In the woods: F&G should take another bite at bear issue

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s first effort to end an outdated hunting practice in Island Park has failed.

Now it is time for the department and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to regroup and fix the problem before somebody dies in the popular summertime playground.

The issue is baiting black bears in areas where grizzly bears are present.

Historically, Fish and Game has allowed baiting in Island Park, except for those units that border Yellowstone National Park. (Baiting is prohibited in the eastern half of Unit 61 and in Units 62 and 62A.)

It is a sound rule for those units, but the region’s grizzly bear population has grown and spread over units where bear baiting is allowed. The burgeoning grizzly population has prompted fears that baiting stations will habituate grizzly bears to unnatural foods, which will lead to unnatural interactions between bears and people. Those interactions usually end poorly for both people and the bears.

Prompted by that fear, Fish and Game worked to change the rules. Specifically, the department wrote a proposal to limit baiting in all of Unit 61, Unit 60 and the eastern half of Unit 65.

The proposed rule would limit hunters to use natural baits, which are defined as naturally occurring plant foods, parts of unprotected or predatory wildlife, non-game fish or accidentally killed wildlife that was properly salvaged. (Idaho black bear hunting regulations allow the use of non-natural baits, including processed foods, domestic animal feed, dead livestock and other human-edible products.)

The rule seemed easy and smart with the least invasive impact on the 50 bear baiters Fish and Game officials estimate bait in the proposed area. (The hunters argue the number of hunters is much higher.)

The proposal, however, died a quick death last month.

Bear baiters filled a Fish and Game meeting and the department’s in-boxes with indignation, claiming the rule changes were unnecessary and the potential problem of habituating grizzly bears was overblown. They also argued new rules would create a slippery slope toward the end of bear baiting in general.

They — I believe — are wrong.

Grizzly bears are smart, so much so that the U.S. Forest Service’s food storage rules on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest are so stringent that you need to keep coolers in vehicles. Teaching them to appreciate jelly donuts on a bait pile is a bad idea, no matter how you slice it.

Fish and Game officials agree with me.

“The issues and concerns about creating conflict bears have not gone away,” said Steve Schmidt, Fish and Game regional supervisor in the Upper Snake Region, which includes Island Park. “We are always going to be concerned about creating conflict bears. We will continue to be concerned about garbage management and any situation where bears are exposed to unnatural foods.”

Translation: Baiting bears with bacon grease and bagels.

Schmidt believes Fish and Game needs to take another run at the rule-making process.

He wants more involvement from more people than just bear baiters, as was the case this go-around. He wants Fish and Game to explore more alternatives, such as doing nothing, limiting the number of bear baiters in specific areas or ending baiting altogether in areas where grizzly bears are found.

“The issue and the concerns have not gone away,” Schmidt said. “The question is what do we do about it. We don’t want grizzlies to be conditioned to eating unnatural foods.”

••••••

Every year in late June and early July, friend Jimmy Gabettas said anglers should embrace our embarrassment of fishing riches.

“Pick a spot and go,” he is fond of saying. “It is going to be good almost everywhere.”

This year is no exception.

There are great reports from every corner of eastern Idaho, including the Henry’s Fork and South Fork of the Snake River, Henry’s Lake, the Madison River and a majority of streams and rivers in Yellowstone National Park.

Anglers have reported good fishing on the Henry’s Fork with drakes and pale-morning duns.

The South Fork reports have focused on green drakes on the lower river and some action on stonefly patterns.

Henry’s Lake has been good with a variety of flies.

••••••

Speaking of the South Fork, there are two things to consider in the coming days.

The first is the lower river continues to present a challenge to inexperienced rowers. Last week, two different parties sunk drift boats downstream of Twin Bridges.

As always, anglers should be extremely careful when boating the lower river. It can change dramatically from year to year and different obstacles can pop up at different water levels.

The second thing to consider this year is that water is flowing freely to the boat ramp at Twin Bridges.

Access to the ramp has been limited for years because most of the river flows down the north channel and away from the ramp in the south channel.

This year, however, water has returned to the south channel. Lots of water is flowing into the south channel and the ramp should be open all year.

••••••

The Chinook salmon season on the upper Salmon River started Saturday and anglers caught fish, although the action was slow.

Fishermen caught 27 adult salmon. Anglers kept 13 hatchery fish and the rest were wild fish that were returned to the river.

The number of hours per fish was pretty high. Anglers put in 2,086 hours of effort in two sections of river near Salmon and 797 hours of effort on two stretches closest to Stanley.

Brent Beller, who conducts Fish and Game’s creel survey, said the river was running at roughly 3,000 cfs in the town of Salmon and the water was clear.

He said fishing should improve as more fish fill the water and water levels drop.

••••••

In other Chinook salmon news, the fishing season in the Clearwater drainage will end Sunday.

Since the season opened April 26, anglers harvested more than 3,700 adult Chinook and more than 1,000 jack Chinook in the Clearwater drainage.

The closure includes the Middle Fork and South Fork of the Clearwater and the Lochsa River.

••••••

Idaho will offer fewer sandhill crane hunting tags this fall and a hunt in Bonneville County is expected to be eliminated.

The Pacific Flyway Council has allocated Idaho a harvest of 120 cranes for the 2014 season, according to a Fish and Game news release.

This is the second consecutive year Idaho’s allocation has been reduced. It is the lowest since 1996.

The reduction is the result of a three-year crane count that found fewer birds than the previous count.

Fish and Game is soliciting public comments until July 4 on a proposed season that would run Sept. 1 to Sept. 15, with a daily and season bag limit of two birds.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will consider the rule changes at a meeting July 10 in Salmon.

To meet the allocation, Fish and Game proposes to reduce the number of tags available, eliminate the Bonneville County hunt (where only five tags available in 2013) and reduce the season limit to two birds. The daily bag limit would also be two birds.

To stay at or below the Pacific Flyway harvest allocation of 120 cranes, Fish and Game proposes to reduce tags to a maximum of 240.

To comment on the proposal, go to tinyurl.com/idaho-sandhill.

••••••

Results for Idaho’s 2014 controlled hunts for deer, elk and pronghorn are now posted on the Fish at Game website. Hunters can check results at http://fishandgame.idaho
.gov/CH
.

Once again, I didn’t draw.

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