Trumpeter swans released in Yellowstone to bolster population

Eight young trumpeter swans were released in Yellowstone National Park’s Hayden Valley earlier this year as part of an ongoing restoration project to halt the decline of the bird inside the park.

On Sept. 19, staff from the park, the Wyoming Wetlands Society, and Ricketts Conservation Foundation released the swans at Alum Creek in Hayden Valley.

“From a high of over 60 birds and 17 territorial pairs in the early 1960s, to only four birds in 2009 and 2010, the swan population has declined for a variety of reasons,” the park said in a news release. “Researchers are collecting population data such as nest success, number of territorial pairs, and the number of cygnets produced each year. This data may help determine the reasons for the decline.”

The Teton Basin Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project, a collaborative effort in the Driggs-Victor area, recently released six cygnets (young swans) onto a protected wetland in Teton Valley.

“(We) have been monitoring them for a month and have observed them bonding with a wild swan,” the Teton Regional Land Trust said in a recent news release.

The project is a partnership between the land trust, Idaho Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Intermountain Aquatics and others.

The trumpeter swan is named for its musical call and is North America’s largest wild waterfowl with a wingspan of up to 8 feet, according to the park’s trumpeter webpage. The bird once nested from Alaska to northern Missouri but was nearly eliminated in the lower 48 states by 1930. About 70 birds survived in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and, after intensive management, recovered in the latter half of the century to about 63,000 today.

Numbers inside Yellowstone National Park show signs of rebounding after recent efforts to restore them. Swans were also released into the park in 2019.

“Recent releases and other restoration efforts have bolstered the population to over 20 birds and five territorial pairs, including natural reproduction in some years,” the park said.

Park biologists say limiting factors for swans in Yellowstone appear to be flooding of nests, predation, possibly effects of drought caused by climate change, and less immigration into the park from outside locations.

There is no hunting season for trumpeter swans in Idaho.

The park said the effort is a public/private partnership between the National Park Service, Wyoming Wetlands Society, Ricketts Conservation Foundation, and Montana State University.

A short video of the release can be seen here: facebook.com/YellowstoneNPS/posts/2948153785199956.

Regional campgrounds shutting down the next few weeks

October marks a transition time for campgrounds and lodges in the region’s national parks and national forest campgrounds. Many sites are closing or have reduced services starting in October.

For Yellowstone National Park, some campgrounds have already closed. One exception is Madison Campground due to close Oct. 18. Most lodges in Yellowstone close after this weekend, with a few remaining open mid-month or slightly later. Shops, cafeterias and other facilities will generally close after this weekend, with the exception of Mammoth Hot Springs, which closes up later in the month. For specifics on closing times, go to nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/hours.htm.

Limited camping options are available in Grand Teton National Park starting this weekend, with most sites either closed or closing in the next few weeks. All campgrounds will be closed after Oct. 18. The park reports that campgrounds continue to fill up each day and surrounding Forest Service campgrounds are also filling up.

“Visitors should come prepared with a plan for finding a campsite and have alternate plans if campsites are not available,” the park said in a news release.

Trails, roads and pathways remain open in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and “fall is a great time to explore Grand Teton National Park,” the park said.

Backcountry camping is available year-round in the park with a permit. Permits can be obtained at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose, Wyoming. The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center closes at the end of Oct. 31, and permits can be obtained online. Go to nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/back.htm for information.

Henrys Lake State Park campground is scheduled to close after the second Saturday in October. The docks are taken out the day before closing.

Massacre Rocks State Park campground is open year-round.

The houses, shelters and yurts at Harriman State Park have various seasons for availability. Go to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/harriman for more information.

The Lava Flow Campground at Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve closes when the Loop Road closes in late November. Contact the park for specifics.

Campgrounds across the Caribou-Targhee National Forest have begun closing with several in the Island Park area already closed. Some sites remain open without water or garbage services. Bring your own water and pack out your trash. To get specifics on the 50 campgrounds in the Caribou-Targhee, go to bit.ly/34hmUdj.

The more than 50 campgrounds in the Salmon-Challis National Forest are often remain open but run the gamut of services offered. To learn more, go to bit.ly/3itVmq5.

Fish and Game stocking thousands of fish in East Idaho in September

With the expectation of cooler temperatures in the coming weeks, fishing in East Idaho promises to heat up, and Idaho Fish and Game plans to help by stocking thousands of trout in local waters.

Local ponds and Gem Lake are scheduled to get 7,000 catchable-size rainbow trout.

