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Wild turkey suppression planned on Spokane’s South Hill

WILDLIFE — A meeting to enlist volunteers in curbing the growth of wild turkey flocks on the Manito Park area is set for 6:30 p.m. tonight (March 30) at Spokane’s South Hill Library.

Candace Bennett, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department conflict specialist, is organizing a “wild turkey Easter egg hunt” over several weeks to treat eggs in some wild turkey nests so they don’t hatch.

The number of wild turkeys has grown to nuisance levels on the South Hill, but what's out there will mushroom significantly if all of the nesting hens are allowed to pull off new clutches this spring.


Bighorn sheep die-off closes hunting area near Yellowstone


HUNTING — A bighorn sheep die-off caused by disease has triggered the closure of hunting for the animals just outside Yellowstone National Park.

Montana Wildlife officials said Monday that at least 34 bighorn sheep have died in the pneumonia outbreak that began late last year near Gardiner, Montana. That’s almost 40 percent of the herd that ranges in the Gardiner and Cinnabar areas north of Yellowstone.

Wildlife commissioners issued the closure during a Monday conference call and said it would reopen when the population recovers.

Sheep in the Gardiner area have experienced smaller pneumonia outbreaks in the past few years.

There are domestic sheep in the same area. State officials say bacteria can be transmitted from healthy domestic sheep to bighorn sheep, causing pneumonia in the wild animals.

S-R Readers’ Outdoor Photo Gallery captures March moments

OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHY — Newspaper editors knew the great outdoors would provide inspiration when they put out the call for your images, but the photographic talent readers are sharing has surpassed all expectations.

The Spokesman-Review Readers Outdoor Photos web page hasn't just been popular — it's become a regular pit stop for a breath of fresh air.

Equipped with cameras ranging from smartphones to SLRs with monster lenses, readers aren't just sending snapshots of big fish.  They're providing a broad perspective of what's up outside, one photo at a time.

Since the online feature debuted a year ago, more than 650 images have been uploaded at spokesman.com/outdoors

People are telling us where they're going, what they're doing outdoors and what catches their eye.

The photos offer insight on the changing of seasons, the emergence of wildflowers and the return of migratory birds.

The Spokane River, with all of its moods and the recreation it provides, is a popular subject. So are sunsets — the kind that make you vow to be out there next time weather serves up such a beautiful end of the day.

But some photos are coming from west in the scablands, south in the big-river canyon lands and northeast from high in the wilderness where readers are sharing sights many folks would never see.

Our March 2015 Readers Outdoors Photo Gallery may be the best overall monthly collection since the online feature debuted last year. 

I tried to pick  the top 10 and failed miserably at narrowing it down that tight. 

I'm posting my picks for the top 25 images (above) from the photos uploaded this month, and I'm still leaving out a lot of shots that caught my interest.

Some of the images are excellent because of their photo quality. Others are great because they capture a moment to enlighten us about the outdoors. Some are appreciated real-time field reports on conditions.

The images capture the flows of rivers and waterfalls from downtown Spokane to Towell Falls on Rock Creek south of Sprague.

They chronicle where the snow is, and where it isn't anymore.

Photographers looked this month up to capture porcupines and birds in trees as well as the full moon. They gazed down to picture the first flowers bursting from the soil, marmots venturing from their holes, lady bird beetles swarming in the duff and amphibians emerging from the recently thawed pond mud.

It's not surprising that people head out with cameras at night chasing the Northern Lights, although the quality of the results has us begging for more solar flares

More enlightening, perhaps, is how many hikers and even cyclists leave the warmth of home to enjoy the quiet under the stars.

Check out the good work readers are posting. Upload your own.

Collectively you're creating a picture story of the outdoors around the Inland Northwest that no other single person could tell.

Photo: meadowlark brightens the prairie

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Western meadowlark has a way of brightening anyone's day during a walk through the Eastern Washington prairies.

Not just with its brilliant spring breeding plumage, but also with its song:

Thanks to Ferry County photographer J.Foster Fanning for the photo (top) and the reminder that there's more than one reason to get outdoors this month.

NW left out of Outside’s ‘Most Incredible Trips’ list


Two spots in Montana have made Outside magazine's list of "The 30 Most Incredible Trips to Take in 2015."

Otherwise, the Northwest was virtually left out in favor of river trips in Fiji, islands in Bermuda, adventuring in Chile, road biking in California and food in Texas.

The exception is a Redmond-based bicycle travel company named "Best for outfitted trips for families." The write-up says:

Roughly 10 percent of Bicycle Adventures’ trips are now geared specifically toward families with preteens in tow. This year the Washington-based company launched three multi-day rides in Oregon, Idaho, and South Dakota that follow car-free bike paths and pass through kid-captivating areas like Mount Rushmore … with stops for ice cream, rafting, and swimming holes. Have younger kids? They’ll pedal tag-alongs hitched to adult bikes, and toddlers and infants can ride in provided trailers. From $2,295.

