Noisy Yellowstone geyser roars back to life after 3 years

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming (AP) — A noisy geyser in Yellowstone National Park has roared back to life after three years of quiet.

Ledge Geyser is one of the biggest in Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin.

The Billings Gazette reports the geyser shoots hot water at an angle up to 125 feet high and a distance of 220 feet.

Yellowstone geologist Jeff Hungerford says Ledge Geyser is noisy because its water and steam must pass through a narrow opening in the ground.

Yellowstone has 1,300 thermal features and 500 geysers, more than anywhere else on Earth. Some geysers such as Old Faithful are predictable but most, like Ledge Geyser, erupt erratically.

Mule deer fawns survival rate below average after cruel winter

The lingering snowpack during March and April took its toll on Eastern Idaho mule deer with below-average survival rates of fawns.

“The mule deer fawns, in particular, took a pretty big hit,” said James Brower, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional communications manager. “In some places, up to 40 and 50 percent were lost. There’s probably some loss from some predation stuff, but it’s mainly due to the prolonged winter. We just had a winter with a lot of snow in February with record snowfalls especially in the Palisades zone.”

Despite the grim news, numbers are still better than the tough winter of 2016-2017. While mule deer fawns were hit hard, elk calves fared better, with Fish and Game reporting that about 77 percent of collared calves have survived.

“It will not be like the winter of 2016-17, but we will be below the long-term average,” said Daryl Meints, Fish and Game’s deer and elk coordinator. “On a brighter note, it appears that elk calf survival is doing just fine, as are adult doe and cow survival.”

Fish and Game biologists have been monitoring 207 mule deer fawns and 201 elk calves statewide that were captured in early winter and fitted with telemetry collars.

“Every time a collar becomes inactive, which means the deer hasn’t moved for a long time, it sends us a signal,” Brower said. “We have technicians that check that daily, and they go out and determine the cause of death. They check for starvation or predation. There are days when they spend all day hiking in the snow.”

Brower said the biologists try to get to collars within 24 hours of a signal going off.

“They have no idea what their schedule is going to be like from day to day,” he said. “They just know that they are going to check the signals and go track down collars.”

They are often particularly busy during March and April.

“March and April is when most of the fawns will succumb to the rigors of winter,” Brower said.

Technicians will continue monitoring collars until the end of May and expect to add to the numbers of fawn mortality.

“Wildlife managers expect that 2018-19 mule deer fawn survival will end up being higher than 2016-17, which was the second-lowest survival of fawns (30 percent) in 20 years,” said Brian Pearson, Fish and Game information specialist, in a news release.

Adult deer and elk typically survive winter at higher rates than fawns and calves unless it is an extreme winter, Pearson reported.

Of the 548 radio-collared mule deer does being monitored across the state, 92 percent were alive through April 30, and 98 percent of the 643 collared elk cows survived. Biologists will report a final tally in June.

As snow melts and temperatures ease, most deer and elk will head back into the high country following the green-up.

“Where the snow has melted and the green up is pretty lush and full of nutrients, they’ll follow that and start moving back to their summer ranges,” Brower said.

Spring events at Craters of the Moon

Spring has sprung at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve .The Loop Road and campground are open, the mountain bluebirds are back, and wildflowers are beginning to bloom. Peak bloom on the lava flows and cinder slopes begins in early June.

The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Extended visitor center summer hours, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., begin on May 24. View our spectacular new park movie, “Craters: The Movie!,” on the hour and half-hour throughout the day in the visitor center theater.

Join us for the following activities and special events:

June 1 and 8: Wildflower Walks (NHA): 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

June is the peak of the wildflower season at Craters of the Moon. Join former Park Ranger Doug Owen on a guided 2-mile walk that will cover a variety of habitats and introduce participants to a number of plant species. Donations will be accepted by the Natural History Association to support transportation assistance for local schools. Pack a lunch, bring water and wear sturdy shoes. Reservations are required and walks will be limited to 25 people. Contact the park at 208-527-1335 or crmo_information@nps.gov to make a reservation.

June 2: Labor Day: Ranger-guided Walks and Talks

Climb a volcano, explore a lava tube, join us for an evening presentation or a dark-sky viewing event. These events are offered daily throughout the summer. Look for a detailed schedule at: https://www.nps.gov/crmo/planyourvisit/calendar.htm

June 14: Full Moon Hike

Experience Craters of the Moon beneath the full moon! Bring a flashlight, hiking shoes, water, and your curiosity about our lunar connections. Reservations are required and walks will be limited to 25 people. Contact the park at 208-527-1335 or crmo_information@nps.gov to make a reservation.

