About Chronic Wasting Disease

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 3, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD (similar to “mad cow disease” in its effects), seemed to be the topic of the week during our time at the KOA campground in Wyoming. Son James, son-in-law Chris and I were there on our annual Antelope and Deer Safari a couple weeks back. (Scratch “Antelope” for 2018, as there were no antelope licenses available.) Interestingly, as we were preparing our white-tailed doe deer meat for trips back to our homes in Idaho, Colorado and Washington, traveling folks from Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska wandered over to chat.

Each of our three home states has specific regulations regarding the importing of wildlife carcasses from states with known/documented presence of CWD in wild cervids (deer family). Wyoming is one of those “documented” states. Thus, we were carefully preparing our made meat for transport. Idaho and Colorado allow import of whole quarters, or boned meat, but both ban or discourage transport of any bone containing brain or spinal tissue. Meat brought back to Washington must be entirely boned out. If any of us wanted to carry a skull back to our home base, it would have to be boiled and dried. To date, no CWD has been found in Washington or Idaho, and biologists aim to keep it that way. As the transportable portion of each carcass was properly prepared, it was bagged and put on ice in one or another cooler.

There seems to be a great deal of misinformation about CWD and the handling of wildlife carcasses, so I was struck by how knowledgeable our visitors were. We carried on some lively discussions about hunting and game meat and the blessings of each in our home states.

Still, given the large body of misunderstanding about CWD, and my role as chair of the Wildlife Disease Subcommittee of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog and Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, it seems that a primer is in order.

The USGS definition of CWD is “a fatal, neurological illness occurring in North American cervids…including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose.” The USGS has the simplest (although CWD is a complex process) description of cause that I have yet found. “CWD is caused by a misfolded protein called a prion. All mammals produce normal prions that are used by cells, then degraded and eliminated, or recycled, within the body. When disease-associated prions contact normal prions, they cause them to refold into their own abnormal shape. These disease-associated prions are not readily broken down and tend to accumulate in – and damage – lymphatic and neural tissues, including the brain.”

The disease is transmitted directly and indirectly. It spreads through animal-to-animal contact and through contact with various environmental features – including water sources – which have been contaminated by infected animals (this could be from saliva, urine, feces, or even carcasses of infected animals). Several recent studies indicate that the prions passed out of deer and elk may be taken in by other cervids eating grass or other food plants growing in contaminated soil.

Visual signs of this wasting disease may take up to two years to appear after infection (animals will appear to act normally during the incubation period). Obvious signs are steady weight loss, decreased interaction with other animals and an apparent loss of fear of humans. As the disease progresses, observers report excessive salivation, and frequent drinking and urination. One challenge for biologist is that most symptoms of CWD have other causes as well, so early diagnoses have sometimes been off the mark and testing is indicated.

CWD was first discovered in 1967, at a Colorado wildlife research facility near Colorado State University. I know more about that facility than I wish to know, but that is another, sore, subject. Arguably, CWD spread from there. Today, CWD is of great concern to wildlife managers dealing with cervids anywhere, but especially those in the 23 states, two provinces, South Korea and Norway, where it has been detected. No treatments or vaccines are currently available.

To date, there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to cattle or humans. Still, precautions are always warranted. Obviously, we would not feed ourselves or family the meat made from a sick deer or one in very poor condition. We will certainly continue handling carefully those parts of carcasses in which prions accumulate – especially brains and spinal tissue.

Find out all you want to know about CWD at the end of a Google search for “chronic wasting disease.” The CWD Alliance (cwd-info.org/) has current information for each state and province.. For a list of states from which you may only bring boneless meat, click on the Washington part of the North American map, then see the question “Ban on Movement of Animal Parts?” (Or see wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/cwd/.)

Oh, yes. Our Wyoming hunt. Thank you for asking. It was very different this year from hunts in the previous 21 years in the area. Still, we had a great hunt. In fact, the boys noted that this actually was a more relaxed hunt than the last few. Can’t wait ‘til next year!

Happy hunting – and check your local meat import regs if you go out of state.

Mountain Goats and High, Wild Country

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 26, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

A bit over three decades ago, this week (1987), I was packing my base camp up into Colorado’s Gore Range, across the Blue River from the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness. I had drawn one of the once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat tags. It would be four days alone, hunting mountain goats, up the Piney River country north of I-70 above the Blue River between Green Mountain and Dillon Reservoirs.

