The Little Salmon River and the South Fork Clearwater were a busy fishery over the weekend and catch rates were very good. Fish and Game has discontinued monitoring the Main Clearwater River due to minimal angler effort. Effort observed on the Main Salmon River was also minimal. Click here for more details - Amanda Schmidt, Fisheries Technician
Pygmy rabbits are found in very patchy distributions in areas with dense, mature sagebrush and deep, soft soils suitable for digging their elaborate burrow systems. Pygmy rabbits are considered “sagebrush obligates” because they require sagebrush to survive. Sagebrush provides protective cover and an important food source for the tiny rabbit, comprising up to 99% of its winter diet. Most herbivores shy away from foraging on sagebrush, which is laden with volatile oils. But the pygmy rabbit has evolved a specialized digestive system to cope with these toxins.
In the decades after Merriam’s Expedition, mammalogists and naturalists generated a trickle of reports describing general characteristics of pygmy rabbits and gradually extended the known range of the species to include the sagebrush deserts of seven westerns states. By mid-20th century, researchers gleaned more details on the species’ life history, behavior, and habitat relationships. These studies identified the pygmy rabbit as a habitat specialist tied to sites of tall, dense big sagebrush and deep soils. By connecting these dots, researchers keyed in on the major limiting factor for pygmy rabbits: habitat fragmentation. Sagebrush habitat across the western U.S. has decreased in area by as much as 55% since European settlement. Within remaining habitat, pygmy rabbits occur in an even smaller subset of remaining patches. So how does a tiny rabbit with limited dispersal capabilities persist in a vast, but highly fragmented habitat?
This looming question and concerns about possible range contractions sparked renewed interest by agencies and researchers to better understand potential threats and conservation needs of pygmy rabbits. In 2002, due to loss of sagebrush habitat coupled with lack of data on distribution and abundance of populations, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission closed the statewide hunting season for pygmy rabbits, and in 2005 the species was listed as an Idaho Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The pygmy rabbit’s elevated conservation status prompted a wave of surveys across Idaho. Idaho Fish and Game databases held fewer than 300 locality records for pygmy rabbit for all years prior to 2002, whereas 3,900 records were collected from 2002-2007. This new information helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conclude in 2010 that listing the pygmy rabbit under the Endangered Species Act was not currently warranted.
Recent research findings figured prominently in this decision, too. Idaho has been “ground zero” for leading-edge work on pygmy rabbits conducted by Dr. Janet Rachlow and Dr. Lisette Waits with the University of Idaho, Dr. Lisa Shipley with Washington State University, and Dr. Jennifer Forbey with Boise State University and their legions of students. Collectively, the work of these researchers, with support from Idaho Fish and Game, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service, has furthered the understanding of pygmy rabbit ecology and factors critical to conserving the species by leaps and bounds.
A key ingredient still needed for pygmy rabbit conservation is an effective means to estimate population abundance and changes in abundance over time. This is no small task given pygmy rabbits are secretive, patchily distributed, and their field sign (fecal pellets, burrows, tracks) can easily be confused with other rabbit, hare, or burrowing species. To address these challenges, Idaho Fish and Game, in partnership with University of Idaho and BLM, developed a fecal DNA identification tool and pilot-tested its utility as a survey technique to estimate the proportion of habitat occupied by pygmy rabbit. The technique provided confident identification of species from fecal pellets and minimized survey effort and expense. Some fine-tuning of survey design may be needed, but the technique appears very promising for the thorny task of assessing pygmy rabbit population distributions and trend.
So this spring, when “Peter Cottontail” takes the Easter limelight and animals everywhere are “breeding like rabbits” to pass on their genes, the petite pygmy rabbit will secret away beneath a sagebrush, in the security of its burrow, oblivious to all the holiday fuss. Just as people think of the cottontail rabbit as a symbol of Easter, perhaps we can think of the pygmy rabbit as a symbol for sagebrush conservation and an important part of Idaho’s natural heritage worth protecting for present and future generations.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has a long tradition of educating Idaho’s citizens about our hunting and fishing traditions as well as the wildlife that populate our state. Whether you are a teacher looking to expand your students’ knowledge, interested in hunter safety or just curious about Idaho’s wealth of wildlife, Fish and Game offers many programs, including the following:
Trout in the Classroom: offers students a glimpse of what it would be like to be a fisheries biologist or hatchery manager. Classrooms set up cold-water fish tanks and raise trout from eggs. As they do, students observe the development of trout from eggs to fry. They then get the opportunity to release their fish in a stream or pond approved by Fish and Game. During this process, students not only learn about the development of fish, they also learn about fish biology, water chemistry and nutrient cycling. In some locations, classes have the opportunity to go fishing and taste their catch.
