Monthly Archive: December 2015

Website Gives Info about Banded Waterfowl in Idaho

Waterfowl bands have a special place in waterfowl hunting. They’re not ducks playing music; waterfowl bands are part of a long-running project where wildlife managers trap waterfowl, usually during late summer, and place small metal bands on the legs of ducks and geese to track migrations and populations.

As those banded birds migrate, they are frequently shot by hunters or eventually found dead from other causes, and the information on the band is relayed back to the U.S. Geological Survey and entered into a database. If you’ve shot a duck or goose with a band, you should report it by going to Reportband.gov. After reporting, you will receive a certificate of appreciation that includes where the bird was banded and how old it was at the time of banding.

If you’re curious where ducks and geese are banded in Idaho, and where banded birds are shot or otherwise found, go to Fishandgame.idaho.gov/seasons/waterfowl, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the link.

The map on the website is interactive, so you can click on the location of individual birds and tell where and when the birds were shot or found. The map also shows the location of where birds are banded, and the database goes all the way back to 1914. For example, you can see a mallard banded in September 1914 at Utah’s Salt Lake was recovered (presumably by a hunter) near Lava Hot Springs in January 1915. You can also sort the database by bird species.

The information bands provide has been used in North America back to the early 1900s, but bird banding dates back to the late 1500s in Europe.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey website: “By 1909 the American Bird Banding Association had been formed to organize and assist the growing numbers. In 1920 the Bureau of Biological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service accepted the offer to jointly take over the work of the Association. Frederick Lincoln was assigned the task of organizing the banding program in the USA in the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the U.S. Geologic Survey.) The North American banding program has been a joint effort to oversee the activities of dedicated banders all over the world ever since.”

Waterfowl bands play an important role in management. The four North American flyways were originally identified through banding efforts. Wildlife managers use information gleaned from bands for season setting, population estimates, tracking migrations, estimating survival rates and harvest rates.


Great Basin Rangeland Facing Challenges with Climate Change

BOISE • Fighting the effects of climate change in Great Basin rangeland is drawing together federal, state and private interests to deal with what scientists say is greater weather variability causing big swings in forage available for cattle and wildlife.

Biomass can triple some years or see declines just as great, experts say, and native vegetation in the region that has survived climate variations for tens of thousands of years now faces challenges from invasive species and wildfires.

In the politically red state of Idaho, though, arguments over global warming are generally avoided.

“Forget that, we need to mitigate and act,” said John Freemuth, a Boise State University professor and public lands expert. Of the many efforts underway, he’s leading one with a $500,000 grant from the U.S Bureau of Land Management to bring together federal, state and tribal entities to find ways to reduce the severity of rangeland wildfires.

The most significant change follows an order by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in January elevating the importance of rangeland wildfires when it comes to assigning resources. Ranchers have signed up to fight rangeland fires, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is experimenting with targeted grazing to reduce fuel and create firebreaks in some areas.

But some ranchers have had to pull cattle off grazing allotments when food ran out early due to lack of moisture. In southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon, a giant rangeland fire last summer will keep ranchers off grazing allotments for years.

“As we think about climate change, I think we do need to consider what does this mean for our ranching community and how are we going to adapt going forward,” said Janice Schneider, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “A healthy economy and healthy ecosystem are inextricably linked.”

Certified animal nutritionist Marty Gill, whose family has ranched in Idaho since the 1880s, said he’s seen an increase in ranchers pulling cattle off rangeland earlier than normal because of lack of forage, resulting in lost income.

“When you go from green grass to brown grass, your protein and energy values severely decline,” he said. “In the last three or four years in particular, kind of in the Great Basin area, the snowpack has been very, very low.”

Precipitation in the Idaho portion of the Great Basin was slightly below normal last winter, said Troy Lindquist of the National Weather Service, and several warm spells also reduced snowpack. Temperature records kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the average temperature for 2011 to 2014 in the Great Basin states was 1 to 2 degrees warmer than the previous 100 years.

