Tag Archives: director Kelly Susewind

WDFW Says 2016 DOI Opinion On Skokomish Border ‘Factually And Legally Deficient’

Washington state salmon managers are appealing to the Department of the Interior to set aside a 2016 opinion that has kept sport anglers from fishing the lower Skokomish for plentiful Chinook and coho for four years.

Citing research by two outside historians drawing on multiple documents, maps and statements from the late 1800s and early 1900s dug out of the National Archives and elsewhere, WDFW says that a federal Solicitor General reached “an erroneous conclusion” that the boundaries of the Skokomish Reservation stretched all the way across the river to the other bank.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SOUTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Oct. 3 letter from WDFW Director Kelly Susewind to DOI Secretary David Bernhardt says the opinion “was issued without
input by Washington State, and our subsequent analysis shows it is factually and legally deficient.”

And it requests that the matter be given immediate attention as the start of the 2020 North of Falcon salmon season negotiations is just a few months away.

“With this new information in hand, I am writing to request that Solicitor Opinion M-37034 be reversed, or at a minimum be withdrawn,” Susewind asks Bernhardt and DOI.

The Skokomish River is important because it sees one of Puget Sound’s larger returns of kings, reared at a state hatchery near Shelton, and is productive from the bank. In the starving orca era, terminal salmon fisheries will be increasingly important.

But with that opinion hanging over their heads, WDFW has had to close its seasons to keep state anglers out of legal limbo with the feds. Fishermen rallied in summer 2016 in protest. The 2017 run saw tens of thousands of Chinook in excess of broodstock needs.

HUNTER SHELTON SHOWS OFF A SKOKOMISH RIVER CHINOOK FROM THE LAST SEASON IT WAS OPEN TO SPORT ANGLERS, 2015. IT BIT EGGS UNDER A BOBBER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

And so with negotiations with the Skokomish Tribe stalled and raising the issue with the myriad Western Washington tribes at North of Falcon a nonstarter, the agency is now looking for relief from DOI.

While respective of tribal sovereignty, treaty fishing rights and historical links to the Great Bend of Hood Canal, Susewind’s letter just as firmly makes the case that at no time was the entire width of the river part of the tribe’s reservation, nor was it ever ceded to the Skokomish by the federal government before statehood.

That argument is supported by General Land Office Survey plat maps from 1861, 1873 — which in particular paid close attention to the boundaries of the reservation, according to WDFW — 1874, 1885 and 1909, along with what Susewind calls “perhaps the most significant piece of evidence on this point,” an 1874 letter discovered in the National Archives.

It was written in May of that year by federal Indian Agent Edwin Eells, who is described by Susewind as being tasked with attending to the Skokomish Tribe’s “needs,” and sent three months after President Ulysses S. Grant established the borders of the reservation via executive order.

It states:

“The present reservation lies on the North side of the river extending from the mouth about 3 1/2 miles up the river.”

FEDERAL INDIAN AGENT EDWIN EELLS’ MAY 25, 1874 LETTER TO H.E.P. SMITH, COMMANDER OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, ON THE LOCATION OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION’S SOUTHERN BORDER STATES IT IS THE NORTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER. (NATIONAL ARCHIVES)

According to Susewind, the correspondence from Eells to H.E.P. Smith, Commander of Indian Affairs in Washington DC, was “apparently never discovered or considered” by DOI’s Hilary C. Tompkins, who authored that 2016 opinion.

“The correspondence clears any ambiguity about whether the local federal Indian agents intended the Reservation to extend across the entire River to its south bank and encompass the River’s full width — they did not,” Susewind asserts.

As for her opinion, Tompkins argued that tribal fishers’ use of weirs “required use and control of the entire width of rivers and their beds.”

She wrote that the 1855 treaty with the tribe and Grant’s order essentially reserved the riverbed along the border of the reservation so that it did not pass to Washington at statehood under what is known as the Equal Footing Doctrine.

At statehood, navigable waters were conveyed to the states by the federal government, an act affirmed in a 1926 Supreme Court decision and essentially upheld in a 2001 ruling that there had to be clear and compelling reasons not to, both cited by Susewind. The Skokomish is considered navigable, in pioneer days to above the reservation’s western boundary.

