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Great gray owl lives large over field mice

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The great gray owl, widely distributed in the boreal forests of the north, also is found in a narrow swath of home range that runs south through far Eastern Washington, the Idaho Panhandle and Western Washington.

But seeing them is rare.  I know birders who'd drive hundreds of miles to watch a great gray owl.

That's why Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson knew he was privileged to spend hours on three different occasions last week — shooting thousands of frames from his cameras — with a couple of the owls as they fed in a Montana forest meadow.

This particular bird kept flying and landing near me. She would then sit quietly listening. Often, she would look directly toward the snow and then lose interest.
 
Every once in a while, she would not lose interest. She would silently fly and dive into the snow on the ground. She would go completely under the snow – Just her wing tips would stick out. Then, she would right herself and enjoy the fruits of her hunt. Sad for the mouse, but it is the circle of life.

She was probably 20 feet away on this dive. One cool thing, check out the bottom half of the beak – cool curve!

Even though great grays are huge owls, they have a taste for small rodents. They locate hidden prey with the help of large facial disks that funnel sound to their ears.  Using their heft, they've been known to dive for a rodent with enough force to crash through a snow crust that's thick enough to hold a 180-pound person. 

Alberta ranchers want hunts on problem grizzlies

ENDANGERED SPECIES – Although Alberta grizzly bears are officially a threatened species in recovery mode, ranchers are asking officials to resume hunting at least for the problem bears in the southwestern corner of the province.

A grizzly bear recovery plan was initiated in 2008 after studies found fewer than 700 grizzlies left in Alberta. Grizzly hunting had be curbed in 2006.

Continued research indicates the bear population healthier than previously known in some areas, especially in the southwest.

Across the province, 15 grizzly bears were killed in 2012 by poachers, motorists and landowners: one problem bear was destroyed; five were killed in self-defence; four were hit on roads; two were poached; and two were mistaken by hunters for black bears. One death was ruled as an unknown cause.

Read more in this Calgary Herald story.

39-year-old black bear ready to emerge from den

WILDLIFE — Minnesota wildlife biologists have a long history with the oldest wild black bear known to be roaming free in the woods (videoed in her den, above).

Tagged No. 56 by researchers in 1981, the the 39-year-old sow is still in her winter den in the Chippewa National Forest.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, No. 56 has outlived virtually all of the 550 black bears the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources collared and tracked in the past four decades.

In addition to the research data, she's also produced about 28 cubs in her lifetime, with her last litter at the twilight age of 25. Nowadays, the old girl is no longer in the mood for parenting or exhaustive courtships, researchers say.

In the summer before denning this winter, No.56 mostly meandered around the forest and took a lot of long naps.  Although she had recently lost some weight and a few teeth, biologists say she’s still in pretty good health.

March is the month bears normally begin emerging from their dens In the Rocky Mountains. Males generally are the first to come out. Sows with cubs usually emerge weeks later.

Video: Take a moment to relax with wildlife

WILDLIFE — Before you launch into another week, pause for a soothing couple of minutes with wintering wildlife accompanied by Kenny G's tenor sax: Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

IFG offers rules, tips for “shed” hunters

WILDLIFE — It's the shed antler-horn scavenging season.  I hope people who are out hunting for them realize this is a stressful time for wildlife. Moving big game off their wintering areas this time of year can be as deadly as giving them a slow-acting poison.

Some wildlife areas have special access restrictions during late winter and spring.

Here's a shed-hunting Q & A from Idaho Fish and Game:

Q. I want to collect shed antlers, what sort of license do I need and what sort of restrictions are there?

A. You don’t need a license, and the only restrictions are on access and travel on the land. Horn hunters, like other outdoor recreationists, must secure permission to cross or look for antlers on private land, and they must abide by transportation restrictions on federal and state public lands.

Horn hunting typically starts in early spring. Deer, elk and moose shed their antlers over the winter, following the mating seasons.

Pronghorn is the only species with horns to annually shed its horn sheath. Just after mating season, the pronghorn sheds its horns and only the permanent core remains. The horns of bighorn sheep that have died of natural causes also may be recovered but may not be sold, bartered or transferred to another person without a permit from Fish and Game.

Bighorn sheep horns must be permanently marked with a metal pin at an Idaho Fish and Game regional office within 30 days of recovery.

Horn hunters are asked to avoid disturbing animals during winter while they are conserving their resources trying to make it through to spring.

