Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Wecker, Longtime Fish And Wildlife Commissioner, To Step Down

One of Washington’s longest serving members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission announced today that she’s stepping down.

Miranda Wecker, who has been on the citizen panel more than a dozen years, says the Aug. 4-5 meeting will be her last.

It is a significant loss for the recreational fishing and hunting community and worrisome from the standpoint of whether a person with similarly strong credentials and cred will be appointed to fill her seat by Governor Jay Inslee. The commission oversees the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

MIRANDA WECKER SPEAKS BEFORE THE SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES AND PARKS COMMITTEE DURING A 2014 HEARING ON HER APPOINTMENT TO THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (TVW)

Wecker, who also was the commission chair from January 2009 to January 2015, said in an announcement this afternoon that the time had arrived for her to step down, effective Aug. 6.

“I leave the Commission after 12 years with deep gratitude for the opportunity I had to contribute to the governance process. I leave more convinced than ever that it is vital that citizens step forward, with good will and optimism, and engage their talents constructively in the formulation of policies. Government is always a work-in-progress and it can be made better by public participation. Government service is honorable work with many decent, energetic and skilled professionals involved in it,” she wrote.

The Naselle resident’s term as one of three Western Washington representatives on the commission had otherwise been scheduled to run through the end of 2018.

Chairing the commission through tumultuous economic times and the hiring of the last two WDFW directors, Wecker said she’s particularly proud of “the major policy reforms that were adopted to emphasize conservation and accountability” but recognized that doing so “did not please everyone.”

Those included the state wolf management plan, Puget Sound shrimp and crab allocations, hatchery reforms, the 21st Century Salmon and Steelhead Initiative, and revising salmon policies in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bays.

Certainly, she may not count many coastal commercial fishermen among her friends, and twice in recent years her position has been in danger, once in 2015 when the Governor’s Office said her resignation was “pending” and again earlier this year after the commission voted to continue with reforming Columbia River salmon and sturgeon fisheries.

Wecker said she hoped the commission would face challenges of those policies “with integrity and with a commitment to the highest principles.”

Sportfishing leaders were lauding her accomplishments and thanking her for her service.

“Miranda has demonstrated unprecedented leadership during her tenure on the commission,” said Tony Floor, fishing affairs director of the Northwest Marine Trade Association. “She never ducked the tough issues and embraced conservation while setting refreshing direction of managing the resource for wise economic use. She will be missed for her leadership, direction and intellect.”

A law and natural resources policy expert, Wecker was appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire in May 2005, then reappointed in January 2017.

In giving her the nod for another term in 2013, Gov. Inslee said she had “done an excellent job in leading the commission’s work on several challenging fish and wildlife policy issues.”

Her service was notable for the commission’s thoughtful balancing of WDFW’s twin mandates of conservation and harvest in trying times, many unanimous decisions, listening to local concerns on wolves and cougars while also looking at the big picture and buying tens of thousands of acres for habitat and recreation, acting immediately on state lawmakers’ requests to allow ranchers and others to shoot a wolf caught in the act of attacking stock — a provision that was used for the first time last month — and the issuing of several rare statements, including a position paper on wolves, and letters of thanks to past commissioners Gary Douvia, David Jennings and Rollie Schmitten, and Director Anderson.

She was also a voice of caution last year as Director Jim Unsworth began pushing for license fee increases.

Wecker termed it a “pleasure” to have served fellow “knowledgeable, dedicated, and industrious Commissioners” as well as WDFW staff.

“I had the good fortune to serve during a time in which we had hardworking Commissioners with exceptional experience and expertise,” she added. “Very fortunate.”

In her announcement, she said that when she began serving, she had a lot to learn about many issues. Though some of us hunters and anglers think that resource management is a snap, Wecker’s term taught her it was far from simple.

“The more I learned, the more I was aware of the questions that remained to be asked. Humility is the best posture given the importance of what we do, the inadequacy of our knowledge, and the limits of our capacities. With this in mind, I am convinced that we should treat each other with patience, good will, and honesty,” she said.

Wecker said that she was grateful for the friends she’d made while serving and thanked them for their support, advice, chance to visit them in the far-flung corners of the state “and for the opportunity to meet so many people dedicated to the natural resources of our beautiful place.”

Olympia Budget Impasse Kills Critical Hatchery Work

Editor’s note: This blog post has been updated since news that the state legislature is out of business for the year.

Critical new fish hatchery renovations won’t move forward because legislators in Olympia failed to approve a Capital Budget.

New land buys in Central Washington and elsewhere are also on hold for the foreseeable future, a setback for habitat projects and recreation including hunting and fishing in a key part of the state.

THE CAPITAL BUDGET CONTAINS SEVERAL MILLION DOLLARS FOR RENOVATIONS AT WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY, WHICH REARS SUMMER CHINOOK, COHO AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A deal was unreachable due to an impasse between how Republicans and Democrats want to address the Hirst decision from the state Supreme Court on new wells in rural areas.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife had been anticipating receiving $51 million to $61 million in funding from the Capital Budget, depending on whether the upper or lower chambers’ bill was ultimately passed.

Either way, 75 percent of that would have gone towards fish hatcheries across the state and the other 25 percent to forest health projects at wildlife areas, according to the agency’s Tim Burns.

He said that with many hatcheries more than half a century old, the improvements are really needed.

