Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

New Top Game Warden Takes Reins At WDFW

Alaska’s recently retired top game warden now heads up Washington’s fish and wildlife police.

Chief Steve Bear took the reins Sept. 1 and will be given his oath of office at tomorrow’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Port Angeles.

CHIEF STEVE BEAR. (WDFW)

Bear served for 27 years with the Alaska Department of Public Safety, spending the last 10 years as first the deputy director and then the director of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers division before his retirement as a colonel this past July.

In 2015 he oversaw 84 full-time wildlife troopers and 47 civilian employees.

Before joining law enforcement Bear served in the U.S. Army between 1985 and 1989.

At his new post in Olympia, Bear will oversee a staff of 156 WDFW employees, including 130 commissioned officers.

In a brief message to Northwest Sportsman, he said he has a lot to learn about Washington, its natural resources and hunters and anglers, loves to work to protect the resources, and hoped to work with as many folks from across the spectrum to that end.

“Growing up hunting, fishing, and trapping, I developed a strong sense of just how important natural resources are to everyone,” Bear said in a WDFW press release officially announcing his hire. “What draws me to this line of work is the idea of protecting those resources for this generation and future generations.”

“We look forward to Chief Bear’s leadership and experience being put to work in order to be the premiere natural resource law enforcement entity in the nation,” reads a statement in Director Jim Unsworth’s report to the commission ahead of the commission meeting.

Capt. Chris Anderson had been serving as the acting chief since the departure of former Chief Steve Crown to the Wenatchee Police Department. Before Crown, Bruce Bjork — who like Bear came from the state patrol — was Chief.

The director’s report also notes several promotions within the state’s game warden ranks:

“Lieutenants (Eric) Anderson, (Paul) Golden,  (Phil)Johnson, and Sergeant (Mike) Jewell were all promoted to the rank of Captain. Officers (Ken) Balazs, (Carlo) Pace, and (Shawnn) Vincent were all promoted to the rank of Sergeant,” it says.

More Than Half Of Atlantics Appear To Have Escaped Pen

It appears that more than half of the 305,000 Atlantic salmon in a commercial netpen off Cypress Island were able to get loose when it was damaged two weeks ago, making it the second largest escape in Washington waters.

Cooke Aquaculture reports that the pens are now clear of fish and that the company recovered 142,176 during clean-up operations.

That means somewhere around 163,000 initially escaped before anglers and tribal fishermen swooped in to begin scooping them up.

ANGLERS FISH ALONG THE SHORE NEAR THE LOCATION OF THE CYPRESS ISLAND NETPEN IN HOPES OF LANDING ATLANTIC SALMON. (DNR)

A voluntary catch-reporting tool on WDFW’s website shows the location of where 1,589 have been landed by anglers since Aug. 21, when the escape became widely known.

“Latest fishing reports show that most of the fish have cleared out of Deepwater Bay to surrounding areas and continue to be caught further from Cypress Island,” a report from the agency late Wednesday afternoon stated.

WDFW’s map shows Atlantics caught as far away as off Tofino, which is not quite halfway up the west coast of Vancouver Island, Texada Island, in the Johnstone Strait between the island and mainland British Columbia.

Others have been reported caught in the Samish and Snohomish Rivers, and six were caught off the east side of Bainbridge Island.

Unfortunately, Area 5, where at least 20 were reported caught, has closed to salmon fishing and thus Atlantics as well. After Sept. 4, Area 9 will as well.

Lummi Nation fishermen have removed at least 20,000, and possibly as many as 30,000. The Suquamish and Tulalip Tribes also authorized gillnetting this week.

According to WDFW, there were three large escapes in the 1990s — 107,000 (1996), 369,000 (1997), and 115,000 (1999).

In the wake of August’s disaster, permitting for new netpens has been put on hold while the incident is fully investigated.

Try Mimicking Dinner Time At Netpens For Atlantics

UPDATED 330 PM WITH WDFW INFO AT BOTTOM

Who needs pink salmon when there are gobs of hungry Atlantics swimming around out there?!

Kevin Klein, a San Juan Islands salmon angler, reports a friend got into a whole pile of the net-pen escapees yesterday.

(KEVIN KLEIN)

“The Atlantic Salmon that escaped form a net pen in the San Juan Islands are now spread across the area. Reports have come in of Atlantics caught as far South as Bush Point on Whidbey Island. Folks are out there catching them, and forty in a day is not uncommon. There is no limit, but current WDFW rules for other species must be followed while targeting them,” he reports.