The Route of the Hiawatha on the Montana-Idaho border got residual praise by being one of the trips Bicycle Adventures features.

Meanwhile, Montana continued to get more attention than any single state with two mentions in the Top 30 list.

  • American Prairie Reserve in northcentral Montana is featured as "Best of the Wild West."
  • Mary May’s on 100 acres along Cottonwood Creek near Bozeman is ranked "Best Airbnb Property."

Outside's list was composed by its two veteran travel writers, Tim Neville and Stephanie Pearson, who scoured "the globe to uncover surprising new ideas."

The story recommends a range of activities at the American Prairie, from camping to mountain biking, wildlife watching and canoeing the nearby Missouri River.

“We’re glad to have Outside’s spotlight shine on all that we’ve accomplished so far," said Sean Gerrity, president of American Prairie Reserve, in a statement. "We hope it will result in more supporters for our ambitious project.”

Mary May's is touted by the Outside writers for the variety of options available from the door of the small studio that rents for $125 a night, such as skiing, a trip to Yellowstone National Park or hiking.

Othello gears up for Sandhill Crane Festival

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The headline attraction at the annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival has already arrived for the March 27-29 series of programs, field trips and banquets based out of Othello, Wash.

Founded in 1998, the festival highlights the spring return of migrating sandhill cranes that stop over to rest at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and feed at surrounding farm fields.

Of course, plenty of other birds, including long-billed curlews and waterfowl, are enjoyed by viewers on festival field trips.

Sign up in advance, since many of the trips and sessions will fill up. Info: (866) 726-3445.

The festival is an excellent wildlife experience indoors and out. For example:

Field trips include a Potholes Reservoir boat birding tour and other birding tours at Lower Crab, the Columbia Refuge plus several tours geared specifically to seeing sandhill cranes.   One of the crane tours is for bicyclists.

Seminars by experts touch on more than 35 different topics such as songs birds sing, native plants for the garden, dragonflies, sage and sharp-tailed grouse, pollinators of the shrub-steppe, butterflies, trumpeter swans, burrowing owls, Ice Age floods, ground squirrels and one not to be missed — arachniding.

  • A film about raising a young sandhill crane also will be screened.

Banquet speakers include:

  • Friday, Roy Lowe — Seabird conservation on the Oregon Coast.
  • Saturday, Scott Burns — Cataclysms on the Columbia: The Great Missoula Floods.

Bald eagles Marching into quality family time

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles are mating and getting their families started. This video clip from a Hanover, Penn., web cam aimed at an eagle nest shows an eagle pair making a quick change of guard as they incubate eggs in cold February weather.

Good parenting examples, eagles.


Alberta grizzlies fond of highway crossings for wildlife

WILDLIFE — Here's more support for highway crossings for wildlife that are showing up in projects around Washington and Idaho:

Research finds grizzly bears prefer overpasses in park in Alberta
Bow Valley-based scientist Tony Clevenger has released his findings of 17 years of study on grizzly bear use of overpasses and underpasses in Banff National Park, which revealed that grizzly bears generally prefer overpasses to underpasses.
— Rocky Mountain Outlook

Video proof: Getting too close to moose is stupid

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Did I overstate the potential danger posed by loveable-looking moose in today's Outdoors column?

I think not, despite what a few readers said in email comments. I have video proof you can view at the end of this post.

First, check out this message from Cameron Hughes, who learned to respect moose for their size and dicey dispositions while living in Alaska:

Your "moose issues" article will hopefully help to enlighten some of the general public to leave moose alone!
I certainly understand the difficult decisions that the F&W Officers face when confronted with a "problem" moose and in my opinion, the event in Fairfield was initiated by a number of people who don't understand the big picture of a habituated moose.
I lived in AK for about 18 years, 6 of which were in Anchorage, where moose are ubiquitous during the winter months. I was there when two people were killed by moose in the city. One being the infamous video of when an individual was entering the UAA Sports center and was stomped to death by an agitated moose. Coincidentally, I had entered and left that same door into the UAA sports center with my two young children earlier that day to watch the UAA hockey team practice. Fortunately, the moose wasn't around at the time I was there. If it had been, I would have chosen another exit.
Point is, the people of Anchorage had learned to leave, for the most part, the moose alone and to avoid them as much as possible. I suppose seeing a moose wasn't a novelty as it is around here. I drilled it into my son and daughter's head that when playing outside and a moose wanders into the neighborhood to come back in the house immediately until the moose had moved on.
While living in Western AK, the Eskimos in the area had a greater fear, or perhaps a better word would be respect, of moose than they did of grizzly bears. I think that tells one something about the possible danger posed by a moose.

This video graphically illustrates why all moose should be given a wide berth:

Video illustrates the hazard of being with a loose dog in moose country. This guy was lucky.

Some moose will run when approached, others will charge, as this moron discovers.

Avoid all of these dangerous learning experiences by reading the guidelines for coexisting with moose on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Canyon wren, RVers enjoying Riverside State Park

HIKING — The report from local Audubon Society birders out for a hike in Riverside State Park today is like music to my ears.

