Archive for the ‘Current Issue – Mixed Bag’ Category

When The BBC Came Looking For Wolves

June 3, 2011

CAMERA CREW FINDS FEW AS POACHING, UNDERRECOGNIZED HABITAT ISSUES TAKE TOLL ON WASHINGTON’S FIRST PACK IN 70 YEARS.

Editor’s note: This is an updated and expanded version of an article which originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine. 

by Andy Walgamott

CARLTON, Wash.–It’s a very long way from Broadcast House in Southwest England to the Methow, but this past February, the BBC showed up in this North-central Washington valley.

Camped out up a cold, snowy gulch, the smoky-smelling camera crew ran around in a rented diesel pickup for a month filming a documentary about the local wolves.

That would be the Lookout Pack – or whatever’s left of it anyway.

At one point in summer 2008, it numbered ten, setting off alarm bells among hunters, myself included, who prize the valley’s mule deer herd.

It’s unclear exactly how many pack members remain, but Duane Kikendall saw two out his front window Feb. 26. That was three days after the BBC paid him a morning visit at his house in Carlton, a tiny burg along Highway 153 whose claim to fame is the fly pattern known as the Carlton General.

Practically every morning at first light, the 76-year-old, fourth-generation valley resident and old horse trainer picks up a pair of high-powered binoculars and scans a mountain just to the west.

“That’s our entertainment – watching the hillside,” says Kikendall, who lives with his wife, Betty and dog, Jack, and says that otherwise he’s just “sitting around waiting to die.”

A couple neighbors watch from their houses too, including Max Judd, who first spotted wolves there in spring 2008.

Kikendall says his view includes a 2-mile swath of an open, east-facing pine- and sage-dotted slope that muleys frequent. Whether they’re bunched up in odd spots or scattered tells him if there are wolves actively hunting.

An even better sign might be carrion eaters like bald and golden eagles, ravens and magpies.

“They know even before there’s a kill,” he says.

Once he watched three eagles land in a tree and wait as a wolf took the measure of a little deer herd.

“She sorted them out just like a damn sheepdog until she finally got the one she wanted – it must’ve been more tender,” Kikendall recalls.

Then the hunt was on for the pack.

“They actually herded that deer into the brush. I didn’t see them make the kill, but it didn’t come out. It’s a small piece of brush, so I would have seen it,” he says.

OVER THE PAST TWO WINTERS, Kikendall has kept a “wolf diary,” and his 3,750-plus words provide a record of the pack on part of its winter ground. (The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s field monitoring season runs from April into early fall.)

Largely written in an even tone, it details the wolves “playing grab ass,” their hierarchy, how nervous the local coyotes are these days, and how a siren one morning set them to howling.

Kikendall took out his predator call and howled back, but was spurned.

According to his notes, the wolves sometimes make just one showing a month, other times six or seven. He reports seeing them tree a cougar, hunt gophers and in late December 2009 watched as many as seven wolves at once – a number which matches the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s official estimate at the end of that year.

Known online as Idabooner, he’s posted some excerpts of his journal (see below ) at Hunting-Washington where wolves are a hot topic. Some can’t wait to follow up on his sightings with a gun; some have been riveted – “my heart was pounding in my chest,” said one reader.

He himself calls the scenes “amazing” and “fascinating.”

But make no mistake: Duane Kikendall won’t be hugging these wolves anytime soon.

He worries that his county is filling up with them. Like some sportsmen he doesn’t have much faith in biologists’ estimates, and he’s heard the rumor the wolves had a helping hand arriving in the valley.

He also worries their presence could restrict coyote hunting. While headed into the Pasayten during a flurry of suspected wolf activity in the 1990s, he says he was told, “Don’t shoot any coyotes.”

Songdogs can be hell on fawns and sheep, and their winter coats can bring in some money.

(Coyote hunting remains open; the rules pamphlet points out differences between the species, just as it does for black bears and Endangered Species Act-listed grizzly bears.)

Kikendall terms the wolves’ coming an “invasion,” and says he told the BBC interviewer that “some kind of control” is needed to keep their numbers in check.

POPULATION CONTROL is already happening naturally and unnaturally – never mind the hopes of pro-wolfers or federal penalties of up to $100,000, a year in jail and civil fines for killing ESA animals.

The Lookout’s alpha female is known to have had a total of 10 pups in 2008 and 2009. It was observed by Kikendall in a very pregnant state last spring, and also may have thrown a litter in 2007 based on reports of six to nine wolves observed in the region that summer and winter.

LOOKOUT PACK RANGE (GRAY) SUPERIMPOSED OVER PUBLIC LANDS MAP OF OKANOGAN COUNTY. CARLTON IS NEAR THE SOUTHEASTERN TIP OF THE GRAY AREA. (USFWS; DOE)

And while there have been sightings all over the Methow – Mazama, War Creek, Libby Creek, Elbow Canyon, Benson Creek, Chewack, Texas Creek – in March, official numbers from the Feds shrank the pack to a minimum of two or three at the end of 2010.

Granted, 50 percent of wolf pups die annually and 10 percent of adults are difficult-to-count loners – some of the bitch’s broods may have just dispersed to happier hunting grounds (UPDATE: DNA evidence ties a lactating female wolf captured in summer 2011 60 air miles south-southwest to the Lookout wolves) – but what the pack’s apparent lack of traction says about the quality of wolf habitat and prey availability in the 350- to 400-square-mile territory it occupies on the west side of the upper Methow Valley and northern end of Sawtooth Ridge is an open question.

Another is, just how many wolves are being illegally killed?

In late March 2009, news broke that at least two had been allegedly poached. The case began when shipping agents at the Omak Walmart called the cops about a leaky package that, upon opening, was discovered to contain a bloody wolf pelt. It was traced back to a Twisp family, a member of whom confessed to killing a wolf, say police. The suspect said he shot it after it became entangled in a barbed wire fence; according to an affidavit, a photo indicates that it may have actually been caught in an illegal leghold trap. Federal charges have yet to be filed, but the possibility remains open, says the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane, according to the local paper.

In fall 2009, it’s suspected that a pair of Westside men shot another wolf at the extreme northern end of the pack’s range, took it home and then dumped the skinned carcass in the upper Skagit Valley. It’s considered a target of opportunity rather than part of a concerted effort to kill off the Methow’s wolves, but word of it sparked applause from a ranch family elsewhere in the region.

Then, in May 2010, the alpha female suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Two local biologists think it was shot, but there’s no crime scene, tips or anything to follow up on.

“She’s gone. We don’t know why. That’s the extent of the investigation,” says WDFW’s Sgt. Jim Brown, chief game warden for Okanogan County.

The wolf could have died on its own. Way back at its July 2008 capture, it and its mate were aged at “no less than 7 or 8 years old,” “gummers,” says Carter Niemeyer, the retired federal biologist who trapped them for WDFW.

But Brown and others are suspicious about why the collar never broadcast a special mortality signal. Maybe the battery went dead, but that doesn’t match up with how visible the animal was at the time, Brown says.

In the face of at least three poachings – maybe even more than four, one senior state law enforcement official says – Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest teamed up with WDFW to offer more “robust” rewards for information on illegal kills. The agency is now offering up to $7,500 for info that leads to convictions in gray wolf kill cases (as well as $3,000 for “egregious” shootings of deer and elk). Previously only $500 was offered.

THERE ARE SEVERAL self-appointed wolf experts banging the war drums around the region these days, and then there’s Ed Bangs. Based in Helena, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery coordinator for the Northern Rockies has been working with and managing the species almost longer than I’ve been alive. I asked him about the odds that so many wolves from such a tiny population would be killed in such a relatively short period.

A bowhunter, Bangs used an archery analogy to explain annual wolf survival in the greater Yellowstone area.

He says that in the “bull’s eye” core of their habitat – the famed national park where wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s – 80 percent survive each year.

In the next ring out – the park’s edges, surrounding wildernesses and national forest – it dips to 70 percent. The next ring – public lands extensively used for grazing and a bit of private land – it declines to 60 percent.

In the fourth ring – which includes ranches as well as more roaded public lands – it drops to 50 percent, and in the one beyond that, survival is 40 percent, he says.

At that level, “You don’t have packs persisting,” Bangs says.

It’s debatable what ring the Methow and the rest of Washington’s North Cascades represent for wolves – a handful of computer models disagree – but by summer, it could be the bull’s eye or next level out. There is something like 2.5 million acres, or 4,000 square miles, of mountainous, forested wilderness, near wilderness and national park in the 70 miles from the Canadian border south to Highway 2 and 90 miles from Mt. Baker east to Loomis. Crossed by just a single, seasonal two-lane state route, there are, at most, a dozen active grazing allotments – and none with sheep.

Then again, it’s also a world of rock, which is tough to digest unless you’re a lichen.

And in winter, the heights are heap deep in Cascade concrete, driving the deer herds towards the settled Methow and Okanogan Valleys and even to the edge of the Columbia River further south – country more like the outer rings.

WASHINGTON’S POTENTIAL WOLF HABITAT How suitable is Washington for wolves? Good question. Until they’re settled in and show biologists, it’s an academic exercise. Computer modeling that variously factored in prey and human density, land cover, livestock, public lands and habitat linkages spit out a range of estimates. In the first map (far left), gray shading across 41,000 square miles of the state represent suitable habitat while the second map suggests 26,700 square miles are about 50 percent habitable. Dark gray in the third map shows 19,000 square miles, mostly public land. In the fourth, which includes linkages to suitable habitats outside Washington, pink and red areas are considered “sinks” – where resident packs would have a hard time lasting long – while green and dark green represent areas that might support enough that subadults could disperse from their parents. Yellow represents low potential for wolves. (WDFW)

Bangs uses another metaphor to illustrate the persistence of packs in the fifth ring – “little lights blinking on and off” – and points out that wolves have pushed out of the Rockies onto Montana’s open, eastern prairies for 50 years but packs have yet to persist there.

“Why? Illegal killing and (agency) control (for livestock depredations),” he says. “In some instances, areas are kept wolf-free through illegal killing and control.”

While much of the angst over state wolf management in the Northern Rockies leading up to Congressional delisting earlier this spring focused on public hunting, what’s not so well known is that since 1984, 1,517 problem wolves have been legally killed by government agencies and ranchers protecting their stock, says Bangs.

And that’s just half the tally.

“There’s probably been 1,500 wolves illegally killed in the last 25 years,” Bangs adds.

So far in the North Cascades – the gateway to the rest of the range and Western Washington for wolves – the poachers are ahead of the government.

SGT. JIM BROWN STANDS on the thin tan line trying to keep the lights on for Canis lupus in Okanogan County, in which the Methow Valley is located.

“Wolves are here to stay,” he says, a line that echoes throughout WDFW.

SGT. JIM BROWN. (WDFW)

That said, Brown isn’t too excited about los lobos. There’s the politics and overheated emotions, not to mention poaching and dead farm animals.

So far in his beat only one of the four horsemen has yet to rear its head. He says people go on and on about pet and livestock kills, but there’s never any evidence.

Domestic dogs running deer against orchard fences – that’s another story.

Brown is also a sportsman, and after spending two hours with the BBC’s film crew, believes the documentary will come off as anti-hunting.

“They are going at it clearly from a ‘Leave the wolves alone, they have a right to be here’ standpoint,” Brown says.

The crew wanted to go bust someone poaching a wolf. Instead, he took them to Walmart.

There he showed them the surveillance cameras that recorded the license plate of the woman who allegedly dropped the pelt package off, evidence that helped jump start the case.

Brown felt like the interviewer was trying to pigeonhole him with questions.

“They didn’t like that I kept bringing up the extremes on both sides,” he says.

Who knows how the material will be edited, but the game warden worries that he might become associated with a pro-wolf slant.

“I told them that people may be extreme in their views, but they are concerned. Whether those are valid is another thing, but you can’t dismiss their fears,” he says.

It’s not clear why the BBC chose to focus on the Methow and the Lookout Pack. Wolf recovery is not a new story in the region, and there just aren’t that many animals in the valley. Word is that the crew managed just one shot of two wolves over a month.

But that rarity might be part of the story. Brown says they said it was because this pack is different from others. That is, it is isolated from the naturally recolonizing wolves of Northwest Montana and the reintroduced ones plunked down in Yellowstone and Central Idaho in the mid-1990s.

Two members of the film crew did not respond to emailed questions. A local newspaper editor who’d spoken with them said they were afraid of too much exposure, but would talk more after they finished filming this summer. And a representative of Conservation Northwest who was involved in the project said she’d promised to hold off on media and blogging until fall.

It’s not the only wolf show in progress. A Sandpoint, Idaho, man who predicts Washington “will be a biological desert in as little as 10 years,” is following up on his recently released production Yellowstone is Dead with a documentary “covering the corrupt wolf promoters of Washington” and says he will offer evidence of how wolves were planted in the Methow.

WE’LL SEE WHAT HE DRUMS UP, but in all likelihood, the species didn’t get there in a cage in the back of a greenie government biologist’s pickup, by parachute or in a Schwan’s delivery van as some want to believe, but by walking there on their own four feet.

We hunters and ranchers tend to massively underrate wolves’ true mobility, as if they’re homebodies and not like the migratory deer and elk they prey on. Certainly the moose that are now colonizing the western and southern edges of the Columbia Basin haven’t exactly had to thumb rides from WDFW’s Scott Fitkin, Paul Wik and Dave Volsen.

How far can wolves wander? This past January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a map that traced the seven-month walk of a yearling female. It was collared with a GPS tracking device in Southwest Montana and then traveled over 3,000 miles and across parts of five states before being found dead in Colorado.

(USFWS)

That’s roughly the pace of another dispersing female’s trek across Scandinavia. Scientists say it went a minimum of 6,000 miles – and possibly as many as 9,000 miles – between its den near Oslo and the Finnish-Russian border where it was killed 21 months later.

Those, of course, are the extremes, but a 1999 article in the Journal of Wildlife Management suggests that in areas of low pack density – such as central Scandinavia at the time – wolves may travel “excessive” distances to find mates, prey and habitat.

About 35 miles north of Carlton as the raven flies is the international border and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Encompassing the Similkameen, Okanagan and Kettle River watersheds, it’s the only region in the entire province without a wolf hunt because, well, there just haven’t been any to hunt.

That’s changing. Thirty miles beyond the border is the town of Princeton where a pair were shot not too long ago by a rancher, according to a provincial biologist.

He was not authorized to talk to the media (a government spokesman did not return my call), but he says that there’s a growing wolf population in the Okanagan. In 2007, it was estimated at six packs and 30 to 40 animals.

Since then, he’s been rounding up evidence on the population to kick start a hunt.

