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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.

Amen.

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.”

State proposes Whitman County land acquisition

WILDLIFE — The state may acquire a 94-acre parcel in the Palouse grasslands to help assure mule deer, pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife have a corridor connecting with other protected habitats in Whitman County.

 The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking public comment through Jan. 30 on a proposal to acquire the Pheasants Forever-Knott Property and for fish and wildlife habitat restoration and public recreation, including hunting.  The land would be donated by Pheasants Forever, a wildlife conservation group that's already secured the property.

Officials also are proposing to acquire 10 acres in Whatcom County for the Lower Nooksack River Project.

  • Information on both properties is available on WDFW’s website. The webpage also includes projects pursued in 2014.

The two proposals represent critical components of larger landscape restoration efforts in the Palouse prairie habitats of Whitman County and the lower Nooksack River, said Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW land conservation and restoration section manager. Both projects would complement existing adjacent WDFW Wildlife Areas, she said.

The Whitman County parcel helps join the state's Revere Wildlife Area and the Escure Ranch area along Rock Creek managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The Whitman County property is being donated by Pheasants Forever. The Lower Nooksack River is funded through a National Coastal Wetlands Grant. 

Washington's Fish and Wildlife agency owns or manages about one million acres in 33 wildlife areas, along with 700 public water-access sites to boost wildlife and outdoor recreation.

 

Kentucky to transfer 150 elk to Wisconsin to help build herd

HUNTING — Here in the West, hunters still scratch their heads to associate elk with anyplace west of the Rockies.  But times have changed — Kentucky is stepping up to help jump-start an elk herd in Wisconsin.

Since Kentucky’s elk herd began with seven elk from Kansas in 1997, the population has boomed to 10,000. Now the commonwealth is helping to build a new herd in Wisconsin.

According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, the agency will provide Wisconsin with 150 cows, calves and yearling male elk trapped from areas with high complaints about nuisance elk. The transfers will take place over the next 3-5 years, financed by Wisconsin.

In return, Wisconsin will help develop forest habitat in eastern Kentucky to benefit wildlife, especially ruffed grouse.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employees will assist with the trapping and disease testing in Kentucky.

The Montana-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will supply additional support. The foundation was instrumental in establishing Kentucky’s elk herd, which was boosted by releases of more than 1,500 elk from six states — Kansas, Utah, Oregon, North Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico.

Helicopters booked for Panhandle elk study

WILDLIFE — Helicopters soon will be flying over the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe river drainages to help wildlife biologists get started on a major multi-year elk research project.

Idaho Fish and Game Department researchers will be working with a private helicopter contractor starting around Jan. 19 to capture about 100 cow and calf elk, take blood samples and fit them with GPS tracking collars.

The collars will allow researchers to monitor the elk habitat use and seasonal movements. A morality signal from the transmitters tell researchers when the elk dies, so survival rates can be calculated and causes of death can be investigated. 

  • A similar project in Western Montana has helped biologists determine, among other things, that mountain lions are taking a far higher toll on elk than wolves.

In this study, cow and calf elk are being captured with either nets or tranquilizer darts depending upon the terrain and density of the forest canopy, said Phil Cooper, department spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.

"Prior to the development of GPS collars, biologists had to use an antenna in hand or on a plane to determine an animal’s location," Cooper said.  "Most locations were usually midday, during weather that allowed safe flights and good visibility.  Now, locations are taken regardless of weather, giving a much better picture of habitat uses and requirements."

Hunter bids 100K for Idaho bighorn tag

HUNTING — Idaho’s bighorn sheep auction tag sold for $100,000 to an online bidder at the national Wild Sheep Foundation Sheep Show in Reno Saturday night — the fifth-highest winning bid since the program started in 1988.

This permit is valid for use in all open bighorn sheep hunt areas in 2015 throughout Idaho, including Hunt Area 11; Hells Canyon.

The Washington bighorn auction tag sold this year for $77,500 for a tag to hunt California bighorn sheep within the state.  "We're very pleased with that bid," said Rich Harris, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife special species coordinator.

Since 1988, the Idaho auction tag has generated more than $1.85 million for bighorn sheep research and management, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say.

Money raised through the auction goes towards research and management of bighorn sheep in Idaho with special emphasis on restoring populations along the Salmon River and in Hells Canyon. The funds are also used as match to leverage additional funds from the federal government.