The pack in was three or so miles on the trail around the north side of Piney Lake, then a sharp left onto a steep scratched-out series of steps alongside a tumbling creek. The last two miles up that giant staircase to the little basin above timberline – right at 11,500 feet – was tough. I kept teasing myself with thoughts of a great supper by the fire, and no other human in miles. The jelly-legs would be well worth it.

This particular withdrawal from my personal memory bank account is courtesy of two recent events. One is the intention to remove all the non-native and somewhat over-populous mountain goats from the Olympic National Park in the next five years (the goats are native to the Cascades). The other has to do with a recent conversation with Homey Aaron Kuntz – who just happened to mention that he would be unavailable during a certain couple weeks. Oh, yeah… and several scouting weekends prior, because he drew one of Washington’s once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat tags. The flashbacks from his announcement are still sitting in my mind.

That goat hunt remains one of the most satisfying and remarkable experiences of my lifetime as a hunter. Even though I admit to a very deep envy, I know that Homey deserves a similar experience and will treasure it for the many remaining days of his life, as I have. There is nothing like mountain goat country.

Mountain goat’s scientific name is Oreamnos americanus. Not a true goat, actually, it is most closely related to the chamois of the European Alps and some African antelope. A large billy may be three feet at the shoulder, five feet long, and weigh three hundred pounds.  A nanny will reach around half that weight. Shaggy white hair and a shoulder hump may be why they were sometimes called “white buffalo” by Native Americans and early European settlers. 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.

These animals, 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. (Still, 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 entire groups to perish in the misjudged crossing of an avalanche chute.) In most of goat habitat, one goes up and up to find them.

At dark-thirty the morning after my pack in, I crawled out of the sack to find two other hunters stumbling through my camp. By dawn, however, I was far enough up Kneeknocker Pass to have the sun’s first rays to myself.

Over the four days, I scaled cliffs and scrambled down avalanche chutes. I got overheated and chilled, refreshed and exhausted. I was scared and exhilarated. I was totally alive. Goats were everywhere — big ones and little ones, old and young. But not the goat I sought. I called the trip.

I returned to that country a week later. This time I saw no one else.

On the second day of this second climb into the sky, I scrambled into a col along the edge of the straight-up-and-down headwall of a cirque perched high above Piney Lake. I was debating about a way up a cliff to a rockpile I was sure held an old billy, when I felt a chill. A large goat slowly worked its way down the cliff and laid down on a small outcropping a couple hundred yards out onto the headwall. This was the goat I was to be given. After a short stalk, a good prayer and one careful shot, the goat never moved. A narrow ledge led to the outcropping. As I straddled the animal for dressing and skinning, I could look down either side a hundred feet or more to other outcroppings.

Somehow, I got the meat, hide and head to my base camp. The next morning I started moving two 70-pound loads back to my rig; two packs down the stairsteps, then two three-mile carries to my ride at the trailhead. The pack out along the lake with the second load was more than I could do. I knew I couldn’t make it. I sat down on a log, exhausted. After a moment, I remembered a taco place a few miles down the road. I walked that last three miles with a vision of a hot cheese and bean burrito in front of my nose.

It is an honor to hunt these white beasts of the sky. Safe hunt to you Homey Aaron. May the memories of your experience be as rich as mine.

While only handfuls a year are drawn to hunt goats most anywhere in the West, we can all marvel at the watching. Google “mountain goats in Washington,” (or your mountainous state) pick up a copy of the Washington (or your state) Wildlife Viewing Guide, and get a copy of get Chadwick’s book, A Beast the Color of Winter. Round up your camera, binoculars and spotting scope and go look. There is nothing like mountain goat country.

Mountain Goat Adventures

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 19, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

A bit over three decades ago, this week (1987), I was packing my base camp up into Colorado’s Gore Range, across the Blue River from the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness. I had drawn one of the once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat tags. It would be four days alone, hunting mountain goats, up the Piney River country north of I-70 above the Blue River between Green Mountain and Dillon Reservoirs.

The pack in was three or so miles on the trail around the north side of Piney Lake, then a sharp left onto a steep scratched-out series of steps alongside a tumbling creek. The last two miles up that giant staircase to the little basin above timberline – right at 11,500 feet – was tough. I kept teasing myself with thoughts of a great supper by the fire, and no other human in miles. The jelly-legs would be well worth it.

