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Charges dropped against ‘Kettle Falls Five’ patriarch due to health concerns

Larry Harvey, 71, will not stand trial for his involvement in the so-called "Kettle Falls Five" marijuana collective farm, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Harvey, his wife, Rhonda Lee Firestack-Harvey, son Rolland Gregg and his wife, Michelle, as well as family friend Jason Zucker had all been charged in federal court with manufacturing and trafficking marijuana based on a raid of their home in rural Stevens County by federal authorities in August 2012. Investigators found more than 100 plants at their residence and ledgers indicating the family was paying trimmers to process their marijuana. Federal prosecutors say this is evidence the family was operating outside the state's Medical Use of Cannabis Act, opening them to prosecution under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

But lawyers for the group argued last week that Congress stripped federal prosecutors of their authority to seek jail time for medical marijuana growers operating under state law through its appropriations act passed in December. They also say state prosecutors should decide whether the group was acting in violation of state law, not the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Harvey's attorney, Rob Fischer, notified presiding U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice he would seek a dismissal for his client based on a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer. A wheelchair-bound, bald Harvey said after the hearing he'd lost 70 pounds as a result of weekly chemotherapy treatments since his diagnosis last year. Earl Hicks, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, indicated last week he would seek medical records to support dropping Harvey from the case.

That request was made official Thursday, when Rice approved the deal between Hicks and Fischer to dismiss the charges against Harvey. He will only attend the trial, currently set for next week, as a defense witness.

The defendants have sought a delay in that trial date to allow a ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a request for dismissal of all charges based on the Congressional action. But Hicks wants the case to move forward, with any appeal to come after the scheduled trial date, which is Monday.

Trial pushed in Morgenstern abuse case

The trial for a suspended ER physician at the Spokane Veteran's Affairs hospital has been pushed to April.

Craig Morgenstern, 45, remains in custody of the Spokane County Jail, facing a nine-count federal criminal indictment that charges him with producing child pornography, aggravated sexual abuse of a child and traveling across state lines to sexually abuse children. Morgenstern was originally jailed last month after a 13-year-old left the physician's Nine Mile Falls home and told a neighbor he'd awoken to the 45-year-old abusing him.

A subsequent search of Morgenstern's home - and a damaged laptop the physician allegedly deposited in a Dumpster on his way to the Stevens County Jail - has revealed evidence of multiple children being victimized by Morgenstern, according to court documents. Federal prosecutors indicated Tuesday they continue to comb through electronic files and a superseding indictment with additional charges will likely be filed.

A trial in the case had been tentatively scheduled for January. Morgenstern did not object to a continuance. A victim advocate told U.S. District Court Judge William F. Nelson the families of those alleged abuse did not object to pushing the trial date, but wanted certainty this case would be resolved.

Think twice before taking Stevens County advice on shooting wolves

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Some muddy legal waters have been flowing out of Stevens County in recent weeks.

Last week, Stevens County Commissioners passed a resolution condemning the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's management of gray wolves in northeastern Washington.

There's a conflict of interest in the 3-0 vote on the resolution, since commissioner Don Dashiell is the brother of Hunters rancher Dave Dashiell, who owned the 24-plus sheep confirmed to have been killed by the Huckleberry Pack in August and early September before the sheep were relocated. 

Apparently there's also some misinformation coming from official channels that reported the sheep were on leased private land owned by Hancock timber.  That's true to some extent, but Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman blogged that West Side legislators got maps showing that some of the sheep were on leased state land.

That makes little difference except to factions that argue livestock shouldn't be on public land…  a case that's certainly debatable.

But the misinformation from Stevens County groups and the lack of candor from the WDFW is troubling.

Stevens County officials were even more flagrant in August when the commissioners passed a resolution advising county residents of their "constitutional rights" to shoot wolves under some circumstances.

"The citizens of Stevens County may kill a wolf or multiple wolves if reasonably necessary to protect their property," the commissioners said.

My first thought: rely on the courts rather than politicians for judgments on constitutional rights.

  • See the documents attached to this post to read the entire Stevens County resolution — and the response to the resolution from WDFW director Phil Anderson, who spells out the narrow window of legality for someone to kill a wolf, which is listed as as state endangered species.

