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RMEF Awards $310,000 For Washington Elk Projects

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded $309,735 in grant funding to benefit elk and elk habitat in Washington.

“Noxious weeds and overly dense forests continue to choke out quality forage for elk and other wildlife. The majority of these 2019 habitat stewardship projects tackle these issues head-on,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “We also designated funding for scientific research to monitor the potential impact habitat modification has on predator-prey interactions.”

SUN BLAZES OVER WASHINGTON ELK COUNTRY. (RMEF)

Seventeen projects positively impact more than 4,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Asotin, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Kittitas, Lewis, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens and Yakima Counties.

Washington is home to more than 15,000 RMEF members and 25 chapters.

“We can’t say enough about our dedicated volunteers,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “They generate revenue by hosting banquets, membership drives and other events that goes back on the ground in Washington and around the country to benefit our conservation mission.”

Since 1985, RMEF and its partners completed 661 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Washington with a combined value of more than $122.6 million. These projects protected or enhanced 479,785 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 125,245 acres.

Below is a listing of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 2019 grants for the state of Washington.

Asotin County

  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 225 acres of public and private land to prevent the spread of rush skeletonweed, whitetop, spotted knapweed, hawkweeds and sulfur cinquefoil. RMEF supported the Asotin County weed control program since 2007.
  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 300 acres of Bureau of Land Management and private lands within the Lower Grande Ronde River drainages. The area provides prime habitat for fish, big game and native wildlife.
  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 500 acres within the Chief Joseph and W. T. Wooten Wildlife Areas where invasive weeds are a significant issue (also benefits Garfield and Columbia Counties).

Cowlitz County

  • Plant a variety of species within patches 3 to 10 acres in size, covering 60 total acres, to diversify elk and other wildlife habitat on the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area.
  • Apply lime and fertilizer followed by planting trees, shrubs and a grass seed mix across 200 acres in the Toutle River Valley, home to the highest winter concentration of elk near Mount Saint Helen’s.
  • Treat noxious weeds across 150 acres within the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (also benefits Skamania County).

Kittitas County

  • Restore 732 acres within the 2018 Milepost 22 Wildfire burn zone that charred the L. T. Murray Wildlife Area, home to year-round winter habitat for elk and other wildlife. Crews will use both an aerial and ground-based approach to treat a potential noxious weed outbreak.

Lewis County

  • Provide funding for research on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to monitor how and where elk seek and find forage in areas where timber production takes place. Results will inform managers of the potential role for variable density thinning in providing elk foraging habitat on the west slope of the Washington Cascades.

Okanogan County

  • Provide funding for the Mid Valley Archers Memorial Day Shoot, a family-friendly event focused on providing instruction and fun for archers of all ages.
  • Provide funding for the annual Bonaparte Lake Kid’s Fishing Day (also benefits Ferry County).

Pend Oreille County

  • Thin seedlings and small pole-sized trees from 33 acres of dense conifer stands in the Indian Creek watershed on the Colville National Forest. The area is winter and year-long range for the Selkirk elk herd.

Skamania County

  • Treat 1,215 acres of meadows and adjacent roads/right-of-ways on the south end of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. These meadows provide vital forage for the Mount St. Helens elk herd.
  • Transform six acres of mid-successional forest within the Upper Lewis River watershed into a grassy meadow to provide forage for big game species.

Stevens County

  • Provide funding for scientific research to conduct vegetation surveys across elk habitat that intersects with wolf range. Scientists will pair that information with elk movement and survivorship data to determine how human modifications of the landscape influence elk (also benefits Pend Oreille County).

Yakima County

  • Thin 426 acres on the Oak Creek Wildlife Area to promote high quality habitat for elk and other wildlife.
  • Restore native grasses and forbs to an estimated 350 acres on the Wenas Wildlife Area that was affected by the 2018 Buffalo Wildfire. Crews will apply noxious weed treatment followed by seeding.
  • Provide funding for the Kamiakin Roving Archers, a youth archery development league participant, to purchase archery supplies for the upcoming season. The program provides shooting instruction and training on archery equipment with an emphasis on safety and responsibility.

