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Four area ski resorts opening this weekend

Nov. 26, 2014 2:55 p.m. - Updated: 3:27 p.m.

WINTERSPORTS — Four ski resorts in the Inland Northwest have announced they plan to be running lifts this weekend. Skiing will be on limited terrain until more snow falls; ticket prices are reduced.

49° North Mountain Resort near Chewelah will open to skiers and snowboarders Friday.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort near Sandpoint opened last weekend and will resume operations Friday.

Lookout Pass ski area off Interstate 90 on the Idaho-Montana border will open Friday.  “We received 7” of new snow overnight, 15” since Saturday,” Phil Edholm, Lookout's president, said today. “Our base is currently 14” to 22” and it’s still snowing.

Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg will open Saturday.

Mount Spokane State Park cross-country skiing trails had only about six inches of snow today, reported Jerry Johnson, Park Ranger. With warm temperatures and rain in the forecast he said, “It's likely to be fairly grim up here until the colder temperatures move in on the weekend.”

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North Cascades Highway closed for season

Nov. 26, 2014 2:02 p.m. - Updated: 3:13 p.m.

OUTDOOR TRAVEL —The North Cascades Highway is closed for the winter after an avalanche assessment on Tuesday determined transportation workers could not safely reopen it.

The 37-mile stretch of Highway 20 between Mazama and Newhalem closes every winter due to avalanche danger.

The highway temporarily closed at 9:30 a.m. Sunday after a snowslide in the Liberty Bell zone east of Washington Pass.

Between 15 and 20 inches of new snow is forecast at high elevations through the Thanksgiving holiday period, state Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Adamson said.

Last year, the highway closed for the season on Dec. 3. It reopened on May 8.

Chinook and Cayuse passes also have been closed for the season after heavy weekend snow.  Chinook is on Highway 410 and Cayuse on Highway 123, both are in the Cascades on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park.

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Gray wolf news updates 11-26-2014

Nov. 26, 2014 2:01 p.m. - Updated: 3:24 p.m.

PREDATORS — It's been a quiet week in the region some people would like to call Wolfbegone.

But here are a few notes about the species as wolves continues to recover their native range in the Northwest.

A Whitman County wolf shooting case is in the hands of county prosecutor Denis Tracy.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife turned its evidence over to the prosecutor on Nov. 19 with the possibility that the man who shot a wolf around Oct. 12 could be charged with a misdemeanor for killing an animal that's protected in far-Eastern Washington by state endangered species laws. The agency turned over the evidence after receiving DNA lab results that confirmed the animal was a wolf and not a wolf hybrid.
 
Tracy's office staff said today that the prosecutor is still investigating the case before making the decision on whether to prosecute the case. The identity of the shooter has not been released although WDFW officers described the man as a county farmer. The original WDFW report said the man chased the wolf in a vehicle and shot it in a Palouse farm field about 15 miles southwest of Pullman.
 
“We're not recommending anything,” said Steve Crown, Fish and Wildlife Department chief. “We're simply referring the facts of the case in our report. It's up to the prosecutor to examine the facts and the case law and decide whether to bring charges.”
 
Making the decision to prosecute is a big deal.
  • Although exemptions are made for killing a wolf to protect life or livestock, unlawful taking of a state endangered species is punishable by sentences of up to a year in jail and fines up to $5,000.

  • The only wolf-killing case to be prosecuted in Washington resulted in Twisp ranching family members being ordered to pay fines totaling $50,000 in 2012 for killing two Lookout Pack wolves in 2008.

A Kittitas County wolf-killing case remains under investigation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Brent Lawrence said Tuesday no arrests have been made in the October shooting of an adult breeding female belonging to the Teanaway Pack near Salmon la Sac. Conservation groups have offered a $15,000 reward in the case.

The wolf was found by state and federal wildlife officials Oct. 28 in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The female was wearing a telemetry collar and was shot in the hindquarters. Investigators say she likely was killed around Oct. 17.

USFWS is leading the investigation because the shooting occurred in the two-thirds of the state in which wolves are federally protected. Wolves also are protected state endangered species laws.

An unlawful taking of a federal endangered species is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

A hunter was cleared for shooting at stalking wolf on Oct. 30 in Stevens County.The animal ran way, but the hunter reported to officials that he thought it had been hit.

A Smackout Pack wolf was found dead Feb. 9 near Cedar Lake in northeast Stevens County. Conservation groups joined with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer a $22,500 reward for information about the case. However, the case still has not been solved.

An anti-wolf group called  Washington Residents Against Wolves has initiated an billboard campaign in Spokane.

BLM has denied a permit for a predator derby based out of Salmon, Idaho. Organizers say they'll hold the derby on national forest land.

The first gray wolf in northern Arizona in more than 70 years was confirmed by wildlife officials this week. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Humphrey said Friday that analysis of the animal’s scat shows it’s from the Northern Rockies population at least 450 miles away. It was first spotted by a tourist in early November.

