Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Steelies On Tap Too

March’s madness is this: overlooking spring steelheading in favor of spring Chinook coverage.

Guilty as charged.

I haven’t always been so irresponsible, honestly.

Some of you may remember this story, but before my career in outdoor journalism ever began, I ran away to Steelhead Camp on the Ronde. For two glorious March weeks, my sole job was to A) Wake up; B) Help launch the drifter; C) Make sure the coffee brewing on the propane heater didn’t tip over as we floated down to Cottonwood Creek; D) Fish all day; E Tell stories at the campfire above Boggan’s; and F) Repeat.

Sadly, gainful employment with Fishing & Hunting News summoned me away from that paradise.

NOT LONG AFTERWARDS, I found myself copy editing a story about something known as a spring Chinook.

A salmon that runs in March and April?!? Poppycock!

(Forgive me, I’m from Pugetropolis and have lived a sheltered life.)

But in the coming years I learned lots about the beast during dozens of high-speed dive bomb runs back and forth to Drano and points in between. And when I became an editor, that March on the Ronde was all but forgotten. The month’s coverage came to be dominated by Chinook – glorious, glorious spring Chinook.

Which has probably been just fine with the anglers who sneak out to Oregon’s Coast, Washington’s West End, and Snake tribs to get their last whacks on steelhead.

This year, with a smaller Columbia springer run in the pipe, I had planned to give them some company, I really did. I had some great tips from Jason Schultz of Hells Canyon Sport Fishing, Terry Wiest had a big story about the Cowlitz’s stellar March steelhead run, yada, yada, yada. But, well, when Andy Schneider, Larry Ellis and Buzz Ramsey get on rolls about spring kings, game over.

In the end, I only managed to sneak in a single steelie story.

IT’S NOT JUST ME WHO loses his head about springers. On a mid-February afternoon, I got a Facebook PM from Jason Bauer, he of Northwestwalleye.com and author of that article last issue on bugeyes and an upcoming one on crappie.

“got Springer Fever now. I’m not sure Im gonna make it”

The poor soul has changed his profile pic from a walleye to a beautious chrome king.

“I need two boats now. Can’t convince Monica yet though.”

Might as well add a third, Jason, a drifter for steelies. Next year, I tell myself, we’ll talk March’s other madness.

In the meanwhile, check out these recent catches and reports from Jeff Main on the Ronde, and Andy Schneider on Oregon’s North Coast:

HI Andy,
Sat at the ronde was good.  released 4, 6-7#rs kept 1, 9# lost 5
Sun, kept 1 9#  lost 1

JEFF MAIN RONDESVOUSED WITH THIS NICE STEELIE JUST A WEE BIT BELOW COTTONWOOD CREEK. (WRIGHT & McGILL/EAGLE CLAW PHOTO CONTEST)

Limit of Local Chrome proves easy for 6-year old…..

Andy Schneider to “Undisclosed-R.

I had plans to fish the coast Friday with some friends from work and my son. But when the coastal rivers were barely holding on and might blow out, I decided to cancel my coastal ‘fishing’ trip and turn it into a coastal ‘family’ trip. But my 6-year old son was a little disappointed that we won’t get a chance to go fishing, as promised. So after some homemade waffles and getting the ‘okay’ from my editor to postpone some writing, my son finally talked me into dragging the boat to the river for a couple hours of pulling plugs.

The river had a lot of color for it’s height and with poor reports my hopes were not too high. But on the 3rd slot, my son’s rod folded over and a chrome hen was thrashing the water behind the boat.

And the very next hole my sons rod slowly loaded up and then line started peeling and before my son got to the rod he had lost 70-feet!

 

TWO THUMBS UP TO THE EDITOR FOR LETTING DAD GO FISHIN' INSTEAD OF HAVE TO STAY HOME WRITING STORIES! (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

Not only did Ayden let the proper amount of line out on his rod and put it in the rod holder, he deployed my gear too! Not to mention, fighting both fish and making it super easy to net. Man, he’s miles ahead of where I was at 6!

Both fish were caught on a chrome with orange spotted K11X, that Ayden picked out.

 

AYDEN & OLLIE. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

Hearing Held On Wolf Plan Bill

State representatives this morning heard arguments for and against a House bill that would require lawmakers to sign off on WDFW’s wolf management plan before the Fish & Wildlife Commission could approve it.

Those opposed said it would undermine four years of work on the draft plan; those in favor said the Legislature had every right to look into the bill and that it would hold the agency more accountable.

We first told you that lawmakers were working on what is now known as HB 1109 last November.

The prime sponsor, Rep. David Taylor (R-15th) of South-central Washington, told the half dozen members of the 13-representative House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee in attendance the bill was “pretty simple.”

“It doesn’t allow us to amend (the bill), just to debate it: Is this a good idea?” Taylor says.

Currently the plan is slated to appear before the Commission this August, but if lawmakers decide it’s not a good idea, it and the accompanying environmental impact statement would go back to WDFW and its 17-member Wolf Working Group for another take.

Taylor says part of the legislature’s job is to protect the public, but says the plan doesn’t include discussion of potential health issues. Another bill he introduced this session, 1107, would require the Department of Health to work with WDFW and the state vet to “implement a program to detect, interdict, and assess the epidemiological consequences of diseases that may afflict or may be carried by wolves and the actual and potential impact of wolves’ role in such diseases upon human health in the state,” as well as identify people whose jobs or lifestyles might put them at higher risk to the illnesses.

That bill has gone nowhere, but then again it was surprising that 1109 came up for a hearing. In late February, a legislative staffer stopped short of saying it was completely dead, but said outside of parliamentary maneuvering, it wasn’t likely to have a hearing.