Tompkins assessment was panned by Dr. Gail Thompson of Gail Thompson Research of Seattle, who stated Tompkins “conducted inadequate research and overlooked much information that would have led to a different conclusion.”

“I conclude that the anthropological and ethnohistoric data do not support the Solicitor’s Opinion that the riverbed adjacent to the reservation was included within its boundaries,” Thompson writes in a 77-page report entitled “Anthropological and Ethnohistoric Information Related to the Riverbed Adjacent to the
Skokomish River.”

“To the contrary,” Thompson continues, “government maps and documents consistently show that the southern boundary of the reservation was located along the north bank of the Skokomish River.”

MAPS FROM 1861, 1873 — LIKE THIS ONE — 1874, 1885 AND 1909 CITED BY A PAIR OF RESEARCHERS CONSISTENTLY SHOW THE SOUTHERN BORDER OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION TO BE THE NORTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER. (GENERAL LAND OFFICE)

Dr. Douglas Littlefield of Littlefield Historical Research in California also looked into the issue, and his 111-page report concludes:

“Based upon extensive historical research in multiple archival sources, governmental reports, and historical newspaper accounts, [my] report clearly demonstrates that federal Indian Agents in Washington Territory expressly did not intend to include the bed of the Skokomish River when they established the boundaries of the Skokomish Indian Reservation. Instead, contemporaneous understanding by Indian Agents as well as other historical observers was that the Reservation’s southern boundary lay along the low-water mark of the north bank of the Skokomish River. The historical evidence in support of this conclusion is substantial and includes U.S. General Land Office survey plats and field notes as well as extensive documentation from the files of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and published annual reports of that agency.”

His “Historical Report on the Skokomish River and the Southern Boundary of the Skokomish Indian Reservation” states the border was defined by federal officials in the Office of Indian Affairs and confirmed by Grant’s order.

Littlefield’s and Thompson’s services were procured through the state Attorney General’s Office.

How this all turns out will be very interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, the work that WDFW has put into challenging the 2016 DOI Solicitor General’s opinion is notable.

The depth of the research, the tone of Susewind’s letter and who else he cc’ed it to — the state’s Congressional delegation, numerous DOI officials, the Skokomish Tribe, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and select Olympia lawmakers — lend it a confident air.

Word of it emerged publicly this morning during the Director’s Report to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

But the question is whether the feds have enough time to review these new facts and make a decision in time for this coming North of Falcon, or when.

ANGLERS CARRY SIGNS AT A 2016 RALLY TO REOPEN THE SKOKOMISH TO SPORT FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Blue Mountains Wolf Pack To Be Targeted For Cattle Depredations

State wolf managers are giving eight hours’ court notice before going after a pack in Washington’s southeast corner.

THE GROUSE FLATS PACK ROAMS THE SOUTHEASTERN CORNER OF WASHINGTON’S BLUE MOUNTAINS, A MIX OF FEDERAL AND STATE LANDS AND RANCHES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW says the Grouse Flats wolves have two depredations in the past 30 days, four in 10 months — the threshold for consideration of lethal removal — and seven overall since August 2018.

“Proactive nonlethal deterrents … used by livestock producers in the area have not influenced pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredations on livestock,” the agency stated in an update announcing Director Kelly Susewind’s decision.

The operation is described as “incremental,” which means pursuing wolves and possibly taking out one in hopes of changing the pack’s behavior. A period of evaluation follows to see if it worked.

Unless headed off in court today, it will be the first time that WDFW has gone after wolves in the Blue Mountains.

All other lethal operations have occurred in Northeast Washington’s Kettle, Huckleberry and Selkirk Ranges.

The Grouse Flats wolves have killed or injured calves and cows belonging to at least four different producers and which were grazing on a mix of private land and on state wildlife area and Forest Service allotments, according to WDFW chronologies.

It’s one of four known packs that den on the Washington side of the mountain range. Another half dozen or so are on the Oregon side.

“The lethal removal of wolves in the Grouse Flats pack is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective,” WDFW said in its announcement, posted before 8 a.m. to get the court clock ticking.

Earlier this summer, the agency said it had eliminated the Old Profanity Territory Pack for chronic cattle attacks in northern Ferry County.

It has also been targeting the Togo Pack, in the same region of Northeast Washington for depredations going back to 2017, but none have been removed.