“Because predator seasons are so bleeping sensitive, I’ve had to put together lots of information” for headquarters and politicians to sign off on a season, he says. “This one catches the public’s eye.”

It will catch the eye of wolf watchers south of the border: Hunts may lead to even fewer dispersers crossing into Washington.

BACK IN CARLTON, after a month without a sighting, Duane Kikendall reported that a wolf wandered across the mountain the morning of March 29. He says it didn’t pay any attention to the 40 or so deer there at first, but then made a crafty charge. From his vantage point, it was unclear if it made a kill.

They say that just the mention of the word “wolf” creates its own sightings, but Kikendall tells me that he’s seen wolves off and on throughout his life in the valley. It may be surprising to some, but that’s what WDFW data also shows.

A 1995 paper from agency biologists confirms over a dozen and a half sightings in the Cascades and Pend Oreille County between just ’91 and ’95 as legit, and it terms more than 175 other reports between the mid-’70s and ’95 – including 35 in Okanogan County – as having a “high reliability.” The agency’s draft wolf management plan lists another 100 unconfirmed reports over the past 10 years.

WASHINGTON’S WOLF POPULATION
As of Dec. 31, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated there were a minimum of 18 or 19 wolves in three packs:
• 12 in the Diamond Pack of east-central Pend Oreille County — six adults and six pups
• Four in the Salmo Pack of extreme northern Pend Oreille County — three adults and one pup
• Two or three in the Lookout Pack of western Okanogan County — all adults
• In the Northern Rockies, for every 10 wolves in packs, there’s another wanderer, but in Washington, USFWS’s Ed Bangs thinks it’s probable there would be a slightly higher ratio of dispersers. A radio-collared yearling female from Oregon’s Imnaha Pack, OR-5, showed up in the eastern Blue Mountains in late January and there has been confirmed wolf activity elsewhere in Washington’s side of the range. On the north side of the Columbia Basin, Colville tribal biologists are awaiting DNA results from some canid poop found next to large tracks in the Sanpoil Valley last winter, and WDFW will follow up on reports in the Teanaway and North Cascades near Hozomeen this year.
The state’s end-of-2009 wolf population was estimated at a minimum of 12 in two packs, Diamond and Lookout.

The bottom line is, wolves have been invading/recolonizing Washington in ones, twos, threes for decades, but until the late 2000s it never amounted to a hill of beans. When the Lookout Pack shacked up, it fundamentally changed the alphas’ behavior. Before, they could roam at will, picking off a deer in this valley, a beaver in the next. But with pups to feed, they inextricably tied themselves to the muley herd, which itself is bound to the Methow Valley floor because of winter snows.

Doing so made them far more visible.

“People want to think of wolves as a symbol of wilderness and remoteness,” says John Rohrer, a local U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, “but (in winter and spring) they’re right outside people’s doors.”

That brought to the valley the great sociological experiment that is the Wolf Wars: the angst, the rah-rahing, the rumor mongering – and the poaching.

It has also made more clear how difficult it may be for wolves to spread into the western two-thirds of Washington on their own — required to meet the draft plan’s proposed recovery goals — and a prospect that makes one WDFW biologist shift uneasily in his chair because it raises the specter of the expensive, time-consuming, divisive, bound-to-be-litigious process that would be translocation — moving the species around inside the state to reach those benchmarks.

An alternative idea was brought up during public comment on the wolf plan. A wildlife biologist at a different state agency suggested that rather than basing recovery on packs occurring across most of Washington, base it on populations in just the eastern third of the state, the area they’re now federally delisted and where packs from Idaho, Oregon and BC are expanding into.

“If statewide recovery is necessary before any management can occur, then we have no business hunting moose or bighorn sheep until they have established populations in all suitable habitat,” wrote Scott Fisher at the Department of Natural Resources.

The USFWS is currently mulling whether wolves in the western two-thirds of the state, such as the Lookout Pack, should be included in the delisted Northern Rocky Mountains population, or be its own distinct segment. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

WHO KNOWS, maybe another pack will appear in the Methow – the latest rumor is five were seen up Cow Creek, east of Carlton ­– but with how few BBC’s crew found on their first trip, perhaps they will have to go to another part of the state this summer to find more.

Or save the show by focusing on another local critter on the rebound, say wolverines or lynx.

Or maybe it’s as Ed Bangs says: “Wolves are boring. The fascinating thing is the human reactions.”

Book Review: THE MAN WHO CRIED WOLF MODERATION!

Carter Niemeyer has killed more wolves in the Lower 48 – including one of the most famous, Alabaster of the Whitehawks – than almost all of us will ever see in our lives, and he’s on good speaking terms with some of the folks at Defenders of Wildlife.

He wonders why we brought wolves back to this country if all we’re going to do is shoot them, and says fair-chase hunts should be allowed.

After necropsying dead livestock, he’s had to tell ranchers throughout the Northern Rockies that wolves had nothing to do with why some of their cows, calves, sheep and lambs have died, and counts some of them among his friends.

He’s hailed as a wolf advocate in headlines these days, and he tells wolf advocates that it’s time to move on, the species is recovered.

So, what, exactly, is a sportsman to make of Niemeyer, the author of the recently self-published memoir Wolfer?

As a central character in the Wolf Wars, he’s neither a hugger nor a hater. Rather, Niemeyer bucks the era’s you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us mentality and represents gray, calling bullshit on everybody’s fairy tales.

“Wolves aren’t as bad as we feared, or as good as we hoped,” he says to all comers.

Wolfer is a tale any Northwest sportsman could thoroughly enjoy – if only wolves weren’t involved.

It’s about a work life lived outdoors, detailing how a kid from Iowa who started out collecting nickel bounties on gophers ended up working as a federal trapper in Montana. There he kills thousands of coyotes and foxes as well as successfully relocates 149 golden eagles that had been pestering lambs. In the mid-1980s, when wolves begin filtering into Montana from Canada, he’s tasked by his bosses at USDA Wildlife Services/Animal Damage Control to deal with them.

It’s full of amusing anecdotes – Niemeyer gives his pet porcupine an enema, grinds up whole critters for his super-secret trapping scent, and wins a wine-soaked wolf-skinning contest to establish his bona fides with Canadian fur trappers who will help him bring wolves back to Yellowstone and Central Idaho.

My favorite bit is when his second wife wonders how on earth he could shoot hummingbirds as a boy. It was pretty tough, he replies, because they’re so dang small – a response that earns him a look that has been flashed a time or three at the Walgamott house.

At its core, Wolfer is a clear-eyed take on wolf biology, the tell-tale signs of how they kill, the loonies who surround the issue, and how in hell we got to where we are today.

As numbers grow in Washington and Oregon, and at a time when anyone with an Internet connection can be a wolf expert, it would behoove sportsmen and ranchers to bone up on wolf realities from someone who has been in their den – literally.

It’s available at Powell’s in Portland, Fireside Books in Olympia, and on Amazon (paperback and Kindle).

Editor’s note: Last week, after incorporating 60,000-plus public comments, blind peer review and state staff suggestions, WDFW issued a revised draft wolf management plan. It will be discussed during this weekend’s Fish & Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia, and June 8-9 in Ellensburg with the agency’s Wolf Working Group.

A Minimum Age To Hunt In WA?

May 23, 2011

COLUMNIST SUGGESTS REVISTING ISSUE IN WAKE OF HUNTER-ED INSTRUCTORS’ DISMISSAL

by Leroy Ledeboer

When the news broke that the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife had decertified Clare Cranston, a volunteer hunter education instructor in the Tri-Cities with a whopping 46 years of service under his belt, it definitely caught Northwest sportsmens’ attention.

 Original Spokane Spokesman-Review article: Long-time hunter ed instructors quit after state sides with parents; Tri-Cities Herald letters to the editor: Computers no substitute; Firm but fair; Outrageous action; Reprimand warranted; 13-page-long online discussion

Clare, after all, has not only spent huge amounts of his time and dollars to educate our youth on everything from hunter ethics to firearms safety, he’s also served as an integral part of other volunteer efforts, including a decade-long stint on the state’s Inland Fish Advisory Committee.

CRANSTON.

The issue: Although the Richland Rod & Gun Club had received only a handful of complaints in 53 years of running hunter education classes, last March three were submitted, perhaps the most serious that Clare had grabbed a 9-year-old lad and spoken harshly to him for inadvertently pointing a muzzleloader rifle at classmates.

The boy broke into tears.

“I was standing right behind him,” Cranston explains. “He’d done everything right until he turned and let the muzzle drop, directly at other students. If I could have grabbed his rifle, I would have, but that meant reaching over him. Instead, I took him by the shoulders and turned him around.”

Yes that weapon was unloaded at the time, but muzzle control is the No. 1 issue in firearm safety, and the students had been told that a single infraction meant they’d fail the class.

Maybe it was this fear of failing, maybe his instructor’s no-nonsense gruffness that brought on the tears, but in either case Cranston felt he’d done nothing inappropriate.

Firearms safety is paramount, he maintains, and that wasn’t about to change.

Apologies to the lad and his dad, plus going through sensitivity training would have saved Cranston’s certificate. The rest of his team of hunting educators was told they too had to go through that course.

Howard Gardner, the team leader who helped found the Tri-Cities program way back in 1957 and whom many consider this state’s most knowledgeable hunter education instructor, refused, stating it would be an admission of guilt, and he had done nothing wrong. He too was decertified.

Several other volunteers resigned in protest.

Unfortunately this incident could have a ripple effect across Washington. One Westside instructor told me, “I’m about ready to pull the plug, to decertify myself. I think the Department’s handling of this was totally wrong. Gun safety has to be absolute, and I personally would have no problem with grabbing a kid if he pointed his weapon at others. If I got a complaint about that or anything else I felt was the right action, I’d want the Department to have my back. If they don’t, then I don’t want to be part of this program anymore.”

AT 79, CRANSTON IS definitely old school, believes in discipline and doesn’t mince words. When it comes to hunter education, he totally rejects anything that smacks of today’s “feel good” approach.

And, like the rest of us old timers, Cranston cut his hunting teeth in a much different world, where hunter education was left to chance – the chance that Dad or an uncle had the knowledge, time and good sense to instill it.

Oh, it was a glorious world, all right, where 10-year-old buddies could grab their .22s or .410s and head into the wilds in pursuit of small game and varmints. Glorious, but its ugly downside was the occasional and perhaps inevitable gun mishap.

For Cranston that mishap came early, when a buddy shot himself in the chest with a .22.

“I’d loaned him one of my rifles and then stayed with him while my little brother ran for help,” he recalls. “Something like that really sticks with you, so yeah, I’m passionate about gun safety. I want to get the message out, to get it across that there aren’t any doovers. I stress that a rifle or shotgun is a tool, one that can give you a lifetime of pleasure but only if you use it correctly 100 percent of the time. There’s no margin for error.”

The three complaints leveled at Cranston and his cohorts all involved their handling of very young children, 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds. Maybe that was coincidence, but it gave me a flashback to an article I did several years ago and discovered that Washington has no minimum age requirement for hunting. Take the course, get passing grades, and you’re in – even at 5, 6 or 7.

Our Northwest neighbors all have some restrictions in place. Oregon doesn’t allow big game hunting before 11. Idaho allows 10-year-olds to hunt upland birds, water- fowl and small game, 12-year-olds to get big game tags. Until they turn 18, adult supervision\ is mandated. In Montana 12 is the threshold for beginners.

When I researched that article, a WDFW spokesman told me that the Hunter Education Program’s three separate areas – knowledge, attitude and skill – act as a safety net, weeding out most of the younger kids, but if an exceptional 8-year-old passes all three, then he or she deserves a license.

However, after talking to several prominent hunter education instructors and other sportsmen, I see at least a couple of flaws in this argument. For starters, it throws that entire weeding-out burden on the shoulders of our volunteer instructors.

“It’s just wrong,” states Ron Poppe, a longtime instructor now in charge of the Wenatchee-area program. “I totally disagree with having real young kids out there. Their stature isn’t suitable for handling a big-game rifle, even a youth model, and they simply don’t have the concentration to stay alert to what they’re doing. But if we ease up and certify them, they can get a big game tag.

“Too many parents bring in kids that are way too young, too immature, and when they fail, Mom or Dad just can’t accept it. It happens every class. Then the instructor comes out the bad guy. We get blamed for an 8- or 9-year-old’s failure when they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

“In Hunter Ed, we have so many vital concepts to get across such as when dealing with ammo, don’t trust anyone. If someone hands you fresh ammo, even if it’s your Dad or Mom, check it out. Make sure it’s right for your weapon.

“And gun control. On actual hunts situations are bound to arise. Sooner or later you will trip and fall down. No major problem as long as you handle your weapon properly and keep its barrel pointed in a safe direction. Getting these things across to any youngster is a real challenge. If they’re too young, too immature, it’s impossible.

“Even a very bright youngster can have major lapses. I had to flunk a 9-year-old who scored 74 out of 75 on the written exam – better than most adults who come through our program. Then in the field test he pointed his weapon right at me, so we had to fail him. That’s so difficult to explain. You might change the position of your gun 100 times during an outing and you can never make that mistake. This boy did so many things right, but he was young, so had mental lapses.

“I’d like to see a minimum age of at least 12, maybe even 13,” Poppe says. Ron Bruno, longtime president of the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association, is equally adamant.

“I was at one class where a 5-year-old was enrolled,” he recalls. “The kid sat on his dad’s lap, sucked his thumb and eventually fell asleep. Yet the instructor had no choice but to let him participate.

“And no matter what their age, their teachers have to be strict. Remember, these will be our fellow hunters, carrying weapons into the fields we hunt. They have to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and they have to be capable. Unless a kid is being physically hurt, there’s no such thing as too strict.”

ONE ARGUMENT AGAINST an age requirement has been that in this age of video games and multitude of other distractions, we have to get our kids involved early or we won’t get them at all. They’ll turn to other pursuits, and this national trend of fewer hunters taking to the fields each decade will only get worse.

But how many youngsters are we going to hook on the sport if their first shot at hunter education results in failure?

Unless we’re prepared to drastically lower our standards, that’s exactly what’s going to continue to happen.

And isn’t there value in deferred gratification?

Sans gun, let that avid 8- or 9-year-old join dad in the duck blinds or on his deer stands for a couple of seasons, enjoying the moment and getting valuable early tutoring. That first year with his own weapon will be so much sweeter.

Then there’s that “Let’s not create a one size fits all rule” theory, thus penalizing the truly exceptional 9-year-old. Let the parents have a real voice in when their kids are ready.

OK, but how many moms and dads can accurately judge their sons’ and daughters’ strengths and weaknesses? Nothing so bad about that. In fact, seeing our kids in a positive light might be part of being a good parent. Throw grandparents into this mix and those rose-colored glasses get a whole lot rosier. I watch my 10-month-old great-grandson totter around on his chubby little legs and envision him toting his first 20-gauge.

