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Idaho adopts wolverine management plan

THREATENED SPECIES — The Idaho Fish and Game Commission last week unanimously approved the nation's first state management plan for sustaining the largest member of the weasel family.

The Management Plan for the Conservation of Wolverines in Idaho, developed by Idaho Department of Fish and Game, will guide state efforts to conserve and protect the wolverine over the next five years.  Idaho is one of four western states where wolverines live. The others are Montana, Wyoming and Washington.

Wolverines, which grow to about 40 pounds, occupy cold, snowy mountainous regions of the U.S.  In Idaho, the wolverine is classified as a protected nongame animal and Species of Greatest Conservation Need based on low densities and uncertain numbers.

Wolverines in the lower 48 states are currently proposed for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, in part because of projected loss of snow habitat from climate change.  Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners approved the plan as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials deliberate a final listing decision on wolverines, anticipated in early August.

Fish and Game Commissioner Will Naillon of Challis represents the Salmon Region, a wolverine stronghold in Idaho. He sees the plan benefiting not only wolverines, but a broad spectrum of constituents.

“The development of this plan for wolverines, a protected nongame species, may help to avert a federal listing and subsequent land use restrictions. This plan benefits all land users, including sportsmen and women.” said Naillon.    

Riverside State Park: 14,000 acres of ‘happy’

PUBLIC LANDS — Having a gorgeous state park to honor the Spokane River as it flows out of Spokane is a good reason to smile.

This video — produced by the Riverside State Park Foundation with performances by groovy park rangers, lots of local park users and Karen Jurasin's dancing dog, Scout — just hints at the multi-use assets we have minutes from downtown.

Facts about Riverside State Park:

  • It's Washington's largest state park, managing sites in four counties.
  • It's managed by just seven full-time rangers who cover about 14,000 acres, including sites along 65 miles of the Spokane River from the Idaho stateline downstream to Long Lake Dam.
  • The park oversees the 37-mile Spokane River Centennial Trail.
  • The largest contiguous portion of the park covers 10,000 acres in or bordering the city of Spokane, attracting more than 3 million visits a year.
  • This core area stretches downstream from the T.J. Meenach Bridge to the Nine Mile area. The area includes the Bowl and Pitcher campground, a new equestrian campground, river-running access sites, including Plese Flat, an off-road vehicle riding area with a new section for novice riders and roughly 100 miles of trails used by hikers, cyclists and mountain bikers.
  • Park sites popular with boaters, anglers and campers on Lake Spokane (Long Lake) include  the Nine Mile Recreation Area and Long Lake Campground. The park is managing water access sites in Spokane, Stevens and Lincoln counties, including 2,000 acres of Avista land.
  • Park staff oversees the Little Spokane River Natural Area on the north side of Spokane, which attracts paddlers and hikers.
  • The Columbia Plateau Trail near Cheney also is under the jurisdiction of the park.
  • Most recently, Riverside was assigned to manage Steptoe Butte and Steptoe Battlefield sites in Whitman County.

Montana investigating pike in Lake Mary Ronan

FISHING — Sounds like bucket biologists are back at work in Western Montana.

The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is investigating whether a fisherman’s report that he caught two pike in Lake Mary Ronan last month indicates a serious problem.

Fisheries biologists plan to use nets to catch fish in the lake and determine if the suspected illegal introduction has resulted in the establishment of a pike population. Regional fisheries manager Mark Deleray says they’re trying to confirm whether any reproduction has occurred.

FWP says northern pike are predatory and could impact the kokanee salmon and trout fishery. Kokanee in Lake Mary Ronan serve as the egg source for stocking lakes across the state.

The investigation follows recent Fish and Wildlife Commission policy changes that require the FWP to formulate a plan to deal with illegally introduced fish.

More of the Columbia opened to 6-sockeye daily limit

FISHING — With a record run charging upstream, the catch limit for sockeye is being increased to six a day in the Columbia River upstream from the Tri-Cities.

On Friday the limit was increased from four to six upstream from Priest Rapids to Wells Dam.

Starting Tuesday, the sockeye daily limit will be increased for the mainstem Columbia above the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco.