In other Evergreen State wolf news, tomorrow, Sept. 25, is WDFW’s second webinar as it begins planning for how to manage the species after delisting.

Unlike the first, this one will be held during the lunch hour, from 12 to 1 p.m., for those who were unable to participate during dinnertime, when the last one was held last week.

The third is coming up Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6-7:30 p.m.

WDFW’s monthly report for August also describes the wounding of a wolf that approached ranch hands in northeastern Okanogan County.

On Aug. 30, ranch personnel encountered the Beaver Creek wolf pack on private land while searching for a bear seen earlier that morning. A 16-year-old deceased cow was in the area; wolves were not seen feeding on it and the cause of death was unknown. After one of the ranch personnel fired a shot over three adult wolves observed, all of the pack members (four pups in addition to the three adults) retreated, except one adult not previously seen. The wolf that remained approached the ranch personnel. They felt threatened and shot it, and believe they injured the wolf. It retreated and was not located after a search by WDFW staff. Staff believe that the behavior observed indicates the ranch personnel came upon the Beaver Creek rendezvous site.

The update had “no activity to report” for 17 of state’s 27 known packs, couldn’t report on three that occur on the Colville Reservation, where the tribes are the lead managers, listed deterrence measures being taken to prevent conflicts with a pair of Kittitas County packs and grazing sheep and cows, and said trail cams were being put up in the Wedge Pack territory to monitor wolves there.

A Spokane Spokesman-Review article last week details the newest member of WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group, Bill Kemp, a retired cross-country coach who owns 300 acres which is roamed by the Carpenter Ridge Pack.

And also in the SSR in mid-September, Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Dr. Kim Thorburn penned an op-ed that took issue with one from Sophia Ressler of the Center for Biological Diversity that criticized lethal removals as “cruel” and a waste of money spent developing wolf management policies.

“It was also full of accusations against ranchers who are trying to sustain a livelihood in wolf country,” Thorburn wrote. “It seems crueler to level fraught allegations of malfeasance against passionate professionals devoting their lives to the preservation, protection and perpetuation of the state’s wildlife and to force unscientific anthropomorphic values on rural communities living among wolves.”

As OPT Cattle Attacks Continue, WDFW Assessing Situation

Editor’s note: Updated 8 a.m., July 24, 2019 at bottom with news on Grouse Flats Pack depredations

WDFW is confirming four more calves have been or were probably killed or injured by the Old Profanity Territory Pack, mostly since its breeding male was lethally removed, and is continuing to evaluate the situation.

“Director (Kelly) Susewind is now assessing this situation and considering next steps,” an agency weekly update out Tuesday afternoon reads.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE OPT PACK TERRITORY, OUTLINED IN RED, IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (WDFW)

Range riding and other nonlethal conflict prevention measures will continue in the immediate short term in the northern Ferry County area where the cattle are on federal grazing allotments.

WDFW killed the OPT’s breeding male July 13 following the death of a cow, at the time the 20th depredation by the pack in less than a year, then paused its operation to evaluate the pack’s response.

Two injured calves were found on July 18, a dead one was reported on July 19 and investigated July 20 , with a fourth, also dead, discovered July 22.

The first three were confirmed wolf depredations, the last one went down as a probable, according to WDFW.

All but one occurred after the removal.

There are believed to be 8 wolves in the pack, half of which are adults, including one younger male that has a radio collar that was tied to the scene of one of the dead calves.

The agency says this about prevention measures being used:

“The owner of the calves is the same livestock producer who experienced wolf depredations by the OPT pack on July 6 and previously in 2018. On July 10, WDFW released an update detailing the proactive nonlethal conflict deterrence measures in place prior to the confirmed wolf depredation on July 6, and the subsequent lethal removal of an OPT wolf on July 13. Following the depredation confirmed on July 6, WDFW-contracted range riders were in the area for two days before pausing activity during lethal removal efforts. The WDFW-contracted range riders did not resume riding because the livestock producer prefers that contracted range riders not work with their cattle at this time.”

“The producer is continuing to remove or secure livestock carcasses (when discovered) to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, and remove sick and injured livestock (when discovered) from the grazing area until they are healed. WDFW and county staff are continuing to coordinate patrols of the grazing area to increase human presence and use Fox lights at salting and watering locations to deter wolves. Other livestock producers with cattle on federal grazing allotments in the OPT pack territory have deployed range riders.”