Its resurrection, apparently via committee chair Rep. Brian Blake, a Southwest Washington hunter and Democrat who had WDFW director Phil Anderson before the panel back in December talking about wolves, prompted groups like Conservation Northwest to rally members to today’s 8 a.m. hearing. Taylor, pointing to findings from a public disclosure request of the department, said the Bellingham organization has many ties with WDFW on wildlife and predator issues and the wolf plan.

Asked by Rep. Ed Orcutt, a Clark and Cowlitz County Republican, if he thought there’s a political agenda behind reintroduction of wolves into Washington, Taylor said “absolutely.”

Perhaps, but though it is a common belief, wolves have not been reintroduced directly into the state. Some from the mid-1990s releases in Central Idaho have crossed the Snake River into Northeast Oregon and they or their progeny are colonizing Washington’s Blue Mountains, as we reported last month. Other packs, such as the Diamond and Lookout, have crossed into the state from Northern Idaho and British Columbia.

Approximately 20 people spoke during public testimony, led by Jack Field of the Washington Cattleman’s Association, who supported the bill.

He says the state doesn’t have the excess deer and elk population to sustain wolf packs. A member of the Working Group, he says the agency hasn’t looked at annual big game mortality and hunter harvest to see if there are enough left over to feed packs.

Field also said the plan could be “quite costly,” and pointing the state’s current fiscal situation, said that providing compensation for livestock kills probably wouldn’t rank too highly on the list of budgetary priorities.

Currently, Defenders of Wildlife contributes to depredation payments in Washington; there has been one confirmed wolf kill so far. Northeastern Oregon has had a number of cow and sheep attacks.

Dave Dashiell, a Stevens County sheep and cattle producer, said he supported the bill. He spoke to problems with coyotes while trying to lamb up to 500 sheep, and said that while he used guard dogs, he’s heard stories from Idaho where canines went out to challenge wolves and never came back.

“It gives us a firewall between the game department and us … I’m not sure the game department are the ones looking out for our best interest,” Dashiell said.

A fifth-generation Adams County rancher said he was in favor of the bill, saying it made WDFW accountable to the legislature.

Ed Owens, representing the Hunters Heritage Council, says he supports the bill, and noted that the “largest stakeholder group,” the legislature, had every right to stick its nose in the issue.

Speaking to arguments about keeping politics out of wildlife management, he says the Fish & Wildlife Commission operates in a highly charged political environment.

John Stuhmiller of the Washington Farm Bureau, a member of the wolf group, said that while he “doesn’t have a problem” with the draft plan as is, he said he “doesn’t see a downside” to the legislature looking into it.

Rocky Beach, WDFW’s diversity manager, said that the agency was neutral on the bill, and that while it preferred that the final decision was made by the commission, he recognized that the legislature has a stake.

He said creation of the plan has cost $200,000 to $250,000 so far, paid for through “nongame-funding related bases” such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grant program (itself funded by offshore oil and gas royalties) and the state’s personalized vanity plate sales.

He said there have been eight meetings with the Working Group, seven scoping the plan, 12 public meetings around the state with 1,157 attendees and 229 spoken comments, a 90-day comment period with over 60,000 comments (most, however, from a single petition from Defenders of Wildlife), extensive peer review and blind peer review.

Beach did say the agency was willing to come back to the committee and talk about wolves.

Robert Steadman, a head and neck surgeon and former head of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, told the representatives that further stretching out the timeline on the plan “gives opponents more time to promote gray wolf hysteria. (This bill) deserves to die in this committee.”

Bruce Roberts, who grew up on an Idaho farm, pointed to a chart in the March 2010 National Geographic that showed that wolves accounted for just 1 percent of livestock 125,000 reported sheep kills in the Northern Rockies in 2008 while farm dogs took a far higher toll accounted for 1.1 percent. 

“There’s no hue and cry  for open season on dogs, or eagles or bears” which also contribute far more to annual losses, he said.

A Whatcom County man who said he’s read much of the work done on the plan and attended several meetings, said to run it before the legislature “undermines the hard work and professionalism of the Wolf Working Group and stakeholders.”

He called redoing the plan and EIS a redundant and expensive process, and said the current plan works for the majority.

Richard Chaplain, a private citizen, termed the bill an “obstruction.”

Seth Cool of Conservation Northwest explained that the group has been involved with wolf work in the state for over 20 years and is a member of the Working Group.

“We’re proud of our work, happy with the department,” he said.

They employ several hunters on their staff, have made at least two outreach efforts to talk with more sportsmen, and recently teamed with WDFW to offer significantly enhanced rewards for turning in deer, elk, wolf and grizzly poachers.

The hearing lasted about an hour and 19 minutes.

It comes as the entire region roils with wolf fever, a lingering effect of those reintroductions to Central Idaho and Yellowstone, wolf populations exceeding recovery goals in the early 2000s, continuous litigation that has largely prevented the states from taking over day to day management, a federal judge’s ruling that put wolves back under federal protections after a single season of hunting, current efforts to exempt wolves from the Endangered Species Act and long-standing values disputes.

While we hunters as well as livestock producers and rural residents have very real concerns about wolves that must be addressed, some of those against Canis lupus are, frankly, fear-mongering. Among today’s speakers was a man who said in 1980 there was a 70 percent mortality rate among Eskimos in an Alaskan village diagnosed with a type of tapeworm spread by wolf doots — a disease that the state and federal biologists and others who actually tackle and collar wolves with no apparent breathing masks or safety gloves appear to somehow be immune to.

One of those biologists, retired federal wolf recovery coordinator Carter Niemeyer, has handled hundreds of them and is trying to counter the overall hysteria. Supportive of the cattle industry, in favor of delisting (though not legislatively) and fair-chase hunting seasons, he recently published Wolfer, a book that sheds light on his time in the field. He was the guy who went  BC and Alberta to catch the wolves for reintroduction, but he tells me it was not done to “disarm America and do away with hunting.”

