Colvilles Aim To Release Returning Chinook Into Rufus Woods, Lake Roosevelt

The Colville Tribes hope to move surplus Chinook above two upper Columbia dams where the ocean-returning salmon haven’t been for as much as three-quarters of a century.


Construction of Grand Coulee Dam and then Chief Joseph Dam without fish ladders ended passage past Bridgeport, but the tribes want to release adults that returned to Wells Hatchery into the reservoirs behind each this summer.

They’ve got a state permit to do so in Lake Rufus Woods, according to an article in the Tribal Tribune earlier this week, and plan to get another for Lake Roosevelt.

The news outlet describes the bid as “part of a ‘cultural release'” and report it is dependent on whether the salmon first pass testing for IHN, an infectious virus that affects fish.

The salmon are otherwise distributed to tribal members.

Ahead of any possible action, tribal fish and wildlife managers put out a call to elders and other Colvilles for comment.

“We’re to the point that we could have fish ready to move by the end of this month or the first part of August,” CTFW Director Randy Friedlander told the Tribune.

There have been increasing talk about bringing salmon back to Washington’s Upper Columbia and the British Columbia side of the international river.

It does seem a bit of a long shot as a way to jumpstart a run, as for any salmon that are released in the reservoirs, the next challenge would be for the fish to find gravel, for the eggs to hatch, for the smolts to make it over or through the first two dams without any kind of surface collectors, survive the rest of their downstream and ocean migration, and then return to some point below the dams and be collected to spawn the next generation.

But you gotta start somewhere and it’s clearly very important to do so to the tribes.

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Canadian DFO Considering Larger Orca Measures In Strait, Islands

Canadian fishery officials are looking for input on a number of “recovery measures” being considered for orcas, including new no-go zones, voluntary no-fishing areas and expanded vessel slowdowns in waters directly across from Washington, and that has fishing interests worried.

The “online consultation” period opened today and highlights actions Department of Fisheries and Oceans took last year on the British Columbia side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Gulf/San Juan Islands and lays out scenarios “A” and “B” for the same areas for 2019 and beyond.


Maps outline newly designated “enhanced management areas” that DFO says are key foraging waters for southern residents, and inside and adjacent to those are proposed no-go/reduced use zones such as at Swiftsure Bank and on portions of the southern sides of Pender and Saturna Islands.

The Swiftsure boat ban would be bordered on its west and east sides by no fishing areas under one scenario, but not in the other, though both scenarios overlay a voluntary no-angling area on most of the western and central Strait.

Paraphrasing a member of the regional local government, the  Sooke News Mirror wrote that that would have “a devastating effect for Sooke and Port Renfrew.”

“I am asking all residents of the Juan de Fuca electoral area and the District of Sooke to read the proposals and, if you agree that some fishing should take place, e-mail DFO.SRKW-ERS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca and express your support for scenario A with an amendment to remove the No Go zone on the Swiftsure,” Mike Hicks of the Capital Regional District board of directors wrote in a letter to the paper.

Under both scenarios, those waters could also see “expansion of fishery closures to include additional recreational fisheries and/or commercial fisheries.”

It wasn’t clear what that meant, but for the Gulf Islands shellfishing — crabbing and shrimping — is listed as a possibility there.

In areas identified as critical foraging waters at the mouth of the Fraser River is another proposed voluntary no-fishing zone, next to areas that were closed last year and will be this year.

Earlier this week DFO announced large-scale changes to salmon fisheries in the Dixon Entrance, off Vancouver Island and in the Fraser itself to protect Chinook coming back to the river and benefit orcas.

Canadian managers are also proposing voluntary and mandatory changes for small boaters and commercial vessels in areas designated critical habitat, enhanced management and no-go zones.

Comments are open through May 1 for Canadians, First Nations and stakeholders, with meetings planned next week in Sooke, Victoria and Richmond.

Changes To BC Chinook Fisheries Rolled Out

Restrictions to Washington’s Chinook fisheries are being followed by meaty ones on the British Columbia side of the international border.

