Land Trust not happy with losing conservation funds
When the state recently pulled $3.1 million from a planned conservation project, the Okanogan Land Trust said it was disappointed.
Committee to make recommendations on spending $580,000 for Colville National Forest-related resource projects
Farmers in Grant, Walla Walla counties can take advantage of permanent policy offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, officials said
Okanogan irrigation board to meet at 11 a.m. Thursday to discuss personnel issues
Health officials are warning residents not to eat raw clover sprouts from Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC.
The Methow Valley Ranger District plans to finish burning 50 acres today in the Little Bridge Creek drainage.
Water expected to peak Monday at Tonasket gauge
Potential flood waters on the Okanogan River are expected to reach their highest level Monday.
A National Weather Service flood warning for low-lying areas of the Okanogan River remains in effect until further notice
Gecko Growers, Blewett Pass Farms get nod
Two more North-Central Washington companies have been granted business licenses by the state to operate recreational marijuana producing and processing facilities.
Changes just part of a ‘bigger plan,’ official says
Okanogan County commissioners’ decision to eliminate two employee positions at the fairgrounds last week has been met with some outrage.
Soap Lake boy wins overall crown during Nespelem Junior Rodeo; complete rodeo results posted
McMorris Rodgers named Legislator of the Year by National Hydropower Assocation
Some want animals rounded up and removed
A half-dozen bands of feral horses are roaming the hills, trampling range land and potentially posing a health risk to other livestock. They’re not wild mustangs, but instead are former domestic animals or their offspring. And they’re causing conflict and consternation among local residents, and frustration for law enforcement officials. “People seem to think animals can adapt to their environment. They take a domestic horse out there, and they expect that” the horse can fend for itself, said Deputy Dave Yarnell, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office’s designated animal officer. But newly released horses, accustomed to having human contact and bales of hay put out for them, don’t know what to do on their own. “They forage around. They don’t know where the shelter is, where the dangers are,” he said. He estimated there are 70-100 feral horses in the Aeneas Valley area of the Okanogan Highlands, and there have been reports of such animals in other parts of north Okanogan County. “We have had several reports over the years with wild horses, especially in that area,” Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said. “We have rounded up some over the years. There are a lot more up there.” Yarnell said feral horses can be a problem for ranchers. They eat forage on cattle grazing lands, thus making less for the cattle and stressing the land; get into springs developed for the cattle; trample native grasses; spread noxious weed seeds; damage wildlife habitat, and spread disease to other animals. One emaciated, feral horse showed up on someone’s property recently and collapsed. It was so sick it couldn’t move its head. “We thought at first it had strangles, which is highly contagious,” Yarnell said. Strangles is a bacterial upper respiratory disease also known as equine distemper. Further investigation showed the horse had an impacted molar, which led to further infection. The horse couldn’t eat and pretty much starved. It had to be put down. “That’s an example of what can happen. They can spread disease or they can suffer if injured,” he said. Another problem is with stallions, which lead the feral horse herds. They can impregnate pedigreed horses owned by breeders. Yarnell said one breeder had to abort several mares after a feral stallion visited the domestic herd. “We’ve had ranchers threaten to shoot them, but that might bring in predatory animals,” he said. “Besides, we don’t want dead horses everywhere.” On the other extreme, some people in the area feed the horses but don’t really own them. As long as the horses have the ability to move across the range, they’re considered feral. “It’s illegal for people to allow them to run at large, but there’s no crime to enforce unless the horse is branded,” Yarnell said. At that point, for branded animals, the state brand inspector can get involved. Rogers said responsibility for dealing with the feral horses lies with his office, but the costs involved can be prohibitive. The department has had a designated animal deputy, who also has other patrol duties, for less than a year and no additional budget for animal control. “We do what we can,” he said. “Deputy Yarnell has been working on this issue for several months and is trying to organize something to go and round up the horses. The biggest problem is money, but we are doing what we can.” Yarnell said a roundup looked promising for a while, when a non-profit rescue operation in Stevens County