Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

WDFW Fee Hike Bills Get Support During Public Hearings, But Concerns Raised Too

Washington lawmakers heard arguments for and not-quite-fully-against on a pair of bills that would increase fishing and hunting license fees by 15 percent during public hearings held late this week.

While nobody spoke out directly in opposition to HB 1708 or SB 5692, a representative for the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Northwest Marine Trade Association said the organizations were concerned about them.

“If I leave you with one message today, it is this is not about the money,” said Carl Burke. “We’ve always been willing to pay to play. However, we should not continually — consumptive users — be asked to provide more monies for less opportunity. It’s just that simple.”

He also said the industries needed predictable seasons and more effective inseason management to make decisions on how much inventory they should carry on their shelves and boat lots.

Poor ocean conditions in recent years have made managing salmon and steelhead fisheries very complex for WDFW.

NSIA AND NMTA LOBBYIST CARL BURKE SPEAKS BEFORE SENATORS DURING A PUBLIC HEARING ON A BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSE FEES. (TVW)

And Burke spoke to policies being worked on by the Fish and Wildlife Commission and WDFW that he said put recovery of ESA-listed Columbia salmon runs at risk, a reference to fishery reforms that are now being reconsidered and which has directly led to another bill in the state legislature, SB 5617, which would phase out nontribal gillnets.

He said that lawmakers would be getting a letter more fully outlining NSIA’s and NMTA’s issues and promised to work collaboratively on the bills.


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“We want a well-funded department. We also want a department that is responsive to the public and the needs of the resource. I hope you will look within the budget and fee increase process to make the focus on improving recreational fishing opportunities,” Burke stated.

Scott Sigmon of the Coastal Conservation Association said his organization was officially signed in as “other,” and that CCA’s potential support was linked to increased hatchery production, tying recreational angling fees to recreational fisheries, better fisheries management, and banning nontribal gillnets in salmon waters.

But most of the testimony yesterday afternoon and this morning before the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks and House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committees, respectively, was in full support of the bills.

Tom Echols, representing the Hunters Heritage Council, said WDFW “deserves support of this bill since they haven’t had an increase since 2011.”

Since then, the agency’s budget has seen a growing “structural” deficit in which funding hasn’t kept up with all the things piled onto its plate.

Along with provisions benefiting youths and new sportsmen and -women, the bills include new licensing packages, including a Washington Sportsperson option, “which I will be buying,” said Echols.

It combines Hunt Washington (deer, elk, bear, cougar, small game, migratory bird permit and authorization, plus two turkey tags) and Fish Washington (combo fishing plus two-pole, Dungeness and Columbia endorsements) and would run $245.20, plus dealer fees.

The two options otherwise would run $172.64 and $72.56, pre fee.

While all individual licenses would go up in cost by 15 percent, thanks to Fish and Wildlife Commission concerns, anglers would only end up paying a maximum of $7 more, hunters $15 more.

A LEGISLATIVE ANALYSIS SHOWS HOW MUCH MORE INDIVIDUAL WDFW FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES WOULD COST UNDER THE FEE INCREASE BILL. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

HHC’s support marks a reversal from 2017 when they were a “no” on that year’s fee hike proposal.

On the fishing side, Jonathan Sawin, skipper of the Cormorant and representing both the Westport and Ilwaco charter boat associations, said he supported the bills as written “so we can continue to have great fisheries on Washington waters.”

Bob Kratzer, vice president of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association and Forks-area salmon and steelhead guide, said that WDFW is “hamstrung” by budget issues when it comes to hatchery production and enforcement of fish and wildlife laws.

He said that he routinely goes to meetings and hears agency staffers say they don’t have enough money for this or that.

“It’s about time we gave them more money so they can afford it,” he said.

“It’s a new day, we have a new director, I’m willing to give that guy a shot,” said Kratzer.

MEMBERS OF THE CHOUSE RURAL DEVELOPMENT, AGRICULTURE, & NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE LISTEN AS REP. JOEL KRETZ ASKS A QUESTION DURING A HEARING ON A BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSE FEES. (TVW)

When Jim Unsworth’s 2017’s fee increase bid went down in flames, legislators gave WDFW a $10 million General Fund bump but also “homework,” in new Director Kelly Susewind’s words, to review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan.

Out off that came the Budget and Policy Advisory Group, and last week 13 member organizations sent lawmakers a letter urging them to boost WDFW’s budget sharply, with three-quarters of that coming from the General Fund and one-quarter from the proposed license increases.

“To succeed, the Department requires at least $60 million above its present funding (not including expected orca recovery needs), half to fix the shortfall created by the state legislature in the last biennium, and half to invest in the future by helping correct inequities and the damage caused by a decade of underfunding,” the letter stated.

Signees included critical fishing and hunting organizations such as Puget Sound Anglers, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Mule Deer Foundation and Ilwaco Charterboat Association, plus nine other conservation, fishing and environmental groups.

(They also asked for $12.9 million for fish and wildlife conservation and $4.2 million for habitat improvements, “the most underfunded components of the Department’s work,” to be included in WDFW’s operating budget.)

Others testifying in front of lawmakers on Thursday and Friday in favor of the fee bills included Bill Clarke of Trout Unlimited, who was a BPAG member and said it had been interesting to dig into WDFW’s finances.

“Many things have recovered since 2009 — price of housing, the stock market, Seahawks football, Husky football, etc. What’s not recovered is the department’s budget. Their general fund support is not recovered. They’ve had a modest increase, and that’s about it,” Clarke said.

TU also supported the 2017 proposal.

Also appearing before the legislative committees to voice their support were Jen Syrowitz of the Washington Wildlife Federation, Lucas Hart of the Northwest Straits Commission and Aaron Peterson of the Regional Fisheries Coalition.

The bills would also allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to make small increases to license fees to account for inflation starting two years from now, and Clarke noted that with other state oversight boards already having such authority it made sense for WDFW’s to as well.

Still, Randy Leduc, an avid Centralia angler and CCA member, did express concern that that role would move from the legislature’s bailiwick to the commission.

The House version of the bill was dropped by Rep. Brian Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat.

I’m happy to sponsor the bill and bring it forward. I think there’s been a rigorous process going through the agency’s budget,” Blake said in speaking in support of it.

Still, you could hear the worry from his fellow South Coast representative, Jim Walsh, an Aberdeen Republican.

Walsh asked, would he hear complaints afterwards from his constituents about the fee hike if he supported it?

WDFW’s Susewind could only say that yes, he would, as we sportsmen are just generally against higher prices, but that the agency is responsive to concerns about paying more for less.

“We hear that loud and clear. We’re committed to working on it, continue working on it. Frankly, in order to provide sustainable or hopefully improving opportunities, we really need an adequately funded agency to do that and so that’s what we will put a lot of this money towards is trying to provide that,” Susewind said. “But there will always be people who don’t support a fee. I would be foolish to say otherwise.”

The fee increase bills have a long, long, long way to go before they go into effect. They must be approved and reconciled by representatives and senators and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. If they are, the hikes and license package options would go become effective 90 days after this legislative session ends, scheduled for April 28 but later is always possible if recent years are any indication.

Editor’s notes: To read the actual fee hike bills, go here and here. For what the hell it all means in plainer English, nonpartisan legislative analysis of the bills are available here and here. And to view the TVW broadcasts of both committees’ public hearings on the bills, go here and here.

Washington Gillnet, Fee Hike Bills Set For Public Hearings In Oly

With few new fish- or wildlife-related bills introduced in Washington’s halls of power, it was a nice, slow week for the Olympia Outsider™ to recover from last week’s grievous shoulder owie (and get into rehab for his little muscle relaxant habit).

BILLS ADDRESSING SALMON HATCHERIES, SALMON HABITAT, SALMON PREDATORS AND SALMON CATCHING ARE ACTIVE IN WASHINGTON’S STATE LEGISLATURE.,  (NMFS)

Most of the action came as senators and representatives held public hearings on previously submitted legislation or lawmakers amended bills, including one addressing in part the game fish status of walleye, bass and channel catfish, or gave them do-pass recommendations.

One bill of note was dropped, SB 5824 from Sen. Doug Eriksen, a different take on recovering southern resident killer whales.

“Tearing down dams, major land grabs and land-use restrictions are not the answer,” the Ferndale Republican said in a press release out yesterday. “A more robust hatchery system not only would mean more food for orcas, but also more opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen, more tourism, and more good-paying jobs in our communities.”


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It would fund construction of a new public-private facility on Bellingham’s waterfront that would operate similar to how some in Alaska are, self-funded through the sale of returning adult pink and coho salmon, as serve as a test for more expansive use of nonstate hatcheries.

At this writing the bill hadn’t been assigned a hearing, nor had another new one (SB 5871) reauthorizing the Columbia River endorsement fee or a third addressing state land management (HB 1983).

Assuming the Great Glacier doesn’t surge out of the Great White North and shove Washington’s capitol into Black Lake over the next few snowy days, next week could still be an interesting one for watchers of state politics, as well as even the occasionally attentive Olympia Outsider™.

The nontribal gillnet phaseout and WDFW’s fee hike bills will be heard before both chambers’ natural resource committees, and who knows what other legislation is waiting in the wings.

Here’s more on those and other bills that are showing signs of life, though sadly the one designating Bainbridge Island (The Wolfiest!™) a sanctuary for wolves has not followed the lead of Punxsutawney Phil and reared its head above ground in any committee yet.

SALMON

Bill title: “Banning the use of nontribal gill nets,” SB 5617
Status: After garnering cosponsorship from 27 of Washington’s 49 state senators at its late January introduction, it is slated for a 1:30 public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 12. Sportfishing groups like NSIA are calling it a “historic bill” and are urging members to bundle up, chain up, and snowshoe their way to Room 3 of the J.A. Cherberg Building to sign in as “pro.”

LICENSES

Bill title: “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses,” HB 1708 / SB 5692
Status: With a letter of support from 13 state sporting and conservation groups, WDFW’s fee hike bill has been scheduled for a 10 a.m. Feb. 15 public hearing before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources, which should provide an even better gauge for how much support it has.