Among the projects that are now on hold:

$8 million for Eells Spring in Mason County, WDFW’s largest trout-rearing facility in Western Washington;

$6 million for Puyallup in Pierce County, which is being  converted wholly to salmon production with trout moved to Eells Spring;

$8 million for Naselle in Pacific County;

$5 million for intake work at Samish in Skagit County;

$5 million for renovating rearing ponds at Hoodsport in Mason County;

$2 million for intake improvements and pond renovations at Wallace in Snohomish County.

WDFW’s Raquel Crosier termed the work “pretty critical renovations.”

Five million dollars also would have gone towards hazard-fuel reduction at wildlife areas, mostly in Eastern Washington.

And another $9 million to $14 million would have paid for “minor works” at 40 WDFW facilities, mostly hatcheries.

Earlier this summer the legislature did pass a reappropriations bill, so that some $50 million in current capital projects will continue to be worked on.

But Burns says that without the new funding, he will probably have to lay off staff, including engineers and designers as well as tradespersons at the agency’s Yakima and Lacey shops.

WDFW To Remove Some Smackout Wolves, Reports Ranchhand Legally Killed Attacking Wolf

THIS BREAKING STORY IS BEING UPDATED

WDFW Director Jim Unsworth has authorized the removal of wolves from the Smackout Pack of Northeast Washington following an attack on a calf in recent days.

They’re set to begin this week; there is no specific number of wolves that will be killed, but protocols say one or two initially, followed by a review of actions, with the goal to stop the pack from harming more cattle.

The latest calf was the fourth confirmed or probable depredation by the east-central Stevens County pack on calves in the past 10 months.

While most of those occurred last September, in June an employee of a ranch also legally killed a pack member after spotting it and another wolf attacking cattle.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SMACKOUT PACK NORTHWEST OF SPOKANE IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

“The incident was investigated by WDFW Enforcement and was found to be consistent with state regulations,” a statement from the agency reads.

Under state law, you can kill a single gray wolf if you are witnessing one or more attacking your domestic animals in the federally delisted eastern third of Washington. This particular wolf was a female that had been radio collared in 2015, according to WDFW.

It’s the first time the caught-in-the-act provision has been used by livestock operators in Washington.

As for the latest depredation, the calf was found injured on Forest Service ground on Tuesday.

Bite marks and collar location data show that the Smackout wolves have been near the cattle herd “on a frequent basis.”

The attack occurred in a fenced area, and according to WDFW several deterrence measures have been taken.

Per WDFW:

“The livestock producer that sustained the July 18, 2017 confirmed wolf depredation is currently using: several range riders (one range rider is primary, but others fill in on an as needed basis), has maintained sanitation by removing or securing livestock carcasses, actively hazed wolves with a firearm and pyrotechnics, kept cattle in a fenced pasture within the allotment due to wolf activity, spotlighting nightly, wolf GPS collar data in the area to monitor activity near cattle, used fladry when needed, a RAG box when needed, and several other deterrents in the past. The range rider started patrolling the area prior to the June 1 turnout in 2017, and communicates frequently with the producer and the local Wildlife Conflict Specialist. Information on denning and wolf activity was also shared with the producer, which the producer has avoided those high use wolf areas. Another producer that was involved in one of the three 2016 depredations within the Smackout territory have been using WDFW contracted range riders, sanitation, and removal of injured cattle from the range.”

Conservation Northwest, which has long been involved in helping ranchers in this part of Washington’s wolf country, as well as elsewhere, issued a statement saying it hoped any removals plus the caught-in-the-act take last month would end the attacks on livestock and end the need to kill more wolves.

The organization also said it was “deeply saddened by the loss of these wolves, and for the strife this incident has caused ranchers operating in this area.”

Last year’s depredations occurred in late September and included a confirmed kill of a calf, a probable kill of a calf and a confirmed injury of a calf.

One other calf has been killed by wolves and two injured stretching back to 2015 in the general area.

“The purpose of this action is to change the pack’s behavior, while also meeting the state’s wolf-conservation goals,” the agency’s wolf manager, Donny Martorello, said in a press release this morning. “That means incrementally removing wolves and assessing the results before taking any further action.”

The pack is believed to have numbered eight coming out of 2016, with an unknown number of pups on the ground this year.

“The lethal removal of wolves is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives statewide or within individual wolf recovery regions,” a WDFW statement reads.

This means that for a second summer in a row, agency marksmen will be targeting wolves as Washington’s population continues to grow at about a 30-percent-a-year clip. Last year it was the Profanity Peaks, while previous removals occurred in 2014 (Huckleberry) and 2012 (Wedge).

Lake Washington Sockeye Count Tops 110,000, But Declining

The odds of a Lake Washington sockeye fishery this year — long to begin with — seem remoter still with today’s updated count unless somehow hesitant salmon managers acquiesce to a Hail Mary bid.

A total of 111,509 have passed through the Ballard Locks since the tally began June 12, and the year’s best days appear to be behind us.

IT’S BEEN 11 YEARS SINCE THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FISHERY, AND DESPITE CALLS FOR AN “OLD TIMES SAKE” SEASON THIS YEAR, THAT’S INCREASINGLY UNLIKELY WITH THE LATEST BALLARD LOCKS COUNTS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Nearly 7,500 were counted July 4, with 21,740 in the three days before and day afterwards.

But since then daily counts have dipped to 2,772 Wednesday and 2,271 yesterday.

