Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Coho Return To Sultan River Gorge

This spring, for the first time in nine decades, salmon fry will emerge from the scattered patches of spawning gravel in the gorge stretch of what may be the youngest riverbed in Washington.

Last November, redds were found in the Sultan between the diversion dam and Culmback Dam, which holds back Spada Lake.

WITH THE REMOVAL OF A SLUICEWAY AT A DIVERSION DAM (WHITE SPECK, LEFT CENTER), COHO WERE ABLE TO ACCESS THE SULTAN RIVER IN THE STEEP-SIDED GORGE BELOW SPADA LAKE (RIGHT CENTER) FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 90 YEARS. (USGS NATIONAL MAP AERIAL IMAGERY)

That part of the river had been inaccessible to anadromous fish due to a sluiceway at the lower dam that blocked upstream migration, but was taken out last summer and fall to improve fish passage.

“It was kind of a surprise that, that soon after the project completion, coho would penetrate that far into the watershed,” Keith Binkley, a Snohomish County Public Utilities District manager, told The Daily Herald of Everett.

The diversion dam sits at river mile 9.7, roughly at the mouth of the gorge.

Glaciation during the last ice age blocked the Sultan’s ancestral path down what is today’s Pilchuck, and so the river shifted slightly to the south, down a trib of the “paleo-Pilchuck” that it was able to rapidly erode into today’s gorge, linking the Sultan with the Skykomish rather than the Snohomish.

“The Sultan River below Culmback Dam is thus only about 15,000 years old, which makes it relatively young feature by geologic standards,” reads a 2008 report from Stillwater Sciences for SnoCoPUD.

WDFW WILL NEED TO UPDATE THEIR SALMON SCAPE MAP TO SHOW THAT COHO REDDS HAVE BEEN OBSERVED ABOVE THE DIVERSION DAM ON THE SULTAN RIVER, WHERE THE BLACK LINE ENDS. OTHER STOCKS DOCUMENTED USING THE RIVER UP TO THAT POINT INCLUDE SUMMER AND FALL CHINOOK, WINTER AND SUMMER STEELHEAD, BULL TROUT AND ODD-YEAR PINK SALMON. (WDFW)

As a kid, I enjoyed playing in and fishing the lower end of the Sultan, along Trout Farm Road where we had a little farm. During fall we watched as humpies, coho and Chinook came upstream on their spawning runs, and we made occasional gold mining and fishing forays off the end of the road.

Growing older, I wanted to venture much further upstream, into the steep-sided upper canyon, which might as well be the most inaccessible place within 35 air miles of downtown Seattle.

I think this summer we’ll hike the Sultan River Canyon Trail, immediately below Culmback Dam, to see if we can’t spot any coho fry taking advantage of this newly reopened stretch of water, strengthening Puget Sounds best population of silvers.

Betcha steelhead might be interested in it too.

Editor’s note: To fly up the gorge, check out this video taken by Snohomish County PUD from a helicopter. Lots of interesting water

Is There Path Forward On Reduced WDFW Fee Increase Bill?

Fishing and hunting organizations and everyday sportsmen gave Washington lawmakers their thoughts on WDFW’s fee increase bill yesterday afternoon, and it’s unlikely the original package will emerge from the legislature.

But the agency was buoyed by what it heard during the public hearing on HB 1647 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

“Overall, we’re encouraged by the fact that our stakeholders increasingly appreciate why we need additional revenue to maintain and expand opportunity,” said spokesman Bruce Botka. “We’re also encouraged that several of the key fishing and hunting groups are willing to work with us and the bill sponsor to fine-tune the proposal.”

MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE LISTEN DURING A PUBLIC HEARING YESTERDAY ON A BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE THE PRICE OF FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES. (TVW)

That would include Puget Sound Anglers, and the venerable organization’s Frank Urabeck was one of several members who spoke yesterday.

“I’m optimistic we’ll come up with a substitute bill everyone can support,” he said earlier this afternoon, adding that there also needed to be some visible wins for sport anglers, and specifically pointed to reopening the lower Skokomish River for salmon fishing.

PSA’s Ron Garner said they were working on a substitute bill.

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association’s Liz Hamilton spoke to members’ fear of losing customers, and said that without meaningful angling opportunities, the bill was a heavy lift.

Still, while NSIA couldn’t support the current bill, Hamilton said the industry was committed to working with WDFW and lawmakers “to get to the right place.”

Coastal Conservation Association Washington president Dale Scott echoed that, saying that the state’s 17 chapters were ready to find a “workable path forward.”

According to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth, the agency needs $25 million to meet a building structural deficit and to maintain operations, with funding above that to meet needs identified in meetings held around the state.

Some speakers were in support of the fee increases, which would hike the price of hunting licenses by 10 percent across the board, and jump the cost of fishing licenses by varying percentages while also introducing $10 catch cards for salmon, sturgeon, steelhead and halibut.

Nick Chambers of Trout Unlimited said his organization was “strongly supportive,” calling the bill “essential to maintain critical management and increase opportunities.”

He said that without more money, WDFW couldn’t afford to open Skagit River catch-and-release steelhead fisheries and alleviate pressure on Olympic Peninsula streams.

Lee Blankenship, a WDFW retiree, said he supported the bill to stave off inflation and deal with the increasing cost to manage the resource in the face of a growing human population and changing climate.

“There is a cost to maintain what we have,” he said.

On the no side were two representatives from the Hunters Heritage Council, including president Mark Pidgeon.

“The No. 1 reason is we feel we’re at a point we’re going to drive hunters out of the field,” he said.

The umbrella organization’s Tom Eckles said the best way to increase revenues was to get more hunters afield, but that there’s “enormous discontent” about how expensive and complex it is to hunt in the state.

Late in the hearing there was a bit of fireworks between Grays Harbor fisherman Robert Graham and committee Chairman Brian Blake, who represents the harbor, after Graham talked about lawmakers receiving campaign contributions from tribes and commercial interests.

