All posts by Andy Walgamott

No Pressure, None At All

Work life seeped into dream life last night: I was going to shoot a whitetail doe, but had to wait for her to walk out of the woods into a subdivision.

The map in my hands showed the hunt area boundary began right on the center hump of a cul de sac servicing the houses and extended from their back fencelines to the main road out front.

Deer country was off limits, but the shrubberies, backyards and patios were inside the kill zone.

Welcome to Bizarro World. Only it isn’t these days as animals and people shack up in each other’s worlds.

Behind me in my dream was a mess of state Fish & Wildlife folks — enforcement officers, a biologist, some flacks, heck, maybe even the Director — and a TV camera too.

No pressure, none at all.

I shifted my rifle from one hand to the other. I guess I was a Master Hunter or something and had been called in to take care of this particularly troublesome doe. I peered around a tree from time to time to track her progress towards the houses while we all fidgeted.

The only one not fidgeting was the doe, which was moving very slowly — but not towards the kill zone. This might all be much ado about nothing today, I thought.

True, I had other, more conventional deer-hunting dreams last night — chasing bucks in the hills and mountains — but this one really sticks out.

I’m pretty sure I dreamed it because of a pair of articles Jason Brooks and I put together for our February issue of Northwest Sportsman, which we sent off to press yesterday.

In the wake of late December’s Skagit Valley elk fiasco, we learned of another elk damage-control hunt being held in an even more challenging place.

How much more challenging?

Try just east of Goodytwoshoesville.

In a valley that’s even more populated.

Next to a state highway and an interstate.

In the vicinity of an outlet mall, a massive housing development, a golf course and extremely popular tourist attractions and hiking trails.

No pressure, none at all.

But since last summer, at least 16 cow elk have been culled from the growing herd by Master Hunters.

Oh, the reason you haven’t heard about it in the news? Like almost all of the rest of 2009-10’s general-season and damage-control hunts, there’s hardly anything to report – at least anything bad.

MASTER HUNTERS ARE A relatively new tool for Washington game managers to use for dealing with problem deer and elk, though Oregon’s has been in place since the early 1990s.

The programs help “promote the image of hunters, improve ethical practices and develop relationships between hunters and private landowners,” Brooks writes.

And as elk, whitetail, turkey and goose numbers continue to soar, the need for tightly controlled hunts will continue as farmlands in winter range continue to redevelop, national forests grow back in and available habitats shrink.

““We can’t just go out and catch every animal that gets crosswise and haul them out
to the forest,” says WDFW’s Dave Ware pointing to disease, parasite and animal crowding issues. “Yes, it’s out of sight, out of mind, but you’re not doing the animal any favor. Catching isn’t the answer everyone thinks it is. There’s not always a place for other animals.”

Nor can they just be stuffed in zoos.

With Washington’s enrollment period open through mid-February, Brooks and I looked into both states’ programs.

We learned they’re anything but shortcuts to big-bull and -buck tags.

“Most of our hunts are doe and cows tags,” ODFW Education Services manager Chris Willard in Salem told me.

Added Master Hunter liason, Sgt. Eric Anderson in Olympia: “While there still are opportunities for Master Hunters to get premium tags, they’re very much diminished” from the levels of WDFW’s old Advanced Hunter Education program.

For Anderson, Master Hunters are “the gold standard of hunters trying to protect our heritage.”

“Over half of the Advanced Hunters were purged from the system for violations of state fish and wildlife laws … We have a zero tolerance policy with the new Master Hunter program,” he told me.

It was always a little embarrassing to find Advanced Hunter grads written up in WDFW Enforcement’s quarterly newsletters (“AHE Hunter and Friends Party and Poach,” reads a headline from the winter 2007-08 edition).

Both states require prospective Master Hunters to clear background checks, as well as complete wildlife volunteer work and pass written and shooting proficiency tests. And in Washington, enrollees must go through Crime Observation and Reporting Training and pledge to abide by the Master Hunter Code of Ethics.

Willard says Oregon is going to try and emulate more of Washington’s program.

In the wake of the Skagit fiasco, which was an open general bow season, Capt. Bill Hebner told me that the solution may lay in Master Hunters.

