Tag Archives: kalispel tribe

Northern Pike In Washington Reclassified At Highest Threat Level

Esox lucius is very much piscis non grata in Washington these days.

Northern pike were reclassified as a prohibited level 1 species, the highest designation, by the Fish and Wildlife Commission late last week, a move that will focus more resources on the fight to keep the “highly invasive” species out of the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam and other state waters.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES CAPTURED THIS 28.2-POUND NORTHERN PIKE IN LAKE ROOSEVELT’S SANPOIL ARM EARLIER THIS YEAR. (COLVILLE TRIBES)

“The gist is that moving from level 3 to level 1 allows for higher level actions to address things, to eradicate them once they get into the anadromous zone,” says WDFW’s Eric Winther.

It means that when pike get into the waters where salmon and steelhead smolts swim downstream of the dam, the governor can declare an environmental emergency, which would trigger a wider mobilization of resources.

It’s another sign of how seriously fishery managers are taking the situation.

Illegally introduced pike have been slowly moving down the Pend Oreille and Upper Columbia over the past 15 years or so and are creeping closer and closer to Grand Coulee Dam.

It’s all but inevitable they will get below Chief Joe, and to that end, Winther has been tasked with coming up with a rapid response plan  and says measures could include gillnetting.

That has already proven to be effective for targeting spawning flats on Lake Roosevelt and Box Canyon Reservoir, where pike gather in spring, he says.

As area tribes, WDFW, public utility districts have teamed up to control pike, knowledge of where northerns go to procreate is increasing.

Winther says other possibilities could include chemical treatments, though he notes rotenoning would be difficult in the Columbia outside of perhaps isolated bays, while long-line fishing is also being considered.

He says that elevating pike to level 1 also means that eDNA tools can be brought into the battle. A newfangled type of early-warning system, essentially the environment — water in this case — can be scanned for traces of pike poo, scales, mucus, etc., etc.

Even as Caspian terns, walleye, harbor seals and other piscovores chomp down heavily on young Chinook, coho, steelhead and other seagoing fish, the relatively early stage of the pike outbreak and their lower numbers mean we’re in a better place than with those other issues.

“Once you’ve got a problem, it costs a lot more to deal with it,” Winther says.

Pike prefer to eat fish with soft rays, like salmonids, which are hugely important to sport and commercial fishermen and tribal fishermen, and more and more emphasis is also being placed on getting more Chinook into the ocean for starving southern resident orcas to eat as returning adults.

Winther says that the state Invasive Species Council will be requesting money for eDNA testing as well.

The change in classification was approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission during its conference call last Friday. It was first reported by the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Winther says that he hopes to have the response plan out for review by the end of the year.

In the meanwhile, efforts will also be made to increase public awareness about the danger of northern pike through brochures, stickers and sportsmen’s shows.

It’s believed that the fish were illegally introduced into the Pend Oreille River from Idaho’s Lake Couer d’Alene system, where they’d been illegally introduced after being illegally introduced in western Montana waters.

“We’re letting people (who catch one) know to kill it and report it. That helps us get a handle on this,” Winther says.

There is no limit on pike in Washington. As I once advised after a bass angler inexplicably released one illegally placed into Lake Washington, if you catch a northern, “Slash its gills, slit its belly, hack it in half, singe the carcass over high heat.”

KNOW YOUR ENEMY! NORTHERN PIKE ARE BROWNISH WITH LIGHTER, OVALISH SPOTS. THEIR DORSAL FIN IS PUSHED BACK TOWARDS THE TAIL. (MUCKLESHOOT TRIBE VIA DFW)

Editor’s note: The initial version of this blog misreported the new classification of pike as level 3. Rather, they were reclassified as a level 1 prohibited species. We regret the error.

Major Northern Pike Gillnetting Effort Set To Begin On Lake Roosevelt

State and tribal fishery managers will begin one of their largest, most intensive efforts yet to suppress invasive northern pike in Lake Roosevelt by setting as many as 500 gillnets in early May during the species’ spawn.

“We need to put a dent in them,” says WDFW’s Chuck Lee. “They’ll be easier to control if we get a handle on this earlier. The longer we wait, the more expensive it gets.”

THIS NORTHERN PIKE CAUGHT IN A GILLNET SET IN LAKE ROOSEVELT MAY HAVE BEEN ATTRACTED BY THE RAINBOW TROUT ALSO SNARED IN THE MESH. MANAGERS WANT FEWER OF THE NONNATIVE FISH AND MORE OF THE NATIVE ONES. (WDFW)

His agency along with the Colville, Kalispel and Spokane Tribes, Chelan and Grant Counties PUD, National Park Service and the Northwest Power Planning Council are all participating in the intensive four-day, May 6-9 effort that follows on several years of netting since the fish first turned up in the reservoir in 2011.

Ten crews will set nets on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and pull them on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The effort is being timed to water temperatures that spur northerns to get more active and start looking for habitat to broadcast their eggs and milt and thus become more susceptible to netting.

