All posts by Andy Walgamott

News From Idaho: Most Fawns, Calves Surviving Winter; Springer Season Opens 4-27

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Most radio-collared fawns and elk calves survived unusually snowy February

78 percent of fawns and 94 percent of calves were still alive through February, but they’re not safe yet

Despite February storms that battered much of Idaho and pushed snowpack and precipitation above average in most areas, radio-collared young fawns and elk calves were faring relatively well across the state through the end of February.

A RADIO-COLLARED MULE DEER RUNS THROUGH SAGEBRUSH IN SOUTHWEST IDAHO. (IDFG)

Idaho Fish and Game biologists have been monitoring 207 mule deer fawns and 201 elk calves captured earlier in the winter and fitted with telemetry collars.

Through the end of February, 78 percent of the collared fawns and 94 percent of the calves were still alive. That compares with 88 percent of the fawns and 97 percent of the calves surviving through February in 2017-18, and 55 and 80 percent in 2016-17.

While snowpacks and precipitation totals are above average for most of the state, the late arrival of winter weather in 2019 has made for an easier winter for big game than in 2016-17, according to Daryl Meints, State Deer and Elk manager for Fish and Game.

In 2016-17, a prolonged, severe winter resulted in some of the lowest survival rates recorded for mule deer fawns and elk calves. Prior to what was a record-setting February for snowfall for many areas in the state, 2018-19 winter had been a mild-to-average snowfall and temperatures for most of Idaho.

While the weather may be trending warmer so far in March this year, the young animals aren’t “out of the woods” yet. In fact, the March and April are often when fawn and calf mortality is the highest because the young animals’ fat reserves are rapidly depleting and their body’s need time to convert digesting fresh forage.

“April is crucial,” Meints said. “That’s the make-or-break month, when their gas tank is hitting empty. What is going to matter now is how soon winter ends, or how soon spring shows up.”

If the warm weather continues through the end of April, Meints expects fawn survival will fall somewhere in the average range, while calf survival will be above average.

“But if for some reason we get a weather system that is cloudy, cold, and wet, and we don’t get that spring green up on south-facing slopes, we could be in for some additional mortality,” Meints said.

People getting outdoors to recreate in the spring also need to be conscious and considerate of wildlife, particularly big game that remains on low-elevation winter ranges. Despite warmer temperatures and spring green up, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope still need to be left undisturbed to give young animals a better chance of surviving their critical first winter.

…………………

F&G Commission sets spring Chinook to open April 27

Limited fishing days on Clearwater, Salmon, and Little Salmon rivers, and the Upper Snake closed

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved spring Chinook fishing on the Clearwater, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers during their meeting on Wednesday, March 13 in Boise.

Fishing will open on April 27, with a two-day-a-week season on the Clearwater River and a four-day-a-week season on the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers. The season will run until sport anglers’ shares of the harvest are met (which varies by river) or Aug. 11 — whichever comes sooner.

Due to very low projected returns the Upper Snake River in Hells Canyon, fisheries managers did not propose to open a spring Chinook season for the fishery this year.

Chinook have just started entering the Columbia River and a small portion of them are working their way through Columbia/Snake river systems. Here’s current salmon counts at the dams.

Fisheries managers are forecasting a run of about 32,000 spring Chinook through Lower Granite Dam, which is about 25 miles downstream from Lewiston and the last of the eight dams that returning salmon cross on their way back to Idaho. The forecast is similar to last year’s actual return of 39,000, and below the 10-year average return of 75,000.

Included in the forecast are about 26,000 hatchery Chinook and 6,000 wild Chinook. The 2018 returns were 32,000 and 7,000, respectively, and the 10-year averages are 58,000 and 17,000. Forecasts are a starting point for managing Chinook returns, and they will be adjusted as fish migrate through the river systems.

Because the forecasted Chinook return for the Salmon River basin is about 8,700 fish, and the sport anglers’ share would be 1,430 fish this year. Fishing will be open Thursday through Sunday, with a limit of four total fish, only two of which may be adults.

