Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wenatchee River Salmon Festival

Thousands of people of all ages and cultures come to the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival each year to celebrate the return of the salmon to our northwest rivers. The rivers that are home to the salmon also provide sustenance for birds, frogs, salamanders, foxes, deer, bugs, bears and countless trees, bushes, and flowers. Salmon Fest is an outdoor educational adventure you will not want to miss. Their mission is to "Provide high quality natural resource education, promote outdoor recreation, and share the cultural significance of salmon to the people of the Northwest."

Since 1991 the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival has been hosted by the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery and the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forest, with the help of other "spawnsors" and boosters. This year GBOP was on hand to talk about the relationship between bears and salmon. Julie Hayes spear headed the booth with help from Wendy Gardner and Dennis Ryan.

Clowning around was allowed.

Next year we hope to expand the educational activities for the school children who attend on Thursday and Friday. The Festival website will fill you in on all the details. Plan to join us in '08.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Northwest Passage Opens

Since mankind began exploring the seas in great sailing ships it has been the dream and passion of many captains to find the elusive Northwest Passage. And until this year, a dream it was, for the Northwest Passage has always been ice-bound.

The yellow line shows that the most direct route through the Northwest Passage has opened up fully for the first time since records began, the European Space Agency (ESA) says. An ice-free "Northwest Passage," a shipping route north of the Canadian mainland that could provide a shortcut for transit between the Atlantic and Pacific.

Using satellite data and imagery provided by the ESA, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) now estimates the Arctic ice pack to cover 4.24 million square kilometers (1.63 million square miles) -- equal to just less than half the size of the United States.
That figure is about 20 percent less than the previous all-time low of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) set in September 2005.

Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at NSIDC, termed the decline astounding. "It's almost an exclamation point on the pronounced ice loss we've seen in the past 30 years," he said. Most researchers had anticipated the complete disappearance of the Arctic ice pack during summer months would happen after the year 2070, he said, but now, "losing summer sea ice cover by 2030 is not unreasonable."

While the loss of sea ice, like the Arctic ice pack, would not contribute to sea level rise, wildlife experts say it could alter the Arctic ecology, threatening polar bears and other mammals and sea life.
Scientists add that an ice-free Arctic could also accelerate global warming, as white-colored ice tends to deflect heat, while darker-colored water would absorb more heat.

But along with concerns, the melting Arctic also raises possible opportunities on business and political fronts. This summer, both Russia and the United States made efforts to inventory the potential mineral wealth on the ocean floor beneath the declining ice pack. Russia also sent a submarine to the North Pole to stake a symbolic claim to the Arctic as a part of the Russian nation.

Photo credit: European Space Agency

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rocky Spencer; in memorial

Rocky Spencer loved animals and in his capacity as the large carnivore specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife he had an opportunity to contribute to the conservation of these magnificent animals. His career came to an end September 8th in a tragic helicopter accident during an effort to relocate bighorn sheep from private property to a Pullman research facility for Washington State University.

Rocky's funeral was well attended by close to a thousand people. There was much said about his skill as a biologist, his dedication to wildlife and his long service to the state. He never got hardened by repeated work with wildlife and treated each animal with care and dignity. He made efforts to involve the public in his work and gave many the opportunity to see and touch wild animals that they never would have had the chance to in their lives. A young man stood up and said because of one of these trips with Rocky he was inspired to go to college and is pursuing a career as a wildlife biologist. I know many others present have felt the same inspiration to be better wildlife stewards if nothing else because of these unique experiences.

He was also a natural teacher, and spoke often with youth and adults about wildlife, especially large carnivores, cougars and bears. Through talks at schools and interviews with the media, he reached a wide audience.

Rocky initiated many programs within the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Foremost, Rocky pioneered the use of dogs in wildlife management with his Karelian bear dog Mishka. He is credited with starting their cougar research program, finding the first nesting loons in the state and , ironically, starting the helicopter program. He worked at WDFW for almost 30 years. There was a huge turnout of current and former employees to honor him.

Chris Morgan, director of GBOP, who knew Rocky well had this to say "This picture was taken while I was out doing bear capture work with him in 1998 in the Tolt River watershed east of Seattle. He's taking an anesthetized black bear back to it's capture location for release.

A warm heart, a caring smile, an easy laugh, and a love for life. There are few people around as special as Rocky. So many people were drawn in by his infectious ways. For me it was ten years ago when I arrived from distant shores to take up bear work in Washington. From moment one Rocky was never anything but kind, open, and giving, and I loved working with him and knowing him as a friend. Words can't do it justice. He will be so missed - professionally and personally - bears and cougars never had a better, more passionate, more sincere advocate. My warm wishes and condolences go to the many, many people whose lives he touched, and especially his family."

Rocky was an avid fisherman, treasure hunt diver, and marathon runner. We will all remember him as a jokester, with an endless sense of humor, a Cheshire grin and that certain twinkle in his eye.

To me he was a friend for 20 years and a mentor in my work as a biologist. We worked together on loon, cougar and elk projects, and most recently on joint bear presentations. He inspires me to continue this work with bears, to honor the fortune I have to be able to work with wildlife and to honor the value of educating people about wildlife and the environment. It was remarkable how many people were touched by his education efforts. They are far reaching, and enduring. I think we should all take what we do with more pride and value, and know that it is important and worthwhile.

You can click here to read what other people wrote about Rocky.

Julie L. (Hayes) Hopkins, GBOP Field Coordinator
Marine and Wildlife Biologist
Threatened and Endangered Species Specialist

Selway-Bitteroot Grizzly

Federal and state wildlife officials are investigating the killing of a grizzly bear in north-central Idaho, where the last confirmed sighting of the species was in 1946. That is over sixty years ago.

A hunter, from Tennessee, was on a guided trip hunting black bear with bait and killed the grizzly bear on Monday, September 3rd near Kelly Creek about three miles from the Montana border. Black bear hunting season opened Aug. 30.

The male grizzly weighed 400 to 500 pounds and was 6 to 8 years old. The hunter and guide skinned the carcass and brought it out on horseback so it could be confirmed as a grizzly by authorities. It is now in the possession of state fish and game department.

The bear killed was in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that includes part of north-central Idaho and western Montana, and where wildlife officials have been expecting grizzly bears to repopulate on their own. The Selway-Bitteroot area is one of six recovery zones for grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. Prior to this sighting, no grizzlies were thought to be in the Selway-Bitteroot recovery zone.

The bear possibly came from the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem in western Montana or the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem that includes Glacier National Park. DNA tests are planned to try and determine the bear's origin.

Fish and Game officials had been telling black bear hunters that there were no grizzly bears in the area. He said hunters are now being warned that grizzlies are in the area, and that they are not legal to hunt.