Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

WDFW Director Candidate Field Winnowed To 7

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission members are poring over the resumes of seven finalists for WDFW Director, and will interview them in mid-May before making a final choice in the coming months.

Yesterday, a subcommittee of the citizen oversight panel winnowed the septet out of a field of 19, mostly agreeing on the applicants known publicly only as A, B, I, L, N, P and R.

Commissioner Jay Kehne, who led the 23-minute morning teleconference, said he wasn’t surprised Chair Brad Smith, Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, Commissioner Barbara Baker and himself concurred on the choices.

“It always seems there’s like a group at the top, a group of however many that seem to just have what it takes or everything matches — their skill set, their experience — and then there’s kind of a break and others are much lower in terms of abilities, skills and knowledge,” Kehne said.

Baker said she’d earlier worried the pool might be weaker, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

“I’m happy with these initial seven as potential interview candidates for the whole commission,” Baker said.

Both Carpenter and Kehne agreed with her.

For the most part, the other 12 candidates received all “nos” or a “maybe” or two as the commissioners went through the list alphabetically.

No information about the individuals was available, per policy, but it’s rumored that at least two WDFW staffers were interested in the position.

Smith’s votes were conveyed by Kehne as he dealt with a pet emergency.

The search for a new director was precipitated in late January, when after a rather disastrous year for the agency in some respects and not long after the new proposed Puget Sound Chinook management plan came out, former director Jim Unsworth announced his resignation.

The help wanted ad WDFW subsequently put out said that whomever the next director might be, they would lead the agency through a “transformative” period as budget pressures increase, requiring “clear vision, true leadership, and firm decisions” on their part.

It forecasted a tightening fiscal picture as hunters and anglers, who fund the department through license sales, “age out” of pursuing fish and wildlife, and says that unnamed choices the agency faces in the future “make this a watershed time” for WDFW and the next director.

The position just might be one of the most demanding in the country, what with its cross-currents of state and tribal comanagement, endangered species listings, growing human population and loss of fish and wildlife habitat in the smallest state in the West, all performed under the glaring lamp of many disparate stakeholders and in an increasingly polarized environment.

“The Director will be asked to develop effective new approaches to conserving and recovering fisheries resources, while resolving long-standing and increasing conflicts among competing stakeholders,” read just one part of a 10-point list of challenges in the job description.

Nine more grenades to juggle — enforcement, budget, organizational issues, state lawmakers, non-consumptive users, among others — await whomever is ultimately hired.

They’ll oversee a staff of 1,800, land base of 1,400 square miles and harness a $437 million two-year budget to hold and conserve fisheries and hunting opportunities and provide scientific rationale for what it’s doing.

During the search, Joe Stohr is holding down the fort as the acting director. He’s been a top deputy in various positions at WDFW since coming to the agency in 2007.

Applications for the job were accepted through March 30 and 19 people sent in resumes, though one subsequently withdrew theirs, according to Tami Lininger, the commission’s executive assistant.

She said she will soon be scheduling interviews for the commissioners with the seven finalists for May 11 and 12.

A final decision is expected “later this summer,” a WDFW press release in February stated.

Cry ‘Hiccup!’ And Let Slip The Dogs Of Spoor

Dr. Samuel Wasser and his dung-detection dogs are set to begin searching for wolves in Washington’s South Cascades, where the number of public wolf reports is growing but no packs let alone breeding pairs are known to exist.

The University of Washington researcher heads up Conservation Canines, which received $172,000 from state lawmakers earlier this year to survey a 2,000-square-mile patch of countryside between I-90 and the Columbia River.

Conservation Canines field technician Jennifer Hartman and dog Scooby collect a sample during carnivore research in Northeast Washington’s Colville National Forest. (JAYMI HEIMBUCH)

Since 1997, Wasser and his rescue dogs have been deployed around the world to help monitor other species, collecting poop the pups find for labs to analyze.

Sending handlers and their canine companions into the woods and meadows around Mts. Rainier, Adams and St. Helens should produce results faster than leaving it to wildlife biologists chasing down intriguing leads or hoping to cut tracks in winter’s snows.

“Our goal is to maximize coverage of the study area, sampling all areas around the same time, within and between seasons to maximize comparison,” explains Wasser.

“Currently, the plan is for a fall and spring sampling, the latter being important to sample for pregnant females. We are still gathering data to identify the best sampling areas. Cost permitting, we hope to have four teams.”

While WDFW’S latest wolf map shows no known packs south of I-90 in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery zone, there have been numerous public reports in recent years from the mountains here, as an agency map illustrates. (WDFW)

Wasser has 17 dogs, including Hiccup, who’s also trained to find moose doots.

Which ones are deployed to the recesses of the Gifford Pinchot and south ends of the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests hasn’t been determined yet, but he’s confident in his pack’s abilities.

“If there are wolves south of I-90, the odds of the dogs locating them should be quite high,” Wasser says. “Colonizing wolves range widely, our dogs can cover huge areas, and their ability to detect samples if present is extraordinary.”

Under the state’s wolf delisting scenarios, there must be at least four breeding pairs here to meet the management plan’s current recovery goals.

If wolves are found, that might decrease the need to translocate packs here from elsewhere in Washington, notably the northeast corner where most territories are full and conflicts with livestock occur annually.

State wildlife managers haven’t been inclined to move wolves around, despite that tool in the plan, but earlier this year Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) successfully kick-started efforts to at least consider it.

Legislators also asked Wasser to gather data on the effect any wolves in the region might be having on predator-prey dynamics, and if they’re not, establish base-line data for when they arrive.

For Skagit-Sauk Steelheaders, It’s ‘Great To Be Back On The System’

Despite a good spring rain that doubled flows on one river, North Cascades anglers were still happy to be out chasing wild winter steelhead on another for the first time in nine Aprils.

Last weekend saw portions of the Skagit and Sauk reopen for the first of three windows this month, thanks to federal approval of a joint state-tribal fisheries plan this past Thursday.

A CLIENT OF GUIDE CHRIS SENYOHL OF INTERPID ANGLERS SHOWS OFF A WILD WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING LAST WEEKEND’S REOPENING OF THE SKAGIT AND SAUK RIVER. (INTREPIDANGLERS.COM, VIA AL SENYOHL)

“It felt great to be back on the system,” said angler Ryley Fee.

On Saturday, he and two other anglers went four-for-four, catching and releasing steelhead to 14 pounds.

That was better than most. According to state creel data, 47 boat anglers caught 19 steelhead that day and 37 landed 15 on Sunday.

Fishing was tougher for bank anglers, with 79 only catching two over both days, samplers found.

“A few guys (in boats, using gear) caught the vast majority of fish,” said WDFW district fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull. “Those same guys were the hard-core, fish-all-day types.”

He said there were slightly more gear anglers than fly guys on the water.