The annual bighorn sheep lottery tag provides hunters with another coveted opportunity. The drawing is held on the last Wednesday in July. The Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation’s raffle tickets are on sale with no limit to the number of tickets purchased per individual.

An application will also be available in Fish and Game’s 2015 Moose, Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat Seasons and Rules coming out in February.

Last year, more than 3,000 hunters from all over the United States participated in the raffle. Since 1992, the sale of tickets for the lottery tag drawing has generated nearly $1 million. These funds are also used for the benefit and enhancement of bighorn sheep in Idaho.

  • For a closer look at Idaho’s bighorn sheep check out this video.

Bird photographer offers tips on getting the picture

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Professional photographer Ron Smith will give a free presentation on Wednesday, Jan. 14, on tips for photographing birds.

The program, sponsored by the Spokane Audubon Society, starts at 7:30 p.m. at Riverview Retirement Community, 2117 E. N. Crescent Ave. Social gathering starts at 7 p.m.

Smith has worked in camera sales and printed large-size prints for a professional lab. He taught photography to children at SFCC summer school, and adult classes at night. Ron ran a  wedding and portrait business for over 25 years, so when he retired, he thought he would try his hand at photographing something that didn’t smile: wildlife and birds. He quickly discovered that birds aren’t the easiest of subjects!

Hunter bids 100K for Idaho bighorn tag

HUNTING — Idaho’s bighorn sheep auction tag sold for $100,000 to an online bidder at the national Wild Sheep Foundation Sheep Show in Reno Saturday night — the fifth-highest winning bid since the program started in 1988.

This permit is valid for use in all open bighorn sheep hunt areas in 2015 throughout Idaho, including Hunt Area 11; Hells Canyon.

Since 1988, the auction tag has generated more than $1.85 million for bighorn sheep research and management, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say.

Money raised through the auction goes towards research and management of bighorn sheep in Idaho with special emphasis on restoring populations along the Salmon River and in Hells Canyon. The funds are also used as match to leverage additional funds from the federal government.

The annual bighorn sheep lottery tag provides hunters with another coveted opportunity. The drawing is held on the last Wednesday in July. The Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation’s raffle tickets are on sale with no limit to the number of tickets purchased per individual.

An application will also be available in Fish and Game’s 2015 Moose, Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat Seasons and Rules coming out in February.

Last year, more than 3,000 hunters from all over the United States participated in the raffle. Since 1992, the sale of tickets for the lottery tag drawing has generated nearly $1 million. These funds are also used for the benefit and enhancement of bighorn sheep in Idaho.

  • For a closer look at Idaho’s bighorn sheep check out this video.

New Fish-Wildlife director to be named Saturday

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled on Saturday to select one name from candidates being considered to succeed retiring Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson.

The agenda also calls for adopting new sportfishing rules during the meeting set for Friday-Saturday, Jan. 9-10, at the Comfort Inn Conference Center in Tumwater.

The new director will inherit a long list of issues, including wolf recovery, wild steelhead litigation affecting Puget  Sound, a list of saltwater issues, elk hoof disease in southwestern Washington, and a years-old internal rift stemming from the merger of the state Fisheries and Game departments.

The final recommendations for sportfishing proposals were presented to the commission Dec. 12-13  after comments were received on revised proposals in November.

Wind energy company fined $2.5 million for impact to birds

WILDLIFE — Another step in the developing bird crisis… Call it Gone with the Wind:

Company to pay $2.5M for protected birds killed at Wyoming wind farms
PacifiCorp Energy, a subsidiary of Oregon-based PacifiCorp, will pay $2.5-million in fines for the deaths of 38 golden eagles and 336 other protected birds at its wind farms in Wyoming's Converse and Converse counties between 2009 and this year.
—Portland Oregonian

Big kitty!

A bobcat checks out a northwest Spokane neighborhood. (Sarah Lathrop)

Photo: Bobcat visits Northwest Neighborhood

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A bobcat made a guest appearance in a northwest neighborhood recently.
 
The photo was captured by Sarah Lathrop above Park Boulevard at Glass and H streets — just above Downriver Golf Course. It was posted on the Northwest Neighborhood - Spokane Facebook page.
 
David Taylor, a mail carrier, had this comment:

Saw this little guy on my mail route a few weeks ago, didn't get a picture but just found out a neighbor did, this is just above Downriver golf course. I see all kinds of wildlife, like deer, coyotes, turkeys, skunks, et.c., never thought I'd see one of these. We were about 10 feet apart. He went his way, I continued on mine. I call him Bob.

