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Northwest States, Tribes Apply To Feds For OK To Kill More Columbia Sea Lions

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), along with a consortium of state and tribal partners, today submitted an expanded application to lethally remove California and Steller sea lions preying on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

California sea lions — and increasingly, Steller sea lions — have been observed in growing numbers in the Columbia River basin, especially in the last decade. These sea lions prey heavily on salmon and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including thousands of fish at Bonneville Dam each year.

The impacts come at a time when many Chinook salmon runs are already at historic lows.

The recovery of sea lions since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972 is a success story, said Kessina Lee, Region 5 director with WDFW. But that recovery has also brought challenges.

“The vast majority of these animals remain in coastal and offshore waters, but several hundred have established themselves in upriver locations,” Lee said. “Where salmon and steelhead numbers are low, any unmanaged increase in predation can cause serious problems.”

Predator management is a key part of a multi-faceted effort to restore salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest.

“For decades, we’ve made strides in habitat restoration, hydropower policy, hatchery production, and fishery management, and we continue to work with our partners to further those initiatives,” Lee said. “Predator management remains an essential part of the equation.”

The application submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) by WDFW and its partners is the first since Congress passed an amendment to the MMPA in December 2018. That amendment, spearheaded by the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation, passed with strong bipartisan support and offers greater flexibility to wildlife managers when determining if a sea lion should be lethally removed in waters that host ESA-listed runs of salmon or steelhead.

“Based on years of experience working within the bounds of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Columbia River fishing tribes contend that predator management is necessary to restore balance to the Columbia River system,” said Ryan Smith, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Strong partnerships and collaboration with the states, northwest congressional delegation, federal authorities, and nongovernment organizations resulted in this amendment, which applies robust tools to manage sea lions in the lower Columbia River and recognizes tribal sovereignty in that management.”

WDFW and its partners have taken steps to deter California sea lions in the Columbia River basin for more than a decade, but non-lethal measures have proven largely ineffective, driving animals away for only short periods. These hazing measures appear similarly ineffective against Steller sea lions. Non-lethal measures continue to be used as a short-term deterrent when appropriate.

Wildlife managers have conducted lethal removal operations of California sea lions in the Columbia River basin since 2008, when NMFS first issued a letter of authorization under section 120 of the MMPA. From 2008-2019, wildlife managers removed a total of 219 California sea lions that met the federal criteria for removal below Bonneville Dam.

Steller sea lions have not previously been subject to lethal removal.

“Prior to this legislation, wildlife managers were severely limited in their ability to effectively manage sea lions in these areas,” Lee said. “Additional action is required to protect these troubled fish stocks before they are completely eliminated. This is an unfortunate, but necessary step in the salmon recovery process.”

If approved, WDFW expects to begin humanely removing animals under the terms of the expanded application beginning in 2020. The application is subject to a public comment period and review by NMFS. Members of the public can review the application at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/MMPA-120f-application.pdf.

Other entities submitting the application with WDFW include the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon (CTWSR), The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the 3.6.D Committee, which includes ODFW, CTUIR, CTWSR, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community, and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians of Oregon.

Bummed By Northwest Fish Runs? So Is This Angler, But He’s Also Exploring New Ops

By Rick Itami

Like many other sport anglers in the Inland Northwest, I am deeply saddened about the drastically diminished runs of salmon and steelhead in our favorite rivers and streams.

For me, 2018 was the worst year in terms of fish landed since I retired in 2003. Fishing was so bad that I cut the number of days on the water by over 50 percent.

Looking forward, the future is not bright. With a new “blob” of warm water developing in the Pacific and the current El Nino, we might be looking at several more years of low run counts.

SPOKANE-BASED ANGLER-AUTHOR RICK ITAMI WITH HIS FIRST-EVER SNOOK TAKEN OUT OF FLORIDA BAY. (RICK ITAMI)

There are just too many negative factors facing our beloved salmonids these days, including pinniped predation, terns and mergansers feasting on outmigrating smolts, continued loss of habitat to human development and other causes.

Then you have our politicians trying to do the right thing, but only succeeding in getting a few days of good press with little real benefit to salmon and steelhead.

And lately, to hear that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission has voted to allow nontribal gillnetting back into the Lower Columbia in the face of low run predictions for 2019, I am getting a sick feeling in my stomach.

I turned 73 years old in April 5 and my window of opportunity for my favorite pastime is narrowing faster with each passing year. And then it hit me: will I die before salmon and steelhead numbers recover to what they were just five to 10 years ago?

The truth is the answer to that question could easily be “yes.”

ITAMI IS MUCH MORE AT HOME IN HIS NATIVE IDAHO, WHERE HE CAUGHT THIS NICE STRINGER OF HATCHERY STEELHEAD, BUT LOW RUNS ARE LEADING HIM TO LOOK FOR OTHER ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY. (RICK ITAMI)

I STARTED FISHING WITH MY OLDER BROTHER WHEN I was 5 years old. We had a creek fed by natural artesian wells that ran through the middle of our little farm just west of Nampa, Idaho, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game planted rainbow trout in it every year. We spent many happy hours catching 6-8 inch trout in our creek and cooling off in our swimming hole in the heat of summer.

Since then, I have graduated to fishing all over the Northwest, mostly for salmon and steelhead. And in retirement, I was blessed to be able to figure things out to the point that I would catch 50 to 150 steelhead a year and a few dozen Chinook salmon. But that’s all in the past now.