While there is still not a companion in the state Senate, making passage of a bill more onerous, PSA’s Urabeck gave Blake credit for giving the bill a hearing.

Where it goes from here will be interesting.

Gov. Brown Requests Oregon Fish Commission To Change Columbia Policy

An extraordinary letter today from Oregon Governor Kate Brown: She is requesting that the Fish and Wildlife Commission “change its decision regarding the non-tribal Lower Columbia fishery reforms.”

“The current rules, as adopted on January 20th, 2017, are not acceptable,” Brown writes in the note to Commission Chair Michael Finley.

(OREGON GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Northwest Sportsman has confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

After a four-year phase-in, Oregon and Washington had been scheduled to fully implement fishery reforms this year on the Columbia, but Oregon began to shy away from planned fall Chinook impact allocations and gillnetting on the big river.

After Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted in mid-January on a middle ground proposal, Oregon’s went the opposite way, throwing nearly a century of concurrent management up in the air.

The move infuriated sport anglers who have been paying an $9.75 fee to help move the commercial fleet into off-channel areas, and drew the ire of Oregon lawmakers.

That appears to have gotten the attention of the governor.

“Oregon and Washington have invested a great deal of time and effort in resolving conflicts and providing certainty for fisheries in the Lower Columbia River. It is the policy of my administration to honor those commitments. Honoring those commitments means adhering to the intent of Senate Bill 830, adopting regulations and rules concurrent with the state of Washington, and providing clarity, unity, and enforceability of the rules that govern the Columbia River fishery,” Brown’s letter reads.

THE ASTORIA-MEGLER BRIDGE ARCS OVER THE WEST MOORING BASIN IN ASTORIA DURING 2014’S BUOY 10 FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It says that ODFW staff presented a recommendation that would have done that job, as did the policy that Washington’s commission adopted.

“I ask that you adopt permanent rules to align the rules of the Fish and Wildlife Commission with the policy of my administration. I expect this action to occur by April 3rd, 2017,” Brown writes.

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association thanked Gov. Brown for her request of the commisssion.

“Today’s letter is a big step in the right direction towards honoring the spirit of the reforms and the commitments made to the sportfishing industry,” the organization stated in a press release. “NSIA now calls on the Oregon Commissioners to honor the Governor’s letter and vote to concur with the compromise plan the Washington Commision passed in January.”

NSIA also thanked Sportfishing businesses and their employees who contacted the governor’s office with their concerns.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post had an incorrect amount for Oregon’s Columbia River Basin endorsement; it’s $9.75, not $8.75.

WDFW’s Fee Increase Proposal Gets Public Hearing Today

Proposed increases on Washington fishing and hunting licenses come up for a public hearing today in Olympia amongst angst over reduced angling opportunities the past few years, worry about this coming season and how the fee hike could affect fishing equipment sales even more.

“Most acknowledge that the department needs more money and the industry needs a healthy WDFW. But as the industry is acutely aware of, we are seeing dramatic drops in participation and corresponding drops in sales of boats, motors trailers and other durable goods,” reads an alert from the Northwest Sportfishing industry Association to its members to attend the hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in early afternoon.

That’s been a result of poor salmon returns for much of Washington outside the Columbia River the past two years and difficulties setting seasons for those fish in Puget Sound.

“Our customers didn’t purchase licenses and participation plummeted. Tackle and boat sales dropped to record low levels. The company I work for saw sales drop anywhere from 18 percent to 45 percent in the fishing and marine categories. Business saw lost sales that totaled into the millions,” writes Gabe Miller, the fishing and marine sales director for Sportco and Outdoor Emporium, a major Northwest Sportsman advertiser, in an opinion piece in The Olympian this morning.

SPORTCO AND OUTDOOR EMPORIUM’S GABE MILLER SPEAKS DURING A 2014 HEARING ON STEELHEAD LAWSUITS. (TVW)

NSIA says “uncertainty” over how this year’s North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations will play out, and Oregon’s recent backpedaling on Columbia River fishery reforms “is killing the industry” and is urging its members to speak today about how all of it is affecting their businesses.

The Coastal Conservation Assocation of Washington is also asking anglers to attend, and Puget Sound Anglers put out an alert that says they can’t support the current bill, HB 1647 — which would raise the price to fish for salmon and steelhead in salt- and freshwaters and the Columbia, use a second rod, as well as crab in Puget Sound, from $87.65 to $111.45 — but that they are willing to work on a substitute as long as key concerns are addressed and there’s more certainty about what the benefits for anglers would be.

However, there are some who do support the current bill. Yesterday the Wild Steelhead Coalition worried that without additional revenue WDFW won’t be able to reopen the Skagit River spring catch-and-release steelhead fishery next year.

The bill also includes a 10 percent jump in the cost of hunting licenses.

WDFW argues it needs the money to keep up with inflation since the last increase in 2011 as well as to be able to offer increased sporting opportunities.

Arguments for and against will be heard starting at 1:30 p.m. in Hearing Room B of the John L O’Brien building.  The hearing will be broadcast live on TVW.

If a bill is passed, any new fees would take effect 90 days after the legislative session is adjourned, or July 22 if lawmakers wrap up business on schedule.

Senator Grills WDFW Over Cowlitz Steelhead Smolt Loss

Admitting they didn’t have a very compelling story to tell, Washington fishery managers went before a state Senate committee this afternoon to outline why they can’t account for hundreds of thousands of hatchery summer steelhead and cutthroat trout that were under their care last year.

“What in the world happened with those fish?” Sen. Kirk Pearson, chair of Natural Resources and Parks, wanted to know from a trio of WDFW honchos assembled for a work session on the loss of a high percentage of the planned spring 2016 release into the Cowlitz River.