 

Biologists collar 24 moose in northeastern Washington

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists recently battled difficult weather to capture 28 moose and put radio collars on 24 moose in northeastern Washington. That brings the total to more than 50 collared moose involved in the state's first major study of the species.

A gunner in a helicopter targeted the moose with tranquilizer darts while ground crews rushed in to take blood samples, measurements and other information before attaching the collars that hold GPS transmitters.

The project began last year with the capture of 28 adult cow moose for a five-year study of their habits, movements and survival rates.

Researchers monitor the moose year-round.

Bighorn sheep dying of pneumonia near Yellowstone

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  Disease that's ravaged wild sheep in parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana in recent years has shown up in one of America's most prized wildlife preserves.

A pneumonia outbreak has killed at least ten bighorn sheep near Yellowstone National Park.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks officials said Monday that the outbreak was in the Upper Yellowstone sheep herd near Gardiner, where bighorns are often highly visible to the public.

The dead animals include a mix of rams, lambs, and one adult ewe.

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 research has shown that bacteria can be transmitted from healthy domestic sheep to bighorn sheep, causing pneumonia in the wild sheep.

Related reading:

 

Idaho trophy species rule proposals revealed

HUNTING — An increase in Idaho Panhandle moose hunting opportunity and other proposals for next year's trophy big-game seasons will be presented at an open house meeting, 3 p.m.-6 p.m., on Thursday, Dec. 18 at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Panhandle Region Office, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave. in Coeur d’Alene.

Meetings are being held on statewide proposals affecting hunting for moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. However, no changes are proposed for mountain goat or bighorn sheep hunting in the Panhandle.

The open house format allows visitors to attend at any time during the session to visit with Fish and Game personnel about the proposals.

The Panhandle Region proposal includes the addition of 20 bull moose tags:

Unit 4 would have a long season (Sept. 15-Dec. 1) with an increase from 15 tags to 20 tags.  "Harvest success rates have been high in Unit 4 and the average number of days of hunting to harvest a moose in the unit is decreasing," said Phil Cooper, department spokesman. "There has not been a decrease in antler spread of harvested bulls, and this proposal would increase hunter opportunity."

Two new short season hunts are proposed for Unit 5 with five permits in each hunt. One hunt would run Oct. 1-14 and the other Nov. 1-14.  The current long season in Unit 5 would not change.  The moose population size and bull and calf ratios indicate Unit 5 can withstand increased hunting, he said.

Unit 6 currently has three moose hunts, including one long hunt from Sept. 15-Dec. 1. Each of the hunts has had 15 tags.   The proposed season would increase the number of tags in the long hunt to 20.  The two shorter seasons would not change in dates or permit levels under the current proposal. 

"The change is proposed because harvest rates are high, the average number of days hunted to take a moose is decreasing, and there has not been a decrease in the antler spread of harvested bulls from Unit 6," Cooper said.

All comments will be presented to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission prior to setting the seasons at their meeting on Jan. 22.

34 bald eagles counted at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted 34 bald eagles today in the Wolf Lodge Bay area of Lake Coeur d'Alene.  That's up from 18 eagles counted last week during her weekly survey. Two weeks ago she counted only four.

Bald eagles traditionally show up from early November into January for a winter feast of spawning kokanee.

However, last year by the second week of December Hugo had counted 57 eagles and in 2012 the count was well over 130 eagles.

The 2013 bald eagle count at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked at 217 on Dec. 30.

Hugo said she plans to survey areas on Lake Pend Oreille to see if the lake's revival of kokanee at has siphoned off some of the eagle interest in Lake CdA.

Whitetail buck a warrior, survivor

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The dust has settled from the rut. Whitetail bucks are licking their wounds and trying to recover their strength after the rigors of avoiding hunters while displaying dominance and winning the chance to mate.

But it's a tough life, even for the bucks on the top of the heap.  The fighting, and mating is over, and buck hunting seasons are closed.

Now — winter.

"This guy is a warrior," says Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson. "He had a really close call jousting – almost lost his left eye!"

Would you shoot an all-white deer adored by local residents?

HUNTING — That's the question of the day after a bowhunter legally tags a buck in Missouri that was more than just a white-tail.

The all-white whitetail was something of a celebrity in Cape Girardeau. Some locals felt a connection with it and would notice the animal on drives through the Southeast Missouri city.  It was hard to miss.

The hunter is getting bombarded with criticism for taking a particular animal that stood out so significantly to others.

