Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

State Rep Aims To Simplify WDFW Hunting Regs; Oly Fish-Wildlife Bills Update

It was the fall of 1969, man had just walked on the moon, the road over the top of the North Cascades was still dirt and all of Washington’s big and small game seasons fit on one side of a state highway map that also featured GMU borders.

A Blue Mountains lawmaker would like WDFW to model its current 132-page pamphlet on that much simpler foldout brochure and today her bill toward that end had a hearing in Olympia.

A COPY OF THE 1968 WASHINGTON HUNTING REGS FOLDS OUT TO INCLUDE ALL BIG AND SMALL GAME SEASONS, ALONG WITH SPECIAL PERMITS. (WDFW)

(WDFW)

“I think it’s just hard to figure out the rules and where you’re supposed to be,” said Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy) before the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee this morning.

She said she was inspired to propose the bill after conversations last fall with hunters who relayed to her how complex the regulations now are and subsequently discovering her dad’s 1969 copy of them among old papers of his in her barn.

“I have been hunting for over 70 years and I can remember when hunting regs were very small and very direct,” one of those hunters, Daryl Lambert, told state representatives.

Like many other sportsmen will vouch — whether it be about the hunting or fishing pamphlets, or those for Washington, Oregon or elsewhere — Lambert said you all but need to be a lawyer or land surveyor to understand them.

“I’m afraid I’m going to do something I shouldn’t be or be in the wrong zone,” said the soft-spoken man, voicing the fears of many legitimate hunters.

MEMBERS OF REP. BRIAN BLAKE’S HOUSE COMMITTEE THAT HEARS WDFW-RELATED BILLS LISTEN TO ONE PROPOSING THE AGENCY MODEL ITS HUNTING REGS ON 1969’S, WHICH FEATURED A STATE HIGHWAY AND GAME MANAGEMENT UNIT ON ONE SIDE AND ALL THE DEER, ELK AND OTHER SEASONS ON THE OTHER. (TVW)

It was left to WDFW’s Nate Pamplin, director of budget and government affairs, to offer his agency’s hesitant opposition to HB 2557.

He acknowledged the complexity of the pamphlet and that it can be a barrier to recruiting and retaining hunters, but noted that in addition to maximizing opportunity through distributed pressure while ensuring sustainable game herds, conversations with sportsmen, land owners and treaty tribes have essentially led to today’s packed pamphlet.

“You can imagine how after 50 years of hunting conversations we’ve seen the increase in the number of rules and regulations, but we think that reducing the size of the pamphlet and thus the number of rules would severely impact and cause a loss of hunting opportunity,” Pamplin said.

He did note that the 1969 hunting regs had a 20-page addendum on file that described the legal boundaries of all the game management units shown on the highway map.

Pamplin did voice support for developing a mobile hunting app like what WDFW’s done with Fish Washington.

“It already has your GPS on it — what are the seasons that are open, what are the bag limits, what are the license requirements. All right there in something that is very simple and everybody carries on their person today,” he described to lawmakers.

Of course it was not exactly free to come up with and maintain that app — WDFW is requesting $311,000 in the supplementary budget to keep it going.

Following up on a question from Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama), Pamplin said that for those without smartphones, WDFW does need to consider having other simplified material available.

“On the fishing side … sometimes we will work with local government or tourism board to kind of provide like a one-page summary of ‘Here’s the trout regulations just for that area,’ so someone has that one-off opportunity, doesn’t need to pore through the whole pamphlet to figure out how to go trout fishing. So we’re definitely open to exploring a variety of ways to do that,” he said.

Perhaps what could be done is modify Rep. Dye’s idea but on the flip side of the highway/game management unit map just list most or all of the general seasons for deer, elk, bear, cougar, small game and upland birds, along with plenty of asterisks to say, See the printed or PDF versions for the full regs, definitions, deadlines, firearms restriction areas, what a wolf and a coyote look like, permit and raffle opportunities, etc., etc., etc.

If the dollars could be found for that, it could be made available where tourism brochures turn up — state ferries, chambers of commerce, sportsmen’s show booths, etc., etc., etc.

AS FOR OTHER WDFW-RELATED BILLS PERCOLATING this short 60-day session, here are a few that have caught the passing eye of The Olympia Outsider™* so far:

SB 6071/HB 2571, “Concerning increased deterrence and meaningful enforcement of fish and wildlife violations” by allowing game wardens to issue citations on the spot, like state troopers would a speeding ticket, instead of forwarding the case to county prosecutors who may or may not take it up, as well as tweak laws so poachers can’t regain possession of illegally taken fish or game after its been seized due to how their case was settled without a conviction.

HB 2549, “Integrating salmon recovery efforts with growth management” by making bringing back Chinook, coho and other stocks a goal of GMA, with counties and cities required to submit comprehensive plans toward that goal to WDFW for approval. Key term in the bill is “net ecological gain,” which means instead of just breaking even on environmental impacts of development, mitigations would outweigh them. Has a hearing this week.

HB 2443, “Requiring the use of personal flotation devices on smaller vessels,” meaning anglers 13 years and older aboard drift boats, canoes and other fishing craft less than 19 feet long would need to wear a Coast Guard-approved life vest. The bill had a public hearing earlier this week and even as they spoke to a culture of safety, it appeared to take some among the recreational boating community off guard. Slated for executive session in the House Housing, Community Development & Veterans Committee later this week.

HB 2559, “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes by the department of fish and wildlife” and just might “save the state of Washington,” per one of its two prime sponsors, Rep. Larry Springer (D), who says it’s the most important bill that he and Rep. Tom Dent (R) thought they could bring forward this session. Similar to a bill last year, it essentially shifts PILT payment responsibility from WDFW to the state treasurer’s office, like how it’s done for DNR lands. State ownership of lands in rural counties — where wildlife habitat opportunities are greatest — comes at a cost of taking dollars off tax rolls, especially with the legislature not fully funding PILT since the Recession.

SB 6166, “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses,” the fee bill proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in his supplementary budget and introduced by Sen. Christine Rolfes. Essentially it’s the same bill as last year’s failed HB 1708 and SB 5692. WDFW had pointedly requested General Funds to fill its budget hole instead of trying another fee bill.

HB 2552, “Creating a joint legislative salmon committee” to come up with bills fostering recovery of Chinook, coho and other stocks and coordinating those efforts. Has a hearing later this week.

HB 2504, “Creating the southwest Washington salmon restoration act” and requiring that future salmon production in Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific, and Wahkiakum Counties be equal to or greater than the average over the past two decades. WDFW voiced support for the bill at its public hearing this morning, and a North Sound representative was eager to incorporate her district into sponsor Rep. Jim Walsh’s proposal.

HB 2450, “Concerning license fees for emergency medical services personnel under Title 77 RCW,” which would provide five-plus-year volunteer EMTs and others with free fishing and hunting licenses, an idea that sponsor Rep. Joe Schmick hopes will help retain their services in rural areas. WDFW says it figures 700 people would apply if passed.

HB 2705, “Concerning special antlerless deer hunting seasons” and allowing hunters 65 years of age and up to harvest mule deer and whitetail does during the general rifle season in Eastside units.

SB 6509/HB 2741, “Increasing the abundance of salmonids in Washington waters” through a pilot program similar to Alaska-style private hatcheries.

SB 6072/HB 2238, “Dividing the state wildlife account into the fish, wildlife, and conservation account and the limited fish and wildlife account.” No, this doesn’t mean your license dollars — WHICH DO NOT GO INTO THE GENERAL FUND — will suddenly go into the General Fund, it is about dividing WDFW’s State Wildlife Account — where your fishing and hunting fees actually go — into two subaccounts: restricted and unrestricted moneys to “provide more clarity on these funding sources and issues,” per WDFW.

SB 5613, “Concerning the authority of counties to vacate a county road that abuts on a body of water if the county road is hazardous or creates a significant risk to public safety.” Introduced last session and resuscitated for 2020, this bill targets a water access site on the lower Lewis River but has drawn concern for potential wider impacts. It is within one reading of getting out of the Senate.

And HB 2666, “Establishing the warm water fishing advisory group” to improve angling, habitat and representation for bass, crappie, catfish, walleye and other spinyray fisheries.

* Has The Olympia Outsider™ forgotten a bill? Email him a hot news tip/kick in the side of the noggin at awalgamott@media-inc.com!

Northwest Sportsmen’s, Boat Shows Take Center Stage

Winter days a great time to check out what’s new in fishing, hunting, find deals, get advice at shows around the region.

Along with the big antler racks, the gun raffle he signed up for and the guy with the sparky fire tool thingy, what caught the eye of my youngest son at the fishing and hunting show we attended last winter was a school of fish.

Walleye to be exact.

As a gaggle of anglers began to settle into their chairs by the massive fish tank ahead of the arrival of the next expert speaker, Kiran sidled up to a corner and a few of the bugeyed Midwestern transplants swam over to say hello.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT EYES UP THE DENIZENS OF WALLEYE ALLEY AT THE WASHINGTON SPORTSMEN’S SHOW IN PUYALLUP LAST YEAR. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He’ll be able to renew his acquaintance with the fish as sportsmen’s show season kicks off in the Northwest, starting this weekend in Tri-Cities.

And surely 2019’s debut of the walleye tank is among the best new displays to come online in recent years as organizers look for ways to entice us hunters and anglers to take a day off work or come in on the weekend to see the sights.

Yes, that may seem in this day and age like a tough sell as we face low fish runs and harder hunting, but I find it invigorating to walk the aisles with fellow sportsmen, not to mention educational given all the seminars to take in.

And if I buy some new gear – expect to see hundreds of new products at some shows – a few scones and maybe book a trip along the way, all the better as I’m supporting our causes and keeping them strong and viable.

This winter features two dozen different shows in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and southwest British Columbia, with about half just an exit or three away on the I-5 corridor and many more in key Inland Northwest cities.

Here’s a quick look at what’s new and interesting at some of this year’s events:

THE AFOREMENTIONED WALLEYE tank was part of the Washington and Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Shows in Puyallup and Portland, and O’Loughlin Trade Shows’ Trey Carskadon called it a “huge hit last year and back again this year with big names.”

“Walleye Alley is an opportunity to learn the ins, outs and places to catch walleye in Washington state and the Columbia,” he says.

ANGLERS AWAIT THE NEXT SEMINAR AT THE WALLEYE ALLEY DURING A NORTHWEST SPORTSMEN’S SHOW LAST WINTER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Eastside guides Shane Magnuson and Austin Moser will be in heavy rotation on the tank, and the Midwest’s Johnny Candle will be on tap too.

Also returning in late January to Puyallup is the Outdoor Cooking Championship, where the lords of the grill and barbecue pit put their briskets, steaks and hamburgers head to head – or mouth to mouth, in this case – in competition for points in national and international cooking contests.

“It’s a big deal! Last year, we had no idea how big a deal it really was until we started tasting some of the samples – OMG!” gushes Carskadon.

The chefs will also be serving up cooking tips in seminars, joining an absolute plethora of regionally renowned anglers, guides and experts on stage –somehow, 40 hours worth of seminars are packed into each day!

“It’s a true parade of pros with names like Buzz Ramsey, Robert Kratzer, Del Stephens, Glen Berry, Dan Kloer, Johnnie Candle, Brett Stoffel, Terry Rudnick, Brad Hole, Tyler Hicks and many others,” says Carskadon.