Bill title: “Broadening the eligibility for a reduced recreational hunting and fishing license rate for resident disabled hunters and fishers,” HB 1230
Status: Lawmakers liked this bill, which would set the cost of licenses for resident sportsmen with a permanent disability confirmed by a doctor, a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner at half what Washington hunters and anglers pay, giving it a unanimous do-pass recommendation out of House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources. Next stop: House Appropriations.

ORCAS

Bill title: “Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing chinook abundance,” HB 1579 / SB 5580
Status: While primarily addressing hydraulic code enforcement and saltwater forage fish habitat, a portion targeting walleye, bass and channel catfish for declassification was amended to retain game fish status but directing the Fish and Wildlife Commission to liberalize limits on the species where they swim with salmon this week by the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resource.

Bill Title: “Concerning the protection of southern resident orca whales from vessels,” HB 1580 / SB 5577
Status: Had a public hearing before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources and is scheduled for an executive session next week.

Bill title: “Addressing the impacts of pinnipeds on populations of threatened southern resident orca prey,” HB 1824
Status: This bill directing WDFW to apply to NOAA for a permit to take out the maximum number of sea lions to increase salmon survival for orcas has been scheduled for an 8 a.m. Feb. 14 public hearing with the House Committee on Environment & Energy.

HUNTING

Bill title: “Concerning visible clothing requirements for hunting,” SB 5148
Status: Hunter pink received a unanimous do-pass recommendation from the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee and was sent to Rules Committee where it’s set for a second reading before placement on the Senate Floor calendar.

WILDLIFE

Bill title: “Concerning wildlife damage to agricultural crops,” HB 1875
Status: Dropped this week by a pair of elk country lawmakers, Reps. Eslick and Dent, this bill changing who is on the hook for agricultural damage from deer and wapiti from hunters to the state general fund is scheduled for a 10 a.m. Feb 15 hearing before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

PREDATORS

Bill title: “Establishing a nonlethal program within the department of fish and wildlife for the purpose of training dogs,” SB 5320
Status: Enjoyed a lot of supportive baying during a public hearing and the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee gave it a 6-1 do-pass recommendation and sent it to Rules for a second reading. House version (HB 1516) receives a public hearing today.

OTHER

Bill title: “Designating the Pacific razor clam as the state clam,” HB 1061
Status: Could get a “show” of hands, or at least ayes and nays, after a Feb. 15 executive session in the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations.

Bill title: “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes,” HB 1662 / SB 5696
Status: Received public hearings in both chambers, with wide support for changing how counties are reimbursed for lands WDFW wildlife area acquisitions take off property tax rolls. Scheduled for an executive session with the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources next week.

Bill title: “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state,” HB 1261 / SB 5322
Status: Public hearings held in both chambers’ environmental committees on this bill addressing suction and other mining in critical salmon habitat, with executive session scheduled by the House panel next week.

ALSO ACTIVE

SB 5404, “Expanding the definition of fish habitat enhancement projects,” would include eel grass beds, scheduled for an executive session by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks this afternoon, assuming Snowmaggedon The Reckoning stays away.

HB 1341, “Concerning the use of unmanned aerial systems near certain protected marine species,” given a do-pass recommendation by House Committee on Innovation, Technology & Economic Development and sent to Rules 2 Review

SB 5525, “Concerning whitetail deer population estimates,” addresses Northeast Washington herds, scheduled for a 1:30 p.m., Feb. 14 public hearing before Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks

WDFW Looking For Comments On 9 Proposed Fish, Wildlife Acquisitions

Washington fish and wildlife managers are looking for public comment on whether they should acquire 4,000 acres of land for salmon, forage fish and critter habitat and public recreation.

WDFW IS LOOKING FOR PUBLIC COMMENT ON WHETHER TO SEEK FUNDING FOR NINE LAND BUYS, TRANSFERS AND DONATIONS ACROSS THE STATE TO PROTECT HABITAT AND ENHANCE FISHING AND HUNTING OPPORTUNTIES. (WDFW)

The nine projects would primarily pad state wildlife areas in Okanogan and northern Douglas Counties and protect estuaries on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal and Grays Harbor.

“This is an opportunity to comment on these proposals in the early stages of our strategic thinking,” said Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW lands division manager, in a press release.

Comments will determine if the agency goes ahead and seeks funding from the legislature and other sources.

The largest is a proposed 2,180-acre land buy around the Central Ferry Unit of the Wells Wildlife Area west of Bridgeport.

“Acquisition will complement and protect area habitat and species including, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, greater sage grouse and mule deer, while providing hunting, wildlife viewing, and other recreational opportunities,” a WDFW PDF states.

The buy has the support of Douglas County Commissioners, according to the agency.

On the other side of the Upper Columbia are proposed additions to the McLoughlin Falls (730 acres), Scotch Creek (220 acres) and Golden Doe (110 acres) Units of various wildlife areas in the Okanogan, Sinlahekin and Methow Valleys, respectively.

All would preserve deer and other wildlife habitat from development, while the Scotch Creek deal would be a trade, swapping for 80 acres of state wildlife area being leased for farming.

The three have the support of Okanogan County Commissioners, with the Colville Tribes also on board with the McLoughlin Falls deal along the Okanogan River between Tonasket and Riverside.

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In Western Washington, WDFW would be transferred 300 acres on the lower end of Big Beef Creek, “one of the largest, most intact watersheds in Kitsap County.”

“Ownership of this property would support continuation of a current restoration project,” an agency write-up states. “Additionally, Big Beef Creek is the only system in Hood Canal where state and tribal fishery managers have enough annual coho salmon out-migrants to mark wild coho salmon for marine survival and harvest forecast.”

It has the support three local tribes, county, DNR, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group and others.

On the southern shore of Grays Harbor, WDFW would accept a 257-acre donation, protecting habitat and recreational opportunities, and link two other state-managed parcels.

A proposed 216-acre acquisition at the mouth of West Twin River would protect, enhance and restore over half a mile of saltwater shoreline between Port Angeles and Sekiu, including important eel grass beds and spawning areas for surf smelt, and 14,000 feet of riparian habitat in the stream, “one of the most important coho and steelhead systems in the strait.”

Federal researchers found that wild winter-run steelhead in West and East Twin Rivers have 18 different life histories.

A DNR SHORELINE PHOTO SHOWS THE MOUTH OF THE WEST TWIN RIVER. (DNR)

Two others are located on the Duckabush delta (.76 acre) and Lake Lenore (160 acres from state parks).

To learn more about the projects, go here .

Written comments are being taken through Feb. 25 by emailing lands@dfw.wa.gov.

 

WDFW Fish-Hunt Fee Hike, Other Bills Introduced In Olympia

The Olympia Outsider™ almost didn’t file an update this week after — true story — messing up his shoulder really bad while swiping his bus pass on the card reader as he boarded the 41.

The pain!!!!!!!

But duty calls, and so with the muscle relaxants kicking in, here are fish- and wildlife-related bills that Washington lawmakers have introduced this week, as well as a pair three (good grief) that he totally missed from earlier in the session.

Bill: HB 1708 / SB 5692
Title: “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Fitzgibbon, Springer, Irwin, Chandler, Robinson, Riccelli, Lekanoff, Dye, Jinkins, Tarleton / Sens. Rolfes, McCoy, Takko, Wellman
Note: By request of WDFW
Bill digest: Not available, but this is the agency’s fee increase bill and while it would add 15 percent to the base cost for resident fishing and hunting licenses, by request of the Fish and Wildlife Commission it also includes a cap on how much more you’d end up paying overall. “It’s $7 on any combination of fishing licenses,” says Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison. “No fisherman will pay more than $7 more and hunter more than $15 more.” It pushes the age that kids first have to buy a fishing license from 15 to 16 and gives the commission authority to institute small surcharges after two years “to fund inflationary and other increased costs approved by the legislature in the biennial budget.” That could potentially mean “more frequent but smaller adjustments” to the cost of licenses compared to the effect of this bill, which would increase prices for the first time since 2011.

OO analysis: This is the second fee bill WDFW has floated since 2017 and Crosier is optimistic this one will do better than the last one. “It’s getting a lot more positive reach, at least in Olympia,” she notes, adding that some Republicans have even consponsored it this go-around. Overall, the agency is looking for a $67 million budget bump from lawmakers, with about three-quarters of that coming from the General Fund to make up for cuts from it since the Great Recession that haven’t been fully restored. It will be interesting to watch who testifies and what they say when the bills make it to a public hearing.


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Bill: HB 1784
Title: “Concerning wildfire prevention.”
Sponsors: Reps. Kretz, Blake
Bill digest: None available but essentially adds “wildfire fuel breaks” to the tools land managers have for preventing catastrophic blow-ups on public ground.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: Can’t say the OO is against taking better care of areas that also function as critter habitat. A recent DNR blog highlighted how tree thinning and preventative burning on WDFW’s Sherman Creek Wildlife Area and elsewhere nearby helped keep parts of last summer’s Boyds Fire on the forest floor instead of crowning out as it did elsewhere in burning over 4,000 acres.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Bill: HB 1824
Title: “Addressing the impacts of pinnipeds on populations of threatened southern resident orca prey.”
Sponsors: Reps. Young, Kloba, MacEwen, Vick, Irwin, Chambers, Lovick, Tarleton
Bill digest: None available, but requires WDFW to file a permit with federal overseers “for the maximum lethal take of sea lions in order to enhance the survival or recovery of salmon species protected in Washington,” meaning ESA-listed Chinook which are a key feedstock for starting orcas.
OO analysis: The bill has cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, including the woman who represents the Ballard Locks, where Herschell et al et all of Lake Washington’s steelhead — see what I did there? California sea lions are at their habitat’s capacity, and a recent analysis estimated that the marine mammals as well as harbor seals and northern orcas have increased their consumption of Chinook from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970. Between that and decreased hatchery production, there are fewer salmon available for SRKWs, not to mention fishermen. While thanks to recent Congressional action, WDFW is already applying for authorization to take out sea lions on portions of the Columbia and its tribs, this appears to call for a broader permit and without all the bother of RCW 43.21C.030(2)(c), something something something about big reports on environmental impacts something something. (Sorry, the Methocarbosomething something is kicking in pretty nicely.)

