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WDFW Wardens’ Reports Add Details To Okanogan Wolf Encounter, Reaction

The Forest Service worker who stumbled onto the Loup Loup Pack’s rendezvous site actually twice climbed a tree, the second time after trying to use bear spray on a wolf that was just under 50 feet away from her and then “darted in several times.”

Those are among the new details emerging about the tense encounter the 25-year-old stream surveyor had in a remote part of North-central Washington’s Okanogan County earlier this month.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE RANGE OF THE LOUP LOUP PACK ALONG THE DIVIDE BETWEEN THE CHEWUCH AND OKANOGAN RIVERS IN NORTHERN OKANOGAN COUNTY. (WDFW)

The woman related them to WDFW Officer Justin Trautman during an interview following her extrication that day by a DNR helicopter crew.

Outside of some scrapes on her legs from clambering up and down the tree several times, she was not injured during the July 12 confrontation.

“(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid,” reads Trautman’s three-page after-action report, procured through a public disclosure request.

That and reports from two other WDFW officers add more information about the events leading up to and during the hectic hour as the woman awaited rescue while information rocketed between dispatchers and state, federal, county and search-and-rescue officials spread between the Okanogan and Methow Valleys and as far away as Moses Lake and Olympia.

INTERVIEWED IN A BREAK ROOM AT THE OMAK AIRPORT, the woman told Trautman that she was the state lead on a PIBO, or PacFish/InFish Biological Opinion Monitoring Program, project that surveys stream corridors to see if “aquatic conservation strategies can effectively maintain or restore the structure and function of riparian and aquatic systems.”

As she headed into the study area that day, she’d seen wolf tracks, and heard “barks and howls.”

The woman then saw a wolf cross a stream “and head in her direction where she had a face to face interaction with the wolf while on the phone with her boss,” Trautman’s report states.

Over the satellite phone, her supervisor told her to climb a tree, which she did.

But after 10 to 15 minutes, she climbed back down.

She then proceeded about 100 yards before she was “cut off by what she believed was the same wolf.”

“The wolf approached her as she took steps backwards and was very vocal towards the wolf,” Trautman’s report reads. “The wolf barked and growled at (the woman). (She) pulled out a can of bear spray and eventually deployed it but it was not able to reach the wolf.”

“(The woman) stated that the wolf was approximately 15 meters away when the interaction started. (She) stated that after she deployed the pepper spray in a quick warning type deployment the wolf darted in several times,” the officer writes.

Screaming at the wolf led it to back off and she climbed back up the tree again, the report says.

She told Trautman that the “interaction” lasted half a minute.

The woman then called her boss back and said she didn’t believe she would be able to leave the scene by herself.

As she waited for help she saw the wolf howl several times “in the distance,” Trautman’s report states.

When they reached her location, DNR pilot Devin Gooch and crewmember Matthew Harris saw two running wolves, they told Trautman during the interview.

DNR HELICOPTER CREW MEMBERS INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE, MATTHEW HARRIS, JARED HESS AND PILOT DEVIN GOOCH. (DNR)

QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN RAISED ABOUT the reactions three WDFW staffers — Trautman, a conflict specialist and a wolf biologist — had in the initial minutes of the incident not to send a chopper and instead hike to the scene on foot, an estimated two- or three-hour undertaking.

In a Capital Press article out two weeks ago, it was couched as due to the woman’s relative safety in the tree out of immediate danger, and the federally listed status of wolves in that part of Washington.

Trautman’s impetus appears to have also been partially based on his knowledge of the lay of the land and its lack of suitability for landing a helicopter, records show.

There was some confusion about the Forest Service having a researcher in the area of a known wolf den as well.

Ultimately WDFW acknowledged the hesitation was wrong.

“To tell the helicopter not to go was not the right call, and we have to own that,” agency wolf policy lead Donny Martorello told Press reporter Don Jenkins. “The right call was to send the helicopter. It goes without saying we value human life over everything else.”

In a subsequent editorial, the Press said that with “two wolves from the Loup Loup pack that seemed intent on making her lunch,” WDFW had flubbed the incident:

We can’t imagine that these experts really thought through the possible consequences for the young woman had it gone wrong, or considered the potential public relations disaster this episode presented.

How could they possibly spin leaving this woman clutching a tree for dear life for three hours while wolves circled below? And what did they think the optics would be if she lost her grip or otherwise made contact before rescuers arrived?

However, as the events were unfolding, public records show that other WDFW officers were in fact working to get a bird to the scene.

Officer Jason Day was off duty at his home near Carlton at the time when he independently learned of the situation from county search-and-rescue coordinator Rick Avery.