“Most of the fish were caught from the (mouth of the) Sauk up to Marblemount, because flows were fine there,” he said of the dam-regulated upper Skagit River.

The Sauk jumped from 4,500 cubic feet per second Friday afternoon to 9,500 cfs by the time Saturday morning rolled around.

Barkdull estimated that, overall, 53.4 steelhead were encountered, along with another 103 bull trout. He said that his crews “caught” 63.71 percent of boaters at the launches.

As Puget Sound steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, intensive monitoring of the fishery is a key part of WDFW being able to hold it.

“Given all the flow issues, I think it turned out about what I would have expected,” Barkdull said.

SAUK-SKAGIT REGULATIONS
* Catch and release only
* Open dates: April 18-22, 25-29
Skagit River: Open from the Dalles Bridge in Concrete to the Cascade River Road Bridge in Marblemount. Fishing from boat under power prohibited.
Sauk River: Open from the mouth to the Sauk Prairie Road Bridge in Darrington. Fishing from a boat equipped with an internal combustion motor is prohibited.
Single-point barbless hooks
Night closures in effect
Use of bait prohibited

There was little if any effort on the Sauk, but one person apparently decided to take their sled up it, for which they received a talking to, as fishing from a power boat on this river is prohibited.

That was about in in terms of problems, however.

“Two no life jacket tickets,” said Barkdull of enforcement issues. “That’s it. Clean.”

The reopening came a little more than five years after Occupy Skagit held its first hookless fish-in at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport. With the ESA listing, WDFW and the Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattle and Upper Skagit tribes needed to write a management plan that could pass muster with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Besides a state fishery, the approved plan allows for tribal harvest of wild steelhead, though the comanagers say they won’t do so this spring.

Al Senyohl, president of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, had previously expressed concern about holding state and tribal seasons this spring because impacts on this year’s relatively low but still fishable forecasted return of 4,700 might affect recovery of the run and the ability to start up a broodstock program.

However, Senyohl subsequently said it did provide an opportunity for North Sound steelheaders who “have been stranded on the bank for years” to get back on the water.

He took advantage of the opener himself, fishing the Skagit at Rockport.

“Great turnout for the opener, big economic boost for the upper Skagit basin!” Senyohl reported.

Steelheaders have two more five-day windows to get on the Sauk and Skagit before the fishery closes after the month’s last Sunday.

With flows looking good, Barkdull indicated he expects good fishing with Wednesday’s restart.

Sportfishing Leaders React To 2018 Salmon Seasons

Northwest salmon anglers are digesting news from the just-concluded season-setting process, which brought — as it always does — a mix of tasty, so-so and stomach-turning results.

Puget Sound and Southern Oregon anglers should be happier than in recent years, Washington Coast and Buoy 10 fishermen will be somewhat disappointed, and Skokomish River egg drifters are gnashing their teeth — again.

SILVER SALMON ANGLERS FISH AMIDST A BLIZZARD OF SEAGULLS AT POSSESSION BAR DURING 2014’S EVERETT COHO DERBY. THE PAST TWO YEARS’ DERBIES HAVE BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO RESTRICTED FISHERIES, BUT THIS YEAR’S LOOKS TO BE BACK ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Those are very broad brush strokes and we’ll all be able to drill deeper into the details of Chinook and coho seasons as the days and weeks go by and the LOAF, or list of agreed-to fisheries, is posted, singling out our waters for their 2018 opportunities or looking elsewhere for different ones.

In the meanwhile, there’s some reason for optimism in the sportfishing community, including from Gabe Miller, who says there’s “a lot to look forward to this season, particularly in the Puget Sound region.”

“We are looking at substantially more coho opportunity than we have the past few years, especially in North Puget Sound,” says Miller, who works at Sportco in Fife and is vice president of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “Another bright spot is South Sound Chinook, which should provide anglers with plenty of harvest opportunity this summer and through the fall.”

He said that in the wake of 2016’s and 2017’s fishery restrictions, which affected coho the hardest, 2018’s seasons “should look a little more like what anglers were used to seeing in the past.”

A WDFW CHART OUTLINES MARINE AREA FISHERY TIMING FOR CHINOOK AND COHO. (WDFW)

Mark Yuasa, the boating and fishing director for the Seattle-based Northwest Marine Trade Association, said that these days salmon anglers need to be mobile with their boats.

“I’m pretty happy about what’s in store for anglers in late-summer and early-fall for coho fishing in Puget Sound, which is something we haven’t had for several years. We’ll also have some decent summer Chinook fisheries in certain areas,” he said.

While Puget Sound salmon are rebounding from the Blob, Columbia River Chinook are still in a bit of a rough patch, with this year’s Washington and North Oregon Coast quota dropping by 40 percent.

That’s not the best of news for Astoria, Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay, but there will still be good numbers of salmon caught out here, thanks to a coho quota of 42,000, the same amount as last year and which held up into early September.

“We are cautiously optimistic with the seasons set for Marine Area 1 and the Columbia River,” says Liz Hamilton, NSIA’s executive director. “The managers did a good job at getting close to management objectives, and we are hoping the seasons proceed as planned. The numerous stock constraints this year were challenging. With any luck, the upriver brights will show enough strength by mid-September to provide some extra fishing time to the river above Buoy 10.”

“Fingers crossed,” she added.

GUIDE BOB REES NETS A CHINOOK AT BUOY 10. THIS YEAR’S FISHERY WILL BE A DEPARTURE FROM RECENT ONES, WHAT WITH ITS ONE-SALMONID LIMIT FROM AUG. 1-24 DUE TO ONE OF THE SMALLER RETURNS OF THE PAST DECADE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Well south of the mouth of the big river, Chinook anglers will be able to get back on the ocean between Humbug Mountain and the California border, which was closed last year, and ODFW is touting a “strong forecast” of fall kings back to the Rogue as one of the coast’s “bright” spots.

Oregon Coast coho are down, but there’s still enough for a 35,000 hatchery silver quota, with limited September fishing for wild and clipped coho.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the biologists and run modelers and fishery managers are breathing a collective sigh of relief that, finally, it’s all over, and the whole pile of paperwork is now headed for the feds’ desk for them to, hopefully, make faster work than they have with the Skagit-Sauk steelhead sign-off.

At least one state source says that this year’s extraordinary “plenary session,” which brought Washington and tribal fisheries leaders together last week, was a “huge success” and played a key role in helping the comanagers reach an agreement on schedule.

THE STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE’S SEAN YANNITY SPEAKS DURING THE PLENARY SESSION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

In 2016, talks between the state and tribes dragged on for a month and a half before a deal was struck.

“This year there was a feeling of unity among all parties involved in a process that has long been a bitter battle filled with arguments, cultural indifference and over who was going to catch that ‘last salmon’ dating back to the Boldt Decision,” said NMTA’s Yuasa. “It was a good feeling to get everyone for the most part on the same table to address issues for the upcoming fishing seasons and save salmon populations, which are an iconic piece of Northwest history. We all need to swallow a bitter pill from time to time, but in the end you’ll find some exciting fishing this year.”

