Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Winter Mushroom Hunting

The typical hunter-gatherer types think of picking mushrooms primarily as a spring and fall activity. However, if you learn enough of the edible varieties, habitats they grow in, and the longevity of their seasons, you can easily make this past-time last all year. Winter is one of my favorite times of year for mushroom hunting. While the gold rush for fall chanterelles is probably the most popular among mushroom hunters, they tend to disappear once the rains and freezing weather put an end to the harvest. Mushroom hunting during the winter months also reduces conflict with most hunting seasons, particularly in regards to big game. Best of all, it's a great excuse to get outside when the river is blown out and the weather isn't cooperating for winter steelhead, or you've already bagged your limit of ducks in the morning.

The progression of different species that fruit during this seasonal transition begins with Hydnum repandum, commonly known as hedgehog mushrooms, which are very similar in density, texture, and taste to chanterelles. Some species of hedgehog mushrooms begin fruiting in late summer and early fall, however there are others that will continue to fruit long after chanterelles have gone past their prime. Hedgehog Mushrooms get their name from a unique spiky pattern of spines beneath their caps where you typically see gills on most mushrooms. Their lack of imposters also makes them a fairly easy mushroom to identify and distinguish as an edible. These are a great choice for savory dishes, mushroom soups, or even pickling, and will maintain their density and texture fairly well after cooking.

As the season transitions into colder, freezing temperatures that are inhabitable for most fall mushroom species, another prolific and unique mushroom is the Lactarius or more commonly known as "Candy Cap" for it's strong maple syrup aroma. There are three North American species of Lactarius, but the Lactarius Rubidus is more common on the west side. This particular mushroom requires a little more advanced identification, as it resembles a large pool of lookalikes known by the mycological community as "LBMs" or "Little Brown Mushrooms." The Galerina is one toxic lookalike that grows in the same habitat. It's recommended to gather Candy Caps by hand rather than with a knife. The texture of their stem (known as a "stipe") is fairly fragile and breaks more like an old, dry twig, while it's imposters have a stipe that is more flexible, and tends to bend and break more like a green willow branch. Another analogy to explain this would be the difference between bone and cartilage.

Candy Caps are pretty unique in their range of culinary applications, and are typically dried first and ground into powder. Drying them is recommended at very low temperatures in order to best preserve the flavor and aroma. Once they're dried, use a coffee grinder to turn them into a fine powder. A blender or food processor would be a good substitute in the absence of a coffee grinder, but you'll end up with a much more coarse product. The powder you can use in almost anything sweet, but some of the more common uses are adding it to home made ice cream, pancakes, cookies, muffins, or other baked goods. The maple syrup flavor and aroma becomes a dominating focus of whatever you choose to add it to.

Finally, one of my personal favorite mushrooms of this season is Craterellus tubaeformis, aka the yellowfoot, or winter chanterelle. They have a very similar gill structure like the unique key identifiers for all chanterelles, which are gills that fork or web rather than running parallel to each other, and have erratic termination points where the gills connect to the stipe. The top of the mushroom is almost brown, with a dimple in the center of the cap. The name for yellowfoot comes from the stipe, which is a subtle, earthy, golden color. Unlike the golden chanterelles, the stipe on a yellowfoot is hollow.

Yellowfoot lends itself as an easy to forage forest product, growing in small clusters and often prolific within a small area. Whereas it's gold and white cousins typically push up from the duff and come covered in pine needles and debris, yellowfoot tends to grow from the same habitat, only from the surface of the forest floor rather than just beneath the first layer of it. Much like the candy caps, you won't need a knife to harvest them, you can simply pluck them by bending them at their base until they snap. In spite of the fact that yellowfoot are hollow-stemmed and significantly smaller and less dense than their chanterelle cousins, the process of harvesting them involves a lot less cleaning and is very low maintenance. Their size doesn't require any slicing or cooking prep, so with enough care harvesting them in the field, you can simply bring them home and toss them in a skillet, or add them to your favorite savory dish.