For the Clearwater River basin, the projected return is about 9,400 adult fish, and the sport anglers’ harvest share would be 470. Fishing will be open on Saturday and Sunday, with a limit of four total fish, only one of which may be an adult.

Just 123 adult fish are projected to return the Upper Snake River in Hells Canyon, where fisheries managers do not expect a sport angler harvest share at all.

“Due to extremely high flows at Hells Canyon in 2017, we had high total dissolved gasses, which are potentially lethal to fish,” aid Jim Fredericks, Fish and Game’s Fisheries Bureau Chief. “In 2017, we chose to release the fish allocated for Hells Canyon at Rapid River instead, to ensure that they survived. For that reason, we have hardly any two-year-old fish coming back to Hells Canyon this year.”

Only hatchery Chinook with a clipped adipose fin may be kept by anglers, and all others must be released unharmed. Chinook anglers are restricted to barbless hooks.

Anglers should refer to the 2019 spring Chinook salmon seasons and rules brochure for other rules and special restrictions, which will be available online in early April, and in paper form prior to the spring Chinook season at Fish and Game offices and license vendors.

The Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to decide on summer Chinook salmon fisheries on the Lochsa River, South Fork Salmon River and upper Salmon River at its May meeting. Fish return to those areas later than to the Clearwater River and Rapid River hatcheries, allowing fishery managers more time to develop season proposals.

Waters open to fishing:

Clearwater River drainage — open Saturday and Sunday

  • Mainstream Clearwater River: Camas Prairie Bridge to Highway 12 Bridge; Pink House Boat Ramp to Greer Bridge
  • North Fork: Open, no boats
  • Middle Fork: Open
  • South Fork: Harpster Grade to Mount Idaho Grade Bridge.

Salmon River drainage — open Thursday through Sunday

  • Rice Creek Bridge to Vinegar Creek Boat Ramp
  • Entirety of Little Salmon River

Snake River — closed

WDFW Asks For Public Help Monitoring Okanogan Bighorns After 1 Dies From Sheep Pneumonia

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) asks members of the public to report sightings of bighorn sheep that are obviously ill in Okanogan County after a bighorn ram from the Mt. Hull herd was recently confirmed to have died from pneumonia caused by a highly infectious bacteria. While posing no health threat to humans, Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, known as M. ovi, can decimate bighorn populations and kill lambs for many years, preventing herds from repopulating.

A BIGHORN RAM LOOKS OVER THE LOOMIS AREA OF NORTHCENTRAL OKANOGAN COUNTY. (JUSTIN HAUG, WDFW)

At this time, only a single ram from the herd near the Canadian border has tested positive for pneumonia. Testing on additional animals is currently underway. While WDFW biologists and veterinarians await results, they are partnering with biologists at the Colville Tribes to increase visual monitoring of the Mt. Hull herd. And they are asking for help from the public.

“This is a highly visible herd. These sheep are in orchards and among houses,” said WDFW Biologist Jeff Heinlen. “Because we can’t be watching all the time, we are asking people to alert us if they notice sheep that appear lethargic, coughing or showing nasal discharge. This helps us assess the health of the herd.”

There is also a potential for wandering sheep to pass M. ovi to animals in other herds, such as the Omak Lake herd on the Colville Reservation to the south, the Sinlahekin herd to the west, or herds to the north across the border in British Columbia.

“In 2012 the Colville Tribes conducted a genetic analysis between the Sinlahekin, Mt. Hull, and Omak Lake herds, showing us that the Omak Lake herd was likely founded by individuals from the Sinlahekin herd, but may have been in contact through immigration event(s) with the Mt. Hull herd in the past,” said Colville Tribal Biologist Eric Krausz. “We have documented collared bighorn sheep traveling from Omak Lake to Mt. Hull, so we know bighorn sheep from these distinct herds travel back and forth on occasion and likely come into contact with one another.”