FAMED NORTHWEST ANGLER BUZZ RAMSEY LEADS A SEMINAR ON TROUT AND STEELHEAD FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Those last two gents – Hole and Hicks – will be at the Kayak Fishing Pavilion, exclusive to Puyallup, as angling out of the nimble craft continues to explode in the region and nationwide.

For they and other techy fishermen, there’s a seminar series at Puyallup and Portland in early February that should help new and longtime Garmin owners get the most out of their electronics. In terms of good old-fashioned, hands-on skills, expert Brett Stoffel will be giving advice on how to survive in the wild in case of emergency.

For the kids, local bow clubs Skookum Archers and Sylvan Archers members will be on hand for instruction at Puyallup and Portland, respectively, while the Baxter’s Kid’s Trout Pond is “a perennial favorite” at all three shows (the third, the Central Oregon Sportsmen’s Show, is in Redmond, in mid-March), and one which annually yields fish up to 10 pounds.

“A little known fact: The uncaught fish at the end of the show are donated to a local food bank,” notes Carskadon.

Other fun stuff includes the “Fistful of Corkies” game, in which you dip into a bin of the drift bobbers from Yakima Bait, dump them in a cup and if one of those size 12s in fire tiger or whatever has a Toyota logo, fish on! you just won a prize.

“There are hundreds of incredible prizes like coolers, apparel, packs, socks, rods, camp gear and much more,” says Carksadon. “At the very least you’ll leave with a handful of Corkies – for free.”

You also stand a chance to win a gun safe, rifle, tools or boots from Fort Knox, Ruger, Gerber and Danner, among other prizes, via the Head and Horns Competition at all three shows. According to Carskadon, it doesn’t just have to be a critter you harvested last fall; it can be “one your great great uncle harvested a hundred years ago.”

(Speaking of a century ago, see the next page’s sidebar for what was at a 1924 sportsmen’s show in Seattle.)

Specific to Portland in early February is the Leupold VIP Movie Night, a first, and featuring “short hunting movies along with the celebrities that are in them.” At press time the lineup hadn’t fully been set, but Randy Newberg, the well-known public land hunter and advocate, was scheduled, and there will be raffles.

Fellow hunter Steven Rinella and several members of his show will be around for what’s being dubbed MeatEater Sunday “to celebrate this wonderful opportunity to learn how to prepare and cook all kinds of wild game.”

Portland’s own Maxine McCormick will also be holding fly rod casting seminars, representing “a rare opportunity to learn from the world’s best – not the world’s best teen or world’s best female flycaster, but the world’s best, period,” says Carskadon.

Also only in the Rose City, the Englund Marine Bait Rigging lab, with tips on setting up for tuna, halibut, Chinook and other top species from expert anglers, plus what’s known as “Retail Row,” part of what makes the Portland show so huuuuuuuuuuuuge.

Along with many of the same features as the other two O’Loughlin events, the Redmond show will see the new Sportsmen’s Cooking Competition, which organizers have high hopes for. You can also check out how fast of a draw you are for free and then clamber through hundreds of travel vehicles at what’s billed as “Central Oregon’s Largest RV Show.”

Info: otshows.com

THE AISLES MAY BE PACKED AT THE ANNUAL BOAT, FISHING AND HUNTING SHOWS, BUT IT’S ALWAYS WORTH CHECKING OUT NEW FEATURES AND PRODUCTS AT THE 20-PLUS EVENTS HELD EVERYWHERE FROM MEDFORD TO VICTORIA, PORTLAND TO BILLINGS. (SEATTLE BOAT SHOW)

ONE THOUSAND BOATS, 400-plus different exhibitors, 200 free seminars, nine full days, 3 acres worth of boat tech and gear, and two locations. Welcome to the 2020 Seattle Boat Show, slated again for late January into very early February.

Along with all the latest and greatest in fishing boats to drool over, the calling card for this mammoth show primarily held at the Emerald City’s CenturyLink Field Events Center is the huge number of fishing and crabbing seminars led by experts. I mean, if you’re going to have a boat, you should get some use out of it, right?!?

To that end, the Northwest Marine Trade Association, which puts on the show, annually puts together a stellar who’s who lineup of speakers, and this year’s is notable because it includes Del “Tuna Dog” Stephens. He’s one of the driving forces in offshore albacore angling since the fishery exploded earlier this millennium (last season saw Oregon’s sport catch of 100,000-plus destroy the old record). Stephens is on deck the afternoons of Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 to talk about the use of new technology for finding and catching tuna and albie fishing from A to Z, respectively.

DEL STEPHENS WILL LEAD TWO SEMINARS ON ALBACORE TUNA FISHING OFF THE NORTHWEST COAST AT THE UPCOMING SEATTLE BOAT SHOW. (DEL STEPHENS)

Fellow briny blue angler Tommy Donlin is coming back to touch on those fightingest fish in our Pacific waters, as well as halibut, lingcod and Chinook. In fact, salmon are a topic for many other speakers, including Nick Kester, Chris Long, Keith Robbins, Tom Nelson, Kent Alger, Austin Moser, Aaron Peterson and others.

A new speaker this year is Leland Miywaki, who came up with the Miyawaki Beach Popper and who will go deep on fly fishing the salt for coastal cuttroat trout – a wildly overlooked opportunity – and salmon.

And Larry Phillips will wave the flag for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife during presentations on coastal fisheries and a Q&A on the myriad issues the agency is dealing with.

Info: seattleboatshow.com

SPORTSMEN’S SHOWS OF YORE

The year was 1924. There wasn’t exactly a walleye tank on site and probably no seminar speakers either over in Tent 4, but that July did see Seattle’s second annual Sportsmen’s Show, held at the corner of 3rd and Blanchard, not far from the Pike Place Market.

While doing genealogy research last year, my mom discovered an article about the show in the July 12 edition of The Seattle Daily Times, where it was front-page, above-the-fold news.

One of the show’s anchors was the state Department of Game, which had a 15,000-square-foot exhibit with featured a “little brook” running between pens with wildlife, including 11 elk calves captured by “teacher-trapper” Dora Huelsdonk from the Hoh River country, as well as cutthroat and bass.

Along with a mammoth reproduction of Mt. Rainier and Snoqualmie Falls, there were also displays of old shotguns and ammo. That year’s show was set to run seven days and was open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. No word whether fire-starting trinkets were available for purchase, but the event was also a membership drive for the Seattle Sportsmen’s Club. –AW

COMING AGAIN TO Central Washington are a trio of shows in January and February, and among the highlights is the second annual Yakima Bait Yard Sale at the Sundome in Yakima, where you’ll find fishy lures and more at “ridiculously low prices,” according to Shuyler Productions

Between that venue and halls in Tri-Cities and Wenatchee, Northwest Big Game displays will be on tap, along with head and horns competitions and plenty of seminars from local experts like Wayne Heinz, Jerrod Gibbons, Jesse Lamb, Rob Phillips and others on bass, walleye, kokanee and others species.

If you’re looking for some ideas for cooking up your catches and kills, Richy Harrod of Harrod’s Cookhouse will be in the kitchen.

The young’ns can try their luck at North, West and South Lunker Lakes, if you will, at all three shows. The Valley Marine Kids Korner will be at each too. And at Yakima there’ll be a fun trout race on Saturday afternoon. I’d put five on Finny McFinface!

Shuyler reports that its first show of the season, the Tri-Cities Sportsmen’s Show at the HAPO Center (formerly TRAC), will also have an expanded arena that will feature boats, campers, trailers and more.

Info: shuylerproductions.com

AND THE GRANDDADDY shindig in our region, the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, will celebrate its 60th anniversary in mid-March, and organizers are making a renowned event even better.

“For the 2020 show we have added a second seminar room and many new outfitters and guides have joined,” reports Wanda Clifford of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council.

A CHANCE TO GET YOUR LATEST BUCK OR BULL SCORED AS WELL AS DISPLAYS OF PAST TROPHIES AND STATE RECORDS ARE BIG DRAWS TO SPORTSMEN’S SHOWS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Big Horn show might be best known for its big bucks and bulls competition – “how it all began,” INWC touts – and as always there will be certified Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young measurers on hand.

There’s also a trout fishing pond, gun raffle, shooting and archery ranges and other kid- and family-friendly things to do.

“The Reptile Man will be joining us for Saturday and Sunday, and Family Day [March 22] will bring free activities for the family,” adds Clifford.

For grown-up sportsmen and -women, ladies night is Friday with half-off drinks.

“We are bringing back our $8 entry off an adult ticket for Thursday, and our She Shed was so successful we are bringing in a Man Cave this year as a raffle item,” adds Clifford.

Info: bighornshow.com/info

For the full list of Northwest sportsmen’s and boat shows, go here.

Thoughts On The Cancellation Of Skagit-Sauk C&R Steelhead Season

Like many North Sound steelheaders, I’m disappointed with this week’s news that not enough wild winter-runs are forecast to return to the Skagit and Sauk this year to support another catch-and-release opener.

THE SAUK RIVER FLOWS BELOW SNOWCAPPED WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN ON A SPRING 2019 DAY SPENT FISHING FOR WILD WINTER STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I’m also frustrated, given how much effort that I saw fellow anglers as well as state and tribal biologists and managers put into convincing federal overseers to approve the North Cascades fishery.

And angry because after just a season and a sixth on these vaunted waters in the entirety of last decade — a mere 101 days of opportunity — me and a whole lot of other devotees are right back on the bank again.

Just like where we were in January 2010.

So much for making the run out to Darrington, floating down from Marblemount, or swinging spoons or flies near Rockport and Concrete this February, March and April.

So much for another million dollars for the region, like what last season generated –$22 and change from me alone after lunching up at the IGA in the home of the Loggers.

So much for rejuvenating one’s self in the beautiful solitude of this country as winter ebbs into spring and snowfields glisten under blue skies and the willows bud and the grouse drum.

HIGHWAY 530, WHICH PARALLELS THE SAUK, SNAKES THROUGH NEWLY GREENED TREES DURING 2018’S BRIEF FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Now, I am not going to sit here and pretend that I am the most aggrieved Sauk-Skagit steelheader of all time.

Yes, I have been fishing here occasionally since, I want to say, the early 2000s, but most others have far longer histories with these waters, and needless to say far, faaaaaaaar more catches.

Hell, the last thing I caught out of these rivers was a scolding last April Fools’ Day for parking in a known tweeker den so I could fish a certain run!

But I have been writing about it and the rest of Puget Sound steelheading’s highs, lows and woes over the past decade or so, and this feels like a bitter blow.

For want of a measly 38 fish …

Thirty-eight.

AN ANGLER PASSES OVER THE SAUK RIVER BRIDGE NEAR THE FOREST SERVICE PUT-IN/TAKEOUT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE PROBLEM, AS EVERYWHERE ANYMORE, is that not enough fish are returning to hold a season, and since these happen to also be listed under the Endangered Species Act they require significant protection on their road to recovery.

This year’s forecast calls for just 3,963 natives, which essentially is too few because of incidental impacts that will occur to them in other fisheries.

Overlapping the run to various degrees are state and tribal seasons targeting blackmouth, spring Chinook, sockeye and bull trout, and they have their own devotees.