THREE HIGH-RANKING WDFW STAFFERS SIT BEFORE SEN. KIRK PEARSON AND HIS NATURAL RESOURCES AND PARKS COMMITTEE THIS AFTERNOON IN THIS SCREEN GRAB FROM TVW. (TVW)

Pearson, a Monroe Republican who in 2014 grilled the Wild Fish Conservancy over their lawsuit against WDFW’s Puget Sound winter steelhead program and then pushed for federal fishery overseers to quickly finalize needed hatchery genetic management plans to again release winter-runs in the basin, said that reading about the loss in a newspaper instead of hearing it first from the agency “makes us wonder about how management is with our fisheries.”

“Director,” he asked WDFW’s Jim Unsworth, “is this an isolated incident or standard practice for our hatcheries?”

“Isolated,” Unsworth answered, acknowledging annual losses do occur.

Typically, however, those are from disease, drought or flood — even fish bandits — but this is very concerning as it occurred on Western Washington’s best consumptive steelhead fishery outside of the Lower Columbia and there’s no confirmed cause.

Unsworth tasked Kelly Cunningham, the agency’s Fish Program manager, and Eric Kinne, the hatchery manager, with explaining to Pearson and a couple other senators, including John McCoy, what might have happened.

As he began WDFW’s presentation, Cunningham pointed to several factors, “none of which feel good,” with bird predation and a counting error his strongest suspects.

IMAGES FROM TODAY’S WORK SESSION ON THE COWLITZ STEELHEAD AND CUTTHROAT LOSS. (WDFW)

He explained that WDFW had initially planned to release 625,900 summer steelhead into the Cowlitz in May 2016, but some of those were lost to disease and other issues during incubation.

Around 540,000 survived and were moved from their raceways to a series of 5-acre lakes, but when the steelhead along with cutthroat were subsequently released into the Cowlitz, a counting machine tallied only 200,200.

“What happened to the remaining 340,000 fish? We don’t have a good answer,” Cunningham acknowledged.

IMAGES FROM TODAY’S WORK SESSION ON THE COWLITZ STEELHEAD AND CUTTHROAT LOSS. (WDFW)

He noted that three of the lakes are only partially netted at their ends, and while WDFW spends “down to the last penny” to prevent predation, greater densities of fish in two of the lakes could have made it even more of a buffet.

Cunningham also pointed to challenges of raising smolts in the large ponds, including their sheer size– 450 yards by 50 yards by as much as 11 feet deep — and the difficulties of enumerating how many fish might be swimming in them at any one time, thus giving hatchery operators a head’s up about an ongoing loss to address.

IMAGES FROM TODAY’S WORK SESSION ON THE COWLITZ STEELHEAD AND CUTTHROAT LOSS. (WDFW)

He said that fully netting them would cost $500,000, but there’s been “some reluctance to invest that money.”

WDFW operates the hatchery, which is owned by Tacoma Power. Fish are reared here and at Barrier Dam as mitigation for the utility’s dams on the Cowlitz.

In addition, some birds can swim through netting to access netted sections, thereby competing with the fish for food, according to minutes from a WFDW-Tacoma Power meeting last November.

While Cunningham pointed to bird predation as a “significant contributor,” he also drew attention to the device that tallies the fish as they leave the lakes.

IMAGES FROM TODAY’S WORK SESSION ON THE COWLITZ STEELHEAD AND CUTTHROAT LOSS. (WDFW)

“Multiple fish can go through the counter at the same time, but only one is counted,” he said. “We know that happens.”

Asked if that’s a problem at the state’s other fish-rearing facilities, WDFW’s Kinne said that they don’t really use that type of machine — a 16-tube conductive counter — elsewhere.

IMAGES FROM TODAY’S WORK SESSION ON THE COWLITZ STEELHEAD AND CUTTHROAT LOSS. (WDFW)

Fish are instead netted and weighed, but Cowlitz is different and requires this kind of counter. The facility was built 50 years ago to produce as much as a million pounds of fish annually, but that has been reduced by a third.

Asked by Pearson point blank if WDFW’s counters are accurate or not, Kinne said they were as good as can be, and the one at the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery is regularly checked. That said, it can be fooled by sticks and fouled by debris, staffers indicated.

IMAGES FROM TODAY’S WORK SESSION ON THE COWLITZ STEELHEAD AND CUTTHROAT LOSS. (WDFW)

Cunningham outlined a series of short- and long-term fixes, and also looking towards the future, Pearson stated that the loss was going to hurt the 2018 fishery and asked WDFW if they had any estimates on the economic cost of the loss.

“We don’t,” Cunningham told him.

IMAGES FROM TODAY’S WORK SESSION ON THE COWLITZ STEELHEAD AND CUTTHROAT LOSS. (WDFW)

While there is sure to be an effect, “What’s more important than the release numbers is marine survival,” Cunningham stated.

Ocean conditions could be good enough to produce an average return.

“That’s fingers crossed,” Cunningham acknowledged.

A graph produced by WDFW for today showed that major smolt losses on the Cowlitz in 2003 and 2005 subsequently produced poor fisheries,– but also that a release of 600,000 smolts yielded even worse angling in 2013.

IMAGES FROM TODAY’S WORK SESSION ON THE COWLITZ STEELHEAD AND CUTTHROAT LOSS. (WDFW)

Cunningham also addressed how slowly word emerged about the loss, first officially revealed during a November 2016 meeting with sportfishing advisors and Tacoma Power officials, then last month with the quiet issuing of a fact sheet by the regional office in Vancouver.

We reported on that, while the Centralia Chronicle’s attempts at sleuthing out the story led to an article then a strongly worded editorial board opinion piece last weekend.

He said there had been a “failure” to formally and in a timely manner communicate about the fish loss.

The situation puts WDFW’s license hike request in some peril, and it certainly will remain on the radar of Senator Pearson, through whose committee any fee increase legislation would have to advance.

“Hopefully you’ll come back with an answer,” Pearson told WDFW as today’s discussion ended. “Happy to have you in front of us when you do.”

