Category Archives: Headlines

Despite River Conditions, Columbia Chinook Landed Today (Well, One Anyway)

The dam count sucks, early catches have been poor, the big river’s murky and nearly a foot above flood stage, there’s a buttload more water on the way, researchers say the fish forecast may be too high, our chief Columbia River salesman has been looking for jagged glass shards all day and a guy just landed a real nice springer.

That guy would be one Scott Dunbar of Vancouver, who was out with guide Brandon Glass when the hatchery Chinook bit today.

“According to Brandon, the fish went for a plug-cut herring trolled 36 inches behind a double Fish Flash set-up,” reports Yakima Bait’s Buzz Ramsey, who this afternoon forwarded images of Dunbar’s catch.

DESPITE POOR FISHING CONDITIONS, SCOTT DUNBAR STILL CAUGHT THIS NICE SPRING CHINOOK OUT OF THE COLUMBIA TODAY. HE WAS FISHING WITH GUIDE BRANDON GLASS. (BRANDON GLASS VIA BUZZ RAMSEY)

It’s one of the few caught so far this season.

According to estimates from Columbia salmon managers, all of 41 springers have been kept in March through the 19th, including 11 last week.

That estimate — which is a combination of X anglers interviewed with Y physically observed kings and an extrapolated catch for the rest of the river’s fishermen — show that Oregon and Washington bankees and boaters are basically in a three-way tie so far, where usually boaters are way out ahead.

That’s likely because of the big water rolling down the Columbia, which is running at 16.75 feet or so at Vancouver (flood level is 16) and projected to stay in the brush until April Fools, according to the Northwest River Forecast Center.

“Due to the high somewhat turbid water they were trolling near shore in slack water,” Ramsey reports about Glass and Dunbar.

River conditions and sea lion predation could be dampening the turnout at Bonneville, but so far only 12 springers have been counted at the dam, second worst for the same point of the run back through at least the late 1990s, a review of records here yesterday showed.

While this year’s forecast calls for 160,400 above-Bonneville-bound springers (plus several tens of thousands more to the Cowlitz, Willamette and Kalama), in recent days federal and university scientists have said that that could be even lower due to poor ocean conditions when this year’s returning adults went to sea during the height of The Blob.

If you do venture onto the Columbia, definitely be aware of the high volumes coursing through the system, woody debris and other hazards, and consider adding a second flasher and fishing in softer water.

ZOOMING IN ON ANOTHER PHOTO FROM GUIDE BRANDON GLASS AND FORWARDED BY BUZZ RAMSEY SHOWS THE COLUMBIA, WHICH IS TIDALLY AFFECTED, WELL INTO THE TREES IN THE AREA DUNBAR PICKED UP HIS SPRING CHINOOK TODAY. (BRANDON GLASS VIA BUZZ RAMSEY)

Newest Washington Commissioner Outlines Fish, Wildlife Views

A recent Senate hearing provided a glimpse of Washington’s newest Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, a woman who may be unknown to the state’s anglers and hunters but is no stranger to legislators.

Barbara Baker of Olympia called joining the citizen panel charged with overseeing the protection and perpetuation of the state’s critters “a dream job,” one for which she put down two leading lawmakers from either side of the aisle as her professional references.

IN THIS TVW SCREENGRAB, WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONER BARBARA BAKER SPEAKS BEFORE THE SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES AND PARKS COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING ON HER APPOINTMENT TO THE PANEL, SET TO RUN AT LEAST THROUGH 2022. (TVW)

That’s because Baker worked in the House of Representatives for 20 years, the last five as the chamber’s chief clerk, and on March 6 she told Senator Kirk Pearson’s Natural Resources and Parks Committee that as time passed she needed new challenges and that she was interested in natural resource policies and tribal issues.

She said that it took about a year and a half to convince the Governor’s Office that someone with her background would be a fit for the commission, but she was eventually appointed by Gov. Inslee, on Jan. 17 to fill retiring commissioner Conrad Mahnken’s seat.