Day got in touch with Forest Service officer Dave Graves who told him there was a helicopter available at the Winthrop smoke jumper base, so he called his supervisor Sgt. Chris Busching in Moses Lake to request it be used.

“Yes! Yes! Absolutely,” Busching replied, Day’s report states.

Shortly afterward, however, it was learned that that aircraft was in fact a fixed-wing plane, so Day and Graves continued their search before Day learned from Avery that a helicopter was on the way and then from he and Graves that the woman had been picked up.

Sgt. Dan Christensen, the Okanogan County detachment lead, was in Olympia when he got a call from Trautman apprising him of the situation. The officer told him it might not be possible to land a chopper, but Christensen told Trautman “to contact DNR and send them in to get the researcher.”

Meanwhile, USFS and DNR had OKed a chopper to go in, according to the Capital Press, with DNR dispatcher Jill Jones arguing to Trautman that her department was “more concerned for [the woman’s] life than the [federally] listed animal” and it wasn’t clear how strong the tree was or how long she could hold out in it.

Reporter Jenkins wrote that according to dispatch logs, at one point DNR was going to fly into the hills anyway and “deal with aftermath of WDFW later.”

Inside the Natural Resources Building where both agencies are headquartered at the state capitol, DNR supervisor Chuck Turley went to WDFW’s Martorello to say he wanted to send the chopper, and so Martorello got him on the telephone with lead USFWS carnivore biologist Gregg Kurz.

Wolves in the western two-thirds of the state, including that part of Okanogan County where the encounter occurred, are still federally listed. USFWS is the lead agency there and works in cooperation with WDFW to manage the species.

After a brief explanation of the situation, Kurz told Turley and Martorello, “‘Absolutely’ (use the helicopter). ‘Human safety comes first,'” recalled USFWS spokesperson Ann Froschauer, who was sitting next to Kurz during the call. “That decision on our end was immediate.”

Fourteen minutes after it took off from Omak, DNR’s flight crew reached the woman’s location.

ULTIMATELY, THIS WILL ALL GO DOWN AS ANOTHER learning moment — for the woman, the myriad government agencies and the public at large.

While we’re now a decade into the recolonization of wolves in Washington, we’re still pretty new at all of this and it’s hard to predict every situation that will occur.

Hunters appear to have had the most encounters with wolves so far, including two other instances in Okanogan County, one in Kittitas County and another in Stevens County.

But it’s also at least the second involving a Forest Service employee. In that one, which occurred south of Republic in 2012, a surveyor’s dog was injured by two wolves.

This latest is a reminder to all who roam the wilds — hunters, anglers, hikers, forest workers, horsepackers, prospectors, mushroom pickers, dog walkers, etc., etc., etc. — to be aware of what to do if they encounter a wolf or wolves.

There’s no way that WDFW is going to share GPS data with us and it’s impossible to predict where uncollared dispersers might have denned up and chosen rendezvous sites, but precautions for being where wolves (or any big predators, for that matter) are or could be include being aware of your surroundings, going with multiple people, and carrying bear spray and/or a gun.

Following a 2011 incident on the divide between Lake Chelan and the Twisp River Valley, no less of a wolf expert than Carter Niemeyer told me it would have been wise of the hunter to have fired a shot in two wolves’ direction.

“No harm in teaching wolves to be wild and preventing any possible habituation behavior from developing,” Niemeyer said.

As Sgt. Christensen also noted in his report, “Under the ESA threats to a human allow for self-defense actions.”

If you feel your life is threatened and you act lethally, be prepared to answer questions as well as face public fallout from people who were not in your boots at the time but consider themselves to be wolf experts nonetheless.

More tips can be found on WDFW’s and Western Wildlife Outreach’s sites, and before he retired from the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Rich Landers posted a great video with advice following he and his dog Ranger’s encounter with two wolves last year.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM RICH LANDERS’ VIDEO ABOUT HIKING WITH DOGS IN WOLF COUNTRY. (YOUTUBE)

In this latest case, the Loup Loup Pack appears to have been defending its pups, trying to alter the woman’s course away from the rendezvous site, not so much looking for lunch, as Capital Press editorial writers would have it.

“She took many of the right actions,” Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest spokesperson Debbie Kelly told Northwest Sportsman. “She maybe could have left the area a little sooner.”

Who am I to judge, but she probably should have stayed parked in the tree too.

Efforts by Trautman to reach her satellite phone and further assess her situation were complicated by wrong numbers initially passed along by USFS and the fact that she had turned the device off to conserve battery power.

Both Kelly and USFWS’s Froschauer said the woman actually expected that a crew was going to hike to her location.