Note that boat fishing is closed in Marine Area 9, Admiralty Inlet, due to low Coho returns to the Skagit and Stillaguamish Rivers, but the shorelines of Whidbey Island and the Kitsap Peninsula are open for bank fishing through September 4th.

“Once you find them on the troll, try casting spinners or Buzz Bombs to them while throwing pea gravel near the boat. Seriously, it mimics feeding time at net pens. These invasive fish need to be caught before they can spread disease, eat native smolts, or mix with natural Pacific stocks,” Klein reports.
The following is information from WDFW:

I do not have any more information on the details behind the escaped Atlantic Salmon.  However we do have quite a few folks heading north interested in catching these fish.  The common question is where and how.

 

Where is again primarily around the release site but don’t be surprised to see them spreading out (i.e., Bellingham Bay).

 

The how is still a bit of an unknown but from the most recent report I have is a few folks have had great success casting spinners.  Being these are pen raised fish, they are likely not strong swimmers and will orient themselves to the top of the water column looking for the easy meal.  Casting spinners into jumping/congregated fish near the surface has already worked for some anglers (and will avoid Chinook and coho).  I have also heard that flies often used for sea-run cutthroat trout has been known to work in the past for those who flyfish.  Our test fisher was out recently and saw plenty of fish near the site within Secret Bay.  Trolling does not appear to work.  However casting chrome-colored buzz bombs, rotators, and spinners had some success in shallow water (less than 3 feet and tight to shore).  Fish were seen finning and jumping near the shore and seem to be particularly attracted to eel grass beds.

 

Regulations are (again) for fishing in the saltwater:

  1. License plus salmon catch record card
  2. Open only where salmon is open
  3. Must stop fishing once the appropriate salmon daily limit is reached (Chinook, coho, pink)
  4. No limit on Atlantic Salmon or size limit
  5. Be prepared to be sampled at the boat ramp per our baseline creel sampling staff – and if you have tips on how to catch them, please share that information with staff

2017 Idaho Big Game Hunting Outlook

THE FOLLOWING IS AN IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME ORESS RELEASE

2017 should be another productive hunting season despite harsh winter

Idaho big game hunters have been on a roll in recent years with a top-10, all-time deer harvest in 2016, an all-time record whitetail harvest in 2015, and a top-five, all-time elk harvest in 2015.

Overall hunting success rates over the last five years have averaged 40 percent for deer and 23 percent for elk. Word has gotten out that big game hunting in Idaho has improved because the nonresident deer tags sold out last year for the first time since 2008, and only 300 nonresident elk tags (out of 10,415 available) remained unsold.

The 2017 tags are selling faster, and at current pace, Fish and Game could sell all the nonresident deer and nonresident elk tags by the end of October to nonresidents, or to residents as second tags.

So what does all that mean for big game hunters taking to the field this fall? They will see similar numbers of elk and white-tailed deer, but fewer mule deer.

graph_deer10yrharvest

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Mule deer

Last winter took its toll on mule deer, particularly young bucks, because most of the fawns born last year died during winter, and they would have been two-points this fall.

Most of southern and central Idaho had record, or above-average snowfall, coupled with prolonged winter weather. Deer and elk weathered repeated snowstorms and snow depths not normally found on their traditional winter range coupled with Arctic temperatures. That prompted Fish and Game officials to launch a massive feeding effort that included up to 13,000 deer and 12,000 elk.

Despite that, statewide average survival for mule deer fawns was 30 percent, which was the second-lowest since winter fawn monitoring started 19 years ago.

The big question in many hunters’ minds is how much that will affect their fall deer hunts. Deer hunters killed 66,925 deer in 2016 (mule deer and whitetails), down slightly from the previous year, but still a respectable 36 percent success rate statewide, including 34 percent in general hunts.

graph_deerbyharvest

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Like most things related to big game hunting, it’s hard to predict what will happen during the upcoming season because there are many variables, but past hunting seasons may provide some insight.

The 2011 deer harvest – which followed the lowest winter fawn survival since monitoring started in 1998 – was 2,555 fewer deer than the previous year, or a drop of 6 percent. Last winter actually tied with 2008-09 winter for second-lowest fawn survival at 30 percent, and in 2009, the deer harvest was 1,380 fewer than the previous year, a drop of 3 percent.

How does that happen?

There are a couple things to keep in mind. First, although mule deer fawn mortality was high in those years, whitetail herds were less affected by winter kill. Whitetails have typically comprised 30 to 40 percent of Idaho’s annual deer harvest during the last decade. That means sometimes white-tailed deer harvest compensates for fewer mule deer.

While last winter’s mule deer fawn survival was well below average, it was still not catastrophic to the overall mule deer population.

