Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

More On The Abolishing Of WDFW

Our head’s-up piece on the abolishing of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has gotten huge hits the last few days, but unfortunately, we haven’t been able to learn much beyond what is in the digest for Senate Bill 6813.

A key cosponsor has yet to call us back, but from what a WDFW source told us earlier today, because of the bill’s classification, it may not die at the midnight Feb. 5 legislative cutoff if it’s not moved out of committee, as an information officer in the state capitol informed us earlier this week.

In a nutshell, SB 6813 would kill off WDFW and the State Parks and Recreation Commission by folding them into the Department of Natural Resources. The Commissioner of Public Lands (currently Peter Goldmark) would be the head honcho.

The Fish & Wildlife Commission would be one of the mega agency’s three boards and still be in charge of making fishing and hunting rules, etc., but would only be able to make recommendations on the overall department’s budget.

A preamble, if you will, to 6813 reads:

The legislature finds that perpetual management of Washington state natural resources, including sustainable harvesting of minerals, timber, and other forest products, and the preservation and protection of fish and wildlife and recreational opportunities requires clear, efficient, streamlined, and scientific management by a single state agency. Such a consolidation will bring combined resources to bear on securing, managing, and enhancing all of the state’s natural resources. It will simplify licensing, amplify research, avoid duplication, and magnify enforcement of laws and rules. It will provide all forest landowners, fishers, hunters, users of recreation, and tribal fisheries comanagers with a single source of consistent policies, procedures, and access.

Tom Davis, WDFW’s legislative liason, says WDFW, DNR and State Parks had JUST begun to work on a fiscal impact statement for the bill this morning.

Meanwhile, he’s got his eyes on some other stuff in Olympia.

House Bill 2485 would, he says, restrain the agency’s ability to buy land in certain areas where there’s already a lot of public land.

He points to Okanogan County, part of which is repped by bill cosponsor Joel Kretz, a Republican, and deputy minority leader of the house. Washington’s biggest county has some of the biggest chunks of intact habitat left in the state, and an area WDFW’s real estate division always seems to be picking up parcels large and small.

“We need to make sure county commissioners are OK with our land purchases,” Davis says, but he also points out that private landowners are free to sell to whomever.

While they can sell to developers as well, “to us, land acquisition is the best way to protect habitat,” Davis says. “We just have to be sensitive how we do it.”

He points out that WDFW pays PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, on almost all acreage they own.

But there’s something of a sagebrush rebellion going on. Another bill in Olympia, HB 2934, which has since died, would have prevented the agency from buying land for more than the appraised current use value.

That’s different than fair-market value, and might only be 50 percent of it.

Davis says that it’s a big deal in Eastern Washington where state land buys can pull land out of agricultural productivity by outbidding local farmers.

The last bill Davis mentioned is HB 2593, dealing with derelict crab pots. This bill originally had a provision for collecting donations of $2 from recreational crabbers to collect lost pots in the Sound and Straits, but that has since been dropped, says Davis.

Now the bill would allow WDFW to spend crab endorsement money on pulling up derelict gear in the Straits and Sound.

“Twelve thousand pots a year are lost, and they may fish up to two years. You might have 1 million crab a year impacted,” says Davis. “It’s a small start, but a tool to focus on the problem.”

The bill would also allow citations to be issued to commercial crabbers if they are caught using noncompliant gear.

Word Of The Day: Hoplophobia

I learned a new word today: hoplophobia.

No, not the fear of hopping, or an extinct North American proto-cat in the Nimravidae family.

Rather, the fear of — according to Wikipedia — “firearms or alternatively, an irrational fear of weapons in general.”

Dave Workman pulled the term out for his latest Seattle Gun Rights Examiner column.

He writes that the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence is trying to “browbeat” Starbucks “into refusing service to an evidently growing clientele of law-abiding firearms owners” who are openly carrying their Berettas along with their fresh brews.

In an e-mail message sent out this week, Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke laments that, “Starbucks is refusing to prohibit open carrying in its stores, despite protests from loyal customers.”