Bill: HB 1662 / SB 5696
Title: “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes.”
Sponsors: Reps. Dent, Springer, Kretz, Blake, Dye, Tharinger, Chandler, Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Fey, Corry, Dufault, Young /  Sens.
Bill digest: None available but according to Crosier it essentially would mirror the way DNR pays counties through the state treasurer, allowing WDFW to more fully compensate counties for the million or so acres it has taken off local tax rolls as it has purchased farms, ranches and timberlands for wildlife areas. Crosier says it sets “a more consistent methodology and pay rate.”
OO analysis: If your eyes are as glazed over as the OO’s, we don’t blame you because this PILT bill is boring as hell, but could be helpful in restoring peace in counties where WDFW land ownership has caused friction and more critter habitat is needed.

THE 4-O WILDLIFE AREA IN ASOTIN COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Bill: HB 1261 / SB 5322
Title: “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state.”
Sponsors: Reps. Peterson, Fitzgibbon, Stanford, Tarleton, Ortiz-Self, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Pollet /  Sens. Palumbo, Carlyle, Wellman, Hunt, McCoy, Hasegawa, Kuderer, Nguyen, Saldaña
Bill digest: “Specifies that a discharge to waters of the state from a  motorized or gravity siphon aquatic mining operation is subject to the department of ecology’s authority and the federal clean water act.” Per a press release from Trout Unlimited, which is supporting the bills, the bills would “ban suction dredge mining in Endangered Species Act-designated Critical Habitat for listed salmonids.” Those watersheds include most of Puget Sound; the Cowlitz and other Lower Columbia tribs; Middle and Upper Columbia tribs in Eastern Washington; and Snake River tribs, so, much of the state outside the OlyPen and South Coast river systems.
OO analysis: We’d blame the muscle relaxers for overlooking this pair of bills, but they were actually dropped well before the OO suffered his grievous muscle something something. They’ve been routed to House and Senate environmental committees, where they will have public hearings early next week. Even with mining in my family history, the OO tends to side with fish these days — if the stocks need protection from even catch-and-release angling, they should probably have their habitat protected a little more too.

IMAGES FROM AN INTENT TO SUE NOTICE FROM SEVERAL YEARS AGO ILLUSTRATE TWO ORGANIZATIONS’ CLAIMS THAT WASHINGTON’S SUCTION DREDGING REGULATIONS WEREN’T ENOUGH AT THE TIME WHEN IT CAME TO PROTECTING ESA-LISTED FISH SPECIES.

Bill: HB 5597
Title: “Creating a work group on aerial pesticide applications in forestlands.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Saldaña, McCoy, Conway, Hasegawa
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the bill, it would establish a work group comprised of representatives from various state agencies, timber and environmental interests, among others, “to develop recommendations for improving the best management practices for aerial application of pesticides on state and private forestlands.”
OO analysis: Another bill from a couple weeks ago that the OO totally missed (possibly because he was enveloped by a cloud sprayed on the clearcut he reports all this stuff from), but will be an interesting one when it has a public hearing Feb. 7.

AS FOR OTHER BILLS THE OLYMPIA OUTSIDER™ HAS REPORTED ON so far this session, here’s a snapshot of those that have moved one way or another.

HB 1036, South Coast hatchery salmon production — hearing today in House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

HB 1061, Designating razors as the state clam — an open-and-quickly-closed public hearing was held by the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations .

HB 1230, Making more disabled sportsmen eligible for discounted licenses — hearing held and executive session scheduled today by House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

SB 5100, Restarting a pilot hound hunt for cougars in select counties — public hearing held by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks with varying support, opposition and neutralness.

SB 5320, Nonlethal hound training program — hearing held, received widespread support and now scheduled for executive session by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks today. House version set for public hearing later in February.

SB 5404, Fish habitat enhancement projects definitions — hearing scheduled next week in Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.

HB 1579 / SB 5580, Chinook habitat protections and declassifying select game fish — public hearing held earlier this week before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources with strong support from fishermen, tribes, others for major portion of bill addressing hydraulic approvals, but with angler concerns about designation drops for walleye, bass, catfish. Senate version set for hearing next week.

HB 1580 / SB 5577 Vessel disturbance and orcas — public hearing before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources next week.

SB 5617, banning nontribal gillnets — officially, this bill hasn’t been given a public hearing date since being introduced late last week, but rumor is it will get one before Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks in February.

SSB 5148, OKing hunters to wear pink clothing during certain big, small game seasons — hearing held, received good support and was given a do-pass recommendation by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks. Now in Senate Rules Committee for a second reading

AND AS FOR THE REST OF THE BILLS WE’RE FOLLOWING but which are awaiting committee assignments before the Feb. 22 deadline, those include:

Writing fishing and hunting rights into the state Constitution by a vote of the people — would be nice to get on the ballot, if only Washingtonians could be trusted to vote the right way

Estimating Northeast Washington whitetails — would be nice to get more refined data on the region’s flagtails

Studying human impacts on streambeds — would be nice to know

Turning Bainbridge Island (The Wolfiest!) into a wolf sanctuary — would be nice to visit, but bill not going anywhere

Barring WDFW from lethally removing livestock-depredating wolves — ironically, bill was shot and it limped off and died somewhere on Bainbridge

Banning hounds from being used to track down timber-depredating bears — unlikely to get a hearing

And asking Congress to open hunting seasons on sea lions — not going to happen, even if CNN seems ready to go.

Oly Update II: Gill Net Ban, Bainbridge Wolf Preserve Bills Introduced

Just a brief update from the Olympia Outsider™ as the second week of Washington’s legislative session comes to a close.

Lawmakers continue to introduce fish- and wildlife-related bills, and several of note were dropped this week, some more serious than others.

A TONGUE IN CHEEK BILL INTRODUCED IN OLYMPIA THIS WEEK WOULD ESSENTIALLY DECLARE BAINBRIDGE ISLAND A WOLF PRESERVE. IT’S REP. JOEL KRETZ’S RESPONSE TO A LOCAL LEGISLATOR’S BILL THAT WOULD BAR WDFW FROM LETHALLY REMOVING DEPREDATING WOLVES IN HIS DISTRICT. NEITHER ARE LIKELY TO PASS. (THE INTERWEBS)

With our rundown last Friday starting with House bills, this week we’ll lead off with new ones in the Senate:

Bill: SB 5617
Title: “Banning the use of nontribal gill nets.”
Sponsors: Sens. Salomon, Braun, Van De Wege, Rolfes, Wilson, L., Rivers, Fortunato, Palumbo, Keiser, Das, Frockt, Randall, Warnick, Hunt, Honeyford, Brown, Cleveland, Saldaña, Nguyen, Darneille, Conway, Pedersen, Wilson, C., and Liias
Bill digest: Not available as the bill was just introduced this morning, but parsing through the text, which cites declining wild salmon runs, the importance of Chinook to orcas and reforms on the Columbia, it would phase out gillnets “in favor of mark selective harvest techniques that are capable of the unharmed release of wild and endangered salmon while selectively harvesting hatchery-reared salmon.” It would not affect tribes’ ability to net salmon.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: First thing that jumps out about this bill is the massive number of cosponsors, 24 — nearly half of the Senate on board from the get-go. The second is its bipartisan support — 17 Democrats, seven Republicans. The lead sponsor is the recently elected Sen. Jesse Salomon of Shoreline, who defeated commercial fishing supporter Maralynn Chase last fall. It’s highly likely that the bill will make it through its first committee too, which is chaired by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, one of the cosponsors. It also comes with some apparent backsliding led by Oregon interests on efforts to get gillnets out of the shared Columbia.

Bill: SB 8204
Title: “Amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to fish, hunt, and otherwise harvest wildlife.”
Sponsors: Sens. Braun, Fortunato, Takko, Wagoner, and Wilson, L.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but if passed would put the above up for a vote at the next general election.
OO analysis: The nut of this bill has been around for a few years, but here’s hoping it gets more traction this legislative session than 2017’s!

Bill: SB 5404
Title: “Expanding the definition of fish habitat enhancement projects.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Honeyford, Van De Wege, McCoy, Salomon, Hasegawa
Bill digest: None available, but essentially adds projects restoring “native kelp and eelgrass beds and restoring native oysters” to those that could be permitted to enhance fish habitat.
OO analysis: A recall watching shimmering schools of baitfish off a pier in Port Townsend that had signs talking about the importance of eelgrass to salmon and other key species, such as herring. With so many acres of beds lost over the decades, this seems like a good idea.

Bill: SB 5525
Title: “Concerning whitetail deer population estimates.”
Sponsor: Sen. Shelly Short
Bill digest: None available, but directs WDFW to annually count whitetail bucks, does and fawns on certain transects in Northeast Washington with the ultimate goal of increasing deer numbers to 9 to 11 per mile.
OO analysis: State wildlife biologists already drive roads here in late summer to estimate buck:doe ratios, but we’re not going to argue with getting more deer in the woods!

Bill: HB 1404
Title: “Concerning a comprehensive study of human-caused impacts to streambeds.”
Sponsor: Rep. Blake
Bill digest:  Unavailable, but directs WDFW, DNR and DOE to review scientific literature for the effects that mining, running jet sleds and operating diversion dams, among other impacts, have on fish, gravel and water quality, with the report due next year.
OO analysis: Could be interesting to read that report.

Bill: HB 1516
Title: “Establishing a department of fish and wildlife directed nonlethal program for the purpose of training dogs.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Dent, Chapman, Kretz, Walsh, Lekanoff, Orcutt, Springer, Pettigrew, Hoff, Shea
Bill digest: Unavailable, but essentially a companion bill to the Senate’s SB 5320, which yesterday had a public hearing and enjoyed widespread support from hunting, ranching, farming and conservation interests — even HSUS. It would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.
OO analysis: To quote the chair at Thursday’s hearing on the Senate side bill, “We love when there is widespread agreement.”

Bill: HB 1579 / SB 5580
Title: “Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing chinook abundance.”
Sponsors: Reps. Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Stonier, Tharinger, Stanford, Jinkins, Robinson and Pollet; Sens. Rolfes, Palumbo, Frockt, Dhingra, Keiser, Kuderer, and Saldaña.
Note: By request of Office of the Governor
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per a news release from Gov. Jay Inslee the bills “would increase habitat for Chinook salmon and other forage fish” through hydraulic permitting.
OO analysis: Good to see some teeth when it comes to overseeing projects done around water. Of note, this bill would also essentially reclassify some toothsome Chinook cohabitants, scrubbing smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and walleye from the list of officially approved state “game fish,” a precursor to slashing limits?