“These ponds are all close to town, making them an easy after school getaway or quick weekend outing,” said James Brower of Fish and Game’s Upper Snake region. “The cooler weather and shorter days should make for some great fishing fun for the entire family.”

Here is the schedule:

• Gem Lake, 3,000, Sept. 14-18

• Trail Creek Pond, 800, Sept. 14-18

• Rexburg City Ponds, 1,200, Sept. 21-25

• Becker Pond, 1,000, Sept. 21-25

• Ryder Park Riverside Pond, 1,000, Sept. 21-25

In the Salmon area, Fish and Game plans to stock 4,500 10- to 12-inch rainbow trout next month in five different waters. Here is the rundown:

• Blue Mountain Meadow Pond, 300, Sept. 7-11

• Hayden Creek Pond, 1,500, Sept. 7-11

• Hyde Creek Pond, 600, Sept 7-11

• Kids Creek Pond, 600, Sept. 7-11

• Mosquito Flat Reservoir, 1,500, Sept. 14-18

Several thousand fish are planned to be stocked in Southeast Idaho locations next month.

Some of the highlights include:

• The Snake River near Blackfoot, Firth and Shelley, 2,000, Sept. 7-11

• Crystal Springs Pond, 750, Sept. 14-18

• Edson Fichter Pond, 750, Sept. 14-18

• Bear River (three locations), 1,750, Sept. 14-18

• Crowthers Reservoir, 1,100, Sept. 14-18

• Deep Creek Reservoir, 1,000, Sept. 14-18

• Devil Creek Reservoir, 5,150, Sept. 14-18

• Bannock Reservoir (at Portneuf Wellness Complex Pond), 1,000, Sept. 28- Oct. 2

• Montpelier Reservoir, 900, Sept. 28-Oct. 2

• Blackfoot Reservoir, 3,000, Sept. 28-Oct. 2

Fish and Game said stocking dates may fluctuate depending on the weather or staffing situations. For more information on specific waters, consult Fish and Game’s online Fish Planner.

Fish and Game stocking thousands of fish in East Idaho in September

With the expectation of cooler temperatures in the coming weeks, fishing in East Idaho promises to heat up, and Idaho Fish and Game plans to help by stocking thousands of trout in local waters.

Local ponds and Gem Lake are scheduled to get 7,000 catchable-size rainbow trout.

“These ponds are all close to town, making them an easy after school getaway or quick weekend outing,” said James Brower of Fish and Game’s Upper Snake region. “The cooler weather and shorter days should make for some great fishing fun for the entire family.”

Here is the schedule:

• Gem Lake, 3,000, Sept. 14-18

• Trail Creek Pond, 800, Sept. 14-18

• Rexburg City Ponds, 1,200, Sept. 21-25

• Becker Pond, 1,000, Sept. 21-25

• Ryder Park Riverside Pond, 1,000, Sept. 21-25

In the Salmon area, Fish and Game plans to stock 4,500 10- to 12-inch rainbow trout next month in five different waters. Here is the rundown:

• Blue Mountain Meadow Pond, 300, Sept. 7-11

• Hayden Creek Pond, 1,500, Sept. 7-11

• Hyde Creek Pond, 600, Sept 7-11

• Kids Creek Pond, 600, Sept. 7-11

• Mosquito Flat Reservoir, 1,500, Sept. 14-18

Several thousand fish are planned to be stocked in Southeast Idaho locations next month.

Some of the highlights include:

• The Snake River near Blackfoot, Firth and Shelley, 2,000, Sept. 7-11

• Crystal Springs Pond, 750, Sept. 14-18

• Edson Fichter Pond, 750, Sept. 14-18

• Bear River (three locations), 1,750, Sept. 14-18

• Crowthers Reservoir, 1,100, Sept. 14-18

• Deep Creek Reservoir, 1,000, Sept. 14-18

• Devil Creek Reservoir, 5,150, Sept. 14-18

• Bannock Reservoir (at Portneuf Wellness Complex Pond), 1,000, Sept. 28- Oct. 2

• Montpelier Reservoir, 900, Sept. 28-Oct. 2

• Blackfoot Reservoir, 3,000, Sept. 28-Oct. 2

Fish and Game said stocking dates may fluctuate depending on the weather or staffing situations. For more information on specific waters, consult Fish and Game’s online Fish Planner.

New state records set for cutthroat and golden trout

Two Idaho fishing records were recently broken by anglers fishing central and eastern Idaho waters.

On Aug. 7, Sam Hix of Bellaire, Texas, set a new catch-and-release state record for Yellowstone cutthroat trout after landing a 30.5-inch monster while fishing the Snake River in Bingham County.