Pearson asked Baker to outline her thoughts on fish production, hunting and recreational access, questions he considered to be very important.

“I am a very strong supporter of both hunting and fishing, recreationally in the case of hunting, and then both commercially and recreationally in the fishing avenues,” Baker responded. “There are qualifications to that, but they’re the qualifications that we all share. I want those things to happen within the law. I’m not interested in people poaching. I’m not a big advocate of baiting. But other than that, I come from a family where people fish and people hunt. My daughter met her partner gillnetting in Alaska — they still do it …. I’ve been a ‘small-scale rancher’ myself. I’ve had to shoot a lamb when a coyote ate its back leg off. I know what that feels like … I’m not interested in getting on this board to try to curtail people’s right to hunt or fish.”

Speaking to hatcheries, she said there’s a lot of conflict around them “that doesn’t benefit anybody,” that money isn’t going into upkeep of the facilities and that federal overseers aren’t putting their “imprimatur” on genetic management plans fast enough.

When Baker’s appointment was announced in January, Rep. Brian Blake, chair of a House committee dealing with WDFW issues as well as a hunter and generally considered to be a commercial fisheries advocate, called her “honest and open-minded,” while sportfishing interests said she’d subsequently been briefed on the importance of conservation in fisheries and that she seemed to agree with that path.

Though the Senate committee has not given a recommendation one way or the other to the full Senate on Baker’s appointment, which is not unusual, she seemed to draw support from Sens. John McCoy and Kevin Van De Wege, who both thought her skills and training would serve her well.

Pearson, who has been very critical of WDFW in recent months in terms of his words, public hearings he’s held and bills he has and hasn’t moved through the legislature, asked Baker to be a liaison to lawmakers on numerous management issues.

She said that she loved working with legislators, calling the commission a place where she could put her skills to good use.

 

According to biographies supplied to the Governor’s Office and WDFW, Baker comes from Texas ranching families (in later years raising unique horse and sheep breeds) and graduated from high school in Alaska. Among her early jobs were stints at Mt. McKinley (now Denali), on the Alyeska Pipeline and construction at Boeing before graduating from the University of Puget Sound School of Law and becoming a lawyer representing clients in state and federal courts.

In applying, she listed this skill set as “timely, useful and applicable” to the commission:

– policy analysis on issues involving deeply divided constituencies,
– thorough research skills, using science, on subject areas – even when the answers seem obvious,
– successful mediation in times of conflict (pretty much my entire current job in the House),
– ability to engage in legal analyses, read precedent and interpret statutes,
– budget development and passage experience on all levels, including allotment setting, for agency, local and state governements,
– deep appreciation of Tribal sovereignty and limited proficiency in the law related to Tribal governments

Baker, 61, is described as “an avid outdoorsperson, spending all of her free time hiking, camping, biking and especially kayaking in Alaska, BC and Washington,” and who lives on a houseboat in Deep South Sound.

Her appointment as one of three at-large members of the commission runs through 2022.

 

Washington Fish Commission To Consider Oregon’s Latest Move On Columbia Reforms

Washington fishery overseers will hold a teleconference Friday morning, March 24, to go over Oregon’s updated Columbia River salmon policies.

The call is slated from 8:30 to 9:30 between members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission and WDFW staff.

ANGLERS TROLL THE LOWER COLUMBIA IN 2014 FOR FALL CHINOOK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It comes a week after the Oregon commission’s 7-0 vote to move its reforms incrementally closer to Washington’s policies, though still not far enough for sportfishers nor reaching benchmarks Oregon anglers been paying towards for several years.

WDFW representatives didn’t want to get ahead of the commission’s discussion.

“Consistent with the commitment in their letter from last week, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will be carefully considering the rules adopted by the Oregon Commission last Friday,” says Jim Scott, a special assistant to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth.

That letter was from Chair Brad Smith to Oregon’s commission chief, Michael Finley, and it noted that the states had a long history of working out fishery, hatchery and management issues on the Columbia, and that Washington would consider “any proposal supported by the OFWC as a whole that is consistent with the vision for Columbia River management reform and within the sideboards of Governor Brown’s letter.