The winter-spring native fishery is operated under April 2018’s Skagit River Steelhead Fishery Resource Management Plan and uses a “stepped” impact rate, which is to say that the more fish that are predicted to return, the more that can removed one way or another from the population.

Think those incidental impacts elsewhere, and catch-and-release handling mortalities and tribal harvest that are allowed under the federal permit.

To be clear, the three Skagit Basin tribes that went in with WDFW on the management plan will not be netting wild steelhead this season while we state anglers are shut down.

With runs of 8,001 or more fish, the impact rate is up to 25 percent ; for runs between 6,001 and 8,000, it’s 20 percent; for runs between 4,001 and 6,000 it’s 10 percent; and when it’s 4,000 or fewer, the rate drops to just 4 percent, which as it stands gets eaten up by other fisheries.

So mathematically it’s all quite simple, actually.

A COLD DAY ON THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

BUT SCRUBBING THE SEASON WAS NOT AN EASY decision for WDFW to make, I understand.

There was the weight of the considerable time and energy that the fishing public and agency invested in getting it off the ground again — the grassroots effort known as Occupy Skagit, the institutional buy-in from staff and the Fish and Wildlife Commission, having three separate tribal nations on board, writing the plan, putting it out for comment and then getting the nervous nellies at the National Marine Fisheries Service to approve the damn thing already.

There was the forecast, soooooooo close to the line and coming at a time when any fish prediction is immediately suspect — especially given the pretty crazy new signals the North Pacific is throwing off with the rise of The Blob.

There was the low expected return of 5-year-olds, a class that typically makes up a very strong plurality of any given season’s return.

There were the almost uniformly poor early hatchery steelhead returns from southern mainland British Columbia down through Puget Sound and on the Washington Coast and Lower Columbia tribs — were those a sign of ocean productivity that could be applied to wild runs?

And there’s the fact that WDFW has been using the Skagit-Sauk season as a key example of what it calls “emergent needs” and requires a budget boost of somewhere around a couple hundred thousand bucks to perform the heavy monitoring required under the permit from NMFS because of the listing.

Throw in the watchful eyes of NMFS, and undoubtedly a lawsuit sitting on the Wild Fish Conservancy’s fax machine just waiting for Kurt Beardslee to hit send, and, well … I’m damn glad I wasn’t the one being paid to make the decision.

A CLIENT OF GUIDE CHRIS SENYOHL SHOWS OFF A WILD WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING 2018’S BRIEF REOPENING OF THE SKAGIT AND SAUK RIVER. (INTREPID ANGLERS, VIA AL SENYOHL)

ULTIMATELY, STEWARDSHIP WON OUT and I can respect and support that.

There is a lot riding on Puget Sound’s last best stock. Under NMFS’s new recovery plan, it’s one of four separate winter steelhead populations in the North Cascades that to delist must meet set escapement goals  — 15,000 in the case of the Sauk-Skagit.

Yes, there’s a long way to go, but if this year’s forecast is actually correct, it would still be 1,000 and 1,400 more wild steelhead back to the system than the next two lowest runs: 1979’s 2,982 and 2009’s 2,502.

(WDFW)

A WDFW graph shows that those years were ultimately followed by large increases in run sizes; following the last nadir it jumped to 8,727, 9,084 and 8,644 in back-to-back-to-back years in the mid-2010s.

With good habitat in the headwaters and lots of restoration work ongoing elsewhere, carrying capacity will increase more.

Hell, if we were patient enough to sit on the bank for the eight straight seasons that a fishery wasn’t even on the table — 2010 through 2017 — what’s another year?

The wild card, though, is just how much damage The Blob wrought as it dewatered tributaries and overheated streams onshore and affected the foodweb offshore, potentially impacting a handful of year-classes.

Another year could become two, three years … more?

We’re patient, we steelheaders are, but the state of affairs with our favorite winter pastime in Pugetropolis is beyond aggravating.

The continual grinding loss of opportunities over the decades, the declining runs, the listing, the reduction in hatchery releases, pinnipeds and lawsuits eating away at the scraps that are left …

Joining our feelings of disappointment, frustration and anger is sheer utter hopelessness. We can’t take any more. The problem for the fish is so huge. Why did you ever let us start steelheading in the first place if it was all going to go to sh*t, oh lord?

God, maybe Phil Anderson should have just put us out of our misery back in 2010 when he broached the idea of “eliminating steelhead fishing in Puget Sound” in response to his agency’s budget woes.

As we know (and do we ever know), those woes are still around.

And yet while everything else has seemingly bled out, Skagit-Sauk wild steelhead are still around.

They’re an amazingly strong stock, a plastic absurdity of a fish– those in the Skagit Basin exhibit nearly 36 different life histories, three @#$%@$# dozen!

They will cycle back up and along the way be better able to adapt to the changing conditions in so many of their habitats.

One of which I occasionally visit in winter and spring, float and spoon rods in hand as bull ruffies drum up mates and the smell of cottonwood sap fills my nostrils.

A PAIR OF RODS LEAN AGAINST A MAPLE TREE ALONG THE SAUK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Groups Urge Washington Lawmakers To Tap General Fund For WDFW

A broad range of fishing, hunting and other outdoor groups are calling on Washington lawmakers to fully fund WDFW through the General Fund and say that the license fee increase proposed by Governor Jay Inslee is “unlikely” to pass.

“Greater funding is needed to preserve and restore the Evergreen State’s fish and wildlife heritage, especially given growing challenges ranging from salmon and orca recovery to elk hoof disease, habitat loss and wolf management,” urges their letter, which came out this afternoon.

OUTDOOR SCENES FROM ACROSS WASHINGTON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT, ALL)

It was signed by 45 “outdoor leaders,” and the list includes the state board of Puget Sound Anglers; David Cloe of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council; Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association; Carmen Vanbianchi, board member of the Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers; and Rich Simms, cofounder and board member of the Wild Steelhead Coalition.

“Hunting is what I live for,” said another, Rachel Voss, state chair of the Mule Deer Foundation and a Tieton resident. “Our game populations and experiences face countless challenges these days, and only a strong agency offers the chance of answering those challenges and passing on our hunting heritage.”

Many of the signatories like Voss have been working with WDFW on its chronic budget issues over the past couple years, and their letter follows today’s start of the short, 60-day session of the state legislature.

It also comes after fee bill failures in 2017 and 2019 led WDFW to ask Inslee to fill this year’s budget shortfalls with $26 million from the General Fund.

While the governor’s proposed supplementary spending plan does include $15.6 million in sales tax dollars, it also leans on a 15 percent across-the-board hike in the cost of fishing and hunting licenses to raise $7-plus million a year, along with another $1.5 million or so from a resurrected Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

The reintroduction of both of those fee packages was “unanticipated,” according to WDFW.

“A really good outcome for us coming out of 2020 is for the department’s budget to be stable,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, late last week.

He hopes lawmakers book funding as ongoing instead of one time, which means the agency has to return year after year with hat in hand as costs mount.

Other signatories to the letter to state senators and representatives included Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest; Brad Throssell of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited; Jason Callahan of the WA Forest Protection Association; Kevin van Bueren of the Methow Valley Fly Fishers; Sherry Penney of the Regional Fisheries Coalition; Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association; and numerous birding, climbing, river and other groups.

They say that WDFW’s ability to perform its twin mandates of providing opportunities while conserving critters and habitat has been “put at significant risk by a structural deficit in the Department’s budget, where ongoing costs (like mandated payroll increases, Endangered Species Act requirements, and demand for outdoor opportunity from the state’s growing population) have been funded for only the initial year [2020] by onetime money.”

“The costs continue in later years. This exacerbates an agency budget that is still not restored from cuts dating to the 2008 recession. This deficit grows each biennium as onetime solutions temporarily fill the gap, only to expire and leave a larger hole,” they write.

Decade’s Top Northwest Fish And Wildlife Stories

Maybe it’s that we’re so close to the winter solstice or just the times we live in, but a glance back over the decade in Northwest fishing and hunting seems like a bleak undertaking.

Viewed through the lens of late December 2019, recent years’ sharp salmon and steelhead declines stand out starkly against an angry red and orange blob in the North Pacific.

Yet looking further back, we did in fact enjoy some outlandishly strong Chinook, sockeye, steelhead and pink salmon fishing over the past 10 years, and there were also bright spots in terms of the growth of fishing for alternative species, big game hunting, wildlife reintroductions and land acquisitions.

After going back over my annual years in review since 2010, here’s a look at what I consider to be many of the most important stories for Northwest sportsmen during what was a decade of transition:

STORY OF THE DECADE

To steal from Charles Dickens, 2015 was a tale of two wildly different years, at once the best of times and ushering in the worst. Even as a record fall Chinook return turned their noses south towards the Columbia, the seeds of destruction in the form of The Blob were metastasizing out of control.

REDS, ORANGES AND YELLOWS SIGNAL ABOVE-AVERAGE WATER TEMPERATURES IN THE NORTH PACIFIC IN 2014, LEADING TO A MASSIVE ALTERATION OF THE OCEAN’S PRODUCTIVITY FOR NORTHWEST SALMON AND STEELHEAD STOCKS AND WHICH HAD MAJOR DROUGHT AND HEAT IMPACTS ON LAND. (NOAA)

In the years leading up to mid-decade, there had grown this idea that maybe there was a major factor besides nebulous and oft-blamed “ocean conditions” that were messing with our fish runs. Researchers had noticed that many Puget Sound smolts never made it out of the inland sea, that harbor seals were taking a sizeable bite. Up and down the coast, sea lions, terns, cormorants and all of the other piscivores lurking in the rivers and estuaries also came under sharp suspicion.

Meanwhile, in late 2013, way, waaaay out off our coast, it was like the North Pacific read about the theory, turned to the Bering Sea and said, “Hold my beer.”

The record marine heat wave in the North Pacific in 2014 and 2015 led to a winter without snowpack, a summer of overheated streams, fish disease and gigantic conflagrations, followed by a quartet of atmospheric rivers. It rearranged forage, sent bizarre tropical species our way, and was a hammer blow for fish and wildlife in a region that has seen massive habitat alterations over the better part of a century and a half of settlement, compounding all the factors that have diminished the runs and herds.

PYROSOMES CHOKED NORTHWEST WATERS AFTER BEING BROUGHT HERE BY WARMING OCEAN WATERS, AND WERE A HALLMARK OF A VASTLY REARRANGED FOOD BASE WITH IMPLICATIONS FOR NATIVE SPECIES. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

A quarter of a million sockeye cooked in the Columbia; 3.2 million acres — much in key winter range — burned in back-to-back Washington and Oregon wildfire seasons; there were coastwide shellfish closures and massive, sweeping, never-seen-before summer angling restrictions as ODFW and WDFW did what little they could to protect salmon, steelhead and trout; and widespread drought and bluetongue struck Eastside deer herds.

Effects linger to this day.

THE WOLVERINE FIRE BURNS IN NORTHERN CHELAN COUNTY. (INCIWEB)

We can rail all we want about the commercials, the tribes and all the other bogeymen, but The Blob and its evil children that keep popping up were a savage reminder of the all-around importance of the Pacific to our region’s fish and game. It was a warning that we cannot continue to put more and more of our eggs in the basket of wild hopes because it is guaranteed that more marine heat waves will strike.