This was after Helmke acknowledged that his campaign of social bigotry against legally-armed citizens was launched because, “Over the past few months, more and more gun owners have been gathering at restaurants and coffee shops like Starbucks with guns strapped to their hips, intimidating fellow patrons.”
So, let me see if I have this straight. Because Starbucks is attracting increasing numbers of gun owners – presumably becoming the kind of loyal customers about whom Helmke writes – he wants the coffee chain to ban these people, in deference to his own ilk of hoplophobes.
In reaction, even more gun owners are declaring a sudden thirst for Starbucks blend and heading to their local coffee stand.
Hoplophobia, meet the kings of caffeine.

Abolish WDFW?!?

Abolish the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife!?

To some it might seem a gift from on high, and a bill introduced in Olympia yesterday aims to do just that.

Senate Bill 6813, sponsored by a trio of central Pugetropolis Democrats — Senators Tom, Rockefeller and Shin — would abolish “the department of fish and wildlife and transfers its powers, duties, and functions to the department of natural resources.”

It would do away with State Parks Commission and move that department to DNR as well.

Reform of natural resource agencies has been brewing for awhile. Last year, Gov. Gregoire asked numerous departments to come up with ideas on how to reform management, reduce costs and improve service delivery in light of the state’s $9 billion budget shortfall.

However, in December, a panel recommended to her that WDFW, DNR and other departments not be bundled. Instead, WDFW would work to unify instate regions, smooth permitting, better coordinate fieldwork and identify redundancies between it, DNR and DOE.

The cutoff for bills to move out of Senate committees is midnight, Feb. 5. It must then be passed out of the full Senate by Feb. 16.

We’ve got calls in to learn more about the bill’s odds as well as the rationale behind it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: AN EARLIER VERSION OF THIS MISSTATED THE DEADLINE TO MOVE THIS BILL OUT OF THE SENATE’S NATURAL RESOURCES, OCEANS & RECREATION COMMITTEE.

First Springers!

In the words of Opine, “Welcome to Crazy Town.”

It’s about that time of year, and we’ve been hearing rumors of the “first springer” for about a week now, but there’s a thread on Ifish today that HAS yielded the first confirmed photographic proof of the species’ return to the Pacific Northwest.

Scroll down to entry #21 and you’ll see A) A fin-clipped spring Chinook, and B) the cover of today’s Oregonian.

As I edit this post, sirens blare — indeed, welcome to Crazy World!!!

“Yeah, we got one,” confirms guide Larry Kesch of Hook Em Up Guide Service (503-575-8755) late this afternoon.

JESSE EVELAND AND GUIDE LARRY KESCH. (HOOK EM UP GUIDE SERVICE)

He and three anglers — including the lucky fisherman, Jesse Eveland of Milwaukie, known online as Blue Water 23 — were actually specifically targeting springers, trolling Fish Flash and cutplug herring downstream in the Columbia at Davis Bar, which is opposite the mouth of the Willamette on the Washington side.

“We were the only boat out there. Kinda nice,” Kesch says.

It bit around 9 a.m. and was also the only fish of the day, he reports, but it tied his previous record early springer. In past seasons, he says he’s also hooked first kings on the 3rd, 5th and 6th.

He expects the rest of the 2010 season to be good.

Meanwhile, quick checks at Fisherman’s Marine in Delta Park, Four Corners General Store in Castle Rock and Bob’s Merchandise in Longview just after noon reveal reports of other spring Chinook caught in recent days.

“I’ve heard of four reportedly caught at Meldrum Bar in the last few days,” says Tristan at FMO.

Meldrum Bar would be that famous plunkery on the Willamette just below the Clackamas; Terry Otto writes about it in our February issue, out now.

Adds Doug at Four Corners, which is just off the Cowlitz, “I’ve heard of nine or ten.”

“A couple were caught this morning,” he says. “They were definitely springers.”

“I’ve personally seen fish on the Cowlitz,” says Justin at Bob’s, pointing to a picture he got on his phone last Friday.

