All posts by Andy Walgamott

Shorter Bear Season, Guns For Bowmen

Chop a couple weeks off black bear season in three areas, close a couple Columbia River islands to deer hunting, open up the Blues to a general fall turkey season, allow bowhunters and muzzleloaders to carry handguns afield.

Just four proposals for Washington’s 2010-11 hunting seasons up for public comment through Feb. 24.

They, and a raft of others, can be found online.

The first rule above would move the fall bear opener from Aug. 1 to Aug. 14 in the Okanogan, South Cascades and Northeastern bear management unit. That’s because, according to WDFW, “indicators suggest that hunting seasons should be more conservative.”

The Okanogan bear area includes Okanogan County west of the Okanogan River as well as Chelan County lands on the north side of Lake Chelan. The South Cascades bear area includes the west side of the Cascades from I-90 south to the Columbia River. The Northeast includes the eastern half of Okanogan County, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane counties.

As for the deer, Cottonwood Island (off the west side of Carrolls Slough) and nearby Howard Island would be made off limits to deer hunting because both “sites (are) proposed for Columbian white-tailed deer release to further Columbian white-tailed deer recovery.”

The unique species is protected under state and federal laws.

Also along the state’s southern border, but further east, WDFW proposes to switch from a fall permit turkey hunt to a general season in the Blues.

And they’d also like to add the Couse unit for spring permit bear hunting, with four tags on offer.

As for handguns for bowmen and blackpowder hunters, our colleague Dave Workman was filing a story for the March 1 issue of Gun Week that explains:

Prior to last year, neither bowhunters or black powder hunters were allowed to carry a handgun, with the exception of muzzleloader hunters carrying black powder revolvers or single-shot pistols. The new rule will allow the carrying of modern handguns, but still prohibit their use to dispatch a big game animal shot with an arrow or a muzzleloader bullet or ball.

Written comments can be e-mailed to Wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to Wildlife Program Commission Meeting Public Comments, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501

A public hearing with the Fish & Wildlife Commission is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on March 12-13, 2010, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, First Floor Room 172, 1111 Washington St. SE, Olympia, WA  98504

Update On Upcoming Columbia Springer Seasons

The Columbia Basin Bulletin reported yesterday on what managers are thinking about in terms of seasons for this years forecasted record return of springers.

… Oregon policy makers did not consider specific season options, but were briefed on possible scenarios ranging from a 56-day season entirely below Portland’s Interstate 5 Bridge to a 30-day season with a mix of opportunities above and below the I-5 Bridge.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fishery managers also last week outlined their plans for the spring chinook fishery on the Columbia River that would ensure meeting conservation goals, catch-balancing responsibilities between tribal and state fisheries, and fishing opportunities throughout the river and its tributaries.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission during its Feb. 4-6 meeting also voiced support for reserving a portion of the catch until there is clear evidence the run is as large as expected.

5 Sound Rivers Closing Early To Steelheading

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

Steelhead fishing will close Feb. 18 in five major river systems in the Puget Sound area to protect wild fish, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.

The closure will affect the Puyallup, Nooksack, Stillaguamish, Samish and Snohomish rivers and their tributaries.

Pre-season estimates developed by the department indicate that returns of wild steelhead will fall far short of target levels in all five river systems, said Bob Leland, WDFW steelhead manager.

“This is the fourth straight year that we’ve seen a downward trend in wild steelhead returns,” Leland said.  “These closures are necessary to meet the conservation objectives of our statewide steelhead management plan and comply with provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).”

Wild steelhead in the Puget Sound region have been listed as “threatened” under the ESA since 2007. Although anglers are required to release any wild fish they catch in those rivers, some of those fish inevitably die from the experience, Leland said.

Rivers closing to steelhead fishing Feb. 18 include:

Puyallup River system

  • Puyallup River mainstem from the 11th St. Bridge in Tacoma upstream to Electron Power Plant Outlet
  • Carbon River from the mouth to Hwy.162 Bridge
  • White (Stuck) River from the mouth to R Street Bridge in Auburn

Nooksack River system

  • Nooksack River from the mouth to the confluence of the North and South Forks
  • North Fork Nooksack from the mouth to Nooksack Falls
  • South Fork Nooksack from the mouth to Skookum Creek
  • Middle Fork Nooksack from the mouth to headwaters.

