Northwest Elk and Deer Disease Worries

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 13, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

No doubt, if you follow wildlife issues across Washington – even if you are not a big game hunter – you are aware of the current diseases related to ungulates. We hear about the various pneumonia strains killing and affecting our wild sheep, the rapidly growing concern about deformed hooves of our elk, or wapiti, and a long-time concern over chronic wasting disease (DWD) in deer – not yet found in our state, but in deer just a state or province away.

Pros in the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) are focused on solving and managing all three of these disease concerns. For today, I want to consider the elk and deer issues.

DFW has been working with elk hunters on the other side of the Cascades since 2008, but recently sent an urgent request to elk hunters over here in eastern Washington. It looks like this: “Please note… If you harvest an elk in eastern Washington with deformed or abnormal hooves, please retain the hooves and immediately report your observation through WDFW’s online reporting form or by contacting WDFW’s elk specialist (kyle.garrison@dfw.wa.gov; 360-902-8133). You are not in violation of WAC 220-413-200 by removing hooves from the site of harvest in eastern Washington.”

This hoof disease, known as TAHD (treponeme-associated hoof disease), was first reported in the southwest portion of our state in 2008. It causes limping and lameness from abnormal hoof growth and lesions. In some cases, the outer shell of hooves may just start falling apart. DFW researchers and a group of scientist-advisors, found the abnormalities associated with the treponeme bacteria which cause digital dermatitis – a hoof disease which has affected the livestock industry (cattle, sheep, and goats) for decades. The 2008 discovery of TAHD was the first known occurrence of the disease in any wild ungulate.

Thus far, this hoof disease has been documented in elk in all our southwest counties, as well as Clallam, Jefferson, King, Whatcom, and Skagit Counties. In February of this year, DFW confirmed TAHD in Walla Walla County, the easternmost confirmation to date. This is a devastating problem for affected wapiti and it is on the move in our state. Thus, the request made of eastern elk hunters. You can learn more, and get more details, at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is another story. It has yet to be found in Washington – or in any of our bordering states. It continues to spread, however, and is currently found in 24 states and two provinces. CWD is contagious and fatal in deer (white-tail, mule, and black-tail deer), elk, moose, and caribou. It is caused by mutated proteins known as prions, which can remain in the environment for years and be transmitted between members of the deer family through their feces, saliva, urine, and other bodily fluids.

It is a neurological disease, causing a spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death. It is among a group/family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Variants within this family include some which affect domestic sheep and goats (scrapie) and cattle (BSE, or “mad cow disease”). While rumors of a cure circulate from time to time, there is no cure on the horizon and the only control is, to the extent possible, isolating the infected animals.

CWD was first found in 1967 in a research mule deer herd in Colorado, and confirmed as a TSE in the 1970s. Within a few years it was found in elk of Colorado and in deer of Wyoming. Today, as noted above CWD is in members of the deer family in half the states of the Lower 48.

Washington has taken many steps over the years to prevent CWD from entering the state – and our wild ungulate populations. These steps have ranged from outlawing ungulate game farms and testing thousands of deer to creating a pretty strict set of rules for bringing game meat into our state from any CWD state where it was harvested. You will find those rules and more at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases/chronic-wasting. DFW encourages hunters to have deer tested for CWD in states where they are killed – that state will notify DFW and the hunter of a positive test for CWD and the meat from that animal will be confiscated and destroyed. (This has happened a handful of times over recent years.) While there currently is no scientific evidence of CWD being transmitted from animals to humans, agencies and the feds strongly recommend against eating meat from an animal that has tested positive.

Because there remain many mysteries about just how CWD spreads, and because it is still steadily spreading, this is a growing concern across the Northwest and the country. What, for example, is the role of wolves in the spreading of this disease? A number of studies across the country (Google “CWD and wolves”) maintain that wolves actually limit its spread. Yet, given the wide ranges of wolves, their ingestion of the parts of prey which carry the prions, and the fact that those prions would be dropped in wolf scat/feces wherever they travel, several biologists in Colorado and elsewhere are asking that dead wolves and wolf scat be tested for prions. DFW will be releasing new rules and policy for managing CWD in a couple months.

Learn more by reviewing the DFW website noted above, or the North American site at cwd-info.org/faq/ (and links there).