“After measuring the fish and taking a quick photograph, Hix released it to swim another day,” Idaho Fish and Game said in a news release. “His fish tops the long-standing record set by Nate Ivy in 2016 (28.5 inches) and will set a very high bar for future Yellowstone cutthroat trout records.”

The other new record fish was a 19.7-inch golden trout caught by Joseph Putnam Evans in Pass Lake high in the backcountry near Leatherman Peak in the Lost River Range. Putnam and his wife Huan Zhou were backpacking in Idaho from North Carolina.

“Joseph caught the remarkable trout on July 20 using a wet fly (rigged on spinning tackle),” Fish and Game said. “After a quick measurement and photo, he released the 19.7-inch golden trout to claim a new catch/release record.”

Golden trout are native to high elevation streams and lakes of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in California and have been planted in several Idaho alpine lakes to provide more fishing opportunities, according to Fish and Game.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout are mainly found in eastern Idaho and are native to the Snake River from Shoshone Falls upstream to its headwaters, and they are one of four subspecies found in Idaho. Idaho Fish and Game keeps state records for all game fish including Yellowstone, Bonneville, Westslope and Lahontan cutthroat subspecies.

Fish and Game started keeping catch-and-release fish records in 2016. To learn more about the program and see records on various fish caught in the state, go to idfg.idaho.gov/fish/record.

New state records set for cutthroat and golden trout

Two Idaho fishing records were recently broken by anglers fishing central and eastern Idaho waters.

On Aug. 7, Sam Hix of Bellaire, Texas, set a new catch-and-release state record for Yellowstone cutthroat trout after landing a 30.5-inch monster while fishing the Snake River in Bingham County.

“After measuring the fish and taking a quick photograph, Hix released it to swim another day,” Idaho Fish and Game said in a news release. “His fish tops the long-standing record set by Nate Ivy in 2016 (28.5 inches) and will set a very high bar for future Yellowstone cutthroat trout records.”

The other new record fish was a 19.7-inch golden trout caught by Joseph Putnam Evans in Pass Lake high in the backcountry near Leatherman Peak in the Lost River Range. Putnam and his wife Huan Zhou were backpacking in Idaho from North Carolina.

“Joseph caught the remarkable trout on July 20 using a wet fly (rigged on spinning tackle),” Fish and Game said. “After a quick measurement and photo, he released the 19.7-inch golden trout to claim a new catch/release record.”

Golden trout are native to high elevation streams and lakes of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in California and have been planted in several Idaho alpine lakes to provide more fishing opportunities, according to Fish and Game.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout are mainly found in eastern Idaho and are native to the Snake River from Shoshone Falls upstream to its headwaters, and they are one of four subspecies found in Idaho. Idaho Fish and Game keeps state records for all game fish including Yellowstone, Bonneville, Westslope and Lahontan cutthroat subspecies.

Fish and Game started keeping catch-and-release fish records in 2016. To learn more about the program and see records on various fish caught in the state, go to idfg.idaho.gov/fish/record.

Minnetonka Cave to open Saturday with COVID-19 restrictions

One of Idaho’s largest caves, Minnetonka Cave near Bear Lake, is opening back up for visitors starting Saturday.

The Caribou-Targhee National Forest conducts tours through the cave and will open up again under Idaho’s stage 4 reopening plan.

“The safety and health of employees, visitors, partners, volunteers, and resources remain our top priority,” said Mike Duncan, Montpelier District ranger in a news release. “We have been making operational changes in response to the changing environment.”

Visitors to the cave will be required to wear face masks or face coverings during the cave tour. Children younger than 2 will not be allowed into the cave. Tours will be limited to nine visitors and one guide.

Tours will be booked on a first-come-first-served basis starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 5:30 p.m. For information, call the Montpelier Ranger District at 435-491-0618.

The Minnetonka Cave is located in St. Charles Canyon northwest of Bear Lake. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Idaho. The cave attracts nearly 50,000 visitors each summer.

BLM, forest service offering Christmas tree cutting permits

For those who like to tromp around in the outdoors to find their Christmas tree, public land managers have a deal for you.

Permits to cut Christmas trees on national forest or Bureau of Land Management land in East Idaho will cost $15. Only one tree is allowed per family.

Permits on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest can be obtained at ranger district offices or at several vendors in East Idaho. They are available now.

In Pocatello, you can get a permit at the Westside Ranger District at 4350 S. Cliffs Drive or at C-A-L Ranch, 4115 Yellowstone Ave. A full list of vendors can be found at tinyurl.com/pr-tree-cutting.