Canadian salmon managers yesterday announced a series of measures to protect Fraser River-bound Chinook, and by extension southern resident killer whales, and which will affect recreational and commercial seasons this year.


The Department of Fisheries and Oceans acknowledged they were “difficult,” but said with 12 of the big river’s 13 stocks at risk, the loss would “be disastrous not just for wildlife that depend on them as a food source, but also for the many BC communities whose jobs and ways of life depend on Chinook salmon. That’s why the Government of Canada has taken, and is taking, urgent and concrete actions to ensure that at-risk Chinook salmon are protected for future generations.”

But the Sport Fishing Institute of BC said it was “profoundly disappointed” by the actions.

“The plan … shows no consideration for impact on coastal and indigenous communities on the south coast of BC. The hope now is that in the long term these measures will be combined with other actions including predator control, mass marking, stock enhancement and habitat rehabilitation. In the near term we all brace for the impacts that will come from this decision,” the organization said.

BC is a popular destination for Northwest salmon anglers and others in the Lower 48 and beyond.

Of note, a large part of the province’s mainland west coast from Rivers Inlet to Prince Rupert and the Alaska border and the inland waters of western Vancouver Island will continue to see two-Chinook daily limits this season.


But as for other saltwaters, the restrictions are similar to some implemented last year on the Canadian side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands, and around the mouth of the Fraser.

DFO lays out 2019’s changes thusly:

• Commercial fishing: Commercial troll fisheries for Chinook will be closed until August 20 in Northern BC, and August 1 on the West Coast of Vancouver Island to avoid impacting Fraser Chinook stocks and to support conservation priorities.

• Recreational fishing: The 2019 management measures for recreational fisheries where at risk Chinook stocks may be encountered are designed to maximize returns of these at risk Chinook to their spawning grounds. Opportunities to harvest Chinook will be provided later in the season to support the long-term viability of the recreational industry. The 2019 measures include:

• Non-retention of Chinook in, Johnstone Strait and Northern Strait of Georgia until July 14; a daily limit of one (1) Chinook per person per day from July 15 until August 29, and two (2) per person per day from August 30 until December 31.

• Non-retention of Chinook in the Strait Juan de Fuca and Southern Strait of Georgia until July 31; retention of one (1) Chinook per person per day as of August 1 until August 29, and two (2) per person per day from August 30 until December 31.

• West Coast Vancouver Island offshore areas will have non-retention of Chinook until July 14 followed by a limit of two (2) Chinook per day from July 15 to December 31. West Coast Vancouver Island inshore waters will remain at two (2) Chinook per day for the season once at-risk Chinook stocks have passed through, to support the long term viability of the salmon and of the recreational fishery.

• Fraser River recreational fisheries will remain closed to salmon fishing until at least August 23, and opportunities will be informed by any other conservation issues (coho, steelhead, etc).

• An overall reduction in the total annual limit for Chinook that can be retained per person in a season from 30 fish to 10. Recreational fisheries for other species will continue. Please see the Department’s web-site for local regulations.

• First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries: these fisheries, which have a constitutionally protected priority, will not commence until July 15 – concurrent with the opening of the recreational retention fishery.


Earlier this week, WDFW announced that the mainstem Columbia wouldn’t open for summer Chinook, that the ocean fall king quota is 26,250, just below last year’s, that Marine Area 7 would not be open in August, that the Area 9-10 marked-selective fishery would be delayed till July 25 with smaller quotas for both, and that fishing for blackmouth, or resident Chinook, would be closed in numerous marine waters in different months this coming winter.

If there’s good news from the north side of the border, it’s that the federal and provincial government announced a $142 million “British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund” and DFO said it and the US were “convening a forum to discuss and assess scientific evidence relating to population dynamics of seals and sea lions, their diet and their impacts.”

