Ducks Unlimited and the Hunting Film Tour

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 19, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

It’s perfect timing really. Next Wednesday, by midnight, we must have our dream tickets – our special hunt applications – dropped into the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife system for the June draw. On Thursday, we will gather at the Central Washington University Student Union Rec Center Theater, pay our 10 bucks, and watch a great film of successful hunts like the ones we filed for the night before. One of us will win a Yeti65 cooler. Perfect.

This is the Hunting Film Tour, brought to Paradise by Ducks Unlimited (DU). The film is a “two hour conservation minded, fair chase hunting film filled with awesome stories and breathtaking cinematography!” Next Thursday, we will gather to celebrate our hunting heritage, and the conservation of wild things and places which has long accompanied it.

Sitka Gear is the primary sponsor for the Hunting Film Tour, with a number of others including DU, the Sportsman’s Warehouse, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), Wild Sheep Foundation, Yeti, Kimber, Federal Premium and more. All these organizations share a devotion to our hunting heritage and a forever future for wildlife.

You are no doubt familiar with the famous Ducks Unlimited mission statement. DU “conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl.  These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.” With very few word changes, this is OUR mission – and that of all the Hunting Film Tour sponsors, as well as local outfits like our 98-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. We are all in the game of ensuring wildlife and its habitat for our children’s children and those who follow them.

Ducks Unlimited formed in 1937, taking in earlier groups which branched out from the Boone and Crockett Club in response to nosediving waterfowl numbers across North America. It became the model for most other successful wildlife conservation organizations which, together, have taken huge strides toward having wildlife for future generations. The 700,000+ world-wide members of DU continue to add to the three and a half billion dollars raised since 1937. At least eighty percent of the money raised is used directly for conservation projects, enhancing waterfowl, wetlands and other critical habitats, and nearly fourteen million acres have been conserved across North America. No other conservation or environmental group can match DU for putting its money where its mouth is, but they all work at it.

The “factories” producing most of the waterfowl we see in our part of the world also provide habitat for billions of land birds and animals. A good many of these areas are under development pressure, and International DU is the organization which has been most successful at finding solutions that protect habitat and meet human needs. Thus, DU is supported by a broad range of sportsmen – not just waterfowl fans.

Restoring and enhancing quality habitat in key waterfowl areas is a game we play each time we commit to look after wild things and wild places into the future.  Some of us play louder than others; consider that eastern Washington is one of the top ten DU support regions in North America.

In Washington, something over 30,000 people buy federal duck stamps. Many of them are non-hunters, who see the duck stamp program as a way to contribute to the future of all bird life. Since its inception in 1934, this federal program has conserved 5.7 million acres and created or expanded 300 federal wildlife refuges. No matter how you look at it, waterfowl habitat conservation serves almost all the wild things in which we share interest.

Of course, you can easily find everything you want to know about waterfowl and the conservation of our habitat. Check out  www.fws.gov/duckstamps/conservation/mbcc.htm, www.birdnote.org, or www.ducks.org.

Ensuring a future is simple, really. The very process of celebrating our hunting heritage involves us in restoring and enhancing quality habitat for wildlife for those who will live in times we will never see. This is a game we are all playing – and it brings us great pleasure.

In six days, the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association will convene in the SURC Theatre at 6:30 p.m. One of us will leave with a Yeti65 Cooler, a bunch of us will have hats, mugs and other swag, and all of us will enjoy a great film of hunters doing what we just sent in our own applications to do.

Get your $10 ticket online at www.huntingfilmtour.com, at 509-423-3954, or at the door of the SURC Theater (the SURC is at the end of Chestnut, just north of University Way on campus).

See you Thursday evening. Let’s celebrate!

Pick an Outdoor Pass – Any Pass (?)

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 12, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

One of my local heroes dropped me a suggestion a few days ago. Hal Mason wrote, “I recently looked at the passes available to Washington residents that are needed to get out in the outdoors. What a confusing mess. It might be a welcome thing to many people to have some clear information about what passes are required where. Might be impossible to sort out but worth a try.” Thus, the following attempt to make sense of your outdoor access options.

