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WDFW Asks For Public Help Monitoring Okanogan Bighorns After 1 Dies From Sheep Pneumonia

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) asks members of the public to report sightings of bighorn sheep that are obviously ill in Okanogan County after a bighorn ram from the Mt. Hull herd was recently confirmed to have died from pneumonia caused by a highly infectious bacteria. While posing no health threat to humans, Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, known as M. ovi, can decimate bighorn populations and kill lambs for many years, preventing herds from repopulating.

A BIGHORN RAM LOOKS OVER THE LOOMIS AREA OF NORTHCENTRAL OKANOGAN COUNTY. (JUSTIN HAUG, WDFW)

At this time, only a single ram from the herd near the Canadian border has tested positive for pneumonia. Testing on additional animals is currently underway. While WDFW biologists and veterinarians await results, they are partnering with biologists at the Colville Tribes to increase visual monitoring of the Mt. Hull herd. And they are asking for help from the public.

“This is a highly visible herd. These sheep are in orchards and among houses,” said WDFW Biologist Jeff Heinlen. “Because we can’t be watching all the time, we are asking people to alert us if they notice sheep that appear lethargic, coughing or showing nasal discharge. This helps us assess the health of the herd.”

There is also a potential for wandering sheep to pass M. ovi to animals in other herds, such as the Omak Lake herd on the Colville Reservation to the south, the Sinlahekin herd to the west, or herds to the north across the border in British Columbia.

“In 2012 the Colville Tribes conducted a genetic analysis between the Sinlahekin, Mt. Hull, and Omak Lake herds, showing us that the Omak Lake herd was likely founded by individuals from the Sinlahekin herd, but may have been in contact through immigration event(s) with the Mt. Hull herd in the past,” said Colville Tribal Biologist Eric Krausz. “We have documented collared bighorn sheep traveling from Omak Lake to Mt. Hull, so we know bighorn sheep from these distinct herds travel back and forth on occasion and likely come into contact with one another.”

Because of this, WDFW asks to also be alerted if bighorn sheep are observed in places they aren’t normally seen. The Mt. Hull herd’s typical range is from approximately Tonasket to the Canadian border north of Oroville. If sheep are seen outside that area, or notably sick bighorn sheep are observed, please call Jeff Heinlen at (509) 826-7372 and leave a message or email Jeffrey.Heinlen@dfw.wa.gov.

While it is biologically possible for uninfected domestic sheep or goats to become infected by contagious bighorns, cross-species transmission of M. ovi is much more common in the reverse direction. The bacteria typically causes only mild and temporary symptoms in domestic sheep and can reduce growth rates, but serious illness and death is rare. In contrast, most bighorns that become infected due to close contact with domestic sheep or goats succumb to pneumonia, and some that survive pass it to newborn lambs that similarly lack immune protection.

There are approximately 17 bighorn sheep herds across Washington, two within the bounds of the Colville Reservation.

Washington Wildlife Commission To Hear About Eastside’s Pronghorns

Pronghorns popping up on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission agenda for this weekend’s meetings got my hunter’s heart racing.

“Just a briefing on status or should we look for something along the lines of potential permit hunt development?” I asked state speedgoat manager Richard Harris.

He got back to me pretty quickly and tempered my enthusiasm somewhat.

“Just a briefing, at the request of the Commission. Premature for the latter …,” Harris replied via email.

Dangit!

Still, if you’re interested in the expansion of antelope herds in the eastern half of the Evergreen State, his presentation to the citizen panel does make for some interesting viewing.

Its 26 pages covers the native species’ history, its extirpation by the very early 1900s, and state (mid-1900s) and tribal (2000s) reintroduction efforts, as well as maps showing where those captured in Nevada and released onto the Yakama and Colville Reservations with GPS collars primarily range and have wandered.

Some on the former reservation have gone as far east as I-82 between Tri-Cities and the Columbia, and as far south as almost to the giant landfill above Roosevelt in Klickitat County.

Some on the latter have gone as far south as near the mouth of Moses Coulee.

A HERD OF PRONGHORN ANTELOPE ON ALERT ON THE FROZEN TUNDRA OF NORTHERN DOUGLAS COUNTY, WASH. (ERIC BRAATEN, WDFW)

The presentation also touches on population monitoring (last summer we reported there were roughly 250 out there, and WDFW and the Yakamas are planning another joint late-January survey), landowner issues (pronghorns are prone to alfalfa addictions), and the state’s existing policies.