That’s problematic, said Matt Germino, a research ecologist with the United States Geological Survey who specializes in sagebrush steppe ecosystems. Precipitation falling as rain rather than snow means that perennial native plants have less water to store for summer use. And mid-winter warm spells melt snow sooner, with some areas in recent years seeing spring runoff in winter.

Another threat is cheatgrass, an invasive plant that can cause multiple wildfires in a decade in areas where native vegetation, Germino said.

“I would say things look pretty good for cheatgrass,” Germino said. “Especially if the warmer winters are overlaid by more precipitation that occurs as rain and not snow.”

As part of Jewell’s order, the BLM has been experimenting with targeted grazing to remove some of the fuel, notably cheatgrass that can provide forage before drying out.

“I’m a huge proponent of using animals very strategically and very heavy in places,” said Karen Launchbaugh, director of the University of Idaho’s Rangeland Center. “So far, that’s what I’m seeing ranchers and the BLM doing, at least in the Snake River plains. I’m kind of encouraged.”

However, she noted, “poor grazing management usually favors annual invasive grasses” such as cheatgrass.

Wyatt Prescott, executive director of the Idaho Cattle Association, said ranchers remove cattle in dry years but aren’t allowed to add more in wet years.

“What we have advocated for is that ranchers need the flexibility to adapt to what the system provides,” he said.

Cheatgrass uses moisture that might otherwise go deeper into the soil where it could be tapped by deep-rooted sagebrush in summer. Germino noted that many native plants rely on snow cover in winter to insulate them from much colder air temperatures that show up periodically.

“Most plants have no problem being right at freezing with the insulation provided by snow cover,” he said. “But fewer plants are able to tolerate the minimum air temperatures that often come in midwinter.”

Besides providing forage for cattle, about 350 wildlife species rely on the sagebrush steppe, including sage grouse.

State Forester David Groeschl recently told the Idaho Land Board, comprised of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and four other statewide-elected officials, that the 30-year trend shows wildfire season lasting a month longer, with the 2015 season lasting two months longer. The state is on the hook for about $60 million in firefighting costs this year, mainly spent fighting fires in northern Idaho.

The Land Board voted to boost Idaho’s wildfire fighting budget by 10 percent, or $900,000, for efforts to put out small fires before they become large ones.

“We put a lot of fires out that were 2 to 5 acres this year,” said Otter, who as a young man fought wildfires in Idaho. As governor, he’s had to deal with multiple giant rangeland fires in the last decade, and said he welcomes Jewell’s order aimed at not only protecting rangeland but rehabilitating it after a fire.

That effort extends to southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon where federal agencies are spending $67 million over five years to rehabilitate the 436 square miles torched in the August rangeland wildfire. Much of that work aims to return native plants before cheatgrass and other invasive species move in.

“I think that everyone understands that at the end of the day, the invasive annual weed issue is the critical driver of the problem,” Schneider said.


Somebody Needs You

Volunteers • The Foster Grandparent Program at the CSI Office on Aging has openings for volunteers, age 55 and older, to read to children ages 2 to 9 and assist with their academic and social skills. Placements are available throughout the Magic Valley in Head Start programs and public elementary schools. Information: Marisol, 208-736-2122 or toll free, 800-574-8656.

Volunteers • Hospice Visions Inc. is looking for volunteers for hair dressers, meal assistance, and to visit with, play music and games with those on hospice services. Volunteers are needed with licensed certified therapy animals to love on the hospice patients in their own homes or assisted living centers. Volunteers are needed to do art projects with the patients; take someone to the store, run an errand or out for a drive; and as pet assistants to help patients receive regular visits from their beloved pets. Veteran can become a Vet-to-Vet Volunteer and visit with other veterans. Volunteers are also needed to assist with fundraising events and provide office assistance. Information: Nora, 208-735-0121 or nwells@hospicevisions.org.

Volunteers • The Senior Companion Program at the CSI Office on Aging needs volunteers, age 55 and older, to assist homebound seniors by providing friendly visits and transportation as needed. Information: Marisol, 208-736-2122 or toll free, 800-574-8656.

