Another year spent outside, or at least longing to be out there. From the good to the bad to the weird (hot takes on the salmon cannon, anyone?) The Spokesman-Review’s outdoors section brought you there.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of 2019’s biggest, most important and just plain interesting outdoor stories. See you next year!
The year started with some good news out of Coeur d’Alene. Jason Evans, a former engineer at Facebook, bought 100 acres on Canfield Mountain overlooking Coeur d’Alene Lake and the Rathdrum prairie. He bought the land hoping to build a network of hiking and biking trails.
The best part? The land was clear cut by the former owner, a large, visible scar above Coeur d’Alene. Evans and volunteers are rehabilitating the land.
Also in Idaho, declining moose numbers prompted the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to drastically reduce the number of available moose tags.
Climate change, reduced forage and predation are blamed for the large ungulates’ decline, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife biologist Kara Campbell said at the time.
In Washington, a diverse group of outdoor advocates came together to ask for one thing: full funding for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We, the normally fighting cats and dogs of fish and wildlife stakeholders, have left our swords at the door and are making peace to work together on this,” said Mitch Friedman, the executive director of Conservation Northwest.
WDFW faced (and still faces) a major budget deficit after years of underfunding.
In other wildlife news, a wolf was shot and killed near Sprague Lake, about 40 miles from Spokane. The killing was deemed lawful and underscored the expanding range of Washington’s wolves.
Human-nature conflict made the news again when it emerged that the winner of a Washington Trails Association photo contest may have jumped a wall and trekked into a field of protected wildflowers to “get the shot.”
Turnbull National Wildlife refuge grew a little bigger with the addition of 1,500 acres of former ranch land. Finally, Spokane shredders took advantage of a winter storm and caught powder turns in city limits.
Grand Canyon National Park celebrated its 100th birthday. Former S-R outdoors editor Rich Landers admired the natural wonder on a trip and praised the government regulation that has preserved it for a century.
After the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area started enforcing long-standing rules requiring the purchase of permits prior to the filming of commercially used videos, some guides found themselves forced to remove promotional videos from their websites and YouTube accounts.
April started with a bang. Literally. A Buckley, Washington, man learned that a moose he’d killed in 2018 in Ferry County was the world-record Shiras moose for the Safari Club.
In less positive hunting news, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission eliminated antlerless white-tail deer hunting in Northeast Washington.
Salmon stole headlines (as usual) when Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson flirted with backing the removal of the four lower Snake River dams during a conference on salmon recovery. The comments indicated the growing willingness to talk about dam removal, particularly on the lower Snake River.
In a setback to wildlife management, a proposed hunting and angling fee increase failed, leaving WDFW facing a $7 million deficit, despite support from hunters and anglers.
Gonzaga leadership alums put their classroom learning to the test when they rescued hikers on California’s Mount Whitney
In Idaho, a proposed Wolf Lodge Bay commercial development raised eyebrows (and hackles). In other fishy news, northern pike continued their slow, steady march downstream, with one monster found just 17 miles from the Grand Coulee Dam.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife commission allowed barbed hooks throughout the Columbia River Basin.
In June, the Trump administration proposed opening up more federally protected land for hunting and fishing in what it called a major expansion of those activities in the nation’s wildlife refuges. Although Spokane-area refuges already allow hunting, some praised the decision as it brings refuges in line with state rules.
A study from the University of Idaho challenged a common justification for forest thinning in the West when it found that forest fires don’t release as much carbon into the atmosphere as previously thought.
A new outdoor festival in Ferry County started in 2019. Get Out Fest! aimed to bring recreation money to one of Washington’s poorest counties and was, by all accounts, a success.
Finally, June ended with some good news. The Dishman Hills Conservancy purchased a block of private land, securing access to the Spokane’s popular Big Rock hiking and climbing area.
Magnet fishing: A new, trash-based fad attracted some Spokanites despite the still murky legal and ethical waters of yanking ancient trash out of the bottom of rivers and streams.
In normal fish-fishing news, Idaho’s steelhead forecast was dismal and public comment was reopened for the on-again, off-again (and now, maybe, on-again) reintroduction of grizzly bears into the North Cascades.