For another angle to the wolf depredation debates in northeastern Washington, see The S-R story about a national award given to a different Stevens County ranch for “the family’s progressive approach to facing challenges associated with livestock grazing on federal lands.”


Documents:

First Stevens Co. pot shop opens its doors

The first retail marijuana store in Stevens County has opened its doors for business, though employees say they're suffering from the same lack of product that has plagued other stores in the region.

Savage THC in Clayton, Washington, opened last week and is keeping regular hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, said store employee Cameron Duncan on Friday. The store is the first of six potential pot shops in the county, registered with the Liquor Control Board, to receive a license and open for business.

Duncan said the store is currently carrying strains from Farmer J's, a grower in Spokane Valley that has done business with Spokane's first recreational marijuana store, Spokane Green Leaf.

"We're working on a couple more local strains," Duncan said. "Down the road, we should be carrying some different stuff."

The store sells loose marijuana, rolled joints, pipes and other smoking paraphernalia, Duncan said. Prices remain at levels higher than the store would like because of supply issues, Duncan said, but the store hopes costs to consumers will fall as the market stabilizes.

The other five potential pot shops in Stevens County are listed below. They are all located in Colville, and applications are pending with the Liquor Control Board, according to public records.

CARDIAC SOLUTIONS NORTHWEST 415285 176 PONDEROSA RD   COLVILLE WA STEVENS 991142003
COLVILLE SMOKES 414681 672 S MAIN ST   COLVILLE WA STEVENS 991142506
HERBAL E SCENTS 414902 545 C HWY 395 S   COLVILLE WA STEVENS 99114
SECRET HERB SHOP 413995 272 N LINCOLN ST   COLVILLE WA STEVENS 991142340
SUPER EXPRESSIONS 415989 1040 N HWY   COLVILLE WA STEVENS 991142032

 

Wolves kill 14 sheep in Stevens County

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed that one or more wolves from the Huckleberry Pack in southern Stevens County killed 12 sheep Aug. 11 and two more Aug. 12 on private property off the Springdale-Hunters Road.

The attack just north of Blue Mountain and about two miles north of the Spokane Indian Reservation is the first confirmed loss of livestock to wolves this year in Washington.

About 1,800 sheep are being grazed in the area under a lease with the Hancock Timber Company, which owns the land, said WDFW officials who verified the attacks. More here. Rich Landers, SR

Do folks get as worked about about sheep being killed as they do about wolves being hunted?

Trial pushed in ‘Kettle Falls 5’ case

The controversial federal trial of a marijuana growing co-operative calling themselves the "Kettle Falls 5" has been delayed so that defense attorneys can review new evidence obtained by prosecutors.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle granted a continuance of the trial last week. The case, brought by federal prosecutors against five Stevens County residents who say they were legally growing marijuana on property in rural Stevens County to treat medical conditions, could have far-reaching implications for the state’s budding pot industry.

The defendants face several criminal counts that carry mandatory sentences of 10 years in prison. A new trial date has not been set as attorneys review electronic materials they say prosecutors made available to them earlier this month. The trial had originally been scheduled to begin Monday.

Federal judge says witnesses can talk about houseboat shooting in assault case

Jurors in a federal case against a man who allegedly assaulted a National Park Service ranger last fall can hear details of the officer-involved shooting that followed, a federal judge ruled this week.

Michael Sublie faces criminal charges stemming from a confrontation on his houseboat moored at the Kettle River Campground in September. Ranger Matthew Phillipson claimed he heard pops after he said Sublie shoved his partner, Joshua Wentz, from the boat's gangplank during an altercation about loud music being played after campground quiet hours. Phillipson fired, striking boat occupant Casey Hartinger in the side.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush is hearing the case. In a pretrial conference last week at the federal courthouse in Spokane, Quackenbush heard arguments from defense attorney Roger Peven and U.S. Assistant Attorney Tyler Tornabene on the admissibility of testimony about the shooting.

The government said the shooting followed the alleged criminal activity, and thus should not be discussed at trial because it might prejudice a jury. Peven said the alleged assault and shooting took place at the same time and information about both should be admitted at trial.