Bill: HB 1580 / SB 5577
Title: “Concerning the protection of southern resident orca whales from vessels.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Kretz, Kirby, Peterson, Appleton, Shewmake, Morris, Cody, Jinkins; Sens. Rolfes, Frockt, Liias, McCoy, Dhingra, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Saldaña, Wilson, C.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the Governor’s Office, “would protect Southern Resident orcas from vessel noise and disturbance. The bills would require vessels to stay at least 400 yards away from Southern Resident orcas and report vessels they witness in violation of the limit. It would also require vessels to travel under seven knots within one-half nautical mile of the whales. The legislation would create no-go and go-slow zones around the whales to protect them.
OO analysis: With vessel disturbance one of three key factors in why Puget Sound’s orcas are struggling, this bill follows on recommendations from Inslee’s orca task force. Having companion bills makes passage more likely.

Bill: HB 1639
Title: “Ensuring that all Washingtonians share in the benefits of an expanding wolf population.”
Sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but essentially declares Bainbridge Island a wolf preserve and would translocate most of the state’s wolves there so “they can be protected, studied, and, most importantly, admired by the region’s animal lovers,” as well as sets new limits for considering when to lethally remove depredating wolves, including after four confirmed attacks on dogs, four on domestic cats or two on children.
OO analysis: Rep. Kretz is known for dropping some amusing wolf-related bills in the legislature, often at the expense of lawmakers who live on islands, and this latest one needles Bainbridge’s Rep. Sherry Appleton, whose HB 1045 would bar WDFW from killing livestock-attacking wolves to try and stave off further depredations in Kretz’s district and elsewhere in Washington. Neither bill is likely to pass, but the text of HB 1639 is a hoot.

Olympia Update: Here Are Legislators’ Fish, Wildlife Bills So Far

If Washington’s legislature is back in town, so is the Olympia Outsider™!

Well, mostly anyway, what with the restraining order and all, but boy have lawmakers been busy so far at the state capitol!

There’s a bill that would update wardrobe options for Washington rifle deer and elk hunters — gonna be fab! — and another to encourage Congress to open a season on sea lions, while coastal politicians aim to name razors as our state clam and a Pugetropolis pol has dropped the obligatory Westside wolf bill.

And many more are still to come.

“We are still working with the Governor’s Office on the 15 percent fee lift and recruiting bill, along with legislation to implement the orca task force recommendations,” says Raquel Crosier WDFW’s legislative liaison. “I’m expecting to see those bills introduced next week.”

Yes, most bills do go to the legislature to die, but here’s a rundown on fish- and wildlife-related ones that have been introduced so far, along with bill digests from nonpartisan legislative staff and analysis from the highly partisan staff of the Olympia Outsider™:

Bill: HB 1036
Sponsor: Rep. Jim Walsh
Title: Concerning increased fish hatchery production.
Bill digest: “Establishes the Willapa Bay salmon restoration act. Requires the department of fish and wildlife to ensure that hatcheries in Grays Harbor, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties each produce a certain number of fish.”
OO analysis: WDFW would need to produce as many if not more fish at each of its facilities here as the average number they have over the past two decades, which, needless to say, would increase salmon and steelhead smolt releases fairly significantly but also could conflict with Fish and Wildlife Commission policies. Hatchery increases are definitely on lawmakers’ agenda this session, but the bill might have better odds with a clearer orca linkage.

Bill: HB 1045
Sponsor: Rep. Sherry Appleton
Title: Prohibiting the lethal removal of gray wolves.
Bill digest: “Prohibits the department of fish and wildlife from authorizing the killing of gray wolves. Allows the department to authorize the nonlethal removal or relocation of gray wolves that are destroying or injuring property, or when nonlethal removal or relocation is necessary for wildlife management or research.”
OO analysis: This bill has essentially been shot dead from the state’s helicopter gunship, but not before an Eastside representative took a shot at Appleton, saying he might introduce a bill to declare her home island, Bainbridge, a wolf preserve.

Bill: HB 1046
Sponsor: Rep. Appleton
Title: Prohibiting hunting with the aid of dogs for certain purposes.
Bill digest: “Prohibits a person from hunting or pursuing black bear, cougar, bobcat, or lynx with the aid of a dog”
OO analysis: If the chair of the committee that this bill has to go through wasn’t from timber-dependent country, it might actually get some traction, given coverage of bear damage hunts and a court case in Thurston County, and that would be a bad thing.

Bill: HB 1061
Sponsors: Reps. Brian Blake and Walsh
Title: “Designating the Pacific razor clam as the state clam.”
Bill digest: See above.
OO analysis: Might be a little tougher, what with just four votes from coastal district representatives and about 38,999,322 from all the reps in Geoduckland — Puget Sound — districts.

Bill: HB 1230
Sponsors: Reps. Andrew Barkis, Blake, Walsh, Laurie Dolan, Beth Doglio and Morgan Irwin
Note: Filed by request of Department of Fish and Wildlife
Title: Broadening the eligibility for a reduced recreational hunting and fishing license rate for resident disabled hunters and fishers.
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but per WDFW’s Crosier: “It broadens the discount to anyone with a permanent disability, instead of the limited disability types we currently have in statute (currently we only provide the discount to those who are in a wheelchair, are legally blind or developmentally disabled). The bill also applies the discount rate of 50% to all of our recreational licenses instead of the limited licenses that are discounted under current law.”
OO analysis: Liking the sounds of this one!

Bill: HB 1341
Sponsors: Reps. Zach Hudgins, Jeff Morris, Gel Tarleton and Doglio
Title: Concerning the use of unmanned aerial systems near certain protected marine species.
Bill digest: None available at this writing, but would bar drones from flying within 200 vertical yards above southern resident killer whales.
OO analysis: Would really add to the concept of a protective no-go bubble around Puget Sound’s starving orcas, but what about drone subs?

Bill: HJM 4001
Sponsor: Rep. Walsh
Title: Requesting that Congress amend further the marine mammal protection act to allow the use of hunting or bounty programs as tools to effectively manage populations of predatory sea lions.
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but see above.
OO analysis: Well, with who knows how long this federal government shutdown is going to impact NOAA’s processing of permits to take out as many as 1100 or so California and Steller sea lions a year in portions of the Columbia and its tribs to reduce their predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead … But in reality, while a popular sentiment and CSLs are at their habitat’s capacity, the bill probably won’t get too far because of legislature’s makeup.

Bill: SB 5099
Sponsor: Sen. Tim Sheldon
Title: Establishing recreational target shooting areas on public lands.
Bill digest: “Requires the department of natural resources to: (1) Designate and manage recreational target shooting areas on applicable department-managed lands; (2) Establish designated shooting areas in Mason county, including Tahuya state forest, and in Skagit county; and (3) Work with interested stakeholders to evaluate and designate additional shooting areas on department-managed lands.”
OO analysis: You might say this bill appears to be on target …

Bill: SB 5100
Sponsor: Sen. Sheldon
Title: Concerning a pilot program for cougar control.
Bill digest: “Requires the department of fish and wildlife, in cooperation and collaboration with the county legislative authorities of Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Chelan, Okanogan, Mason, and Klickitat counties, to recommend rules to establish a five-year pilot program within select game management units of these counties, to pursue or kill cougars with the aid of dogs.
Requires the development of dangerous wildlife task teams in each county. Allows the department of fish and wildlife to authorize five seasons in which cougars may be pursued or killed with dogs, subject to conditions of the pilot program. Authorizes a county legislative authority to request inclusion in the pilot project after taking certain actions.”
OO analysis: A good start out of the kennel for this bill — scheduled for a hearing next week in the upper chamber’s Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.

Bill: SB 5148
Sponsor: Sen. Lynda Wilson
Title: Concerning visible clothing requirements for hunting.
Bill digest: “Requires the fish and wildlife commission to adopt rules determining the times and manner when a person who is hunting must wear fluorescent orange or fluorescent pink clothing.”
OO analysis: WDFW’s Crosier says the bill “focuses on promoting women in hunting through the use of hunters pink – I love this one!” We agree! Scheduled for a hearing next week.

Bill: SB 5320
Sponsors: Senators Dean Takko, Ann Rivers, Lynda Wilson, Kevin Van De Wege, Jim Honeyford, Judy Warnick and Shelly Short
Title: Establishing a nonlethal program within the department of fish and wildlife for the purpose of training dogs.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but speaking to the Capital Press, Rep. Brian Blake of Aberdeen said participants “wouldn’t be allowed to hunt cougars. They’d be allowed to train their dogs so they’d be available for the department.”
OO analysis: We’re hoping this bill will, er, train.

Stopping Salmon Fishing Won’t Save Puget Sound’s Orcas

The idea that we can save Puget Sound’s starving orcas by just stopping salmon fishing for a few years once again reared its misinformed head, this time in a big-city newspaper piece.

In a black-or-white summary of a very complex problem, the nut was that we humans were shamefully avoiding looking at our own consumption of the iconic marine mammal’s primary feedstock.

SALMON ANGLERS WORK POSSESSION BAR ON THE OPENING DAY OF THE CENTRAL PUGET SOUND HATCHERY CHINOOK FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Leaving that aspect out of the state of Washington’s recovery plan meant that, “We have decided, collectively though passively, to let the Puget Sound orcas go extinct,” it lamented.

We haven’t really, but nonetheless the prominence of the piece left leaders of the region’s angling community disappointed, as well as worried that it could lead to “knee-jerk” responses as Washington responds to the crisis.

And one has also asked the author to take another look at the issue with more informed sources to balance out the very biased one it primarily quoted.

THE ARTICLE IN QUESTION WAS a column by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times last weekend in which he quoted Kurt Beardslee at the Wild Fish Conservancy.

“To cut back on fishing is an absolute no brainer, as a way to immediately boost food available for killer whale,” Beardslee told Westneat. “But harvest reductions are essentially not in the governor’s task force recommendations. We have a patient that is starving to death, and we’re ignoring the one thing that could help feed the patient right now. We’re flat out choosing not to do it.”

Columns are columns, meaning they’re not necessarily like a he said-she said straight news story, but what wasn’t mentioned at all was Beardslee’s complicity in the orca crisis.