Fran Haywood was near the Bowl and Pitcher when she was serenaded by the cascading call of a canyon wren — one of my favorite songsters.

  • Click here for more information about canyon wrens and a link to hear their song.

Fran's observations:

Went to Riverside State Park in Spokane.  Walked across the swinging bridge and along the trail to the left where I found several singing Canyon Wrens. One was on the rock slide just before the trail drops down towards the river. Funny, how there songs seem to be coming from above where they actually are. They really like the slide areas.

Also had flocks of Pygmy Nuthatch.  Many people enjoying our spring-like weather with 5 RV's in the campground.

Canyon wrens also were heard calling along the Little Spokane River Natural Area on Monday, reports Rick Eichstaedt.

Elk Foundation chapters set local banquets

HUNTING — Area chapters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are organizing their annual fund-raising banquets to raise money for wildlife habitat enhancement projects throughout the region.

Since 1984, the Missoula-based foundation says it joined agencies and other partners to conserve or enhance 6.6 million acres of North America’s finest elk country. 

The annual chapter banquet dinner-auction evenings are the primary fund-raising events, generating remarkable community support over the years.

"We have reached over $1 million raised from our local banquets helping to ensure the future of elk and wildlife habitat," said Jason Johnston of the Idaho Panhandle Chapter.

RMEF chapter Big Game Banquets coming up in this region include:

Saturday (Feb. 21) — Spokane Chapter, Mirabeau Park Hotel, 1100 N. Sullivan Rd. Info: Rich Furry, (509) 290-3557.

March 14Pend Oreille Chapter, American Legion Post 217, Cusick. Info: Darlynn Thompson, (509) 671-6346.

March 14 — Shoshone Chapter. Info: Frosty Greenfield, (208) 512-2015.

March 21Idaho Panhandle Chapter, Best Western PLUS, 506 W. Appleway Ave. in Coeur d’Alene. Info: Elliot or Deanna Taub, (208) 691-1824.

March 28 — Palouse Whitepine. Info: Debbie Brood, (208) 596-9310.

April 18 — Selkirk Crest Big Game Banquet in Sandpoint. Info: Jade Smith, (208) 255-9331.

RMEF has plenty of reason to be proud of its members accomplishments.

2014 highlights:

 • Celebrated 30th anniversary including 30 Years of RMEF Volunteers

 • Improved 135,000 acres of elk habitat in 22 states toward an overall lifetime mark
 of more than 6.6 million acres

 • Completed 625 habitat enhancement, hunting heritage and other conservation
 outreach projects bringing lifetime number of projects to 9,278

 • Opened or secured access to 61,817 acres toward an overall lifetime mark of more
 than 769,000 acres

 • Received a four-star rating—the highest possible—from Charity Navigator for the
  sixth consecutive year which positions RMEF among the top three percent of all
 charities rated by the service

 • Provided more than $1.6 million in Torstenson Family Endowment funding for
 RMEF’s four core mission programs

 • Assisted with elk restoration efforts in Wisconsin and finalized efforts to augment
 elk herds in Virginia

 • Sixth consecutive year of record membership, totaling 205,249 as of
 December 31, 2014

 • Record attendance of 28,000 at inaugural Hunter Christmas Exposition

 • Topped 200,000 Facebook followers

Chronic wasting disease found in Alberta elk farm

WILDLIFE — Just recently we heard about a case of chronic wasting disease involving a bull elk on a Utah game farm.

This week, belated news about the disease showing up at an elk farm in Canada:

Alberta game-farm elk tests positive for chronic-wasting disease
It's been more than a decade since chronic-wasting disease was found on a game farm in Alberta, where there are more than 200 elk farms that produce more than $10 million annually in product sales. But Alberta Agriculture spokesman Mike Long said Monday that the disease had been found on an undisclosed game farm in the province in January. Some are questioning why the announcement was delayed for so long.
—Calgary Herald

See more information about the disease across the continent by the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.

Audubon clubs present birding programs

WILDLIFE WATCHING  — Audubon Society chapters in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene have interesting programs open to the public this week:

Tuesday, Feb 10 — African Safari photos and stories will be shared by Janet Callen and Darlene Carlton, who recently completed a 12-day wildlife-rich safari in Botswana. 

  • 7 p.m. at Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Rd in Coeur d’Alene.

Wednesday, Feb. 11 — Bird banding studies around Spokane: Lindell Haggin will discuss what’s involved with bird banding and what we are learning about the birds of our area. Haggin assisted with bird banding research on the Little Spokane River for 10 years, giving her insights into which birds bite the hardest and which species have the most attitude!

  • 7:30 p.m. at Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave. in Spokane.
  • See directions to the meeting location.

Photo: winter gathering place for elk

WILDLIFE WATCHING — As hard as they are to find during hunting season, here's proof that a few elk survived the guns, highways and wolves of Western Montana.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson counted more than 450 elk in four herds along winter range areas near Lincoln, Montana, in one day this week.