Because of this, WDFW asks to also be alerted if bighorn sheep are observed in places they aren’t normally seen. The Mt. Hull herd’s typical range is from approximately Tonasket to the Canadian border north of Oroville. If sheep are seen outside that area, or notably sick bighorn sheep are observed, please call Jeff Heinlen at (509) 826-7372 and leave a message or email Jeffrey.Heinlen@dfw.wa.gov.

While it is biologically possible for uninfected domestic sheep or goats to become infected by contagious bighorns, cross-species transmission of M. ovi is much more common in the reverse direction. The bacteria typically causes only mild and temporary symptoms in domestic sheep and can reduce growth rates, but serious illness and death is rare. In contrast, most bighorns that become infected due to close contact with domestic sheep or goats succumb to pneumonia, and some that survive pass it to newborn lambs that similarly lack immune protection.

There are approximately 17 bighorn sheep herds across Washington, two within the bounds of the Colville Reservation.

WDFW Scientist Named As New State Salmon Recovery Office Director

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE

Erik Neatherlin, a scientist and longtime manager in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been selected to lead the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, which coordinates statewide and regional efforts to return salmon from the brink of extinction.

ERIK NEATHERLIN WILL HEAD UP THE WASHINGTON GOVERNOR’S SALMON RECOVER OFFICE INSIDE THE STATE RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE. HE TAKES OVER FROM STEVE MARTIN. (RCO)

The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office coordinates the efforts of 25 community-based watershed groups and 7 regional organizations across the state that are charged with implementing federally approved recovery plans for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

“Erik is a longtime champion of salmon recovery and will bring his considerable knowledge of the science, the partners and the issues to the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which is home to the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office. “He has the perfect skills to lead the way forward and help us return these iconic fish to healthy levels.”

Neatherlin, of Olympia, Wash., has been science director and policy lead for salmon recovery with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife since 2011. In that role, he managed 200 employees and a $26 million biennial budget, and represented the agency on the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. Neatherlin started at the Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2003 as a biologist and worked his way up to a leadership position, working with many external partners, such as tribes, local and federal governments and the Legislature and Congress. He has bachelor and master degrees in science from Florida State University and the University of Washington, respectively. Before joining the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Neatherlin worked as the conservation program director for the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute in Portland, Ore.

“Erik is a very thoughtful leader and, as a scientist, understands the need to make decisions based in facts,” Cottingham said. “He knows a lot is riding on our collective success to recover salmon and their habitats. If we don’t recover salmon, many people will lose their livelihoods and we may lose the southern resident orca whales. It’s important that we have a leader experienced in salmon recovery at the helm and we’re very excited for Erik to join our team.”

Across the Pacific Northwest, salmon populations have been decimated. As the number of people grew and demands for water, power and land increased, salmon habitat was altered or destroyed. In the early 1990s, the federal government began listing salmon species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. By 1999, some salmon populations had disappeared completely and listings affected nearly three-fourths of the state. Today, federal agencies have listed 18 species of salmon, steelhead and bull trout as either threatened or endangered.

In addition to being an iconic fish, salmon are big business in Washington. Many businesses, such as bait and tackle shops and charter fishing companies, rely on the world-renowned Pacific salmon. Today, commercial and recreational fishing are estimated to support 16,000 jobs and $540 million in personal income.

“Recovering salmon is paramount to our state and our region,” Neatherlin said. “We know how to recover salmon and we have many talented people already doing this important work, but to be successful, it’s going to take all of us pulling in the same direction. This includes the tribes and our existing partners, as well as new partners who may be new to the salmon recovery table. I come ready to listen and learn.”

The federal Endangered Species Act and Washington State law require development of plans to recover salmon. Washington residents have been working for nearly 20 years to reverse the fate of salmon, and those efforts are beginning to pay off. For details, visit the State of Salmon Web site.

Gillnet Ban Dies In Olympia, But Some Fish-Wildlife Bills Still Kicking

The Olympia Outsider™ has been taking his name very literally, soaking up some serious ray-age the past few days, but back indoors Washington lawmakers have been busy girls and boys in the halls of power, amending, debating and voting on all sorts of bills.