The two states are out of alignment on salmon fisheries on the big river and that could affect concurrent management of the shared Columbia later in the year.

After a four-year phase-in period, 2017 was scheduled to see set allocations on spring, summer and fall Chinook nontribal sport and commercial fisheries, and while some of those are not in question, Oregon fudged on fall kings, leading first to a Washington compromise, a Beaver State back-pedalling, Brown’s letter, then last week’s move by Oregon back towards the Evergreen State.

The question now is, will Washington move to meet Oregon in the middle, stand its ground or what?

5 Poachers Caught With 143 Trout Before Central WA Lake Opener

Five men who got a jump on the March 1 trout opener at a Columbia Basin lake ended up hooking themselves as well.

WDFW reports that on February 26 an officer got suspicious about men loading fishing gear into two vehicles at Upper Caliche Lake, alongside I-90 near George.

“They initially claimed not to have been fishing, but the officer found several large plastic bags full of fish in both cars,” WDFW reported.

Inside those sacks? A whopping 143 rainbow trout, the agency alleges.

A WDFW IMAGE SHOWS MANY OF THE 143 RAINBOW TROUT POACHED OUT OF UPPER CALICHE LAKE BEFORE THE MARCH 1 OPENER. (WDFW)

That equates to 2 percent of all the trout stocked last year for this month’s opener, though there could be carryovers from previous seasons swimming around in Caliche too, depending on catch rates and fry survival.

“Even if the season had been open they would have been 118 trout over their daily limit,” the agency reports.

That’s a potential gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and fine of $5,000, but charges will be up to the Grant County Prosecutor’s Office.

As it stands, WDFW cited the quintet for exceeding the daily limit in the first degree, as well as fishing during a closed season. One was also cited for no license. A sixth men with them was not fishing.

All the trout were seized and donated to a food bank in Moses Lake.

Unfortunately, it’s not the only example of piggish behavior of late, with the Westside representing too.

WDFW reports a case on Oakland Bay, by Shelton, in which two women and a man were contacted while walking off the beach carrying a big bucket allegedly containing “more than 12 times the allowable daily limit of clams.”

Another container in the brush held illegally shucked oyster shells.

“They were cited for first degree exceeding the bag limit and harvesting without licenses,” WDFW reported.

Two illegal gillnets were also pulled from the Columbia near Cascade Locks. Suspects were reportedly identified by Columbia River Inter-tribal Enforcement officers.

SW WA, Columbia Fishing Report (3-21-17

THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION ORIGINATED WITH ODFW AND WDFW AND WAS TRANSMITTED BY JOE HYMER, PSMFC

Salmon/Steelhead

Cowlitz River – 199 boat anglers kept 2 adult spring Chinook and 41 steelhead and released 1 steelhead.  124 bank anglers kept 1 jack spring Chinook and 6 steelhead.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 153 winter-run steelhead adults, one steelhead jack and 13 spring Chinook adults in five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week, Tacoma Power employees released 14 winter-run steelhead adults and ten spring Chinook adults into the Cispus River near Yellow Jacket Creek and they released 20 winter-run steelhead adults and two spring Chinook adults into Lake Scanewa in Randle.

Last week, Tacoma employees released 25 winter-run steelhead adults and one steelhead jack into the Tilton River located at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 14,600 cubic feet per second on Monday, March 20.

Wind River – No report. Anglers are reminded Wind River from the Hwy. 14 Bridge upstream is closed to all fishing through March.

Lower Columbia mainstem below Bonneville Dam – One lucky angler out of the 312 we sampled had a spring Chinook.  146 boats and 167 bank anglers were counted during last Saturday’s effort flight count.

Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam – Light effort and no catch was observed.

Sturgeon

Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam – Bank anglers were catching some legals in Bonneville Pool, boat anglers in The Dalles Pool, and bank and boat anglers in John Day Pool .  Sturgeon retention is closed in Bonneville and The Dalles pools effective March 25.

