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!
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.
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.