Adult mule deer doe survival was 90 percent, and although Fish and Game does not radio collar adult bucks and monitor them during winter, their survival likely tracked similar to does.

Yearling bucks (two-points) typically account for a significant share of the mule deer buck harvest, but over the last 19 years, annual average survival for fawns was 57 percent. While the 2016-17 winter fawn survival was about half the average, there’s still a large mule deer population remaining, including adult bucks and breeding-age does.

Mule deer

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

With a normal, upcoming winter, the herds could quickly rebound. To aid that, Fish and Game has reduced doe permits for most hunting units in southern and central Idaho to help more of them survive into breeding season.

Another thing to consider is prior to this year, mule deer populations were trending upward for several years, so while biologists expect a drop in the harvest, there’s a good chance it will fall within the range of the last five years.

Elk 

Hunters shouldn’t see a big change in elk populations this year. Elk are hardier than deer and able to withstand the rigors of hard winters, and elk herds have increased in recent years and produced some outstanding hunting seasons.

Hunters killed 22,557 elk in 2016, which was down 1,670 animals from 2015, but still the second highest in 20 years. (For more perspective, 2015 was the fourth-highest, all-time harvest dating back to 1935.)

Elk hunters in 2016 had 21 percent success statewide, including 39 percent for controlled hunts and 17 percent for general hunts, but general hunts accounted for 62 percent of the harvest.

graph_elk10yrharvest

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

“This is the good-old day of elk hunting,” said Craig White, F&G’s Magic Valley regional supervisor. “There was only one period when Idaho hunters were harvesting as many elk as they are now.”

However, elk herds didn’t survive winter completely unscathed. There was higher calf mortality due to the harsh winter, which means some zones will have a “blip in the recruitment of young bulls,” White said, adding that it will likely be short-term.

Adult winter survival, particularly breeding-age cows, was “bulletproof,” he said, so any decline in herds will likely be replaced next year, barring another extreme winter.

While Idaho is reliving some of its glory years for elk hunting, the location of the animals has changed. During record harvests in the 1990s, Central Idaho’s backcountry and wilderness areas were major contributors. They are less so these days, but other areas have picked up the slack.

“We grow more elk in what I like to call the front country,” White said.

top10elkzones

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Harvest results support this. The Panhandle is currently the top elk zone in the state, and the top 10 zones include the Weiser River, McCall, Tex Creek, Palouse, Boise River and Pioneer, all of which have major highways running through them.

Those zones provide accessible opportunities for many hunters, but also have unique challenges because there’s often a mix of public and private lands where the elk roam.

Elk herds are doing so well in some zones, such as the Weiser and Pioneer zones, those herds are over objectives and Fish and Game has increased cow hunting opportunities to thin the herds.

elk

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

But elk hunters in some areas will have to navigate a mix of public and private lands, such as large sections of commercial timberlands in Central Idaho that used to be open to the public, but are now closed.

For new elk hunters, or experienced hunters looking for a new place to hunt, White recommends taking a longer view than this season. Elk populations are likely to remain healthy in the foreseeable future, so now’s a good time to learn a zone where there are abundant herds.

“Be patient,” White advises. “Make it a multi-year commitment, and get to know the area.”

Idaho offers a variety of over-the-counter tags for elk hunters. Out of 28 elk hunting zones, only two are limited to only controlled hunts. Hunters should research each zone and look beyond the general, any-weapon seasons to find additional opportunity. Many archery and muzzleloader hunts provide antlerless, or either-sex hunting, and also early and late hunts.

White-tailed deer

Idaho’s whitetail deer are about as reliable as you can ask for in a big-game animal. Over the last five years, Idaho’s mule deer harvest has swung by nearly 20,000 animals, but during that same period, whitetail harvest varied by only about 10,000 animals, which included an all-time record of 30,578 whitetails harvested in 2015.

whitetail

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

Whitetail harvest dropped about 2,700 animals in 2016, but it was still in the top-10, all-time, and hunters can expect to similar numbers, or more, of whitetails this year.

“We feel we’re in pretty good shape, and it’s going to be a normal year,” said Clay Hickey, wildlife manager for the Clearwater Region.

Winter in prime whitetail country in the Panhandle and north/central Idaho was closer to average than southern Idaho, although Hickey pointed out there was more snow than usual at lower elevations. Fish and Game doesn’t monitor whitetails the same as it does mule deer, but Hickey said there’s no indication of an above-average winter kill.

It’s also been two years since Fish and Game has detected outbreaks of the lethal hemorrhagic disease that hit some local herds hard in recent years. Hickey noted many of those herds have “rebounded as you would expect,” and Fish and Game is starting to get complaints from landowners about too many deer in areas where herds were thinned by the disease.

