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Nearly toothless Idaho grizzly bear, 25, euthanized after series of cabin break-ins

WILDLIFE —  A 25 year-old male grizzly bear that had been breaking into buildings in search of food was euthanized Monday by Idaho Fish and Game Department biologists.

The grizzly bear had previously been captured as part of routine scientific monitoring, so its age and health status was known to biologists, the agency reported in a media release.  

“This bear started getting into trouble around buildings at the end of last season and given that fact that some of his teeth were missing and the others were pretty worn down, which is typical for a bear of this age, continuation of this type of behavior could be expected," said Curtis Hendricks,  regional wildlife manager.

While this bear had made no direct threats to humans, it habituation to human-related foods and decreasing ability to forage naturally increased the potential for physical conflict with humans and required immediate action, he said.

Elsewhere in Island Park, another younger grizzly bear who had become overly comfortable around humans and whose antics playing with a sprinkler had appeared on local television news,  was hazed with rubber bullets. 

About 1,150 grizzly bears are roaming the Yellowstone Ecosystem, a number that exceeds all Endangered Species recovery goals, the agency says. 

While the Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears remain listed, all management actions such as this, are first approved by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. 

Idaho Fish and Game and other recovery effort member agencies have requested that the USFWS once again remove the Yellowstone grizzly population from the Endangered Species list.

Hunters, hikers must be flexible during wild wildfire season

UPDATED 3:20 p.m. with news of Porcupine Bay closure.

WILDFIRES — Check ahead and be careful when selecting a place to hunt, hike or boat in the next few weeks.

I provide key links to agency wildfire updates that include information about some of the vast land closures in today's Outdoors story:

Each agency also has specific information, such as this list of closures from the Colville National Forest:

While access closures are restricting where hunters can go as season open this month, state agencies won't be delaying hunting season dates.

Meanwhile, wildlife is being impacted by fires, too, but wildlife managers are mostly worried about the impacts today's fires will have on wildlife survival this winter:

See a map of Inland Northwest fire activity.

Spree poachers waste 3 bucks near Reardan; tips sought

POACHING — The public is being asked to help solve the killing of three buck deer in a disgusting spree-poaching case near Reardan.

The three whitetail bucks, their nearly fully grown antlers still in velvet, were poached during the night of Aug. 10 at the intersection of Schwartz and Littell Roads, north of Reardan.

"The poacher shot and killed three bucks and took only the heads and antlers off of two of them," said Curt Wood, Washington Fish and Wildlife police officer for Lincoln County.  "The third buck was apparently not found by the poacher, and nothing was taken from it.  One of the bucks was chased around the field, and eventually was run over by the vehicle, in an attempt to kill it." 

Officer Wood is seeking information to bag the poacher that robbed valuable natural resources from wildlife watchers and hunters. Any information provided will be kept confidential, if desired, he said 

"The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will pay a monetary award or issue bonus points for deer and elk permits, if the information provided leads to the arrest of the person(s) responsible," Wood said in an email.

"Pretty disgusting poaching case," he said. "I don’t believe that I’ve seen a spree type poaching case this early in August in the 20 years that I’ve covered Lincoln County. 

Contact Wood through the agency's Spokane Regional Office, (509) 892-1001, or at the toll-free poaching hotline (877) 933-9847.

Reports can also be made online at reportpoaching@dfw.wa.gov.

Momma bear, 5 cubs, play in kiddie pool

WILDLIFE WATCHING — This video of a black bear sow with FIVE cubs seeking relief from summer heat is worth enduring the entry commercial for a few minutes of wildlife observation.

Momma bear immediately recognizes the cool water haven in a New Jersey family's backyard, but the cubs are more cautious, some of them testing the waters by dipping a paw and backing in slowly.

As they cool and become more comfortable in the setting, all the bears, including Momma, become more active and playful, leaving NONE of the toys and playground equipment in the family's backyard untested.

A lot of black bear learning is going on in this scene … some of it not so healthy for the future of the bears living at the edge of human development.

  • Moose like kiddie pools, too, as we've noted in the Spokane area for years.   See the story and photo from this month in Spokane Valley.

View from above raises pall of concern

UPDATED 1:45 p.m. with news of fire-related Lake Roosevelt boat launch closures.

