It’s Mountain Goat Time

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 20, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Mountain Goat – USFS photo

You have heard, no doubt, about the plans for the mountain goats in the Olympic National Park and on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Mountain goats are, arguably, our most unique large mammal. I’m always surprised when people who love our back country know so little about them.

This time of year, as more and more hikers get deeper into the high country of the Cascade Mountains, I always get a handful of questions about mountain goats, or “some big white animal.”

“So we climbed that ridge between French Cabin Creek and Lake Kachess on Sunday,” Young Homey said in passing, “and we saw these three big shaggy white animals way up in the rocks. There was a little one, too. One of the guys said they were very rare white bears, but it was obvious after we watched them that they were probably mountain goats. Do they belong there, or were they brought into Washington? And are they going to be removed like the ones in that Olympic National Park, where that guy was killed? Are there a lot of ‘em?”

Given my role as chair of the Wildlife Education Committee of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, and governed by our bylaws, I am sworn to answer all inquiries. Herewith, my response to Homey – and then some.

Mountain goat’s scientific name is Oreamnos americanus. Not a true goat, it is most closely related to the chamois of the European Alps and some African antelope. It acts like a goat on rocky outcroppings, cliffs and alpine tundra in some of the most remote high country of North America, so the name sticks.

A large billy may be three feet at the shoulder, five feet long, and weigh three hundred pounds.  A nanny may reach a bit over half that weight. Their shaggy white hair and shoulder hump may be why they were often called “white buffalo” by Native Americans and early European settlers. Shed hair may be found all over goat habitat all summer long, and is often woven into warm blankets and garments by collectors.

Mountain goats, it is said, live one step below the sky. There, they feed on low grasses, sedges, mosses and willow shoots. Their black hooves have concave rubbery pads surrounded with sharp, hard edges, enabling them to keep solid footing even on near-vertical cliffs. An amazing sense of balance, powerful hind legs, and forequarters strong enough to lift them to a higher ledge make their climbing legendary.

Mating takes place in November and December, and one or two six-pound kids will arrive in May or June. An eagle may occasionally take a kid, but few other predators bother them. They rarely move lower in winter, and icy snows and hundred-mile-an-hour winds threaten their survival. Even the best of feet may fail on ice, and freeze-thaw action will loosen benches and ledges. Many goats have scars or broken horns, proving survival ability, and it is not uncommon for several animals to perish in the misjudged crossing of an avalanche chute.

The mountain goat is native to the Cascade Mountains of Washington, but not native to the Olympic Mountains, where it was transplanted in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the Olympics lack a key set of nutrients goats need, and their constant search for it among humans has led to their long-held “pest” status. In the 1980s, their numbers surpassed 1,000. While hundreds of them were moved out of the national park, numbers stayed high, and biologists think there may now be as many as 725 goats in the national park and the adjacent national forest (somewhere around 3,000 goats live in Washington State). A new plan for the Olympic goats was released in May.

Because goats crave salt – not naturally occurring on the peninsula – they seek it and other minerals along trails and in wilderness campsites where they find them in people’s urine, packs, sweaty clothing, and places where cooking water has been dumped. The goats’ need for access to trails and campsites has led to a lack of fear of humans – that pest status – and was likely a factor in the 2010 death of a park visitor gored by a large billy.

Under the plan released in May – a coordinated effort of the National Park Service, US Forest Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – all Olympic Peninsula goats will get one-way tickets to the North Cascade Mountains, to supplement native populations there. Using helicopters, during two-week summer periods, the mountain goats will be moved over the next three to five years. Any goats remaining after all capture efforts will be shot and killed.

Until the removal is completed, you may still find goats in the Olympics; check out the cliffs on Mount Ellinor, out of Hoodsport. Our Washington State Cascade Range goats are wild and watchable. Head up to the Sunrise Visitor center in Mount Rainier National Park and look around. Closer to our Central Washington home, drive up to the Timberwolf Mountain fire lookout, off the Bethel Ridge Road from Highway 12, and look around. You’ll see them along Lake Chelan, as you boat up to Stehekin. Kachess Ridge works, and I always see goats on the cliffs of Mount Si, out of North Bend. If you’re looking for a mini-vacation, head for Flume Creek Mountain Goat Viewing Area out of Metaline, northeast of Kettle Falls, where you may also see moose, bighorns and (maybe) woodland caribou.

For a great read, get Chadwick’s A Beast the Color of Winter. For your trip, pick up a copy of the Washington Wildlife Viewing Guide at a local bookstore or online.

Grab your binoculars and spotting scope and go. It’s High Country goat watching time.

