Category Archives: Headlines

CONRAD "CONNIE" MAHNKEN. (WDFW)

Longtime WA FWC Member Steps Down, Former State House Clerk Joins

A new face is joining the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, while an old hand has departed.

Barbara Baker, the newly retired Clerk of the state House of Representatives, succeeds Conrad “Connie” Mahnken, the second longest serving member of the citizen panel and a former federal fisheries biologist.

Mahnken was first appointed in November 2005, but did not seek another six-year term, according to WDFW, which the commission oversees.

CONRAD "CONNIE" MAHNKEN. (WDFW)

CONRAD “CONNIE” MAHNKEN. (WDFW)

“Conrad Mahnken will be sorely missed on the Commission,” said Commissioner Dave Graybill of Leavenworth. “He is an internationally known fish scientist for his work on recovering endangered fish, among many other great accomplishments. He has been a very effective Commissioner on all issues, with attention to the public’s wants and was respected by WDFW staff for this views on genetic transfer and technical strategies with fish management and even fish farming.”

Baker was described as “very, very knowledgeable about (the) law-making process” and seeming “very easy going, personable” by Miranda Wecker, the longest serving member of the commission, its longtime former chair and a natural resources policy expert.

They met for the first time this past weekend as the commission wrestled with Columbia River salmon reforms and other weighty issues.

“She is honest and open-minded,” noted Rep. Brian Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat in charge of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, who thought she would be “a balanced Commissioner beholden to no one.”

We’ve reached out to Baker to learn more about her relation to Washington’s fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation world — she appears to like to get outdoors a lot — and what her goals as a commissioner are.

But in the meanwhile, the Evergreen State College graduate was quoted in an article by that institution’s magazine on the legislative process:

Barbara Baker ’82, Chief Clerk of the Washington State House of Representatives, knows that can be frustrating for voters. But, she says, “it shouldn’t be easy to pass a law – it should be fairly difficult and lots of people should agree on it.” Writing legislation requires precision, attention to detail, an intimate understanding of existing laws and a clear understanding of the proposed policy solution.

Baker should know—she’s spent the past five years overseeing the daily operations of the House, accountable to the leadership of both parties to make sure it runs “efficiently, orderly and fairly.” A legal aid attorney for many years, then a legislative liaison, she spent 11 years with the House Democratic Caucus, including seven as the policy director, before being elected Clerk by the full membership of the House. She is familiar with the challenges legislators face, especially because in Washington’s citizens’ legislature, most of them have other full-time jobs.

For new legislators, navigating the constantly evolving processes can be daunting. The Chief Clerk’s office runs five days of training for new House members and more for their staff, and Baker reminds them they are working for the public, and should act accordingly. “It’s not easy trying to live up to campaign promises,” she says. “The ship turns very slowly and big changes take a number of years. Just figuring out how the place works is difficult. Many of them have been involved in other levels of governance so they have some idea, but most are walking around shell-shocked for a few weeks. Two years (the House term of office) is a short time to learn how to get something done, so we work hard to be a resource for them.”

In other news from the commission, Brad Smith and Larry Carpenter were reelected as chair and vice chair.

And Governor Inslee reappointed Kim Thorburn of Spokane. She was “outed,” per se, as a “vegetarian ornithologist” by Rep. Blake in a laudatory Spokane Spokesman-Review article focusing on how she’d won over skeptics.

A HERD OF PRONGHORN ANTELOPE ON ALERT ON THE FROZEN TUNDRA OF NORTHERN DOUGLAS COUNTY, WASH. (ERIC BRAATEN, WDFW)

Update On Washington Winter Range Conditions For Deer, Elk

With this week’s weather in Eastern Washington’s expected to bring a “wintry mix” of snow, sleet, rain and freezing rain, our eyes toward the health of big game herds.

When the snow isn’t too deep, the critters normally can deal with that, but when the white stuff gets a thick crust is when problems can start.

In late December, WDFW reported over 1150 elk at the Cowiche and more than 700 elk at feeding stations in western Yakima Counties, tallies that have likely grown since then.

At the start of last Friday’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, Director Jim Unsworth gave the following report:

Region 1

Snow depths in Northeast Washington are in the normal range, but temperatures have been lower than usual.  Distribution and condition of animals is not outside the norm for this time of year.  In the Blue Mountains, cold temperatures and snow have pushed elk down into areas normally occupied by wintering deer.  There has been some limited crop and haystack damage caused by elk in Asotin County.

A HERD OF PRONGHORN ANTELOPE ON ALERT ON THE FROZEN TUNDRA OF NORTHERN DOUGLAS COUNTY, WASH. (ERIC BRAATEN, WDFW)

A HERD OF PRONGHORN ANTELOPE ON ALERT ON THE FROZEN TUNDRA OF NORTHERN DOUGLAS COUNTY, WASH. (ERIC BRAATEN, WDFW)

Region 2

North Central Washington had a mild fall with timely precipitation and good fall green-up.  Deer and other big game species benefited greatly from fall conditions.  Region 2 experienced light snowfall this week.  Currently, it is relatively cold but deer went into the winter in very good condition.  Animals are wintering well with no problems observed to date.

Region 3

Snow came to the east slopes of the central Cascades about the second week of December.  Several snowfalls since then have left all of the valley bottoms under a persistent snowpack of several inches to a foot or more.  An arctic air mass also produced very cold conditions for a week or more in late December and more very cold temperatures are in the forecast for the second week of January.  Deer and elk in the region largely moved to traditional wintering areas by mid-December.  Elk are currently being fed at all of the traditional feeding locations in Yakima and Kittitas counties.  Feeding was operational at all sites by late December.  The numbers of elk being fed are typical for east slope Cascades winters.  Department feeding of elk is motivated to assist with distributional control (i.e., keep elk out of agriculture zones), not to prevent starvation.  No significant mortality has occurred for elk this winter, and observations of elk at feed sites suggest they are in average condition for this time of year.