On Wednesday, the six-fish limit will be allowed in the Wells Dam area, making the entire upper Columbia to Chief Joseph Dam — except the section that's closed to fishing and access because of Wanapum Dam repairs — open for six a day.

Here are the details just announced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Action: Anglers will be able to retain eight salmon and up to six adult sockeye salmon in the mainstem Columbia River above Priest Rapids Dam.

Effective dates and locations on Mainstem Columbia River:

  1. From Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco to Priest Rapids Dam, July 15 – July 31, 2014.
  2. From Priest Rapids Dam to Wanapum Dam, July 11 – Aug. 31, 2014.
  3. From Wanapum Dam to Wells Dam, July 11 – Oct. 15, 2014.
  4. From Wells Dam to Hwy 173 Bridge in Brewster, July 16 – Aug. 31, 2014.
  5. From Hwy 173 Bridge in Brewster to Chief Joseph Dam, July 11 – Oct. 15, 2014

Species affected: Sockeye salmon

Reason for action: Sockeye salmon returns above Priest Rapids Dam are predicted to be far in excess of needs for wild fish escapement to the spawning grounds. The population is not listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

Other rules: Minimum size 12 inches. Daily limit eight salmon, up to two may be adult hatchery chinook and up to six may be sockeye. Release coho and wild adult chinook.  Release all sockeye with colored anchor (floy) tag attached. 

Other Information:  All anglers must possess a valid fishing license and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement to participate in this fishery. Revenue from the endorsement supports salmon or steelhead seasons on many rivers in the Columbia River system, including enforcing fishery regulations and monitoring the upper Columbia River steelhead fisheries. The endorsement has generated more than $1 million annually for WDFW to maintain and increase fishing opportunities throughout the Columbia River Basin.

Montana closing areas to sage grouse hunting

HUNTING — Having grown up in eastern Montana, where huge coveys of sage grouse were common sights, this is a jaw-dropper:

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a plan Thursday to close all or parts of 32 counties to sage-grouse hunting and to shorten the hunting season from two months to one.

Commissioners voted unanimously for the plan in response to low numbers from this spring’s count of the game birds on their breeding grounds. The count was the lowest since 1980, and the federal government is considering listing the bird as a threatened or endangered species next year across the West.

  • Hunters killed more than 2,800 sage grouse in Montana in 2012, compared with about 45,000 in 1983.

Loss of habitat is the primary reason the prairie grouse species has declined, but state wildlife officials say hunting can accelerate the decline once the population dips to a certain level.

The state’s management plan calls for closures if the number of male sage grouse drops below 45 percent of the long-term average count for three years. Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency officials say two of the state’s management zones are below that threshold this year, and the third is hovering right at it.

The closures include eastern Montana, the area in the northern part of the state above U.S. Highway 2 and isolated populations such as the Shields Valley.

That will leave a swath of 13 counties across the central part of the state and six southwestern Montana counties open to hunting sage grouse this fall. Eleven western and northwestern counties are considered out of the sage grouse’s range and were already closed to hunting.

The commission also approved guidelines to reopening the closed hunting grounds. The public process for reopening an area can begin once the count exceeds the 45 percent long-term average for three years, or is higher than that average count in any given year.

According to the Associated Press:

Agency officials earlier this year proposed canceling the 2014 hunt, but they came up with this new plan after receiving more than 200 comments, mostly negative. Hunting groups reluctantly agreed with the changed proposal.

“Hunting isn’t the reason sage grouse is in decline in Montana or the rest of the West. It’s habitat loss,” said Ben Deeble of the Big Sky Upland Game Bird Association. What’s more, he added, banning hunting hasn’t proven to be an effective way to restore population numbers.

Sage grouse live in sagebrush and grasslands. They are known for gathering in spring in breeding grounds called leks, where the males puff themselves out and dance for females searching for mates.

Lightning kills two in two days in Colorado park

OUTDOOR HAZARDS — Lightning storms beat the odds over the weekend, killing two and injuring at least 10 in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A woman was killed by a lightning strike on Friday and then on Saturday in the same area another person was killed, a park official said.