No, sometimes we just don’t get to choose. Sometimes, for the general good, we have to set age restrictions without fretting about exceptional cases. For example, a farmer friend of mine had his two strapping sons out in his fields handling everything from tractors and pickups to big dual-axle grain trucks before their 12th birthdays. By 14 those lads were far more competent than most 16- and 17-year-olds who make it through drivers ed.

Yet we make no exceptions. No one gets a drivers’ licenses before that arbitrary 16th birthday. It’s a good rule. It makes our highways just a little safer. Don’t our hunting fields deserve the same respect? NS

Rural Legislators Question WDFW’s Wolf Info, Land Plans

November 8, 2010

AS CANIS LUPUS MOVES INTO OKANOGAN COUNTY, THE AGENCY HAS A LONG-TERM PLAN TO ‘SECURE’ 80,000 ACRES OF RANCHLANDS THERE FOR ‘RARE, WIDE-RANGING CARNIVORES.’

Editor’s note: This version of the article printed in Northwest Sportsman‘s November 2010 issue clarifies how the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife aims to protect 80,000 acres of land in central Okanogan County.

WAUCONDA, Wash.—As Congressmen insert themselves into the wolf debate in the Northern Rockies, a group of Washington legislators are joining the fray in their home state.

Suspicious about how the species got here as well as their true numbers, the quartet of Eastside lawmakers are going through an estimated 7,200 pages of biologist emails, plans and other things wolfish they received through a public disclosure act request of the Department of Fish & Wildlife this past summer.

At the same time, they’re questioning WDFW’s effort to provide new corridors for “rare, wide-ranging carnivores” through Okanogan County. A plan shows the agency hopes to “secure” 125 square miles of ranchland in the heart of some of the state’s best mule deer country through a mix of acquisitions and conservation easements over the next decade.

And while Reps. David Taylor, Joel Kretz, Shelly Short and Matt Shea, all Republicans, are still chewing on the documents, work has already begun on a bill for the coming session.

“We’re in the process of drafting legislation to require the wolf [management] plan to come to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote,” says Taylor.

If passed, it could further delay the Fish & Wildlife Commission’s final approval of state guidelines for Canis lupus recovery, a plan that, once upon a time before breeding wolves were confirmed in Washington, was expected to be finalized in June 2008.

TAYLOR, A RANCHER in his late 30s who represents a large swath of South-central Washington, grew up in Kittitas County and now runs cattle on leases between Ellensburg and Sunnyside. Over the years he’s heard ranchers and hunters tell of wolf sightings from the Teanaway to White Pass, so last November he attended a public comment meeting on WDFW’s draft management plan and then began worrying about its handling of cattlemen’s issues.

REP. DAVID TAYLOR (R-15)

“My concern escalated with the initial response from WDFW. They just didn’t think the concerns expressed were as high as I thought they should be,” Taylor says.

Afterward he became a contact point for others. One constituent told him about a man wandering around the woods with telemetry equipment. After WDFW claimed it didn’t know anything about the guy, Taylor filed the PDA request which yielded seven CDs and a stack of documents as thick as a big-city phone book.

“I’m still going through it,” said Taylor in late September.

He’s looking for “evidence of wolf populations that haven’t been made public. I personally believe there’s a higher population than the department would like to make public.”

Republican staffers in Olympia are also scouring Internet forums such as Hunting Washington for reports from hunters which state biologists may have poo-poohed.

One thing in the documents that has caught Taylor’s eye is Conservation Northwest’s involvement with WDFW. He brands the Bellingham organization an “environmental” group and says there is a lot of email traffic between them and state biologists.

“If you’re putting in time and money, there is some sort of payback – influence in the [wolf] plan or something,” he says.

Taylor, who defeated Democrat Tom Silva in early November to retain the seat he was appointed to in March 2009, says he’s spent enough time in small government to know the direction green groups are pushing, and points to the state’s 1990 growth management act which focuses new building in urban areas.

“It’s almost a conspiracy theory,” he admits, “but the progression is to remove people from working landscapes.”

ONE PARTICULAR WDFW document adds fuel to that fire.

A grant proposal submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2009 makes it appear as if the agency has a Yellowstone to Yukon-like master plan for North-central and Northeast Washington.

It asks the Feds for $4 million in matching funds for “the second phase of an anticipated 5-10 year public/private effort to secure approximately 80,000 acres of critical wildlife habitat and vital wildlife corridors in the Okanogan-Similkameen watershed.”

A map with the request shows a pair of yellow lines through central Okanogan County. One stretches south from Canada through the Similkameen and Sinlahekin Valleys towards the Columbia. The other intersects it and heads east-southeast between Tonasket and Riverside and across the Okanogan River through a concentration of large ranches, nine of which are targeted for purchase.

MAP SHOWING WILDLIFE CORRIDORS THAT THE OKANOGAN-SIMILKAMEEN PROJECT WOULD PROVIDE.

The yellow lines are the wildlife corridors the grant speaks of. The second line is referred to as “the critical linkage … between the North Cascades and the Kettle/Selkirk Mountains for rare, wide-ranging carnivores (grizzly bear, gray wolf, lynx, wolverines).”

Protecting the land through conservation easements and fee-title purchases would help “maintain migration corridors for deer, moose and bighorn sheep (rare carnivore prey).”

It’s the phrasing – relegating game species to burger for footloose wolves and bears – that partly gets Rep. Joel Kretz.

“It really frosts me that sportsmen are the biggest contributors to the department and the reason for [the acquisitions] is to feed predators,” he says.

An aid tells me Kretz single handedly killed a bill supportive of the transborder Yellowstone to Yukon initiative in Olympia in a previous session.

FOR KRETZ, who ran unopposed for a fourth term to represent the 7th District in Northeast Washington, the issue of carnivores on the land is “personal.”

When not in Olympia, he raises cattle and working quarterhorses on a 1,400-acre spread at remote Bodie Mountain in eastern Okanogan County.

REP. JOEL KRETZ (R-5)

After voters banned hound hunting his herds ran scared. He says he had at least 20 cougar attacks, and on one occasion, a big cat deeply scarred a foal’s flank. Since then he successfully worked to legalize limited dog chases in his neck of the woods.

Now, wolves and grizzlies are returning to the delight of some Washington residents, but to the consternation of Kretz. He has at least one pack and possibly a second plus some stray grays in his district.

“It’s one thing to have wolves in the Pasayten [Wilderness] but another to have them down where ranchers are trying to calve,” he says.

Kretz says Washington lacks Idaho’s low-elevation public land – “Ninety-eight percent of the winter range is in private land” – and doesn’t have the ground to support the minimum 15 packs the draft management plan currently calls for to reach recovery goals.

“I think it’s foolish. This state can’t provide the habitat,” he says.

To help the species spread across Washington, WDFW would translocate wolves from one part of the state to areas they might not otherwise reach.

Kretz defiantly says he’ll make sure they get to the Olympic Peninsula.

“I’ll propose a wildlife corridor through downtown Seattle. If they’re so good, they can have them,” he says.

THE STATE’S TWO confirmed breeding packs are genetically linked to British Columbia and Alberta/Montana populations, according to WDFW.

But how they got here is an open question for some. Kretz says there’s a “lot of concern” that the game department – or wolf lovers in cahoots with them – are bringing wolves in any which way they can.

For instance, he wonders why wolves went through so much game-rich territory before denning up near Twisp, in western Okanogan County. That’s the home of the Lookout Pack  which produced pups in 2008, 2009 and possibly this year, though the alpha female is missing and believed dead.

And then there are recent reports from Kittitas County – 80 air miles south of that pack’s home range and 160 air miles northwest from wolves in the Blue Mountains.

“They’ve popped up in some odd places,” Kretz says.

One story has it that a white rig, not unlike a Schwan’s delivery truck, was spotted resupplying the Lookout Pack with eight more members in spring 2009. A more dated one has it that Weyerhaeuser parachuted them into the Willapa Hills to reduce elk and deer damage to young trees.

The stories can be believable for those wary of government and environmentalists.

“I don’t have any hard evidence,” Kretz admits, “but I don’t trust that agency.”

His distrust grows with every acre of land WDFW buys in Okanogan County. All totaled it owns over 73,000 acres, including recent buys of 815 acres around Buzzard Lake south of Conconully and 4,000 acres in the Methow Valley. A 2,700-acre deal in the Similkameen is pending.

Kretz says the issue is “nuclear, beyond hot” because it takes working land out of production, hurting related operations, affects tax collection, and can aid the spread of invasive weeds.

“If you don’t have money to maintain lands, why buy more?” he wonders.

DAN BUDD, WDFW’s real estate division manager, recalls watching helplessly as a huge Okanogan County spread was cut up.

“Twenty years ago, when we didn’t have the money, [Junior Eder] had 20,000 acres,” he says of a ranch east of Oroville. “He had a big urge to sell land and sold off 10,000 acres to Lynn Barnett of the Tacoma Land Company.”

Nowadays, homes and building sites on 20- and 40-acre parcels dot the land, though WDFW has since bought 5,738 acres of the farm.

For Budd, who himself comes from a ranching family, purchasing land or conservation easements in Okanogan County just makes sense.

“Whole watersheds are intact,” he says. “The reality is that’s where the big open spaces are at, where the big animals are.”

By comparison, he says it doesn’t do much good to buy land for elk on the far more developed Kitsap Peninsula.

Budd doesn’t deny that buying ranches is a hot topic.

“We’re only buying from willing sellers. We’re not pushing them off,” he says. “Those who’ve provided stewardship for more than one generation are approaching us.”

As elsewhere in the West, the ranching economy here is in trouble. A recent study by a Bozeman consultant found that between 1993 and 2008, developers and investors bought 43,775 acres of cattle land in central and eastern Okanogan County while ranchers themselves purchased 41,983, government agencies 11,410. But roughly two-thirds of those cowboy-to-cowboy deals occurred between 1993 and 1996. Almost every year since speculators and amenity buyers have bought the most land.

What’s hurting livestock producers, the study says, is long-term income stagnation and, in recent years, higher hay and fuel costs. With too few cattle to support them, two local stockyards also closed in 2000 so ranchers now have to truck their animals to lots 150 and 250 miles away.

Budd worries about what will happen when the economy improves and people again begin buying property.

“If we don’t block it up,” he says, “you’re not going to have the wildlife.”

VIEW NORTH OVER THE BEAUTIFUL CHESAW AREA, INCLUDING THE CHESAW WILDLIFE AREA (AT LEFT), COBBLED TOGETHER IN THE 1990S FROM SEVERAL LARGE RANCHES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

PERRY HOUSTON is the planning manager for Okanogan County. At 5,332 square miles, it makes up 8 percent of the entire state of Washington, but 80 percent of the county outside the Colville Reservation is federal wilderness, national and state forests, BLM land and wildlife areas, he says.

And with WDFW “very aggressive” about buying some of the remaining ranches, local politicians want to whoa up for a moment.

“The cry isn’t to stop it. It’s to review it. Let’s talk about this,” Houston says.

He says the county commissioners want the agency to prepare a State Environmental Policy Act study.

“We’re asking for an analysis of the fiscal and economic impacts as more and more and more land is converted to public ownership,” Houston says.

(WDFW lands manager Jennifer Quann says land acquisitions are exempt from SEPA. She says there won’t be any slow down in attempts to buy property, but that there would be more external review.)

Houston says the county isn’t against folks selling to the state, but every exchange leaves less and less room for future development and thus increased tax revenue.

“The percentage of impact increases as you slice off” more ranches, he says.

DAVE BRITTEL IS WDFW’S assistant wildlife program manager. He admits that if he were looking for “mischief” in the agency’s dealings on wolves, the carnivore-centric phrasing in the Okanogan-Similkameen grant proposal might be it.

“That makes it awkward, you’re right,” he says.

But the verbiage appears to be a function of what it takes to shake loose money from USFWS. Plug in words like “Canada lynx,” “bull trout” and other endangered or threatened wildlife, add that there’s connectivity to nearby public lands, and the coffers seemingly swing open – especially for WDFW.

“The intent of these grants is to acquire habitat for listed species,” says Joan Jewett, a USFWS spokeswoman in Portland.

Since 2001, her agency has awarded at least $28.74 million for land buys in Okanogan County. WDFW then matches that with grants from the state Recreation and Conservation Office, itself funded by state gas tax and bond sales, and the federal government.

In the 2011-13 biennium, WDFW sent RCO a wish list for $73.5 million to buy 82,000 acres of habitat across the state, including 20,000 in Klickitat County, 15,000 in Benton County, 9,000 in Asotin County and 8,400 in Kittitas County. It’s also asking for $12 million to buy 4,300 acres in Okanogan.

VIEW OVER THE UPPER METHOW VALLEY, INCLUDING PARTS OF THE BIG VALLEY (LEFT) AND RENDEZVOUS (UPPER RIGHT) UNITS OF THE 31,000-ACRE METHOW WILDLIFE AREA. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW’s success with scoring grant money rankles Kretz, but Brittel points out that hunters want the land conserved.

“They want mule deer to get from the Pasayten to the valleys,” he says.

AS TAYLOR AND KRETZ’S staffers dig into sites like Hunting Washington, they will find nearly as many reports of wolves there as they can find in WDFW’s own records. Together, the draft plan and a 1998 paper list over 800 different howls heard, tracks seen and critters spotted across the state the past 35 years.

Over 250 sightings between 1975 and 1995 are considered confirmed wolves or highly likely to be, but wolf-dog hybrids – released by owners who can’t handle their pets, find another home for them or have them euthanized – lead to false sightings, giving biologists fits.

For example, in 1992 WDFW’s Scott Fitkin captured, collared and released an animal near Mt. Baker. Big news at the time, but a month later it was determined to be a hybrid, so it was recaptured and taken to Wolf Haven International near Tenino where it was nicknamed Nooksack and died in 2005.

Wolf Haven doesn’t take them anymore, but still gets “two to five calls or emails a week from people who have wolf-dog hybrids and are looking for a home,” says spokeswoman Kim Young.

They refer owners elsewhere, though those facilities are often full. “We hear occasional stories of people dumping [hybrids],” adds Wendy Spencer, also at Wolf Haven.

WDFW spokeswoman Madonna Luers says crossbreeds have been released north of Spokane near Diamond Lake. An agency enforcement officer also says he treats wolf reports with a grain of salt because sometimes upon investigation they turn out to be just a local’s dog wandering the woods.