I don’t know what to do about something that big, but I do still have hope for Northwest fish stocks. They are cyclical. That’s something we tend to forget in our expectation of Constant Runs.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM A USGS VIDEO SHOWS A SOCKEYE SUFFERING FROM LESIONS SWIMMING AROUND DRANO LAKE IN AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE THE HOT WATERS OF THE COLUMBIA MAINSTEM IN SUMMER 2015, AT THE HEIGHT OF THE BLOB. (USGS)

It may take awhile but the returns will rebuild. In the meanwhile we need to make better strategic partnerships with those who have the same basic interests as we do in terms of habitat and production because nobody else here really truly gives a damn, despite politicians’ lip service. Their impetus is not to fix but to do the minimum necessary while continuing to be able to tear fish and wildlife habitat apart. Yet our teaming up with like-minded folks will help mitigate against the depths of future lows, and we’ll all benefit from the highs.

THE HIGHEST OF HIGHS

Speaking of, those really, really were the good old days — three back-to-back-to-back mid-decade summers and falls that saw record runs of Chinook to the Columbia: 1.27 million in 2013, 1.16 million in 2014, and 1.3 million in 2015.

That last year produced staggeringly huge sport catches of 36,535 fall kings at Buoy 10, 41,866 on the Lower Columbia, 13,260 from Bonneville to Highway 395 and 35,432 in the Hanford Reach.

CHAD HUFFMAN HOISTS A BUOY 10 KING, ONE OF 100,000-PLUS CHINOOK CAUGHT ON THE COLUMBIA SYSTEM IN 2015 BY SPORT ANGLERS. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

For Oregon anglers, 2014 glittered with 437,079 salmon put on ice, the most since the “Baby’s Got Back” era, 1992’s 583,809. That year saw better than a million coho to the Columbia.

And 2013 was no slouch, yielding a recreational harvest of 1,125,794 salmon of all stocks in Washington’s salt- and freshwaters, the single biggest haul all the way back to — break out Grandma and Grandpa’s disco ball and Rocky VHS tapes! — 1976 and its 1.75 million.

Further back, the “handle” of 20,451 steelhead (mostly keepers plus wilds released) on the Columbia below Bonneville in July 2012, was an all-time one-month record, topping 18,516 set the previous August.

LOWER COLUMBIA STEELHEADERS LIKE BOB SPAUR ENJOYED BUMPER FISHING IN 2011 AND 2012. (BOB SPAUR)

Sockeye runs skyrocketed, thanks to improvements on the Canadian side of the Okanogan/Okanagan River, and 2014’s Columbia sport harvest of 50,721 was higher than four entire runs that entered the big river in the previous decade.

Speaking of sockeye, Baker Lake catch inequities in recent years aside, as one angler pointed out to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last Saturday morning in Bellingham, isn’t it wonderful to be able to bitch and moan about sport and tribal harvest imbalances when there wasn’t even a fishery before 2010? From zilch, rec plunkers on the Skagit and trollers on the lake have bonked 113,074 over the past 10 years.

KIMBERLY KILBUM SHOWS OFF TWO OF NEARLY 113,100 BAKER/SKAGIT SOCKEYE KEPT OVER THE DECADE. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

And then there were my little darling humpies, which in 2013 provided better than half a million for our smokers and an all-fleet catch of 2.7 million — the highest back to 1963.

How. Soon. We. Forget.

THE LOWEST LOWS

We forget because of how far things have dropped off since those glory years and how long it’s been since the last major downcycle in salmon populations. Even in 2015 there were clear signs of a pending drop as Columbia coho crashed and Puget Sound’s silvers and pinks came in very undersized.

In the following years, Snake and Upper Columbia steelhead, B-runs, Oregon Coast coho, Snohomish coho, Puget Sound pinks, Lower Columbia coho, South Sound chums, North Oregon Coast Chinook — you name the stock and it has likely seen protective closures or tight restrictions given low forecasts, piddling returns and poor stream conditions and the need to reach broodstock and/or wild spawning escapement goals.

RED AND BLUE LINES TRACES 2019 AND 2018’S ANEMIC RETURNS OF SUMMER STEELHEAD PAST BONNEVILLE DAM ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (FPC)

Yet while the ocean deserves much of the blame for the decline, some of it is also manmade. Where in December 2011 the Cowlitz yielded 4,304 hatchery winter-runs, WDFW’s most recent catch report for the river lists not a single one hooked …

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream – 2 bank rods had no catch.
Above the I-5 Br – 5 bank rods released one coho jack. 1 boat/4 rods released two adult coho and a coho jack.

… a function of a mandated end of early-returning Chambers Creek smolt releases in the Columbia and a switch to late-timed in-basin steelhead to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

On the Oregon Coast, winter steelhead releases were shifted out of the Kilchis, Big Elk and South Fork Coquille to nearby streams under the Coastal Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan. On Washington’s North Coast, wild steelhead retention ended on the last eight streams, where more protective gear restrictions were also instituted, both momentous changes as stocks there declined.

HATCHERY STEELHEAD SMOLT RELEASES ENDED ON BIG ELK CREEK, ON THE CENTRAL OREGON COAST. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Not long after the Cascade River overtook the mainstem Skagit for winter catch supremacy on that system, hatchery steelhead releases were entirely halted there through the WDFW-Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit settlement, which also reduced stocking on the Snoqualmie. And on the Sky, Skamania summers will be phased out in the coming years through another agency-WFC settlement.

Yes, the Sauk, an important wild chromer fishery, was reopened after a long struggle by anglers and festering by the feds, but overall, it feels like steelheading in the Northwest is a shadow of what it was at the start of the decade, which itself was a dim echo of the now-distant past.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS COME DOWN THE SAUK THIS PAST SPRING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

MONSTER HARVEST

The year 2015 was notable for not just The Blob’s effects on fish; it also saw an inordinately large big game harvest. Idaho mule deer, whitetail and elk takes set high marks for the entire decade — despite all those woofs running around the Gem State — and Washington hunters killed just over 40,000 deer across all seasons, the most since 2004 — despite all those woofs running around the Evergreen State. (Washington also saw a best-in-a-decade-and-a-half elk harvest of 9,150 in 2012).

AN OKANOGAN COUNTY MULE DEER HUNTER CARTS HIS FOUR-POINT OUT OF THE WOODS, CONTRIBUTING TO 2015’S DECADE-HIGH HARVEST. (TOM WALGAMOTT)

Mild winters leading up to fall 2015 certainly helped shelter fawns and calves that might have otherwise succumbed to the elements or predators, while the snow drought in the mountains and fires in certain areas that year might have made bucks more available to hunters than they would have normally been. Permit levels, late season dates and antler restriction tweaks likely had an impact too.

But just as with The Blob and Columbia salmon, harvests cratered afterwards in Washington, which saw its combined deer kill for 2017 drop to its lowest level since 1997, likely due to the fewest hunters heading afield, lingering hangover from 2015’s high harvest, bluetongue, drought and harsher winters hitting the herds.

CRITTER WATCH

I could literally write a three-volume book about wolves in the Northwest this decade, but I want to get this posted before Christmas, so we’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say that where there were just a couple dozen and a handful of packs in Washington and Oregon in 2010, today there are hundreds and dozens, respectively, as the long-legged lopers bred and spread across the region from reintroductions in Central Idaho and Yellowstone, and rebuilding packs in British Columbia and Northwest Montana.

It caused all sorts of disruption as depredations mounted, state managers were called on to kill offending packs, poachers took their toll, ranchers and others justifiably shot wolves attacking stock, North-central Washington tribes began hunting them on and off their reservations, and hardcore wolf lovers went utterly off the rails with death threats that forced the cancellation of a series of public meetings in Washington this fall.

What is this I keep hearing about bringing griz back to the North Cascades?

SNAKE RIVER PACK WOLVES CAPTURED BY REMOTE CAMERA IN THE HELLS CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA. (ODFW)

Whether it’s to escape cougar, bear and now wolf predation in their “normal” summer and winter ranges, canopies of maturing forests growing in and reducing forage, a growing tolerance for humans and their habits, or just the easy, year-round grits to be had, more and more elk are turning up on the lowlands in the Northwest.

Herds have taken up residence in the Skagit Valley and Wallowa County farmlands, as well as Oregon’s North Coast towns along Highway 101 and further up the scenic byway in Sequim, causing all sorts of headaches for state wildlife managers who must deal with damage complaints from residents and agricultural producers alike. In the case of the Skagit elk, strong tribal interests in maintaining the herd throw in another wrinkle.

Spurred by its legislature, ODFW’s answer beginning next year are lengthy general antlerless damage seasons targeting cows and calves on private lands the Willamette Valley, eastern Columbia Gorge counties, and lowland areas near La Grande, John Day, Milton Freewater, Roseburg and Medford.

Smaller in stature and not as destructive, mule deer have also moved into Bend, Republic and other towns and their outskirts, probably for the same reasons as elk elsewhere in the region. Cougar and bear, coyote encounters seem to have increased in outlying towns, bedroom communities and the suburbs. Something besides humans moving into critter territory appears to be at play.

A SUBHERD OF NORTH CASCADES ELK GATHER ON A SKAGIT VALLEY FLOOR PASTURE. (CHRIS DANILSON, WDFW)

What began late last decade with reports of limping elk with damaged and deformed hooves in Southwest Washington spread through the 2010s to more than a dozen of counties west of the Cascades, leapt across the crest into Klickitat and Walla Counties and has been confirmed south of the Columbia across much of the northern tier of Oregon and east of the Snake near Whitebird, Idaho.

Some believe it is linked to timber companies’ use of herbicides to tamp down plants that compete with valuable Douglas fir, but working with diagnostic labs WDFW pins the blame on treponeme bacteria. A research center is under construction at Washington State University-Pullman after concerned lawmakers tasked the College of Veterinary Medicine there with looking into causes and what might be done about the problem.

ELK WITH AN ABNORMAL HOOF SEEN IN NORTHWEST OREGON. (TRAIL CAM IMAGE COURTESY OF MIKE JACKSON, VIA ODFW)

Tribes took the bull, er, bucks, does and fawns by the horns, reintroducing pronghorn into South- and North-central Washington. Hundreds of antelope from Nevada herds were set free on the Yakama and Colville Reservations and have since spread onto adjacent state and private lands.

The Nez Perce also brought coho back to the Grande Ronde system and their Snake River fall Chinook reintroduction reached a high point at mid-decade with record returns and redds.

PRONGHORN WANDER ACROSS FRIGID DOUGLAS COUNTY FIELDS IN LATE 2016 FOLLOWING COLVILLE TRIBES TRANSLOCATIONS TO THE RESERVATION ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER FROM THERE. (ERIC BRAATEN, WDFW)

High numbers of fellow marine mammals were found to be taking significant bites out of Puget Sound orcas’ dinner, primarily Chinook, starving them, the plight of which was encapsulated by stirring and sad footage of a mother killer whale pushing her dead baby around the inland sea for two and a half weeks and another observed with “peanut head,” a sign of malnutrition, before it too died.

As Washington state legislators moved to try and increase the abundance of kings and their prey, and reduce vessel noise and contaminants to help the orcas, lawmakers in DC tweaked the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow the states and tribes to kill as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia and its salmon-bearing tributaries. Will anyone have the same stomach to deal with Puget Sound harbor seals?