The run has typically peaked by now, though of note 2006 didn’t hit its midmark till mid-July.

If there’s good news, it’s that the forecast of 77,292 was wrong, and there does appear to be some softening on the standing escapement goal of 350,000 sockeye to trigger sport and commercial tribal fisheries.

According to a recent WDFW letter, talks have been ongoing with the comanagers about “a new abundance-based management framework that allows for some directed fisheries at run-sizes of 200,000 or greater.”

Written July 7, the communique from Director Jim Unsworth expresses cautious optimism that that figure might be reached.

But Frank Urabeck, a longtime recreational angling advocate who closely watches the counts, now estimates the run will come in somewhere north of 130,000, which is above the 100,000 that he hoped might trigger a “token, for old times’ sake” fishery on Lake Washington, where we haven’t seen a sockeye season since 2006.

Since then, an average of 78,000 — high: 2013’s 178,422; low: 2009’s 21,718 — have entered the locks with fewer still actually spawning.

By comparison, between 2006 and 1972, only three years saw 78,000 or fewer sockeye enter; even the bad salmon years of the mid-1990s were higher.

It’s believed that despite the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, young sockeye are suffering increasing and strong predation in the lake and as they make their way through the Ship Canal, which also appears to be a thermal block for returning adults, leaving them more prone to disease.

This year’s run would also have been at sea during the fish-run-destroying Blob.

Among Urabeck’s aims is to draw attention to what he considers to be a failing run, and he sees this year’s return as what amounts to a last-gasp opportunity to get anglers on the lake and rally support for what once was a wonderful salmon fishery in the heart of the state’s biggest metropolis.

If you never had a chance to partake in it, it was the absolute best kind of insanity going.

Urabeck wants one last go.

“I encourage sportfishing anglers to contact Director Unsworth and the MIT to encourage them to avoid losing this special opportunity to gain public support for our fisheries programs,” he said this morning.

Unsworth, who wrote that Urabeck’s call for a season if the count hit 100,000 “certainly caught my attention,” agreed that Lake Washington salmon aren’t faring well, but was more optimistic about the future.

“It will be a challenging task, but the restoration of clear, clean, and swimmable water to Lake Washington in the 1960s shows what can be accomplished with our engaged and supportive public,” Unsworth states in the letter to Urabeck.

The director says that his agency as well as the tribes, county and utilities are “now implementing and advocating for the actions necessary to improve salmon survival in the Lake Washington basin.”

“In this urban setting, we will need to think ‘out-of-the-box’ to find solutions that provide for salmon in the future. In part, this will likely require rethinking how we use our hatcheries. As you recall, we joined with you and others in the Year-15 Comprehensive Review of the City of Seattle’s Habitat Conservation Plan in recommending new supplementation techniques that maximize fry-to-adult survival through a combination of extended rearing and delayed release timing,” Unsworth states.

Meanwhile, the Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes are holding their annual ceremonial and subsistence fisheries, with goals of 1,000 and 2,500 sockeye each, and yesterday saw dipnetting in the ladder as tribal biologists in conjunction with WDFW collected salmon for a longterm biological sampling program.

What the longterm health of the sportfishery holds is anyone’s guess, but at the moment, it is on life support at best this year.

Washington Urges Zinke To Leave Hanford Reach Nat’l Monument Alone

With recently designated national monuments under review, Washington’s natural resource agencies are advising Washington DC not to mess with the Hanford Reach.

Letters from both the Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources urge Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke not to downsize the 194,000-acre zone around the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia as well as former buffer to the Hanford site.

SCOTT FLETCHER SHOWS OFF A FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT IN THE HANFORD REACH LAST SEASON. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

“WDFW would like to echo Governor Inslee’s response, which recommends no action to rescind or alter the Hanford Reach  Monument’s border. Our recommendation is based on the Monument’s importance to the quality of life for citizens of Washington relative to recreation and the state’s economy, as well as the unique and critical habitat protected by the HRNM for fish and wildlife species,” reads a July 7 letter from the agency’s regional director, Mike Livingston.

He says the publicly accessible 68,000 acres of the monument provide “exceptional recreation opportunity” for anglers, hunters and others, as well as “supports spawning and rearing habitat for the largest fall Chinook salmon population in the lower 48 states.”

“Chinook produced in the HNRM support a world-class freshwater sport fishery as well as offshore commercial and recreational fisheries that extend as far away as southeast Alaska,” Livingston wrote.

The 2015 fishery yielded a record harvest of 35,432 upriver brights for 48,000 angler trips in the Reach alone, and along with steelhead fisheries, these waters annually pump $2 million to $3 million into the local economy.

“Changes to the boundaries of the HRNM could increase erosion and sedimentation, reduce public access, alter nearshore water quality and habitat, and result in negative impacts to these fish populations and public recreation,” Livingston warned.

In her July 10 letter, perhaps taking note of Zinke’s time in Utah to investigate a new national monument there, DNR Director Hillary Franz invites him to “come toss a line in the water.”

“You’ll find yourself among the Americans that come here annually with their loved ones and families. Reeling in your first sturgeon will be as surprising as it is exhilarating. The prehistoric nature of this fish is emblematic of what was preserved here; history, culture, recreation and the American way of life,” Franz wrote in her letter.

Yesterday was the final day for public comment on the Trump Administration’s review of 27 national monuments created since the mid-1990s and which are more than 150 square miles in size.

