Tag Archives: budget

Plan Would Stave Off Closing Skagit-Sauk Steelheading Next Spring

Updated June 24, 2019, with quote at bottom from the Wild Steelhead Coalition

Don’t hang up your Skagit-Sauk spoons, pink worms, plugs, jigs and flies again quite yet.

State fishery managers appear to have a gameplan for how to keep the rivers’ wild steelhead catch-and-release fishery open next spring, a U-turn from just a few weeks ago when it was set to be eliminated after the license fee bill that would have funded it wasn’t passed.

KEVIN RAINES AND ANDY MOSER DRIFT FISH THE MIDDLE SAUK ON A FINE SPRING DAY WITH WHITEHORSE IN THE BACKGROUND. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

With initial support from the Fish and Wildlife Commission earlier this month, WDFW would ask state lawmakers for the money to monitor the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

They’re looking to include $547,000 in a supplemental budget request for next January’s short legislative session. A final go-no go decision will come in August.

But it’s not a slam dunk either.

If the money isn’t appropriated by the legislature, WDFW would have to scavenge from other programs to cover the federally required monitoring next year, and 2021’s season would either be reduced or eliminated.

Still, the turn-around will buoy fans of the iconic North Cascades fishery that had been closed for nine years starting in 2009 due to low runs and as they picked back up, was the subject of much work and lobbying by the Occupy Skagit movement and other anglers to get a management plan written to reopen the waters.

After an initial 12-day season in 2018, this spring saw a full three-month fishery, and while the catches weren’t great, it was still wonderful to be on the rivers again during prime time.

“Almost universally people were excited to be there, happy to be there, and extremely thankful for the opportunity to be there,” angler advocate and retired North Sound state fisheries biologist Curt Kraemer reported to the commission last weekend. “(Among the) probably 100 people I talked to, that was the commonality, and I don’t hear that a lot about outdoor recreation in this state, whether it be hunting or fishing, and I do a lot of both.”

But even as the sun shone brightly over us gear and fly, and boat and bank anglers working the glacial, mountain waters this spring, storm clouds were brewing in Olympia.

GLACIAL FLOUR FROM THE SUIATTLE RIVER CLOUDS THE SAUK BELOW GOVERNMENT BRIDGE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Funding for two years’ worth of creel sampling, enforcement and a biologist to oversee the fishery over the strong but still Endangered Species Act-listed winter-run stock was part of WDFW’s 15 percent license fee increase proposal.

But it was also on the “enhance fishing” side of the ledger, which essentially made it optional compared to things on the “maintain” side.

When the fee bill failed, tangled in issues 200 road miles to the south of the Skagit-Sauk confluence — Columbia River gillnetting policies — WDFW had to figure out how to rebalance its budget.

Even though lawmakers gave the agency $24 million in General Fund dollars to make up for not passing the license increase or Columbia salmon-steelhead endorsement, what initially was just a $7 million shortfall grew to $20 million as they heaped on new unfunded costs.

On May 30, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind sent out an email that “the current Skagit catch and release fishery will not receive funding and thus that opportunity will be eliminated.

The next morning during a Fish and Wildlife Commission conference call alarms were raised.

“It’s about as clean a fishery as you can imagine. I would really, really object to that being eliminated,” said Chairman Larry Carpenter of nearby Mount Vernon.

That got the wheels turning again.

This is about the time of year that state agencies begin to prepare their supplemental budget requests for the upcoming legislative session, and at last week’s regular meeting of the citizen oversight panel, WDFW staffers presented proposals for discussion.

It included $271,000 to monitor the 2020 Skagit-Sauk fishery, $276,000 for 2021.

“There was Commission support for that approach,” Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, told Northwest Sportsman this morning.

The proposal also includes $833,000 in 2020 and $854,000 in 2021 to patch up what he’s termed a “significant shortfall” in funding to monitor Puget Sound and coastal salmon fisheries — another victim of the fee bill failure.

“This request will fund staff to provide the greatest fishing opportunities possible while satisfying ESA and conservation needs,” commission documents state.

BOBBER AND SPOON RODS AWAIT EMPLOYMENT ALONG THE SAUK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Money for both Skagit-Sauk steelhead and salmon monitoring is listed as coming from the state General Fund, under the proposals.

If it doesn’t pan out, though, WDFW would be left lifting couch cushions to figure out how to pay for the former fishery.

“If we don’t secure the supplemental in the first fiscal year, it’s a bit more challenging,” says Pamplin. “We’ll have already spent some money on the fishery since it opens in February and we’ll not receive final word on the supplemental budget from the legislature until mid-March. Thus, we’d need to find reductions elsewhere in the fourth-quarter of the first fiscal year to cover the expenses already incurred for opening the fishery.”

The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

“For the second fiscal year, it’s fairly straight-forward.  If we don’t secure the supplemental, the fishery would be proposed to be reduced/eliminated,” Pamplin adds.

Meanwhile online, Wayne Kline of Occupy Skagit issued a “Three Minute Steelhead Challenge” to fellow fans of the fishery to contact their legislators to build support for funding it.

From this page on the Legislature’s site you can find your district and then your state representatives’ and senator’s email addresses.