Rather than sitting in my easy chair feeling sorry for myself and other salmon and steelhead fishermen in the Inland Northwest, I have decided to give fishing a rest in my favorite local salmon and steelhead venues and pursue different fish species elsewhere.

Over the years, I have developed a bucket list of fish species that I would like to catch that would require me to travel well outside of the Northwest.

I read some books and watched fishing shows about fishing the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. This got me excited about trying to catch some of the many species available on the Gulf Coast, including redfish, speckled sea trout, tarpon, bonefish, permit, pompano and other species.

During the past two years I have fished almost the whole semi-circle of the Gulf Coast, including the Lower Laguna Madre and Port Aransas in Texas, Barrataria and Venice in Louisiana, Tampa Bay and the Florida Keys. I’ve booked my wife and I a guide out of Grand Isles, Louisiana for another trip to the bayou this fall.

So far I have landed several species of fish I had never caught before such as redfish, speckled sea trout, snook, black drum, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel and sail catfish.

ITAMI ESCAPED COLD INLAND NORTHWEST WEATHER TO WADE-FISH FOR A DIFFERENT KIND OF TROUT WAY DOWN TEXAS WAY, THE SPECKLED TROUT OF LAGUNA MADRE. HERE HE REELS IN HIS FIRST EVER. (RICK ITAMI)

I caught all of these species inshore fishing various flats with local guides. I have come to love flats fishing. My wife feels safe fishing water that rarely gets over 3 feet deep.

While most of our trips were successful, our one excursion to fish for tarpon on the northern pass of Anna Maria Island near Tampa Bay was a bust. On the mid-May 2018 day we landed in Tampa, a tropical depression had formed over the entire state of Florida. We had to sit out torrential rains most of the week.

The one day we got out to fish, the storm had moved the 10,000 tarpon that were in the pass the previous week somewhere out into the vast Gulf of Mexico. We got skunked.

My wife and I went after bonefish on some flats on the east side of the Florida Keys this past February. Strong winds and passing clouds made it difficult to spot the fish in the 1- 3-foot-deep water.

The guide did his job by poling his skiff within range of seven or eight groups of bonefish. Unfortunately, his clients were too slow and inaccurate with the casts in the windy conditions to get the baits within biting range.

But it was a thrill to see bonefish for the first time — some approaching 9 pounds! I didn’t even know they got that big and I will definitely give fishing for them another try.

So far my favorite Gulf fish to catch is the big bull redfish because they get as big and fight as hard as our beloved Chinook salmon of the Northwest.

FOLLOWING 2017’S BAD RUNS, ITAMI HEADED FOR CAJUN COUNTRY — LOUISIANA’S BAYOU — AND BOOKED SOME FISHING TIME WITH GRIFFIN FISHING CHARTERS. (RICK ITAMI)

IF YOU GET THE URGE TO FISH THE GULF COAST like me, I should let you know some of the things I learned.

First of all, no matter where I went to fish it off Texas, Louisiana or Florida I found that the vastness of the flats makes it almost impossible for DIY trips. In most areas, you can find places to rent boats or kayaks, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re unfamiliar with the area.

The exception to that would be Port Aransas, where some friends from Colorado and I caught some nice speckled sea trout while DIY kayaking.

The guides know the areas well and have their local contacts to let them know where the fish are. On most trips, the guides will travel anywhere from 5 to 30 miles from the launch area to get to where the bite is.

Most of the flats around the Gulf coast have hundreds of small cane or mangrove islands — all of which look alike. Even after going out with guides, I know I could never go out on my own and find the spots they took us to. Worse yet, I would undoubtedly have gotten lost in the vastness of the flats.

So finding a good guide is essential. I search the internet for guides with 5-star ratings from trip advisor. I also take note of guides that are highlighted on fishing shows on TV.

However, the latter didn’t work out quite as well as I would have liked in one case. Having seen a guide out of Venice on a popular fishing show, I booked a trip with him for me and my Air Force buddy from Tampa and his son.

The guide told me over the phone that we could stay at his “lodge” for free. That should have raised red flags, but I didn’t delve any further into the state of the accommodations. We drove from the New Orleans airport to Venice and arrived just before dark. We used our GPS to locate the so-called lodge, which was down a dirt road just off the main highway.

At first we didn’t believe the GPS because it landed us at a ramshackle two-story unpainted building that looked like it had been abandoned for years. We contacted the guide and he assured us we were at the right place and that he needed to do a little “cleaning up” before we settled in.

IT’S NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM IN THE NORTHWEST — THE OPENING OF STURGEON RETENTION ON LAKE ROOSEVELT NEAR THE LILAC CITY AFFORDED ITAMI, LEFT, A CHANCE TO EXPERIENCE A NEW CLOSE-TO-HOME FISHERY. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

He arrived a few minutes later and let us in. He showed us to a small room with two bunk beds that were unmade and with bedding and other things scattered everywhere. My buddy’s son found mouse droppings on his bed. The guide showed us how to use a vise grips to turn the shower on and off. Unfortunately, it was too late to try to find other accommodations. We were stuck.

The good thing was that fishing was good and we caught a lot of nice bull redfish. But beware of anything that sounds too good to be true.

One of the differences in Gulf Coast guides as opposed to Northwest fishing guides is that they all call themselves “Captain.” Most of them prefer to be addressed as Captain, followed by their first name, e.g., “Captain John”. But they don’t seem to mind us Yankees not observing that custom.

Weather is an important factor in the success of fishing the Gulf coast. Hurricanes, tropical depressions and cold fronts are common in this area of the U. S. So it’s often a crap shoot when you book a guide far in advance of your trip.

