Archive for May, 2019

Washington Mountain Lion Issues

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 29, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

I’ve enjoyed a couple long conversations with friends and fellow outdoor nuts in Stevens County – up in the Chewelah and Colville area of the northeastern part of our fair state of Washington. That area is pretty close to its habitat capacity for wolves, but these conversations were about cougars – aka mountain lions and pumas. It appears that these last couple weeks of columns are about our two best known apex predators (wolves and lions).

The way our Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) responds to mountain lion issues varies significantly across the state, given differences in habitat, animal and human density and populations, and so on. Director Kelly Susewind has made clear his intention to support his local wildlife enforcement officers in their decisions about actions to take regarding cougars which have come to public attention in their regions.

Across the state, mountain lion sightings and interactions seem to be on the increase. Whether this is because our human population is growing rapidly, because more people are out and about with cell phone cameras, because of an actual increase in big cat numbers, or because of some fundamental problem with mountain lion management remains to be seen. Public conversations and concern, however, are most definitely on the rise.

In several recent conversations, I have heard a couple general summaries of DFW’s approach to cougar problems across the state.

West of the mountains, wildlife agents generally focus on educating the public on ways to protect their pets and livestock from lions (such as bringing them in at night, and watching them closely when they might be at risk of becoming prey) and sharing information about living with big cats. In general, DFW enforcement agents and officers on the West Side have been reluctant to remove individual cats unless deemed absolutely necessary. This is probably understandable given that so many communities are right in the middle of lion habitat. Then, too, some officers apparently received death threats after euthanizing a cat which knocked a man down, then killed and began eating his leashed dog. The best decision – one which might best protect the public – is not always an easy one to make, according to various correspondents.

Here in Paradise, and across Central Washington, it is not unusual for depredating cats to be removed. On occasion, a handful of cats will be killed in a given month, but the frequency seems generally constant over the past few years. And the public is generally supportive of the work of our local DFW officers.

In Northeast Washington, however, a number of citizens and at least one county commissioner are insisting that cougars have reached a “critical mass.” According to a Jared Arnold story in the Chewelah Independent, three weeks ago (7 May), Stevens County citizens overflowed the commissioners’ conference room, presenting a nearly 400-signature petition demanding that the board and the sheriff take action on the growing cougar problem in the region – that it has become a serious threat to public safety. In the past year, alone, there have been 58 serious incidents involving mountain lions – including the one in which the bow hunting 16 year-old Colville Indian girl killed the lion stalking her six-year-old brother last fall. While local DFW officers were praised for their efforts in the meeting, DFW’s cougar management and the arrogance of some of its experts, however, was roundly pilloried.

One or two widely known cougar researchers continue to insist that the issues are largely people’s misperceptions and exaggerated reports of sightings based on the publicity given to incidents involving cougars and people and pets. The facts, and well-documented incidents, seem to show otherwise.

Jeff Flood is a wildlife damage specialist for the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office. He has spent most of his life in northeast Washington, and has decades of dealing with its predators. In his view, the county’s deer, elk and moose have seriously suffered from wolf and lion depredation, likely driving cats, in particular, into town for food. With state rule changes, the hunting pressure on both lions and bears has dropped, leaving fewer territories for young lions and pushing them toward people, although it is unlikely that simple. On trail cameras, folks are reporting far more predators than ungulates – a significant change from just a few years ago. Numbers of problem cat incidents are up – the most Jeff has seen in decades. In 2018, nearly three dozen problem cats were killed, and it is in the mid-twenties so far in 2019. Jeff works closely with local wildlife officers, and some days, he says, it is hard for them to keep up. It is no longer uncommon for Jeff and officers to deal with five separate livestock and pet depredations involving cats in one day.

As DFW enforcement officers continue to deal with local problem predators as well as possible, Director Susewind has directed an advisory group to rethink the state’s overall approach to mountain lion management and hunting. On the table are fresh ways of looking at, and calculating, big cat densities across much broader habitat areas. Montana and others seem to be making progress with similar approaches, and DFW’s group is to have a plan in months. It is hoped that a more holistic look at the state’s cats and their habitat will greatly improve local cougar management approaches. Soon enough for our friends in Stevens County? Stand by…

Wolves: Delist or Not?

