Press Release

March 2006

Though Months Away, Hunters Plan Fall Seasons

By Dave Koehler - Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Although Idaho's big game hunting seasons remain months away, the telephones at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) are ringing off the hook with anxious hunters wanting to plan their fall hunting vacations.

In March, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted the 2006 seasons. Hunters planning to hunt in the Clearwater Region will find relatively few changes made to the elk, deer, and bear seasons. No changes were made in the mountain lion season in the region.

The 2006 Seasons and Rules Booklet is currently at the printers and will be made available April 10 at all license vendors and IDFG regional offices. Hunters can also view the seasons and rules by visiting the department's website at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov.

Deer hunters in the Clearwater Region will find two changes. The first is an increase of 150 permits for the Big Game Management Unit 11AX controlled antlerless hunt. This hunt is an extra controlled hunt for antlerless deer of either species, whitetail or mule deer. The justification for this change is to address chronic depredation problems on agricultural crops by mule deer. The number of antlerless mule deer involved in these depredations appears to be increasing.

The second change involves the clarification of a hunt boundary for the Unit 15X hunt, which is also an extra controlled hunt for antlerless white-tailed deer in portions of Units 15 and 16. This hunt is also designed to address depredations by antlerless whitetails on private property in the western portion of these two hunt units. A wording change in the boundary description now directs hunters to the western portions of these units and away from a block of private property around Elk City where no depredations exist.

Ask the Conservation Officer (CO)

by Gary Hompland, Regional Conservation Officer

Question: "I'm new to the area and have heard and read a lot of discussion in the local print and television media about sage-grouse. Why is everyone so focused on sage-grouse?"

Answer: Sage-grouse are a unique species of prairie grouse native to Idaho. Their populations have declined markedly over the last 50 years.

Many pioneer families grew up eating sage-grouse. To many, sage-grouse are a symbol of our heritage similar to the elk, bald eagle or salmon. Historical numbers of sage-grouse populations in Idaho are not well documented.

Overall, populations of this magnificent bird have declined throughout the West due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Petitions to list the species, or individual populations, as either threatened or endangered have been presented to the US Fish and Wildlife Service eight times since 1999.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (Department) has released a draft version of the new statewide sage-grouse conservation plan for public review. An electronic version of the plan is available on the Department's website at: www.fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/hunt/grouse/conserve_plan/.

The goal of the plan is to, "Maintain, improve, and where possible, increase sage-grouse populations and habitats in Idaho, while conserving the predictability and long-term sustainability of a variety of other land uses."

A secondary goal of the plan is the establishment of new Local Working Groups (LWGs) in all sage-grouse planning areas where they do not currently exist. A new working group for much of Cassia County (the South Magic Valley LWG) will be in place by the end of the year.

Steelhead Anglers Urged to Fish In-bounds

KOOSKIA - The Idaho Department of Fish and Game reminds steelhead anglers that steelhead fishing is closed on the Clearwater River above Clear Creek, a large tributary stream approximately one mile upstream of Kooskia.

There is no spring catch-and-release season for steelhead above Clear Creek. This boundary remains the same each year and should not be confused with the salmon fishing boundary which can vary from season to season.

For sport anglers, the Middle Fork Clearwater River remains open above Clear Creek for harvest of whitefish and catch-and-release of trout only until March 31. This also includes the Lochsa River upstream to Wilderness Gateway Bridge, and the Selway River upstream to the Selway Falls cable car. Idaho's general fishing season on river and streams then reopens May 27, 2006 of Memorial Day weekend. Please keep in mind that both the Lochsa and Selway rivers require artificial lures and barbless hooks.

Anglers should also be aware that enrolled Nez Perce tribal members have Treaty rights to fish for steelhead above the Clear Creek boundary.

Helicopter Use in Wildlife Management

By Vicky Runnoe,

Idaho Department of Fish and Game

The muffled "whump, whump, whump" of a helicopter passing overhead is a common sound over much of Idaho. Whether it is a Forest Service helicopter ferrying water to a forest fire or LifeFlight transporting a patient, helicopters have proven their worth time and again. Fish and Game has been relying on helicopters to survey fish and wildlife for many years.

Helicopters offer many advantages to the field of wildlife management. Large areas can be surveyed efficiently and quickly, and biologists are not limited by the availability of roads and trails. In addition, the low-level flight capabilities of a helicopter allow biologists to see animals that are simply too far away to be spotted from a road or trail or would otherwise be hidden by topography or vegetation.

