National Parks–Here and over There

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 18, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Homey was explaining about his upcoming drive.  “We are going to spend some time in Yellowstone… Do some National Park things and see some wild stuff.”  “Cool,” I said, “Just stay on the roads.”

I love Yellowstone.  I still savor the times my now-grownups and I camped, fished, hiked and looked there.  That brief conversation, however, got me thinking about the last national park I was in—it was Pribaikalsky National Park.

Pribaikalsky National Park is in Siberia.  It was founded in 1986 with the intention of preserving and protecting Lake Baikal’s western shoreline, including storied Olkhon Island.  That national park designation pairs with the region’s 1996 designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As Diane and I and friend/colleague Elaine Glenn planned schedule detail after schedule detail of our train trip across Russia, Mongolia and a piece of Northeast China, we set aside enough time in Irkutsk to make an overnight trek to Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island.  What geographer would miss that chance?

Lake Baikal is the oldest (about 25 million years) and deepest (nearly 6000 feet) lake in the world.  It is also, by volume, the largest lake in the world, holding about 20% of the fresh liquid water on the planet.  It is deep, is amazingly clear and is cold, cold.

Olkhon is the biggest island in Lake Baikal and, actually, the biggest “lake” island in the world. It is about 45 miles long and nine miles wide.  There is not a paved road on the island—most of them are what we might call jeep trails—especially after a rain.  It has no landline phones, but reasonable cell service and fairly reliable electricity.  There are five villages on the island and a year-round population of about 1,500, swelling to thousands during the peak of tourist season (we were a bit early for that).  We would overnight in Khuzir, the largest village, and explore the island’s steppe and boreal forest (taiga) landscapes, bays, capes, cliffs and sandy beaches from there.

There is a good variety of wildlife in the region, including elk and white-tailed deer, bears and unique critters like the nerpa—the Lake Baikal fresh water seal.  Several couple dozen fish species are found in the lake, including lenok and taimen—large Asian trout/salmon species—and grayling, pike and sturgeon.  We were most interested in the iconic food fish of the region—the Baikal omul, a type of whitefish—and did enjoy a rolled and filled omul filet in Irkutsk.

Long story short, we booked a couple days with an English-speaking guide and his Toyota Land Cruiser.  There are dozens of B & B options in Khuzir, and we picked Olkhonskaya Terema Guest House.  Once off the Trans-Siberian and settled into our hotel in Irkutsk, we piled into Ivan’s Land Cruiser and headed north.  250 km later, we were queued up for the hour or so wait for our ferry ride to the island.

Olkhon Island is an ancient shamanistic land of the Buryat People.  There are certain rituals associated with a safe and happy journey there.  Thus, we stopped at a hilltop shrine, made an offering, tipped a sip of a Buriatia balsamic liqueur, and headed to Khuzir.  At our B & B, we ate fresh bread, cereals, vegetables and grayling cakes—simple and tasty meals.

Our 20-mile trip to the northern tip of the island was a great adventure.  We picked up our entry permit for the journey (it was Pribaikalsky National Park after all).  As we left Khuzir, we passed a large colorful sign similar to what I might expect at the entrance to a national forest or park in the US.  It included, among others, a picture of a vehicle with a red line through it.  A hundred yards later was a propped open gate.  We, and several other touring SUVs, went on.

It had been raining for a couple days, and whether we were crossing the broad steppe grasslands or churning through the taiga forests, we were seriously four-wheeling.  On the grasslands, we might slip and slither our way down a slope, cross the creek and tear up the other side on one or another of ten recently cut tracks up the hill.  In the forest, it the road became too rutted or muddy, Ivan simply found another way through the trees.  Amidst my inner conflict about the road business, we stood in fog atop amazing cliffs, hiked steep rocky trails, looked across the biggest lake in the world and had a great cookout at the extreme end of the island.

I hoped to see wildlife.  We saw two ground squirrels, a large number of free-ranging Buryat cattle and a couple dozen Mongolian horses.  We saw a few birds and fishermen with omul.  Ivan said there were elk on the island, but the closest we got was a five point shed leaning up against an old house at one of the Soviet Era prison camps we drove through.  We talked about humans and their use of such beautiful country.