A group of people were struck by lightning at 1:30 p.m. (MDT) Saturday in the Rainbow Curve area along Trail Ridge Road about 11,000 feet up, and one man died on the way to a nearby medical center, Rocky Mountain National Park said in a statement. Three others were injured and transported by ambulance to the hospital, but others in the area may also have been hurt and sought treatment on their own.

On Friday, Rebecca R. Teilhet, 42, from Yellow Springs, Ohio, was killed and seven others were hurt when lightning struck on the Ute Crossing Trail at roughly 11,400 feet up, the park said. 
“We can't emphasize enough that when it starts to get dark and the clouds are forming, it's time to get down,” Martin Koschnitz, the hospital's medical director, told NBC station KUSA of Denver. “My understanding is this group (on Friday) was actually in the process of doing that and still got caught. This is really a sad thing.” 
Click here to read a good briefing for hikers on lightning hazards and precautions in the Rockies and other high mountain areas.

Photo: Supermoon instant replay

SKY WATCHING — In case you missed it, Spokane photographer Craig Goodwin snapped this photo of  Saturday's supermoon.

Super moons appear larger because their orbit is closer to the earth.

Supermoons can appear as much as 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than regular full moons, notes NASA.

We get two more chances to see supermoons in 2014:

  • Aug. 10 — the largest of the three.
  • Sept. 9.

A supermoon, also known as a “perigee moon,” occurs when a moon turns full around the same time it reaches “perigee,” the closest point to Earth along its elliptical orbit.

On Saturday, the moon was 222,611 miles away from Earth — that's 30,000 miles closer than at its farthest distance in 2014. The moon will be at its closest this year on Aug. 10, when it will be 221,748 miles from Earth.

Hunter education course bears the heat

HUNTING — The hot sunshine that sent most folks toward water on Saturday didn't deter a group of dedicated hunter education instructors, their students and a few good hunting dogs from hitting the field near Medical Lake to take their best shot.

Jack Dolan,73, and a stable of helpers and instructors offer the rare course that includes the vital element of live fire under carefully controlled field situations. 

On Saturday, they tested the students and their ability to walk through the field with loaded shotguns to see how they would react to real chukars that flushed in unpredictable directions. The students had to decide in an instant whether to shoot, or not,  while swinging on a flying bird.

  • Would you want to hunt with a student who'd never shot  a firearm in a field situation? 
  • Would you want a heart bypass by a surgeon who'd never dealt with the variables of hemorrhage in a living creature?

Here's a tip of the hat to the crew that's been going the extra mile for hunter safety for 23 years.

Cougar incidents keep local wildlife officers busy

WILDLIFE  – Cougars have been conspicuously on the prowl recently in the Spokane area, resulting in dead llamas and a dead cougar.

On July 4, Mike Sprecher, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife police officer, investigated the scene where two llamas apparently were killed by cougars near the Newman Lake public fishing access.

On July 5, Sprecher responded to a cougar in a tree near a home just south of Newman Lake, reported by a woman concerned for the safety of her kids and pets. The cat was gone when the officer arrived.

Sprecher received several night calls on July 5 of cougar sightings in the Five Mile-area.

After more reports were called in on July 6, Sprecher and Spokane Police officers followed a tip to a cougar in a tree near Salk Middle School in northwest Spokane.

The cougar was euthanized to avoid a risky after-dark attempt to tranquilize and relocate the animal, he said.

In the previous week, officers also had responded to a possible cougar attack on goats in the West Plains and five goats were killed in a cougar attack in Ferry County, where the landowner was given a permit to kill the cat if caught in the act again, officers said.

You’re not seeing things; tonight’s moon will be “super”

SKY WATCHING — The full moon tonight will appear to be unusually big.  It's called a “supermoon.

It’s a record run! Sockeye limit upped to 6

FISHING — A rocketing spike of sockeye salmon up the Columbia River set run records this week and prompted the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife to increase the daily limit of sockeye to SIX in the river upstream from Priest Rapids Dam (details below).

That big pulse of fish at Bonneville is on its way upstream to the popular upper Columbia fisheries — where anglers already are socking it to the sockeyes — from the Hanford Reach almost to Brewster.