The request for a briefing came from Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane, and with one-third of the antelope in Washington now occupying ground where WDFW has jurisdiction, Harris will brief the commission on future steps, which includes:

• Preliminary management plans for both Upper Columbia Basin and Lower Columbia Basin pronghorn groups
• Work closely with Tribes to develop complementary plans and strategies
• Public meetings to gather input and suggestions
Whether or not the tribal reintroductions ever result in limited state hunts, it’s still one to keep an eye on if you’re a Washington wildlife world watcher.

 

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State, Tribal Fall FDR Pike Survey Turns Up More Bad News, But Slivers Of Good

More details are coming out about last week’s large-scale joint state-tribal survey on Lake Roosevelt, one that alarmingly turned up a 6-pound pike just 10 miles from Grand Coulee Dam and a 27.5-pound northern in the upper Spokane Arm, but may have also reduced bycatch over last fall’s effort.

Fishery managers say that it’s all about figuring out the best way to suppress pike populations to keep them from chewing up the reservoir’s more popular game fish species.

Asked about angler concerns over nontarget species also being netted, WDFW’s Chuck Lee defends, “If it doesn’t get done, those (hatchery trout) aren’t going to be around either.”

A WDFW NET SET ON UPPER LAKE ROOSEVELT CAPTURED A 31-INCH, 10-POUND NORTHERN PIKE THAT HAD EATEN A 16-INCH RAINBOW TROUT. (WDFW)

A 31-inch, 10-pound pike caught in one of the agency’s 50 net sets had a 16-inch rainbow in its stomach.

The other primary worry with pike is that the invasive nonnative species will get into the anadromous zone below Chief Joseph, the next dam below Grand Coulee, with its ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

“Adult sockeye aren’t too much bigger than that rainbow trout,” Lee points out.

Roosevelt also hosts white sturgeon, kokanee, burbot, lake whitefish — one that was 2 pounds heavier than the state record was sampled last week — walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch.

This is the second fall survey in a row and WDFW took the upper portion of Roosevelt while the Spokane Tribe worked the Spokane Arm and midsection with 50 net sets and the Colville Tribes hit from the dam to Hawk Creek with yet another 50.

If there’s good news, it’s that the Colvilles caught only that one pike in their 37-mile lower reservoir stretch.

“As alarming as it was, we’re glad it was only one fish,” Lee says.

But more and more are turning up midlake, he adds.

Overall, 152 were caught, with 112 by WDFW in their area of responsibility.

Lee notes that for this survey adjustments were made in where the agency set its nets.

“We figured we could eliminate 40 percent of the bycatch by moving them shallower,” he says.

Some deeper sets last year also came up empty.

Figures were still being crunched but Lee says less than 20 fish were caught per state soak.

The comanagers’ overall goal is to figure out how they can get the best bang for their buck with the effort.

“What we’re really trying to find out is, What’s the best way to monitor northern pike and measure suppression efforts — which is the best season for doing suppression?” Lee says.

While spring and the spawn is a good time, the weather is often poor and the reservoir is drawn down. But fall’s stable conditions may be more ideal.

Either season is good if you’re a species that managers and anglers want to save, thanks to cold to cooling water temperatures that make it more likely released fish will survive.

Lake whitefish and nets, however, aren’t a good combination, which most being killed.

A spring 2017 survey saw survival rates of 45 percent for walleye, 37 percent for hatchery rainbows, and greater than 50 percent overall for other species.

“We want to learn from suppression efforts to do it better,” Lee says, adding that funding is a bit of a problem.

Money has been coming from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

As for other results from this fall’s survey, that ginormous 27.5-pound pike caught by the Spokane Tribe was a relatively rare specimen as tribal suppression efforts — both netting and $10 rewards for fish heads — appear to be resulting in younger and younger pike, the number one goal, according to Lee.

SPOKANE TRIBE BIOLOGISTS, WHO CAUGHT THIS NEARLY 4-FOOT-LONG PIKE IN THE SPOKANE ARM LAST WEEK, PLANNED TO DISSECT THE FISH AND SEE WHAT IT’S BEEN EATING. (SPOKANE TRIBE)

Smaller pike have fewer eggs, but the species is one you can’t let your guard down on either.

Befitting their reputation as “nightmare fish,” Lee says northerns can hold off spawning till later in the year, when water temps are otherwise well above their optimal range of 40 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

“All they need is a little vegetation,” Lee says.

Correction, 11:15 a.m., Nov. 14, 2018: The initial version of this blog stated that WDFW had caught 152 pike in this fall’s survey, but that was actually the overall catch by the state and tribes. WDFW’s nets caught 112 pike.