Bill Monroe’s column from Saturday mentions Cowlitz springers in passing.

This year’s spring Chinook run to the upper Columbia is forecast to be 470,000.

Kesch says there’s usually a small run of fish in early February and then the fishing slows until the main run arrives.

Run timing is affected by a wide range of oceanic and riverine conditions, as 2004 and 2008 papers by Matthew Keefer of the University of Idaho’s Fish Ecology Research Lab reveal.

NW Radio Show 7 Years Strong

Joel Shangle recalls the props he got from NFL guru John Clayton seven years ago today after his radio show‘s first broadcast  … but there was another incident involving Clayton that he didn’t mention in the write-up over on Gamefishin: Springergate.

If I recall the story I put together afterwards (it’s buried at home, somewhere with everything else I wrote for Fishing & Hunting News‘ Web site), Shangle et al were in the studio sizzling up some spring Chinook as they spoke to Buzz Ramsey.

Everything went well … except that the smell lingered on after the show ended.

And John Clayton, who followed the crew that day, hates the smell of fish.

Hates it with a passion.

There weren’t any doors to open and air the booth out for Clayton.

Weren’t any windows either.

And Clayton was doing something like an extended broadcast to cover the NFL draft.

When he went live, he ranted for five minutes, on and on about fish.

Priceless, Shangle figured, considering the national air time his show got.

But it’s the 2,500 guests he’s booked that have helped make the two-hour broadcast what it is.

Everyone who is anyone in the local fishing and hunting scene has been on the show — guides, resorts, tackle doods, advocates, little ol’ me, everyone right up to Gov. Christine Gregoire and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.

Shangle’s brought in “outside” voices as well, Capt. Tred Barta for starters, the boys from the Bering Sea — Deadliest Catch crabbers like Capt. Sig Hansen and the Hillstrand brothers — Bassmasters, Olympic medalists, Bobby Knight, etc.

Gotta spice things up, can’t just do Cowlitz side-drifting reports all the time, as this magazine editor knows well.

Keep it going, Shangle.

Gathering Our People

I was talking with one of my writers yesterday afternoon and he was a little ehh about the upcoming show season. Been there, seen that can’t-miss lure, tasted this secret elk jerky recipe, still can’t afford a sled.

I’ve felt the same way in the past, always wondering, “Why am I going again? Well, at least I’ll come home with a sack of scones.”

Then last January I began to see it differently.

As part of pimping our then-new magazine, we gathered a table, a pile of back-issue boxes and a couple manila envelopes and set up at Puyallup, then Portland, then Roseburg, then Spokane.

I was to work a couple days at Puyallup but wasn’t sure how it would go. Ever since we’d started the mag up in Oct. 2008, there had been questions — and some anger — about what happened with F&H News (where some of us worked till it unexpectedly closed in July of that year), where the subscription money had gone, yada, yada, yada.

I have to admit that I’m extremely shy and not at all a public persona. And with my low muttering and ugly mug, there’s a reason I’m a magazine editor and not an outdoor radio or TV show host.

So there was definite trepidation going on with yours truly. It’s far easier to be a member of the crowd shuffling past than the person in the booth.

But once anglers and hunters began coming by, I warmed up — and then I wanted to stay all day long.

This was great! Hundreds of old F&H readers stopped by, wondering what had happened. Outside of a few, there was compassion and then interest in our magazine.

I met people I’d only emailed with over the years, I met people from Gamefishin, old faces, new faces.

John Kruse stopped by, so did Jason Brooks and his boys. Glen and Cami Bayer (she of the February 2010 cover) swung by and introduced themselves.

I wandered the fairgrounds, chatting with other folks I knew.

It’s taken about a year, but in the end I understand that sportsmen’s shows aren’t just about the latest doodads, widgets and whizbangs, the coolest lodges, resorts and guides.

It’s something like the social event of the year for Our People, a gathering together of The Tribe. At no other time of the year do so many of us come together.

Not in the combat zones below Northwest steelhead hatcheries.

Not in the Interstate springer hole, or the Merry-Go-Round at Drano, or out at the CR Buoy.