Most guides require a deposit when you book a trip, but will return it if weather conditions don’t permit a trip … or allow you to reschedule a trip at a later date. Nowadays, you can look at the weather predictions up to 10 days in advance so you can cancel airline, lodging and charter reservations if things look bad.

If you want to target a specific species, you should let your guide know ahead of time. Oftentimes, the guides will go to different areas of the flats depending on which species you want to pursue. For example, in the Louisiana Bayou country, oftentimes redfish are found in different areas than speckled sea trout.

When my wife and I fished the Florida Keys, the guide took us over 20 miles into Florida Bay where we caught a variety of fish including snook, speckled trout, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, and other species. The next day, we asked him to target bonefish only, so he took us on the Atlantic side of the Keys where he poled us into several groups of bones, as mentioned above.

ITAMI AND HIS GUIDES POSE WITH A NICE GULF COAST CATCH. (RICK ITAMI)

It’s also important to let your guide know ahead of time if you want to catch bull redfish (over 26 inches) as opposed to slot reds (20 to 26 inches). They are usually found in different areas of the estuaries.

I’m not much into to catching sharks or stingrays, but they are often plentiful in the flats and put up a great fight if you want to give that a try.

Speaking of stingrays, I once went out with a guide in the Lower Laguna Madre on the south Texas coast who wade-fished exclusively. I love this type of fishing, but you have to shuffle your feet along the bottom so as not to step on a stingray, which can launch its tail spike into your leg in an instant. This can be extremely painful and lead to horrible infections. A lot of wade fishermen wear special leggings to protect them from stingray strikes.

Finally, while my preference is inshore flats fishing, in most areas of the Gulf Coast you can also choose to fish offshore in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Here you have the opportunity to catch other species like yellowfin and blackfin tuna, cobia, king mackerel, red snapper, barracuda and other species.

But most charters take out several people at a time much farther from the launch site than inshore fishing and they are usually a lot more expensive. I never keep any of my catch and get seasick at times, so I will probably continue inshore fishing only with smaller groups of relatives and friends.

ITAMI SHOWS OFF A NICE BULL RED CAUGHT IN THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER DELTA OUT OF VENICE, LOUISIANA. “IT FOUGHT LIKE A CHINOOK SALMON,” HE REPORTS. (RICK ITAMI)

WHILE GIVING MOST OF MY INLAND NORTHWEST FISHING a breather until hopefully the runs of fish return in more respectable numbers, I will not totally abandon it.

Having fished for over 60 years, I have developed a lot of friendships with guides, lodging owners, and cooks and wait staff at great small eateries. So I will fish some of my favorite haunts if for no other reason than to give these wonderful people some business.

And as all avid fishermen know, it’s great just to get out into the stream and take in the beauty of Mother Nature.

Columbia Springer Run Downgraded To 75,000

File this one under Unsurprising News, but the Columbia upriver spring Chinook forecast has been cut by a quarter as the return begins to flag.

The U.S. vs OR Technical Advisory Committee, also known as TAC, yesterday estimated that only 75,000 adult kings will return to the mouth of the big river this spring, down from the preseason prediction of 99,300.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THE 2019 UPRIVER SPRING CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE DAM (RED LINE) COMPARED TO 2018 (BLUE LINE) AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK). (FPC)

If it comes to pass, it would be the fewest springers since 1999’s 43,067.

As it has become apparent this year’s run won’t meet predictions — the count at Bonneville Dam through yesterday is 46,653, more than 80,000 fewer than the 10-year average — managers throughout the watershed tightened the clamps on this year’s fisheries even more, closing waters or announcing they wouldn’t open for angling.

Idaho scrubbed the two-day-a-week Clearwater River fishery because it didn’t look like enough salmon would return to meet broodstock needs and Washington helped out by cancelling the weekends-only opener at Clarkston on the Snake and later today at Little Goose Dam.

Oregon stated that its Snake, as well as the Wallowa and Imnaha Rivers and Lookingglass Creek also would not open, then WDFW put out an e-reg shutting down the popular Wind River and Drano Lake fisheries after this past Sunday to collect broodstock for hatcheries elsewhere, such as Leavenworth, an important facility powering sport and tribal fisheries on Icicle Creek.

While the Lower Columbia fishery saw three weekend-only extensions after its April 10 last scheduled day, the overall 1,471 upriver Chinook kept plus release mortalities accrued through the season between Warrior Rock and Bonneville should be covered by the run.

In a fact sheet out a couple weeks ago when managers mulled an April 27-28 opener said that a runsize of 53,300 would cover up to 1,691 mortalities.

The Columbia below Warrior Rock down to Buoy 10 was kept closed this year to protect weak returns of Cowlitz and Lewis springers. Hatcheries on those two systems need 1,337 and 1,380 fish to meet goals and as of last Tuesday, 416 and 421 had returned.

A total of 4,700 are needed for Idaho’s Clearwater system and analysis of passive integrated transponders placed in a portion of the run show that 3,500 had been counted at Bonneville as of last week.

A SPRING CHINOOK COMES ABOARD A BOAT FISHING AT THE MOUTH OF THE WIND RIVER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The Willamette Falls springer count of 11,922 through May 16 is about 4,500 fish fewer than the 10-year average for the date but still much better than 2017’s 4,156.

As for this year’s new May lower Skagit Chinook sport fishery, only an estimated 22 had been caught through the 12th, though a better gauge of the run might be hatchery return.