Whooo are the first love birds of the season?

WILDLIFE — At least one bird species in the Inland Northwest was way ahead of the crowd on the procreation front, as I mentioned in today's Outdoors column.

But birdwatcher reporting from Pend Oreille County Wednesday said they a raucus bunch of hungry nestlings proved that common ravens weren't far behind.

Video: Wash. wolverines trapped, tracked for research

WILDLIFE — Research underway in Washington, Oregon and Idaho seeks to understand more about a wilderness icon, North America's reclusive carnivore — the wolverine.

Last weekend we took a glimpse at how citizen scientists are helping Idaho Fish and Game monitor a range of carnivores including wolverines in the Idaho Panhandle.

KING 5 TV  this week has an excellent update (above) on wolverine research in the North Cascades, including footage of a a fiesty critter trapped, collared and released.

Idaho may allow falconers to capture peregrines

FALCONRY — For the first time in more than 40 years, up to two falconers in Idaho may once again get limited opportunity to capture and keep a wild peregrine falcon — a species federally listed as endangered from 1970-1999.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department proposes to allow the capture of two juvenile peregrines from the wild for falconry purposes in 2013 and has developed a set of draft rules for public comment through March 11.

The American peregrine falcon has continued to rebound since being delisted to the extent that in 2004 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the capture of nestling peregrines from the wild for use in falconry.

In 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service also allowed capture of post-fledging first-year peregrines – hatch year or “passage” birds.

States have the authority to manage the capture of up to 5 percent of annual production. Based on Fish and Game surveys, the most juvenile peregrines that could be taken from the wild in Idaho in any given year would be two birds.

Montana, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona also allow the capture of peregrine falcons.

The peregrine has been used in falconry for more than 3,000 years, beginning with nomads in central Asia. Captured wild migratory peregrines were used regularly by North American falconers from 1938 to 1970 when the species was added to the federal list of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants.

Until 2004, nearly all peregrines used for falconry in the United States were captive-bred from the offspring of birds captured before the Endangered Species Act was enacted.

The successful recovery program involved a collaboration of Boise’s Peregrine Fund along with state and federal wildlife agencies. Falconers provided the needed expertise through a technique called “hacking,” the release of a captive-bred bird from a special cage at the top of a tower or cliff ledge.

Slick advertising can’t make us forget Gulf oil spill

ENVIRONMENT — Working up to the high-stakes trial that began this week, British Petroleum has been spending a lot of time and money advertising that the oil spill from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster has been cleaned up and everything is cool. Yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, hundreds of coastal wetlands remain contaminated and every major storm stirs up more oil mats from the ocean bottom and spreads them out on Gulf beaches.

Wildlife and people took a terrible beating from this mess and it was relatively accessible compared with the oil development and potential disaster brewing in the Arctic Ocean.

This is serious business with profound potential impacts to life in the water and on the coastlines.

Golden eagle flying free without research “backpack”

WILDLIFE — This male golden eagle has worn a GPS “backpack” for eight years to provide information about home range size and habitat use in Eastern Washington, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Facebook page.

Now at least 13 years old, he was recently recaptured by the agency's raptor researcher who removed the equipment to let him spend the rest of his life flying “free.”

Robins flock in profusion near Walla Walla

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I've seen flocks of American robins off and on around Spokane this winter, but nothing close to the locust-like congregations found earlier this month near Walla Walla.

Carl Kjellstrand sent these two photos from the Walla Walla area and noted that the robins dimmed the afternoon sunlight.

CRP offerings could be in high demand in May

PRIVATE LANDS — Hunters have a stake in the Conservation Reserve Program signup scheduled for May 20-June 14. The federal government expects the contracts to be highly competitive. The corresponding boost to wildlife habitat depends on the quality of the bids made by landowners.

Nationwide, 27 million acres are enrolled in CRP. The program is capped at 32 million acres. The signup will also cover acreage included in contracts that are expiring on Sept. 30.

Idaho has 622,570 acres enrolled in CRP, with 68,332 acres set to expire. The state has 2,722 farms enrolled in CRP, receiving more than $31.725 million in annual rental payments at an average of about $51 per acre.

Washington has 1,453,481 acres enrolled in CRP, with more than 253,600 acres set to expire. The state has 5,305 farms receiving more than $83.631 million in annual rental payments, averaging more than $57 per acre.