“We’re glad to hear the Commission is directing the Department to find funding for this iconic fishery,” said Rich Simms of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, “but this underscores the much larger need for committed funding from our legislature for our fish and wildlife into the future.”

Skagit-Sauk Steelheading Could Be Cut In 2020 With WDFW’s Budget Woes

There may not be a Skagit-Sauk steelhead catch-and-release season next spring due to WDFW’s growing money woes, a “bitter pill” for the anglers who worked for half a decade to reopen the iconic North Cascades waters.

DRIFT BOATERS COME DOWN A SLIGHT RAPID ON THE SAUK YESTERDAY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The recently reinstated fishery is now on the chopping block as state managers scramble to figure out what to cut coming out of the recent legislative session that only partially filled a shortfall — and which subsequently also ballooned from $7 million to $21 million.

Rich Simms, cofounder of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, said his organization was “deeply disappointed” by the news relayed in an email late last week by WDFW Director Kelly Susewind that Puget Sound’s sole opportunity to fish for wild winter-runs would be “eliminated.”

“While we recognize the difficult budget situation the Department faces and strongly support Olympia ending the underfunding of our fish and wildlife, we believe WDFW should do everything possible to keep the Skagit catch and release steelhead fishery open,” Simms said in a statement.

Closed due to low runs in 2009, returns rebounded several years ago, but because the region’s steelhead are listed under the Endangered Species Act, federal overseers require the fishery to be monitored as part of the state permit, and that costs a pretty penny.

AN ANGLER CASTS A LINE ON THE SKAGIT RIVER AT THE MOUTH OF THE SAUK. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Before this year’s February-April season, WDFW staffers estimated that between hiring a new biologist to oversee the fishery and write reports, bringing on creelers, providing them with rigs and things like waders, and then flying the rivers to double check angler numbers, it would cost around $210,000 a year to provide the opportunity.

The receipts are still being tallied and it is already likely in the neighborhood of $150,000, per district fisheries biologiat Brett Barkdull, but it was also anticipated that that “Cadillac” level of monitoring for the first full season (spring 2018 saw an abbreviated 12-day opener) would likely be backed off in the coming years.

But now, it may be moot.

That there might not be another season for at least the next two years caught the attention of the Fish and Wildlife Commission during a conference call last Friday.

Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon defended the fishery and pointed out how the group Occupy Skagit had worked diligently with the citizen panel since the early years of this decade to open the rivers again.

“It’s about as clean a fishery as you can imagine. I would really, really object to that being eliminated. I think it’s false economics and I just don’t think it’s going to work into the future,” Carpenter said.

His comments came as commissioners discussed raising the WDFW vacancy rate — the number of agency jobs that are open but purposefully left unfilled — from 4 percent to up to 4.3 percent to save some money.

That idea didn’t go over well with Commissioner Dave Graybill of Leavenworth who related how a Bellingham creel sampler he’d talked to during a recent spot prawn opener was told there was only six month’s salary available for her position but that she could be reassigned away from the town she’s lived in for 22 years.

“We really have to think about the impact of what we’re doing if we consider any other increases to that 4 percent. I would object to any movement that would increase that,” said Graybill.

Also on his mind was the expiration of the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement after lawmakers failed to renew it and which will primarily impact opportunities in his neck of the basin.

“I don’t know where we’re going to find the money to conduct fisheries in my region particularly,” Graybill said.

This year’s runs are poor, so there won’t be much fishing, but just like the Skagit-Sauk, some of those seasons are subject to federally required monitoring.

Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane sympathized with her colleagues.

“These are really hard decisions. Everybody has a favorite fishery and whatever we cut is going to be hurt. As David’s pointed out is, what’s being cut across the board are the Upper Columbia fisheries,” she said.

While funding for those fell victim to state lawmakers not extending the endorsement, money for the Skagit C&R fishery was built into WDFW’s license fee increase proposal to the legislature, which also died.

The steelhead coalition’s Simms blamed the latter failure on organizations that opposed the hike because of “contentious issues and discontent with the Department” — code for the commission’s Lower Columbia salmon reforms pause vote.

A CLIENT OF GUIDE CHRIS SENYOHL SHOWS OFF A WILD WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING APRIL 2018’S 12-DAY REOPENING OF THE SKAGIT AND SAUK RIVER. (INTREPID ANGLERS, VIA AL SENYOHL)

Technically, the Skagit money has been on the “enhance opportunities” side of the fee increase ledger, and WDFW Director Susewind told commissioners he would struggle to move it out of what is effectively an optional category over to the “maintain” side.

“We’ve been pretty transparent with folks that, absent money, we’re not going to be able get to the enhancements and that was one of them. We’ll dig in, we’ll do some additional work, but … at some point we have to make the final decision. And we also, frankly, have to quit doing everything that we said we couldn’t do when we don’t get the money,” he said.

Susewind said that leads to credibility issues with lawmakers about the original need, and also results in a poorer work product “which further erodes our credibility.”

But an immense amount of work also went into getting the Skagit-Sauk fishery back — that longterm lobbying Carpenter referenced, staff from not only WDFW but three tribes writing a joint management plan, and the feds weighing and ultimately signing off on the document.