This conversation about current, and coming, diseases in our wild ungulates will continue as more is learned and new rules are promulgated. Stand by…

The Wolves of Washington – Changes Coming?

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 6, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

An ever more interesting conversation, this discussion of wolves and their status, behavior, and management here in our state. There seems almost no action ranchers in now-wolf-country, and the wildlife managers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), can propose or take to deal with livestock depredation that doesn’t trigger protest and a court battle. The conflict over DFW policy has been bubbling over the past decade and more.

Over the years since the 2009 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), titled “Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington” was released, a number of wolves and entire packs have been killed after persistently preying upon domestic livestock. Nearly all of the lethal removals have been in and around the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington. The removals took place following one or another DFW policy – each of which required that stockmen carry out some extensive level of non-lethal means of separating livestock and wolves over some time period. The latest removal in the Colville area was in August, just before a restraining order was issued in a Seattle courtroom.

As a geographer and lifelong wildlife nut, the management goals for wolves in our state – in the context of other western state wolf recovery goals – seemed to me so unrealistic that conflicts were inevitable. Consider the following bit of western state geography (areas suitable wolf habitat are from the Federal Register (02/08/07, Vol. 72, Num. 26), and the human populations are from the 2007 U.S. Census Bureau.

Montana held 958,000 humans (6.6 per square mile) and 40, 924 square miles of suitable wolf habitat. Wyoming had 523,000 people (5.4 per square mile) with 29, 808 square miles of wolf ground. Idaho, with its 1,499, 000 people (18.1 per square mile), has wolf habitat totaling 31,586 square miles. Washington’s population was 6,468,000 (97.2 people per square mile). Our wolf habitat: 297 square miles in the eastern one-third and “scattered habitat in small isolated areas of the Okanogan, marginal habitat both north and south of Mount Rainier, and a large area of habitat in and around the Olympic National Park,” adding up to something around 4,500 square miles.

Thus, in Washington we have a human population of four to thirteen times the other “wolf” states, a population density of five to nineteen times theirs, and “suitable habitat” only eleven to fifteen percent of theirs. Yet, in each of the other states, the goal for delisting was 100 wolves (ten breeding pairs), while Washington’s goal was 15 breeding pairs/packs of wolves (about 150 animals) before delisting. The clock has been ticking ever louder over the past decade.

At last 2018 population survey, DFW biologists estimated Washington’s wolf population at a minimum of 126 individuals, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs. The number of wolves across the state has reached a point that many are pushing for delisting of wolves from any state threatened or endangered list, and turning wolf management over to DFW – similar to management in other western states. To that end, DFW officials have begun a broad public outreach effort.

In late summer wildlife officials scheduled a series of 14 open public meetings across the state to begin assessing possible changes to the state’s wolf-management policy. Within a week or two, officials changed those meetings to online discussions, citing a fear of violence rising from a number of unspecified threats of both violence and disruption.

Those online meetings (and the face to face meetings formerly scheduled) were integral to the multi-year State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process DFW has underway to develop a post-recovery wolf management and conservation plan. The plan development includes an extensive public outreach component, and you will find abundant information on wolf post-recovery planning on DFW’s website. Fact sheets, summaries and frequently asked questions are at wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/20190920_wolf_post-recovery_plan_faq.pdf. An online comment form is available at wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/wolf_post-recovery_plan_scoping_comment_form_0_0.pdf. Note that the form can be printed and mailed (as can general comments) to Lisa Wood, SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504. (Mailed comments must be postmarked by Nov. 15.)

After the Nov. 15 deadline, your next opportunity will come once the agency drafts an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in late 2020. That draft will evaluate actions, alternatives, and impacts related to long-term wolf conservation and management.

Want to know about the wolves here in Paradise? This coming Monday evening (11/11) Steve Wetzel (DFW Wildlife Conflict Specialist), with DFW Statewide Wolf Biologist Ben Maletzke will be speaking of the Wolves of Kittitas County. This is the program for the monthly meeting of the 100-year-old Kittitas County Field & Stream Club, at the Hal Holmes Center, 7:00 p.m. You and your friends are welcome for what promises to be a very interesting Veteran’s Day evening.