“All of us hunt, all of us fish, some of us trap,” he says of the federal biologists working on wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies. “Trust us, none of us did that to kill our recreational pastime.”

So far, he reports the folks he was sure who would buy the memoir — hunters, trappers and rural folk like him– have been “the least likely to buy, much less read it.”

He’ll be in Olympia’s Fireside Bookstore next Thursday at 7 p.m.

How WDFW Pays For Wolf Work

TRUTH SQUADDING THE WOLF WARS

Turns out the money I’m forking over to hunt deer in Washington’s Methow Valley is not being used by state biologists to monitor the muley-munching wolves that have taken up residence there.

Rather, the funding for collaring, tracking and otherwise hassling the Lookout Gang, the Diamond Pack in Pend Oreille County, as well as other wolves on the Oregon, Idaho and BC lines bubbles up from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and comes courtesy of self-obsessed Mercedes drivers.

I got to wondering about how it was all being paid for last December when I received an email with the alarming subject line “Wolves….our tax $’s at work: $200,000 federal grant to ‘monitor’ wolves.”

The message followed coverage of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife director Phil Anderson’s appearance before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee during a work session on wolves.

He reported that nearly half a mil had been spent on Canis lupus the past three years — $125,000 in 2008, $164,000 last year and $197,000 to that point in 2010.

Less well covered was the source of those funds.

So, I looked into it, and from what I’ve found, tax dollars ain’t doin’ any of the work whatsoever.

Hunting license and tag sales? Hardly any lifting.

“We hear that rumor all the time. It’s one of the comments we saw in the draft plan,” says WDFW’s Gary Wiles. “The assumption is that everything in the Wildlife Program comes from license sales, but there are plenty of other dollars out there.”

About half the dough Anderson was talking about comes from royalties collected on oil and gas leases on the outer continental shelf, which in turn funds the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s competitive State Wildlife Grant program — SWiG, as it is known.

WDFW matches those funds with money from folks like EZGOING, EL JEEPO, SEA SALT, GORMAY, NOLMIT, THE-GAL and others who drive around the state with personalized vanity plates strapped on their cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, etc. By law, those fees are to be used by WDFW “for the management of wildlife which are not hunted, fished, or trapped.”

(Revenues from wildlife plates, on the other hand, can be “spent to improve management of Washington’s game animals.”)

In addition to monitoring the packs, the plates and petroleum have also helped pay for developing the draft wolf management plan, now in its fourth year of tinkering.

That said, Wiles acknowledges that some General Fund and state Wildlife Fund money — the latter includes license sales money — does go towards wolf work by top officials in the agency and enforcement activities.

However, he terms that contribution “a tiny piece of the pie.”

(In fiscal year 2007-09, 47 percent of state game wardens’ budget came from the state Wildlife Fund, 40 percent from the General Fund.)

Wiles says that other Fish & Wildlife Service grants are used as well, also to a small degree.

AS FOR THE SWiG PROGRAM, as explained to me by another WDFW staffer, it is the “third leg of the stool for federal aid to fish and wildlife agencies.”

The two more well-known legs are, of course:

Wildlife Restoration/Pittman-Robertson, for game animal management, and funded by “an 11 percent federal excise tax on sporting arms, ammunition, and archery equipment, and a 10 percent tax on handguns.”

In 2006, the last year information was readily available, the agency got $2.4 million for leasing hunting lands, hunter ed and upland bird habitat work.

Sport Fish Restoration Grants/Dingle-Johnson, for sport fish management, and funded by “excise taxes on fishing equipment, fish finders, motorboat fuels, small engine fuels, and import duties.”

In 2008, WDFW received $1.2 million in proceeds from the act and used it to maintain fishing accesses and boat ramps.

SWiG can’t be used to get WDFW’s kids fishing program going again, can’t be siphoned off to expand hatchery production, can’t be looted to rustle some of the Yakama’s new pronghorn to start our own herd.

Rather, according to USFWS, “The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal grant funds for developing and implementing programs that benefit wildlife and their habitats, including species not hunted or fished. Priority is placed on projects that benefit species of greatest conservation concern.”

For now, it appears that all but slivers of pennies of my hunting license dollars are helping WDFW watch wolves. The vast majority comes from oil drillers and the vain.

Editor’s note: This article is part of an occasional series that will address misconceptions about wolves on both sides of the issue as the species continues to move into Washington. Previously we’ve called bullshit on a story that WDFW sneakily reinforced the Lookout Pack with more wolves in spring 2009.

Puget Sound, Coast Salmon Forecasts Out

WDFW’s 2011 summer salmon forecasts for Puget Sound were released today, reconfirming that we’ll have a great pink run — just under 6 million are forecast back — see somewhere around 1 million chums, nearly a quarter million Chinook as well as 367,000 more coho than were predicted in 2010.

6 MILLION PINKS ARE FORECAST TO BE INBOUND TO PUGET SOUND, INCLUDING OVER A MILLION TO THE SNOHOMISH RIVER, WHERE THIS ONE WAS LANDED IN 2009. (WRIGHT & MCGILL/EAGLE CLAW PHOTO CONTEST)

“This is shaping up to be a really good year in Puget Sound for both coho and pink salmon,” said salmon manager Steve Thiesfeld.

He says that most Chinook fisheries here will likely be similar to 2010 –Chinook predictions are up for the Nisqually and Deschutes but about the same for the Skokomish and Puyallup — though low Green River and Elliott Bay forecasts could limit some opportunities.

The pink forecast is a bit higher than early word we posted Feb. 4, and is driven by a forecast of over 2 million to the Green River alone.

The coho forecast for the Sound is 981,216, with about 19 percent headed to the Snohomish, 16 percent to the Skagit and 15 percent to Hood Canal.