WILDFIRES — I flew from Seattle to Spokane this morning after 10 days off the grid in Alaska. Heartbreaking is the first word that came to mind as I watched the smoke rising from east of the Cascades and spreading eastward across the state, mixing with the grayness rising from fires farther east.

Heartbreaking was the word that came to mind even before reading the details of fallen young firefighters in the newspaper's Wildfires 2015 coverage.

Wildfires in Eastern Washington and North Idaho were out of control on Thursday — and that was BEFORE winds last night and today whipped the flames to a new level.  Reports coming in today are not good

Ray Kresek, retired firefighter and fire lookout historian, reminds us:

On Aug. 20, 1910, the Great Idaho Fire burned 3,000,000 acres in two days, killed 87 firefighters, and destroyed five towns.  Numerous fires between Spokane & Glacier Park, Salmon River & Canada all blew up in a windstorm similar to the one predicted to hit NE Washington (Friday, Aug. 21).  This is the most critical wildfire situation NE Washington has seen in modern history. 

Hunters must be tuned in to the serious fire situation as hunting seasons begin opening. Private timberlands are closed to public access and many areas of public lands are restricted in one way or another, with road access being closed to new areas on a daily basis.

Fishermen are affected in many areas, such as those who might be planning to travel the Gold Pass route from St. Regis to the St. Joe River.  Road 50 over Gold Pass has been closed by the Snow Peak Complex fires.

Campers and backpackers have to pick their destinations carefully, too.  Numerous trails have been closed by fire activity throughout the region, including Scotchman Peak trail, one of the most popular trails in North Idaho. The Scotchman fire, which started northeast of Clark Fork on Aug. 13, is reported at 2,876 acres today.

And certainly, I hope no one needs a reminder to forgo campfires, smoking and any other potential fire-causing actions.

Even boaters have to make a plan to avoid fire closures.  Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, has closed all boat ramps and day-use areas in the Kettle Falls District except for the Kettle Falls marina and boat ramp due to expanding wildfires.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) just announced that federal emergency aid has been made available to the State of Washington to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts in the area affected by wildfires beginning on August 13, 2015, and continuing.

Here's a snapshot of SOME of the out-of-control wildfires in the region on Thursday. The reports will be much worse before the winds subside today:

GOODELL (Newhalem).  8/20: 2,000 ac. 0 ppl. 0 eng. 0% contained.

CHELAN (Antoine, Deer).  8/14. 8/20:  68,500 ac.  526 ppl. 51 eng.  30% contained.

WOLVERINE (Holden, Stehekin).  6/29. 8/20: 41,000 ac. 217 ppl. 1 eng.  10% contained.

FIRST CREEK (Lake Chelan).  8/14. 8/20: 1,900 ac. 192 ppl. 27 eng. Evacuated.

BLACK CANYON (Pateros).  8/20: 11,400. 15 ppl. 2 eng. 0%

OKANOGAN (Lime, Blue, Tunk, Beaver, N Omak).  8/10. 8/20: 91,300 ac. 729 ppl. 65 eng. {Lime 47,600, Tunk 7,800, Beaver 32,000}.  4 towns evacuated.

TWISP RIVER.  8/19. 8/20: 8,000 ac.  Twisp, Winthrop evacuated.

NINEMILE (Oroville).  8/15: 4,700 ac.  80% contained.

NORTH STAR (Colville IR).  8/20: 55,000 ac. 282 ppl. 12 eng. 0%.

KETTLE CREST (Stickpin).  8/20: 41,500 ac. 431 ppl. 7 heli. 33 eng.  0%.

GRAVES (Sherman Pass).  8/20: 1,600 ac. 11 ppl. 3 eng.  0%.

GOLD HILL (Kettle Falls).  8/20: 550 ac. 144 ppl. 8 eng. 

CARPENTER (Fruitland).  8/20:  9,600 ac. 300 ppl. 32 eng.  10%.

MARBLE (Addy/Arden).  8/20: 3,100 ac. 47 ppl. 7 eng.  10%.

KANIKSU (S Baldy, Tower).  8/20: 8,300 ac. 234 ppl. 7 eng.  0%.

PARKER (Bonners Fy, ID).  8/20: 6,000 ac.

GRIZZLY (Pomeroy, WA).  8/20: 12,000 ac. 106 ppl. 5 eng.

Be Bear Aware program Aug. 27 in Bonners Ferry

WILDLIFE — A presentation on safely living and recreating in bear country will be presented 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the Bonners Ferry Ranger Station, 6286 Main Street in Bonners Ferry.