Rancher Len McIrvin of the Diamond M is dismissive of non-lethal efforts in a Capital Press story out today after the fourth calf’s carcass was discovered.

“They learn to fear the helicopter, at best, maybe,” he told the ag outlet.

WDFW says its next update on the pack will come next Tuesday, July 30.

Meanwhile, the Grouse Flats Pack has killed a second calf in two weeks, this time on private land near Anatone, according to an article in the Lewiston Tribune, which broke the news.

It’s also the Asotin County wolves’ third depredation in 10 months, the trigger for consideration of lethal removals under WDFW protocols, and fourth in less than a year.

The others were a dead calf investigated in early September and an injured cow investigated in late October.

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More From Minter Hatchery Generator Failure Report, Discipline For 3 Staffers

Lord knows that someone who has difficulties running a toaster in the morning probably isn’t qualified to weigh in on matters such as restarting a backup generator at a state salmon hatchery.

But the root cause analysis for the failure of one at WDFW’s Minter Creek facility last winter was released yesterday and it makes for some aggravating reading.

A PAGE FROM THE 2018 OPERATIONS MANUAL FOR THE MINTER CREEK HATCHERY BACKUP GENERATOR STATES IT “SHOULD BE RUN BI-WEEKLY TO EXERCISE IT AND TO ENSURE EVERYTHING IS WORKING AS IT SHOULD.” (WDFW)

We’ve reported on this before here, here and here, but to review, the backup power source wouldn’t start after 45-plus-mile-an-hour gusts cut electricity to the South Sound hatchery around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2018, essentially giving millions of Chinook fry there just 20 to 30 minutes to live before the lack of dissolved-oxygen-rich fresh water running through their incubation trays led to their death.

Crews scrambled to fix the generator, but it was out for around three and a half hours and was an entirely preventable disaster if it had been checked as routinely as the operating manual’s recommendation — every two weeks.

As a result of the investigation, three WDFW staffers described as “Minter Creek employees” have now been disciplined.

“One employee was demoted; another was suspended; and the third received a written reprimand,” said agency spokeswoman Michelle Dunlop late Monday afternoon.

She said that the punishments were based on the level of responsibility of the individuals.

Dunlop said the report, which is marked confidential and appears to have been finalized in March, was not released until the disciplinary process had been completed.

THE 97-PAGE-LONG DOCUMENT SHOWS that the last time the 22-year-old, 350 kW generator had been tested before the outage was Oct. 8, near the start of the fall storm season and 67 days beforehand.

The manufacturer’s operations manual “specifies bi-weekly testing of the generator system to maintain readiness,” WDFW-contracted independent investigators Ron Carper and Frank Sebastian write.

THE BACKUP GENERATOR’S CONTROL PANEL. (WDFW)

Prior to the October test, it had been 70 days since one was performed in July, their report shows.

They found that in the 21 months leading up to the disaster, the generator was only tested 12 times, on average once every 54 days, though with 16- and 17-day intervals in early 2018 too.

But it apparently wasn’t tested at all during one 195-day period — more than half a year — between early March and mid-September 2017.

Comments associated with that September test say “Tree on line (wind).”

As you can imagine, the frequency of testing went up following December’s disaster.

“After 12/14/2018, the average days between generator runs was 5.2 days,” their report states.

“Although hatchery staff responded promptly when the incident occurred and worked tirelessly to save fish at the hatchery, there were missteps along the way,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a press release yesterday that accompanied the report. “We’ve learned a lot from this and are addressing shortcomings identified by the contractors.”

THE REPORT ALSO INCLUDES INTERVIEWS and details how the two staffers stationed at Minter as well as another from a nearby facility who responded that evening as power outage alarms went off worked their butts off to try and get the generator going again.

As one drove over to the Purdy Napa to get new batteries and cables, another worked to get water flowing other ways to the trays holding young salmon, which succeeded in one area.

As the news also traveled up the chain of command, two firemen even arrived with a gas-powered pump but “did not have any hoses for the pump which would connect to the fittings at the hatchery,” and while it wasn’t their job to know, nor could they figure out why the generator wouldn’t fire up.

