Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

WDFW Budget Panel Urges Commission To Revisit Fee Increase Proposal

Members of a WDFW advisory panel are asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission to revisit its decision last weekend to ask legislators for only a 5% license fee increase.

“That amount is far less then (sic)  just the effect of inflation since the last (2011) fee increase and we fear will be frowned upon by legislators and force the department into cuts that will harm our interests and our state’s natural resources,” reads the August 15th letter from 15 of the 20 members of the Budget and Policy Advisory Group.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

It was signed by Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers, David Cloe of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Rachel Voss of the Mule Deer Foundation, Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association, and Mark Pidgeon of the Hunters Heritage Council, among others.

WDFW staffers had brought a $60 million package to the commission that would have increased fishing and hunting fees by 12% to 15% or introduced a $10 annual surcharge on licenses to deal with an estimated $32.9 million budget shortfall in 2019-21 as well as enhance sporting opportunities and conservation needs.

According to the agency, two-thirds of the overall package would have been paid for through the state’s General Fund and one-third by license fees, a departure from recent history but a recognition of the benefits to local economies and the wider burden of WDFW’s mission.

The letter also states that through the group’s numerous meetings members learned “substantial and unanticipated” things about WDFW, including that it’s run efficiently compared to other fish and wildlife departments across the country (https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/budget/proviso/matrix_wdfw_final_report_1-11-18.pdf) that it is working for the public good but its budget is not holding up, and the increasing strain of its myriad missions warrants support.

“Our fish and wildlife resources and recreational opportunities are struggling because of the department’s immense challenges, not its shortcomings. The world is changing, and WDFW must be given the resources to evolve to meet these diverse current challenges,” it states.

Saying that they are “gravely concerned” about potential cuts, the letter signers vow to put aside their differences and work towards a common goal of helping WDFW.

“To succeed, the Department requires over $60 million above its present funding (not including expected orca needs), half to fix the shortfall created by the legislature in the last biennium and half to invest in the future by helping correct inequities and the damage caused by a decade of underfunding. This is a huge goal that is only likely to be achieved if its weight is shared. Our belief is that an appropriate breakdown is for at least 25% ($15M) to be covered by increased fees, challenging the Legislature to pass that fee bill and match it threefold from the General Fund. Perhaps a combination of a modest surcharge and modest fee increase (plus extending the Columbia salmon and steelhead endorsement authorization) would avoid hitting too heavily on either end of the customer spectrum. Any less than 25% risks a response from the Legislature that could leave the department underfunded, impose yet higher fees on sportsmen and women, or both. Strong leadership from the Commission is our best chance for success,” the letter urges the citizen oversight committee.

Others who signed the letter include Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, Jason Callahan of the timber industry’s Washington Forest Protection Association, and Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association.

It was addressed to the eight current commissioners. Jay Kehne of Omak resigned earlier this month after seven years of service to spend more time afield with his family and friends, he said.

Among advisory group members who did not sign on were representatives of Coastal Conservation Association of Washington and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The deadline for getting budget proposals to the governor’s office is next month.

Wild, Scenic And Fishy

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Congressional act that now protects and enhances 3,000 miles of salmon-, steelhead- and trout-bearing rivers in the Northwest.

By Andy Walgamott

While fishing along the banks of Northwest rivers over the years, I’ve always kept an eye out for heart-shaped rocks, but I never found a good one till this past April.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I was on the Sauk, hoping to hook wild winter steelhead after federal overseers finally approved a state season, the first time the Washington Cascades river had been open in spring since 2009. It was a glorious day, and I couldn’t have been happier to be back on the water at that time of year.

John Day River, Central Oregon; 248.6 miles of designated wild, scenic and recreational river. Chinook, steelhead, redband rainbow trout, bull trout, lamprey, smallmouth bass. (BOB WICK, BLM)

As I tried my luck below a riffle, two drift boaters worked a slot above it, and when they pulled their plugs in and headed downstream, I bushwhacked my way upstream to the stretch to hit it with my jigs and spoons.

Lower Klickitat River, Washington; 10.8 miles designated as recreational river. Spring, summer, fall Chinook, coho, summer and winter steelhead, rainbow trout, lamprey. (JASON BROOKS)

That’s when I stumbled onto the big, smooth granite heart. Pegging its base with cobbles, I propped it up on a boulder for a photograph next to one of my favorite rivers.

Grande Ronde River, Oregon; 43.8 miles designated as wild and recreational river. Spring Chinook, coho, summer steelhead, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass. (CASEY CRUM)

THE SAUK’S BRAWNY wild winters eluded me that day, but it was still great to be on several of the 12,754 miles of streams that comprise our National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, created by Congress way back in 1968 and signed into law by President Johnson.

North Umpqua River, Oregon; 33.8 miles designated as recreational river. Spring Chinook, summer steelhead, rainbow trout. (BOB WICK, BLM)

Though coming out of an era of increased environmental concerns – the Clean Air and Wilderness Acts preceded it and it was followed by the Clean Water, Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts – it takes a notably less heavy-handed approach in its implementation.

Bruneau River, Idaho; 39.3 miles designated as wild and recreational river. Redband rainbow trout. (BOB WICK, BLM)

The act aims to “(protect) and (enhance) the values that caused [rivers like the Sauk] to be designated” through the “voluntary stewardship by landowners and river users and through regulation and programs of federal, state, local, or tribal governments,” according to Rivers.gov. “It does not prohibit development or give the federal government control over private property.”

Bruneau River, Idaho; 39.3 miles designated as wild and recreational river. Redband rainbow trout. (RANDY KING)

There are wild, scenic and recreational rivers in 40 states, and some of the fishiest in the Northwest are included.