"We held the same event in Sandpoint and had to turn folks away so we decided to do another event in Bonners," said Nancy Dooley of the Idaho Conservation League.

“Be Bear Aware,” features experts about grizzly bears, traveling safely in bear country and how to use bear spray as one tool in bear conflict avoidance.

  • Pre-registration required; space is limited.
  • To register and for more information visit: www.idahoconservation.org, or call (208) 265-9565.

The presentation and training will be conducted by Brian Johnson, grizzly bear information and education conservation officer with Idaho Fish and Game, and Lydia Allen, Idaho Panhandle National Forests wildlife program manager.

Topics covered will include, a brief history of grizzly bear population declines, grizzly bear ecology, grizzly bear versus black bear identification, general conflict avoidance techniques and food storage requirements on national forest lands.

The presentation will also include a discussion on the origins and use of bear spray, followed by an opportunity for participants to practice using an inert bear spray training canister.

Participants will be entered into a drawing to receive a free bear spray holster.

A minimum suggested donation of $5 is encouraged to help cover the cost of bear spray training canisters.

Citizens use smartphones to boost moose research

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Don't just tell your friends and family next time you see a moose in Washington. Tell somebody who really cares.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife researchers want to hear about your moose observations when you’re afield this fall and winter, especially in northeast Washington.

A new smartphone application makes moose reporting easier than the old-fashioned method of logging onto a the agency's website.

WDFW wildlife biologist Jared Oyster, who coordinates moose survey work in eastern Washington, says this citizen science survey is designed to collect long-term data on the population status and trends of moose in Washington.

WDFW has been monitoring moose annually using helicopter surveys, and is developing a population estimate for the northeastern part of the state. But monitoring is expensive and limited by weather conditions and other logistical challenges.  A broad geographic coverage of moose observations, collected in a standardized and repeated way by the public, can be very helpful  tracking long-term changes.

WDFW adapted the smartphone app system originating in Canada, (originally initiated in 2012 by Dr. Mark Boyce, and coordinated at the Department of Biological Sciences University of Alberta).

Click here for directions for downloading and using the free smartphone application. 

Hunters can use their Wild ID numbers as identification on the app while non-hunters can enter any 11-digit number to identify themselves.

The system also asks for observations to be reported within Game Management Units.

Popular ‘Be Bear Aware’ program set for Bonners Ferry

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WILDLIFE — A presentation on safely living and recreating in bear country will be presented 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the Bonners Ferry Ranger Station, 6286 Main Street in Bonners Ferry.

"We held the same event in Sandpoint and had to turn folks away so we decided to do another event in Bonners," said Nancy Dooley of the Idaho Conservation League.

“Be Bear Aware,” features experts about grizzly bears, traveling safely in bear country and how to use bear spray as one tool in bear conflict avoidance.

Pre-registration required; space is limited.

To register and for more information visit: www.idahoconservation.org, or call (208) 265-9565.

The presentation and training will be conducted by Brian Johnson, grizzly bear information and education conservation officer with Idaho Fish and Game, and Lydia Allen, Idaho Panhandle National Forests wildlife program manager.

Topics covered will include, a brief history of grizzly bear population declines, grizzly bear ecology, grizzly bear versus black bear identification, general conflict avoidance techniques and food storage requirements on national forest lands.

The presentation will also include a discussion on the origins and use of bear spray, followed by an opportunity for participants to practice using an inert bear spray training canister.

Participants will be entered into a drawing to receive a free bear spray holster.

A minimum suggested donation of $5 is encouraged to help cover the cost of bear spray training canisters.

Washington State wildlife plan open to public comment

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Washington's State Wildlife Action Plan, which identifies 268 fish and wildlife species with the greatest conservation needs, has been updated and state officials are taking public comment through Sept. 11.

The plan describes key risks to those species and conservation measures designed to ensure their long-term survival.

The draft plan is available on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, along with instructions for submitting comments.

WDFW staff will provide an overview of the plan via webinar on Aug. 20. Registration information on the webinar is available on the website noted above. 

“This updated plan is designed to guide agency priorities, research efforts and conservation actions over the next decade,” said Penny Becker, WDFW’s wildlife diversity manager. “It will also qualify our state to continue receiving federal grants aimed at conserving fish and wildlife species at risk of decline.”