As we drove out past that sign, I turned to Ivan.  “You know, Ivan, in the US that symbol of a car with the line through it means ‘no vehicles’ and they would shoot us for tearing up the trails and making new ones.”  “Yeah, same here,” he smiled, “that’s why we pay for the ‘entry permits.’  And the gate is what they close if the parks guys need more money—then we have to pay again to get out.  We are doing better now but it is still Russia, you know.”

That’s what I know about Russian national parks.

Of Sockeye and Brandon; Of Yakamas and Salmon

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 9, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

During last Saturday’s classes of ’58 through ’62 Eastmont High reunion picnic on Lake Chelan—in the middle of a reverie on dozens of such picnics as a kid—Brandon Rogers called.

“Jim,” he said, “I’m fishing sockeye on Lake Wenatchee, and could stand some company tomorrow morning.  Wanna come fishing?”  Brandon is a sockeye nut.  He had just shifted his focus from chasing the sockeye returning to Baker Lake to the just opened fishery at Lake Wenatchee.  One of the things about sockeye fishing, of course, is that wherever you pursue them, the scenery is spectacular—and there are fish.  Arm twisted, I said, “Sure.”

By 5:08 Sunday morning, we were heading up the lake.  Within minutes, we had a nice salmon in the net.  Soon after that, we managed the first double of the times we’ve fished sockeye on Lake Wenatchee.  By 5:50, we were finished fishing for the day.  We cleaned our fish and settled the boat down, then drove down to the Squirrel Tree Restaurant to wait for the opening bell.

I’ve known Brandon, and wife Margo, since they were geography students at Central.  They were always (probably still are) about one breath away from bolting for a stream or a lake or the hills.  If they weren’t hitting books, they were studying afield; that put them in my “heroes” category.

Margo has developed a career helping scientists solve problems by understanding the spatial relationships of the issues which vex them.  Brandon is a fisheries guy, managing salmon habitat projects for the Yakama Nation.

Over breakfast, we caught up a bit on family, old professors, careers and retirement, and then returned to our long-standing conversation about fishing, salmon and the role of the Yakamas.

30 years ago, Chinook in the Yakima were gone.  In response to diminishing returns, the four tribes which carried out subsistence fishing in the Columbia System—led by the Yakamas—had already voluntarily quit fishing the spring and summer Chinook runs.  At the insistence of the tribes, commercial Columbia River fishing for springers and summer kings ended.  Biologists mostly agreed that heavy commercial fishing, poor irrigation water management in spawning areas, and the last of the Columbia Basin dams had pretty much wiped out the salmon stocks.

Around 1980, many biologists spoke out for shutting down all salmon fisheries to rebuild stocks, but large-scale ocean fishing and non-Indian fishing continued well into the ‘80s, as did year-round seasons for anadromous species on the Columbia.  The weight of the threatened runs overrode the political value of keeping the seasons, and changes were made.

During 1980, the state sued the Yakamas to stop all subsistence fishing not already voluntarily stopped.  The state used “conservation concerns” to support its case, and remaining tribal ceremonial and subsistence fishing was shut down for two years.

Then, the Klickitat irrigation district announced plans to essentially drain the river for its needs, thus wiping out another “usual and accustomed” Yakama fishery.  This time, the Yakamas used the “conservation concerns” argument to sue and stop the complete removal of the water.

During the same time period, Cle Elum dam was shut down to preserve irrigation water.  That closure virtually destroyed the redds (salmon spawning “nests”) in the Yakima, and killed any smolts (salmon young) which were trying to move down river.  Watching this was Bob Tuck, a Central grad and fisheries biologist for the Yakama Nation.  He argued for keeping the Cle Elum open to protect the redds and smolts, and closing off other dams which did not hover over critical salmon habitat.  In response, the state and feds refused to release water and withheld salmon eggs—future salmon—from the Indians.  The Yakamas put their treaty rights on the line.

Those treaty rights were upheld by the courts, all the way up.  Appropriate flows were kept in the streams and salmon eggs were shared.  The Indians committed to “gravel to gravel” management, protecting salmon through their complete life cycle.  Better management of impounded irrigation water proved more than sufficient.  Our salmon story changed.