The report states that the initial failure to start was most likely caused by “a loose or cracked starting battery connection,” but there was only so much anyone could have done to get the generator going again after the “Emergency Stop” was activated to replace the batteries and cables.

That’s because a device known as an “air damper” first had to be reset.

The device is a rare one, with no generators elsewhere in the state hatchery system having one, according to the report.

“The generator would not start and displayed an ‘Air Damper’ fault light. [Name blacked out but a hatchery specialist 3] did not know the significance of this fault or how to correct it,” the report says.

It was only after a second person from the state’s Capital Assets Management Program in Lacey, a diesel mechanic, was apprised of the situation by phone at around 8 p.m. that they realized that that needed to be done and how to do it.

“These instructions resulted in the generator system becoming operational and suppling (sic) electrical power to the Minter Creek Hatchery,” the report states.

It’s believed that the delay in figuring out the air damper issue didn’t result in the loss of more fish.

But it is emblematic of wider communications failures at the facility, beginning with what to do in that critical first half hour.

The report states:

“The employees at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have a pre-established plan or instructions on how to maintain water flow and overcome the failure of electrical power in sustaining fish viability. The employees realized maintaining oxygenation in the water flow was critical and initially worked at various unguided solutions. This included activation and utilization of non-electric powered pumps and gravity flow of water.”

It also says:

“The employees present at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have the knowledge, training or reference materials on how to fully reset the Emergency Stop control, following activation of the Emergency Stop control.

“The employees present at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have knowledge, training or reference materials on how to reset the Air Damper fault indication, following activation of the Emergency Stop control.”

A “Considerations for the future” section of the report lays out an improved set of responsibilities for the facility manager and their hatchery specialists.

About half an hour after the generator was started, local utility crews restored the electricity.

Several days later the root cause analysis was contracted.

The report states that the backup power source was serviced and tested in March 2018 and found to be in “good overall condition,” though it apparently had been at least six years since the starter batteries had been replaced.

Batteries are more likely to fail the older they get.

Carper’s and Sebastian’s conclusion states:

The best explanation of the root cause generator failure is the result from a loose or cracked starting battery connection. Due to potential for corrosion, vibration, and what can be fairly significant temperature cycles, generator manufacturers typically recommend maintenance procedures for regular inspections of all wiring. Battery cable connections may become loose or damaged and should be inspected at every
generator exercise cycle by gently tugging and wiggling the cables.

It is inherent that electrical terminations on hot lead battery posts that are on vibrating engine frames will tend to loosen over time, so regular checks are recommended.

According to the generator log book, it had not been run for 67 days prior to the failure. With more frequent testing and inspections, this issue with the battery cable could have been discovered and repaired under normal conditions.

WDFW initially estimated that up to 6.2 million Chinook fry might have died without fresh water circulating through their rearing trays, but have now revised that downwards to 4.1 million following “a more robust inventory.”

More than half have been replaced with “excess” fish from six state, tribal — including 750,000 from the Suquamish and Nisqually Tribes — and tech college hatcheries.

The facility also raises chum and coho salmon for state and tribal fisheries. Those fish return and spawn later in the year than Chinook, and their eggs were still in a stage where they could survive if the water was drained off but were still kept moist.

A SCHEMATIC DRAWING SHOWS THE LAYOUT OF MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

AGAIN, I’M NOT TRYING TO COME OFF AS SOME EXPERT in these matters and I readily acknowledge that s*** is just gonna happen at the worst possible times.

Been there, done that.

I do appreciate that WDFW apparently published the report without being prompted to get ahead of some reporter’s public disclosure request.

It harkens back to agency leaders’ vow before state lawmakers last winter to “to hold ourselves accountable for the tragic loss of the fish.”

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND, FISH PROGRAM DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR KELLY CUNNINGHAM AND HATCHERY DIVISION MANAGER ERIC KINNE SPEAK BEFORE A STATE SENATE COMMITTEE ON WHAT HAPPENED AT MINTER CREEK. (TVW)

“We’re committed to making improvements to safeguard against another incident like the one at Minter Creek,” Kelly Cunningham, WDFW acting assistant Fish Program director said in the news release.

But even as the problem is being addressed, the report reveals an operations negligence that I find unacceptable.