Weather fouls ground squirrel’s winter schedule

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Normally, ground squirrels would be sleeping away the winter on the 2nd of February, or at least staying out of the normally cold weather.

But this Richardson's ground squirrel apparently was doing its best Ground Hog Day impersonation on Monday.

This bold little beast was caught through the lens by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson, who hoped it would go to sleep fast when it got back in its burrow.

"All I can say is Richardson's ground squirrel is confused! He's going to have a few cold night coming!"

      Actually, ground squirrels do not remain torpid continuously throughout hibernation, scientists say. They spontaneously arouse from and re-enter torpor at frequent intervals.

Join the crowd to count backyard birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Birders are signing up to contribute 15 minutes of their favorite hobby to science.

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb.13-16, involves birders of all levels of experience to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species,online.

Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

Check it out. 

BTW, kids can really get into this. Grab a field guide to birds or Google what you see and feed the brain for natural science.

Chronic wasting disease found in Utah bull elk

HUNTING — A bull elk shot in a private northern Utah hunting park has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), Utah Department of Agriculture officials confirmed to the Salt Lake Tribune Friday.

Confirmation of the neurological disease's presence means the approximately 20 wild deer and two moose fenced in on the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch in Liberty will have to be killed to be tested, reports outdoor writer Brett Prettyman.

The entire herd of elk — more than 60 animals — at the Howe's Elk Ranching operation near Blanding, where the CWD-positive bull came from, will also have to be destroyed and tested.

"The bull came from the farm in southeastern Utah as part of a group of 11 bulls," said Utah state veterinarian Warren Hess. Hunters at the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch killed nine of the bulls, and tests on one of them came back positive, he said. As a result, ranch owners killed the last two bull elk. "We are waiting for the results on those animals," Hess said.

Broadmouth Canyon Ranch is owned by the family of former Utah State University football player and National Football League All-Pro Rulon Jones. The state has had issues with fence breaches at Broadmouth Canyon in the past. The family also operates an elk hunting ranch in Idaho and two hunting ranches in Mexico.

Hess said the department is not aware of any movement of elk from the Utah ranch to the Idaho ranch, which is in the Blackfoot Mountains.

Hess said Howe's Elk Ranch is under quarantine while the state works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to seek compensation for the elk. The CWD-infected bull had been at the Liberty hunting park for less than three weeks when it was killed. The state mandates testing of all animals killed at private elk farms or hunting parks, and the bull's results came back positive just before Christmas.

"There wasn't a long exposure and so far that is the only animal to test positive," Hess said. "We have two areas of concern: the park itself and the deer inside the park and the chance of them being infected and getting back out."

It is unknown where the elk at Howe's Elk Ranch picked up CWD. Hess said records show there has been no movement of elk into the the Blanding ranch for the past five years.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) officials are making plans to hunt the deer and moose in the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch enclosure to test for CWD and to prevent them from escaping and reaching other wild animals.

"We will work with the Department of Agriculture to minimize the risk of contact between domestic and wild animals," said DWR's mammals coordinator Leslie McFarlane, who oversees the state's wildlife disease program.

Chronic wasting disease is not new to Utah wildlife. The disease is sometimes compared to mad cow disease, but is not deemed to be transmittable to humans.

It first showed up in Utah in 2002 when a buck mule deer killed during the rifle hunt near Vernal tested positive. A doe mule deer found dead in a field near Moab in 2003 was the second known case of CWD in Utah. Since then, according to McFarlane, there have 62 cases of CWD in Utah. Two elk have been confirmed to have CWD.

A map showing the distribution of CWD in Utah between 2003 and 2013 shows no evidence of the malady near Liberty where the Broadmouth Canyon hunting park is located.

DWR biologists conduct annual CWD testing in areas where it is prevalent and at random locations across the state to monitor Utah's herds.

"We will increase our monitoring around the two facilities by looking at live animals that appear sick and doing tests on road kill," McFarlane said. "If people see sick animals we would ask that they let us know."

Hess said operators at both elk facilities have been working with the Department of Agriculture to address the issue.

East slope Cascades wildlife area management plan released

CONSERVATION — The Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access Plan — a guidebook for managing 230,000 acres of state lands — has been released by the Washington state departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The recreation plan covers lands from the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range to the Columbia River.

The plan addresses recreation in the Naneum Ridge State Forest, managed by DNR, the Colockum Wildlife Area, and the Quilomene and Whiskey Dick units of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, managed by WDFW.

Following is a summary from a release posted by the two agencies:

The recreation plan culminates a 3-year planning process and collaborative effort between the agencies, local user and community groups, and a volunteer advisory committee, which included members from a wide range of interests. Committee members donated more than 1,200 hours of volunteer time in 20 public meetings.

“The public played an integral role,” said Brock Milliern, statewide recreation manager for the agencies. “By planning proactively we can ensure that recreation develops here in a way respects the local desire to maintain rural and agricultural activities, meets the agencies’ needs, and expands sustainable recreation and economic opportunities for the public and surrounding communities.”