CRP contracts typically span 10 years and offer payments for growers to manage land for environmental and wildlife benefits rather than planting crops. Growers' contract offers are chosen based on scores derived from plans they offer to make enduring environmental improvements and benefit wildlife habitat, water quality, erosion control, farm soil health and air quality.

Interested landowners already are meeting with specialists from farm and fish and wildlife agencies to help groom their bids for maximum points.

Elk near Fairfield being chased by dog

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Wolves and cougars aren't the only critters posing a threat to the region's elk herds.

Tom and Jane Smith of Spokane Valley were driving southbound on Highway 27 toward Fairfield Tueday around 1 p.m. when Tom reports, "I saw the largest herd of elk I've ever sighted." 

Just north of the Elder Road turnoff, we saw a herd of between 20 and 30 animals—several bulls—being chased by a dog.  They were headed east toward Highway 27 then turned back west.  We lost them in the hills. 

Great to see (not the dog, but the elk).

Wash. lawmakers pass wolf bills out of committee

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Two of several gray wolf-related bills being considered in the 2013 Washington Legislature have passed out of committee and could be considred by the Senate.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman has this update on the status of the bills.

Idaho lawmakers want say in endangered species efforts

WILDLIFE —  A bill giving Idaho more decision-making power over endangered species is headed to the full Senate for a vote.

The Senate Resources and Environment Committee on Monday voted in favor of Senate Bill 1061, legislation that would give the state final say on whether an endangered plant or animal is reintroduced into the state. Current law already requires the legislature to approve reintroducing rare species.

Sen. Bert Brackett (R-Rogerson) said the measure will help state to manage wildlife.

But Sen. Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum) questioned whether the bill would have any teeth when matched against federal authority. She says the state could ultimately lose money arguing the question with the federal government in the courts.

Brackett said he thought those questions could instead be resolved through an administrative appeals process.

Fishing, hunting rules and land purchase on panel’s agenda

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — New sport fishing rules, a major land acquisition in Asotin County, spring bear seasons, and hunting season proposals are on the agenda for the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting March 1 in Moses Lake.

The meeting, to be held at the Moses Lake Civic Center, 401 S Balsam in Moses Lake, will begin at 8 a.m. with a public input session.

Specific March 1 commission agenda topics include:

  • Director’s report.
  • Sportfishing rule proposals.
  • Land transactions.
  • Wildlife crossing project on Interstate 90.
  • Hunting seasons and regulations for spring bear, small game, and special permit seasons for moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, elk and deer.
  • Importation of dead nonresident wildlife.
  • Lighted nocks for archery equipment.

The land transaction discussions include Phase 2 of multi-year effort to acquire 12,000 acres of the wildlife-friendly 4-O Land and Livestock property along the Grande Ronde River in the Grouse Flat Unit of the Blue Mountains Wildlife Area.

In January 2012, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife made the initial purchase of 2,200 acres in the Mountain View area.

The second-phase purchase, if approved by the commission, would include spending just over $3 million for 1,613 acres adjoining the Phase 1 property to be managed as additions to the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area, which is under the umbrella of the Blue Mountains Wildlife Area.

  • Click on the document attached below for details and maps on the 4-0 Ranch acquisition phases.

Documents:

Washington wolf packs detailed

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Although Idaho won't be releasing its 2012 year-end gray wolf surveys report until March, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department released its federally required report last week, as we reported.

The details are posted on the agency's gray wolf webpage, but Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman Magazine has compiled this easy-to-read rundown of all the known wolf packs in Washington with updated info.

Animal tracks topic at sportsman’s breakfast

Idaho Fish and Game Department

COEUR d’ALENE SPORTSMEN’S

 BREAKFAST

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2013

Breakfast, $7.50 includes tax and gratuity

Lake City Senior Center, 1916 N. Lakewood Dr.

Coeur d’Alene, ID ~ Time – 6:30 AM

Beth Paragamian, Wildlife Education Specialist, will give a presentation on animal tracks.

Stop in for breakfast, have a cup of coffee, and visit with IDFG staff and other sportsmen.

Questions?  Nancy @ 769-1414

Wolf numbers doubled in 2012, Washington report confirms

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Although the unofficial estimates have been out for weeks, the Washington Fish and Wildlife today confirmed that the number of confirmed gray wolves and wolf packs in the state nearly doubled during the past year.