So I’m going to try to shed a little more light on that and other things here.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS LAST SUMMER. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

AS IT TURNS OUT, WE HAVE BEEN cutting back on Chinook fishing.

Have been for years.

Ninety percent — 9-0 — alone in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, key foraging areas for the southern residents, over the past 25 years.

And yet so far J, K and L Pods appear to have shown no response.

In fact, they have unfortunately declined from nearly 100 members in the mid-1990s to 74 as of late 2018.

All while West Coast and Salish Chinook available to them actually saw nominal increases as a whole, according to state and federal estimates.

So I’m not sure what Beardlee expects to magically happen when he tells Westneat, “It’s easy to see how cutting the fisheries’ take in half, or eliminating it entirely on a short-term emergency basis, could provide a big boost.”

I mean, how is the 10 percent sliver that’s left going to help if the closure of the other 90 percent coincided with the cumulative loss of 25 percent of the orca population over the same period?

Don’t get me wrong, fishermen want to help too. Some of the most poignant stories I’ve heard in all this are angler-orca interactions.

But it’s not as cut-and-dried as not harvesting the salmon translating into us effectively putting some giant protein shake out in the saltchuck for SRKWs to snarf down.

“Each year the sport, commercial and tribal fishing industries catch about 1.5 million to 2 million chinook in U.S. and Canadian waters, most of which swim through the home waters of the southern resident orcas,” Westneat writes. “The three pods in question … are estimated to need collectively on the order of 350,000 chinook per year.”

Fair enough that 350,000 represents their collective dietary needs.

But not only do the SRKWs already have access to those 1.5 million to 2 million Chinook, the waters where they’re primarily harvested as adults by the bulk of fishermen are essentially beyond the whales’ normal range.

For instance, the Columbia River up to and beyond the Hanford Reach, and in terminal zones of Puget Sound and up in Southeast Alaska.

Pat Patillo is a retired longtime state fisheries manager who is now a sportfishing advocate, and he tells me, “If not caught, those fish would not serve as food for SRKWs — they wouldn’t turn around from the Columbia River, for example, and return to the ocean for SRKW consumption!”

“They already swam through the orcas’ home waters and they didn’t eat them,” he said.

WHILE BEARDSLEE IS TRYING TO COME OFF as some sort of orca angel  — “It’s like if you’re having a heart attack, your doctor doesn’t say: ‘You need to go running to get your heart in better shape.’ Your doctor gives you emergency aid right away,” he tells Westneat — he’s more like an angel of death trying to use SRKWs as  latest avenue to kill fishing.

Type the words “Wild Fish Conservancy” into a Google search and the second result in the dropdown will be “Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit.”

WFC is threatening yet another, this one over National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversight of West Coast salmon fisheries through the lens of the plight of orcas.

It’s not their usual target, which is hatchery production.

Hatchery production, which is the whales’ best short- and medium-term hope.

After WFC sued WDFW over steelhead, a state senator hauled them before his committee in 2015 and pointedly asked their representative at the hearing, “Are there any hatcheries you do support in the state?”

“There are several that have closed over time,” replied WFC’s science advisor Jamie Glasgow. “Those would be ones that we support.”

That sort of thinking is not going to work out for hungry orcas, given one estimate that it will take 90 years for Chinook recovery goals to be met at the current pace of restoration work in estuaries.

And it leaves no place for efforts like those by the Nisqually Tribe to increase the size of those produced by their hatchery to provide fatter fare for SKRWs.

I’m going to offer a few stark figures here.

The first is 275 million. That’s how many salmon of all stocks that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife produced at its hatcheries in 1989, according to The Lens.

The second is 137 million. That’s how many WDFW put out in 2017, the “lowest production year ever,” per the pro-biz online news source.

The third is 56 million. That’s how many Chinook smolts the agency released in 1989, according to figures from the state legislature.

And the fourth is 28 million. That’s how many were in 2016.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that 50 percent decreases in releases are due entirely to Beardslee et al — hatchery salmon reforms and state budget crunches play the strongest roles.

Nor am I going to suggest that they’re the sole reason that our orcas are struggling — pollutants and vessel disturbance have been also identified as affecting their health and ability to forage.

But with SRKWs dying from lack of Chinook to eat and Puget Sound’s wild kings — which are largely required to be released by anglers — comprising just a sixth to a twelfth of the Whulge’s run in recent years, surely the man must now have some qualms about his and similar groups’ anti-hatchery jihad, including against key facilities for SRKWs on the Columbia?

A FAR BIGGER PROBLEM THAN FISHERMEN for SRKWs is pinnipeds eating their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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

Bloated numbers of harbor seals were recently estimated to annually eat an estimated 12.2 million Chinook smolts migrating out of Puget Sound, roughly 25 percent of the basin’s hatchery and wild output, which in the world of fisheries-meets-math science, translates to 100,000 adult kings that aren’t otherwise available to the orcas.

Unfortunately, managing those cute little “water puppies” is realistically way down the pipeline, at least compared to recent lightning-fast moves (relatively speaking) in Washington, DC, that finally gave state and tribal managers the authority to annually remove for five years as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia and its salmon-bearing tributaries.

By the way, guess who fought against lethally removing sea lions gathered to feast on salmon at Bonneville?

Beardslee and Wild Fish Conservancy.

“Given the clamor surrounding sea lions,”they argued in defense of a 2011 federal lawsuit to halt lethal removals at the dam, “you might guess that sea lions are the most significant source of returning salmon mortality that managers can address. Guess again. The percentage of returning upper Columbia River spring Chinook salmon consumed by California sea lions since 2002, when CSL were first documented at Bonneville Dam, averages only 2.1% each year.”

Three years later, sea lions ate 43 percent of the entire ESA-listed run — 104,333 returning springers.

Whoops.

Those fish were recently identified as among the top 15 most important king stocks for SRKWs.

Double whoops.

WHILE LARGE NUMBERS OF SEA LION PUPS ARE STARVING ELSEWHERE ON THE WEST COAST, MANY ADULTS PACKED INTO THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA FOR THE ARRIVAL OF THE SMELT RUN LAST MONTH. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW)

So to bring some of the above sections together, as CSL, Steller sea lion, harbor seal and even northern resident killer whale consumption of Chinook in the northeast Pacific has risen from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970 and hatchery production has halved, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

We aren’t the problem.

No wonder that sportfishing rep told me, “We were successful in getting the target off of our backs blaming fishing” for this blog and which Westneat included in his column (I do appreciate the link).

SO INSTEAD OF SHUTTING DOWN FISHING, what could and should we do to help orcas out in the near-term?

I think the governor’s task force came up with a good idea on the no-go/go-slow boating bubble around the pods. That protects them where they’re eating, and it doesn’t needlessly close areas where they’re not foraging for fish that won’t be there when they do eventually show up.

(GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

While I’ll be following the advice Lorraine Loomis at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission gave after similar sentiments came up last fall — “If you love salmon, eat it” — anglers can take voluntary measures themselves. Even if it’s probably already past the gauntlet of orca jaws, if it makes you feel better to do so, go ahead and release that saltwater king you catch this summer, like Seattle angler Web Hutchins emailed me to say he’s vowing to do.

Switch your fishfinder frequency from 50 kHz to the less acoustically disturbing 200 kHz for killer whales if they happen to show up in your trolling lane.

Pay attention to fish counts and if a hatchery is having trouble meeting broodstock goals, maybe fish another river or terminal zone, or species.

Follow Orca Network on Facebook for where the pods are so you can avoid them.

I also think Beardslee and WFC could, say, lay off their low-hanging-fruit lawsuit schtick (lol, fat chance of that) to give (furloughed) federal overseers time to process permits that ensure hatcheries and fisheries are run properly, instead of having to drop their work and put out the latest brushfire they’ve lit.

And I think boosting hatchery Chinook production is huge, and all the more important because of the excruciatingly slow pace that habitat restoration (which I’m always in favor of) produces results.

Yes, it will take a couple years for increased releases to take effect.

But the ugly truth we’re learning here is, we cannot utterly alter and degrade salmon habitat like we have with our megalopolis/industrial farmscape/power generation complex that stretches everywhere from here to Banff to the Snake River Plain to the Willamette Valley and back again and realistically expect to turn this ship by just pressing the Stop Fishing button and have orcas magically respond.

That’s not the answer.

In this great effort to save orcas, we the apex predator have in fact been forced to look at ourselves in the mirror, at what we’ve wrought, and it is ugly.

We have made a monumental mess of this place and hurt a species we never meant to nor deserved to be.

So we’re setting this right.

It is going to take time. We are going to lose more SRKWs. But we will save them, and ourselves.

Mobility-impaired Angler Trying To Save Access To Popular Lake Roosevelt Beach

A disabled Lake Roosevelt angler and local officials are concerned that access to a good fishing hole just above Grand Coulee Dam might be reduced, or even lost entirely.

That’s because the Bureau of Reclamation is mulling the future management of Geezer Beach, a top spot to plunk for chunky rainbow trout during the winter and early spring.

A FISHERMAN TENDS THEIR LINE AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

Hank Wiebe, a Northwest Sportsman reader who fishes there more days than not from January through June, is leading the charge to keep the area open to all.

He’s been working hard to get the word out, circulating a petition at area businesses, writing letters to the local paper and his federal lawmakers, and more.

“Due to my disabilities, this beach provides one of the few places I can access … fish,” Wiebe explained in comments sent to BOR last month during a “pre-scoping period” identifying issues to address ahead of an environmental assessment that is expected later this winter. “There is a strong group of fishermen, with varying degrees of limited mobility, who often fish alongside me.”

The Town of Grand Coulee resident describes himself as a heart attack survivor who has suffered an aortic aneurysm, and has COPD and other medical issues that combine to make walking very far “tough.”

“Not to mention a fall on the rocks would exacerbate all of the above issues, so being able to drive to this location is about my only choice for fishing from shore,” Wiebe says.

Over the years he and his family have sent us numerous pictures of themselves, including Wiebe’s granddaughter Remington, enjoying success at Geezer Beach during Lake Roosevelt’s annual winter drawdown, when anglers drive down the lakebed from a parking area and cast their lines out.

