Go Fishing – And Take A Kid

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 8, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Here it is at last; Free Fishing Weekend in Washington State – the lakeside social event of the year. Buckle up.

Tomorrow and Sunday, you will need no license to fish in any open water in the state, and plenty of fat “truck trout” have been dropped into local waters for you. Here’s the small print: yes, you need no state license, but size limits, bag limits and closures still rule, and you must complete a catch record card (available free at license dealers) for any salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or halibut you catch.

Sadly, I now have only adults (Edward, last of the Hucklings, left “youth” a few years ago), but you can take your kidlings to any one of several fishing opportunities in Paradise.

Tomorrow in the Upper Kittitas County, the Annual Cascade Field and Stream Kids Fishing Derby (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, and prizes will be given in several age groups.  Other activities (fish anatomy, habitat, ethics, etc.) at five stations, will get kids into a free raffle for even more prizes. Get more details at 509-852-1100.

The Kiwanis Pond (formerly the first Hanson Pond across I-90 from Cle Elum, south of exit 84) will be open for kids and disabled fishers only. It is well-stocked for great fishing, and you may join the group if you qualify.

Here in Lower Paradise, our big tomorrow event is the Kiwanis Kids Free Fishing Derby at North Fio Rito.  The Derby runs 10:00 to Noon for any fishers 14 and under. There are abundant prizes and fun, and info from Dale DeFoor at 929-0449.

Thus, you may find groups of people gathered around pools of water across the county, watching and cheering for kids fishing.

Funny things happen when gangs of people get together to fish.

Near the end of the last century, I took eight-year-old Edward and thirteen-year-old Anna to a fishing derby at the Hansen Pond (now Kiwanis Pond) near Cle Elum.

The instructions clearly said “Do not start fishing until 7:00 a.m.” We were there at 6:50.  There were two dozen lines in the water, and the first fish had already been registered. Hmmm.

The derby was for kids 14 and under, of course. Adults could cast lines and bait hooks, but fish were to be hooked, played and landed by the kids. As we walked to a likely fishing spot, I talked to a dad and a granddad holding and baiting two separate rods, for the lone five- or six-year-old kid standing by. They explained that they wanted to make sure he would always have a rod ready to go and wouldn’t have any “down” time.

I watched half a dozen dads or granddads casting, hooking and bringing in fish. A couple of them actually stepped on their kids as they cast over, and across, the lines of anybody in the way. Frustrated, Edward observed that there was plenty of room, and asked me why the man with the two little kids just down the shoreline kept casting both their lines over his, which was straight out. “Because you caught a couple fish,” I guessed, “and he thinks your hole is the only one in the lake with trout in it.”

Eventually, the guy handed the rods off to his kids. Other dads handed off to their kids once a fish was close to shore. In time, our neighbor actually let his boy and girl hook and land two nice truck trout.

By the 9 a.m. quitting time, the adults had pretty much surrendered, and kids were fishing, focused and happy. As I took in the scene, it seemed to me that a few fishers were being born.

I still remember driving away, mind awash with musings about the future of fishing. Where were we headed if we were teaching our kids that fishing is some sort of competition? As we drove up the dirt track back to civilization, Edward and older sister Anna discussed the merits of fishing with large groups. On balance, they decided, it had been a fun morning. At some point in their backseat discussion, Anna tapped me on the shoulder. “Okay, Dad, we’re ready to go back to that McCabe Pond place now. We wanna see if we can catch another five pound catfish!”

A friend once observed, “Teach a kid to fish and she’ll hassle you for more ‘til she’s grown and gone!” Personally, I think it extends beyond “grown and gone,” but that’s another conversation.

Take a kid fishing. Even the random nature of sportsmanlike gang fishing looks like a good start to a fishing life.

Wild Sheep vs Domestic Sheep and Goats

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 1, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Over the years, we’ve had several conversations in this space about the health risks (to wild sheep) of contact between domestic sheep and their wild cousins. While our conversations have focused on local and Northwest problems and die-offs, the issues go far beyond this region and include also domestic goats, as they carry similar pathogens into much of our wild sheep range.

This week’s column is a synopsis of those widespread issues, and recommendations for dealing with them. Find the report from which much of this is drawn, along with maps of wild/domestic sheep overlap and insight into certain conflicts at www.fs.fed.us/biology/wildlife/curl.htm.