Drivers • The Senior Assisted Services (SAS) program at CSI’s Office on Aging is looking for volunteer drivers for their transportation department. The volunteers will transport the program’s senior clients to doctor appointments, shopping, and personal necessities. Information: Kathy, 208-736-2122.

Volunteers • Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers provides volunteers to help elderly, disabled and chronically ill people live safely and independently in their homes. Volunteers assist with transportation to health-related appointments and essential errands, light housekeeping chores, friendly visits, yard maintenance and simple home repairs. Carpenters and handymen are also needed. Volunteers are reimbursed for mileage and covered with excess auto liability insurance. Commitment is flexible with no minimum hours required. IVC serves Twin Falls, Jerome, Lincoln and Gooding counties. Information: Edie Schab, 208-733-6333 or ivcofmv@gmail.com.

Drivers • The Twin Falls Senior Center is looking for volunteers to deliver meals to homebound seniors in the Twin Falls area. The center delivers meals Monday through Friday, and routes take one hour or less to complete. Volunteers can commit as little as one hour a week to five days a week. Several positions are available. Volunteers must be age 18 or older with their own car and have proof of liability insurance. Drivers are reimbursed for fuel. Information: Jeanette Roe, 208-734-5084.


Elk Ends Up inside Hailey Home, 10 Others Die from Poisonous Plant

HAILEY • A homeowner just outside Hailey woke up early Wednesday morning with an elk in a basement bedroom, just hours after 10 elk died from eating Japanese yew in the Hailey Cemetery.

The incidents were unrelated – the house was far from the cemetery – but both are attributable to high snow levels in the mountains, said Regional Conservation Educator Kelton Hatch of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

“This time of year, animals are moving down to populated valleys where they traditionally would have fed,” Hatch said.

The elk ended up in the bedroom after falling in a basement window well and crashing through the window, Senior Conservation Officer Alex Head of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said in a statement. It took several hours for Blaine County sheriff’s deputies and Fish and Game officers to steer the confused elk up the basement stairs and out of the house.

“It took us about 2 ½ hours, but we got her out uninjured,” Head said in a statement. “The basement will need a good, deep cleaning, but we are glad it worked out as well as it did.”

The officers and deputies used mattresses as shields as they prodded the cow towards the stairs.

“They finally get her cornered and moving in the right direction,” Hatch said. “She ran up the stairway and out the door.”

At the cemetery, Fish and Game officers quickly disposed of the 10 elk carcasses while city maintenance workers removed the remaining Japanese Yew from cemetery grounds.

“Japanese yew is known to be extremely toxic,” said Daryl Meints, Fish and Game’s regional wildlife manager in a statement. “This has happened before in the Wood River Valley and other places around the state to both elk and moose.”

The increased number of elk and other animals is causing problems on roads, too, where several vehicle versus animal crashes have occurred in recent weeks, Hatch said. Often elk will survive the initial crash but die later from internal injuries, sometimes on people’s properties.

“Drivers should be real cautionary this time of year,” Hatch said. “Especially at dawn and dusk when animals are most likely to be feeding.”

“The best thing for people to do is slow down when driving,” Meints said. “When you have elk in your backyard give them a wide berth and don’t push them, and if you have a problem call Fish and Game or local city police or the county sheriff.”

People having problems with winter wildlife can call the Fish and Game Magic Valley Regional Office at 208-324-4359.


Grizzly Death Count Rises as Yellowstone Population Grows

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) | The number of grizzly bear deaths or removals in the Yellowstone region climbed to an all-time high in 2015, but biologists say they're not worried about the animal's long-term survival in the area.

The known or suspected deaths of 55 bears shouldn't interfere with plans to remove the region's grizzlies from protection under the Endangered Species Act, Frank van Manen, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, said Wednesday.

"This year should be considered within the context of what we've seen in terms of the long-term trend," van Manen said.

