animal for several miles in his vehicle after seeing it near his farm,” said Nate Pamplin, the agency’s wildlife program director.

Wolves are protected by state endangered species regulations.

The incident occurred west of U.S. Highway 195 on the opening weekend of the state's general deer hunting season. 

“The shooting does not appear to have been associated with a defense-of-life action,” Pamplin said.

The shooting did not appear “to take place under the statutory authority to shoot and kill a wolf that is caught in the act of attacking livestock in the Eastern Washington recovery zone,” he added. 

“No citations have been issued as this is an active investigation,” said Steve Crown, state Fish and Wildlife police chief in Olympia. “We will not be releasing the suspect’s information until the investigation is complete and the case has been submitted to prosecutor.”  

Scattered wolf sightings have been reported in Whitman County for years and wolf tracks were confirmed near Rock Lake in November 2013.

Washington has 14 confirmed wolf packs, none of which is in Whitman County.

Pamplin said he was not aware of any incidents with wolves and livestock or pets in 2014. None was confirmed in previous years.

A Whitman County Sheriff's Department spokesman said the case was being handled by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife police.

“Once the investigation is complete, the case will be sent to the Whitman County Prosecutor’s office for a charging decision,” Pamplin said. The man's name was not immediately released.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington by around 1940. The animals have been moving back into the state from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia for more than a decade.

Since 2007, wolves have begun causing conflicts with Washington ranchers because the animals sometimes prey on livestock.

In August and September this year, 33 sheep and three cattle have been confirmed as killed by wolves in Stevens and Ferry counties.

Gas prices drop 9 cents in a week

HUNTING/FISHING — Declining fuel prices are good news for hunters in the peak of the fall seasons as well as for steelhead anglers pulling boats to the big rivers:

The national average price for regular unleaded gasoline has dropped for 18 straight days to a national average of $3.20 a gallon, according to American Automobile Association surveys.

Pacific states as well as Idaho are still among the most expensive regions for purchasing gas, but Washington ranks third in the nation for the rate of fuel-price drop in the past month.

The national price represents a 2014 low and is the lowest average for the Columbus Day holiday since 2010 when gas averaged $2.81 a gallon, AAA reports.

Today’s average price is nine cents less than one week ago, 20 cents less than one month ago and 15 cents less than one year ago.

Drivers in six states are paying an average price below three dollars per gallon to refuel their vehicles with eight additional states posting prices within a nickel of this mark.

  • Missouri has the lowest gas price average per gallon: $2.90.
  • Hawaii has the highest: $4.13.
  • California has the highest in the continental U.S.:  $3.60.
  • New York and Oregon both are at $3.52.
  • Washington's average is $3.51. That’s 11 cents lower than a week ago and down 33 cents in a month. But it’s 31 cents higher than the national average.
  • Idaho's average is $3.46, although Coeur d'Alene is well below the average at $3.23
  • Montana's average is $3.39, with prices significantly  lower — $3.17 — at Superior on I-90 60 miles west of Missoula.

Washington metro prices from today’s AAA survey include:

Bellingham $3.57, Bremerton $3.35, Seattle-Bellevue-Everett $3.61, Tacoma $3.43, Olympia $3.45, Vancouver $3.50, Yakima $3.49, Tri-Cities $3.49, and Spokane $3.44.




Wildlife groups sue for wolverine protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Making it three-in-a-row posts on environmental lawsuits – a coalition of advocacy groups today challenged the government’s denial of federal protections for the snow-loving wolverine, filing a lawsuit that contends officials ignored evidence a warming climate will eliminate denning areas for the so-called “mountain devil.”

The two previous posts covered:

Here's the rest of the wolverine story filed today by Matthew Brown of the Associated Press in Billings:

An estimated 250 to 300 wolverines survive in the Lower 48 states. The elusive but ferocious members of the weasel family raise their young in deep mountain snowfields that many scientists say could be at risk of disappearing as the climate changes.

After proposing protections for the species last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in August abruptly reversed course. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said at the time there was too much uncertainty in computer climate change models to justify protections.

Monday’s lawsuit charges that the agency acted illegally by ignoring the best available science on wolverines. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula by attorneys for Earthjustice representing eight wildlife advocacy groups.