The concern over the regular, periodic, epizootics (die-offs) in North American wild sheep populations led 2007 action by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). Its 23 state and provincial member agencies from the U.S. and Canada established a Wild Sheep Working Group (WSWG), charged with developing a report. “Recommendations for Domestic Sheep and Goat Management in Wild Sheep Habitat,” was released in summer of 2007. Once endorsed by the WAFWA Directors, the report and its recommendations for management at all levels was sent to decision-makers in the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Defense and Canadian equivalents. The report is WAFWA’s official stance on the management of domestic sheep and goats and wild sheep. The latest revision was approved by WAFWA Directors in 2012.

The authors of the report used the most recent and relevant research related to transmission of disease from domestic sheep and goats to bighorns. That became the basis for recommendations with the highest probablility of keeping “effective separation” (spatial or seasonal separation between wild sheep and domestic sheep or goats to minimize the potential for contact and transmission of diseases between species). WAFWA directors recognize that, while it is impossible to reach zero risk, effective separation must be a primary management goal of agencies responsible for the conservation of wild sheep.

This has been a long time coming. It is generally agreed that there were around two million wild sheep in North America in 1800. Today, the Bighorn Institute (Palm Desert, CA) estimates the following populations. Just under 120,000 Dall’s and Stone sheep range in Alaska and Canada. About 34,000 Rocky Mountain bighorns occupy habitat in the western U.S. and Canada. Today,  California bighorns – along the west coast – number 10,500, and approximately 23,000 desert bighorns range through the southern portions of North American sheep habitat.

According to numerous historical accounts, the declines coincided with the advent of domestic livestock grazing on ranges occupied by bighorn sheep. No doubt, die-offs among wild sheep occurred without the implication of domestic sheep or goat interactions, but contact among them has led to significantly larger and more widespread losses.

Thus, the following WAFWA recommendations. These are designed to help state and provincial wild sheep pros, federal and crown land management agencies, private landowners and others take positive action to eliminate range overlap, and reduce the chance of pathogen transmission to wild sheep. Not all parties yet even acknowledge the risk of transmission from domestic sheep and goats, but this is a start.

It is recommended that agencies: (1) assess wild sheep conservation value/status and complete risk assessments of interspecies contact; (2) remove wild sheep that have likely associated with domestic sheep or goats, and develop prompt response policies; (3) deeply explore consequences of translocations, with appropriate habitat analysis; (4) coordinate with all stakeholders on management of domestic sheep or goats on or near bighorn ranges; (5) fully consider disease risks when issuing or commenting on permits/regulations associated with private lands; and (6) develop educational materials and outreach programs.

Land management agencies should: (1) eliminate overlap of domestic sheep or goat allotments or grazing within wild sheep habitat; (2) ensure that operating instructions or equivalent include measures to minimize domestic association with wild sheep and confirm appropriate methods to remove strays; and (3) support wild sheep habitat for healthy populations in areas without domestic sheep or goats.

Wild sheep conservation organizations should: (1) assist with educational/extension efforts; (2) negotiate alternatives and incentives for domestic sheep or goat grazers on public land to find alternative grazing; and (3) advocate and support research regarding disease risk of domestic sheep and goats around wild sheep.

Domestic sheep and goat permittees/owners should: (1) use best management practices to prevent straying by their sheep or goats; and (2) establish protocols to respond to straying.

Private landowners should: (1) learn more and work with wild sheep managers/advocates for effective separation with site-specific mitigation measures; and (2) promptly report potential or actual contact between domestic sheep or goats and wild sheep.”

Another week we will look at practical and financial solutions proposed and underway to meet some of the recommendations outlined above. For the moment, wander down the Yakima River Canyon and spend a time keeping good thoughts for the icons of our wild ground.

About the Treefrogs of Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 25, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Amazing, really, where a glass of wine and an evening of conversation over a frog chorus will take you. Don and Sharon Cocheba started thinking about my fascination with blackbird songs around our marshes, and decided maybe Diane and I needed to expand our critter-music horizons a bit. Thus, one evening last week we found ourselves on their deck, in the foothills of Paradise, wine in hand, being serenaded by an army of frogs.

