Archive for June, 2019

Sheep VS Sheep – The Next Chapter

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 19, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

We’ve had the conversation before; that one about die-offs of bighorn sheep across much of bighorn habitat in America. Causes of the die-offs are now quite well understood. The challenge lies in finding – and implementing – prevention measures. That is the next chapter in looking after these “icons of the Mountain West.” If you doubt this “icon” business, think about the last time you drove down Central Washington’s  Yakima River Canyon – or anywhere else in the West – and spotted wild sheep. Odds are that others were already stopped, or stopping, to momentarily immerse themselves in the beauty, grace – the majesty – of these animals.

Recall that there are three primary subspecies, of bighorns: Rocky Mountain bighorns (most of the West), desert bighorns (desert mountains of our southwest and down into Mexico) and California bighorns (occupying the mountains and steep country of our West Coast states). Our local sheep are California sheep (there are a few Rocky Mountain bighorns in the easternmost wild places of Washington). There are 18 herds of bighorns in Washington – somewhere around 1,500 sheep, of which more than half are along the Yakima River.

At the range-wide scale, the fair numbers of bighorns from Mexico to Canada live a rather precarious existence. While there have likely been bighorn die-offs through history, regular die-offs in wild sheep herds became a fact of life when European settlers moved into their various habitats…bringing domestic sheep and goats with them.

Countless die-offs have occurred over the past 150 years. Our most recent regional losses were in 2009-10, and again in 2015. Those losses were largely a mirror image of the problems across most of bighorn country, caused by one or another form of pneumonia – with lingering after-effects. In the last three decades, pneumonia has almost wiped out bighorn herds in the Blue Mountains and in portions of the Hells Canyon area of Idaho and Oregon along the Snake River. For up to a decade after a die-off, surviving ewes may not produce lambs that live more than a year. Thus, herd recovery can take decades, if it even happens. This is a big deal.

The pneumonia outbreaks are all apparently related to various Mycoplasma and Pasteurella bacteria. Recent study confirms that the Mycoplasma bacteria sufficiently weaken bighorn immune defenses for Pasteurella (and several other genetically-identified relatives) to trigger the pneumonia. Each of the various bacteria-caused pneumonias may lead to different outcomes. (For example, sheep may survive one type, develop antibodies which last for only a year or two, and be re-infected. Or, some strains may kill so quickly that little evidence remains of the bacteria responsible.)

A great deal is now known about the specifics of how the illnesses spread through a sheep herd. Wildlife managers are learning more about how much – or little – patience needs to be practiced when wild sheep start dying. Most urgent, now, are growing efforts to keep domestic sheep from sharing any given habitat with bighorn herds.

Through much of bighorn habitat the various bacteria are transmitted from unaffected domestic sheep to wild sheep through nose-to-nose greetings, and spread very rapidly. Significant research has centered on antibiotics and vaccines (and ways to get them into bighorns), but those solutions are still well down the road. Domestic sheep are also being developed which are free of the Mycoplasma bacteria – some happening at the Washington State Prison in Walla Walla – but they are unlikely to be viable in the large sheep flocks using the vast grazing allotments scattered across bighorn country, but they will be highly prized in some smaller areas.

We have discussed before the efforts among groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation to actually pay sheep grazers to not use allotments that pose a risk to bighorns. In addition, current state and federal environmental impact studies prior to bidding on grazing allotments are putting high value on the presence of, or proximity to, wild sheep.

That brings us to the next chapter for our state’s wild sheep. The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (OWNF) is now underway with its Sheep Project, in partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. This begins an environmental analysis (NEPA) process intended to update forest plans for managing domestic sheep/goat grazing allotments to meet its mandate to protect and maintain healthy bighorn sheep populations. It seems that a number of those allotments are within the OWNF, and many overlap nearly three-quarters of our state’s wild sheep, in or along the forest. An open house held in Cle Elum the evening of June 12 was the second step in kicking off the process.