A downer — but one that is not unexpected based on past performance for this year-class — is the piddling predicted return of 34,683 sockeye to Lake Washington, just one-tenth of how many is required to hold a fishery. It would be the third lowest of the 2000s.

On the Pacific, fueled by a quarter million “tule,” or Lower Columbia River Chinook, fishing is expected to be similar to 2010.

“Last year, fishing was good for Chinook and fair for coho,” said Doug Milward, WDFW ocean salmon fishery manager. “The number of salmon available for this summer’s ocean fishery is expected to be similar to last year, so anglers should see another good year of fishing.”

And (much) further afield, fall king numbers to the Sacramento are nearly three times as high (729,000) as the 2010 forecast, and the Klamath is predicted to see 371,000, around 180,000 more than were forsoothed for last season.

Release of the forecasts is the first step in the annual North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process. Next up, state, sport and commercial anglers, the comanagers and Feds will huddle in more than 10 meetings over the next month before coming up with seasons in mid-April.

For more, and to follow the whole North of Falcon process, see WDFW’s Web site.

Here are the raw salmon numbers for the Sound, as well as some coastal systems such as Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and others.

NOOKSACK

Chinook: 37,384
Coho: 52,039
Pinks: 68,000
Chums: 31924

SKAGIT

Chinook: 15,962
Coho: 154.293
Pinks: 797,604
Chums: 26,834

BAKER

Sockeye: 23,954

STILLAGUAMISH

Chinook: 1,888* (fall)
Coho: 67,200
Pinks: 657,643
Chums: 12,605

SNOHOMISH

Chinook: 12,590* (fall)
Coho: 188,400
Pinks: 1,332,388
Chums 58672

LAKE WASHINGTON

Chinook: 10,288* (Issaquah)
Sockeye: 34,683
Coho: 28,606

GREEN

Chinook: 18,610
Coho: 41,805
Pinks: 2,176,925
Chums: 193,396* (Central Sound cumulative forecast)

PUYALLUP

Chinook: 10,190
Coho: 54,588
Pinks: 922,632* (South Sound cumulative forecast)
Chums: 294,118* (South Sound cumulative forecast)

DESCHUTES

Chinook: 19,501

NISQUALLY

Chinook: 34,403
Chums: 78,397 * (South Sound cumulative winter chum forecast)

QUILCENE

Coho: 36,388

SKOKOMISH

Chinook: 29,965
Coho: 26,844

WILLAPA BAY

Chinook: 36,768
Coho: 112,446

GRAYS HARBOR

Chinook: 13,934* (fall)
Coho: 133,054

QUINAULT

Coho: 57,267

NORTH COAST INDIE TRIBS

Coho: 29,610

HOH

Coho: 11,625

QUILLAYUTE

Summer coho: 8,199
Fall coho: 59,233

Here is the upcoming meeting schedule:

March 1

2011 Salmon Forecasts and Fishing Opportunities:

  • 9 a.m.-3 p.m., General Administration Building Auditorium, 210 11th Ave. SW, Olympia.
  • WDFW presents Puget Sound, coastal Washington and Columbia River salmon abundance forecasts. Fishery management objectives and preliminary fishing opportunities for 2011 are discussed.

March 5-10

Pacific Fishery Management Council:

  • Hilton, Vancouver, Washington, 301 West 6th Street.
  • The PFMC adopts a range of ocean fishery options, including catch quotas for sport and commercial fisheries.

March 9

Willapa Bay Fisheries Discussion:

  • 6 pm – 8 pm Raymond Elks Lodge,  326 3rd St., Raymond, WA
  • Public discussion of Willapa Bay salmon forecasts and fishing opportunities.

March 14

Columbia River Fisheries Discussion:

  • 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver, Washington.
  • Public discussion of management objectives and preliminary options for Columbia River fall commercial and sport fisheries.

March 15

First North of Falcon Meeting:

  • 9 a.m.-3 p.m., General Administration Building Auditorium, 210 11th Ave. SW, Olympia.
  • Discussion of management objectives and preliminary fishery proposals for Puget Sound, coastal Washington and Columbia River area sport and commercial fisheries.

March 17

Grays Harbor Fisheries Discussion:

  • 6 pm – 8 pm Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano, WA
  • Public discussion of Grays Harbor salmon forecasts and fishing opportunities.

March 18

Puget Sound Recreational Fisheries Discussion:

  • 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Skagit County PUD, 1415 Freeway Drive, Mount Vernon.
  • Public discussion of management objectives and preliminary options for Puget Sound marine and freshwater sport fisheries.

Puget Sound Commercial Fisheries Discussion:

  • 10 a.m.-noon, WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
  • Public discussion of management objectives and preliminary options for Puget Sound commercial fisheries.

March 23

Pre-season Columbia Basin Salmon/Steelhead Forecasts and Fishery Outlook:

  • 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave. Kennewick.
  • Public discussion of potential recreational and commercial salmon fisheries statewide.

March 24

Final Grays Harbor/Willapa Bay Fisheries Discussion:

  • 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
  • Public meeting to reach final agreement on sport and commercial salmon seasons for Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay.

April 5

Second North of Falcon Meeting:

  • 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., Embassy Suites Hotel, 20610 44th Ave. West, Lynnwood.
  • Public meeting to present results of state-tribal negotiations and analyses of preliminary fishery proposals. With public participation, preferred options are developed for Puget Sound and Columbia River area sport and commercial fisheries.

April 9-14

Final Pacific Fishery Management Council:

  • San Mateo Marriott Hotel, 1770 South Amphlett Blvd., San Mateo, California.
  • PFMC adopts final ocean fisheries regulations and state-tribal fishing plans are finalized for all inside area commercial and sport salmon fisheries.