“We’re trying to catch mature adults before the spawn,” Lee says.

According to a notice from the Colville Tribes, nets will be set in waters 20 feet deep or less that attract staging pike and which “should also help reduce bycatch of non-target species.”

A COLVILLE TRIBES MAP BREAKS DOWN THE ZONES EACH AGENCY WILL WORK DURING THE MAY 6-9 EFFORT. (CCT F&W)

The generally cool water temps also means better survival rates for walleye and trout caught in the nets.

The latter species appears to be a favorite of the nonnative species that was flushed out of the Pend Oreille River system after being illegally introduced there, probably from Idaho’s Couer d’Alene watershed.

“We see a lot of hatchery trout in their guts, a lot of unknown trout too — wild redbands? hatchery trout?” says Lee.

BEFORE BEING CAUGHT IN A NET, THIS 31-INCH-LONG, 10-POUND PIKE SWALLOWED A TROUT HALF ITS BODY LENGTH. (WDFW)

Past years’ suppression efforts do appear to be paying off.

He says that where 5- and 6-year-old pike had been turning up in nets, they’re now primarily pulling in 1-, 2- and 3-year-old fish.

“If we can continue to keep on top of these females before they mature and spawn,” that will help keep the population under control, he says.

The Colvilles have also been paying anglers a bounty for pike heads.

The ultimate worry is that if northerns escape Roosevelt and get through Lake Rufus Woods below it, they’ll have a feast in the form of hatchery and wild ESA-listed salmon and steelhead smolts awaiting at the mouth of the Okanogan River — perhaps even returning adult sockeye.

Lee says that pike are slowly moving down Roosevelt. Where populations were focused around the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, fish are turning up at Hunters and outside the Spokane Arm where the impoundment swings west.

Along with the tribes whose reservations border Roosevelt, the Upper Columbia United Tribes will be on hand to observe the effort, Lee says.

“I’m kind of excited to see us get this group together to suppress pike,” he says of all the participants.

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.

A FEMALE MOUNTAIN CARIBOU STANDS IN A MEADOW AT JASPER NATIONAL PARK, IN CANADA. (THOMAS HARTMANN, WIKIMEDIA, CREATIVE COMMONS 4.0 INTERNATIONAL)

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.

Only 3 South Selkirk Caribou Left, Intensive Survey Finds

There may be only three mountain caribou left in Washington’s, Idaho’s and British Columbia’s herd — a 75-percent decline since last year.

RECENT SURVEYS FOUND NO BULLS IN THE SOUTH SELKIRK HERD. (USFWS)

Mid-March’s intensive three-day winter survey found only cows as well.

“It’s a tough situation for caribou in the South Selkirks,” says Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe in Cusick, north of Spokane.

It marks a new low for a herd challenged by large-scale habitat alterations and new predators, wolves, arriving in the heights.

At one time mountain caribou were as numerous as “bugs,” according to a First Nations man interviewed for Last Stand: The Vanishing Caribou Rainforest, a film that made the rounds in the region last summer.

George says that the three cows, which are fairly young animals of seven years or less, were all captured and given GPS collars.

They were also tested to see if they were pregnant.

Those results just arrived in Vancouver and “hopefully” will be available soon, he says, but if the animals are pregnant, that would mean there may still be a bull or two somewhere out there on the landscape, or at least was last fall.

And if the cows successfully bear calves, the herd could possibly rebuild to six later this spring, George says.

If not, managers may need to supplement with caribou from farther north — though that may also depend on what surveys in the Purcell Mountains turn up.

“We’re not going to just let three animals, especially cows, die in the Selkirks,” George vows.

This winter has been pretty solid in this mountainous country, with snowpack at 150 percent of average — “great for caribou” — but it also buried a maternity pen that was built especially for the cows, rendering it useless for protection from predators.

It’s also too late to safely recapture the cows if they are pregnant, George says.

He plans to intensify his monitoring of the herd with a spotting scope, maybe even drones, in hopes of finding that they had calves.

The collars may also lead them to other caribou that somehow were overlooked during the fixed-wing and helicopter surveys last month.

“We were hoping for 12 again,” George says.

As for why the herd’s numbers dropped so precipitously from a dozen in March 2017, he says it’s possible that other members had been hit by an avalanche or there was a vehicle strike on the main highway through the mountains, though he didn’t hear of one.

“We’re still going to move forward as if there are caribou on the landscape, and go ahead with wolf control actions” on the BC side of the herd’s range, George says.

He notes that there’s a collar on one of Washington’s Salmo Pack, which numbers six and overlaps with the ungulate’s recovery zone.

Though the caribou primarily stay in Canada, the southernmost herd in North America still make occasional forays into Washington and Idaho, according to collar data, George says.

 

Correction: The Kalispel Tribe’s name and headquarters were incorrect in the original version of this post. They are based in Cusick, not Ione, further north on the Pend Oreille River.