The lawsuit names as defendants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, agency director Dan Ashe and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said it is agency protocol not to comment on pending litigation.

Some wolverine researchers have predicted that almost two-thirds of the species’ denning habitat will disappear by 2085.

The case carries potential ramifications for other species affected by climate change — including Alaska’s bearded seals, the Pacific walrus and dozens of species of corals — as scientists and regulators grapple with limits on computer climate models.

Once found throughout the Rocky Mountains and in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, wolverines were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s due to unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns.

In the decades since, they largely have recovered in parts of the West, but not in other parts of their historical range.

They are currently found in portions of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. Individual wolverines have been documented in Colorado and California, but there has no evidence of breeding populations in those states.

Larger populations of wolverines live in Alaska and Canada. Those animals were never proposed for federal protection.

Public has obligation to pick up tab for environmental lawsuits?

PUBLIC LANDS — At first, it sounds as though we should be outraged:

Three conservation groups in Montana have been involved in more than 200 court cases nationwide against federal agencies, primarily the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service.

In the last five fiscal years, $617,058.40 in attorney fees has been awarded to the three groups and their co-plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Forest Service alone.

The groups in the story — the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council and the Native Ecosystems Council — are just three three groups in Montana, with many more in the nation following suit, so to speak, on issues such as timber sales and the Endangered Species Act. The ecosystems groups are so small they don't even have websites.

Opponents of the lawsuits cite the Equal Access to Justice Act, which they say is unfairly rewarding lawyers of environmental groups by often awarding attorney fees paid for with tax dollars.

Environmental groups say the law holds the federal government accountable, and that attorney fees play a critical role in their efforts to protect wildlife and habitat.

“We could never afford to pay that (attorney fees) on our own,” said Mike Garrity, executive director for the alliance. “I’m not going to apologize for successfully suing the government. How come no one is asking why the Forest Service has such a big problem following the law?”

Idaho sage grouse ruling eyed for lawsuits elsewhere

PUBLIC LANDS — Sage grouse are generating considerable interest throughout the West as groups see their dwindling numbers as ways to address a wide range of public lands topics such as mining, oil drilling and livestock grazing.

A small portion of a federal judge’s ruling in Idaho against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management concerning grazing permits in sage grouse habitat is being eyed as a potential lever by environmental groups considering similar lawsuits in other states, the Associated Press reports today.

Most of U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s 21-page decision late last month involved his ruling that the agency violated environmental laws in issuing permits on four grazing allotments in south-central Idaho, considered test cases for about 600 other permits.

But he used three pages near the end of his decision to rule on a separate matter that the agency incorrectly used a congressional budget rider to issue additional grazing permits in south-central Idaho with no environmental analysis at all.

“This is a clear shot across the bow of the BLM,” said Todd Tucci, an attorney for Advocates for the West that represented Western Watersheds Project in the lawsuit. “I will bring this argument to any federal court in the country and feel very comfortable about my likelihood of success,” he told the AP.

Ken Cole of Western Watersheds Project said the BLM has used the rider to issue hundreds of grazing permits across the West. Winmill’s decision only pertains to Idaho, but conservation groups in other states are viewing the winning lawsuit as a possible template.

“This is a legal victory that is certainly going to get a lot of scrutiny from environmental groups moving forward,” Erik Molvar of WildEarth Guardians says in the AP report

Idaho BLM spokeswoman Jessica Gardetto said the agency would do the environmental assessments on the four allotments as instructed by Winmill. But attorneys with the BLM said that because the ruling didn’t address the other 600 permits, there was no final judgment.

The BLM attorneys, in a statement sent to The Associated Press by Gardetto, said, “What this means, for practical purposes, is that Judge Winmill’s latest order is not immediately appealable, and there is currently no time frame for BLM to appeal.”

On the other part of the ruling, Gardetto said the agency is analyzing how it will affect the BLM’s grazing permit renewal process.

Ponderosa moose family livin’ the life

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Moose in wild and not-so-wild areas are popular subjects for in Inland Northwest shutterbugs, as one can see in a glance on our Readers' Outdoor Photo Gallery.

But some neighborhoods are more oriented to family living than others.