For WSC’s Simms, the Skagit-Sauk fishery is not only an economic driver for mountain towns well off the beaten path in late winter and early spring but the “sustainable” opportunity is a “powerful tool” for conservation.

“Losing this fishery once again after only one full fishing season would be a bitter pill to swallow, especially given the hard work of so many steelhead advocates, many of whom support fish and wildlife funding and other conservation programs,” he said.

THE “FAMILY OF ARCHERS” STATUE IN DARRINGTON MARKS THE ENTRY TO THE I.G.A. STORE, WHERE THE BLOGGER IN CHIEF POINTEDLY STOPPED TO PICK UP (MORE THAN ENOUGH) SUPPLIES DURING AN APRIL OUTING ON THE MIDDLE AND LOWER SAUK RIVER FOR WILD STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Washington Lawmakers Called On To Fully Fund WDFW In Op-Ed

Three members of a group that took a deep dive into WDFW’s budget woes say that state legislators need to fully fund the agency so it can better perform its mission as Washington’s population balloons and critters and their habitats struggle.

SPRING CHINOOK ANGLERS TROLL IN THE FOG AT WIND RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“All of us are demanding healthy ecosystems and abundant fish and wildlife. But if we want the department to hold back the tide, we need to give the agency a bigger bucket,” write Rachel Voss, Butch Smith and Mitch Friedman in a Seattle Times op-ed out late this week.

They say that “underfunding … has exacerbated fish and wildlife declines, generating understandable frustration.”

That and ESA listings, lawsuits, hatchery fiascos, commission decisions and predator issues, but the unified message comes as lawmakers in Olympia begin to focus on coming up with a budget for the coming two years.

WDFW is asking for a $60 million bump to help deal with shortfalls, inflation and unfunded mandates from the legislature, as well as provide better fishing and hunting ops, but only a quarter of that would be raised through the license hike, the rest through the General Fund.

Voss, the Washington chair of the Mule Deer Foundation, Smith, an Ilwaco charter boat skipper, and Friedman, director of Conservation Northwest, were part of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group.

It was convened after the last major legislative session in which state representatives and senators granted WDFW a stop-gap $10.1 million to deal in part with a budget shortfall but also demanded it be audited.

That found “the department compared well with other state agencies and found no significant fat to trim,” the trio write.

A SPRING STORM MOVES OVER MULE DEER WINTER RANGE IN THE LOWER WENATCHEE VALLEY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

What’s more, they say that while WDFW gets just $70 million in state tax money, the fishing, hunting, clamming and other opportunities it provides generates $170 million for coffers in Olympia.

And anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers plunk down “hundreds of millions of dollars … often in small towns from Ilwaco to Chewelah — places that really need these dollars and jobs,” they write.

But chronic underfunding at WDFW since the Great Recession has put natural resources at risk as their problems only grow — declining salmon and steelhead runs, starving orcas, increasingly crowded public lands, continuing habitat loss.

“Fish and wildlife are vital to Washington’s quality of life. Now is the time to invest in conservation and outdoor opportunity, not continue to shortchange the legacy we hold in trust for future generations,” Friedman, Smith and Voss write in urging readers to contact their legislators.

CLOUDS CLEAR FROM THE SUMMIT OF MT. SHUKSAN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Governor’s Budget Proposal Includes ‘Unprecedented’ $1.1B For Orcas, Salmon

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is touting an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his just-released 2019-21 budget proposal.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts to increase returns by 186,000 fish, potentially a key bridge for starving orcas — and fishermen — as habitat work comes on line in the coming years and decades.

“Salmon hatcheries can play an important role in increasing prey abundance for Southern Resident orcas in the near term,” the next three to 10 years, a statement from Inslee’s office on Medium states.

Besides increasing SRKWs’ prey base, the governor’s multipronged approach includes a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, opening up more salmon habitat as well as to abide by this year’s Supreme Court decision to let a lower court’s ruling on fixing culverts to stand.

There’s a much-needed $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries, $17.8 million to incentivize voluntary habitat work by landowners and $4.7 million to “collect additional population information and develop management options for pinnipeds in Puget Sound and to increase management actions in the Columbia River.”

This week, Congress sent President Trump a bill that helps on the latter waterway, giving states and tribes more leeway to remove sea lions in parts of the big river and its tribs.

Another line mentions reducing salmonid predation by nonnative fish.

The budget also calls on DOE to allow more spill at dams in the Columbia Basin to aid outmigrating Chinook and other smolts.

“Increased spill will speed travel of smolts out to the ocean and help cool the water,” the governor’s Medium page story states.

Inslee’s also calling for go-slow zones around J, K and L Pods and a three-year moratorium on watching those particular whales.

Those and many of the other proposals unveiled today came out of the SRKW Task Force that the governor formed last March in response to decreasing numbers of southern residents. Since 1996’s high point, their population has dropped 24 percent to 74 animals, with several recent high-profile deaths spurring things on.

Of course there’s far, far more to Inslee’s proposed budget, including proposed fishing and hunting license fee increases.

And it all must first be passed or modified by state lawmakers during next year’s session.