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Idaho predator derby ruling a win, win, win

Nov. 26, 2014 12:37 p.m. - Updated: 12:37 p.m.

WILDLIFE — Looks like everyone's a winner in this deal.

  • The Idaho predator derby organizers wanted to make a point that they don't like wolves.  And they're point was made on a huge stage of publicity.
  • No wolves were killed in a previous derby even though licensed wolf hunting is legal in Idaho.
  • Pro-wolf groups wanted to make their case and line their coffers with donations. Opportunity seized; mission accomplished.

BLM rescinds permit for Idaho for Wildlife's predator derby
A week after Bureau of Land Management Idaho Falls District Manager Joe Kraayenbrink issued a permit to Idaho for Wildlife to expand its predator derby onto BLM lands, Kraayenbrink rescinded that permit, citing modifications made in the derby's regulations. Idaho for Wildlife Executive Director Steve Alder said he believes the two lawsuits filed after the permit was issued and “D.C. bureaucrats” led to the permit being pulled. Alder said the derby would go on as scheduled on U.S. Forest Service and private lands.
—Idaho Mountain Express

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Sno-Park permits soon required at Mount Spokane

Nov. 26, 2014 8:04 a.m.

WINTERSPORTS — The change from Discover Passes to Sno-Park Permits is one of the transitions underway at Mount Spokane State Park as snow begins to pile up and road plowing begins.

Starting Dec.1, vehicles accessing the cross-country skiing and snowshoer parking areas will be required to have Washington Sno-Park permits. The permits can be purchased from a variety of vendors as well as online.

Until then, vehicles accessing the park will still be required to display a Washington Discover Pass, says Steve Christensen park manger, noting that the Sno-Park system is a separate account in state recreation budgeting.

Customers parking at the Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park do not need a vehicle pass — but only when the resort is open and operating.  The ski area has not announced an opening date.

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Pacific bluefin tuna record caught by Ellensburg angler

Nov. 26, 2014 6:01 a.m. - Updated: 6:36 a.m.

FISHING — Sam Ellinger of Ellensburg has set a state record for the largest Pacific bluefin tuna caught off the coast of Washington, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed.  

The 39.20-pound tuna measured 41 inches and was caught 28 miles offshore southwest of Grays Harbor.

Ellinger, a student at Central Washington University, said he began the day early and was bait-fishing with anchovies, “from the crack of dawn until it got dark.”

“Catching a fish this size was pretty exhausting,” he said.  “We didn't know what we hooked until we got it on the boat.”

The previous Pacific bluefin tuna record was caught in 2012 by Patrick Fagan while fishing 35 miles offshore from Westport.

Pacific bluefin tuna facts courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

  • Among the largest and fastest fish in the ocean.
  • Streamlined to reduce drag around their fins for energy conservation on long-distance journeys. Tuna also can become super-streamlined by retracting or folding fins against the body so water flows even more smoothly over their bodies.
  • Capable of swimming 12-18 mph for brief periods.
  • Unlike most fish, tuna are warm-blooded and can heat their bodies to 11 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding water. This added warmth helps their muscles work faster and more efficiently.
  • Consume as much as five percent of their body weight daily and must continually swim with their mouths open to force water over their gills, supercharging their blood-rich muscles with oxygen.
  • Migrate more than 6,000 nautical miles to the eastern Pacific, eventually returning to their birth waters to spawn off of Okinawa, between Taiwan and the Philippines and in the Sea of Japan.
  • Overfished throughout the world.
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Four bald eagles show up at lake CdA, so far

Nov. 25, 2014 2:50 p.m. - Updated: Nov. 26, 6:02 p.m.

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Four bald eagles were counted today at Lake Coeur d'Alene in the weekly fall survey conducted during the annual fall-winter congregation at the northeast corner of the lake.

That's up from zero birds counted last Wednesday by U.S. Bureau of Land Management biologist Carrie Hugo in her first survey of the season.

Eagles were at Higgens Point and in the Beauty Bay area this week, she said.

For decades, the eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in Wolf Lodge Bay.

“It is not too unusual for the count to be very low (in mid-November),” she said.

The 2013 bald eagle count at Lake Coeur d’Alene peaked at 217 on Dec. 30.

A record 273 bald eagles was counted at Wolf Lodge Bay on Dec. 29, 2011.

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Snake River dredging challenged by fishing groups

Nov. 25, 2014 6:41 a.m. - Updated: 7:32 a.m.

FISHING — A decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin dredging a silted-in shipping channel in the Snake River near Lewiston is facing a court challenge by Northwest fishing and conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The groups said in a media release that they're “taking legal action against costly, illegal dredging on the lower Snake River aimed at propping up an outdated, environmentally destructive, money-losing waterway.”

Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, filed a complaint Monday with Seattle’s U.S. District Court challenging the Corps’ approval of a $6.7 million lower Snake River dredging project scheduled to begin in mid-December.