Deer are dispersed currently in typical wintering locations at lower elevations.  No reports of unusual deer mortality have been received, and Department biologists conducting standard deer surveys across the region in December found deer to be in normal seasonal body condition.  Weather conditions the past few weeks have covered winter ranges with snow, but fortunately the dramatic freeze-thaw-freeze cycles that yield hard-crusted snow that is particularly hard on deer have not occurred so far.  No Department feeding of deer is occurring in the region and none is currently proposed.  As in every winter, a few members of the public are feeding deer at a small-scale on private land.  If snowpack continues to increase and no melting out of south slopes occurs in the next several weeks, some overwinter deer mortality may occur, but currently, deer appear to be faring reasonably well.

Bighorn sheep are currently being fed at the Department feeding station near Clemans Mountain and have been since late December.  A few sheep were trapped at this location for transplanting to the Quilomene herd in Kittitas County.  The trapped sheep appeared to be in reasonably good condition for mid-winter.  Other bighorns in Region 3 are on their historic winter ranges and appear to be faring well.

Region 4

Recent cold temperatures and increased snow accumulation in the higher elevations has resulted in increased numbers of elk feeding in the valleys and lowlands throughout Region 4.  Biologists have not observed any abnormal deer behavior or body condition indicators.

Region 5

District 9:  Current snowpack in the South Cascades is well above normal, indicating a good outlook for spring runoff but difficult conditions for big game.  Snow levels in Skamania and Klickitat counties are below 500 feet with accumulations of 32+ inches at 2,000 feet recorded near Trout Lake.  Winter conditions for big game at all elevations are currently considered severe, as deer and elk have mostly retreated to heavy cover, or have been seen in crop/agricultural  damage situations related to the current winter conditions.

Reports from one of the largest ranches in eastern Klickitat County indicate that snow depths are at 6-8 inches at low elevations.  The owner of the ranch indicates that he has not seen these conditions this severe, at this time of the year, in over 30 years. Currently deer are able to successfully forage by pawing through the snow, which hasn’t melted or crusted over yet.  If snow conditions become unfavorable with increased moisture and/or crusting, big game mortalities will most likely occur in eastern Klickitat County.  To date, there have been no reports of deer or elk mortality due to winter conditions.   In at least one incident in Klickitat County, deer were observed feeding on food provided by the public as a result of heavy snow.  This concern by the public will likely increase throughout the month.

District 10:  Unusually cold and wet winter conditions arrived in Southwest Washington near the end of 2016.  Snowpack is well above typical accumulations and record-setting low temperatures have persisted during the first part of 2017.  Snow has at times accumulated to near sea level along the lower Columbia River, and temperatures in the teens were recorded on several nights.

To date, among 78 study elk currently being monitored by satellite collar in District 10, only two have died since the onset of the severe conditions.  However, one of these was due to predation by a cougar and the other was an 18-year-old elk in very poor condition.  Additionally, among six adult black-tailed does and their two associated fawns, none have died during the cold weather.

Elk and deer populations likely entered this severe winter period in good condition following a cool, damp summer and a wet fall.  During unusually cold and wet winters, deer and elk typically only succumb later in the winter or even in early spring when energy reserves have been exhausted and little nutritious food is available in the landscape.  Study animals will continue to be monitored, and necropsies to determine cause of death will be conducted by Department biologists.  Additionally, the annual index survey of elk mortalities on the Mudflow Unit of the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area will be conducted in April.

Region 6

To date, winter weather conditions in Region 6 have not departed from historical norms and it is unlikely that significant mortality events have occurred thus far associated with winter weather.

Except at the highest elevations in the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Region 6 winter weather (e.g. snow depth or extended periods of extreme cold) are generally moderated by the influence of the Pacific Ocean, usually cyclical (short accumulation followed by melt), and rarely accumulate snow that would prevent access to forage and contribute to significant winter mortality events.

Winter survival among ungulates is largely dependent upon summer and fall nutrition, which in turn is influenced by summer precipitation and other factors.  The summer of 2016 was slightly wetter than recent years, which should give a slight advantage to ungulates for winter survival – forage availability was likely improved and the period in which they could prepare for winter by storing energy reserves (i.e. fat) was also extended (at least, in comparison to the last two or three summers).  In our area, what is often termed “winter mortality” is usually associated with the late-winter timeframe of March into early April when surviving ungulates that met the onset of winter with too little accumulated body fat to see them through the winter finally succumb to the limited and often poor quality forage available to them.  Although winter weather may contribute, their nutritional condition at the onset of winter is a much greater driver, and for the young the nutritional condition of their mothers is the key factor.

andynfloyd

San Juans Blackmouth Fishing Report (1-16-16)

THE FOLLOWING FISHING REPORT WAS WRITTEN AND SUBMITTED BY KEVIN KLEIN, PUGET SOUND ANGLERS

Winter Chinook fishing has been pretty good in the Islands. Silver Horde 3″ spoons have been producing very well, matching the anchovy and small herring that are around right now. The Roche Harbor Salmon Classic is this upcoming weekend. With some larger fish showing up, it will be interesting to see what hit the scales. We will see you on the docks, and at the tent on Thursday, Jan 19th!