Somewhere in our after-dark conversations – among a fair number of catchups about Africa, families, current and former colleagues, and the state of academia these days – was a lively discussion of just which frogs we were experiencing. Whatever brand they were, the boys had a loud message to convey. No matter what we discussed, or how loud we discussed it, the frogs just didn’t care. Turns out that the Cocheba corner of Paradise holds at least two, maybe three, different frogs.

Over the years, as their habitat developed, most observations turned up Columbia spotted frogs (Rana luteiventris), and Pacific treefrogs (Pseudacris regilla), with the possibility of a few of the widely scattered and increasingly rare Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens).

The leopard frog is the largest of the three, at about four inches body length. Its back and sides have large dark spots with light borders. Its mating vocals last a few seconds and are several low-pitched grunts and snorts (likened to the putt-putt-putt or a small boat motor).

The spotted frog gets to about three inches in length, varying from light to dark brown or olive, with dark spots and distinctive upturned yellow eyes. Its call is very faint and rapid, with a couple dozen low hollow notes (likened to the sound of a distant woodpecker on hardwood).

The frogs serenading us were male Pacific treefrogs – aka The Chorus Frog. At two inches body length, this is the smallest of our frogs (females slightly larger than males, but both smaller than a chicken egg). Treefrogs are the most common, most often heard, and undoubtedly the most fascinating of Washington’s frogs.

As Science Education Committee Chair for the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog and Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, I am duty bound to pass along what follows.

Frogs are amphibians, of course (Greek roots amphi, “both,” and bios, “life”). Female treefrogs lay hundreds of eggs, as the male fertilizes them, in golf- to baseball-size clusters enveloped in a “jelly” that swells up in water, and attached to sticks or grass under water. Frogs start their lives totally aquatic, with gills and a tail fin; tadpole stage. By six weeks, legs develop, the tail and gills are absorbed, and they are half-inch long, air-breathing juvenile frogs climbing onto land.

The Pacific treefrog has a black stripe “mask” from the tip of its snout to its shoulder. It varies in color from bronze to gray to tan to pale lime green – some will be a solid color while others will be richly patterned – and individuals will change color with air temperature and humidity.

Our treefrog ranges from British Columbia to the tip of Baja California, and east into Montana and Nevada. Habitat will have suitable breeding water, which generally means ponds somewhere along the edges of lakes and streams. Outside breeding times, they largely inhabit surrounding land area (pastures, woodlands, gardens and so forth).

Treefrog’s diet is mostly a wide variety of arthopods (insects, spiders and small crustaceans). In turn, eggs, tadpoles and juveniles are enjoyed by caddisfly larvae, predaceous diving beetles, giant water bugs, fish, birds and garter snakes. Raccoons, foxes, river otters, skunks, snakes, hawks, herons, owls, bullfrogs, cats, children, lawn mowers, and vehicles all take a toll. Most treefrogs die in the water stages; those reaching adulthood live about two years.

Here are several interesting tidbits you can slip into any conversation about treefrogs. A group is an “army.”. They secrete a waxy skin coating (described as Velcro-like), allowing them to remain moist far from water. Sticky pads on their long, largely un-webbed, toes allow them to climb with great agility (thus, “tree frog”), but they usually stay near the ground. Since 2007, the Pacific treefrog is the state frog of Washington. Get this: while most frogs bury themselves in mud and go into a torpid, hibernation-like, state to survive winter, treefrogs crawl under leaf or other litter for their dormant season, and may freeze solid – yet still return to life in spring.

Oh, yes. That glorious froggy serenade. The call of the male – to attract females – is far louder than a two-inch critter ought to be able to manage. The two-part kreck-ek, or a ribbit, repeated, gets other males joining in, making a sound heard a half-mile or more away. Males call mainly in the evening. (Don arranged for his to start at 9 p.m.) Turns out we are all quite familiar with this call: when Hollywood moviemakers once wanted set a feeling of an outdoor night, they recorded treefrogs. That “ribbit-ribbit” call of the treefrog is now the stereotypical, standard, frog call, even in movies set in regions without treefrogs. You gotta love the Chorus Frog!

(Special thanks to Jason Irwin, Professor of Biology, and amphibian pro, at Central Washington University for sharing some of his fascinating treefrog research for this week’s effort. You can learn more at naturemappingfoundation.org/natmap/facts/pacific_treefrog_712.html (Washington Nature Mapping Program) and Washington Fish and Wildlife’s “Living with Wildlife,” at wdfw.wa.gov/living/frogs.html.)