Sportsmen Help Quash Public Land Sale Bill In Congress

The sponsor of a bill that would have required the disposal of 180,000 acres of federal, public land in Idaho and Oregon as well as millions more acres elsewhere in the West dropped it overnight after outcry from sportsmen and others.

A Facebook message accompanying an image of Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz — dudded up in a camo coat, hat bearing a stylized elk, and carrying a hound — states that he withdrew House Resolution 621 because “groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message.”

A SCREEN SHOT OF REP. JASON CHAFFETZ’S ANNOUNCEMENT LAST NIGHT.

The bill included 70,000 acres in the Beaver State and 110,000 acres in the Gem State. While some parcels are large blocks — – including 44,000 acres in Harney County — many are smaller, and often have impediments to their sale, such as mining claims, lack of legal access, ESA species, etc.

Showing that sportsmen need to be alert to attempts by both sides of the aisle to sell off our lands, the ground in Chaffetz’s bill had originally been identified in 1997 by the Clinton Administration as potential revenue sources to pay for restoration work in the Everglades, according to the Salem Statesman-Journal.

Rocky Barker at the Idaho Statesman called the Beehive State Republican’s “turnaround … remarkable.”

Chaffetz along with Rep. Bob Bishop are part of the movement to dispose of Forest Service, BLM and other public lands in the West, to the consternation of hunters, anglers and others who prize those lands for recreation and critter habitat, but Barker writes:

“Chaffetz now is sounding more like incoming Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He and his boss, President Donald Trump, have expressed opposition to transferring or selling federal lands on a grand scale.

“As a Montanan, Zinke will know there are times when public land sales and especially land trades make sense. But not with the lack of forethought that went into the Chaffetz bill.”

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which have been raising alarms over land transfers, offered a wary statement following the Congressman’s move, saying it amounts to winning a single battle in a larger war.

“Representative Chaffetz should never have introduced this ill-conceived bill, but the instant and overwhelming response by sportsmen and -women forced him to listen and ultimately abandon H.R. 621, which would have seized millions of acres of public lands. His fellow lawmakers should take note of the ire and rapid response by hunters and anglers. We aren’t going away,” said Land Tawney, president of the Missoula-based organization. “Unfortunately there are those who will continue to perpetrate bad deals like this one. American hunters and anglers will be there every step of the way. Mr. Chaffetz took the first step. Now he needs to kill H.R. 622, the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, which would eliminate hundreds of critical law enforcement jobs with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Our law enforcement officers are on the front lines of conservation and already do more with less. Let’s give them the resources they need to do their jobs.”

NMFS Releases $15 Million In Mitchell Act Funding To NW States, Tribes, USFWS

Federal fishery overseers today told hatchery managers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho that they can now access millions of dollars in funding that had been held back pending a review of future production practices in the Columbia Basin.

With that completed, letters went out from the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Portland office this morning advising ODFW it can withdraw $5.9 million in grants for Mitchell Act facilities, WDFW $5.5 million, USFWS $2.9 million, the Yakama Nation $696,121 and Nez Perce Tribe $127,470.

Disbursement had been held up by last March’s lawsuit by the Wild Fish Conservancy. Last summer NMFS said it wouldn’t release the money until after it finalized a new biop.

That occurred in mid-January, and earlier this week WFC notified NMFS that it was no longer pursuing the preliminary injunction it had filed in U.S. District Court.

RELEASES OF TULE CHINOOK IN OREGON'S BIG CREEK, WHERE GEORGE PERMIAKOV FOUGHT THIS ADULT SALMON A FEW SEASONS AGO, IS UNDER THREAT FROM TODAY'S LAWSUIT. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

RELEASES OF TULE CHINOOK IN OREGON’S BIG CREEK, WHERE GEORGE PERMIAKOV FOUGHT THIS ADULT SALMON A FEW SEASONS AGO, WILL BE REDUCED BY MORE THAN HALF UNDER THE NEW FEDERAL BIOP, RESULTING IN SLIGHTLY LOWER HARVESTS IN THE COLUMBIA AND OFFSHORE FISHERIES, BUT THE NEW PLAN ALSO AUTHORIZES INCREASED SPRING CHINOOK AND COHO PRODUCTION ELSEWHERE. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

The Mitchell Act was created in 1938 by Congress to counteract declining runs in the Columbia. It provides federal funds for hatcheries operated by states, tribes and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce tens of millions of Chinook, coho, steelhead, sockeye and other species that provide the backbone of today’s sport, commercial and tribal fisheries in the ocean and Columbia Basin.

The new biop allows for increased spring Chinook and coho production at select hatcheries, reduced fall Chinook production in the Lower Columbia and the phasing out of out-of-basin steelhead smolt releases, among other changes due to be in place by 2022, while also strengthening protections for ESA-listed stocks.

In the letters to ODFW Director Curt Melcher and WDFW Director Jim Unsworth, the feds write their review “was greatly enhanced by the cooperation and assistance NMFS received from” staff members at both state agencies, and specifically credits Bruce McIntosh and Chris Kern at ODFW and Jim Scott and Eric Kinne at WDFW.

“NOAA Fisheries’ has worked long and hard to complete the biological opinion and to release the funding for these hatchery programs,” said WDFW’s Scott, a special assistant to Unsworth. “This is another important step forward in once again meeting the Congressional mandate for the Mitchell Act to provide for the conservation of the fishery resources of the  Columbia River.”

NMFS now turns its attention to hatchery genetic management plans elsewhere in the region.

“Next-up are spring Chinook salmon HGMPs in the Methow, 42 on the Oregon Coast, and 35 more in Puget Sound including Snohomish, Green/Duwamish, Puyallup/White, and Nooksack hatchery programs,” says Rob Jones, chief of Anadromous Production and Inland Fisheries on the West Coast.

Anglers Rallying To Threatened Washington Fish Commissioners

As Washington’s two largest sportsman and boat shows fire up for a big weekend, word has emerged that strong recreational angling advocates in Olympia may be on the chopping block.