That is slated to occur this fall, according to a Vancouver Sun article out today, which also stated that “A group of First Nation fishers and hunters has approached Fisheries Canada with a plan to start a commercial seal and sea lion hunt to supply meat to restaurants in Canada and Asia, fat for supplements, and possibly as pet food.”

DFO also said it was “looking for additional recreational fishing opportunities for stocks like coho and halibut,” and “extending the current Commercial Troll voluntary licence retirement program to ease pressure on fish stocks.”

New Burbot Fishery Opening In Far North Idaho, Thanks To Restoration Effort


Idaho anglers will once again have the opportunity to fish for and harvest burbot in the Kootenai River, its tributaries and Bonner Lake starting Jan. 1. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission recently approved fishing rules for 2019-21 that included a burbot season, allowing anglers to harvest six burbot per day with no size restrictions in those waters.


This new fishing opportunity has resulted from a collaborative effort to restore burbot by the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Idaho Fish and Game, the University of Idaho, fisheries managers from British Columbia and Montana, and local communities in the Kootenai Valley.

Burbot in the Kootenai River average about 16 to 20 inches long, but fish as large as 33 to 35 inches have been observed in surveys. Burbot are most active, and spawn, in the winter months, making it the best season to fish for them. Historical reports suggest that night fishing is often most productive, particularly on shallow flats where burbot tend to congregate for feeding and spawning.

Anglers targeting burbot typically use cut bait, dead shrimp, or worms hooked to a jig or fished from the bottom.

Burbot are also known by some anglers as “ling,” “ling cod” and “eel pout,” and they are native to the Kootenai River, but fishing has been closed in Idaho since 1992 because of low populations. In fact, the population was nearly lost, plummeting to only about 50 fish in 2004. Efforts to restore the native burbot population gained headway with the signing of a Burbot Conservation Strategy in 2005 led by the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, a community driven natural resource collaborative.

As a result, the declining population was reversed, and enough burbot now exist to reopen a harvest fishery while meeting conservation goals. Current estimates indicate there are 40,000 to 50,000 burbot in the Kootenai River. Restoration efforts for burbot are ongoing, with more burbot projected in coming year.

Many people contributed to this project, but key elements included development and operation of a burbot hatchery along with a series of habitat restoration projects by the Kootenai Tribe. University of Idaho researchers assisted in developing hatchery practices. British Columbia provided fertilized burbot eggs from Moyie Lake. Idaho Fish and Game biologists did annual population monitoring and research along with British Columbia and Montana. Much of the work has been funded by the Bonneville Power Administration as part of their fish and wildlife mitigation program.

Anyone with questions about the new burbot season can contact Idaho Fish and Game staff in the Panhandle Regional Office at (208) 769-1414.

DFO Proposes New Orca Critical Habitat Areas

Editor’s note: This blog has been updated from an earlier version that was in places unintentionally overbroad, causing concerns outside of the new proposed southern resident killer whale critical habitat areas, and has been sharpened to reflect that. 

Canadian fishery overseers want to designate large areas around southern Vancouver Island as critical habitat for orcas, and that’s leaving some in salmon ports on the island’s south side worried.

This week’s proposal for SRKWs includes the fishy Swiftsure and La Pérouse Banks off the island’s west side and Washington’s Neah Bay, as well as most of the BC side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands.


Earlier this year, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed salmon fishing seasonally on the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, Gulf Islands and at the mouth of Fraser, three key SRKW foraging areas, to “help increase the availability of this critical food source,” Chinook.

That hurt the summer fishing season. In Sooke, a famed salmon port on the south side of Vancouver Island, a local lodge owner and president of a tourism bureau said that business was off 80 percent.

Now the worry is that the new critical habitat areas will lead to much larger angling closures.

According to DFO spokesman Dan Bate it is not as cut and dried.

“Under the Species at Risk Act, activities themselves within critical habitat are not prohibited — it is the destruction of critical habitat that is prohibited,” he said via email.

Disturbance from boat traffic, the build up of pollutants and low numbers of Chinook salmon have been identified as major reasons why SRKWs are struggling in recent years.