That includes Oregon’s 100,000-acre Cascade Siskiyou.

Recent days have seen increasing pushback from sportsmen.

Last week, Andrew McKean, editor of Outdoor Life, published an open letter to Zinke that was subheadlined “A call to defend, celebrate, and cherish national monuments.”

It appears the purpose of your review is to confirm your own support for monuments. That’s the only way I can understand your order, as a clever (and slightly subversive) way to call attention to these special places that are reservoirs of the American qualities of equality, adventure, self-reliance, and democracy.

After all, you have repeatedly identified yourself as a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican.” The father of the Antiquities Act—the legislation that enables the creation of National Monuments —Roosevelt recognized that monuments are a tool to elevate the very best of our best public lands by giving them a status that allows true multiple use while protecting the integrity of remarkable landscapes for future generations. While I think it’s healthy to periodically review government decisions, I think you—especially if you emulate TR—would agree that national monuments are among America’s best ideas and entirely worth celebrating, not eliminating.

This morning, the Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s long-time outdoor editor Rich Landers — recently recognized by the Outdoor Writers Association of America with the organization’s highest award for adherence to conservation principles — posted a blog asking “Can Zinke be trusted as Interior steward of federal public lands?

Dave Mahalic, senior advisor to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, speaking recently at the Outdoor Writers Association of America 2017 Conference in Duluth, Minnesota, defended the review of 27 monuments that have been designated since 1996 and the potential for rescission or downsizing.

He said the Antiquities Act was designed to include “the least amount of land necessary to accomplish the protection.”

The former supervisor of Yosemite National Park said the review is needed because “some people feel they don’t have a voice.”

I asked him directly, “Who are those people?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

OK, so much for transparency. Mahalic should know who’s pushing for the review if he’s making appearances to officially support if not pimp the mission. So should Secretary Zinke.

And they should reveal who those people and interests are to more than 1.3 million people who commented during the review period.

Landers also pointed towards a scathing story posted yesterday by Ted Williams in Hatch magazine headlined “With friends like Ryan Zinke, who needs enemies? It’s time for sportsmen to get real about our Secretary of Interior.”

Wrapping his piece around a metaphor from the Jungle Book, Williams writes, ” … (When) politicians and appointed officials work against fish and wildlife, sportsmen need to get loudly on their cases, then vote the right way,” he wrote.

For his part, in a BLM press release out today, Zinke said he and President Trump had opened comment on the monuments “in order to give local stakeholders a voice in the decision-making process.”

He said that even if monument boundaries were tweaked, the land would still remain federal.

After touring the new Bears Ears National Monument, Zinke advised the White House it should be shrunk.

Now that Washington state officials as well as some 1.3 million others have had their say, it’s up to Washington DC to make the next move.

Seattle Angler Has Bottom Of State Record Book Solidly Hooked

Juan Valero’s small catches are starting to leave a big mark in the Washington state record fish book.

His latest, a Pacific sanddab, weighed 1 pound even — and still was a fifth of a pound heavier than his other record, a Pacific staghorn sculpin.

They’re the two smallest entries on the saltwater side of the ledger, and fourth and fifth lightest listings when freshwater fish are included.

JUAN VALERO SHOWS OFF HIS NEW STATE-RECORD PACIFIC SANDDAB, CAUGHT IN LATE MAY AND WEIGHING 1 POUND EXACTLY. (WDFW)

Valero, the only person currently with two record fish in the book, caught his 12.5-inch sanddab on May 25 at the southernmost end of Whidbey Island.

The Seattle angler landed his .80-pound staghorn sculpin not far to the west, off the northern Kitsap Peninsula, last July.

No, Valero didn’t set out either day to nudge pretty low bars slightly higher.

Honestly, I was not trying to break any records, nor was I targeting any of those species at the time,” he says. “But like that great painting by Ray Troll says, ‘Careful what you fish for‘!”

But now that he has set two records, you might say he’s starting to cast a speculative “eye” on some empty spots in WDFW’s book.

Meanwhile, I’m going to step aside and let Juan Valero tell his own story because I can’t do it any better, and if I tried, I’d mangle its poetry.

I was born in Argentina into a family of fishermen and seafarers, and as such I have always been drawn to the sea and its creatures.

“I moved to Seattle almost 20 years ago to study fisheries at the University of Washington. I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and with the woman who became my wife, with whom we have a beautiful, smart and incipient fisherwoman preschooler.

“Our daughter Cecilia loves to do gyotaku — the traditional Japanese way of making fish prints — for which she often requests that I take her fishing or that I go fishing and bring her fish to paint, requests that are always music to my ears.

“The day I caught the staghorn sculpin I was fishing for king salmon, mooching a cut plug close to the bottom near Point No Point. When it hit I could tell it was no salmon, but I thought I may bring it to my daughter to paint it.

A GYOTAKU, OR JAPANESE-STYLE, FISH PRINT OF JUAN VALERO’S STATE RECORD PACIFIC STAGHORN SCULPIN BY HIS DAUGHTER, CECILIA .(JUAN VALERO)

“To my surprise, it was the biggest staghorn sculpin I had ever seen. A friend of mine had done her graduate research with that fish species, so I could tell it was a special catch.

“My fishing buddy Nick checked the WDFW fishing records webpage and he encouraged me to go to the application process.