He was on hand during that one-hour say-what-you-wish confab in which sport and tribal fishermen talked about the importance of salmon habitat, heritage and the problems of pinnipeds.

So too was Tom Nelson, cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line. He expressed mixed feelings about what he heard in that packed Lynnwood hotel room and what eventually came out of another in Portland.

THE OUTDOOR LINE HOST TOM NELSON (RIGHT) LISTENS AS NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAKS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“I’m disappointed that the nontribal part of the allocation took the biggest part of the cut and the Makahs will keep fishing at the same level as last year,” he said on a last-minute Chinook hangup yesterday. “Even a token movement on their behalf would have given something to the feeling of the plenary session.”

Essentially, impact rates on low mid-Hood Canal Chinook stocks put Puget Sound fisheries in jeopardy, so state managers reduced the coastal king guideline and there were losses in Areas 8-1 and 9.

“That said, we’re going coho fishing in Admiralty Inlet in September,” Nelson said.

That’s the best place, by catch stat, to put out herring strips or cast from the beach for silvers in late summer. Last year it wasn’t even available to boaters, and only through Labor Day for shore fishers, due to very low forecasted Skagit and Stillaguamish coho returns.

And while Nelson called losing September Chinook fishing in the San Juan Islands “brutal,” he noted it would help address starving orca issues, as Fraser-bound kings are a key feedstock for the marine mammals.

The Makah Tribe’s Russ Svec was among those who spoke during the plenary session, saying, “Today is a good day to see everyone talking with one voice.”

But one person who wasn’t buying the good feels was longtime sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who was angry that there still is no resolution to the Skokomish River problem, which leaves recreational anglers unable to access state-hatchery-reared Chinook and coho in the southern Hood Canal stream.

“What is a shame is that the other Puget Sound tribes let this happen, making a mockery of the recent NOF state/tribal ‘Kumbaya’ plenary session,” Urabeck said.

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

He also laid blame at the feet of WDFW Fish Program Manager Ron Warren and other state officials for failing to get the fishery restarted, and expressed doubt that it’s all about a reservation boundary dispute for the Skokomish Tribe.

“It is more likely there are other self-interest reasons and the tribe is just using the land ownership claim to significantly increase their harvest of Chinook salmon, including ESA-listed natural origin fish,” Urabeck said.

He’d gone so far as to call for a new nontribal commercial fishery in Hood Canal, where fall Chinook can otherwise be difficult for recreational anglers to catch, to access the state share.

Urabeck claimed that some observers feel the river has been lost to sport fishing and said that many anglers don’t feel public money should fund WDFW’s George Adams hatchery.

FRANK URABECK, LEFT, CHECKS HIS NOTES DURING A RALLY HELD AT THE STATE OF WASHINGTON’S GEORGE ADAMS SALMON HATCHERY THE FIRST SUMMER THAT THE SKOKOMISH WAS NOT OPEN FOR SPORT FISHING DUE TO A CLAIM THAT THE ENTIRE WIDTH OF THE RIVER WAS PART OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Radio’s Nelson might have summed up the whole months-long salmon-season-setting process best for all parties.

“Every North of Falcon you’re sort of left with that kissing-your-sister feeling,” he quipped.

He reiterated his support for working with the tribes on a host of problems facing Western Washington salmon.

“Now let’s move forward from here with the tribes,” Nelson said. “Let’s reach out to the Stillys [Stillaguamish Tribe] and stand shoulder to shoulder with them” on a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner’s recent proposed conservation hatchery and marine predation issues.

Details On Washington’s 2018 Salmon Fisheries

THE FOLLOWING IS THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE BREAKDOWN OF 2018 SALMON FISHERIES

Puget Sound
Below is key information for Puget Sound salmon fisheries this year. More details will be available in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.

CENTRAL PUGET SOUND SUMMER CHINOOK ANGLERS CAN LOOK FORWARD TO A QUOTA OF OVER 10,000 HATCHERY KINGS LIKE THIS ONE SHERRYL CHRISTIE CAUGHT AT BUSH POINT IN 2016. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Marine areas 9 (Admiralty Inlet) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton): Marine Area 9 will be open July through September with a chinook quota of 5,563 fish, which is similar to last year’s quota. Marine Area 10 is scheduled to be open June through mid-November for coho fishing with hatchery chinook retention allowed mid-July through August. The chinook quota for Marine Area 10 is 4,743 fish, up significantly from 2017.

Baker Lake sockeye: The forecast for sockeye returning to Baker Lake is strong enough to allow for a lake fishery, open July 7 through early September, and a fishery on the Skagit River.

North Sound freshwater: Anglers will have the opportunity to retain wild coho in the Nooksack River and coho in the Skagit and Cascade rivers, where gamefish fisheries have been restored this year.

Skokomish River: A portion of the Skokomish River remains closed to non-tribal fishing this year, due to an ongoing dispute over whether the river is part of the Skokomish Reservation. WDFW will continue to work with the Skokomish Tribe to resolve the matter. The closed area includes the section of river from the Tacoma Public Utilities power lines (near the mouth of the river) upstream to the Bonneville Power Administration power lines (upstream and west of Highway 101).

Marine areas 8-1 and 8-2: Both areas will be open to fishing for coho in August and September. The areas will re-open to fishing for hatchery chinook in December.

Marine Area 7: Anglers can fish for chinook and coho in Marine Area 7 beginning July 1. The area closes after Labor Day to chinook retention but remains open for coho fishing through September. The area re-opens for salmon fishing in January.

Marine areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (East Juan de Fuca Strait): Both areas open in early July (July 1 in Marine Area 5, July 3 in Marine Area 6) for hatchery chinook and hatchery coho. Anglers can retain hatchery chinook through mid-August and hatchery coho through September. Marine Area 6 reopens Feb. 1 while Marine Area 5 reopens Feb. 16 for hatchery salmon.

A WDFW CHART OUTLINES MARINE AREA FISHERY TIMING FOR CHINOOK AND COHO. (WDFW)

South Sound freshwater: Anglers will have the opportunity to fish for coho in Minter Creek beginning Oct. 16. Strong hatchery chinook returns are expected to several south Sound rivers this year.

Southern Resident Killer Whales: The governor and NOAA Fisheries have instructed WDFW to take steps to help recover killer whales. In meeting conservation objectives for wild salmon, the co-managers are also limiting fisheries in areas where southern resident killer whales are known to feed. The adjustments will aid in minimizing boat presence and noise, and decrease competition for chinook and other salmon in these areas critical to the declining whales.

Washington’s Ocean Waters (Marine areas 1-4)
More details on these fisheries will be available in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.