Washington 2019 Spring Turkey Hunting Prospects

If 2019 is anything like recent spring gobbler hunts, somewhere around seven out of every 10 toms will be killed in Northeast Washington.

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Units 101 through 136 provided 69 percent of 2017’s statewide harvest, 3,331 birds, the third most for this region since 2008.

JEREMY RACE AND HIS SONS, THEN 3 AND 6, SHOW OFF A NORTHEAST WASHINGTON GOBBLER TAKEN DURING THE 2016 SEASON. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

Even though winter struck late and stuck around into March, Annemarie Prince, WDFW’s District 1 wildlife biologist, doesn’t think it will impact turkey numbers.

“The fields in the Colville Valley are already starting to melt out and there are spots under trees that never had much snow,” she said in early March. “I’d say harvest should be similar to last year’s. I can’t see why it would be up or down significantly.”

Hunters typically focus on farms in the Colville, Pend Oreille and other valleys’ floors, as well as the wooded slopes above them, where typically private timberlands and public ground can be found.

“If the snow sticks around, the birds might stay bunched up a little longer in areas without snow,” says Prince. “For the opener, hunters could think about scouting early and contacting private landowners to gain hunting access. I don’t recommend showing up on opening day all decked out in camo and requesting permission. Like in year’s past, I think the map in our hunting prospects showing good areas for turkeys on public lands is helpful and still a good map.”

That’s a reference to a marked-up page in her fall 2018 hunting forecast document, which can be found by going to wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/prospects.

Speaking of bios’ hunting prospects, Michael Atamian’s prognosis for District 2 – Spokane, Lincoln and Whitman Counties – has some interesting details.

Last fall he reported turkeys were doing “very well” in the Mt. Spokane, Mica Peak, Cheney and Roosevelt game units,  which produced 1,132, 232, 410 and 410 birds in 2017 (spring and fall seasons) and that they’re expanding in Harrington, Steptoe and Almota, though these largely open units yielded less than 120 all together.

“Qualitatively, the number of turkeys seen during other survey efforts – moose, deer and elk flights – would indicate the turkey population is healthy in District 2, as would the number of damage complaints our wildlife conflict staff have received,” noted Atamian earlier this month.

“This late winter weather will delay the hens nesting a bit and so decrease their interest in males, which will dampen the strutting a bit, but once the temperatures turn and snow starts to melt off, it will pick up quick,” he forecasted.

Even as his district contributes well to the region’s overall highest-in-the-state take, the knock is the decided lack of public land.

“As for almost all hunting in District 2 some of the best spots are on private ground,” Atamian says, “so I would highly recommend hunters secure private land access if they want to increase their odds.”

There are very scattered patches of state land, and the big paper company’s properties might be another option.

Atamian encourages turkey hunters to also look into fall opportunities.

WHILE THE GENERAL TURKEY SEASON OPENS APRIL 15, YOUNG HUNTERS CAN HEAD AFIELD A WEEK EARLIER FOR THE APRIL 6-7 YOUTH WEEKEND. JOHNNY HONE TOOK HIS NICE TOM DURING 2017’S EDITION. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

To the south, the Blue Mountains harvest has been down from high marks earlier this decade, likely due to increased fall hunts meant to lower damage complaints. In spring 2017, 499 turkeys were taken here, representing 10 percent of the statewide kill.

Assistant wildlife bio Mark Vekasy reported big flocks in late winter, likely due to snows, but with no real winterkill issues to report he expected an average season.

“It seems like turkeys are everywhere we would expect them to be – and lots of places we don’t want them – so I can’t point to any particular areas,” he says.

That said, there are some public lands.

“Some out-of-the-way spots that often don’t get as much pressure are on the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area up beyond the road on Joseph Creek, and the George Creek unit of the Asotin Creek WA. The McDonald Bridge and Swegle Units of the Wooten WA on the Walla Walla River are good ones for disabled hunters to access,” Vekasy tips.

“If you’ve got a boat, it would be fun to access some of the Army Corps of Engineers hunt management units along the Snake River,” he adds. “We saw good numbers of turkeys on the breaks of the Snake River during our mule deer surveys, and I don’t think those turkeys get much pressure at all.”