But today’s rollout was a start to a better focus on the health of salmon runs, orcas and our fisheries and waters.

WDFW Director Looks For Public Budget Support, Assures Sportsmen He’s ‘Adding To, Not Changing Our Base’

WDFW’s new director Kelly Susewind fielded more than three dozen questions about salmon, hatcheries, sea lions, orcas, wolves, increasing fishing and hunting opportunities, and more during an hour-and-a-half-long webinar last night.

The “digital open house” provided a glimpse into Susewind’s priorities and goals as the head of the agency overseeing fish and wildlife management in the state, how he hopes to patch glaring budget holes, and lead WDFW into the future.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (LEFT) TOOK QUESTIONS DURING A ONE-HOUR, 37-MINUTE WEBINAR ON THE AGENCY AND ITS FUTURE. MOST WERE SUBMITTED BY THE PUBLIC AND READ BY AGENCY POLICY DIRECTOR NATE PAMPLIN. (WDFW)

And in seeking to get the wider public on board with his agency’s mission, he assured its most loyal customers they weren’t being abandoned for greener pastures.

With a $67 million budget boost proposed this coming legislative session — 75 percent from the General Fund, 25 percent from a license fee hike — it was part of an outreach effort to build across-the-board support for the agency’s myriad and sometimes seemingly at-odds objectives.

Susewind himself has already hosted five open houses in Spokane, Ephrata, Selah, Montesano and Ridgefield, with a sixth scheduled for Issaquah next month, but Wednesday’s webinar allowed him to take the message statewide and beyond.

“We need to become known, trusted and valued by 6 million people,” he said, speaking to the number of Washington residents who are not already intimately or closely familiar with WDFW, people who aren’t sportsmen, hikers, bikers or other recreationalists.

“I pause there for a second,” he added, “because as I’ve told people that that’s where I really want to head, some of our traditional users have expressed concern and are fearful that I’m stepping away from our traditional core users — the outdoor enthusiasts, the hunters, fishers — and that’s not the case at all. I want to reassure folks that I’m talking about adding to our base, not changing our base.”

Joining him was WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin who read off questions as they came in.

Most did sound like they were coming from the agency’s regular customers — hunters, anglers, commercial fishermen — or those who watch its moves very closely, and in general they followed the hot-button issues of the day.

Many grouped around salmon — producing more of them for fishing and orcas; dealing with sea lions eating too many; improving wild runs; gillnets; North of Falcon transparency.

With the lack of Chinook identified as a key reason southern resident killer whales are starving in Washington waters, several questions focused around what can be done to increase fish numbers, which would also benefit angling.

Susewind said that a new hatchery is being mulled for the Deschutes system near Olympia, with production boosts elsewhere.

“I don’t think we can recover salmon or maintain salmon over the long term without intelligent use of hatcheries, and I think that means higher production levels than we are at now,” he said.

Tens of millions more used to be released in Puget Sound — 55 million by the state in 1989 alone — and elsewhere in the past, but those have tailed off as Endangered Species Act listings and hatchery reforms came into play to try and recover wild returns.

As he’s quickly added in the past, Susewind said that doesn’t mean going back to the Johnny Appleseed days of indiscriminately releasing them everywhere.

Early next month the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will be briefed on “what is possible towards a time frame of implementing the increase of approximately 50 million additional smolts at hatchery facilities.”

Boosting production will require a “substantial investment,” Pamplin noted, adding that the 2019 budget request into Governor Jay Inslee includes a “pretty assertive ask” towards that.

And it would also come with a responsibility to not damage wild returns.

(WDFW)

Responding to “somewhat of a loaded question” about his thoughts on getting nonselective gillnets out of the water, Susewind said, “I’ll get out on a limb here: I think there’s a place for gillnets. Right now, as we increase production to feed killer whales, as we increase production to provide opportunities, we need a good way of making sure those fish don’t end up on the spawning grounds, and gillnets are one of the ways to manage that.”

Asked if using a stenographer to increase transparency during the state-tribal North of Falcon salmon season meetings was possible, Susewind said all kinds of ideas — Facebook feed, better social media presence — are being considered.

“We recognize it’s not a satisfying process in terms of transparency,” he said.

In supporting being able to manage federally protected pinnipeds on both the Columbia and Puget Sound, Susewind said that data is showing that there’s a real problem in that the millions of dollars being spent on salmon recovery are essentially being spent on feeding sea lions.

He talked about some of the other problems the agency has, saying that it needed to improve its communications with the public, and with a personal aside he acknowledged how hard it is to decipher the regulations pamphlets.

While pointing out the complexity of the regs is actually a function of WDFW trying to eke as much opportunity as possible out of what’s available, Susewind said he was befuddled when he picked up the fishing rules for the first time in a long time.

“I found it was too difficult to go through to quickly go out fishing. You have to want to go and do it in advance, and I think we can improve on it,” he said.

Earlier this year WDFW did roll out a mobile app and it sounds like more may be coming.

Asked how he planned to increase hunting and fishing opportunities to keep the sports viable, Susewind emphasized the importance of habitat. As for better access, he called the Farm Bill a “great onramp,” with provisions especially helpful in Eastern Washington, and pointed to a key recent deal with Green Diamond that led to a drift boat put-in on the upper Wynoochee.