Lochsa River, Idaho; 90-plus miles designated as recreational river. Spring Chinook, summer steelhead, bull, cutthroat and rainbow trout, mountain whitefish. (PAUL ISHII)

In Oregon, there’s all or portions of the Chetco, Crooked and its North Fork, Deschutes, Elk, Grande Ronde, Illinois, Imnaha, John Day, Klamath, McKenzie, Metolius, North Umpqua, Owyhee, Rogue, Smith, Snake and Wenaha, among many, many more.

Crooked River, Oregon; 17.8 miles designated as recreational river. Redband rainbow trout, mountain whitefish. (BOB WICK, BLM)

In fact, Oregon just might have the highest percentage of rivers of any state: 2 percent, 1,916.7 miles, of the Beaver State’s 110,994 river miles are wild and scenic.

Rogue River, Oregon; 84.5 miles designated as wild, scenic and recreational river. Spring and fall Chinook, coho, summer and winter steelhead, coastal cutthroat and rainbow trout, lamprey. (THOMAS O’KEEFE, RIVERS.GOV)

In Idaho, 891 miles, including much of the Salmon and its Middle Fork, the Middle Fork Clearwater, upper St. Joe and Owyhee, and Bruneau are listed.

Owyhee River, Oregon; 120 miles designated as wild in Oregon (continues in Idaho). Redband rainbow trout. THOMAS O’KEEFE, RIVERS.GOV)

In sharp contrast, only 197 stream miles in Washington have been designated – unusual when you consider that it’s the wettest state in the West.

Skagit River, Washington; 158.5 miles of designated scenic and recreational rivers. Spring, summer and fall Chinook, coho, pink salmon, winter steelhead, bull, rainbow and sea-run cutthroat trout. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Where listed rivers occur throughout most of Oregon, the Evergreen State’s are limited to the Cascades and include the upper and lower ends of the White Salmon, the lower 11 miles of the Klickitat, and the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and its tributary, the Pratt.

BUT AT THE northern end of the mountain range is one of Washington’s best watersheds.

I don’t know how many times state district fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull has answered my question about why the Skagit system is so productive for steelhead, Chinook, bull trout and other stocks by pointing to its headwaters.

North Cascades National Park; the Ross Lake National Recreation Area; the Glacier Peak, Henry M. Jackson and Noisy-Diobsud Wildernesses; the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Out of all that protected federal land flows the wild and scenic Sauk, Suiattle, Skagit and Cascade Rivers and Illabot Creek.

It took many more questions of Barkdull to begin to understand that what looks like a mess – all the logjams, braids and big sunbaked cobble bars on the Sauk – is actually a good thing for fish.

They show a river largely unshackled by riprap and dikes, and allowed to meander as it has since for eons, a sign of a healthy river.

That not many people, farms and infrastructure line its banks make that more possible here, but I’d love it if in another 50 years, when the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act turns 100, more than just one-quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s streams are part of the system.

Mollala River, Oregon; 23 miles proposed as wild and scenic river. Spring Chinook, coho, winter steelhead, cutthroat and rainbow trout, lamprey. (BOB WICK, BLM)

How To Catch Rogue Mouth Chinook

By Buzz Ramsey

If the predictions are correct, and depending on how many Chinook were harvested in the ocean before now, there could be as many as 400,000 Rogue-bound salmon returning to this famous Southern Oregon river. That’s a lot of fish for a river this size, one that originates in the mountains south of Crater Lake, flows past the outskirts of Medford and through Grants Pass before continuing its journey through the Rogue Canyon to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach.

With a big forecasted Chinook return this year, the Rogue Bay at Gold Beach should be on your radar. Anglers troll from just above the Highway 101 bridge down to the jetties for salmon holding in the cool, ocean-influenced waters. (WILDRIVERSFISHING.COM)

And while Rogue River kings come in all sizes, a few lucky anglers take home 40- to 50-pounders every year. I’m reminded of our son Blake, now in his mid-20s, catching his very first salmon in late summer many years ago here. After a tussle that included his reel falling off the rod and realizing we had no landing net (somehow it blew out of the boat) we ran our craft into the shore where Blake finally beached the fat salmon. Excited, we thought it was 40 pounds; as it turned out, it was 35. Not bad for a boy just 6 years old!

AS YOU MIGHT imagine, the waters of the Rogue get warm in the summer, so warm (it can reach 70-plus degrees) that it mostly stalls the upstream migration of fall Chinook. This causes the salmon to linger in the Rogue Bay, where they wait for temps to cool before beginning to move towards the river’s headwaters.

The fish typically move upstream on the flood tide, but once they encounter the warm river water at the head end of the bay – just upstream from the Highway 101 bridge – they put on the brakes and retreat back into the lower bay, and likely into the ocean, as the tide ebbs.

Blake Ramsey, now in his mid-20s, earned a Rogue River Chinook Salmon Club pin after catching this 35-pounder as a 6-year-old fishing off his dad Buzz’s boat near the bay’s mouth. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Each daily tide, especially big ones, add more and more Chinook to the massive salmon school accumulating in the Rogue Bay. It’s this concentration of fish that results in an annual sport harvest of more than 5,000 fat salmon and draws anglers from around the region to take part in the bounty.

For trollers, the hottest action starts at the jaws when the tide is out, and progresses up the bay as the water floods eastward. The peak bite usually occurs two hours before full flood tide, right in front of Jot’s Resort, which is located on the north side of the river just downstream from the bridge.

