All posts by Andy Walgamott

Spokane Has New Hunter Ed Home

There’s a good story in today’s Spokesman-Review about a new “Outpost” for hunter education classes in Spokane, courtesy of a co-owner of White Elephant.

Reports Sandra Babcock:

The “area” that Pat Conley made available is a warehouse behind the White Elephant Store on Sprague Avenue in Spokane Valley, which he and his family own. With the help of many hands and generous grants from the Friends of the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, the warehouse was gutted, cleaned and remodeled. High-definition television monitors for video presentations and furniture were purchased in preparation for the formal dedication of the Outpost last week. The first class begins Friday.

The article also has some good stuff about Teddy Roosevelt, seen as one of the father’s of the American conservation movement and a real key supporter for wildlife and wildlands, as well as the Pitman-Robertson Act. (I wrote about some of that stuff in a book review a couple months ago.)

And there’s this interesting tidbit from Conley on who’s taking hunter ed these days: “It’s probably 50-50 now of boys and girls. It used to be all boys and that was the norm but now it’s a lot of girls.”

Hunter Ed Classes, Field Days In OR Coming Up

(OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

A number of hunter education classes and field days are available in March and early April, so young hunters have the chance to get certified before spring turkey season opens in mid-April.

Hunter education is mandatory for all hunters under the age of 18 and recommended for any new hunter. The course covers topics like firearms safety, hunter ethics, wildlife identification, hunt preparation and techniques and outdoor survival.

Students now have three options to complete hunter education: an online course, an independent study workbook course, or in-person attendance at a traditional class taught through ODFW’s statewide network of 600 volunteer instructors. A list of traditional classes can be found here. A $10 fee is due at the beginning of the course.

http://www.dfw.state.or.us/outdoor_skills/hunter/courses/index.asp

Independent study and online course students are still required to attend and complete a field day course, which typically last six to eight hours. Students receive hands-on instruction on safe firearms handling techniques, including crossing obstacles and hunting with others, situational ethics, and live fire exercises. Finally, students take a final certification exam to receive their official hunter safety card. Field day class listings can be found here. A $10 fee is due at the field day.

http://www.dfw.state.or.us/outdoor_skills/hunter/courses/independent_study.asp

The online course is offered through Kalkomey Enterprises and costs an additional $15, paid to Kalkomey. The course takes approximately 10 hours to complete and includes a Field Day Qualifier Exam. Use of the online course and all practice tests is free until a student signs up to take the exam. Students who pass the online exam with an 80 percent grade or better receive a certificate which qualifies them to attend the required field day. To register for the online course, visit the following Web site:

http://www.hunter-ed.com/or/index.htm

To register for the independent study option, contact Myrna Britton (Myrna.B.Britton@state.or.us; tel. 503-947-6028) for a Hunter Education workbook, which must be fully completed when brought to the first field day class. A $10 fee is required for registration and class materials.

ODFW certifies about 6,000 new hunters each year through the hunter education program. Completion of the class is mandatory for any person under the age of 18 to hunt in Oregon, unless they are hunting on land owned by their parents or legal guardian or participating in the Mentored Youth Hunter Program.

For more information about Hunter Education visit http://www.dfw.state.or.us/outdoor_skills/hunter/index.asp

Spring turkey season is open statewide April 15-May 31. Hunters under the age of 17 may also hunt April 10-11. See the 2009-2010 Oregon Game Bird Regulations for more information.

http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/upland_bird/docs/ODFWbird09_10final.pdf

Obama To Ban Fishing?! Not So Fast

It seems that President Obama has weightier things on his plate these days than banning angling, but a post on ESPN.com earlier this week sparked concern around the fishing world that his administration, through its Ocean Policy Task Force, just might be up to that.

Or … it may not.

All depends on who you want to listen to.

It started with the latest coverage of the OPTF from ESPN columnist Robert Montgomery:

The Obama administration has ended public input for a federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation’s oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters.