Picture:

andynfloyd

1. Friday Harbor’s Floyd Holman, 7 years old, reeled in this 16.5 lb Blackmouth all by himself last weekend aboard the Team Parker Boats. Dad Andy lends a hand holding up the fish for a pic. Great job! We may wish we would’ve had that fish for the Roche Derby.

(IDFG)

North Idaho Elk Survival Study Enters Fourth Year

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Fish and Game biologists in Idaho’s Panhandle region have started the fourth year of a comprehensive elk mortality study.

Working with a private helicopter contractor, biologists have been in the field capturing and collaring elk since January 8.  In this study, elk are being captured with either nets or tranquilizer darts depending upon the terrain and density of the forest canopy.

Cow and calf elk are being fitted with radio collars to monitor their survival rates and movements.  The plan includes collaring an additional 60 elk calves and 50 cow elk in the coming weeks if conditions permit.  If the targeted numbers are achieved, there will be a total of 180 elk on the ground wearing collars in the ongoing project.

(IDFG)

(IDFG)

The study area includes big game Units 4, 6 and 7. The most recent capture work was completed in the Silver Valley, the North Fork Coeur d’ Alene River, and the St. Joe River.

The GPS collars record the animal’s location twice per day. Collars will function for several years.  The location, time, and other pertinent data are transmitted to a satellite and then to biologists as an email.

The study plan is to collar and follow cow and calf elk so that Fish and Game can monitor survival rates, habitat use, seasonal movements, and perhaps most importantly to determine the specific causes of elk mortality.

Once an animal is restrained or under anesthesia, a handler fits the animal with a GPS collar.  Blood and fecal samples (for disease and pregnancy surveillance) are taken, and estimates are recorded for the age of each animal.  The elk is then released at the capture site just a few minutes later.

The capture operation has gone very well in past years and is off to a good start this year.

Prior to the development of GPS collars, biologists had to use an antenna in hand or on a plane to determine an animal’s location.  Most locations were usually midday, during weather that allowed safe flights and good visibility.  Now, locations are taken regardless of weather, giving a much better picture of what is going on with elk in the three units.

A unique signal is produced if the collar is stationary for four hours, tipping biologists off that there may be a dead elk.  In that event, the collar can be located as soon as possible and biologists can often (but not always) determine the cause of death.

Of the elk captured in 2014 through 2016, the annual cow survival rate has been 95 percent.  Calf survival has been 82 percent.

New technology, such as the use of GPS collars, has changed wildlife management over time.  New equipment and techniques have enabled better data collection and a better understanding of what is actually happening outside in all kinds of weather in both daylight and dark…all year long.

If you see a helicopter circling in the skies at a low elevation in the Panhandle over the next few weeks, it may be a part of this study.  However, wildlife managers will also be conducting the annual winter aerial surveys of elk herds, and will be spending a lot of time in the air getting trend information on elk numbers.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Salmon Commission Report Outlines Portion Of 2016 Puget Sound Catches

A postseason report for 2016 salmon seasons sheds some light on Puget Sound coho and Chinook catches, among other West Coast fisheries.

The annual submission from the US Section to the international Pacific Salmon Commission, which met this week in Vancouver, BC, outlines commercial landings for salt- and freshwaters.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

2016 DUWAMISH RIVER HATCHERY COHO. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It states that a total of 49,800 Chinook were reported landed by tribal and nontribal fleets in Puget Sound last year, 43,200 by the former, 6,600 by the latter.

As for coho, 202,400 were landed, including 188,500 by tribal fishermen and 13,900 by nontribal commercials.

“A total of 27,600 Chinook and 69,700 coho were landed in Puget Sound river net fisheries during 2016,” the report adds.

Sport catch figures for both stocks in salt- and freshwaters are not available in time for the report, but at least on the coho side they will be significantly lower because of the structure of last year’s fisheries.

Due to extraordinarily low preseason coho forecasts available when seasons were set, most of the ocean and nearly all of Puget Sound’s marine waters outside of Hood Canal were closed, and most of the rivers of the inland sea were shut down in September and October as well to try and get as many silvers back to spawning grounds and hatcheries as possible.

It was only in late August and early September that state and tribal managers began to see that coho were coming back in larger numbers than forecast and fisheries might be a possibility after all.

As counts at the Ballard Locks got off to a fast start, two tribes began netting there and the state followed with an announcement opening Lake Washington.

Shortly afterwards, test fisheries showed there were enough for sport and tribal seasons on the Duwamish-Green.

After intense pressure, a limited sport fishery was opened on the Snohomish, and then when test fisheries showed there were enough on the Skagit, that system followed with a full fishery.

With plenty of coho returning to Squaxin Island net pens, part of the South Sound was opened for fishing, and then in October more rivers were opened, including the Skykomish, Wallace, Dungeness, Puyallup and Nisqually.

The way the seasons unfolded – with uncertainty about how big the coho runs were going to turn out — effectively led to the recreational fleet not being able to fish the most productive marine waters at the most productive times, but did allow for terminal and river fisheries for both nontribal and tribal fishermen, though not all tribes or anglers took advantage of that.

Because of that and because Blue Foxes and twitching jigs are not as effective on lockjawed river coho — even for ace guides who filled my Facebook feed with fishy pics deep into 2016 — it is likely that after WDFW collects punchcards later this year, tallies the results and publishes its annual sport catch report, our overall coho harvest will end up in the tens of thousands instead of the usual hundreds of thousands.

The figures from the Pacific Salmon Commission report were apparently unavailable when a watchdog group filed a public disclosure request in late fall with WDFW for 2016 catch data. The agency says it in fact had fish tickets from the tribes but had not entered the information into its own database, which only contained Chinook data up through several tribes’ spring fisheries. Why WDFW didn’t send copies of the fish tickets isn’t clear. It’s expected to take until late January before all of the treaty salmon landing data is entered into the system.