States are required to develop wildlife action plans and update them every 10 years to qualify for State Wildlife Grants (SWG), administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

WDFW developed Washington’s first plan – then called a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plan – in 2005, Becker said. Since then, the state has received $1.2 million in SWG funding for conservation activities each year, she said.

Projects supported by those funds range from restoring habitat for the greater sage grouse in Eastern Washington to reintroducing the native fisher on the Olympic Peninsula.

“A major goal of the federal wildlife grants is to help states keep common species common,” Becker said. “That is also a key goal of our state action plan.”

Photo of moose in kiddie pool getting cool response

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Kathy Johnson's photos and my recent post about moose taking over her backyard kiddie pool is getting quite a ride online.  It's even inspiring @twitmericks:

This week wildlife is not for slaughter
In  Spokane moose are given quarter
They look kind of cool
While sat in the pool
Though making a mess of the water.

 


  

Celebrated Lewiston mule deer buck with wacky rack has died

WILDLIFE — A mule deer buck with a rack to rival Medusa that was well known in various parts of Lewiston has died.

Outdoor writer Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune has the story:

Some fans called him Brillo, as in Brillo Pad, because of his scraggly antlers that were constantly in velvet. Although he didn't shed his antlers each year like most bucks, his rack did change over time, presumably because of injuries that broke off tines, said Jim Hood, who came to know the deer.

Hood and his wife, Cottie, frequently saw Brillo from their deck on the 3300 block of 16th Street in Lewiston, near the Idaho Department of Fish and Game office. Hood first saw the buck in 2011. It would show up seasonally and then move to another part of town.

"He'd disappear in October and show up again in July," Hood said.

He's heard of people seeing him by the Idaho State Veterans Home, near Sunset Park and near Gun Club Road.

Dwight Kilgore, a retired Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer, said he's been seen in Lindsay Creek Canyon and as far away as Hells Gate State Park. The buck frequently visited the habitat area Kilgore manages adjacent to the Idaho Fish and Game office along 16th Street and Warner Avenue. The deer was found dead in the habitat area about a week ago.

Kilgore put binoculars on the buck years ago and said he once had 32 distinct antler points.

"Sometimes he would just lay there and look at us," Kilgore said.

Once, when the deer lifted a rear leg to scratch an ear, Kilgore noticed it didn't have testicles. After the deer died, Kilgore examined it and said "he had no indication of any scrotum whatsoever."

The lack of testicles was behind the buck's strange antlers and the fact that they were always in velvet. Most bucks lose velvet when spring turns to summer.

"It's a hormone thing," said Dave Koehler, a wildlife biologist for the department at Lewiston, of the phenomenon that can happen to bucks that either suffer an injury or are born without a fully functioning reproductive system.

Both Hood and Kilgore said the deer had an exceptionally large body. Hood figures since it never went into rut, the period in late fall where male deer do little else than try to breed and defend their territories, he didn't lose weight like most bucks.

"You can see how big his body is," said Hood while sharing a picture of the buck. "He's probably just as fat as can be."

This year, Kilgore noticed the deer's ribs began to show, perhaps from an illness. But he said someone at the Fish and Game office reported hitting a deer recently. The animal ran off after being struck and the strange buck was found dead a few days later.

"He may have been hit," Kilgore said.

He disposed of the deer and said its antlers on one side had been knocked loose.

"There was a damaged area all the way around and they were really infected, just running with puss," he said. "I think he got hit on the left side of the head."

Both men said they will miss seeing the deer.

"It's been a real novelty, I'll tell you," Hood said. "It was neat. He was here frequently. We would brag about him and show pictures."

Word spreads that moose look cool in kiddie pool

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Kathy Johnson's 2-year-old grandson was bullied out of his kiddie pool this week in the wildlife-rich Painted Hills neighborhood of Spokane Valley.

A bull moose took refuge from temperatures in the 80s Tuesday afternoon by sneaking into the Johnsons' backyard and cooling off in the inflatable pool.

"It's not really one of those little pools," Johnson said. "It's actually quite big except when there's a moose in it.

"The funny thing is that just last week a cow moose did the same thing," she said, as though word was spreading through the valley moose population that the Johnson's pool was a hot-spot for beating the summer heat.

"The cow hung out in the pool for a long time and then got up and nibbled around the yard," Johnson said. 

"The bull didn't stay as long, and when he got up from the pool he moved on."