REMINGTON WIEBE SHOWS OFF A NICE RAINBOW CAUGHT OFF GEEZER BEACH IN WINTER 2015 WHILE FISHING WITH HER GRANDPA, HANK, WHO HOPES TO KEEP THE DRIVE-DOWN ACCESS SITE OPEN. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Indeed, it’s an opportunity that draws anglers from “as far away as Seattle,” Robert Poch, Coulee Dam’s mayor pro tem, wrote in his city’s official comments to BOR.

And those people “stay in our local motels, eat at our restaurants and patron our stores. The Town of Coulee Dam already struggles to maintain with the limited revenue sources it receives today.”

While the municipality fancies itself as the “green oasis at the foot of Grand Coulee Dam,” Poch worries that fewer visitors will lead to reduced sales and hotel tax revenues.

His letter stated that the city council “expressed very strong feelings against” BOR’s proposed changes.

The Star, a weekly newspaper, covered the story in a series of front-page pieces last month, and it reported that the federal agency is responding to the Colville Tribes’ issues with vehicles driving on the beach.

A PAIR OF RIGS PARKED AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

“This is a concern for both protection of cultural resources, and protection of water quality,” a tribal official stated in an email quoted for a Dec. 26 Star story, adding that driving on the lakebed is otherwise prohibited on Roosevelt but not enforced at Geezer Beach, which sets a bad example and creates an enforcement headache.

In its press release announcing a call for public comment, BOR said that entering the drawdown area in a vehicle represents a public safety risk “because these vehicles can become stuck, roll into the reservoir, or become abandoned.”

REMINGTON WIEBE TAKES A NAP AT GEEZER BEACH FOLLOWING A SUPER-EARLY WAKE UP TO GO FISHING THERE IN 2015 WITH HER GRANDFATHER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s not something Coulee Dam officials have seen, however.

“For more than 40 years, we cannot recall ever hearing of an incident where a vehicle has been stuck, driven or rolled into the reservoir or been an accident at Geezer Beach. The access roads, which have been in existence since the 1960’s, are well established and have been packed down, providing a firm surface for vehicles to travel on,” Mayor Poch wrote.

Photographs Wiebe took of different parts of the beach on Jan. 8 showed it to be remarkably clean of the type of trash one usually finds, unfortunately, at fishing accesses.

“All my fishing buddies and I strive to keep this area litter free,” he notes.

LOOKING TOWARD GRAND COULEE DAM FROM A PORTION OF GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

This is not to say that locations significant to the Colville Tribes haven’t been impacted by settlement, development, dam building and other activities or shouldn’t be protected, but in that Dec. 26 story, Greg Behrens told The Star that during a three-decade-long career working at Grand Coulee he did geological and geographic studies of the area, and that Geezer Beach was “reworked and completely modified through the construction of the Dam’s history” while being used for staging.

“If the concern for the allowed vehicle access is based on ‘cultural resource preservation’ then the prior construction activities have made this a non-issue. This includes the nearshore environment well below the accessible areas today,” Behrens told reporter Jacob Wagner.

There have been state-tribal tensions this decade over fishing at Geezer Beach and management of Lake Roosevelt.

PLUNKING POWER BAIT IS A GOOD WAY TO LOAD UP A STRINGER WITH LOWER LAKE ROOSEVELT TROUT. THIS NICE BUNCH WAS CAUGHT DURING A LATE JANUARY 2014 OUTING BY TIM AND JO WIEBE. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Closing off access to Geezer entirely was one of three alternatives that BOR was gathering public comment on last month for the upcoming environmental assessment, or EA.

Another focuses on restricting parking to designated areas just off an access road from Coulee Dam and that sit at roughly the 1300-foot elevation mark. That would still allow angling but make it much more difficult for mobility-impaired anglers like Wiebe to reach the water when Roosevelt dips to as low as 1,220 feet in midspring.

The third is for maintaining the status quo.

ANGLERS FISH FROM GEEZER BEACH EARLY LAST MONTH. WATER LEVELS VARY FROM 1280 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL DOWN TO 1220 FEET AS LAKE ROOSEVELT IS DRAWN DOWN IN WINTER AND EARLY SPRING TO CONTAIN SNOWPACK RUNOFF FROM THE UPPER COLUMBIA RIVER WATERSHED AND GENERATE ELECTRICITY. (JACOB WAGNER, THE STAR)

“With the information gathered from the input we received, Reclamation will now write a draft EA and it will be available for public comment,” says Lynne Brougher, a BOR spokeswoman at the agency’s Grand Coulee office. “At this time, we anticipate that the draft EA will be available for comment in February and a final decision will be made this spring.”

Lake Roosevelt is so huge that it is part of two different Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regions, and the managers of both — Steve Pozzanghera and Jim Brown in Spokane and Ephrata, respectively — say they will be watching for the EA to come out so the agency can submit comments.

“We would hope they wouldn’t do an outright closure,” says Brown of BOR’s alternatives. “Their problem statement makes that seem a bit extreme, on its face. If it is about vehicles, that is seemingly an excessive step, when nothing in the scoping description goes beyond the stated problem being with vehicles.”

“We should be advocating for continued public access — the issue will be foot traffic versus vehicle entry,” adds Pozzanghera.

For Hank Wiebe, the latter is preferred.

“There’s many of us fishermen who have medical issues and need areas like this to enjoy/teach grandkids all about fishing,” he says.

Sportsmen’s And Boat Show Season Arrives In The Northwest

Congratulations, Jason Bauer, you’ve died and gone to heaven.

True, heaven will look a lot like the state fairgrounds in midwinter, but on the flip side there are scones – not to mention a giant walleye tank and the smells of alder smoke and cooking meat hanging in the air.

WALLEYE ARE AN INCREASINGLY POPULAR GAME FISH IN THE NORTHWEST AND WILL BE FEATURED IN A GIANT FISH TANK AT THREE UPCOMING SPORTSMEN’S SHOWS. (ERIC ENGBRETSON, USFWS, VIA FLICKR, CC 2.0)

Bauer, if you don’t know him, is an award-winning Northwest barbecue “pitmaster” and he’s also a longtime bugeye fisherman who once operated the site Northwestwalleye.com.

Both of his favorite pursuits will be on full display at the big Washington Sportsmen’s Show (Jan. 23-27) at the State Fair & Events Center in Puyallup, where Bauer will be coordinating cooking competitions between closely observing the inhabitants of Walleye Alley.

Both exhibits are firsts, and the latter will feature pro anglers giving talks, tackle on hand to buy, and more.

Trey Carskadon of O’Loughlin Trade Shows in Portland and Tacoma, which puts on this and two other similar events, expects the new fish tank to be a big deal, given recent issues with salmonid returns, but it’s also part of updating each season’s shows to keep them fresh and exciting.

“Our battle cry for this year’s spate of shows is ‘new,’” Carskadon notes.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that that is also what the organizers of other boat and sportsmen’s shows slated for Central Washington, Southwest Oregon, the Inland Northwest and elsewhere aim for as well as they seek to boost their foot traffic.

“One of the comments we hear often is ‘It’s the same old show,’” says Carskadon. “It never is, but we’ve taken those comments to heart and really shaken things up for 2019. Most years see at least a 30 percent turnover in exhibitors and features, but looking ahead we’ve moved folks around, added new features, exhibitors and personalities.”

Just as important, the shows are also something like the social event of the year for Our Tribe. At no other time do so many of us come together, and in a way that is comforting for the enduring strength of our heritage and pastimes. I dare say that those who put on the shows share the bond.

“We’re celebrating the ‘outdoor recreational culture,’” says Joe Pate, who has a quartet of shows in Southwest Oregon and Northern California.

All told, there are more than two dozen across the greater Northwest. Wherever you live, there’s one within an hour or two of you. Here are some of this year’s highlights from them:

NORTHWEST TACKLE MAKERS are excited about Walleye Alley and the 20 to 30 fish that by special state permit will be lurking in the big tank on loan from Berkley.

Buzz Ramsey at Yakima Bait was lining up local guides and national experts to give seminars and working on a handout that will include their top tips and a map showing the area’s best waters.

“If people are interested in walleye, this will be the place to be,” says Ramsey.

MIDWEST WALLEYE EXPERTS JOHNNIE CANDLE (PICTURED) AND MARK ROMANACK WILL BE AMONG THE EXPERTS GIVING DEMONSTRATIONS AT THE O’LOUGHLIN SHOWS’ WALLEYE TANK. LOCAL GUIDES SCHEDULED TO APPEAR INCLUDE CODY HERMAN, KEITH JENSEN, SHANE MAGNUSON, AUSTIN MOSER, SHELBY ROSS, WILLIE ROSS AND TOURNAMENT ANGLER LEELAND LAFERTY. (JOHNNIE CANDLE)

Bob Loomis at Mack’s Lure in Wenatchee sees it as a chance to get more anglers chasing a new species at a rough time for more celebrated local fish stocks

“Our walleye fishery is an outstanding fishery that the state and retailers totally overlook,” he notes.

While also a salmon and steelhead angler, Loomis says Washington needs to look at “other” markets besides the big two “to help give them a little breathing room.”

Last year’s Kokanee Tank is on hiatus after some of the fish spawned and the others died, but Carskadon says it should be back for 2020 with a new crop of kokes and a tank better suited to the species’ needs.

“Kokanee and walleye fisheries can take the pressure off of the salmon/steelhead portion of the markets for a while in order to continue to get license sales, sell guide trips, gas, food, lures, etc., sustaining markets, not putting them out of business,” asserts Loomis.

Walleye Alley will also be at the truly humongous Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show (Feb. 6-10) in Portland.

In another first, this year’s Puyallup show will feature the shindig’s inaugural Outdoor Cooking Competition, which runs all five days of the event, with the first dedicated to a 12-team game meat contest.

Jason Bauer says his “partner in crime” pitched the idea to O’Loughlin last year and they will be coordinating the competition along with cooking and grilling demonstrations and food sampling.

“We’re stoked,” says Carskadon. “Some big names are aboard and coming from around the country to show their grilling skills and serve up seminars on how to do it at a level that’s well beyond most backyard grillers. Winners from this event advance to other national events.”

The Portland show will have a new backyard barbecue feature, he says.

As for other new attractions, Carskadon says that Garmin is not only unveiling a totally new product – “I don’t know what it is other than something ‘big’ is promised” – but will have a Tech Center at Puyallup and Portland for GPS and marine electronics and seminars.