"I contend they were contemporaneous, at worst," Peven told Quackenbush last week. He said the events transpired in less time than it took to recount them.

Quackenbush said he had to determine whether the testimony about the shooting, as Hartinger is planned to be called as a witness, "would generate more heat than light."

In a written ruling issued Monday, Quackenbush ruled limited testimony about the shooting would be allowed. Any discussion of whether the shooting was justified, that Phillipson acted negligently or used excessive force will not be allowed in the courtroom as that is the subject of an ongoing internal investigation and the parties are mulling civil action, Quackenbush said.

"None of those issues are before this court," Quackenbush wrote.

Peven had also objected to an investigative agent from the National Park Service being allowed to sit at the prosecution's table during the trial. Quackenbush disagreed with Peven, and the agent will be allowed to confer with Tornabene throughout the trial.

Another conference is scheduled for mid-May, with a jury trial expected to begin later that month. Sublie faces up to a year-and-a-half in jail if convicted.

Houseboat owner says he was recorded following shooting

The owner of a houseboat charged with assaulting a National Park Service ranger during a dispute about loud music before another opened fire, injuring a guest, says he was recorded secretly after the shooting.

Michael Sublie has been charged with assault and obstruction of justice stemming from the Sept. 14 incident at the Kettle River Campground just northwest of Kettle Falls. According to court documents, rangers Joshua Wentz and Matthew Phillipson approached Sublie's boat - moored for an end-of-the-summer party, witnesses said – after 10 p.m., established quiet hours on the secluded, federally owned property.

Wentz used pepper spray and a stun gun in an attempt to subdue Sublie, then was pushed from the gangplank, according to court documents filed last week. Phillipson opened fire with his service weapon, striking passenger Casey Hartinger in the side.

Hartinger was standing near his children, aged 10 and 14, when he was fired upon, according to court documents.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Tyler Tornabene asked a judge to preclude all evidence of the shooting from jurors' ears, arguing Phillipson fired after the commission of the alleged crimes. But Sublie's attorney, Roger Peven, said in filings Tuesday the events occurred simultaneously, and it would confuse jurors to divide the two.

“The shooting happened literally during the middle of the interaction between Mr. Sublie and Ranger Wentz when Ranger Phillipson discharged his weapon,” Peven wrote.

Peven also alleges that Sublie was surreptitiously recorded by National Park Service rangers during a discussion with a local police officer who responded to the scene. Sublie was placed in a National Forest Service patrol car when he spoke with the officer, whom he knew, according to court documents. Peven wrote rangers placed a recording device in the car to keep tabs on what was said.

Hartinger received medical attention from medical technicians already present at the scene, according to court documents. He was later treated at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane and released. He has not been charged with any crimes in the incident.

A jury trial in the case is tentatively scheduled for May. Sublie, who is not in custody and has no other criminal history, faces up to a year-and-a-half in prison if convicted.

Rex Newport makes Alford plea

There were a few questions from readers about the article in today's Spokesman-Review reporting the guilty plea of Rex Newport, a Colville Police officer who had been accused of multiple sex crimes spanning a period from 2011 to 2013.

The Spokesman Review has obtained a copy of the pleading paperwork filed in Stevens County, which has been attached to this Sirens and Gavels blog post. The initials of victims and addresses have been redacted. No other changes have been made to the versions that appeared online.

Newport, 45, entered an Alford plea Tuesday, according to his statement made on page 16 of the attached document. The pleading means Newport admits the evidence against him may have convinced a jury to convict, though he continues to maintain his innocence.

According to court documents, Newport will have to surrender his badge and service weapon as a result of the felony conviction. He must also register as a sex offender with the state for a decade.

Wednesday's story indicated Newport faced a sentence of between 22 and 29 months. The pleading paperwork, which includes the terms of the deal, states prosecutors are recommending Newport serve his sentences concurrently for the five charges. That means the maximum amount of time he would spend in jail, if a judge accepts the plea, would be 22 months - the low end of the sentencing range. See page 13 of the attached document.

