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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

February 28, 2012 at 1:30 PM

Plan to stock Elwha River with non-native hatchery fish put off

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has signed a legally-binding agreement to hold off planting any non-native Chambers Creek hatchery fish in the Elwha River in 2012.

The tribe was on a course to plant the non-native steelhead in the Elwha as soon as April.

The agreement applies to the Elwha and its tributaries, and was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The interim agreement, signed with the Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and the Wild Steelhead Coalition, grew out of a lawsuit filed by the four groups Feb. 9.

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On the right: Hatchery-raised coho feed at the Elwha tribal fish hatchery near Port Angeles. The tribe has agreed to hold off on planting any non-native Chambers Creek steelhead from its hatchery in the Elwha River this year. Photo by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times

The groups filed suit against federal agencies and officials at the tribe seeking to block releases of the fish into the Elwha, claiming the releases would violate the federal Endangered Species Act by harming wild steelhead, a threatened species.

The agreement, approved and signed by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle, does not address the substance of that suit or the claims or assertions on the hatchery issue made by either side. The agreement also doesn’t speak to potential releases of non-native steelhead in the river in the future.

In return for the tribe’s commitment, the plaintiffs agreed to hold off on seeking a preliminary injunction in the suit in 2012.

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February 24, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Whale tagging underway on Puget Sound orcas

Orcas in J Pod are being darted with tags under research authorized by the federal fisheries service intended to shed light on the animals’ winter travels. The agency needs better information on where the animals go in part to delineate critical habitat needed for their recovery.

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This Dec. 17, 2011, photo provided by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center shows a new baby orca born to 39-year-old Slick, also known as J-16, in Puget Sound near Seattle. It’s her fifth calf since 1991 and it brings the total number of killer whales in the Southern Resident population to 89. (AP Photo/NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Candice Emmons)

Up to six members of the Southern Resident population of killer whales will be tagged this year under the research program — probably fewer, due to the difficulty of the operation and restriction on tagging only post-reproductive females and males.

The agency intends to tag up to two orcas in each of the three southern resident pods per year. The first tag was darted in to an adult male in J Pod on Monday in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The fisheries service in an announcement and question and answer press release stated one of the orcas in J Pod had already been tagged. The agency also posted a map of the path traveled by the tagged orca.

For more on the tagging operation, take a look at this story by the Seattle AP’s Phuong Le, who talked to researchers worried about injuries caused by the darts, and the possibility of infection.

The agency states that risks to the whales’ health, reproductive success and survival from tagging is so low as to be insignificant. The agency has tagged 250 cetaceans of 16 species during the past six years, so far without indication of serious injury, according to the agency. Marks from the dart are no worse than naturally occurring injuries, such as shark bites, the agency states.

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February 23, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Mount Si, LIttle Si trails still closed as snow delays work

Mount Si and Little Si trailheads and trails will remain closed as investigators continue to look into a plane crash in the area last week. Snow has slowed the work, which continues this week. On Feb. 15, a single-engine airplane crashed in the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA), which is managed by DNR and…

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February 16, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Mountain goat count up in Olympic National Park

A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey shows the population of mountain goats in the Olympics — where they are not a native species — is growing.

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The report just issued by the USGS shows goat populations are up to 344 animals in the Olympic Mountains, a 40 percent increase since the last count in 2004.

The helicopter survey was done in mid- to late July, in flights over the Olympic Mountains. Some peaks, such as Olympus, were found to be home to dozens of goats, while others had just as scattering.

This year’s count was regarded as more accurate, and the 40 percent increase it shows from the last count in 2004 was attributed to differences in survey methods — including counting goats in a larger area of the park. It was the first increase in population noted since the 1980s, when populations peaked.

At the current rate of growth, the goat population could double within about 15 years, according to the report.

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February 13, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Just in time for Valentine’s Day: Salamander love nights

Valentine’s Day just happens to coincide with the first amorous stirrings in the amphibian world, as salamanders begin emerging from winter hibernation in search of mates.

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A long-toed salamander graces the online pages of Wikipedia. These delicate beauties are among the salamanders of the Puget Sound lowlands just now awakening and on the move.

If you’d like to see some of these fabulous creatures for yourself, you are in luck. Naturalist Stewart Wechsler has scheduled two salamander outings this Valentine’s week. Both are for general-interest nature fans and no equipment other than a flashlight is needed. Kids are welcome.

The first program is on Valentine’s Night, from 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday. The second is from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Saturday. For both, meet in front of the Camp Long Lodge building, on Southwest Dawson Street, just east of 35th Avenue Southwest in West Seattle. The Salamander Love Night adventures are priced from $1-$20, your choice, based on ability to pay.

If you like this sort of thing, the most beautiful book I have ever read on salamanders and all things wetlands is Swampwalker’s Journal, A Wetlands Year, by David M. Carroll (Mariner Books, 1999). Winner of the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for nature writing, Carroll in 2006 won a MacArthur Foundation “genius award” for his writing and illustrations, and for good reason. His accounts of watching spring come alive as he wades a series of woodland wetlands and ponds near his home in New Hampshire are pure poetry. His love of salamanders (and turtles) is most evident.

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David Carroll’s ode to wetland creatures is one of my favorite books

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February 6, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Science talk TONIGHT on Elwha River recovery by George Pess

George Pess at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle is one of the most experienced scientists at work on the Elwha River restoration effort — with more than a decade of field work under his belt leading baseline monitoring work on the river. George Pess records data while doing baseline research on a floodplain…

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February 2, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Pup has a second check up, takes a big swim

The Seattle Aquarium sent over this video just now of Aniak’s pup having her second check up. Born last month, she’s nearly doubled her weight already and is doing just fine Here she is having her check up and a swim. She needs to be faster at eating treats though if she wants to beat her…

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