That a chopper came instead was “a bit of a surprise” for her, said Kelly.

While WDFW had informed local USFS officials about the location of the Loup Loup Pack’s den, a half mile from the rendezvous site, the woman did not know about it nor did she check with rangers before she’d headed afield that day, according to another Capital Press article.

Kelly said that some Forest Service employees such as wildlife biologists and those who work on grazing permits generally would “have a high level of knowledge about” wolves and den locations, but couldn’t say if that was broadly known among others in the district.

She said that field staffers do receive training for working in areas where large carnivores occur — pretty much the entire national forest.

“This employee received a good level of training. She was certified to carry bear spray,” Kelly said.

While the likelihood of predators like wolves attacking a person is pretty low, it is also not zero, as we saw with May’s fatal cougar attack.

They’re wild animals. Under sustained stress, human decision making can get worse.

My intention here is not to cause wolf hysteria but to continue to document all that comes with wolves resettling in Washington.

I think it’s useful to repeat the core of this incident, as summarized by WDFW Officer Day after Trautman called him following the airport interviews:

“The wolf bluff charged several times before the reporting party climbed a tree for safety,” Day wrote. “The wolf left. After approximately fifteen minutes, she exited the tree and attempted to leave. A wolf returned and again repeatedly charged, stopped short, and veered off. The reporting party went back up the tree and stayed there till extraction.”

Those who know wolves best, who yearn to have close encounters with wolves, are leading wolf tours, or relating their own zen moments near dens or rendezvous sites would do well to consider this before giving others only half paying attention the impression that everything around wolves is perfectly safe, lest another helicopter have to be scrambled.

DNR Chopper Crew In On Wolf Rescue Recognized

A four-member state wildfire chopper crew is being recognized for their part in a mission to rescue a woman who’d clambered up a tree after feeling threatened by wolves yesterday in Northcentral Washington.

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON YESTERDAY’S RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). (DNR)

After taking off from Omak following a request for assistance from the Tonasket Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the helicopter, piloted by Department of Natural Resources pilot Devin Gooch, was able to get to the remote location in the Twentymile Meadows area in 14 minutes.

According to The Seattle Times, the woman — initially described as a research student surveying the area but termed by DNR as affiliated with the Forest Service — had encountered one wolf there and attempted to use pepper spray on it, but with the arrival of a second wolf, she took to a tree and called for help.

Though DNR choppers aren’t typically used for rescues, getting to the location some 26 miles north of Winthrop on foot would have taken two hours, according to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.

DNR Commissioner Hilary Franz said she was proud of the crew, calling them “tremendous assets to our communities,” and said that Gooch “truly exemplifies what it means to serve our public.”

It’s not yet clear what triggered the event, whether there was a den, rendezvous site or kill nearby, or what the woman was surveying, but local Forest Service officials are expected to provide more details on the latter shortly.

With Land, Wildlife Boards’ Votes, Stemilt Basin Deal Completed

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES

The sale of 1,275 acres in Chelan County’s Stemilt Basin by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) completes a project that began in 2007 and has involved multiple community partners to protect habitat and outdoor recreation.

(DNR)

The Board of Natural Resources approved the transfer of two parcels eight miles south of Wenatchee today, following the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s approval April 13.

In 2013, both boards approved the sale and transfer of 1,268 acres in two adjacent parcels, bringing the final total of new WDFW property to 2,543 acres.

The land transaction was recommended by the Stemilt Partnership, a community based coalition of agriculture, wildlife, recreation, development, and conservation interests.

The Partnership was established by Chelan County in response to community concerns in 2007 when the four DNR sections were originally proposed for sale. By selling these lands, DNR managers could buy land elsewhere in the state better suited to producing revenue for the Common School Trust.

“Two state agencies, a county and an engaged community of diverse interests worked as partners to make this a landmark day for public outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat in Chelan County,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who chairs the Board of Natural Resources in addition to leading DNR.

WDFW secured federal Endangered Species Act funding to buy the remaining two sections of DNR trust land, appraised at $1,778,000, to protect Stemilt Basin habitat for elk, deer, wolves, and other wildlife species. The parcels, which are adjacent to Chelan County property, are managed as a unit of WDFW’s Colockum Wildlife Area. Land acquisition is one of many ways that WDFW carries out its statutory mandate to protect and preserve fish and wildlife habitat, while also providing hunting, fishing and other opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors.

“We’re managing this land on a broad watershed-wide basis that protects water supplies for fish and irrigated agriculture, along with critical wildlife habitat,” said Jim Brown, WDFW Northcentral Regional Director. “We’re balancing our management of traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing, with multiple-use recreational access that the Partnership values.”

Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee, who worked with the Partnership for years as a Washington State Senator, called the transfer the fulfillment of ten years of commitment.

“I am thrilled that this transfer has finally happened,” said Parlette, who is currently an executive director with the Chelan-Douglas Health District. “I give a lot of credit to lead staff at Fish and Wildlife, DNR, and Chelan County, in addition to those individuals who tirelessly attended all of the meetings.”

(Editor’s note: During a hearing in Olympia, then-Sen. Parlette defended the importance of wildlife habitat in the Stemilt Basin when questions arose from another Republican former senator, Brian Dansel.)

Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay said the deal exemplifies what can be achieved through collaboration.

“I am pleased to see the community’s vision for this area coming to fruition,” Overbay said. “I commend all of the citizens and organizations who have worked tirelessly over the past decade to make this a reality.”

State To Hold Meeting On Central Washington Green Dot Road Changes

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will host a public meeting on Thursday, March 22, in Selah about changes to “green dot” road management in southcentral Washington.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS A NETWORK OF GREEN DOT AND OTHER ROADS IN THE WENAS WILDLIFE AREA. (WDFW)

Both agencies will provide information and take public comments on updates and proposed changes at the meeting, which will run from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Senior Room of the Selah Civic Center, 216 S. 1st St., in Selah.

The green dot road management system marks roads in Yakima and Kittitas counties that are open to public motorized vehicle use. Marked with a round green reflector on a white route marker, these roads provide access to camping, hunting, off-road vehicle riding and other recreational activities.

Proposed changes include the addition of green dot roads on the Quilomene and Whiskey Dick units of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, said Ross Huffman, WDFW southcentral region lands operations manager. Developing a green dot road system in the “green gate” area of the Quilomene Unit is an objective of the interagency Naneum-to-Columbia River Recreation Plan.

Updates include the loss of public access across private land adjacent to the Ahtanum State Forest, said Joe Smith, DNR southeast region forest operations manager.

Huffman and Smith note that road use across private property adjacent to the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area and Naneum Ridge State Forest could also be affected.

Road management on the Colockum, Wenas, and Oak Creek road management areas will also be discussed at the meeting.

Additional information about the green dot road system is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/green_dot/

DNR Lands Study Bill Amended After Outcry; Now Includes Looking At Rec, Enviro Values

UPDATED 4:25 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at end with two new paragraphs

Part of a bill that would have studied turning certain Washington DNR lands over to counties, leasing them to private timber companies and considered their value as “higher revenue-producing assets” was dropped following outcry from a sportsmen’s group and others.

“We … acknowledge that sustainable financial returns to public schools and other trust beneficiaries are key to maintaining recreational access, including hunting and fishing opportunities, to these state-owned lands,” wrote Bart George, state co-chair of the Washington chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, in comments to lawmakers ahead of their vote on Engrossed Senate Bill 6140 this morning.

“However in our opinion, this amendment goes too far by directing the DNR to explore land transfer or liquidation as possible solutions for underperforming trust lands.”

A 2012 STATE LANDS MAP SHOWS DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES PROPERTIES IN DARK AND LIGHT GREEN. (DNR)

The amendment in question — Section 6 — was not in the original legislation from Sen. Curtis King (R-South-central Washington) when it was introduced in the Senate last month.

After it passed out of his Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Olympic Peninsula) tacked it on on the floor of the Senate.

It aimed to “evaluate (the Department of Natural Resource’s) lands portfolio and revenue streams, management practices, and transaction processes, and develop options and recommendations designed to ensure the state’s fiduciary duty is being met and increase the amount and stability of revenue from state lands and state forestland over time.”

The bill passed out of the upper chamber on a 43-4-2 vote.

Then it went over to the House, where yesterday the new language stood for its public hearing, in front of the lower chamber’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Most comments focused on Section 6, with support coming from Hampton Lumber of Portland, Washington State Association of Counties, Port of Port Angeles, Washington State School Board Association and the American Forest Resource Council.

Generally speaking, they were for the study as it would provide lawmakers with an understanding of how relatively valuable the state’s timberlands and other trust properties — Eastern Washington aglands, for example — are.

But it was opposed by the Sierra Club and Conservation Northwest, the latter of which had received a reported 400 responses from an action alert it sent out late last week.

Two private citizens also spoke against it, and one suggested that federally approved habitat protection plans for logging on state lands could be brought into question.

A DNR official acknowledged it was hearing quite a bit about Section 6 and “flagged it” for lawmakers.