Whitetail hunters have lengthy seasons and lots of either-sex hunting opportunities, and hunters will see a good mix of age classes, and plenty of mature bucks. Hickey said Fish and Game’s white-tailed deer plan calls for 15 percent of the harvest to be bucks with five points or more (on one side), but it’s currently higher.

“We’re averaging over 20 percent of the bucks in the harvest are five-points or more in almost all our whitetail units, and lots of units are over 25 percent,” he said.

whitetail buck

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IDFG

While the areas north of the Salmon River have the highest densities of white-tailed deer, the animals are widely distributed throughout the state and provide hunting opportunities in most places, but typically at lower densities.

 

Salmon Fishing Pier Closes In Downtown Seattle

I’ve been bombing my local beach fairly regularly this summer, with the usual mixed results, and a thought recently flashed through my mind.

I could sure as hell use a pier to cast further out there.

“Further out there,” in this particular case, was approximately where the two guys in the canopied sled had just pulled a salmon out of the drink in front of me during blustery, misty weather this past Sunday morning.

Even with a big 3XH-size Buzz Bomb lashed on my line, I wasn’t coming anywhere close.

A FISHING PIER IN SEATTLE NORTH OF THE BIG WHEEL HAS BEEN CLOSED DUE TO “PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS.”

Salmon anglers around a few points to the south of me recently found themselves in the same proverbial boat after they lost access to their pier.

Pier 86, on the northeast side of Elliott Bay by the big grain terminal, was locked up earlier this month.

No, it wasn’t the annual temporary closure for Hempfest.

This time it’s for “public safety concerns.”

Insert eye-roll emoji here.

As an angler, public safety concerns just go with the territory of fishing — loose rocks, muddy banks, mad cows, crazed dogs, rusty hooks, rusty hooks through various portions of the anatomy, etc., etc., etc.

But in this case it’s a public pier, one that had been jointly managed by the Port of Seattle and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife until 2009.

Undoubtedly some back-office hack somewhere has been fretting over insurance rates and liabilities, etc., just knowing that while an angler would waltz out on a creaking, dilapidated pile of debris to take a cast, probably fall in, crawl out to take another cast and consider it all just the cost of doing business, per se, a fresh-off-the-boat tourist who stubbed their toe at the entrance would sue for a trillion.

“Safety hazards associated with the pier’s structure and utilities prompted its indefinite closure,” says a note from the Port of Seattle.

It’s affecting business at a B&T right there.

“I’m losing money here,” Ronn Kess of Fish on Bait and Tackle Shop told KOMO last week. “The fishermen can’t fish. I can’t sell bait, hooks and lures.”

In a radio interview with John Kruse of Northwestern Outdoors Radio to be broadcast on KRKO 1380 AM this Saturday between 8 and 9 a.m., WDFW Regional Manager Russell Link pointed to frequently vandalized lights and tagged equipment.

He said a “condition summary” from a few years ago pegged the cost at $435,000 to bring the facility up to snuff.

However, an Aug. 10 press release from the agency that mentions “cracked piers” lists the repairs at $2 million to $5 million.

Link says that both parties have agreed to look for funding for those repairs.

It’s a shame that public access to a salmon fishing spot was closed as the fish arrived (the port and WDFW point to Pier 69, down by the Olympic Sculpture Park, as an option).

And it’s even more of a shame in a year where we see the absolute A-1 prime beaches along Admiralty Inlet closed as of Sept. 5.

I sincerely hope money is found for the fixes. I notice that the Capital Budget still hasn’t been passed. I know there’s a process. I like fishing access.

New Procedure For Bringing Canadian-side Salmon Back To Sekiu, PA

Biggest misnomer in Northwest salmon fishing this season?

That Sekiu’s closed for coho.

While US waters are indeed off limits in September and October, not so the Canadian side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, making this über-fishy port a prime jumping-off point for intercepting silvers heading for Puget Sound and southwest British Columbia rivers.

YOU MIGHT SET A COURSE FOR SEKIU AFTER ALL THIS SEASON — RULES HAVE BEEN AMENDED TO MAKE IT EASIER TO LAND STATESIDE WITH SALMON CAUGHT IN CANADIAN WATERS. (NOAA)

Yes, you’ll have to bone up on the brand-spankin’ new rules for bringing fish back from the Great White North’s waters — and yes it’ll be worth it, thanks to a bigger forecast than 2016 when it was “on fire.”

Mark Yuasa, formerly of The Seattle Times, makes his debut in our pages with a September issue piece about heading Strait across for silvers.