The diversity of species available to pick during the winter months offers a wide range of uses in a variety of meals. The versatility of their culinary value will not only expand your palate, but with very little effort, you can easily stock up on side dishes for your winter meals, and enjoy a little more time in the outdoors, rain or shine.

Early Winter Steelhead on the Alsea River

The past few years, the Alsea River has had a slow start to it's winter steelhead season. However, things can swing into action faster than you can call in sick to work on a rainy day. A great deal of my time online in December and January is spent hitting the refresh button on the NOAA river level gauge waiting for that bump and the first group of fish that ride the wave in from tidewater. The fish that move early tend to also move quickly. Some of the lower river spots that are popular areas for salmon anglers can be productive, but hatchery fish harvest numbers for the season have drastically increased on the North Fork vs. the lower river in the past 10 years. That harvest data doesn't do justice to the fact that the earliest winter steelhead are typically caught by lower river plunkers targeting salmon.

During high water events, steelhead will travel closer to the shoreline than salmon in the same areas. The Mike Bauer boat launch has the Caddilac of plunking shacks. complete with a handicapped access fishing platform, a woodburning stove, and a nearby restroom with a flushing toilet. If the water is high and muddy, don't rule out an opportunity to stay warm and dry while waiting for the bell on your rod tip to ring. Cured prawns or eggs with a spin-n-glow plunked in travel lanes in the current closer to shore are a healthy snack for fish on the move.

Regardless of water level, there are a couple lower river staging areas where hatchery fish tend to congregate before moving upriver. Blackberry Campground and Five Rivers Boat Launch have been two remote release sites for twenty thousand traditional broodstock hatchery raised smolts each year since 2012. Most traditional hatchery broodstock tend to jet straight to the hatchery, and the ones that bite are more commonly used for table fare of the anglers who catch them, rather than used for spawning at the hatchery. This is somewhat problematic, as it tends to breed genetics that create hatchery fish that are more successful at reaching the trap than the dinner table. While wild broodstock smolts produce an increased harvest of hatchery adults, these forty thousand traditional hatchery broodstock are released at lower river locations with the intention of them slowing their upriver journey at the locations where they were released as smolts, presenting more angler opportunity for harvest. Unfortunately, harvest data has been inconclusive that these remote releases have actually improved lower river harvest opportunity. The Alsea Sportsman's Association has (unsuccessfully) requested that the regional fish biologist plant forty thousand wild broodstock smolts at the lower river remote release sites (in place of the traditional hatchery broodstock) in an effort for this practice to better serve it's intended purpose of increased harvest opportunity.

Prior to the introduction of the wild broodstock program in 1999, forty thousand smolts were planted into Fall Creek, an Alsea basin tributary where the Oregon Hatchery Research Center is located. Prior to 2006, twenty thousand traditional broodstock smolts were released at Five Rivers Boat Launch and Blackberry Campground as well as Mill Creek and Salmonberry Park, totaling eighty thousand smolts released during different stages of the season, in a practice known as "scatter planting," When you hear old timers talk about "the good ol' days," they're likely referring to a time when they saw a return on a more calculated effort being put into smolt releases of traditional broodstock.

For now, the Blackberry and Five Rivers sites (in theory) are a good option for targeting fresh chrome in the lower river. Unfortunately, many of the traditional broodstock adults still tend to race for the hatchery. It is surely not a coincidence that the North Fork opened to fishing up to the hatchery the same year that the wild broodstock program began in 1999, and that some of the largest creel check numbers occurred 3-4 years afterwards. Unfortunately, due to a few years of consecutive losses of wild broodstock eggs, the Alsea has been in a downswing of creel check numbers in more recent history. Lack of participation in wild broodstock collection by anglers and guides alike due to a mistrust of the program has been an arduous point of contention that has left the fishery in a perpetual state of disrepair. Upgrades to equipment, collection practices and collection sites have all been made in an effort to prevent history from repeating itself, but with most guides directing their attention to other fisheries, collecting wild broodstock has become a challenge for the hatchery. Last year the program depended mostly upon fish caught in the hatchery trap and a handful of bank anglers who collected wild broodstock within sight of the hatchery.