This particular withdrawal from my personal memory bank account is courtesy of two recent events. One is the intention to remove all the non-native and somewhat over-populous mountain goats from the Olympic National Park in the next five years (the goats are native to the Cascades). The other has to do with a recent conversation with one of my favorite homeys – who just happened to mention that he would be unavailable during a certain couple weeks. Oh, yeah… and several scouting weekends prior, because he drew one of Washington’s once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat tag. The flashbacks from his announcement are still sitting in my mind.

That goat hunt remains one of the most satisfying and remarkable experiences of my lifetime as a hunter. Even though I admit to a very deep envy, I know that Homey deserves a similar experience and will treasure it for the many remaining days of his life, as I have. There is nothing like mountain goat country.

Mountain goat’s scientific name is Oreamnos americanus. Not a true goat, actually, it is most closely related to the chamois of the European Alps and some African antelope. A large billy may be three feet at the shoulder, five feet long, and weigh three hundred pounds.  A nanny will reach around half that weight. Shaggy white hair and a shoulder hump may be why they were sometimes called “white buffalo” by Native Americans and early European settlers. 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.

These animals, 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. (Still, 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 entire groups to perish in the misjudged crossing of an avalanche chute.) In most of goat habitat, one goes up and up to find them.

At dark-thirty the morning after my pack in, I crawled out of the sack to find two other hunters stumbling through my camp. By sunup, however, I was far enough up Kneeknocker Pass to have the first rays to myself.

Over the four days, I scaled cliffs and scrambled down avalanche chutes. I got overheated and chilled, refreshed and exhausted. I was scared and exhilarated. I was totally alive. Goats were everywhere — big ones and little ones, old and young. But not the goat I sought. I called that part of the trip, and crawled into my rig a bit after dark.

I returned to that country a week later. This time I saw no one else.

On the second day of this second climb into the sky, I scrambled into a col along the edge of the straight-up-and-down headwall of a cirque perched high above Piney Lake. I was debating about a way up a cliff to a rockpile I was sure held an old billy, when I felt a chill. A large goat slowly worked its way down the cliff and laid down on a small outcropping a couple hundred yards out onto the headwall. This was the goat I was to be given. After a short stalk, a good prayer and one careful shot, the goat never moved. A narrow ledge led to the outcropping. As I straddled the animal for dressing and skinning, I could look straight down, on either side, to other outcroppings a hundred feet and more below.

Somehow, I got the meat, hide and head to my base camp. The next morning I figured my strategy for getting two 70-pound loads back to my rig; two loads down the stairsteps, then two three-mile carries to my ride at the trailhead. The pack out along the lake with the second load was more than I could do. I knew I couldn’t make it. I sat down on a log, exhausted. After a moment, I remembered a taco place a few miles down the road. I walked that last three miles with a vision of a hot cheese and bean burrito in front of my nose.

It is an honor to hunt these white beasts of the sky. Safe hunt to you, Homey. May the memories of your experience be as rich as mine.

While only handfuls a year are drawn to hunt goats, we can all marvel at the watching. Google “mountain goats in Washington” (or another state with goats), pick up a copy of the Washington (or other western state) Wildlife Viewing Guide, and get a copy of get Chadwick’s A Beast the Color of Winter. Then round up your camera, binoculars and spotting scope and go look. There is nothing like mountain goat country.

About Monarch Butterflies

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 14, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

This is about the time the monarch butterflies remaining in Southcentral Washington State – largely down around the Tri-Cities – start south to California. While many of the monarchs across the central and eastern parts of the U.S. (and Canada) are beginning to return from serious trouble over the past couple decades, our western monarchs continue their precipitous drop in numbers.

What got me thinking about monarchs was a weekend travel radio show. One of the guests arranges and books winter tours to Mexico, where guests may see as many as a million monarch butterflies in the (I gathered) Michoacan Highlands. While the promoter told great stories about the monarchs and their amazing migrations, breeding and life cycles, the stories contained several glaring errors.

As Chief Butterfly Information Officer for the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, I suggest we briefly review what we know about this most royal of butterflies. Monarch’s scientific name is Danaus plexippus (named after Danaus, a mythical king of Egypt and son of Zeus).