A Rising Hope for Our Bighorn Sheep

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 18, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Bighorn sheep are often described as the “icons of the Mountain West.” The three primary species, or subspecies, of bighorns are the Rocky Mountain bighorns (most of the West), the desert bighorns (desert mountains of our southwest and down into Mexico) and the California bighorns (occupying the mountains and steep country of our West Coast states). Our local sheep are Californias, with a few Rocky Mountain sheep in the easternmost wild places of Washington. There are 18 herds of bighorns in Washington, adding up to around 1,500 wild sheep – more than half of which are along the Yakima River.

Icons? Think about it. When was the last time you drove down the Yakima River Canyon – or anywhere else in the West – and spotted wild sheep? And when didn’t you see others already there, or stopping, to admire the beauty, grace and strength of these animals?

As you are well aware, I have long loved bighorn sheep. I was a founding board member of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society in the 1970s and involved with writing bighorn sheep viewing guides for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Some weeks back, I put together a phone conference involving biologists and sheep nuts from around the West. I wanted to share the latest work with sheep and get a handle on where we are headed. This is the first of my efforts to bring you up to speed.

There are fair numbers of bighorns from Mexico to Canada, but they 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.

You recall that we’ve been here before. The issues with our local sheep are a mirror image of problems across bighorn habitat, so an understanding of efforts focused on our Washington sheep will inform us about sheep work happening across most of bighorn country. In the major die-off of 2009-10, we lost a significant number of our regional California lambs and adults to pneumonia. Hard to see – but not surprising – it happened again in 2015. Research and experience tells us now that, for up to a decade, surviving ewes may not produce lambs that live more than a year. Thus, herd recovery can take decades, if it even happens.

Obviously, biologists at universities and game departments in each of the states with wild sheep have been researching die-off issues. Through a growing body of work we are all learning more about the various forms of pneumonia and the range of bacteria involved. A great deal is now known about how, specifically, the illnesses spread through a sheep herd. This informs not only medical responses, it also gives wildlife managers a better handle on just how much – or little – patience needs to be practiced when wild sheep start dying. There is also a major looming move to keep domestic sheep from sharing any given habitat with bighorn herds.

Over the last three decades, alone, pneumonia has almost wiped out wild bighorn herds in the Blue Mountains and others in the Hell’s Canyon area of Idaho and Oregon along the Snake River. The pneumonia outbreaks are all apparently related to various Mycoplasma and Pasteurella bacteria.

Genetic analysis of bacteria over the past few years has shed some light. It appears that the Mycoplasma bacteria sufficiently weaken immune defenses for Pasteurella (and now a variety of other genetically-identified related bacteria) 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.) Some ewes are “shedders,” not unlike human “carriers” (unaffected by something like a strep throat they carry, but infecting others). Then, too, it seems possible that lambs which survived pneumonia are carrying the bacteria and infecting other lambs. Answers are slowly coming.

Through much of bighorn country, the various pneumonia bacteria are transmitted from unaffected domestic sheep to wild sheep, where they spread rapidly. Much research has centered on antibiotics and vaccines (and ways to get them into bighorns). Researchers are developing domestic sheep which are free of the Mycoplasma bacteria – much of this work is being done at the Washington State Prison in Walla Walla. It is unlikely that enough bacteria-free sheep can be developed to be viable in the large flocks of sheep in the vast sheep grazing allotments spread across bighorn country, but these sheep will be highly prized in some smaller areas.

Many western states have developed strict rules about the intermingling of domestic and wild sheep. The risk of disease to wild herds is so great that some states have given carte blanche to the killing of any bighorn (ram, ewe or lamb) found near domestic sheep. Almost any nose contact (a common greeting) will infect a wild sheep with enough bacteria to spread like wildfire through a bighorn herd. Washington and western biologists have worked with both public and private land managers to avoid interactions between bighorns and domestic sheep.

There is now a push among conservation groups (such as the Wild Sheep Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation) to reallocate some wild sheep research and other funds to actually pay sheep grazers to not use allotments that pose a risk to bighorn herds. Some sheepmen have switched to cattle in those sorts of allotments. In addition, current state and federal environmental impact studies performed prior to bidding on grazing allotments are putting increasing value on the presence of, or proximity to, wild sheep.