Finally, the Spokesman has reported Newport faces a civil case in which a pilot claims Newport used excessive force when detaining him during an arrest at a municipal air field in 2011. Newport and the City of Colville have denied the charges, according to court documents. The case is being heard in federal court and has a current trial date in September. There have been no new filings in that case since November.


Documents:

Wolf-livestock conflicts spark East Side meetings

WILDLIFE —  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has scheduled three public meetings in northeast Washington this month to discuss wolf-livestock conflict management.

The meetings will run from 6 to 8 p.m. as follows:

  • Feb. 26 in Cusick at the Cusick Community Center, 107 1st Ave.
  • Feb. 27 in Colville at the Colville Ag Trade Center, 317 West Astor Ave.
  • Feb. 28 in Okanogan at the Okanogan Public Utilities District office meeting room, 1331 2nd Ave. N.

With calving season underway, the meetings will give livestock owners a chance to talk directly with WDFW wildlife managers about wolves and their impacts on ranching operations, said Stephanie Simek, WDFW wildlife-conflict manager.

“We plan to discuss the various types of landowner assistance that we have available and the specific needs of individual producers,” Simek said. “Producers will have time to ask questions and offer comments.”

The meetings will include a brief presentation on the current status of wolf packs in Washington.

Simek said the department has funding available to support cost-sharing agreements for preventative measures that can help minimize problems with wolves. Those practices include reducing attractants by disposing of livestock carcasses, installing special fencing, using protected areas for calving and lambing, and using range riders to haze wolves away from livestock.

Sixteen livestock producers have signed cooperative cost-share agreements to date, Simek said.

WDFW also provides direct technical assistance to ranchers, pays compensation for confirmed livestock losses – and under certain conditions – issues permits to kill predatory animals.

The gray wolf is listed and protected as state endangered throughout Washington and federally endangered in the western two-thirds of the state.

Cattlemen say wolf management based on emotion, not science

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association says Washington has crafted much of its wolf management policy based on social pressure, not on data.

In a media release, the association said the answers or lack of answers to public records requests indicate the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lacks the information to properly manage the predator.

“Over the last several months, we have submitted a number of formal requests to WDFW regarding specific data related to the wolf,” said SCCA President Scott Nieslen. “The responses we received show that WDFW has no information on the number of prey animals available for the wolves, they have limited information about the wolf population and have no ability to predict how wolves will affect local communities."
 
Actually, the WDFW hasn't been hiding its lack of information on big-game herds — the prey base for wolves, as you can see in the sidebar to this report I filed in September.
 
Questions the association has asked include:
  • “What is the current ungulate prey base in Eastern Washington?”
  • “What is the current predator population?”
  • “What are the anticipated prey needs for the eight wolf packs in Eastern Washington?”
  • “What are the scientific studies on predator and prey relationships?”
WDFW presented some information on cougar populations at a SCCA meeting in December in Colville.
However, questions about the wolf and its impacts on the current predator/prey populations or any data related to ungulate populations in the region could not be answered, the media release said.
 
"The WDFW also affirmed their inability to answer the questions in formal public records requests from SCCA," the release said.
 
Indeed, the agency has scheduled three public meetings in the state, including a Jan. 16 meeting in Spokane, featuring experts who will help answer questions the public has about Washington's wolf management policies.
 
“We felt it was very important to remove the emotions and politics from the wolf issue and start talking about nuts and bolts,” said Nielsen. 
 
“We know that we already have too many wolves in the area and we need to see proactive management of the animal.”
 
He noted that the Colville Confederated Tribes already have approved an open hunting season to remove 9 wolves on the reservation’s 1.4 million acres.
 
“We don’t have to look any further than our own backyard to see other groups taking proactive actions designed to protect deer and elk populations. We should be doing the same,” said Nielsen.
 
Wolves in northeastern Washington should no longer be treated as though they need special protections, the group says.
 
"The recovery of the wolf on a regional level has already been asserted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that declared the wolf as 'fully recovered' in the Northern Rocky Mountain Region in a status review in 2012.
 
SCCA presented WDFW a formal request on Dec. 9 that the wolf be delisted in the Eastern Washington Region.

Wedge Pack wolves average size, scales show

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The seven Wedge Pack wolves killed by Washington Fish and Wildlife officers in August and September were healthy, but not necessarily beefy from their diet of livestock.