Based on field reports and aerial monitoring for the annual report, the 2012 survey confirms the presence of at least 51 wolves in nine wolf packs with a total of five successful breeding pairs. The previous year’s survey documented 27 wolves, five wolf packs and three breeding pairs.

A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves traveling together. A successful breeding pair is defined as an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive until the end of the calendar year.

“The survey shows that our state’s wolf population is growing quickly,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW wildlife program director. “That growth appears to be the result of both natural reproduction and the continuing in-migration of wolves from Canada and neighboring states.”

Pamplin said the actual number of wolves in Washington state is likely much higher than the number confirmed by the survey, noting that field biologists currently suspect the existence of two additional packs.

In addition, lone wolves often go uncounted and those that range into Washington but den in other states are not included in WDFW’s survey, he said.

Considering those factors, and applying an estimate of the average pack size in other western states, there could easily be as many as 100 wolves in Washington, Pamplin said.

“The survey is the baseline we use to monitor wolves’ progress toward recovery,” he said. “While we’ve stepped up our monitoring efforts significantly over the past year, we recognize that it does not account for every wolf within our state’s borders.”

One of the nine packs represented in the survey is the Wedge pack, which now has two confirmed members in northeastern Washington. Last summer, WDFW eliminated seven members of the pack to end a series of attacks on an area rancher’s cattle that left six calves dead and 10 other animals injured. 

Pamplin said wildlife biologists do not know whether the two wolves living near the U.S.-Canada border in Stevens County are members of the original Wedge pack or whether they are new arrivals from inside or outside the state.

“Either way, we were confident that wolves would repopulate that area,” he said. “We really hope to prevent the kind of situation we faced with the Wedge pack last summer by working with ranchers to use non-lethal methods to protect their livestock.”

The gray wolf is currently listed by the state as an endangered species throughout Washington and is federally listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state. Once common, wolves were essentially eliminated in most western states during the past century because they preyed on livestock.

Under the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three designated wolf-recovery regions. Four pairs are required in Eastern Washington, four pairs in the North Cascades, four pairs in South Cascades/Northwest Coast and three pairs in any recovery region.

Reports of possible wolf sightings can be made to WDFW’s wildlife reporting line, (877) 933-9847.

Lincoln County deer masacre prompts $5,000 reward

POACHING — Up to $5,000 in rewards is being offered for a tip that leads to the conviction of the culprits in the latest spree poaching case in Eastern Washington.

Five white-tailed deer, including two bucks and three does, were discovered in the Grand Coulee area of Lincoln County on Saturday with only the backstrap and hindquarters removed. The deer were shot and left to rot just a few feet from each other, and appeared to be fairly fresh kills.

This is the sixth multiple-deer poaching incident documented in Eastern Washington this winter, including two incidents in Spokane County.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for this spree killing and the Human Society of the United States has pledged another $2,500.

Information can be submitted anonymously:

1. Contact Officer Wood in Lincoln County, (509) 892-1001.
2. Call the state Poaching Hotline, (877) 933-9847.
3. Email the tip to reportpoaching@dfw.wa.gov.
4. Text the information to TIP411 (847411).

Editorial points to success of Wildlife & Recreation Program

CONSERVATION — If you use parks, trails or public open spaces in Spokane County, you have been a beneficiary of the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program. (Click on this link and check out the more than impressive projects list under "campaigns.")

It's a state program worth funding, as today's S-R editorial points out.

Idaho research helicopter targets elk, moose, wolves

WILDLIFE — Helicopters are getting ready to fly for a wide-ranging wildlife research effort in Idaho's Clearwater region.

Idaho Fish and Game Department wildlife biologists are gearing up for helicopter surveys and radio collaring elk, moose and wolves in Big Game Management Unit 10. In the next week or two, they are planning to place collars on 20 calves and 15 adult elk; 20 calves and 7 adult moose; and 10-15 wolves.
 
This effort is part of a continuing research project on causes and consequences of ungulate mortality. Results from this study will be used to make wildlife management decisions related to wolf-ungulate populations in Idaho, said Jen Bruns, IFG spokeswoman in Lewiston.

Wildlife enthusiast to tell birders why he’s a hunter

HUNTING – “I hunt therefore I am (what)?”

Everyone might have a different word to fill in the blank in that phrase: condemnable, capable, cold-hearted, complete….

Fill in he blank as you see fit, but not before you give me a shot at explaining why an animal lover and wildlife conservationist would chose to be a hunter.