The legal action is backed by Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute of Fisheries Resources, Washington Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Friends of the Clearwater.

  • A larger group of fish and river advocacy groups had filed these comments on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Corps plan.

Following is text from the media release stating the position of the environmental groups:

Dredging behind lower Granite Dam is the centerpiece of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla district’s ill-advised plan for maintaining the little-used barging corridor between Pasco, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho.

Though shipping on the Columbia River waterway remains robust, traffic on the lower Snake is so low that it qualifies for the Corps’ own “negligible use” project category.

The Corps’ Walla Walla District released its draft sediment management plan two years ago, asserting that dredging would provide $25 million in benefits but offering no supporting economic analysis.

Fishing and conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe have challenged the Corps plan because it puts salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey at serious risk, purposefully dodges any real look at alternatives to dredging, and ignores the shaky economic justification for the barge corridor created by the four lower Snake River dams.

Despite thousands of comments noting the plan’s glaring errors and omissions, the Corps last week issued a record of decision adopting the plan. The agency immediately signed a contract with a dredging contractor to begin work Dec. 15.

“The lower Snake waterway exacts an enormous price from taxpayers as well as from wild salmon, steelhead, and Pacific Lamprey”, said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “The Corps has failed to look at any alternatives to dredging this winter, and fails to provide an honest assessment of the fiscal and environmental costs involved in shoring up this out-of-date waterway.”

“These four dams are responsible for pushing the Snake River’s wild salmon and steelhead to the edge of extinction.” said SOS executive director Joseph Bogaard. “Climate change and other factors are making the lower Snake River dams ever more deadly to migrating fish while the economic justification for this waterway is slipping away.”

Over the past 15 years, the lower Snake waterway’s freight volume has declined 64 percent as farmers and other shippers move their products to trucks or rail. Maintenance expenses, meanwhile, have surged. Lewiston faces a chronic crisis of sedimentation and U.S. taxpayers now effectively subsidize every barge leaving Lewiston to the tune of about $18,000.

Navigation is the primary purpose of these dams. They generate significant power primarily in  the spring, when power demand and prices are low and the Northwest is awash in hydropower— so much so that wind farms are often forced to shut down.

“Every year, the federal government spends increasing amounts of tax dollars to prop up four obsolete dams on the lower Snake River,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Our specific claims include violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act.”

“Little thought has been given to the long-term economic and environmental consequences of long-term dredging,” said Gary MacFarlane of Friends of the Clearwater.

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Mining in the Cabinets: It’s a question of wilderness

Nov. 24, 2014 12:13 p.m. - Updated: 12:13 p.m.

PUBLIC LANDS — I'm getting mixed reviews in comments and emails about my Sunday Outdoors story: Not-so-wild wilderness: Mining proposals threaten Cabinet Mountains streams, lakes and grizzlies.

Some people say I featured only wilderness activists and that there's really nothing to worry about regarding the mining proposals surrounding the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwestern Montana.

Besides, we all need the metals miners extract, they point out.

Roger.

But the point of the story, and the sidebar focused on the impacts of the mining on grizzly bears, is that while state and federal agencies are poring over mounds of documents on the impacts of each mine proposal, no agency appears to be sizing up the CUMULATIVE IMPACTS of both new mine proposals plus the re-starting of the existing Troy Mine plus the proposals for more motorized vehicle access in the Kootenai National Forest management plan.

The sum of these threats warrants public attention, hence the story.

The Forest Service declined to answer my prepared questions that focused on cumulative impacts.

The process seems to overlook the wilderness as a whole.

“There’s no advocacy group for the wilderness in Sanders County. It wouldn’t be a popular position. But when I’m hiking in there, I also see lots of people form Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and Missoula, and none of them seems to know about the mines.

“A lot of people in Sanders County don’t think people from other areas don’t have a voice in the issue because they don’t live here. But the wilderness belongs to everyone.

     — Jim Costello, SaveOurCabinets.org

It’s wilderness: Either you’re for or against it.”

     —Mary Crowe Costello, Rock Creek Alliance

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Lake Roosevelt launch permits available online

Nov. 24, 2014 6:03 a.m. - Updated: 10:19 a.m.

UPDATED with 2015 fees.

WATERSPORTS – Annual permits for launching any vessel at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation area can be purchased online in a new page on pay.gov.

Details and a link are on the Lake Roosevelt website.

Permits cost $6 for a week, $20 for the rest of 2014.

Starting Dec. 1, permits for 2015 available for $30.  Boaters and anglers would be wise to buy 2015 permits early to beat a possible boat launch fee increase the Park Services has proposed.  It could kick into effect as early as January.

For Golden Age, Golden Access and Interagency Senior or Access Pass cardholders, fees are discounted 50 percent. When purchasing a seasonal boat launch permit, the 50% discount will be given once in a calendar year for one permit only.  If multiple permits are purchased at one time, only one will be discounted.

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