However, a real female wolf that was turned loose in southern British Columbia led to a flurry of sightings of adults and pups on upper Ross Lake in the early 1990s. The woman who raised then released the animal vehemently denied state biologists had any part in it when we spoke in early fall. But Seattle Times articles from that period – including one with a dubious passing reference to a whopping six packs in the state’s Cascades – are sometimes dredged up to discredit WDFW’s claim that the Lookout wolves were the state’s first confirmed breeding pair in 70 years.

SOME OF THE FIRST images of that pack and its six pups came off of Conservation Northwest’s trail cameras. The group is headed up by Mitch Friedman, one of Earth First’s original tree sitters. Now he’s hugging loggers.

And the gun.

MITCH FRIEDMAN, CONSERVATION NORTHWEST EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUNTING IN THE SINLAHEKIN VALLEY. (COURTESY MITCH FRIEDMAN)

I met him in mid-September as CNW campaigned in Seattle for new wilderness, more sawlogs and continued cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest (see page 14 of the November issue of Northwest Sportsman).  He surprised me when he said he hunts Okanogan County, as do I.

Suspicious he was just orangewashing himself, though, I checked with state sources and found he’s actually bought a deer tag every year since 2001. Over that time he reported killing three bucks and one doe with a rifle. He sent me pictures of himself posing with two, a spike whitetail and nice muley.

Friedman later blogged that he’s a “nature lover” and “sportsman” at the same time. He explained of CNW, “Part of our role is to bridge the gap between various pro-nature ethics, urban/rural, and hunter/nonhunter, because this is what helps wildlife best.”

One of their staffers – who also hunts – is on WDFW’s Wolf Working Group (as are several ranchers and sportsmen), and CNW and the state collaborate on a network of trail cams and wildlife conservation issues, thus the contacts with biologists.

The group also recently helped keep the  Colville Valley’s indebted Dawson ranch, which provides deer habitat, from being broken up by funding half the purchase of development rights on 164 acres of it.

ED BANGS, THE USFWS’s wolf recovery coordinator for the Northern Rockies, has been working with the species for 34 years. He’s known by some as “Mr. Wolf” for his expertise while extremists simultaneously call him one of the foremost murderers of wolves and destroyers of big game herds in the U.S.

One thing that Bangs says most people don’t realize about wolves is how mobile they are, so he understands why stories like the Schwan’s van pop up.

“We got the same thing with wolves showing up in Glacier National Park in the 1980s,” he says.

Bangs says they’re “world champions” at covering ground and finding mates. “That’s really startling to people who say ‘There’s no wolves within 100 miles of here.’”

So stories of nefarious government agents and/or whacko greenies bubble up.

“It’s a very common story, and it’s worldwide,” he says.

When the wild canids made their return to Sweden, “the strong rumor or suspicion was that biologists moved them in when in reality they probably walked across the frozen Baltic Sea … or around the top through reindeer-herding country,” Bangs says.

With drastic drops in a few Northern Rockies elk herds, I snorted loudly when he said wolves are “easy to manage,” but had to agree when he quickly added “the people issues are very difficult.”

Wolves’ symbolism through the ages and their similarity to us makes them powerful totems for both poles of the debate.

“When you stretch your credibility, you lose it, and it happens on both sides,” Bangs says, scoffing at hydatid worm worries and new-age notions of the species – “‘The wolves are going to give your kids brain cysts.’ The other side, ‘Wolves are balancing the world.’”

BUT THERE’S ENOUGH anger over the continuing delisting fiasco that Montana and Idaho’s Congressional delegations are working on bills to exempt wolves from the Endangered Species Act all together. Here in the other Washington, it will be interesting to see what more the state legislators find in the material from WDFW.

“To their credit they’ve been pretty forthcoming,” Kretz allows. He and Taylor also speak positively of agency director Phil Anderson, at the helm almost two years now.

Next month, the House Agricultural & Natural Resources Committee is expected to hold a work session on the wolf plan. Taylor says they’re working to bring in state and federal experts.

And if that bill requiring an up-or-down vote is passed, the plan would then go before lawmakers. If they approve, it would go to the Fish & Wildlife Commission for final sign off.

“But if the Legislature says no, it’s too overarching, it’s not looking at economic impacts, then it would go back [to WDFW] for additional work,” says Taylor.

Meanwhile, the agency has posted the 65,000 public comments it collected last year. A final document now isn’t expected until next summer.

Das Jet Boot

August 20, 2010

Aluminum fishing boat builders on the Snake River hope to tap into the German and other European markets.

CLARKSTON, Wash.–Salmon are beginning to recover in the Rhein, and though it may be a long, lonnnnng time before anyone’s hover fishing off the Deutsches Eck, Kölner Dom or Schoenburg Castle, aluminum boat manufacturers half a world away hope to hook into the market here.

Builders in Lewiston and Clarkston will fly to Düsseldorf, on the banks of the German river, this January to show off photos and videos of their lightweight, shallow-draft jet sleds.

They’ll do so at one of the world’s largest boat shows, which last January attracted nearly a quarter of a million people – four times as many who visited the last Seattle Boat Show – and it could lead to business well beyond Deutschland.

“We’re very, very, very excited,” says Brenda Bonfield, marketing director at Custom Weld.

ON THE FACE OF IT, the consortium–which also includes Bentz Boats, Hells Canyon Marine, Phantom Jet Boats, Renaissance Marine Group, Riddle Marine, SJX Jet Boats and Thunder Jet as well as Gateway Trailers – stand to gain much as boat sales remain sluggish in the U.S.

“Aluminum jet boats do exist in Europe, but (there) are very few and not the types built by the Snake River manufacturers,” says Paul R. Warren-Smith of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service in Frankfurt.

His is one of 150 overseas offices that help American small businesses crack international markets.

Last June, he and the editor of an influential German boating and yachting magazine came to the LC Valley for a ride-around, and he went away impressed.

“You can put a business card underneath them and they float,” Warren-Smith boasts.

PAUL WARREN-SMITH OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE'S COMMERCIAL SERVICE CLIMBS ABOARD A CUSTOM WELD JET BOAT WHILE KLAUS SCHNEIDERS, EDITOR OF THE GERMAN MAGAZINE SKIPPER (RED JACKET), LOOKS ON. (P'CHELLE INTERNATIONAL)

Since then, Bonfield and other builders have been attending seminars on shipping overseas, financing and learning about the “phenomenally important” CE mark which will allow their products to be sold in the 30-country European Economic Area, says their consultant Gary White of P’Chelle International in Kennewick.

Later this fall, German importers will fly to the valley for a looksee, and then in January, the group will pack up their product DVDs and Berlitz guides and head for Düsseldorf.

If all goes well, 15 to 25 jobs could be added back home down the line.

NORTHWEST BOAT BUILDERS have already cracked overseas markets – Russia for Boulton, Weldcraft and another manufacturer that didn’t want to be identified – but what Germany, the world’s third largest importer, offers is the strongest economy in Europe and a large middle class.

It’s a country the size of Oregon and half of Washington together, but with 82 million people. Of those, 1.5 million fish for many species we’re familiar with – trout, perch, walleye (Zander), pike, Atlantic salmon but also sea-run brown trout and tench – and just like here, there are active angler forums as well as weekly and monthly magazines dedicated to hot spots and tactics.

A recent article in Hamburg-based Kutter & Küste magazine featured an article on fishing around an island 20miles off Kiel as well as a piece entitled “Heilbutt: Schleppen Sie die Platten ab,” i.e., tips for halibut trolling (hey, didn’t we do that in our June issue?!).

Indeed, coastal fishing is where Warren-Smith thinks jet boats could shine.

“It will be easier to penetrate estuaries and tributaries all over Europe that before were inaccessible,” he points out.

However, while Germany is currently experiencing a boom in exporting and relatively low unemployment, its culture may provide some bumps along the way. Fishing, like hunting, is very regulated. There’s extensive studying to be done just to get a resident angling license, even more if you want to operate a motor boat.

Environmental consciousness is much higher, motors are verboten on some waters, buyers are less likely to buy on credit, and forget about finding a parking spot for your rig and sled if you live in the Altstadt, the old city.

BUT AS THE RHEIN and other European waters are cleansed of decades of pollution, the Snake River contingent can offer the continent a much wider range of products than just fishing boats.

“The niche markets that we envisage,” says Warren-Smith,“are in rescue operations, especially in the case of flash floods which are becoming more common in Europe due to climate change, enforcement, customs, police, firefighting – and military use.”

Outside of Fords, it’s rare to see American-brand vehicles on the Autobahnen und Landstraßen, but when it comes to boats, U.S.-built craft are eye-openers in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

“People who can afford the boats (in Russia) want American-named products,” says Mike Boulton, one of six aluminum boat builders on “Boat Row” in the Rogue River Valley, and who has two dealerships selling his craft in St. Petersburg.

A Russian builder there has gone so far to as to give its boats English names like Silver.

What Lewiston and Clarkston are offering will not only compete price wise with rigid inflatable boats, adds Warren-Smith, but take much more of a beating.

“Aluminum boats have the advantage that they are light and easy to transport, operate in very low water and withstand heavy impact with debris,” he says. “Unlike inflatables with low-hanging propellers, jet boats can be driven over rocks/trees with hardly any damage at all.”

Well, to an extent, but those strengths should go over well in Germany, where quality standards and expectations are very high.

It’s certainly where Custom Weld’s Bonfield thinks they have a chance.

“It’s not just airplanes,” she says, referencing another Northwestern manufacturing cornerstone. “We make the best boats in the world.”

BRING TACKLE TOO
An article posted on National Geographic’s Web site last May details the rise of urban angling around Europe as their waters are cleaned up, and the Department of Commerce’s Paul Warren-Smith points out there may be an opportunity for other Washington, Oregon and Idaho companies.
He says the huge Düsseldorf boat show also features a fishing gear section.
“We would like to have some U.S. manufacturers of fishing tackle going to the show,” he says.
Some, like Worden’s in Yakima, are already in Europe.
“We sell quite a few Rooster Tails and a few other products all over there,” says Rob Phillips with SPD Advertising.
They attend another large gathering,
the EFFTEX show.–

Marijuana Growers Invade Northwest Hunting Grounds

June 28, 2010

‘They were in some of the best hunting areas I know,’ says one hunter; ‘Grave concern over the threat to public safety,’ says a WDFW official.

ROYAL CITY, Wash.–Washington outdoorsmen say illegal marijuana gardens are cropping up where they chase big game and varmints, look for morels and near trails to alpine lakes, and if trends continue, a record number of plants could be seized on those public lands this summer.

AN OFFICER BELIEVED TO BE WDFW'S SHAWN MYERS CARRIES MARIJUANA PLANTS SEIZED AT A CHELAN COUNTY, WASH., BUST IN 2008. (SGT. DOUG WARD, WDFW)

Pot is now being cultivated everywhere from the Westside’s blacktail forests to the heart of North-central Washington’s mule deer country to the moose-rich northeastern corner to the creek bottoms of the Columbia Basin where ducks and doves gather along trophy trout waters.

“They were in some of the best hunting areas I know,” says a Northeast Washington man who turned in several 100- to 200-plant grows to law enforcement officials the last two years, and who asked not to be identified.

The largest plantations, funded by Mexican drug cartels, can be ten times as big and are protected by well-armed men.

“I take extra caution this time of year when I’m out and about,” says one North-central sportsman who wouldn’t have thought twice when heading afield just seven or eight years ago. “I’m not too worried about wolves, but being from the Okanogan Valley and hearing the stories, I wouldn’t leave home without a firearm.”

Then there are environmental issues. Growers terrace mountainsides, divert streams and springs, use a range of insecticides and pesticides and leave thousands of pounds of trash behind after late summer’s harvest.

Whether legalizing marijuana would bring a halt to the danger and damage is a good question, but in the here and now, as high summer comes on and with a low snowpack last winter, even more of the highly sophisticated, labor-intensive operations could be in the Evergreen State.

“I think this year’s going to be conducive,” says Lt. Richard Wiley of the Washington State Patrol.

WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE the first bust of 2010 – “the earliest recorded growing effort in that area yet” – was discovered accidentally April 30 on state land near Royal City.

Department of Fish & Wildlife enforcement officers were actually training how to take down grows when they came across a suspicious bootprint at the Lower Crab Creek Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area.

“You always prepare for the unknown, but did we expect to detect a grow? No, we were surprised,” says WDFW Deputy Chief Mike Cenci.

According to the USA Today, 75 to 80 percent of outdoor marijuana grows occur on public lands, “right in the middle of our patrol beats,” wrote Cenci for a 2009 International Game Warden Magazine article.

He describes the location of the Crab Creek bust as in almost “impenetrable” Russian olive groves – “You can hardly see in front of you; your field of view is like 10 feet.”

Perfect escape habitat for cagey wild rooster pheasants – several of which Cenci saw – and good for growing pot.

The crop had yet to be planted, but camp was “fully outfitted” with propane tanks, sacks of fertilizer, hand tools and a mile of irrigation line to water the 1,700 to 2,000 seed cups with five seeds apiece that officers found.

“The ingenuity and work that goes into it is incredible,” says Wiley. One Washington grow was linked to water by 4 miles of buried hose, he says.

Indeed, these are not your everyday gardens or gardeners. He says the cartels put on “big training sessions” for how to run it all.

“The trend now is a live-in grower,” adds Cenci. “You hang out with your plants.”

He says the Royal City tender somehow escaped, but left two rifles behind.

“The growers are usually armed, a risk to us, a risk to sportsmen,” Cenci says.

During a 2008 bust near San Jose, Calif., a warden was shot in both legs and a grower killed. Cenci and eight other fish and wildlife cops went into the brush heavily armed – German-made submachine guns, semi-auto handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammo.

WDFW FISH AND WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS WHO ASSISTED IN THE LOWER CRAB CREEK BUST. (WDFW)

“I have a grave concern over the threat to public safety,” he says. “I generally look to California for trends, and the trend as it relates to this issue is not pretty. There have been a number of encounters with growers where the public narrowly escaped harm.”

Growers actually don’t want attention, and to limit it, food is backpacked in occasionally by a “lunchman.”

They also hunt and fish during the three to four months the marijuana needs to ripen. Birds, rabbits and fish made up part of the diet for guys at a 12,000-plant grow on Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge north of the Tri-Cities busted in 2008. Those at a Republic-area grow last year butchered a moose.

WASHINGTON AND California are the top two outdoor marijuana-growing states, according to Wiley.

Since the border was tightened after 9-11 and then as eradication efforts ramped up, the number of plants found on Washington’s national and state forests, parks, recreation and wildlife areas as well as tribal and other lands has grown from 6,500 in 2001 to 589,000 last year.  In dollar terms, the confiscation of 228,000 plants in Oregon in 2009 represented a $451 million loss to the cartels, The Oregonian reported in late April.

“Our guess is we’re not finding most of them,” says Det. Steve Brown of the North-central Washington Narcotics Task Force.