This “pay for play” on public land has long intrigued me. In the ‘50s, few passes were required. Public lands were managed with our tax dollars, along with all other public services we expected from our government in exchange for tithes to those we elected to look after our public business. Somehow over the decades – even as our population and tax revenues grew – “government” support of our lands dwindled. We have faced an ever-increasing number of ever-rising fees to play on our own land. While I understand some of this, most of it remains a mystery to me. There is a book in there somewhere.

Be that as it may, today’s reality is that we need passes and/or permits to recreate on our public ground. They have different uses and purposes, but we are regularly reminded that both “permits” and “passes” have been established to make certain our public lands are maintained to such a level that we are assured of a quality outdoor experience on them.

Consider passes first. Understand that passes are for access, and many of the areas you access may have separate fees for camping or backcountry use. Also understand that most agencies – recognizing fees are hardships for some – have “free” days or times.

To park on your public ground managed by Washington state agencies, the Discover Pass is the only one you must purchase – $30 for the Annual Pass and $10/car for a Day Pass. This pass allows you to park in Washington State Parks, and on Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife lands. It gets you access to seven million plus acres of state-managed recreation ground. Buy your Discover Pass online, at retail outlets, at most state parks or when renewing your car license tabs. (Some outlets add a small handling charge to purchases.)

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Vehicle Use/Access Pass is provided at no additional charge with your hunting or fishing license, and provides access to ground managed by DFW.

Access to your ground managed by federal agencies is a bit more complex. For purchase or more detail on the passes below, see www.fs.fed.us/visit/passes-permits/recreation-fees-passes.

The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and gets you into any national park, Forest Service or other federal fee site for one year. Purchase at a park or online.

The best bargain around is the Interagency Senior Pass. For $20 (must purchase in person at a park or fee site), any US citizen 62 or older will get a lifetime pass honored nationwide at any federal site charging entrance fees.

Free Annual Passes provide access to federal land for all active military personnel and their dependents, for volunteers after 250 hours, to all 4th graders in America and to eligible folks with permanent disabilities. Some are annual and some are lifetime passes honored nationwide.

Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks Entrance fee is $25/car ($10/person to walk or bike in), good for seven days. Rates vary for motorcycles. Annual Pass is $50 for either park, but is only good at the park where it was purchased. North Cascades National Park charges to fee.

All US Forest Service trailheads in Washington and Oregon with toilets, picnic tables, or so on charge a fee – go online to www.discovernw.org and click on “plan a visit” for details.

The National Forest Recreation Day Pass and ePass is $5/car for a day of trailhead parking. (These can be bought ahead and dates filled in as needed.)

The Northwest Forest Pass is an annual $30 pass good at Forest Service day-use or entrance fee sites. The pass is available at USFS offices and visitor centers and online at the link above.

Mount St. Helens National Monument is managed by the Forest Service and charges a per-person fee of $8 per person (under 16 kids are free). Certain annual and senior passes are honored.

A number of our National Wildlife Refuges (such as Nisqually, Dungeness and Ridgefield) also require a recreation pass. That charge is generally about $3/family ($15/year), purchased at the visitor center. Your other federal passes or Federal Duck Stamp pass will often work, too.

So, what about those permits? Permits are generally for backcountry/wilderness travel in quota areas. They serve to control the amount of foot traffic in fragile environments – as well as limit overall numbers of travelers to preserve quality experiences. Some permits are free, and others come with small fees. Check with individual parks for more information.

Washington Trails Association has plenty more info on all of this – as well as Sno-Park information – at www.wta.org/go-outside/passes/passes-and-permit-info.

I hope this helps!

Happy summer! Pick a pass – any pass – and get out there.

Wild Sheep and RMBS

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 5, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Bighorn sheep have been on my mind the last month or so. Could be that reminiscing with Brian Talbot about the ram he took down The Yakima River Canyon in November. Maybe it’s the conference call Joe Zbylski and I will have with some of the sheep biologists and pros in Washington to discuss current and future plans for dealing with die-offs and health issues affecting the wild sheep of Paradise. Perhaps, it is my struggle to decide where I will throw my large number of preference points this month as I (with thousands of others) submit my application for a Washington state bighorn sheep special hunt permit. Be that as it may, Edward (last of the Hucklings) and I were in Denver a week ago at the annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society (RMBS).