This announcement comes at the time when the situation supposedly still is “fluid” and the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force still hasn’t issued its final report on zoning uses of these waters.
Afterwards, the charges were echoed by a cascade of blogs (collated by Media Matters) similar to this one by Jim Hoft of gatewaypundit:
More Hope and Change…
Obama’s latest assault on your rights– He wants to ban sport fishing.
Barack Obama has a message for America’s 60,000,000 anglers– We don’t need you.
There was some straight-news coverage from the Christian Science Monitor‘s Patrik Jonsson:
The Obama administration has proposed using United Nations-guided principles to expand a type of zoning to coastal and even some inland waters. That’s raising concerns among fishermen that their favorite fishing holes may soon be off-limits for bait-casting.

In the battle of incremental change that epitomizes the American conservation movement, many weekend anglers fear that the Obama administration’s promise to “fundamentally change” water management in the US will erode what they call the public’s “right to fish,” in turn creating economic losses for the $82 billion recreational fishing industry and a further deterioration of the American outdoorsman’s legacy.

And today, ESPN.com editor Steve Bowman has tagged a note onto Montgomery’s piece:

… While our series overall has examined several sides of this topic, this particular column was not properly balanced and failed to represent contrary points of view. We have reached out to people on every side of the issue and reported their points of view — if they chose to respond — throughout the series, but failed to do so in this specific column.

Bowman also says that the post — the 14th in a series that began last October — was an opinion piece and should have been labeled as such.

We do feel it is our duty to cover issues surrounding outdoor sports to the best of our abilities, and given the nature of this task force and the potential impact on all fisherman, this was an appropriate topic to address for our audience.

Indeed, this is definitely something to keep your eyes on if you’re a recreational fisherman. As the Science Monitor reports:

The final report of the (Ocean Policy) task force is expected in late March. Congress will decide its fate, unless Obama issues an executive order establishing MSP as the law of the water.

UPDATES: Even as Glenn Beck joined in the bashing, FOX News reporter Joshua Rhett Miller has a pretty good straight-news article with comments from a Federal official.

And North Carolina-based outdoors writer Jeffrey Weeks has some interesting incites from his years spent covering the wars between commercial and recreational fishing and environmental groups in three successive posts.

If you’ve made it this far and need a laugh on the whole matter, here’s a chuckle from Wednesday night’s Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, as reported by several sources:

Some Web sites are saying the Obama administration may ban fishing in rivers and lakes. The new fishing rules haven’t been announced yet, so I’m not sure what’s really going on. On Fox News, they’re saying, “Obama wages jihad on fishing.” On NPR, they’re saying, “Obama protects aquatic unicorns.”

Steve Foley, Longtime WDFW Bio, Passes

Steve Foley, an “irreplaceable” Seattle-area salmon and steelhead biologist, passed away last Sunday afternoon, the victim of an apparent heart attack while working out at a gym.

He leaves behind wife Linda and daughter Lindsey.

STEVE FOLEY (WDFW)

“Steve was the heart and soul of the regional office and was an irreplaceable member of our regional team,” wrote Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Region 4 director Bob Everitt in an email announcing the loss to staff which was posted on Piscatorialpursuits.

Fellow biologist, former colleague and friend Curt Kraemer told Mark Yuasa of the Seattle Times this about Foley:

“He was all that was good about fish management. We did a lot of the same things, and our life together was a long blur of great times. Foley lived life at a passion and no one lived life more fully than he did.”

(UPDATE: Mark has a fuller piece in today’s paper.)

We learned about Foley’s passing Tuesday morning from another former coworker who was still in shock.

“It’s very shocking and a big loss,” added another, Jim Uehara, a fisheries manager in Olympia.

Foley, nearly 60, had been with the department 30 years, all in Region 4, and was a biologist for the King County area.

He was sometimes a tough guy to get ahold of, but his knowledge and friendly nature always made it worth your while to track him down on the phone or in person.

“He had a ton of responsibilities,” said Uehara, noting that with Foley’s passing “a lot of institutional knowledge” was also lost.

On Wild About Washington he can be seen talking about the importance of stream surveys to come up with future salmon returns.