Johnson was especially amazed that the hooves of the adult-size moose, which can weigh well over 500 pounds, did no damage to the plastic pool.

"But the water was really dirty," she said. "We're pouring the water on the flowers."

Forest Field Day geared to private landowners

FORESTS —

Forest Field Day Highlights Salvage Operations, Thinning, Riparian Issues

The Northeast Chapter of the Washington Farm Forestry Association is organizing a free all-day private lands forestry event on Saturday, Aug. 15, at a Colville-area property that was hit hard by a recent wind storm.

Participants will learn about post-storm salvaging and logging, as well as other forest and water management issues affecting private landowners.

“This event should be one of the most educational and hands-on for anyone interested in learning how to deal with a variety of forest and forest health issues,” said Randall Hansen, Northeast Chapter president. “We have a variety of educational activities planned, including a review of the damage from the windstorm, a discussion of fast-track salvaging of timber, a hands-on demonstration of pre-commercial thinning, and a discussion of Riparian Management Zones as they relate to forest management,” he said.

The annual Forest Owners Field Day is scheduled at Hesseltine property at Black Lake, east of Colville off Tiger Highway, starting at 8:30 and ending mid-afternoon.

From Colville, take Highway 20 east and drive for approximately 18 miles. Turn left onto Black Lake/Squaw Creek Road. Go left toward Black Lake. Drive around the lake to the north end. Signs will be posted from the Black Lake turn off. Follow the signs to the Hesseltine property gate.

Attendees are asked to wear outdoor-appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear, as well as to bring a sack lunch and camp chair. Water and other refreshments will be provided by WFFA.

The WFFA is a non-profit organization of and for forest landowners in Washington state. 

Hesseltine property is one of the nearly 90,000 small private forestland owners across the state, with private ownership totaling about 5 million acres out of Washington’s 22.1 million acres of forestland.

Info: wafarmforestry.com/NorthEast.

Single hair spills beans on bear’s diet

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — U.S. and Canadian researchers have found they can get a good idea of a grizzly bear’s diet over several months by looking at a single hair. The technique, which measures residues of trace metals, can be a major tool in determining if the threatened animals are getting enough of the right foods to eat, according to a release from Washington State University.

The technique can also help determine how much mercury bears are ingesting.

“You can use the technology for both applications,” said Marie Noël, lead author of a mercury study on polar bears and a more recent study, published in Science of the Total Environment, on how the technique works. “You can see how much mercury they’re getting but also estimate how much salmon they’re eating.”

Charles Robbins, a Washington State University wildlife biologist and director of the WSU Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center, said the technique helps determine how bears are recovering and if they have enough habitat to meet their food needs.

Grizzly bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the continental United States and endangered in parts of Canada.

“You can see bears chasing down salmon, but other than saying, ‘bears eat salmon,’ that really doesn’t give you much information,” Robbins said in the release. “So we’d like to know where the energy and protein is coming from to create either large bears or small bears or cubs and help them with their reproduction. We’d like something that integrates all that information over a 24-hour period, a week, a month, a year.”

Hair grows throughout a bear’s active season, and because it is almost entirely protein, “it’s a good indicator of the protein sources to the bears,” he said.

The new technique has a laser run down the length of a single hair. As it vaporizes one location, said Noël, the gases are analyzed by a mass spectrometer.

The researchers analyzed the hairs of 20 wild bears from British Columbia and five captive grizzlies at the WSU bear center. The captive bears were fed a diet of commercial bear chow and apples while grazing 12 hours a day on white clover.

For about a month, they were fed Yellowstone Lake cutthroat trout, which have high levels of mercury from nearby thermal features. Almost to the day, the researchers saw mercury levels rise in the captive bears, as well as levels of copper and zinc. The scientists then correlated those levels with levels seen in the wild bears to see what they had been eating.

“Taken together,” the researchers write, “the pattern obtained from these three elements can provide information on salmon consumption… as well as the amount of salmon consumed… by wild grizzly bears.”

Obama criticized for opening door to arctic oil drilling, wildlife destruction

ENVIRONMENT — The Sierra Club is making some good points, backed by science and history, regarding the current trended toward allowing oil drilling into waters that would impact the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

I've been there to see it first hand, and have followed the campaign to drill in the refuge and remote associated waters. A Deepwater Horizon-type oil spill in the arctic would cause unspeakable harm to the fragile ecosystems.