A LARGE NUMBER OF HARBOR SEALS REST ON DESDEMONA SANDS IN EARLY 2015. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW)

Worries about how big of a bite out of salmonid smolts another toothsome species might take grew with the discovery that pike had reached Lake Roosevelt in 2011. Likely flushed out of the Pend Oreille River and British Columbia waters by high spring runoff, state, tribal and utility managers have made a concerted effort to prevent northerns from getting into the anadromous zone and the mouth of the Okanogan. Per the Colville Tribes, 13,000 have been netted or caught by anglers for cash since 2015, including a 28.2-pounder in the Roosevelt’s Sanpoil Arm this past spring.

Despite the clear and present danger the species poses, some dipsh*t illegally released pike into Lake Washington, where at least one is still on the loose — not to mention unwanted walleye.

SPOKANE TRIBE BIOLOGISTS CAUGHT THIS NEARLY 4-FOOT-LONG PIKE IN THE SPOKANE ARM OF LAKE ROOSEVELT. (SPOKANE TRIBE)

We’ve long known rearing habitat and ocean conditions were critical for fish, but over the past decade the importance of water chemistry crystalized. Mystified by why coho were dying in urban streams before they could spawn, researchers narrowed their list of suspects down from stormwater runoff to particles wearing off of our vehicles’ tires. They also found that running the dirty water through a super simple soil mix of sand, compost, gravel and bark could negate its toxic effect on coho.

Not so easy to fix, however, is all the chemicals — legal and otherwise — we’re putting into our bodies that are then making it through wastewater treatment plants and into fish and other downstream beings. “The fish became … I hate to use the word ‘happy,’ but … became less concerned about being in the open where they could be eaten by other fish. Mainly because the compounds, these anti-depressants, had altered their mood and made them less afraid,” Sam Chan told OPB. The problem was highlighted by a seriously stoned “Chinook” named Sammy hitting up late night talk show host Stephen Colbert for a large loan and a little pick-me-up in the form of polluted water from Puget Sound.

NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN EDITOR ANDY WALGAMOTT AND HIS FAMILY HAD A RAIN GARDEN INSTALLED TO CATCH STREET RUNOFF AND TREAT IT THROUGH A SIMPLE SOIL MIXTURE BEFORE THAT DRAINING INTO PIPES LEADING TO LAKE WASHINGTON’S THORNTON CREEK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

FISH POLITICS

Columbia salmon reforms born out of compromise by then Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in 2012 to hold off a vote banning gillnets and which aimed to prioritize recreational angling and switch commercial gear on the big river were paused and even rolled back in the following years, infuriating sportfishing interests who actively worked to scuttle a WDFW license fee increase this past spring. It’s a thrown bone, but barbless restrictions implemented through the reforms were lifted this year.

IN A VIDEO OUT EARLY THIS YEAR, FORMER GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS HE BEGAN.

Washington’s Wild Fish Conservancy and Oregon’s Native Fish Societies switched their Lawsuitenators to full-auto, strafing the feds and states with a number of low-hanging-fruit court cases in their anti-hatchery jihad, targeting salmon and steelhead production in Western Oregon, Puget Sound and the Columbia system.

After WFC teamed up with Patagonia to make a movie about the evils of artificial production, starving southern resident killer whale grandmas were heard on sonar crying, “But Mr. Beardslee, Mr. Chouinard, it will take 100 years to restore JUST the estuaries for Chinook and our pods are hungry today.”

INTERNET MEME CIRCULATING IN LATE 2019. (THE INTERWEBS)

Indeed, as salmon runs diminished, allocation fights grew more intense at North of Falcon, with 2016’s negotiations going into “uncharted waters” when WDFW and Western Washington tribes couldn’t come to an agreement by mid-April of that year and talks dragged on for nearly a month and a half longer than usual, forcing the closure of some state fisheries in the meanwhile and initially scrubbing summer and fall coho seasons in the salt and many rivers due to low expectations. Even as some anglers try to pry open the doors into NOF deal-making, others have joined their old adversaries to form the Billy Frank Jr. Salmon Coalition.

ANGLERS CAST HOOKLESS LURES INTO THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT MONROE IN SEPTEMBER 2016 TO PROTEST THE LACK OF AN INSEASON RUN UPDATE THAT MIGHT HAVE ALLOWED A FISHERY TO OPEN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

2016 also saw the closure of the popular and very productive Skokomish hatchery Chinook fishery due to a dispute with a local tribe over the southern boundary of their reservation. With negotiations going nowhere, WDFW this year appealed to the Department of Interior to set aside the Solicitor General opinion that triggered the episode after its investigators found it was “factually and legally deficient.”

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNED ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Crabbers enjoyed their best decade ever on Puget Sound following a 2010 Fish and Wildlife Commission policy shift that benefited the rec fleet, with some years yielding twice as many pounds of delicious Dungeness as seasons in the previous 10 years.

Of course these days no good thing lasts forever, as there has been no crab season in South Sound waters for the past two years following a collapse of the population, with excessive harvest, poor water conditions, and the distance larva must ride currents from primary breeding areas being eyed as culprits. Yet before he retired, WDFW crab manager Don Velasquez voiced “some hope for 2020 in Marine Areas 11 and 13.

KIRAN AND RIVER WALGAMOTT REACT TO PULLING A CRAB POT IN WASHINGTON’S SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

DOWN CAME THE DAMS … FOR AWHILE

Dam removal gathered steam in the early years of the decade, with another on the Rogue, a pair on the Elwha, and one on both the White Salmon and Hood among the most notable that were taken down, opening up long-blocked spawning and rearing habitat. Chinook, coho, steelhead and other stocks immediately began moving up the Elwha while the release of sediments in its former reservoirs transformed the river’s delta.

An agreement was also reached to decommission four dams on the Klamath, though federal and state regulators have slowed the process, while four on Washington’s lower Snake remain stubbornly in place.

A CHINOOK SALMON EXCAVATES A NEST INSIDE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK FOLLOWING COMPLETE REMOVAL OF ELWHA RIVER DAM EARLIER THIS DECADE. THE SALMON WAS AMONG SEVERAL SPECIES QUICKLY RECOLONIZING THE RIVER. (USGS)

RISE OF ALTERNATIVE FISHERIES

Perhaps in response to the declines of other stocks or just changing angling mores in the Northwest, fishing for walleye, kokanee, shad and albacore took off in the 2010s. In fact, this year saw the highest tuna catch yet, over 100,000 landed off the Oregon Coast, a 50-plus percent larger haul than the next closest year, 2012. With the relatively high cost of boats capable of targeting the pelagic species, numerous express charters are now available for day trips out of various ports to the tuna grounds and back.

Meanwhile, what once was primarily a spring and summer opportunity, kokanee are now targeted nearly year-round on the region’s stocked reservoirs, while John Grubenhof’s February 2014 breaching of the mystical 20-pound mark only fueled the trophy and eater walleye fishery on the Columbia.

And perhaps responding to better in-river spawning and rearing and ocean feeding conditions for them than salmonids, shad set back to back run records of 6 million and 7 million up the Columbia in 2018 and 2019. Estimates for this year’s fishery have yet to come out, but last year a quarter million of the East Coast imports were caught below Bonneville, a high mark for the sport fishery.

CORVALLIS-BASED OUTDOOR WRITER RANDALL BONNER SHOWS OFF ONE OF MANY ALBACORE CAUGHT ON A TRIP ABOARD THE TACKLE BUSTER OUT OF DEPOE BAY IN 2019, A RECORD YEAR FOR OREGON ANGLERS. (RANDALL BONNER)

LOSING ACCESS

In 2013 the region’s largest private timber company began charging for access to its lands in Western Washington and Oregon, beginning with the popular and productive Vail Tree Farm southwest of Mt. Rainier. It marked a major shift and felt “like a knife in the back” to sportsmen who had long enjoyed free access to Weyerhaeuser lands.

While the company initially said it was necessary to combat dumping and other damage, the idea was soon taken up by other major firms and now includes leases, amounting to a reduction in hunter numbers and effort on the most productive areas — though also slightly increasing success rates there too.

A GATE BARS VEHICULAR ACCESS TO A WEYERHAEUSER TREE FARM IN SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON. (JASON PHELPS)

GAINING — AND DEFENDING — PUBLIC GROUND

On the flip side, WDFW added significant land to its portfolio, most notably acquiring what became the 33.45-square-mile Big Bend, 16.35-square-mile 4-O Ranch and 16.11-square-mile (so far) Simcoe Mountains Wildlife Areas for fish and wildlife habitat, and fishing, hunting and other recreational activities.

It was also a decade that required a vigorous defending of public lands as outside agitators, Northwest ones in the apparent form of Washington Rep. Matt Shea and other conservative interests attempted to wrestle them away, most notably at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

However, environmentalists were blamed for the near-loss of Oregon’s 82,500-acre Elliott State Forest near Coos Bay after their lawsuits prevented it from meeting its constitutional duty to provide funding for schools through log sales. A local timber company and tribe were set to pluck it off the market for $221 million before a groundswell of hunters, anglers and others spurred lawmakers to come up with a plan that kept it public and productive for fish, wildlife and local economies.

A VIEW OVER THE 4-O WILDLIFE AREA IN SOUTHWEST ASOTIN COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AGENCY TURMOIL

WDFW takes a lot of punches, rightfully so in some regards, but in the early years of this decade it was at risk of being literally zeroed out and consolidated with DNR and State Parks following the recession, which also sharply cut General Fund contributions to the department and which 10 years later still haven’t been restored, making it lean more heavily on a depleting base of sportsmen. The “Ecosystem Management and Recreation Agency” didn’t come to pass, but a fee increase in 2011 did, though bids to hike the cost of licenses in 2017 and 2019 failed, leaving WDFW’s budget well out of whack.

A WDFW GRAPH SHOWS PROJECTING REVENUES INTO THE STATE WILDLIFE ACCOUNT — FUNDED BY FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES — DIPPING INTO THE RED NEXT MARCH AND EVEN MORE DEEPLY IN MARCH 2021. (WDFW)

DFW’S FTW!

It is quite possible that the single most popular thing that WDFW did this entire decade might have been allowing residents to salvage roadkilled deer and elk starting in mid-2016. Pushed by a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner-hunter who lives near one of the most dangerous highways in the state for mule deer, US 97 in Okanogan County, Washington residents immediately started collecting downed does and organized Facebook pages to efficiently alert others to the bounty of bucks and bulls on the byways.

It took ODFW a little longer to warm to the idea but with prodding from the legislature, salvaging began this past January. But ODFW also embraced The New, rolling out mobile apps for buying licenses as well as tagging fish and game, even with no cell reception, while WDFW’s Fish Washington app aims to guide anglers to the waters and their regulations.