(THE INTERWEBS)

While some fish and wildlife bills are still moving along smartly, other major pieces of legislation don’t appear to have escaped last week’s cutoff to get out of their chamber of origin.

May we have a moment of silence for:

Senate Bill 5617, the statewide nontribal gillnet phaseout. Not that it ever had a chance in the House, but on its first drift this bill netted a whopping 24 then 27 cosponsors — more votes than it even needed to get it out of the upper chamber! all but assuring passage! pack up your nets, NT comms! — but then it was pared back to just the Columbia, then three cosponsors somehow wriggled out of the webbing, and then somebody must’ve thrown some haybales into the Senate because this bill sank way out of sight before ever getting a hearing before Ways and Means.

House Bill 1824, directing WDFW to apply to NOAA for a permit to take out the maximum number of sea lions to increase salmon survival to benefit orcas. Anglers might have been ready to lock and load this bill out of the House, but while there was no opposition, WDFW signed in as “other” on this bill, because, well, it is a bit more complicated than that and I’ll just let the agency’s Nate Pamplin explain why that is starting at the 16:58-minute mark.

NOW, OLYMPIA IS A FUNNY PLACE, and not just because its name can be rearranged to Oily Map and Mayo Lip. In similarly slippery fashion, some bills that don’t meet deadlines aren’t necessarily dead-dead.

Those that can help set the state budget but didn’t hit cutoffs can still technically be “slightly alive,” in the words of my colleague Miracle Max.

Trying to sort this year’s “only mostly dead” bills, I called the Legislative Hotline in hopes they had a master list of NTIB, or necessary to implement the budget, bills, but sadly they hadn’t received anything along those lines from lawmakers yet.

Still, last week, a key source at WDFW informed me that based on what they were hearing several key bills were dead for the session, but we’re categorizing them as “mostly dead” just to be on the super-safe side.

HB 2122, the tiny tax on big-ticket recreational gear and clothing to help fund WDFW’s wildlife management. No sooner did a bipartisan coalition of urban and rural lawmakers propose the two-tenths of 1 percent tax on tents, rain jackets and certain other goods over $200 than one of those huge-ass firefighting jetliners must’ve come in real low and doused that campfire right the hell out because very little has been written about it. Still, an Audubon Washington update earlier this month lists it as a “conversation starter this legislative session.” Under it, license-holding sportsmen would be exempt because we already gladly contribute more than our fair share because we are awesome and other nature lovers could learn from our example.

HB 1662/SB 5696 would change the way WDFW compensates counties for the million or so acres it has taken off local tax rolls to match how DNR does it. During public hearings literally nobody opposed this important change to the PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, program proposed by a number of lawmakers from parts of the state rich with state wildlife areas (and where ideally more lands are purchased from willing sellers), so it’s puzzling why it didn’t advance further. Aliens could be to blame — the Senate version was placed in the “X File” … which actually means it’s “no longer eligible for consideration,” though even then it could be plucked out of the ether should some lawmaker need it for a little leverage with another.

HB 1230, which would broaden eligibility of disabled sportsmen who could get discounted licenses. Another bill with literally no opposition but just couldn’t get out of the House. What. The. Hell?

YET DESPITE THOSE UNTIMELY DEATHS as well as the possible but not fully finally Miracle Max-confirmed deaths, other critter bills are still grazing/swimming/prowling along in Olympia, including:

HB 2097, gray wolf status review, passed House 98-0, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee;

SB 5148, hunter pink, passed Senate 48-0-0-1 (yes-no-abstain-absent), referred to House ag-natural resources committee and scheduled for an executive session today.

HB 1061, designating the razor clam as the state clam, passed the House 98-0, scheduled for a hearing in the Senate government and tribal relations committee March 27.