The monarch is a new-world butterfly, found from Hudson Bay to Patagonia (and now reported in Europe, Australia and New Zealand). AKA the milkweed butterfly, this one is spectacular. Its orange-brown or reddish upper wings have veins outlined in black and surrounded by broad black borders with two rows of white spots. Its wings may spread four inches. It is not unusual to see magazine or television images of monarchs so thoroughly covering roosting trees during migration that the trees seem to be in full fall color.

It is mind-boggling to imagine such fragile, delicate creatures flying as many as 2500 miles each year; from winter in southern California and central Mexico to summers in the U.S. and southern Canada (following several flowers and milkweed) and then south again. The migration itself seems highly dependent on surface features, with only rare long flights over water. The monarchs appear to learn over time (some observations indicate that north-south trending highways or railroad tracks have been incorporated into migration routes). Here is the most fascinating aspect of their story: while the butterflies have made this annual migration for untold time, they habitually return to the same trees, no single butterfly makes more than two-thirds or three-quarters of the trip.

So, do the young just follow, or communicate somehow with the older, slightly more experienced, adults? Or is there some ancient genetic coding at work? Let’s just say that more is learned each year.

The butterflies generally breed in wintering grounds in Mexico and Southern California, with fertile eggs carried north to just the right milkweed patch. Some breeding (as many as a couple different cycles) also takes place in summer habitat. Once the eggs have been laid, the cycle of ovum (egg), larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and imago (adult) will begin anew. The eggs must hatch in time for the adults to get south before cold weather, but there is more to the story.  With increased interest and observation we now know that the butterfly doesn’t only go through its four life cycles annually, it often also goes through four generations in a year. Check out that amazing and involved story at www.monarch-butterfly.com.

A brighter future for most monarchs is dawning. If the monarch lives generally east of the Rocky Mountains, it will migrate to Mexico and hibernate in oyamel fir trees. The Michoacan Reforestation Fund and La Cruz Habitat Protection Project is replanting trees in critical highland Mexico communities where overlogging has been an issue (see www.michoacanmonarchs.org/). At the same time, the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation is educating forest users about the importance of those trees to continuation of the butterflies and their impact on the economy (tourism, forestry, and so on) of Mexico. Support from government officials is growing.

Our western monarchs, however, continue to lose ground. Those summering west of the Rocky Mountains, will hibernate in and around Pacific Grove, and as far south as Goleta, California, in eucalyptus trees. Problems with the western monarchs, according to WSU professor David James, and other studies (google “monarchs in Washington”), are not likely in California. More likely is a lack of food the butterflies need here in order to migrate, breed and deposit eggs.

WSU professor James notes that here in the mid-Columbia region, a favored flower is that of native rabbitbrush, and more needs cultivating. There is still a need for milkweed for breeding and egg-laying, even though I-82 is his “milkweed alley.” Over the past decade and more, he has worked with prisoners from the state prison at Walla Walla, Washington, and hundreds of Tri-Cities and regional volunteers to increase numbers and prove that western monarchs migrate to California (some using Pacific Ocean winds). His group has raised and marked thousands of monarchs with tiny wing tags, but more is to be done. In June of 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not our western monarchs should be designated as “threatened.”

Want more? Google “monarchs,” then check out “The year of the Butterfly,” by George Ordish, Robert Michael Pyle’s new “The Butterflies of Cascadia,” or the Audubon Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest.” Then think about what you or your family might do for our butterfly royalty.

 

[Jim’s note: this is my last Friday posting of this column! Beginning next week, the posting day changes; we will be meeting on Wednesdays! See you then…]

About the Wild Pacific and Unreachable Tuna

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 7, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Last weekend – Labor Day Weekend – was Ilwaco Tuna Adventure-Seventh Edition for Hucklings, family, homeys and former homeys. Planning started when I again booked all ten tuna rods on Captain Rob’s Katie Marie right after he returned us and our fish to port a year ago.

This has become a habit, this chasing of albacore tuna with Captain Rob Gudgell on the Katie Marie (named after his daughter). In February 2012, I met Milt and Sarah Gudgell (Rob’s folks) at their Pacific Salmon Charters booth at the Central Washington Sportsman Show in Yakima. How do you explain that instant sense of meeting an old friend for the first time? I don’t know, either, but we were immediately into tuna talk, and within a few minutes, I’d signed on for several family albacore tuna fishing spots aboard the Katie Marie. That first year was so much fun, I have reserved the whole boat each Labor Day Sunday since.