I’ll be giving a program on the topic Wednesday (Feb. 13) for the Spokane Audubon Society’s open meeting, 7:30 p.m., at Riverview Retirement Community, Village Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave.

  • Click here for directions to the meeting location.

Sportsmen are among the most ardent year-round wildlife watchers and they contribute generously to wildlife conservation.

Moreover, animals are delicious.

But those are just a few of many reasons I hunt.

Idaho Senate rejects female F&G commissioner

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — For the first time since 1974, the Idaho Senate has rejected the governor’s nominee for a slot on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, voting 19-16 against confirming Joan Hurlock, only the second woman ever to serve on the panel.

Read the report from today's session from S-R Boise reporter Betsy Russell.

Requiem for Bam Bam, park’s head-butting bighorn

WILDLIFE — Bam Bam, the bighorn sheep whose penchant for butting cars made him an international star, died of natural causes in Wyoming last week.  He was believed to be 12.

Bam Bam was the last of the Wheatland-area Sinks Canyon State Park bighorn herd, surviving a plague of pneumonia that wiped out the park’s sheep population in the middle of the last decade. Friends said he loved a scratch on the ear, Doritos and a good head butt.

I don't post this to support anyone's notion that feeding wildlife is a good idea.  It's lucky no one was hurt by this ram.  But I like the rest of the story as described nicely here by Benjamin Storrow in the Star-Tribune.

Bobcat finds backyard squirrels appetizing

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A Newcastle, Wash., man got a rare daylight view of a bobcat and her kitten in action this week — through his kitchen window.

J.D. Hammerly was able to snap photos of the bobcat squirrel hunting spree in his backyard.

Newcastle is in Western Washington bettween Issaquah and Mercer Island.

Wide-ranging wolverine opened researchers’ eyes

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to list the wolverine as a threatened species is generating more insight into the elusive carnivore.  Even in modern times, wildlife biologists are just documenting the life-history suggested in this quote of the day:

"We put a GPS collar on him and released him there in the Tetons, and he just disappeared. Eventually, he came back to the Tetons and dropped his collar, and we found it. He went down to Pocatello, Idaho, and back to the Tetons in three weeks. It really opened our eyes to how these animals can travel unbelievable distances in a short amount of time."

—Bob Inman,a carnivore biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, about the travels of a male wolverine radio-collared during a decadelong study of the species in Wyoming and Montana.
- Jackson Hole News & Guide

Mountain lions keep wildlife police busy

PREDATORS — Along with citizen complaints about moose, coyotes and other creatures, Washington Fish and Wildlife police were busy responding to a number of cougar-related issues last week. Here are just a few examples from the weekly Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Spokane Region report:

— A cougar roamed Ione during daylight hours, with no fear of people or passing cars. The responding officer called a houndsman who dispatched the cougar, which was examined. It was extremely thing and appeared to be blind. The carcass is at WSU for necropsy.

—Another cougar was sighted near Tiger. The officer called in houndsmen who chased the cougar away from homes in the area. It appeared to be healthy.

— Two officers responded to a complaint and confirmed a cougar had killed a goat. Again a houndsman was called to assist with killing the cougar.

— A reported wolf attack on livestock guard dogs in Whitman County was more likely the work of a cougar, officers said. But the report was a week after the attacks and evidence was inconclusive

Here's the best one — poachers trying to get their cougar mounted as a trophy.

An officer making a routine check on the books of an area taxidermist's ledger grew suspicious of the entry by a man who brought in a large tom. The cougar had been shot in Columbia County in November. On a hunch, the officer wrote down the name of the hunter and decided to look into the details of his hunt.

He verified the cougar was harvested on the same day the cougar tag was bought. Two officers then contacted the subject and got a load of baloney for a while. The man held to his story that he was just a lucky guy to have bought his cougar tag and then shot a cougar just 20 minutes or so later!

But pretty the officers were chiseling away to the truth. The subject later confessed to killing the cougar before he bought his tag, using his friend’s rifle. The subject later stated his friend was paying for the taxidermy work on the cougar because he wanted the cougar in his house.

The officers smelled more problems.

The dug a little more and were able to learn that the original subject friend who shot the cougar without a tag — and he was from Oregon. So he got the original subject to go by a tag and illegally put it on the dead cougar.

The officers bagged a two-fer by pursuing this case.