HB 1187, streamlining approval of conservation districts’ fish passage improvement projects, passed House 96-0-0-2, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee;

HB 1579, hydraulic code enforcement and Chinook habitat, passed House 59-39, scheduled for a hearing before Senate ag-natural resources committee today;

HB 1580 / SB 5577, addressing SRKW watching from boats, watered down and passed by the House 78-20, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee and scheduled for a public hearing tomorrow;

HB 1516, training hounds for nonlethal pursuit of predators, passed House 96-0-0-2, scheduled for a hearing before Senate ag-natural resources committee today;

SB 5322, essentially bars suction and other motorized mining in critical salmon habitat, passed Senate 30-17-0-2, had hearing before House environment committee last week;

SB 5404, adds eel grass and kelp beds to streamlined reviews for fish enhancement project funding, passed Senate 48-0-0-1, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee tomorrow

SB 5525, gives WDFW goal to up whitetail numbers so surveys find 8 to 9 a mile, passed Senate 48-0-0-1, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee tomorrow;

SB 5597, creates work group to study aerial applications of pesticides on forestlands, passed Senate 47-0-0-2, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee on March 22.

AND THAT BRINGS US TO THE BIG BILLS still hanging out there for Washington sportsmen, WDFW’s fee increase.

HB 1708 and SB 5692 have both had a hearing in their respective chambers, but haven’t budged too far off that initial starting line, though that doesn’t matter much because they’re NTIB bills.

If passed all individual licenses would go up in cost by 15 percent (see breakout of costs here), but thanks to Fish and Wildlife Commission concerns, anglers would only end up paying a maximum of $7 more on bundled packages such as the Combo License and Fish Washington, and hunters $15 more on the “Big Four” (deer, elk, cougar, bear) plus small game.

The commission would be allowed to make small increases to license fees to account for inflation starting two years from now, and the Columbia River endorsement would be extended to 2023.

The bills are part of a $60-plus-million ask of lawmakers to help deal with shortfalls, inflation and unfunded mandates from the legislature, as well as provide better fishing and hunting ops, but only a quarter of that would be raised through the license hike, the rest through the General Fund.

Groups like Puget Sound Anglers, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Mule Deer Foundation, Ilwaco Charterboat Association, Conservation Northwest, Hunters Heritage Council, Trout Unlimited and others have offered strong support, but the commission’s recent backtrack on Columbia River salmon reforms saw the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association switch from “other” to opposition.

The fee bills’ updated odds of passage weren’t immediately clear to the Olympia Outsider™, but to learn more about them, check out this WDFW brochure and stay tuned to this station — the OO is monitoring the situation, albeit from a far sunnier locale than the chambers of the state legislature.

Editor’s note: For previous coverage of this year’s legislative session from the OO, see this blog, that blog, the other blog, the other-other blog, the other-other-other blog, and the one that kicked off this whole tired, boring, sure-to-get-two-views (thanks, Mom and Dad) series.

Yes, Smelt Are In; No, Not Enough ‘To Justify A Fishery,’ But Still A Good Sign

THE FOLLOWING IS PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF NO FUN

Smelt are running up the Cowlitz River, but not in substantial enough numbers to justify a fishery this year, according to state fish managers.

SMELT DIPPERS AND OBSERVERS GATHER ALONG THE LOWER COWLITZ ON FEBRUARY 25, 2017, DURING A FIVE-HOUR OPENER THAT WAS DESCRIBED AS “PRETTY MUCH A BUST” WHEN FEW CAUGHT ANY. (OLAF LANGNESS, WDFW)

In late January, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) projected a poor 2019 smelt return, which would not likely support a fishery.

“The delayed run, which didn’t begin entering the river until early March, has not changed the assessment,” said Laura Heironimus, a WDFW fish manager. “People get excited when they see fish running up the river, but the monitoring data we have indicates the run is not strong enough to support harvest.”

“Though still a low run, more fish are returning than did last year, which may indicate a positive shift in ocean conditions for smelt” Heironimus said. “This may bode well for future years.”