Read this report by Northwest Sportsman editor Andy Walgamott for updates and details on the weights of the carcasses assessed by the WDFW veterinarian.

Roskelley: Wedge pack’s demise was done deal months ago

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Former Spokane County Commissioner (and current candiate) John Roskelley of Spokane claims the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was not being genuine with the public in its handling of the summer wolf attacks in northern Stevens County and ultimately the elimination of the Wedge Pack.  Here's Roskelley's take, as posted on my Facebook page:

The WDFW rushed this decision to exterminate the Wedge Pack to avoid having to deal with the public or legislators like Sen. Rankin. I stopped at the meeting in Colville Thursday night; the WDFW got their nose bloodied by McIrvin and other Stevens County ranchers; the agency decided on a quick and dirty fix; provided the news media with their excuses for their action; used Conservation Northwest and the Cattlemen's Association as justified supporters; pretended to hunt the wolves by foot; and then proceeded to do what they intended all along - wipe the wolves out quickly via helicopter and sharpshooters before the public woke up and some organization filed an injunction to get it stopped. The WDFW agency people had their mind made up weeks ago, but they knew better than to let the public in on something this controversial before it was a done deal."

State kills 3 more Wedge Pack wolves today

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Three wolves from the Wedge Pack in northern Stevens County were killed by a shooter in a helicopter today as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife continued its effort to stop persistent attacks on livestock by eliminating the pack.

Since early July, Wedge Pack wolves are believed to have killed or injured at least 17 cows and calves from the Diamond M Ranch herd ranging on both private and public land between the Columbia and Kettle Rivers southwest of Laurier, Wash. 

Department Director Phil Anderson said a WDFW marksman shot the wolves from a helicopter at about 8 a.m.  The wolves were shot about seven miles south of the U.S.-Canada border in the same area where two other wolves from the Wedge Pack were killed by aerial gunning yesterday.

Biologists estimate the pack includes 8-11 wolves.  Before this week's kills, the state shot a wolf on Aug. 7 when it was still believed the pack could be thinned and dispersed without eliminating the pack. 

One wolf, thought to be the pack's alpha male, was trapped and fitted with a GPS collar earlier this summer. WDFW officers have been monitoring that wolf to follow the pack in the rugged, remote forested country.

Anderson said a department wildlife veterinarian would perform necropsies on all five of the wolves killed this week.

For more information on the situation, see the WDFW's  Wedge Pack Lethal Removal Actions FAQ

Pro-wolf groups stir up ranks to protest killing of Wedge Pack

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Pro-wolf groups aren't all standing by as Washington Fish and Wildlife staffers try to eliminate the cattle-preying Wedge Pack in northern Stevens County. Here's a form letter being promoted by the Center for Biological Diversity:

Center for Biological Diversity

 

Dear John,

Only seven wolf packs live in Washington state — but the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has ordered the entire Wedge pack killed in response to cattle depredations. That includes at least eight wolves.

The killing will be carried out on the public's dime using marksmen on the ground. If that doesn't work, these wolves will be shot from helicopters.

Washington's wolf management plan clearly states that, to avoid cattle losses, non-lethal measures must be taken first to protect livestock. In this case only minimal actions were taken to avoid wolf-livestock conflicts. The state should not reward irresponsible ranchers by killing wolves that are only acting as wolves do.

Please call Gov. Christine Gregoire now at (360) 902-4111 and tell her you do not support killing the Wedge pack when ranchers have not done their part to protect cattle.

Then let us know you got through to the governor's office by clicking here. A sample call has been provided below:

"Hello, my name is ________________ and I live in ________________, Washington. I'm calling to ask Governor Gregoire to stop the killing of the Wedge pack by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. I'd also like to state my opposition to state-run wolf killing, particularly in cases where ranchers have not done everything they can to avoid losing livestock. Can you please tell me the governor's position on this issue?

[Wait for explanation]

"Thanks, that's good to know. I still don't believe the circumstances justify killing the Wedge pack. These animals are endangered, and killing them should always be viewed as a great loss. The kill order should be permanently revoked."