Many guides and anglers troll upstream when tides are flooding and downstream as the tide ebbs. Others troll both directions, up and down the bay, when the tide is flooding and back-troll when a big tide causes the current to run. According to guide Sam Waller (541-247-6676), it’s pretty much anything goes when it comes to trolling direction.

The typical trolling outfit consists of a free-sliding weight set-up, flasher, 18-inch weight-dropper-line, and 5- to 6-foot leader with an anchovy, herring, spinner or spinner-and-anchovy combination on the end. The most popular spinner sizes consist of a CV 7 or equivalent size 4 or 5 Hildebrandt and/or 5½ Mulkey or Toman.

Anchovies are king in this fishery, and the baitfish is best rigged with a size 4 spinner blade and trolled so they spin tightly. (WILDRIVERSFISHING.COM)

As for spinner blades used in combination with an anchovy, a size 4 Hildebrandt in genuine 24K gold plate finish is the most popular and many believe the most productive. In most cases 2 to 3 ounces of weight is what works. If the tide is running hard, you may need 4 or 5 ounces.

For best results keep your speed medium to fast and, if possible, troll in a zigzag pattern with your gear just off the bottom, which is where the coolest water and most biting salmon are found. If the bay is crowded, zigzag trolling may not be possible, even though there are times it’s the most effective.

UNLIKE MANY SALMON fisheries in the Northwest, where herring is the most popular and productive bait, most Rogue anglers fish anchovies. The fact is, there are some days the fish prefer herring over anchovies but still the overall ratio is about 90 percent anchovies.

If you fish an anchovy, you may increase your success by rigging it in combination with a spinner blade. Although there are several presnelled rigs available, you can rig your own.

The components you will need for this include a selection of size 4 spinner blades, beads, plastic clevis, old-style paper clips, and selection of single (sizes 1 and 2) and treble hooks (sizes 1 and 2). The single hook is normally snelled as a slip-tie, so you can place a bend in your anchovy causing it to spin; the trailing treble is half hitched to a loop at the end of your leader. The idea here is to use a threader to pull the loop end of your leader through the bait, reattach the treble and place one prong of the treble into the spine of the bait near its tail.

According to professional fishing guide and longtime local angler Andy Martin (206-388-8988), it’s important to angle the head and tail of your anchovy downward when trolling, as doing so will yield the tight spin these kings like best.

The small single hook, rigged as a slider, is then inserted into the head of the anchovy from the bottom up. Some anglers will hold the mouth and gills of their anchovy closed with a thin rubber band, while others use an old-style paper clip reshaped into a “U” to keep the mouth of the bait closed. It’s then that you close the distance between the hooks such that the bait will have a slight bend so it will exhibit a tight spin when trolled. For best results your bait should spin once every second or second and a half.

Many anglers have switched from employing a wire spreader to a free-sliding weight dropper set-up so that if your sinker becomes tangled in the net, the fish can take off without breaking the line.

The Rogue’s known for putting out big kings, though most average 15 to 25 pounds. The fall fishery kicks off in July and has peaked in August in recent years; in 2016, the last year harvest data was available, the river below Elephant Rock just upstream of the bridge yielded 5,078 Chinook. (WILDRIVERSFISHING.COM)

IF YOU HAVE a boat capable of trolling, even a cartopper, this is a fishery you can easily handle, as the water is calm compared to larger rivers and saltwater. The public ramp’s on the ba’s south side, at the Port of Gold Beach; $3 covers launching and parking.

While you may catch a fat Chinook weighing in at 50 pounds or more, most average 15 to 25 pounds. If you do land a fish over 30, take it to Jot’s Resort where they will award you a Rogue River Chinook Salmon Club pin. Our son Blake got one after weighing in his 35-pounder taken near where the Rogue enters the ocean.

For fishing tackle, bait, guides, and local info, contact the Rogue Outdoor Store (541-247-7142) or Jot’s (541-247-6676). NS

Editor’s note: The author is a brand manager and part of the management team at Yakima Bait. Like Buzz on Facebook.

WDFW Fee Hike Proposal On Pause: Report

WDFW’s proposals to fill a projected $32.9 million budget shortfall by increasing license fees or instituting a $10 annual surcharge have been put on pause, according to a report today.

 (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The plans were brought before the Fish and Wildlife Commission at yesterday’s meeting with the possibility of a decision on Saturday.

But according to thelens.com, members were hesitant to move forward with a recommendation to state lawmakers to pass a bill during the legislative session next year over fears of a backlash from Washington hunters and anglers.

“This could be perceived as the wrong time. Is there ever a good time to ask for a fee increase? Probably not. What I would be afraid of is we get people worked up into a fever opposing the fee increase. There’s no easy answer to this, obviously, but I think timing is critical,” Commissioner Bob Kehoe said, according to the report.

For more, see http://thelens.news/2018/08/10/fish-and-wildlife-pause-on-fee-hikes/.

 

 

WA Commission To Look At Fee Proposals, Long-term Funding Plan

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission members will hear in the coming days how WDFW staffers want to balance a looming budget shortfall now estimated at $32.9 million as well as put the agency on a more stable financial footing in the future.

While anglers and hunters will focus on the proposed fee increases — 12 to 15 percent across-the-board hikes or a $10 surcharge — what’s notable is that sportsman dollars would become supplementary to a wider foundation of funding, a “transformative concept.”

“The goal is for 50% or more of the Department’s funding to come from a sustainable, reliable, broad?based revenue source. Currently approximately 18% of the Department’s spending is from the general fund,” reads a recommendation from WDFW’s draft long-term funding presentation to the citizen panel.

It came out of the multistakeholder Budget and Policy Advisory group and is described as a “first step” and “set of ideas” to build upon.

