Wallowa County Outdoors: Snowpack, snow water content gaining ground

Mac Huff

Whew! What a blizzard on Friday. Not enough to reopen Ferguson Ridge Ski Area - as if many are wishing for that, but it snowed about as hard as it ever does for an hour or so. Where was it in December when we wanted it?

For those stalwarts still looking to make turns in fresh powder, Friday's storm filled the bill.

It is no surprise that the best stuff is the most difficult to get to and the best snow is now above 7,000 feet. Roger Averbeck with Wing Ridge Ski Tours reports that about six inches of fresh snow fell last Thursday, followed by two more inches on Friday. Averbeck summarized conditions as decent powder on north aspects above 7,200 feet, with corn snow at lower elevations.

The snowpack and snow water content in the Wallowa Mountains is gradually gaining ground on the deficit generated during the winter. Aneroid, at a higher elevation, attained a "normal" snow water content a few weeks ago and currently the snowpack is at 134 percent of average. Mt. Howard made the most progress last week, building from 89 percent to 97 percent of average water content during the week.

The snow depth remained relatively stable during the week, but the simple maintenance of the snowpack is a victory toward water that will be available during the summer. Early this week the Aneroid SNOTEL site recorded 71 inches of snow on the ground, a one-inch increase from the previous week. Mt. Howard SNOTEL reports 58 inches of snow on the ground and also gained more than an inch of snow depth during the week.

Spring seems to be plodding along again in the Wallowa Valley. Wind flowers are making a valiant effort to bloom in the forests and prairie north of Enterprise and a lot of new flowers are showing up in the canyons, including Hawthorne, phlox and a steadily increasing number of yellow balsamroot blooms.

Hunters hold the advantage this month with spring bear and turkey seasons continuing through May 31.

Hunting, like fishing, may be differentiated between pursuit and success. Spring bear hunters are still mostly in the "hunting" phase of the season. On the other hand, bear hunters often seem to use the "hunt" as the best excuse being in the woods, sit in the sunshine and look at a lot of beautiful country, seemingly hoping that the black bears that they see are too far away to shoot and then have to pack out.

Through last weekend, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials were unaware of any successful bear hunters, although biologist Pat Matthews says that bears are becoming active and one hunter told him that he has observed 18 bears in the Wenaha Unit last weekend. Across the county, hunters are finding a few bears now in the Imnaha Unit. Otherwise, Matthews says, "bear observations have been few."

Turkey hunters, "on the other hand have been experiencing fair to good success," he says. Biologists know of 17 gobblers that have been harvested, he says, and most of the hunters he's talked to are seeing birds.

The snow pack is slowly melting across the north end of Wallowa County, opening the country for turkeys and most roads, but blow-down trees may still be a widespread hindrance, where many trees broke off late in the winter when snow packed against the trunks and caused many to break during the ensuing wind storm.

Matthews says hunters will still find snow blocking portions of roads in the Minam, Imnaha and Snake River units. Four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance have driven to Cayuse Flat, he says.

FISHING NOW

Rivers and streams open later this month, until then anglers have numerous choices of stillwater fisheries in Wallowa County - but not Kinney Lake! Wallowa Lake and Marr and Wallowa Wildlife ponds were recently stocked with rainbows and provide good opportunities for bank anglers. Wallowa Lake is also on an uptrend for kokanee fishing, which annually reaches peak conditions about May 15. Kokanee anglers also have the opportunity - sometimes considered the nuisance - of good trout fishing, too.

A short drive to the east are the Snake River reservoirs with very good smallmouth bass and crappie fishing and to the west portions of the Umatilla River are open for chinook salmon angling through June 30.

CONTROLLED HUNTS

Oregon hunters are down to the final two weeks to submit controlled hunt applications for 2003 big game seasons. This year's deadline is Thursday, May 15.

As always, ODFW encourages hunters to go to their license agents early for their controlled hunt applications to avoid the long lines that form during the final few days of the application period.

Species that may exclusively or often fall under the controlled hunt program are pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, eastern Oregon buck deer, many eastern Oregon bull elk seasons and most antlerless deer and elk.

At the end of the fourth week of April ODFW had received nearly 100,000 applications, but last year more than 423,000 were submitted, leaving three-fourths of the applications likely coming during these last two weeks.

In addition to applying through license vendors, hunters can also apply using the mail order application found on page 23 of the 2003 Oregon Big Game Regulations or through the internet at The mail-in or internet applications accept credit cards.

KINNEY LAKE CLOSED

This is a correction to last week's column where I erroneously reported that Kinney Lake opened last weekend. That was how it used to be, now Kinney Lakes opens along with the streams on Memorial Day weekend, so it will be another month before we can fish there.

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