About Hunting, Fishing & Outdoor Partners

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 30, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

It was one of those simple, innocent, questions that triggers a fairly in-depth conversation, followed by days of mind-probing thought. Then, there’s the savoring of experiences which are not often lifter from the back of the vaults in my Memory Bank.

A week ago, homey and hunting partner Wes Clogston and I were out on the Army’s Yakima, Washington, Training Center ground. As master hunters, we have a responsibility to deal with the cow elk which spend nights messing up farm fields in Badger Pocket, south east of Ellensburg, and then retreat to the Training Center. Ever mindful of carrying out our duties, we were diligently spending time behind our binoculars scouring hills, draws and sagebrush valleys.

At one point, we were lost in glassing a beautiful mule deer buck moving through early morning sunshine up into a scatter of red basalt boulders, apparently in search of a bed-down spot. Admiring that buck with Wes flashed me back to sitting alongside Rick Doell, my first really good hunting/fishing/outdoor partner, as we glassed a small group of muleys in the piñon-juniper country out in the Piceance Basin of western Colorado.

“So, Wes,” I asked, “how many true hunting and fishing partners have you had in your life? You know: partners you never doubted would have your back, no matter what… Someone you just trusted in any wild place or for any wild or crazy situation in which you found yourself?”

The ensuing conversation and swapping of humorous – and not-so – tales consumed the next four or five hours of our elk search. By the end of that day, we agreed that our quality outdoor partners could be counted on one hand. Over the following days, I found myself stumbling into those memories and experiences at almost any odd moment.

During the Puget Sound Energy and Kittitas County Field and Stream Club Hunter’s Breakfast out at the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility last Friday morning (10/25), I found myself asking groups of hunters about their partners. Seemed like everyone had one or more person without whom hunting would not be right. The terms that came up most frequently were trust, family, just like family, and dependability.

Rick and I met at Lowry AFB in 1963, after overseas stints. Our radio and TV production work was about as much indoors as we could stand, and we quickly agreed to head outdoors. He hailed from suburban Boston, but with a Stetson, a pair of boots, and a Winchester .270, he evolved into a westerner.

From the beginning, Rick was part of me. If I was thinking thirsty, he’d hand me a cool one. If I was about to cast long, he’d cast short. He always took the duck on his side of the blind, and he never shot the pheasant that got up in front of me until I’d fired both barrels. On a deer hunt, we’d separate to work a long hillside. We’d move slowly through the timber for an hour or more – a hundred yards apart – and we’d reach our designated rendezvous within a minute of each other. Firearm or fish hook, safety was never an issue. We just always knew where the other guy was.

With growing families and increasing responsibilities, we escaped less often, but our campfires were special. And he’d still pretend to see a deer or elk on another mountain just to get me over there. In spring, 1970, I headed off to more graduate work at the University of Kansas (KU). Rick and I had planned a fall bird hunt with his dogs in Kansas. Late one night his wife, Elberta, called. Rick had split his helmet in a motorcycle crash. He came home from rehab, but never grew beyond an unmanageable 6-year-old in a man’s body.

On antelope hunts, I still hear Rick marvel at the speed of those “goats.” Now and again I still hear his laughter across a campfire.

I met Phil at KU. A California boy, quiet in the classroom, but fully alive afield. He was a wonderful storyteller – some of his stories were no doubt true. Phil never got dirty or wrinkled or greasy or bloody or any of the other things you go fishing or hunting to get. He’d clean as many fish or birds as I did, but he’d look ready for the office, and I’d be blood and guts from head to toe. He said I was a born slob. He was a fine and dependable partner. He took a position in Oregon, and we hunted a bit in Colorado and Wyoming until a time his wife stayed with my about-to-be ex-wife. Haven’t seen him since.

In the top three on my list would be Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward, now pursuing his stunt career in Los Angeles. We still do a bit of fishing and hunting, but never enough. I deeply value my Wyoming and Texas hunting time with son James and son-in-law Chris. For a time I had great partners in the James Gang, on our bird hunts. Bill Boyum and Wes would clearly be right up there on a current list. No matter how you cut it, though, it’s not a long list.

Clearly not be as sacred as the relationships we develop and nurture with our spouses, but relationships with our most trusted hunting, fishing and outdoor partners are important – and critical to our enjoyment and success afield.

