Wallowa County Outdoors: Fergi conditions improve with cooler temperatures

Mac Huff

Ferguson Ridge Ski Area overcame a dubious autumn, opening for skiing and snowboarding in the first few days of winter and salvaging most of Christmas vacation for young skiers and snowboarders.

Conditions tended to improve throughout duration of the vacation and ended last weekend with "One of the best days of the holiday," according to Eagle Cap Ski Club member Charlie Kissinger. Unfortunately, it was not one of the best attended days of the season, he says. Because of a fluke in the weather pattern warm weather during the week had removed the snow pack from the valley with the consequential loss of interest from nearly everyone that now had grass showing in their yard. As the warm airmass moved out of northeast Oregon over the weekend, the first hints of cold air turned the rain into snow and dropped about four inches of new snow on the hill for the final day of vacation skiing.

Fergi opens again this weekend. The hill has about a foot of snow over the entire hill and remnants of the last weekend's fresh snow should still linger on the slopes. For current information about the ski hill call Wallowa Outdoors at 426-3493.

FISHING REPORT

Last week's warm weather cleared off most of the low and mid elevation snow pack, raising water levels in local rivers, but less than the amount of snow that melted might indicate. Apparently a great deal of the water soaked into the ground and prevented a severe change in river conditions. All of the rivers remained fishable through December, with the Grande Ronde River becoming questionable only last weekend when the water level finally topped 1,000 cfs. The much-needed rise in river level is certain to bring additional steelhead into the river and improve fishing conditions this week.

The Grande Ronde River peaked on Sunday near 1,200 cfs, almost, but not quite reaching the average flow for that date, before quickly retreating to 961 cfs on Tuesday morning.

The creel survey from Christmas week is encouraging with catch rates for Oregon and Washington dropping into the single digits. Oregon recorded eight hours per fish for 11 hatchery and 16 wild steelhead. All of the hatchery fish caught were kept this week. Washington anglers averaged seven hours per fish, one of the few weeks this season that Washington anglers reported better results than Oregon anglers, but their catch was nine hatchery and five wild steelhead, with eight of the hatchery fish kept. Washington had about one-half the angling pressure that Oregon reported with Washington averaging nine anglers per count period, while Oregon averaged 16. The highest single count in Washington was 16 anglers and in Oregon it was 25 anglers.

The Wallowa River continues to hover around 170 cfs, showing little change recently. It is still early for steelhead to move into the Wallowa River and water conditions aren't giving the fish any reason to come early.

The Imnaha River rose from about 150 cfs to about 290 cfs in late December and remains near 250 cfs this week, which is well above average flow for early January. This freshet, as in the Grande Ronde, should be the welcoming card that steelhead are waiting for to move upstream. Although the river level rose quickly, water clarity remained good throughout December and early January.

The report from Dave Tanzey at Imnaha Store for last week was that fishing was slow for steelhead, but good for bull trout.

PHEASANTS FOREVER ORGANIZING

Outdoor enthusiasts are organizing an effort to reestablish a Pheasants Forever chapter in Wallowa County.

The chapter start meeting is Jan. 14 at Pacific Power Conference Room in Enterprise at 7:00 p.m.

Presenters will present the goals and objectives of Pheasants Forever and report on the organization's accomplishments in Oregon.

Pheasants Forever wildlife biologist Eric Henning says that currently there are eight chapters in Oregon. Chapters coordinate upland wildlife habitat projects with local landowners and resource personnel with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources Conservation Service and others agencies.

For more information about the meeting or Pheasants Forever contact Mike Koloski at 426-8604 or Henning at 541-758-8061.

CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT

Wallowa County's annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count accounted for 75 species, a typical count number, during a timely break in the gale-force winds that had buffeted the county for several days before the count. Thirty-five counters made an appearance for the annual event that contributes to avian statistics compiled throughout the nation during December.

Most of the species observed were in relatively low numbers, compared to records from past years, a result of various weather conditions, including fierce winds prior to the count, a mild fall that left species widely scattered and bare ground that improved the camouflage for many species.

Two species that exceeded past observations were American robin and California gull. For bird watchers that do most of their observing down the barrel of a shotgun, they won't be surprised to learn that waterfowl numbers in the county are low. Canada goose numbers came in at 489, about 20 percent of the high counts for that species and mallard ducks totaled 386, less than 10 percent of the high counts.

Hawk and eagle counts were also greatly reduced from high counts with rough-legged hawks at about 20 percent and red-tailed hawks at about one-half of the best count for the species.

Gray partridge eluded bird watchers, which shouldn't be too surprising since the grain fields were free of snow, offering perfect hiding cover for these birds.

COMMISSION MEETING

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will hold its next meeting on Friday at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Portland headquarters building beginning at 8:00 a.m.

Agenda topics include:

* Schedule of damages for commercial fishing violations.

* Babich contested case final order: Department staff will ask the Commission to adopt the final order in this contested case.

* 2002-2003 Columbia River power system review.

* 2003 Columbia River spring chinook management.

*Wild turkey trapping in Southwest Region.

Public testimony on scheduled agenda items is encouraged. Sign-up sheets are provided the day of the meeting

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