It was on his beat that Green River pink salmon runs took off. I can recall talking to him in the mid-2000s about that stock. He said he’d always seen a few dozen here and there as a younger man, but by last year, the run forecast had grown to 900,000.

As with many WDFW employees, Foley was also an angler. Writes Blackjaw on Piscatorialpursuits:

My family and Steve’s spent alot of weekends fishing together on the Toutle (pre- eruption), Sol Duc, Bogie, Green, etc. Steve was quite abit older than me and I can’t count the number of times I came around the bend of a river to find him grinning and fighting a fish. He and his dad were two of the best steelhead fishermen I’ve ever known and I hope a little bit of their ability rubbed of on me.

Another post there says that coworkers will remember him tomorrow at 2 p.m., at the Nile Golf & Country Club in Mountlake Terrace.

“While the venue may seem strange since Steve was certainly no golfer, it was the only one large enough to accommodate an expected large crowd on such short notice,” writes OncyT.

Come On, Springers …

High effort, low catch — and what is being reeled in is mostly downriver Chinook.

This year’s forecasted record springer return to upper Columbia tribs is indeed starting out slowly, like every season since 2005.

Not only have only eight springers gone through Bonneville Dam through March 7 — the ten-year average through yesterday is 130 — but just two were caught in a very limited commercial test fishery yesterday evening below Portland.

Compare that to net catches of over 1,200 by this time in 2001.

Then there’s the sport tally. Last week, over 1,300 boat and bank anglers were asked whudjucatch, and only 31 could say a springer.

“I’ve always believed that you have better odds catching a springer in February than you do the first and second weeks of March,” says Andy Schneider, a Northwest Sportsman contributor, who bases that statement on past year’s tags. “But, I have never seen this amount of angling pressure so early….ever, it’s busy out there and it’s only March!”

Most of last week’s fish were likely headed for the Willamette, Cowlitz or other bottom-end trib, according to visual identification techniques.

As for dam counts, by this time in 2004, we’d seen 51 springers over Bonneville, 91 in 2001, 147 in 2002 and a whopping 956 in 2003. That last year was seeing triple-digit days by this time.

I asked a source in Vancouver if panic was setting in amongst the fishery managers. He said not yet.

“I thought there would be more fish by now,” says John North, an ODFW biologist quoted today in The Oregonian in a story that also says tomorrow’s commercial fishery on the lower river was canceled.

But fish we must. Here’s more from Joe Hymer’s weekly roundup of fishing around Southwest Washington:

SALMON/STEELHEAD

Cowlitz River – 18 boat anglers kept 8 steelhead and released one.  19 bank anglers kept 1 steelhead.

Last week, Tacoma Power recovered 132 winter-run steelhead, one spring Chinook adult and one cutthroat trout during five days of operation at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.  During the week Tacoma Power employees released 14 winter-run steelhead into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton and 28 winter-run steelhead and one spring Chinook adult into Lake Scanewa behind Cowlitz Falls Dam.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 5,050 cubic feet per second on Monday, March 8. Water visibility is ten feet.

Lewis River – On the North Fork, 13 bank anglers kept 1 steelhead.  2 boat anglers had no catch.  Flows below Merwin Dam were 2,735 cfs today, less than one-half of the long term mean of 6,130 cfs for this date.

Wind River from mouth (boundary line/markers) to 400 feet below Shipherd Falls and Drano Lake open to fishing for hatchery chinook and hatchery steelhead beginning next Tuesday March 16.  However, only 8 chinook crossed Bonneville Dam from January 1 through March 5.   Expect fishing to be slow until more fish pass the dam.

The anti-snag rule has been rescinded during the spring season on the Wind River from the Burlington-Northern Railroad Bridge downstream and at Drano Lake.

Lower Columbia mainstem below Bonneville Dam – Last week we sampled 1,013 boat anglers (471 boats) with 31 chinook and 3 steelhead.  In addition, we sampled 324 bank anglers with 0 chinook and 3 steelhead.  Overall, 87% of the Chinook and 83% of the steelhead caught were kept.  Of the 26 chinook sampled, 81% were lower river stock based on Visual Stock Identification (VSI).