Even though he had every legal right to do it, was it ethical?

Over in Idaho, our Huckleberries blogmaster is asking: Question: Would you have killed the albino deer, if given the chance?

Wild turkeys window shopping in Dayton

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Downtown Dayton, Wash., is a hot spot for wild turkeys, who apparently feel at home on Main Street even in the week before Thanksgiving.

Reports the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

This was the scene in downtown Dayton (Columbia County) this week.  Hunters are hoping at least some of these big birds "head for the hills" come Thursday, Nov. 20, when the late fall general either sex wild turkey hunting season opens in eastern WA game management units.

Details on that season here.

Trail cams stolen from I-90 wildlife collision study

WILDLIFE — I don't have numbers, but I have enough information from hunters, wildlife watchers and wildlife researchers to confidently say that theft of trail cameras has reached epidemic levels.

I've seen posts from a few anonymous thieves rationalizing their behavior by saying they don't want people snooping into land they love or they don't want other hunters figuring out what they already know. 

But the greedy creeps are still thieves, any way you look at it.

Here's news of another assault on ethics, research and public safety.

Nine wildlife cameras used to track elk near North Bend have been stolen.

The Transportation Department was using the cameras in a project to prevent elk collisions on Interstate 90.

Workers noticed nine of the project's 18 Reconyx cameras missing on November 10th. The cameras had protective steel boxes, media cards, and shielded padlocks. Some were camouflaged into their surroundings to deter people from stealing them.

Crews removed nine other remaining cameras as a precaution.

One of the cameras took a picture (above) of a possible suspect, a man with a bandanna over his face.

"These cameras were doing important work that were able to help us build something that could really stop these collisions from happening," said Harmony Weinberg, DOT public information officer. "It was really crucial work."

Study: Polar bears decline 40 percent in a decade

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The heat is on this indicator species. Who's next?

Study finds 40% decline in polar bear numbers in E. Alaska, W. Canada
A study done by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada, as well as other groups, followed polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea from 2001 to 2010, and found that numbers declined 40 percent during that decade.
—Los Angeles Times

$15,000 reward offered in Washington wolf shooting case

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Conservation groups announced today a $15,000 reward for information that helps convict a poacher who killed a federally protected wolf near Salmon la Sac.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials confirmed this week that a female gray wolf from the Teanaway pack in Upper Kittitas County died last month from being shot.
 
The public is being asked to report any information or sightings from Oct. ​17 to Oct. 28 dealing with the case. Information can be reported by phone at (425) 883-8122.  Tips also can be reported on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recorded poacher hotline, (877) 933-9847.

Groups contributing to the reward include Conservation Northwest, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Woodland  Park Zoo and the Humane Society of the United States.

  • After a wolf from the Smackout Pack was found dead Feb. 9 near Cedar Lake in northeast Stevens County, conservation groups joined with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer a $22,500 reward for information about the case. However, the case still has not been solved.
  • The investigation continues into the October shooting of a wolf in Whitman County.
  • Twisp ranching family members were ordered to pay fines totaling $50,000 in 2012 for killing two Lookout Pack wolves in 2008.

The carcass of the breeding female recovered Oct. 28 in the Teanaway Pack’s habitat area was found on the north side of the Paris Creek drainage in the Salmon la Sac area north of Lake Cle Elum, says Brent Lawrence with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland. The area is within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

  • The person who killed the Teanaway wolf could set back state de-listing of wolves from endangered species protections. Washington's wolf management plan sets a goal of having wolf packs in three areas of the state. The Teanaway Pack ranges very close to the last of the three zones — the southern Cascades — which is still unoccupied. Wolves ranging out of that pack could be the ticket to de-listing.

The wolf was fitted with a radio telemetry collar and was recovered by federal wildlife officials and those with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Gray wolves in the western two-thirds of the state (with U.S. Highway 97 the boundary) are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and a similar state law, Lawrence said.

The Teanaway River valley and the area north of Lake Cle Elum is in the part of the state where wolves continue to be under both state and federal protection.

East of the highway, wolves have been taken off the federal endangered list but continue to be protected by state law. The federal agency is the lead investigator of wolf mortalities in the western two-thirds of the state.

Lawrence said the wolf’s telemetry collar signaled that it wasn’t moving, which led to the search and recovery of the carcass. The preliminary necropsy revealed the wolf was shot in the hindquarters. He had no additional information to share about the investigation or a possible suspect.