Meanwhile, North of Falcon negotiations loom ahead. I’m pretty sure I’ve got my pair of rose-colored reading glasses on right now and this is not to say 2017 won’t have its challenges because it will, but here’s hoping things are less contentious than 2016. Probably be good the whole way around.

AN OREGON COAST ANGLER SHOWS OFF A PAIR OF SURF PERCH FOR ROVING NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN PHOTO CARL LEWALLEN. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

WDFW Clarifies Winter Bottomfishing Closure, Says Surfperch Fishing From Beach Not Included

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Sport fishing for bottomfish to close through March 10 off the Washington coast

Action: Close recreational bottomfishing in Marine Areas 1-3 (including Marine Areas 2-1 and 2-2) and Marine Area 4 (west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line) through March 10, 2017. Reopen the coastal recreational bottomfish fishery the second Saturday in March through the third Saturday in October (March 11 through Oct. 21, 2017). The winter closure does not include surfperch when fishing from the beach.

AN OREGON COAST ANGLER SHOWS OFF A PAIR OF SURF PERCH FOR ROVING NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN PHOTO CARL LEWALLEN. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

AN OREGON COAST ANGLER SHOWS OFF A PAIR OF SURF PERCH FOR ROVING NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN PHOTO CARL LEWALLEN. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Effective date: Immediately

Species affected: Bottomfish

Location: Marine Areas 1 through 3, including Marine Areas 2-1 (Willapa Bay) and 2-2 (Grays Harbor), and Marine Area 4 (west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line).

Reason for action: The Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted changes to the recreational bottomfish seasons along the Washington coast as part of its groundfish biennial management cycle for 2017-18. The recreational bottomfish season is currently open year round in coastal marine areas, although rough ocean conditions in winter results in minimal fishing effort from mid-October through mid-March.

This new rule changes the coastal recreational bottomfish season from a year round season to one open from the second Saturday in March through the third Saturday in October. It also aligns the recreational bottomfish season with the recreational lingcod season in Marine Areas 1-3, including Marine Areas 2-1 (Willapa Bay) and 2-2 (Grays Harbor), and preserves recreational fishing opportunity in months when there has been significant participation in the fishery (March-October).

Marine Area 4B, east of the Bonnilla-Tatoosh line, will remain open year round as some recreational fishing does occur in this area during the winter. This rule change is necessary to conform to federal action taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The winter closure does not include surfperch when fishing from the beach, which will continue to be allowed year round.

Additional information: Bottomfish includes Pacific cod, Pacific tomcod, Pacific hake (or whiting), walleye pollock, all species of dabs, sole and flounders (except Pacific halibut), lingcod, ratfish, sablefish, cabezon, greenling, buffalo sculpin, great sculpin, red Irish lord, brown Irish lord, Pacific staghorn sculpin, wolfeel, giant wrymouth, plainfin midshipman, all species of shark, skate, rockfish, rattail, and surfperches (all saltwater perch are surfperch) excluding shiner perch.

 

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An R And A D Team On Permanent LWCF Reauthorization Bill (TY!)

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE BACKCOUNTRY HUNTERS AND ANGLERS

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this morning would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation’s most popular and successful access program.

Introduced by Patrick Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, the bill mirrors legislation from the 114th Congress that was widely supported by more than 200 lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Congress’s enthusiastic response to this bill in 2015 – and its alacrity in reintroducing it now – evidences the broad support for the program and the commonsense, beneficial results it achieves.

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Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a longtime proponent of the LWCF, commended Congress’s willingness to reconsider the measure.

“The American people want the LWCF to be permanently authorized. Lawmakers should heed their call,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “We thank Congressmen Meehan and Grijalva for their continued bipartisan leadership in introducing this bill, and we urge their fellow lawmakers to unite quickly and decisively around this practical, results-oriented access and conservation program – and demonstrate to all Americans that the 115th Congress is one of action on behalf of our public lands, waters and wildlife.”

Established more than a half-century ago, the LWCF has enabled conservation and enhanced public access to millions of acres in the United States. After Congress allowed the LWCF to briefly lapse in the fall of 2015, an omnibus budget deal released in December 2015 reauthorized the program – but for only three years. The Grijalva-Meehan bill would permanently reauthorize the LWCF and annually dedicate 1.5 percent of monies in the fund (or $10 million) to securing public access to inaccessible public lands, addressing longtime sportsmen priorities.

BHA members in Arizona and Pennsylvania voiced support of the bill and thanked their congressional delegates for spearheading its introduction in the new Congress.

“Arizona sportsmen continue to benefit greatly from the Land and Water Conservation Fund through expanded fishing access in areas like Lake Mead National Recreation Area and expanded hunting access in places like Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge,” said Arizona BHA Board Member Justin Nelson, of Mesa. “We applaud members of Congress for continuing to work across the aisle to permanently reauthorize this incredibly popular program.”

“Thank you, Congressman Meehan, for putting forth this bill,” said Pennsylvania BHA member Don Rank. “I think that all Americans can support preserving our wild places and recreational areas, as well as protecting public access for sportsmen, especially when it doesn’t cost the taxpayers a thing.”