Effort was high with nearly 800 boats and 500 bank anglers counted during last Saturday’s March 6 flight.

From Buoy 10 to the I-5 Bridge, fishing for hatchery Chinook, hatchery steelhead, and shad is closed on Tuesdays through March 30.  From the I-5 Bridge to Bonneville Dam, fishing for hatchery salmon, hatchery steelhead, and shad is closed for one day, Tuesday March 9.  From March 15-April 3, the section from the I-5 Bridge to Bonneville Dam will be open only Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

The Dalles Pool – Including steelhead released, boat anglers averaged just over a fish per rod while one in three bank anglers had caught a fish.  However, over two-thirds of the steelhead caught were wild and had to be released.

Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam opens to fishing for hatchery chinook, hatchery steelhead, and shad beginning March 16.  Daily salmonid limit will be 6 fish (hatchery chinook or hatchery steelhead), of which no more than 2 may be hatchery adult chinook or hatchery steelhead or one of each.

STURGEON

Lower Columbia below Bonneville Dam – Boat anglers in the gorge and near the mouth of the Cowlitz were catching some legals; slow elsewhere.

Effort remains fairly light with 72 boats and 56 bank anglers counted during last Saturday’s flight.

The Dalles Pool – Boat anglers are catching some legals; slow fishing from the bank.  Through February, an estimated 121 fish (40.3%) of the guideline had been taken.

Sturgeon may be retained daily until The Dalles Pool  guideline is met. The daily limit is 1 fish, minimum size 43” fork length and maximum size 54” fork length.

WALLEYE AND BASS

The Dalles Pool – Boat and bank anglers averaged just over a walleye per rod when including fish released.  No effort was observed for bass.

TROUT

Kress Lake near Kalama – Planted with 12 surplus hatchery winter steelhead averaging ten pounds each March 1.

Battleground Lake – Planted with 3,000 rainbows averaging over one-half pound each March 8.

Klineline Pond – 59 bank anglers kept 79 rainbows.  All the fish were caught on bait by anglers fishing in the swimming area.  Planted with 1,500 rainbows averaging over one-half pounds each March 1.

Lacamas Lake near Camas – Planted with 4,200 rainbows averaging over one-half pound each March 1

Chance To Comment On Hunt Changes This Weekend

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will accept public comments on proposed changes to this year’s hunting regulations and special-hunt permit drawings during a meeting here March 12-13.

The commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also will consider initial comments on proposed new rules designed to address property damage and other public concerns related to wildlife.

The public meeting in Olympia will start at 8:30 p.m. both days in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E.  An agenda for the meeting, along with WDFW’s proposals on these issues, is available on the commission’s website.  (See http://bit.ly/a9Uqdg ).

The new hunting rules proposed for the upcoming season reflect changes in state game populations since the current three-year hunting plan was adopted last year, said Dave Ware, WDFW game manager.  The proposed hunting rules include a combination of new conservation measures and hunting opportunities for species such as deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bear, cougar and small game.

In addition, WDFW is proposing changes in the way random drawings are conducted for special-hunt permits, which provide additional hunting options beyond those authorized by a general hunting license.

Public hearings on special-hunt permits and hunting rules proposed by WDFW are scheduled March 13, the second day of the commission’s meeting in Olympia.  The commission is expected to take action on both proposals at a meeting set April 9-10 in Leavenworth.

Also at the meeting March 12-13 in Olympia, the commission will:

  • Accept public comments on a new initiative proposed by WDFW to address property damage and reduce other conflicts between wildlife and humans.
  • Consider extending the current fishery allocation policy for Columbia River summer chinook salmon by one year.
  • Receive a briefing on 2010 salmon forecasts, conservation needs and fishing opportunities.
  • Consider approval of land transactions proposed by WDFW in Pierce, Kitsap and Okanogan counties.

House Passes Budget

The Washington House on Friday night passed a supplemental operating budget that reduces $2.3 million from the Department of Fish & Wildlife.

It must now reconcile its budget with the Senate’s. The upper house of the legislature had initially wanted to merge WDFW into DNR, but decided against it.