Samish River system

  • Samish River from the mouth to the Hickson Bridge.

Stillaguamish River system

  • Stillaguamish River from sloughs south of Marine Drive to forks.
  • North Fork of the Stillaguamish from the mouth to Swede Heaven Bridge.
  • South Fork of the Stillaguamish from the mouth to the Mt Loop Hwy. Bridge (above Granite Falls).
  • Canyon Creek from the mouth at the South Fork of the Stillaguamish to the forks.

Snohomish River system

  • Snohomish River from mouth (Burlington-Northern railroad bridges) to the confluence of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers including all channels, sloughs, and interconnected waterways.
  • Snoqualmie River from the mouth to the boat launch at Plum Landing (~1/4 mile below Tokul Creek).
  • Skykomish River from the mouth to the forks.
  • North Fork of the Skykomish from the mouth to Deer Falls (about ? mile upstream of Goblin Creek).
  • South Fork of the Skykomish from the mouth to the Sunset Falls Fishway.
  • Pilchuck River from mouth to the Snohomish city diversion dam.
  • Sultan River from mouth to the diversion dam at river mile 9.7.
  • Tolt River from mouth to the confluence of the North and South Fork.
  • Raging River from the mouth to the Highway 18 Bridge.

The Wallace River, Tokul Creek and Snoqualmie River above the boat ramp at Plum Landing will close Feb 28.

Reopening dates for all of these waters will be noted in the 2010-11 Fishing in Washington fishing rules pamphlet.

‘These Were Not Kids With BB Guns’

I know we are only 33 days into 2010, but I’m very, very sorely tempted to go ahead and award three Renton, Wash., men Northwest Sportsman magazine’s Jackasses of the Year award for their boneheaded decision to shoot … flickers.

Yeah, northern flickers, those songbirds with the white patch on their back, just a bit bigger than a robin, very pretty, protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state law.

“The excuse they gave is they were shooting them for food,” says Capt. Rich Mann of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Enforcement Division in Yakima this morning.

“That’s a bogus excuse,” says Annie Morton at Audubon Washington in Seattle. “You are what you eat, and they eat lots of ants so they would be very acidic.”

The trio were allegedly caught in late January with 19 flickers and several other birds as well as expensive “high-tech” air rifles with “muzzle suppressors,” Mann says.

“These were not kids with BB guns,” Mann says.

He gave the rifles’ retail value at $1,500.

Officers just happened to be in the right spot — along the Yakima River near Union Gap — at the right time to catch them.

Mann says that day officers were actually going to run a plain-clothes patrol in response to complaints of illegal harvest of wild steelhead in the river. When they arrived on the scene they saw one of the three men about to enter the woods. They called a sergeant and “caught the guy in the act,” says Mann.

The other two initially stashed their guns and birds and denied they were hunting, but eventually retrieved the items, Mann says.

“They were basically hunting the Russian olive thickets,” he says. “They knew the patch very well — much better than a person on their first trip over.”

Officers interviewed the men to try and establish a commercial-sale angle — flicker tails are used in Native American regalia.  Last March, four men, including three from the Yakima Valley, were arrested as part of a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service investigation into the illegal killing and selling parts of flickers, golden and bald eagles as well as other birds of prey.

Mann says case reports will be forwarded to the Yakima County prosecutor in the next few weeks for charging.

News also came out today about five sea lions and seals shot and washed ashore dead in West Seattle. The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating.

FWC To Legislature: Abolish This!

After talking it over last weekend and teleconferencing today, the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission let fly a press release this afternoon announcing its opposition to SB 6813, which would abolish WDFW and merge it into DNR.

Here’s the text of the commissioners’ statement:

The Fish and Wildlife Commission hereby expresses its strong opposition to Senate Bill 6813.  This proposed legislation would abolish the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Parks and Recreation Commission and transfer their powers, duties, and functions to the Department of Natural Resources. While the Legislature states that it intends no transfer of powers and duties away from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, it in fact would eliminate the central authority of the Fish and Wildlife Commission — the power to hire and fire the Director. It would also remove the Commission’s authority over the Department budget.

The three agencies that are affected by this bill have very different mandates and missions — each important to the quality of life of our citizenry. It would be improper to intentionally or unintentionally make the vital resource conservation mission of the Department of Fish and Wildlife subordinate to the resource extraction mission of the Department of Natural Resources.