The Yakamas= Cle Elum hatchery facility has returned spring Chinook salmon.  The Coho which were gone from the Yakima and extinct in the Snake River system are returning, along with populations in the Clearwater of Idaho.  The Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce work closely with state and feds and each other.

Sockeye salmon are coming home.  The offspring of the fish released in Lake Cle Elum in 2009 returned this summer, after four years in the ocean, to make more sockeye.  Other lakes will see them, too.

Together, irrigators, power districts, sport fishers and Indians are restoring this missing piece of the life web to our river basins.  There are still those who don=t like splitting the salmon harvest between Indians and sport fishers, but the bottom line is this: if the Yakamas hadn’t put their treaty rights on the line, we would have no anadromous fish in the Columbia Basin to share.

Scenery, sockeye and good conversation over breakfast in the hills; it was a great morning.

The Chukar Run and the Future of Public Access

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 2, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

The Chukar Run, Kittitas County Field and Stream Club’s annual celebration and fundraising banquet, happens a week from tomorrow.  If you have any interest whatsoever in accessing your (public) ground in the county, be there.

The Kittitas County Field and Stream Club (KCF&SC) is the oldest outdoor-oriented club in the state.  Since 1919, the outdoor lives and traditions of most families in the county have been touched by one club activity or another.  Through almost a hundred years, thousands of outdoor-minded men and women have actively supported the clubs motto: “Working today for tomorrow’s wildlife!”

Supporting that motto has taken dozens of forms, and has evolved into work to protect the public’s ability to enjoy wildlife and nature on its own land.  It is ever more important.

The club sends hundreds of kids to camp, and supports outdoor training in camping, fishing and hunting.

Life members of the club offer a college scholarship ($1,500) to high school graduates in the county who are taking up an outdoor related field.

The club has been the biggest supporter (financial and otherwise) of the Kittitas County Big Game Management Roundtable.  The Roundtable found solutions to ongoing game damage problems in the valley—solutions which continue improving relationships with ag producers.

Kittitas Field and Stream has long sponsored the Eyes in the Woods program—to better look after lands and critters.  Trained volunteers have had an impact on curbing illegal and unethical activities.

Annually, club members pick up tons of yahoo trash on Durr Road.

The Field and Stream Club pioneered hunter education classes more than 50 years ago.  That training in safe hunting and firearm handling is a big deal—and it saves lives.  More than 4,000 youngsters have graduated from club-sponsored classes.

From L.T. Murray development to creation of the Naneum State Forest, the club and its members have been deep in virtually every public land discussion and decision.  That involvement is more critical than ever, and club officers, directors and members are swarming the plate.

Access to public ground—our ground—has fallen under greater threat over the last couple years than at any time in the past century.  KCFSC is not putting up with it.

In the 1980s, the Club worked with the state agencies, business, and the outdoor community on an agreement to close roughly half the roads on public ground around Paradise.  Part of that agreement was that no additional closures would occur in the future.  Fast forward to 2013; proposed and actual closures are popping up all over ground we own—at the hands of those hired to manage our land.

A “temporary” winter closure has become a de facto semi-permanent (and planned permanent) closure—even though promised regular “public involvement” meetings never happened.  Two widely used roads in the Quilomene—Stray and Takison—were proposed for closure.  KCF&SC officers thought they were negotiating to keep them open during the first few months of this year.  In April, a member of the club noticed from his airplane that the roads had been closed with large boulders and a bulldozer.  As it turns out, the recently released Road Management Area Map for the Whiskey Dick/Quilomene—which was updated in January—showed the roads closed.  Now, I hear murmuring about how those closed roads are hindering fighting the big Colockum Tarps wildfire on this critical winter habitat.

Those issues are just the beginning.  Homeys often spoke of playing “Whack-A-Mole” with sudden and unexpected road and access closures on their public land.  It reached the point that Club officers, directors and members began mobilizing the community.

The community responded.  In days, more than 550 homeys signed a petition opposing the closures.  The Ellensburg City Council, Chamber of Commerce and County Commissioners prepared and sent letters.  Our legislative delegation worked to garner support statewide and successfully moved a budget proviso with closure controls through the governor’s signature.  It’s a start.

