Bustam named Colville National Forest district ranger

Tinelle Bustam named district ranger with Colville National Forest

Land trust offers fire education

The Okanogan Land Trust plans a series of educational events in early May concerning the role of wildfire and prescribed burns on the landscape.

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Transportation employee safe after avalanche buries bulldozer in Chinook Pass

State worker safe after spending five hours in bulldozer buried by avalanche

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Spokane Congresswoman recognized for hydropower effort

McMorris Rodgers named Legislator of the Year by National Hydropower Assocation

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Wild Horses: Highlands herds cause concern

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.

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Portion of Freund Canyon Trail closed

Logging operations prompt closure of three-mile stretch of Freund Canyon Trail

Weather prompts burning delay

Weather prompts delay in spring burning in Methow Valley

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Fire races up Pogue Mountain

Firefighters from several agencies spent part of Tuesday battling a wildfire on Pogue Mountain southwest of town.

Burn planned to start Thursday west of Winthrop

The Methow Valley Ranger District is gearing up for a prescribed burn Thursday on about 20 acres 10 miles west of town.

Cattlemen oppose fish project

Colville tribe plans project in Johnson Creek drainage

The first phase of a proposed fish barrier passage project along Johnson Creek will not begin construction in June as planned, but some residents are objecting to the project.

Tribe celebrates Earth Day event

Cities plan Arbor Day activities

NESPELEM — An Earth Day celebration will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the celebration grounds next to the Community Center, 4000 Lower Columbia River Road. The Colville tribal event includes food, performances by children and drummers, informational booths and drawings for a variety of prizes. A color guard will present flags at 10 a.m., followed by a prayer from a tribal elder. At 10:45 a.m., performances are planned by local school children and drummers. Winners of school and tribal programs competitions will be announced at 11 a.m. A barbecue featuring hot dogs, beverages and dessert is planned. Door prizes will be announced at 1 p.m. Winners must be present. A closing ceremony will be at 1:30 p.m. Participants can visit more than 50 booths for information and free items. Information will be available on recycling, cleaning up, energy conservation, reducing air pollution, and education and sharing. The celebration is provided by the tribal recycling and environmental trust programs. Tribal recycling accepts, newspapers, white or colored paper, paper sacks, magazines, inserts and junk mail, bagged shredded paper, telephone and paperback books, flattened cardboard boxes, chipboard (food, detergent and facial tissue boxes, and paper towel and toilet paper tubes), clean plastic bottles (No. 1 and No. 2, no lids), aluminum cans and pie pans, clean steel/tin cans, empty aerosol cans, and clean glass food and beverage jars and bottles (sorted by color). ----------------------------------------- Cities plan Arbor Day activities OKANOGAN — Several Okanogan County communities are planning Arbor Day celebrations in the next couple weeks. Okanogan and Omak, which share a Tree Board, will have their Arbor Day events Friday. In Okanogan, a tree-planting ceremony begins at 11 a.m. in Jaycee Park. A linden tree will be planted. At 1 p.m., a dogwood tree will be planted in the dog park being developed in East Side Park. The dog park is adjacent to Carl Precht Memorial RV Park. Other Arbor Day celebrations include: Oroville — 1:30 p.m. April 24 at Oroville Elementary School, 808 Main St. Two trees are scheduled to be planted. Pateros — 10 a.m. April 26 on the pedestrian mall. A tree will be planted. Twisp — Noon to 1 p.m. April 26 on Glover Street. Park trees will be pruned and a tree will be planted. Coulee Dam had a tree planting April 9 in Mason Park. The state’s official Arbor Day was April 9. The Department of Natural Resources recognized 84 cities in the Tree City USA program. Local honorees included Okanogan, 17; Omak, 17; Oroville, 6; Pateros, 1; Tonasket, 8; and Twisp, 14.

‘Willy Wonka Jr.’ is in May

The Merc Playhouse Children’s Musical Theater will present “Willy Wonka Jr.” on May 9-18 at the theater, 101 S. Glover St. The show is based on the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” by Roald Dahl. Curtain times are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Admission will be charged. A “pay what you can” performance will be at 7 p.m. May 15. The cast features 33 Methow Valley children, costumes, lights and sound by Liberty Bell High students, and set pieces by the Liberty Bell High School construction, welding and art classes.

Crews poised for wildfire season

Fire Chief Kevin Bowling said it’s still too early to tell what this year’s fire season will bring. “Omak fire has responded to nine brush fires this spring,” he said, noting that’s “a little above average.”

Google Maps fixes Deep Bay Park name

Residents petition company to correct park’s moniker

The city’s Deep Bay Park was suffering from an identity crisis, but the problem apparently has been fixed.

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Small Riverside brush fire prompts response

Brush fire intentionally started to burn weeds at entrance to Riverside