Joe and I, with Max Tallent, Marv Clyncke and a handful of other bighorn sheep nuts, founded the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society in Denver in 1975. Bighorns across much of the West were on the losing side of interactions with domestic sheep and habitat loss, and we thought maybe we could do something to help these icons of our wild places. Then, as now, the Society’s mission was “to promote the science-based management of the bighorn sheep, educate the public about their life and habitat, and assure the sportsman’s rights in proper opportunities.”

In those early years, we raised money for research programs and brought together folks with ideas. Over a few years, we were able to get nearly a hundred people at annual meetings, and raise a few thousand bucks for important work.

When I moved back to the Northwest, I lost track of many of my sheep-nut colleagues. In March of 2000, on a perfect early spring morning, I got a call at my office in Central’s Lind Hall. “This Jim Huckabay?” “Uh… Yeah…” “Man…” the guy said, “You don’t know what I’ve gone through to find you! Finally got your numbers from Max Tallent, down in Colorado Springs. Anyhow, I’m Bud Henderson, president of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, and we’re having our 25th Annual Banquet in April.”

“25th Annual? 25 years? How could it be 25 years?” My head was spinning.

“So the membership and board selected a handful of people who did the most in the early years to keep the Society going, and we have an award of recognition for you. We’d love it if you could be at the banquet. A lot of the other old-timers will be there…” “Early years? …Other old-timers?” I sat down.

Edward and I went to that 2000 banquet.

Since the turn of the Century, I have renewed many of those sheep-nut relationships and continue to write, talk and think about bighorn sheep and their ongoing issues. 2017 seemed like a good year to take in another RMBS banquet.

It is generally agreed that wild sheep evolved in Asia during the early Pleistocene, within the last couple million years. They probably developed their distinctive characteristics while isolated in ice-free periods during the latter part of the Pleistocene. In those times, when the continental and cordilleran glaciers melted sufficiently, ancestors of our modern wild sheep migrated southward into what is today western Canada and the USA. The isolation of various bighorn bands in those areas during later glaciations resulted in the different subspecies of bighorn sheep.

In Washington we have Rocky Mountain bighorns (Ovis canadensis) and California bighorns (Ovis canadensis californiana). The sheep of Paradise are California bighorns – slightly smaller than the Rocky Mountain sheep.

You are likely well aware of the sheep die-offs in Paradise and around the West. More is learned each year about how these things spread, along with how much – or little – patience must be practiced when wild sheep start dying.

In 1995-96, pneumonia almost wiped out wild bighorn herds in the Blue Mountains and in the Hells Canyon area of Idaho and Oregon along the Snake River. Many herds are still rebuilding. In 2007 and again in ’15 we had outbreaks in our Yakima Canyon Umtanum herd. Tests at Washington State University confirmed infections with Mycoplasma and Pasteurella, along with a variety of other genetically-distinct bacteria which trigger several pneumonias with widely varying outcomes.

Sheep in The Canyon are important; of our state’s 1,500 wild bighorns – 18 herds in central and eastern Washington – more than half are along the Yakima River. Bighorn sheep ewes that survive a pneumonia outbreak often cannot produce surviving offspring for up to ten years (most lambs die in their first six months).

Several of the states around us deal with similar situations. All have developed strict rules about the intermingling of wild sheep and their domestic relatives (unaffected by Pasteurella and Mycoplasma). The risk to wild sheep is very high – almost any nose to nose greeting will infect a wild sheep with enough bacteria to spread like wildfire through its entire herd. Some states have followed Colorado’s lead in giving carte blanche to the killing of any bighorn found near domestic sheep. A die-off is never easy to watch or manage.

Last week’s 2017 banquet? We had a great time. RMBS has grown over the decades. There were 370 men, women and children at the banquet. Money raised with raffles and auctions still goes to support wild sheep, but it now adds up to $100,000 or more annually.

