Archive for May, 2016

Wildlife Babies & Memorial Day Weekend

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 27, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

A couple days ago, Homey and his family were driving up the old Colockum Pass road, taking in the splendor of spring in Paradise. From moment to moment, they would pass a couple mule deer does or a random cow elk. Several of them looked like they had just recently dropped youngsters.

The conversation in the car revolved around the calves and fawns that were likely tucked away somewhere nearby – and which would likely be almost impossible to find even if you stumbled near one. The kids apparently opined that this was about brand new life, and it “would be so cool to go find a baby and pet it.” From that speculation came a fair bit of thought about this time of year, all the wild babies tucked in around us, and the absolute no-no of disturbing or picking up one of those babies – even if it seems abandoned.

Disappointed as the kids were, the drift of the conversation toward hidden and “invisible” young critters sparked a whole new conversation about Nature’s ways.

Many of us, at one outdoor time or another, have had similar experiences. You watch a family of birds or a mother and baby slip into a small patch of cover. Then, even with a slow, cautious and careful examination, you find no trace of them. Turn to leave, however, and the escape movements and noise of the adult stops your heart. That whole adventurous near-death experience flows from protective coloration – Nature’s camouflage – far more widespread and common than most of us realize.

To survive and grow, of course, new wild things have to avoid predators, and there are an amazing number of ways they do that. Deer fawns and elk calves are born camouflaged with spots. In the dappled light of the forest or brushy areas, those babies virtually disappear into the ground. They also have an innate ability to lie very still, and are almost scent-free in their first week or two.

Camouflage and holding (that ability to “sit tight” and not betray a presence) are common adaptations of birds, too. Most adult female birds, particularly those nesting in grass and weeds, will be mottled, to blend into their surroundings, while protecting their nests and helpless young.  The tiny hatchlings also commonly have mottled, drab feathers until they are mature enough to successfully flee predators. They blend into weeds, grass and brush so completely that they often can’t be seen from even a foot or two away – virtually melting into a small area of cover.

Bird camouflage ranges from this “mottling” to the complete seasonal plumage changeover from white to mottled brown of the ptarmigan. (Our snowshoe hare also depends on such protective changes through the year – as days shorten in fall, it takes on a winter white coat. By April, with lengthening days, it returns to the brown, mottled coat of summer, not unlike the ptarmigan.)

In addition to color patterns, many birds and young produce so little scent while holding during nesting times that a predator may pass right by them–even downwind.

Some of the little owls, with their mottled colors, are also well camouflaged, protecting them a bit from the hawks and larger owls which prey upon them. The little burrowing owl bears a pretty fair resemblance to the prairie dogs and ground squirrels with which it lives, even while standing atop its burrow with its neighbors.

Then, of course, there are the fascinating tiny voices of birds and other wild babies. The high pitch of the cries of new arrivals is actually another form of camouflage – it is all but impossible to locate the source of sounds in those ranges. (By the way, this holds true for human babies, also, in open, outdoor areas. Check it out.)

This is a great time of year for a nice long weekend in the woods and out in the wild, using eyes and ears and developing observational skills. Go for it; spend some time celebrating the new life all around us.

Camouflaged wildlife babies are almost everywhere. Look and listen closely, and maybe you’ll find them. But allow them their ruse and leave them be. After all, that is why they have that protective coloration. Then, too, there are all those pesky state and federal rules about messing around with babies left alone in hiding.

Somewhere in this glorious outdoor Memorial Day weekend, take a moment for a prayer of thanks to those who gave their all so that we can rear our kids and love our families in a Paradise with the freedom to go where, and as, we wish.