There is growing hope for wild sheep. Take a drive down The Yakima River Canyon – or into any sheep country – and say hello.

Of Firearms, Tragedies and Our Changing Society

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 11, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

I don’t know how many homeys have asked me when – or if – I was going to write something about school shootings. I’ve probably spent too much time thinking about it – and too much sad time mulling over the ignorance surrounding the so-called “debates” about firearms. I realized how far our society has fallen when I heard an NPR interview with the young man from Parkland, Florida, who became the apparent spokesperson for the survivors of that tragedy.

NPR had reached out to high school students across the country for their reactions to the “March for Our Lives” movement. and its push for stricter firearms laws – and the banning of some firearms. The interviewer played a young Montana woman’s comments about how she and her friends had grown up using and enjoying firearms and didn’t want them restricted and/or taken away. When the interviewer asked the young man how he would respond to her, he suggested that she was basically “just the people we are terrified of…”

I realize that anything I say will be colored by my coming of age in a different time. I am distressed by these tragic shootings. I believe that there are folks who should not have firearms. I believe it is a society issue, not a gun issue. I believe there are many causes for what we are experiencing, and many of them relate to changes in our culture. But what do I know; I’m one of those “seniors…” How about hearing a going-viral contemporary voice?

Kelly Guthrie Raley has been teaching for 20 years. She is the 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year at Eustis Middle School in Lake County, Florida. The day after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, she posted her thoughts on Facebook (Find the whole post by googling “Florida-teacher-Facebook-post-gun-violence-goes-viral.html.”)

“Okay, I’ll be the bad guy and say what no one else is brave enough to say, but wants to say. I’ll take all the criticism and attacks from everyone because you know what?  I’m a TEACHER. I live this life daily. And I wouldn’t do anything else! But I also know daily I could end up in an active shooter situation.

“Until we, as a country, are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for the mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support when the schools are trying to control horrible behavior at school (‘Oh no!  Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?’), lack of moral values, and, yes, I’ll say it – violent video games that take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives, as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream up in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves, we will have a gun problem in school. Our kids don’t understand the permanency of death anymore!!!

“I grew up with guns. Everyone knows that. But you know what? My parents NEVER supported any bad behavior from me. I was terrified of doing something bad at school, as I would have not had a life until I corrected the problem and straightened my ass out.

‘My parents invaded my life. They knew where I was ALL the time. They made me have a curfew. They made me wake them up when I got home. They made me respect their rules. They had full control of their house, and at any time could and would go through every inch of my bedroom, backpack, pockets, anything!

“Parents: it’s time to STEP UP! Be the parent that actually gives a crap! Be the annoying mom that pries and knows what your kid is doing. STOP being their friend. They have enough “friends” at school. Be their parent. Being the ‘cool mom’ means not a damn thing when either your kid is dead or your kid kills other people because they were allowed to have their space and privacy in YOUR HOME.

“I’ll say it again. My home was filled with guns growing up. For God’s sake, my daddy was an 82nd Airborne Ranger who lost half his face serving our country. But you know what? I never dreamed of shooting anyone with his guns. I never dreamed of taking one! I was taught respect for human life, compassion, rules, common decency, and most of all, I was taught that until I moved out, my life and bedroom wasn’t mine; it was theirs. And they were going to know what was happening because they loved me and wanted the best for me.

“There. Say that I’m a horrible person. I didn’t bring up gun control, and I will refuse to debate it with anyone. This post wasn’t about gun control. This was me, loving the crap out of people and wanting the best for them. This was about my school babies and knowing that God created each one for greatness, and just wanting them to reach their futures.

“It’s about 20 years ago this year I started my teaching career. Violence was not this bad 20 years ago. Lack of compassion wasn’t this bad 20 years ago. And God knows 20 years ago that I wasn’t afraid daily to call a parent because I KNEW that 9 out of 10 wouldn’t cuss me out, tell me to go to Hell, call the news on me, call the school board on me, or post all over FaceBook about me because I called to let them know what their child chose to do at school because they are a NORMAL kid!!!!!

“Those 17 lives mattered. When are we going to take our own responsibility seriously?” (Kelly Guthrie Raley, 2018)