After the new habitat designations were proposed, a consortium of 17 southern Vancouver Island chambers of commerce issued a statement, cautioning DFO “to carefully weigh potential management measures that could harm their coastal communities, destroy thousands of business and jobs, and impact tourism revenue across Vancouver Island.”

Bate said his agency works with sportfishing and other industries to meet SARA goals while minimizing its impact on stakeholders.

“All efforts will be made to minimize the economic impact of any reductions on coastal communities, and to work with implicated sectors to ensure their activities do not result in critical habitat destruction,” he said.

What it all might mean for next year’s Chinook seasons will be part of upcoming discussions with Indigenous groups and fishermen, Bate said.

Stay tuned.

Caribou Reported In Northwest Montana

Just days after British Columbia wildlife managers announced they would round up the last two members of a mountain caribou herd that haunts the international border country, Montana officials are reporting sightings in the northwestern corner of their state.


“The multiple sightings include the potential for a bull and a cow in separate locations,” Fish, Wildlife and Parks reported in a press release out yesterday.

As hunting seasons in the area continued, the agency urged sportsmen to be sure of their targets, as both sexes of adult caribou carry antlers.


The border-crossing South Selkirk herd has declined in recent years, with a particularly sharp drop reported earlier this year.

Where there were a dozen animals in late winter 2017, only a trio — all cows — were spotted during an intensive three-day survey this past March.

Kalispel Tribe biologist Bart George speculated that it was possible other members had been hit by an avalanche or there was a vehicle strike on the main Canadian highway through the mountains, though he didn’t hear of one.

Perhaps some struck out on their own instead.

The plan is to capture the two South Selkirk cows — the third was killed by a cougar this summer — and put with the last three bulls and a cow from the South Purcell herd in a pen 100 miles north of the border.

It’s hoped the animals will breed and a subpopulation could return to the Lower 48, according to a Spokane Spokesman-Review article out over the weekend.

It’s believed that clearcutting in mountain caribou habitat created plentiful browse for moose and other deer species to colonize the heights, and that in turn brought up more cougars, bears and wolves.

Unlike their cousins on the tundra, these caribou apparently didn’t recognize the predators as threats and have declined sharply as a result.

US, Canada Agree To New West Coast Salmon Treaty

Updated 4:29 p.m. Sept. 17, 2018

US and Canadian salmon managers have reached a new 10-year agreement on Chinook harvest and conservation, one that must still be approved in the countries’ capitals but calls for reduced northern interceptions when runs are poor.


Fisheries off Southeast Alaska would be cut as much as 7.5 percent from 2009-15 levels in those years, while those off the west coast of Vancouver Island would be pruned up to 12.5 percent.

Those are key areas that Washington- and Columbia River-bound kings travel through during their ocean sojourn and a bone of contention for managers at all levels.

“I think that thorniness is why it took the countries two and a half years and numerous negotiation sessions,” said John Field, the executive secretary of the Pacific Salmon Commission.

The update to the international treaty would run from Jan. 1, 2019 through 2028 and be in effect down to Cape Falcon, Oregon. It also covers chums, sockeye, pinks and coho.

Field termed the section on Chinook a “long and complicated chapter” and said that all parties are acknowledging that the species isn’t recovering as well as we’d like, so the burden of harvest cuts is being spread out.

According to Governor Jay Inslee’s office, “Fisheries in Washington will remain tightly constrained unless runs exceed management objectives.”

Alaska salmon managers report that Washington and Oregon fisheries could see reductions from 5 to 15 percent.

Washington’s member of the salmon commission, Phil Anderson, the retired WDFW director, said the plan would “create a better future for salmon in Washington.”

Field, who counts himself as a sports fishermen, said that fellow anglers can rest assured that Chinook management will be improved with “augmentations” in the treaty, including improved tagging for mark-selective fisheries, a 10-year schedule to upgrade monitoring of “sentinel” stocks and a review after five years to see if the reductions are actually yielding better king runs.