Of Black Bears and Mountain Lions

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 23, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Black bear and cougar (mountain lion or puma) attacks in here in the Paradise of Washington are extremely rare, really, and grizzly attacks are so far nonexistent. Still, for some reason I’m hearing several questions and concerns from homeys lately. This may have been triggered by the push of some agencies and groups to return grizzlies to the Cascades, the reports of recent grizzly bear attacks in the northern Rockies, or the ongoing discussions of recent bear and cougar attacks in Canada. Be that as it may, this seems like a good time for a look at predators and our interactions with them (note that for this week’s discussion, I am excluding wolves and grizzlies).

Mountain lions – or their fresh sign – have been reported at several locations around the valley and the region over the past few weeks. Black bears have been out in good numbers, too, force-feeding themselves for winter. They have been getting a fair amount of press over the past couple years – some a bit hysterical, some factual, and most of it the result of increasing numbers of interactions with us. It seems likely that the rapid growth of the county and spreading urbanization is the primary cause of those interactions and occasional conflicts. Then, too, folks who track these things are convinced that changes in hunting and harvest methods have led to rising predator populations as well. Still, we can keep trouble at arm=s length.

Mountain lions are probably grateful for our inadvertent offerings, but their food preferences create angst and anger. We move into lion country and leave our horses, sheep, llamas and dogs outside overnight. Then get all bent out of shape when an odd lion discovers how much easier it is to catch something in a pen, or chained up. Lions really seem to have a sweet tooth for dogs, and missing dogs are a common complaint all over the West=s lion country. While only a small number of lions begin preying on our pets and livestock, we can prevent problems by thinking ahead about how to keep them safe. Lions preying on pets generally receive death sentences.

A bear’s natural diet consists of items such as blueberries or huckleberries. Human-provided foods, such as garbage, birdseed, and hummingbird feeder fluids, may have 10 to 20 times the caloric value of wild natural foods and may delay a bear’s natural hibernation pattern. Bears often develop a taste for dog and cat food left outside, hummingbird feeders, suet or peanut butter left out for birds, and greasy barbecue grills. Leaving such stuff out may cause a mess for us, but the wildlife managers who have to follow up use this rule: Aa fed bear is a dead bear.”

DFW offers simple suggestions for preventing bear problems. 1) Store garbage cans in a garage or sturdy building until collection day. 2) Remove bird feeders (seed and liquid) from porches, trees, and other accessible areas, and feed pets inside. 3) Pick and remove fruit from trees, even the highest branches. 4) Don’t intentionally feed bears, deer, elk other wild animals. Once they learn to connect people with food, it puts the bear, and the public, at risk. 5) Take preventive measures before the bear is even seen.

There are several recommendations for avoiding trouble if you meet a bear or mountain lion outdoors. Stay calm; talk aloud but softly to let the animal know of your presence – and assure it you mean no harm – as you stop and back away slowly; don’t run or make sudden movements; do not make eye contact – this may be taken as a sign of aggression. With mountain lions, some additional advice: raise your arms to appear larger, and if the animal behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can find, but do not crouch down or turn your back. And if the lion attacks you, fight back – lions are often driven off prey which fights back. It may help to remember that, while Teddy Roosevelt considered cougars the most cowardly of all the predators, their backing-off behavior is more likely a case of “this meal may cost more calories than it is worth.”

There are a number of ready phone and online links to anything else you want, or need, to know about dealing with lions and bears.

For an emergency dangerous wildlife situation in Washington (and most anywhere else), dial 911. If it is a non-emergency dangerous wildlife concern, call 877-933-9847. You may also text the information to 847411 or file an online report at wdfw.wa.gov/about/enforcement/report (note that the form you will use is the “Report a Violation” form). Washington DFW is committed to rapid follow-up to all situations reported.

To reach the full range of available resources, start with wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/living. Here you will find links to suggestions and keys for living with wildlife, from dealing with injured animals, to properly establishing a backyard sanctuary, to dealing with nuisance or dangerous wildlife. At the dangerous wildlife link, you will find maps of incident reports. For specific information about mountain lions see wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/puma-concolor. For similar background about black bears, go to wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/ursus-americanus.