offered to come in, corral the horses and take them to be trained and adopted. “We started to put together a plan, then we found out they had some legal problems,” he said. He checked into having a professional roundup organization come in but was given a ballpark quote of $80,000 to $120,000. “It’s totally cost-prohibitive for the county to hire someone,” he said. In the meantime, Yarnell said the county encourages ranchers and interested parties to round up horses on an individual basis. “If they’re captured, people can keep them or take them to the sale yard,” he said. “The county can’t just house them.” He said the Sheriff’s Office can help facilitate roundups, and asks that he be kept in the loop if horses are rounded up. “We need to know they’re no longer at large,” he said. One ranch in the area did round up some of the horses, but eventually turned them back to the range when others in the area complained. Some people in the area don’t want the horses removed, but that’s not really a solution because of the range and health issues involved, Yarnell said. Nourishing Hand, a north end shelter with which the county contracts to care for abandoned and seized horses on a short-term, doesn’t have the facilities to deal with the feral horses, Yarnell said. There’s also been talk of creating a wild horse refuge, but that also poses problems since the horses then would be considered “owned,” he said. “How do you contain horses that don’t respect fences?” he said. “You need lots of land. Perimeter security would be needed.” The feral horses generally are well fed and in adequate health. “They’ve learned to adapt, but they’re mostly skittish,” he said. “Since it’s such a long-term situation, many are wild-born.” Compounding the problem is the continued dumping of horses. A couple showed up in Tunk Valley just recently. “People need to realize abandoning them is animal cruelty,” Yarnell said. “If they are caught in the act, there are serious consequences,” including felony prosecution. Okanogan County isn’t alone in having to deal with feral horses. The Colville Indian Reservation also is home to herds of such animals. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ range office estimates there are around 1,000 feral horses on the reservation. The tribe recently received a $10,000 BIA grant for a count of the horses during the tribe’s annual helicopter count of game populations. BIA estimates every feral horse eats around 25 pounds of forage a day, or nearly 4.5 tons per year per horse.
Future of Enloe still uncertain
Exploring the area around Enloe Dam and Similkameen Falls, it’s easy to see why it draws in people who love the outdoors. Roads leading from the highway are primitive and tend to flood in a few spots during especially rainy seasons, but there are numerous walking trails surrounding the falls and opportunities for bird watching, not to mention checking out the historic dam and powerhouse built more than 90 years ago. The dam hasn’t generated power since 1958, when the Okanogan County Public Utility District opted to shut it down and buy power more cheaply from Bonneville Power Administration. The powerhouse is dilapidated, the bridge that connected it to the other side of the river long gone. Since then, there have been countless discussions and a few attempts to get a powerhouse up and running again. After a five-year application process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the utility secures a 50-year license in July 2013 to generate electricity. Previous licenses were granted in 1983 and 1996, but were rescinded because there were no studies done on the impacts to anadromous fish. Although commissioners still haven’t decided whether to restore the dam or breach it, and water issues are still caught up in litigation, the utility is moving forward with meeting FERC license deadlines. Under terms of the license, if the commissioners decide to go ahead and operate the dam – a project that carries a roughly estimated cost of about $35 million – construction must begin by July 2015 and be completed three years later. The project includes plans for two penstocks, a substation, a new powerhouse and tailrace, an intake channel, a bypass reach and five-foot crest gates to boost generation. But the scope of the license involves more than just the dam, according to utility Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Director Dan Boettger. It also includes guidelines and requirements for fish mitigation, recreation and water quality, among other things. One challenge the utility will have to address, he said, is the temperature of the Similkameen River, which can sometimes be fatally high for fish. Because the nearby Okanogan River is even warmer, the Similkameen is a “cold water refuge” for fish, including endangered steelhead, trying to make their way upstream, Boettger said. Utility employees have discovered small pockets of cold water welling up into the stream beds, where fish like to congregate to survive the hotter summer months before moving on, but more work is required. One major project