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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Elk hunters bag tales, even if elk escape

Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review

Here’s a big tip of my camouflage hat to the bowhunters who get their elk the hard way.

Bagging an elk is a thrill only about 5 percent of them celebrate. The rest simply revel in one of the most acute wildlife watching experiences in North America.

When a bear responds to a calf call and sneaks belly-to-the-ground within spitting range, the bowhunter can do little more than stand his ground and say, “Shoo!”

A big bull might come in to a bugle and whip itself into a frenzy just 20 yards away, peeing on its belly and shredding saplings with its antlers so close the musk is overwhelming and the bark is raining all around. Yet if there’s a little brush obscuring the bull’s vitals, the bowhunter must sit still and try to contain the pounding in his chest.

It is not uncommon to get that close and never have a chance to draw the bow.

The intensity in these hunts rivals watching the engines drop off the wings of your aircraft at 30,000 feet.

There’s no such thing as coming home empty-handed from an archery elk hunt.

If stories were meat, a bowhunter could break a mule’s back.

Muzzleloaders, who will start elk hunting on Saturday in Washington, get the next shot at elk as the rutting wanes and the bulls become less vulnerable.

Muzzleloaders aren’t deterred by being second fiddle. Their weapons have about three times the effective range of the bow and arrow, and they get to enjoy a sport that centers on ram-rods and nipples.

Even if you don’t see an elk, you get to finish your hunt by blasting away your charge in a celebratory cloud of smoke.

With a little luck, elk will be more receptive than my family to my elk bugling. Every time I tried to practice this week with a new bugle, my daughter would put her hands over her ears and shriek.

This is from a girl who made me a captive audience to Britney Spears on every road trip for an entire year before her taste in music improved.

This is the girl who put me through the torture of early violin training.

I cannot yet play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on my elk bugle, but if I ever get enough practice time, I’m going to sub for her alarm clock and give her a wake up call she’ll remember.

Congress will make crucial decisions on wildlife issues this fall while hunters are in the field.

A new version of the Endangered Species Act, co-sponsored by our own Rep. Cathy McMorris, will likely reach the House floor next week.

The bill is the darling of House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif. Led by a man who seems to thrive on snubbing the environment, there’s little room for conservative minions to step up and assure that threatened wildlife will keep a step up on the constant clamor for development.

McMorris says the bill provides incentives to get private landowners on board for helping species to recover and creates bigger roles for state and local governments.

Environmental groups contend the bill will allow politics to trump science and water down protection for critical wildlife habitat. The say it will increase the power of political appointees while demoting the role of wildlife biologists in protecting wildlife from unnecessary harm that might be caused by federal projects.

Any hopes that McMorris’s fresh face in Washington would offer an upgrade in this Congressional district’s recent tradition for holding wildlife issues in low priority were dashed this week when she released a press statement touting the new bill of ESA revisions.

“In the case of (the relicensing of) Box Canyon (Dam), the PUD was forced to put in fish ladders for fish that were never even in the river,” the release says. “It is these types of ridiculous demands that we hope this bill will fix.”

But who’s being ridiculous?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested fish passage at the dam to help endangered bull trout find their way back to more of their native habitat.

We can only assume that McMorris read the scientific reference to “salmonids” – a category that includes bull trout – and assumed that the biologists were trying to get fish passage for salmon.

State and federal scientists understand what this all means. Politicians don’t.

That’s another indication that the environmental groups have some valid points of contention with the bill.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is likely to be attacked on several fronts, ranging from the massive new Energy Act to the gargantuan budget reconciliation bill.

Some proponents of invading the unique Arctic Refuge sanctuary are trying to take political advantage of current high gas prices.

Even here in Spokane, the local radio money management talk-show host continues to promote the limp assumption that sacrificing arctic wildlife for the benefit of petroleum companies will ease America’s dependence on foreign oil.

That’s a crock. Americans simply consume far, far too much oil to ever hope of finding salvation or even relief in domestic supplies.

A 2005 Department of Energy report reaffirms that the effect on gas prices of drilling the Arctic Refuge would amount to only a couple of pennies a gallon, and that’s 20 years from now when drilling would be near peak production.

If there are any real leaders in Congress, you’ll see them step up in this debate and tell it like it is.

We need to raise fuel economy standards, offer incentives for automakers to build fuel efficient vehicles and boost tax credits for consumers who buy them. Public transit projects need to be in the mix, too.

After back-to-back natural disasters, even President Bush this week said Americans need to be “better conservers.”

If we heed his advice, there’s no need to disrupt the fragile existence of caribou, polar bears, muskoxen and other creatures adapted to the Arctic Refuge.

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