Every year is different, but our faith in Captain Rob, the Tuna Whisperer, never wavers. If we get out to the tuna grounds, Cap will find fish. That first year, we brought 88 tuna aboard, filling the boat. The next year, we ran out of time at 50 fish – but all bigger than the first year. The following year, we worked hard to get three nice big fish apiece. In year four (2015) family and friends descended on Ilwaco from as far away as Los Angeles and Denver, but exceptionally stormy weather kept us from reaching the tuna schools – we turned back about 12 miserable miles out. 2016 was rainy, but manageable, and 70 25- to 33-pounders filled the boat. Last year looked like a shipwreck – for a little while – but an available Monday trip for which a few of us could stay over yielded a good many 35 to 40 pound tuna (our biggest yet).

This was a pretty special year for our gathering. While two of our fishers were kept at home because of serious family or personal health issues, the other eight (and folks who came for the campground play and cameraderie) made it in Saturday afternoon to prep for Sunday’s cruise out to tuna-rich waters. Last-Two-of-the-Hucklings stuntman Edward and actress-model Anna drove up from Los Angeles; adopted Huckling Jonathan (Edward’s kid brother) flew in from Colorado; former homeys and fishing nuts Brandon Rogers and Margo Aye drove from the Tri Cities area; Cousins Debbie and David Yount arrived from Tacoma; and daughters Katie and Arcelia, with grandson Jonas in tow, made it from Renton and Ellensburg. Diane and I worked our way down from Paradise.

We figured on a great tuna catching adventure, as our Sunday trip looked better and better. On most of the days leading up to our day, the weather had been near perfect: sunny, comfortable and mostly calm. Regularly, Captain Rob brought the Katie Marie back to port early, full to the gills with fat tuna up to 40 pounds. What a year it would be!

Sunday morning, we rolled out of the campground at 2:45. Under calm and lightly overcast skies, the morning promised perfection. After a couple late office check-ins we were all aboard the Katie Marie by 3:30. We met Tony and Gregorios, the two guys who filled our vacant fisher spots, and Cap gave us his morning safety and rules chat. He loaded live anchovies for the big fat tuna awaiting us, crossed the bar into the Pacific and pointed the boat west.

No rain and not much wind, but the ocean was restless. By the time we were 12 or 13 choppy miles out, a couple of our ten fishers were chumming the ocean with whatever they had eaten over the previous 24 hours. I was relaxing, enjoying the rhythm of the bumpy ride and thinking about big tuna, when Captain Rob came into the cabin. “This is a lot rougher than forecast,” he said. “Look,” he said, “it’s not better out ahead. In these pitching seas, it’s just too dangerous. I’m not willing to get someone hurt or overboard for any fish, so we’re turning back. Pacific Salmon Charters will refund your money, of course, and there are some closer-in salmon and bottom fishing spots available – but they will be pretty rough, too. There are also tuna spots available later this week. I’m sorry folks.” That was that.

So, now what? We got back in the office by 7 a.m. and collected our refunds. After rounding up coffee, we convened at the campground for a confab. Bottom line was that none of us came for salmon fishing, nor could we stay around for a days-later tuna trip. We settled on the number of ttuna filets we might buy for canning, smoking and searing (Well, we were there, weren’t we?). After a collective prayer of thanks for a captain keeping us safe, I went back to Pacific Salmon’s office and ordered a dozen or so sets of four filets.

As I finished ordering, Cap walked up and said, “Jim, I’m so sorry we couldn’t get out there.” “Stop that Cap,” I smiled. “While I expect you to walk on water, I don’t expect you to control it!” Then I booked the boat for Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, 2019. (After all, what could possibly go wrong?)

Great food, laughter, walking beaches, a helmeted 3 ½ year old racing his tiny bike, and catch-up time with family and good friends… Maybe that is the highest purpose of our annual Ilwaco Tuna Adventure.

See you 7 p.m. Monday evening at Hal Holmes. I am now ready to learn more about the status and value of our I-90 Snoqualmie Pass wildlife crossings.

Happy almost-fall.