Female Pike Caught 10 Miles Of Grand Coulee Dam

A 6.2-pound female northern pike that could have spawned next spring was instead fortuitously netted about 10 miles of Grand Coulee Dam in what’s believed to be the furthest downreservoir capture of the invasive nonnative predator fish so far on Lake Roosevelt.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES CAUGHT THIS 6.2-POUND, 30-INCH FEMALE NORTHERN PIKE NEAR GRAND COULEE DAM EARLIER THIS MONTH. (COLVILLE TRIBES)

It and a 27.5-pounder caught near the head of Roosevelt’s Spokane Arm mark temporary victories in the fight to keep the species out of the Columbia River’s anadromous zone.

The two pike were captured by the Colville and Spokane Tribes, respectively, during recent surveys throughout the reservoir and were first reported by KING 5 in a segment that aired last night.

The worry is that the fish will eventually get below Lake Rufus Woods and Chief Joseph Dam, which marks as far upstream as salmon and steelhead can travel on the Columbia, and wreak havoc on ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead at the mouth of the Okanogan River and below.

Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in recovering those stocks and others in the Inland Northwest.

Unfortunately, pike are moving that way as inexorably as water flows downhill.

They were likely moved illicitly by bucket biologists from Idaho’s Lake Couer d’Alene drainage into Washington’s Pend Oreille River, and from there were flushed downstream into the Columbia during high spring runoff.

The species established itself near the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers on Roosevelt, but has been dropping further and further downlake,

They may even already be in Rufus Woods, if anecdotal angler reports are any indication. State fishery biologists are worried about that possibility.

WDFW and the tribes have been working hard for several years to reduce pike numbers, eradicating as many as possible through gillnetting.

The Colvilles are also in the second year of a program that offers anglers $10 a head for any northerns they turn in.

While meant to help protect Lake Roosevelt’s rainbow trout, kokanee and other fish populations, a poster says that any pike caught downstream in Rufus Woods and even the Wells Pool can also be submitted for cash.

The program was the inspiration behind Northwest Sportsman‘s offer of $50 for any caught in Lake Washington, where two have shown up since January 2017.

250 Pronghorns Wandering Central Washington

Somewhere around 250 pronghorn are roaming the open country of Northcentral and Southcentral Washington, thanks to tribal releases on two reservations in recent years and the birth of fawns.

A minimum of 118 were counted by Colville wildlife biologists during a recent aerial survey, according to a Grand Coulee Star article out last Wednesday.

A PRONGHORN WANDERS THROUGH COUNTRYSIDE. (NPS)

Surveyors counted 89 adults and 29 fawns. Fifty-one of those animals are wearing telemetry collars, and it’s likely there are more untracked antelope both on and off the Colville Reservation.

Fifty-two were set free there in January 2016 and another 99 this past October.

A number have crossed the Columbia River into largely private Douglas County and some have wandered as far as Wenatchee and Quincy, according to the Star.

Colville wildlife managers say they are trying to work with the state Department of Transportation and local farmers how to design pronghorn-friendly fences, as the speedsters are apparently not very good at jumping.

Antelope, however, can be problematic for alfalfa growers.

The northern pronghorns came from the same state as those released earlier this decade on the Yakama Reservation, Nevada.

A joint state-tribal March 2017 aerial survey of Benton, Klickitat and Yakima Counties yielded a population estimate of 121, and last fall Yakama biologists let 52 more loose.

“There was high survival of the translocated animals, so the herd is presumably a bit larger that the spring count of 121 animals now,” said WDFW wildlife bio Jason Fidorra.

He expects the tribe to release another 48.

State pronghorn manager Rich Harris says that WDFW and the Yakama Nation will conduct an aerial survey this coming winter.

Colville Tribes Report Growing Wolf, Pack Numbers

More than 20 wolves as well as a new pack and possible other one are roaming the Colville Reservation in North-central and Northeast Washington, a fair jump over 2016’s minimum count.

According to the tribes’ Fish and Wildlife Department, a recent aerial count found eight wolves in the Strawberry Pack, seven in the Nc’icn Pack, six in the new Frosty Meadows Pack and five in the Whitestone Pack.

THE NEW FROSTY MEADOWS PACK LIKELY OCCURS ROUGHLY WHERE THE STRAWBERRY, NC’ICN AND WHITESTONE PACK BOUNDARIES CONVERGE, WITH THE POSSIBLE DISAUTEL PACK OCCURRING LIKELY TO THE SOUTHWEST OF STRAWBERRY. (WDFW)

All four were reported as breeding packs.

“There is a suspected Disautel Pack as well,” managers reported in the Facebook post last week.

Disautel is in the western half of the reservation, Frosty Meadows the east.