Rumors have been circulating that the appointments of some Fish and Wildlife Commissioners could be in jeopardy following recent votes, and now anglers are being strongly encouraged to contact Governor Jay Inslee, his staff members JT Austin and Kelly Wicker, and a powerful state senator in an attempt to head that off.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE, MIDDLE LEFT, AND HIS POLICY ADVISOR JT AUSTIN, FAR LEFT, ARE BEING ASKED TO LEAVE LARRY CARPENTER AND MIRANDA WECKER ON THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, FLICKR)

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE, MIDDLE LEFT, AND HIS POLICY ADVISOR JT AUSTIN, FAR LEFT, ARE BEING ASKED TO LEAVE LARRY CARPENTER AND MIRANDA WECKER ON THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, FLICKR)

The crux is, as Washington continues to move towards recognizing the tremendous economic contributions of the sportfishing industry — fully on display now at the Washington Sportsmen’s Show in Puyallup and the Seattle Boat Show at Seahawks Stadium and on south Lake Union — and the conservation benefits of selective fishing in waters where more and more Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead are swimming, the far smaller gillnetting fleet and its point people are pressuring Inslee to go back on his 2015 letter to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in which he stated he was “convinced that we can prioritize and expand fishing opportunities for the 800,000 Washingtonians who purchase fishing licenses annually …”

In recent weeks, that commission voted 7-2 to continue moving towards agreed-to salmon fishing reforms on the Lower Columbia River. But Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife oversight council went the opposite way, backtracking on the reforms, breaking promises to hundreds of thousands of anglers and throwing the nearly 100-year-old Columbia River Compact and fishing regulation concurrency into question for the first time. That’s the result of Oregon Governor Kate Brown appointing a commissioner whose sole goal appears to have been to blow up the agreement forged in 2012 and 2013 to head off a ballot initiative that might have led to the end of nontribal commercial gillnetting in Oregon.

And now, concerns are being raised about two and possibly three of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners who voted in favor of that.

That’s according to a blog post on Tidal Exchange, a sportfishing advocacy site, and generally confirmed by what Northwest Sportsman has been hearing the past few days as well.

Of highest concern are the terms of Vice Chairman Larry Carpenter and longtime former chair Miranda Wecker.

LARRY CARPENTER. (WDFW)

LARRY CARPENTER. (WDFW)

Carpenter’s term on the panel came up at the end of 2016 pending a reappointment, while Wecker’s runs through 2018, though she has not been officially confirmed by the state Senate.

Both are rock-solid fish and sportfishing advocates, natural resource policy experts and thoughtful members of a panel charged with ensuring that the state’s fish and wildlife continue in perpetuity.

wecker-550x410

MIRANDA WECKER DURING A SENATE COMMITTEE HEARING ON HER APPOINTMENT TO THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION.

Wecker has also been exceedingly good on hunting issues, especially predator management. In reappointing her to the commission in 2013, Inslee said, “Miranda Wecker has done an excellent job in leading the commission’s work on several challenging fish and wildlife policy issues, and I am very pleased that she is willing to serve another term.”

As tens of thousands of Washington sportsmen head to the shows this weekend, it would be an extraordinary cruel and shortsighted blow to remove two such wise members of the commission.

For more details on the situation and a sign-on form to send to the Governor’s Office, see tidalexchange.com.

 

Fish, Wildlife Bills Of Note In Olympia

UPDATED FEB. 1, 2017 WITH HOUSE BILLS 1229, 1848, 1865, 1872

January’s here again, and in the first two weeks of the new legislative session Washington state lawmakers have been busy beavers — literally even coming up with a bill addressing the translocation of the toothsome rodents.

So as we like to do in our half-assed way here at The Olympia Outsider, let’s take a half-assed look at a few of the introduced bills of note for Evergreen State sportsmen and the critters we chase.

(Note: This will be updated as the half-assed OOO stumbles across bills he overlooked or get dropped in coming days and weeks, and far more alert readers point him towards others — email me at awalgamott@media-inc.com with hot tips!)

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HB 1008

Short title: “Concerning the acquisition of land by state natural resources agencies”

Even shorter title: No Net Wildlife Area Gain From Now On!

Effect: Would require WDFW to sell off an acre of its own land in the same county for every new one it buys.

Discussion: Would hurt hunters, anglers and public recreation, increase the chance of losing treasured and historic wildlife areas, cripple Washington’s exceptional vision to preserve land for future generations, undermine the idea that we need to mitigate the loss of critter habitat due to development — the Olympia Outsider could go on and on and on. On the flip side, you probably could probably get a smokin’ deal on WDFW’s allegedly run-down, weed-choked, fire-trap, poorly managed, wolf-infested wildlife areas.

Introduced by: Reps. Shea, Taylor, Short, McCaslin, Buys, Schmick, Haler

Referred to: Capitol Budget Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: Less than 50-50, we hope.

Across the mountainside are a number of pastures and fields. The wildlife area will continue to be ranched and farmed, per the sale agreement. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW WOULD NEED TO SELL OFF PARTS OF ITS NEW 4-0 WILDLIFE AREA, PICTURED , OR OTHERS IN ASOTIN COUNTY IF IT WANTED TO BUY MORE LAND HERE UNDER HB 1008. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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HB 1077

Short title: “Establishing rules for motorized suction dredge mining in rivers and streams equal to other hydraulic projects by modifying a hydraulic project approval exemption.”

Even shorter title: Slowing Down Gold Miners’ Motorized Dredges With A Little Paperwork

Effect: Would require suction dredgers to fill out and get a hydraulic permit approval, or HPA, to operate on the state’s waters, whereas now they just need to read a pamphlet.

Discussion: Helps fish and streams, and bucks up the idea that if anglers can’t fish over Endangered Species Act-listed stocks, maybe there ought to be stronger protections for the water and streams from slightly more disruptive usages.

Introduced by: Reps. Fitzgibbon, Pollet and McBride

Referred to: House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, where it had a public hearing Jan. 17.