Among the highlights from the House’s budget:

1. Reduce Outreach and Education – Funding for outreach and education programs is reduced by 6 percent in FY 2011.

2. Reduce Executive Management – The Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will reduce one executive management position and consolidate administrative and policy functions.

3. Reduce Wildlife Area Mgmt Planning – Funding for wildlife area management planning is reduced 3 percent in FY 2011,
delaying approximately 20 plans and updates and input from citizen advisory groups.

4. Charge Fees for Some HPAs * – Pursuant to House Bill 3037 (hydraulic project permitting) General Fund-State funding for administering Hydraulic Permit Approvals is eliminated as of January 1, 2011. The program will fully recover its costs through a new fee by January 2011. (General Fund-State, Hydraulic Permit Fee Account-State)

5. Fund Hatcheries Using Partnerships – State law allows the Department to enter into partnerships with local groups to support fish hatcheries. Funding is reduced for the McKernan and Mayr Brothers fish hatcheries in anticipation of the Department forming partnerships to assist in supporting the operation and maintenance of these hatcheries.

6. Reduce Fisheries Mgmt Authority – Reductions are made to the expenditure authority for five accounts for projected revenue during the 2009-11 biennium. No planned work will be reduced. (Special Wildlife Account-Federal, Sea Cucumber Dive Fishery Account-Nonappropriated, Puget Sound Crab Pot Buoy Tag Account-Nonappropriated, Washington Coastal Crab Pot Buoy Tag Account-Nonappropriated, Recreational Fisheries Enhancement Account-State) H

7. Eliminate Reg Fisheries Enh Board # – Pursuant to Substitute House Bill 2617 (boards and commissions) funding is eliminated for the Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group Advisory Board. (Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group Account-Nonappropriated)

8. Restore Aviation Funding – Funding is restored for the maintenance and operation of the Department’s Partenavia aircraft. The Partenavia will continue to be used for survey missions and fish planting, and will assist the Department of Natural Resources with fire suppression coordination.

9. Maintain Core Admin Functions – The Department’s indirect rate for administration and overhead from federal grants has been reduced, resulting in a net loss of approximately $3.8 million for the 2009-11 biennium. Funding is provided to partially restore the loss from the lower indirect rate. (State Wildlife Account-State)

10. Op Costs for New Wildlife Lands – In FY 2009 the Department completed land acquisition transactions for 9,067 acres. These acres were acquired with legislatively approved and allocated capital funds through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. Operating funding to maintain these new land acquisitions is provided, enabling the Department to manage new wildlife areas, natural lands, and water access sites, and to provide access, clean toilets, and weed control.

11. Wildfire on WDFW Lands – Funding is provided to WDFW to pay for Department of Natural Resources fire suppression activity costs incurred during FY 2010.

12. Fund Support Prgrms Proportionately – Funding is provided in FY 2011 to pay for administrative support services. Additionally, $250,000 per fiscal year will support the automated Washington Interactive Licensing Database system. (State Wildlife Account-State)

13. Incr Hunter Access on Private Land – Funding is provided for the Department to bring 200,000 additional acres of private land under contract for recreational access. The program is funded through special hunting permit application fees. (State Wildlife Account-State)

14. Outdoor Recreation Information – Funding is provided for Substitute House Bill 2569 (outdoor recreation information). The bill authorizes the WDFW to collect information relating to outdoor recreational access on a page of its website that is only accessible to license holders. The cost of a Vehicle Use Permit issued by the WDFW is increased in steps from $10 to $30. Individuals who purchase a wildlife-themed or personalized license plate are permitted to park at land access sites managed by the WDFW without having to display a Vehicle Use Permit.

15. Spirit Lake Fishery – A raffle-based limited trout fishery in Spirit Lake at the base of Mount St. Helens is authorized by Substitute House Bill 1838 (Spirit Lake trout fishery).

16. Voight Creek Hatchery – Funding is provided to enhance fish production at Voight Creek Hatchery.

Triploid Stocking Up For 2010

(WASHINGTON FISH & WILDLIFE COMMISSION PRESS RELEASE)

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today approved a plan that will send 58,118 large rainbow trout – 16,708 over last year’s total – to 104 lowland lakes statewide.