Catch quotas

The Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a recreational chinook catch quota of 27,500 fish, which is 17,500 fewer fish than 2017’s quota of 45,000. The PFMC, which establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast, also adopted a quota of 42,000 coho for this year’s recreational ocean fishery – the same as last year’s coho quota.

Fishing seasons

Recreational ocean salmon fisheries for chinook and hatchery coho will be open daily beginning June 23 in marine areas 1 (Ilwaco), 3 (La Push), and 4 (Neah Bay). Marine Area 2 (Westport) will be open Sundays through Thursdays beginning July 1.  All areas will close Sept. 3 or when the catch quota is met.

In marine areas 1, 2, and 4, anglers can retain two salmon, only one of which can be a chinook. Anglers fishing in Marine Area 3 will have a two-salmon daily limit. In all marine areas, anglers must release wild coho.

Coastal fisheries including Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay
Below is key information for coastal salmon fisheries this year. More details will be available in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.

Grays Harbor Area

The Area 2-2 Humptulips North Bay chinook fishery begins in August and runs through Sept.15.

The Area 2-2 East Bay coho fishery begins two weeks later than 2017 and is scheduled Oct. 1-Nov. 30.

The Chehalis River spring chinook fishery is scheduled May 1-June 30 while the jack fishery in the lower river runs Aug. 1-Sept. 15.

The Humptulips River is scheduled to be open for salmon fishing Sept. 1-Nov. 30, about two months fewer than last year. Anglers can keep one wild chinook during the month of September but must release wild chinook the remainder of the fishery.

Willapa Bay Area

The season in Willapa Bay (Area 2-1) is similar to last year and is scheduled Aug. 1-Jan. 31. Anglers can keep three adult salmon, one of which may be a coho.
The freshwater rivers in the Willapa Bay area have similar seasons to 2017. Anglers may retain one wild coho.

Columbia River
Below is key information on the major Columbia River salmon fisheries this year. More details will be in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.

Summer fishery

The summer season on the mainstem Columbia River from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam will be open from June 22 through July 4 for hatchery (adipose fin-clipped) summer chinook. Bonneville Dam to Hwy. 395 near Pasco is open from June 16 through July 31. The daily limit will be two adult hatchery salmonids. All sockeye must be released.

Fall fisheries

During fall fisheries, anglers fishing from the same boat may continue fishing for salmon until all anglers have reached their daily limits in the following areas of the mainstem Columbia River:

  • Buoy 10 salmon fishery will be open from Aug. 1 through Aug. 24 for chinook retention.  The daily limit is one salmonid (chinook, hatchery coho or hatchery steelhead). From Aug. 25 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.
  • Rocky Point/Tongue Point line upstream to the Lewis River will be open from Aug. 1 through Sept. 2 for chinook retention. The daily limit is one adult salmonid. From Sept. 3 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two adult salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.
  • Lewis River upstream to Bonneville Dam will be open Aug. 1 through Sept. 14 for chinook retention. The daily limit is one adult salmonid.  During Sept. 15 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two adult salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.
  • Bonneville Dam upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco will be open Aug. 1 through Dec. 31 with a daily limit of two adult salmonids with no more than one chinook and no more than one hatchery steelhead.

Sockeye, chum and jacks

Columbia River anglers are reminded that retention of sockeye and chum salmon is prohibited. Catch limits for jack salmon – salmon that return at a younger age – follow typical permanent regulations and will be listed in the 2018-19 pamphlet.

THE FOLLOWING IS A JOINT PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE AND THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION

With low returns of chinook and coho salmon expected back to numerous rivers in Washington, state and tribal co-managers Tuesday agreed on a fishing season that meets conservation goals for wild fish while providing fishing opportunities on healthy salmon runs.

The 2018-19 salmon fisheries, developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty tribal co-managers, were finalized during the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting in Portland, Ore.

Information on recreational salmon fisheries in Washington’s ocean waters and the Columbia River is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. The webpage also includes information on some notable Puget Sound sport fisheries, as well as an overview of chinook and coho fishing opportunities in the Sound’s marine areas.

A variety of unfavorable environmental conditions, including severe flooding in rivers and warm ocean water, have reduced the number of salmon returning to Washington’s rivers in recent years, said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s fish program.

In addition, the loss of quality rearing and spawning habitat continues to take a toll on salmon populations throughout the region, where some stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, he said.

“It’s critical that we ensure fisheries are consistent with ongoing efforts to protect and rebuild wild salmon stocks,” Warren said. “Unfortunately, the loss of salmon habitat continues to outpace these recovery efforts. We need to reverse this trend. If we don’t, salmon runs will continue to decline and it will be increasingly difficult to develop meaningful fisheries.”

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAK DURING A RARE BUT WELL-ATTENDED STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION LAST WEEK ON WESTERN WASHINGTON SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A bright spot in this year’s salmon season planning process was a renewed commitment by Indian and non-Indian fishermen to work together for the future of salmon and salmon fishing, said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“No fisherman wants to catch the last salmon. We know that the ongoing loss of habitat, a population explosion of hungry seals and sea lions and the needs of endangered southern resident killer whales are the real challenges facing us today. We must work together if we are going to restore salmon to sustainable levels,” she said.

Low returns of some salmon stocks prompted state and tribal fishery managers to limit opportunities in many areas to protect those fish.

For example, recreational anglers will have less opportunity to fish for chinook salmon in both the Columbia River and Washington’s ocean waters compared to recent years. Tribal fisheries also will be restricted in certain areas to protect weak stocks.

In meeting conservation objectives for wild salmon, the co-managers are limiting fisheries in areas where southern resident killer whales are known to feed. The adjustments will aid in minimizing boat presence and noise, and decrease competition for chinook and other salmon in areas critical to the declining whales.

Details on all recreational salmon fisheries will be provided in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in late June.

For information on tribal fisheries, contact the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (http://nwifc.org/).

‘Removal Of Barrier Culverts Would Be Lifeline For Salmon, Fishing Families’ – NSIA Et Al In SCOTUS Brief

Regional fishing organizations filed a brief on Monday supporting the removal of culverts to help recover Western Washington salmon, a case that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in less than two weeks.

GRANSTROM CREEK, A TRIBUTARY OF THE SAUK RIVER, FLOWS THROUGH A BOX CULVERT PUT IN BY SKAGIT COUNTY. IT REPLACED A PERCHED CULVERT. THE WHITE PLASTIC TUBES AND YOUNG TREES AT RIGHT ARE PART OF A LARGER SEATTLE CITY LIGHT HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT TO BENEFIT SALMON AND WILDLIFE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The “friend of the court” arguments from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and others urge justices to uphold a 2016 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the state must make hundreds of stream barriers more passable to Chinook, coho, steelhead and other stocks.