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: Backed up by a threat of a lawsuit against the state, it could get sluiced along a little further than last year’s related bills, which washed out of both chambers like so much black sand.

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HB 1103

Short title: “Concerning the transfer of federal land to the state.”

Even shorter title: Giving All That Public Land Away For Ever

Effect: Creates a panel to oversee the liquidation of Forest Service lands outside wilderness areas and the volcanic monument, as well as national wildlife refuges and BLM lands.

Discussion: Washington House leaders should take advice from the Wyoming Republican Senate leader recently and “kill it” and any other wacky federal lands transfer ideas.

Introduced by: Reps. Taylor, Shea, McCaslin, Volz, Condotta, Short, Buys

Referred to: Judiciary Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: Do we have to tell Trump on ya’ll?

NASON CREEK CAMPGROUND IN THE OKANOGAN-WENATCHEE NATIONAL FOREST. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

NASON CREEK CAMPGROUND IN THE OKANOGAN-WENATCHEE NATIONAL FOREST. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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HB 1229

Short title: “Ensuring that fishing opportunities in Washington are consistent with the economic contributions provided by the fishing user groups.”

Even shorter title: Salmon, Etc., Are Way More Valuable When Caught By Sport Anglers Should, Say, Any Cash-strapped States Be Listening

Effect: Requires WDFW to maximize recreational opportunities before setting commercial fisheries, as well as better align hatchery production with what they do for hook-and-line angling.

Discussion: What can we offer Rep. Brian Blake to ameliorate his deep concerns on this beneficial bill for sport anglers?

Introduced by: Reps. Pike, Pollet, Pettigrew, Shea, Taylor, Vick, Springer, Goodman, Harris and Kraft

Referred to: Oh, *#$!, not again — House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: With Rep. Blake still at the helm of AGNR, Blake being a commercial fishing advocate, commercial fisheries being important in Blake’s district, hatchery production having been cut in Blake’s district, Blake having sat on a similar sports-priority bill in 2015, and Blake personally offering “not good” odds that this latest one will even get a hearing in his committee, best hope is that a Senate companion piece is introduced (paging Sen. Rivers?), progresses through the upper chamber and … I don’t know.

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HB 1353

Short title: “Commissioning an elk management pilot project that focuses initially on the Colockum elk herd.”

Even shorter title:  Less Roadkill And More Hillkill

Effect: Requires WDFW and DOT to come up with more ideas on how to reduce elk-vehicle collisions on I-90 as well as elk teeth-crop collisions on aglands surrounding this herd’s range, with an eye towards using the program elsewhere in the state.

Discussion: Elk hunters should keep an eye on this one and learn more about lawmakers’ intent and how it might impact herd populations.

Introduced by: Reps. Dent, Blake, Buys, Hayes

Referred to: House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, with a public hearing on Jan. 25.

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: A North Cascades elk herd bill stampeded a fair ways through last year’s legislature, signaling lawmaker dissatisfaction with wapiti in the lowlands.

(WSDOT)

(WSDOT)

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HB 1428/SB 5466

Short title: “Concerning construction projects in state waters.”

Even shorter title: Armoring Shorelines For Fish

Effect: It, er, bulks up protections for fish when projects occur around water.

Discussion: WDFW-request legislation, this is billed as increasing the effectiveness of the state’s most important law protecting fish habitat, the Hydraulic Project Approval program.

Introduced by: Reps. Blake, Fitzgibbon, Lytton, Morris, Tharinger; Sens. McCoy, Chase, Fortunato

Referred to: House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: An upstream swim for salmon and steelhead advocates, but doable — and much needed.

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HB 1429/SB 5303

Short title: “Concerning aquatic invasive species management.”

Even shorter title: Fund The Fight Against Aliens!

Effect: The result of a two-year process among numerous stakeholder groups, the bills focus more attention and funding on stopping the spread of unwanted species, including zebra mussels which could clog dams and cost hundreds of millions to treat if they arrive here, according to WDFW.

Discussion: Yes, there are fee elements, but all the unwanted species that mean to take over the state aren’t going to off themselves and it’s time to stop pretending they magically will.

Introduced by: Reps. Chandler, Tarleton, Lytton, Morris, Appleton, Fitzgibbon; Sens. Honeyford, Rolfes, Chase, Hawkins, Warnick, Bailey, Ranker

Referred to: House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, where it had a public hearing Jan. 24; Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee, where it has a public hearing Jan. 26

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: With most stakeholders except shippers, er, on board, this bill might blossom this spring, but in a totally better way than all that Scotch broom along I-5.

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HB 1465

Short title: “Exempting from public disclosure certain information regarding reports on wolf depredations.”

Even shorter title: Keeping The Wolf Crazies At Bay

Effect: Would shield producers and others who sign up for or perform various nonlethal prevention measures, report or suffer wolf attacks, have to go out and deal with them, as well as conceal where depredations occurred to naming just the pack territory.

Discussion: We’re just going to leave this here ….

THREAT MADE TO LIVESTOCK PRODUCERS, WASHINGTON WOLF ADVISORY GROUP MEMBERS AND DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE STAFF DURING THE PROFANITY PEAK PACK LETHAL REMOVALS. (WDFW)

THREAT MADE DURING THE PROFANITY PEAK PACK LETHAL REMOVALS, ACCORDING TO WDFW. (WDFW)

Introduced by: Reps. Short, Lytton, Kretz, Koster

Referred to: State Government Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: State law allows for hiding details about where sensitive species are located and where and how commercial fishermen are catching fish, among other facets, but this would extend those protections to people, probably a good idea with how unhinged some folks in the wolf-advocacy world are.

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HB 1647

Short title: “Increasing revenue to the state wildlife account by adjusting recreational fishing and hunting fees.”

Even shorter title: WDFW’s Big Ask

Effect: Raises the cost of licenses, in a few cases sharply and in others by 10 percent, requires anglers to buy catch cards for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and halibut, and authorizes a surcharge that if need be could up prices in odd years to maintain funding levels as well as avoid fights like this.