Walleye and Bass

Bonneville Pool – Little to no effort for either specie.

The Dalles Pool – Including fish released, boat anglers averaged 4.4 walleye per rod.  Little effort and no catch for bass.

John Day Pool – Boat anglers averaged 1.3 walleye per rod when including fish released.  Boat anglers also caught a couple bass.

Trout

Recent plants of catchable size rainbows.  No reports on angling success.

Lake/Pond
Date
Species
Number
Fish per pound
Hatchery
Notes

* HORSESHOE LK (COWL)<http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=HORSESHOE%20LK%20(COWL)&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Mar 09, 2017
Rainbow
9,400
2.5
MOSSYROCK HATCHERY

* LEWIS CO PRK PD-S (LEWI)<http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=LEWIS%20CO%20PRK%20PD-S%20(LEWI)&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Mar 09, 2017
Rainbow
1,840
2.3
MOSSYROCK HATCHERY

 

……….

Salmon, Steelhead and Shad

On Saturday’s (3/19) flight, 146 salmonid boats and 86 Oregon bank anglers were counted from the Columbia River estuary to Bonneville Dam.  Catch rates remain low despite the increase in effort.

Gorge Bank:
No report.

Gorge Boats:
No report.

Troutdale Boats:
Weekend checking showed no catch for 18 boats (37 anglers).

Portland to Westport Bank:
Weekend checking showed no catch for 38 bank anglers.

Portland to Westport Boats:
Weekend checking showed no catch for 39 boats (85 anglers).

Estuary Bank (Clatsop Spit to Wauna Powerlines):
Weekend checking showed no catch for two bank anglers.

Estuary Boats (Tongue Point to Wauna Powerlines):
Weekend checking showed no catch for 10 boats (17 anglers).

Bonneville Pool (Bonneville Dam upstream to The Dalles Dam): Weekly checking showed no catch for one bank angler.

The Dalles Pool (The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam):  Weekly checking showed no catch for one bank angler.

John Day Pool (John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam):  Weekly checking showed no catch for five bank anglers.

STURGEON

Lower Columbia River (below Bonneville Dam): Closed for retention. Weekend checking showed no catch for six bank anglers; and no catch for two boats (three anglers).

Bonneville Pool (Bonneville Dam upstream to The Dalles Dam): Weekly checking showed three legal white sturgeon kept, plus 21 sublegal and one oversize sturgeon released for 37 bank anglers; and three sublegal and two oversize sturgeon released for seven boats (14 anglers).

The Dalles Pool (The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam):  Weekly checking showed no catch for 12 bank anglers; and three legal white sturgeon kept, plus three sublegal and one oversize sturgeon released for three boats (11 anglers).

John Day Pool (John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam):  Weekly checking showed three legal white sturgeon kept, plus 11 sublegal sturgeon released for 25 bank anglers; and three legal white sturgeon kept, plus eight sublegal and six oversize sturgeon released for 10 boats (23 anglers).

WALLEYE

Troutdale:  No report.

Bonneville Pool:  Weekly checking showed no catch for one boat (one angler).

The Dalles Pool:  Weekly checking showed no catch for one bank angler; and 222 walleye kept, plus 69 walleye released for 27 boats (66 anglers).

John Day Pool: Weekly checking showed 35 walleye kept, plus 66 walleye released for 41 boats (78 anglers).

3 Meetings Coming Up On 2017 Eastern WA Salmon Seasons

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Anglers have three opportunities in March to meet with state fishery managers to talk about salmon fisheries in the mid- and upper Columbia River and lower Snake River before this year’s seasons are set.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled three public meetings to discuss pre-season salmon forecasts and upcoming spring, summer and fall fishing seasons – particularly those proposed for salmon upstream from McNary Dam.

WDFW’S LOOKING FOR INPUT ON 2017 SALMON SEASONS IN EASTERN WASHINGTON, INCLUDING UPRIVER BRIGHTS LIKE THE NICE ONE CAUGHT BY WENATCHEE ANGLER SCOTT FLETCHER LAST SEASON. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Those meetings are as scheduled:

Wenatchee: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., March 28, Chelan PUD, 327 N Wenatchee Ave., Wenatchee.