“Salmon fishing has provided economic opportunity and a way of life for generations. Culverts owned by the State of Washington block access to vast areas of salmon habitat and spawning grounds, crippling these fisheries. Harm to Washington’s salmon fisheries directly harms fishing families and businesses throughout the Northwest and Alaska,” the group’s attorneys write.

Even as the state is bringing culverts up to snuff, the overall cost of the fixes and that some might not actually help fish led state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to appeal the Ninth’s ruling “on behalf of the taxpayers” to the highest court in the land.

But with fishing businesses and fisheries increasingly feeling the pinch as kings, silvers and steelies decline, NSIA et al are “skeptical” the state would hold to doing the repairs if the proverbial fish bonker of court action wasn’t hovering over its head.

“With salmon populations hovering at such precariously low levels, the significant increase of spawning and rearing habitat that will result from removal of the state’s barrier culverts would be a lifeline for salmon and fishing families alike,” the organizations argue. “The district court correctly found that removal of the state’s barrier culverts would immediately benefit these imperiled populations, and the district court’s injunction is an essential step to preserving these valuable runs.”

COHO IN PARTICULAR AS WELL AS STEELHEAD CAN BENEFIT FROM THE REMOVAL OF PASSAGE-BLOCKING CULVERTS BELOW WASHINGTON ROADS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The case is essentially a continuation of 1974’s massive Boldt Decision and could have as strong of ramifications, except not just on state and tribal fishermen alone this time.

It was originally brought by the Suquamish Tribe, who were joined by other tribes in Western Washington, and the basic argument, per the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, is that “tribal treaty rights to harvest salmon include the right to have those salmon protected so they are available for harvest.”

In recent weeks a number of parties have signed on in support of one side or the other.

Besides NSIA and others, former Washington Governor Dan Evans, a conservation-minded Republican, a number of area public officials, along with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Navajo Nation and others have filed amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the petitioners, or federal government.

Lining up with Washington are 11 other states, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, a number of home-building organizations and farm bureaus, and the American Forest & Paper Association and National Mining Association.

A decision is expected in June.

Sport, Tribal Fishermen Speak As One On Salmon Habitat, Recovery Issues

Yesterday was a “historic” and “unprecedented” day at North of Falcon in the words of two longtime recreational angling observers of the annual salmon season-setting negotiations.

In a Lynnwood hotel conference room packed nearly to the gills, tribal and state fishermen spoke out on the importance of habitat and working together on key issues affecting Washington Chinook, coho and other stocks.

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS ADDRESS A CROWD OF ABOUT 100 DURING YESTERDAY’S STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION,  A NEW CONFAB ADDED TO THIS YEAR’S EDITION OF THE ANNUAL NORTH OF FALCON SALMON SEASON NEGOTIATIONS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, one of if not the state’s most important salmon fishing organizations, said that if all fishermen worked cohesively, we could “move mountains.”

All in all, it was not what you might have expected when these historically at-odds groups get together, and one of the final speakers referenced that history of animosity.

“It’s a bit weird,” the Lummi Nation’s G.I. James said. “It’s the first time I’ve been with a bunch of (sport) fishermen and haven’t heard, ‘Why are the nets all the way across the river?'”

Indeed, many outstanding issues remain unresolved — the Skokomish and the state-reared hatchery salmon we can’t access in the river because of the boundary claim of the tribe there; the hold-up on the Point No Point ramp; the state’s challenge of the culvert case.

But with the ESA listings, the runs’ continued struggles, pinniped predation on salmon and steelhead a real problem not only for the fish and fishermen of all fleets but also starving southern resident killer whales, and the human footprint on the region only growing over the coming decades, Tuesday afternoon marked what might one day go down as a watershed moment.

“The time for fighting over allocation is over. It’s time to focus on habitat. It’s time to fight the people and the animals that are killing more fish than we are,” said Tom Nelson, cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line, afterwards.

WDFW STAFFERS PREPARE TO OUTLINE POTENTIAL 2018-19 SALMON FISHERIES EARLIER IN THE DAY AT THE LYNNWOOD EMBASSY SUITES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

HE WAS AMONG THE AUDIENCE TUESDAY AFTERNOON AS tribal fishermen and others filed into the room where state salmon managers had been discussing potential fisheries with recreational anglers earlier in the day.

Billed as a “plenary session,” it came out of calls by some in the sportfishing world to open the closed-door state-tribal negotiations over the harvestable surplus of fish, but in fact ended up allowing both sides to hear the other.

After a brief introduction, Ron Warren, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Fish Program manager, handed the microphone over to Lorraine Loomis, who heads up the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission as well as the Swinomish Tribe’s Fisheries Department.

Loomis reflected on her long involvement in North of Falcon, which essentially arose out of the Fish Wars and Boldt Decision of the early 1970s.

At one time splitting the fillets was easier, at least relatively, but with the Blob and allocation issues of the past three years, things have become increasingly heated.

“Right now, we’re fighting over the last fish and that’s not going to work,” Loomis said, adding that more salmon habitat is being lost than recovered.

NWIFC’S CRAIG BOWHAY AND LORRAINE LOOMIS LISTEN AS FORMER WDFW BIOLOGIST AND SPORTFISHING AND HABITAT ADVOCATE CURT KRAMER MAKES A POINT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Loomis left it to NWIFC fisheries director Craig Bowhay to answer questions from the public, the first of which came from a face that would be familiar to him, Pat Patillo, the retired WDFW salmon policy advisor and current sportfishing advocate.

Patillo wanted to know how the tribes felt about increasing hatchery production and how could NWIFC and the state work together towards that end?

Bowhay pointed back to budget cuts at Patillo’s old agency (Warren noted that the 1999 Endangered Species Act listing also played a role in the reduction of state releases from the 73 million range of the 1980s to today’s 38 million in the Sound and coast; the tribes report releasing 34 million last year), and while he said “We’d like to reverse” that trend, noted the challenges of tailoring production to harvest and realistically addressing salmon populations that can and can’t be rebuilt.

But he said that with the plight of orcas, there’s “more acceptance” from the feds of increased releases.

In fact, Governor Jay Inslee recently requested WDFW begin working on that, and it sounds like extra coho eggs were taken last year as a bridge stock for fisheries as more Chinook and areas may be allocated to the whales.

Curt Kramer, the retired North Sound state fisheries biologist and regional manager, stood and called for a “drastic change” in how recovering habitat is talked about. It’s primarily spoken of in terms of relation to salmon and steelhead, but he proposed couching it as “recovering rivers.”

“The Stilly is unraveling from the headwaters down. We need to figure out how to talk with a very loud voice,” Kramer said, drawing applause.

Much is made of tribal connections to the land and salmon but Kramer pointed out that we fishermen have those too, and we should all take advantage of that.

PSA’s Garner said his organization had the same outlook.

“I want to see no more fighting between us,” he said.