The commission voted to modify the stocking plan developed by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff to more closely balance stocking percentages between eastern and western Washington.

Under the approved plan, 55 percent of the fish will go to western Washington lakes, and 45 percent will go to eastern Washington waters. The adopted plan will partly offset lost fish production resulting from the closure of Bellingham Hatchery.

Triploids – trout bred so that they cannot reproduce – average 1½ pounds apiece. WDFW purchases the popular triploids from a private grower under a program authorized by the Legislature in 1999.

Triploid trout, along with “catchable” size trout produced by WDFW hatcheries, provide fish for lake fisheries statewide.

The 2010 triploid trout stocking plan will be posted on the WDFW website later this month.

‘A Really, Really Big Decision’

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today put greater sage grouse on the list of “candidate” species for ESA protection, stopping short of a threatened status across their Western range, which includes Washington and Oregon.

“The listing is warranted but precluded at this time,” said Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a midday teleconference.

While he says that grouse numbers have stabilized in recent years, “the long-term prognosis is not good.”

Bird numbers have declined 90 percent over the last century as their habitat has been reduced by half to some 160 million acres, Salazar says.

“If trends since the mid-1960s persist, many local populations may disappear within the next 30 to 100 years, with remaining fragmented populations more vulnerable to extinction in the long-term, a press release from USFWS reads.

Federal officials explained that while sage grouse do qualify for a listing under ESA, there are higher priority species ahead of them in higher danger of extinction.

Their goals remain twofold: protect the birds from ending up on the ESA list and potential extinction while continuing to develop and use public lands for energy development and grazing.

Management will remain with the states, but sage grouse status will be looked at annually, they say. They cited proactive management by the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, among others.

The birds’ decline is blamed on fire, energy development and farming, basically a combination of human and environmental impacts, officials say.

The BLM announced additional protections across the species’ range.

Sage grouse have lost 92 percent of their habitat in Washington and face a myriad of old and new challenges.

Seattle Times reporter Craig Welch writes:

More than any native species since the spotted owl, the sage grouse sparks direct conflict with the West’s industries, from livestock grazing and oil and gas development to the construction of wind turbines and power lines.

Only this bird is disappearing from 11 Western states, and is already gone from several more, a victim of human encroachment on its turf.

“It is a really, really big decision,” said Chris Warren, a biologist in Spokane with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While there is limited hunting of sage grouse in Oregon, their numbers in Washington (640) are below what WDFW considers to be a viable population. They’re primarily limited to the Yakima Training Center and Douglas County, but 64 have been released in central Lincoln County the past two years. Douglas County is where the below photos were taken.

SHEEHAN ROAD, IN WESTERN DOUGLAS COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

FARMLAND AND DARK CLOUDS FRAME THE BLM'S MOSES BENCH AND ITS SAGE UPLANDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW’s final sage grouse recovery plan (2004) notes threats to the birds, as well as how setting aside future habitat has affected development:

Major threats to the Washington populations include fires and continued conversion of shrub-steppe to cropland or development; additional factors affecting sage-grouse include the impacts of military training and past and ongoing grazing practices.

The Douglas-Grant County population is dependent on voluntary enrollment of private lands in CRP, a program that may not always be funded by Congress.

Maintenance of the YTC population requires frequent rehabilitation of damage to vegetation caused by military training.

Wind energy developments may pose a threat to recovery if sage-grouse avoid nesting and brood rearing within 1 mile of wind turbines, as has been predicted for prairie-chickens. One wind energy project that was recently denied a permit by Benton County, might have effectively eliminated 43 mi2 of recovery area from use by breeding sage-grouse; a second proposal may affect suitability of habitat in an important corridor between the 2 existing populations.

Remaining habitat has been degraded by fragmentation, historic overgrazing, fires, and the invasion by cheatgrass, medusahead, and other exotic weeds.