And the new Kayak Fishing Pavilion at Puyallup will include experts detailing how to get started, rigging up and destinations, along with retailer booths, he says.

SPEAKING OF WATER-BASED recreation, the Seattle Boat Show gets up on plane for a Jan. 25-Feb. 2 run at two locations in the Emerald City, CenturyLink Field Event Center and South Lake Union.

Besides something like 1,000 boats of all types on display, the show is known for its topnotch seminars, and this year’s features even more than ever. All totaled, more than 200 will be held, with nearly 80 of those focused specifically on fishing and crabbing, up from 55 last year, says Mark Yuasa at the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

BOAT SHOWS ALLOW PROSPECTIVE BUYERS TO KICK THE TIRES, PER SE, ON HUNDREDS OF DIFFERENT MODELS. SEATTLE’S BIG DOIN’S COMBINES THAT WITH GREAT SEMINARS FROM EXPERT ANGLERS AND CRABBERS. (SEATTLE BOAT SHOW)

“There will be 14 speakers (12 in 2017 and 10 in 2016) and five that are new to this year’s show. They are Mike Surdyk with Raymarine Electronics; Capt. Kent Alger, owner of Guides NW; and Hobie Kayak pro-staff ambassadors David Nguyen, Hung Nguyen and Keith Creameans,” he says.

The “all-star line-up” will cover a wide variety of topics designed to help watercraft-born anglers up their game on salt- and freshwaters alike, Yuasa says.

NMTA plans to hold a second boat show in Anacortes (May 16-19), and other watercraft events will occur in Portland (Jan. 9-13), Spokane (Jan. 26-Feb. 16), Vancouver, BC (Feb. 6-10) and Richland (May 2-5).

And along with ocean boats, guides, clam gear and more, the Saltwater Sportsmen’s Show (Feb. 23-24) will feature Charles Loos (known as “Tinman” on Ifish) and the Coast Guard’s Dan Shipman on safe boating and kayaking at sea.

“Whether you run on powerboats, kayaks or personal watercraft, you’ll gain actionable knowledge to keep your vessel and crew safe in our challenging ocean,” says organizer Marie Keene of OCEAN, the Oregon Coalition for Educating Anglers.

ATTENDEES OF THE SALTWATER SPORTSMEN’S SHOW IN SALEM INSPECT SHELLFISHING EQUIPMENT AT THE TWO-DAY MID-FEBRUARY EVENT. (SALTWATER SPORTSMEN’S SHOW)

JOE PATE OF Exposure Shows proudly says that his venues in Eugene (Feb. 1-3), Roseburg (Feb. 15-17), Medford (Feb. 22-24) and Anderson, California (March 1-3) offer the same features as the big boys, just on a smaller scale, but he also likes to spice things up.

On hand each day at all four will be the all-female Lumberjills and their Chics with Axes show. While the act has actually been around for 25 years and was founded by Tina Scheer of Survivor: Panama and Nat Geo’s Ultimate Survival Alaska! – who will also be in attendance – it will be making its Oregon debut and is sure to be a hit.

Also at his own booth at each show will be five-time mixed martial arts champion Tim Sylvia, whose Hit Squad Outdoors show recently made the move to the Sportsman’s Channel. Pate jokes that at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, Sylvia is about as big as the biggest of the grizzlies he also plans to bring in to all four venues.

Of course there’s also the 15th Annual Southern Oregon Head and Horns Competition, free to enter with paid show admission. The top prize at each show is a Bushnell riflescope, while all competitors are in the running for a two-night stay at Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville.

Along with a BB gun range and fish pond, there’s also an archery shooting gallery for the kids, plus log furniture displays, expert demonstrations and more.

IN CENTRAL WASHINGTON, Merle Shuyler says he has a few new items for his shows in Tri-Cities (Jan. 18-20), Yakima (Feb. 15-17) and Wenatchee (Feb. 22-24), including the first annual Yakima Bait Yard Sale at the middle event.

“They will have for sale thousands of different Yakima Bait products at rock-bottom prices. This will include many of their more popular lures and fishing accessories,” says Shuyler.

A 24-foot-high climbing wall will give budding Alex Honnolds a chance to practice at Yakima and Pasco, while Gerry Reyes and Flat Out Fishing’s fish-fighting simulator is scheduled for the latter, he says. Replacing the retiring Cee Dub “Butch” Welch at the Outdoor Cooking Camp is Richie Harrod of Harrod Outdoors and he will be at the Pasco and Wenatchee shows.

“The West Texas Rattlesnake Show will be at all three of our shows and I believe that it will be the first time that this traveling rattlesnake show has been to the state of Washington,” Shuyler adds. “Dave Richardson is the handler and there will be several performances each show day. These entertaining presentations are geared for the entire family and offer educational as well as comedy aspects of handling wild rattlesnakes.”

AND IN SPOKANE and a little later in winter, the Big Horn Adventure Show – the granddaddy of ’em all in the Northwest at 59 years – promises a few new items and several popular ones that are returning during its March 21-24 run.

Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young measurers will be on hand to tape hunters’ trophy bucks and bulls as well as shed antlers for prizes.

Along with kid- and family-friendly activities – note that the 24th is free entry for children 13 and under – organizers are also trying to attract more women to the outdoors through a special offer that includes a goodie bag.

“Friday night’s ‘Ladies Night’ will be bigger and better going into our third year,” says Wanda Clifford of the venerable Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, which puts on the show. “This year we have a special ‘Ladies Night’ Big Horn Hat for sale.”

The West Texas Rattlesnake Show will also be slithering its way into Spokane, but if you’d rather have your own hands-on fun, there will be daily camping contests.

“This competition will find contestants setting up a camp and packing a backpack with the right survival items,” says Clifford.

Each day’s winner will score $1,000, but for those who’ve had their fill of roughing it, an entire building will be full of RVs to see.

WHICHEVER SHOW OR shows you go to this season, you’re bound to see new things while surrounded by fellow Northwest sportsmen. Whether you walk away with good deals on gear, a top prize for a big rack, or a sack of scones, you’re sure to have had a good time.

Editor’s note: For a full schedule of this year’s shows and links to each, go here.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part III

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and then June through September. Below we wrap up with October through December.

OCTOBER

Oregon began offering big game preference points instead of just cold, hard cash for those who help state troopers arrest or cite fish and wildlife poachers. The new option in the Turn In a Poacher program awards five points for cases involving bighorns, mountain goats, moose and wolves; four for elk, deer, antelope, mountain lions and bears. While the points all have to go to either elk, buck, antlerless deer, pronghorn or spring black bear series hunts, it significantly raises the odds of being drawn for coveted controlled permits.

OSP SENIOR TROOPER DARIN BEAN POSES WITH THE HEADS OF THREE TROPHY BUCKS POACHED IN THE GREATER SILVER LAKE AREA. (OSP)

The lowest catch station recorded the highest haul when the Columbia-Snake 2018 pikeminnow sport-reward program wrapped up this fall. “It is the first time in the Pikeminnow Program’s 28-year history that the Cathlamet station has been the number one location,” noted Eric Winther, who heads up the state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on salmonid smolts. With 25,135 turned in there, Cathlamet accounted for 14 percent of the overall catch of 180,309 pikeminnow this year. Boyer Park produced the second most, 22,950, while usual hot spot The Dalles was third with 22,461, less than half of 2017’s tally.

Using DNA from northern pike, USFS researcher Dr. Kellie Carim turned the widespread assumption about where the fish that have invaded Washington came from on its head. “The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” Carim told us in early fall. “However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage.” In other words, a bucket biologist or biologists drove them between the watersheds. Also on the invasive species front, earlier in the year, scientists began to suspect that Sooke Harbor was not the source of the European green crabs showing up in Puget Sound waters but from somewhere on the Northwest’s outer coast.

SPECIALISTS FROM WASHINGTON SEA GRANT AND THE MAKAH TRIBE CONSIDER WHERE TO SET TRAPS IN AN ESTUARY FOR EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS. (WSG)

Oregon and Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commissions were urged not to roll back the Columbia River salmon reforms by no less than the former governor who got the ball rolling. “There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” said Oregon’s John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos that came out ahead of indepth reviews for the citizen panels.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS.

With salvaging roadkilled deer and elk in Oregon set to begin Jan. 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations for how the program will work. It’s similar to Washington’s, except that antlers and heads must be turned in to any ODFW office (here are addresses and phone numbers of the two dozen across the state) within five business days and Columbian whitetail deer may be salvaged, but only in Douglas County, where the species was declared recovered in 2003.

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer resigned after a distasteful photo of him with a dead “family of baboons” surfaced following an African safari with his wife. Fischer initially defended his actions, telling the Idaho Statesman, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral.” In accepting Fischer’s requested resignation, Gov. Butch Otter stated, “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”

FORMER IDAHO FISH AND GAME COMMISSIONER BLAKE FISCHER OF MERIDIAN RESIGNED AFTER GOVERNOR BUTCH OTTER REQUESTED HE DO SO. (IDFG)

This year’s return of coho to the Columbia River was woeful at best, but there was a glimmer of good news when the Nez Perce announced that the first adult in more than 50 years returned to Northeast Oregon, thanks to a joint tribal-ODFW release of half a million smolts in March 2017. At least 125 had arrived at a weir on the Lostine River as of earlier this month, and tribal fisheries manager Becky Johnson estimated there were 800 more still on their way at that point.

FEMALE COHO TRAPPED AT THE LOSTINE RIVER WEIR ON OCTOBER 26, 2018 — THE FIRST SINCE 1966. (NEZ PERCE TRIBE)

With small, 2- to 3-inch razor clams dominating the population in Clatsop County’s sands, Oregon shellfish managers with support from the public decided to postpone harvesting any until this coming March, in hopes they would be larger by then. On the north side of the Columbia River, Washington’s Long Beach will only see a limited opener this season due to low salinity levels in winter 2017 that affected survival and led to a higher concentration of small clams.

OREGON SHELLFISH MANAGERS SAY ITS NORTHERN RAZOR CLAM POPULATION IS ON THE SMALL SIDE AND SEASON WAS POSTPONED TILL MARCH. (ODFW)

WDFW’s new Director Kelly Susewind hit the highway, the airwaves and the interweb to flesh out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, set the tone for what his priorities are going forward, and listen to the needs of sportsmen and Washington residents. He hosted half a dozen meetings across the state, appeared on TVW’s Inside Olympia and did a webinar as the agency tried to build support for its $67 million ask of the legislature in 2019.