Garner pointed to issues all fishermen can work together on, namely seals’, sea lions’ and cormorants’ insatiable appetites for salmonid smolts.

A bit later Bowhay addressed that, saying NWIFC was trying to get more funding to build on the science that’s really beginning to show how much of a predation problem we face.

“Our collective harvest is less than what the marine mammals are taking,” he said, leaving “orcas last in line.”

Bowhay and others made several calls for fishermen to talk to their Congressional representatives, but he also acknowledged that the public at large “is in love with that brown-eyed seal.”

“There’s a lot of education (that needs to be done) to get over that,” he said.

Prompted by Kramer’s comments on the scale of lost habitat in the Central and North Sound over just the past dozen years and whether a better success metric was needed, Bowhay added that more land managers — counties, cities, the agriculture industry, state Departments of Transportation, Natural Resources and Ecology — should include salmon recovery in their core missions.

KING COUNTY LAKE WASHINGTON WATERSHED SALMON RECOVERY MANAGER JASON MULVIHILL-KUNTZ SPEAKS AS WDFW’S WARREN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

As it turned out, there was an actual land manager in the room, Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz, who works on salmon recovery in the Lake Washington watershed for King County. He said he appreciated the focus on habitat and essentially wanted more tools for implementing actions. Warren promised to get in contact with him.

THEN A QUARTET OF TRIBAL FISHERY MANAGERS IN the audience rose to speak, led off by Sean Yannity of the Stillaguamish Tribe, who recalled how his uncle had closed Chinook fishing on the system 30 years ago.

“He saw the disaster coming,” Yannity said.

He decried that Stillaguamish River kings were still being caught in the saltwater and likened telling his five last tribal fishermen they couldn’t catch any in the 14 miles of the Stilly they can fish for a funeral to “telling a Catholic they can’t take communion.”

Yannity said that the tribes had been “mocked” by the public for their insistence that lost habitat was a big problem and that the Stillaguamish were considered “evil ones” for acquiring 1,000 acres in the watershed for restoration.

THE STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE’S SEAN YANNITY SAYS “EXTINCTION IS NOT AN OPTION FOR US.” (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Saying that “extinction is not an option for us” and that “We have a lot more in common than differences,” Yannity added, “I hope you in Washington state don’t end up like the Stillaguamish Tribe.”

With Russ Svec of the Makah Nation and the Lummi Nation’s James standing by his side, Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Indian Nation said the plenary session was a “first.”

“This is the start if you wish to build a coalition,” Johnstone said, and that dancing around the issues wasn’t going to get us anywhere.

Speaking to the culvert case between the state of Washington and the tribes and which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court later this spring, he asked, “Who is against us? Such And Such Builders Association, Such And Such Builders Association, Such And Such Builders Association … there’s like ten.”

While Johnstone said numerous other states have also joined with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and other angling groups earlier this week filed a SCOTUS brief supporting the tribes’ side.

Svec said he hadn’t seen tribes, recreational and commercial fishermen coming together like this before.

“Today is a good day to see everyone talking with one voice,” he said.

James pointed out that even as local governments fought the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision on water and development, they have residents who like to fish, potential allies in the grand cause.

“We can’t ride the fish to zero so there are no problems for developers,” he said.

NORM REINHARDT OF THE KITSAP POGGIE CLUB MAKES A POINT WITH STATE FISHERY MANAGERS EARLIER IN THE DAY. ALSO IN ATTENDANCE WERE MANY PUGET SOUND ANGLERS MEMBERS AND REPRESENTATIVES FROM THREE MAJOR PUGET SOUND MARINE AND TACKLE STORES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AS THE SESSION CAME TO A CLOSE SO FISHERY MANAGERS could get to the rest of their afternoon salmon meetings, Loomis and Warren had some final thoughts.

“I have to tell you, this is the first meeting I’ve been to at North of Falcon that so many words were spoken about habitat,” said a pleased-sounding Loomis.

Warren, who joked that it was rare for him to get the last word over his counterpart with the tribes, began to choke up slightly.

“I grew up in the agency trying to do the right thing for resources and I’m proud to stand with you,” he said.

I’ll readily admit that I don’t have the North of Falcon-trenches experience that others in our world do, and so I looked for insight on whether what I’d just witnessed was real or just smoke and mirrors.

Mark Yuasa, the former Seattle Times fishing reporter and who currently runs the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating and Salmon Derby Series fronts, had sat a row in front of me, and later in the afternoon tweeted a photo of himself and Loomis posing for a selfie.

“A historic day at NOF meetings that would’ve had Billy Frank Jr. smiling down on this blessed earth! Time to build a new path toward salmon recovery and habitat restoration by all parties. ,” Yuasa wrote on Twitter.

When I got home, I called Nelson the radio show host for his take. He called the meeting “unprecedented and wonderful” and said, “For the first time our real culprit has been pointed out.”

He talked about reducing the predatory effectiveness of pinnipeds, of redefining impacts on salmon to include development and to credit new building that helps the fish.

And if we get a season someday, Nelson promised me a recipe for cormorants.

It would be better than eating crow, which is what we’ll get if all we do is sit and argue and let the salmon dwindle to nothing instead.

Correction, 9:20 a.m., April 6, 2018: The last name of Ron Warren, WDFW Fish Program manager, was misstated in the cutline for the first image as Loomis. It has since been corrected. Apologies for the error.

My Pitch For The Fish: Turn Tukwila Soccer Fields Into Side Channels For Salmonids

With the World Cup coming up in June, it might not be the best time for me to tell Tukwila’s aspiring Mo Salahs, Kevin De Bruynes and Neymars this:

I want to rip out your four soccer fields and put in a big huge giant side channel for imperiled salmon and steelhead instead.

TARPS COVER PORTIONS OF FOUR SOCCER FIELDS AT STARFIRE, ALONG THE GREEN RIVER TRAIL IN TUKWILA SOUTH OF SEATTLE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Look, kids, I love the beautiful game — what an MLS debut for Ibra! — and really do want you to be on our 2022 team.

USA! USA! USA!

But those 6, 7, 8, 9 acres right alongside the lower Green have a higher and better purpose than close-cropped grass, limed lines and practicing Olivier Giroud-style scorpion goals.

(OK, the third is negotiable.)

BEHIND A SCREEN OF INVASIVE BLACKBERRIES, THE GREEN RIVER COURSES OVER A SET OF ROCKS, RARE IN ITS LOWER END. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

They could instead be a network of thickly wooded, winding, tidally influenced habitat for Endangered Species Act-listed Chinook and winter- and summer-run steelhead, as well as coho, to rear in, boosting fish capacity in the highly developed King County river system.

Similar projects have gone in downstream at Codiga Park, Cecil Moses Memorial Park, the Turning Basin, Highway 509 Wetlands and Kellogg Island, and well as upstream.

