Archive for May, 2019

The Northwest War on Northern Pike

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 15, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

In the Upper Midwest, across Canada, and over much of northern Europe and Eurasia, where northern pike (Esox Lucius) are native, they are sought-after, hard-fighting game fish – prized for their flaky white, if a bit bony, flesh. Indeed, fishermen book trips from across the globe to fish for big trophy northerns. These pike may reach four and a half feet in length and weigh more than 60 pounds, although the average “big” northern is about half that.

Roughly three decades ago, when the last brood of Hucklings was just past toddler stage, we made an annual pilgrimage from Colorado to their grandparents’ summer cabin in northern Wisconsin. There, we would fish and hike and eat and fish and play in the water and fish. We caught crappies, walleye, the occasional sucker and a fair number of northern pike. The Hucklings shrieked and laughed at anything on the end of the line, but Ed Bossert (namesake for the last of the Hucklings) and I savored those 18 to 20 inch northerns. We delighted in all our meals of fresh-caught fried fish, but the pike were quickly pickled. Ed schooled me in the fine art of savoring well-aged scotch while snacking on pickled pike over pre-dinner conversation each evening. That was my introduction to, and relationship with, northern pike in their native waters.

In a different context – here in the Pacific Northwest and in other areas around the globe where they have been (mostly) illegally introduced – northern pike are anything but welcome. These quickly-multiplying and fast-growing fish are voracious eaters, feeding on almost anything that fits their mouths. Obviously, smaller fish are primary, but ducklings, rats, mice, squirrels, and even an occasional bald eagle chick are all welcome. Illegally introduced pike in Alaska and California have significantly damaged trout and salmon fisheries in those states, and Washington is in line.

It appears that northern pike were introduced into the Pend Oreille River around 2011 or ‘12. By 2013, the Kalispell Indian Tribe was so concerned about their rapid expansion that it held a May “Pikepalooza,” which brought in 80 anglers who caught enough pike to collect more than $4,000 in prizes. The Kalispells used gillnets to remove over 6,000 pike from Box Canyon Reservoir.

Pike are now found in Lake Roosevelt and have reached Grand Coulee Dam. The urgency to keep the fish from the anadromous fish waters below Grand Coulee is rising rapidly – war has been declared. The Spokane, Kalispel and Colville Confederated Tribes week are working with the Washington Invasive Species Council, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and both Chelan and Grant County Public Utility Districts to find solutions, and they are actively encouraging anglers to catch and kill pike.

The Colville Tribes are in charge of a bounty program on Lake Roosevelt. The bounty is $10 per northern pike. Here is how it works, according to the latest instructions: Catch a pike and cut off the head. Take that head, and as many more as you can catch, to one of two collection stations. One is at the Tribal Trails Noisy Waters deli and gas station (at highways 20 and 395 at Kettle Falls). The other is at the National Park Service’s Kettle Falls fish-cleaning station. Simply put the pike heads in a (supplied) zip-lock bag and fill out the label and information. Throw the bag in the freezer, and the Confederated Colville tribes will send you $10 for each head

There were very few northern pike in the lake in 2015, but with an almost-explosive growth rate, they have apparently now established a self-sustaining population in Lake Roosevelt. These are fast-growing fish; 20-inch fish are common and 15- to 25-pounders are not uncommon. Within the lake, the pike pose an immediate threat to populations of native fish such as redband trout, kokanee, white sturgeon and burbot. Then, too, some 60,000 anglers visit Lake Roosevelt every year, bringing around four million dollars to the region’s economy. Below the lake, the pike are seen as an imminent threat to the downstream recovery of ESA-listed salmon; so much so that Oregon biologists are now beginning to take serious notice.

All parties are asking that any pike caught downstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams please be killed and reported to the Washington Invasive Species Council immediately at (invasivespecies.wa.gov).

This is a big deal. Suppression efforts are planned into the next decade, although funding remains an issue. Most of the pros agree that not acting will lead to wholesale ecological changes to fish communities of Lake Roosevelt. And no one argues to risk to salmon recovery efforts downstream. As one official put it, “The possibility of movement downstream to anadromous waters is frightening.”