After a thoughtful and deliberative process considering the costs and benefits of various natural resource agencies re-organization options, the Governor proposed ways to enhance efficiency and reduce redundancy. The Governor’s government reform process involved resource professionals, the affected stakeholders, and the public.  SB 6813 proposes to enact a merger option that was thoroughly reviewed but ultimately eliminated because it lacked benefits sufficient to justify the costs and risks to the state’s natural resources.

The merger proposed in this bill will diminish the ability of each component agency to successfully focus and consolidate the needed resources on the core elements of its own unique mission. Because of the important differences in their purposes, the component parts of the agencies would not be integrated, but would remain distinct parts of the resulting combined agency. The transition is likely to give rise to a host of procedural issues which will distract staff from strategic priorities.

The impact on the governance of WDFW is our preeminent concern. In passing Referendum 45 in 1995, the voters of Washington empowered the Fish and Wildlife Commission with supervisory authority over the Department director for a purpose: to guarantee that fish and wildlife management would be both directly responsive to the public and insulated from political pressures.  As is the case in states around the country, the Commission process was designed to assure that the interests of long-term conservation would not be compromised for short-term political ends.

By eliminating the Commission’s source of authority — the authority to hire and fire the director — this bill will reverse Referendum 45. If enacted, this bill will remove the power of the Commission. It will remove the Commission’s ability to demand conservation of fish and wildlife. The Commission will no longer be able to provide the public a direct avenue to exert control over the agency that sets important hunting and fishing rules.  The Commission will no longer have the clout to insulate uniquely important conservation decisions from the politics of the day.

The people made their intent absolutely clear. The people voted to provide a citizen commission with the authority to govern the agency that makes decisions on the fish and wildlife resources of this state.

As we reported earlier today, the Senate’s Natural Resources and Ocean & Recreation committee is slated to hear testimony on the bill Feb. 17. The meeting begins at 8 a.m.

Study Finds Half Young Steelhead Die In 2 OR Estuaries

The Salem Statesman-Journal is reporting on a new Oregon State University study that “found that up to nearly half of the ocean-bound juvenile steelhead surveyed in the Alsea and Nehalem river systems appear to have died in the estuaries, before they could reach the ocean.”

Before, it was believed that the ocean was the driver in steelhead smolt survival, but this study seems to indicate otherwise.

There are many questions to answer, but researchers found some tags from fish at a seal colony.

Hearing Date Set For Bill To Abolish WDFW

A Washington Senate committee is holding a public hearing next week on a bill that would abolish the Department of Fish & Wildlife and move it into the Department of Natural Resources.

The Natural Resources and Ocean & Recreation committee is slated to hear testimony on SB 6813 on Feb. 17. The meeting begins at 8 a.m.

A fiscal note prepared by in the last week by WDFW staffers indicates merging would initially cost $1 million a year through 2013 and then a savings of $1.5 million a year starting in 2015.

The note identifies where cuts might be made. Among the agency’s 1,444 employees,  somewhere around 7 to 8 full-time jobs could be eliminated because of overlap. Among other savings it identifies is $50,000 for road maintenance and $30,000 for fire suppression; DNR and WDFW manage vast swaths of the state’s timber and sagelands.

The guys on Piscatorialpursuits.com are also talking about SB 6813.

The State Parks and Recreation Commission would also be abolished and moved into DNR under the bill.

Senators Ken Jacobsen, Kevin Ranker, Bob Morton, Karen Fraser, Jim Hargrove, Brian Hatfield, Val Stevens and Dan Swecker all sit on the Natural Resources and Ocean & Recreation committee.

OR Anti-poaching Bill Under Scrutiny

Official advice: Read your Oregon fishing and hunting regulations very, very, very carefully before wetting a line or drawing a bead.

For the moment, your fishing and hunting privileges “shall” be revoked for even the lightest of game violations due to a bill passed out of the state Legislature last year.

Mark Freeman of The Mail Tribune has the head’s up on this one:

A law that went into effect last month requires the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to automatically revoke all fishing and wildlife permits, licenses and tags for any conviction of a fish or wildlife violation regardless of its severity or where it occurs — even in other states.

In a nutshell, what happened was that House Bill 3089 took away a judge’s discretion to revoke licenses by replacing the word “may” with “shall.”