Asked why, if killing wolves leads to more livestock depredations, WDFW lethally removes pack members, Susewind said that in his on-the-job research he’s found that the science wasn’t as clear as that, actually.

He said that pragmatically it does reduce short-term depredations and felt that it changes pack behavior in the long run.

In response to another question on the wild canids, he said that WDFW was going to recover wolves in Washington using the 2011 management plan and in a way that was compatible with traditional land uses.

A couple ideas from the online audience perked up Susewind’s and Pamplin’s ears for further investigation — an annual halibut limit instead of set fishing days, a family hunting license package.

Questions so specific as to stump both honchoes — what’s being done to improve fish habitat on the Snoqualmie River, for example —  saw them advise that those be emailed in so they could be routed to the right field staffer or — as with the above case — the member attend the upcoming meeting at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery so biologist Jenni Whitney could answer it.

Asked if one day Washington hunters might be able to hunt cougars with hounds, which was outlawed by a citizen initiative, Susewind essentially said he doubted it, but noted that the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will be holding a work session on the wild cats next week.

He fielded questions on increasing youth involvement; where to find information on preventing bear and wolf conflicts; global warming; what’s being done to prevent whale watching boats from pursuing orcas; if recreational crabbing could begin at the same time tribal seasons did; his thoughts on hoof disease in elk and fish farming; and his favorite places to fish and hunt (the Humptulips and Westport growing up, and brushy, wet Western Washington, though “there’s something to be said about the Methow too.”)

PAMPLIN POSES A QUESTION TO SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Pamplin took an opportunity to pitch a softball, asking a “myth busting” question whether license fees go to WDFW or the General Fund.

“It is a myth that hunting and fishing license fees go into the General Fund to build whatever –roads … They are specific to the agency and specific to hunting and fishing opportunities,” Susewind replied.

Part of the agency’s 2019 budget request is a 15 percent increase on licenses.

Susewind explained that the Great Recession of 10 years ago led to big cuts from the General Fund and that WDFW’s “heavy reliance” on user fees hasn’t kept pace with rising costs.

“We need to get a dedicated fund,” he said.

But in the meanwhile, WDFW needs more from the General Fund, Susewind added.

As the webinar wound to a close, one of the final questions — perhaps from a late-arriving member of the public — was, what were his top priorities as director.

With not even four months on the job, and the legislative session, budget and North of Falcon looming, just getting up to speed on everything was Susewind’s first reply.

But he said his single top priority was to “make us more relevant to the broader population.”

“We need to get a lot more people enthused and engaged and supporting the mission of the agency,” Susewind said. “The other 6 million people need to know that natural resources don’t just come naturally; it takes a lot of work to preserve and enhance natural resources, and that’s going to take all of us.”

Even as Washington sportsmen will step up and buy licenses next year, and the year after, and the one after that — grudgingly and otherwise, regardless of whether a fee hike passes — Susewind said another of his priorities is for the public to see that WDFW is managed well.

“They need to know we are efficient in how we operate and we are a good investment,” he said.

Susewind and crew have a big job ahead of them that will require more than a half-dozen open houses and the internet, but it’s a start.

New WDFW Director Up For The Challenge Of Managing State’s Fish, Game, Future Path

If you were nervous to hear that some guy from the state Department of Ecology was taking the reins at WDFW – guilty as charged – you can breathe a bit easier.

Over the course of a 30-minute interview yesterday, I came away with the impression that Kelly Susewind has done a little fishing and hunting in Washington in his time and will likely give us and our causes a fair shake.

WDFW’S NEW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND HAS BEEN ON THE JOB FOR JUST OVER THREE WEEKS BUT IS A LIFELONG HUNTER. (WDFW)

“Basically, my life was hunting and fishing, and I tried to fit in everything else around them,” recalls the Aberdeen native about his younger days.

He took his share of upland and migratory birds then, but says his favorite game to hunt now is the big kind.

“Elk – I just love chasing elk,” he says.

A stint in Alaska put Dall sheep on his bucket list, while five or six years ago, a premo late-season Alta Game Management Unit mule deer permit taught him he didn’t always have to shoot the first big buck he saw.

“I saw four-points every day. I had never seen one without shooting it,” Susewind says.

And I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I now know a collector who might be willing to make a deal for your Remington Model 31 …

On the fishing front, Grays Harbor, the Olympic Peninsula and Washington Coast provided plenty of opportunity.

“I’ve really enjoyed Westport, but also the rivers, the fall runs of salmon,” Susewind says.

And while last Saturday he told The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN that he’s “drifted away” from fishing over the years, he says he wants to get back into it.

AFTER GRADUATING FROM HIS LOCAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE with an associate’s degree, Susewind (pronounced SOOS-uh-wind) went to Washington State University where he earned a bachelor’s in geological engineering.

He landed at the Department of Ecology in 1990, working his way through a variety of roles, most recently as the director of administrative services and environmental policy.

At 57, he decided it was time for a career change, one that might be a better fit with his interest in natural resource management – a “passion” fueled by all that time spent afield.