June 14-15: Nature Photography Seminar

The seminar from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday will focus on tips, techniques, and practices to improve your nature photography. Field session is all day Saturday, which is Nature Photography Day. Donations will be accepted by the Natural History Association to support transportation assistance for local schools. Reservations are required and the class is limited to 25 people. Contact the park at 208-527-1335 or crmo_information@nps.gov to make a reservation.

June 28-29: Star Party

Join experts from the Idaho Falls Astronomical Society and our very own “Astro-Ranger” to experience the universe at this International Dark Sky Park. Opportunities for solar viewing will be available at the visitor center both days. At 9:30 p.m. each evening there will be a presentation about the night sky at the campground amphitheater. Then head to the Caves Area parking lot for telescope viewing of the skies above. Call 208-527-1335 for more information.

From Brownlee to Swan Falls, Snake River smallmouth are abundant, mobile and healthy

The Snake River’s smallmouth bass population attracts a lot of anglers, and spring is often when they find the largest fish. Many anglers know the large fish are often females that are in the shallows during spawning season, and some of those bass move into the Snake River’s tributaries to spawn. Some anglers wonder whether targeting those fish limits the population.

Research by a University of Idaho graduate student, in conjunction with Idaho Fish and Game, found the river’s smallmouths are rarely harvested, even in the tributaries during the spring and summer, so there is likely very little harvest impact on smallmouth reproduction. This was just one of the findings of the study, which focused on the stretch of the Snake River between the Brownlee and Swan Falls reservoirs and was conducted in 2017-18.

Understanding an abundant population

Biologists wanted to better understand the smallmouth bass population upstream of Brownlee Reservoir and in the Snake River tributaries, including the Boise, Payette, and Weiser rivers. The study provided data to help biologists and anglers understand how this smallmouth population functions and whether management adequately protects fish while providing an excellent fishing opportunity.

While bass fishing between Swan Falls and Brownlee Reservoir is good in some some sections of the river and poor in others, that does not necessarily mean the fish in these sections are isolated populations. In fact, the study found that there is actually a large, interconnected smallmouth population that spans the sections within the study area.

Highly mobile smallmouths

The bass tend to be very mobile, particularly in the spring and summer, with several fish moving more than 62 miles upriver during the study, and some more than 150 miles. That number represents some of the longest movements of smallmouth bass ever recorded.

“Basically, we found that instead of having a bunch of solitary populations we have essentially one big inter-mixing population,” said Mike Peterson, fisheries biologist for the Southwest Region.

Healthy population with good size range

As a whole, the study showed this smallmouth population had good size distribution, and that the fish grew rapidly and were generally healthy, but they were also fairly short lived. There are plenty of fish larger than 12 inches available for anglers, and changes in the minimum length limit would have little effect on the number of larger fish available. There is currently no biological reason to change the six-fish limit, with a 12-inch minimum length for smallmouths.

“The current management appears to be working well within the river section we studied. We’re not proposing to change anything over the next few years,” Peterson said.

If you want to experience the Snake River’s smallmouth fishery, late spring and summer provide some fun and exciting fishing — and don’t worry, there are big fish out there, and plenty of them.

Anglers: It’s illegal to transport live fish

With the warming weather, it’s time to head to the lake and catch some fish! Spring is a great time to harvest crappie, bass or trout for the dinner table. While most anglers know the bag limits for each species, some are unaware it is illegal to transport live fish in Idaho without a permit, which are only issued for special circumstances.

Live wells, minnow buckets and coolers can be a source of trouble for anglers who aren’t aware of the rules about moving live fish. Here’s a few tips about transporting live fish to keep in mind:

  • Fish must be killed or released before leaving: Using your boat’s live well, a bucket, cooler or other container to store live fish while on the water is fine and legal. However, transporting live fish away from the lake, reservoir or other body of water when you leave is illegal. If you plan to take fish home, you must kill them first.
  • Bag/length limits apply to fish kept in a live well: Fish that don’t meet the minimum length, or are not in season or otherwise cannot be possessed cannot be kept in a live well. For example, let’s say the bass rules allow a six-fish limit with 12-inch minimum length. That means an angler can not put more than six bass in the live well, or any bass less than 12 inches long. All harvest and possession rules apply to fish kept in a live well!
  • Drain your live well before leaving the lake: Draining your live well helps reduce the spread of invasive species. Unwanted invaders like milfoil, mud snails, unseen diseases, or zebra mussels can ride in your live well to another lake. It’s best to drain your live well at the lake before you leave!

Many fishing boats have excellent live well systems that can help keep fish alive while on the water. However, you can be cited for transporting live fish. Besides, if you plan to keep fish for eating, the quicker they are dispatched and stored on ice, the better they taste on a plate.