But as 2019-21 legislative proposals are drawn up, the agency’s $65.4 million request does lean more heavily on the General Fund than in the past — approximately two-thirds GF-S, one third user fees.

Figures posted for the commission meeting show that the one-time annual surcharge bowhunters, clam diggers and salmon moochers would pay if lawmakers approve next year would raise $20.3 million, the 15 percent hike $18.9 million and 12 percent $16.1 million.

With the failed Wild Futures Initiative in 2016-17, sportsmen bore the entire lift of the package, and coming out of the Great Recession in 2010 one top manager told me WDFW was “making a concerted effort to make itself less dependent on the General Fund.”

The agency’s funding issues are “structural” in that state appropriations, license revenues and ESA requirements are not keeping up with the costs. Last year, after giving it a $10 milllion bump from the General Fund instead of approving Wild Futures, the legislature ordered WDFW to undergo reviews and perform a zero-based budget analysis. It has also identified several million in cuts and efficiencies.

The $65.4 million would go towards maintaining and enhancing fishing and hunting, with $45.5 million from the General Fund, $16.4 million from the license-supported Wildlife Account and $3.6 from the Columbia River endorsement, which needs to be renewed by lawmakers.

After the proposed fee increases were revealed last month, a survey was posted online, and as of the end of July, 556 people had responded.

According to WDFW, 75 percent said that the agency should be supported by the General Fund and that “general taxes should contribute more.”

Other results showed:

• 48% were “very unlikely” to support a fee increase
• 43% prefer across-the-board fee increase while 47% prefer the surcharge
• 62% supportive if no fees, pursue GF-S request

The survey is still up, and you can also comment on them in person this Thursday in Olympia when the commission convenes. Public testimony will be taken during presentations on the proposed 2019-21 operating budget.

The meeting continues Friday with the potential for commission action later in the afternoon.

Orca Task Force Proposed Mission Statement Blasted For Overlooking Seal Predation

“This is going to be the Kill Sport Fishing Task Force.”

That’s Tom Nelson’s no-holds-barred assessment of an initial work product out of Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

TOM NELSON SAYS THAT THE GOVERNOR’S ORCA TASK FORCE IS OVERLOOKING A HUGE PROBLEM, SEAL AND SEA LIONS THAT ARE CONSUMING SIX TIMES AS MANY PUGET SOUND CHINOOK AS RECREATIONAL, COMMERCIAL AND TRIBAL FISHING FLEETS ARE. (THEOUTDOORLINE.COM)

Rather than address the fact harbor seals and other marine mammals are eating up starving local orcas’ breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks, a proposed mission statement from the group says it will instead seek to enact “temporary emergency measures to offset any shortfall in prey availability.”

Nelson, co-host of the Saturday morning fishing and hunting radio show The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN, interprets that to mean cutting salmon angling seasons, plain and simple.

“We’ve suffered cut after cut after cut after cut,” he bristles.

The statement also calls for reducing vessel traffic in whale feeding areas by 50 percent by the year 2022.

That probably doesn’t mean ferries, tankers and other shipping traffic, at least in Nelson’s eyes.

“It’s all going to be fishing and whale watching and recreational boats,” he says.

It all boggles Nelson, and this afternoon he ripped the apparent low-hanging-fruit approach on KIRO Radio 97.3’s Dori Monson Show.

He told his fellow radio host that officials were “ducking, dodging and diving from doing the right thing.”

A HARBOR SEAL SWIMS BESIDE A BOAT OFF KINGSTON IN MID-JULY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The task force’s “full draft” report for how to recover orcas isn’t due till Oct. 1, but that the mission statement doesn’t mention pinnipeds is highly perplexing.

Nelson points to a 2017 paper that looked at king salmon consumption in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands and Hood Canal over the previous 45 years.

“Converting juvenile Chinook salmon into adult equivalents, we found that by 2015, pinnipeds consumed double that of resident killer whales and six times greater than the combined commercial and recreational catches,” the authors’ abstract reads.

Another paper from last year with a wider lens says, “Harbor seals in the Salish Sea (i.e. Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, and Strait of San Juan de Fuca) accounted for 86.4% of the total coast wide (Chinook) smolt consumption in 2015, due to large increases in the harbor seal abundance in this region between 1975 and 2015 (8,600 to 77,800), as well as a large diet fraction of Chinook salmon smolts relative to other regions.”

FIGURES IN “COMPETING TRADEOFFS BETWEEN INCREASING MARINE MAMMAL PREDATION AND FISHERIES HARVEST OF CHINOOK SALMON,” PUBLISHED IN SCIENTIFIC REPORTS LAST FALL, ILLUSTRATES THE INCREASING CONSUMPTION OF INDIVIDUAL CHINOOK AND CHINOOK BIOMASS BY HARBOR SEALS (BLUE) AND OTHER MARINE MAMMALS. (CHASCO ET AL)

Coastwide, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

As for the paper that the governor’s group appears to be leaning on, it doesn’t mention harbor seals or sea lions once.

It does say that “a 50% noise reduction plus a 15% increase in Chinook would allow the (SRKW) population to reach the 2.3% growth target.”

That 15 percent figure can also be found in the task force’s proposed mission statement: “By 2028: In the near term, our goal is to maintain reductions in vessel disturbance and underwater noise and increase Chinook prey abundance by 15% by 2028.”

Hatchery production increases are being considered and recently state and federal biologists identified the most important Chinook rivers for SRKWs.

Noise, pollutants and prey availability are believed to be the three key factors in why J, K and L pods are struggling, but the task force paper also states, “The whales’ depleted status is due in large part to the legacy of an unsustainable live-capture fishery for display in aquariums.”