Last week, fish managers raised their expectations from a run of around 340,000 to 425,000, calling the run the second largest since records have been kept.

This week, the joint federal-state-tribal Technical Advisory Council increased the forecast to a total of 526,367 sockeye over Bonneville — a jump of 10,694 fish from the record run in 2012. 

And some are suggesting the number could go to more than 600,000 — that's in the realm of colossal.

Fish counters tallied more than 34,000 sockeye up the Bonneville Dam fish ladders on on July 4 and again on July 5.  The numbers dropped significantly after that and will taper from there, fish managers said.

Anglers are getting to harvest the bounty. Today WDFW announced a sockeye fishing season starting immediately at Lake Osoyoos as well as an increased daily bag limit as follows:

Action: Anglers will be able to retain eight salmon, including up to six adult sockeye salmon, in the mainstem Columbia River above Priest Rapids Dam.

Effective dates and locations: Mainstem Columbia River:

  1. From Priest Rapids Dam to Wanapum Dam, July 11-Aug. 31, 2014.
  2. From Wanapum Dam to Wells Dam, July 11-Oct. 15, 2014.
  3. From Wells Dam to Hwy 173 Bridge in Brewster, July 16-Aug. 31, 2014.
  4. From Hwy 173 Bridge in Brewster to Chief Joseph Dam, July 11-Oct 15, 2014.

Species affected: Sockeye salmon.

Reason for action: Sockeye salmon returns above Priest Rapids Dam are predicted to be far in excess of needs for wild fish escapement to the spawning grounds.  The population is not listed under the Endangered Species Act. 

Other rules: Minimum size 12 inches.  Daily limit eight salmon, up to two may be adult hatchery chinook and up to six may be sockeye.  Release coho and wild adult chinook.  Release all sockeye with colored anchor (floy) tag attached. 

Other information:  All anglers must possess a valid fishing license and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement to participate in this fishery. Revenue from the endorsement supports salmon or steelhead seasons on many rivers in the Columbia River system, including enforcing fishery regulations and monitoring the upper Columbia River steelhead fisheries. The endorsement has generated more than $1 million annually for WDFW to maintain and increase fishing opportunities throughout the Columbia River Basin.

Lake Spokane Campground closed during wildfire

CAMPING — The Lake Spokane Campground, formerly operated by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, has been closed by state officials as they fight a nearby wildfire in Stevens County.

Other Riverside State Park facilities remain open.

See the story.

See more details on where to go here.

Landers back in the saddle

OUT & ABOUT — I've been out in the field, getting my Canadian Rocky Mountain high.

I see some important news briefs need to be filed to catch up.  Coming shortly….

Online proposals due for Washington hunting rules

HUNTING — The first phase of reshaping Washington's 2015-2017 hunting seasons and rules is winding down. 

Since June 18, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has been inviting the public to post suggestions on a web form. The proposals will be considered during the development of the three-year regulations package.  

This “issue scoping phase” will end July 18.

The “refining alternatives phase” will follow and extend into October, with more public comment taken in September.

The last phase will be “developing recommendations,” with another round of public comment scheduled for January-February.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will hear the proposals at its March 2015 meeting, with more public comment taken.

The commission is scheduled to vote on the recommendations in April.

Poster reminds dog owners to bag it

PUBLIC LANDS — Looks like Spokane isn't the only city in the USA where people think it's OK to let their dogs leave calling cards wherever the urge strikes.

Alaska road sign: yield to skeeters

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Forget the curve ahead.  Beware of the megafauna.

Colville Forest hosts NatureWatch hikes, tours

FORESTS – Hikes and other free activities are being organized by the Colville National Forest this summer to celebrate Smokey Bear’s 70th birthday and the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

Here's the lineup of NatureWatch events:

July 12: Hike the 3-mile round-trip route to Round Top Mountain in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness with Forest Service wildlife biologist Mike Borysewicz. Meet at 10 a.m. at the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station. The group will drive about 12 miles to the trailhead at Pass Creek Pass.

This trail, rated moderately difficult, passes through a regenerating old burn, subalpine forests and a picturesque alpine meadow, and Borysewicz has a keen eye for birds and wildlife.   Bring sturdy shoes, a hat, water, and a lunch.