Field and Stream has stood the outdoor user’s ground in Paradise for nearly a hundred years.  It still stands that ground.  Today, the issue is access—continuing access to your ground.

The struggle for access, and the public’s right to have a voice in decisions about it, will continue. And so will the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club’s work.  This is really for our kids and grandkids and their outdoor heritage.

If you spend time on your land around the valley, this is your struggle, too.  The Club needs your help and support.

The banquet and auction celebration is a week from tomorrow.  You will never make a better investment than the $25 each to get you and your cohort into a terrific meal and an important evening.  Get tickets from board members, Arnold’s Ranch & Home, Sure Shot Guns and Archery, Old Mill Country Store, Shaw’s Furniture and Appliance or get them online at  Come to the banquet.

It’s for now and for tomorrow—for wildlife, for open land, and for your ability to access them.


Getting More Kids in the Woods

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 26, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Over the last couple weeks, two spontaneous off Reecer Creek meetings of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association have occurred.  As you know, under RCRGWS&OTTBA by laws, such meetings are called anytime two or more of us start talking outdoor stuff.  In both these cases, the primary agenda item was kids, outdoor connections and our Kids Outdoor Bill of Rights—a favorite subject.

Among my heroes are a couple leaders in kid outdoor connection efforts.  Robert Michael Pyle, recently on campus for a talk and visit, is the author of several books on butterflies and the outdoor growth of youth.  Richard Louv is a widely known child advocate and is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”  You may recall the conversation with a fourth grader that spurred Louv’s mission to get kids connected to nature.  When Louv asked the boy why he didn’t play outside after school, the kid said, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are…”  The Forest Service has taken the mission to heart.

Over the years since Louv established his Children & Nature Network, the FS has set up and funded numerous partnering opportunities for groups carrying out projects supporting kids and their outdoor experience.  I thought you might like to know about some of them.  You may even want to bring forward one of your own proposals for funding a kids’ outdoor adventure.

One of the best known partnerships is National Get Outdoors (GO) Day, launched on 14 June 2008.  GO Days across the country encourage healthy and active outdoor fun.  This year’s June 8 celebrations ranged from a wild day of festivities in City Park in Denver to quiet exploration and observation on a number of national forest and grasslands.  GO Day is a partnership between the Forest Service and the American Recreation Coalition designed to connect all Americans (but especially kids) with active lifestyles and nature.  You will find plenty of information at, along with reasons we should be more loudly celebrating National GO Day in Paradise.

Other FS programs include More Kids in the Woods and the Children’s Forests program.  Several million dollars have been earmarked for competitive matching with local community money in both of these programs since 2009.  For Fiscal Year 2013, one million bucks was split between the two programs.  Of course, with federal budget constraints (such as sequestration) there are no guarantees of future funding, but the following are some which have been funded.

Urban children in Albuquerque, New Mexico landed on 20 acres of forestland along the Rio Grande River.  There, they climbed onto an elevated fort, hiked a trail through the cottonwood forest to learn about the different plants and animals and did what kids are supposed to do: play outside.  The Children’s Bosque—forest in Spanish—is one of a dozen Children’s Forests projects awarded funding recently.

500 middle and high school kids from area schools near Tallahassee, Florida, spent five days in a More Kids in the Woods event.  They developed new skills including archery and the use of BB gun ranges, discovered wild turkey hunting, and immersed themselves in wildlife interpretive and forestry information, with a demonstration of a prescribed burn and the role fire plays in managing ecosystems.

Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton Children’s Forest has an ongoing “Teton Ten Project,” to increase children’s connections to nature while providing service learning, environmental education, and pivotal outdoor experiences.  The project, in partnership with over 20 organizations, provides opportunities for every child in the regional community to take part in ten types of experiences to establish the Bridger-Teton National Forest Children’s Forest.

In Alaska, Yakutat’s TERN of Events program will add more youth activities during the Yakutat Tern Festival in the Tongass National Forest.  Educational leaders will have funding, thanks to the partnership, to enhance festival offerings and expand instruction to young people about natural sources.  The Chugach National Forest partnership will engage underserved 16- to 19-year-olds in 10-week work experiences on municipal and federal lands.