“It is time that we – not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans – authorize the LWCF permanently,” concluded Pennsylvania BHA member Brandon Rapp, of Leola. “Our motivation for this is not simply for today but, more importantly, for tomorrow. From city parks to scenic vistas, all Americans, not just sportsmen and women, have a stake in the LWCF.”

grizzly-plan-550x466

More Details On USFWS/NPS Cascades Grizzly Restoration Proposal

THE FOLLOWING IS AN F.A.Q. FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, WHICH OVERSEES THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE AND U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Timeline:
1975 – Grizzly bear listed as threatened species, lower 48 states under Endangered Species Act.
1980 – Grizzly bear listed as an endangered species by State of Washington.
1982 – National Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan approved by FWS; revised in 1993.
1983 – Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee established.
1991 – 9,800 square miles of North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington State identified as adequate habitat for grizzly bears. Grizzly bears are confirmed in locations from just north of Interstate 90 to the international border.
1991 – The decision was made by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee during their winter 1991 meeting to recover grizzly bears in the North Cascades.
1993 – Detailed habitat evaluation of the North Cascades Ecosystem published.
1997 – North Cascades chapter added to National Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan.
2004 –A grizzly bear recovery plan completed for the British Columbia portion of North Cascades Ecosystem.
2014 – NPS/FWS begin Environmental Impact Statement on grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades Ecosystem.
2016 – Draft EIS developed.
2017 – Draft EIS is released for public comment.

grizzly-plan-550x466

A MAP OUTLINES THE NORTH CASCADES GRIZZLY BEAR RESTORATION ZONE. (FEDS)

What is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)?
An EIS is a document that evaluates and discusses potential environmental impacts that would occur as a result of taking an action. An agency must look at the impacts of its proposed action, as well as reasonable alternatives for accomplishing its objective, in this case restoring a self-sustaining grizzly bear population to the U.S. portion of the North Cascades Ecosystem. An analysis of what would happen as a result of taking no action is also required. An EIS must be prepared using the best available data. As part of the process, agencies identify and invite the participation of interested persons. This usually means the opportunity to comment on the scope of the EIS at the beginning of the process and again on the draft EIS before a final EIS is issued. Typically, this includes public meetings during comment periods.

Background on EIS: The National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 requires federal agencies to prepare an EIS for major federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment. An EIS is a full disclosure document that details the process through which a project is developed, includes consideration of a range of reasonable alternatives, analyzes the potential impacts resulting from the alternatives, and demonstrates compliance with other applicable environmental laws and executive orders.

How is the public involved in this decision?
There are numerous opportunities for the public to comment and be involved in the process. This EIS will involve the public in the evaluation of alternatives to achieve the goal of grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades Ecosystem. All comments about the alternatives and their impacts presented in the EIS, as well as alternatives that may not be presented but the public thinks should be considered, will be considered during the EIS process. The federal agencies will respond to these inputs by the public.

What is the ‘No-Action’ Alternative?
Under Alternative A (no action), existing management practices would be followed and no new management actions would be implemented beyond those available at the outset of the grizzly bear restoration planning process. Options for grizzly bear restoration under the no-action alternative would be limited. Management actions would be focused on improved sanitation, poaching control, access management, outreach and educational programs to provide information about grizzly bears and grizzly bear recovery to the public, and research and monitoring to determine grizzly bear population size, distribution, habitat, and home ranges.

What is common to all the action alternatives?
All of the action alternatives:
Seek to restore a reproducing population of approximately 200 bears through the capture and release of grizzly bears in the NCE
Involve enhanced public outreach
Include an option to designate the grizzly bears in the NCE as 10(j) nonessential experimental population under section 10 of the Endangered Species Act. This would establish a regulatory and management framework that would provide managers with increased flexibility, in order to help to ensure grizzly bear restoration does not result in the restriction of other land uses and resource development activities or compromise public safety
Take management actions in response to human-grizzly bear conflicts based on adherence to Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee guidelines for determining conflict grizzly bear status and for controlling conflict grizzly bears

What are the differences between the alternatives in the draft EIS?
The primary differences are related to the number, age, and sex of grizzly bears released, the rate and location of release, and restoration evaluation.

Alternative B—Ecosystem Evaluation Restoration
Up to ten grizzly bears would be captured and released initially
Releases would occur in a single remote site over two consecutive summers
Grizzly bears would be independent subadults between 2 and 5 years of age that had not reproduced yet and had exhibited no history of human conflict
60-80% female; 20-40% male
Grizzly bears released during the first two years would be monitored for an additional two years.
Depending on the results, a repeat of the initial release could occur, where an additional ten bears would be released at a single site over two years followed by two additional years of monitoring. Additional grizzly bears could be released periodically, based on the results of monitoring
Alternative B would be expected to result in the achievement of the restoration goal of approximately 200 grizzly bears within 60-100 years

Alternative C—Incremental Restoration
Approximately 5 grizzly bears would be captured and released each summer over the course of 5 or more years
Goal is to establish an initial population of 25 grizzly bears
Releases would occur in multiple remote sites, located in close proximity to one another in order to facilitate interaction and breeding among grizzly bears released into the ecosystem
After initial population goal of 25 grizzly bears has been reached, additional bears would likely be released into the ecosystem over time in order to address a variety of factors
Alternative C would be expected to result in the achievement of the restoration goal of approximately 200 grizzly bears within 60-100 years

Alternative D—Expedited Restoration
Number of suitable grizzly bears captured in a given summer would be released; would not limit the population goal for the initial restoration phase to 25 animals
Likely capture and release numbers would be approximately 5 per year
Capture and release efforts would continue each year as necessary until a combination of release efforts and reproduction results in a population of approximately 200 grizzly bears
Criteria for age and sex rations for grizzly bears captured and released would be less restrictive
Grizzly bears would be released and multiple remote sites
Alternative D would be expected to result in the achievement of the restoration goal of approximately 200 grizzly bears within 25 years

Does the “preferred alternative” have to be identified in the Draft EIS?
We identify a preferred alternative in a draft EIS if we have one at the time it is released.  We have not identified a preferred alternative at this time. Input from the public and agencies is encouraged.  All comments received on the draft EIS will be evaluated and considered when identifying the preferred alternative in the final EIS.