Here in the Salmon Region, helicopters have been used to survey elk, deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and sage grouse. During these surveys, sightings of other animals such as moose, mountain lion, wolf, or black bear are noted, providing documentation of a species' presence in certain areas. Helicopters are also used during capture operations to place radio collars on a number of big game species. Fisheries biologists even get the chance to take to the air to fly along regional waterways to count Chinook salmon redds ("nests" excavated in the stream gravel by the female into which eggs are laid) or stock fish in high mountain lakes.

April is Month for Trophy Species Applications

April is the month for applying to draw for moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat hunts.

Applications for these controlled hunts will be accepted from April 1 through April 30. Hunters may apply at Fish and Game offices or license vendors, or they can apply using a credit card by telephone or over the Internet. Telephone applications may be made at 1-(800)-554-8685; Internet users can apply through Fish and Game's website at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/.

Each applicant must possess an Idaho hunting or combination license to apply for a controlled hunt. License fees will not be refunded.

For moose, goat or sheep hunt applications only, the entire application fee must be paid with the application and all but the $6.25 application fee will be refunded to those who do not draw. The resident application, including permit fee, costs $180.75; nonresidents pay $1,765.75. These fees have changed from last year; the fees listed in the rules brochure are not correct. Unsuccessful resident applicants will receive a refund of $174.50; unsuccessful nonresident applicants will receive a refund of $1,759.50.

Mailed applications must be postmarked no later than April 30.

Checkoff for Wildlife

As you sweat and swear your way through this year's tax forms, it might lift spirits a little to check off the box for donating to Idaho's wildlife.

Taxpayers can check off the square on their Idaho tax forms to donate any amount of their refund to nongame animal programs administered by Fish and Game. Other Fish and Game programs aimed at game animals and fish are funded through the sale of licenses and tags to hunters and anglers. No general taxes go to either game or nongame programs.

Nongame programs include education, conservation and recreation. Examples of nongame wildlife projects include producing popular educational publications and doing research on nongame wildlife species. Better information about those species aids wildlife management efforts and could help keep some from becoming rare. Fish and Game efforts with these species can help protect wildlife species before they decline to the point of listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Besides the checkoff, the major source of funding for nongame programs is through the sale of the distinctive bluebird, cutthroat trout and elk license plates.

Time to Send in Super Hunt Applications

Just a reminder, applications for the first Super Hunt and Super Hunt Combo drawing in 2006 must be received at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game headquarters by May 31 with the drawing set for June 15.

Applications will be drawn for eight elk, eight deer, and eight antelope hunts as well as one moose hunt. One Super Hunt Combo application will be drawn that will entitle the winner to hunt for one each elk, deer, antelope and moose. A second drawing will be held August 15 when another Super Hunt Combo and applications for two elk, two deer, and two antelope hunts along with one moose hunt will be drawn. The application period for the second drawing is June 1 through August 10.

A single application is $6.25. Applications are available at license vendors, Fish and Game offices, on the Internet at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/license/apps/, and by phone at 800-824-3729 or 800-554-8685. Mail applications to: IDFG License Section, P.O. Box 25, Boise, ID 83707. Applications also can be purchased online at https://65.67.43.193/internet/

Application fees are:

1 Super Hunt $6.25 1 Super Hunt Combo $19.95

6 Super Hunts $24.95 6 Super Hunt Combos $99.95

13 Super Hunts $49.95 13 Super Hunt Combos $199.95

Proceeds go to help pay for Fish and Game's Access Yes! program that helps expand hunting and fishing access to and across private lands.

Unmarked Steelhead Return

Anglers in the Riggins area have been complaining that they are catching mostly steelhead with unclipped adipose fins, and that means they have to release them.

There's a good reason for that, and it is in part a measure of their own success.

Most hatchery-raised steelhead have their adipose fin-the small fin on the back just ahead of the tail-clipped to identify them as hatchery fish and therefore legally harvestable. Most fish with an intact adipose fin are wild and must be released.

As part of an ongoing negotiated court settlement of the federal court's 1969 U.S. v. Oregon case, still under court jurisdiction, a portion of the hatchery fish released in Idaho must be allowed the opportunity to spawn naturally. To that end, the adipose fins on a portion of the steelhead and salmon raised at Idaho hatcheries are not clipped.

The number varies with drainages across the state. In the Little Salmon, about 15 percent of the steelhead are unclipped. The unclipped fish are expected to return and spawn naturally in hopes of establishing or augmenting native runs.

When they return, marked as well as unmarked, they tend to congregate near the boat ramp at the confluence of the Little Salmon and Salmon rivers before heading upstream to spawn. Anglers are allowed to fish for the returning hatchery steelhead. They must release the unclipped ones.

As the marked fish are caught and taken from the river-and the unmarked ones left behind-the ratio of unmarked fish in the school rises. Soon it begins to seem to anglers that no marked hatchery fish were released in the river.