The Evergreen State is the second most densely populated state in the West, but as hunters and anglers know, it also has vast amounts of remote land and tens of thousands of miles of logging roads and trails.

Thanks to the Eastside’s fruit orchards, vineyards and the Columbia Basin Project, there’s a ready supply of irrigation equipment and plenty of water to go along with hot summers. And with a little bit of pruning, the woods can be opened up to let more light in on the crop, yet still be tight enough to evade aerial detection.

“They cut rooms out inside the thickets and leave an upper story of canopy for cover from helicopters and planes,” says a Grant County hunter.

HE STUMBLES onto the abandoned sites near springs and drainages in fall while stalking deer, in winter while pursuing coyotes or looking for shed antlers in early spring.

“But after April 1, I try to avoid the brush because of them,” he says.

In spring and summer, mushroom pickers, off-trail alpine anglers, hunters scouting for deer, bear and elk and other outdoor users also stand a higher chance of coming across a plantation and its tenders.

“It’s an issue that’s a lot more concerning than a lot of people think,” says the Okanogan Valley outdoorsman, who also requested anonymity. “It’s definitely without a doubt one of the biggest concerns sportsmen have in our area anymore.”

The grows at Royal City and Saddle Mountain were at low elevation, but many are concentrated between 3,000 and 6,000 feet. They’ve been found everywhere from the high country between Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens to Sun Mountain near Winthrop to Tiger Mountain outside Seattle.

MOUNTAIN-SIDE GROW OP IN NORTHERN WASHINGTON. (NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON NARCOTICS TASK FORCE)

“While some signs will serve as warnings to hunters and fishers, the risk of stumbling onto a grow unaware is high. We are trying to educate the public,” Cenci says.

Sometimes it’s obvious something illegal is going on in the area – “wrong type of cars and people in the mountains,” recalls one Wenatchee-area hunter – but the best advice if you run across a grow is to get out of the area quickly.

“We advise people don’t talk to growers, don’t walk around the grow, punch in a GPS waypoint and walk out,” Brown says.

IN FALL 2007, a deer hunter reported a site way up Goat Creek, in western Okanogan County’s Methow Valley, that had been “put to bed” for the season, Brown says, “tarps on everything for use the next year.”

Sure enough, growers came back – and so did the sheriff one August day. The raid netted 10,000 plants and one arrest, Moyses Mesas-Barajas, 43, of Michoacan, Mexico.

That hunter could have collected up to $5,000. Funded by grants from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the State Patrol operates a special tip line to report grows. The amount available fluctuates year to year, but in 2009, it paid out $65,000, Wiley says.

“We have a formula for how many plants and how many arrests are made for how much of a reward they get,” he says. “It’s fairly successful. Ten to 15 percent of the plants that we eradicate every year comes from tips.”

Online, some hunters grumble they’ve called in tips and not been paid, but others also speak of handsome rewards – $4,000 for one up the Wynoochee Valley in the mid-1990s, $5,000 for one in Eastern Washington last year.

The key to collecting is to call (800) 388-GROW rather than local police departments (the line is a clearinghouse; info will be forwarded to sheriffs and regional task forces).

You can also report anonymously, but must stay on the line and talk to a person to be eligible for the money. Information on how to report after-hours tips can be found at wsp.wa.gov/crime/hotline.htm.

ERADICATION IS ONLY part of the battle for wildland managers, though.

“Environmental damage is a huge problem for people who have to clean them up,” says Brown.

Tanks of harmful chemicals and fertilizers, as well as trash and more must be gathered and hauled out from the backcountry.

“The expense is enormous,” Brown says. “A lot are in remote areas, so it has to be helicoptered out, and that’s not cheap for a couple days.”

Forest Service crews returned to Goat Creek last year to tear down makeshift housing, fencing and a watchtower, fill in water catch basins and rehab the grounds. Over 200 pounds of fertilizer as well as chemical containers were cleaned up to prevent spillage that might harm wildlife or water quality – all in all a huge effort that took workers and resources away from other projects and cost $12,906.22.

HELICOPTERING OUT SEIZED PLANTS DURING AN AUGUST 2008 RAID ON A GROW OP IN WASHINGTON'S MULE DEER RICH UPPER METHOW VALLEY. (OKANOGAN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

In trying to impart the seriousness of the issue, Cenci needles his wildlife area managers when they get bent after someone parks in the wrong spot at an access site.

“Twenty thousand-plant grows are a little more of an impact,” he says, calling for more education and money to deal with the issue.

“We do need to throw more resources at this problem,” Cenci says. “The public safety danger and environmental impacts are beginning to dawn on folks.”

In the meanwhile he vows to continue to protect state wildlife lands.

“We can’t eradicate dope, but we can try to keep it off our lands,” he says. “We’re going to be aggressive about going after them.”

ODFW’s Greenback Hatch Peaks In May

April 23, 2010

SALEM–If your store sells resident Oregon fishing licenses, hire extra clerks for the big rush next month.

Statewide, May sees the highest sales of the year. As many as one out of every five licenses are bought now, even though one-third of the annual permit that anglers renew each January is in effect wasted.

ODFW'S MONTHLY RESIDENT FISHING LICENSE SALES 1999-2009. (ODFW)

“I can’t say with certainty why May is such a big month for license sales, but I surmise this is when the casual angler starts thinking about fishing,” says David Lane, the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s marketing coordinator in Salem. “The weather is turning for the better. They’re looking at their calendar for summer trips. Kids are going to be out of school soon, so more free time with them. All these factors and more come together in May, so they go and buy.”

SINCE AT LEAST 1999 and likely before, May has reliably posted the biggest numbers of the year.

May 2001 tops all with 58,738 resident fishing licenses sold, ODFW data shows, followed by Mays in 2009 (57,126), 2003 (55,062), 2002 (53,344) and 2007 (52,292).

Among other reasons to get out next month: general trout and halibut openers, ice-off on Cascades lakes, shad and sturgeon in the Columbia, spinyrays beginning to bite more reliably around the Beaver State, the start of the pikeminnow reward fishery, and Memorial Day Weekend.

But April’s sales are no slouch, nor are June’s, and you can still find upwards of 30,000 Oregonians buying their licenses as late as July.

In fact, for one business in 2009, two of the four best months for all license sales actually came even later – August and September – says Dan Grogan, co-owner of Fisherman’s Marine & Outdoor in Portland. That aligned with a good salmon season at Buoy 10 and in the Columbia.

An ODFW bar chart also generally aligns with Grogan’s tackle sales. He says the best months for his two stores, which stock gear for everything from Cabo to crappie, are March into September.

But bait, cure and lure sales are very touchy. If fishing on the Columbia closes for some reason, Fisherman’s can see a 20 to 25 percent dropoff almost overnight, he says.

BACK TO LICENSE sales. Since summer 2008, another factor’s been at play, one that Mike Stahlberg of the Eugene Register-Guard nailed last May when he wrote: “When the economy hung out the GONE FISHIN!’ sign, so did more Oregonians.”

Last year saw A) unemployment as high as 11.6 percent, according to the state Employment Department, and B) the highest license sales of the decade, 303,267. That’s 30,000 more than the next closest year, 2007, when unemployment bottomed out in the low 5s, and 50,000 more than the lowest license sales year, 2005, when 6 percent were laid off.

The Idaho Department of Fish & Game also reported their highest fishing license sales since 1999, nearly 473,600 last year.

This recession has come at the same time that Oregon has seen huge runs of coho and steelhead everywhere from Astoria to Hebo to Sandy to Umatilla to Wallowa.

“No one likes to be unemployed,” Lloyd Graves, a painter on furlough, told a Wall Street Journal reporter snooping around the banks of the Nehalem last January, “but this couldn’t happen at a better time.”

As one ODFW spokesman I talked to noted, there’s a sense that some of the fishing is actually for subsistence. The Journal spoke with Graves’ fishing partner, Adam Rice, an unemployed carpenter who said he’d packed away 85 pounds of salmon and steelhead fillets.

(As an aside, a friend of mine was shocked at the number of anglers out on Kress Lake near Kalama, Wash., on a mid-April Thursday morning after WDFW planted it with 2,000 trout, but could understand it because many, like himself, were laid-off construction workers.)

For the record, Oregon hunting license sales were also up in 2009. Preliminary figures show the agency sold 298,562, the most since 2001 and nearly 20,000 more than 2007 and 2008.

AS STRONG AS sales have been, ODFW and others would like to know more about the mysterious rationale of the license-buying public, which is almost as strange as the ways of the fish we all chase.
While there are large annual variations in license sales each month up into summer, interestingly they smooth out by August.

“There’s just so much that goes into why people fish or why they don’t,” Lane says. “We’re just starting to scratch the surface of that.”

The agency is looking for ways to bump up license volume at nontraditional times of the year.

“How do we start making the sales in those shoulder months either at the end or the beginning?” Lane wonders.

As he noodles that question, here’s another: Will another bumper hatch of greenbacks come off the water this year?

Already Idaho’s sales are above 2009’s, and while Grogan points out he’s not competing with Joe’s anymore, he notes that this February and March’s license sales were around twice as high as the same months last year. –Andy Walgamott

A Flawed Gem

March 24, 2010

FARMER, Wash.–Gems come in many colors, and for the lake once known as “the gem” of Washington trout fishing, the spectrum has included shades of pink, maroon, chocolate and turquoise, often changing complexion in just days as “algae” blooms mature.

JAMESON LAKE, APRIL 30, 2005, OPENING DAY OF TROUT SEASON. (TIM BEHNE, FOSTER CREEK CONSERVATION DISTRICT)

After ice-off this winter, Jameson Lake turned dark green, reflecting the clouds scudding over Douglas County that day. Only test results due after we went to press will tell if green’s good – the other colors are potential problems – but if you’re a trout angler or own one of the lakeside resorts, there are at least two good signs for the late-April opener.

“Oxygen levels in the main part of the lake are near 100 percent (3 feet down), so currently conditions are good for the fish,” said Tim Behne of the Foster Creek Conservation District after sampling on March 9, adding that he saw trout jumping at the north end too.

“It looks good,” added Ginger Merritt at Jack’s Resort (509-683-1095) on the lake’s south end. “A month and a half ago we would not have been having this conversation.”

Final decision on stocking won’t come till sometime later in April.

UNLESS YOU’RE A local rancher or Missoula Flood nut, there’s not much to draw passersby off of Highway 2 and up Moses Coulee.

Fishermen, however, have long left the two-lane here and taken the winding country road through sagebrush flats and under towering coulee walls up to the lake.

“They used to expect 3,000 to 5,000 people on the south end on opening weekend,” says Merritt whose family had a long association with the resort before she bought it in 2001 (“I’ve been coming here since before I was born,” she jokes).

In past seasons and decades, the lake was “old reliable,” the safest spring bet for stocked trout in the northern Columbia Basin. Where cold fronts or spinyray infestations could put the clamp on a popular nearby chain, fishing always perked right along on Jameson’s 331 acres, fueled by rainbows up to 20 inches with fall fingerlings filled out to 12 inches.

Pull up to its eastern shore at midmorning on the opener and you could always find the same scene: happy campers – many from hundreds of miles away ­– happy kids, happy oldsters, everyone enjoying the friendly family atmosphere.

AH, YES, THE GOOD old days. They can make you forget that Jameson has suffered from periodic water quality issues back to the 1960s.

But in recent years the algae problem – really a cyanobacteria problem – has mushroomed. The lake has swung from meso/eutrophic (OK for trout) to hypereutrophic (very, very bad for them) in just a few months.

Behne, who has been monitoring Jameson for six years, watched in spring 2005 as the lake “went from a gooey pink color” to dark chocolate brown in June to speckled with dead fish in July. The decaying material had sucked all the oxygen out of the water.

JUNE 18, 2005. (TIM BEHNE, FOSTER CREEK CONSERVATION DISTRICT)

But he also watched last year when the lake was “only slightly pink” then turned a milk-chocolate brown but trout survived. (There were reports of dead sculpins and rainbows coming out of ice-off, however.)

OCTOBER 17, 2009. (TIM BEHNE, FOSTER CREEK CONSERVATION DISTRICT)

While Kathy Hamel of the Department of Ecology is analyzing algal toxins in fish tissues statewide and says the agency has some concerns for human and animal health, she says Jameson’s blooms haven’t produced toxins exceeding safe levels.

THE ORGANISMS that produce the kaleidoscope of colors are fueled by phosphorous, mainly in the lake’s sediment, though cattle operations continue to contribute.

Basically, when the lake turns over in spring and fall, windy days mix the phosphorous throughout the water, feeding the bacteria. Different species make different hues.

At the peak of 2005’s event, levels rose to over 200 parts per billion from 17 ppb the year before.

“It killed us,” says Merritt. “People drove in that spring, saw the maroon bloom and left. But fishing was great.”

The problem is that Jameson often isn’t high enough to drain down the coulee, so after the bloom dissolves, the phosphorous settles back to the bottom, ready for the next blow.

“It didn’t do this when we bought the property,” says Merritt. “It’s gotten progressively worse and worse.”

The lake’s too big and deep to dredge, but if efforts to turn cyanobacteria into gas ever become worthwhile, you could start to harvest it away, says Behne.

For now, that’s as likely as another idea: letting one hundred years of nonorganic sediment cap the phosphorous. Binding it with alum was looked at, but would cost $2 million every seven to 10 years.

A consultant’s 2007 report instead recommends pumping liquid oxygen into the lake. That would decrease the phosphorous and increase trout habitat, says Peter Burgoon of Water Quality Engineering in Wenatchee.

Cost for pumps, hoses, tanks, operating, etc.? Roughly $1.9 mill over 24 years.

The next step, says Burgoon, would be an economic evaluation. But right now, nobody’s doing anything besides monitoring the lake and its blooms.

THE RESORTS AND anglers are awaiting word from Bob Jateff, the state fisheries biologist. In mid-April he plans on running water quality tests and perhaps installing a “live box” with fish. State managers don’t want to risk stocking trout where they won’t survive for anglers to catch; results will tell Jateff whether the lake’s suitable.

MARCH 9, 2010. (TIM BEHNE, FOSTER CREEK CONSERVATION DISTRICT)

It was a nail-biter last spring too. Just four days before opening day the state announced that 34,000 catchables had gone in, bolstering fingerlings released in 2008.

That led to good spring and fall fishing, Merritt says.

In March she was pretty sure Jameson will get the “premium” plant, 8- to 12-inch catchables and some triploids.

Let’s hope so – and hope too that enough people care to step up and help jump-start the recovery of what was once one of the state’s best stocker trout lakes. –Leroy Ledeboer contributed reporting to this article

Springer Science

February 17, 2010

So what affects how fast spring Chinook blow up the Columbia? Why do they hit the big river when they do? What saltwater and freshwater cues factor into the species’ decisions? And why won’t they bite your killer cutplug?!