The transport law is setup to discourage anglers from illegally moving unwanted fish species to new locations. Illegally introduced fish can cause major problems and can potentially ruin good fisheries for everyone. Please do your part and remember to kill or release all fish before leaving the water.

You can find more about possession and transporting fish on Page 47 of the current fishing rule book under “General Information.”

Try a different tri this year: the River Dash Kayathlon

Bring your shoes. Bring your bike. And bring your … kayak?

That’s right. The fourth annual River Dash Kayathlon is coming to Twin Falls and promises to not be your garden-variety triathlon. Swimming is not a segment in this race — unless you fall into the river, of course.

The race is the brainchild of Trever Turpin, an Idaho native with a passion for the outdoors and this funky race. The kayathlon is a run/pedal/paddle format race unlike the swim/pedal/run format race of traditional triathlons, yet still provides a solid challenge. Not a big swimmer, Turpin thought adding a kayak or canoe made sense and gave the race a unique twist.

“I thought of the idea about 10 years ago,” Turpin said. “We used to ride mountain bikes in the Kelly Canyon area outside Idaho Falls on a trail that led down to the river and I thought, ‘a cool idea would be to run a race that would include a kayak or boat instead of a swim’.”

The term kayathlon is foreign to most Americans, but well known to Europeans.

“In the U.S. there are similar events like this but not named kayathlon,” Turpin said. “The name kayathlon is big in Europe, big as tris. The spelling of our race is the same as the way the foreigners spell it over there.”

But putting on a race of any kind is difficult. Turpin launched his initial idea and started planning a kayathlon about five or six years ago. With friends in the running and ski communities, Turpin organized the first Twin Falls edition four years ago with their help. He also partnered with United Way and promoted the race as a fundraising event.

Unfortunately, he parted ways with them two years ago, but quickly found a new group to help. The Magic Valley Composite High School Mountain Bike Team and Turpin became fast allies, and the bicycle team picked up where United Way left off.

“I wanted to create a nice event for everyone,” Turpin said. “They provide volunteer support and hopefully we can try and raise money and give back to the team through the race.”

Fifty or more athletes participated in the race the inaugural year. Turpin said the numbers fell slightly in the event’s second and third year, but saw a spike going into its fourth year.

“The past two years, about 30 participants raced, but the race was held on days other events were happening, conflicting with ours,” Turpin said.

Numbers are showing promise for 2019, Turpin said.

“Nine people signed up immediately after registration opened,” Turpin said.

Turpin plans on donating part of the proceeds to the Magic Valley Composite High School Mountain Bike Team at the end of race day for their time volunteering.

The River Dash Kayathlon will be held Saturday at Centennial Waterfront Park in Twin Falls.

For more information about the race and to register to participate, visit riverdashkayathlon.com.

CSI Fish Hatchery has a hand in stocking sturgeon

BOISE — You may have heard about sturgeon being collected from the Snake River below C.J. Strike Dam in southwest Idaho during April. Don’t be alarmed. This is all part of ongoing conservation efforts to help boost the number of sturgeon in the river.

Sturgeon are getting a helping hand below C.J. Strike Dam to increase the population and improve fishing in the Snake River. Working together, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Power Co. have stocked since 2014 more than 500 white sturgeon below the dam. This is part of a larger conservation program that includes partnering with the College of Southern Idaho to raise sturgeon at the college’s Twin Falls fish hatchery.

To do this, Idaho Power biologists capture up to six reproductive sturgeon below C.J. Strike Dam during late winter and take them to the Twin Falls College of Southern Idaho for spawning. After the eggs are collected at the hatchery, all the adults are returned back to the Snake River.

During surveys below C.J. Strike Dam, Idaho Power biologists have found some of the stocked fish have already grown to more than 3 feet long in just a few years. Of course, there are already bigger fish in the population. Biologists estimate there are currently about 243 sturgeon between 3 and 8 feet long in the section downstream of C.J. Strike Dam. The number of larger fish should improve as the hatchery sturgeon stocked as small juveniles grow into adults.

Idaho Power is also experimenting with an alternative strategy to using hatchery sturgeon as part of the conservation program. This unique approach collects naturally spawned sturgeon eggs directly from the river. The eggs are collected using specialized nets placed downstream of sturgeon spawning areas. Fertilized eggs are carefully removed from the nets and taken to the CSI Twin Falls hatchery.

Within five to six weeks after hatching, the tiny sturgeon larvae will grow to size, then these naturally spawned baby sturgeon are raised at the hatchery until they are about a foot long. Before stocking into the Snake River, each fish will be tagged so that biologists can monitor their growth, survival and migrations.