Project WILD: Idaho Fish and Game started offering Project WILD to Idaho’s teachers in 1984, which is an award-winning, international program that teaches teachers to easily incorporate wildlife and ecological concepts into the subjects they are already teaching. Every year approximately 400 teachers attend Project WILD workshops in Idaho. Teachers leave the workshops with educational guides full of information, activities and projects to share with their students. They also leave with a new-found enthusiasm for Idaho’s rich wildlife resources.
Wildlife is the tool that gets students excited about learning science, mathematics, social studies or reading. Students also gain knowledge and skills that will help them develop responsible behaviors and constructive actions for wildlife, people and the environment.
Classroom Visits: Idaho Fish and Game offers a variety of programs in schools across the state. Wildlife educators go into the classroom to teach Idaho’s students about wildlife.
Every year Project Nose-to-Nose reaches over 9,000 students in southwest Idaho. Project Nose-to-Nose is a wildlife education program for elementary school children. It is designed to increase students’ awareness, knowledge and appreciation of Idaho’s wildlife. Full-sized taxidermy mounts and other materials are displayed and used to demonstrate and explain concepts such as habitats, adaptations and tracking.
In North Idaho, owls and other raptors frequently show up in area classrooms. The birds, which were injured and can no longer live in the wild, are rehabilitated at the North Idaho Nature Center. Here, local high school students help care for the birds. The students often help the wildlife educator give classroom presentations with the birds.
Classes and Workshops: Fish and Game offers classes for students of all ages to learn about Idaho wildlife and outdoor skills. These include such things as fly fishing, rehabilitating raptors, fish habitat, steelhead fishing, bird watching and more. Classes or workshops might cover topics such as creating backyard habitat or cooking wild game. Many of these events are held at Fish and Game regional offices, hatcheries or nature centers, including the North Idaho Nature Center in Coeur d’Alene and the MK Nature Center in Boise.
Special Events: Special events include celebrations of International Migratory Bird Day, Free Fishing Day, Bald Eagle Days in Coeur d’ Alene, Salmon and Steelhead Days in Boise and kids Steelhead Clinic in Lewiston. Fish and Game also has educational booths at many county and state fairs, as well as, sportsmen’s shows and similar events.
Wildlife Express: Wildlife Express is a student newspaper published every month of the school year. Written for students in the 4th – 6th grades, it features a different wildlife species or topic each month. Students learn about a specific animal, its special adaptations and habitat needs, where it lives, and other interesting facts about the animal. Many teachers find Wildlife Express a valuable tool for many subject areas including science, social studies and language arts.
Wildlife Express is available by subscription and anyone can purchase a subscription for a classroom. Teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, a neighbor or club or service organization can all help a classroom get a little wild with the gift of a subscription. Teachers also receive the Educator’s Express, full of additional information and activities.
Sportsmen's dollars are a primary driver to much of wildlife conservation efforts.
Learn more about how funding is acquired and distributed in the Spokesman-Review's outdoor article "Wildlife dividend: Guns, ammo have direct connection to conservation."
Idaho Fish and Game also recently posted an article about sportsman funding conservation in a previously posted story during our 75th Celebration of the 1938 initiative: Sportsmen Willingly Assume the Burden of Conservation.
Senator Key Pittman of Nevada, co-principal sponsor of Pittman-Robertson Act
Wildlife-vehicle collisions are a common occurrence in Idaho. The folks in Boundary County have taken some initiative to help reduce the danger from them.
Across the state, you can report road-killed animals to Idaho Fish and Game. We use the data to analyze problem areas for vehicle-wildlife collisions and work with groups such as in Boundary County. You can report wildlife collisions, or even salvage some species by starting here.
The sea monster that would eventually be named “Sharlie” was sighted several times again in the years following 1944. It was described as dark or black with shiny skin. Reports of its size ranged from twelve to 60 feet long, but most accounts settled for 35 to 40 feet in length.