Last chance to comment on game management plan

HUNTING — Trends in controversial issues such as big-game baiting, lead shot restrictions and wolf management are mapped out in Washington's draft 2015-21 Game Management Plan that was revised in October.

The plan is online and available for public comment through Monday,  Nov. 17.

The plan, which must be approved by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, will guide the Washington’s game-management policy over the next six years.

Dave Ware, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife game manager, said the revised plan includes a number of changes proposed by the public during the initial comment period.  Key issues addressed by those changes include predator/prey relationships, deer and elk predation, and wolf, cougar and bear management, he said.

“These changes were significant enough that we wanted to give the public another chance to comment on the plan before we recommend it to the commission,” Ware said.  The commission is scheduled to consider adoption of the plan during a public meeting in December.

The main issues identified by the public were categorized into several key areas:
• Scientific/professional management of hunted wildlife
• Public support for hunting as a management tool
• Hunter ethics and fair chase
• Private lands programs and hunter access
• Tribal hunting
• Predator management
• Hunting season regulations
• Game damage and nuisance
• Species-specific management issues

New issues or emphasis areas that surfaced during the initial comment period and meetings include:

• Wildlife Conflict Management
• Recruitment & Retention of Hunters
• Disease Impacts
• Non-toxic Ammunition
• Re-introduction of pronghorn
• Wolf Management

Note: The Game Management Plan is separate at this point from the three-year package of hunting regulations proposals for  2015-17. The deadline for comment on the initial proposals ended earlier this fall.

However, the hunting regulations proposals touch on some of the same topics, including possible restrictions on baiting for big game.

Other issues under consideration by the department for upcoming seasons include:

  • Setting spring and fall black bear seasons.
  • Early archery elk seasons.
  • Modern firearm mule deer seasons.
  • Hunting equipment, including non-toxic ammunition, expandable broadheads and crossbows.
  • Special permit drawings.

Specific recommendations for 2015-17 hunting seasons will be drafted and available for further review in January. 

Final recommendations will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for adoption next spring.

 

State buys wildlife land, updates rules on work near waters

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to buy more 4-0 Ranch land along the Grande Ronde River and updated rules for work that impacts state waters during a meeting last week in Olympia.

The commission approved the purchase of 2,005 acres of riparian and high meadow lands in Asotin County, the latest deal in a six-phase decade-long real estate program to buy nearly 12,000 acres of the Odom/4-O Land & Livestock, LLC.

The land will be purchased with $3.6 million in state and federal funding and be added to the the 6,431 acres the state already has acquired from rancher Milt (Mike) Odom II. The funding sources include the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office and a grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is acquiring the land to expand the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area of the Blue Mountains Wildlife Area Complex and preserve critical habitat for threatened salmon, steelhead and trout, as well as deer, bighorn sheep and elk.

The new acquisition, when closed with the 4-O Land & Livestock, LLC, will include a mile-long section of the Grande Ronde River and stretches 1.5 miles on either side of Wenatchee Creek.

“This acquisition contains some of the best wildlife mosaic currently available. Historically, the property has been managed as a working ranch with a focus on wildlife habitat providing trophy big game hunting opportunities. Management practices include scattered dry land farming, moderate cattle grazing and timber production. The value of this property includes riparian habitats beneficial to endangered fish species and forestland and high meadow complexes beneficial to ungulates including bighorn sheep, deer and elk,” said Julie Sandberg, WDFW real estate manager.

Past stories related to the 4-0 Ranch acquisitions include:

The commission also approved dozens of changes in the statewide hydraulics rules during a public meeting on Friday and Saturday. Common projects requiring approval under the state's hydraulic rules include work on bulkheads, culverts, piers and docks.

Miranda Wecker, who chairs the commission, said the revised hydraulic code rules reflect developments in environmental science, technology, and state law since the last comprehensive update in 1994.

The updated rules also “reflect the department's efforts to streamline the application process for permits required to conduct work in and around state waters," she said.

Some of the rules proposed by WDFW set new standards for projects ranging from culvert design to decking materials that allow light to penetrate to the water below. Others clarify existing policies, including a statewide ban on the use of creosote in aquatic areas.

Study: Wolf impact significant on Minnesota moose

BIG GAME — Wolves likely have played a bigger role in the serious decline of northeast Minnesota’s moose population than originally believed, and there’s no evidence yet that climate change has been a major factor, according to a new analysis by renowned Minnesota wolf researcher Dave Mech.