RANDY HART JR. POSES WITH A 5-POINT BULL HE SALVAGED NEAR ORTING IN WASHINGTON’S PIERCE COUNTY NOT LONG AFTER COLLECTING ROADKILLED ELK AND DEER WAS ALLOWED. (RANDY HART JR)

SPORTMEN’S GROUPS GETTING IT DONE

Northwest fishing and hunting organizations lent their muscle to conservation efforts across the decade, supporting efforts of the DFWs to make the region a better place for fish and wildlife and recreational activities. The groups and their accomplishments are too many to list — my apologies for forgetting clubs — but the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was solidly behind many WDFW land acquisitions while the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Club fought for wapiti and mule deer habitat targeted to become high-elevation cherry orchards and the Okanogan chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation and Oregon Hunters Association, among others, are working on safer passage for deer on deadly Highway 97. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association kicked butt in the halls of power while the Coastal Conservation Association’s King of the Reach fall Chinook broodstock collection work on the free-flowing Columbia at Hanford has set records the past two Octobers. And Puget Sound Anglers has been rightfully lauded for their work with NOAA on rockfish in the inland sea that helped head off potentially sweeping closures. My hat is off to you all, keep up your great and vital work.

IN MEMORIAM: MAY WE HAVE A MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR …

Lake Washington sockeye: “Now just about everything that can go wrong is going wrong.” So lamented an advocate of this one-time  fishery last year — and then things got worse.

Between smolt predation in the lake, poor ocean conditions, warm waters weakening returning adults, prespawn mortality and SPU, it’s no wonder that red salmon runs back to Seattle’s freshwater sea crashed to their lowest ever levels in 2019, with just 17,408 tallied at the Ballard Locks, 3,039 back to the Cedar River, ~ 1,700 to the hatchery and 2.57 million eggs collected, all new low marks. Is all hope finally lost?

LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE ANGLERS DURING THE 2006 FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Cowlitz River smelt: OK, the candle has not completely gone out on these oily fish as smelt dipping did see a brief resurgence at mid-decade, thanks to test fisheries to monitor the ESA-listed run, but there haven’t been any opportunities due to low returns the past two years and the last opener in 2017 saw “just a bunch of people paddling the river with nets,” a Longview local told a newspaper reporter.

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)

Northwest hook-and-bullet reporters: Another instance of where they’re not quite all dead or retired yet, but the decade saw the continued bleeding of the brain trust of outdoor reporters as big newspapers shed their weekly columns or those who’d done the job for ages decided to “hang up their hoochie,” as one longtime pen stated. But all is not lost as papers like The Columbian, The Spokesman-Review and others maintain the post, while radio shows, podcasts and a weekly YouTube/Facebook broadcast are taking up the slack.

Northeast Washington/North Idaho mountain caribou: As wolves, cougars and other predators followed moose and deer into the logged-over heights, they discovered a completely clueless species and found them to be tasty. Indeed, it was a bad decade to be a South Selkirk mountain caribou, whose numbers slipped from 49 animals in 2009 to just three roaming this high, remote corner of the Lower 48 in fall 2018. The trio were captured and put with British Columbia herds — and at last check only one remains alive.

Santa is not *@#$%@$ happy.

ALL THAT REMAINS OF THE SOUTHERNMOST MOUNTAIN CARIBOU HERD WHICH USED TO FREQUENT THE LOWER 48 WAS A SINGLE COW WHICH LAST YEAR WAS MOVED WELL NORTH OF THE INTERNATIONAL BORDER TO BE WITH ANOTHER SMALL BC HERD. (THOMAS HARTMANN, WIKIMEDIA, CREATIVE COMMONS 4.0 INTERNATIONAL)

THE DECADE TO COME?

What will the next 10 years bring for Northwest fish and wildlife, angling and hunting? Damn good question.

I said higher up on the page that salmon and steelhead populations are cyclical and I believe we will see a bounce back. And I think as more and more habitat improvements are made, rearing and spawning capacity will increase in the rivers.

At the same time, I foresee continued tightening of fisheries and plenty of challenges with fish and wildlife management as our own numbers falter. The DFWs will continue looking for a broader support base, but must fold the “newcomers” in in a way that doesn’t leave us out in the cold, while at the same time we need to pull up our big girl and boy pants and welcome them to the sled team and help get everyone pulling in the same direction.

Inslee Proposes Fish-Hunt Fee Increase, Bringing Columbia Endorsement Back

Governor Inslee is proposing to increase Washington fishing and hunting licenses and bring back the Columbia River endorsement to partially fill gaping holes in WDFW’s budget, surprising agency officials.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE GIVES HIS 2019 STATE OF THE STATE SPEECH EARLIER THIS YEAR. (GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

The supplementary budget from the two-term governor running for reelection also includes $15.6 million from the General Fund to mostly meet WDFW’s big ask of $26 million in tax dollars, a decision fish and wildlife managers made after seeing their two previous fee hikes flame out.

“That was news to us that the Governor’s Office was planning to use a fee bill,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW Director of Budget and Governmental Affairs, this rainy morning.

Still, he and Director Kelly Susewind were optimistic that Inslee’s proposed overall $23.8 million budget bump would help get them through the current two-year biennium.

“In general, we’re seeing the budget conversation shift from if this work should continue, to how this work should be funded—which is a positive sign,” Susewind wrote in an all-staff email on Thursday.

The release of the governor’s budget ahead of the short, 60-day legislative session beginning in mid-January is said to “set the tone” for counter proposals from the House and Senate, which must approve any license hikes before they go into effect.

It’s now up to the governor’s Office of Financial Management to submit a fee bill, but WDFW brass believes it will be the same or similar to the 15 percent across-the-board package introduced during this year’s long session.

That one had widespread support until a Fish and Wildlife Commission vote in March on Columbia River salmon reforms  backlashed things.

OFM is also expected to reintroduce a bill to reestablish the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement, which was not extended last session by lawmakers. It helps fund fisheries and monitoring, primarily in the upper river, that is required to hold seasons over the numerous Endangered Species Act-listed stocks in the region.

Pamplin called those two pieces “a significant chunk of the budget proposal” from the Democratic governor who now has majorities in both chambers of the legislature.

Before they fell by the wayside last session, it was estimated that a 15 percent fee increase would bring in $14.3 million every two years, the CRSSE $3 million every biennium.

If passed this session, they would pay for “at-risk” hatchery production and fisheries, hunting and wildlife work, customer service, and the aforementioned Columbia seasons, and “emergent” needs such as WDFW’s Fish Washington app. Commercial crabbers would be tapped to pay more as efforts ramp up to prevent offshore whale entanglements.

A mix of fee and General Fund moneys would help cover other  emergent needs such as monitoring Puget Sound and Skagit-Sauk salmon and wild steelhead fisheries, respectively, and a large cost of living increase OKed last session by lawmakers, who didn’t identify where that funding would come from.

There’s also $924,000 from the General Fund for pinniped management on the Columbia, where the state and others have applied to remove hundreds of California and Steller sea lions, and $573,000 to submit a report by next December on how to “develop alternative gear methods for the commercial gill net fishery and a draft a plan to reduce the number of commercial gill net licenses” on the big river.

Interestingly, while Inslee sent WDFW a letter in late September to come up with more ways to nonlethally manage wolves in Northeast Washington’s troubled Kettle Range — the scene of dozens of cattle depredations and the removal of two full packs over the years — and the agency recently sent him a “suite of activities for additional capacity,” the governor’s budget doesn’t fund those options.

It does, however, “preserve current levels of service from law enforcement officers and wildlife conflict specialists,” with dollars coming from the General Fund.

There’s also money for continuing a Lake Washington predator study. Initial results from this spring suggested yellow perch might be having a larger impact on Chinook and other smolt survival, at least at the Gasworks Park chokepoint, than bass, which have been targeted by lawmakers to increase king salmon abundance to benefit orcas.

And Inslee’s Capital Budget proposal includes $2.9 million to continue renovations on Soos Creek Hatchery on the Duwamish-Green River, $1 million for master planning for orca recovery and boosts appropriations for Forks Creek and shifting production at Eells Springs Hatcheries.

WDFW had gone into the 2019 legislative session facing a $31 million shortfall this year and next because license revenues and funding haven’t been able to keep up with growing costs, heaped-on responsibilities from lawmakers or new issues cropping up. The agency’s General Fund contributions were also cut sharply during the Great Recession and have yet to fully return to previous levels — even as the state’s economy booms. Washington state natural resource agencies suck the hindmost tit in this state, given less than 1 percent of General Fund revenues.

With the death of the fee and CRSSE bills earlier this year, lawmakers gave WDFW $24 million in General Fund money instead, leaving a temporary $7 million gap — that then immediately ballooned back out to $20 million due to unfunded mandates such as the COLA for wardens, biologists and others.

Afterwards, with the failure of 2017’s and 2019’s fee bills staring them down, WDFW honchos took the tack that since much of their work also benefits the state as a whole, they wouldn’t take another run at increasing the price of licenses and instead submitted the $26 million General Fund request, a large ask they acknowledged.

The Governor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on why it decided to take another stab at a fee bill. The last one was approved in 2011.

Inslee’s proposal does set up issues for WDFW budgeting down the road.

“The good news is that our work is funded through the balance of the biennium,” Director Susewind told staff. “Our challenge is the Governor’s Budget appropriates more expenditure authority for the State Wildlife Account in out-biennia than the recreational fee bill would generate, leaving us a gap that we would need to resolve in 2021. We’ll work with the Legislature to try to avoid that outcome and see if we can convert the appropriations to be backed by revenue and thus sustain the work into the future.”

Washington’s 2020 legislative session begins on Jan. 13 and is scheduled to adjourn March 12. Any fee and CRSSE bills must be approved by both chambers and be signed by the governor who proposed them.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated how much was proposed in the budget for pinniped management. The correct figure is $924,000, not $924 million.

More 2020 Columbia Salmon Forecasts, Outlooks Posted; Sockeye A Brighter Spot

Columbia salmon managers are rolling out more 2020 forecasts and sockeye might be a bright spot next year.

Nearly a quarter million sockeye are expected to return to the big river, with just under 202,000 of those headed for the relatively cool Brewster Pool before departing up the Okanogan/Okanagan.

TYLER FLETCHER SHOWS OFF A PAIR OF SOCKEYE CAUGHT AT WELLS DAM DURING 2014’S FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

While forecasters are still dialing in their sockeye prognostication skills, it would be a significant uptick over 2019’s return of 63,222 against a forecast of 94,400. It would also be the eighth largest run since 1980, though still only a third of 2014’s record year.

Lake Wenatchee sockeye anglers could also see a significant bump from this year’s actual return of just 7,900; the prediction calls for 39,400.

As for all-important Columbia spring Chinook, the 2020 forecasts leave as much to be desired as last week’s news of very low predictions for the Cowlitz, Kalama, Wind, Drano, etc.

Managers expect 81,700 upper Columbia and Snake springers, which is about 10,000 more than actually returned in 2019 but also 17,600 less than were forecast.

Along with the annual 30 percent buffer to protect against overforecasting, this spring’s mainstem fishery was constrained by very low returns to the Cowlitz and Lewis, which led to a closure of the Columbia below Warrior Rock to protect springers headed to those two tributaries. Returns to both are again expected to be low.

The Willamette spring Chinook forecast is for 40,800, up a bit from this year’s forecast which didn’t pan out, with only 27,292 back.

The overall forecast of 135,800 springers to the mouth of the Columbia is the fewest back to 1999.

The Columbia summer Chinook forecast is slightly better than last year, with 38,300 expected, roughly 2,000 more than were forecast in 2019 but which also led to no opportunities to target them until later in the season and only in the upper river above Wenatchee.