But also one that would put him on one of the hottest of hot seats in the state: The director’s chair at the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Everybody’s Pissed At You All The Damn Time For Something Or Other.

Which begs the question, Why in the hell would you even want the job, Kelly?!?!

“I’m still working on that answer. No, not really,” Susewind jokes. “I did pause, ‘Why would you jump into that blender?’”

There’s been a little bit of everything in WDFW’s KitchenAid of late, from hearty cupfuls of wolf management and court battles over furry fangers, to the everyday salt and pepper of salmon, steelhead and big game issues, to dashes of recent agency missteps and sex scandals.

Then there are looming budget battles in the legislature and questions about how the agency steadies its financial footing for the future.

“I see these challenges as something I want to be involved with,” says Susewind, who will be paid $165,000 a year to deal with them.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM TVW’S BROADCAST OF THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION’S AUG. 10 MEETING, SUSEWIND SHAKES HANDS WITH AN AUDIENCE MEMBER.  ASKED ABOUT HIS MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY, HE POINTED TO HIS ENGINEERING BACKGROUND AND SAID, “MY PERSONAL APPROACH … IS TO GATHER INFORMATION TO MAKE A RATIONALE, REASONABLE CHOICE.” (TVW)

WHEN FORMER HONCHO JIM UNSWORTH LEFT UNDER pressure earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Commission put out a help wanted ad that said WDFW’s next director would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

Ultimately, the nine-member citizen oversight panel unanimously chose Susewind, a self-described “wildcard” among a slate of candidates who had decades of experience specific to the field.

But perhaps they wanted someone who could see the big picture a little better.

“We’re a small state with 7 million people and a couple million more coming. There’s a budget hole to patch. We also need to look a decade or two down the road,” Susewind says.

He feels – as do a number of senior agency staffers and outside advisers – that hunters and anglers have carried too much of the funding burden since the Great Recession 10 years ago, when WDFW’s General Fund-State ration got cut by almost half.

It has yet to be fully restored, but Susewind et al are hoping to reestablish a better balance between license revenue and general tax dollars beginning with the 2019-21 budget.

“I see our outdoors as defining us as a state,” he says. “We’re at a critical point now – it could go either way.”

Susewind says he wants WDFW to be “more relevant to Washingtonians.”

“Anglers and hunters get it. That’s 1 million people. But there are 6 million more out there. We’ve really got to reach those people. If we could get the state as excited about the resources as they are about the Seahawks, it would be a better place,” he says.

WITH FOREST FIRE SMOKE CHOKING THE SKIES OVER SEATTLE THIS WEEK, SUSEWIND SAID HE WOULD LIKE TO TEACH THE STATE’S NONHUNTERS AND -ANGLERS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AGENCY’S MISSION TO THE HEALTH OF THE STATE’S FISH, WILDLIFE AND RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He wants to strengthen existing partnership, and vows to be “pretty engaged” with stakeholders, tribes and others.

Commissioners lauded Susewind for meeting in his first days on the job with livestock producers over a previously proposed wolf collar data sharing plan change that would have switched things up halfway through the grazing season, but was ultimately put on pause by the citizen panel.

WDFW spokesman Bruce Botka says there’s been an “obvious sense of encouragement around headquarters” with the arrival of the new director.

And after talking with him, you can’t help but get a little excited about Susewind and his program … before the enormity of the job sobers you up again.

SUSEWIND ACKNOWLEDGES THAT HE NEEDS TO get up to speed fast on one of if not WDFW’s most important roles – fisheries management.

With Aug. 1 his first day, he will have a longer learning curve than his predecessor, who was thrust into the always contentious North of Falcon salmon season-setting process almost immediately. That year saw outrage over the closure of a key fishery, and talks the following year dragged out more than a month longer than usual and cost us opportunity.

Expect Susewind to work more collaboratively with the tribes than that, if his quote in the Port Townsend Leader is any indication: “It does no good to fight with each other.”

As for that other subject that can make Washington sportsmen a little rabid – wolves – they’re “on the landscape to stay,” Susewind says, echoing WDFW’s company line over the years.

“The only way to make that work is have them compatible with other uses on the land,” he adds quickly.

He says the species has to be managed and that the agency is engaged with the lawsuit from out-of-state groups challenging its hard won lethal removal protocol.

“We really need to have a postdelisting plan put together,” he notes too.

That’s easier said than done, if a recent wall full of Post-it Notes outlining the process is any indication, but it’s also a start and one hunters will want to watch closely.

IN ANOTHER TVW SCREENGRAB, STATE WOLF POLICY LEAD DONNY MARTORELLO TALKS ABOUT A CONCEPTUAL TIMELINE FOR A POSTDELISTING WOLF MANAGEMENT PLAN AT A FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (TVW)

“In the meanwhile, we need to strive to meet recovery goals,” Susewind adds.

We’re there in the state’s northeast and southeast corners, but many more are required throughout the Cascades to hit the current benchmarks.

SUSEWIND IS THE SECOND WDFW DIRECTOR FROM the harbor. Phil Anderson hails from Westport and resigned at the end of 2014 on his own terms after five years in the position and two decades at the agency.