[Offer the staffer your address or zip code, and thank them for their time.]

State shoots 2 wolves in Wedge Pack today; 6 or more to go

ENDANGERED SPECIES – Shooting from a helicopter, a marksman with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife killed two wolves in Northeast Washington today as part of an effort to eliminate a pack that has repeatedly preyed on livestock in a remote grazing area near the U.S.-Canada border.

The word comes from Bruce Botka, WDFW public affairs director in Olympia.

Teams of marksmen and wildlife biologists returned to an area of northern Stevens County known as the Wedge late last week, but had not killed any wolves after several days of around-the-clock activity. 

Beginning Monday, the department called in a helicopter to aid the effort, and an airborne marksman shot the two wolves early this afternoon, about seven miles south of the Canadian border.

WDFW Director Phil Anderson had directed the pack’s removal last week in response to the wolves’ escalating pattern of predation on the livestock herd of the Diamond M Ranch of Stevens County.  Since July, the pack of eight or more wolves is believed to have killed or injured at least 17 of the herd’s calves and cows.

The department says the attacks came despite non-lethal efforts to minimize wolf conflict by the rancher and department staff. Some pro-wolf groups say the efforts to prevent the attacks could have been more effective.

Read on for more details from WDFW.

Dump truck joy ride strikes power lines

Police say a man stole a dump truck and took it on a drunken joy ride that destroyed light poles and power lines in the city of Colville.

Robert Gene Bankston Hartman, 28, told officers he didn't mean to knock down the lines when he stole the dump truck from a construction site and drove it through town. He said he'd had about 14 beers when police confronted him about 9:45 p.m. on July 23, but later told police he'd actually been drinking vodka.

Police had heard residents were trapped in their homes at South Wynne Street and West Columbia Avenue because of down power lines. They soon realized Hartman and the stolen dump truck were to blame. Hartman abandoned the truck at 1st Street and Railroad Street and ran, but an officer blocked his path with his police car.

About 1,400 people lost power for about two hours because of the melee. The area extended from Highway 395 at Pingston Creek to just south of Colville, from Valley Westside just east of Colville High School, police said.

One witness told police that Hartman was laughing while he was striking the power lines.

Hartman's blood alcohol level registered at .226 and .220. The legal limit for driving is .08.

Hartman is charged with first-degree malicious mischief, second-degree taking a motor vehicle without permission and drunken driving.

Gun Thief Gets 125 Years, Killer Less

A Stevens County judge sentenced a convicted gun thief Tuesday to 125 years in prison – a term that’s about 100 years longer than the prison terms given to three others for a murder committed using one of the stolen guns. Superior Court Judge Pat Monasmith sentenced Christopher G. Nichols, 27, to 125 years in prison, despite the fact that he had no role in the 2011 killing of Colville resident Gordon Feist. Nichols wept, Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said. Rasmussen defended the sentence, saying the burglary was “the root of this violent and senseless killing of Mr. Feist, who was acting as a good Samaritan when he was killed.” Spurning a deal before trial that would have reduced his sentence by about 100 years, Nichols and his defense attorney, Bevan Maxey, took the case to trial, where a jury found Nichols guilty of 21 charges, including gun theft, trafficking in stolen property and being a felon in possession of firearms/Thomas Clouse, SR. More here.

Question: Was the sentence for the gun thief appropriate?

Satanist found with stolen tombstones

More than 70 tombstones and statuettes stolen from Eastern Washington cemeteries have been recovered from the home of a self-described Satanist.

Now, with Memorial Day coming up, Stevens County authorities are asking families to consider checking in on loved ones’ graves in cemeteries located in Chewelah and Valley, Wash., to avoid the possibility of discovering empty holes where gravestones once rested.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

294 coyotes killed in Northeast Washington derby

PREDATORS —  Northeast Washington businesses and hunters once again took aim at coyotes this winter to spread a little wealth and help beleaguered white-tailed deer a little more breathing room.

Participating hunters checked in 294 coyotes during the winter Coyote Derby covering Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.  The number is up from 227 taken during the derby last year.