Making A Bat-Watching Evening

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 13, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

ABOUT BAT EVENINGS

 

A decade or so ago, I spent a night along the Klickitat River, in south-central Washington. At some point during during the last couple hours of evening – lost in the roar and peace of the upper Klickitat, and thinking spring Chinook salmon – I became aware of something moving through the darkness around me. When I paused long enough for a good skyward look toward the brighter west, I recognized the little brown bat so common in our country, along with a couple bigger silver-haired bats, and maybe even a long-winged hoary bat or two. That rekindled my “evening watch” interest.

This week, Homey reminded me that we have a lot of young families in Central Washington with evening activity needs. “So,” he challenged, “why aren’t you writing about our bats and where to go watch them?” Okay… Fine.

We are bat blessed. Among at least fifteen species, perhaps millions of bats inhabit Washington State.  Most live without human contact, spending days in caves, crevices and behind loose tree bark, house siding and shutters. After spring breeding, males and females separate. By now, one or two babies may be nursing on the wing while clinging to mother. Most will be flying in a month.

Genus Myotis (the little brown) is most common, with Lasiurus (hoary) and Lasionycteris (silver-haired) often seen in wooded country. Bats are at home across the state. Most of ours hibernate here, but some fly south with the hoary bat to Chile or Argentina.

They are all insect eaters, of the Vespertilionid family. Among our best friends, a little brown bat will eat 3,000 mosquitoes in an evening. A flock of 100,000 bats (not uncommon) may consume more than a ton of insects in the same time period. Bats sometimes fly into gatherings of insects, crippling them with their wings and scooping them into folds between their legs to be consumed as they continue to hunt.

“Blind as a bat?” Hardly; bats easily see predators and landscape. For catching food, however, they use sonar, calling up to 200 times/second when “locked-on” to a target. Using the return echoes, the bat is able to precisely intercept its insect meal. (Its sonar may be superior to any we have yet created.)

You may have heard that bats don’t really fly – they just glide. Not so. Bats are skillful flyers, often hitting 40 miles per hour for short spurts, skimming low over ground or water to catch insects and drink. Our common little brown may travel 50 miles in a night of foraging.

Wingspans for their tissue-thin wings (attached along sides and back legs) are commonly three times or more their average four-inch body length – a ratio greater than most birds. Most varieties have wingspans of 10 to 12 inches; our largest bats may reach six inches, with wingspans of 16 inches. Wings and bodies weigh far, far less than you might suspect; the tiny western pipistrelle, Pipistrellus hesperus, is three inches long, but weighs only 1/10th of an ounce (more than a penny, but half of a quarter), and our little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus, is three and a half inches long, weighing well under an ounce (maybe three or four quarters).

These flying mammals have long been in human consciousness. In European folklore, bat is often a sinister beast, but the Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans and other ancients treasured the bat. Its upside-down hanging was likened to an unborn child, and its medicine – teaching – was of spiritual rebirth, the giving up of old ways of being.

Find treasure troves of bat information and status for all bat species at Bat Conservation International (www.batcon.org/). Closer to home, check our the work and meetings of Bats Northwest, headquartered in Seattle. They have regular bat-watching tours around Green Lake and a web page (www.batsnorthwest.org/meet_our_bats.html) with a wealth of information about the status and health of our Northwest bat populations.

Get – and read with your family – a copy of Randall Jarrell’s classic “The Bat-Poet,” from HarperCollins Publishers, and priced from $2  to $6,850 (yep!!) at Amazon. This is the story of a small bat who stumbles across the joy of daylight. Exploring his sensitive artist self, ignored by his bat buddies, the bat poet begins to write poems about the fascinating things ”normal” bats never see. He delights in the activities of birds, chipmunks, and others, writing poetry to describe daytime joys. Pen and ink sketches by Sendak complete the book. Read selections such as:

“…The mother drinks the water of the pond

She skims across. Her baby hangs on tight.

Her baby drinks the milk she makes him

In moonlight or starlight, in mid-air…”

Now then, about Homey’s request. I like the beaver ponds up French Cabin Creek and along the hills on the west side of Lake Cle Elum, but pick most any pond, stream or arm of a lake (less than 100 feet across) in Paradise. Sit on the east side at dusk, and watch the bright western sky over the water until full darkness. Use insect repellent.

Go watch (take a field guide, too). You will soon differentiate species based on ways of flying, hunting and drinking. Some may sing their songs of evening for you.