If there is any bright spot to this year’s poor Columbia springer run, it might be that if this is the bottom of the salmon stock’s up-and-down cycle, it’s a whole lot better than the last big crash.

Only 24,095 and 12,792 entered the big river in 1994 and 1995, an era when there was no directed fishery on above-Bonneville-bound fish in the lower river.

Since that time, state, tribal and federal dollars have been poured into hatcheries, habitat and passage improvements, notes WDFW’s Ryan Lothrop.

The numbers of jacks — a potential indication for future runs — this year isn’t great, but it’s better than any time during the 1990s and during a downturn in the middle of this millennium’s first decade too.

IDFG Working On Access To 867K Acres Of Private Timber In Panhandle, Clearwater

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

A new partnership between Idaho Fish and Game and PotlatchDeltic will provide and preserve public access for hunting, fishing and trapping on 567,002 acres of private land in Benewah, Clearwater, Idaho, Latah and Shoshone counties through a lease agreement.

IDAHO HUNTING MANAGERS ARE CLOSE TO SECURING MORE THAN 1,300 SQUARE MILES OF ACCESS TO PRIVATE TIMBERLANDS IN NORTHERN IDAHO. TRASK APPLEGATE BAGGED THIS GREAT DWORSHAK RESERVOIR-AREA BUCK IN THE 2014 SEASON. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

A second agreement expected to be finalized by early June is with a group of forestland owners and managers, including Stimson Lumber Co., Hancock Forest Management and Molpus Woodlands Group, to allow public access to more than 300,000 acres in Bonner, Boundary, Benewah, Shoshone and Kootenai counties.

Fish and Game will pay $1 per acre annually for the access, which includes hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife viewing, hiking and recreational travel limited to motor vehicle travel on roads open to full-sized vehicles. Restrictions on camping and ATV use may apply depending on the landowner’s rules.

“These agreements demonstrate Fish and Game’s continued commitment to putting money from the access/depredation fee to good use and provide hunters, anglers and trappers with access to private lands while compensating landowners for their support of those activities,” said Sal Palazzolo, F&G’s Private Lands/ Farm Bill Program Coordinator.

“PotlatchDeltic is pleased to partner with Idaho Fish and Game on this public access agreement. As the largest private timberland owner in Idaho, we recognize the importance of public access for recreational activities and the benefits for sportspersons and outdoor enthusiasts,” said Darin Ball, Vice President Resource, PotlatchDeltic.

The agreements came through Fish and Game’s new “large tracts” land lease program that targets multi-year access to parcels 50,000 acres or larger.

Lease agreements with all the companies will automatically renew for at least three years. Money for the leases comes from House Bill 230, which in 2017 established Fish and Game’s access/depredation fee that requires a $5 surcharge for residents and a $10 surcharge for nonresidents when they buy their first annual license of the year.

The access/depredation fund also pays for continued public access to 2.3 million acres of Idaho Department of Lands state endowment lands for hunting, fish, trapping and other recreation, which includes about $300,000 annually to the Department of Lands and Fish and Game providing law-enforcement services on endowment lands.

Fish and Game’s sportsman’s access programs also includes Access Yes!, which pays landowners to allow the public on, or through, their lands, and parcels accepted into that program go through an annual competitive bid process.

IDFG Halts Clearwater Springer Fishery; WDFW Closes Clarkston Area Of Snake

Editor’s note: Updated 2:50 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Idaho salmon managers are closing the two-day-a-week spring Chinook fishery on the Clearwater system because not enough fish are returning to cover eggtake needs, and Washington followed suit in the Clarkston area.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THE 2019 SPRING CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE DAM (RED LINE) SO FAR. BLUE LINE IS 2018 AND BLACK LINE IS THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. OVER THE PAST DECADE, AN AVERAGE OF 111,686 SPRINGERS HAVE BEEN COUNTED AT THE DAM AS OF MAY 13, BUT THIS YEAR’S TALLY IS JUST 38,415. (FPC)

IDFG says it’s possible that the season could reopen later in May depending on dam counts, but returns at Bonneville took a downturn the past seven days after reaching a high of 4,807 last Tuesday.

So far, only 38,415 springers have been tallied at the first blockage of the Columbia, just 35 percent of the 10-year average.

“Based on the number of PIT tagged fish passing over Bonneville Dam, fisheries managers are projecting that not enough Chinook will return to hatcheries in the Clearwater River basin to meet brood needs. However, dam counts and PIT tag detections have been fluctuating and there’s some uncertainty to the actual size of the run,” IDFG said in a press release out today.

The agency said that typically by May 22 four-fifths of the Clearwater run should have gone over the dam and by then officials should know if enough are returning to reopen the season.

“Currently, the number of fish returning to Rapid River Hatchery is projected to be high enough for the fisheries to remain open in the lower Salmon River and Little Salmon River,” IDFG states.

Eric Barker of the Lewiston Morning Tribune broke the news that WDFW was also considering closing the Clarkston area of Washington’s Snake, and that has come to pass.

“This section of the Snake River is adjacent to the Clearwater River. Spring chinook salmon returns to the Clearwater are lower than preseason estimates, and this closure is necessary to protect hatchery brood stock within the Clearwater,” the agency said in an emergency rule-change notice.

That part of the river has only been open one weekend so far.

The waters near Little Goose Dam remain open, per the e-reg,

Last week, Oregon and Washington salmon managers granted two more days of fishing in Columbia Gorge pools up to the state line, but at the urging of anglers, guides and upstream tribes did not add any more time on the lower river.

They planned to provide an update on the run tomorrow.