Clarkston: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., March 29, Walla Walla Community College, Clarkston Campus Auditorium, 1470 Bridge St., Clarkston.

Kennewick: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., March 30, Kennewick Irrigation District, 2015 S. Ely St., Kennewick.

The Kennewick meeting is being held at a new location – the Kennewick Irrigation District – this year compared to the past few years.

These meetings are part of the salmon season-setting process known as North of Falcon, which involves representatives from federal, state and tribal governments and recreational and commercial fishing industries. Additional public meetings have been scheduled through early April to discuss regional fisheries.

Final salmon fishing seasons are scheduled to be adopted at the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting April 7-11 in Sacramento, Calif.

A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts and information about the salmon season-setting process for Puget Sound, the Columbia River and the Washington coast are available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. Comments about salmon fisheries can also be submitted online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/comments.html

Oregon Wildlife Troopers Seize 3 Blacktail Racks At Winston Home

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON STATE POLICE, FISH AND WILDLIFE DIVISION

The Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division executed a search warrant early Sunday morning, concluding a year and half long investigation into the unlawful take of several black tail deer. Oregon State Police Troopers from the Albany and Roseburg area served a search warrant at a Winston address, where three sets of trophy black tail buck antlers and a center fire rifle were seized as evidence. David Barton, 28, of Winston, was cited and released on three counts of unlawful take/possession of buck deer. The search warrant was stemming from an investigation that showed Barton had killed several deer without any deer tags and was exceeding bag limits.

(OREGON STATE POLICE)

A violation of any provision of the wildlife laws (such as the unlawful take of deer), or any rule adopted pursuant to the wildlife laws, is a Class A misdemeanor if the offense is committed with a culpable mental state in Oregon. If convicted, a person can be charged with the maximum penalty of $6250, have their hunting privileges suspended and forfeit weapons or other items used in the commission of the crime(s).

Anyone with information regarding wildlife violations is encouraged to report the information to the Oregon State Police Turn in Poacher (TIP) hotline at 1-800-452-7888. Information can remain anonymous.

Trip To Tucannon Lakes Yields Biting Rainbows, Ice Cream Rewards

Editor’s note: The following fishing report was photographed and submitted by Tri-Cities dentist Jerry Han.

By Jerry Han

The kids wanted to go fishing this weekend, and with the Columbia up here having a visibility as low as 2″ with all the flooding going on, we decided to go trout fishing at Tucannon.

On the way up we passed the Snake, Touchet, and Tucannon Rivers.  All of them were extremely muddy, and the Touchet and Tucannon were extremely high, so I don’t expect many people were fishing for steelhead in the Tucannon, even though they want people to catch the excess hatchery steelhead.

A U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY GRAPH ON THE LOWER TUCANNON RIVER SHOWS IT RUNNING FIVE TO EIGHT TIMES AVERAGE FOR THIS TIME OF YEAR AS THE SNOWPACK MELTS. (USGS)

We started off at Blue Lake and nothing was happening, so we went to Spring Lake. I turned Austin and Corbin loose with their rods and was helping Lexi when Austin started hollering that he had one. I could see that it was not the normal stocker trout by the way the rod was bent double and shaking.  Sure enough, Austin got the first fish and it was a nice jumbo!

AS SISTER LEXI AND BROTHER CORBIN LOOK ON, AUSTIN HAN SHOWS OFF A NICE TUCANNON LAKES STOCKER RAINBOW TROUT FROM LAST WEEKEND. (JERRY HAN)

Lexi then went on a tear and limited out before the boys, then Corbin limited with Austin hot on his heels with his limit.

CORBIN PROUDLY SHOWS OFF A SPRING LAKE RAINBOW. (JERRY HAN)

Then I had to have the Daddy conversation with them all about how it’s not who limited first, who came in last, and who caught the biggest. Let’s just say that there’s a little bit of competition between them and I had to remind them that we are all part of Team FisHan.