The plan will guide DNR and WDFW in sustainable management of the recreation planning area for the next 10 to 15 years.

“This was a huge effort by the committee members, the public and the agencies to find balance among competing interests for fish, wildlife, land management and compatible recreation,” said Mike Livingston, regional director for WDFW. “This plan sets us up to achieve that balance.” 

Recreation Opportunities
As the plan is implemented, DNR and WDFW will continue to consult with local groups to expand safe and sustainable recreation opportunities for the public and surrounding communities.

Opportunities include:

  •  Providing and maintaining the Green Dot road network, which offers a system for public vehicle and off-road vehicle use and access to recreation opportunities throughout the planning area. WDFW will offer more Green Dot roads on its lands in Kittitas County.
  •  Providing trail opportunities for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking in the forested portions of the Naneum Ridge State Forest and the Colockum Wildlife Area, including a north-south trail in the northern and western sections of the planning area that will offer greater access to recreation.
  •  Providing off-road trail opportunities for motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, and 4X4s, through discussion with user groups and the public.
  • Developing a non-motorized winter trail system and a new non-motorized parking area in the Stemilt Basin area.
  • Continuing to provide snowmobile access in the planning area.
  •  Improving road and trail linkages to public land west of the planning area, including the Wenatchee National Forest.
  • WDFW plans to pursue partnership opportunities with local governments and non-profit organizations to design, develop, manage and maintain a shooting range facility.

Lake Roosevelt bighorns to be collared for research

WILDLIFE — Bighorn sheep near in Lincoln County near Lake Roosevelt will wearing new neck gear for research later this month.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans use a helicopter contractor capture to bighorns from the Lincoln Cliffs herd on Feb. 10, weather permitting.

Up to 20 of the wild sheep will be ear-tagged and nine will be equipped with GPS tracking collars, said Carrie Lowe, state wildlife biologist. The sheep will be released so biologists can better monitor their movements, productivity, and survival.

The sheep will be captured with nets shot from the helicopter, then transported to a staging area for handling and blood sampling by a ground crew.

The department is working to secure permission to access private land in the Lincoln and Whitestone Rock areas near the Lake Roosevelt shoreline for the work.

Wildlife area closed Feb. 1 to protect wintering elk

WILDLIFE — Under a state plan adopted eight years ago, about 44,000 acres of wildlife land in Kittitas County east of Ellensburg will be closed to motor vehicles Feb. 1 through April 30 to protect wintering elk.

The winter closure includes portions of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, which is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The closure only restricts motorized vehicle access; the public may still access the area by foot, horseback, or mountain bike, wildlife officials say.

The area subject to the closure is north of the Vantage Highway, south of Quilomene Ridge Road, east of the Wild Horse Wind Farm and west of the Columbia River. This is the eighth year of the seasonal closure of the wildlife area lands, said Scott McCorquodale, WDFW regional wildlife manager.

About 2,000 elk - nearly half the Colockum elk herd - winter on the Whiskey Dick and Quilomene sections of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.

"Vehicle traffic can disturb these elk and reduce their use of habitat near roads," McCorquodale said. "Reducing vehicle traffic on the wildlife area also may encourage wintering elk to remain on the public land rather than straying to nearby private lands."

The winter closure is included in the new Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access Plan, developed over three years by WDFW and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and released today. The plan addresses recreation and public access for roughly 230,000 acres of DNR and WDFW land stretching from the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range to the Columbia River.

One road that receives minimal winter traffic, will remain open to the public. The road travels south from Quilomene Ridge Road along Jackknife Ridge to the northern boundary of the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. From there, a three-mile stretch of road through the park ultimately connects with Old Vantage Highway. Washington State Parks manages the park road under a permit system, providing free permits onsite.

The three-month seasonal closure is consistent with winter-range closures elsewhere in the state, including the Oak Creek and Wenas wildlife areas.

Seasonal closures also occur on critical big-game winter ranges in several other western states, including Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming. 

Wyoming balks as feds plan sheep grazing cuts to save bighorns

WILDLIFE — Federal efforts to reduce chances that domestic sheep will spread disease to beleaguered bighorns is hitting a fence in Wyoming.

Some Wyoming lawmakers are pushing to protect domestic sheep in the state from a possible federal effort to remove them from public lands, the Associated Press reports:

Here is the latest from AP, although the story does not point out that the federal action has been prompted by massive die-offs of bighorn sheep in states such as Washington and Montana.

The U.S. Forest Service recently curtailed domestic sheep grazing on the Payette National Forest in Idaho to protect bighorn sheep from disease. The agency is developing a larger plan to consider whether it needs to curtail domestic sheep in Wyoming and other western states to reduce the threat to bighorns.

Domestic sheep producers in Idaho and elsewhere last year appealed the Forest Service’s decision to curtail grazing on the Payette National Forest to a federal appeals court in San Francisco. Wool growers’ associations in Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho have joined the fight.