will involve drilling a well to pump cold water into the stream bed. “All of the fish agencies are actually very excited to see this thing get done,” Boettger said. “The lower Similkameen is important habitat for salmonid.” Another required project is bringing in more gravel to help fish safely spawn and house their eggs. Above the dam itself, the utility would install an intake channel with a wide opening that narrows as it descends into the penstocks and new powerhouse planned on the southeast side of the dam. Part of the reason for the wider channel opening, Boettger said, is to slow down the water flow and give fish a chance to turn around and swim back up the reservoir. In addition, the intake won’t need to be as deep, meaning less sediment disruption. Such measures are part of what he referred to as “P, M and E” – prevention, mitigation and enhancement. “We’re trying to avoid fish impacts,” he said. More recreation spots, including a park, small campground and boat launch, are planned for the wooded area northeast of the dam and at Miners Flat. The projects come at the request of the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land where Enloe Dam sits, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Those projects, however, may be the opposite of what people who use the area want. Boettger said the utility has surveyed people during peak recreation times. “They wanted us to maintain it as you see it today,” he said. “We have tried to honor that, but we’ve gotten some pressure from agencies that want more recreational amenities.” A recreation plan is due in July, as are some other tasks. “We’re currently meeting all of the dates that FERC assigned to us,” he said. Boettger estimates the dam would become economical in about 20 years. It would generate a maximum of 9 megawatts between two 4.5-megawatt generators, which could provide electricity to about 3,500 homes. As for the old powerhouse, Boettger said the utility initially wanted to rebuild it and use it, but can’t. Instead, the plan is to advertise it for sale over a five-year period. If no buyers come forward, it will be removed. “We’re trying to come up with ways to make everyone happy,” he said. A number of ratepayers believe the project isn’t a financially wise move and have asked the utility to remove the dam altogether. However, Boettger said there’s a chance for the utility to recoup some of its investment if the dam is operational, whereas spending a similar amount of money to remove it would be a total loss. Jere Gillespie with the Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, which issued a study pointing out the economic problems surrounding the dam, said a proposal to remove Enloe has been created. “The draft proposal has been submitted to PUD management, and contains an outline of other dams removed in the Northwest recently, the costs of those removals, and other such details,” she said, noting the document has not been made public yet. “Then the removal of Enloe itself is considered, and a timeline of objectives is offered. Also, potential funding sources are outlined and partners are identified.” In February, the Hydropower Reform Coalition was invited along with several agencies to take part in a discussion about the possibility of removing the dam. Representatives from the Bonneville Power Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management all said they would support removing the dam if the utility chooses to go that route, but no one was able to contribute funding to accomplish it. The Colville Confederated Tribes spoke in favor of reopening the dam. The tribe and utility signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 that would allow the tribe to purchase, at cost, up to 49 percent of the power generated. As a public entity, the utility cannot sell power for profit. Meanwhile, Boettger said there’s still a legal issue ongoing regarding cubic feet per second going over the dam. The utility does not comment on pending litigation. Some legal battles have been settled over the past year. In January, American Whitewater dropped its appeal in federal court that claimed FERC didn’t consider the impacts of the minimum required flow of the falls. The appeal was dropped in an effort to open communication with the utility. The state Pollution Control Hearings Board issued an order July 23, 2013, requiring the state Department of Ecology and the utility to conduct an aesthetic flow study within the next three years, then amend the minimum required flow if necessary. Advocacy groups argue 10-30 cubic feet per second (cfs) isn’t enough flow, and that the permit failed to comply with the Clean Water Act. Since then, the utility has secured a Clean Water Act permit, Boettger said. To obtain the full 9 megawatts, the utility has a water right of 1,000 cfs, but an additional 600 cfs is needed. He said the dam could be created for a smaller amount of production that would use less water, but that may prevent the dam from becoming solvent.
Logging operations prompt closure of three-mile stretch of Freund Canyon Trail