Group size is limited to 12 in the wilderness. Pre-register with the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station, (509) 446-7500.

July 19: Hike the 7-mile round-trip route to Columbia Mountain Fire Lookout Cabin on the Kettle Crest with forest archeologist Alicia Beat. Meet at the Kettle Crest parking area along Hwy 20 at 9 a.m. for this moderately difficult trail with 1,400 feet of elevation gain.

Bring  lunch and plenty of water to enjoy the view from the peak, as well as wildflowers, wildlife, history, and restoration of the lookout.

 Aug. 9: Auto-tour to Salmo Mountain Fire Lookout with forest safety manager Sandy Mosconi. Meet at the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station at 9 a.m. The station is a 20-minute drive east of Ione.

The group will drive about 20 miles along Sullivan Creek, stopping along the way to discover the culture and natural history of the area. Parts of this road are high clearance, narrow and have switchbacks. Bring water and your lunch. Salmo Mountain Fire Lookout will provide views of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness and surrounding areas.

Aug 9: Hike Crowell Ridge into the Salmo-Priest wilderness with  Newport-Sullivan Lake District Ranger Gayne Sears. Meet at the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station at 9 a.m. for a rough 60-minute drive to the Sullivan Mountain Lookout.

This is a high-clearance vehicle road for about 4 miles. The group will hike 2 miles along the scenic ridgeline, returning the same way. Sears will talk about the idea of an enduring resource of wilderness and what wilderness means. Discover the culture and natural history of the area.

Bring plenty of water, lunch, and be prepared for a mildly strenuous hike with glorious views of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness.

Group size is limited to 12 in wilderness. Pre-register with the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station, (509) 446-7500.




Does Idaho require a license to bowhunt for fish?

BOWHUNTING — During the hot summer months, archers often turn their attention to carp and other legal targets.  This is called archery fishing, and certain rules apply, according to the Idaho Fish and Game Department's “Ask a conservation officer” series: 

Q: Do I need an archery permit to bow-fish?

A: No. Archery permits are only required for hunting in archery-only seasons. But a valid Idaho fishing license is required to fish with a bow. Fishing with a bow and arrow, crossbow, spear or mechanical device, excluding firearms, is permitted only in the taking of bullfrogs and unprotected nongame fish – such as carp and suckers – and only in those waters during the season set for the taking of game fish. See the 2013-2015 Fishing Seasons and Rules brochure – Page 50 for archery fishing and Page 52 for the definition of nongame fish.


Hanging around at a backcountry camp

HIKING — This may be the ultimate low impact campsite. Comfy, too.

Three-day festival near Libby celebrates wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — A Blackfeet Tribe troubadour and a former chief of the U.S. Forest Service are coming to the Inland Northwest to be part of a three-day event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

An impressive mix of wilderness and wildlife experts plus entertainment and educational programs are scheduled Friday through Sunday, July 11-13, at the Bull River Rod and Gun Club at Bull Lake on State Highway 56 south of Troy and Libby, Montana.

The setting couldn’t be more symbolic. Bull Lake is in a valley between the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness:

The Cabinet Wilderness was among the original 54 wilderness areas designated when Congress enacted the Wilderness Act of 1964.

The Scotchman Peaks wilderness proposal, which straddles the Idaho-Montana border, is the region’s most likely candidate for wilderness designation should the next Congress consider a wilderness bill.

Friday’s program includes a 3 p.m. talk on Grizzlies in the Cabinets by Wayne Kasworm, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly research expert for the region. A program on wilderness advocates will be followed by “Classical Music for the Wild by the Glacier Orchestra.

Capping Friday’s events will be a wilderness movie and performance by Jack Gladstone of the Blackfeet, who illustrates Western Americana through an entertaining fusion of lyric poetry, music and narrative.  

Dale Bosworth, former chief of the Forest Service, will headline’s Saturday’s events with a 7 p.m. presentation on wilderness advocates.

Bosworth crafted the 2005 Travel Management Rule in response to the growth of off-highway vehicle use, which had more than doubled between 1982 and 2000. The rule allows OHVs to travel in national forests only on roads or routes specifically designated for their use.