It was popular to go to SeaWorld and see orcas eat fish out of trainers’ hands.

Ironically, Nelson was threatened with a $500 fine this week for flipping a finger-sized chunk of a salmon carcass to a harbor seal hanging out in the Everett marina, where he moors his boat.

He was on camera with KING 5 for a story illustrating the abundance of harbor seals in Puget Sound.

As soon as he tossed out that piece of fish to one of the “water puppies” that more and more appear to beg for scraps from fishermen and others, he and the camera crew’s phones started ringing and he eventually found himself on the line with a federal enforcement officer.

It all may go down as a warning, but it’s illegal to feed the Marine Mammal Protection Act species.

The day before a harbor seal ate a wild Chinook right off the end of Nelson’s line as he tried to release it.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS SALMON LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

So how would Nelson deal with the overpopulation of harbor seals that are eating Puget Sound Chinook, many of which would otherwise grow into adults and upon their return to the Salish Sea provide nourishment for the orcas?

“If we could cut their numbers in half, it could do something. We could stop this by trapping and releasing them in the ocean,” he proposes.

There, they’d be subject to being preyed on transient killer whales, the pinniped-eating kind.

“We’re going to have to act,” he says. “It ain’t gonna be nice, it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

This week, lawmakers in Washington DC voted to expand state and tribal managers’ authority to remove sea lions from more of the Lower Columbia and its tribs to reduce their predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

Hold that thought, Senators.

Here’s How Much WDFW’s Proposed Fee Increase Would Cost You

I’d pay between $13.75 and $17.57 more to fish, crab and hunt in Washington under a 12 to 15 percent fee-increase proposal, one of two that WDFW put out for comment this week.

The across-the-board hike would raise the price of my combination fishing license, deer tag, and Puget Sound Dungeness, two-pole and Columbia River endorsements from $132.55 a year to $146.30 to $150.12.

That’s according to a draft estimate matrix produced by WDFW staffers at my request.

It shows potential out-the-door prices that reflect increases to both the agency’s base license and 10 percent transaction fees, but not the $.50 to $2 outside vendor charge. That means prices vary from true 12 to 15 percent rises.

But the tally would still rise commensurately for hunters and anglers who buy even more licenses than I do, say deer + elk + bear + cougar + small game (from $117.50 to $131.36 to $134.83), Westside pheasant (from $84.50 to $94.40 to $96.88) and shellfish/seaweed (from $17.40 to $19.25 to $19.71).

CHINOOK ANGLERS TROLL POSSESSION BAR EARLIER THIS MONTH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE EXERCISE IS BEING DRIVEN BY A LOOMING $30 MILLION 2019-21 budget shortfall that has WDFW considering patching it in part with sportsman dollars but also the state General Fund, if state lawmakers sign off on it next winter and spring.

WDFW’s second proposal would be less expensive, at least for some, a single $10 fee that each license buyer would pay once annually ($3 for those who only buy a temporary license).

That option would save me and the agency’s highest-spending customers a little money over the other.

But it would be a relatively higher hit for fishermen who just work the lakes for trout in spring or bass in summer, clammers who only head to ocean beaches to dig razors in winter, and hunters who only chase quail in fall.

Ten bucks works out to a 7.6 percent increase for me and 5 percent for the sportsman who buys $200 in licenses, endorsements and tags, but 34 percent for the guy or gal who only plunks at Green Lake.

I can tell you right now which option I’d prefer, but is that fair to those who use less of the resource than I do, and would it lead to some of them deciding to just not buy a license? Trout anglers are one of WDFW’s most numerous constituencies.

Either way, nothing is set in stone yet and WDFW’s running an opinion survey in the lead-up to next month’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, where a final decision on what sort of package to take to legislators will be made. If a percentage increase is chosen over the $10 option, the price matrix would be updated with new costs.

A HERD OF MULE DEER IN THE PRESCOTT GMU. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

THIS IS THE SECOND TIME IN TWO YEARS that WDFW has sought a license increase. The 2016 Wild Futures Initiative proposed 10 percent hunting and 17 to 20 percent fishing increases, along with new $17 to $11.50 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon that were later reduced to $10 each.

It went down in flames in Olympia during last year’s legislative session, but lawmakers did provide a $10 million one-time dip into the General Fund to cover this biennium’s large budget shortfall.

They also gave the agency marching orders to review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis, come up with a long-term funding plan, and work more closely with stakeholders.

WDFW identified $3 million worth of cuts as well and those are scheduled to occur over the next year.

With those chores ticked off and the deadline for submitting 2019-21 budget proposals to the Fish and Wildlife Commission and then the Office of Financial Management approaching, earlier this week WDFW held an hour-long evening webinar on their predicament and increase proposals, available here.

Following his presentation, Policy Director Nate Pamplin took about a half hour’s worth of “good questions” from viewers.

The 60 to 65 who tuned in at any one time wondered why revenue from hunter and angler license sales is only holding steady or dropping over time — a major cause of the shortfall and similar to national trends — how WDFW can hope to increase participation when it seems opportunities are increasingly limited, whether selling off wildlife areas was an option, and what’s being done to bring in dollars from nonconsumptive users, among others.

On that last one, Pamplin pointed out to reporters earlier in the day that two-thirds of WDFW’s overall proposed $60 million ask of the legislature to fill the shortfall and increase some fishing and hunting ops, along with fund key conservation work, would be paid for through the General Fund, the other third by sportsmen. With Wild Futures, it all would have fallen on the wallets of sportsmen.

That is a different direction than just a few years ago but also a recognition that, say, producing salmon not only benefits anglers but also society as a whole through commercial and tribal fisheries that provide fillets for those who don’t venture out, as well as ecological benefits to the food web, Pamplin said.