In 1947, two Oregon sportsmen fishing on Payette Lake steered their boat towards a large wake sporting three humps that they spotted in the water. The anglers said the creature appeared to be about 40 feet long. One of the fishermen, F.M. Christiansen, said, “I have been coming here for 20 years and have always figured the sea serpent talk was just a lot of hooey. I sure changed my mind.”
Instead of fearing the creature, the people of McCall developed an affection for it and in 1954 the local newspaper launched a contest to name “Slimy Slim”. The grand prize was $40 and the contest judges included, among others, the governor of the state, Len Jordan, and a couple of legislators. “Sharlie” was chosen and the name stuck.
No photos of Sharlie exist, and no one has taken video or film of the mysterious monster. But sightings continued through the 1960’s and 1970’s. In 1980, a Pennsylvania biology student published a research paper on Sharlie concluding that the small size of Payette Lake would make it difficult to support a large breeding population, which may also contribute to inbreeding and the eventual decline towards extinction.
The last documented sighting that we can find is in 1996 by Kate Wolf of Boise who saw it from a pontoon boat. It had humps “with peaks like the back of a dinosaur”.
So what are we to think about Sharlie, this mysterious species on this April Fool week?
In a 1985 article in McCall’s The Star News, Fish and Game Fisheries Biologist Don Anderson said that tests on Payette Lake showed no evidence of a large sea serpent. “Maybe he’s just smarter than us,” said Anderson. “I want him to be there, and if he is, we’ll protect him.”
After all, that is the mandate of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission…to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage all of Idaho’s wildlife…sea monsters included!
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to lift the restrictions on harvest of “B-run” steelhead on the Clearwater River for the remainder of the 2014 season effective immediately. The decision was made during the commission meeting on Thursday, March 20, 2014.
“B-run” steelhead are those that spend two years in the ocean as opposed to “A-run” steelhead which typically return to Idaho after only one year in the ocean. Prior to this change, anglers on the Clearwater River were only allowed to keep steelhead between 20 and 28 inches in length. The change will allow those anglers to keep steelhead longer than 28 inches as long as they have evidence of a clipped adipose fin. The daily bag limit of 1 and the possession limit of 2 remain the same on the Clearwater River for the remainder of the 2014 spring season.
The busiest area this past weekend in the region was on the South Fork of the Clearwater (river sect 07). Hours per fish caught was only 4 hours, which resulted in really good fishing. Many anglers chose to release a lot of the hatchery fish they caught, which resulted in higher hours per fish kept. Effort has continued to drop on the main stem of the Clearwater. The Little Salmon also had a lot of anglers on it this past weekend and had some pretty could catch rates. Click here for more details. Over all the weather was nice and the water was clearer than the previous weekend. - Jaime Robertson. Fisheries Technician
The steelhead fishing improved once again last weekend on the upper Salmon River. The average catch rates in location codes 14 through 19 either improved or remained close to those observed during the previous weekend. Interviewed anglers in location code 14, downstream of the Middle Fork, averaged 6 hours per steelhead caught, and no steelhead were reported kept. In location code 15, anglers had catch rates similar to last weekend and averaged 9 hours per steelhead caught and 16 hours per steelhead kept. In location code 16, interviewed anglers averaged 11 hours per steelhead caught and 27 hours per steelhead kept. In location code 17, anglers did considerably better this weekend compared to the previous one when only one steelhead was reported caught. Interviewed anglers from this weekend reported a total catch of 36 steelhead which resulted in averages of 12 hours per steelhead caught and 26 hours per steelhead kept. The fishing in location code 18 also improved this weekend. Anglers there reported averages of 19 hours per steelhead caught and 54 per steelhead kept. Anglers at the upper end of the river, in location code 19, averaged 15 hours per steelhead caught and 35 hours per steelhead kept, which was similar to the previous weekend. Click here for more details.
River conditions did not change much over the past week with river temperatures remaining in the low 40s. - Brent Beller, Fisheries Technician
In 1909, the state of elk populations in Idaho was so alarming a moratorium on elk hunting was declared in parts of the state. What had happened to once plentiful herds of elk in Idaho is the story of western expansion across North America.