AndyCoho Breaks Feb. Springer Drought

ODFW is today reporting that spring Chinook fishing “got off to a strong start on the lower Columbia during February.”

“Salmonid angler effort is beginning to increase, and catch rates were very good for the end of February.  On Saturday’s (2/26) flight, 107 salmonid boats and 57 Oregon bank anglers were counted.  Most of the effort was found upstream of St. Helens,” the agency reports.

Yesterday, the 27th, found Northwest Sportsman contributor Andy Schneider on the water, catching his first February springer since 2003. Here’s his tale:

The last time I personally caught a February Springer was Valentine’s Day 2003, so it’s been a long drought.  I’ve made an effort to get out at least once every February in an attempt and catch a early Springer.  Last year I made 4 February Springer trips, a record for me, but proved Springerless until March.

 

ANDY SCHNEIDER'S SPRINGER. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

Tom VanderPlaat proved tough enough to volunteer to pursue some Springers with me. We started off at Davis Bar, (at the mouth of the Willamette) and made our way almost to the bottom of Sauvie Island.  A boat that started fishing at the exact time we did, hooked a fish with a mere minute into their Springer Season….it took us 3 hours of fishing before I was rewarded with a bite.  Throughout the day we say only 3 other fish caught, maybe it was my special brine of Sea Salt and Pautzke Nectar, the spin of the Herring, or just being in the right spot at the right time, no matter I couldn’t be happier!

The bite came just seconds after telling Tom to reel them up to make another pass.  The bite and fight was pretty uneventful and before we could really comprehend what had just happened a chrome February Columbia River Spring Chinook was flopping in the bottom of the boat.  While I cant prove otherwise, I swear that a February Springer tastes better than a ‘Peak Season’ Springer 😉

Thanks Tom for the excellent net job and great company!  And here is hoping that it doesn’t take another 8 years for a February Springer!

ODFW also reports that last week between Portland and Longview, 11 ad-clipped springers were kept and another four wild fish were released between 24 boats with 60 anglers.

Orr, And Ore. And Our Wolves

I hesitated on posting links to the three stories below.

They were in the cue to publish on our blog yesterday, but for one reason or another, I held back.

The first is Rich Landers’ article about George Orr, who retired from the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission at the end of 2010.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review outdoors columnist terms him one of the citizen panel’s “biggest guns.”

And perhaps because the Spokane resident and former legislator is done serving on the commission, he was more open about his frustrations while on it.

I hesitated because his words were unusually harsh against sportsmen. I’ll bet 10 pounds of claw meat he won’t get invited to any Puget Sound Dungie boils this summer.

But upon reflection, I think we’re all big boys and girls and can handle it.

Landers quotes him:

“People don’t want to understand the whole issue. If they want more funding for fish hatcheries, they don’t care about funding for habitat or anything else.”

“People don’t want to hear about a few restrictions on lead fishing tackle that might inconvenience them even if it means saving loons and swans.”

When shellfishers recently pushed for more liberal recreational limits on crabs, Orr took a minority commission position and sided with the commercial crabbers who would, in turn, have to accept lower quotas.

“If recreational crabbers who live in Puget Sound get to keep more crabs, that means higher prices and fewer crabs available for people who live elsewhere and want to buy crabs from the supermarket,” he said. “Everybody has a stake in those crabs, not just the people who can go out their door and catch them.”

Then there are the two articles that came out of two very different talks on wolves in extreme eastern Oregon last weekend.

I hesitated on posting a link to the story by the Blue Mountain Eagle of John Day, Ore., because it makes some assertions that I just don’t buy, and is pushed by some with clear political agendas, including a former Idaho gubernatorial candidate who awaits trial for an elk poaching incident last fall.

But I recalled that after the author Douglas Chadwick spoke with a pair of stridently anti-grizzly ranch women in the Yellowstone area, he began to get a better grasp of the real depth of their feelings.

As the Eagle’s Carl Sampson reports:

“They did not put oatmeal-eating wolves in the Bitterroot, and they did not put oatmeal-eating wolves in Oregon,” said Mike Popp, a hunting guide who said he has seen the damage wolves caused to the elk populations in Idaho. He lives in the Lolo region, where he said the elk population plummeted from 16,000 in 1995 to 2,100 currently.

“I’m just trying to let people know what is going on,” said Dale Potter, who organized the meeting. He fears that if wolves continue to proliferate in the region large-scale cattle operations will be impossible to sustain.

“There are people who will tell you that the wolf is a tool to destroy the rural economy,” he said.

He called for area residents to join forces and speak out about the threat wolves present.

“It’s not just going to kill cows, it’ll change our whole lifestyle,” Potter said.

He called for public demonstrations, at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office in La Grande and at the Capitol in Salem.

Public safety is a growing concern, the speakers said.

A teacher was killed last year in rural Alaska, according to the Los Angeles Times, and a Canadian was killed several years ago in northern Alberta.

“A lot of people are afraid to walk their dogs on the area’s trails,” Linda Graning, a volunteer at the meeting, said.

The third article, by the Argus Observer of Ontario, Ore., counterbalances the Eagle‘s piece. It details a talk that Carter Niemeyer, a retired federal wolf recovery coordinator in Idaho and Montana, gave to an audience at Treasure Valley Community College last Friday.

I hesitated because the reporter wrote, “However, Niemeyer attributed any downturn in elk numbers to a loss of habitat.”

Ummmm, say what?!?! I knew he was outspoken, but that went against the evidence.

A couple hours of email and phone tag later, Niemeyer caught up to me from his Boise home. He said the paraphrasing was an “oversimplification” of what he believes — which is, the decline is linked to wolves and habitat.

“I’ve been in the battle too long to say it’s just the habitat,” he told me.