Happy summer bat-gazing evenings…

Kids and That First Hunt – Carrying on the Tradition

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 6, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Late last fall, we talked about the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and its Youth Outdoors Initiative – a part of DFW’s R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) Initiative. This is all a response to slumping numbers of hunters nationwide and here in Paradise. Over the last decade, some 17,748 hunters have stopped buying hunting licenses in our state – the $40 million or so that they did not spend as hunters carries a big impact, especially to our wildlife and outdoor heritage. The Youth Outdoors Initiative is one way of getting youngsters off their digital addictions and into various outdoor activities – some of which may address those hunter numbers.

Recruitment of hunters has fallen largely into the hands of DFW’s regional Hunter Education & Volunteer coordinators, such as our Region 3 guy, Aaron Garcia. You are aware that Aaron has ramrodded several events with a variety of partners already – turkey hunting clinics, mentored turkey hunts for first-time hunters, pheasant hunts and more. Next Saturday, 10 – 2, a Free Youth Outreach Event happens at co-sponsor Cascade Field and Stream’s shooting range on Hayward Hill. It will include shotgun, small and large rifle training and shooting, upland bird and wild turkey hunting clinics, survival information, and firearm safety instruction. Among the other partners at this event are Pheasants Forever and National Wild Turkey Federation. A major new partner with DFW is the First Hunt Foundation.

First hunts are never-forgotten milestones. I still feel the excitement of the first time The Old Man decided I could carry his slug-loaded shotgun on a deer hunt at Uncle Ed’s place up the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth, Washington, at the east base of the Cascades. Daughter Michelle and her first Wyoming antelope are fresh in my mind; after a long crawling stalk, a deep focus and a perfect shot, I patted her shoulder and said “Good shot!” She looked at me, quizzically. “Did the rifle go off?” Son Tim made a perfect shot on a big southern Colorado muley doe, and couldn’t believe that his practice and training really worked. Edward, on the last day of our Wyoming hunt following the terrible events of 9/11, prayed an antelope into perfect range. These are the first hunts on which family traditions of hunting and gathering are built.

Those of us regularly having “hunting” discussions are finding more and more youngsters – and adults – wanting to learn shooting and hunting and the care of game which they might contribute to family larders. One or two at a time, we train and help out where we can, but in 2015 Rick Brazell, of Kamiah, Idaho, had a better idea. Retired from a long US Forest Service career as a biologist, Rick opted to make a bigger difference: his brainchild is The 501 (c)(3) non-profit First Hunt Foundation (FHF).

FHF has a simple mission: “The First Hunt Foundation is dedicated to insure hunting remains a vital part of the American culture. We believe that by providing a mentor based hunting experience to youth and other interested individuals, the hunting heritage will be passed on to future generations. Wildlife conservation and habitat management will be better served and supported by having citizens who are educated on the value of hunting as a management tool.” FHF leaders intend to create thousands of first hunts, thus creating future hunters, community leaders, voters and elected officials who will support hunting as a valid part of the American culture now and into the future.

FHF relies entirely on volunteers, donating their own time and resources. Donate they have. As of this week, The foundation has at least 135 background-checked mentors in 14 states, including Washington, (with Texas next in line). In 2017, those mentors managed more than 1900 mentored days with new shooters and first-time hunters. The goal is to have a mentor program in every state that offers hunting opportunities, with thousands of mentors taking youth out each year on all hunts allowed by state laws.

There are three programs within The Foundation. The Mentoring Program involves members of First Hunt Foundation Chapters across the U.S. which are linked through insurance and associated with Outdoor Mentors – Pass it On. The second program is The New Hunter Shooting and Education Progam, teaching wildlife conservation, pre-hunt preparation and post-hunt meat processing. Here, mentors work alongside youth and others on proper shooting techniques and gun safety. Number three is the Hunter Appreciation Program which awards certificates of appreciation to successful first time hunters, as a way of congratulating them for choosing to be a hunter and successfully completing a milestone in their hopefully long hunting career. Certificates are species-specific, so no matter the harvest, the hunter is celebrated.

FHF is rapidly growing partnerships and activities. Check it out at www.firsthuntfoundation.org/, or contact Rick Brazell at rickb@firsthuntfoundation.org or 208-935-9133.

Come to the Youth Outreach Event next Saturday at the range on Hayward Hill off US 97 from 10 til 2. See for yourself how our traditions and future are being secured. This is important. To paraphrase Jodi Larsen, Upper County Rotary: Children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see – what do we want them to take along?