The South Fork of the Alsea contributes a majority of the silt and debris that tend to stain the water in the mainstem of the river. When the water is muddy downstream of the confluence, fishing the North Fork is often the best option to finding visibility and staging areas for fish that have made their way through the bulk of the obstacles downstream. Clemens Park is a good secondary option to find a spot away from the crowd at the hatchery. The trails at Clemens Park are well kept, but access is limited to a boundary of private Weyerhauser property, and the opposite side of the river is private property occupied by local residents. Several stretches of river between Mill Creek and Clemens Park have been closed in recent years due to a lack of respect for private property. The confluence itself is now part of a stretch of river only accessible through purchasing an annual permit through a local fishing club.

The result of the shrinking accessibility on the Alsea and a traditional broodstock steelhead that's been bred like a hatchery-bound racehorse is a perfect storm for crowded anglers near the hatchery. If you're planning to hit the hatchery stretch, prepare for the crowds you're not likely to encounter downriver. Hate on the crowds all you want, they are fishing the final destination for these fish, so naturally the chances for success are often higher the higher upriver you're fishing, particularly when the water is higher too. If the fish are moving through, you'll know soon enough from your own success, or that of the anglers around you. Stats of fish collected at the trap are also posted in print on the bulletin boards in the hatchery parking lot, which much like magazine articles, is valuable information you won't find on the web.

This article was published in the December 2018 issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine

Image result for december 2018 northwest sportsman magazine

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Oregon's Cougar attack, and what we can learn from Washington's attack in May

Many questions are being posed as Oregon's first cougar attack on record (fatal or otherwise) occurred on Tuesday, September 11th. The victim, 55 year old Diana Bober of Gresham was found 100 yards from Hunchback Trail #793 near Mount Hood Village. Sgt. Collinson with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said the woman's body was found "100 yards off the trail and down an embankment in the steeper areas."

Washington's first fatal cougar attack occurred earlier this summer on May 19th when two mountain bikers were attacked and one was killed near North Bend, 30 miles east of Seattle. The connections between the two incidents raise a lot of questions. Typically, people are instructed to stand their ground, make themselves appear loud and large in the instance of coming in contact with a cougar in the wild. During the attack in Washington, the survivor in the attack told authorities that they did everything they were supposed to do to scare the cat away during the attack. Alison Bober, Diana's sister, told the Oregonian it appeared she fought the animal that attacked her, saying "Although she died of her wounds, the wild animal didn't come back for her."

In the case of the Washington attack, the cougar stalked the two cyclists, then they attempted to scare it away, and it returned to attack them. "Something was wrong with this cougar," Sgt. Ryan Abbott, spokesman for the King County Sheriff's Office, told the Associated Press. Capt. Alan Myers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Washington Post, "Humans are not on the menu for Cougars normally. For it to attack two human beings in the manner that it did was incredibly abnormal. They do everything they can to avoid human contact." Myers said a preliminary exam of the animal showed it's age to be 3 to 4 years old, 100 pounds and slightly emaciated. A typical adult male cougar weighs between 140-180 pounds.

This abnormal attack occurred simply because the large cat was hungry. In addition to being hungry, it is either unafraid of humans or willing to take the risk of engaging with a human for a meal. Either way, officials made the decision to track down and euthanize the animal, which allowed them to collect information about what might have caused it's unusual behavior.

First responders from the fire and sheriff's departments found the victim in the cougar's den, with the cougar on top him. One of the deputies fired a shot, scaring the animal away. Officers with WDFW used hounds to track the cougar, which they found behind a tree no more than 80 feet away.