About Lazy Shooters and Trash on Our Ground

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 28, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

I was planning to write about something else this week. That was before our Homey Powwow on Durr Road off Umtanum last Saturday. The Kittitas County Field and Stream Club carried out its 16th annual pick-up and clean-up of the casual shooting areas along the road. Our clean-up day always happens around Earth Day (April 22, since 1970). This year, a bit more than four dozen volunteers came to play.

The reason we Homeys get together to play outdoors on this day each year is our commitment to protecting our public ground. In this case, our ground is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). We do it because a number of irresponsible shooters and idiots can’t control their urges to leave evidence of their ability to mess up the countryside. (One year, the fools were literally dropping trash behind us – some sort of anti-outdoor-clean-up behavior, I supposed.)

We picked up empty rifle and pistol brass, bag upon bag of spent shotgun shells, paper, cardboard, shot up computers, shattered glass building blocks, tires, cans and plastic bottles, countless broken beer, wine and champagne bottles, and pickup loads of almost anything else a fool could carry to the hill, shoot up and leave behind. This year, we even found a very large flat screen TV which had, apparently, been used to test shot shell patterns. Official numbers aren’t in yet, but we pretty much filled the 30-yard dumpster provided by Waste Management, to the tune of somewhere around two tons of shooters’ irresponsibility. This year’s messes were more disheartening than any year I have been in on the cleanup. There are, apparently, more and more people who just can’t play nice on our public ground. It turned my gut, frankly, and you know I have a pretty strong stomach.

I know a dozens of folks who go out to the wildlife ground along Durr Road to sight in firearms and have a little fun with clay pigeons or shooting in general. To a person, they pick up after themselves and probably carry home more than the targets and gear they took with. So where on earth do those 30 cubic yards of shooting trash come from? It turns there are hundreds of people who avail themselves of the opportunity to go shoot on this public wildlife area (and other areas, too, I hear).

This “Durr Road” shooting area is within the Wenas Wildlife Area, managed primarily by DFW. The wildlife area contains about 115,000 acres of state and federal public lands in Kittitas and Yakima counties.

For years, efforts have been made. We have reached out with education, and random visits/patrols to little avail. (I still see the face of the young man who explained to me that he and his friends didn’t have to pick up their shooting debris, because “they come out here every year and clean it all up!”) There are not enough wildlife enforcement agents to effectively cover all the public ground – and no funds to hire more. During fire season shooting hours have been curtailed over the past few years; that seems to have limited the occurrence of range fires, but trash still piles up.

Answers? Major scrums continue to occur as various organizations and DFW seek solutions. Amid long-standing trust issues are arguments over limiting all shooting to one or two established sites versus unfettered access to the public’s land. Even the legislative delegations from the counties involved have weighed in on the issues.

DFW has now contracted with an outside group to put together an advisory committee to address target shooting issues within the Wenas. It is to include 15 to 20 members, chosen from among those of us who submitted applications over the past few weeks. The committee is to represent the interests of neighbors, hunters, target shooters, horseback riders, mountain bike riders, motorized vehicle users, hikers, wildlife watchers, bird dog trainers, and other stakeholders. This Target Shooting Committee is to meet in Selah at least monthly through next winter. Members of the committee will also participate in public meetings and workshops.

Time will tell how the committee works out. I’m already hearing concerns about the selection process itself and worries about shooters being intentionally kept off the committee. Then there are the frets about this simply being a way for DFW to codify limiting shooters’ access to their public lands, and creating a model to be use on other wildlife areas across the state. I’m hoping this turns into a genuine collaborative effort to solve the user issues. There certainly will be a lot of folks watching the process.

In the meantime, a number of us who’ve taken the Eyes in the Woods Training are talking about regular monitoring of the Durr Road shooting areas. Carefully kept notes and observations passed along to law enforcement could lead to much more effective care of our ground.

The next Eyes in Woods class is Saturday, May 6, 10 a.m. at the Wild Horse Wind Farm. Show up and take the training. You will enjoy it. Then find a time to help us watch our ground.

This is our ground. If we don’t start seeing it that way – and caring for it accordingly – I expect we will see a continuation of this “business as usual” mess on our wildlife areas.