Smelt along the Pacific Coast were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010. Since then, WDFW has opened limited recreational dip-net fishing in the Cowlitz River for smelt – also known as eulachon – four of those years when returns have been strong.

Buttons The Elk Can’t Cut It In The Wild, So It’s Off To Woodland Park Zoo

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEAE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Despite Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) managers’ best efforts to give “Buttons” the elk a chance at a life among other wild elk, she is now on the way to a new home at Woodland Park Zoo.

BUTTONS THE ELK. (WDFW)

Habituated to humans from a young age, the elk was a common visitor to rural homes and ranches in Cle Elum, achieving celebrity status in the community.

“People petted her, hand fed her, put children on her back,” said Scott McCorquodale, WDFW regional wildlife program manager.

While the story may seem heartwarming to some, the results of taming Buttons were far from good for the elk or for the public.

“There are untold ways a situation like this can end badly, and it usually does,” said McCorquodale.

After reports of damaged property, signs of aggression toward people and pets, and a garden hose wrapped around the animal’s neck, WDFW personnel immobilized and moved the elk to the Mellotte Feeding Station near Selah on Feb. 1 to see if she would integrate with the wild herd there.

This is not an uncommon story. “Each spring, the Department works to make sure people leave fawns, elk calves and other wildlife alone if found in the wild,” said McCorquodale.

After five weeks, the attempt to re-wild the elk failed, with Buttons ignoring the herd and preferring to gravitate toward human settlements and all the potential for trouble that necessitated the move.

“People’s intentions were good, but the sad truth is that this elk lost its chance to be wild,” said McCorquodale. “We wanted to see her interact more with elk and less with people for her own good and for public safety,” he added.

Often the mother of an animal presumed orphaned is off feeding and soon to return, said McCorquodale. “Even when the public is certain the animal is orphaned, taming is never a good option,” he said.

Instead McCorquodale recommends a call to a regional WDFW office, or a licensed wildlife rehabilitation expert (https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/rehabilitation/how_to_find.html).

“Licensed rehabbers have the facilities and know the techniques to raise an orphaned animal, without creating unnatural dependence on humans,” said McCorquodale.

As it stands, it’s very hard to find a place that will take a tame elk.

“We were so lucky to benefit from the goodwill of Woodland Park Zoo,” said McCorquodale. “It is exceedingly rare that we would be able to find a place for a habituated deer or elk.  Organizations we called rejected our offer, and placing a tame elk at a zoo is simply not an option in the vast majority of cases.”

Woodland Park Zoo currently has a herd of elk consisting of two females and one male.

Introductions for all new animals require a careful, deliberate process and patience, said Jennifer Pramuk, an animal curator at Woodland Park Zoo.

“As with all introductions, we will follow the cues of Buttons and the other elk,” said Pramuk. “Our animal care staff is very experienced so we’re hopeful we can socially integrate Buttons with our herd,” she added.

“While it’s unfortunate she became habituated to humans, having Buttons at the zoo will allow our staff to talk with guests about her situation and the downside to taming animals found in their natural range,” said Pramuk.

McCorquodale is only one of a small cadre of agency employees that has spent more than a month trying to extend this elk’s life and keep her out of trouble.

“I know this elk will get great care at Woodland Park Zoo, and she will live with a small number of her own kind, said McCorquodale. “Beyond that one bit of good, I hope her story results in more commitment for people not to let this happen again.”

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is the primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish and wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.

Here’s What NOAA Says About Why It Approved IDFG Steelhead Fishery

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RLEASE FROM THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINSTRATION’S FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA Fisheries has determined that Idaho’s Fishery Management and Evaluation Plan (FMEP) for their recreational steelhead fishery provides necessary protections for salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  NOAA fisheries has approved Idaho’s plan under section 4(d) Rule.