He says he stays in the fight to counter “the lying, the embellishment,” which he says is “rampant.”

“It drives me nuts to read all the crap out there. It’s surreal,” he says.

He says we need to “get off the emotional fear trip that everyone’s trying to convey.”

Niemeyer terms himself a “middle of the road guy” and hopes the debate — now dominated by extreme anti-wolfers — can be toned down. He tells me that moderate hunters and pro-wolf lobbies  have gone silent on the issue.

His new book, Wolfer — at turns laugh-out-loud amusing (to establish his bona fides with west-central Alberta locals who will help him radio-collar wolves for eventual reintroduction back in the U.S., he wins a wine-soaked wolf-skinning contest with a fur trapper) — outlines his decades at USDA Wildlife Services and then with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

He scoffs at stories that bringing wolves into Yellowstone and Central Idaho was done to “disarm America and do away with hunting.”

“All of us hunt, all of us fish, some of us trap,” he says of the federal biologists working on wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies. “Trust us, none of us did that to kill our recreational pastime.”

He told the community college audience he supports the cattle industry, and told me that as a livestock-kill investigator, he knows the pain ranchers experience when losing animals. That said, he’s also called BS on stock deaths that have nothing to do with wolves.

As politicians attempt to get Canis lupus off the Endangered Species Act through various bills, Niemeyer says he too is for delisting.

(I didn’t ask him this question, but on the book’s Facebook page, Niemeyer responds to a question about those bills by saying, “I am opposed to Congress trying to legislatively delist wolves to circumvent the ESA. It is a dangerous precedent to pick and choose which species the laws of the land apply to.”)

He’s for wolf hunting, says it will “never get rid” of them, and adds, “The quicker they have fair-chase sensible hunting seasons, that’ll cool it down quicker than anything else.”

Give hunters a couple seasons, maybe a couple wolf rugs, and the howling will fade, Niemeyer thinks.

We got to talking about Washington’s wolves. He’s the guy who slapped collars on the Lookout Pack’s alpha pair in July 2008 — the state’s first confirmed breeding pack in 70 years — and the alpha male in the Diamond Pack in July 2009.

I’ve been paying especially close attention to the Lookout gang since it resides in the upper Methow Valley, where I’ve hunted mule deer for over a decade, but was surprised to learn that the alphas were pretty long in the tooth when Niemeyer caught them.

“They were gummers,” he says, “no less than 7 or 8 years old, way over their prime.”

They had chipped, broken and yellowish teeth that were worn to the gums, he says, and called the pair “probably the oldest I’ve ever handled.”

A pair of government wildlife biologists who monitor the pack suspect the alpha female, which disappeared last May, was shot, but Niemeyer’s take makes me wonder anew.

Who knows.

Ahh, hell, I’ve hesitated posting this blog long enough, I have actual work to do, so here goes nothing.

New Line Of Steelie Drifter Launched

They say the Northwest fishing-boat market is starting to pick up, and one of the newest owners took his model out for a spin yesterday.

The good news is that it floats, the bad is that it could use a little pumping up.

Err, pumping up?

Yeah, it’s an inner tube that Oregon guide David Johnson plucked out of the brush alongside a North Coast river.

“It was left there by the last Tillamook County flood,” says DJ. “I just thought we’d give it a shot, so I pulled the drifter over and ‘launched’ my new craft.”

Since he was fishing, he pitched a cast and did a little side-, err, tubing.

And how’d that go, David?

“It actually didn’t have enough air and I ended up taking on water down the back of my waders.  Sadly, not enough time to catch anything,” he says.

He posted the escapade to his Facebook page and got 15 comments and seven likes.

WDFW Merger Bill Moves Forward, With Twists

It’s out with the Washington Department of Conservation and Recreation, in with the Washington Department of Fish, Wildlife and (take a breather here) Recreation — and the Fish & Wildlife Commission would retain its policy- and rule-making authority under Senate Substitute Bill 5669.

It was passed out of the Natural Resources & Marine Waters Committee by a 4-2 vote on President’s Day and forwarded to the Ways & Means Committee.

Instead of a director, the super-agency — a conglomeration of WDFW, State Parks and the Recreation and Conservation Office — would also have a “secretary” as its head.

According to Allen Thomas of The Columbian, “The substitute bill gives the governor authority to appoint a Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation secretary from a list of five candidates submitted jointly by the wildlife and parks commissions.”

The Senate would have final say on confirming the governor’s choice, according to the substitute bill.

During a public hearing Feb. 10, Natural Resources chair Kevin Ranker promised that the bill that would emerge out of his committee would be different from the one that went in.

He was joined in voting for the second take by vice chair Debbie Regala, Karen Fraser and Dan Swecker, three Democrats and a Republican, respectively.

Voting against it were Senators Bob Morton and James Hargrove, a Republican and Democrat.

Senator Val Stevens a Republican, said send it without recommendation.

Fraser and Regala also sit on the 22-member Ways and Means panel.

Late last week, the Fish & Wildlife Commission fired off a statement against the original bill’s gutting of its authority over rules, policies and WDFW oversight. Before that, sport fishermen voiced their opposition during the public hearing.

In the House, companion bill 1850 sits in the State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee.

Both bills came at the request of Governor Gregoire who last December proposed merging numerous natural resource agencies.

In other legislative news, HB 1340, which would ramp up penalties for spree killing of wildlife, sailed out of the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources on a 13-0 vote and is before the rules committee. And SB 5661, which would require commercial fishermen to report lost gillnets, was passed out of Natural Resources to the rules committee as well.

WA FWC On 5669: Opposition, and ‘Deep Concern’

Just in case you missed it, the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission fired off a statement against the part of SB 5669 that would neuter the citizen panel.