Also on the Saturday schedule are programs on Wild Yoga, Critter Crafts, Backcountry Horses, Skulls and Skins, Native Americans in the Cabinets, Early Pioneers, Birds of the Wild, Kid in the Wild puppet show and more capped with evening music by two groups, Naples and Huckleberry Jam.

All three days include food vendors, a beer tent, horseshoe tossing, kayak rentals and a group campfire at the lake’s edge.

The lineup is worth camping on site or looking into a motel room at Libby or one of several national Forest campgrounds in the area.

 Sunday’s programs cover compass skills, fly tying, a wilderness ranger reunion and primitive skills demonstrations.

  •  Another wilderness celebration with programs on wildlife photography, grizzly bears, changing directions in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and more is scheduled for Aug. 23, noon-9 p.m. in Libby Riverfront Park. The Libby event will features a 7 p.m. family concert by the popular Wylie and the Wild West Show.

Butterfly count set at Little Pend Oreille Refuge

WILDLIFE WATCHING —The Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge has been marking its 75th anniversary with public events this summer. Next on the schedule:

  • July 12: Butterfly Count, starts 9:30 a.m. at refuge headquarters; great for the family. Bring lunch.

Info:  (509) 684-8384, fws.gov/littlependoreille

Directions from Spokane: Drive U.S. 395 north to Arden (about 6 miles south of Colville). Turn right on Hall Road. At the stop sign, turn left onto Old Arden Hwy. Take the third right run onto Artman-Gibson Road. Go about 4 miles. At four-way intersection, turn right onto Kitt-Narcisse Road and follow it for 2.2 miles. Where road forks, bear right onto Bear Creek Road. Follow this dirt road 3.3 miles to refuge headquarters.

Biologists eye fish passage at jury-rigged Columbia dam fish ladders

FISHING — Salmon appear to be migrating up the Columbia River unimpeded by hastily engineered fish ladder extensions prompted by the drawdown and repairs to fix a crack in Wanapum Dam.

However, fish biologists are still concerned whether good fish passage will continue as the river level continues to drop into summer flows.

It's never a good time to have a crack in a dam on a major river, but fish biologists and anglers are sweating the possibility of a setback to years of effort, not to mention billions of dollars, to restore Columbia River salmon runs.

If this year's bountiful runs of sockeye and fall chinook can't make it upstream to spawning areas, the loss would affect the fishery for years.

“So far it looks good because sockeye have been coming up over Priest Rapids Dam at more than 20,000 a day plus a couple thousand summer chinook and they're not stacking up and having trouble getting over Wanapum (the next dam upstream),” Jeff Korth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager in Ephrata, said last week.

The sockeye run normally peaks over Priest Rapids around July 10, he said. Crowding and chaos could still occur.

From Wanapum, the salmon head up toward Rock Island Dam in a 36-mile stretch of reservoir that's been lowered about 20 feet to accommodate the dam repairs.

“It's interesting that the first six miles below (Rock Island) are flowing much like the original river and we expected the salmon to move up faster than they do under normal reservoir levels and less flow,” Korth said.  “But we monitored spring chinook passage and the lower level didn't make any significant difference.”

The lowered reservoir behind Wanapum Dam is closed to boating and shoreline foot access mostly to protect archeological sites.

At Rock Island, dam workers already have installed extensions to the fish ladder. They are currently underwater.

“When the flows drop to about 100,000 cfs at the bottom off Rock Island, the extensions will be exposed and we're hoping the fish can move up,” Korth said.

“We won't know for sure until we reach those flows in mid- or late-July.”

Keeping dogs out of wolf traps on Idaho agenda

WILDLIFE — A report on how to keep domestic dogs from being caught in traps set for wolves will be presented among other agenda items during the Idaho Fish and Game Commission meeting Wednesday and Thursday, July 9 -10, at the Salmon Region Office, 99 Highway 93 North in Salmon.

A public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 9. Members of the public who want to address the Commission on any topic having to do with Fish and Game business may do so at the public hearing.