The Obama administration inched a little closer to disaster last month when it issued almost-but-not-quite final approval to Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the club says.

"Letting Shell into the Arctic makes no sense," says Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "It's a case of taking huge risks to get something we don't need…. When this or any other administration flirts with selling more oil leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, we'll be there, in the courts and in the streets."

$67 million plan to widen Banff highway bad news for wildlife

WILDLIFE — Critters in one of Canada's signature national parks already face hazards from zooming traffic.  And now…

Canada's plan to spend $67M to widen highway in Banff park questioned
Several members of an advisory group charged with making Banff National Park safer for wildlife said they were stunned to learn that the Canadian government planned to spend $67 million to widen the Bow Valley Parkway that passes through the Alberta park. The decision they said will lead to increased speeds on the parkway, putting wildlife at higher risk.
—Calgary Herald

Tale of 2 photos: Whitetails young and old in growth stages

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Deer are growing like crazy this month, young and old alike.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson gives us a snapshot of the stage deer are in after capturing both of these photos in a single day.

One photo shows a whitetail fawn playing and showing the size and strength it's developed less than two months after it was born.

The other photo features a mature whitetail buck with still-forming antlers in velvet that began sprouting from its bare skull this spring.  In August this fast-growing tissue will harden like bone and he'll begin rubbing off the fuzzy velvet to become a specimen that will catch the eye of more than one type of creature this fall.

Photo: Gulls put up fight, but lose to bald eagle

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Two against one and the bald eagle still came out on top, according to photographer Davide Canales, who snapped this once-in-a-lifetime photo from his kayak on Prince William Sound in Alaska while on an 11-day expedition from Valdez to Whittier.

He said the gull on top finally gave up and the eagle sealed the deal on a meal.

El Niño 2015 on record-setting trend; will drought turn to snow?

WEATHER — The present El Niño event, on the cusp of attaining “strong” intensity, has a chance to overtake the record 1997 event, reports Jason Samenow, Washington Post weather writer.

The 2015 El Niño — defined by the expanding, deepening pool of warmer-than-normal ocean water in the tropical Pacific — has steadily grown stronger since the spring.

The presence of a strong El Niño almost ensures that 2015 will become the warmest on record for Earth and will have ripple effects on weather patterns all over the world, Samenow writes.

I'm not a weather expert, but I do remember that the winters of 1997 and 1998 were great for skiing but devastating to winter wildlife. Those were big set-back years for big-game herds, especially in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

Stay tuned.

Not again! Yellowstone bison nails woman posing for selfie

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  A bison flipped a woman into the air as she posed for a selfie with the massive beast today, prompting Yellowstone National Park officials to step up warnings for tourists to keep their distance.

The dangerous encounter was the fifth run-in between park-goers and bison this year.

Park officials told the Associated Press that the 43-year-old Mississippi woman turned her back on the animal to get a photo with it near the Fairy Falls trailhead just outside Old Faithful.

Someone nearby saw the woman and her daughter about 6 yards from the animal and warned they were too close just before it came at them.

They tried to run, but the bison caught the woman and tossed her with its head.

The woman’s family drove her to a nearby clinic where she was treated for minor injuries.

“The (woman) said they knew they were doing something wrong but thought it was OK because other people were nearby,” park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said. “People are getting way too close.”

In separate incidents earlier this year, bison gored a 68-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl and tossed an off-trail teenager and an Australian tourist into the air.

Five bison encounters resulting in injuries is unusual during a tourist season, Bartlett said.

“We typically have one or two per year,” she said.

One factor that could be contributing to added encounters is increased attendance at the park this year, Bartlett said.

The park had more than 780,000 recreational visits in June, a 17 percent increase over June 2014 and 12 percent more than the previous record set in June 2010. July and August are the busiest months of the year for tourists.

Yellowstone prohibits people from getting within 25 yards of bison and within 100 yards of bears and wolves.

Montana governor, federal agency sign sage grouse deal

THREATENED SPECIES — Gov. Steve Bullock signed an agreement today with the U.S. Department of Agriculture pledging cooperation on efforts to protect declining populations of greater sage grouse — and, in turn, avoid the economic and political turmoil should the grouse be listed for protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The agreement signed at the Capitol in Helena calls for state, federal and local officials to meet annually to discuss sage grouse conservation. It includes no new spending or regulations, the Associated Press reports.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller said the agreement should help streamline and coordinate sage grouse conservation efforts on private land in the state. Seventy percent of sage grouse habitat in Montana is on private or state lands.