“I’m looking for this job to be my job going into retirement,” Susewind says. “I hope I’ll be here eight, ten years.”

That of course depends on whether the Fish and Wildlife Commission will keep him around that long.

And that depends on what he can accomplish towards improving the state’s fishing and hunting opportunities; safeguarding its fish, wildlife and habitat; strengthening WDFW’s budgetary position; and working with its host of stakeholders.

One thing’s for sure: Susewind has motivation to try hard.

“I’ve got a brand new grandson,” he says. “I want him to fish and hunt like I did.”

Editor’s note: In addition to the above two hyperlinked articles, here are additional stories on new WDFW Director Kelly Susewind from the Spokane Spokesman-Review and the Yakima Herald-Republic.

WDFW Outlines Budget Issues, Proposed ‘Modest’ Fee Increase

WDFW hopes to lean on the general public more to fill a potential $30 million shortfall in the next budget biennium, a fundamental shift from just a few years ago, but sportsmen may still be asked to pay a “modest” increase to chase Chinook, bucks and ducks under a proposal being unveiled today.

It’s part of an overall $60 million bid that also includes strategic investments to improve angling and hunting and is now up for discussion, with tonight offering the first chance for you to hear about it first hand as state managers hold a webinar starting at 7 p.m.

Briefing reporters this afternoon, WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin says there are two fee-increase options WDFW’s looking at currently.

One is a 12- to 15-percent across-the-board hike, the first since 2011, and the other is a $10 charge that license buyers would pay once a year ($3 for temporary permits).

Neither is a done deal and the Fish and Wildlife Commission must first determine whether to ask the state Legislature to pass it during the 2019 session.

If you’ve got a sense of deja vu all over again, it’s because, yes, we just went through this.

WDFW’S NATE PAMPLIN BRIEFS REPORTERS DURING A WEBINAR ON ITS BUDGET ISSUES.

Pamplin acknowledged that fee bills are tough sells, and that was definitely the case with former Director Jim Unsworth’s Wild Futures Initiative, which flamed out in 2017.

It proposed 10 percent hunting and 17 to 20 percent fishing increases, along with new $17 to $10 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon.

Pamplin attributed that to “a real lack of trust in the department” but with lawmakers’ one-time $10 million bump that year instead of license increases came requirements that the agency review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan.

Essentially, the funding problem isn’t bloated management and too many IT staffers but long-term issues caused by revenues from sportsmen not keeping up with how much it costs to manage fish, wildlife and opportunities to pursue them, increasing legislative requirements, deep budget cuts in the years after the Great Recession and the looming expiration of the key Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

“Your power bill goes up, our fish food bill goes up,” Pamplin said.

Three million dollars worth of cuts to fish stocking, habitat work and volunteer grant programs have also been identified and will occur in the coming months.

And WDFW created a budget and policy work group made up of influential members of the fishing and hunting communities — Ron Garner, Andy Marks, Rachel Voss, Mark Pidgeon — and other groups in Washington’s outdoor world, and for several months now they’ve been getting an eyeful about where and how license money comes from and what it’s used for.

“We lifted up the hood on our budget,” says Pamplin when asked what made this effort different from Wild Futures’ failure.

One thing that I learned when I took my own peak earlier this year was just how much of my fishing and hunting license money went to WDFW.

All of it.

Even so, adding to the price to go crabbing, troll for coho, and wander the Palouse for pheasants will see pushback, as it should because the product isn’t what it once was — habitat issues, decreased hatchery production, a booming state population are all impacting the quality and experience.

Pamplin said WDFW recognized those “optics” as well as concerns about pricing hunter and anglers out of the field and off the water.

ANOTHER SCREENGRAB FROM TODAY’S WEBINAR.

But what’s also different with WDFW’s request this time is that in 2017, the budget “solution” was entirely based on the wallets of the state’s sportsmen, as Pamplin told Northwestern Outdoors Radio host John Kruse, whereas this time only 33 percent is.

That’s because Pamplin et al hope that lawmakers will recognize that much of what WDFW does benefits that state as a whole and should be funded thusly.

That represents a shift from 2010, when one top manager told me at the time WDFW was “making a concerted effort to make itself less dependent on the General Fund” because it didn’t compete well with public health, prison and education.

Where it leaned heavily on us in the following years, the agency is now trying to broaden its funding base.

Pamplin said hunting and fishing produce $3.4 billion in economic activity annually in Washington, and based on current appropriations from it, a 350 percent return on investment to GF-S, the state General Fund.

Answering a Kruse question, Pamplin wondered out loud who should pay for the game warden who has to go out to the suburban house and deal with the bear eating out of the garbage cans? Right now, hunter dollars fund the work but he feels that the General Fund should instead.

As for what WDFW would do if it were to receive that $60 million package from the General Fund and license increases from legislators, Pamplin pointed to a mix of programs that could continue/not have to be cut and long-term investments it could focus on, including:

Wildlife conflict prevention and response ($4.4 million)
Shellfish enforcement and consumer protection ($2.5 million)
Land management ($2.7 million)
Hatchery operations and fisheries management ($9 million)
Hunting management, including hunter education ($3.2 million)
Recovery of at-risk species and prevention of invasive species ($3.5 million)
Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement program ($3.3 million)
Customer service support ($1.9 million)

 And:

Conservation investments in such programs as salmon recovery, watershed health, biodiversity, and conservation enforcement ($14.7 million)
Expanded fishing opportunities and hatchery improvements ($5.6 million)
Hunting enhancements, including improved law enforcement and access ($3.5 million)
Orca recovery (amount TBD)

If those were the carrots, there wasn’t much stick in Pamplin’s webinar.