Vekasy does advise hunters to get ahold of good maps showing HMU boundaries.

Outside of one off-the-charts year, Klickitat County has annually kicked out 370 to 514 birds each spring over the last 10 years, and you can expect that to continue.

“The spring 2018 season looks like it was on par with the four previous seasons, which have been very stable at between 400 to 500 birds harvested and a success rate between 25 to 35 percent,” says WDFW’s Stefanie Bergh. “I expect the same this year.”

While cool, damp weather can impact spring production, she points out that last year was hot and dry, leading her to suspect a good hatch in 2018, which could mean more birds down the road.

The Klickitat Wildlife Area may be most popular, but there are scattered Western Pacific Timber parcels west of Highway 97.

“If hunters can secure access to private lands, especially at lower elevations, their chances of encountering turkeys will be good. We also have a spot for disabled turkey hunters that is part of our Private Lands Access Program,” adds Bergh, pointing to  WDFW’s 40-acre Lovers Lane parcel just east of the town of Klickitat.

KEITH MOEN, THE SUBJECT OF A FEATURE ARTICLE IN A PAST ISSUE OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE, POSES WITH A NICE TURKEY, THE SECOND HE’D TAKEN IN A THREE-YEAR STRETCH AT THE TIME. “OMETIMES IT’S HARDER FOR DISABLED HUNTERS TO GET TO GOOD AREAS AND MAKE A SHOT BUT HE IS BREAKING THE MOLD,” WROTE HIS WIFE MARY IN SENDING THE IMAGE. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

To the north, state managers report that East Cascades flocks are probably at the region’s carrying capacity, in terms of winter severity, available habitat and resident tolerance, though the agency’s latest game report does note an increase in Chelan County in recent years that might be worth checking out.

Washington Game Commissioners Hear About Northeast Predator, Prey Issues

With the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s monthly meeting being held in Spokane, members had a chance to hear about the region’s predator and prey issues from local residents this morning.

A 197-POUND NORTHEAST WASHINGTON COUGAR SNARLS AFTER BEING TREED FOR A PREDATOR-PREY RESEARCH STUDY. (WDFW)

And from too many cougars to not enough deer to wolf management, hunters, homeowners and ranchers gave WDFW’s citizen oversight panel an earful, and then some, during public input.

In testimony that was being live-streamed, some talked about how few deer they were seeing anymore where once they would routinely see hundreds.

One hunter who had been afield for 40 years and whose family has a longtime deer camp near Sherman Pass spoke of seeing only one mature mule deer buck and a handful of does last season.

He tearfully called for a six-year deer hunting moratorium across Eastern Washington so future generations would have opportunities to see the animals.

A Colville-area man proposed a pilot Sept. 1-March 31 lion season in WDFW’s District 1, the popular game management units of Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

His idea called for a minimum harvest of 45, but if the take fell below that the hunt would be restricted as a sign of a declining population.

RESIDENTS EXPRESS CONCERNS ABOUT NORTHEAST WASHINGTON PREDATOR AND PREY POPULATIONS BEFORE THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (WDFW)

Another talked about fearing letting his kids play in the backyard, relating a story about a cougar having been as close as 3 feet from someone.

Some called for reinstating hound hunting, and another spotlighted one tribe’s predator and prey management, essentially saying that big game is their primary priority.


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A man with a CDL volunteered to help translocate wolves out of the region.

And a livestock producer told commissioners how ranchers were poo-pooed that one wolf pack had twice as many members as state managers thought, but were vindicated when a recent aerial survey showed just that.

He also indicated he was more comfortable speaking in Spokane than Olympia, where he said he felt like he might be shot in the back by audience members.

Speaking of Olympia, several predator and prey bills that could affect Northeast Washington have been active there.

SB 2097, directing WDFW to review the status of wolves in Washington, has been amended after pushback to kill the possibility of considering regional delisting;

SB 5525 deals with whitetail deer surveys and gives the agency a goal of increasing counts to eight to nine per mile;

And HB 1516 and SB 5320 would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.