“It sets up the structure for really accelerating action on the ground,” Weller said of measures to help farmers and ranchers in the state voluntarily protect sage grouse habitat while maintaining grazing lands.

Sage grouse numbers fell dramatically across the western U.S. during the past several decades because of oil and gas drilling, residential and agricultural development and disease.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a Sept. 30 deadline to decide if the chicken-sized grouse needs federal protections, although Congress has blocked additional spending by the agency to put those protections in place.

Montana and other states want to demonstrate that sweeping federal protections aren’t needed.

Montana is the first state to sign such an agreement with the USDA regarding sage grouse. In addition to Bullock, the agreement was signed by representatives of the Agriculture Department and Montana’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

“Our economy, and our Montana way of life depends on all of us working together to ensure a bright future for the grouse and a continued thriving economy,” Bullock said. “The best possible outcome: the management of the bird is to stay within the state of Montana.”

Since 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service through a sage grouse program has invested nearly $300 million to conserve more than 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat in 11 western states in which sage grouse are found.

Weller said Monday that the conservation service plans to spend another $200 million throughout the 11 states, which was announced earlier this year. He did not say how much would go toward efforts in Montana, but he said officials are currently finalizing an investment strategy.

Bullock last year ordered restrictions on future oil drilling and other activities blamed for driving down sage grouse numbers, aligning Montana with other states rushing to head off federal intervention for the ground-dwelling bird. He also created a sage grouse oversight team in addition to the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program.

The legislature earlier this year passed the governor’s bill to establish a fund that in part will be used by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to hire at least five new employees to manage the program.

Condoms for humans could mean salvation for critters

ENDANGERED SPECIES — An environmental group is handing out free condoms in Washington to save endangered species.

No, these are not special condoms for northern pike in an attempt to ward off a threat to struggling salmon stocks.

The condoms are ordinary "rubbers" in packaging that stresses the impact human population growth has in crowding species off the planet.

On Saturday, as part of World Population Day, the Center for Biological Diversity says it distributed 10,000 free Endangered Species Condom in 27 states where the group says species featured on the condom packages are most endangered.

I've personally made a more permanent commitment in this regard, but I welcome the effort to highlight the pressure human population growth puts on local wildlife.

Volunteers in Washington distributed packages featuring the sea otter.

It also could have featured, say, the woodland caribou or pygmy rabbit.

“Sea otters along the Washington coast, once nearly wiped out by the fur trade, today face threats from fishing gear, oil spills and a changing climate,” said Leigh Moyer, the Center’s population organizer. “The fate of these charismatic animals is linked to our growing human population and demand for resources.”

The Endangered Species Condoms are wrapped in colorful packages featuring six different endangered species and information to help volunteers start the conversation about the impact of runaway human population growth on polar bears, monarch butterflies and other imperiled wildlife. The Center says it has given away 600,000 free Endangered Species Condoms since 2009.

 “Human population growth and increased consumption are driving extinction rates 1,000 times higher than the normal background rate,” said Moyer. “These condoms are a great way to get the conversation started about a serious issue.

"When we have dedicated volunteers distribute condoms in their neighborhoods and explain that extinction isn’t just a problem somewhere else but a problem everywhere, including in our own backyards, individuals can make better decisions for their families and for all wildlife, including local species.”

Scientists say Earth is undergoing its sixth mass wildlife extinction. While previous extinction periods were driven by geological or cosmic factors, the current crisis is caused by human activities.

World Population Day was designated by the United Nations in 1989 to raise awareness about global population issues. More than 7 billion people inhabit the planet, with the United States ranked as the third-most populous country in the world.

Part of the neighborhood wildlife…

This guy stopped off in my back yard in the Boise foothills this morning to take a rest under a tree as a light rain fell; he’s among numerous deer that have become a common sight strolling through the area. A half-hour later, he was joined by a larger pal, who munched on our apple tree before ambling along.

“The fact is, we have pretty inviting habitat in and around Boise, and as a result, deer and other big game species are likely to find that to be inviting,” said Mike Keckler, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. “The river is a natural corridor for wildlife, and they tend to follow their way in.”