AN ANGLER ADMIRES A WILD STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING A DERBY HELD OUT OF LEWISTON, IDAHO, SEVERAL YEARS AGO. (BRIAN LULL)

Under section 4(d), NOAA Fisheries can specify how an activity can be exempt from additional ESA regulations. This applies particularly to “take,” which can include any act that kills or injures fish, and may include habitat modification. The ESA prohibits any take of species listed as endangered, but some take of threatened species that does not interfere with survival and recovery may be allowed.

“Idaho has developed a plan that provides continuing recreational fishing opportunities while ensuring that ESA-listed salmon and steelhead have the protection they need to recover,” said Allyson Purcell, Branch Chief in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.

Idaho’s plan came together through collaboration with fishery managers across the Snake River Basin and includes a new basin-wide framework designed to limit total impacts on steelhead from all fisheries in the Snake River Basin.  Under Idaho’s plan, fishermen will continue to be required to release any wild steelhead they encounter.

The plan will also limit impacts of Idaho’s steelhead fishery on other ESA-listed species, such as Snake River sockeye and Snake River fall Chinook salmon. Furthermore, Idaho will be implementing new low-abundance thresholds that will trigger implementation of additional conservation measures when natural-origin steelhead abundance is projected to fall below threshold levels.

“The framework is responsive to changing conditions, and it will provide additional protections when the abundance of wild steelhead falls below critical abundance levels,” Purcell said. “We received over 1000 letters from fishing groups, environmental groups, government officials, and interested citizens during our public comment period on Idaho’s proposed plan.  This level of involvement demonstrates how important these fish are to the Pacific Northwest communities.”

More information:

Idaho Steelheading To Stay Open As Fish And Game Receives NOAA Permit

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game on March 15 received federal reauthorization for its steelhead fishing season, so fishing will continue uninterrupted, and the two areas currently closed will reopen immediately.

STEELHEADERS CAN CONTINUE  ANGLING THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER, WHERE KELLY COLLITON CAUGHT THIS BIG B-RUN, AND OTHER IDAHO RIVERS AS STATE MANAGERS RECEIVED A NEW FEDERAL PERMIT JUST IN TIME TO KEEP FISHERIES OPEN THROUGH THE END OF APRIL. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Steelhead fishing resumes in the following locations:

  • The Main Salmon River between Warren Creek and the Copper Mine Boat Ramp.
  • South Fork of Clearwater River upstream of the Mount Idaho Grade Bridge.

Per Fish and Game director’s order, bag limits for steelhead anglers will remain as follows:

  • One steelhead daily in the Mainstem Clearwater, North Fork Clearwater, Middle Fork Clearwater, Salmon, and Little Salmon rivers, and the Snake River from the Washington state line upstream to the Dug Bar Boat Ramp.
  • Two steelhead daily in the South Fork Clearwater River and Snake River from the Dug Bar Boat Ramp to Hells Canyon Dam.

The federal agency that authorizes Idaho’s steelhead fishing, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had up until the fall of 2018 allowed Fish and Game to hold fishing seasons for nearly a decade while a permit application was pending.

However, several groups threatened to sue NOAA over the lack of a permit, which prompted to the Fish and Game Commission to order a suspension of the season in December. But Fish and Game officials and the groups reached a settlement that allowed most steelhead fishing to continue while NOAA officials processed the permit.

“During this difficult period, we greatly appreciate the patience of anglers, outfitters and guides, and other businesses and communities that rely on steelhead fishing,” said Fish and Game’s Fisheries Bureau Chief Jim Fredericks. “While it was NOAA’s inaction that created this situation, we appreciate NOAA staff working diligently to expedite this permit in a valid and legally defensible way and completing it when promised, despite a federal government shutdown that lasted more than a month.”

Skagit Wildlife Area Open House Coming Up As New 10-year Plan Development Begins

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will hold a public open house March 28 to kick off a planning process for the Skagit Wildlife Area, which includes critical estuary and other habitat valuable to species such as waterfowl, shorebirds, and juvenile salmon.