Which really worries some. Writes Brooks:

Does this mean that we are going to see a trend to more Master Hunts when it comes to damage control and hunts close to the public’s eye? What does this mean for the majority of hunters?

Not everyone can put in the time, money and effort to complete the MH program, and even under the current requirements, not everyone could qualify. Are these programs providing an uneven and unfair advantage to an “elitist” group?

These are just a few questions and concerns that are brought up online and cause heated discussion.

Brooks talked to Gene Brame, who actually accounted for one of those 16 elk taken by Master Hunters that I mentioned above, on qualifying.

“I think it can be done,” said the retired Tacoma man.

Added recent Master Hunter grad Eric Bell of Granite Falls of the written test: “You definitely had to know the information, almost memorizing sections of the material.”

Despite Oregon’s program being on the books for almost two decades, there really aren’t that many Master Hunters. According to Willard, of the 5,300-plus Oregonians who’ve applied, only 1,234 have cleared all tests. And only 123 applied for Master Hunter-only tags last year.

In Washington, at the end of December 2009, there were 1,892 in the program with 395 pending aps, said Anderson; he figured three-quarters of those would clear.

To apply to be a Master Hunter in Washington, call (360) 902-8412 or email tracy.loveless@dfw.wa.gov. In Oregon, call (503) 947-6028 or email hunter.education@state.or.us.

See You Again Soon, Sauk?

That the Sauk would close early was not unexpected.

A month before last Friday afternoon’s official notice, Washington managers hinted the popular winter-spring catch-and-release fishery on the remote North Cascades river for big, brawny wild steelhead was iffy.

And a month before that, somewhere around Thanksgiving, I got word that the preseason forecast was not good.

It’s a bummer, but in a weird way, part of me is actually relieved.

Good, I’ll have a full compliment of hall passes for Columbia springer flame runs.

And I won’t have to drive that godawfully long piece of asphalt between I-5 and the Sauk. Beautiful as it is, 31.9 miles of highway has no right to be so long.

Won’t have to wade sketchy crossings or take the fishmobile down that one grown-in logging road to get to where I hooked something large.

Can save my spoons and jigs for another river.

BRAVE AS THAT SOUNDS, this feels like the start of what happened to my other fave, the Skykomish.

Its trophy steelhead fishery was put on hold in 2001  (the Sauk’s season was cut short too that year), and there’s never been enough fish back since to give us a go. Finally, the Sky’s season was written out of the regs, and who knows if anything will ever reopen.

In its place, I went to the Sauk.

As I write this, I can smell cottonwoods breaking into leaf on warm downriver breezes, hear the drumming of grouse in the flats – and feel the thump of whirring blades as a helicopter surveying spawning beds flew over me last spring.

I asked the river’s biologist about it and he was worried about how few redds there were.

A bad sign for future runs.

It was one of the last, best hopes in a regional basin where steelhead are listed as a threatened species.

“I fished a few of my favorite runs on the Sauk today,” wrote Skykomish Sunrise yesterday on Piscatorial Pursuits. “The water looked nice, and it was good to be out on the river again. However, I couldn’t help but to feel as if I was making one last visit to a relative that is about to die.”

There are several photos of the river in that thread that are good for remembering the good times.

THAT’S MY OWN ADMITTEDLY SHORT VIEW. A guy with the long view is Bill Herzog.

Last winter, the woes of winter-runs were the subject of several blogs – elegies, really – by the veteran Northwest steelheader.

Since 1973, we have lost OVER F-O-R-T-Y winter steelhead fisheries due to closure or lack of returning fish. I’m not going to list them all here … but here are some examples from my journal notes.

Back in March of ’83, here’s where I was steelhead fishing: The Big Quilcene River, Duckabush River, Skokomish River, Dosewallips River, a whole lot of trips to the Dungeness, Nisqually and Carbon Rivers, the upper Quinault River and a wonderful new catch and release fishery on the Skykomish.

My fishing partners and I landed over 200 steelhead from those rivers that month.

Go ahead, try to fish any of those places today. The steelhead for all rights and purposes are gone from most of those rivers, a few have runs falling off the table and only the Quinault from that list is still open in March.

Want to fish in April now? Join everyone at the last buffet still open, the Quillayute system’s Bogachiel, Sol Duc and Calawah. After that system is hammered to death by every poor angler still willing to put up with overcrowded streams … well, how about bass fishing?