Amy Hendrickson, executive director of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, said Thursday the prospect of coming federal cuts to grazing allotments has created great concern among sheep operators in the state.

“It’s hard for a lot of our producers to make management decisions, decisions what to do, because they just don’t know whether they’re going to be able to graze or not,” Hendrickson said.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, is sponsoring a bill to codify in Wyoming law a plan that state agencies have used for the past 10 years to resolve possible conflicts between wild and domestic sheep. Recognizing the plan in state law will put the state on firmer legal ground if it has to fight any federal effort to evict domestic sheep producers, he said.

State management agencies, hunting groups and grazing interests worked together to devise the Wyoming plan in 2004. It ranks sheep areas in the state according to their value, placing the greatest restrictions on domestic sheep in the prime bighorn areas.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve been operating under a handshake,” Hicks said. “In Wyoming it works really well, to the point that the agencies have adopted it.”

The Wyoming Wool Growers Association and the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, a wild sheep conservation group, intervened together against environmental groups that filed a federal lawsuit alleging that domestic sheep grazing threatened a small bighorn herd on the Medicine Bow National Forest. A decision in that lawsuit is still pending.

Hicks sponsored legislation that became law two years ago specifying that if concern over bighorns in the Medicine Bow National Forest threatened existing domestic sheep operators that the state would remove the wild sheep.

Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer, is sponsoring similar legislation this year that would specify the state would remove a herd of bighorns from the Darby Mountain area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest if the federal government proposed to cut domestic sheep operations there.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last summer expressing concerns about the Forest Service’s development of its forthcoming sheep plan.

The governors told Vilsack that new grazing allotments had to be identified before any domestic sheep producers were displaced from grazing allotments. Members of Congress from around the West have voiced similar concerns to agency officials.

Jessica Crowder, policy adviser for Mead, said Thursday that the Region 4 office of the U.S. Forest Service, headquartered in Ogden, Utah, is preparing the sheep risk assessment. Crowder said she expects the Forest Service will share more information with states in the West in coming months.

Attempts to reach Forest Service officials for comment on the pending plan were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Lauren M. Rule, an Oregon lawyer, represents environmental groups challenging domestic sheep grazing on both the Payette and Medicine Bow national forests.

Rule said Thursday she doesn’t see how codifying Wyoming’s existing sheep plan would help the state if the Forest Service proposes cuts in grazing. She said the existence of a state sheep plan in Idaho didn’t stop federal action to reduce grazing there.

Oil drilling in Arctic Refuge? 4 top reasons to say no

PUBLIC LANDS — State and Federal scientists have spent many years and millions of dollars documenting the compelling reasons why the United States should avoid drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

  • I visited the refuge in the early 1990s and then again a decade later to see first-hand the reasons this remote wildlife sanctuary needed protection from development.

Last week, President Obama announced, backed by decades of science, he will recommend to Congress that 12.28 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including its biological heart, the coastal plain, be designated as wilderness – the highest level of protection for public lands in the United States.

In a press release, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell released a new Comprehensive Conservation Plan for managing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

4 Top Reasons why wilderness is best for ANWR

(According to the National Wildlife Federation)

  • With its unique wildlife, unspoiled wilderness where natural processes reign, and important habitat for hundreds of arctic wildlife species and fisheries such as arctic char, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System and one of the most important protected areas on the planet.
  • The 19.8 million acres that comprise the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are also home to Native Alaskans, including the Inupiat and Gwich’in, and the resources of the refuge sustain these populations and protect their indigenous traditions and way of life.
  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is critical to wildlife with 26 polar bear dens — 50 percent of all U.S. dens — and a porcupine caribou herd of 160,000.
  • For more than 30 years, the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain has been at the center of an ongoing debate over oil and natural gas drilling. Designating the coastal plain and other areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness will ban oil and gas drilling, and other development in those areas vital to caribou calving.

Fresh, wet snow perfect for tracking critters

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I was late into the office this morning, delayed by urgent messages from a variety of critters.

Last night's light, wet snow created a fresh page for wildlife to tell the stories of their early-morning lives for trackers to read.

Conditions are perfect. The snow is not too deep or too dry. Detail in the prints is fantastic.  You can see every toe and even the toenails of critters such as raccoons.

Before sunrise as I walked my dogs, I followed a group of three coyotes that had left fresh tracks near my backyard, and not surprisingly I soon came across the splayed hoof prints of four running white-tailed deer.

I saw where an owl had taken a mouse and brushed its wings in the snow.  I followed a raccoon track in Peaceful  Valley under fences, over a barrier and underneath the Maple Street Bridge. The tracks of eight quail where easy to follow to where they were taking breakfast under a feeder.

The Spokane County Library District's "Big Read" is encouraging people to study Jack London's The Call of the Wild this month

The ground around us this morning is like a Preface written by the experts.

Winter tips for feeding birds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Feeding wild birds is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the U.S. While a handout can help birds find the calories needed to survive the winter, improper feeding can spread disease or increase birds' exposure to predators.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game encourages bird enthusiasts to keep a few things in mind to help assure successful bird feeding.