River Pathways on Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, a project for inner-city teens, will engage them in conservation activities to educate them about Arizona’s rivers, facilitate field trip experiences and involve them in habitat monitoring activities.

Find out more from, the conservation education office of the Forest Service.  Assistant Director Heidi McAllister will have info about future funding of programs for your kids and grandkids, at 202-205-1781 or

For easy ways to get your family outside, go to  “The Book of Stuff to Do Outdoors” is free to download and offers ideas from how to keep a nature journal to making a water scope.

Here’s to outdoor kids forever.

All about the Jitterbugging Swallows of Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 19, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

I love watching swallows do the things they were hatched to do.  As much as we enjoyed our regular hooking and landing of big Chinook with Shane on the Columbia a couple weeks back, we found pleasure in the quiet moments between.  It was then that our eyes might drift off watching rod tips for salmon strikes, to the swallows darting over the big river—this way and that—snatching hundreds of mosquitoes and other insects from the warm still morning air.

Indeed, we could have used a swallow or two in the County Commissioners’ hearing room Wednesday evening.  They’d have made short work of the dozen mosquitoes at which we all took turns clapping.  …But I digress.

Swallows fascinate me.  Birds darting just off the water, dipping to grab insects or bathe or drink can stop me in my tracks.  I have, on occasion, been completely swept away at a four-way stop, or a stoplight, watching barn, violet-green and cliff swallows sweeping and turning and bouncing (“jitterbugging,” The Old Man called it) through and around cars sucking down injured insects rising off warm hoods or grills.  Other, less observant, drivers have, from time to time, rudely reminded me to get my rig in gear.

You’ve noticed those delightful stoplight jitterbugging moments, too, no doubt.  In addition to those barn (Hirundo rustica), violet-green (Tachycineta thalassina) and cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), our valley also hosts tree (Tachycineta bicolor), bank (Riparia riparia) and a fair number of the less noticed northern rough-winged (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) swallows, too.

Actually, with our renewed concerns over West Nile and other mosquito-carried diseases, the swallows of Paradise are ever more important.  They keep flying insects off horses, foals and humans.  Horse owners often tell me, enthusiastically and with a touch of awe, about the mud nests on the walls of their boarding barns.  This is good; individually and collectively swallows will eat many tons of flying insects this summer.

All of the six swallows in Washington are elegant flyers with long, pointed wings, and (except for the cliff swallow) notched tails.  They are all migratory birds.

Tree swallows arrive first in spring and head south last in fall, perhaps because they are the only swallows to largely winter within the U.S.  (Most of ours winter along the Gulf of Mexico or southern California.)  On the other hand,  barn and cliff swallows have among the longest migration flights of any land birds–some wintering as far south as Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

Tree swallows nest in tree cavities or nest boxes (especially near water), competing—often poorly—with mountain bluebirds, flickers, starlings and others for cavities.  Where nest boxes have been provided, their populations have increased.

In addition to cliffs (check out the Selah Cliffs Natural Area at the northbound I-82 rest area by the Training Center), cliff swallows use bridges, culverts, and buildings near water for nesting.  Mud nests are bulbous affairs, stacked one on top of the other, with entrances on the sides, facing a bit downward.  These colonial creatures assemble the most densely populated communities of any breeding birds on the continent; as many as 1,000 or more pairs—each pair with its own gourd-shaped nest somewhere in the jumble.

Barn swallows are our most common urban-area swallows, living wherever civilization goes.  Cup-shaped nests are made of mud plastered to the timbers of barns or other outbuildings.

Barn and cliff swallows have often been observed carrying mouthful after mouthful of mud, and shaping it with feet and mouth and body.  It’s hard work; one study found that a pair of barn swallows made 1,359 trips, covering a total of 137 miles in six days to collect mud and material for one nest.  In a lesson for us all, they still took time to play or celebrate.  They and others were seen carrying feathers high into the sky, dropping them, and swooping down to catch them in mid-air before putting finishing touches to the nest.

Overall, swallow populations are healthy and increasing.  It is always cool to see these five- to seven-inch long flashes of orange, purple, green or brown in rapid, skillful flight around the bridges, overpasses and buildings near water and ag ground in Paradise.

Learn more about swallows and any other birds of Washington from, or any good field guide.

Swallows are true signs of summer.