Separately, WDFW reported four wolves in the Beaver Creek Pack to the north of the western end of the reservation.

The figures will be included when WDFW’s Donny Martorello presents the 2017 year-end count for the entire state to the Fish and Wildlife Commission this weekend.

In last March’s update, there were a reported minimum of 14 wolves in the three known Colville Reservation packs, including seven in Strawberry, five in Nc’icn and two in Whitestone.

Tribal managers also reported that a wolf had been legally harvested from each of the Strawberry, Whitestone and Frosty Meadows Packs. They’d announced the hunt was closed in late February because the annual quota had been met.

The news rererererereconfirms that wolves are doing quite well in the state’s northeastern corner.

Of note, the recently passed state budget includes $183,000 to study moving wolves from this country to elsewhere in Washington, according to the Capital Press.

Translocation was the subject of a bill sponsored by area Rep. Joel Kretz. It passed the House, and though it stalled in the Senate, was carried into the final budget, the ag world outlet reported.

North-central Washington Wolf Hunt Ends With Quota Met

Tribal wildlife managers say that a wolf hunt in North-central Washington has closed now that the annual quota was recently met.

The Fish and Wildlife Department of the Colville Confederated Tribes made the announcement after a third wolf was harvested on their reservation, filling the limit, according to the Tribal Tribune newspaper.

(WDFW)

Today was the last scheduled day of the season, which began Nov. 1.

It’s also the last day wolf hunting is open on the “North Half” — that is, federal, state and other lands north of the sprawling reservation’s northern boundary.

There, the quota is also three wolves, but any removed by state wildlife managers for livestock depredations count towards that. The Sherman Pack male was killed in late summer for attacking cattle in the Kettle Range. It wasn’t immediately clear if tribal hunters had taken any others.

The Colville Tribes opened its first wolf hunt in 2012 but it wasn’t until November 2016 that an animal was reported taken. The original quota was 12, but that was subsequently reduced to three  on the reservation.

In other Washington wolf news:

* A rancher in northern Ferry County shot a wolf attacking calves in late October. The case only recently came to light in the Capital Press. It’s the third case of legal use of lethal caught-in-the-act provisions in the federally delisted eastern third of the state, two of which have involved ranchers and the other a dog owner at his cabin in the Blue Mountains.

* The Cattle Producers of Washington protested after the organization was denied grant funding for wolf work in the state’s northeast corner. More from the Press.

* Rep. Joel Kretz’s wolf translocation bill stalled in the state Senate after it passed the House on an 85-13 vote.

* And we should learn the latest minimum estimated number of wolves in Washington in the coming weeks, when WDFW releases the 2017 year-end count. It will likely show an increase over the 115 known wolves in 20 packs and 10 breeding pairs observed at the end of 2016. The agency’s next Wolf Advisory Group meeting is March 21-22 in Ellensburg.

Anglers Turn In Nearly 1,100 Pike Heads From Roosevelt In 2017

Anglers turned in the heads of nearly 1,100 northern pike caught at Lake Roosevelt for cash this year, part of a multipronged effort to keep the unwanted invasive species from getting further down the Columbia system.

The news was reported in the December quarterly newsletter of the Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department, along with word that the reward program will begin again Jan. 1 and run throughout 2018.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES’ ROBERT THOMAS HOLDS UP A 20-POUND FEMALE NORTHERN PIKE CARRYING A COUPLE POUNDS OF EGGS BEFORE BEING GILLNETTED OUT OF LAKE ROOSEVELT EARLIER THIS YEAR. (BRYAN JONES, COLVILLE TRIBES)

According to the newsletter, Colville officials paid out more than $10,000 for the 1,095 heads dropped off in bags at two drop stations since May 1, mostly since mid-July when the catch stood at 216.

Six anglers received the maximum available per fisherman, $590.

The year’s tally didn’t surprise Bill Baker, the WDFW district fisheries biologist in Colville.

“At $10 a head, there’s some incentive there,” he noted.

WDFW’s position couldn’t be more clear: “Pike are a problem, not an opportunity,” reads a line in an October update on the situation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The state and Colville and Spokane Tribes are working together to try and keep the pike, which came down through the Columbia system from Canada, Idaho and Montana, from getting past Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams.

“We are concerned about the impacts pike are having on native fish in Lake Roosevelt, primarily redband trout, kokanee, white sturgeon and burbot,” Holly McLellan, a tribal fisheries bioloigst, stated in the newsletter. “If the northern pike are allowed to expand downstream into the mid and lower Columbia River, they have the potential to compromise recovery efforts for ESA listed salmon species.”