Anglers are increasingly skeptical of the forecasts, but managers continue to point to very poor ocean conditions as having a strong influence on numbers of returning salmon.  The Blob is back in the North Pacific, maybe not as strong as 2014 and 2015, but still likely impacting prey and marine habitat of kings, sockeye, coho and other stocks.

Managers also put out preliminary word on fall Chinook and coho expectations, and how 2019 shaped up:

2019 Preliminary Returns
• Adult fall Chinook return was predicted to be 349,600 fish.
• Preliminary return is slightly above the forecast.
• Bright jack return appears to be improved over 2018. Tule jack return appears to be slightly improved over 2018.

2020 Outlook
• Bright stocks should be similar to the 2019 preliminary return.
• Tule stocks should be similar to the 2019 preliminary return.
• Ocean conditions between 2015 and 2019 were among the worst observed during the last 21 years and are likely continuing to have a strong influence on the fall Chinook return in 2020.

Columbia River Coho
• 2019 preliminary return is about 30% of the preseason forecast of 611,300.
• Coho jack return to the Columbia River is less than 50% of the recent three-year average.

Tule Chinook power ocean seasons, upriver brights the inriver fisheries. In the Columbia’s Hanford Reach, 30,678 angler trips yielded a catch of 11,820 adult kings, an improvement of more then 3,100 fish over 2018, according to biologist Paul Hoffarth.

The release of the 2020 forecasts and outlooks mark the start of determining how many, if any, fish are available for harvest in the ocean and rivers and setting seasons at North of Falcon later in winter.

18 WDFW Fish, Wildlife, Recreation Acquisition Proposals Out For Comment

Washington land managers have their eyes on nearly 7,000 acres across the state for fish and wildlife habitat, angling, hunting and other recreational uses and are asking for comment on them.

The 18 proposals range from padding wildlife areas and purchasing inholdings in Eastern Washington to conserving and restoring Puget Sound estuaries to strategic partnerships with counties and improved access to salmon streams.

ATTENDEES AT THE DEDICATION OF THE 4-O RANCH UNIT OF THE CHIEF JOSEPH WILDLIFE AREA IN MAY 2017 LOOK TOWARDS A 770-ACRE PARCEL OWNED BY THE 4-0 CATTLE COMPANY THAT WDFW WOULD NOW LIKE TO PURCHASE. OWNERS TYPICALLY APPROACH THE STATE ABOUT BUYING THEIR LAND; WDFW WHICH IS REQUIRED TO ONLY PAY MARKET VALUE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Our goal is to protect land and water for people and wildlife throughout the state while preserving natural and cultural heritage,” said WDFW lands manager Cynthia Wilkerson in a press release.

They’re all far from done deals. Public input over the next three weeks will help determine which will move forward to be competitively ranked against other agencies’, cities’, counties’ and organizations’ proposals. Funding would be sought through state and federal grants for recreation, habitat and endangered species.

WDFW’s 2020 wish list is more than twice as long as last year’s and it’s notable for several proposals.

A 420-acre property in the lower Methow valley would not only protect “crucial sagebrush steppe habitat” for mule deer and other species, but help “(cultivate) a critical partnership with Okanogan County.”

That county is one of the last best places to do big things in terms of wildlife habitat, but local commissioners and residents have also bristled about state land buys and their impacts to tax rolls.

Buying the ground on top of a bench above the tiny town of Methow would allow WDFW to “partner with the county and facilitate their access to additional rock sources for public works projects.”

The project has the support of Okanogan County, the agency notes.

(WDFW)

Other big acquisitions include a quartet in extreme Southeast Washington.

The largest is 1,650 acres on Harlow Ridge, which includes a series of flats and timbered draws between upper South Fork Asotin and George Creeks west of Anatone.

Adjacent to the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area, it would protect elk winter range and calving areas, as well as “rare and imperiled remnant prairie habitats and endemic plants.”

“Department staff have been responding to elk damage in the Cloverland area and the purchase of this property would help to alleviate damage issues by providing alternate forage,” WDFW adds.

It has support from the Asotin County Sportsmen’s Association and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The 643-acre Green Gulch buy would link sections of the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area on the west side of the divide between Hells Canyon and Joseph Creek, “providing connectivity for mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk and other species” and “a great deal of recreational opportunity such as, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and bird watching.”

RMEF, the sportsmen’s association and the Asotin County Lands Committee all support it.

The pro-hunting and -elk organization also gives the thumbs up to adding another 770 acres to the spectacular 4-O Wildlife Area, purchased in chunks earlier this decade from rancher Mike Odom. If approved it would bring the unit along and above the Grande Ronde River to 11,234 acres, or 17.5 square miles.

A bit further west is a 720-acre patch that butts up against the Umatilla National Forest and which WDFW would like to add to the Grouse Flats Wildlife Area.

“The property is heavily used by elk, deer, bears, cougars, and wolves with many non-game species present. Numerous springs, wetlands, and Bear Creek on the property will continue to provide quality riparian habitat that should improve over time in public ownership,” WDFW states.

Recent pics from a site evaluation show it might need some cleaning up. RMEF supports the buy.

(WDFW)

In Yakima County is a 1,105-acre parcel on the west side of Wenas Lake that WDFW is looking at for as a habitat conservation easement and Wenas Wildlife Area headquarters.

It’s supported by birders and a conservancy.

In Grays Harbor, the agency would like to add as much as 416 acres in three parcels to the Davis Creek Wildlife Area, a former dairy farm, along the Chehalis River just downstream of Oakville. It has support from Ducks Unlimited and would protect the floodplain.

WDFW would also like to resecure access to popular Chapman Lake in western Spokane County following the closure of a resort with the only launch in 2011, as well as acqiure surrounding uplands. The lake is noted for kokanee and largemouth fishing, and the parklike lands and ponds above it look gamey.

“The intent is to purchase road access and a small lakefront footprint with exsisting grant funds and pursue funding for a land exchange or purchase of the remaining property in this section,” the agency explains.

Supporters include county commissioners and at least one local fly fishing club.

Another key access proposal is on the lower Samish River, up which plentiful hatchery fall Chinook return but getting to them can be difficult. Last year, anglers built a freelance boardwalk out of pallets to get to good spots — but which were also laid down on private land and had to be removed.

(WDFW)

Buying the 109-acre property “will contribute significantly to improving fishing access that is in high demand,” according to WDFW.

A levee does bisect the land and is marked with signs barring access, so conversations would need to occur with the local diking district, according to Skagit Wildlife Manager Belinda Rotton.

Still, she’s excited about the proposal, as it could help expand waterfowl hunting opportunities and access to harvestable salmon.

“When we heard it was available, ‘Oh my goodness,’ this will be a good property for us,” she said.

Skagit County supports the proposal.

Other proposals target the Union River and Discovery Bay estuaries, land surrounding a holding pool for summer steelhead on the East Fork Lewis River, a Skamania County bat cave, a 50-acre addition to the Ebey Island Wildlife Area, 2.5 acres around the Modrow Bridge launch on the Kalama, an acre at the old Peshastin Mill for a parking lot for a trail, and inholdings or parcels adjacent to the Rendezvous Wildlife Area of the upper Methow Valley and Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area west of Ephrata.

Following public review, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind would sign off on a list of projects for seeking funding. Typical sources include the state Capital Budget disbursed through the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office and from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s various granting mechanisms, including for endangered species.

WDFW owns and/or manages more than a million acres across Washington for fish, wildlife and recreation.

Comments are being taken from today till Jan. 3. Send them via email to lands@dfw.wa.gov or via the Post Office to Real Estate Services, PO Box 43158, Olympia, WA 98504.

Baker Sockeye Issues Back On WDFW Commission Agenda

It turns out that my best idea for solving aggravating Baker sockeye harvest inequities would cost on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars — money WDFW doesn’t exactly have at the moment — and require round-the-clock monitoring so thieves don’t steal valuable parts.

In-river sonar that counts salmon, like what’s used on the Fraser and in Alaska, before they reach North Sound tribal nets in the Skagit and sport hooks there and up at Baker Lake could yield better data on relative run strength than the preseason prediction now used to set fisheries and hope the fish come in.

IT’S BEEN AWHILE SINCE ALEC SCHANTZ CAUGHT HIS SOCKEYE LIMIT AT BAKER LAKE, WHERE HE DID SO IN 2013 BUT NOT THIS PAST SEASON WHEN HE TROLLED AROUND FOR TWO DAYS WITH NARY A NIBBLE. HIS GRANDFATHER FRANK URABECK IS TRYING TO ENSURE THAT MORE OF THE SALMON ARE PLACED INTO THE RESERVOIR. (FRANK URABECK)

Forecasts the past few years have been as much as 33 percent too high, leading to a 19,000-plus-fish disparity between the fleets, and that’s been rubbing recreational anglers the wrong way since 2017.

This coming Saturday morning the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will again hear about the issue, and fishermen are being called on to attend the meeting in Bellingham.

“Whenever the actual run is less than the preseason forecast the tribes wind up with more sockeye,” said angler advocate Frank Urabeck, who was rallying anglers on The Outdoor Line radio show on Seattle’s 710 ESPN last weekend.

Currently, the best way to tell how well the run is tracking versus the prediction made the previous winter is how many are showing up at the Baker River trap, minus tribal and plunkers’ catches. The time it takes the fish to swim to the trap limits the effectiveness of inseason actions. And when fewer show up than expected, it means less are put into Baker Lake, where the primary sport fishery is.

So one of the ideas Uraback is pitching is to use a run forecast buffer, like what is done with spring Chinook on the Columbia River. Thirty percent is chopped off the best guess of biologists to set fisheries before the halfway point of the run is reached as a check against overharvesting a weaker than expected return.

He also suggests “following year payback” — adjusting harvests the next season to even out overages the previous one.

That’s similar to how Puget Sound crabbing is managed and why this past summer saw an early closure in Area 10. There, last year’s Dungeness quota was 40,000 pounds, but sport crabbers harvested more than 46,000 pounds, and so through “buyback provisions” in negotiated state-tribal agreements, that dropped this year’s allowable take to 33,212 pounds.

Urabeck, a retired Army Corps engineer, also suggests managers use their “professional judgment” inseason to adjust the forecast.

“We again are asking that the Commission direct (WDFW) to give Baker sockeye harvest equity a high priority for the 2020 season, engaging the three Skagit Basin tribes on behalf of sport fishing license holders in a transparent manner that allows the public to track the discussions,” he said.

The sockeye fishery, particularly in the lake, has become more important in recent years with low returns to the Brewster Pool on the other side of the North Cascades and the decline of Lake Washington.

Sportfishing occurs off the banks of the lower Skagit between Mount Vernon and Gilligan Creek, and in Baker Lake, while three tribes net from the forks of the Skagit up to Mount Vernon, and from Gilligan Creek up to the Baker River, and the Swinomish in the salt to their preseason share.

Most of the nontribal catch occurs in the lake — 10,080 in 2015, according to one set of WDFW catch stats, versus 800 in the river.

With Urabeck and others pushing, Washington’s fish commission has been tracking the issue since at least October 2017, and last fall there was a workshop at WDFW’s Mill Creek office. On Saturday commissioners will be updated on the 2019 season and how harvest inequity issues are being addressed by state staff.