Not on ifish, piscatorials, steelheader, hunting-washington, nwfishingaddicts, etc.

Not at public meetings on fishery or wildlife issues.

Not at youth hunts, senior hunts or disabled hunts.

Not at DU, RMEF or NWTF banquets.

We may not agree on hatchery practices, on wildlife management — on anything — but we go and rub shoulders in those crowded aisles, and I think I know why. Even if all we do is pick up slick brochures for Alaskan lodges, for Montana outfitters, for the latest and greatest steel sheds, for these few days of the year, we’re together.

We’ll see you at the shows, folks.

2010 SPORTSMEN’S SHOW SCHEDULE

JANUARY
Jan. 27-31: Washington Sportsmen’s Show, Western Washington Fairgrounds, Puyallup. otshows.com
Jan. 29-31: Great Rockies Sport Show, Gallatin Co. Fairgrounds, Bozeman, Mont. greatrockiesshow.com
Jan. 29-Feb. 6: Seattle Boat Show, Qwest Field Event Center/South Lake Union, Seattle. seattleboatshow.com

FEBRUARY
Feb. 5-7: Eugene Boat & Sportsmen’s Show, Lane County Fairgrounds, Eugene, Ore. exposureshows.com
Feb. 5-7: Great Rockies Sport Show, Montana ExpoPark, Great Falls, Mont. greatrockiesshow.com
Feb. 10-14, Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show, Expo Center, Portland. otshows.com
Feb. 19-21: Sportsmen’s & Outdoor Recreation Show, Douglas County Fairgrounds, Roseburg, Ore. exposureshows.com
Feb. 19-21: Central Washington Sportsmen Show, SunDome, Yakima. shuylerproductions.com
Feb. 26-28: Jackson County Sportsmen’s & Outdoor Recreation Show, Jackson County Expo, Medford, Ore. exposureshows.com

MARCH
March 4-7: Idaho Sportsmen’s Show, Expo Idaho, Boise. idahosportsmanshow.com
March 5-7: BC Boat & Sportsmen’s Show, and BC Hunting Show, TRADEX, Abbotsford, B.C. squarefeetevents.ca
March 5-7: Great Western Sportfishing Show, Convention Center, Spokane. shuylerproductions.com
March 11-14, Central Oregon Sportsmen’s Show, Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, Redmond. otshows.com
March 12-14: Great Rockies Sport Show, Flathead County Fairgrounds, Kalispell, Mont. greatrockiesshow.com
March 12-13: Northwest Fly Tyer and Fly Fishing Expo, Linn County Expo Center, Albany, Ore. nwflytyerexpo.com
March 18-21: Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, Interstate Fairgrounds, Spokane. wildlifecouncil.org/bighornsubsite/default.htm

APRIL
April 8-11: Great Alaska Sportsman Show, Sullivan & Ben Boeke Arenas, Anchorage. greatalaskasportsmanshow.com

So Typical

What happens when you run a mess of ice fishing stories?

Those cold days in late fall and early winter turn positively springlike when your January issue comes out.

How warm has it been? At 6:30 p.m. last night, my in-vehicle thermometer read 57. And when I got to the front door, I noticed new leaves budding out on the rose bush beside it. A bunch of tulips or lilies are poking out of the soil in the front and backyards too.

Today comes word that this January is on pace to be the warmest on record in Seattle. Though the month is only two-thirds over, the average temperature so far has been 47.5 degrees, almost a full degree above the previous record, 7 above average, and 8 1/2 above last January’s, according to Lynda V. Mapes’ article in today’s Times.

Why has it been so warm? She writes:

The reason is simple: There is just no cold air anywhere in our region. It started early in the month with a grinding southwester that shoved all the cold air out of the Puget Sound area and even blew away Eastern Washington’s usual bowl full of cold air.

Then an easterly airflow pattern set in and is continuing to bring warm air our way. And it’s all going on in the larger context of an El Niño, which always means warmer, drier weather as the jet stream splits and sends our storms south.