In the press release, which came after hours Friday evening, the FWC said the bill would “reverse the will of the majority of the people as reflected in Referendum 45.”

The statement also expresses “deep concern” about the Senate bill’s attempt to merge Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife with State Parks and the Recreation and Conservation Office.

“The cost savings identified in the bill are relatively small in light of the substantial reorganizational effort that a merger would entail,” the FWC says.

SB 5669 and its companion bill in the House, 1850, came at the request of Governor Gregoire who last December proposed merging WDFW, State Parks and the RCO in response to the $4.6 billion revenue shortfall as well as drives in recent years to make natural resource management more efficient.

During a public hearing before the Senate Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee Feb. 10, sport anglers were very protective of the commission and the agency.

“Do not allow this merger take place,” said Norman Reinhardt, president of the Kitsap Poggie Club, adding that it would turn the clock back, putting politics before science.

(For more coverage of the hearing, see articles by The Columbian and Kitsap Sun.)

On the other side of the fence, Gregoire’s policy adviser for natural resources John Mankowski explained to High Country News, “The commission form of government can work, but it’s an expensive way to run government. It takes a lot of time and money to hold meetings all around the state and get input. The commission also makes fine-scale decisions about management that should be at the discretion of the director (of Fish and Wildlife).”

The commission would become an advisory group under 5669. Currently, it sets policies and regulations for managing the state’s wildlife, as well as oversees WDFW.

An audio file of the Fish & Wildlife Commission’s conference call last Friday has been posted. In it, Chair Miranda Wecker of Naselle explains how the statement came about.

“I drafted this because I thought this agency had something to say — the commission in particular — had something to say about the real costs of mergers, since we have some fairly recent experience with that. When the Department of Fisheries and Department of Wildlife merged, it was not an easy thing, it took a lot of time,” she said.

Commissioner Rollie Schmitten of Lake Wenatchee termed Gregoire’s estimated savings of $2.5 million and elimination of 14 jobs — which would come from shrinking the number of natural resource agencies from 11 to five — “very, very modest.”

Commissioner Chuck Perry of Moses Lake said merger efficiencies are a long ways off in the future.

“The pains of the merger, if the combination of the Department of Fisheries and Department of (Wildlife) are any indication, are extremely time consuming and extremely long lasting. The efficiency gains are simply not there. This may not move the legislators by itself, but I think put together in a package like this letter outlines, it makes a  fairly strong argument, in fact a very strong argument,” said Perry.

Earlier last week, a WDFW manager told me he didn’t think the two halves were yet fully joined since the 1994 merger.

There was a bit of discussion among commissioners on when to send the statement out. Schmitten, Wecker and David Jennings of Olympia all thought sooner was better so as to have an influence on the legislature.

“I’m starting to hear questions where the commission actually stands. So many people have come forward. We’ve had an initial round of hearings. And there looms this question: ‘The Parks Commission has come out in opposition. Where is the Fish & Wildlife Commission?’ So I think it’s timely we do make a statement,” Scmitten said.

Putting a statement out came to a vote; there were no votes against it.

Here’s the full text of the commission’s statement:

The Fish and Wildlife Commission believes that the Governor has demonstrated true leadership in proposing significant government reform measures. The budget crisis facing the state is without precedent. Hard choices must be faced. Every reasonable means to increase the efficiency and productivity of government agencies should be explored. It is with respect that the Commission offers these perspectives on the provisions of SB 5669 proposing the merger of natural resource agencies.

Changes to the Commission Role

The Commission is opposed to changes to the Commission authority proposed in SB 5669 which would reverse the will of the majority of the people as reflected in Referendum 45. Following the popular vote approving Referendum 45, the Legislature endorsed the special role of the Fish and Wildlife Commission as an “open and deliberative process that encourages public involvement and increases public confidence in department decision making” (RCW 77.04.013).

The popular vote demonstrated that the public wants this unique access to fish and wildlife decision-makers and wants greater openness and transparency in fish and wildlife decision-making. The people made it clear that without access and openness, their confidence in decision-making will be undermined. The special importance voters placed on decisions affecting fish and wildlife is self-evident in the results of the vote: the referendum was approved by over 60% and passed in every county of the state.

SB 5669 eliminates all aspects of the Commission’s authority—its power to appoint and remove the Director as well as its authority to set regulations. Both elements of its power are essential if the Commission, as the people intended, is to establish policy for the agency and hold the agency accountable for its implementation. If approved, the role of the Commission would be reduced to one that is advisory in nature.

Citizens in this state, and in almost every other state in the country, have put their trust in the Commission process as a way to reduce the influence of politics on natural resource management. No public policy issue can be fully insulated from the political process. Nevertheless, management of the public’s natural heritage of resources is widely seen as falling in a special category. In this arena more than others, it is most important to limit the influence of short sighted thinking, narrow special interests, and shifting electoral politics. The long-term view and the public trust must be safeguarded.

Merger of the Departments

The Commission expresses deep concern about the added administrative burdens associated with the merger proposed in this legislation. The Department has relatively recent experience with the very real and costly logistical and procedural hurdles presented by a major merger. When agencies are merged, a great deal of time must be spent in meetings focused on a range of procedural questions that must be addressed. Procedural matters take center stage, reducing the time spent achieving the agency’s mission. New lines of authority have to be established. In some cases, the challenges of integration take many years to truly address the complexities of integration. In some cases, a dominant unit emerges and the program of the subordinate agency loses its ability to advance its interests.

The cost savings identified in the bill are relatively small in light of the substantial reorganizational effort that a merger would entail.

In recent years, budget cuts have taken their toll on staff numbers. The Department has fewer employees with which to achieve our mission.  The remaining staff are being asked to do more and more. The Commission holds serious reservations regarding the expenditure of significant staff time and resources on the many administrative issues that will need to be resolved if a merger takes place.