One of the big questions being posed with the cougar in Oregon is, "How many cougars will they find and kill before they get the culprit?" Well, it only took WDFW one try to find the culprit of their killer cat. Hopefully it will be a similar hunt for ODFW officials, although the timeline is a little further out, with Bober's body being found 2 days after she went missing, and another couple days passing with rains that might complicate hounds ability to follow a scent trail.

Another big question is "Is there any evidence that killing this cougar will prevent further human fatalities?" Well, the Washington cougar did not have anymore victims, and that is for certain. As far as this process being a "revenge killing," it's really more about the idea that cougars tend to learn behaviors and return to areas where they find they prey. For instance, if a cougar takes a chicken from a coop, it will continue to return to the coop until all the chickens are gone. As long as there are hikers in that area, they are in danger of becoming food for this cougar. The fact the body was dragged and left behind may only mean that she was left to die and the cat was coming back for it. Her body being removed from the trail and taken into rough terrain is still typical of large cat behavior being secretive about it's kills.

Many people wonder "Aren't cougar populations in decline?" Far from it. In fact, their populations have doubled since the mid 1990's.

An obvious problem is the expanse of the human population and the encroachment of habitat. "It's just animal doing what it does, she was in it's home!" Given that the woman was hiking in the wilderness, the trail is regularly used by hikers and cougars do not typically inhabit areas where people are. More and more human interactions with these animals continues to occur, but it's important to remember that humans are still part of the ecological equation. As long as this is true, the human element will affect wildlife management, and much of the reaction to this headhunt for a killer cat is an emotional response by people who are far removed from it.

Many of these far removed people are still questioning "Aren't these creatures being over-hunted?" Historically, a bounty was issued on cougars by settlers long before Oregon was even declared a state, and poisoning was the most popular method of removal. After some time of going unregulated, populations nearly went extinct. The fact they inhabit some of the most remote and hard to reach areas of the wilderness preserved their species until the state declared them a game animal and began regulating hunting practices in 1967. After the state stepped in, the population stabilized and continued on a steady rebound. Those slowly increasing but manageable populations were drastically changed in 1994 when measure 18 was passed, banning the use of hunting cougars (and bears) with hounds.

Since 1994, the population has nearly doubled in size in a short time frame, and many are skeptical that there are enough food sources to support such large populations, which could explain the drastic uptick in urban complaints involving problem cats. Zach Urness of the Statesman Journal reported in March of this year, (prior to these 2 fatalities) that:

"Complaints about cougars have tripled in the Willamette Valley since 2011. And the number of cougars killed due to human or livestock conflicts reached a record 70 animals last year in the Willamette Valley, Coast and Northern Cascades region, according to state records.
State officials say rising cougar numbers are pushing the animals into more populated areas, especially towns near forested lands such as Silverton, Dallas and Corvallis.
“When you see them showing up in urban areas, it’s likely that better habitat was occupied and they are trying to find a place that works for them,” said Derek Broman, carnivore coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife."
If you look at the graph, you can see that not only were populations continuing to increase during the period of the late 80s and early 90s that hound hunting was still allowed, but the drastic rise in population that began once it was banned:

Another part of this equation is simply the lack of hunters in general. With fewer hunters, there's less hunting pressure on these populations. Many of the cougars taken by hunters are incidental kills in which they were not a primary target species. Even an increase in the number of cougars that are killed is not indicative of increased hunting pressure, but instead points to the larger probability of encountering a cougar given the increase in the population.

The difficult thing for people to understand is that they themselves create the human element regardless of whether or not they are a hunter. Increased populations of residents in the surrounding Portland and Seattle metro areas mean there will be more encroachment upon wilderness land. Leaving the decision of hunting tactics in the hands of these residents as voters rather than biologists and wildlife officials who understand wildlife management is a short-sighted approach that will continue to cause conflicts as the population of cougars reaches critical mass and branches out of it's habitat and into populated areas looking for food.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Watching for Big Game from Behind the Wheel

I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting this bull that was standing in the middle of the road in August 2017. He ran into a nearby field, but stopped and turned back long enough for me to snap this photo before moving along down the road.