3 NW Rivers Get Dubious Honor: Make Annual Endangered List

Three Northwest rivers are on an annual list of the ten most endangered in the country.

American Rivers says Washington’s Green-Duwamish Chinook and public safety are threatened by outdated flood management, salmon and steelhead on Oregon’s Willamette by fish passage at more than a dozen dam sites, and Idaho’s South Fork Salmon from plans to reopen an old mine that has been cleaned up.

THE GREEN RIVER TWISTS AND TURNS BETWEEN LEVEES IN THE KENT VALLEY. CONTROLLING THE KING COUNTY STREAM’S FLOODS HAS MADE THE LOWER VALLEY A VALUABLE TRANSPORTATION AND RESIDENCY HUB, BUT AT THE COST OF HIGHLY REDUCED SALMON HABITAT. (WRIA 9)

The group calls on local and federal agencies to ensure that the rivers and their fish are safeguarded from more harm.

The Green-Duwamish, which is a Russell Wilson hail Mary away from the offices of Northwest Sportsman, flows through a radically altered lower valley and estuary, with hillside to hillside development and levees straitjacketing it on its way to Elliott Bay.

“The extensive levee system separates the river from its historic floodplain, negatively impacting water quality, reducing rearing habitat and dramatically decreasing the amount of shade-giving trees along the river,” says American Rivers.

They call on the King County Flood Control District to “develop a truly integrated plan” for the lower river, saying that a recently released proposal “intensifies river bank armoring and levee construction, and fails to include habitat restoration goals or specific habitat improvements in its alternatives.”

That plan includes three alternatives, but some have called for a fourth, which would include flood protection while also providing for salmon habitat restoration.

COHO, CHINOOK AND PINK SALMON CAUGHT ON THE DUWAMISH RIVER IN RECENT YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT, ALL)

Comments on the flood district’s programatic environmental impact statement for their new plan (which really should include repurposing the Tukwila soccer fields for offchannel salmon habitat) are open through 5 p.m. May 1.

It’s the second time the Green-Duwamish has been on the list in the past few years. The rivers group also calls for improved fish passage at Howard Hanson Dam, on the upper river. A recent federal biological opinion ordered dam operators to provide that.

The battle to get salmon and steelhead into another Northwest river, the Willamette, has been in the news of late as ODFW recently received a federal permit to kill sea lions gathered at the falls. That appeared to be working as euthanizations and good water conditions aligned to get a solid push of wild winter-runs past the gauntlet of pinnipeds in late winter.

But American Rivers is aiming further upstream, at the Army Corps of Engineers, which is doing a deep dive on its 13 dams in the valley. They says the corps “must make structural modifications to the dams to facilitate downstream passage for juvenile salmon” as well as “continue to improve upstream passage for adult fish so that they can gain access to their historic spawning habitat.”

They call on Congress to fund that work.

And they say that when the Payette National Forest releases a DEIS on a Canadian company’s plan to reopen a Central Idaho mine to dig gold and antimony, the Forest Service “must protect the health of, and investment in, the South Fork of the Salmon River, the water quality of the Wild and Scenic Salmon River, and the long-term recovery of endangered fish by prohibiting the reopening and expansion of the Stibnite Mine.”

AN OLD MINE ON A BRANCH OF THE SOUTH FORK SALMON RIVER WAS THE SITE OF A SUPERFUND CLEANUP. NOW, A COMPANY WANTS TO OPEN A NEW MINE THERE. (DANIEL PATRINELLIS)

The South Fork was also on last year’s list, and in 2017, Washington’s Toutle and South Fork Skykomish were, while in 2015 the Columbia and Rogue were on it.

Idaho Hunt Managers Tout 2019 Spring Turkey Prospects

THE FOLLOWING IS AN IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME PRESS RELEASE

The youth turkey season opens Monday, April 8, and the general turkey season and many controlled hunts in the state open the following Monday, April 15. Hunters can see which units have general hunts in Fish and Game’s turkey hunting rules, in addition to details about the seasons.

COLTYN SMITH, THEN AGE 14 FROM HORSESHOE BEND, IDAHO, AND CONNER TOMLINSON, THEN AGE 13 FROM MERIDIAN, IDAHO EACH HARVESTED THEIR TURKEY DURING THE YOUTH HUNT IN APRIL 2016. THEY WERE ESCORTED BY THEIR FATHERS, KIT SMITH AND SCOTT TOMLINSON. THE BOYS HUNTED ON A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, IN THE IDAHO CITY AREA. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

There are some rule changes for the 2019 season that hunters should be aware of, specifically pertaining to controlled hunts:

  • A general tag or an extra tag may be used with a controlled hunt permit in both the spring and fall seasons
  • Immediately after any wild turkey is killed, the turkey tag and permit, if a controlled hunt, must be validated and securely attached to the wild turkey. To validate the tag and permit, the hunter must cut out and completely remove two triangles on the border of the tag and permit, one for the month and one for the day of the kill
  • The tag and permit must remain attached so long as the turkey is in transit or storage

Hunters will find most general hunting opportunity in the Panhandle, Clearwater, and Southwest and Southeast Regions, while most other areas are limited to controlled hunts.

While much of the state experienced deep snowfall in February, the winter was relatively mild until that point, meaning turkeys were not stressed for a long period of time. Add that to the fact that most of the state’s turkey populations were in good shape heading into the winter, and hunters can expect good to very good turkey hunting in the spring of 2019.