I don’t know that it’s sent all of “our storms south” — Seasonal Affective Disorder is setting in with all these rainy, cloudy days — but the weather sure has made a mockery of ice fishing articles.

“Ain’t Dakota, But We Got Ice Too,” reads the headline of one of our stories this month.

Get your Sharpie out and mojo that to “Ain’t Dakota, And We Got Rotten Ice,” please.

“Ice on smaller trout waters is probably pretty rotten,” Chris Donley, WDFW fisheries biologist for far Eastern Washington, said in yesterday’s Weekender.

Added fellow biologist Marc Divens: “Usually this is a good time to fish Eloika or Newman lakes for their bass, perch, crappie and other fish. But I wouldn’t recommend anyone venture out on the ice on those lakes, at least not until we return to more normal temperatures with freezing days and nights.”

“With the recent warmer weather, I would not venture out onto the ice at Roses (Lake),” guide Anton Jones in Chelan, Wash., warned earlier this week.

Roses was only one of three top choices for ice aficionados in North-central Washington we wrote up in January. Typically safe waters in more elevated parts of the region are also suspect.

Argh. Ever tell you how much I hate ice fishing?

Well, I guess I don’t hate ice fishing, per se, just trying to cover the sport anywhere south of Yellowknife.

Back at F&H News, when I was the Mid-Atlantic edition editor, my writers and I felt pretty safe running a late-December/early January ice fishing issue, and of course the ice came off in New York and Pennsylvania.

So we quickly put together a follow-up open-water fishing issue, and of course the ice came back with a vengeance.

Ice, may you burn in hell.

If there’s a bright side, at least it won’t be so bitter up on Lake Roosevelt, where the trout fishing’s pretty good, or in Northwest Oregon, where the steelheading’s shining this winter.

And my writer Leroy Ledeboer points out, “Hey, they had several good weeks of ice fishing – more above Spokane and in the Okanogan – which in this state is about all anyone ever expects.”

But the only ice I want to see for awhile is while drowning my sorrows in a frosty mug of suds.

WSJ Reports On Nehalem Steelies, OR’s Runs

The Wall Street Journal has an unusual article in today’s business section: big runs of salmon and steelhead in Oregon.

The story leads and ends with a pair of out-of-work anglers on the Nehalem River, which could see as many as 3,000 steelhead back to the hatchery by the time this winter’s run wraps up.

That run, of course, follows up on the huge run of lower Columbia hatchery coho and upper Columbia hatchery steelhead last fall, and leads into this year’s forecasted record run of spring Chinook to the big crick.

“I got 85 pounds of filleted fish: salmon and steelhead mixed,” angler Adam Rice, an unemployed carpenter, tells reporter Joel Millman on the banks of the Nehalem.

Adds his fishing partner Lloyd Graves, on furlough from his painting gig, “No one likes to be unemployed … but this couldn’t happen at a better time.”

Last month, nearly 80,000 pounds of canned salmon were distrubuted around the state (which is suffering from a 12 percent unemployment rate) by the Oregon Food Bank, Millman reports.

The article includes an interesting graph showing the uptick in steelhead, coho and Chinook runs in recent years, and discusses why returns are believed to have jumped.

FDR, ASAP

In last month’s issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine, we wrote up Lake Roosevelt for a good reason. The headline said it all, in fact: “From ‘Really Good’ To ‘Even Better.'”

Trout fishing on the monstrously long Northeast Washington reservoir was not only good last fall and improving as winter came on, but has been on a roll in recent years as well.

Explained Moses Lake-based scribe Leroy Ledeboer in our December issue:

So why has this gigantic reservoir gone from a very good to an excellent winter trout fishery over the years?

In a few words: more pen-reared trout.

These fall-winter and early spring trout pens are operated by a coalition of agencies – the Spokane and Colville Confederated Tribes and state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife – and a host of sportsman volunteers coordinated by the Lake Roosevelt Development Association handles daily feedings.