But he did point to seven hatcheries at risk if no funding is found — a list that includes Reiter Ponds, Humptulips and Omak, among others — as well as the warmwater program, ensuring early winter steelhead programs are ESA compliant and rehabbing lakes and streams.

Along with tonight’s webinar, Pamplin says there will be a chance to make your feelings known through an upcoming public opinion survey.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is also slated to talk about the proposal at its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Olympia before making a recommendation to lawmakers who draw up and vote on WDFW budget bills.

Correction: A miscalculation of increases proposed under the Wild Futures Initiative led to too-low estimates of select fishing license increases. Instead of 8 to 9%, those should have read 17 to 20%.

With $30 Million Budget Gap Looming, WDFW To Hold Public Webinar On Problems, Possible Fixes

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public webinar for 7 p.m. Monday, July 23, to discuss current funding challenges and opportunities for the State of Washington to invest in fish and wildlife management and conservation of lands and habitat.

To take part in the webinar, the public should visit this link (https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8360838542216730371) — also available at wdfw.wa.gov — and follow the instructions there to register. Registration via the website is available now through Monday.

Alternatively, for those who only wish to listen in, please call +1 (415) 655-0052 after 6:45 p.m. Monday and enter code 281-297-953 to participate.

During the webinar, Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, will describe the work of independent consultants and the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group to explain the causes of a projected $30 million gap in funding faced by the department over the two-year budget cycle that begins in July 2019.   

Pamplin will describe planned budget cuts and proposed funding increases that are designed to eliminate the shortfall and ensure the department has adequate funding in the future.

He said several factors have caused the shortfall, including:

  • Several one-time funding patches approved by lawmakers in recent years will expire soon.
  • WDFW revenue from the sale of recreational licenses has not kept pace with spending authorized by the Legislature for managing fish, wildlife, and their habitat.
  • The department still has not fully recovered from the deep cuts imposed during the recession, and license fees have not been adjusted since 2011.

To meet the challenge, the department is preparing a set of proposals to the Governor and Legislature and is exploring options for recreational license fee increases to avoid reducing service to the public and to fulfill its conservation mission.

Documents describing spending and revenue proposals are available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/budget/development/.

ODFW To Hold 8 Public Meetings Next Month On Proposed 2019-21 Budget

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

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is hosting a series of town hall meetings around the state in April to gather public input on the agency’s proposed 2019-21 budget.

NEWPORT — SEEN HERE FROM THE CRABBING PIER — IS AMONG THE TOWNS AROUND OREGON THAT ODFW WILL HOLD A PUBLIC MEETING AT TO TALK OVER THE AGENCY’S 2019-21 BUDGET PROPOSAL. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The proposed budget, which is being developed by ODFW and an external budget advisory committee, will be presented for review and comment at the meetings listed below taking place in Bend, Klamath Falls, La Grande, Medford, North Bend, Newport, Portland and Tillamook.

“This is a great opportunity for us to meet with our constituents and get their feedback,” said Curt Melcher, ODFW director. “I encourage folks to attend, meet with our staff and learn more about our funding proposals to manage Oregon’s fish and wildlife.”

No major changes to the budget or new fee increases are proposed, though ODFW is discussing the feasibility of eliminating an already planned and approved fee increase set to take effect in 2020.

Public comments will be used to help refine the budget before it is presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on June 7 in Baker City. Once a proposed budget is approved by the Commission, it will be submitted to the Governor for her consideration. The budget will ultimately be determined by the 2019 Legislature.

All meetings will be held from 7-8:30 p.m.

·        La Grande, Monday, April 2, Blue Mountain Conference Center, 404 12th Street.

·        Bend, Tuesday, April 3, Central Oregon Community College, Boyle Education Bldg, Rm 155, 2600 NW College Way

·        Klamath Falls, Wednesday, April 4, Oregon Institute of Technology, College Union Bldg, Mt Baily Room, 3201 Campus Drive

·        Medford, Thursday, April 5, Jackson County Library, Branch Adams Room, 205 S Central Ave

·        North Bend, Monday, April 9, Public Library, 1800 Sherman Ave

·        Newport, Tuesday, April 10, Hallmark Resort, 744 SW Elizabeth St

·        Tillamook, Wednesday, April 11, County Library, 1716 3rd Street

·        Portland, Thursday, April 12, Doubletree Inn (Lloyd Center), 1000 NE Multnomah Street

Comments on the agency proposed budget can also be submitted through May 1 by email to ODFW.TownHallComments@state.or.us  or by mail to ODFW Director’s Office, 4034 Fairview Industrial Dr. SE, Salem, OR 7302-1142. Public testimony will also be heard at the Commission meeting June 7 in Baker City.