Tuesday afternoon, AGNR Chair Brian Blake (D-South Coast) said his committee had a lot to consider, and this morning seven amendments had been drawn up for them, including one from Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Olympic Peninsula) that trimmed the scope of the study back.

During discussion, Rep. Vincent Buys (R-Whatcom County) said he recognized recreational values, but that they didn’t fulfill the fiduciary responsibility of state lands.

That is, buying a backpack for hiking DNR roads didn’t contribute to school funding the same way a 32-foot Doug fir section headed down them for the sawmill does.

Still, with millions of acres in holdings across and in every corner of Washington, the state agency’s lands are of immense value beyond the going price for a thousand board-feet of lumber, such as protecting salmon and wildlife habitat.

“Our members depend on public lands and hundreds of them hunt, fish and recreate on Washington state forest lands each year,” noted George in his BHA letter to state representatives.

“These forests are vital not only for timber production, but also for the cultural and natural heritage of Washington hunters and anglers. Legislation including public land transfer provisions, or provisions mandating the ‘study’ of such transfers, presents an unacceptable precedent for our membership and for the future use and enjoyment of Washington’s public forests,” he said.

When it came time for a vote, Chapman’s amendment scrapping studying transfer options was given a do-pass recommendation by a vote of 10-3, with two members excused.

Importantly, his amendment also included looking at DNR lands’ recreational and environmental values in the review.

The committee’s action drew a letter of thanks from 10 environmental organizations, including the two that testified yesterday, as well as Outdoor Research, The Mountaineers and others.

“Our public lands are cherished and heavily utilized by vast numbers of people for recreation, inspiration, and the clean water and other products of a healthy landscape that sets Washington apart,” the letter read in part. “We fully recognize the legitimacy of generating trust revenue by management of these lands, including extractive activities. But we reject any view that would subordinate to extraction much of the value the public gains from these lands, and put them at risk of mismanagement or even transfer to private entities that would lock the public out.”

Atlantic Salmon Suck. So Does All The BS Around Them

I am not pro-Atlantic salmon. I am not pro-netpen. I am not pro-Cooke Aquaculture. But I am anti-bullshit.

My bullshitometer has been going off for six months now, but recently it just got too deep for me to tolerate any longer without comment.

ATLANTIC SALMON COVER THE DECK OF FISHING BOAT LAST AUGUST. (KEVIN KLEIN)

The Wild Fish Conservancy’s hysterical claim last week that Cooke’s escapees from the Cypress Island fish farm are ridden with an exotic virus strikes me as not unlike what I have heard repeatedly from the darkest recesses of the Northwest wolf world.

It goes along the lines of, Those non-native Canadian wolves USFWS brought down are infected with hydatid disease and rural people are in danger of catching it from all the wolf poo piles now lying around the woods!!!

WFC’s press release announcing this supposed disaster came with a raft of citations, but afterwards they appeared to be the equivalent of weblinks to wolf haters’ usual references from Russia and whatever.

They were systematically batted away by WDFW in a strident response noting that the virus, PRV, has been known to exist here since 1987, is found in salmon from Alaska south to Washington if not beyond, and is carried by netpen and free-swimming fish alike. The disease that WFC fretted it can cause isn’t found in our salmon and only some penned Atlantics. Nor is it fatal.

Not unlike most of the vitriol that the rabid anti-lupus set hurls from their keyboards, it appears that WFC’s claim was actually a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

It was fear-mongering by the Duvall-based organization, plain and simple, written to make it look as if the state agency in charge of monitoring fish disease didn’t know what the hell it was doing and released at a key moment during the legislative session to chivvy lawmakers to an even more rushed decision on the fate of salmon aquaculture in Washington.

WFC hasn’t apologized to WDFW, nor is it likely — in fact, this morning, they doubled down with a new press release.

Yet what is likely is they’ll probably be able to leverage the widespread initial coverage of their claims and get away with the less-than-damning subsequent reporting, positioning themselves well in this world for coming jihads.

Again, I want to stress that I am no friend of Cooke, netpens or Atlantics.

The company could grow salmon that taste like Cool Ranch Doritos and I’d still turn my nose up at the flesh — a friend who caught one last month on the Skykomish claimed “it was good,” but to this provincial Northwest Chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead snob, that meat doesn’t cut.

FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON FROM NORWAY OFFERED FOR SALE AT COSTCO AND ULTIMATELY RETURNED TO THE COLD CASE AFTER A GOOD, SOLID SNEERING AT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Netpens pollute. If they were new housing developments, we’d require sewer hookups or better ways to treat all that fish waste rather than let it drift in the currents or settle on the bottom of an inland sea that doesn’t flush itself very well in places.