He added, “We have had several mild winters, pretty much statewide for the last three or four years, and as a result deer populations are up, in some areas quite considerably. And that might have something to do with the fact that you’re seeing more in your neighborhood, because … there are more deer out there right now. But the fact is we have had deer in town for, well, ever since we’ve had town.”

We’ve seen groups of six or eight on occasion, does, fawns and bucks. 

Yellowstone bison teaching lessons to tourists

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Bison gored a woman and tossed a teenager into the air in Yellowstone National Park last week, the latest run-ins with the massive animals during tourist season in the popular landmark.  
The National Park Service says a bison gored a 68-year-old woman Wednesday on a trail near Yellowstone Lake. She was taken to a hospital, but her condition wasn’t immediately known.  
On June 23, a bison tossed a 19-year-old off-duty park concession employee who was off trail. She was treated and released from a hospital for minor injuries.  
In other encounters, the animals have gored a 16-year-old girl and tossed an Australian tourist in the air. Both suffered serious injuries.  
Yellowstone prohibits people from getting within 25 yards of bison or other large animals and within 100 yards of bears and wolves.

Elk calves born to be prey

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Here's the latest poop on predators in the Inland Northwest:

They appear to be well-fed.

During one day of hiking north of Lake Pend Oreille, I came across two scats within five miles containing calf elk hooves. One was the scat of a black bear, the other the scat of a wolf.

This is the way it works out there.

Moose gets workout at North Central HS track

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A yearling moose apparently was trying out as a walk-on for the North Central High School track team this morning.

A moose would be be hard to beat in the hurdles.

The moose was tranquilized and transported out of Spokane for release by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff.

Man shoots cougar attacking goat on porch

PREDATORS — A young female cougar was shot and killed as it attacked a goat on the porch of a home near Elk, Washington last week.

The cougar, a kitten of the year still showing spots, was able to kill the goat shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning before the homeowner got a firearm and shot it.  The homeowner reported the incident and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officer Severin Erickson responded.

While a cougar videoed trotting through a North Spokane parking lot last week was described as "rare" by  Fish and Wildlife officials, Erickson said several cougars a year in Pend Oreille County find their way into residents' yards.

"A lot of times nothing happens, but I get reports of them chasing a dog through the yard, or being up on a porch or lying in the grass of the yard," he said.

"In this case it was a very young cat, very thin, just 30-40 pounds, and in poor condition.  Other litter mates may have been in the area."

Montana wildlife group seeks to stop sheep grazing

WILDLIFE — A wildlife group is asking a federal judge to stop domestic sheep grazing that it says is a threat to wildlife on U.S. National Forest land in the Gravelly Mountains of southwest Montana.

The Gallatin Wildlife Association claims the government’s authorization for the Helle family of Dillon to graze almost 8,000 sheep in the area is harming endangered grizzly bears and wild bighorn sheep, the Associated Press reports.

Several Montana bighorn herds have been plagued or decimated by disease in recent years. The diseases often are associated with transfer from domestic animals.

Attorney John Meyer said the Bozeman-based group planned to file an injunction request in U.S. District Court Monday seeking to halt grazing this summer on two of the Helle’s seven grazing allotments.

A lawsuit challenging the approval of the allotments was filed last week.

Helena lawyer Jim Brown, who represents the Helles, says the family has cooperated with wildlife officials on bighorn sheep conservation efforts.

Scientists would rather have fire than weeds

PUBLIC LANDS — As I watch the landscape turn brown during this drought, I can't help but notice the knapweed and skeleton weed look green and unscathed.  Too bad elk and deer don't thrive on noxious weeds because…

Noxious weeds gaining ground on federal lands in the Western U.S.
Federal lands agencies say 17 million acres of lands in the western United States have been taken over by noxious weeds. A regional manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said that noxious invaders are more of a threat to wildlife than fires because fires provide some benefit to habitat while weeds just destroy the habitat.
—Idaho Statesman

Shorebird migration has begun, birder says

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Birding enthusiasts who keep a watch along the muddy edges of the region's waters are perking up this week.

Local birder Jon Isacoff said his observations yesterday at Slavin Conservation Area south of Spokane indicate the "southbound migration is underway!"

Here his list of shorebirds observed.

  • 35 Killdeer (many could be local)
  • 4 Spotted Sandpiper (probably locals)
  • 6 Greater Yellowlegs
  • 1 Lesser Yellowlegs