Meanwhile, for this hunting season, WDFW is proposing to eliminate antlerless whitetail tags and permits for youth, senior, disabled, second deer, early and late archery and early muzzleloader seasons in GMUs 101 through 121 to try and increase the herd.

Back in Spokane, the commission’s public input period was scheduled to run from 8:15 to 8:45 a.m., but didn’t wrap up until 10:48 a.m. such was the number of people who wanted to speak.

“We heard you and we’ll start discussing this internally and see what we can do,” said Chairman Larry Carpenter in closing testimony.

At the end of today’s session, Carpenter touched on predators again, as did another commissioner.

“We’re not headed on the right compass course,” said Jay Holzmiller of Anatone, who said it was a bad idea “to keep walking down the road fat, dumb and happy.”

“We’re sitting on a powder keg,” he said.

So How Many Wolves Are There Actually In Washington?

Are there twice as many wolves running around parts of Washington as WDFW’s minimum count suggests?

It seems more likely in the wake of a state Senate committee work session on the species Tuesday afternoon.

Information from it is giving Washington wolf world observers a chance to compare WDFW’s figures for parts of two northeastern counties with how many wolves that dung dog-gathered data says were actually there at the time.

Dung dogs would be canines that the University of Washington’s Dr. Samuel Wasser et al have trained to find scat. They’re so good that they can smell Puget Sound orca ordure a mile away, Wasser told senators.

On dry land between April 2015 and February 2016, they helped researchers sniff out 4,685 piles of poo in wild portions of Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties.

A MAP FROM DR. SAMUEL WASSER’S PRESENTATION TO A WASHINGTON SENATE COMMITTEE SHOWS THE ROUTES THAT HIS SPECIALLY TRAINED DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN AREAS OF STEVENS AND PEND OREILLE COUNTIES IN 2015 AND EARLY 2016, A PERIOD DURING WHICH FIVE KNOWN WOLF PACKS OCCURRED IN THE AREA. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Their survey area that season overlapped the territories of the Smackout, Dirty Shirt, Carpenter Ridge, Goodman Meadows and Skookum Packs.

With 3,917 of the samples subsequently analyzed in the lab so far, 1,878 (48%) were determined to be coyote crap, 714 (18%) to be bobcat BMs, 541 (14%) to be wolf waste, 323 (8%) to be black bear brownies and 212 (5%) to be mountain lion leavings.

What the remaining 7 percent was wasn’t clear, but the scat not only told researchers what species excreted it (as well as what they’d been, er, wolfing down), but also allowed them to genetically identify the specific animal from whose alimentary canal it exited.

While counting wolves has been an inexact science up to this point, Wasser told members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee they were able to determine that those 541 wolf samples were left by 60 different individual wolves.

WASSER’S PRESENTATION OVERLAYS WOLF SCAT WITH KNOWN WOLF PACK LOCATIONS. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

He said his abundance estimate for the area between spring 2015 through midwinter 2016 was 68.

Now, it’s not quite apples to apples, more like apples to pears, but that timing does allow us to compare his findings with some from WDFW’s 2015 year-end count, which came out in early 2016.

The state agency estimated that the packs that left all that poop numbered at least 30 wolves — eight in Smackout, eight in Dirty Shirt, two in Carpenter, seven in Goodman and five in Skookum.

Thirty is, I want to stress, a minimum number, the confirmed headcount, but it is also a lot fewer than 60, let alone 68.

Hunters and others have long suspected that there are more wolves running around than WDFW’s minimum, and the evidence collected by scat-sniffing dogs from just one part of the state, albeit a wolf-heavy one, seems to bear that out.

So how might the state agency explain such a big numerical difference?

Partially it’s that this is a different, more precise way to count wolves than how WDFW has had funding to do it — collaring wolves and trying to find them and their packies later on.

But some of Wasser’s 60 known animals could have been pups born in spring 2015, defecated all over, but didn’t survive to the end of the year to be counted during the state’s aerial surveys.

They could have been dispersers from elsewhere that, say, ate a 49 Degrees North deer/moose/elk/cow/bird/rodent/snowshoe hare/etc., left a dropping or two and continued on their journey out of the area.