And I’m skeptical of Cooke’s claims it was going to upgrade the aging equipment that came over from Icicle Seafoods when it bought them out. Would they really have if they hadn’t been caught with their hands in the cookie jar?

But this whole thing has been an embarrassment, and I include everything from the Canadian company’s August-eclipse-tides excuse and its shellfish-and seaweed-covered nets that acted as underwater sails and caused the catastrophe to the theory the escapees were just going to starve and die to Hilary Franz’s surprise Sunday morning termination determination on the Cypress Island facility to the latest pseudoscience from WFC.

For the last month and a half state legislators have been tripping all over themselves trying to outlaw farming a species that realistically poses little to no threat to our native salmon stocks, yet couldn’t get the one bill that would have assured that — allowing only female Atlantics to be reared — out of committee.

I can’t be the only one wondering, what exactly is behind all this? What big game is being played here? Who stands to gain the most?

And worrying, when will all this negative energy be focused on something that I actually do care about?

Cooke Disputes Washington Agencies’ Report On Netpen Escapee Numbers

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM COOKE AQAUCULTURE

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific on Tuesday criticized the state’s multi-agency draft report on the Cypress Island net pen collapse, pointing out numerous factual inaccuracies that led investigators to leap to erroneous conclusions.

COOKE AQUACULTURE RESPONDED TO TODAY’S STATE AGENCY FINAL REPORT WITH A 13-PAGE LETTER DISPUTING SOME ELEMENTS. (COOKE AQUACULTURE)

“Cooke Aquaculture was shut out of this investigation by the state agencies,” said Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations at Cooke, Inc. “As a result, investigators with limited experience in aquaculture or net-pen operations have produced an inaccurate and misleading document that appears to be intended to fuel the push by aquaculture opponents to put Cooke out of business in Washington state.”

Notably, the state accused Cooke of overestimating the number of fish it recovered from the collapsed nets. In fact, Cooke employees counted each fish as it was recovered under the state’s supervision. The report’s estimate, meanwhile, was based on a flawed estimate of the average weight of the recovered fish.

The report, “2017 Cypress Island Atlantic Salmon Net Pen Failure: An Investigation and Review” was compiled by the state’s Ecology, Fish & Wildlife, and Natural Resources departments. The final report is slated for release today at an 11 a.m. news conference timed to influence the Legislature’s ongoing deliberations about bills related to aquaculture, including proposals that would effectively ban salmon farming in Washington.

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific was given just three days to provide feedback on a 266-page draft – a review period that ran from Friday to Monday – and was instructed not to dispute the report’s analysis or conclusions. Today’s press conference was announced three hours after the agencies received Cooke’s comments.

“We provided substantive comment back to the agencies under an unfairly brief timeline to address the report’s major factual errors and omissions about what occurred at our facility last August,” said Richardson. “We cooperated fully with the investigation and stood ready to provide expertise, background and context to help the investigators in their work. Unfortunately, we don’t believe the public or lawmakers are getting a complete and accurate picture from this report.”

The after-the-fact questioning of Cooke’s accounting of fish removed from the net pen structure is the most egregious – but not only – example of the report’s inaccuracy.

“The same people that supervised and approved the counting of the fish created this new analysis, based on back-of-the-envelope math involving the capacity of a tender vessel and the ridiculous notion that the recovered fish weighed 7 pounds apiece,” Richardson said. “As the photographs in the report itself show, many of the fish were severely damaged by the time they were recovered and would have been far lighter.”

Another example of the report’s inaccuracy is the blanket assumptions about the condition of the nets.

“We acknowledge that the site fell behind in net hygiene prior to the mooring failures in July. However, Cooke provided the investigators extensive documentation of the washing performed at Site 2 after the July incident,” Richardson explained. “Although the report is correct that mussels were present in the bottom of the nets, the investigative panel lacked the expertise to make that judgment about the relationship between fouling and drag and did not rely upon alternate expertise when forming the conclusions reflected in the report.”

Cooke endeavoured to cooperate with the investigation from its inception but was excluded from meaningful participation after only a few weeks. While Cooke was excluded, two Native American tribes which have repeatedly called for the ban of Cooke’s operations were given full access to the process and allowed to provide comments and observations during the deliberations.

“Excluding Cooke but including net-pen opponents stacks the deck against Cooke,” said Richardson. “Tribes, lawmakers, Cooke, the public – we all deserve to know the truth, and this report should be driven by a full and accurate understanding of the facts. Unfortunately, this document is neither accurate nor objective.”