“The department absolutely thinks this is a worthwhile endeavor to find a solution that the state and tribes can live with,” say Aaron Dufault, a WDFW anadromous resources policy analyst in Olympia.

Even as it was off by a third this year, a new forecasting tool he and the biologists came up with and which uses environmental factors in the North Pacific is tracking better than the old model, which called for a return of nearly 60,000 sockeye in 2019.

Only 22,440 actually hit the mouth of the Skagit.

Yet Dufault acknowledges that the new model’s overprediction means there is “a little bit more room for improvement.”

He cautions that while ideas like Urabeck’s would impact tribal harvests and represent hurdles that would need to be overcome, WDFW is working with the Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattles and Upper Skagits to get an agreed-to harvest sharing dataset in place for 2020, as well as improve communications between the parties.

Because sockeye are seldom pursued much less caught in saltwater like Chinook, coho and pinks, it’s one of few fisheries where recreational anglers fish behind the tribal guys.

Since 2010, the tribes have harvested 134,035 Baker sockeye, sport anglers 113,074, according to Dufault’s commission presentation.

We caught more in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015, years when more fish came back than were forecast; they caught more in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, years the prediction was too high, the presentation shows.

The disparity since 2017 is 37,864 to 18,782, according to the presentation.

An uptick in marine survival could turn things around quickly, Dufault notes.

He says there are payback provisions in an overarching Puget Sound salmon management document, but that they’re not a silver bullet either as they haven’t been used in “a couple decades.”

Still, it’s an option and one that could have an impact but would have to be agreed to too via the North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process.

But what if everybody had a better, more accurate gauge of run strength, aka in-river sonar?

Dufault calls it “a really cool tool,” and says it could solve a lot of the issues around the inequity.

He adds that the units also cost on the order of a couple hundred thousand dollars — tens of thousands of dollars if rented — and they require pretty specialized operators to perform real-time analysis, another cost.

He says that on the larger Fraser in Southwest British Columbia, five or six people are needed for daily number crunching, and someone has to be onsite 24-7 to guard the valuable equipment used to scan the river.

Needless to say, with WDFW’s current budget issues, the agency has other stated priorities in its whopping $26 million supplemental request to lawmakers. And sonar would need to have tribal buy-in.

Meanwhile, Urabeck is pessimistic about next year’s sockeye run and Puget Sound salmon fisheries, adding importance to Baker Lake, which he speculates “may be one of the few places salmon anglers can troll in 2020.”

“Many sport fishing license holders are giving serious thought to leaving this sport. We must have a reason to continue which only fishing opportunity can provide,” he says.

As it stands, WDFW does report that hatchery fry production in the Baker is increasing, with north of 9 million released in 2019, up from 6 million just four years ago and 2.5 million in 2009.

With sockeye clearly going to be around in the Skagit system for the foreseeable future and representing an important fishery for the state and three North Sound tribes, it behooves the parties to come to an equitable solution.

Saturday’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting comes to order at 8 a.m., with sockeye on the docket at 9 a.m. Public comment will be taken after Dufault’s presentation.

The meeting is in the Chuckanut Room at the Holiday Inn, 4260 Mitchell Way, across from the airport.

A Few More Of Northwest Fishing’s ‘Influential Communicators’ Who Need To Be Recognized

A local fishing magazine’s list of the “15 most influential communicators” in the Northwest’s angling world caught my eye recently.

While I absolutely can not argue the merits of any of those who made the roundup* — they are or have been crucial to getting some aspect or another of The Word on Fishing in these here parts out to the public — from my vantage point I feel there are a few more folks who probably should be recognized too.

(Dozens more like Buzz Ramsey, who also writes, were part of the main portion of the article which focused on influential anglers, so aren’t listed here.)

So here is some recognition for:

SCOTT HAUGEN

I can think of very few Northwest hook-and-bullet writers who have had as many consistent monthly bylines for almost the past two decades as full-timer Scott Haugen, who has shared expert advice on all things fishing as well as hunting in the Northwest and beyond dating back to 1997. Plus he’s a book author, TV host and seminar speaker. Wife Tiffany Haugen also deserves strong recognition for her wild game and fish recipes and cookbooks, helping sportsmen come up with new ways to serve up their harvest.

SCOTT HAUGEN WITH AN UMPQUA RIVER WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT ON A MAG LIP. (SCOTT HAUGEN VIA BUZZ RAMSEY)

MARK YUASA

A devotee of mooching for salmon on Puget Sound, the longtime Seattle Times outdoor reporter who I chased scoops against for years now works for the Northwest Marine Trade Association as its Grow Boating director. Even as we still race to post the latest clam openers, etc., Yuasa’s duties nowadays include filing a monthly regional fishing prospectus — Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark — and outside of that he provides fishing updates for The Outdoor Line radio show and blog and is very active on social media.

MARK YUASA WITH A PUGET SOUND COHO. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

DAVE GRAYBILL

The self-proclaimed Fishin’ Magician has been detailing North-central Washington angling opportunities since I first learned my ACBs, and to this day his reports are regularly carried by local media and posted to his website. Oh, and he’s also a member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, where he’s a strong angler advocate. Talk about influence!

WDFW FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONER AND “FISHIN’ MAGICIAN” DAVE GRAYBILL. (WDFW)

TREY CARSKADON

Besides authoring occasional articles, he’s the public relations director at O’Loughlin Trade Shows, which puts on annual sportsmen’s shows in Portland, Puyallup, and Redmond, Oregon, and is a strong positive force in a time of overwhelming negativity in terms of fish runs and angler attitudes.

MIKE CAREY

Flipping through broadcast channels on a recent Sunday afternoon in search of football, who should pop up onto my screen — and with a turkey no less — than Mike Carey. He took what began as Washington Lakes waaaaay back in the Interwebian dark ages of 1997 into the cross-platform behemoth that is Northwest Fishing Reports, featuring fresh reader content, searchable reports, how-to videos, articles and a TV show.

INFLUENCING THEIR REGION

While the weekly outdoors newspaper columnist is a critically endangered species in most of our region’s population hubs — preposterous when you consider that one of every five Washington salmon and steelhead anglers in 2015 lived in the SeaTimes’ hometown and backyard, King County — there are a few more out where we haven’t yet completely paved Mother Nature over and there are a fish or two to be caught still.

Jordan Nailon has Southwest Washington fishin’, clammin’, huntin’, viewin’ and other outdoorin’ activities nailed down in his weekly column for the Centralia Chronicle, and last year won the 2018 Dolly Connelly Award For Excellence In Environmental Journalism with his coverage of the region’s massive poaching ring.

Eric Barker anchors fishing and outdoor coverage in the hugely important Lewis and Clark Valley at the mouth of Hells Canyon for the Lewiston Tribune, just as Mark Freeman‘s has held down the fort in Southern Oregon for 30 years at the Medford Mail-Tribune.

Even as he’s authored the Northwest Sportsman fishing and hunting column in the Yakima Herald-Republic for 25-plus years, it’s a bit of a mismatch to slot Rob Phillips in with the rest of the regional writers as he’s also the owner of an ad agency with Yakima Bait as one of its biggest clients, giving him influence beyond the valley.

ROB PHILLIPS PILOTING HIS BOAT IN TRAFFIC AT WIND RIVER DURING A PAST SPRING CHINOOK FISHERY THERE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

UP-AND-COMERS

You can’t deny the passion, energy and much-needed positivity that Sara Ichtertz has brought to Southern and Coastal Oregon fishing since breaking onto the writing scene in late 2016. Her name recently shared a line with Buzz on the cover of a local sporting magazine.

Eli Francovich certainly has some very big boots to fill at the Spokane Spokesman-Review as the replacement for now-retired outdoor reporter Rich Landers, but his coverage of Inland Northwest issues over the past two years has been impressive.

You certainly can’t call Duane Inglin an up-and-comer following his years behind the mic on two different Seattle-based radio shows, but since March he’s been at the desk of his new two-hour Thursday evening Fish Hunt Northwest, streaming on YouTube, as well as posting news nugs, pics and more to FHN’s Facebook feed.

Online, angler-influencers like Ashley Nichole Lewis, Bryanna Zimmerman and Sebastian “Seabass” Chik are ones to pay attention to too.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Joel Shangle moved on to the national bass fishing world a year and a half ago and is now the editor-in-chief of Major League Fishing, but not before beginning his outdoor career here in our radio and magazine ecosystems as the host of Northwest Wild Country, editor of Fishing & Hunting News’ flagship Washington edition and freelancer for other titles.

Full disclosure, he’s personally taught my sons and I how to crab, but author Wayne Heinz has also authored good books on catching a variety of saltwater species and how to read depthfinders — and his data on Tri-Cities bass is ridiculously deep. Speaking of deep, there is all-things-halibut guru John Beath. Speaking of John, there is John Kruse, host of not one but two shows heard on stations big and small through his Northwestern Outdoors Radio and America’s Outdoor Radio broadcasts. And while also retired Jeff Barnard, the longtime Associated Press reporter in Medford, did well to keep that region’s fish, wildlife and environmental issues in the news before going on to detail his late-blooming interest in hunting for ODFW.

Lord knows that I am absolutely forgetting some folks, and my sincere apologies for that.

Influential all, and I am thankful they provide their time and energy to the betterment of Northwest fish, fishing and issues therein.

* Editor’s note: The 15 influential communicators were listed in the December 2019-January 2020 issue of Salmon & Steelhead Journal. They are Terry Sheely and Jim Goerg of The Reel News; Bill Herzog, the angler-author; John Keizer of Salt Patrol and seminar speaking; Tom Nelson and Rob Endsley of The Outdoor Line; Ifish originator Jenny Logsden; freelancer Jason Brooks; Bill Monroe of The Oregonian, Terry Otto of The Columbian and Rich Landers, now retired, of the Spokane Spokesman-Review; Owen Hayes of Outdoor GPS; Patrick McGann (who hired yours truly at F&H News) of SSJ; California-based writer JD Richey; and Addicted Fishing’s Marlin LeFever and Cameron Black.

The full list of influential and innovative anglers includes Jason Atkinson, Southern Oregon fly guy and former Fish and Wildlife Commission member; Gary Loomis, rodmaker and CCA member; guide and CCA member Jack Smith; pro-fish and fishing former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber; Walt McGovern, longtime president of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders; Buzz Ramsey of record steelhead catches, Luhr Jensen and now Yakima Bait; Liz Hamilton, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association director and member and advisor to many committees and agencies; Frank Amato, publisher fishing magazines and books; Bruce Polley of CCA; Rod Brobeck of the Oregon Wildife Heritage Foundation; Frank Haw of the old Washington Department of Fisheries and salmon management innovator; Dick Pool of Pro-Troll; Tony Floor, a retired WDFW and NMTA spokesman; Brian Kraft, Alaska fishing loddge owner fighting the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay; Dave Schamp of the Steelheaders, CCA and now Hatchery and Wild Coexist; Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers and member of the Billy Frank Jr. Salmon Coalition; former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, key to beginning mass marking of salmon; rod designer and fly fisherman Steve Rajeff; former Washington Department of Fisheries director Curt Smitch; CCA’s Andy Marks; retired WDFW salmon policy analyst and current fishing lobbyist Pat Patillo; Mitch Sanchotena, founder of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited; and lobbyist Carl Burke.