The furthest down Lake Roosevelt they’ve been discovered so far is the Hunters area.

State biologists also told the Fish and Wildlife Commission that suppression netting this year had removed another 1,083 northerns, largely at the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, and around the corner at Singers Bay.

Most were very young, but one weighed 26 pounds and went 44 inches long.

Editor’s note: The $10 reward is open to all licensed anglers, tribally and state-licensed alike. An earlier version of this misspoke by suggesting it was just available to tribal anglers. My apologies.

Nearly 100 Pronghorn Released On North-central Washington Reservation

Just under 100 pronghorn were let loose on the Colville Reservation in late October, according to tribal wildlife managers.

It’s the second batch of the native but extirpated species that has been released on the sprawling North-central Washington reservation in the past two years.

The Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department announced the release in a short Facebook post.

PRONGHORN ANTELOPE ORIGINALLY RELEASED ON THE COLVILLE RESERVATION IN JANUARY 2016 MADE THEIR WAY SOUTH ACROSS THE COLUMBIA INTO DOUGLAS COUNTY BY THAT WINTER. (ERIC BRAATEN, WDFW)

As with January 2016’s 52, the latest transplants were originally captured in Nevada, as were 99 that went to the Yakama Reservation in South-central Washington in January 2011.

Dozens of those pronghorns swam across the Columbia to Douglas County last year and were said to be hanging out on CRP lands.

At least 14 collared animals died.

Well to the south, mid-March 2017 aerial surveys in Benton, Klickitat and Yakima Counties turned up 116 antelope — 44 on Yakama lands and 72 outside those borders — with a population estimate of 121.

“Both the Yakama Nation and WDFW consider that the population will require at least a few more years of growth before recreational harvest should be considered,” reads a state report.

Northeast Washington Tribe To Begin Hunting Wolves Off Reservation

The tribes that first began hunting wolves in Washington have expanded seasons to off-reservation areas, a first as well.

The Colville Tribes’ Business Council voted this morning to amend its 2016-19 hunting regs to open the “North Half,” where the Profanity Peak, Sherman, Wedge and Beaver Creek Packs largely run, to tribal hunters.

THE RED LINE REFLECTS THE  FORMER NORTH HALF OF THE COLVILLE RESERVATION, WHERE THE TRIBAL BUSINESS COUNCIL HAS APPROVED WOLF SEASONS. (WDFW)

The hunt will be modeled on those in the South Half, where the quota is around one-fifth to one-quarter of the overall population, according to a Tribal Tribune article out yesterday.

Though it’s highly likely there are more wolves now, the 2016 year-end count reported 16 in the four North Half packs, as well as 12 in two South Half packs that roam into the North Half at times.

But if the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife kills any in the area to head off cattle depredations — the Shermans are sitting on two confirmed calf kills and one confirmed calf injury since June 12, and a fourth attack could lead to removals of one or two members — that could reduce how many are available for tribal hunters to take, according to the paper.

The North Half includes state, federal and private lands in northeast Okanogan County, the northern half of Ferry County and that part of Stevens County north of the Columbia River, where the Colville Tribes maintain hunting and fishing rights and comanages wildlife with WDFW.

“It is entirely consistent with the Tribes’ rights to hunt and fish in that area,” said Steve Pozzanghera, the state agency’s regional manager.

He says that there was “good communication” between tribal wildlife managers and WDFW as the proposal moved towards the business council.

Pozzanghera says that if hunting on the North Half proceeds as it has to the south, the state has no concerns about it impacting the wolf population as a whole.

Wolves in this part of Washington are federally delisted. The Colvilles opened seasons in 2012, though it wasn’t until last fall that one was reported taken. Spokane Tribe of Indians hunters have been more successful.

State hunts are dependent on first, set numbers of successful breeding pairs occurring in the eastern third, North Cascades, and South Cascades and Olympic Peninsula — benchmarks that are nowhere close to being met — and then the Fish and Wildlife Commission changing their status to game animal and approving opening a season.

The Colvilles’ fifth annual wolf hunt in the South Half began Aug. 1 and runs through Feb. 28. Trapping season begins Nov. 1-Feb. 28. The overall limit is three.

Top goals in their wolf management plan, approved earlier this year, are to “1) outline strategies for maintaining viable wolf populations that persist through time, while 2) maintaining healthy ungulate populations capable of meeting the cultural and subsistence needs of Colville Tribal Members and their families.”

The amendment opening the North Half was approved with little discussion except that one member of the council noted that wolves are sacred animals to the Colville Tribes and that elders recalled some taking pups as pets.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:00 p.m., Aug. 3, 2017, with comments from WDFW.