“We sell between 8,000 and 9,000 Christmas tree tags per year,” said Sarah Wheeler, a spokesman for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. “Last year we sold 8,791.”

Households that purchase a Christmas tree permit are encouraged to harvest their trees as soon as possible due to weather conditions, Wheeler said in a news release. “Mountain snowstorms and subsequent road conditions can limit access to cutting areas.”

Both the BLM and Forest Service remind tree cutters that all motorized travel restrictions are still in effect and will be enforced. Both groups offer helpful maps on where to go and where not to go to find a Christmas tree.

“Montpelier and Palisades Ranger Districts are the most popular areas for Christmas tree cutting,” Wheeler said.

“Be safe and prepared,” the BLM advises in its tree permit information. “Check road and weather conditions before heading out. Make sure you have everything you need for an outdoor venture including warm clothes, food, water and safety equipment. Let someone know where you’ll be going and when you plan to return. If you get stranded, call for help, and stay with your group and vehicle until help arrives.”

The Caribou-Targhee National Forest is offering one free Christmas tree cutting permit to fourth-graders who have an Every Kid Outdoors pass. The permits must be picked up by fourth-graders at Forest Service offices and are not available from vendors.

“The fourth-grader must be present at the time the permit is issued and must be picked up prior to cutting your tree,” the forest service said.

Wheeler said, last year, 54 fourth-graders took advantage of the Every Kid Outdoors pass to get a free Christmas tree cutting permit. She said the Caribou-Targhee office typically issued about 1,000 Every Kid Outdoors passes.

Every Kid Outdoors passes can be found at everykidoutdoors.gov/index.htm. With the pass, fourth-graders and their families can have free entry to more than 2,000 federally managed lands and waters for an entire year starting Sept. 1.

Steelhead season on Clearwater River closed over dismal return

The dismal steelhead return on the Clearwater River has prompted the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s commission to close the season.

On Friday, the commission voted to close the season when the number of returning adult hatchery fish was less than the number needed for broodstock, leaving no surplus for anglers.

The closure goes into effect at midnight Sunday and covers the river to the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork and along the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork tributaries, Fish and Game said in a news release. Also, the section of the Snake River downstream from the Couse Creek boat ramp to the Idaho-Washington state line will be closed to protect Clearwater-bound steelhead.

“Consistent with existing rules that prohibit targeting steelhead or salmon where there is no open season, anglers will not be allowed to fish for steelhead in the Clearwater River drainage after the fishery is closed, even catch-and-release,” the news release said.

A steelhead fishing season continues on the Salmon and Snake river basins.

Biologists estimate about 1,158 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River have passed Bonneville Dam through Sept. 18. The fish are tracked by tiny, electronic tags embedded in the body.

On average, 50 percent of the fish pass the Bonneville Dam headed for the Clearwater River by Sept. 18.

“Based on average run timing, we estimate that this will result in approximately 2,300 fish crossing Bonneville Dam by the end of the season,” said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fishery manager for Fish and Game. “The result for Idaho anglers is that only 1,700 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River will make it to Lower Granite Dam by the end of the season.”

Hebdon said the Clearwater River hatcheries will need 100 percent of the returning fish to meet its broodstock needs.

“Early in the fall, many of the steelhead in the Clearwater river basin are actually fish destined for the Salmon and Grande Ronde rivers, which have pulled into the Clearwater until water temperatures in the Snake River start to cool off,” Hebdon said. “The main component of the Clearwater River steelhead run starts arriving in the middle of October.”

Pared down sage grouse hunting season approved

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved the pared-down 2019 sage grouse hunting season.

The commission in late August approved a seven-day season in portions of Owyhee, Twin, Oneida and Cassia counties with a one-bird daily limit. In central Idaho, the season will be two days with a one-bird daily limit. Eastern Idaho and western and northern Idaho are closed to hunting sage grouse.

The season for the southwestern counties will run from Sept. 21 to 27 and the season for central Idaho will be Sept. 21 to 22.

Fish and Game wildlife biologist Ann Moser who is responsible for Idaho’s sage grouse program said statewide, “we’re down 25 percent from last year. When I say down, fish and game monitors sage grouse populations by counting male attendants at leks.”

Moser said a number of factors have been contributing to the decline of sage grouse numbers over the past decade. She said nest success and brood survival has been poor due to poor weather, drought, invasive cheatgrass, wildfires removing habitat, loss of habitat because of development and changing farming practices.