They could have been born to one of the packs, learned how to hunt and subsequently dispersed before biologists buzzed around that winter in the Cessna.

They could have been poached — state game wardens did find evidence that a man illegally killed at least two members of the Goodman Meadows Pack prior to a March 2016 search warrant on his cabin.

And it’s possible that at least three if not more of WDFW’s nine listed known lone/miscellaneous wolves in the greater Eastern Recovery Zone at the end of 2015 were in this area during the survey, so it’s the known 30 plus that many more.

Still, it’s eye-opening, and what’s more Wasser also told senators that during the following field season his dogs found evidence of at least 92 wolves in the same area, and he estimated there were 95 there then.

He said that between the two sessions of fieldwork, they found evidence of 114 unique wolves there.

The bottom line?

Later this winter WDFW will release its 2018 year-end minimum count. That figure is likely to be a lot higher than 2017’s 122, and it may also include new packs from a whole new area of Washington.

While state wolf managers have yet to confirm there are any wolves in the South Cascades, thanks to legislative funding, last year Wasser’s dogs found potential evidence in northwestern Yakima County and multiple parts of Skamania County.

ANOTHER SLIDE FROM WASSER’S PRESENTATION SHOWS ROUTES HIS DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN THE CENTRAL AND SOUTH CASCADES AND WHERE THEY FOUND POTENTIAL WOLF POOP THAT IS NOW UNDERGOING FINAL ANALYSIS WITH RESULTS EXPECTED SOON. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Those feces are now undergoing final analysis with results expected soon, but if “potential wolf” droppings the dung dogs found in the known Teanaway Pack territory are any indication, it seems possible there may be a pack or two in the South Cascades.

Yes, wolves, wolf impacts and wolf people are pains in the ass to manage, but having four successful breeding pairs there is important to reaching the recovery goals that begin statewide delisting processes, and the sooner that occurs the better.

Well, the better for everyone except the groups that are trying to keep the species under kid-glove management, including through an upcoming court case against WDFW.

But this new data strengthens the argument that there are far more wolves in Washington, they’re likely far more widespread and they’re far, far more resilient than Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity etc., want you to know.

WDFW, UW Set To Again Collar Deer, Elk, Wolves, Lions For 5-yr NE WA Predator-Prey Study

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

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff will start capturing deer in northeast Washington in early December and fit them with radio-collars as part of an ongoing predator-prey study that began two years ago.

EARLIER THIS YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA IN STEVENS COUNTY CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING FAWN QUARTERS BACK TO THE DEN. (JEFF FLOOD)

The study, scheduled to run at least five years, will help to assess the impact of wolves, cougars, and other predators on deer and elk by monitoring the interactions of all species.

This winter, researchers hope to capture at least 30 white-tailed deer in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties – primarily on public land, but also on private land where WDFW has secured landowner permission. Capture techniques include trapping animals using bait, entangling them in drop nets, and darting them with immobilization drugs from the ground.

The study plan also calls for radio-collaring wolves, cougars, bobcats, and coyotes in Stevens, Pend Oreille, and Okanogan counties. Some wolves are already radio-collared in those areas, but researchers want to maintain collars on at least two wolves in each of the packs within the study area. Cougar capture work with the use of dogs will get underway in late November, followed by bobcat and coyote captures using box traps and foothold traps after Jan. 1.

Collaborating researchers from the University of Washington (UW) will join WDFW research scientists and field biologists to monitor radio-collared ungulates and track their movements, distribution, habitat use, diet, productivity and survival. Cougars will be monitored to learn about changes in social behavior, population dynamics, prey selection and movements in areas where wolves also occur.

State wildlife managers ask that hunters who harvest a radio-collared deer or elk – and residents who encounter a dead radio-collared animal – contact WDFW’s Eastern Region office in Spokane Valley (509-892-1001), so researchers can recover the collar and collect biological samples from the carcasses.

Funding for the five-year study comes from a 2015 state legislative appropriation, federal Pittman-Robertson funds, and state wildlife funds.The UW also secured National Science Foundation grant funds for part of the project.