The steelhead, however; marked or otherwise, will begin moving as the water warms. As the water warms in the Little Salmon, steelhead will likely mix with other pods of fish and more fin-clipped steelhead should begin to show up. Steelhead are moving upstream to spawn, starting in the first couple of weeks of April.

Wolf Progress Report Available

Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe have released their annual wolf report: "Wolf Conservation and Management in Idaho; Progress Report 2005."

The report, required by federal wolf reintroduction rules, summarizes the status of wolves and wolf management within Idaho, including portions of all three northern Rocky Mountain recovery areas: endangered wolves in the Northwest Montana recovery area north of Interstate 90 and nonessential experimental wolves within the Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone recovery areas south of Interstate 90.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has ultimate responsibility for endangered and reintroduced wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, compiles an annual interagency report summarizing wolf recovery and management in those states: http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/annualrpt05/.

In the past, the Nez Perce Tribe wrote an annual report for Idaho. In January 2006, however, an agreement between the U.S. Department of the Interior and Idaho gave Idaho primary management responsibility over wolves in the state, including producing the annual progress report.

The report notes that officially, by the end of 2005, biologists documented 59 resident wolf packs in Idaho, observed a minimum of 370 wolves, and estimated the population at 512 wolves. In addition, 11 documented border packs have established territories that straddle state boundaries between Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and probably spend some time in Idaho. Of the 40 packs known to have reproduced, 36 qualified as breeding pairs by the end of the year. These 40 reproductive packs produced an estimated minimum 123 pups, two of which were known to have died.

Don't Let West Nile Virus Keep You Indoors

Experts expect the West Nile virus to appear in Idaho again with the arrival of warmer weather and mosquitoes. The first signs of the virus probably will show up in mid to late summer.

But the presence of West Nile virus is no reason to stop enjoying Idaho's great outdoors. Only a fraction of the mosquito population carries the virus, and only a few people who get bitten and infected get sick. Officials encourage people to take a few simple precautions against mosquito bites, such as wearing long sleeves and pants, using insect repellent that contains DEET and eliminating standing water around your home.

Most people bitten by an infected mosquito do not become ill, though some may experience a mild fever, headaches and body aches. Fewer than one percent of people infected with West Nile will suffer serious complication such as inflammation of the brain or paralysis. In severe cases, infection can lead to death.

The Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Geological Survey report that in Idaho in 2005, West Nile virus showed up in 114 horses, 15 birds and in 13 humans. The human cases all were reported in August and September in southwestern Idaho-two each in Ada, Canyon, Elmore and Gooding counties; and one each in Owhyee, Twin Falls and Washington counties.

The 13 cases included 10 cases of West Nile fever and three cases of the more serious West Nile encephalitis or meningitis. No fatalities were reported.

The West Nile virus was discovered in New York in 1999 and spread rapidly across the country. It now is found in all 48 continental states. The virus showed up in Idaho at a commercial fish farm in the Hagerman valley in November 2003. One worker at the farm tested positive, making him the first person to acquire West Nile in Idaho.

Through 2004, only three people, seven birds and 22 horses tested positive for the virus in Idaho.

Nature Center to Fit New Windows

Beginning this week, the Morrison-Knudson Nature Center plans to replace its fish viewing windows, more than doubling the viewing surfaces.

After four years of planning and fund raising, construction is about to begin on new windows into the Nature Center stream. Construction is scheduled for the first two weeks of April. The Nature Center will continue to offer tours during construction, but underwater fish viewing may be affected.

Workers will start by draining the system and moving the fish later this week, March 30 and 31. That will be followed by preparation work and then concrete cutting by the first week of April. The first of the new windows should go in sometime about the middle of April if all goes according to plan.

The $45,000 project is supported by donations from individuals and corporations. The result will be larger, more spectacular and convenient viewing windows that also will be more functional for educational endeavors. The larger windows will accommodate large groups, small children and wheelchairs more easily.

The construction will be done in two phases, allowing the Nature Center to keep part of the stream running. But it will mean a temporary inconvenience to visitors.

While the new windows are being installed, the stream will be partially or completely drained. This will affect the fish viewing opportunities for about two to four weeks and may involve partial path closures. The bridge over the main pond still will be accessible for fish viewing from above.

To find out more about how this project will affect your visit, call the Nature Center at 334-2225.

Ask Fish and Game

Q. Is it legal to catch game fish and use them as sturgeon bait?

A. In Idaho, you can use fish and fish parts for bait anywhere except in "no bait" waters. Many anglers use dead rainbow trout or trout parts from hatcheries for sturgeon bait, but they need a receipt to show the source if they have more than six trout in their possession. If other species of gamefish are used, anglers need to watch limits for them as well.