Indeed, this week there’s grim news that another baby orca has died, part of a resident population that is in nutritional distress because their key feedstock, Puget Sound fall Chinook, is in decline.

Pamplin also wondered aloud about whether the time game wardens spend dealing with black bears getting into suburban residents’ garbage cans should really be paid for with hunter dollars, as it is now, or the General Fund?

LAST YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA STATIONED IN THE SOUTHERN SECTION OF NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK CAPTURED AN IMAGE OF THIS WOLF. (NPS)

HONESTLY, $10, $13.75 AND $17.57 AREN’T A LOT FOR Ol’ Moneybags Walgamott. At the midpoint, it is about half what it cost to go out to a barbecue joint with my wife Tuesday night when we were both too lazy to cook, and around what I spent on used books later that evening.

Dinner was one and done, but I might read the books a second time, if they’re good.

The fishing and hunting licenses allow me to go over and over and over and fill my freezer.

(Well, theoretically if I was actually any good at catching salmon and chasing down deer.)

But while the fee increase might also help catch up to inflation since the last one in 2011, for those expressing opposition so far, that is not the point.

It is that the quality of Washington’s fishing and hunting experience is not $10 or 12 to 15 percent better than it was last year, that they don’t agree with WDFW’s direction on wolves and other predators, that the state may have lost the productive Skokomish River meat Chinook fishery — fueled by a WDFW hatchery, no less — for good, and any of a thousand other beefs with the agency and its management of the public’s fish, wildlife and wildlands that they’re already paying to fund but are unhappy with the current product.

Pamplin acknowledged as much that the increases are a tough sell, and that there are concerns WDFW could price sportsmen out of the market, a vicious loop for the budget.

Still, with potential cuts to hatchery operations, enforcement, wildlife conflict prevention, lands management and other programs, and over 100 jobs at stake if WDFW’s proposal falls flat again, he wants to hear what the public’s priorities are.

My thoughts don’t matter, but yours do. You can make your feelings known through WDFW’s survey.

And the Fish and Wildlife Commission is slated to talk about the proposal at its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Olympia before making a recommendation to lawmakers who draw up and vote on WDFW’s budget. Fee bills would also be subject to legislative hearings where you can have your say as well.

Correction: A miscalculation of increases proposed under the Wild Futures Initiative led to too-low estimates of select fishing license increases. Instead of 8 to 9%, those should have read 17 to 20%.

WDFW Outlines Budget Issues, Proposed ‘Modest’ Fee Increase

WDFW hopes to lean on the general public more to fill a potential $30 million shortfall in the next budget biennium, a fundamental shift from just a few years ago, but sportsmen may still be asked to pay a “modest” increase to chase Chinook, bucks and ducks under a proposal being unveiled today.

It’s part of an overall $60 million bid that also includes strategic investments to improve angling and hunting and is now up for discussion, with tonight offering the first chance for you to hear about it first hand as state managers hold a webinar starting at 7 p.m.

Briefing reporters this afternoon, WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin says there are two fee-increase options WDFW’s looking at currently.

One is a 12- to 15-percent across-the-board hike, the first since 2011, and the other is a $10 charge that license buyers would pay once a year ($3 for temporary permits).

Neither is a done deal and the Fish and Wildlife Commission must first determine whether to ask the state Legislature to pass it during the 2019 session.

If you’ve got a sense of deja vu all over again, it’s because, yes, we just went through this.

WDFW’S NATE PAMPLIN BRIEFS REPORTERS DURING A WEBINAR ON ITS BUDGET ISSUES.

Pamplin acknowledged that fee bills are tough sells, and that was definitely the case with former Director Jim Unsworth’s Wild Futures Initiative, which flamed out in 2017.

It proposed 10 percent hunting and 17 to 20 percent fishing increases, along with new $17 to $10 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon.

Pamplin attributed that to “a real lack of trust in the department” but with lawmakers’ one-time $10 million bump that year instead of license increases came requirements that the agency review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan.

Essentially, the funding problem isn’t bloated management and too many IT staffers but long-term issues caused by revenues from sportsmen not keeping up with how much it costs to manage fish, wildlife and opportunities to pursue them, increasing legislative requirements, deep budget cuts in the years after the Great Recession and the looming expiration of the key Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

“Your power bill goes up, our fish food bill goes up,” Pamplin said.

Three million dollars worth of cuts to fish stocking, habitat work and volunteer grant programs have also been identified and will occur in the coming months.

And WDFW created a budget and policy work group made up of influential members of the fishing and hunting communities — Ron Garner, Andy Marks, Rachel Voss, Mark Pidgeon — and other groups in Washington’s outdoor world, and for several months now they’ve been getting an eyeful about where and how license money comes from and what it’s used for.

“We lifted up the hood on our budget,” says Pamplin when asked what made this effort different from Wild Futures’ failure.

One thing that I learned when I took my own peak earlier this year was just how much of my fishing and hunting license money went to WDFW.

All of it.

Even so, adding to the price to go crabbing, troll for coho, and wander the Palouse for pheasants will see pushback, as it should because the product isn’t what it once was — habitat issues, decreased hatchery production, a booming state population are all impacting the quality and experience.

Pamplin said WDFW recognized those “optics” as well as concerns about pricing hunter and anglers out of the field and off the water.

ANOTHER SCREENGRAB FROM TODAY’S WEBINAR.

But what’s also different with WDFW’s request this time is that in 2017, the budget “solution” was entirely based on the wallets of the state’s sportsmen, as Pamplin told Northwestern Outdoors Radio host John Kruse, whereas this time only 33 percent is.