During the last legislative session, the commission posted a statement against SB 6813, which would have folded WDFW into DNR. That bill eventually died.

More Details Emerge On Latest WA Wolf Kill Case

UPDATE: FEB. 26, 2011: The Wenatchee World has more details on the case.

It’s been a year and a half or so since the skinned carcass of a male wolf was discovered in extreme eastern Skagit County, but despite “a number of people aware of the poaching,” wildlife investigators are struggling to make a case.

Mike Cenci, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Enforcement Division’s deputy chief, couldn’t provide many details about the investigation, but hopes that those who know about it step forward with tips.

“We’ve had some leads, and they’ve been helpful, but we’d appreciate more information if people have it,” he says.

Cenci has been extremely cagey about the case since I first learned of it last summer. It became public earlier this week with an article in the Methow Valley News.

The investigation began in fall 2009 with a phone call from a citizen. His officers went to the scene at or near Rainy Pass on Highway 20, the North Cascades Highway, and found where the carcass had been “dumped.”

“It had been there for some time,” Cenci says.

The hide had been removed, maggots were crawling around the body and muscle tissue, and there was a bullet hole in it.

Cenci says he can say for sure that it was a wolf and not a hybrid or other canine.

The animal’s age is unclear, and so is where it may have come from.

“The evidence we have so far is that it came from Eastern Washington,” Cenci says.

That’s where the state’s two known and a couple suspected packs exist, but he wouldn’t detail more.

This case would raise the number of wolves known to have been killed in the region over the past few years to at least two, and possibly as many as four.

Late March 2009 news articles detail the alleged killing of one member of the Lookout Pack by a Twisp man and the attempted shipping of its pelt to Canada; Cenci adds that there are indications that at least one other wolf was also killed in the case. No charges have been filed, but an assistant to the U.S. Attorney in Spokane said it was still active, according to a Methow Valley News article last week.

In the same article, a pair of wildlife biologists voice their opinions that the disappearance of the Lookout’s alpha female last May was the result of foul play.

However, Cenci says that his officers are not investigating it.

Word of the newest poaching came during a very busy couple of weeks of wolf news in the West, including dueling delisting bills in Congress, sparring hunting groups in Montana, efforts to reduce wolf numbers on both sides of the Bitterroots, and Governor Schweitzer’s letter to the Secretary of the Interior that he was directing game wardens not to investigate wolf killings by ranchers north of I-90.

“Wolves are boring,” notes Ed Bangs, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery coordinator for the Northern Rockies in Helena. “The fascinating thing is the human reactions … Right now it’s at a fevered pitch.”

Back in Washington, the killings illustrate more clearly the problem that wolves will have re-establishing themselves in the state, both in terms of core refuge and local tolerance.

“Bottom line, people will decide where wolves live and where they don’t,” says Bangs.

To explain wolf survival to me this morning, he used an archery analogy — he’s a bowhunter himself — and the greater Yellowstone area.

He says that in the “bull’s eye” core of their habitat — the famed national park where wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s — 80 percent of wolves survive each year.

In the next ring out — the park’s edges, surrounding wildernesses and national forest lands — it dips to 70 percent.

The next ring — public lands extensively used for cattle grazing and a bit of private land — it drops to 60 percent.

In the fourth ring — which includes private lands such as ranches as well as more roaded public lands — it drops to 50 percent, and in the one beyond that, survival is 40 percent, he says.

At that level, “You don’t have packs persisting,” Bangs says.

The more open the habitat, the fewer the trees, the more roaded and private it is, the less chance wolves have of living very long.

He adds that 85 percent of wolves die by human hands — poaching, livestock damage control and collisions.

Bangs uses another metaphor to illustrate the persistence of packs in that fifth ring: “little lights blinking on and off.”

It’s debatable what ring Washington’s North Cascades represent.

In summer, it could be the bull’s eye. There are something like 2.5 million acres, or 4,000 square miles, of mountainous, forested wilderness or near wilderness from the Canadian border south to Stevens Pass, and from Mt. Baker east to Loomis, all of it crossed by just a single two-lane state route, Highway 20.

In winter, the heights are snowed in, driving the deer herds into the settled Methow and Okanogan Valleys and even to the edge of the Columbia River further south — country that might be typified as the outer rings.

Bangs points out that wolves have pushed out of the Rockies onto Montana’s eastern prairies for 50 years but packs have yet to persist there.

“Why? Illegal killing and control,” he says. “In some instances, areas are kept wolf-free through illegal killing and control.”

At the moment, biologists, and apparently a film crew from the British Broadcasting Company, are monitoring whether the two or three wolves left in the Lookout Pack — the state’s first breeding pair in 70 years, and at one time numbering as many as ten — keep the lights on, or wink out.

Online, initial word of the new killing sparked an array of emotions.

“The presence of wolves in Washington is very polarizing,” acknowledges Cenci. “Our officers don’t pick and choose which species to protect. They’re sworn to protect all, and we’re going to do that.”

For now, he’s hoping someone comes forward and talks.

“We know a lot of people are aware of the poaching,” Cenci says, and pointing to handsome permit point rewards and cash for information that may lead to an arrest, adds, “If someone wants to become a confidential witness, there are ways to reach us.”

For Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, which has helped WDFW monitor the pack and other animals in the North Cascades, the killing is doubly troubling.

“And not just as a conservation setback for a fragile wolf population. I wonder if we, as a hunting community, have slacked off a bit in how we react to poachers. Whoever did this is as bad as any elk spree killer. I hope he is caught and made to pay,” he says.

According to WDFW’s draft wolf management plan, penalties for killing a state endangered species range up to $5,000 and/or a year in jail while federal penalties range up to $100,000 and a year in jail.

WDFW’s poaching tip hotline is (877) 933-9847.