Yakama Treaty Rights and Our Salmon

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 20, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

As you have no doubt heard, our Pacific Northwest salmon forecasts are mixed this year – it will not be one of those years of plentiful salmon from spring through fall. Chinook numbers will be fairly good in certain places and during certain run times through the Columbia System, but Coho (silvers) will be largely kaput for 2016. There is a chance that some Puget Sound fisheries will be shut down this year, as a result of a breakdown in negotiations between our Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Treaty Tribes with co-management rights. Given the likely “here and there; now and maybe later” nature of this year’s runs, I have already heard from a few fishers about the impacts of those greedy @#?!$ Indians.

I’ve been thinking that it might be time to get things back into perspective regarding the role of Indian treaty rights in the restoration of our anadromous fisheries.

A bit over three decades ago, Chinook salmon in the Yakima were, for all intents and purposes, gone. Even before that, in 1964, in response to ever-diminishing returns, the four tribes which carried out subsistence fishing in the Columbia System – led by the Yakamas – had voluntarily quit fishing for summer (fall) Chinook. In 1977, they quit fishing for springers. At the insistence of the tribes, commercial Columbia River fishing for summer kings ended in the late 60s, and for spring Chinook in the late 70s. At the time, biologists generally agreed that heavy commercial fishing, poor irrigation water management in spawning areas, and the last of the Columbia Basin dams coming on line had pretty much wiped out the salmon stocks.

Around 1980, many prominent fisheries biologists spoke out for shutting down all salmon fisheries until stocks could be rebuilt. Still, large-scale ocean fishing and non-Indian fishing continued into the 1990s (year-round salmon seasons for anadromous species on the Columbia carried on into the 80s). Ultimately, the growing weight of the increasingly-threatened runs overrode the political PR value of the keeping open seasons, and a lot of fishing came to a halt.

In 1980, the Yakamas were sued by the state to stop any subsistence fishing which they had not already voluntarily stopped – a move seen by many as retaliation for their role in shutting down commercial fishing on the river. The state used an argument revolving around “conservation concerns” to support its case, and all remaining Yakima River tribal ceremonial and subsistence fishing was shut down for two years.

Immediately on the heels of that, the Klickitat Irrigation District announced plans to essentially drain the Klickitat River for its needs, thus wiping out another “usual and accustomed” Yakama fishery. This time, the “conservation concern” argument was used by the Yakamas as they sued to stop the complete removal of the river’s water.

During this same time period, Cle Elum Dam was shut down to preserve irrigation water. The loss of that water virtually destroyed the redds (salmon spawning “nests”) in the Cle Elum and Yakima Rivers, and killed any smolts (salmon young) which were supposed to be moving down river to the Pacific. Bob Tuck, a fisheries biologist for the Yakama Nation, suggested that the Cle Elum could be kept open to protect the salmon redds and smolts, while other dams which did not hover over critical salmon habitat were closed off. In addition to refusing to release the water, the state and feds withheld salmon eggs – future salmon – from the Indians. The tribes sued, putting their tribal treaty rights on the line all the way to the U.S Supreme Court.

Treaty rights of the Yakamas were supported by the courts. Appropriate flows were kept in the streams for the salmon, and salmon eggs were shared. The Indians committed to what is called “gravel to gravel” management, protecting salmon through their complete life cycle. More careful management of impounded irrigation water has proven more than sufficient. After 15 years, the Yakamas’ Cle Elum hatchery facility began bringing back spring Chinook.

Coho were generally gone from the Yakima River and were extinct in the Snake River system.  Since the tribes hadn’t insisted on protecting the Coho at the same level as the Chinook, the feds were able to relax the commercial ocean Coho fishery. In exchange, the Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce were supported in reestablishing specially-reared Coho smolts in the upper Yakima basin, and in the Clearwater of Idaho. Populations which biologists thought impossible are now returning in most years.

The Yakamas’ fall Chinook release programs in the Yakima continues to be successful, too.

Together, irrigators, power districts, sport fishers and Indians have restored much of the missing piece of the life web to our rivers. And, yeah, many don’t like the fifty-fifty split of surplus salmon between Indians and sport fishers. The bottom line, however, is that without the Yakamas putting their treaty rights on the line, and fighting for them, there would be no future for anadromous fish in the Columbia Basin – and no fish for us to fight over.