Cooke responded to the draft report on Monday morning with a thirteen-page letter highlighting its glaring inaccuracies. Slightly more than three hours later, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz called today’s news conference, demonstrating that the agencies never intended to evaluate or respond to Cooke’s legitimate concerns.

State Agencies Pin Atlantic Salmon Netpen Collapse On ‘Cooke’s Negligence’

THE FOLLOWING IS A JOINT PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENTS OF ECOLOGY, FISH AND WILDLIFE AND NATURAL RESOURCES

State investigators have determined that an excessive buildup of mussels and other marine organisms on nets – caused by Cooke Aquaculture’s failure to properly clean them – led to the August 19 collapse of the company’s net pen at Cypress Island.

THE COVER OF THE THREE STATE AGENCIES’ FINAL 120-PAGE REPORT ON THE CAUSE OF THE AUG. 2017 NETPEN COLLAPSE SHOWS THE COOKE AQUACULTURE FACILITY. (DOE, DFW, DNR)

An investigative report – authored by the departments of Natural Resources (DNR), Ecology, and Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) – found that 110 tons of mussels and plants had accumulated on the nets before the incident. The report was released today at a news conference in Olympia.

The investigation determined that tidal currents pushing against the tremendous mass of organisms on the nets overwhelmed the pen’s mooring system and crushed the pen.

Extensive corrosion of the net pen structure also contributed to the collapse.

In addition, the agencies identified shortcomings in engineering practices that likely contributed to the failure.

Properly designed and maintained net pens would have withstood the tidal currents of August 19.

“The collapse was not the result of natural causes,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands. “Cooke’s disregard caused this disaster and recklessly put our state’s aquatic ecosystem at risk.”

“The results of our investigative report clearly show a significant violation of Washington’s water quality laws,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “Cooke Aquaculture could have prevented this failure.”

STATE AGENCIES SAY THAT AROUND A QUARTER MILLION ATLANTIC SALMON LIKELY ESCAPED FROM THE DAMAGED NETPENS. SOME ARE STILL BEING CAUGHT, THIS ONE BY ERIC BELL ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT SULTAN ON JANUARY 8. (ERIC BELL)

“Cooke made this situation even more difficult by under-reporting the number of fish that escaped during the net-pen collapse, and over-reporting the number it recovered afterward,” said Amy Windrope, WDFW’s north Puget Sound regional director.

Growth of mussels and other marine organisms on nets – called “biofouling” – is documented in state agency videos that show a “rain” of mussels falling off nets as debris from the collapse was removed.

The severe biofouling produced 110 tons of material – an average of 11 tons per net.

Cooke’s Failure to Act

Prior to the collapse, Cooke was aware of both the excessive biofouling and the poor condition of the facility.

The report details how Cooke didn’t follow its net pen cleaning schedule when broken net washers were not repaired or replaced. This allowed mussels to accumulate on the nets, which increased the drag from currents and added pressure to the structure.

Cooke also failed to take necessary precautions after the net pens were moved out of position in July when strong currents broke ten mooring points.

Cooke documents show that after the July incident, the company had serious concerns about the facility. An internal company email stated, “We almost lost the farm.”

Nevertheless, after the July incident, Cooke considered, but did not:

  • Replace the biofouled nets,
  • Begin their salmon harvest early, or
  • Increase monitoring of the net pens and have a tug on standby when strong currents were again expected on August 19.

The report notes that state agencies did not investigate the July incident because they received incomplete and misleading information from Cooke.

More Salmon Escaped Than Cooke Reported

The report also found that Cooke misrepresented the number of fish it harvested when the pen collapsed. According to the report:

  • There were 305,000 fish in the net pen prior to failure.
  • Cooke reported harvesting/extracting 145,000 fish from the collapsed net pen.
  • The investigation concluded that Cooke could only have extracted between 42,000 and 62,000 fish.
  • Therefore, between 243,000 and 263,000 fish actually escaped. Previous estimates, based on Cooke’s reports, put the number of escaped fish at 160,000.
  • Of the escaped fish, 57,000 have been caught.
  • Between 186,000 and 206,000 Atlantic salmon remain unaccounted for.

The report concludes that monitoring through the winter and next fall’s salmon run season will be critical to knowing if any escaped Atlantic salmon remain in Washington’s waters and if they are reproducing.

Commissioner Franz is currently reviewing the report and will make an announcement about the future of the Cypress Island facility in the coming days.

In December, DNR terminated Cooke’s lease of state aquatic lands in Port Angeles, citing a failure to maintain the facility in a safe condition.

Ecology intends to take enforcement action against Cooke Aquaculture for violating Washington’s water quality laws.

This multi-agency report included information collected during and after the incident, interviews with Cooke staff, and an engineering review of the failure.