“This moose family visits us frequently in the Ponderosa neighborhood,” said Bob Fulton as he emailed the photo.

Nature hikes make us happy, study confirms

HIKING — British and American scientists have published new research showing that group nature walks help us combat stress while boosting mental well-being.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Edge Hill University in England evaluated 1,991 participants in England’s Walking for Health program, which organizes nearly 3,000 walks per week for more than 70,000 regular participants. They found that the nature walks were associated with significantly less depression in addition to mitigating the negative effects of stressful life events and perceived stress.

“Stress isn’t ever going to go away, so it is important to have a way to cope with it,” said Sara Warber, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and senior author of the study. “Walking in nature is a coping mechanism—the benefits aren’t just physical.”

The findings were published in the September issue of Ecopsychology.

No slack cut for grizzly-shooting wildlife staffer

HUNTING — Ouch! Shooting a protected grizzly bear can be costly no matter who you are.

Wyoming wildlife officer fined, ordered to pay $10K for shooting grizzly
Luke Ellsbury, a Wyoming Fish and Game employee who mistakenly shot a grizzly bear last year was ordered by a state judge to pay $10,000 in restitution for the illegal killing, as well as $260 to pay a fine and court costs.

Kootenai River float pleases fly fishers

FISHING — Wise anglers keep diaries of their fishing trips in log books with dates so they can look back for water conditions, hatches, lure-fly selection and other details that might help them next time around.

Last year at this time, Mike Berube of the Spokane Fly Fishers filed this report after floating and fishing the Kootenai River:

Oct. 13, 2013:  Kootenai River

  • Put in at Troy, Mont., city park.
  • Took out at Yakk River Campground.
  • Float-fishing time: 5 hours.
  • Weather: Overcast most of the day and about 45 degrees.
  • Fishing was slow but we all caught fish. Brown trout in the picture fell victim to an olive woolhead sculpin on an intermediate sink-tip line. Rainbows also were sipping dries in the riffles.  
  • Comments: One of us found out the importance of a dry bag and extra clothes.  Not me!

UI and EWU go 1 and 2 in college bass fishing tourney

TOURNAMENT FISHING — Two Inland Northwest bass fishing teams traveled to California this weekend and thumped the home-state rivals on their own water.

A two-man University of Idaho bass fishing team — North Idaho boys — won the FLW College Fishing Western Conference Invitational tournament on Clear Lake today with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 41 pounds, 11 ounces.

They finished more than six pounds heavier than the runner up team from Eastern Washington University.

Tanner Mort of Moscow and Austin Turpin of Coeur d'Alene earned their club $4,000 and qualified the team for the 2015 FLW College Fishing National Championship.

EWU's veteran collegiate angling duo, Jarred Walker and Nick Barr, both of Cheney, finished second with 10 bass totaling 35-pounds 1 ounce. They won $2,000)