“It would be the equivalent of losing your driver’s license for a rolling stop,” ODFW deputy director Curt Melcher tells Freeman.

Up to 5,000 individuals a year could lose their privileges; that’s about how many citations are written annually in the Beaver State.

The reporter says that a short-term fix is being worked on, but he also notes that “the new law is one of the better get-tough-on-poaching changes to hit Oregon in years. It sets some serious restitution minimums for poachers to pay Oregonians for their illegal kills.”

Hear hear — at least on one front.

Redden: One More Try, NOAA, Or I Decide

The latest Federal plan to save and recover Columbia River salmon is “technically flawed,” and Judge Redden says NOAA-Fisheries gets “one last chance to come up with something better that won’t violate the Endangered Species Act” “before he rules on its broader merits.”

Redden’s been a stickler on this salmon issue. He has “twice before rejected federal blueprints for Columbia Basin salmon, but he has given the government multiple opportunities to amend the one currently before his court.”

That according to articles by the New York Times, Associated Press and The Oregonian out today.

In a three-page letter from Redden released yesterday (and available on The Oregonian’s site), the judge writes:

Federal Defendants have an obligation under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) to rely on the best available science. They cannot rely exclusively on materials that support one position, while ignoring new or opposing scientific information. Federal Defendants recognize that they must supplement of the Administrative Record with all of the documents that support the (Adaptive Management Implementation Plan). They must also include new and pertinent scientific information relating to the proposed action (e.g., recent climate change data). If that scientific data requires additional analysis or mitigation to avoid jeopardy, Federal Defendants must adequately address those issues. I will not sign an order of voluntary remand that effectively relieves Federal Defendants of their obligation to use the best available science and consider all important aspects of the problem. This court will not dictate the scope or substance of Federal Defendants’ remand, but Federal Defendants must comply with the ESA in preparingW amended/supplemental biological opinion.

There are two options. Pursuant to the attached proposed order, Federal Defendants can conduct a voluntary remand using the best available science and addressing all relevant factors. Alternatively, Federal Defendants can reject the proposed order, and I will issue a ruling on the validity of the 2008 BiOp without consideration of the AMIP.

The Obama Administration has until Feb. 19 if they wish to improve upon the plan.

A NOAA spokesman in Seattle said the agency would carefully consider the letter; the AP reports that “salmon advocates said the judge echoed what they have been arguing all along: that the plan needs to do more for salmon.”

WDFW To Destroy 250K Winter-run Eggs; Makahs Step In With Replacements

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public meeting Saturday, Feb. 13, in Forks to discuss plans to destroy about 250,000 winter steelhead eggs at the Bogachiel Hatchery, where a waterborne fish virus was recently discovered.

The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon at the Forks Sportsmans Club, 243 Sportsmans Club Road.

The virus, Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN), was recently discovered in returning adult winter steelhead at the Bogachiel Hatchery. Eggs taken from those fish at the hatchery will be destroyed because they could also have the infectious virus, said Ron Warren, regional fish program manager for WDFW.

“There is no reliable test that will tell us if the eggs are infected,” said Warren. “To ensure we don’t increase risks to wild fish in the Bogachiel River or spread the pathogen to other watersheds, we have decided to destroy the eggs. It’s unfortunate, but we must take a precautionary approach.”

WDFW developed the response plan after meeting with the tribes and other natural resource management agencies.

To partially make up for the loss, about 130,000 winter steelhead eggs from the Makah Tribe’s Hoko Falls Hatchery will be transferred to the Bogachiel Hatchery for rearing and release, said Warren. Those steelhead eggs are genetically similar to the fish raised at the Bogachiel Hatchery.

Receiving these eggs at this time guarantees continued production at the Bogachiel Hatchery, said Warren.

“We appreciate the Makah Tribe stepping up and providing us these winter steelhead eggs,” said Warren. “These eggs will help make up for some of the production loss and provide for future fisheries in the basin.”

Juvenile steelhead at the Bogachiel Hatchery have been tested and are free of the virus, said Warren.

IHN has no known cure and can be fatal to infected fish, but cannot be passed on to humans. The virus affects both wild and hatchery fish, including salmon and trout species, and is regularly detected in the Columbia River basin. The virus is spread from fish to fish.