BLM urges responsible shooting during fire season

Another fire season is approaching and the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho is asking for your help to prevent human-caused fires. State Director John Ruhs recently signed the 2019 Fire Prevention Order, which prohibits specific fire-related activities on public land from May 10 to Oct. 20. The Fire Prevention Order makes it illegal to burn explosive materials or use fireworks, exploding targets or tracer ammunition on BLM-managed lands in Idaho.

“The goal of the annual fire prevention order is to reduce the number of human-caused wildfires,” Ruhs said. “The BLM appreciates your efforts to protect our public lands, one of our nation’s greatest treasures.”

Any person who knowingly and willfully performs any act restricted by the Fire Prevention Order could be subject to a fine and held responsible for fire suppression and rehabilitation costs.

In 2018, shooting-related fires were approximately 60 percent of the BLM’s human-caused wildfires. These fires were related to ammunition, exploding targets and even shooting at steel-type targets. The Sharps Fire outside Bellevue, Idaho, is one example of an exploding target fire that damaged acres of public and forested-lands.

Additionally, the BLM is promoting a fire education campaign that encourages the public to take proactive measures when target shooting. The campaign “Shoot Responsibly — Idaho” aims to remind everyone of the simple steps to remember when target shooting. For instance, avoid shooting on hot, dry and windy days and shooting into rocks or metal/steel objects. Place targets in areas free of vegetation. Taking these simple measures can lessen the chances of causing a wildfire.

To read the BLM Idaho 2019 Fire Prevention Order, or for the most recent information concerning wildfires, fire restrictions, and fire prevention and education, visit www.idahofireinfo.com.

Baiting for bears

It is that time of year — in fact, a little past that time of year. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to start baiting for bears. Twenty-five years ago, no matter how deep the snow, you’d have found me snowshoeing in 5 miles, dragging a sled full of bear bait. Maybe I’ve slowed down, or maybe I’ve just gotten smarter, but now I wait until I don’t have to haul it so far. Or maybe I just don’t take as many kids bear hunting as I used to do, so I don’t have to worry about getting as many bears now as I have in years gone by.

It’s still smart to get your bait out early, but truth be known, if you’re having to snowshoe it in 5 miles, then the bears have hardly (if at all) come out of hibernation in your spot anyway. Plus, the first few weeks, their stomachs are queasy after fasting for four to five months.

I used to carry in meat, but after a long winter of not eating, meat is not the best choice. No doubt, I’ve hauled literally tens of thousands of pounds of meat up for bears to dine on, but there are better choices. They’ll come in and nibble on it, but if you throw out big chunks they’ll grab a piece and run off in the brush to eat. You want them staying in front of you.

So there are better choices for bait than meat. Small bait is better. By this I mean things like popcorn and dog food — stuff that they have to scoop up by the handfuls so they can’t grab a piece and run off and eat it in the brush, out of sight. They love donuts as well.

It works to pour old, used cooking grease over the top of your bait. They love that, plus they track it off from your bait, which leaves a scent trail in every which direction to draw in more bears. I also like to hang a scent bag so the thermals carry the scent up and down the mountains.

You’ll want to use a barrel for multiple reasons. First off, it keeps a bear from gorging and then leaving. Cut an 8-inch (or thereabouts, I’ve never measured mine) hole about two-thirds of the way up the barrel for the bear to reach in and retrieve bait. Make a smooth cut so they don’t cut up their arms.

Chain or strap the barrel to a tree. You’d be surprised how far a bear can roll, carry or whatever they can do to steal your barrel. One time I had a 20-gallon barrel set up for my old bear hunting buddy Roy Snethen. It disappeared. I finally found it out in the middle of a willow thicket. I don’t have a clue how they got it out there. I could hardly get it out with it thrown over my shoulder.

Once the bears start hitting your bait, you’ll want to keep it full. You don’t want it to get empty and then them move on. You want them staying around your bait. When they start hitting it hard, you’ll find their beds nearby. Many times in steep country they’ll lay on the uphill side of a big yellow pine. You’ll find their beds there.

At first, you’ll want to have scent bags hanging, but eventually, and hopefully, with them tracking out grease, you’ll have drawn in all of the neighborhood bears. And if at first all you have showing up are sows, don’t panic. That’s the best bait that you could have.

The later in the season it gets, the more important it is to sows around. They’ll start going into heat the end of May on into June. I’ve had baits with nothing but sows and small bears and then suddenly the big daddy shows up out of the blue.

And one last thing. You’ll want to get in the backcountry so hound hunters don’t run bears off of your bait. That’s frustrating to haul bait to a spot for three to four weeks, then take vacation and go set on your bait only to discover that someone has been running your bait.

Get a big one!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.