Now that I have completed this 900th Friday column for the Daily Record, I feel the need for some field research.

All about Getting Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 13, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

Tomorrow is the big day. You and yours are invited to the 17th Annual celebration of our shrub-steppe heritage. Between 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. there are no fewer than 13 one-hour-long field experience choices. There will be expert-led field trips, educational and hands-on science booths and great activities for kids. Included in these adventures are the amazing bird whispering, snake-sneaking, geology-learning, and studying fish, bugs and anything else hiding in the river.

Everything starts at the Umtanum Recreation Area, 13 miles into the Yakima Canyon. Bring your water bottle, hiking shoes, binoculars, a camera, and your sense of wonder.

This is important to you and me and yours and mine and all theirs to come. When push comes to shove (and it will) those people with no solid connection to the outdoors will not give a rat’s hiney about a sustainable outdoor future. The challenge is on our doorstep right now; no doubt you have seen the advertising for the latest “I-” toys and tools – the ones that promise full accessibility to ebooks and internet and email wherever you find yourself.

You recall our discussion of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. I told Louv’s story of the kid who rushed home after school every day to get inside because “That’s where the plug-ins are!”  I’ve done a number of talks about my concern over this loss of what nature writer and author Robert Michael Pyle calls “the extinction of experience.” With such an extinction, that indoor kid will be able to go anywhere, stay “plugged-in,” and remain disconnected from his earth-bound life and roots.

Pulitzer Prize‑winning Harvard biology professor E.O. Wilson used “biophilia” as a descriptor 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.

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

Consider that to lose that knowledge of our connection to nature and other living things we must first have the connection. This is why, this week, I want to focus on Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe (GISS) activities. This is your personal invitation.

In our 2016 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.  For starters, check out, and click on “Upcoming Events.” “Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe” will get to the full schedule of events and opportunities.

The Umptanum fun starts at 7:30 a.m. Think of the pleasure your children will have when, some day, they tell their own children of their Early Bird walk with Jerry Scoville and Deborah Essman – the Bird Whisperer of Paradise. Return from that brief excursion and choose another hour at 9 with these two birders, or spend an hour with Wildflower Ian examining and learning about the beauties up Umtanum Canyon, or follow Rob Fraser as he demonstrates photographing the shrub-steppe.

By 10 a.m. you may be ready for a look at the rich cultural history of the Canyon with Steve Hackenberger. Or maybe you will be ready to look through Rob’s eyes at A Bug’s Steppe. Then, too, 10 a.m. brings one more chance to know birds through the eyes and ears of Jerry and Deborah.

At 11, Melanie Weiss and Al Wagar will introduce you and yours to the art and science of Butterflying for families. Taggart Butterfield and Joey Chase will lead the ever-popular Snake Sneaking tour, and Lixing Sun will carry forward with his fascinating Beaver Tales.

Noon will bring a chance for you to join Sally Herman as she introduces you to Trademark Plants of the Shrub-Steppe. And Taggart Butterfield and Joey Chase will again head out for Snake Sneaking.

Through the whole four hours, from 9 to 1, Paul James will be under the suspension bridge. There, with anyone who wants to play, he will be exploring the bugs and fish and other life of the Yakima River.

Whatever adventures you choose, you will find an abundance of kid and family connection opportunities tomorrow. Bring yourself and those you treasure into the 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 this natural world which sustains us all. To slightly paraphrase Jodi Larsen, of our Upper County Rotary, Remember that children are the emissaries we send into a time we will not see…

GISS… Tomorrow…

All About Buying Dreams

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 6, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

So. What is a dream worth? And how long should it last, once you pay for it? These are the questions hunters across Paradise, Washington, and the U.S. are asking themselves about now.

I don’t really know about those other places, but here in Paradise a dream can be purchased for either $7.10 or $13.70, depending on just how big a dream you want to dream.