Hell no. I’ll golf before I’ll fish for bass.

BUT THE MAN MUST FISH, and last winter Herzog did find good action on immature Chinook, or blackmouth, in the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

In our February issue, which we’re sending to press shortly, he tells Tim Bush about the “new funk” for that fishery, which reopens in mid-February.

The myriad passes and banks in the nearby San Juans also come into prime shape, and author Wayne Heinz has collected 101 years of blackmouth wisdom for his map feature.

Speaking of maps, Larry Ellis highlights South Oregon Coast rockfish, lings and Dungeness – crabbing’s so good he’s been throwing back legals.

Then there’s Tillamook steelhead, and Lake Roosevelt walleye AND rainbows. Used to be it was all about the bugeyes this time of year on the upper Columbia reservoir, but trout action’s been the “best in a decade,” say some, so we track the fish downlake for you.

Just a sampling of the winter keepers we serve up around the Northwest in our February issue, which should be out to subscribers and newsstands soon.

Even if my heart was set on fish to release.

Unexplained Moose Deaths In NE OR

Worry about the health of another rare Northwest big-game animal today.

Following reports on Yakima Canyon bighorn sheep, which are battling pneumonia, comes news that two of the estimated 40 to 60 moose in Northeast Oregon unexpectedly died last year.

There is no definitive cause, but biologists noticed other moose in the area with “cropped” ears, which are symptomatic of a parasite that may be causing moose deaths in Wyoming, reports The Oregonian.

Biologists hope to trap some animals this month and test them.

Willamette Sturgeon Quota Eyed

Bill Monroe reports on Willamette River sturgeon, and how Portland anglers could see a 35 to 50 percent drop in the quota which would please Washington fishery managers — even though the big Western Oregon river doesn’t touch the Evergreen State.

The deal is, it’s believed that sturgeon from the Columbia between the states are moving into the Willamette, “especially in the winter and spring. Warmer water, lack of smelt and protection from sea lions at Bonneville are possible reasons, said Steve Williams, assistant fish division chief for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife,” Monroe writes.

Decisions on this year’s fisheries, on the Columbia and Willamette, are coming up before both states’ Fish & Wildlife Commissions in February.

Reductions are being proposed due to low number of legal and sublegal-sized sturgeon. It’s unclear why, but increasing sea lion predation could be to blame. The Columbia Basin Bulletin also reported that if there’s any good news, it’s that the spawner numbers are stable.

Monroe also adds that a spawning sanctuary may be added to the mile or so of the Willamette below the falls from late spring into summer.

Cracking Clackaheads

Here’s Andy Schneider’s fishing report from, well, just down the road from his house near Portland:

If you’re a winter steelhead fisherman and want to get out on the water and row a boat, you have been pretty much out of luck here in Northwest corner of Oregon.

But lucky for me I have the Clackamas River pretty much right in my backyard and drive by it everyday. Lately the Clackamas has been predicted to “blow out” with even the smallest amount of precipitation predicted. But looking at the river every day gave me the advantage to know that the predictions were wrong and it was fishing – and fishing good!

Last Sunday I invited Pat to fish with me on the Clackamas River for a little side drifting. Since Pat’s tackle and bait was at his house on the coast, he used my tackle and bait for the day. We were lucky enough to find some chrome-bright winter steelhead amongst the crowds of fisherman on the river that day.

The Clackamas was really the only river fishing that day, with all the coastal rivers high and muddy and the Sandy being blasted with a cold east wind out of the gorge. So it was no surprise to find a lot of boats on the Clackamas. We ran high and found lots of boat; we ran low on the river and still found lots of boats. So we finally decided just to fish and it didn’t take long before we started finding some, fish that is.

We side-drifted some fresh steelhead eggs cured up in standard Pautzke Fire Cure and it proved to be the ticket on Sunday. When we came to a stretch of water being fished by other boats, we would simply side-drift the exact opposite side of the river.

But it didn’t take long before this caught on when we started landing fish. But we kept searching and kept fishing and kept catching.

Pat was kind enough to give me his eggs from his fish and a jar of Borx O’ Fire. I went home and cured up the eggs and used them this Saturday and Sunday. Saturday Pat and mutual friend Tom VanderPlaat joined me and we found lots of open water and a couple of willing fish – one on eggs and one on a back-trolled plug.