“In the meantime, my daughter and I had quite a bit of fun making prints with it. The fish is now in my freezer, waiting for me to have time to process it for preservation and donation to the UW Fish Collection.

“The Pacific sanddab came under similar circumstances, but in this case fishing for lingcod off Possession Point, although none were to be caught that day. I actually did not realize it was a Pacific sanddab, or that it could be a record until we talked with the WDFW biologist at the launch area.

“Again we went through the application process. This time my daughter was a year older, so she was much more involved in the process and inquisitive about the special fish.

CECILIA’S GYOTAKU PRINT OF HER DAD’S STATE RECORD PACIFIC SANDDAB. (JUAN VALERO)

“I am not actively chasing any fishing records, although I had two other catches that were in the Washington record ballpark. One was a 24-pound chum salmon from the Stillaguamish River in 2002 (the record is 25.97 pounds).

“More recently I caught and released a massively oversized lingcod that, based on our estimates from known size of lure and photographic and video images of the fish, was around 54 inches and over 60 pounds. The current state record for lingcod is 61 pounds, caught in 1986.

VALERO’S 36-INCH KEEPER LINGCOD HERE PALES IN COMPARISON TO ONE HE CAUGHT AND ESTIMATES WOULD HAVE COME CLOSE TO THE STANDING STATE RECORD OF 61 POUNDS. HE OF COURSE HAD TO LET THAT ONE GO BECAUSE OF THE SLOT LIMIT, BUT ALSO DID SO WITHOUT QUALMS. (JUAN VALERO)

“Times have changed and the maximum size of 36 inches should prevent that record from being broken. I do research on lingcod as part of my fisheries work, so it was great to see that monster fish swim away anyways!

“On second thought about not chasing any records, my fishing buddy was born in England, and looking at the Washington current records there are several righteye flounders with no current state records. So who knows, maybe we will work on English sole next time my daughter sends me to catch her some future fish prints!

“Life is full of surprises, and be careful what you fish for. I came here to study fisheries, but I ended up being hooked on the region myself.

VALERO HOISTS A WHITE-MEATED “IVORY” CHINOOK HE RECENTLY CAUGHT. (JUAN VALERO)

“I went fishing for king salmon and lingcod; none were caught those days, but I ended up catching some unusually large fish, at least relative to the typical size for those other species.

“I think it is good to be an informed outdoors person; the more you learn about an area and its creatures, the more you enjoy each time you get to go outside.

“Of course I like to catch larger and tastier fish, and sometimes I do. However, in these times of changing, uncertain and even diminishing fishing opportunities, you may end up not catching the fish that you want, but with the right attitude still manage to make the most of any outing.”

FUN FACTS: Juan Valero’s record sanddab topped a .81-pounder caught in 2003 by Richard Bethke — who himself has a 1.27-pound brown rockfish listed.

That’s the next lightest record fish amongst saltwater species.

The smallest freshwater state records are a .53-pound warmouth, .58-pound prickly sculpin and .79-pound green sunfish.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Two image cutlines misidentified Juan Valero by another name. Our apologies.

1,610 Roadkilled Deer, Elk Salvaged In First Year Of Washington Program

From Aberdeen to Zillah, Camano Island to Rock Island, Naselle to Newport, folks far and wide took advantage of the first full year of Washington’s roadkill salvaging rule.

More than 1,600 dead deer and elk were hauled off the sides of the state’s highways and byways between the time the program began on July 1, 2016 and June 30 of this year.

AMONG THE FIRST ELK SALVAGED IN WASHINGTON LAST JULY WAS THIS BULL NEAR ORTING. (RANDY HART JR.)

True, that’s just a small fraction of last fall’s hunting harvest and not meant to replace it any way.

But the meat that otherwise would have fed coyotes and crows or just rotted in the ditch or a DOT dumping ground instead provided nourishment to families around Washington.

And hopefully, data reported by salvagers will help the state better focus its efforts to prevent roadkill and improve highway safety — the program is the brainchild of a state Fish and Wildlife Commission member who lives near a very bad stretch of US 97 in Okanogan County.

In the meanwhile, a WDFW spreadsheet for all 1,610 deer and elk also provides interesting details on the agency’s most popular move in recent years.

To wit:

PERMITS BY MONTH

The month with the highest number of salvage permits issued was November 2016, with 319, followed by October with 293 and December with 141.

The lowest months were the last three, May 2017 (51), April (63) and June (72).

DEADLY DAYS

Salvagers reported collecting 20 roadkilled deer and elk on November 18th, 19 deer on Nov. 10th and the same number of deer and elk on Nov 13th, as well as 18 deer and elk on Nov. 6th.

(Oct. 17 also had 18 roadkills.)

People undoubtedly were concerned with other things on the 24th of the month — Thanksgiving — but two animals were collected and four reports filed that day (you have 24 hours to record a salvaging).

(Someone in Okanogan also went home with a deer on Christmas.)

FASTEST FILERS

No sooner had the program gone into effect last year than did Naselle and Sequim residents collect the first elk and deer — the former outside their hometown on the morning of July 1, the latter near the Dungeness River bridge that afternoon.

Hard to say when the first whitetail and muley were salvaged, but likely between July 5 and 7 when reports were filed by residents of Cheney, Kettle Falls and Moses Lake.

SPECIES BREAKDOWN

According to WDFW, among the 1,610 deer and elk were:

1,427 blacktails, whitetails and muleys and 183 elk.