Imagine you're on your way home from a great day enjoying every last minute of daylight in the great outdoors. You've been hiking, foraging, scouting, fishing, and you ran out of water an hour or two ago, so you're a little tired and delirious. The visibility is low as the sun begins to set. You have to turn on your headlights and maybe even squint to see where you're going.

Slow down during the twilight hours. It's summer. You're not the only one that's thirsty and tired. Animals are moving long distances in search of grass that's still green and water sources that haven't dried up yet. Maybe they're even being pushed away from their stomping grounds due to forest fires. Either way, the end of the day at the end of summer creates a lot of roadkill, and as a hunter, it's heartbreaking to see how many animals meet their maker just before the season opens, and rot on the side of the highway. Nobody's putting up crosses or stuffed animals on the side of the road to remind motorists that an automobile accident took a life in this curve or over that hill. There's simply buzzards and bones when it's already too late and it happens again.

I don't have a lot of faith in those whistle gadgets that fix to the bumper. If I had been stumbling around all day on a full stomach of fermented apples and pot leaves while looking for a drink of water, I'd probably freeze in my tracks if you shined your brights at me in the middle of the road too. As drivers, it's best to take responsibility for maintaining a rate of speed where we can not only spot wildlife, but avoid it or stop if it decides to move into our path.

With that being said, something most people don't think about when approaching deer in a vehicle is that if you're going slow enough to stop and take pictures of it, you're also teaching that animal a learned behavior, giving it a false sense of security that vehicles aren't a threat. I know I've done it more times than I could ever count, pull over, fumble around for the phone and try to get a quick snapshot of the animal in it's majestic element of wilderness. I've gotten a few really good shots doing this, but more often I find myself seeing deer that don't bother moving as I approach them with my vehicle. This spring, I saw 3 yearlings wandering in a ditch that were darting back and fourth into the road for nearly a hundred yards as I passed by. I turned to my passenger and said, "These dumb kids are going to get run over, they need to quit playing in the street!" That's when I rolled down his window and yelled across the cab of the truck, "WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?" Only a few seconds later, a startled doe seemed to appear out of nowhere and herded her children back into the forest and out of the road.

Deer need to fear vehicles, not feel like they're posing for your instagram muching on ryegrass and crabapples. The best way to do that is yell or honk the horn a few times. Be assertive with these traffic obstructions, their lives might depend on it.

With the passing of SB 372 by the Oregon State Legislature, ODFW will make permits for salvaging roadkill deer and elk no later than January 1st, 2019. Until then, salvaging deer or elk remains illegal until new rules creating a roadkill salvage permit program are adopted by the Fish and Wildlife commission. You can find out more about Oregon's new roadkill salvage laws here:


Friday, July 6, 2018

Steelheader's Reunion on the Situk

Tony and Kristen from Kodiak Custom Fishing tackle, and Ty Wyatt, Glacier Bear Lodge's halibut captain took me along with them for a fun trip walking along the banks of the Situk. While wandering upstream in belly-button deep water, I hooked a hen early in the morning that caught the attention of a large otter that swam across the river to steal it from me. I found a small perch tucked into some willows where I could get out of the water and try to quickly land the fish. As I was leaning down to grab it by the tail, the otter popped it's head up only a couple feet away to my left. I tried to kick it in the head to send a message that I wasn't giving up my fish that easy. It showed it's teeth like an angry dog and lept back into the water, swimming upstream. I managed to land the fish downstream and safely release it away from the otter, but it was definitely humbling to know I was meddling with the local wildlife's territory.
In the evening, we headed back to tidally influenced water, and on my first cast, I landed my first ever tidally influenced steelhead on a bead, a mission I had been working at for some time purely out of curiosity how soon the feeding instincts of steelhead kick in and they begin viewing eggs as a food source.
Shortly after, Ty and Tony, who happen to be lifelong friends from Philomath, Oregon, doubled up on a pair of bucks fresh from the salt.
Tony's fish was a redeeming note to end his visit, having been out-fished by his partner Kristen most of their time in Yakutat. As we continued to push the limits of the rising tide and a hot bite, we eventually turned around to notice the ground we were standing on was underwater, and so was our gear, so it was time to head back to the lodge.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Writing Resume