LEXI WAS FIRST TO LIMIT, BEATING HER BROTHERS TO THE FIVE-FISH MARK. (JERRY HAN)

After limiting, we went for a short hike and then headed to The Last Resort KOA campground to get a well-deserved ice cream treat for a job well done!!

TEAM FISHAN CELEBRATE WITH ICE CREAM FROM THE LAST RESORT KOA. (JERRY HAN)

One thing I see at Tucannon that you may want to pass along to readers is that all the lakes can be very different. If one lake isn’t producing anything, I’d recommend moving and checking out the other lakes. We started at Blue Lake and it was dead for us, then we changed lakes and limited rather quickly.

THE HAN KIDS’ FATHER, JERRY, REPORTS THAT ARTIFICIAL LURES WERE BEST FOR THE TROUT, LIKE THIS ONE LEXI CAUGHT. (JERRY HAN)

Artificial lures were catching bigger fish and bait had the most action, which is what we were using so we could get ice cream sooner!

Begorrah! Trout Worth $50 Swimming At Coos Bay Lakes

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The pot of gold isn’t at the end of the rainbow; it’s swimming in Empire Lakes. A $50 VISA gift card goes home with anglers who catch a specially tagged rainbow trout here.

Anglers who harvest trout with a specially marked four-digit tag number will receive a $50 VISA gift card when the tag is brought to the Charleston ODFW Field Office. All other tags can be reported by calling the field office or using this online form.

(ODFW)

Empire Lakes is a popular coastal rainbow trout fishery, and ODFW biologists need anglers to help them keep it that way by reporting tagged fish they catch.

ODFW is tagging 500 legal-plus (12 to 13 inches) hatchery rainbow trout through June. Fisheries biologist Gary Vonderohe asks anglers to report tags on fish they catch even if they don’t harvest them.

“We stock a lot of trout here, and we want to make sure we’re giving anglers a quality fishery to enjoy. Tag reporting helps us know how many fish are being caught and what size of fish provides the best fishery for the anglers,” Vonderohe said.

The Empire Lakes tag reward project costs about half of a traditional angler creel survey, saving ODFW $5,000 in this case. Vonderohe said he will get generally the same information with the exception of angler effort.

ODFW stocks 40,000 rainbow trout each year in Empire Lakes. This year, 500 legal-plus trout are being tagged, with about 46 of those specially marked for gift cards.

Anglers who harvest a trout with a specially marked tag can visit the Charleston Field Office at 63538 Boat Basin Drive daily between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. to collect their gift card. All other tags can be reported to ODFW at 541-888-5515.

Wolves Continue Packing Into NE WA, State Population Grows 28 Percent

The Evergreen State’s wolf population grew by 28 percent last year, breaching the triple-digit mark and adding a new pack in both corners of Eastern Washington.

WDFW’s annual wolf report says there were a minimum of 115 wolves in 20 packs, 10 of which were classified as successful breeding pairs, at the end of 2016.

That’s up from 90, 18 and eight coming out of 2015, and five, one and one in 2008, the first year wolves were confirmed recolonizing the state.

A WASHINGTON WOLF CAUGHT ON A WDFW CAMERA. (WDFW)

Once again the bulk of the numerical growth occurred where it’s not necessarily needed, at least to meet delisting benchmarks under the agency’s management plan for the species.

There are now 17 packs in the federally delisted eastern third of the state, including last year’s new Sherman and Touchet Packs.

Agency directorJim Unsworth says that that growth “underscores the importance of collaborating with livestock producers and local residents to prevent conflict between wolves and domestic animals.”

There are still only three packs in the North Cascades zone and none in the South Cascades.

Hunters may be buoyed to know that no wolves were known by state biologists to be running with the state’s two largest bunches of elk — the St. Helens and Yakima herds — as 2016 came to a close, but until the current wolf plan is changed, both zones require at least four successful breeding pairs three years in a row to match regional recovery goals set back in 2011.