You can help fight the war: ten bucks a fish…

Oh, by the way. A second northern pike was caught last year in Lake Washington. And released. (Ouch. Please don’t do that…)

 

Getting Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe (GISS)

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 8, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Saturday is the big day. You and yours are invited to the 20th Annual celebration of our shrub-steppe heritage here in Central Washington. Between 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. there will be no fewer than seven hour-long field trip choices and a variety of experiences at a dozen or so activity centers. There will be expert-led field trips, educational and hands-on science booths and fun activities for kids of all ages. Included in these adventures are the early morning bird walk, spring wildflowers, snake-sneaking, geology-learning, beaver thinking, kayaking, visualizing those who occupied the Yakima River Canyon long before us, and an obstacle course with prizes.

This all happens at either Helen McCabe State Park (at the north end of the Yakima River Canyon) or the Umtanum Creek Recreation Area (a dozen or so miles down the river). All you bring is your family, water bottles, hiking shoes, binoculars, cameras, and your senses of wonder. See what’s in store: check out www.ycic.org, and click on “Keen Events.” On that page, “Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe” will get you the full schedule of events and opportunities.

The earliest fun starts at the Umtanum site – starting point for most excursions. The morning bird walk kicks off there at 7:30 a.m. (Think of the joy your children will relive when – some sweet day – they tell their own children of their Early Bird walk with Jerry Scoville and Deborah Essman – Bird Whisperers of Paradise.) Return from that brief excursion and choose an excursion of beaver tales with Lixing Sun or a wildflower walk with Ian Seilor.

As the morning unfolds, you might learn about ancient and modern cultural landscapes of our amazing Canyon, or hear Nick Zentner as he brings the Canyon’s geology to life. Cap off your morning at the Umtanum site with an hour and a half of “Snake Sneaking” with reptile pro and personal hero Dan Beck (you will have to pre-register for this one).

Meantime, back at Helen McCabe State Park, those activity centers that kicked off at 9 are up and running until 2 p.m. At one booth or activity center or another, you and your whole family may examine and learn about native snakes and reptiles, skulls and bones, native plants, the story of rivers, fish and bugs, and a lot about our insects. Somewhere in that joyful outdoor-oriented community will be an obstacle course (with prizes for various levels of dexterity), a chance to join up with the Junior Ranger Program, and the opportunity to see trained falcons up close and personal. Learn about the work of KEEN’s Stewardship Team and the coming Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center, as well that of the Nature Conservancy, the Wild Horse Wind Facility and the East Cascade Recreation Partnership.

This GISS Day is a few hours of great fun for the whole family – but so much more than that.

This is important to you and me and yours and mine and all theirs to come. We have talked about this before: when push comes to shove (and it will) people with no real connection to nature will not give a rat’s backside about a sustainable outdoor future. The challenge is on our doorstep right now, and becomes more critical with each passing moment.

No doubt you recall our discussions of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Maybe you sat in on one of my discussions of the concern over what nature writer and author Robert Michael Pyle calls “the extinction of experience.” With such an extinction, an indoor kid will be able to go anywhere, stay “plugged-in,” and remain disconnected from his earth-bound life and roots. Recall that Pulitzer Prize‑winning Harvard biology professor E.O. Wilson coined the word “biophilia” for the innate desire of humans to connect with other life forms. He has long maintained that this connection benefits us both as individuals and as a species of the whole; any individual’s loss of that connection – that sense of belonging to nature – threatens us all and our future.

While I recognize that a growing number of people consider this outdoor connection an antiquity – best left behind so that humanity can grow into its high-tech and dense urban population destiny – I have hope. Every day, I see the importance of outdoor connections to the development of healthy, happy and safe humans.

To lose our connection to nature and other living things we must first have the connection. This is why, this week, it seems so important to focus on these Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe (GISS) activities. Consider this column to be your personal invitation.

In this 20th Anniversary celebration, as always, there are many opportunities to get your family connected to nature, polish your own connections and get yourself caught up on springtime in Paradise.

Whatever adventures you choose, you will find an abundance of kid and family connection opportunity three days hence. Bring yourself and those you treasure into the Yakima River Canyon. Come play.

This is important to a future reaching far beyond those of us enjoying Paradise today. Let us send our young forward with a soul-satisfying connection to the natural world which sustains us all. To slightly paraphrase Jodi Larsen, of our Upper Kittitas County Rotary, Remember that children are the emissaries we send into a time we will not see…