Discussion: While the agency has done a lot of outreach on why this bill is needed to maintain and increase fishing and hunting opportunities, hiking fees is tough any year and even more so in the wake of 2016’s salmon seasons, whispers about this coming one, the mysterious disappearance of nearly half a million steelhead smolts from the Cowlitz, etc. But what more falls by the wayside if this fails? The last increase was in 2011.

Introduced by: Reps. Springer, Pettigrew, Tarleton, Fitzgibbon, Robinson, Tharinger, McBride, Doglio

Referred to: House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: A tough, tough sell but a lot of agency ooomph behind it — either way, this bookie is closed.

13

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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HB 1872

Short title: “Providing for the partial delisting of the gray wolf by the fish and wildlife commission.”

Even shorter title: If Your Borough Borders BC, Bingo

Effect: Would require the Fish and Wildlife Commission to delist wolves in Eastern Washington counties adjacent to Canada.

t_pack_map_06-15-2016

(WDFW)

Discussion: With 17 of the state’s 19 packs occurring in Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry and Okanogan Counties and the species not spreading very quickly to other parts of the state as required for downlisting under WDFW’s management plan, this would fast-track that in much of Eastern Washington (east of Highway 97) where wolves have already been federally delisted.

Introduced by: Reps. Kretz, Blake, Short

Referred to: House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: With our friend from HB 1229 infamy a cosponsor of this bill, it just might get a hearing and make it out of committee.

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HB 1865

Short title: “Concerning the Columbia river recreational salmon and steelhead endorsement program.”

Even shorter title: This Is Totally Not Like ODFW’s Columbia Endorsement

Effect: Reauthorizes collecting a fee to fish the Columbia and its tribs for Chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead, with money going to expand and monitor fisheries.

Discussion: In place since early 2010, this bill extends the program through 2022. It also addresses some lawmakers’ concerns that the money go strictly to the above causes; a clause in the reauthorization states it can’t be used to buy land for fishing access sites. The bill was requested by WDFW.

Introduced by: Reps. Dye, Blake, Griffey, Chapman, Dent, Tarleton, Nealey

Referred to: House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: This bill will probably fish.

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SB 5078/HB 1726

Short title: “Concerning impacts from wildlife damage.”

Even shorter title: Here Comes The $20 Roadkill Permit(?)

Effect: DOT, WSP, county sheriffs, fire districts and other public agencies that respond to elk-vehicle wrecks could send the bill to WDFW.

Discussion: Several thousand deer and elk are killed annually in collisions with cars, etc., in Washington but this bill specifically addresses wapiti versus Wrangler wrecks. Builds on requirement WDFW pay for crop damage from wildlife (via General Fund, not sportsman dollars, according to the agency), but it seems like adding emergency services could crash that cookie jar, leading one to wonder where the money might then come from. The bill also requires WDFW to review the whole wildlife damage claim process

Introduced by: Sens. Pearson, Warnick; Reps. Stanford, Dent, Irwin, McDonald, Hayes, Short, Pettigrew

Referred to: Senate Natural Resource and Parks Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: Needs to step on the gas if it wants to, er, hit legislative cutoffs this short session.

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SB 5302

Short title: “Establishing pilot projects for destination steelhead fisheries on the Olympic Peninsula and Klickitat river.”

Even shorter title: How To Catch The Attention Of Guides All Over The State

Effect: Requires guides running OlyPen rivers between the Queets and Elwha and on the Klickitat during the best fishing periods to either get a special $500 permit OR work for an outfitter with a $2,500 permit. It would limit the availability of those tags to guides and outfitters who can show they’ve been gainfully working those waters the last two years. Also requires the collection of a lot of data from the guides.

Discussion: This bill has the attention of the state’s guide community, with some worried about how it would limit access to a public resource, and others concerned about how growing pressure on that public resource is impacting it. With fewer winter steelhead opportunities elsewhere, the number of new guides and anglers on the Olympic Peninsula has increased sharply.

Introduced by: Sens. Van De Wege, King

Referred to: Senate Natural Resources and Parks

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: While addressing the same fish, it seems like the Olympic Peninsula and Klickitat elements need to be, er, filleted into separate bills.

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SB 5474/HB 1848*

Short title: “Initiating proactive steps to address elk hoof disease.”

Even shorter title: Shooting Limpers On Sight

Effect: To stop the spread of hoof rot in the state’s elk herds, the bill bars WDFW from translocating animals out of affected areas, requires on-duty biologists and other state staffers who spot limpers to shoot them, and allows hunters, landowners and tribal members to shoot and harvest crippled elk as well and without a tag or regard to season or location. The House version of this bill adds the caveat that WDFW needs to get recommendations from the state veterinarian and WSU’s vet school on how to prevent the spread of hoof rot, and implement them.

Discussion: With Western Washington’s largest herd infected by a livestock bacteria that hobbles stricken elk, hunters and others have been concerned about it spreading further. Fears of that were raised when initial results on a Skagit bull suggested it had it but following tests were negative with a caveat. Clearly, not moving any elk from St. Helens to the North Cascasdes is a good idea (and hasn’t been done in over a decade), but WDFW says that culling is not likely to limit the spread and freelance euthanasiaists would just create even more elk headaches for game wardens.

Introduced by: Sen. Pearson; Rep. Koster

Referred to: Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee; House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: While a good idea to do something, anything to stop the spread of hoof rot in our elk herds, this one may limp off into the sunset.

ELK WITH AN ABNORMAL HOOF SEEN LAST YEAR IN NORTHWEST OREGON. (TRAIL CAM IMAGE COURTESY OF MIKE JACKSON, VIA ODFW)

ELK WITH AN ABNORMAL HOOF SEEN LAST YEAR IN NORTHWEST OREGON. (TRAIL CAM IMAGE COURTESY OF MIKE JACKSON, VIA ODFW)

Famed Skykomish Steelhead Access Trashed

Lewis Street has a special place in this steelheader’s heart, so it pains me to see how trashed part of this legendary fishing access on the Skykomish River has become.