In recent years, scientists have been working on these questions.

Well, maybe not that last one, but what they are learning could help fishery managers make more accurate forecasts.

The latest and greatest comes from a December 2009 paper by James J. Anderson and W. Nicholas Beer of the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. They say that 62 percent of when a springer heads for the barn has to do with just the fish itself.

“Run timing variations were largely due to variations in the abundances of the distinct stocks comprising the runs,” they write in Ecological Applications.

Have lots of salmon from earlier- or later-running stocks and you get a return that skews earlier or later.

Anderson and Beer found that only 15.5 percent of timing depends on what’s happening out in the ocean and in the river itself. We’ll touch on the former in a bit.

THEIR WORK ADDS TO that of Matthew Keefer and other University of Idaho researchers who looked at river temperature and discharge and some cues in the Pacific.

Among their 2008 conclusions was that, generally, when the Columbia flows low and relatively warm in late winter, the 17 stocks that make up the upriver run come in earlier. And when the big crick is high and cold, those salmon come in later.

Good examples are 2001 and 2006’s springers, among the eagerest and tardiest runs in recent years.

One of the most important run-timing factors across the basin is February river conditions, Keefer et al found. It affected twice as many stocks – 10 East Cascades and Central Idaho runs – as any other single factor.

While last winter saw a mini Ice Age in Spokane – and a correspondingly cold Columbia deep into spring – this year, snowpack is lighter than normal, and ice-covered lakes were opening up in late January and early February. “Things are pointing to an earlier run this year,” said Keefer on Feb. 1.

AS FOR HOW QUICKLY springers swim upstream, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Keefer and others at UI’s Fish Ecology Research Lab radio- and PIT-tagged nearly 3,700. They determined the salmon covered anywhere from 71/2 to 201/2 miles a day.

Different water conditions made for quicker or slower passage, anywhere from 13 to 26 days on average to go from Bonneville to Priest Rapids between 1996 and 2001, while those taking a reggie at the Snake needed 14 to 33 days to battle up to Lower Granite from Bonnie.

THIS MAP SHOWS PASSAGE UPSTREAM PASSAGE OF SIX RANDOM COLUMBIA BASIN SPRING CHINOOK DURING LAST YEAR'S RETURN. THE FISHES' PIT TAGS WERE READ AT ARRAYS ON CERTAIN DAMS AND FISH WEIRS AS THE SALMON SWAM PAST. FOR MORE ON EACH FISH, SEE THE MARCH ISSUE OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Interestingly, their data also showed that springers are the slowest of the Columbia’s Chinook stocks. Summers and fall brights are slightly speedier.

“They migrate at a relatively cold time compared to summers and falls, so metabolically they can’t move as fast,” explains Keefer. They also found the later a springer gets the itch, the faster it swims – 1 to 3 miles a day faster every two weeks season progresses.

BUT LET’S GO BACK downstream, to the Pacific Ocean.

As we pointed out in a previous issue, once springer smolts leave the Columbia, they basically disappear into an ocean the size of Mars. The fish don’t turn up in commercial catches, their little PIT tags pass by no receivers, they are just somewhere … out there for one, two, even three years.

Anderson now figures that with prevailing ocean currents, it’s likely that the fish return to the Columbia from their mysterious sojourn not from the north or northwest and the Gulf of Alaska, but from due west.

He uses hypothetical fish but real magnetic keys and offshore currents to make that point. In winter off our coast, the ocean “flows” northerly, and it’s easier to swim with or across it than against it.

“It’s really kind of interesting stuff,” says Anderson.

Also interesting will be how last year’s record jack return – around 82,000 of the precocious males – will translate into adults this season. Was it a meaningless anomaly or really a sign of a fantastic number of 4-year-old fish about to make the run?

As reports of the first springers surfaced in early February, Anderson was licking his chops – and not just about what interesting data might come in.

“I eat the fish with great pleasure,” he says.

So maybe a new study on cutplugs isn’t that far off. –Andy Walgamott

The Dishonor Roll

January 26, 2010

IT’S A NATIONAL PARK, NOT A HUNTING AREA, JACKASS

Robert Hurst might have gotten away with poaching a bull elk in Olympic National Park – if the animal hadn’t been so big.

He and several others had to make multiple trips up the Wynoochee Valley over five days to retrieve the trophy 6×7 bugled in in the Litchy Creek drainage at the reserve’s remote southern edge and shot by Hurst with a bow. It was on his Sept. 23, 2007 trip that the group ran into Officer Brian Alexander.

HE'S "NOT SMILING ANY MORE," SAYS A LAW ENFORCEMENT SOURCE ABOUT ROBERT HURST, SENTENCED YESTERDAY FOR ILLEGALLY KILLING THIS WHOPPER BULL ELK INSIDE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK. (U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE)

The state Fish & Wildlife game protector was curious about the big elk head and some meat in the back of the pickup, but the suspect became “furtive,” according to Mike Cenci, deputy chief of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Enforcement Division.

“He got a convoluted story,” says Cenci.

Which got Alexander to wondering about where, exactly, Hurst, a 38-year-old Woodland, Wash., resident, had actually shot the bull.

“They ruled out a number of areas and focused on where they thought the animal might have been killed,” says Cenci.

Afterwards, Mishka, one of the agency’s Karolian bear dogs, was brought into the Wynoochee’s logged-over headwaters and was able to find the kill site – a mile inside the park near Discovery Peak. Forensic evidence linked it with the bull in the truck.

On Jan. 25, Hurst plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, was fined $2,500, placed on three years probation and had his hunting privileges suspended during that time. He was also ordered to perform 80 hours of community service.

“This animal was a prize possession of each and every citizen who enjoys the park, and that possession has been taken away,” said Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura at Hurst’s sentencing.

The maximum sentence for the crime is one year in prison, but what Hurst got will lead to a lengthier monitoring period.

“Federal sentencing is driven by the guidelines: These are determined by ‘points’ based on things such as the number of victims, loss amount, the defendant’s criminal history, etc.,” explained district court spokeswoman Emily Langlie in an email. “In this case the guidelines range for Hurst was zero to six months in prison.  Had Mr. Hurst been sent to prison, the supervised release time would have been only one year — a relatively short period of time to restrict his hunting and monitor his behavior.  The probationary sentence means his activities will be monitored and restricted by federal probation for three years.  The prosecutor believes the longer probationary period is a better safeguard for the public than a month or two of incarceration with only a year of monitoring.”

‘JUST A LITTLE BIT OF GREED’
A man who shot a pair of trophy bulls in Washington’s Blue Mountains – the first illegally filled the tag of his wife back home on the Westside – is out more than $10,000 and can’t hunt for two years.

Christopher Mayeda, 38, of Kelso pled guilty to “unlawful hunting of big game 2nd degree; unlawful transportation of fish or wildlife 1st degree; unlawful purchase or use of a license 2nd degree; and providing false information regarding fish and wildlife,” according to Columbia County District Court, and on Dec. 16 was fined $1,000, and must pay court costs, including a civil judgment for a big-game violation, totaling $6,295.

WDFW GRABS CHRISTOPHER MAYEDA'S FIRST 2008 BULL BY THE HORNS, THE ONE HE PUT HIS WIFE'S TAG ON. (WDFW)

He also paid $3,000 to get his seized pickup truck back, the Daily News of Longview reported.

Mayeda and wife, Tracey, 40, were lucky enough to draw into two of the four muzzleloader tags given out for the Dayton Unit in 2008, and soon after the hunt started, he bagged a 6×6. He slapped Tracey’s tag on it and called her to come get the bull, then went out hunting the next day and killed a 6×7, which he tagged with his own permit, according to the paper’s accounts.

“There’s just a little bit of greed getting involved there,” WDFW warden Bill Lantiegne told the paper in mid-October.

While charges were dropped against Tracey, two others involved in the incident, Jason M. Ford, 39, of Castle Rock, and Steven A. Hamm, 33, of Kelso also pled guilty and were fined, the paper reported.

TWO-STICK RULE, ERR, NOT QUITE OUT YET

Oregon began allowing anglers use of a second rod starting earlier this year, but some folks got on the stick a little too early.

According to the Oregon State Police’s Fish & Wildlife Division, two people were observed plunking with two rods –
and two sticks – along Multnomah Channel in midfall.

Attached lines told officers that those weren’t just sticks in the mud.

Sticklers for the law, OSP cited both for angling by a prohibited method.

Not that they didn’t deserve the – last bad pun, we promise – stick: They were also dinged for fishing without licenses.

GRIZZLY SENTENCE

There are two noticeable signs tacked up in the forested hinterlands where Washington, Idaho and British Columbia come together.

They warn hunters that A) endangered mountain caribou are in the area, as are B) endangered grizzlies.

But thinking the beast in front of them was a black bear, Brandon Rodeback, 26, and Kurtis Cox, 30, of Moses Lake shot it, then learned it was a griz and buried parts of it on a Grant County, Wash., farm.

Last month they were sentenced to five years probation, suspended from hunting for two years, sent back to remedial hunter’s ed, ordered to both pay $3,000 fines and together come up $14,857 payable to the Washington Department
of Fish and Wildlife.

It was the first known grizzly poached in the state in at least two decades, and a key animal for recovering the species. A state official noted it had produced numerous litters while staying out of trouble over 14 years of tracking.

FOLLOW-UP FILE

Our December Dishonor Roll spotlighted four southern Willamette Valley men connected to the case of the out-of-season killing of four bull elk. They and two others recently pled guilty in Lane County Circuit Court to a litany of game violations and racked up a whopping $23,000 in fines and restitutions, 12 years of suspended hunting privileges, 55 days in jail, 114 months of probation and 420 hours of community service.

Actually, the guy who police say shot the 3-, 5- and 6-points and 6×7, John K. Atwater, 50, had his hunting privileges suspended for life. He was also ordered to surrender his rifle.

POACHER JOHN K. ATWATER'S HANDIWORK, FOUR DEAD BULL ELK. (OSP)

The incident happened late the morning of Oct. 20 on private property south of Cottage Grove. Local landowners reported Atwater and four others retrieving the animals from their fields.

Others involved in the case were Atwater’s son Justin Atwater, 26, who was sentenced to 15 days in jail; David Pruitt, 78; Homer Rhodes, 75; Christopher Stevens, 35; and Bryan Shepard.

CHEAPSKATE CALIFORNIANS FINED, APOLOGIZE

They saved around $4,000 on Oregon elk tags by posing as Astoria residents for nearly a decade, but in the end, the scam caught up to Californians Steve Calhoun and Oscar Lizotte.

They not only have to pay $7,500 in fines, but took out a display ad in the Daily Astorianas an apology, writes Bill Monroe of The Oregonian.

A tip and butcher’s records showing processed meat was being shipped to the Golden State helped the case.

“We saved money and cheated the system,” Calhoun and Lizotte’s ad said, Monroe reports. “We … should have known better.”

Yes, you should have.

JACKASS OF THE MONTH
“Trooper Clement responded to a possible duck hunter shooting seagulls at E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area” near Eugene, reports the Oregon State Police’s Fish and Wildlife Division.

Lemme guess, the guy was shooting lead at the gulls too.

“The hunter was using lead shot in a non-toxic shot-only area,” OSP confirms.

And, wild hunch, didn’t bother with a plug?

“Clement cited the subject for Hunting Prohibited Method, Lead Shot and warned for not having a plug in the shotgun.”

Jackass.

Winged Wanderers

December 28, 2009

EUGENE—The past few seasons have seen the Oregon Ducks travel to Pasadena, Pullman and West Lafayette, Ind., but another species of Oregon duck has gone even further afield.

Mallards banded in the Beaver State have shown up in at least 31 U.S. states, six Canadian provinces or territories, and one Mexican state — everywhere from Nome to Natchez to New Jersey.

(ODFW)

Those are, of course, rare fowl. The vast majority of the 15,507 banded drakes and hens harvested and reported since 1990 have been taken along the Pacific Flyway, in Oregon, Washington and California, as this recently produced map from the state Department of Fish & Wildlife shows.

According to Brandon Reishus, an assistant game bird biologist in Salem, a total of 91,344 mallards have been banded by ODFW as part of annual population monitoring to set bag limits, as well as testing for avian influenza. As many as 10,000 a year have been captured each summer at wildlife areas across Oregon, including Sauvie, Ladd Marsh, Fern Ridge, Klamath and Summer Lake.

While the map’s main usefulness is to show Oregon ducks’ potential range, Reishus does have some tidbits. He calls the Sacramento Valley “a major wintering area for birds from Eastern Oregon,” while Eastern Washington hosts many ducks produced at Ladd Marsh, south of La Grande. And though the map isn’t set up to account for long-term trends, Reishus suspects fewer mallards are using the northern Columbia Basin than were in the 1980s based on population counts.

But as for those far-flying fowl, he has a theory.

“Presumably what could happen is a mallard drake winters in Oregon, pairs up with a hen and she drags him to Alberta or Saskatchewan. And then he … hooks up with other birds and ends up in Arkansas or the East Coast.” –Andy Walgamott

October 28, 2009

Cougar Country Card Crushers: 7 Deadly Eastern Washington Steelheaders

TRI-CITIES—Can’t say this Wazzu grad has ever been prouder than the day earlier this fall when I got an Excel file from a source at WDFW which showed that 12 of the 17 steelheaders who turned in full punchcards – 30 fish – after the 2007-08 campaign lived on the crimson-and-gray side of the Cascade Curtain.

The Mutts of Montlake may be winning football games again, but by god, we’re kickin’ ass when it comes to fishin’!

coug

A COUG BATTLES AN EASTERN WASHINGTON STEELHEAD. (ANDY WAZZUGAMOTT)

Of course, not everyone on the Eastside is automatically a Coug (Steve Emtman, you miserable traitor), but that disparity was intriguing. How could it be, especially considering the bulk of the state’s steelheaders (and population) live on the wetter side of the mountains?

Are the boys in Richland, Walla Walla, Spokane, Wenatchee and Clarkston just better anglers than Huskysiders?

Do the fish bite more in the land of sage, pines and fine wines?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, is Eastern Washington actually the Evergreen State’s steelheading paradise?!?

As much as I’d like to answer those three questions affirmatively, to preserve the magazine’s last shreds of journalistic integrity, I have to admit that it’s actually very difficult to make Johnagold-to-Crab Apple comparisons.

Realistically, it probably all comes down to health of the runs. To crack lots of noggins, you must first have lots of noggins to crack. Case in point, 2009’s massive run up the Columbia and Snake.