The derby, organized by the Northeast Washington Wildlife Group, is sponsored by Clark's All Sports of Colville, Lake Roosevelt Walleye Club, Stevens and Spokane Counties Cattlemen's Association, Double Eagle Pawn, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and others, according to a story with more details by Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.

Landowner secures conservation easements on 3,900 acres in Stevens County

CONSERVATION — Working with the Inland Northwest Land Trust, a landowner has protected 3,900 acres of forest land in Stevens County west of Horseshoe Lake with conservation easements.

The latest of two easements assures 2,540 acres will remain a working forest with wildlife habitat on land owned by Beryl Baker.

In 2009, Baker protected 1,363 acres of the timberland that's been in his family for nearly 50 years.

The land includes 68-acre Baker Lake fed by Beaver Creek and other seasonal tributaries in the Little Spokane Watershed.

The land provides wetland habitat and year-round habitat for deer, elk, moose, bear, cougar and other animals. It's the biggest land package to be preserved by the Spokane-based Inland Northwest Land Trust, which is responsible for managing the easement in perpetuity.

Timber will continue to be harvested in a sustainable fashion under the easement, the INLT says.

Baker, who grew up on a Kahlotus-area wheat farm, purchased the property in 1966 after seeing an ad in the Wall Street Journal. “I needed a change from banking in Seattle,” he said.

“I feel fortunate finding a way to protect the property that has been in my family almost 50 years from division and commercial development. The property can only be used for timber production and wildlife habitat. This will provide the animals with a permanent home.”

“Rural areas are some of the last wild places left untamed in Eastern Washington and landowner Beryl Baker will make sure they stay that way forever,” says Chris DeForest, INLT Executive Director.

Washington’s 5th wolf pack confirmed; this one’s in Stevens County

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Washington’s fifth gray wolf pack has been confirmed in northeastern Stevens County, the state Fish and Wildlife Department just announced. 

Earlier this month, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists caught, marked with an ear tag and released a 2-month-old wolf pup from the pack. Biologists have since been trying to capture one of the pack’s breeding adult wolves to radio-collar it for monitoring.

The effort to document the pack began after local ranchers reported observing three wolf pups and hearing howling in late June.

The pack is believed to include a breeding-age male and female and at least three pups. The group has been named the Smackout Pack, in reference to geographic features in the area.

Read on for more information from the WDFW media release.

Stevens County sets hearing on OHV laws

OFF-ROADINGThe controversial issue of making it legal to ride ATVs and other non-highway-suitable vehicles on more public roads is back on the front burner in Stevens County.

Amendments to OHV Ordinance 06-2009 is set for discussion at a special Dec. 20 County Commissioners hearing, 6:30 p.m., at the Loon Lake Old School House.

Insiders say this is Commissioner Merrill Ott’s last effort to pass the ordinance amendments before he is replaced in January.

Maps and the list of roads proposed for opening to OHVs are posted on the Stevens County website.

Some residents contend the ordinance would make it easier for unethical riders to access public and private land where they are not allowed to ride.

Info: Stevens County Commissioner’s office  (509) 684-3751.

Jury convicts gunman in neighbor dispute

A Stevens County man faces about 7 years in prison for a neighbor dispute that erupted in gunfire last May.

A jury recently convicted John Lewis Eberly, Jr., of assault and burglary after he fired a shot through his neighbor’s front door, then broke into the house and brawled with the woman. The woman suffered a non-life threatening gunshot wound.

The May 15, 2009, incident stemmed from a dispute over a gate that had been installed on a nearby road.

Eberly confronted the victim outside her home, then fired his handgun through her door after she went inside and locked it. The victim ran to a nearby home to call police. She later discovered her phone line had been cut.

The jury convicted Eberly of second-degree assault and burglary but couldn’t reach a verdict on an attempted murder charge after deliberating for about 18 hours, according to Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen.

Eberly faces 84 to 94 months in prison with credit for about a year served in jail.

Rasmussen wrote about this case in his weekly column. He also mentioned it in a previous column while opining about neighbor disputes.

In one dispute, Rasmussen said, “As I reviewed the numerous reports of officer contacts with the parties, I was amazed at the trouble that can develop between folks who both say that they just want to be left alone.”

Read the columns by clicking the link below.