SKAGIT WILDLIFE AREA DUCK HUNTERS WILL WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN DISCUSSIONS SETTING THE MANAGEMENT PATH OF THE POPULAR NORTH SOUND WATERFOWL HUNTING AREA THAT IS ALSO KEY HABITAT FOR YOUNG SALMONIDS. (ANDY WAlGAMOTT)

The wildlife area consists of 17,000 acres in Skagit, Snohomish, Island and San Juan counties. A huge portion – about 12,000 acres – of the wildlife area is estuary in Skagit County. The wildlife area contains wetlands, agricultural habitat, and natural areas managed for the protection of sensitive species.

The open house is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, at the Padilla Bay Visitor Center at 10441 Bayview Edison Rd, Mount Vernon. There will be stations set up to showcase the different wildlife area.

The Skagit plan will propose actions for the management of the wildlife area over the next 10 years. The Skagit Wildlife Area is managed to preserve fish, wildlife and their habitats, and to provide access for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, said Belinda Rotton, wildlife area manager.

At the upcoming open house, the public will be able to talk to individual WDFW staff members about wildlife area history, current management, recreational activities, and the planning process, Rotton said.

“We want to hear from the public about how people use this area and what recreation and natural resource values are important to them,” she said. “We’re also looking for interested citizens to sit on the wildlife area advisory committee.”

WDFW is seeking advisors to represent diverse interests including wildlife area neighbors, the agricultural community, and various recreational user groups such as wildlife watchers and hunters.

The Skagit Wildlife Area advisory committee will guide development of the wildlife area plan and ongoing management activities, Rotton said. Those interested in serving should contact her at 360-445-4441 or Belinda.Rotton@dfw.wa.gov.

Rotton said the public will have several opportunities to comment on the plan over the next year as a draft is developed.

She noted that the March 28 meeting will focus on management planning for the entire wildlife area, not specific actions at a specific location.

Information on the wildlife area is available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/skagit/.

The department is revising management plans for all of its 33 wildlife areas to reflect current conditions and identify new priorities.

Lower 48 Gray Wolf Delisting Proposal Going Out For Comment

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist gray wolves in the rest of the Lower 48 will go out for comment tomorrow when it is officially posted on the Federal Register.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

“While wolves in the gray wolf entity currently occupy only a portion of wolf historical range, the best available information indicates that the gray wolf entity is recovered and is not now, nor likely in the foreseeable future, to be negatively affected by past, current, and potential future threats such that the entity is in danger of extinction,” reads a portion of the 158-page document now available for previewing.

USFWS says that species don’t have to be recovered throughout their former range — essentially impossible with all the development since their large-scale extirpation — to be delisted from the Endangered Species Act, but that it would continue to monitor populations for five years, like it did with the Northern Rockies wolves and which have continued to thrive under state management.

The agency says that delisting will let it focus on species that still need help.

“Every species kept on the Endangered Species List beyond its point of recovery takes valuable resources away from those species still in need of the act’s protections,” USFWS said in a press release officially announcing the proposal.

Word first came out last week from Department of Interior Acting Secretary David Bernhardt that it was pending.

There are now more than 6,000 wolves in the Lower 48, primarily in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes, but those populations are spreading out.

Just last week it became clear that there was likely a wolf or wolves within miles of the Pacific in Southern Oregon after state managers there reported one was probably to blame for a large-scale sheep depredation near Cape Blanco.

Gray wolves were delisted in Idaho, Montana and the eastern thirds of Oregon and Washington in 2011. This new proposal would extend that the western two-thirds of both states and elsewhere, if it is approved. A similar bid in 2013 was challenged in court and the effort was derailed, but quietly began again last June.

“Our deepest gratitude goes to all our conservation partners in this victory, particularly the states and tribes who are committed to wolf conservation and will continue this legacy forward,” said USFWS Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson in the press release.

ODFW and WDFW last week reiterated that they’re ready to take over management of gray wolves across their respective states. It would level the playing field, per se, in dealing with depredations, but would not mean an immediate free-fire zone as the species would remain under state protections for the time being.

Publication on the Federal Register starts a 60-day comment period.