A minute-and-a-half-long video shot and posted yesterday by Get with the Program Monroe shows piles and piles of clothes, bedding, trash, propane bottles, bicycle parts and more — the cast-offs of an encampment along the Highway 203 bridge south of Monroe.

A SCREEN SHOT SHOWS A FACEBOOK POST BY GET WITH THE PROGRAM MONROE THAT INCLUDES A VIDEO TOUR OF AN ENCAMPMENT ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF LEWIS STREET BRIDGE. (FACEBOOK)

A SCREEN SHOT SHOWS A FACEBOOK POST BY GET WITH THE PROGRAM MONROE THAT INCLUDES A VIDEO TOUR OF AN ENCAMPMENT ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF LEWIS STREET BRIDGE. (FACEBOOK)

I feel bad that in this day and age people have to live outdoors, especially in this winter climate. And while I will quickly acknowledge that there’s not exactly weekly garbage service at camps like this, I am still repulsed by the mess they’ve made here.

It sounds like as many as 80 squatters may have lived here until the county sheriff last week apparently served notice to vacate the area.

WITH ITS STATE BOAT LAUNCH and large parking lot, over the decades many a sled has been put in at Lewis Street and many a drift boat float has come to an end here.

But even as a bastion of boaters, the waters below the bridge have a long-standing special regulation that gives bank anglers fishing priority.

It’s here that I caught my first steelhead, somewhere in early 1989. It was downstream a couple hundred yards, on the south shore, back when there was a nice little riffle here.

Two fish in three casts.

Watermelon Corky, if I recall, though I don’t remember whether I was running it with eggs or scented yarn.

Greg and I hit that spot a lot over the years, and when guys beat us to it, we’d head upstream, through the woods then old wooden pilings to fish the island below where the old railroad trestle was.

After the 2002 season ended, I spent most of a day cleaning up the banks on both sides of the Sky.

A SLIDE SHOT I TOOK ON THE WINTER 2001-02 DAY I COLLECTED A PICKUP LOAD OF TRASH AROUND LEWIS STREET. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A SLIDE SHOT I TOOK ON THE WINTER 2001-02 DAY I COLLECTED A PICKUP LOAD OF TRASH AROUND LEWIS STREET. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I filled the back of my Chevy with a mix of fishermen’s junk, stuff that had floated downriver, and a stray tire or two that I hauled off to the dump.

Today I’d need several dump trucks.

And a couple front-end loaders.

LOOKING BACK, I SEE THE SIGNS OF A problem in the making.

With a switch in steelhead release strategies then shortened seasons, as well as changes to the river bed and declining wild runs, the Lewis Street drift became less productive, leading to fewer anglers visiting the water here.

Even so, I’m one of those folks who will keep fishing a spot they merely think they once had a bite at, so two Januaries ago I began a day on the Sky here.

Initially my plan was to go below the bridge deck and make my way downstream on the trails of old, but when I came across a few tents and scattered belongings, I backed out and decided to go upstream instead.

A TENT AND OTHER BELONGINGS UNDERNEATH LEWIS STREET BRIDGE IN JANUARY 2015. AN ENCAMPMENT HERE HAS SINCE SPREAD NORTH AND SOUTH OF THE HIGHWAY 203 OVER THE SKYKOMISH RIVER.

A TENT AND OTHER BELONGINGS UNDERNEATH LEWIS STREET BRIDGE IN JANUARY 2015. AN ENCAMPMENT HERE HAS SINCE SPREAD NORTH AND SOUTH OF THE HIGHWAY 203 OVER THE SKYKOMISH RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Eventually I ended up on the island opposite Al Borlin Park and fished the top couple hundred yards of that run, a good spot in the day, then the deeper part at the top end of the side channel on the south side of the island because it kinda looked a little fishy.

I didn’t hook anything, of course, so decided it was time to drive upstream to Gold Bar. As I made my way back to my rig on a long, skinny island overgrown with invasive knotweed and blackberries I stumbled upon a tent.

It was surprising — and a little bit unnerving. Why the hell was someone here? And were they home?

Bloodied and dripping with sweat after a battle through a replanted forest that eventually became part of the encampment, I returned to my car.

With steelhead season on the lower mainstem Sky once again coming to an end, I had been considering making a run out to Lewis Street this weekend.

Then I saw that video.

And a few more, plus pics that Get With the Program Monroe has posted in recent weeks.

I’ll go elsewhere.

AGAIN, I FEEL BAD FOR THOSE who have to live like this. And I guess I can understand why they’re here.

It’s just outside city limits, there are very few neighbors close by, the bridge allows for access into Monroe where presumably they can get fresh clothing every few days (judging by all the discarded garb) from charities, and there must be some homeless services in town.

Some, maybe most, truly need help. Others have surely simply found a way to support their addictions and can cope with longterm outdoor living.

Either way, they’ve left a colossal mess.

According to the county parcel viewer, the land here is in a mix of ownerships — a family trust, state right-of-ways, local farmers and no-man’s ground where the Skykomish has shifted away from old property lines.

By happenstance, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering buying land that appears to include part of the encampment, as mitigation for lost hunting ground elsewhere in the watershed.

Before that deal is signed, someone needs to make sure there’s no trash on the ground, or squatters living there, and that the problem won’t return.

According to Get With the Program Monroe, operated by someone who identifies themselves as a resident of the immediate area, the landowner on whose property many of the squatters have sullied the ground must pay for the cleanup. Because of the nature of the trash, volunteers are not being sought. They cite the support of Sen. Kirk Pearson and his legislative aide Cameron Bailey as instrumental in getting something done about it.

Thumbs up to FWTPM for hard work bringing this problem to the forefront and to the senator for his interest.

As someone with long associations to that spot, I appreciate it, even if I won’t be fishing there this weekend.