That’s because Pamplin et al hope that lawmakers will recognize that much of what WDFW does benefits that state as a whole and should be funded thusly.

That represents a shift from 2010, when one top manager told me at the time WDFW was “making a concerted effort to make itself less dependent on the General Fund” because it didn’t compete well with public health, prison and education.

Where it leaned heavily on us in the following years, the agency is now trying to broaden its funding base.

Pamplin said hunting and fishing produce $3.4 billion in economic activity annually in Washington, and based on current appropriations from it, a 350 percent return on investment to GF-S, the state General Fund.

Answering a Kruse question, Pamplin wondered out loud who should pay for the game warden who has to go out to the suburban house and deal with the bear eating out of the garbage cans? Right now, hunter dollars fund the work but he feels that the General Fund should instead.

As for what WDFW would do if it were to receive that $60 million package from the General Fund and license increases from legislators, Pamplin pointed to a mix of programs that could continue/not have to be cut and long-term investments it could focus on, including:

Wildlife conflict prevention and response ($4.4 million)
Shellfish enforcement and consumer protection ($2.5 million)
Land management ($2.7 million)
Hatchery operations and fisheries management ($9 million)
Hunting management, including hunter education ($3.2 million)
Recovery of at-risk species and prevention of invasive species ($3.5 million)
Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement program ($3.3 million)
Customer service support ($1.9 million)

 And:

Conservation investments in such programs as salmon recovery, watershed health, biodiversity, and conservation enforcement ($14.7 million)
Expanded fishing opportunities and hatchery improvements ($5.6 million)
Hunting enhancements, including improved law enforcement and access ($3.5 million)
Orca recovery (amount TBD)

If those were the carrots, there wasn’t much stick in Pamplin’s webinar.

But he did point to seven hatcheries at risk if no funding is found — a list that includes Reiter Ponds, Humptulips and Omak, among others — as well as the warmwater program, ensuring early winter steelhead programs are ESA compliant and rehabbing lakes and streams.

Along with tonight’s webinar, Pamplin says there will be a chance to make your feelings known through an upcoming public opinion survey.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is also slated to talk about the proposal at its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Olympia before making a recommendation to lawmakers who draw up and vote on WDFW budget bills.

Correction: A miscalculation of increases proposed under the Wild Futures Initiative led to too-low estimates of select fishing license increases. Instead of 8 to 9%, those should have read 17 to 20%.

Family Fishing Fun At Lake Billy Chinook

It’s “Bass Week” in Washington, but for the Walgamott clan, that happened last week and a state to the south.

We enjoyed an extended Fourth of July campout at Central Oregon’s Lake Billy Chinook, a trip that included plenty of water fun under the sun and smallies, along with great food, campfires and stargazing.

MY NIECE VIVIAN AND HER SMALLMOUTH BASS, CAUGHT LITERALLY MINUTES AFTER I TAUGHT HER HOW TO CAST A SPINNING ROD. FIGURING OUT THE RETRIEVE THE FISH WANTED WAS ALL HER. (AMY WALGAMOTT)

Yeah, watching my two sons catch their first fish years ago was pretty special, but I was thrilled when my niece Vivian landed hers this past Thursday.

We were at the upper day-use site on the Deschutes Arm and the evening before, my sharp-eared son Kiran had heard another angler mention that a cove there was a good spot for bass.

The next morning I’d purchased four one-day fishing licenses for myself at the Cove Palisades Resort and Marina and met everyone down at the beach there, two rods and a box full of baits in hand.

YOURS TRULY WITH THE FIRST FISH OF THE TRIP TO LAKE BILLY CHINOOK. IT WOULDN’T BE TOO LONG BEFORE VIVI EQUALED THEN BETTERED MY CATCH ON THE DAY. (AMY WALGAMOTT)

I gave bank fishing with crankbaits a go unsuccessfully, then hopped into one of our inner tubes and floated out into the cove.

I’d switched over to a green grub on a 1/4-ounce jighead and was just kind of prospecting and working on my tan when a bass bit.

The kids were all right there and that sparked their interest in trying their own luck, so I went ashore and began everyone’s first lesson on how to catch bass.

First up was my oldest son, River, then the younger boy, Kiran, who wanted to hold the spinning rod upside down, like how he holds the baitcaster he’s shown promise using down on our saltwater beach.

RIVER TRIES HIS LUCK ON THE CROOKED RIVER ARM OF LAKE BILLY CHINOOK. IT WAS HERE THAT HE CAUGHT OUR TRIP’S LARGEST FISH, A FOOTLONG-PLUS NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Unfortunately for the boys, the bass didn’t respond to their casts, so they soon lost interest and left me with the rod.

Damned screens anyway — no patience!

Vivi had been watching and she promptly came up to me and asked if she could give it a go, so I showed her how to pull line from near the reel to the rod and hold it there with two fingers, flip the bail, bring the rod back and snap it forward and let go of the line.

I now realize I was a little vague about what exactly a bail is, but after her first successful cast, she had it, so I wandered back to the shade to watch.

Less than five minutes later the rod was bent and Vivi was battling her first fish, a feisty smallmouth!

We all rushed towards her, her mom Ilene and my wife Amy encouraging her and taking cell phone videos, the boys crowding around to see the fish.

I figured we’d all catch bass, but the speed at which Vivian had caught one was surprising (especially after yours truly, believed by family to be a fishermen, had landed just one in like two hours).

And it only got better from there as five minutes after her first, she had a second!

It’s one thing to be the editor of a fishing magazine and put out all these how-to articles and receive reader success photos in exchange, but it’s quite another to teach someone in person and see that instruction result in a catch.