On Thursday July 10, the meeting will begin at 8 a.m.  Agenda items include season setting for mourning dove, sandhill crane and fall Chinook salmon. The Commission will hear from staff regarding the recommendations from the Regional Working Groups on:

  • Reducing conflicts between trapping and domestic dogs;
  • Possible discounting of nonresident deer and elk tags;
  • Nonresident deer and elk tag outfitter set-aside tags;
  • Acquisition of land for a potential Wildlife Management Area;
  • Release of bighorn sheep tags for auction and lottery;
  • A wolverine management plan.

The meeting will include updates on the FY 2016 preliminary budget, legislative proposals, and status reports concerning Migratory game birds and Sage-grouse.

A complete agenda will be available by today on Fish and Game’s website.

Forest Service seeks Pacific Northwest Trail advisers

TRAILS — The U.S. Forest Service is seeking volunteers to serve on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Council to help plan future upgrades — much work and many decisions will have to be made — for the 1,200-mile route from the Olympic Peninsula east through Glacier National Park.

The trail traverses through three national parks and seven national forests, including about 125 miles through the Colville National Forest.

The route is not a continuous trail. It links existing trails, roads and cross-country routes from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide area.

The Council, established under the National Trails System Act, will provide recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture about matters relating to the administration and management of the Pacific Northwest Trail, specifically advising on trail uses, establishing a trail corridor, and prioritizing future projects.

The trail was first mapped and promoted 30 years ago by the founding members of the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail in 2009, the PNT connects people and communities  in Montana, Idaho and Washington. “Interested candidates should have a desire to perpetuate and protect the characteristics and values of the Trail while taking into consideration other public interests along the Trail corridor,” the Forest Service says. “Members will serve a two year term and may serve consecutive terms.”

The first Council meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 2015, and will meet approximately twice a year for three years.

Applications are due by Sept. 30.

Contact Matt McGrath, Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Program Manager, (425) 783-6199; email: mtmcgrath@fs.fed.us.

Beartooth Highway recognized for historical significance

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — I have a special fondness for the Beartooth Highway between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Mont.  My father was a laborer who helped build the engineering marvel during the major construction period, 1932-1936.  But more on that in a bit….

Here's the latest news about the road that Charles Kuralt called “the most beautiful drive in America:”  The Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

A 60-mile stretch of U.S. 212 has been officially named the Red Lodge - Cooke City Approach Road Historic District.  

It’s part of a 68-mile highway that runs from Red Lodge, Montana, into northern Wyoming, on to Cooke City in Montana and then back down to the Wyoming border where it meets the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  

The highway is nationally significant for substantially increasing recreational development and tourism in Yellowstone and the region. The road is also recognized for its distinctive engineering and the methods of high-altitude road construction used in its construction.  

It is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming at 10,947 feet and in Montana at 10,350 feet.   

Personally, it's an access route to some of my favorite hiking and fishing destination in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area.

I have a map of the area from the 1930s on which my dad marked Beartooth area hike-in lakes and the type of fishing he experience at each one as he explored with a fishing rod in hand on days off.  Dad, who would be 94 if he were still alive, told me he would catch fish in the early season and bury them in the snow until he was finished for the day. Then he'd pack them down to the construction camp, where he'd quickly be everyone's friend.

Only once did he have to share the fish with a bear who'd found his cache, he said.

Fire, fireworks restricted or banned from public lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Campfires, fireworks and exploding targets are prohibited outside of designated sites on state and federal lands. Agencies are emphasizing those rules in a large-scale fire prevention effort on the eve of the Fourth of July holiday.

Generally speaking, campfires are allowed only in fire pits at developed campgrounds in national parks, most national forests and all state lands. 

Fireworks and exploding targets enjoyed by shooters are banned.

Even shooting at normal targets is banned on some state wildlife areas in Central Washington.

Boating over “the bar?” Harrowing account of a Columbia River tragedy

FISHING — “Even as a retired cop, Lonn Sweeney didn't expect to save anyone's life June 20 when he piloted his 24-foot Duckworth ocean hardtop, Teresa D, over the Columbia River bar, but he was certainly prepared for it,” writes Oregon outdoor scribe Bill Monroe in a story of tragedy and lessons learned.