We will return to this process in the next few weeks, but you can begin your own learning now. Find the overview to the Sheep Project at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53257 – just follow any interesting link, particularly those in the “Get Connected” box. A video of that 6/12 open house will be found at facebook.com/OkaWenNF (scroll down to “videos”). For some great interactive maps of the forest and project areas of interest, take an online trip to arcg.is/0DbDbD.

This is just a next chapter as we work for the future of our wild sheep. Next time you’re in the Yakima River Canyon, say hello to ours.

On Buying Dreams of Great Hunts

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 12, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Among the well over 100,000 men, women and youth who hunt big game in Washington each year, a good many of us spend a few bucks in April or May to purchase very big fall dreams. Buying a dream is a simple and effective process, really. And this is the week we find out whose dreams come true.

At some point in April, the Washington Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations booklet shows up online and at license outlets. That booklet lays out the “general” seasons within which any legal hunter might pursue big game. More to my point, however, it holds the details of the dreams we are about to enjoy; the dates and conditions under which most any of us might receive a “special hunt permit” to hunt a deer or elk or moose or goat or bighorn sheep or whatever in a place and time few others ever will. In that booklet there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of these “special” hunts. Listed for each hunt are the number of permits available and last year’s number of applications (this gives you an idea of the odds of being drawn for a permit, assuming you submit your permit application by the midnight May 22nd deadline).

Thus, during the weeks before that deadline, tens upon tens of thousands of us begin seriously considering possibilities. We think about hunting some critter we have long dreamed of pursuing, in some season or place we have long dreamed of experiencing. Of course, even with the “preference point” system, getting the permit for one of these hunts is like winning the lottery, and many of us have been chasing these permits across decades.

[One gets an additional preference point (essentially, and one more ticket in the drawing) for each year one is not drawn. The mathematics of the system can be cruel, however, and our Washington Fish and Wildlife pros are working very hard to keep the weighted draw (preference point) system fair. True, an applicant with many points has better odds of being drawn than one with few points, but the pool of points held by newer applicants is so much larger than the pool of points held by long-time applicants, that in many of the draws fewer of the available permits go to those of us with a large number of points than to those with only a few points. The system is legit, it just suffers increasingly from its popularity. This issue is being examined in a number of states, and some possible solutions lie ahead. Still, as it works today, each new preference point grows hope for NEXT year.]

To apply for a special hunt – to purchase a big dream – one buys an application, the cost of which varies with the perceived value of the hunt ($7.10 or $13.70 for residents, and $110.50 for nonresidents). One then submits that application for his/her dream special hunt by that 22 May date, says a series of prayers and/or performs traditional rituals, dreams wildly…and waits. The drawing results are promised by the drawing gods at the Department of Fish and Wildlife by this Friday (14 June), although they may be available as early as today.

Most of us, of course, are certain that this is the year we have enough points to finally win a permit for a great adventure hunting moose or bighorn sheep or a big bull elk or buck deer. Therefore, the time between submitting our applications and the drawing results (by this Friday!!) is time rich with hopes and satisfying dreams. All this faith is in spite of long odds. Allow me to share a  couple examples. This is my lucky year for a moose adventure – I just know it – even though last year 10,885 hunters applied for 12 permits in my dream unit, and my 20 points will do the trick. I also will draw a bighorn sheep permit with my 15 points, although last year 3,788 hunters applied for the 4 permits in my area. I have applied for several other special hunt permits, too, each with long odds. Still, I only need one permit in each of those hunts, and this is my year.

In rare states, there will be leftover licenses after the draw takes place. Each year, for example, we still purchase “leftover after the draw” licenses for our annual Wyoming deer and antelope safari. Such opportunities are becoming ever fewer and farther between, and Washington is typical of most states these days, where there are no leftover special permits. So, we buy applications – dreams – each year and get in line.

[By the way, if you are somehow overlooked again in the current draw, there is always the raffle. For somewhere between 6 and 23 bucks, you can buy another dream and a chance at an extra deer or elk permit, a goat, sheep or moose tag or a combination of several of them. Instructions start on page 10 of the 2019 Washington Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations booklet. Purchase raffle tickets – and new dreams – by July 15, and you will be notified that you’re a winner in mid-August.]