I tell you, I was positively glowing!

In the days afterward, we fished more, including off of a pontoon boat we rented on Saturday to travel up the Crooked and Deschutes Arms.

RIVER AND KIRAN BACK AT CAMP. WHILE ONE BOY EXPRESSED CONCERN ABOUT GETTING EACH FISH BACK IN THE WATER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, THE OTHER WANTED TO EAT ‘EM ALL. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

In the former, near the head of the arm, River hooked the biggest fish of the trip, a footlong or so northern pikeminnow.

Later in the afternoon and in the lower end of the latter arm, where a chukar family had come down to the water, Vivi showed that it was no fluke she’d caught her first two so fast.

Earlier in the campout I had worn a Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association shirt on which was printed a slogan she’d inquired about.

“You are right,” Vivi said later, “the tug is the drug.”

She just seemed to figure out what the fish wanted better than the boys did, but they all had plenty of fun. Kiran wanted to keep every fish, regardless of their size or whether we had toted our cooler along with us to the water or not.

GRATUITOUS GEOLOGY SHOT — SMITH ROCK STATE PARK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The bass were on the small side and I expected to catch more, but the bright sunlight of midday might have affected the bite. But as I was flapping around the day-use cove in the inner tube I found the fish to actually be closer to shore than out in deeper water by the no-wake buoys.

When I go again, I’ll pack a lot fewer crankbaits and a wider variety of grubs and tubes, including in more pumpkins and chartreuses than just browns.

Drop-shotting with flukes and wacky-rigged worms wasn’t effective, though that might have been due to how I had to fish them — with half a rod after breaking the top end — or the sheer size of the baits versus the size of the fish.

It’s a pretty far pedal from our house in Shoreline to this part of Central Oregon, but besides fishing and water sports there’s plenty to see and do. I’m a geology geek, so it’s all cool country and I’ll gladly return someday.

Besides their jet ski runs around the lower end of the reservoir with the three adults, I think that the fishing will stand out in my sons’ and niece’s memory from our trip.

I know watching Vivi successfully figure out how to catch bass will stay in mine.

VIVI SMILES AS RIVER INSPECTS ONE OF HER BASS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Lucky 13 — There’s Hatchery Chinook To Be Caught In Deep South Sound

The following blog was written by Officer Greg Haw of WDFW’s Thurston County Detachment and provided to Northwest Sportsman by the WDFW Enforcement Program.

By Officer Greg Haw

For the last several decades, a handful of knowledgeable South Sound anglers have exploited a great fishing opportunity in the backdrop of the state capitol.

PAULA CORCORAN SHOWS OFF A “15-MINUTE LIMIT” OF HATCHERY CHINOOK, CAUGHT IN MARINE AREA 13 EARLY LAST SEPTEMBER. THIS END OF PUGET SOUND FEATURES SEVERAL SALMON HATCHERIES AND THEY’VE SEEN STRONG RETURNS IN RECENT SEASONS. CORCORAN WAS USING A SPOON TAPED WITH HYPER-VIS+. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Olympia anglers, supplied by numerous highly productive hatcheries, keep their mouths shut and snicker to themselves as their pals with bigger boats and gas-guzzling trucks head off to what they consider to be better places to fish.

What their pals do not know, and what they often do not believe, is that great fishing happens right here in late summer. Each summer large numbers of hatchery Chinook swarm into the terminal areas of Marine Area 13.

We have all been inundated with gloomy Chinook salmon forecasts and greatly increased Chinook protection measures between the ocean and spawning grounds.

In the interests of protecting wild stocks, WDFW must limit fishing opportunity even though large numbers of harvestable hatchery fish are mixed in with them. What some anglers miss is that these protective measures virtually assure a huge escapement of hatchery fish returning to Marine Area 13.

Last year alone, 30,000 surplus Chinook were culled at Deschutes Falls Hatchery. Nisqually Tribal hatchery also had big return numbers.

If one adds the production of Minter Creek and Puyallup Hatchery and an expected return of three year old Chinook to McAllister Creek, the likely return of hatchery Chinook to South Puget Sound may rival the expected return of hatchery fall Chinook to the Lower Columbia River!

In addition, when one compares the relatively small recreational Chinook quotas assessed for Marine Areas 1 through 11, these potential escapement numbers look huge.

In Marine Area 13 recreational impacts to wild Chinook salmon are easily controlled by barbless hook and wild-release regulations. Simply stated, sensitive Chinook stocks tend not to stray down this far. So let’s go fishing!

THERE ARE MANY LOCAL HOT SPOTS IN THE SOUTH END OF THE SOUND, all with their own quirks.

Anderson Island and the Nisqually River mouth will produce good fishing starting in late July. Other areas, such as the appropriately named Big and Little Fish Traps near Olympia can get red hot in early August.

Any small seaworthy boat will work in these protected waters. There are a number of public launching sites nearby, and some of them are free to use. Run times to the fishing areas are minimal.

KELLY CORCORAN HOISTS ANOTHER AREA 13 CHINOOK FROM LAST AUGUST. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

All conventional salmon fishing modes and methods work. White Dart jigs are especially popular and work well in depths less than 60 feet. These jigs are also recommended for use by novice anglers who will find that their chances of catching a Chinook are about as good as anyone’s.

Fresh bait is usually available nearby for those who know how to catch their own.

Last but not least, your two-pole endorsement works here!

My apologies to those who considered this fishery a secret, but I am a second-generation public servant and believe in my heart that the very people who care about fishing and financed this opportunity are entitled to know that it is there. I will proudly see you at Little Fish Trap come August!