That the two-decade-old generator wasn’t tested more frequently or ahead of the National Weather Service’s forecasted high wind warning that day, which put the fish at risk, boggles my mind.

That there wasn’t an established backup plan to the backup power source is puzzling.

As wild salmon continue to struggle and their recovery is decades — centuries? — down the road, the future of our seasons and starving orcas depend ever more highly on producing fish.

Minter is a key hatchery, putting out Chinook and chum, which southern resident killer whales depend on year-round and in fall, respectively.

Again, WDFW is obviously working on improving their operation, but they need to do better, and show us they are.

This was an entirely preventable, manmade disaster that didn’t need to happen if regular testing had been undertaken and it wasn’t assumed that the generator would just fire up whenever needed.

A harsh lesson, but one that’s been learned hopefully.

More Details On Minter Hatchery Chinook Loss Emerge At Senate Hearing

State senators learned new details about efforts to overcome the backup generator failure that led to the deaths of an estimated 6 million fall Chinook at a South Sound salmon hatchery during a December windstorm.

ACCORDING TO A WDFW PRESENTATION BEFORE THE STATE SENATE AGRICULTURE, WATER, NATURAL RESOURCES & PARKS COMMITTEE’S THIS IS THE GENERATOR THAT FAILED TO START AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY DURING A DECEMBER WINDSTORM POWER OUTAGE, LEADING TO THE DEATHS OF OVER 6 MILLION FALL CHINOOK. (WDFW)

During a work session this afternoon before members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, three high-ranking WDFW officials again called the incident at Minter Creek Hatchery unacceptable and said that two investigations were launched this week into what happened.

They also said that the comanagers had been “wonderful to work with” in trying to backfill the loss with 2.75 million kings from two tribal hatcheries, along with fish from state and a technical college facilities.

The WDFW staffers who went before senators were Director Kelly Susewind, Fish Program Deputy Assistant Director Kelly Cunningham and Hatchery Division Manager Eric Kinne.

THREE HIGH-RANKING WDFW OFFICIALS SPEAK BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE. (TVW)

They described the events and fallout of Friday, Dec. 14 when around 5:30 p.m. the power went out at Minter as high winds raked the area.

According to them, when the 350 kVA generator didn’t immediately fire up, staffers soon figured out that batteries on the large diesel-fired power source weren’t charging.

So they yanked batteries out of vehicles at the hatchery to use instead to try to get water flowing again into the dozens of incubation trays where the young Chinook were rearing.

While salmon eggs can get by for awhile without flowing water, not so for the inch-long fish.

But when that failed too, crews discovered a cable on the generator had burned up.

After alerting WDFW’s “phone tree” and even calling the local fire department for help, a hatchery employee drove to a nearby auto parts store to buy cables and batteries.

Crews ultimately were able to get a small pump running and water again flowing into the trays before the generator was finally started more than two and a half hours after the power went out.

But by then then bulk of the damage was one.

The fish in the trays were poured into ponds at the hatchery and there’s a chance that some actually survived, but WDFW won’t know until they reach the “swim up” stage.

They said that 1.75 million of the replacement fish would be released in the Deschutes River, the other 1 million at Minter Creek.

Meanwhile, contractors began two separate investigations this week, one from an engineering standpoint about why the generator failed, and the other whether adequate emergency procedures were in place and how hatchery workers responded.

The three WDFW officials said they plan to revise statewide protocols and use the results of the investigation “to hold ourselves accountable for the tragic loss of the fish.”

The details on Minter were part of their larger presentation on state hatchery salmon and steelhead production, including how output has decreased since the late 1980s due to reforms, ESA listings and budget cutbacks, and the 24 million-salmon increase for orcas that WDFW hopes lawmakers will fund during this year’s legislative session.

Built into this biennium’s budget proposal from Gov. Inslee is also $75.7 million to upgrade the state’s hatcheries.

After hearing about the disaster at Minter, Sen. Christine Rolfes asked if backup generators had been checked at WDFW’s other facilities.

Cunningham answered that they are all tested monthly, but said that by chance one did fail to start at one in the Columbia Basin during a test the day before Minter’s wouldn’t kick in.

And worryingly, “full load” tests — meaning all power is turned off and everything has to be run on the generator — aren’t done at some because the systems and equipment are so untrusted, senators were told.