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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Study: mercury contamination affects even fish in national parks

FISHING — National parks in the Western United States and Alaska are some of the most pristine landscapes and waters on the planet, yet results of a four year study indicate that mercury contamination affects fish even in these protected areas.

It's important to note that 96 percent of the affected fish had low levels of contamination and are considered safe for human consumption.

However, the National Park Service says:

Mercury has been discovered in fish in some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for potential impacts to fish, birds, and humans.

The information about mercury, and its appearance in 21 protected areas considered to be relatively pristine and removed from environmental contaminants, is in a recently published scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

Read on for more details from the NPS.

USGS minimizes budget cut impacts on river gauges

 RIVERS — Whitewater river runners, anglers and other groups and agencies in Idaho and Washington that rely on streamflow gauges maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey are breathing a sigh of relief.

USGS had announced that as of today (May 1) operation of “up to 375 streamgages nationwide would be discontinued due to budget cuts as a result of the $85 billion across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. Additional streamgages may be affected if partners reduce their funding to support USGS streamgages.”

But agency managers worked out ways to keep the immediate closures down to three in Idaho and none in Washington.  One closure of note to anglers: 13337500 South Fork Clearwater River near Elk City.

Click “continue reading” below for the explanations I received to my queries.

Streamgages are used nationwide to predict and address drought and flood conditions by monitoring water availability. The USGS and over 850 Federal, State, and local agencies cooperatively fund the USGS streamgaging network, which consists of more than 8,000 streamgages.

NW Maps closes its store in Spokane Valley, focusing only on online sales

Northwest Maps, which for the past several years was Spokane's primary option for  buying topo and recreation maps, has shifted to an online- and phone-only business, said owner Steve Mitrovich.

In addition to closing down its Spokane Valley store, the Mitroviches now are only selling their own published atlases and marketing maps for this area. They've sold all their topo and recreational maps to Metsker Maps of Seattle.

Steve Mitrovich said the store closed on July 1. The reason?  Recreational map purchases continued to dwindle and the number of maps and map books sold didn't justify running the business, he said.

The company will take phone orders and orders placed through its website www.nwmaps.com. The business phone number is509 455-6981.

REI still sells some physical topo and recreation maps, Mitrovich said.

As the web has continued to gain online presence, many recreationists are also ordering and printing maps directly from sites such as USGS.gov and the Forest Service online map service.

El Ninia gives region a dry shoulder so far

We thought that first big snowstorm just before Thanksgiving was the beginning of the predicted big snow accumulation associated with an El Ninia year. 

However, to date, Idaho has accumulated only 73 percent of normal snowpack.

Check out this SnoTel chart to see where the snow is — and isn't.

Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Department Panhandle Region wildlife manager, says he needs a lot more snow in a hurry in order to do his winter aerial elk surveys.

Normal snowpack is needed to concentrate the elk on wintering areas and make them stand out for the count.

New gauge on Madison River will help anglers

FISHING — A new U.S. Geological Survey monitoring station on the heavily-fished Madison River at the Varney Bridge south of Ennis, Mont., will be a great help for anglers.

The first monitoring device on that section of river in 40 years will provide hourly information on the stream's flow and water temperature.

The gauge is listed on the Montana USGS website as Madison River at Cameron, MT.

Joe Dilschneider of Montana Trout Stalkers in Ennis says the gauge set up last month will help anglers and guides coming from Bozeman see conditions of the river before making the trip.

The gauge will operate between March and October, and deactivated during winter because of heavy ice.