The truth of the matter is this: what we really purchase, once we hit that “submit” button for each special permit application, is a dream and one more preference point for next year’s drawing. And, yes, these weeks of waiting for the drawing, imagining that long-awaited hunt experience, are worth every dime. Then, too, any day now – or one of these years – it’s going to happen…

Take a Kid – of Any Age – Fishing

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 5, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Here we are again: Washington State’s Free Fishing Weekend – for a great many youngsters, the waterside social event of the year. And a great opportunity for adults to get hooked or re-hooked on fishing, as well.

This Saturday and Sunday, you will need no license to fish in any open water in the state. Nor will you need a Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Access Pass or Discover Pass to be on any public fishing water on DFW or State Parks ground. You will need to abide by size and bag limits and closures, but opportunities abound, and plenty of fat “truck trout” have been dropped into local waters for you.

See the 2019-2020 Washington State Fishing Regulation Pamphlet for rules and regulations (Free at any hunting and fishing license dealer or online at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations). In addition, DFW has posted a great deal of help and fishing tips online (including recent stocking reports) at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/free. This site has a great deal of useful and valuable information for folks who have licenses and fish regularly, also.

The big excitement each year on our Free Fishing Weekend (is always the weekend following the first Monday of June) seems always to be the kid fishing derbies. There are many of these kid fishing events across the state and most of them are held on this particular weekend. There is something appealing about these derbies – watching groups of parents, grandparents and friends gathered around fishing holes cheering for kids fishing. Why not? As a friend reminded me decades ago, “Teach a kid to fish and she’ll hassle you for more ‘til she’s grown and gone!”  Isn’t that one of the primary reasons we work to get kids hooked on fishing?

Here in Paradise, we have a couple great chances to get kids out on the water and fishing.

Here in the Lower County, our big Saturday event is the Kiwanis Kids Free Fishing Derby at North Fio Rito. The Derby runs 9 to Noon for any fishers 14 and under. There are abundant prizes and guaranteed family fun! Just show up and join the fun. Questions to Dale DeFoor at 509-929-0449.

Saturday’s primary kid event in the Upper County is the Annual Cascade Field and Stream Kids Fishing Derby (also 14 and under) happens under the sponsorship of the Cle Elum Ranger District and Cascade Field and Stream Club. Registration is at 6 a.m. at Lavender Lake, exit 74 off I-90. Overall prizes are awarded for the first trout, largest trout, and largest other-than-trout caught, and there are also prizes in each of four age groups for the three largest trout caught. Always a fine kid and parent morning! Again, just show up ready to fish or, if you need more info reach out to Don Frey at 253-631-4862.

The Kiwanis Pond (formerly the first Hanson Pond across I-90 from Cle Elum, south of exit 84) is not a “fishing derby” site, but it is popular and has been stocked with some very nice trout. It is open to kids 14 and under, disabled fishers with a designated harvester companion card, and seniors 70 or better. You are certainly welcome to join the gang there if you qualify.

While I now have only adults (Edward, last of the Hucklings, left “youth” some years ago), I do have a passel of grand-Hucklings. Their outdoor education needs furthering, so kid fishing in a couple western states lies waiting in the summer ahead.

Those now-grown Hucklings have been reminding me that Free Fishing Weekend are not just for kids. Adults become kids again when a frisky fish is suddenly at the end of the line flowing through the ferrules of the rod in their hands. Apparently, a couple of my offspring regularly get non-fishing friends and kids on the water. “It’s very cool, Dad,” I’m told, “When a fish bites, the parents start laughing and giggling just like their kids.”

You have plenty of time to plan something special for yourself and your kids or some friend who needs to try fishing again (or for the first time). Find plenty of resources, encouragement and coaching at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/free, and get out there this weekend.

It is never too early or too late to hook someone on fishing and outdoor activity. It’s all about fun, yet it is also about an outdoor future for our children’s children and beyond. We will need every voice we can find.

It is summer (well, almost). Take a kid of any age fishing. Life doesn’t get much better.