Awaiting all those fish are the following seven punchard-filling fish filleters, guys who were surprisingly eager to share their knowledge. Here’s who they are and how they crush ’em:

THREE-PEATING Go ahead, pass drift boater Eric Stein.

He doesn’t mind, really.

stein

ERIC STEIN OF YAKIMA WITH A GRANDE RONDE RIVER STEELHEAD. (ERIC STEIN)

The Yakima building inspector will pull aside rather than get into the morning’s race down to the next hole with the hordes of other steelheaders on the Klickitat and Grande Ronde these days.

“You’ve got to figure out ways to find the fish with that many guys on the river. I’ve found that with steelhead fishing, you don’t race. You end up skipping water if you do. I’d rather fish behind boats than race and not catch any fish.”

It also allows Stein, 43, to better put into effect the third of his three personal rules for punching a card.

“You’ve got to cover the water multiple ways,” he says. “I believe fish are in different modes. I don’t spend a lot of time, but if I know there are fish in the hole, I’ll try two methods, if not three.”

On the Klick, which he typically floats 30 times from June through November, it means throwing size 4 Blue Fox spinners, drifting Corkies and eggs or shrimp, and running jigs with or without eggs, shrimp or plain prawns under a bobber.

He uses the latter two methods on the Ronde, which he runs 10 to 15 times a winter.

Stein focuses completely on knowing every single rock, deflection point and holding spot in each hole.

“Small pockets will hold these fish – and a lot of guys ignore them,” he says.

That touches on his second rule – “You’ve got to cover a lot of water.”

And Stein’s first? “You’ve got to go fishing.”

LYONS HEARTED The 41-mile drive across the dirt and scabrock of the western Palouse between Ritzville and the Snake might put some to sleep, but self-described “old fart” Lowell Becker has his eyes wide open once he’s on the river.

“You pick up something every time you go down,” says the 74-year-old retired military man. “No one thing works day in and day out.”

That said, he’s fond of his homemade 1/4-ounce jigs – which feature black, purple and a “touch” of red deer hair, as well as Crystal dubbing – baited with shrimp for the steelhead that pull into Lyons Ferry, where there’s a hatchery.

“There are no big secrets. Just keep at it,” says Becker.

Nonetheless, he did give me a few more details. For starters, he likes his bait only 4 feet under his float, which is actually just a cheap (“Twelve for $7”) chartreuse or orange plastic casting bubble like you would use to wing a fly way out on an alpine trout lake. And he uses wax to keep his line floating on the surface of the Snake to better set the hook.

Becker also targets a specific water temperature range: “I like to hit it when it hits 48 to 50 degrees,” he says.

That means he’s fishing in late fall, but he’s not afraid to put in long days. “We fish from o’dark thirty to 3 or 4 p.m.”

BIPPES’ TIPS Walter Bippes remembers the days you drift-fished the lower Snake, before the four dams were stretched across the mighty river.

Then came a period when the retired pipefitter and former city of Walla Walla employee plunked for steelhead.

But these days, the 73-year-old College Place resident can be found floating bobbers and bait along the Columbia, Snake, Tucannon and Touchet rivers.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Bippes.

Part of the fun, no doubt, is also making his own lures. He crafts 3⁄8-ounce jigs on light-wire hooks, which he baits with dyed shrimp.

Then, at the river, he’s constantly tinkering with the bobber stop.

“I’m moving that jig up and down every other cast. I’m moving it until I find the right depth they’re at. A lot of guys don’t do that. I was at Little Goose two weeks ago,” Bippes said in late September, “and caught nine, the other guys nothing. Finally one asked how deep I was fishing, and I said 18 feet.”

The others’ baits weren’t even half that far down.

Watching fish counts, Bippes follows the steelhead up from the Columbia into the Snake. And he freely admits to high-grading – downwards.

“The best-eating ones are the little A-runs, 8, 9, 10 pounds. The B-runs are too fat,” he says.

PURCELL’S TRENCH You’ve heard of Baileys and coffee, but how about a “Baileys’ Sandwich”?

Both would serve you well if, say, you’re bank fishing the north end of that defile known as Hells Canyon in late fall and winter – the former to stay warm, the latter to catch steelhead.

Steve Purcell of Clarkston learned about this drift-fishing cocktail from longtime Asotin County steelheaders Morris “Buck” Bailey, Stan Bailey, Curt Yount and Roy Bartlett, who he says have been angling together since “before the Korean War.”

Purcell’s steelheading career began much more recently. Back in the late 1990s, he worked with Buck’s son, Mike, who kept telling him about all the fish they caught.

“They claim that if two fish came up the river, Mike would catch one and Buck would catch the other,” Purcell laughs.

He grew curious and before long was Buck’s apprentice.

“I’ve been steelheading 12 years on this method, and I’ve caught close to 500 from Asotin to the mouth of the Ronde,” he says.

So what is this cyanide-deadly concoction they use?

“It’s a piece of ’crawler and shrimp, and they argue about which goes on first, but I was trained by Buck, so the worm comes first,” says Purcell, a 50-something graveyard shift employee of Clearwater Paper in Lewiston.

Some of “the amigos” run multiple Corkies to keep their bait off bottom, though Purcell uses a single anywhere from the smallest to the largest drift bobber made.

After that, it’s a matter of paying attention to that age-old adage about drift fishing.

“I suppose that’s the biggest secret,” says Purcell. “You really have to hit the bottom. Cast out at 1 or 2 o’clock and be on the bottom at noon. If you’re not touching, you won’t catch any fish. Touch too early and you’ll snag up.”

While the amigos have no qualms about clamboring off Snake River Road to a dozen spots in an outing, Purcell works five or six. He serves up Baileys’ sandwiches from mid-November through early February.

THE ALABAMA SLAMMER When I talked to Charles Parker, I had a Forrest Gump moment. The Alabama native, who lives in Hood River, Ore., fishes a lot of shrimp.

I mean a lot of shrimp.

“I go through probably 20 or 30 pounds a year,” says the 68-year-old retired U.S. Forest Service employee.

He special orders it from an Anacortes, Wash., skipper who cooks the 11/2-inch-long shellfish on the boat but doesn’t freeze them. Parker mojos the shrimp with Pro-Cure, mostly Redd Hot Double Stuff, for three or four days, adding a dash of salt to toughen them up even more.

Then he’s ready to fish the lower White Salmon and Klickitat rivers, and below John Day Dam with the rest of his rig: a slip bobber and size 2 or 4 red octopus hook.

“You catch a lot more with bait than you do with plugs,” he claims.

Parker moved to the Northwest in the 1960s and found a whole different world of fishing.

“When I first came out here, all I fished was bass and walleye,” he says.

Still does, primarily in spring, but with most of his friends heading out for salmon and steelhead, it was only natural he’d try it as well. His 18-foot Lund, or his fishing partners’ boats, can be seen on the water as often as six or seven days a week.

A FISHING-FRIENDLY JOB At 35, James Kesler was the youngest of the Eastside steelheaders with full cards that we contacted. And while his six years of actually targeting the species is just a fraction of how long some of these other guys have been angling, the Kennewick resident has plenty of time to do so thanks to his job driving a lumber truck.

“From mid-October to mid-February we’re real slow, so I have a lot of time to go fishing,” he says.

kessler

JAMES KESLER WITH A STEELHEAD. (JAMES KESSLER)

You’ll primarily find Kesler within 45 minutes of home along the Columbia, Snake at Charbonneau Park or the Walla Walla rivers.

And like Bippes, he’s a fan of float fishing.

“There’s not of lot of guess work to a bobber and shrimp,” he says.

But he will vary his presentation based on surface conditions.

“When it’s windy, I’ll fish with a jig, and I’ll use just a 1/0 hook on a calm day,” Kesler says.

One friend ties him jigs with some pretty mean “flash and trash” and another – guide Scott Atwood – sets him up on the bait front.

“I don’t know what he puts in it, but, man, that’s some fish-catching stuff. I’ve known him since high school and he still won’t tell me,” he says.

Maybe it’s the bait or maybe – as with Bippes, Purcell, Stein and Parker – it’s just time on the water that led to that full 2007-08 card, Kessler’s first season after a 10-year “life experiences” layoff from steelheading.

Then again with Kesler, it might be The Touch. He says his very first cast ever for the species, made on the Touchet River 16 years ago, produced his first fish.

“All I can say is, don’t get discouraged if you’re not catching fish. I started this season on June 16, have spent 150 hours on the river and have two fish,” he said in late September. “Once I get that first fish, it’s all over. That’s all I ever think about. If you find yourself waking up at night and setting the hook, you know you have problems.”

CROWDS, WHO CARES? It was interesting. When I called Eric Stein and Charles Parker for this piece, I assumed that they probably both fished at nearby steelhead-rich Drano Lake a lot, but neither did because of the crowds there.

“I can’t stand that place,” Stein swore.

But then I called another Yakima County angler and found out that he pretty much only fishes the cold-water refuge above Bonneville Dam.

“Where there’s good fishing, there’s a crowd, and that’s the way it is anymore,” shrugs the 69-year-old angler who didn’t wish to be identified.

When I spoke with the retired service tech for a major national retailer, he had literally just walked in the door from Drano. He fishes it up to five days a week from mid-July into October, and readily acknowledges that time on the water and a fishy location lend themselves to a whole lot of fresh, smoked and canned steelhead for his family and friends.

But he also credits the bait: shrimp, which he gets at Grumpy’s in the city of Yakima.

“In my opinion, they’ve got the best bait in the area.”

He dyes the holy hell out of it with not just one, not just two, but three different sauces, Bait Brite, Beau-Mac and another Pro-Cure product, to darken and harden them.

“It gets spendy the way I do it.”

A very generous dollop of sea salt also goes into the brine.

He runs a typical Drano setup for double-anchored boats off “the point”: bobber and enough line to fish the shrimp,on a size 2 hook, just off the bottom.

It wasn’t always this way. Ten or 15 years ago, he and others only trolled plugs or fished with eggs on bottom.

And then the float-and-shrimp revolution hit.

“That’s when we started catching fish,” he says.

Up until a few years ago, he’d fill his Washington punchcard at Drano through late summer then top off the smoker with another card’s worth of fish from the John Day in Oregon – all the while finding time to hit the Klick for silvers and hunt deer and elk.

“It’s a tough life, but someone’s gotta do it,” he notes.

Indeed, someone’s gotta catch all those fin-clipped fish, and my boys in Cougar country appear to be up to the task. –Andy Walgamott

September 29, 2009

5 COUNT: 5 Mobile Mountaineers

THE DALLES, Ore.—Oreamnos americanus, it turns out, can be anything but just another alpine homebody.

Take the billy that showed up in the middle of a wheat farmer’s field in North-central Oregon one day.

“If I hadn’t seen pictures or heard about another one,” the farmer told Keith Kohl, an Oregon state wildlife biologist based in The Dalles, “I wouldn’t have known what it was.”

Next the goat checked in at Macks Canyon on the lower Deschutes, and, when last seen in August, he was hunkered down near the river’s mouth eyeing anglers. As the story goes, one fisherman shouted to another standing across the river, “Hey, look behind you!”

And no, we’re not talking about some poor farmer’s escaped and possibly randy goat behind the guy. We’re talking about one of those white fluffballs.

“A mountain goat is 15 yards behind him,” recalls Kohl, who was told the story by Bill Monroe of The Oregonian. “So there’s a picture of a guy taking a picture of a goat.”

All along the banks of decidedly nonmountain goat habitat approximately 135 air miles west-northwest of the species’ Elkhorn Mountains stronghold.

ANOTHER GOAT WAS SPOTTED in –  of all places – an onion field southeast of the Elkhorns near Ontario last fall, and Kohl recalls the tale of a third bizarro billy that has gone even further.

WHO KNOWS WHERE THIS GOAT WILL END UP. IT WAS BORN IN OREGON'S ELKHORNS, EMIGRATED TO THE DALLES, AND WAS LAST SPOTTED IN WASHINGTON'S SOUTHERN CASCADES. (KEITH KOHL, ODFW)

WHO KNOWS WHERE THIS GOAT WILL END UP. IT WAS BORN IN OREGON'S ELKHORNS, EMIGRATED TO THE DALLES, AND WAS LAST SPOTTED IN WASHINGTON'S SOUTHERN CASCADES. (KEITH KOHL, ODFW)

“In September 2006 we got a report of a mountain goat at River Mile 38 on the John Day. A guy came into the office with a digi cam. He’d taken a picture of it on his property. ‘Is it still there?’ I asked. ‘Yeah.’ We went out and got to within 100 yards of it. The landowner said it had been there about a week.”

Next, it turned up in a cement culvert beside a paved road in Sherman County, where Kohl stuck it with a dart, but apparently not in the right spot.

Then the yearling billy ran off to The Dalles. When it was spotted in an equipment yard on December 26, Kohl managed to hit the right spot and slapped a radio collar on it.

So of course the mountain goat decided to hold tight almost a year, bouncing around the cliffs along I-84 near Browns Island, “playing tag” with semi-trucks and cars from time to time.

It wasn’t till fall 2007, as the rut came on, that it decided to turn its furry back on the Beaver State.

As Kohl drove up Washington’s Klickitat one November day with a receiver, he got a signal.  “Just out of Lyle, ‘beep, beep, beep.’ ‘That’s gotta be someone’s fish with a radio in it,’ I thought.”

Turned out it was the goat.

It’s since moved all the way upriver to the slopes of Mt. Adams where it presently lives.

THAT’S WHERE YOU’LL also find our fourth explorer, a Carl Lewis of a mountain goat that one day decided to strike across a vast gulf of flat forest on the northwestern edge of the Yakama Reservation.

“There are a lot of jokes about it standing on the edge of the Goat Rocks Wilderness, looking around and saying, ‘That looks like goat habitat,’ and sprinting” for Mt. Adams, says Dr. Scott McCorquodale, a state Department of Fish & Wildlife deer and elk specialist in Yakima.

Cliff Rice, another reseacher at the agency, recalls another unusual wanderer (see graphic).

“We collared him near Basin Lake east of Crystal Mountain Ski Area and it went east out to Fifes Peak, turned around, went back south of its previous area south of Crystal to the east slopes of Mt. Rainier. Then down to Ohanapecosh, Stevens Canyon and the Tatoosh Range,” he says.

GPS COLLARS ALLOW BIOLOGISTS TO TRACK DAILY MOVEMENTS OF BIG-GAME CRITTERS. (WDFW)

GPS COLLARS ALLOW BIOLOGISTS TO TRACK DAILY MOVEMENTS OF BIG-GAME CRITTERS. (WDFW)

SO WHAT IN THE hell are these animals thinking?

Why are they leaving their cozy upland homes, walking across terra ingoatnito, confusing farmers and semitruck drivers, crossing huge rivers and climbing volcanos?