Forty-five netpens are strung in the 90 miles of lake from Kettle Falls to Keller Ferry, and in 2007 these turned out a whopping 750,000 yearling rainbows, large enough fish so that a high percentage escape walleye and smallmouth predation.

“We’ve been able to really up the trout numbers because we found that the kokanee weren’t surviving any better out of the pens than they were from direct release,” says Tim Peone, biologist at the Spokane Tribal Fish Hatchery in Ford, “so we went to straight rainbows in the pens, which do have much better survival rates.”

Peone, of course, has a vested interest in promoting the fishery.

As does his frying pan. Peone’s been feeding it pretty well in recent weeks. This morning he fired in this fishing report:

Fishing’s hot on Roosevelt now. Caught limits of trout ave 2 #’s on Friday (1/15) at Ft Spokane and lost a beauty kok at net.

JANUARY 15'S HAUL. (TIM PEONE)

Also caught limits of trout plus 3 nice kokes yesterday (1/19) at Spring Canyon all on surface flies and plugs.  Trout on right are all 3 plus #’s, kokes on left are 3, 3.5 & 4#.

JANUARY 19TH'S CATCH. (TIM PEONE)

While Gordie Steinmetz is a well-known regional walleye angler, he’s been working the rainbows, doing well with Berkley Frenzy No. 5s and 7s, doing well at Seven Bays, he told Ledeboer.

And Spokane angler Kelly Colliton, who was also working the lake in the middle of last week, told me that though one day was bad (“only two fish — they were nice though”), a couple days later, the bite turned on for 2- to 3-pound rainbows.

“They were hanging around 20 feet and liked the Rippin Minnows and purple Apex,” he reported

SKIP AND CHRIS LARSON WITH A ROOSEVELT RAINBOW. (KELLY COLLITON)

With fishing like that, I asked Leroy to give Northwest Sportsman readers a feel for how the rest of winter will play at the big lake. He reports:

For February and March, the best fishing could be much lower in this reservoir, out of Keller Ferry, in that broad mouth of the Sanpoil, Swawilla Basin or in Spring Canyon as trout move downlake with the freshwater shrimp and baitfish.

“Spring Canyon bank plunkers were doing OK on rainbows even in January,” notes Aulin Smith of Electric City, “but historically it’s not until February we trollers really get into them.

“My partners and I usually launch at Spring Canyon, troll a variety of K-flies and Muddlers, all baited with maggots, as well as Apex spoons. The trout are generally near the top, so even with our downriggers, we’re only going down 10 to 12 feet.

“But we also long- line straight mono, doing a lot of weaving, and we’ll run some planer boards. You have to experiment to be really successful,” he says.

No Pressure, None At All

Work life seeped into dream life last night: I was going to shoot a whitetail doe, but had to wait for her to walk out of the woods into a subdivision.

The map in my hands showed the hunt area boundary began right on the center hump of a cul de sac servicing the houses and extended from their back fencelines to the main road out front.

Deer country was off limits, but the shrubberies, backyards and patios were inside the kill zone.

Welcome to Bizarro World. Only it isn’t these days as animals and people shack up in each other’s worlds.

Behind me in my dream was a mess of state Fish & Wildlife folks — enforcement officers, a biologist, some flacks, heck, maybe even the Director — and a TV camera too.

No pressure, none at all.

I shifted my rifle from one hand to the other. I guess I was a Master Hunter or something and had been called in to take care of this particularly troublesome doe. I peered around a tree from time to time to track her progress towards the houses while we all fidgeted.

The only one not fidgeting was the doe, which was moving very slowly — but not towards the kill zone. This might all be much ado about nothing today, I thought.

True, I had other, more conventional deer-hunting dreams last night — chasing bucks in the hills and mountains — but this one really sticks out.

I’m pretty sure I dreamed it because of a pair of articles Jason Brooks and I put together for our February issue of Northwest Sportsman, which we sent off to press yesterday.

In the wake of late December’s Skagit Valley elk fiasco, we learned of another elk damage-control hunt being held in an even more challenging place.

How much more challenging?

Try just east of Goodytwoshoesville.