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 22, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

You have no doubt been witness to the wolf debate of the last couple months. On March 15 of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a proposed rule, with comments due by May 15. In summary, the rule states that the USFWS had “evaluated the classification status of gray wolves (Canis lupus) currently listed in the contiguous United States and Mexico under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Based on our evaluation, we propose to remove the gray wolf from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. We propose this action because the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the currently listed entities do not meet the definitions of a threatened species or endangered species under the Act due to recovery. The effect of this rulemaking action would be to remove the gray wolf from the Act’s protections. This proposed rule does not have any effect on the separate listing of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) as endangered under the Act.” Many thousands of private individuals, organizations, and agency folks commented on the rule.

As you might expect, there has been no shortage of opinion and emotion in the recent discussion. Our Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Director, Kelly Susewind, has favored the delisting, suggesting that to continue protecting a thriving wolf population “could expose the Endangered Species Act to legislation weakening protections for species in actual danger of extinction.” Oregon’s DFW Director, Curtis Melcher, wrote to USFWS officials on May 9, noting that his agency supports the delisting because the wolves no longer meet the definition of “endangered or threatened.” Oregon Governor Kate Brown nearly immediately slapped down Melcher’s statement, insisting that “it is critically important to maintain wide-ranging recovery areas for wolves across the West,” given that wolves pay little attention to state boundaries. At the center of the wide-ranging debate seems to be this: How much more help do wolves need?

So often, the arguments pit wolf supporters – who see wolves as an icon of wild places, and fear a wholesale slaughter if they are delisted – against ranchers, who simply fear the killing of livestock by out of control wolf numbers. These fears don’t really play out on the ground. In fact, in states where wolves are managed – and hunted – wolf populations are stable or growing. And the costs of wolf presence are far higher to ranchers from the constant harassment of wolves (leading to calves reaching market as much as 80 pounds lighter than normal and cows going into breeding in poorer shape than in the past) than from losses due to wolf depredation.

Given the polarized, emotional and over-simplified aspects of the debate, I thought we might check out The International Wolf Center of Ely, Minnesota ( Established in 1993, it “advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.” The Wolf Center has a reputation for providing factual information to help folks make informed decisions about wolf issues, and seems to keep its pledge to offer up-to-date, accurate wolf information. Thus, the following questions/answers posted on the Wolf Center webpage, with pros and cons about the USFWS delisting proposals.

What would the proposed change NOT do? It would not remove protection from the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), [nor would it] affect the endangered status of red wolves (Canis rufus) in the Southeast, and recovery efforts for them will continue.

“Where would wolves NOT be affected? Wolves have already been delisted and are under state management in Idaho and Montana.

“Wasn’t the Endangered Species Act required to restore wolves to their entire historic range? The FWS says, ‘The Act does not require us to restore the gray wolf (or any other species) to all of its historical range or even to a majority of the currently suitable habitat. Instead, the Act requires that we recover listed species such that they…are no longer in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future. For some species, recovery may require expansion of their current distribution, but the amount of expansion is driven by a species’ biological needs affecting viability and sustainability, and not by an arbitrary percent of a species’ historical range or currently suitable habitat… There is no set formula for how recovery must be achieved.’ 50

“What are some commonly stated pro/con comments about the proposal?

PRO: Wolves are recovered, according to biological standards…with about 6,100 in areas of the U.S. where there is enough wild prey, good habitat and minimum road- and human-density.

CON: The Service’s portrayal of recovery disregards the full definition for threatened (any species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range) and endangered (any species likely to become extinct within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range) species…. ‘Its range’ has to equate with ‘its historical range’ for the ESA to have the broad sweeping impact intended by Congress and for previous agency actions to have relevance to future agency actions.

PRO: As management for wolves passes to the states, wolves will still be protected so that their populations never dip below the numbers set in the ESA’s recovery plan.

CON: Where states have assumed management of wolves they have instituted or plan controversial recreational hunting and trapping seasons, that, for animal protectionists, seem to subvert the whole purpose of past wolf recovery efforts.”

Check out the Wolf Center ( for much more, or google “wolf delisting” for all you need to know.

Enjoy the debate!

The Northwest War on Northern Pike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Getting Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe (GISS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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