More documents and information is available at www.dnr.wa.gov/atlanticsalmon

Washington DNR Rolls Out 20-year Forest Plan

A just-announced plan to improve the health of Washington’s dryside forests and reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to local communities may also help improve deer and elk habitat.

The Department of Natural Resources’ 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan aims to use a mix of restoration and prescribed burning on 1.25 million acres of state-owned land east of the Cascades, potentially opening up the woods and making them more productive for the kinds of plants ungulates eat.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

And that could benefit those of us who like to hunt said big game on public land.

That’s not the main goal of the plan, which was rolled out today near Cle Elum, the Central Washington town threatened by this summer’s 57-square-mile Jolly Mountain Fire.

Because of long-term fire suppression and timber production, forests have become choked with fuels, while large-scale insect infestations in recent decades have made them even more prone to burn.

It’s a problem affecting not only state land but also federal and private ground — some 10 million acres are at risk — and Washington lawmakers have put increasing focus on the topic, especially following the massive wildfire seasons of 2014 and 2015.

The plan identifies goals and priority watersheds to work in, and while acknowledging that the loss of mills makes it tougher to apply treatments, it also aims to identify opportunities to help rural economies.

“We now have the plan and the partners necessary to treat our high risk forests with scientifically sound, landscape-scale, cross-boundary projects. With long-term partnerships and commitment we can begin to stem the severe damage from overgrowth, mismanagement, disease and intense wildfire that so many of our forests are experiencing,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, in a press release.

The strategy was crafted by DNR and WDFW, which own most if not all the state land in Eastern Washington, as well as federal agencies, several tribes, local forestry coalitions and collaboratives, mill operators, private timberland owners, NGOs, universities and others.

Agency OKs Moving Atlantic Salmon Smolts Into Bainbridge Netpen

A month and a half after a commercial netpen failed elsewhere in Puget Sound, state regulators have approved a shipment of 1 million young Atlantic salmon into another floating enclosure here.

WDFW says that Cooke Aquaculture’s facilities in the Bremerton area’s Rich Passage — the site of a protest flotilla in mid-September — were inspected by the Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources and “met structural, water quality, and fish health requirements.”

FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON FROM NORWAY OFFERED FOR SALE AT THE SHORELINE COSTCO RECENTLY; IT WAS PUT BACK IN THE COLD CASE IN HOPES THE EDITOR WOULD CATCH A COHO FOR DINNER INSTEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The agency issued a transportation permit to the company late Monday.

While Governor Jay Inslee has banned permitting new netpens during investigations into why the international conglomerate’s Cypress Island operation broke up in mid-August — there are indications of aging equipment due to be replaced — state laws didn’t preclude moving the “healthy” 12- to 16-month-old fish into another enclosure, according to WDFW.

Cooke had applied in late August to transport the Atlantics from its rearing ponds in Rochester south of Olympia to Clam Bay, even as efforts to capture their 160,000 or so 8- to 10-pound adult escapees were ongoing in the San Juans.

A press release from the Governor’s Office said that Inslee is “very concerned” about the transfer, and called it “disappointing and frustrating” in light of August’s events.

He said his office had asked Cooke to withdraw the permit application “for our tribes, for our citizens, for our environment and for the industry’s long-term prospects.”

Around 305,000 of the market fish were being finished in the Cypress netpens this summer, and 140,000 were recovered inside them after the failure.

Through last week tribal fishermen have netted around 50,000, while hook-and-line anglers reported catching nearly 1,950, with another 3,000 or so caught by nontribal commercial fishermen.

This isn’t to say Atlantics don’t pale in comparison — and in more ways than one — to native Pacific salmon, but the breakout led to numerous wild claims about the fish.

A Sept. 11 initial assessment and Sept. 14 update found Cooke’s fish were “healthy” when the incident occurred, weren’t faring well in Puget Sound based on signs of anorexia, the stomachs of tribally sampled fish were “empty” and no signs of fish pathogens had been found in salmon recovered early on.

There was, however, an interesting note in that report: “Necropsy findings indicate an active inflammatory process of unknown origin originating in the gastrointestinal tract in the later September capture group.”

Neither large escapes from netpens in the 1990s nor directed stocking efforts in the 1980s resulted in breeding populations of the nonnative salmon in Puget Sound rivers.

Cooke will move the young Atlantics from the hatchery to netpen through the fall, according to WDFW, and they will be grown there until mid- to late 2019 before they are harvested.

Editor’s note: An earlier version reported the age of the Atlantics being moved from rearing ponds to Clam Bay as 2 years old, but subsequent information has come in that they will be a year to 16 months old.