PAT ABEL WITH A CLACKAMAS STEELHEAD. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

Sunday John Bond joined me on the Clackamas again. We decided to get up at the crack of 8 a.m. and hit the river at 10. We only had a chance to fish for three hours, but we landed two more Winter Steelhead in those short hours. One fish fell victim again to side-drifted Pautzke eggs while the other jumped on a cop car K11X.

It looks like the coastal rivers will start to fish by week’s end, but you may still find me here on the Clack.

Restrcted Smelt Fishery Announced

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

With another poor run of smelt expected back to the Columbia River and its tributaries, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is limiting the Cowlitz River sport fishery to only four days this winter.

“This fishery is primarily intended to provide information on the size of this year’s smelt run and to avoid significant impacts on the population,” said Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist.

Harvest numbers in February provide fishery managers a valuable indicator of the size of the annual smelt return to the Cowlitz River, said James.

Recreational smelt dipping on the Cowlitz River will be limited to Feb. 6, 13, 20 and 27, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. with a 10-pound daily limit.

The small commercial fishery in the river will also be curtailed, running three hours per day Sundays and Wednesdays from Feb. 3 through Feb. 28.

Fishery managers have delayed smelt fishing on the Cowlitz River since Jan. 1 to determine how much fishing – if any – to allow.  Although smelt returns are expected to increase slightly from last year, the entire population from northern California to northern British Columbia has been depressed since 2005.

Pacific smelt are a food source for larger predators, such as salmon, marine mammals and seabirds. NOAA Fisheries has proposed listing the species as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and is expected to announce its decision this year.

It’s Official, Sauk, Skagit Trophy Fishery To Close

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE EMERGENCY RULE CHANGE NOTICE)

Wah … but at least I’ll save gas money, I suppose.

Action: Close the Skagit and Sauk Rivers to all fishing.

Species affected: All game fish species

Location and effective closure dates:

Skagit River from the mouth upstream to Highway 536 (Memorial Hwy. Bridge) at Mount Vernon will be closed Feb.16, 2010 through April 30, 2010.

Skagit River from the Highway 536 (Memorial Hwy. Bridge) at Mount Vernon upstream to the Gorge Powerhouse will be closed Feb.16, 2010 through May 31, 2010.

Sauk River from the mouth upstream to the Whitechuck River will be closed Feb. 16, 2010 through June 4, 2010.

Reasons for action: The closure will reduce incidental hooking mortality on wild steelhead. The 2009/2010 forecasted return of wild winter steelhead to the Skagit Basin is expected to be below the escapement floor of 6,000.

Other information: The rivers will reopen to fishing as listed in the 2010/2012 Fishing in Washington Sport Fishing Rules.

Information Contact: Region 4 (425) 775-1311.

The Rush To Save Yakima Bighorns

We first learned about the pneumonia outbreak among the bighorn sheep herd in Washington’s Yakima Canyon through local reporter Scott Sandsberry’s story last month, and now the race to save the herd — and prevent the illness from spreading to other groups — has made regional radio.

Anna King follows the path of three dead sheep from the canyon to a necropsy lab halfway across the state in a report on KUOW.

How do you know a bighorn has pneumonia? The same way with humans: they cough. Wildlife biologists chase the animals for a short stretch with a helicopter over rugged and cliffy terrain, and then stop and listen for coughing.

The outbreak is very similar to what happened in Asotin County in the mid-1990s when that herd was nearly wiped out. The worry here is that when spring comes, the Yakima Canyon’s bighorns will move and potentially mix with some of the 800 or so other wild sheep that inhabit Yakima and Kittitas counties.

Notes King: “That means the disease could spread rapidly across the region. When (necropsy) results come back on these three bighorns, wildlife officials will decide whether to act, or let the disease play out.”

Massive Bull Trout Protections

A re-examination of bull trout needs in the Northwest led the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service yesterday to propose a much larger area for critical habitat than what the agency had suggested in 2005.

It would increase the amount of stream miles in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Nevada by 18,851 miles and the amount of lakes and reservoirs by 390,208 acres, according to a press release.