What happens during the EIS process?
The EIS process is completed in the following ordered steps: Notice of Intent (NOI), draft EIS, final EIS, and record of decision (ROD).
The Notice of Intent is published in the Federal Register by the lead federal agency and signals the initiation of the process.
Scoping, an open process involving the public and other federal, state, tribal, and local agencies, commences immediately to identify the major and important issues for consideration during the process.
Public involvement and agency coordination continues throughout the entire process.
The draft EIS provides a detailed description of the proposal, the purpose and need, reasonable alternatives, the affected environment, and presents analysis of the anticipated beneficial and adverse environmental effects of the alternatives.
Following a formal comment period and analysis of public comments received from the public and other agencies, the final EIS will be developed. The final EIS will address the comments on the draft and identify, based on analysis and comments, the “preferred alternative”.
After the final EIS is complete and issued to the public a 30-day waiting period will begin.  Following the waiting period, a record of decision will be signed by the agency (or in this case joint agencies) thereby allowing the selected alternative to be implemented.

What is the North Cascades Ecosystem?
The North Cascades is a large ecosystem in north-central Washington State and south-central British Columbia. The largest area of the ecosystem, about 9,800 square miles, lies in the United States. The British Columbia portion of the ecosystem is 3,800 square miles.

Is the North Cascades Ecosystem all public land?
Ninety-seven percent of the U.S. portion of the North Cascades ecosystem is public land and 3 percent is private.
North Cascades National Park Service Complex = about 10 percent
Okanogan-Wenatchee & Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests = 76 percent
Other federal lands (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense) = 2.6 percent
State lands = 7.4 percent
County and municipal = 1 percent

Do grizzly bears live in the North Cascades Ecosystem today?
The most recent confirmed observation of a grizzly bear in the U.S. portion of the ecosystem was in 1996.  Efforts during 2010-2012 to locate grizzly bears in the U.S. portion of the ecosystem using barbed wire “corrals” to capture hair samples for DNA identification yielded no confirmed grizzly bears; however due to funding and logistical constraints less than a quarter of the ecosystem could be sampled.  There may be a small number of grizzly bears still living in the U.S. portion, but exactly how many is unknown.  One grizzly bear has been confirmed during the past 5 years in the British Columbia portion of the Cascades, within 20 miles of the U.S. portion of the North Cascades Ecosystem.  This indicates the possibility of “dual citizen” bears living on both sides of the border.  Due to the remoteness of the ecosystem, it is highly unlikely that people have observed all of the grizzly bears in the ecosystem.

How will the EIS address the Washington state law that includes the statement that “Grizzly bears shall not be transplanted or introduced into the state.”?
The state law (RCW 77.12.035) only applies to WDFW and does not restrict federal grizzly bear recovery efforts in Washington.  The law also directs WDFW to “…fully participate in all discussions and negotiations with federal and state agencies relating to grizzly bear management…”  In this way, WDFW’s interests will be represented in the environmental analysis.

What impact would restoration have on other big game populations?
As predators, grizzly bears have the potential to impact prey species in the North Cascades Ecosystem; however, grizzly bears are omnivores that primarily feed on vegetation. Studies indicate that a grizzly bear diet consists of about 90% vegetable and insect matter; however, they scavenge and occasionally prey on game animals in addition to ground dwelling rodents that they actively dig out of dens or burrows. Research has documented the importance of local concentrations of ungulates as a source of protein for grizzly bears (IGBC 1997). In many locations, animal matter may not constitute a major annual diet item, but may be seasonally vital to grizzly bears (Mattson, Blanchard, and Knight 1991; Gunther and Haroldson 1998). Some adult big game animals probably will be taken, are not expected to be a major food source, nor would the level of predation be expected to have an influence on population performance.

Does the grizzly bear EIS address issues in common with the recovery and management of wolves in Washington State?
The grizzly bear EIS evaluates the interplay between grizzly bear and wolf recovery in relation to possible grizzly bear recovery alternatives.  Wolves and grizzly bears are very different animals.  Wolves are primarily carnivorous, hunt in highly social packs and are more likely to prey on domestic livestock.  Grizzly bears in ecosystems similar to the North Cascades rely much more on vegetation, insects, and small mammals.  Grizzly bears also tend to avoid areas of human activity.

What impact could this have on ranchers and domestic livestock?
Grizzly bears are omnivores, but primarily feed on vegetation. Studies indicate that a grizzly bear diet consists of about 90% vegetable and insect matter; however, they scavenge and occasionally prey on game animals in addition to ground dwelling rodents that they actively dig out of dens or burrows.

When will grizzly bears be delisted in the Lower 48?
Delisting of the grizzly bear will likely be achieved on a case-by-case basis as recovery targets are met for each population.  A status assessment along with a distinct population segment (DPS) determination will need to be made before the FWS can make a final determination on recovery and delisting by population.  If the population is considered recovered and meets the definition of a DPS, then a proposed and final rule to delist it would be published in the Federal Register.  Delisting is currently being considered, along with comprehensive conservation strategies, for the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem populations, but no final decision has been made.