Randall Bonner
Personal Blog/Published Work Archive rainorshinecolumn.blogspot.com
Member: Northwest Outdoor Writers Association

The Alchemist Weekly
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Freelance Contributing Writer
July 2009 - January 2010

Corvallis Weekly Independent
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Staff Writer/Advertising Sales/Board Member/Co-Owner
October 2011 - August 2012

Got a chance to see the internal workings of a print publication with a large staff of volunteers. Worked as a team with other investors to create a marketable product to consumers. Learned the basics of a print publication business that was eventually absorbed by a larger publisher I worked for the next several years.

Corvallis Advocate
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Staff Writer/Delivery
September 2012 - March 2015

Contributed articles periodically and developed delivery routes for efficiency.

Northwest Sportsman Magazine
Monthly Print Publication
Freelance Contributing Writer
January 2015 - Present

Contributed seasonal content periodically and learned the value of high resolution photography. Debuted in first issue with a cover feature.

The Good Men Project
Freelance Contributing Writer
August 2014 - January 2016

Trained to use wordpress and encouraged to write creatively, covering a wide variety of topics. Content mostly aimed at conservation and environmental issues.

Wide Open Media
Staff Writer
October 2015 - February 2017

Met strict deadlines for prolific writing quotas, writing over 300 articles in two years. Due to my payscale being directly determined by web traffic, I learned to use multipe social media platforms to increase web visibility. Received monthly training on strategies to continue increasing traffic. Also developed company strategies to drive traffic internally by networking with other writers within the company to hyperlink to each other's work to keep readers in a loop of clicks that is mutually beneficial. Became proficient with wordpress techniques as well as the use of google sheets. Named writer of the month (high traffic numbers) several times, including consecutively for several months and consistently in the top percentile of the company's contributors.

Carbon Media
outdoorhub.com (See personal blog for archive/links)
Freelance/Staff Writer
July 2017 - Present

Focused on more quality than quantity with in-depth and timeless content that could be continually recycled on an annual basis. Appeared as a guest on CarbonTV with N.O.D.R. leading a morel picking excursion.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Settling In and Making Friends at Glacier Bear Lodge

I caught a ride with some friends to the boat launch and explored the river on foot. I hooked some of the biggest steelhead I've ever been witness to, and lost them to snags at my feet struggling to keep them under control. I redeemed myself by shaking hands with a few fresh fish later on, as well as my first dolly varden and a rare resident rainbow trout. I continued catching fish until the sun began to fall and it got too cold for comfort, and stood at a popular river crossing asking other anglers for a ride back to the lodge. The first two anglers were camping near the river, and although they weren't headed to the lodge, invited me back to their camp for a beer. However, I was eager to return to the lodge (where there's a roof, heat, and a bar), and the next angler politely obliged me and my canine companion with a ride.

Back at the lodge, I met Tony "Famous" Davis and Kristen Dunn from Kodiak Custom Tackle. They were headed out for a float trip the next day, but were staying with a couple friends Shannon and Kate that wanted to stomp the banks and indicator fish with beads. They offered me a ride to the river the next morning, where Shannon started the day with a couple beautiful hens right out of the gate, including one that broke the handle on her net. We mozied upriver and settled in at the spot where I hooked most of my fish the day before and we landed several more, using just the basket of the net, which was an awkward and exciting experience. The amount of wood snags is intimidating, but with every fish, I seemed to get better at keeping them pinned and getting them close enough for pictures.