There has, however, been increasing talk that perhaps the packs in Northeast Washington should be managed differently than those elsewhere in the state. Hunters and livestock producers have been there for awhile, but as a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner recently put it, while the species is technically still recovering statewide, they’ve already done so there.

Earlier this winter, while WDFW expressed opposition to a bill in the state legislature that would have regionally delisted wolves, wolf manager Donny Martorello added, “We do believe it’s time to begin the discussion for reviewing the plan,  talking about adaptive changes and even postdelisting management. It’s been nearly six years since the plan was adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission, and it was intended to be an adaptive document.”

Overall, the 2016 report shows that Washington’s wolves continue to prosper despite lethal removals for livestock depredations (seven members of the Profanity Pack last year),  increasing tribal harvest (three killed by Colville and Spokane hunters), poaching (at least two, with the cause of death of two others listed as unknown), and natural dispersal.

Telemetry from radio-collared wolves show that three went for out-of-state walkabouts. A Teanaway female went due north into British Columbia, a Huckleberry member went a straight-line distance of nearly 400 miles southwest into Montana and ended up near White Sulphur Springs, while a Smackout wolf is heading through the Idaho Panhandle, destination unknown.

But another wolf that wandered out of Northeast Oregon formed half of the new Touchet Pack in the western Blue Mountains.

The Sherman Pack was formed by a nearby Profanity Peak Pack member.

With the Sherman and despite most of the Profanities having been taken out, there are still a minimum of 80 wolves in Northeast Washington, up from 63 in 16 packs last year.

WDFW reports six wolves in Southeast Washington’s two packs, and 16 in the three in the North Cascades, up one and one, and four and none, respectively.

And it says that there are at least 13 lone wolves wandering the landscape of the state, up from 10 in 2015.

WDFW’S 2016 YEAR-END WOLF MAP SHOWS THE ROUGH BOUNDARIES OF THE STATE’S 20 KNOWN PACKS, INCLUDING TWO NEW ONES CONFIRMED LAST YEAR, SHERMAN AND TOUCHET, ON EITHER SIDE OF EASTERN WASHINGTON’S FEDERALLY DELISTED ZONE. (WDFW)

Like always, WDFW says these are minimum figures and that there are likely more on the landscape.

“We know there are more wolves out there,” says Martorello. “These figures are just what we’ve observed.”

A page the agency collects citizen reports at includes numerous unconfirmed observations around the state. While many don’t seem plausible because of their location or description, one from just a week ago notes a group of five chasing elk off a national forest road between Wilkeson and Mt. Rainier.

“It greatly helps (WDFW) staff in finding new packs if people would call in tracks or sightings to the hot line,” urges Dave Duncan, a lifelong hunter and cattleman who represents Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation in a state wolf advisory panel.

“We all know that there could be a pack or packs that are not found or identified at the time of their annual census, and single wolves roaming the landscape just have to be an estimate,” Duncan says.

He says he thinks WDFW’s wolf workers are “doing a great job overall.”

A lot of that work last year centered on wolf-livestock conflicts, and 2016 matched a well-established pattern across the Northern Rockies in which 20 percent of packs get in trouble, which four of the 20 in Washington did.

Nine cattle were confirmed to have been killed by wolves while another six were injured by packs. Six more dead cattle were probable wolf depredations, as was the attack on a dog.

“WDFW processed 4 claims and paid a total of $12,330.85 to compensate livestock producers who experienced direct livestock losses caused by wolves.  In 2016, the Livestock Review Board recommended payments in full to two claimants and WDFW subsequently paid a total of $65,648.19 for indirect losses possibly caused by wolves,” the report states.

As wolf numbers grow, more and more ranchers appear to be taking deterrence measures to prevent livestock attacks, according to a WDFW graph out earlier this week.

“We know that some level of conflict is inevitable between wolves and livestock sharing the landscape,” says Martorello. “For that reason, we are encouraged by the growing number of livestock producers using proactive, non-lethal measures to protect their herds and flocks over the past two years.”