"The location of your feeder and what food it offers is very important for attracting birds," said Deniz Aygen, IDFG wildlife program coordinator. "To attract a variety of birds, many bird watchers use a variety of feeders and foods in several different locations."

Additional suggestions for successful bird feeding include:

  • Place feeders near cover to protect feeding birds from weather and predators. Move feeders if you notice birds striking windows.
  • Birds can be particular about what and where they eat. Sparrows, juncos and doves typically feed on the ground or on a flat platform, while other birds prefer an elevated feeder. Some ground-feeding birds prefer corn, milo or millet, but sunflower seeds are also a popular food. Adding finch or thistle seed can attract pine siskins, goldfinches and house finches. Insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches feed on suet or peanut butter mixtures.
  • If possible, provide water nearby. Specially designed heaters are available to prevent freezing. Once water and food are offered, try to continue through the winter, but don't be concerned if you miss a few days, since feeding birds are mobile and are probably visiting other feeding stations besides yours.
  • Keep feeders and feeding areas clean. Clean feeders regularly by scrubbing with soapy water, followed by a quick rinse in water diluted with a small amount of bleach. Store seed in tight, waterproof containers to prevent mold and to deter rodents.

Reardan Audubon Lake expanding for birds, birdwatchers

CONSERVATION — A non-profit land trust has stepped up to secure wetlands important to migrating waterfowl and other birds in Lincoln County along U.S. 2 west of Spokane.

The Inland Northwest Land Trust has purchased 150 acres adjoining the 277-acre Reardan Audubon Lake Wildlife Area, a nature preserve in Reardan managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Spokane-based land trust plans to sell the channeled scablands property to the state agency when funds become available. The deal assures the area's wetlands, vernal pools, alkaline mud flats and basalt features will remain undeveloped for wildlife.

Garry Schalla, INLT executive director, said state wildlife officials were given an option by the owner last year to buy the land, but the state needs about two years or more to apply for state funding through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

“INLT was the lead organization in the original 2006 acquisition, so when Audubon and WDFW called on us, we were glad to help out,” said Chris DeForest, INLT conservation director. The deal was closed Jan. 15.

The area originally was dubbed Audubon Lake decades ago after bird watchers started tuning in to the large variety of bird species that pass through the Reardan area, especially during spring and fall migrations.

The wildlife area is a stop on the Northeast Washington Birding Palouse to Pines Trail developed by Audubon Washington. It's also a notable feature on the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

The 80-acre main lake and wetlands on the north side of Reardan are at the headwaters of Deep Creek and Crab Creek.

“Although most of our work is to help private individuals conserve their own land, this will eventually be a public preserve,” Schalla said. 

The Land Trust plans to clean up the site and work with state and local agencies and organizations to design a trail system that gives birders and school groups access to viewing the wildlife while shielding sensitive areas, he said.

Salamander spotlights ignorance of Idaho lawmakers

WILDLIFE — Usually it's not earth-shaking stuff when school kids approach a legislative body with a campaign to name an official state something-or-other.

But Monday's House State Affairs Committee hearing in Boise on a 14-year-old girl's request to name the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian turned out to be an exposé.

  • The meeting is covered in this story by S-R Idaho Capital reporter Betsy Russell.

Several legislators, including some from North Idaho, boldly demonstrated their ignorance by informing the eight-grade student that distinguishing the salamander could prompt federal intervention with endangered species regulations.

“My whole concern is potential federal overreach," said Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls. "In North Idaho we have the water litigation going. I just am in fear that something could be impacted if it became an endangered species.”

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, stood up a pitiful role model for the student — and all students — with his confession: “I’m sorry, and I commend you for what you have done and the due diligence you’ve done to bring this to our attention. When I grew up (in Utah), and I was a young boy, in our swimming hole there were salamanders, we called them water dogs. … I learned to despise them. … They were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy. And I’ve not gotten over that. So to elevate them to the status of being the state amphibian, I’m not there yet.”

God help us.

In voting down the proposal, a majority of committee members shunned the advice of the Idaho attorney general, who guaranteed the state designation would have nothing whatsoever to do with encouraging federal endangered species protections.

And the panel displayed blatant ignorance on the layers of science and process involved with triggering federal intervention on behalf of a species.

Here are a couple of choice quotes from brighter lights at the Idaho House hearing:

  • “A salamander may be of little consequence to some adults, but I’ll tell you, the Idaho giant salamander that reaches 13 inches in length is a big deal to a fourth-grader. It stimulates their imagination.” 

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, who urged passage of the bill.

  • “It is a mistake to ever overestimate the ignorance of the Idaho Legislature…. This is just absurd.” 

Frank Lundberg, a longtime Idaho herpetologist who testified in favor of the bill.