What are the factors limiting natural recovery in the North Cascades Ecosystem?
Habitat and population connectivity between the nearest populations in British Columbia and the U.S. portion of North Cascades Ecosystem is increasingly fragmented and grizzly bears face as many, or more, challenges immediately north of the U.S. border as they do to the south.  Recovering a sustainable population will likely require active restoration in the U.S. portion of the ecosystem as well as strong cooperative efforts to sustain connectivity with Canada.  If left to recover without additional human intervention, grizzly bears could disappear because individual bears are increasingly isolated and have limited opportunity to breed.  Indications are that this is already happening, as confirmed observations have become increasingly rare on both sides of the international border.  Natural recovery, however, is one of the options being evaluated through the EIS, using the best available science and information.

What authority do federal agencies have to lead this effort?
As federal land management agencies, the NPS is directly responsible for implementing the Organic Act and FWS is responsible for implementing the Endangered Species Act. These laws, as well as numerous other laws and policies of the United States, direct the agencies to do everything within their power to recover, protect, and preserve grizzly bears as a public trust, to ensure that future generations benefit from the same wildlife resources that we enjoy today.

Is the habitat in the recovery area viable for bear survival?
The North Cascades Grizzly Bear Ecosystem Evaluation, completed in 1991, indicated that the necessary habitat quality, quantity, and security were present to support grizzly bears. Land management practices since then have ensured these parameters are still intact and in some areas, improved.  A 2002 Habitat Assessment evaluated motorized access, the availability of undisturbed habitat areas and seasonal habitat values in the NCE, charting a course for optimizing habitat security and availability on federal lands over the long-term. Grizzly bears persisted as an important part of the North Cascades for many millennia.  Their decline was not due to inadequate habitat, but to direct killing by people.  Thousands of grizzly bears from within and around this ecosystem were killed by the mid-1800s.

Would this recovery effort require visitors to the recovery area to change their behavior?
Black bears already occupy the areas that grizzly bears are expected to be in the future, and much of the human behavior needed to avoid conflict with that species applies to recreation around grizzly bears as well. Learning how to safely recreate in black bear country goes a very long way to learning how to recreate where there are grizzly bears.  The national park and national forests are already addressing the high risk elements of human-grizzly bear conflict by increasing awareness of, and/or requiring, proper backcountry food storage and by installing bear resistant garbage disposal systems and food storage lockers in campgrounds in order to reduce human-black bear conflict.

Would trails and roads be closed to protect grizzly bears?
There are thousands of miles of trails traveled safely by millions of people in grizzly bear country in the other recovery areas, such as in the Rocky Mountains.  Roads on federal lands within the North Cascades Ecosystem have been managed with grizzly bears in mind since the publication of the recovery plan chapter in 1997.  Care has been taken to maintain road systems in a way to ensure secure habitat for bears while meeting the needs of people. None of the alternatives require long-term closures.

How long would it take before there is a recovered population in the NCE?
It is unknown at this time and will be evaluated during the EIS process.  However, alternatives developed for a similar EIS process completed for a similarly sized ecosystem in Idaho estimated it would take 50 to 125 years from the time recovery efforts begin to the time a self-sustaining population would be established.  Even if a small number of bears were moved into the ecosystem it would take many decades for a population to grow, and in all likelihood people would see these bears only rarely during the first 10 to20 years.

How would grizzly bears impact adjacent developed areas?
Most human-grizzly bear conflicts are associated with concentrations of attractants, such as orchards, beehives, livestock boneyards, and cattle and sheep calving areas, within productive bear habitat. These impacts could be mitigated by providing grizzly bear education to farmers and ranchers which includes education on the use of electric fencing and managed boneyards.

Under all action alternatives, release areas would be located away from grazing allotments and all released grizzly bears would be radio-collared and monitored. If a bear frequents an allotment area, FWS and WDFW would work with the USFS and livestock owners to determine the best course of action to minimize opportunity for the bear to interact with livestock. In the event a grizzly bear depredates agriculture or livestock, appropriate IGBC guidelines would be followed.

What would be the impacts of grizzly bears on other predator populations in the recovery area?
Grizzly bears coexist with numerous carnivores in other parts of their range, and while some competition for food is certainly likely, the wildlife impacts of restoring grizzly bears after prolonged absence are largely unknown. It is expected that some black bears would be displaced or even killed by grizzly bears. Grizzly bears and black bears coexist as healthy populations in other recovery areas. Grizzly bears would likely steal food from cougars and wolves, as well as compete for carrion with wolverines and other medium to large carnivores. There is no expectation that predators would flee the area into adjacent human-occupied areas, but rather that species would adjust behaviorally within their range.  Human-dominated landscapes are typically much more uncertain to wildlife than are wildlife species-dominated landscapes.

Where can I learn more about efforts on grizzly bear restoration and recovery?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency on endangered species and their recovery. Information on grizzly bear recovery is available at:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:  https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/grizzlyBear.php
National Park Service:  www.nps.gov/noca/grizzly.htm
Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee:  www.igbconline.org/

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

NOAA Seeking Comment On Boat-free-zone Petition For San Juan Orcas

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comments on a petition calling for a whale protection zone for highly endangered Southern Resident killer whales on the west side of Washington’s San Juan Island.

The November 2016 petition from the Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, and Project Seawolf asks NOAA Fisheries to establish a protected zone free of motorized boat traffic to promote recovery of Southern Residents, which now number 78 whales.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

In 2009 NOAA Fisheries considered a similar protection zone as part of a package of vessel regulations to protect these whales. The agency adopted vessel traffic regulations in 2011 requiring that boats stay 200 yards from the whales and out of their path, but it did not finalize a protected zone in light of strong opposition at the time.

“To be effective, regulations require a degree of public acceptance, and we did not see sufficient support for a protected area in 2011,” said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries recovery coordinator for the Southern Resident killer whales. “The petition presents an opportunity to revisit that idea and get input from the public on this type of protection for the whales.”