What I’m addressing here, of course, are the special permit hunt applications which we must purchase in order to throw our names in the hat to be drawn for a license to hunt in one of the high-demand units for the upcoming seasons. These special permits limit the numbers of hunters – and the pressure on the land and wildlife resources – during hunting seasons. The dream of actually taking a legal armed walk through one of those units, for a bighorn sheep, a mountain goat, a moose, a big bull elk or buck deer can be purchased for little money. The dream will be savored until it either ends when we discover online or by postcard that we were not drawn, or that somehow the permit gods smiled upon us and we will actually be living that dream this year. The wake-up call will happen in late June.

Applications (those dreams) may be purchased at license vendors, by phone at 866-246-9453, or online at

Then, using the applications purchased as part of a dream package, the dreamer hits the phone (877-945-3492) or web ( There, before midnight of 18 May, the dreamer will select the special hunts of which he or she dreams of partaking. Instructions are on page 12 and 13 of the “2016 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations” pamphlet. One must not mess up a good dream.

Most of us well-seasoned hunters cut our teeth on mail-in applications for special hunting licenses or permits. This computerized stuff is easy, quick and accurate, but it lacks the romance of the days of old, when we put our dreams in the mail and waited by our mailboxes for success or rejection. Maybe, after the draw, we’d pick up a leftover license. (In Colorado and Wyoming there are still permits left over in units too few want to hunt, but those are issued by computer now.)

Not long ago (40 years?), however, I could go pick up a permit leftover from the drawing. I still miss those raucous, long, overnights in the leftover license lineups we had in Colorado.

If we failed to draw a dream tag, we could take our chances on the leftovers, which were issued on a “first come-first served” basis. It was a great adventure, really. People would begin lining up at the Division of Wildlife gate in Denver the night before. Coffee and small charcoal fires kept us warm, and story after story entertained us until the gates opened at 7 a.m. Then a mad crush would carry us to the waiting license agents. We’d look over the list of licenses available, and set our priorities. When we finally got to one of the license agents, we’d find out what dream was still available, make a selection, and leave with a license to hunt some place we’d never hunted or scouted before.

One year I got an antelope tag for a unit east of Colorado Springs. Leftover, in that case, because the land was all private, and NOT friendly to hunters (several gate signs said, “Don’t Even Ask!”). It took a lot of smiling and handshaking, but I ended a memorable hunt in some new ground with my family’s antelope meat for that winter.

Another time, I snagged a permit for a unit northwest of Fort Collins. Again, all private. Son Tim was about 10. We were putt-putting all over the unit, knocking on doors and scouting in my little two-cycle, two cylinder, Suzuki Brute 4×4 (one of the first ever imported into the U.S.). After scouting, we drove to a high lake in the Red Feather Lakes area, and had one of our best fishing/camping trips ever. Eventually, we found a rancher in Wyoming who welcomed me to hunt his 2,500 acres on the Colorado side of the border.

In addition to the special hunting season permits, DFW is selling raffle dreams, too. For six bucks or $11.50 (depending on the size of the dream) we get a ticket to dream about an extra deer, elk, goat, sheep or moose tag (dreams involving multiple-tag draws will cost a few bucks more). All those instructions are on page 10 and 11 of your big game pamphlet. Buy the dream raffle tickets by 15 July. We will be notified of the status of our dreams in mid-August.

Does it really matter? Any application or raffle ticket I buy gets me weeks and weeks of dreamtime – and at least one or two will surely be drawn, allowing me to actually pursue my dream. It’s a bargain, you know.

And, there is the very remote possibility that my name will not be drawn. After decades of dealing with ritual applications, in a dozen states, I now understand that not being drawn always means that next year’s odds will be even better. Each interrupted dream gets me one additional preference point – another chance to draw. This makes NEXT year a sure thing.

(One must always purchase dreams with a full and expectant heart.)