Conservation Northwest’s Chase Gunnell said the organization was buoyed that wolf population was expanding “and that participation in conflict avoidance efforts are going up as well.”

As for other facts and figures, WDFW reports that in 2016, 15 wolves were captured and collared by state, tribal and university researchers, that 25 in 13 different packs were monitored, and that the average pack size was 5.1 members, with the high end being 13 and the low — and the definition of a pack — being two wolves traveling together.

The agency reports 35 pups survived to the end of the year, though how they’ve fared in what will go down as a severe winter is unknown.

As for how much it cost the state to manage wolves last year, that figure came in at $973,275, which doesn’t include expenses for range riders, livestock loss compensation, Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreements, or the contract with a facilitator to work with WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group.

That panel of ranchers, hunters and wolf advocates reached a key consensus on lethal removal protocols last spring, and it was put to the test shortly afterwards not only by the Profanity Peak Pack’s depredations, but errant statements from a Washington State University professor and out-of-state wolf fanatics. But they held together, and an excellent Bloomberg article outlined that “delicate dance.”

This year they will consider if probable wolf attacks should count as “qualifying depredations” that build towards lethal removals where now only confirmed ones are.

Of the nearly $1 million spent on actual wolf management and monitoring, WDFW reports 93 percent came from state funds  “which came from a combination of additional fees for the registration of personalized and endangered species license plates and legislative funding,” and the other 7 percent came from federal grants.

WDFW’s yearly update also includes a section outlining ongoing research into wolves’ impacts on other critters, including the agency’s recently launched Predatory-Prey Project, as well as some interesting initial details from a University of Washington study of whitetail and mule deer and wolves in eastern Okanogan County that we’ve written about before.

According to a write-up, researchers found that deer mortality was no different between wolf and nonwolf areas, but that muleys and flagtails did use different habitats where their range overlapped with Canis lupus and where it didn’t.

“The scale of shifts in habitat use patterns depended on the escape behavior of each prey species and its effectiveness in different landscape types in relation to wolf hunting behavior. Mule deer responded to wolf utilization distribution at the landscape level. Animals in wolf areas used steeper slopes, areas farther away roads, and more forested areas, compared to animals in non-wolf areas. This is likely an attempt to reduce encounter rates with wolves. White-tailed deer responded to wolf utilization distribution at the fine scale. Animals in wolf areas used more gentle slopes, areas with greater visibility, and fewer obstacles to escape, compared to animals in non-wolf areas. This is likely an attempt to aid early detection of wolves and greater chance of escape following detection. These analyses have been written up and are in the process of being submitted for peer-review in a scientific journal …” researchers state.

It will be interesting to see if other studies bear these results out, but hunters may use the information to their advantage when pursuing deer in Washington’s wolf country.

“WDFW will have to balance a fine line of ensuring wolf recovery, while preserving hunting opportunities, and protecting ungulate populations, livestock producers, and rural communities from the effects of wolves. WDFW have a lot of very good people on staff to do the job and I have full confidence in them,” says Mark Pidgeon of the Hunters Heritage Council.

As for what 2017 will bring, that’s hard to say, but a WDFW document sent out earlier this week estimates that this year’s year-end minimum wolf count will be in the range of 135 to 165 individuals.

According to population modeling, delisting goals in the current plan should be met around 2021, agency staffers have said.

Martorello says he expects packs to form south of I-90 through the Cascades and that goals are on track to be met.

CNW’s Gunnell was more circumspect.

“We wouldn’t be surprised to see individual wolves confirmed south of I-90 this year; there were several reliable sightings in 2016 but no photographs that we’re aware of. However, at this point is difficult to confidently say if a pack will be confirmed in that area. Additional research may be needed to understand if human or habitat barriers are preventing wolf expansion in the South Cascades, and with it progress towards statewide recovery goals,” he says.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this blog gave an incorrect count for Washington’s 2008 year-end wolf population. According to WDFW, it was five, not ten as previously stated. Our apologies.