Disease kills 30 bighorns near Yellowstone

WILDLIFE —  Montana wildlife officials say an apparent pneumonia outbreak has killed about 30 bighorn sheep from two herds in the Gardiner area near the border of Yellowstone National Park.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist Karen Loveless of Livingston tells The Billings Gazette the die-off seems to be slowing down. At least 10 sheep were reported dead by mid-December.

Lab tests will determine the cause of death, but pneumonia is the likely culprit. Loveless says one lamb tested positive for bacteria that attack the lungs, causing symptoms similar to pneumonia.

A small group of 25 to 30 animals that live at the base of Tom Miner Basin is down to 17 sheep. The rest of the sheep were lost from a herd near Cinnabar that last totaled 90 animals.

Loveless says the outbreak has not spread to bighorn sheep in Yellowstone National Park.

"The bighorn sheep are native to the area," reports Gazette outdoor writer Brett French. "Evidence has even been found in the surrounding canyons of ancient traps and blinds used by hunters in the region thousands of years ago."

Following is French's full report with a lot more heartbreaking details.

About 30 bighorn sheep — roughly one-third of two herds that live in the Gardiner area — have died this winter, probably from an outbreak of pneumonia.

“It seems to be slowing down,” said Karen Loveless, a wildlife biologist for Fish, Wildlife and Parks based in Livingston. “But I did just get another report of a dead sheep.”

Whether that bighorn died of disease won’t be known until laboratory tests can be completed. Loveless was also awaiting lab results from earlier samples taken from dead bighorns. But the first dead lamb did test positive for bacteria that attack the sheep’s lungs, causing symptoms similar to pneumonia.

Oddly, the two herds that have taken the biggest hit are fairly far apart. One, a small group of about 25 to 30 that lives at the base of Tom Miner Basin, has dwindled to 17 sheep. The other herd, near Cinnabar, last totaled about 90 bighorn sheep, but getting a current count has been difficult because the animals disperse after the December rut, Loveless said. Yet she noted that most of the dead sheep have been from the Cinnabar herd.

Almost the entire lamb crop from the two herds has been decimated and Loveless said some “really big, beautiful rams” have also been found dead in the last couple of weeks. Luckily, the disease has not spread to bighorn sheep that live in nearby Yellowstone National Park.

“That’s amazing, because we know that they mix,” Loveless said.

The bighorn sheep are native to the area. Evidence has even been found in the surrounding canyons of ancient traps and blinds used by hunters in the region thousands of years ago.

As far as Loveless knows, this is the first time the Gardiner-area sheep have been infected and died. The bacteria that leads to the death of bighorns is common in domestic sheep and goats. Close contact between the animals can lead to infection in bighorn sheep. Two landowners in the area raise domestic sheep.

Loveless is hopeful that the bighorn sheep will rebound like a nearby group. A herd near Point of Rocks suffered a die-off of about 20 animals, with the group dwindling to 30 sheep, two years ago. That herd has now rebounded to about 50.

“So far, it seems like their lamb numbers are pretty good,” Loveless said. “That could potentially happen in the Cinnabar and Tom Miner herds.”

A herd of bighorn sheep that inhabits a portion of the Tendoy Mountains, in southwestern Montana near Lima, hasn’t fared so well. After suffering a die-off from pneumonia, the herd has been unable to rebound despite several supplemental transplants by FWP from other bighorn herds.

On Thursday the Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized the department to proceed with actions to possibly eliminate the remaining 50 bighorns in the Tendoy herd so it could be repopulated with disease-free bighorn sheep. Before that can happen, an environmental assessment will be completed.

FWP’s initial proposal is to remove all of the bighorns with an open hunting season, which could take two years, predicted John Vore, wildlife management section chief. In expectation of that, the commission approved not issuing the usual one either-sex bighorn sheep tag for the area and to reconfigure the hunting district to exclude a bighorn herd that migrates back and forth to Idaho.

Commissioner Dan Vermillion, of Livingston, praised the department for “taking this bold step” after coming under fire for not moving fast enough to restore bighorn sheep to more of their historic range, as called for under the state’s bighorn sheep management plan.

Members of the public were more cautious.

Glenn Hockett, volunteer president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association, suggested the department pursue a conservation easement with the nearby landowner who raises sheep to preclude their grazing.

Retired wildlife biologist Jim Bailey, of the GWA, questioned FWP’s plan, saying that removing bighorns resistant to disease is a bad idea.

Washington Wildlife Police showcased on TV

Updated with revised date for broadcast.

WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT — Rugged Justice, a new six-episode Animal Planet network series on the work of Washington Fish and Wildlife police officers, will debut on TV on Sunday, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m.

Filmed last fall, the show follows wildlife officers as they patrol “unforgiving mountain terrains, twisted rainforest back roads and densely populated coastal areas … more than 42 million acres of rugged terrain, half of it heavily forested and filled with wild animals – and often-dangerous people,” according to a press release from the cable channel.

The WDFW Law Enforcement’s Facebook page said, “It’s safe to say that our typical, regulated, hunting and fishing license-holding public knows what we do as a Program, but this series will highlight the Enforcement Program’s relevance to the greater public.”