Lewis and Clark described vast herds covering the grasslands as they made their way west in 1805. As settlers began changing the landscape with farms, and ranches and unregulated market hunters decimated populations though hunting. Wildlife like elk disappeared except in secluded parts of the Rocky Mountains.
Alarmed by the rapid disappearance of wildlife, national leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt and Idaho’s own Emile Grandjean took action. Roosevelt’s efforts led to the creation of the Yellowstone National Park; Grandjean’s determination helped establish a 220,000-acre game preserve in the Payette River drainage west of the Sawtooth Mountains. Elk herds protected in Yellowstone National Park would later to transplanted to preserves to restore elk in Idaho and throughout the West.
Idaho’s elk population today is a direct result of elk transplanted from Yellowstone National Park. Elk were first moved to Idaho in 1915 by railcar and other transplants happened until 1940. Since then, elk have flourished in Idaho and other intrastate transplants have been conducted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to establish elk in unoccupied range. Today, an estimated 107,000 elk roam the state from the forests of North Idaho to the sagebrush country in the south.
The people of North America, since before Giovanna da Verrazano first described them during a 1542 expedition, have had a strong connection and reverence for North American Elk. Historians credit the Shawnee Indians for the name Wapiti, which the translation is “white rump.”
Elk is the second largest species in the deer family. All elk are vocal communicators and their language is quite complex. They vocalize to locate other elk, to warn of impending danger, and to establish dominance for breeding. The most unforgettable sound is of a bugling bull in the crisp autumn air.
Once elk were reintroduced into Idaho and provided protection, they began to flourish. Elk need food, cover, water and space. Idaho had all of these in abundance, especially in the backcountry of the Middle Fork, Selway and Lochsa river basins. These places were just recovering from the huge wildfires in 1902 and 1910, which burned hundreds of thousands of acres. Early post-fire habitats of grass and shrubs were perfect food for growing elk populations. These ideal habitats have since evolved into a more mature forest, and is one of the reasons the elk population in these areas have fallen in the past 20 years.
Yet, elk are very adaptable to food sources from pure grasslands to forbs and shrubs. Their large four chambered stomachs allow them to get valuable nutrients from even lower quality habitats like the sagebrush steppe habitats, which dominate southern Idaho. Today, some of the most desired elk trophy hunting is in sagebrush country.
Another reason elk flourished in Idaho, beyond habitat, is the low road density found in much of the state. Fewer roads translate into less disturbance and more shelter and protection for elk. Even though it may seem like Idaho has a lot of roads and people, it still manages to have one of the lowest road densities in the West.
As elk herds grew from the first releases in 1915, elk were relocated to other parts of the state. Today, there is hardly a part of Idaho that isn’t used by some elk. Idaho’s largest estimated population was about 125,000; in 2014, it is closer to 107,000.
Elk are not tied to a landscape and as conditions change, populations fluctuate. Declines identified in parts of the state, such as the Lochsa and Selway river basins, are primarily due to a combination of changes in predation and habitat, including forest growth and encroachment of noxious weeds.
Elk also move. In the last decade, elk have expanded into areas where they haven’t been seen since the turn of the century, such as the desert and agricultural areas. When elk move into farm country, they can cause producers problems. Since 1990, Idaho has maintained a Winter Depredation Control account, which is funded by a portion of the sale of each deer, elk, or antelope tag. The money in this special account is used to help reduce damage to crops by elk, deer and antelope. This ranges from putting protective panels on haystacks to hazing the animals away to using hunters to harvest a portion of the animals involved. In certain cases, depredating elk are trapped and relocated to other locations.
Idaho Fish and Game’s new 2014 Elk Management Plan continues the legacy of the last 75 years of management. Using the criteria of bull to cow, and cow to calf ratios, Idaho manages elk for healthy populations with an emphasis on creating hunting opportunity. In addition to creating hunting opportunity, Idaho also manages for high quality bull hunts in a number of hunting areas. For the sportsman, Idaho differs from the rest of the western states, because it is the only state that provides annual over-the-counter opportunity for both resident and nonresident hunters.
Idaho is a great place to come and experience elk. Idaho has a wide variety of habitats from temperate rain forests to desert and terrain from the height of the Rocky Mountains to the flat rolling landscape of the Great Basin, and largest contiguous wilderness in the West, all providing opportunities to observe, hear, photograph, and hunt elk. Idaho is elk country.