(USFWS)

Under the previous administration, 3,828 miles of rivers and 143,218 acres of lakes were proposed for protection.

No change is proposed in the 985 miles of marine shoreline in Washington that
were designated as critical habitat in 2005, the press release says.

The agency says that bull trout once existed in 60 percent of the Columbia Basin, but that’s been reduced to 30 percent. They say the species has very specific needs even more demanding than salmon.

“Bull trout require the coldest water temperature; they require the cleanest stream substrates for spawning and rearing; they need complex habitats, including streams with riffles and deep pools, undercut banks and lots of large logs; as well as a connection between river, lake and ocean habitats to headwater streams for annual spawning and feeding migrations,” the agency writes.

As for the effect the habitat designation would have, Matthew Preusch of The Oregonian writes:

If the proposal goes through, federal agencies that manage forests for recreation and logging; grasslands for grazing, or hydropower dams for electricity would have to take a closer look at whether their actions degrade waterways in huge portions of the West where the trout resides.

“It’s kind of like putting a big yellow caution flag along these streams and lakes that are habitat for bull trout,” Jack Williams, senior scientist for the group Trout Unlimited.

Public comment is open through March 15.

Eight meetings will also be held around the region starting in early February. They include stops:

• February 2, 2010, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: Bend, Oregon: Hollingshead Barn, 1235 NE Jones Road

• February 3, 2010, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Chiloquin, Oregon: Chiloquin Community Center, 140 S.1st Street

• February 4, 2010, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: LaGrande, Oregon: Blue Mountain Conference Center, 404 12th Street

• February 11, 2010, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Post Falls, Idaho: Red Lion Templins Inn, 414 East 1st Avenue

• February 16, 2010, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Missoula, Montana: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Headquarters, 3201 Spurgin Road

• February 17, 2010, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Elko, Nevada: Elko Convention Center, Gold Room, 700 Moren Way

• February 23, 2010, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Wenatchee, Washington: Wenatchee-Okanogon National Forest Headquarters, 215 Melody Lane

• February 25, 2010, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Boise, Idaho: Boise Centre on the Grove, 850 W. Front Street.

Tribe Admits Error, Prosecutor Drops Case

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has admitted that two of their officers were in error when they approached nontribal elk hunters near Brinnon, Wash., last October with guns drawn and then handcuffed and detained the men. And with that, the local county prosecutor earlier this week announced she will not charge the officers.

That according to the Sequim Gazette.

“After conducting our own internal investigation, along with reviewing the reports provided by the Jefferson County Sheriff and State Fish and Wildlife, we have determined that, although our officers acted in good faith, they acted outside the scope of their authority,” Tribal Chairman Jeromy Sullivan wrote in the statement, the newspaper reports.

On Oct. 3, Adam Boling shot a bull elk legally while hunting on private ground he had permission to hunt. Reports of a poaching sparked the tribal officers to respond, even though the S’Klallam Reservation is on the other side of Hood Canal and well north.

The tribe had previously stated “the officers were within their jurisdiction and operating on the tribe’s ‘usual and accustomed hunting grounds,’” according to articles in the Peninsula Daily News and Port Townsend Leader.

The claim of “usual and accustomed” was disputed by WDFW Deputy Chief Mike Cenci.

A spokeswoman for the Port Gamble S’Klallams had told NWS that the law showing how those officers had jurisdiction to respond would be revealed after the tribe saw final copies of the state and county’s investigations.

According to the Daily News, the tribe now says, “This incident has made it apparent that we need to review the current guidelines set forth by Natural Resources Enforcement.”

The tribal Fish & Wildlife captain, Gus Goller, was dismissed, according to the Leader’s story. And the Daily News reports that prosecutor Julie Dalzell is “out to get him never hired in law enforcement again.”

The other officer was a reservist and following Goller’s orders, reportedly.

Dalzell had “agonized” over the case, the Daily News reports, quoting her as saying, “I can never give the victims back that day. I can’t make them whole. All I can do is try to protect the public in the future.”

A photo slideshow on the Leader’s Web site shows men loading Phipps’ elk into Boling’s Toyota pickup and then being approached by the tribal officers with at least one gun drawn. The hunters are handcuffed and more police eventually arrive on the scene.

Boling filed a complaint with the county alleging illegal detention.