Calling All Outdoor Women of Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 29, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

The Kittitas County Field & Stream Club (KCFSC) was organized in March of 1919, making it the oldest such family hunting/fishing/outdoor club in Washington State. At that time, women and kids were generally as deeply involved in making and processing the family’s game, fish, livestock and produce as were the men. The Club – in keeping with its byline, “Working Today for Tomorrow’s Wildlife” – is re-establishing, and updating, some very timely partnerships. We want your help, as we approach our Centennial.

Time was, in my family and all the others I knew, hunting, fishing and outdoor tales were passed along from anyone handy. When we made our trips from East Wenatchee, Washington, over the Cascade Mountains to Tacoma, in the 1940s, Grandma Minshall always had a tale about how she and Grandpa worked together to feed their kids. As I grew, my aunts and girl cousins were as involved in the hunting and fishing part of feeding our family community as were the men.

After my blessed mother passed, I wrote about our mothers’ roles in helping us develop outdoor interests – and lives. In my case, my mother often noted that, when she saw a certain look in my face and eyes, she just opened the door, stepped back, and reminded me to be home for supper.

As my own family grew, hunting, fishing and gathering were family events, with sons and daughters all trained in needed skills, and always up to their elbows in making and processing meat and food. I think this held true for a lot of families in the West – and still does for some. But somewhere in the latter decades of the 20th Century, for whatever reason, women as a whole became less active in the hunting, fishing, gathering parts of our connections to Nature.

That is now changing. Women are the fastest growing segment of the hunting, fishing, shooting and outdoor sports movements. Recently, women made up half of the Club’s hunter ed classes, and Edward and I noted that a third of the handgun trainees in our Front Sight class were distaff humans. KCFSC will be sponsoring and supporting new opportunities for outdoor women.

For the first time, Washington Outdoor Women (“Dedicated to helping women achieve confidence and competence in outdoor skills since 1998”) will be offering hands-on workshops on the east side of the Cascades. This new activity will start in Kittitas County. On July 9, 7 p.m. in Hal Holmes, you can help decide which skills and workshops are offered first.

Washington Outdoor Women (WOW), is a program of the Washington Wildlife Federation. A variety of workshops are offered, open only to adult women and led exclusively by women “dedicated to teaching women and girls traditional outdoor wilderness skills in relevant settings.” A stated goal is that women leave the workshops ready to own their next adventure.

The annual WOW Weekend Workshop is the program we most hear about. This is its 21st year and it happens September 14-16 at Camp Waskowitz in North Bend, Washington. Women instructors will teach 20 different skills to women at all skill levels and at an appropriate pace. Participants choose specific classes and experiences (including archery, backpacking, freshwater fishing, big game hunting basics, backyard wildlife habitat, wild foods, Dutch oven cooking, cutting up a carcass, map and compass, and so on). WOW provides expert instructors, all the equipment needed, plenty of take-home resources and networking opportunities – all with a “can-do” attitude.

Several One-Day Workshops are offered, led by certified woman instructors, and nearly all include equipment and supplies. The Snowshoeing Workshop involves coaching, training and practice on snow. The waterfowling day includes time in the field learning traditions, techniques and ethics of hunting waterfowl, along with shotgun handling and shooting at clay targets. The Shotgun/Trap Workshop focuses on the basics of shotgun safety, handling, and technique, with time for shooting clay targets.

Then there is the One-Day Pre-WOW Workshop which offers girls (8 to 13) the opportunity to sharpen their interest in the outdoors.

Jen Syrowitz is the new Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife Federation and Washington Outdoor Women. Here’s what she wants you to know: “Washington Outdoor Women (WOW) is a unique educational program of the Washington Wildlife Federation (WWF). By developing a deep and satisfying connection with nature, understanding outdoor ethics, and growing personal confidence through outdoor skills training, women and girls become stewards of – and advocates for – our natural resources, ensuring that wildlife and wild places in Washington State will be here for future generations. Founded in 1998 by Ronni McGlenn, WOW became a preeminent traditional outdoor skill building program. In 2018 I was brought in to oversee the program – offerings will increase and our geographic reach will expand throughout the state. The Kittitas Valley is our first stop! We will be in town on July 9th to share with you more about WOW, and to hear from you about your outdoor skill needs and desires.

We are working toward a future where women and communities in Washington State are empowered by, connected to, and caring for the land that sustains them. Please join us!”

Find out more at washingtonoutdoorwomen.org. Contact Jen Syrowitz at 425-785-3555 or jens@washingtonoutdoorwomen.org.

See you at the Ellensburg Hal Holmes Center, 7 p.m. on July 9. Come help shape the future of our outdoor Paradise (and bring your men and boys along).