We are not likely to train all lions and bears to behave responsibly around us and our homes and temptations: better we learn to live responsibly in their country. Being safe is not difficult. Remember that even a minor bear or lion attack could mess up your whole day.

What IS a Legitimate “Outdoor Interest?”

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 16, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

At some level, the conversation is almost fascinating. At another, it seems downright silly. Still, in the context of America’s biggest headlines today, I understand why it has come up. So, what does, or does not, belong.in a column like this “Inside the Outdoors” post?

I’ve been writing this weekly piece for various newspapers and online since 1988. From the beginning, my goal has been to touch on virtually anything relating to outdoor activity and working to ensure that it is still an attractive option for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, and theirs after that. Column topics have ranged from treatises on fish, birds, animals and weather phenomena to raising outdoor kids. Others have run the gamut from fishing and hunting to shooting and firearms. I like laying out opportunities for the reader to decide for him- or herself what makes sense in one or another context. A couple times over the decades, I may have expressed an opinion strongly enough to land this piece on one or another editorial page.

What lodged this conversation in my mind was a brief back and forth with a politically active colleague. I was picking up some supplies at the Student Union and Recreation Center on the campus of Central Washington University. She wanted to chat about a recent column concerning firearms built on the AR platform.

“Look,” she said, “I’ve told you before how much I appreciate your writing and your take on the outdoors – especially the kids outdoors stuff – but the fact is that, today, stuff about guns and gun ownership and gun rights just has no business in your column. There are so many things you can, and do, write about that inform and fascinate us. The gun stuff doesn’t belong. We are all so upset about guns, guns, guns that it just stirs people up. Stick to your outdoor focus, like the wildlife we all enjoy seeing, that sort of thing.”

My responses about the need for inclusion of ALL outdoor interests, outdoor tools and the role of federal taxes on sporting goods – particularly firearms – fell on deaf ears. Still, the conversation lasted long enough to get me thinking about my whole philosophy of “outdoor interests.”

As a kid many decades ago, I heard the term “outdoorsman” applied to men and women who hunted, fished, trapped, hiked, camped, skied, boated, trained hunting dogs, rode horses, played various sports or carried on with recreational shooting of any type of firearm or archery gear.

As an adult, I headed up the United Sportmen’s Council of Colorado, representing more than 50 organizations from shooting clubs to fur trappers. In another role, I helped raise – and spend – large amounts of money on youth outdoor education, which always included learning to handle firearms safely and responsibly. I also helped determine how funds might best be spent to support wildlife and the habitat it would need to continue producing viable populations in perpetuity. I don’t ever recall trying to divide or rank those outdoor interests. I have long argued that people who have found “their” outdoor connection (whatever that interest might be), become ever more likely to commit themselves to ensuring that the outdoors will be available for future generations.

I would never argue against the importance of any of those aspects of the outdoors my colleague highlighted. Indeed, I have devoted many of these columns to each of them. Still, no matter how I toss it around in my mind, I see firearms and their uses as a fundamental “outdoor interest.”

In many ways, sales of firearms (and to a lesser extent other outdoor gear) are responsible for the habitat and wildlife – the outdoors – we all enjoy today. A hundred years ago, wild turkeys, Canada geese, most waterfowl species, elk, and white-tailed deer – all of which are over-abundant in one or another part of North America today – were almost gone. Dedicated hunters started a movement which led to the creation of the 1937 Pittman-Robertson excise tax on firearms and other sporting goods. That tax supported the development of professional game management agencies in America. To date, those P-R funds have produced well over seven billion dollars for wildlife management. Some 70% of state wildlife agency budgets today come from those taxes and license fees paid by hunters, even though only six percent of Americans actually hunt.

The “outdoor” firearm discussions about which my colleague was fretting are stirring up hunters and shooters, also. Nearly everyone I know is in frequent and serious conversation about all the firearms proposals and how they will likely affect legitimate outdoor recreation. They regularly fret over the – to many of them – serious mis-perceptions of firearms deaths compared to other causes. If anything, it seems to me, we need more of these conversations; we should not be avoiding them.

And it seems to me that an inclusive approach to “outdoor interests” must include discussion, data and analysis of the legitimate role of firearms.