The team of state and federal scientists and biologists estimates more than 700 grizzlies live in the Yellowstone region spanning parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. That's up from about 600 in 2010 and around 200 in the early 1980s.

Grizzlies first were listed as a threatened species in 1975. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set a management goal of 674 bears as it moves toward delisting.

One reason for this year's high number of deaths: Poor production of wild berries, possibly because of late high country frosts and snow, caused bears to wander far in search of food.

"When you have a year of lower food availability, bears just tend to roam around more and be more vulnerable to various sources of mortality," van Manen said. "They get into trouble more. We had a lot of conflicts this year as a result of that."

Also, the region had only an average year for another grizzly food staple — nuts from the cones of whitebark pine trees. Grizzlies have proven adaptable, however, and able to sustain themselves on a variety of natural food sources in the region, van Manen said.

Wildlife managers this year euthanized 24 grizzlies for a variety of run-ins with people, property or livestock. Zoos took in four of those bears' cubs, including two cubs that belonged to a grizzly sow that killed a hiker in Yellowstone National Park in August.

Wildlife managers typically euthanize problem bears only as a last resort. More often than mauling people, such bears cause issues like killing livestock and raiding trash facilities.

"But we're also talking about a very intelligent animal," van Manen said. "Once they learn how to get access to human food sources, it becomes a real challenge. And their homing ability is just tremendous. You can move them 50 or 100 miles and they know how to make their way back pretty quick, in a lot of cases."

Other deaths included four grizzlies hit by vehicles. Another 19 remain under investigation. Hunters killed many of those grizzlies, and law enforcement officers are withholding details until they sort out what happened, according to van Manen.

Deliberately killing a grizzly without sufficient justification, namely self-defense, is punishable by up to a year in prison and fines of up to $50,000.

The study team counts the cubs taken to zoos in their annual mortality count. That puts this year's toll of 59 above the previous recent high of 56 in 2012.

The study team counted 28 known and probable deaths in 2014 and 29 in 2013. Berries were more plentiful those years, van Manen said.

Biologists acknowledge they never know exactly how many grizzlies die in the region that includes Yellowstone National Park and immediately surrounding areas. The total known and unknown grizzly deaths may have topped 70 in 2015, van Manen said.


Idaho Youth Ranch Gets Anonymous $7.5 Million Donation

BOISE (AP) | The Idaho Youth Ranch has received an anonymous $7.5 million donation to expand services at its new location in Canyon County.

The Idaho Press-Tribune reports that the nonprofit organization says the donation will launch a $22 million project to help struggling youth and families throughout the state.

The Youth Ranch is moving its flagship program from Rupert to a new 258-acre site near Middleton. The new ranch will have lodges for residential therapy, treatment facilities, stables, a chapel and educational buildings.

It will also have walking paths and outdoor recreational and learning activities.

CEO Steve Woodworth said in a statement that the organization is extremely grateful for the large gift.

The anonymous donor has ties to the Idaho Youth Ranch and spent many summers on her father's ranch outside Hailey.


Idaho Man Dies While Snowmobiling

COEUR D'ALENE (AP) | A Coeur d'Alene man died after having a heart attack while snowmobiling.

The Coeur d'Alene Press reports that the Shoshone County Sheriff's Office says 64-year-old Kelly Nelson started having heart attack-like symptoms while riding his snowmobile in a remote section of mountains near Grizzly Peak on Saturday.

Police say people riding with Nelson apparently took him down the mountain and called emergency services. A LifeFlight helicopter landed near Bumblebee Bridge and the crew travelled to Nelson on snowmobiles.

The sheriff's office says Nelson was given CPR almost immediately after the heart attack, but medical crews were unable to revive him.


Twin Falls’ Quirky Copper Ball Ready to Drop on New Year’s Eve

TWIN FALLS • Construction on the grain elevators that rise seven stories above Twin Falls was finished in 1916, and on Friday the “silos” will help ring-in their centennial New Year.

A two-foot wide copper ball is set to drop from the top of the grain elevators at 11:59 Thursday night, counting down the final 20 seconds of 2015.