Disease is a potential new threat to the population. In August 2003, West Nile Virus killed sage-grouse in Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta. The implications of the added source of mortality for more robust populations are not yet known, but the disease may pose a serious threat to Washington’s small populations.

They’re listed already as a state threatened species.

Oregon’s sage grouse plan indicates the Beaver State contains 20 percent of the species’ overall population and habitat, most of which is in the High Desert.

More On WDFW’s Budget Battles

I wrote my state Senator a letter last week voicing my opposition to a WDFW-DNR merger, which I’ve been writing about now for a month.

Surprise, surprise, Senator Darlene Fairley (D-Shoreline) wrote me back!

To wit:

Andy:

The idea of merging the Department of Fish and Wildlife with the Department of Natural Resources faced some strong opposition this session.

You’ll be glad to know that the idea has been dropped from the Senate Operating Budget as of this last weekend.  The way it’s written now, the two agencies will remain separate.

Darlene

WDFW isn’t out of the woods yet. The Senate’s budget — which must be reconciled with the House and Gov. Gregoire’s — still features $9.7 million in general fund reductions.

The agency saw a 27 percent reduction in those funds out of last year’s budget battles.

Gregoire and the House’s budgets would cut $3.3 to $5.9 million, according to talking points circulated by WDFW.

Buried in all that blather is an idea in the House Ways & Means Committee’s budget on how WDFW could raise some money: sell $25 raffle tickets to fish Spirit Lake at Mt. St. Helens.

Currently the lake is closed to all angling and all access. Only scientists go there.

“I’m trying like crazy to make that happen. It would be a wonderful opportunity for the public,” says local state biologist John Weinheimer in Vancouver.

When Mt. St. Helens erupted May 18, 1980, a massive landslide sluiced the lake, its contents and ol’ Harry Truman over a ridge and down the Toutle Valley. In the aftermath, thousands of trees clogged the lake.

Thirteen years later, rainbow trout returned, somehow.

“The fish really took off in 2000,” says Weinheimer.

The idea for a fishery has been kicked around since 2004, according to Charles Raines, who heads up the Sierra Club’s Cascade Chapter.

He has been watching Spirit Lake recover from that violent day almost 30 years ago, but he’s opposed to exploiting it.

In a February letter to Senator Ken Jacobsen, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, he writes that fishing and trails for anglers to get to launch points would “disrupt the lake’s natural recovery process,” and maybe “bring non-native and invasive plant and animal species into the area.”

And he points out there are other waters open for angling around the volcano.

Roger del Moral, a UW biology professor, and John Bishop, a WSU associate professor, have studied the lake for some time and were quoted last year in The Oregonian against a fishery. Del Moral indicated in an email yesterday he remains opposed; in 2009, he told the paper that it would “end the only natural experiment of its kind.”

In essence, 30,000 acres of the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument have been set aside for science, as Raines points out, kind of a U.S. version of the lands surrounding Chernobyl.

But Weinheimer points out that conditions at the lake aren’t entirely natural. For starters, a 1.5-mile-long diversionary tunnel was dug at its outlet, and downstream there’s a sediment retention structure without a fish ladder.

Before the eruption, coho, steelhead and sea-run cutts used to swim up into Spirit’s headwaters, says Weinheimer.

“Wolf Dammers [another WDFW biologist] used to get his ass chewed by Harry Truman when he was doing his coho spawner surveys,” Weinheimer says. “He’d give him a piece of his mind about state workers.”

For his part, he feels that science and fishing can co-exist.

As proposed under Substitute House Bill 1838, which has been folded into the House’s Supplemental Operating Budget, WDFW would have to work with certain conditions, including:

a requirement that fishers obtain a license;

?identification of a limited number of days for the fishery;

a determination whether the fishery is strictly catch and release;

identification of allowable gear types;

reporting requirements designed to monitor the rainbow trout population;

and restrictions on transportation items allowed in Spirit Lake, and allowable floatation devices designed to reduce the risk of introducing new aquatic species to the lake.

Weinheimer was actually surprised the fishery idea was still alive, but happy.

“I’m of the opinion something can be worked out,” he says.