“We were targeting rocky shorelines,” said Turpin, a freshman majoring in criminology.
“We had about five spots that we cycled through. Timing was a big factor. We knew that at certain times we could go to certain spots and catch them. Some of the spots wouldn’t be good until the sun was straight overhead and the baitfish would come up, and some of the spots wouldn’t be good unless the wind was pushing the baitfish up on them.”
“We had a spot that we went to twice during practice and the first day of the tournament,” said Mort, a sophomore in electrical engineering.
“We could roll up to it and make three casts and put 12 pounds in the boat. That spot didn’t produce for us today. Today, we didn’t have a good morning bite so we started drop-shotting a lot. Our biggest fish today actually came on the drop-shot. We were fishing the drop-shot in the same places, but a little deeper.”
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Mort. “I don’t know if this has really hit me yet. Having the lead after day one really put the pressure on us. We knew we had the fish and the spots, we just had to put them in the boat.”
“It feels amazing to win,” said Turpin. “We’re a brand new club. We’re pretty excited to be the underdogs and come out and show what the University of Idaho can do.”
The top 10 teams that advanced to the 2015 FLW College Fishing National Championship are:
  1st: University of Idaho – Tanner Mort, Moscow, Idaho, and Austin Turpin, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (10 bass, 41-11, $4,000)
  2nd: Eastern Washington University – Jarred Walker and Nick Barr, both of Cheney, Wash. (10 bass, 35-1, $2,000)
  3rd: San Jose State University – Adam McAndrews, Santa Clara, Calif., and Joey Fortina, Ben Lomond, Calif. (10 bass, 32-12, $1,000)
  4th: California State University-Chico – Andrew Loberg, Rocklin, Calif., and Michael Braswell, Chico, Calif. (10 bass, 31-4, $1,000)
  5th: Humboldt State University – Christopher Childers, McKinleyville, Calif., and Erich Coulter, Arcata, Calif. (eight bass, 27-6, $1,000)
  6th: Oregon State University – Peter Kawamura and Eric Strickler, both of Corvallis, Ore. (10 bass, 26-11)
  7th: Sonoma State University – Brent Nelson, Santa Rosa, Calif., and Jake Banuelos, San Pablo, Calif. (10 bass, 24-1)
  8th: Oregon State University – Ryan Sparks, Gearhart, Ore., and Chase Cochran, Corvallis, Ore. (nine bass, 24-0)
  9th: Eastern Washington University – Cy Floyd, Wenatchee, Wash., and Tyler Wasilewski, Cheney, Wash. (nine bass, 23-3)
  10th: University of Oregon – Kyler Schneider, Beaverton, Ore., and Jacob Wall, Jacksonville, Ore. (seven bass, 18-10)
Complete results can be found at CollegeFishing.com.
The FLW College Fishing Western Conference Invitational was hosted by the Konocti Vista Casino Resort & Marina.
FLW College Fishing teams compete in three qualifying events in one of five conferences – Central, Northern, Southern, Southeastern and Western. The top 15 teams from each regular-season tournament will qualify for one of five conference invitational tournaments. The top 10 teams from each conference invitational tournament will advance to the 2015 FLW College Fishing National Championship.
College Fishing is free to enter. All participants must be registered, full-time undergraduate students at a four-year college or university and members of a fishing club recognized by their college or university.

Transporting somebody’s elk can get you pinched

HUNTING — Helping a friend or family member haul a deer or elk out of the mountains can get a person a ticket without proper documentation. Same goes for transporting or sharing game fish.

Idaho rules say any person who transports any wildlife or fish for another person or receives any wildlife or fish for cleaning, processing, as a gift, or for storage must have a written proxy statement signed by the person who killed the animal specifying the numbers and species  of wildlife, date taken, hunter’s name and address, license, tag and permit numbers. The tag should remain attached to the carcass.

A proxy form is available on Page 102 of the 2014 Big Game Seasons and Rules, all other seasons and rules brochures, or on the Fish and Game website.

Washington's big-game hunting rules pamphlet says on page 81:

If you transport or possess wildlife (or parts) killed by someone else, you must possess a written statement showing the name, address, license, permit or tag number; the number and kind of animal provided, the date killed, county, and area it was taken in, and the hunter’s signature.

Washington's fishing rules pamphlet says on page 12:

You may not… possess another person’s Game Fish unless it is accompanied by a statement showing the name, address, license number, date, county, and area where it was taken, and the signature of the angler who harvested it.

Surplus steelhead being dumped into trout lakes

FISHING – The steelheader’s loss will be the trout angler’s bonanza.

About 340,000 young steelhead raised at hatcheries to be released in Puget Sound streams will instead be stocked in Western Washington trout lakes this month.

A lawsuit filed by wild steelhead advocates prevented Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife managers from releasing the young steelhead this spring in most streams where they've been released for years.

Rather than waste the fish, they were kept at the hatcheries and raised to catchable sizes of 11-13 inches, said Chris Donley, state inland fish program manager.

The fish are being stocked into 47 West Side lakes, including 19 lakes where the catch limit will be increased from five to 10 trout beginning Oct. 18. 

The number of fish being stocked in the lakes is four times greater than last fall, Donley said, noting that fishing through the holidays should be excellent.

Sprague Lake is the only Eastern Washington lake to get a boost from the surplus steelhead.

To relieve pressure on hatcheries this spring, about 370,000 small steelhead were stocked in Sprague, where those that weren’t consumed by bass and channel catfish have grown to 13 or more inches long, Donley said.

Details on where the fall fish are being stocked are online.