One, a 700-foot-long constructed reach known as Riverview between Kent and Auburn, held way more young kings and across all stream flows than four other surveyed stretches.

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE SOCCER FIELDS. THE GREEN RIVER IS JUST TO THE LEFT OF THE PAVED TRAIL. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

So why not return a portion of the city’s (and formerly the county’s) Fort Dent Park to its original purpose lo these many decades ago?

“The area historically had a bunch of side channel habitats and wetland slough-type areas that were great for rearing, but most of that habitat has been filled in and developed and the river has largely been diked throughout that area,” notes one fisheries biologist.

JUST BEHIND A STARFIRE PRACTICE FIELD, A MONUMENT MARKS WHERE A STEAMSHIP USED TO DOCK IN THE LATTER HALF OF THE 1800S, WHEN LAKE WASHINGTON DRAINED OUT THROUGH THE BLACK RIVER INTO THE GREEN/DUWAMISH, WHEN THE SYSTEM WAS ALSO STILL CONNECTED TO MT. RAINIER’S WHITE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

While the region’s Powers That Be continue with their offsides thinking that they can somehow recover ESA stocks by restricting our fisheries into oblivion, we can raise all the yellow and red cards we want on gillnetting and pinnipeds — along with stormwater runoff and pollution — because they do have an verifiable impacts.

But honestly, the best way to help our favorite fish out is to increase the amount of habitat available to them.

That was the point of a recent stellar educational simulation posted on Tidal Exchange, and it’s what I hear over and over and over from biologists: Quit festering so much about fishery impacts on adult fish and focus instead on adding rearing space for the young’ns.

So, with that idea in mind early one afternoon last week, I made the rounds of the fußball fields next to the Seattle Sounders practice facilities.

Walking along the paved Green River Trail as warm sunlight poured over me, I imagined an army’s worth of dump trucks hauling off millions of cubic feet of topsoil (with a load or two of the rich fill headed for my yard).

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE FIELDS, WITH THE GREEN RIVER TO THE RIGHT OF THE PATH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Pausing next to a bench, I saw earthmovers sculpting subtidal flats and fingered drainages, as well as berms and islands down where a couple dogs played fetch with their owners, and moving the dike from next to the river to over where cars parked.

THE GREEN FLOWS UNDER THE STARFIRE WAY BRIDGE, NEAR THE UPSTREAM END OF THE SOCCER FIELDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

From the Starfire Way bridge, I mulled where I’d put in a diversion from the river to flood the former fields and later, standing down by the Fort Dent landing monument, I considered where I’d put an outlet.

GOALS STAND ON A SLIGHT RISE ABOVE THE FIELDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

With the scent of cottonwood sap in my nostrils, I envisioned fishermen joining soccer squads and other volunteers to participate in annual mass plantings of native plants, shrubs and trees.

I saw a forest growing up and shading the channels, providing perches for kingfishers, and boardwalk pathways and informational displays on how the project was helping young kings, silvers and chromers.

FISH HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT IN SKAGIT COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

And then I really actually did see Clint Dempsey in the Starfire parking lot and I was like OMG, it’s Deuce, right there! OK, just be cool, Walgamott, don’t run over for a selfie and to hassle him with your hairbrained idea, breathe through your nose, man.

Ahem, I will admit that this project would face some challenges.

It pits little kickers against little finners, and sadly, I don’t know that Pugetropolites really have the stomach for helping the latter group out like they should.

There’s convincing the Tukwila Parks & Rec Department to get on board and mitigating the four lost playfields (those nice, level though rather noisy grassy strips just over the hill in SeaTac are right out).

The required permitting and buy-in from the city, county, flood control district, state and Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies.

A MOWER CLIPS THE GRASS ON A PRACTICE FIELD BEHIND A SCREEN AT STARFIRE. THE SOUNDERS’ FACILITIES ARE OUTSIDE THE EDITOR’S FISH HABITAT PROJECT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

And the price tag. The morning of my walk I’d picked up a MegaMillions ticket for Friday’s half-billion-dollar drawing, but I only got one number, so NMFS Section 6 and Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board grants will be key and the project would have to compete well with others to score money from either of those two heavy-lift sources.

So, yeah, my project is probably a long shot for salmon and steelhead, but sometimes you gotta think big — kinda like Wayne Rooney did from his own half last November.

‘Paperwork, A**-covering, Scary Numbers And Veiled Lawsuit Threats’ — Skagit Steelheading Still Up In Air

Frustrations are boiling over on the Skagit-Sauk steelheading front.

A group of anglers who’ve been a driving force in trying to reopen the rivers since 2013 all but threw in the towel on a spring catch-and-release season this year.

ANGLERS WORK SOME OF THE SAUK’S “LUMBERYARDS” FOR BIG NATIVE STEELHEAD AS WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Whatever happens next will not be good. One of our most litigious dot-orgs has got the Feds wrapped up in paperwork, ass-covering, scary numbers and veiled lawsuit threats,” Occupy Skagit posted on its Facebook page overnight. “If a season were to open now, it will be too short and concentrated with too many encounters. Best to not open it.”

But another angler who’s been closely tracking the issue is holding out hope.

“NOAA is dragging their feet,” replied Ryley Fee, “and whoever the organizations are who are impeding on our right to fish by threatening lawsuits ought to be publicized so we can all write them a letter and let them know how we feel about taking this resource away from us this year. I’m pissed off and angry, and need an outlet if it doesn’t open.”

The North Cascades rivers haven’t been open for a winter-spring C&R fishery since 2009 due to a series of low forecasted returns, then was written out of the regulations, but subsequently saw strong escapement though this year’s run is predicted to be a bit low but in the fishable range.

As for which dot-orgs might be involved in the stalling tactics, if one were to draw up a list of the usual suspects, it would likely include the Wild Fish Conservancy, which stumbled very badly recently when it made exaggerated claims about Atlantic salmon but ultimately was on the prevailing side in the Puget Sound netpen issue; the Native Fish Society; and The Conservation Angler.

The three either wrote or signed onto a letter calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service to withdraw its December pending approval of WDFW and three Skagit Valley tribes’ fishing plan for the system.

More pragmatic steelhead groups have offered qualified support for a season.

(As for Occupy Skagit’s concerns about “too many encounters” in a condensed fishery, that’s the reason the rivers will be monitored by state creel samplers, to gauge relative effort and success and modify any season if need be.)

The final 30-day comment period on the state and tribes’ plan wrapped up back in January, and ever since anglers on all sides have been waiting with bated breath for word from NOAA-F’s regional administrator Barry Thom one way or another on whether the rivers would open.

Certainly the feds have had more on their plate than just approving or sending back Skagit-Sauk steelhead plans this winter — there’s also been their initial review of the 10-year Puget Sound Chinook plan, plus involvement in North of Falcon salmon season setting and southern resident killer whale issues.