  • The story is a must-read for anyone planning to pilot a a fishing boat over the infamous rough water caused by the surge of the Columbia River meeting the tides of the Pacific Ocean.

“And at least some of the five survivors from a capsizing on the world's trademark-for-treachery ocean crossing owe their lives to his caution – a lesson learned on the cusp of a predicted stellar coastwide ocean salmon season and record run past Buoy 10,” Monroe reported.

Lt. Scott McGrew, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard station at Cape Disappointment, said the accident is under investigation. He credited Sweeney and his crew with saving lives before his 47-footers could get to the scene.

Spokane River access open at stateline site

WATERSPORTS — A launch site for drift boats, paddling craft and rafts has been remodeled and reopened at the stateline just downstream from the I-90 Bridge.

The Stateline access site includes parking and native landscaping planted by the Spokane Conservation District and volunteer groups on 800 feet of shoreline, said Andy Dunau of Spokane River Forum.

The forum has  details about this access site and others on the Spokane River Water Trail website.

Another 3-day Grande Ronde spring chinook season set

FISHING — The lower Grande Ronde River will re-open for an additional three days of fishing for spring chinook salmon Saturday through Monday from the Highway 129 Bridge upstream approximately 12 miles to the farthest upstream Oregon/Washington boundary line.

Last week the stretch was opened for a test fishery for the first time in 40 years. Fewer anglers than expected showed up, so Oregon and Washington decided to try again. There’s hatchery fish there and they want them caught!

Anglers will have a daily catch limit of SEVEN hatchery chinook salmon (marked by a clipped adipose fin), only TWO of which can be adult chinook. Anglers must stop fishing for the day when they reach their daily limit of adult hatchery chinook salmon.

In addition, anglers must use barbless hooks no larger than 5/8 inch from point to shank. A night closure also is in effect.

Anglers cannot remove any chinook salmon from the water unless it is retained as part of the daily catch limit.

The Grande Ronde River fishery is co-managed by Washington and Oregon under concurrent fishing regulations.

Return tags in salmon, steelhead for $25

FISHING — Area fishermen can get a $25 bonus if they catch a fish with a radio telemetry tag in the Snake, Columbia or Willamette Rivers.

Just return the tag to University of Idaho researchers and the check's in the mail.

The tagged fish are part of an ongoing effort to boost stocks of steelhead trout, chinook salmon and Pacific lamprey.  The small tags monitor fish behavior and distribution.

The tags range in size from about three inches to smaller than a dime and can be detected by the presence of a wire from the fish's mouth or body. All but the smallest bear a UI label to assist in identification.

“The best way for anglers to return transmitters for cash reward is through our website” said Chris Caudill, leader of the project. “There is a pdf form to fill out and then return to UI. The return of transmitters to UI by anglers, hatcheries, agency personnel and others provides critical data on the final fate and location of the radio-tagged fish.”

UI researchers say the return of the transmitters is essential to supporting the goals of the project, which include:

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of fish ladders designed and built specifically for Pacific lamprey, an important native fish species. These lamprey passage systems were designed in collaboration with NOAA-Fisheries, the US Army Corps of Engineers and UI College of Natural Resources graduate students. They were installed at Bonneville and John Day dams on the Columbia River. This study aims to increase successful lamprey migrations through passageways at hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. If successful, dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers may install fish ladders in the new design, which may increase Pacific lamprey that are important to the heritage and culture of the region's indigenous Indian tribes.
  • Radio-tagging and monitoring adult salmon and steelhead at lower Columbia and Snake River dams. Data gathered through radio telemetry will help scientists determine how modification to dams affects passage and fates of the adult fish throughout the Federal Columbia River Power System.
  • Radio-tagging and monitoring Chinook salmon and steelhead to determine migration patterns and pre-spawn mortality rates in the Willamette River Valley and its numerous tributaries with dams. Currently, many adult salmon reach spawning grounds, but die prior to reproducing for unknown reasons, potentially limiting productivity. The salmon and steelhead studies will contribute to regional salmon recovery efforts currently underway by regional, federal, state and tribal agencies.

This project is supported by a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and additional participants include: the UI Echohydraulics Research Laboratory in Boise, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Oregon State University's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.