In other bear news, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission simplified black bear hunting regulations, opening the season statewide on Aug. 1 and allowing hunters to kill two bears anywhere in the state. Previously, hunting had opened later in Eastern Washington and hunters could only kill one bear from the east side of the state.
Washington researchers took to the hills with a smelly concoction: cow blood and fish oil. The stinky science was is part of a larger statewide study aimed at determining bear densities in different regions of Washington.
For the first time in 80 years, salmon swam in the Upper Columbia River after the Colville Confederated Tribes released 30 salmon upstream of the Chief Joseph Dam. Although a modest release, it marks an important chapter in the tribes’ decadeslong fight to bring salmon back to their native waters. Also in August, the so-called Salmon Cannon became Internet famous.
Folks continued to flood Yellowstone National Park, with more than 4 million people visiting annually. S-R contributor William Brock wrote about the hidden, less-traveled side of the park.
It wouldn’t be August if there wasn’t wolf drama. Late in the month, a number of wolf meetings, including one in Spokane, were canceled after threats of violence. The meetings were intended to get public input on a state management plan, once wolves are no longer a state or federally endangered species.
In response to concerns raised by Northeast Washington residents, WDFW assembled a working group to develop changes to the cougar hunting seasons. In the same month, WDFW announced new limited hunting opportunities on Spokane’s Mica Peak in hopes of reducing white-tail deer and turkey numbers.
In an effort to address complaints of overcrowding, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission hopes to cap the number of nonresident hunter tags sold while simultaneously increasing nonresident hunter fees. The proposal will be decided by the 2020 legislature.
Steelhead and salmon news remained dire during one of the worst runs. In response, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to close steelhead fishing in the Clearwater River basin and on a short section of the Snake River near Lewiston. Idaho Gov. Little’s salmon working group continued to meet. They urged folks to remember that the process is slow and won’t make decisions quickly. That was hard news for some anglers and guides facing the third bad year for anadromous fish returning to the Snake River Basin.
Finally, federal e-bike laws changed when Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order classifying e-bikes as nonmotorized, in some cases putting state and regional laws at odds with federal ones. The change prompted Landers to write, “Bicycling – a force against nature? I never thought I’d see THAT day come. But I have.”
As the trees started to change colors, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service beefed up protections for caribou. The move may set the stage for a second act or it might just be a publicity stunt. Time will tell.
In Idaho, fish and game managers tried to build a landscape that will be more resilient to warming temperatures caused by climate change. The project uses human-built shade structures to build cool-air refuges, an innovative approach experts said.
Climate news was bleak for birds with the publication of the National Audubon Society’s expansive report, Survival by Degrees. Two-thirds of America’s birds are facing climate-change-related extinction by 2100. Locally, that could mean the end of hummingbirds. But the report included some hope. The faster we reduce global carbon emissions, the more birds survive.
Don’t worry about turkeys, though. Nearly 60 years after the big birds were introduced into Northeast Washington, they’re doing just fine.
In undeniably good news, Spokane-area recreation projects received more than $9 million in state funding. An 8-year-old from Sandpoint, Sophie Egizi, reeled in a 36.5-inch Gerrard rainbow trout from Lake Pend Oreille, obliterating the state’s catch-and-release record.
Lake Coeur d’Alene’s health continued to decline, prompting Idaho Gov. Brad Little to call for a third-party review of the data. That could set the stage for more serious cleanup efforts, or simply “kick the can down the road,” according to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s lake department director.
In Montana, Yellowstone wolf watchers noted that there were no wolf-on-wolf deaths in 2018 for the first time in 24 years. That, biologists said, might because the wolf populations are smaller than in previous years.
WDFW submitted a $26 million request to the Legislature, a big ask for a supplemental budget cycle. If the agency doesn’t receive the funding, it will have to cut services and layoff people. The Legislature will review the request in the new year.
In some good local news, the popular First Day Hikes series of free New Year’s activities expanded, adding cross-country skiing and more hiking. Also starting in the new year, Washington fishing guides must report their clients’ license information and detail what fish they catch, when and where. The change has angered some guides.
Limits on bass and walleye fishing – alongside other warmwater species – were liberalized by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in response to starving orcas and diminished salmon returns.