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Field reports: US wildlife officials aim to remove wolf protections in 2020

FILE – In this April 18, 2008, file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is a gray wolf, the species that would lose federal protection in most of the Lower 48 states under a plan released Monday by the Trump administration.  (Gary Kramer/AP)
FILE – In this April 18, 2008, file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is a gray wolf, the species that would lose federal protection in most of the Lower 48 states under a plan released Monday by the Trump administration. (Gary Kramer/AP)

The Trump administration plans to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the nation by the end of the year, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.

“We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year, and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday.

The administration also is pushing ahead with a rollback of protections for migratory birds despite a recent setback in federal court, she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service last year proposed dropping the wolf from the endangered list in the lower 48 states, exempting a small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest. It was the latest of numerous attempts to return management authority to the states – moves that courts have repeatedly rejected after opponents filed lawsuits.

Shot, trapped and poisoned to near extinction in the last century, wolves in recent decades rebounded in the western Great Lakes region and portions of the West, the total population exceeding 6,000.

They have been removed from the endangered list in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington state.

Federal protections remain elsewhere.

A federal judge in 2014 restored protection for the animals in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, a decision upheld by an appeals court in 2017.

Skipwith, echoing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s long-held policy, told the AP the wolf has “biologically recovered” and that its removal from the list would demonstrate the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.

But the Humane Society of the United States and other wildlife protection groups contend wolves are still vulnerable. Dropping protections across the Lower 48 would doom any chances of their spreading to other states where they could thrive if humans allowed it, they say.

A final decision had been expected last spring, but the service is taking extra time to review the science behind its position and issues raised in court rulings, Skipwith said.

“We just want to be sure we’re covering all the bases,” she said. “When groups want to come in and sue because of such a success, it takes away resources from species that need them.”

She added that the agency doesn’t believe much suitable habitat remains beyond areas that wolves currently occupy, a claim that environmental groups and some biologists dispute.

“We don’t anticipate them expanding, regardless of that federal protection,” Skipwith said, declining to take a position on a November ballot initiative that would restore wolves to Colorado.

“If that’s the approach that Colorado wants to take, that’s their prerogative,” she said.

Skipwith said the agency also is proceeding with changes in how it enforces a century-old law protecting most American wild bird species, despite warnings that billions of birds could die as a result.

A U.S. judge in New York this month invalidated the administration’s use of a legal memo to justify its position that accidental but foreseeable killing of birds should not be criminally prosecuted. The administration had argued that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies only to the intentional killing of birds and not “incidental” killings during normal activities by electric utilities, oil developers and other industries.

National Audubon Society chief conservation officer Sarah Greenberger criticized the agency for pressing ahead with a rule change that would cement the policy into a regulation that could be harder to overturn.

“There was never a good reason to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the administration should have taken its recent loss in court as an opportunity to abandon its bird-killing policy,” Greenberger said.

Skipwith said the Fish and Wildlife Service was still evaluating the judge’s decision and planned to issue a final rule by the end of the year. The agency remains committed to “making sure we’re not criminalizing these unintentional actions” while stepping up efforts to protect migratory birds, she said.

WDFW celebrates hunting-fishing day

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is celebrating National Hunting and Fishing Day all month long with a virtual event each day in September.

Each day, WDFW will release a new event or activity.

The first week of September’s activities will highlight amphibians, pollinators, salmon, archery, hunter education, elk and turkeys.

Opportunities will span from do-it-yourself activities like making a turkey call and backyard pollinator activities to video demonstrations about hunter education.

In 1971, Congress unanimously authorized National Hunting and Fishing Day on the fourth Saturday of every September.

To participate in daily activities and learn more about the role hunters and anglers play in conservation across the nation visit WDFW’s National Hunting and Fishing Day webpage (

Tussock moth outbreak occurs in Idaho

Forest entomologists are spreading awareness that portions of northern Idaho forests are experiencing a tussock moth outbreak.

Some people who come into contact with the insect, while picking huckleberries for instance, may experience allergy-like symptoms, such as itchiness. But the outbreak also has potential to defoliate large patches of vegetation across forests in the area.

Two types of moths, the Douglas-fir tussock moth and the rusty tussock moth, have been observed in northern Idaho this year.

Douglas-fir tussock moths feed on the needles of spruces and firs, causing visible defoliation on infected trees. Rusty tussock moths are defoliating broadleaf plants, such as huckleberry and alder.

Tussock moth caterpillars, egg masses and cocoons are hairy. Their hairs, or setae, have a harpoon-like barb at the end, which allows caterpillar hairs to become lodged in skin and in some cases cause dermatitis. In rare instances, more serious allergic reactions such as shortness of breath and wheezing can occur. People commonly complain of itchiness.

Specialists recommend wearing long sleeves, pants, and gloves when working near an outbreak, and people should consider wearing face masks, as well.

The outbreak is part of a natural cycle that repeats itself every eight to 12 years. For more information, see Douglas-Fir Tussock Moths in Idaho Forests (

Spokane Valley river cleanup set for Saturday

It’s time for the Spokane River Cleanup in Spokane Valley, the only public cleanup scheduled for Spokane Valley this year.

The event is scheduled from 9-11:30 a.m. Saturday at Barker Road, Harvard Road or Mirabeau Access.

Last year, over 150 participated in the cleanup. With a lot of river to cover, organizers are looking for another great turnout. Visit to register.

Ski trails being cleared for upcoming season

Spokane Nordic Ski Association ( is months away from snow season, but club members have been out at Mount Spokane State Park clearing the way for 38 miles of winter trail grooming.

More volunteers are needed for physical-distanced trail maintenance work days set for Saturday, Sept. 27, Oct. 10 and 25, and Nov. 1. Registration is required.

Contact Sam Schlieder at or Brian Hawkins at

49 Degrees North announces Indy Pass

Skiers and riders are the most optimistic people – no matter what Mother Nature may throw their way, there’s always hope in the next storm being the best one yet. Though COVID-19 has brought a new dynamic to the world, skiers and riders are ready for fresh tracks this winter season.

49 Degrees North announced this week its participation in the Indy Pass for the 2020-21 season. The Indy Pass gets skiers and riders access to 55 independent resorts, including 11 new locations, for a total of 110 ski days this winter.

What’s new: 11 new resorts locations; kids passes for $99; Indy AddOn Pass – just $129 for 49 Degrees North Season Pass holders; lodging discounts; Get American Skiing Promise.

Learn more about new resorts, new products and new perks at

Man dies in boating accident at Glacier

Glacier National Park rangers responded to a report of CPR in progress near Glacier Rim on the North Fork of the Flathead River on Aug. 29 at around 5:40 p.m.

North Valley Rescue met rangers at Glacier Rim and provided jet boat transport to Fool Hen Rapids approximately 2 miles upriver. When rangers arrived, A.L.E.R.T. air ambulance staff was on scene with Ronald Newton, 62. from Columbia Falls, Montana, who flipped his fishing pontoon boat while floating the river with a group, submerged in the water and became unconscious.

More than an hour of CPR was performed before efforts were terminated. Newton was declared dead, but the cause of death is still unknown.

Witness reports state the group was floating the river that day when two pontoon boats tied together became stuck on a rock. Newton attempted to free the boats when his watercraft flipped and he submerged in the water. A friend recovered Newton from the water and several bystanders initiated CPR on a nearby gravel bar.

Reports indicate he was not wearing a personal flotation device or helmet at the time of the incident.

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