The story was reported last week by Doug Smith of the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.

Mech doesn’t dismiss climate change as a possible factor in the declining moose herd, but said evidence presented in earlier research done by the Department of Natural Resources "just doesn’t hold up."

Instead, an increasing wolf population in at least part of the northeast moose range might have contributed to the decline, Mech and John Fieberg, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, concluded in a recently published paper. The state’s northeast moose herd has fallen 50 percent since 2006, to an estimated 4,350 animals last winter.

In the earlier studies, DNR researchers considered the statewide wolf population stable between 2000 and 2010, which was correct, Mech said. But they didn’t consider that the wolf population in an area that Mech has been studying - which overlaps part of a moose study area - had increased to the highest levels in 40 years.

"My data tends to indicate the problem was there were more wolves," Mech said in an interview. "But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only answer. Is there some change affecting moose that allows wolves to take more of them, or is it merely that there’s more wolves?"

If wolves are a major factor in the moose decline, Mech said the DNR could allow hunters to kill more wolves in the moose range until the population recovers.

Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor, who in 2013 began conducting an adult moose mortality study using radio-collared animals, said the previous DNR studies looked at overall mortality, but researchers weren’t able to determine cause of death in most cases.

"We assumed wolves were accounting for a portion of that mortality, but we didn’t know how much," she said.

But now officials are finding how much impact wolves are having on moose mortality. The study radio collars alert researchers when an animal has died, and provide GPS coordinates so they can be quickly located and a cause of death determined.

So far in the study, the overall mortality rate is 26 percent, which is a concern. Normal stable moose populations have an 8 to 12 percent mortality rate. Wolves have accounted for 55 percent of the mortality (17 of 31 deaths); the rest died from health issues.

"The level of wolf predation on the adults is well in line with what we’d expect," Carstensen said. "It’s the overall mortality 61/87from all causes63/87 that has us concerned."

She noted that the northwest moose herd plummeted from about 4,000 in the ’80s to fewer than 100 today, and wolves had nothing to do with that. Those moose died from health-related issues, possibly driven by climate changes.

And, she said, adult moose in the northeast keep dying in summer, fall and early winter "when they shouldn’t be dying."

Carstensen said the results from current ongoing moose studies, which also include moose calves, habitat and diet, should eventually provide researchers with answers to the mystery. "There still might not be a smoking gun; it might be very complex," she said.

So far, in a different study involving collared moose calves, 67 percent of the mortality was due to wolves.

"Wolf predation is probably a little higher than we expected," DNR researcher Glenn DelGiudice said. "But we knew it would be a main source," he said, and it’s far too early to draw any conclusions.

He is planning on collaring more moose calves next spring, and said several years of data are needed.

Mech’s latest report says the northeast moose population was relatively unaffected by wolves from 1997 to about 2003 and that wolf numbers tended to parallel moose numbers. However, after the wolf population in his study area jumped 81 percent between 2000 and 2006 - from 44 animals to 81 - moose numbers began declining.

"We don’t know how far and wide that increase 61/87in the wolf population63/87 took place, but it did in our study area, and that area was adjacent to the moose study area," Mech said. He said it’s reasonable to surmise the wolf population in the rest of the moose study area also was rising, rather than remaining stable, as it was elsewhere.

Moose are a prime food source for wolves in the northeast, so as the moose population declines, one would expect the wolf population to eventually fall, too. "That seems to be happening in our study area," Mech said. The wolf population there increased until 2012, but he said it appears to have since declined.

The DNR estimated the state’s wolf population last winter at 2,423, stable from 2013.

So if the wolf population in moose country is declining, will moose rebound?

"That depends on what’s going on," Mech said. "If it’s strictly wolves, the moose population will recover. But if there are other factors involved - parasites, disease or warming temperatures, then it’s hard to say."

And if wolves turn out to be a major factor, then the DNR will have to decide whether to try to lower the population of one iconic animal to try to boost the population of another.

Tracks: wildlife stories in the snow

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The weather presented only one brief opportunity for good tracking conditions through fresh snow during the nine-day Washington modern firearms elk hunting season that ended on Sunday.

Fresh snow is to hunters what the pages of a book are to voracious readers. We long for it.

Even though I tried to focus on elk tracks on the one day of snow we had in the Blue Mountains last week, I couldn't help but be sidetracked by other creatures and the stories they left in the snow for me to read.

In this case, my pursuit of wapiti was interrupted by a fling with, perhaps, chickati.