Well, perhaps it’s not so mysterious if, say, your last name is Vancouver, Lewis, Clark or Thompson.

“That’s what males of every species do, they seek out new territories,” says Kohl.

McCorquodale agrees. “The young males are just prone to dispersal. Probably it’s to maintain gene pools. But they will suffer higher mortality as a whole. Females don’t tend to do it as much. They tend to inherit their home range from their mom.”

Rice estimates there are between 2,401 and 3,184 mountain goats in Washington (25 percent of which occur in the three national parks).

Sixteen hunting permits were given out for this fall’s season, 11 in Oregon.

Oregon’s herd took form in 1950 when five goats were transplanted from Washington’s Mt. Chopaka. Today there are 800 or so, 300 of which live in the Elkhorns.

Or were. Perhaps the next Onion Boy, Deschutes Dude or Gulliver has already bailed out of there. –Andy Walgamott

5 More Weird Wanderers

A bear nicknamed “Urban Phantom” and a young cougar both made news this spring and summer when they found themselves in a park less than 4 air miles from Seattle’s busy Pike Place Market. They came in from Snohomish and King County’s woods, not far as the crow flies.

But some Northwest predators do make pretty good jaunts. Case in point, the big cat that was collared in the Thorpe, Wash., area, released then disappeared. The GPS device was thought to have malfunctioned, but a year and a half later, a hunter came in with it and the cat.

“We got a call, ‘You wouldn’t believe what’s on this collar!’” recalls WDFW’s Scott McCorquodale. “It had traveled all the way down to just above the Columbia River, stayed there awhile then walked back to Oak Creek Wildlife Area,” covering some 175-plus air miles.

Females don’t always stick around the homestead either. WDFW ungulate researcher Woody Myers says that a cow moose captured in Spokane and moved 20 miles northeast of town showed up the next year 175 miles south, outside Riggins, Idaho, where it was unfortunately road-killed.

McCorquodale notes that during a study of Klickitat County mule deer, one doe tagged above the Columbia at Rock Creek, well east of Highway 97, went all the way to the west side of Mt. Adams, a distance of nearly 80 air miles.

And he adds, “One of the L.T. Murray (Wildlife Area) cows repeatedly went to the upper Green River on the Westside.”

But unlike the Blue Mountains yearling bulls that have dispersed from Washington to Idaho, the doe and cow were migrators, making those trips several years in a row.

THEN THERE’S THE UNUSUAL CASE of 05LO25. Oregon biologists are still puzzled by what this bighorn ram is up to.

It first was captured on winter range at the northern end of the rugged Wallowas in December 2005 when it was 11⁄2 years, and found again there the following December.

“After that he disappeared,” says Roblyn Stitt, a wildlife tech with ODFW’s Hells Canyon Initiative in Enterprise. “He was not located again until by fluke, he was seen in the main Eagle drainage on the southern end of the Wallowa Mountains on March 17, 2007 with two yearling rams. They had crossed the ridges and peaks of the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the dead of winter!”

"I WONDER WHAT'S OVER THERE," BIGHORN RAM 05LO25 (THIRD FROM LEFT) SEEMS TO BE SAYING. (ODFW)

"I WONDER WHAT'S OVER THERE," BIGHORN RAM 05LO25 (THIRD FROM LEFT) SEEMS TO BE SAYING. (ODFW)

For good measure, they crossed back over the range, reporting into their northern range two months later.

“Why did he do it? We haven’t figured that out,” says Stitt.  “But not too surprisingly our itchy-footed bighorn ram was missing on the most recent telemetry flight. We are confident he will show up soon, but where will it be?” –A.W.

Goat-lickin’ Good

When Cliff Rice wasn’t, well, clamboring around cliffs during five years spent studying mountain goats in Washington’s Cascades, you could find him behind a desk creating two- and three-dimensional maps of their movements.

His data, based off GPS collars, revealed a not-well-understood reason behind some of the species’  movements: mineral licks. While some goats hung close to these sources of mainly sodium, but also calcium and potassium, a couple traveled up to 20 air miles, crossing some incredibly rugged terrain in surprisingly fast marches.

One important lick can be found at Gamma Ridge, high on Glacier Peak’s northeast side. Rice’s maps show how it was visited by a pair of goats, 033GPF and 053GPF.

On June 29, 2006, the latter nannie headed out from Gamma, crossed east over the Cascade Crest and strode well down Chelan County’s Napeequa River in just four days. But the call of salt turned ol’ 053 in early July and she climbed up onto the knifebacked White Mountains and began to make another dash back towards the lick. However, in the high country, she hemmed and hawed for half a week before striking over Clark and Ten Peak mountains in a single day. Then, for 10 days, she repeatedly crossed and recrossed snowfields to access the lick. By early August, she’d pickled her tongue, recrossed the crest and returned to the low country of the upper Napeequa. –A.W.

A Tuna Classic For Washington Is Born

September 4, 2009

WESTPORT—Angler Mitch King spent much of July 29 in the fog.

Well, “just a lot of really low overcast” is how he officially describes sky conditions that day.

That’s because, while Western Oregon and Washington absolutely baked in some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded here, King was about 50 miles out of Westport under marine clouds catching albacore tuna.

MITCH KING. (WASHINGTONTUNACLASSIC.COM)

MITCH KING. (WASHINGTONTUNACLASSIC.COM)

“Fishing was great. It was just a little bit ugly with the weather,” he says. It didn’t warm up until he was ashore and 10 miles east of the coast either.

BUT THIS ISN’T a fishing story. King is board chairman of the Washington Tuna Classic which also emerged from the fog, so to speak, this summer.

He and two dozen volunteers spent three months filing 501(c)(3) paperwork, rounding up sponsors and thousands of dollars worth of prizes, and finding a processing facility that could make cans out of a lot of tuna for free. The inaugural derby will be held Sept. 12 out of Westport.

The nonprofit tournament will benefit hungry folks throughout the region via Northwest Harvest, as well as the Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled American Vets.

It will be similar to how the Oregon Tuna Classic is run, except that anglers can receive one drawing ticket per fish donated. Anyone can also get a ticket for donating 10 pounds of dry goods.  Each ticket increases your chance at winning sponsor-donated prizes.

In fact, King’s encouraging crews to catch as many albies as possible, and expects that while most will be eaten locally, some cans will make their way as far east as Idaho as food banks horse-trade fish for potatoes and other commodities. “We expect to donate 5,000 to 10,000 pounds worth of tuna,” he says. The top three placers will also win cash and receive well-deserved bragging rights.

YOU COULD SAY King’s put his heart into tuna fishing – even though his own was nearly destroyed. He’s a disabled vet, a member of DAV, because a virus wreaked havoc on his ticker while serving in the infantry. Now he’s got a defibrillator.

But he’s not shy about putting it to the test. The New Hampshire native’s first Northwest tuna trip was in 2006.

“We went out in a 28-foot Chaparral with a bunch of jerry cans,” he says. “We burned 135 gallons of fuel and probably had just 10 minutes of run time left when got back to the harbor.”

The catch was just 20 tuna, but so began his “painful addiction.” Since then, he’s been out dozens of times and learned a lot about how to safely target tuna and other pelagics.

As for the derby, organizers are doing everything they can to keep it affordable and fun. Teams can split the $250 entry donation up to six ways — as low as $41 per guy/gal — and it includes dinner, shirt and a shot at some cool stuff. King says most crews are electing to enter double down, big fish and other side pots where some real money can be made. “But we will always keep that initial entry low to give even the little guys a chance to make a difference,” he adds.

If you’ve got the boat and crew, want to donate to a good cause, perhaps win some prizes and cash – and experience the madness sweeping Northwest fishing – consider entering.

“It’s going to be a fun event, but we’re doing right by the community too,” King says. –Andy Walgamott

July 29, 2009

FISHING FOR THE VIADUCT

SEATTLE—With the Alaskan Way Viaduct along Seattle’s waterfront slated to down late next decade, a group of local fishermen has its eyes on the girders and guardrails for a whole new structure: underwater reefs for ailing Puget Sound rockfish and lingcod.

TEAR THE MOTHER DOWN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

TEAR THE MOTHER DOWN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Rob Tobeck recently came up with the green idea to recycle clean parts of the elevated highway for marine fish habitat instead of sending it to the landfill.

“I’ve always been frustrated with the lack of good bottomfishing you’d think we would have in Puget Sound,” explains the former center for the Seattle Seahawks and Washington State University, as well as Coastal Conservation Association member. “I’ve seen in Florida where they’ve taken old barges and old bridges and that’s where you go fish.”

Lined up behind him is Bear Holmes, a 62-year-old fourth-generation Washingtonian who chairs CCA Washington’s Puget Sound Marine Enhancement Committee and who admits to personally aiding in the decline of those stocks in his younger days. He wants his grandchildren to one day enjoy that same quality of fishing he did in the day.

Also on the field, Highline Community College’s marine-science and South Seattle CC’s trade-training programs. What started out as a small project by students at the former school to study marine colonization at a lab on Puget Sound has turned into a scientific experiment with potentially worldwide implications, according to Holmes. Right now, the National Marine Fisheries Service is putting together a proposal to sink a dozen 100-foot-long, 15-foot-high reefs of various types, some made at the second college, and figure out whether they help restore bottomfish populations.

On the sidelines are the state departments of Transportation, Fish & Wildlife and Natural Resources. Holmes says DOT wants to know what viaduct materials would be needed. While bridges and roads have been used to create reefs elsewhere, with the focus on cleaning up polluted Puget Sound, “We don’t want to put something out there that will create harm,” such as road surfaces, he says.

OFFICIALLY, FISH & WILDLIFE is “in the evaluation stage,” says Greg Bargmann, a marine manager in Olympia. The agency got out of the reef-building business years ago because they weren’t sure the structures were effective.

However, Holmes says those the state created off of Alki, Blake Island and the KVI radio tower have been “extremely productive.”

Which is not to say that he wants to litter the bottom of the Sound with concrete. Holmes is very cognizant of the fact that what might be featureless, sandy bottom to some anglers is others’ crabbing, geoducking and flatfishing honey holes. And with staff reductions and added workload at DFW, he wants to move forward cautiously and purposefully.

Indeed, with a new tunnel to be bored through the heart of Seattle, slowly and carefully are watchwords all around.

“This is a long-term deal, not throwing concrete off the side of a barge and fishing it the next year – that’s not the idea of this thing,” says Holmes.

For the study, reef balls could be deployed “in the next couple years” with material from the viaduct first becoming available in 2012. And if NMFS finds artificial reefs do indeed help Puget Sound bottomfish, the bulk of the viaduct would not become available until 2016, a year after the tunnel is opened for traffic.

AS IT STANDS, Holmes and others at CCA are excited about early support for the proposal.

“Everywhere we’re turning, it seems like everyone wants to help us,” says Tom Pollack, a member who works at Sportco (253-922-2222) in Fife.

And they hope more anglers and local businesses come on board. Because of the amount of raw materials needed to make concrete forms, Holmes is hoping a corporation might team up with the trades program at South Seattle CC, where he’s director of facilities.

And he’s asking fishermen to contact DOT.

“We would like them to know that people are behind the idea. The more they hear, the more they know there’s support for this,” he says. “Send an email to SDEIS2ScopingComments@wsdot.wa.gov and ask them to consider using the Viaduct for artificial reef-making materials as part of the project.” – Andy Walgamott

June 29, 2009

What do you get when you “expose” one of the Northwest’s most visited yet most secret steelhead spots? July’s Big Picture, a big, beautiful two-page photograph of the pool at the base of a certain Washington waterfall.

But there’s much more to our Mixed Bag this issue, including the 5 goofiest Northwest fishing lures, how anglers rescued an osprey during a fishing derby, the unusual story of the litter-despising Yubangees, where and how anglers and hunters recreate in Oregon, how a tuna derby helps “reel in hunger” for coastal communities in the Beaver State and a kokanee tournament new to the Northwest!

You can find our mag on convenience-store newsstands, Wal-Marts, some auto-parts stores and NEW this month, nearly 100 Fred Meyers throughout the Northwest!

June 3, 2009

Ever wonder how many people fish for salmon in the Northwest? Let me tell you, it’s a helluva lot. In our June issue, we detail that in Washington alone, 581,710 residents had a catch card in 2007-08, according to preliminary state data — and you’d be surprised where they live, as well as how many come up from Oregon!

Speaking of Oregon, Larry Ellis interviews the “Surfin’ Steelheaders of the South Coast.” Three of the best fishermen in the Beaver State’s lower left corner are also top surfers, believe it or not.

Speaking of believe it or not, did you know that Oregon actually has a second type of “half-pounder”? In addition to those small steelies that run right back up the Rogue River, North Coast cutts exhibit a similar life history — something you’ll learn in our feature on “Mighty Minimals” of the Northwest.

We also detail the link between ancient glacial lakes in Montana, Nevada and Washington and trout of the Great Basin and the Evergreen State’s Grimes Lake.

And learn how Northwest Sportsman magazine is responsible for nice bumps in fishing license sales in Oregon and Washington and the huge jump in gun sales!

May 7, 2009

If you recall your ancient steelheading lore, ye olde Cowlitz was the birthplace of jig fishing in the Northwest.
Thirty-two years ago, on the banks of the Southwest Washington river, one Leo Gwaldacz Sr. was digging around in his gear when he found an unlikely looking lure for the metalheads, a multi-colored leadhead jig. Fishing sucked that day, so he figured what the hell, rigged up and cast out, according to author Dave Vedder. The rest is history.
So maybe it’s not unusual that the Cowlitz is the delivery room for several entirely new fishing methods.
In the past year, its coho have not only bitten nightcrawlers but kokanee and saltwater trolling spoons. And earlier this season, a pair of spring Chinook ended up on Dave Richardson’s barbecue because they decided a pink worm on a flashy jig looked like a darn good thing to bite.

Dave Richardson's pink-worm-jig-biting springer. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Dave Richardson's pink-worm-jig-biting springer. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s just one story you can find in our May issue’s Mixed Bag.

We also have a big story on why we’re so excited about this summer’s salmon seasons — they’re silver and pink, and scrumptious orange inside — as well news on potentially big changes to steelhead releases in Washington’s Blue Mountains, how to put the gathering back in “hunter-gatherer” with spring mushrooms, the story of one Stephen Naethe, a Flathead Lake Mackinaw’s worst enemy, 5 of the most poisoned Northwest freshwaters and Terry Wiest’s gorgeous Big Pic — halibut fishing as a storm moves in.

Halibut fishermen, La Push, Wash. (TERRY WIEST/STEELHEADUNIVERSITY.COM)

Halibut fishermen, La Push, Wash. (TERRY WIEST/STEELHEADUNIVERSITY.COM)