The importance of Chinook has been in the spotlight of late with the plight of southern resident killer whales and the likely death of yet another one, J50.

According to Inslee’s office, US salmon commissioners will seek out more money from Washington DC for habitat and hatchery work.

“Additional federal funding is essential in order to make the key conservation work possible to recover salmon, and in turn, our orca,” Inslee said.

“Successful updates to the Pacific Salmon Treaty through 2028 will help ensure long-term sustainable and healthy salmon populations that are vital to the people of the Pacific Northwest, and to the entire ecosystem,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown in a press release.


Northwest Duck Production Up, Annual USFWS Survey Reports

Northwest waterfowlers should see more mallards and other ducks for the youth hunting weekends next month and when the general season begins in October, but potentially fewer later in fall and winter as northern birds arrive.

Those are some of the bullet points from a federal survey released today.

It reports that Oregon numbers are up 23 percent over last year while Washington counts rose 16 percent.


While the bulk of our flocks fly in from British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon and Alaska, local production sustains early hunting before cold weather pushes northern birds south.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 294,000 ducks were counted this year in Oregon, up from 240,000 last year, while 281,000 were tallied in Washington, a rise of 39,000 from 2017.

Those are 12 and 59 percent above the long-term averages, respectively.

Mallard counts were also up in both states, from 72,000 to 93,000 in the former and 103,000 to 125,000 in the latter. Those figures are 7 and 51 percent above the average.

USFWS reported that while habitat conditions declined in Oregon compared to 2017, they were still considered “fair to good” because of 2016-17’s wet winter. A wet April helped keep ponds up in Washington, biologists reported.


Idaho: Area 1 (all counties except Valley, western half of Power and Southeast Idaho): Oct. 13-Jan. 25; Area 2: Oct. 6-Jan. 18

Oregon: Zone 1 (Western, Northcentral counties): Oct. 13-28, Oct. 31-Jan. 27; Zone 2 (Central, Eastern Counties): Oct. 6-Nov. 25, Nov. 28-Jan. 20; Statewide youth weekend: Sept. 22-23; Note: several state and federal refuges also offer youth hunting days; see the regs for dates, application deadlines

Washington: Oct. 13-31, Nov. 3-Jan. 27; Westside youth weekend: Sept. 22-23; Eastside youth weekend: Sept. 29-30

In the “prime” breeding grounds of southern and interior British Columbia, habitat conditions were “very good” to “good,” leading to a slight rise in mallard numbers.

Surveys further north, however, found fewer ducks. Numbers in Alaska and the Yukon declined 15 percent over 2017 and fell below the long-term average, while in northern BC, northern and central Alberta and the Northwest Territory, they dropped 13 percent.

Southern Alberta flocks fell 14 percent while those in Montana and North and South Dakota were essentially unchanged.

Ducks Unlimited reported that, overall, U.S. and Canadian duck numbers were down 13 percent over last year but were still 17 percent above the longterm average.

“The dip in the population for prairie-breeding puddle ducks is not unexpected and by no means unprecedented given that conditions on the prairies this spring were drier than last year,” said DU Chief Scientist Tom Moorman in a press release. “This year’s breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain the capacity of breeding habitats, particularly in the prairies as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions. Waterfowl populations are adapted well to short-term swings in habitat conditions, but we must continue to guard against the long-term loss of prairie breeding habitat.”

Grand scheme, North American mallard, gadwall, green- and blue-winged teal, shoveler and redhead numbers are all declining year to year but still above average, widgeon and canvasback numbers are about average, while pintail and scaup are below average and declining, according to USFWS.


Seattle Chapter members of Ducks Unlimited are looking to build on their phenomenal support of waterfowl and their habitat with another blockbuster annual banquet early next month.

“We’ve raised more over the past decade than any other Ducks Unlimited chapter in the US,” says organizer and longtime waterfowler Greg James. “We are the first chapter to go over $300,000 net at a dinner, and then the first one to go over $400,000 net.”