Of Humans, Animals, Ethics and “Humane”

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 22, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

You just never know where a conversation is headed. Homey asked for my thoughts on recent stories about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – arguably the largest “animal rights” group in the world). In truth, while I’ve written a few essays involving the group, I hadn’t really thought about them much for some time. Some of the recent stories were eyebrow-raisers, but not really surprises. “Well,” I allowed, “we humans debate the meaning of “humane” and are highly incongruous individuals, so why would we expect our organizations to be different?”

PETA has carried out some pretty entertaining campaigns on behalf of animal friends over the years. Ingrid Newkirk, president and founder, is known for her “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” and “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” assertions. PETA insisted that the annual White House Easter Egg Roll use only vegan candy, claimed that pregnant women who ate chicken would cause boy babies to have tiny penises, and urged renaming fish “sea kittens.” At the turn of the Century, PETA purchased orange hunters’ vests and put 405 of them on live-trapped Ohio deer before hunting season. (Hunters retrieved over 300 of them.) The group once asked the Boy Scouts of America to give up Fishing and Wildlife Management merit badges, because they encourage scouts “to maim and kill animals,” and teach that “hooking, suffocating, and killing fish” is okay.

You may recall PETA’s “Got Beer?” campaign on college campuses a few years back. Drink beer and not milk, as milk was “horrible for human health, catastrophic for the environment and a living nightmare for the animals involved.” Mothers Against Drunk Driving were up in arms about that one.

A crowning glory was last year’s Chicago billboard near a chefs’ pork cooking competition. It showed 67-year-old Ingrid hanging naked (holding onto a meat hook) next to pig carcasses. (Some things just cannot be unseen…)

Recent stories, reported in SCI’s June news mag, relate to PETA’s animal shelters – particularly the shelter at its Virginia headquarters. Over the last few years, inspections by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have shown that the shelter is unique among such shelters. Described as “a true safe haven for lost, injured, abused, and unwanted animals,” it seems that 74 percent of those animals are killed within 24 hours, and the adoption rate ranged between one and 14 percent, compared to a statewide average of about 80 percent.

I’ve watched these animal-rights campaigns for decades, now. I’ve also noticed over the years that intentions and attitudes (like “free love” – a 60s thing) break down when people want to protect their own interests. I once filled in for a fellow meditation teacher – an old friend – near Santa Fe, New Mexico. As I recall, she was to go hike the Himalayas. Anyhow, she was a strident vegetarian, a vegan, who loved all living things and grew a fine organic garden with much prayer and reverence. We often debated the hunting and eating of meat, which she strongly opposed, even with her understanding of my own prayer and reverence. As she instructed the care of her garden, she found a beetle and held it between her thumb and forefinger. I was shocked when she said, “Back to your maker, bug!” And squished it. When I asked why, she casually replied, “Well, this is my space and my food…”

Project Wild teaches school kids about ecology, conservation, wildlife and habitat, training a million educators, and reaching 48 million youngsters in seven countries, including the US. Some years ago, a group called Speak Out For Animals threatened to picket a teacher training workshop if the Boulder Valley School District of Colorado did not drop Project Wild from its curriculum. A group leader claimed that national animal rights groups opposed some lessons that actually led “children to accept hunting as humane…”.

What is “humane?”  When I was six years old, one of my family chores was to catch a chicken, chop off its head and present it to my mother for Sunday dinner. It was a big job for a little kid, but The Old Man instructed me in the careful, quick and humane use of a small ax. We ate a lot of chicken. I first wondered about “humane” when I heard and watched a horsefly struggling hopelessly against a fly strip in the barn. What our old mousetraps did to mice who didn’t die right away raised my wonder again.

By the time I was 15, I had been schooled by The Old Man and Uncle Ed in the humane dispatching of a duck, a rabbit, a trout, a bullhead, a pig, a steer or a deer. Whether I made meat in the barnyard or the field, I took great pride in clean kills and good prayers of thanks. Occasionally, I failed, but I followed up quickly – and as humanely as possible.

During a tough winter in the mid-1950s, I saw things I’ve never forgotten.  Deer by the hundreds moved out of the Cascades and into the orchards of Washington’s Wenatchee Valley. “Orchard hunts” thinned the herds of deer, but more moved in. Our scout troop could chase off, but not destroy, people’s “pets” as they ripped at the bellies and hamstrings of the starving deer. We watched deer struggle to stand again after they sagged or fell to the ground. We watched their eyes empty, then dragged their skin-and-bones bodies to a burial trench.

Maybe, Homey, we just keep talking openly about these human-animal-ethics things. We make our own best personal choices, accept the choices of other honorable people, and accept the incongruities with which we all deal in navigating our lives.