Hunters are warned that many areas experience flooding during late winter and early spring, so they should double check access to their favorite hunting spots. They might also encounter lingering snowdrifts that block them from their hunting spot.

AN I.D.F.G. MAP SHOWS THE PARTS OF IDAHO THAT ARE OPEN TO GENERAL SEASON SPRING TURKEY HUNTING (BLUE) AND AREAS THAT REQUIRE A CONTROLLED TAG. (IDFG)

Fish and Game’s regional staff give an overview of what’s happening with turkey hunting in their regions:

Panhandle Region

Turkey season in the Panhandle is looking quite good despite the snow that accumulated in the lower elevations late winter.

The region currently has near-normal winter snowpack, but the majority of snow fell later in February and March. Turkeys were likely not stressed for a long period because of the mild early winter conditions. Things should begin to melt soon and with the ample late snowfall we should see a very nice spring green-up due to the abundant moisture.

A challenge for turkey hunters this year might be access due to poor road conditions and the potential for flooding, but there should be abundant turkey numbers. Snow may also hang on in some areas of the region potentially affecting access.

During the spring season, hunters may purchase and use up to two turkey tags; only bearded turkeys may be harvested in spring. As always, remember to respect private property, and ask first before you hunt there.

– Micah Ellstrom, Panhandle Region Wildlife Manager

Clearwater Region

Turkeys are present throughout all forested portions of the region with the highest densities found in and adjacent to the Clearwater River drainage up to the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway Rivers, the Snake River drainage up the confluence with the Salmon River, the lower Salmon River drainage up to White Bird, and the Dworshak (Reservoir) area.

Good opportunities for turkey hunting are found on Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area, state and federal property, private property, as well as corporate timber land. The entire region is open to general turkey hunting April 8-14 (youth only) and April 15 – May 25 for the general spring season.

Production the past five years has been at or above the long-term average. Relatively mild conditions during the bulk of the past two winters should result in good overwinter survival. Consequently, turkey numbers this hunting season should be comparable to those observed in recent years.

Late winter snows could potentially preclude access to some higher elevation areas depending on weather conditions and snowmelt between now and the opener. The Hunt Planner is a good tool for showing different federal land ownership. For information on corporate timberland, visit websites for the Potlatch Timber Corporation and the Bennett Lumber Company.

– Dave Koehler, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Upper Snake Region

The Upper Snake Region generally has small populations mainly along the Henry’s Fork and South Fork of the Snake River.

With the late arrival of winter this year and lower than normal temperatures in February and March, we would anticipate some winter mortalities within the region.  With above normal snowpack in higher elevations in many parts of the region, expect to find turkeys at lower elevations later into the season.

Anticipate stable to slightly declining turkey populations in the region for spring hunting.

– Curtis Hendricks, Upper Snake Region Wildlife Manager

Southeast Region

Turkeys fared extremely well last spring/summer with high production and survival rates resulting in flock increases across the region.

Winter conditions were above average, however, turkey numbers were extremely high this past year, and despite some winter mortality, there should still be robust turkey populations for hunters to enjoy.

During the early period of the spring season, hunters might find turkey distributions to be slightly different due to lingering snow at higher elevations.

– Zach Lockyer, Regional Wildlife Manager

Southwest Region

The turkey outlook in the Nampa subregion of the Southwest Region is good. Winter conditions have been mild in the valley and we expect high overwinter survival in GMU’s 38 and 39.

Additionally, 100 turkeys were trapped on private land near Parma (GMU 38) and relocated to public land on the South Fork Boise River below Anderson Ranch Dam (GMU 39).

Turkeys have been faring well in the Treasure Valley for several years and numbers are up. Spring turkey hunting throughout the area should be good this spring.

– Rick Ward, Regional Wildlife Manager, Nampa Subregion

Turkey numbers are increasing throughout occupied parts of the Southwest Region.  Although many areas saw deep snow this winter, it came late and stayed for a relatively short time, so did not adversely affect turkey populations in most places.

Units 22, 31, 32A and 23 all have general spring turkey hunts, as does a portion of Unit 32. In areas around Cecil D. Andrus WMA, Cambridge, Weiser and Midvale, most turkeys will be at low elevations during the early part of the spring season.

Motorized travel is restricted on Andrus WMA until May 1, but walk-in hunting is welcome.  In addition, there is turkey hunting available on Access Yes properties near Cambridge, Indian Valley, and New Meadows.

– Regan Berkley, Regional Wildlife Manager, McCall Subregion

Salmon Region

The region has low turkey densities, about 400 in Custer County and about 125 to 225 in Lemhi County. There are limited controlled hunts for these birds.

The region likely had some late winter mortality but hunting success rates should remain good. Access will not be a problem due to snow.

– Greg Painter, Salmon Region Wildlife Manager

Magic Valley Region

The region has a limited number of turkeys in Unit 54, with most residing on the west side of the unit. Turkeys are limited to controlled hunts only in the region, and normal survival is anticipated after the winter.

– Mark Fleming, Regional Wildlife Habitat Manager

Solar-powered Mule Deer Bucks Wandering Around Idaho (Sort Of)

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game is using “green” power, but not where you might expect it. Mule deer bucks currently roaming the backcountry are sporting solar-powered ear tags that allow biologists to track their movements without worrying about draining a battery in a telemetry collar.

A CLOSE-UP OF THE SOLAR-POWERED EAR TAG PLACED ON AN IDAHO MULE DEER BUCK THIS WINTER. (IDFG)

Advanced technology continues to open new doors for wildlife monitoring, and Fish and Game managers and researchers continue to be at the forefront of using that new technology in the field. During winter, they deployed 20 solar-powered, GPS ear tags to bucks in Units 22, 32, and 39.