“There isn’t a reason to say the town of Sekiu is closed while salmon fishing is thriving in Canada, and it’s so easy for an angler to still get out and fish,” Brandon Mason, owner of Mason’s Olson Resort (olsons-resort.com) in Sekiu, told Yuasa. “By boat it’s a short 7-mile (25- to 30-minute) ride to find some great fishing opportunities.”

In the lead-up to the fishery, WDFW has just issued an emergency rule-change notice that updates how to bring salmon landed in BC back to Sekiu.

To wit:

Amends Canadian-origin salmon transportation rule

Action: Changes the method for obtaining clearance for transporting Canadian-caught salmon into Washington waters from a Canadian phone line to an online form available on WDFW’s website.

Effective Date:  Effective 12:01 a.m., Aug. 16, until further notice.

Species affected: Salmon.

Location: Washington marine areas.

Reason for action: Canadian Customs and Border Security regulations related to requirement for obtaining a customs clearance number have recently changed. This regulation is needed to provide an alternate means for persons seeking to possess and/or land Canadian caught fish in Washington waters or ports of call.

Other information: Visit http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/canadian_catch.php to obtain a confirmation code. The form requests basic trip and contact information from the party leader that must be submitted prior to leaving Washington with the intent of fishing for salmon in Canada. The party leader will receive an email from WDFW with your confirmation code.

Information contact: Fish Program: Ryan Lothrop, (360) 902-2808; Enforcement Program: Dan Chadwick, 360-249-4628, ex 1253.

Carpenter Reappointed To WA Fish Commission, Retired PFMC Chief To Be Added

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will soon be back to full strength with the pending addition of a new member and reappointment of another to fill a recent departure.

Donald McIsaac, a retired longtime director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, has been appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to the citizen panel that sets policy for and oversees the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

And Larry Carpenter, the vice chair, has been reappointed to Miranda Wecker’s seat.

“Their effective dates will be confirmed once we have received the required returned paperwork,” says Tara Lee, a spokeswoman in the Governor’s Office.

Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association says he’s known McIsaac for over three decades, and worked with him promoting Willapa Bay in the 1980s. He termed McIsaac “an outstanding selection” and a “fair, open-minded guy.”

“He’ll instantly become a very important, experienced and knowledgeable biological voice” on the commission, Floor said.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

PFMC, or the Pacific Council, manages fisheries off the West Coast, including salmon, and includes representatives from all three states.

When McIsaac retired after 15 years as its director, he was called “a very positive leader” by an Oregon board member, according to a 2015 article by the Pacific Seafood Processors Association.

“Through his tenure, he has brought together staff that is very strong and supports the Council well. He’s been tireless in his dedication to the Council and Council process and making sure we have the resources to do good Council policy,” Dorothy Lowman told the Seattle-based organization.

Prior to that, McIsaac worked for the Washington Department of Fisheries and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as a field biologist.

These days he runs DMA Consulting, which advises clients on fishery conservation and management issues.

As for Carpenter’s reappointment, Frank Urabeck, a longtime sportfishing advocate, said he was among those who was pleased with it.

“That act alone gives the recreational fishing community some hope there is still a chance we can correct so much of what has gone wrong in recent years that resulted in significant erosion of sport fishing opportunity,” he said this morning.

Chief among Urabeck’s beefs is the loss of the Skokomish River salmon fishery, fueled by the state Chinook and coho hatchery.

LARRY CARPENTER. (WDFW)

Urabeck termed Carpenter, the former owner of Master Marine in Mount Vernon, as “the most accessible member of the commission” — Carpenter has been a frequent guest on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line.

He said Carpenter is able to “work with all the players” and is the “most respected, most knowledgeable about fish management issues, and has the experience and capability to provide the leadership desperately needed right now.”

Technically, McIsaac is taking over Carpenter’s Western Washington position, and Carpenter is taking over Wecker’s Western Washington position.

Wecker announced her resignation late last month, and last weekend’s meeting was her last on the commission.

She had been on the board for 12 years, including a long stint as its chair, and her time was marked by thoughtful balancing of harvest and conservation.

“Nothing but gold stars for her,” praised Floor.

Her term was set to run through 2018; Carpenter will serve it out, and then, importantly, would need to be reappointed to remain on the commission.

Wecker, Longtime Fish And Wildlife Commissioner, To Step Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A law and natural resources policy expert, Wecker was appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire in May 2005, then reappointed in January 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olympia Budget Impasse Kills Critical Hatchery Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the projects that are now on hold:

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

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

$8 million for Naselle in Pacific County;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS BREAKING STORY IS BEING UPDATED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Per WDFW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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