The ball has dropped from the Old Towne grain elevators every year but one since 2002 thanks to Dave Woodhead, who bought the ball in 2002 at an auction for less than $20.

For those who want to witness the quirky tradition this year, the directions are simple: show up a few minutes before midnight Thursday outside the old grain elevators at the corner of Fifth Avenue South and Shoshone Street, and look for Woodhead’s green 1961 Ford Econoline pickup.

That’s the truck that will be hooked to the rope and pulley system used to drop the ball.

Woodhead and some friends used a rope and their hands the first time they dropped the ball, as part of the 2002 New Year’s Eve party at Woody’s Bar, and a tradition was born.

“It was at an auction around the corner,” Woodhead said of the ball, which he estimates weighs about 50 pounds. “This guy collected all sorts of things, and this happened to be there. And I thought, ‘well this is plum cool.’ I didn’t plan it for this.”

The ball, which is heavily dented, was once “a float” in a big tank, Woodhead admits.

“But he insists on not knowing exactly what it was,” Earl Mitchell said of his friend. “He thinks it’s more mysterious that way.”

Icy snow covered the spiral stairs of the grain elevator Tuesday as Woodhead, Mitchell and Tom Gilbertson climbed to the top to set up a test run of the drop. Gilbertson has keys to the old elevators as a partner in Preservation Twin Falls Inc., the nonprofit that bought the structure back in 2005.

Once the rope and pulley was hooked up, Woodhead climbed back down and connected the big copper ball to the front of the Econoline.

After three test runs, which included some trouble backing the old pickup over an especially icy portion of road, the men were satisfied with the results of the practice.

The Twin Falls ball drop is humbler and considerably more Idahoan than the famous one in New York’s Time Square. It’s also taken far less seriously by the men in charge.

“The night of, we frequently didn’t know what we were doing,” Mitchell said of the first few years dropping the ball. “That was when Dave had the bar, so there was usually a lot of beer involved towards midnight.”

Turnout for the ball drop usually depends on weather, Woodhead said. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how many people are there because a lot of them stay in their warm cars.

The same will likely be true this year, as the temperature New Year’s Eve is forecast to be about five degrees. But the cold won’t stop Woodhead and his crew from carrying on their very Twin Falls tradition.


Warming Climate Intensifies Threat to Sage Grouse

Climate change is exacerbating some of the trends that are making it harder for sage grouse to survive in its native sagebrush rangeland, researchers say.

Idaho and other Western states that are home to the threatened bird have been working to help bolster their populations, hoping to avoid a federal listing of the birds as endangered that could be devastating to ranching, mining and other industries. The federal government opted not to list the birds this year, but the government’s new rules angered some of the states. Idaho is suing to block the rules.

While the direct impact of climate change on sage grouse is unknown, a number of studies have predicted that it will harm the bird’s habitat.

For example, a U.S. Geological Survey study of sagebrush habitat in Wyoming, published in April, analyzed 30 years of climate data and concluded climate change would significantly reduce the amount of sage grouse habitat by reducing precipitation, creating conditions more favorable to plants other than sagebrush and making the habitat more vulnerable to fire, insects, disease and invasive species.

Cheatgrass, an invasive grass that has contributed to worsening wildfires that destroy sagebrush, will thrive as the steppe gets hotter and drier and carbon dioxide levels increase, John Robison of the Idaho Conservation League said.

“Sage grouse are kind of an indicator species,” he said.

There is political debate as to the causes of these trends and how to fix them; conservative supporters of state control of federal lands often blame federal management for making fires worse. This summer’s Soda Fire burned more than 400 square miles in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon — including 50,000 acres that were considered priority sage grouse habitat — and reignited the longstanding debate over land management and whether grazing is helpful or harmful. However, there is widespread agreement across the political spectrum in Idaho that the increase in fires is a threat to the landscape that should be addressed.

“There’s enough going on right now that everyone agrees the status quo isn’t working for Idaho’s sagebrush steppe,” Robison said.