In 2016, Seattle DU was honored with a place on the Chairman’s Roll of Honor chapters list, for those that raise $250,000 to $1 million.

Last year’s banquet raised $400,000 for wetlands conservation, James says, and as a DU newsletter states, the chapter’s efforts are showing “that the Emerald City can be known for something other than coffee, jets, and software.”

The 2018 edition is set for Oct. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel. The evening features a five-star dinner, wines, entertainment and an auction.

For more, contact Karin Dow-Martinez at (206) 524-5300 or karin@kdmanagement.net.

New Book Tells Story Of Woman Who Co-owned Rivers Inlet Salmon Fishing Resort

Each December we feature the Real Women of Northwest Fishing, and recently British Columbia fishing resort owner Pat Ardley wrote a book about her many years running the lodge with her husband George.

Grizzlies, Gales and Giant Salmon: Life at a Rivers Inlet Fishing Lodge is “the story of a woman who overcame her fears and stepped far outside her realm of comforts, as well as a touching tribute to raising a family and life in BC’s secluded wilderness,” according to Harbour Publishing, which published Ardley’s book last month.


It is available through Amazon and elsewhere.

The following is excerpted by permission from Harbour Publishing.

by Pat Ardley

Our First Crossing

The front of the boat plowed into the huge swell of water, and the wave crashed over the bow, washed up and over the windshield and along the top. I was cringing in my seat, holding on for dear life. We rose up on the next swell and the water moved on, leaving our boat suspended in air. We crashed down into the hollow between swells and the entire thirty- foot length shuddered as it seemed to haul itself back up for breath. I kept wondering how long this boat could take such pounding. The waves were relentless. How long can I take this pounding? I’m sorry, Mom, kept going around and around in my head.


We were running the boat from Finn Bay to Port Hardy for John Buck. He had headed out in his smaller and faster speedboat and was possibly already in town. There had been a terrible storm over the last few days and the fifteen-foot swell was what was left of it as we headed out early in the morning. Because of the poor water condition, we had to go very slow, with the speed barely registering, and we had about fifty miles to travel across Queen Charlotte Sound, which was open water all the way to Japan. By the time we were almost halfway across, the wind started to strengthen and there was a large chop on top of the swells. I wanted to go back. George couldn’t turn the boat around or we would have been swamped between the swells. We were already going as slow as he dared to go but we had to keep some forward speed to control the direction of the boat and keep it from wallowing and possibly sinking. At this point I was thinking, If I die out here, Dad’s going to kill me! Wave after wave crashed over us, and the boat shuddered and shook, squealed and groaned. Or was that last part just me? I couldn’t tell anymore.


While I can’t say that George was exactly happy that we were in this predicament, he was very confident in his ability, and he viewed the waves and swell as a challenge. He has a profound sense that boats are made to float while I had simply acquired a pathological fear of boats and water and drowning. I could taste it. Salty and desperate and I’m sorry Mom, if I’d known this could happen I would never have agreed to be here! The water was a dark, angry grey, and now large whitecaps were forming on top of the waves on top of the swells.

When the waves washed over the top there was a feeling that the boat was going down. Tons of water held the boat like a huge hand pushing down on us. We didn’t talk, we couldn’t talk. The noise of the wind and waves was thunderous. The wind shrieked in the crack in the window that I kept trying to push closed but most of the time couldn’t coordinate with all the jerking and crashing. I kept trying because salt water was forcing its way in with each wave and I was getting soaked with freezing cold water. We pounded with every wave and now the tops were being blown off the whitecaps. Tops are blown off when the wind is over thirty-five miles per hour. “Please make this stop!” was now my mantra. I said it over and over, mixed with “Please send me a skyhook that can pluck me out of this boat and put me on dry land!”