Studies indicate that the whales forage less in the presence of boat traffic, and boat noise may disrupt the echolocation clicks the whales use to find food.

NOAA Fisheries filed its request for public comments in the Federal Register today, with a comment period of 90 days. The comments will help NOAA Fisheries decide whether to take further action on the petition.

The action follows a difficult year for the Southern Residents, with the loss of seven whales in 2016. NOAA Fisheries designated the whale population as one of eight national “Species in the Spotlight” at high risk of extinction and has an action plan to advance the whales’ recovery.

“We’re looking at every option and every opportunity to address the threats to these whales,” said Barry Thom, Administrator of NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. “We’re all very concerned about the losses of the last year and we’re determined to work with our partners to pursue the action plan and turn that around.”

NOAA Fisheries recently completed a status review for Southern Residents under the Endangered Species Act. Although the review documented progress in understanding and addressing threats to the whales, it concluded that the Southern Resident population remains at high risk of extinction and should remain listed as endangered.  Population modeling by NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center suggests the possibility of further declines in Southern Resident numbers, with recovery actions needed to reverse the trend.

Research has identified three primary threats to the Southern Residents: limited availability of their favored prey, Chinook salmon; accumulation of toxic pollutants in their bodies; and the impacts of vessel traffic and noise.  The action plan includes science-based steps to address each of the threats, from individual health profiles of the whales to better understand their physical condition to targeted salmon restoration to rebuild the whales’ key food sources.

KEVIN KLEIN SHOWS OFF THE HEAD OF A CHINOOK AFTER AN ORCA TOOK A BIG BITE DURING A FISHING DERBY IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. "I DID MY PART IN FEEDING THE WHALES," HE QUIPPED.  ANGLERS AND ORCAS WOULD BOTH BENEFIT FROM MORE SALMON. (KEVIN KLEIN)

KEVIN KLEIN SHOWS OFF THE HEAD OF A CHINOOK AFTER AN ORCA TOOK A BIG BITE DURING A FISHING DERBY IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. “I DID MY PART IN FEEDING THE WHALES,” HE QUIPPED. ANGLERS AND ORCAS WOULD BOTH BENEFIT FROM MORE SALMON. (KEVIN KLEIN)

To implement one of the actions, NOAA Fisheries’ partner the SeaDoc Society plans to convene a panel of experts in early March to examine the latest science on the availability of the whales’ prey and its relationship to their body condition. The SeaDoc Society is a program of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“We recognize that time is of the essence to pull data and experts together regarding the health of the whales and, as scientists, we’re trying to work together, move forward, and inform recovery,” said Joe Gaydos, wildlife veterinarian and chief scientist of the SeaDoc Society.

For more details and instructions for submitting comments, go to

http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/marine_mammals/killer_whale/vessel_regulations.html

BIOLOGISTS TAKE MEASUREMENTS ON A GRIZZLY BEAR. (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, FLICKR)

Feds Announce North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Alternatives; Comment Period Opens

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM FEDERAL AGENCIES

The National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) invite the public to participate in a series of informational open houses regarding the proposed alternatives for the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem. The alternatives are described in the draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (draft EIS), released today by the two agencies. The meetings are one part of the public’s opportunity to comment on the draft EIS.

BIOLOGISTS TAKE MEASUREMENTS ON A GRIZZLY BEAR. (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, FLICKR)

BIOLOGISTS TAKE MEASUREMENTS ON A GRIZZLY BEAR. (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, FLICKR)

The purpose of the EIS is to determine what actions, if any, should be taken to restore the grizzly bear to the North Cascades Ecosystem. Although there are six populations of grizzly bears in North America, the last-known siting of grizzlies in the United States portion of the North Cascades Ecosystem is 1996. The goal of the public comment period is to gather comments regarding the draft EIS; public comments received on the draft EIS will be evaluated and considered in the identification of the preferred alternative, which will be published in the Final EIS. The full draft EIS is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis.

The alternatives analyzed in this draft EIS include a “no-action” alternative, plus three action alternatives that would seek to restore a reproducing population of approximately 200 bears through the capture and release of grizzly bears into the North Cascades Ecosystem. The alternatives were developed by a planning team with input from the public, local, state and federal agencies, and the scientific community.

In addition to the open houses, the public also is invited to submit written comments at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis. Comments may also be submitted through March 14, 2017 via regular mail or hand delivery at: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284

In order to maximize opportunities for public input, webinars are scheduled for Tuesday, February 14 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Pacific Time and Sunday, February 26 from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Pacific Time. For more information about the open houses and to register for the webinars, visit: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis and click on the “Meetings” link.

The public open houses will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Cle Elum – February 13 at the Putnam Centennial Center
  • Cashmere – February 14 at the Riverside Center
  • Winthrop – February 15 at the Red Barn
  • Omak – February 16 at the Annex Facility at Okanogan County Fairgrounds
  • Bellingham – February 21 at the Bellingham Technical College
  • Darrington – February 22 at the Darrington Community Center
  • Sultan – February 23 at the Sultan High School
  • Renton – February 24 at the Renton Community Center

The grizzly bear was listed as a threatened species in the contiguous United States in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.

The North Cascades Ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles in the United States and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia, Canada. The United States portion of the ecosystem includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are cooperating agencies on the EIS. Funding for the EIS is provided by the NPS. The U.S. Forest Service, FWS and other cooperating agencies and partners will provide technical support throughout.

For more information on grizzly bear recovery, visit http://bit.ly/NCEgrizzly or www.nps.gov/noca/grizzly.htm.