It wasn’t just small clams on the Oregon Coast sparking concerns — low early returns and catches of fall Chinook led ODFW to restrict fishing from the Necanicum to the Siuslaw, closing all the rivers above tidewater and reducing limits in the bays from three to one for the season. When subsequent surveys began to show more fish arriving on the spawning grounds, sections of the lower Siletz then Alsea and Yaquina Rivers were reopened, but further south, it wasn’t until late November before ODFW was able to lift gear restrictions on the low-flowing Chetco and Winchuck Rivers.

NOVEMBER

Western Washington tribes launched an ambitious, coordinated, long-term effort to identify and restore key salmon habitats as well as gauge land-use decisions in the region. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s Tribal Habitat Strategy was described by chair Lorraine Loomis as an “effort … based on what we know is actually needed to achieve ecosystem health, not what we think is possible to achieve given current habitat conditions.”

THE COVER OF THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION’S NEW “TRIBAL HABITAT STRATEGY” REPORT SHOWS A KITSAP COUNTY CULVERT ON CARPENTER CREEK THAT HAS SINCE BEEN REMOVED, IMPROVING FISH PASSAGE AND ESTUARY FUNCTION. (NWIFC)

Cattle depredations that seemed like they’d never end in Northeast Washington led to essentially three different lethal wolf removal operations ongoing at once, two by WDFW targeting all the remaining OPT wolves and one Smackout Pack member, and one by a producer for any Togo wolves in their private pastures. By year-end at least four wolves had been killed by state shooters in hopes of reducing livestock attacks, and the Capital Press reported at least 31 calves and cows had been confirmed to have been either killed or injured by wolves in 2018, “more than double any previous year.”

LIFE COULD BE WORSE — YOU COULD GROW A BUCK ON YOUR BUTT … OR AT LEAST HAVE A TRAIL CAMERA RECORD SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES. THIS UNUSUAL ALIGNMENT WAS RECORDED AT A WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AREA IN THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THE STATE DURING THE FALL RUT. (WDFW)

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas was among the key recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee after months of discussion and public comment. Members also urged suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years. The recommendations were generally supported by sportfishing reps who took part in the task force’s work. “Production needs to be ramped up immediately, and follow the recovery/ESA sidebars in the recommendations,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who also expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

IDFG Director Virgil Moore announced that he was retiring in January after eight years at the helm of Idaho fish and wildlife management and a four-decade-long career in the field, including a year as ODFW’s director. “Working together, Fish and Game and our wildlife resources are in excellent shape and ready to be handed off to new leadership,” he said in a press release. Fellow Fish and Game honcho Ed Schriever was named as Moore’s replacement.

Federal researchers found that one top way to recover Chinook in Puget Sound streams is to restore side channels. Providing space for the young ESA-listed fish to grow as well as shelter from flood flows adds complexity to river systems, increasing its potential value as habitat. The work, some of which was done on the Cedar River, could help answer where and how to get the best bang for restoration dollars. In a related story, for the first time since the project wrapped up in 2014, a pair of kings chose to spawn in a portion of a Seattle stream that had been engineered for salmon to dig redds. “That’s a vote of confidence!” said a utility district biologist.

A SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITY IMAGE SHOWS A PAIR OF CHINOOK SALMON ON THE GRAVEL OF LOWER THORNTON CREEK, EAST OF NORTHGATE MALL. (SPU)

With the threat of a federal lawsuit hanging over their heads, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in mid-November to suspend steelhead season in early December. IDFG’s permit to hold the fishery had expired nearly 10 years ago and other priorities had kept NMFS from issuing a new one, providing an opening for yet another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit from the usual suspects. “The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable,” said Virgil Moore in a letter to Idaho steelheaders. The pending closure didn’t affect Washington fishermen angling the shared Snake, and it led one of the six litigant groups to subsequently back out, saying its goal of spurring the feds into action had been achieved. But on the eve of the shutdown, an agreement was reached between a newly formed group of anglers and towns, Idaho River Community Alliance, IDFG and the other five parties. It kept fishing open, closed stretches of the South Fork Clearwater and Salmon, and included voluntary measures.

A LAST-MINUTE AGREEMENT KEPT STEELHEADING OPEN ON THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER AND OTHER IDAHO STREAMS FOLLOWING A THREATENED FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER A LACK OF A FISHERIES PERMIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The federal Fourth National Climate Assessment, released over Thanksgiving weekend, painted a rough go of it for fish, shellfish and wildlife in the Northwest. It projected that Washington salmon habitat will be reduced by 22 percent under a scenario that includes continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, razor clamming would decline “due to cumulative effects of ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, higher temperatures, and habitat degradation,” and that more management to ensure sufficient waterfowl habitat would be needed. The report, required by Congress, did say deer and elk may actually thrive due to less winterkill and improving habitat because of increased wildfires, but could also be impacted by “increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

ODFW launched its new electronic license program, so easy that even hook-and-bullet magazine editors can (eventually) figure it out. Essentially, the app allows sportsmen to carry an e-version of their fishing and hunting licenses on their phones, etc., as well as tag critters and fill in punch cards with an app that works even offline in Oregon’s remote canyons.

In what would also be a continuing news story in the year’s final month, ODFW received federal permission to lethally remove as many as 93 California sea lions annually at Willamette Falls and in the lower Clackamas. “This is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette River,” said ODFW’s Dr. Shaun Clements, whose agency had estimated that if nothing were done, there was a 90 percent chance one of the watershed’s wild winter steelhead runs would go extinct. “We did put several years’ effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and Chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location,” he said in a press release.

And near the end of the month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 196 to 180 to fully delist gray wolves in the Lower 48. But that was as far as the Manage our Wolves Act, co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, was going to get, as at the end of the year it went nowhere in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works and the incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee flatly told a reporter that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years. Meanwhile, WDFW and the University of Washington began year three of predator-prey research across the northern tier of Eastern Washington.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING FAWN QUARTERS BACK TO A DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

DECEMBER

Poor fishing up and down the West Coast in recent years was among the factors that forced the owners of Ollie Damon’s reel repair shop in Portland to close up for good this month, ending the run of a famed name that first opened for business in the late 1940s. “It’s sad for us but we can’t work forever,” said Rich and Susan Basch who bought the shop in the 1990s and used to service as many as 5,000 to 6,000 reels annually, and who said that they’ll miss their customers “immensely” as they also retire.

PORTLAND’S OLLIE DAMON’S CLOSEd ITS DOORS DEC. 29, MARKING THE END OF AN ERA. (OLLIE DAMON’S)

We’ll know a lot more about 2019 salmon expectations later in winter, but the year’s first forecasts came out in early December, with Columbia River managers expecting an overall run of 157,500 springers, 35,900 summer kings, and 99,300 of the red salmon, all below 10-year averages but no surprise given recent ocean conditions. The outlook for upriver brights is similar to 2018, with tule Chinook below the 10-year average, but with spring’s offshore survey finding good numbers of young coho in the ocean and a strong jack return to the river this fall, there is some potential good news for silver slayers.

The poaching of one of Oregon’s rare moose north of Enterprise in November led to a handsome reward offer of not only $7,500 at last check but a guided elk hunt on the nearby Krebs Ranch, a $3,500 value in itself. “The poaching of a moose is a tragic thing,” said Jim Akenson of the Oregon Hunters Association, chapters of which stepped up to build the reward fund. “Especially because our moose population is low – fewer than 70 in Oregon.” This is at least the second moose poached in Northeast Oregon in recent years. Thadd J. Nelson was charged in early 2015 with unlawfully killing one in mid-2014. He was later killed by robbers.

OREGON’S MOOSE POPULATION WAS LAST ESTIMATED AT 75 OR SO. (PAT MATTHEWS, ODFW)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his proposed 2019-21 budget. It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts, a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, and $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries (hopefully testing generators more frequently!). Inslee’s budget, which must still be passed by lawmakers, also includes the fee increase but $15 million WDFW asked for for conservation and habitat work was pared down to just $1.3 million for the former.

With the significance of Chinook for orcas in the spotlight of course a mid-December windstorm would knock out power to a state hatchery, and when the backup generator failed to immediately kick in, around 6 million fall and spring fry died. That angered fishermen and killer whale advocates alike, and led to a rare statement by a WDFW director, Kelly Susewind on the “painful loss.” As an outside investigation is launched into what exactly what went wrong, up to 2.75 million fish from a mix of state, tribal and tech college hatcheries were identified as possible replacements, pending buy-in from several more tribes.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

Federal, state and tribal officials agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers. The agreement came after early in the year U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered spill to occur and Eastern Washington House of Representatives members tried to kill it. Testing begins this coming April — “It can’t happen soon enough,” said NSIA’s Hamilton.

WDFW’S FIRST KARELIAN BEAR DOG, MISHKA, PASSED AWAY LATE IN THE YEAR. HANDLER “BRUCE (RICHARDS) SAID OF MISHKA THAT WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED IN ONE YEAR WAS AKIN TO WHAT ONE WILDLIFE OFFICER COULD ACCOMPLISH IN A LIFETIME OF WORK,” BEAR SMART WA POSTED ON INSTAGRAM. THE DUO HAD A LONG CAREER OF CHASING BEARS AND HELPING ON POACHING CASES IN GREATER PUGETROPOLIS. ALSO IN 2018, ANOTHER WDFW KBD DOG, CASH, DIED FOLLOWING A BATTLE AGAINST PROSTRATE CANCER. (WDFW)

And finally, and in probably the best news of the whole damn year — which is why we saved it to last, but also because it happened so late in 2018 — the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act was signed into law by President Trump after zipping through the Senate and House this month. With bipartisan leadership from Northwest lawmakers and support from the DFWs, tribes and fishing community among others, the bill essentially provides up to five one-year permits to kill as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia River and its salmon-bearing tributaries. Not that that many likely will be taken out, but this should FINALLY help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.

And with that, I’m calling it a year on this three-part year in review — read the first chunk, covering January through May here, and the second, June through September, here.

Take care, and happy new year!

AW
NWS