During the hunting season, the ear tags will record and save locations of tagged bucks every 30 minutes, and that information will be transmitted remotely via existing cellular networks to a Fish and Game database when cell service is available. If cell service isn’t available during one or more of those 30 minute intervals, the location information will be stored locally on a memory card and transmitted the next time the device has service.

Researchers can access the database from their computers or smartphones to monitor the locations, movements and behavior of the tagged animals.

Biologists hope the information from this study will allow them to determine how hunting seasons affect the movement of mule deer bucks, and how wildlife managers influence mortality with the hunting season, said Mark Hurley, Fish and Game’s wildlife research manager.

“From a management perspective, we are trying to figure out how we can we optimize hunting without over-harvesting our bucks,” Hurley said.

Fish and Game biologists have for years used GPS collars to monitor mule deer fawns and does. Biologists capture and collar fawns and adult does annually each winter. For the female fawns, the collars are designed to stay on the animal into adulthood. They are cushioned with foam that is compressed and eventually degrades. The collars remain tight — but not too tight — as the female fawns grow.

For male fawns, however, the collars are stitched together with surgical tubing and designed to fall off when the animal is about a year old. There is a biological reason for that: Throughout a year, the circumference of an adult buck’s neck can vary significantly.

During the rut, the circumference can increase up to 50 percent before shrinking back to normal, which makes keeping collars on bucks difficult. While biologists have used telemetry collars on adult bucks in past studies, the durations of those studies have been short.

The new ear tags solve the problem of swelling necks in adult bucks, and because the tags are solar charged, they also enable biologists to affix a GPS device to bucks when they are fawns and continue to monitor them throughout their lives.

A BIOLOGIST PREPARES TO ATTACH A SOLAR-POWERED EAR TAG ON A BUCK. (IDFG)

There are tradeoffs with the ear tags. Out of necessity, the ear tags are light and compact — meaning there’s no room for the kind of big battery that powers Fish and Game’s telemetry collars. Instead, the tags have a much smaller, solar-charged battery. The smaller battery doesn’t have enough “oomph” to remotely transmit data back to researchers via satellite like the collars do, which is why they rely on a cellular network to do so.

Cell service is hard to come by in much of the country these deer are roaming. The tags compensate for that by storing data locally, and transmitting it to researchers if and when they eventually find service. Like the collars, the tags will send out a “mortality signal” when it hasn’t moved for an extended period of time. If the animal dies in an area without cell service, however, there could be challenges locating it.

For that reason, Hurley said researchers will rely on hunters to return some of the ear tags after they’ve harvested bucks fitted with them, so researchers can pull the location data from those devices.

No matter the type of device, tracking and transmitting location data comes at a cost: The more often GPS devices log and send locations to biologists, the quicker the battery is depleted. When the big batteries on collars run out of juice, that’s it — at least until biologists can recover the collar, replace the power supply and redeploy it.

With an ear tag, a miniature solar panel continually recharges its smaller battery — giving it a shelf life of four to five years, researchers estimate, even when it’s logging locations more often than a GPS collar.

News From Idaho: Most Fawns, Calves Surviving Winter; Springer Season Opens 4-27

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Most radio-collared fawns and elk calves survived unusually snowy February

78 percent of fawns and 94 percent of calves were still alive through February, but they’re not safe yet

Despite February storms that battered much of Idaho and pushed snowpack and precipitation above average in most areas, radio-collared young fawns and elk calves were faring relatively well across the state through the end of February.

A RADIO-COLLARED MULE DEER RUNS THROUGH SAGEBRUSH IN SOUTHWEST IDAHO. (IDFG)

Idaho Fish and Game biologists have been monitoring 207 mule deer fawns and 201 elk calves captured earlier in the winter and fitted with telemetry collars.

Through the end of February, 78 percent of the collared fawns and 94 percent of the calves were still alive. That compares with 88 percent of the fawns and 97 percent of the calves surviving through February in 2017-18, and 55 and 80 percent in 2016-17.

While snowpacks and precipitation totals are above average for most of the state, the late arrival of winter weather in 2019 has made for an easier winter for big game than in 2016-17, according to Daryl Meints, State Deer and Elk manager for Fish and Game.

In 2016-17, a prolonged, severe winter resulted in some of the lowest survival rates recorded for mule deer fawns and elk calves. Prior to what was a record-setting February for snowfall for many areas in the state, 2018-19 winter had been a mild-to-average snowfall and temperatures for most of Idaho.

While the weather may be trending warmer so far in March this year, the young animals aren’t “out of the woods” yet. In fact, the March and April are often when fawn and calf mortality is the highest because the young animals’ fat reserves are rapidly depleting and their body’s need time to convert digesting fresh forage.

“April is crucial,” Meints said. “That’s the make-or-break month, when their gas tank is hitting empty. What is going to matter now is how soon winter ends, or how soon spring shows up.”

If the warm weather continues through the end of April, Meints expects fawn survival will fall somewhere in the average range, while calf survival will be above average.

“But if for some reason we get a weather system that is cloudy, cold, and wet, and we don’t get that spring green up on south-facing slopes, we could be in for some additional mortality,” Meints said.

People getting outdoors to recreate in the spring also need to be conscious and considerate of wildlife, particularly big game that remains on low-elevation winter ranges. Despite warmer temperatures and spring green up, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope still need to be left undisturbed to give young animals a better chance of surviving their critical first winter.