About Sacred Food

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 21, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

When I was a smart-mouthed youngster (as opposed to a smart-mouthed elder, I suppose), on a hillside on Uncle Ed’s ranch up the Little Chumstick out of Leavenworth, Washington, The Old Man said something that has never left my mind.

It was the first deer hunt I’d been invited to tag along and observe. I was ten. My father had just taken a nice fat doe – meat much needed by our three-growing-boys family. He was starting to field dress the deer – with which he was demonstrably pleased – when I uttered some inane off-the-cuff comment.

He turned to me and tried to hand me the knife. “Maybe you’d like to do this very important job, Jimmy.” I hastily demurred, suddenly wishing I knew how to keep my mouth shut. “No… Sorry,” was about all I could manage.

The Old Man looked at me with his patented, somehow-all-at-once angry, patient, kind and loving, look and said, “This is sacred meat, son. Any meat taken with respect and prayer and prepared with love and offered as life-giving food is sacred. No different from the plants we grow and take from our gardens and the orchards. Sacred.” As he turned back to the deer, clearly about to demonstrate a process I had best never forget, he said, “Now, we can laugh and have a little fun, but we damn sure hafta treat this beautiful animal as if we were going to feed it to your mother and brothers and our friends.”

Over the years, many foods became sacred in my family, along with certain “sacred and traditional” meals. As son-in-law Chris and I headed to Denver from Rochester, Texas, “sacred food” was bouncing around my mind. We had about 2/3 of the meat from the two wild hogs son James had taken at the very last possible moment of our long-anticipated hog hunt (thus, saving our bacon – and our hunt). We had discussed how those pigs would become sacred meat.

We had ribs and loins and shoulders. We had meat for chops and BBQ and sausage. And we each had at least one hind quarter – one ham. Those hams were fodder for anticipation.

James, once he returned home to Paris, Texas, would take the meat to Detroit Processing, a nearby small-town company, owned for more than two decades by a Mennonite family. The family has an outstanding reputation for game cutting and wrapping, sausage making and ham curing/smoking. James had tried several of their products, and they would prepare the hog meat for him and Candy and family.

Chris had found a cure he intended to use for the ham his family would enjoy for Easter.

I had made arrangements for Eric Burvee (he and wife Shannon are Cascade Mountain Grilling) to play with whatever ham(s) I might somehow bring home from Texas. I’ve enjoyed any meat Eric has cured and smoked, and we thought it might be a kick to see what could be done with a wild hog ham.

Chris and I hit Denver Friday evening and sorted out pig meat. Saturday morning, before I pointed my rig back toward Paradise, Central Washington, daughter Tena prepared the traditional sacred family hunters breakfast: sourdough waffles, game sausage patties, eggs.

We have made the game sausage for many decades. The sourdough starter we treasure is at least 150 years old. I got it from mom and my Dad Ray more than four decades ago, and it now resides with a handful of us “sourdough keepers.” An old Alaska gentleman brought the starter to Seattle “sometime around 1900.” He passed some of the culture on to a young couple there in about 1915, telling them he had no idea how long it had been since an old “sourdough” handed him a crock of it back in his youth. My folks got it in 1960, and passed some on to me in 1965.

This is sacred stuff. Odes and essays have been written to celebrate the wonders of sourdough (including some to my own). Brad Johnson, editor of the south-of-Denver daily rag for which I first wrote this weekly column back in the 1980s, once wrote a remarkable piece, “The Sourdough That Took over Castle Rock.” Impromptu poems written in celebration of my high-country elk-camp sourdough pancakes, while inappropriate for a family paper, were creative, reverent and exuberant. Now and then, in the midst of such a breakfast, there are spontaneous outbursts returning us directly to the timeless joy and nurturing of our parents.

Oh yeah, those hams. James reports his ham steaks are delicious. Tena told me that their Easter dinner was built around the ham Chris cured. How was it? “Awesome!” The wild hog ham Eric Burvee cured here in Paradise? It is exactly as I hoped it would be – perfect.

We are all making plans for how we will deal with the wild hog meat to be collected on our next trip. Given what we have learned from this first hunt, we will have a lot more meat next time. It will all be exactly what we wish to use in sustaining ourselves and our communities – after all, this is sacred food.