Note that deer in three Southwestern Washington counties — Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum — can’t be collected because of issues with ESA-listed Columbian whitetails there.

BY SEX

833 does and cows, and 691 bucks and bulls.

43 were marked down as unknown sex.

BY ANTLER POINTS

230 spikes
141 two-points
81 three-points
59 four-points
32 five-points
17 six-points
4 seven-points.

A bull elk reported by an Auburn resident was written up as having “25” points.

EXTREMES

Salvagers are asked to input the location of where they picked up their deer or elk.

They came from just about everywhere inside Washington, but also the very edges of the state — from the southernmost spot east of Washougal, to just south of the British Columbia border in Blaine and Oroville, and from the mouth of Hells Canyon at the easternmost point of the state, to the Quileute Cemetery by La Push at its western edge.

BY RESIDENCY

Seattleites have little appetite for roadkill, and the same goes for residents of other cities in the core of Pugetropolis.

Hard to say why that might be — perhaps just a function of availability of roadkilled deer and elk along typical travel routes and/or the ability/facilities to butcher any … or we’re just weak-stomached wusses.

But outside those parts, boy howdy, did folks take advantage of the opportunity!

Here are how many salvage permits were filed by city:

Olympia: 50

Spokane: 48
Port Angeles: 43

Ellensburg: 26
East Wenatchee: 22
Shelton: 21
Winthrop: 21
Bellingham: 20

Yakima: 19
Cashmere: 18
Sedro-Woolley: 16
Wenatchee: 16

Aberdeen: 15
Bonney Lake: 15
Colville: 15
Graham: 15
Leavenworth: 15

Bremerton: 14
Buckley : 14
Chehalis: 14
Dayton: 14
Peshastin: 14
Roy: 14
Tonasket: 14
Yelm: 14

Eatonville: 13
Maple Valley: 13
Newport: 13
Oak Harbor: 13
Orting: 13
Port Orchard: 13
Sequim: 13

Moses Lake: 12
Renton: 12
Walla Walla: 12
Winlock: 12

Belfair: 11
Centralia: 11
Cheney: 11
Cle Elum: 11
Naches: 11
Okanogan: 11
Snohomish: 11
Twisp: 11

Arlington: 10
Everson: 10
Mount Vernon: 10
Port Townsend: 10
Puyallup: 10
Randle: 10
Stanwood: 10

If your hometown isn’t listed here, nine or fewer residents obtained a salvage permit.

OUT-OF-STATE COLLECTORS TOO

Of note, five Oregonians collected a roadkilled deer or elk in Washington, as did two Idahoans, one Californian and one New Yorker.

SALVAGER NOTES

When folks fill out their forms, they include humdrum details about the wheres and whens, but also sometimes poignant information about the circumstances. Some examples:

“She was about 3 miles north of Duvall on west side of 203, just north of a barn with two large silos. She had been eating apples.”

“By Peshastin pinnacles”

“Just up river from reds fly shop about .25 miles ”

“Male & female elk killed on 452nd St North Bend”

“Yearling hit by a passing pickup salvaged at once”

“Deer was hit right after the 35MPH sign going into electric city from grand coulee.”

“was driving outside Naches towards bald mountain and hit a doe with my truck.”

“The deer was hit directly in front of my house. The same address where the meat will be stored as listed above”

“I-90 East Bound, South Side of highway, about 2 miles past the WSDOT ‘Elk Ahead’ Readerboard.”

“Officer Kit Rosenberger responded to call of injured deer. He euthanized the deer and gave permission for salvage.”

“A white honda civic hit the deer on north bound I-5 about 5 miles outside of Bellingham.”

“when hiking up at a friends. me and a friend of mine found a mule deer buck hit by a car off the road a ways. ”

“I was driving on hwy 12 just west of the oak creek feeding station. I was going to pull the elk off the road when a WSP Trooper showed up and I decided to salvage the elk, so we went from there.”

“I did not hit the deer but it was very fresh. I did not witness the deer getting hit but it was not badly damaged. It is a very small deer but I did not want to let it go t waste. The mile marker I saw was 411.”

“Deer was struck by an unknown vehicle in front of my home, there were pieces of the vehicle’s front end on the ground nearby. I arrived and found the doe to be deceased but still warm. ”

“A lady hit the deer with her SUV about 2 miles west of Darrington. I was on my way home from work and stopped to assist the driver. She informed me of the deer and said the accident was reported, and a tow truck was on it’s way and she was not injured. I asked if she was interested in the salvage of the doe. She was not. I loaded the animal between 6:30 and 7:00 pm. I hope I was able to give you all the information needed. Thank you for your time, and happy holidays.”

How Washington Budget Affects WDFW, You (Hint: No Rec Fee Hike)

UPDATED 3:50 P.M., JUNE 30, 2017 WITH COMMENTS FROM SEN. KIRK PEARSON

A budget that Washington lawmakers are racing to approve before midnight’s deadline includes money from the General Fund for WDFW instead of the agency’s requested recreational license  increase.

Though half of what it had hoped to raise through higher fishing and hunting fees, the $10.1 million bump in an overall budget of $437 million is still being termed a “significant” amount considering the legislature’s major focus on education this year and other economic challenges.

“While this year’s budget doesn’t include much new program funding, we received a significant amount of new general fund which will help address the agency’s budget shortfall,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth said in an all-staff late-morning email.