…………………

F&G Commission sets spring Chinook to open April 27

Limited fishing days on Clearwater, Salmon, and Little Salmon rivers, and the Upper Snake closed

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved spring Chinook fishing on the Clearwater, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers during their meeting on Wednesday, March 13 in Boise.

Fishing will open on April 27, with a two-day-a-week season on the Clearwater River and a four-day-a-week season on the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers. The season will run until sport anglers’ shares of the harvest are met (which varies by river) or Aug. 11 — whichever comes sooner.

Due to very low projected returns the Upper Snake River in Hells Canyon, fisheries managers did not propose to open a spring Chinook season for the fishery this year.

Chinook have just started entering the Columbia River and a small portion of them are working their way through Columbia/Snake river systems. Here’s current salmon counts at the dams.

Fisheries managers are forecasting a run of about 32,000 spring Chinook through Lower Granite Dam, which is about 25 miles downstream from Lewiston and the last of the eight dams that returning salmon cross on their way back to Idaho. The forecast is similar to last year’s actual return of 39,000, and below the 10-year average return of 75,000.

Included in the forecast are about 26,000 hatchery Chinook and 6,000 wild Chinook. The 2018 returns were 32,000 and 7,000, respectively, and the 10-year averages are 58,000 and 17,000. Forecasts are a starting point for managing Chinook returns, and they will be adjusted as fish migrate through the river systems.

Because the forecasted Chinook return for the Salmon River basin is about 8,700 fish, and the sport anglers’ share would be 1,430 fish this year. Fishing will be open Thursday through Sunday, with a limit of four total fish, only two of which may be adults.

For the Clearwater River basin, the projected return is about 9,400 adult fish, and the sport anglers’ harvest share would be 470. Fishing will be open on Saturday and Sunday, with a limit of four total fish, only one of which may be an adult.

Just 123 adult fish are projected to return the Upper Snake River in Hells Canyon, where fisheries managers do not expect a sport angler harvest share at all.

“Due to extremely high flows at Hells Canyon in 2017, we had high total dissolved gasses, which are potentially lethal to fish,” aid Jim Fredericks, Fish and Game’s Fisheries Bureau Chief. “In 2017, we chose to release the fish allocated for Hells Canyon at Rapid River instead, to ensure that they survived. For that reason, we have hardly any two-year-old fish coming back to Hells Canyon this year.”

Only hatchery Chinook with a clipped adipose fin may be kept by anglers, and all others must be released unharmed. Chinook anglers are restricted to barbless hooks.

Anglers should refer to the 2019 spring Chinook salmon seasons and rules brochure for other rules and special restrictions, which will be available online in early April, and in paper form prior to the spring Chinook season at Fish and Game offices and license vendors.

The Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to decide on summer Chinook salmon fisheries on the Lochsa River, South Fork Salmon River and upper Salmon River at its May meeting. Fish return to those areas later than to the Clearwater River and Rapid River hatcheries, allowing fishery managers more time to develop season proposals.

Waters open to fishing:

Clearwater River drainage — open Saturday and Sunday

  • Mainstream Clearwater River: Camas Prairie Bridge to Highway 12 Bridge; Pink House Boat Ramp to Greer Bridge
  • North Fork: Open, no boats
  • Middle Fork: Open
  • South Fork: Harpster Grade to Mount Idaho Grade Bridge.

Salmon River drainage — open Thursday through Sunday

  • Rice Creek Bridge to Vinegar Creek Boat Ramp
  • Entirety of Little Salmon River

Snake River — closed

Here’s What NOAA Says About Why It Approved IDFG Steelhead Fishery

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RLEASE FROM THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINSTRATION’S FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA Fisheries has determined that Idaho’s Fishery Management and Evaluation Plan (FMEP) for their recreational steelhead fishery provides necessary protections for salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  NOAA fisheries has approved Idaho’s plan under section 4(d) Rule.

AN ANGLER ADMIRES A WILD STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING A DERBY HELD OUT OF LEWISTON, IDAHO, SEVERAL YEARS AGO. (BRIAN LULL)

Under section 4(d), NOAA Fisheries can specify how an activity can be exempt from additional ESA regulations. This applies particularly to “take,” which can include any act that kills or injures fish, and may include habitat modification. The ESA prohibits any take of species listed as endangered, but some take of threatened species that does not interfere with survival and recovery may be allowed.

“Idaho has developed a plan that provides continuing recreational fishing opportunities while ensuring that ESA-listed salmon and steelhead have the protection they need to recover,” said Allyson Purcell, Branch Chief in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.

Idaho’s plan came together through collaboration with fishery managers across the Snake River Basin and includes a new basin-wide framework designed to limit total impacts on steelhead from all fisheries in the Snake River Basin.  Under Idaho’s plan, fishermen will continue to be required to release any wild steelhead they encounter.

The plan will also limit impacts of Idaho’s steelhead fishery on other ESA-listed species, such as Snake River sockeye and Snake River fall Chinook salmon. Furthermore, Idaho will be implementing new low-abundance thresholds that will trigger implementation of additional conservation measures when natural-origin steelhead abundance is projected to fall below threshold levels.

“The framework is responsive to changing conditions, and it will provide additional protections when the abundance of wild steelhead falls below critical abundance levels,” Purcell said. “We received over 1000 letters from fishing groups, environmental groups, government officials, and interested citizens during our public comment period on Idaho’s proposed plan.  This level of involvement demonstrates how important these fish are to the Pacific Northwest communities.”

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