But the delays are rapidly narrowing the window on a fishery in the next month, and at some point we’re just going to run out of time, which is probably the end game for some parties, the unstated acceptance of others, and the increasingly grim reality for those who just want to get back on the water.

2018 Northwest Spring Turkey Forecast

Prospects look good, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation’s regional turkey biologist. Here are her forecasts for Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

By Mikal Cline

Oregon’s wild turkeys continue to thrive, despite some mortality during the winter of 2016-17. We may notice a missing cohort of 2-year-old toms in the field this year, but in general the populations are quite healthy.

TACOMA CLOWERS OF THE BEND AREA GOT INTO THE DOUBLE BONUS DURING THE 2015 SPRING GOBBLER HUNT IN EASTERN OREGON, A PAIR OF ELK ANTLER SHEDS. HIS UNCLE CARL LEWALLEN SENT THE PIC. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Oregon primarily offers Rio Grande wild turkey hunting, though some Merriam’s still persist in the Cascades. Oregon’s core populations exist in the southwest portion of the state, in the vicinity of Roseburg and Medford. The scattered oak savannas and transitional pine forests offer excellent habitat. Mild winters and early springs contribute to high survival and productivity.

OREGON’S “GOOD OLD” DOUGLAS COUNTY PAID OFF FOR JAYCE WILDER DURING THE 2016 SPRING HUNT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Take advantage of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Access & Habitat Program (dfw.state.or.us/lands/AH) if you are struggling to find good hunting access in this area. The Jackson Travel Management Area near Shady Cove is a personal favorite.

Wild turkeys also thrive on Forest Service land from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, in the northeast corner of the state, over to the Ochocos. The Malheur National Forest is one of my favorite spots to hunt turkeys in Central Oregon, thanks to healthy populations and excellent public access. Wild turkey density starts to thin out in the Central Cascades, but the White River area continues to be a big producer.

SHHH, DON’T TELL THE TRUANT OFFICER, BUT KEVIN KENYON SKIPPED SCHOOL DURING LAST YEAR’S TURKEY SEASON, BAGGING THIS BIRD WHILE HUNTING WITH HIS UNCLE. “TOOK ALMOST 3 HOURS BUT WHEN YOUR TURKEY HUNTING PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE,” NOTED KEVIN’S DAD, MARK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ODFW made a concerted effort to trap and transplant overstocked birds this past winter. I believe we can expect some emerging opportunities in South-central Oregon (think Klamath to Lakeview), thanks to this effort. The Ochocos and White River Wildlife Management Unit populations will also benefit from ODFW’s efforts.

The south Willamette Valley, particularly Lane County, is another emerging opportunity for wild turkey hunters, should they be able to secure hunting access.

JACOB HALEY NOTCHES HIS YOUTH TURKEY TAG FOLLOWING A SUCCESSFUL MORNING WITH “GUIDE” TROY RODAKOWSKI IN THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY. (TROY RODAKOWSKI)

IDAHO BUMPS BAG

Spring turkey hunters in the Gem State can now take two bearded birds a day, thanks to a rule change from the Fish and Game Commission earlier this year. 

It’s yet another sign that gobblers are doing well in much of their range across Idaho.

“They’re overrun,” jokes NWTF’s Mikal Cline. It’s going to be a great turkey season in Idaho.”

Commissioners also increased fall hunting opportunities in the Panhandle, Clearwater and Southwest regions, and added youth spring and fall controlled hunts in the Salmon district.

However, the general spring turkey season was closed in Unit 70, in Southeast Idaho.

The annual limit is still two bearded turkeys per spring.

WASHINGTON’S EASTSIDE TURKEY populations are robust, prompting the Department of Fish and Wildlife to propose more liberal fall seasons in some locations. The core population of Washington’s turkeys occurs in the northeast corner of the state, consisting primarily of the Merriam’s subspecies. Colville is the epicenter of spring turkey hunting in Washington, boasting high hunter success rates and a turkey harvest that is an order of magnitude greater than any other turkey management unit in
the state.

HOW JEREMY RACE CORRALLED THREE LITTLE BOYS TO SIT STILL FOR ANY PERIOD OF TIME DURING THIS SPRING TURKEY HUNT IS ANYBODY’S GUESS, BUT HIS NEPHEW CARTER MADE GOOD ON HIS SHOT OPPORTUNITY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

We are seeing increased nuisance and damage complaints coming from the suburban fringes of Spokane and Cheney, but hunter access remains a constraint. We are also seeing increasing hybridization between Rio Grande and Merriam’s in this area.

JOHNNY HONE DOWNED HIS FIRST GOBBLER WITH A SINGLE SHOT FROM HIS 20-GAUGE SHOTGUN AT 25 YARDS AFTER HIS DAD JOHN CALLED HIM WITHIN RANGE. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The foothills of the Blue Mountains in Southeast Washington are also a world-class destination, with the towns of Dayton, Pomeroy and Walla Walla serving as gateways for excellent Rio Grande turkey hunting.

The Klickitat River watershed offers the best turkey hunting closer to the west side of the state. Check with WDFW for access opportunities on wildlife areas and industrial timberlands in the area.

THE HARSH WINTER OF 2016-17 MAY HAVE LINGERING EFFECTS ON HOW MANY TURKEYS SPRING HUNTERS SEE IN SOME PARTS OF THE NORTHWEST, BUT OVERALL PROSPECTS ARE GOOD. RICH AND MATT OAKLEY OF VANCOUVER BAGGED THEIR FIRST EVER GOBBLERS IN KLICKITAT COUNTY ON THE SECOND DAY OF LAST YEAR’S HUNT. FRIEND GREG ELLYSON SENT THE PIC. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Turkey hunting in Southwest Washington for the eastern subspecies continues to be a challenge. These flocks have never thrived, but do persist in certain areas, including Lewis County. Tapping into local knowledge is the best way to complete your Washington turkey slam, but you will have to work for it.

KEITH MOEN, THE SUBJECT OF A BIG ARTICLE IN OUR PAGES LAST FALL, HARVESTED THIS SPRING TURKEY A COUPLE SEASONS BACK IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

From Goldendale to the Methow, the east slope of the Cascades continues to hold pockets of wild turkeys, which do seem to be increasing, though there are not rigorous surveys in this area. Again, local knowledge from your district wildlife biologist will help you locate these birds.

MCKENNA RISLEY SHOWS OFF HER FIRST TURKEY, TAKEN IN THE METHOW VALLEY LAST SPRING WHILE HUNTING WITH HER DAD ROB. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

On an interesting note, we have heard evidence that wild turkeys have crossed Snoqualmie Pass and have been seen around North Bend.

Also, WDFW is in the process of updating its wild turkey management plan, including the trap and transplant operational guidelines. Until the plan is approved, T&T operations are on hold. 

Editor’s note: For more on how to hunt Northwest gobblers, check out the April issue of Northwest Sportsman!