Raquel Crosier, the agency’s legislative liaison, called it “a really good Band-Aid and will help us avoid painful reductions.”

PINK SALMON ANGLERS FISH UNDER CLEARING SKIES AT WHIDBEY ISLAND’S KEYSTONE SPIT IN JULY 2015. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

But it’s also a one-time fix that means WDFW will have to ask for another General Fund hit again in two years.

“The agency will be working over the coming months to identify smart reductions that avoid harsh impacts to our customers. We will also be working with legislators to consider some alternative long-term funding solutions for the agency,” Crosier added.

That would suggest sportsmen are off the hook for more than just two years for covering the budgetary shortfalls and enhanced fishing and hunting opportunities WDFW had been angling for with its $20-plus million Washington’s Wild Future package the past two years.

While it had been supported in proposed budgets from House Democrats and Governor Inslee, there was no interest in a fee hike from Senate Republicans, who favored dipping into the General Fund instead, and that appears to be what will pass.

The last fee increase was in 2011, which itself was the first in a decade.

That $10.1 million General Fund appropriation does come with a caveat — “a management and organizational review.”

Senators Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) and John Braun (R-Centralia) have not been happy with WDFW and what they’ve been hearing about it from hunters and anglers.

“When WDFW proposed to increase hunting and fishing license fees to cover their fiscal problems early this year, we heard loud and clear from sportsmen that these increases were not to be bargained with. Instead, we are backfilling $11 million into the agency to maintain hunting and fishing opportunities while we begin addressing the problems at WDFW,” Pearson said. “Clearly, there are both fiscal and management problems that need to be addressed. Now we can better account of how their dollars are spent and bring a level of accountability to the agency that hasn’t been in place for years.”

That review comes with $325,000 to perform the audit.

“This is a big victory for those of us who want to see more hunting and fishing opportunities and a better-run department,” added Pearson. “We need to get WDFW back up and running in structurally sound way. This budget gets us back on that path.”

Meanwhile, Inslee is urging lawmakers to get him the budget as soon as possible to avoid a partial government shutdown that would also close all but one fishery in the state, shut down boat ramps and leave wildlife areas unstaffed.

In his message to staff, Unsworth said the bill should pass and get to the governor in time to head that off, as well as cancel the layoff notices most of his staff received.

On separate late-developing fronts in Olympia, a bill authorizing a fee increase for commercial fisherman is zipping through the Senate as I write and is expected to bring in $1.26 million.

Lawmakers have also pushed through a two-year extension of the Columbia River endorsement that otherwise would have expired tonight.

That helps preserve $3 million in funding to hold salmon and steelhead fisheries in the watershed that otherwise would not be able to occur because of monitoring requirements in federal permits due to ESA stocks.

And a bill that raises $1 million to fight aquatic invasive species passed both chambers in the past 24 hours.

Back to WDFW’s budget, it includes nearly $1 million for wolf management, including depredation prevention efforts and a consultant who is assisting the wolf advisory group.

It maintains funding regional fisheries enhancement groups with a $900,000 allocation, and provides $167,000 for a pilot project to keep Colockum elk away from I-90 and elsewhere in eastern Kittitas County.

It also authorizes spending $530,000 from the new steelhead plate for work on that species, $448,000 for studying ocean acidification, and $200,000 for operating the Mayr Brothers Hatchery in Grays Harbor County.

Besides not funding the Wild Future initiative, the budget leaves out money for increased enforcement of wildlife trafficking.

It also cuts $341,000 for surveying wildlife and $1 million from payment in lieu of taxes for wildlife areas it owns. The latter could have been worse — Inslee had proposed a $3 million hack.

And instead of $2.3 million for hydraulic project approvals, the legislature is appropriating $660,000.

Still to be determined is the state Capital Budget, which funds upkeep and renovations at hatcheries, access sites, as well provides grants for acquiring new wildlife areas.

According to Unsworth, one is expected in the coming weeks.

No Washington Budget By July 1 Means Large-scale Fishery Closures

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that is being updated, including that state House and Senate lawmakers appear to have reached a budget deal “in principle,” per Governor Inslee.

All salmon, walleye and trout waters shut down.

Delayed July fishing and crabbing openers.

WDFW boat ramps on the Skykomish, Cowlitz and Skagit rivers closed.

This morning, Washington sportsmen are being warned they could see those and more starting starting this Saturday IF — note the big if — lawmakers don’t pass a state operating budget by June 30.

“We are optimistic that lawmakers will resolve their differences and avoid a shutdown, but it’s possible they will not succeed,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth said in a press release. “We are providing this information to inform the public of the potential effects of a shutdown, so they can revise their plans if necessary during the busiest recreation season of the year.”

Similar situations in 2013 and 2015 were avoided with late deals on budgets, and UPDATE it may again be the case in 2017 — a “deal in principle” is being reported as of 9:53 a.m., though there are no actual details of what’s being proposed, only confidence that it would get to Governor Inslee’s desk on time to avoid a shutdown.

To get the latest on the state of negotiations, monitor #WaLeg on Twitter, as well as state capital reporters , @RachelAPOly and, among others.

A SKYKOMISH RIVER FISHERMAN PREPARES HIS DRIFT BOAT FOR LAUNCH AT SULTAN, ONE OF MANY STATE LAUNCHES THAT WOULD BE CLOSED IF LAWMAKERS CAN’T AGREE ON A WASHINGTON BUDGET BY JULY 1. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Legislators in the House and Senate have until Friday night to agree to a spending plan and get it to Governor Inslee to avoid the widespread consequences.