There were no other boats out here. Everyone else must have listened to the weather report. No one crosses the sound when a storm is forecast, which is something I know now, but especially not in a slow boat. The weather can change a lot in the six hours that a normal trip would take. And it did. When we rose to the top of a swell I could just make out the lighthouse on Pine Island through the mist. I knew that just ahead of Pine Island was a stretch called the Storm Islands and then the relative safety of Goletas Channel. I had to hold on for a while yet. I dug down deep inside me and brought out more reserves of strength and determination and started deep-breathing to maintain control of myself so I didn’t end up a pool of jellyfish sloshing around on the floor of the boat. Then I started singing in my head. I was too worn out and still being slammed around to be able to sing out loud. I sang every word to every Christmas song and every folk song and every pop tune that I could remember, and then I sang them again. This deep-breathing and singing is what I now call my “safe place,” which I have gone to many times over the years to get through some pretty harrowing situations.


We were passing Pine Island very slowly, and we were making very little headway. But wave by wave we plowed our way forward and headed into what I hoped would be the relief of Goletas Channel. There is a lighthouse at Scarlett Point, right at the corner of Christie Pass, which leads into Goletas Channel, and as we passed it I could see several people waving encouragement to us from the deck of the tower. The water was different here, with very little swell, but the waves were higher and coming faster. I had hoped for a feeling of safety when we turned into the channel but we were still in danger. We were no longer dropping heavily between swells, but now we were crashing and crashing through the waves. The sky started darkening, and I felt my heart plunge again. How can we do this in the dark?


The last hour of the trip from the channel into Hardy Bay and finally to the dock was agonizingly slow. Every bone in my body was aching, I could hardly hold my head up and I was numb and chilled to the bone. I had not even been able to reach for anything to put over my shoulders to fight the frigid onslaught of spray. It was pitch dark until we turned the corner into the bay and could see the lights of Port Hardy, nestled safely onshore. George’s eyes were fried from focusing so hard on the water and his arms were ready to fall off. Later we discovered a blister that covered his whole hand from working the throttle for twelve gruelling hours. We finally tied up at the government wharf in Port Hardy and stumbled up the dock.

What kind of life had I gotten myself into?

None Of Last 3 South Selkirk Caribou Were Pregnant

More grim news about the last herd of mountain caribou known to frequent the Lower 48: Pregnancy tests on the remaining three females all came back negative.

That means the subpopulation of North America’s southernmost caribou is dangerously close to becoming extirpated from Washington and Idaho.


The news has left wildlife biologists wondering what to do next.

“We don’t really know,” said Bart George with the Kalispel Tribe north of Spokane. “We’re trying to figure that out, talking to our Canadian counterparts.”

The only three members of the South Selkirk Herd seen during a three-day March survey, biological samples were taken from the cows during capture and collar operations, and George had been hopeful that they’d been bred the previous fall.

But the negative results now suggest that the other animals all died between late winter 2017’s count of 11 and last October’s and November’s rut.

“I don’t know where we would’ve missed them,” George said of this year’s search.

He points to changed predator-prey dynamics in the heights where the caribou feed on lichen that grows on old-growth timber, which is being logged, opening up browse for deer, moose and elk, which brought up bears, cougars and increasingly, wolves.

George said that the three South Selkirk females are otherwise in their prime breeding years.

“They should have been bred” if there was another bull in the area, he said.

It’s now bitterly ironic, but last fall a maternity pen was constructed specifically for these females to be able to rear calves in a predator-proof enclosure.

Another recent survey found just four mountain caribou in the South Purcell herd, which roams near Kimberley, BC, about 40 miles north of the international border.

George said it’s possible that that quartet — all bulls — could end up together with the South Selkirk trio.

Recent news coverage of the dramatic decline in the herd focused on the word extinction, but that’s not really the correct term.

“If this herd is extirpated, it’s a pretty significant range constriction for southern mountain caribou,” said George.

But he’s still not ready to give up hope.

“We’re still going to be managing caribou one way or another. We’re going to do our best for this herd and try getting caribou back on the landscape,” he said.