In a valley that’s even more populated.

Next to a state highway and an interstate.

In the vicinity of an outlet mall, a massive housing development, a golf course and extremely popular tourist attractions and hiking trails.

No pressure, none at all.

But since last summer, at least 16 cow elk have been culled from the growing herd by Master Hunters.

Oh, the reason you haven’t heard about it in the news? Like almost all of the rest of 2009-10’s general-season and damage-control hunts, there’s hardly anything to report – at least anything bad.

MASTER HUNTERS ARE A relatively new tool for Washington game managers to use for dealing with problem deer and elk, though Oregon’s has been in place since the early 1990s.

The programs help “promote the image of hunters, improve ethical practices and develop relationships between hunters and private landowners,” Brooks writes.

And as elk, whitetail, turkey and goose numbers continue to soar, the need for tightly controlled hunts will continue as farmlands in winter range continue to redevelop, national forests grow back in and available habitats shrink.

““We can’t just go out and catch every animal that gets crosswise and haul them out
to the forest,” says WDFW’s Dave Ware pointing to disease, parasite and animal crowding issues. “Yes, it’s out of sight, out of mind, but you’re not doing the animal any favor. Catching isn’t the answer everyone thinks it is. There’s not always a place for other animals.”

Nor can they just be stuffed in zoos.

With Washington’s enrollment period open through mid-February, Brooks and I looked into both states’ programs.

We learned they’re anything but shortcuts to big-bull and -buck tags.

“Most of our hunts are doe and cows tags,” ODFW Education Services manager Chris Willard in Salem told me.

Added Master Hunter liason, Sgt. Eric Anderson in Olympia: “While there still are opportunities for Master Hunters to get premium tags, they’re very much diminished” from the levels of WDFW’s old Advanced Hunter Education program.

For Anderson, Master Hunters are “the gold standard of hunters trying to protect our heritage.”

“Over half of the Advanced Hunters were purged from the system for violations of state fish and wildlife laws … We have a zero tolerance policy with the new Master Hunter program,” he told me.

It was always a little embarrassing to find Advanced Hunter grads written up in WDFW Enforcement’s quarterly newsletters (“AHE Hunter and Friends Party and Poach,” reads a headline from the winter 2007-08 edition).

Both states require prospective Master Hunters to clear background checks, as well as complete wildlife volunteer work and pass written and shooting proficiency tests. And in Washington, enrollees must go through Crime Observation and Reporting Training and pledge to abide by the Master Hunter Code of Ethics.

Willard says Oregon is going to try and emulate more of Washington’s program.

In the wake of the Skagit fiasco, which was an open general bow season, Capt. Bill Hebner told me that the solution may lay in Master Hunters.

Which really worries some. Writes Brooks:

Does this mean that we are going to see a trend to more Master Hunts when it comes to damage control and hunts close to the public’s eye? What does this mean for the majority of hunters?

Not everyone can put in the time, money and effort to complete the MH program, and even under the current requirements, not everyone could qualify. Are these programs providing an uneven and unfair advantage to an “elitist” group?

These are just a few questions and concerns that are brought up online and cause heated discussion.

Brooks talked to Gene Brame, who actually accounted for one of those 16 elk taken by Master Hunters that I mentioned above, on qualifying.

“I think it can be done,” said the retired Tacoma man.

Added recent Master Hunter grad Eric Bell of Granite Falls of the written test: “You definitely had to know the information, almost memorizing sections of the material.”

Despite Oregon’s program being on the books for almost two decades, there really aren’t that many Master Hunters. According to Willard, of the 5,300-plus Oregonians who’ve applied, only 1,234 have cleared all tests. And only 123 applied for Master Hunter-only tags last year.

In Washington, at the end of December 2009, there were 1,892 in the program with 395 pending aps, said Anderson; he figured three-quarters of those would clear.

To apply to be a Master Hunter in Washington, call (360) 902-8412 or email tracy.loveless@dfw.wa.gov. In Oregon, call (503) 947-6028 or email hunter.education@state.or.us.