Everyone’s crossing their fingers Olympia politicians get the job done, and there are positive rumblings from the capital as I press publish on this blog.

But in the meanwhile the uncertainty is forcing WDFW to push its contingency plan for a state shutdown further into the open.

It’s held off doing so since late last week, because putting out those details comes with a risk — too much alarm could impact businesses in sportfishing-dependent places like Westport.

There, July 1 not only marks the salmon opener in the “Salmon Fishing Capital of the World,” with a larger Chinook quota, but coho are back on the menu this year after 2016’s closure for the stock.

But with DNR and Ecology posting warning notices on their websites last night, WDFW put out the word this morning.

A shutdown would leave just 70 of the agency’s 1,800 staffers on the job, too few to monitor and police fisheries, even every-day ones.

Asked last week which of his lakes and rivers would be affected, one Eastside fishery manager offered a blunt assessment.

“All of them.”

A Westside biologist told me the same.

“Everything is my understanding. So no salmon, no river fisheries, no lakes, nothing.”

The only exceptions, according to WDFW, would be Dungeness crabbing off the coast, because funding for it is not reliant on the legislature.

The shutdown would also leave no staff to write up potential emergency openers.

While about half of WDFW’s 83 hatcheries are required to stay open because they rear federally protected salmon and steelhead, the other 41 raising rainbows and nonlisted stocks might have to be gated.

“But we are exploring options to avoid closing any of them,” Unsworth said.

State wildlife areas would stay open, but restrooms would be closed.

WDFW would also stop processing hydraulic permit approvals, public disclosure requests and selling fishing and hunting licenses.

Its main and regional offices would be closed, and poaching reports would have to be dealt with by other agencies.

Again, this is NOT A DONE DEAL, but with negotiations coming down to the wire, it’s prudent to warn sportsmen about the possibilities.

We’ll be closely monitoring the situation and post any significant updates.

 

Last Hurrah? Pessimistic Angler Wants To Open Lake Washington Sockeye One Final Time

A Washington sockeye angler is calling on WDFW to open Lake Washington this summer for a last-hurrah season if more than 100,000 of the salmon pass through the Ballard Locks.

We’re already nearly one-fifth of the way there, with 19,139 counted as of yesterday and the usual run peaks still ahead of us.

But it would be a sharp change from past fisheries, which haven’t been held until managers were sure 350,000 were entering the system, and would require tribal comanagers to sign off on.

IMAGES FROM THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FISHERY, IN 2006. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Frank Urabeck, a long time fisheries activist, terms it a “token, for old times’ sake” opportunity in an email to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth and a number of agency honchos late this afternoon.

“Looking at the Cedar River wild and hatchery production data I am convinced this is last chance we will have for run to be this good and an opportunity to show what it once was like. Public deserves something given the significant imbalance in cumulative harvest as a result of the tribal C&S fisheries since 2006,” Urabeck writes.

He worries the system’s sockeye population may be past a “tipping point” to ever recover and host an opener at that higher return level.

It certainly feels like this is a fishery from bygone days, or at least the dawn of the Twitter and Facebook age.

While the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Tribes have had limited annual ceremonial and subsistence sockeye fisheries with a total catch Urabeck estimates at 30,000 to 40,000, it hasn’t been since 2006 that salmon mania has descended on the big water just east of Seattle.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Since then Urabeck and the rest of us have been on the sidelines, carefully watching the locks counts in hopes there might be enough, but always turning away disappointed, despite the promise of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, capable of cranking out 34 million sockeye fry.

Unfortunately, as they rear in the lake for a year, many if not most smolts are being eaten by piscivorous fish and other predators.

And returning adults are increasingly dying from disease after they pass from the locks to the lake through the too-warm, relatively shallow ship canal — 40 percent of Cedar-bound sockeye in both 2014 and 2015, according to the Muckleshoot Tribe.

Despite record hatchery fry production in 2012, which should have yielded as many as 500,000 adults, according to Urabeck, instead we saw one of the most abysmal returns on record, just 12,000 to 15,000 back to the Cedar.

But at the same time, recent years’ returns, including this one, were at sea through The Blob and most likely were affected like 2015’s pinks and coho, so it’s possible runs could bounce back with improving ocean conditions and increased control of freshwater predator species.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Still, hopes for slapping some homegrown sockeye on Seattle barbecues have been fizzling for some time.

So with the future looking grim in his eyes, Urabeck is calling for a couple days of fishing some time in late July or early August, and foresees a harvest of 10,000.

“The proposed special fishery would not have any significant impact on sockeye reaching the Cedar River and the sockeye hatchery operated by the City of Seattle, which has failed to meet expectations. Remember, the Cedar River sockeye were introduced from the Baker River and are under no ESA constraint,” he writes to Unsworth.

If the state and tribes get on board and enough sockeye actually arrive — the official forecast calls for 77,292 back to the locks and it’s hard to say whether 2017’s good start means the run is early or big or both — it could also give local tackle stores a much-needed shot in the arm after two deflating summers.

The 18-day 2006 season produced $8.6 million in economic benefits and a catch of 59,000 sockeye, according to WDFW.

We’ll fold in comment from the agency as it arrives.