Tag Archives: hunting

WDFW License Bills Moving Again As End Of Regular Legislative Session Nears

After hibernating for the past two months, WDFW’s fee bills have woken up and are moving again, but what will emerges from the den that is the Washington legislature remains to be seen.

Both the House and Senate versions include the 15 percent increase to fishing and hunting licenses and extend the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement, but also contain sharp differences that will need to be reconciled before the end of the session.

“This is pretty intense, from zero bills moving to two bills moving,” said Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison, this morning.

The upper chamber’s bill would sunset the angling fee hike after six years, extends the endorsement two years instead of four like the House, and would not allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to impose surcharges to keep up with rising costs.

That’s different from the Senate’s Operating Budget proposal, released earlier this month without any fee increase or the endorsement and which leaned on General Fund instead.

The lower chamber’s bill, which like the House Operating Budget proposal had the hike and endorsement, would limit the commission’s fee-raising authority to only cover costs lawmakers add to WDFW’s gig and no more than 3 percent in any one year.

Though the Senate version presents something of a fiscal cliff in 2025, the fee increase would produce $14.3 million every two years, the endorsement $3 million.

As for WDFW’s big hopes for a big General Fund infusion to pay for its myriad missions, improve its product and dig out of a $31 million shortfall, any new money it receives will likely be allocated for orcas instead, and that is putting the onus squarely on passing a license increase.

The sudden activity on the fee bills after February’s twin hearings comes with the scheduled Sunday, April 28 end of the session and follows a House Appropriations Committee public hearing yesterday afternoon and an executive session in the Senate’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee this morning.

During the House hearing on HB 1708, representatives from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Northwest Marine Trade Association and Coastal Conservation Association along with some anglers — all still smarting from the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Columbia fishery reforms vote early last month, some at louder volumes than others — voiced opposition to the fee bill though generally said they wanted a fully funded WDFW.

NMTA’s George Harris was among those trying to “thread that needle,” saying he couldn’t support the increase because he didn’t believe the agency had followed through on the reforms or mark-selective fisheries.

SPEAKING IN OPPOSITION TO THE FEE BILL DURING THE HOUSE HEARING ON MONDAY APRIL 22 WERE JASON ZITTEL OF ZITTEL’S MARINA NEAR OLYMPIA WHO SAID THE BURDEN OF FUNDING WDFW COULDN’T CONTINUE TO BE PUSHED ONTO LICENSE HOLDERS WHEN THE PROBLEMS ARE STATEWIDE … (TVW)

… AND CARL BURKE, REPRESENTING NMTA AND NSIA, WHO SAID THAT WHILE ANGLERS PROVIDE SIGNIFICANT FUNDING TO WDFW, “THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO MATTER.” (TVW)

Speaking in favor of full funding, however, was Ron Garner, statewide president of Puget Sound Anglers, member of the WDFW budget advisory group that did a deep dive into the agency’s finances and part of the governor’s orca task force.

“This is not enough money for the agency, and one of the problems is, if we do take this $30 million hit or don’t get the $30 million, what hatcheries are going to get cut next?” Garner said.

WDFW has identified five that could be and which together produce 2.6 million salmon, steelhead and trout.

He said where other state agencies had recovered from General Fund cuts due to the Great Recession, WDFW hadn’t.

“To keep them healthy and the outdoors healthy, we really need to fund it,” Garner said.

RON GARNER OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS VOICED SUPPORT FOR A FULLY FUNDED WDFW DURING THE HEARING … (TVW)

… AND TOM ECHOLS OF THE HUNTERS HERITAGE COUNCIL SAID IT WAS THE FIRST TIME IN HIS SEVEN YEARS WITH THE UMBRELLA ORGANIZATION THAT IT WAS SUPPORTING A FEE BILL, SPECIFICALLY THE HUNTING SIDE, SAYING THEY BELIEVED IT WAS “TIME TO SUPPORT THE DEPARTMENT’S DIRECTION.” (TVW)

Both committees ultimately gave their versions do-pass recommendations after adopting several amendments, which overall mainly dealt with fallout from the Columbia vote.

The House bill now tells the citizen panel to work with Oregon’s to recover salmon and steelhead in the watershed and WDFW to “work to maximize hatchery production throughout the Columbia River, reduce less selective gear types in the mainstem of the Columbia River and improve the effectiveness of off-channel commercial fishing areas.”

“I support fully funding WDFW so that we can restore hatchery production and restore our fisheries,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) this morning.

And in his natural resources committee earlier today, Chair Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) substantially altered the Senate fee bill, SB 5692, to address those Columbia issues.

An effect statement says his amendments:

  • Specifies Columbia River fishery reforms including improving the selectivity of recreational and commercial fisheries, prioritizing main stem recreational fisheries, and transitioning gill net fisheries to enhanced off-channel areas.
  • Restricts main stem gill net fisheries, effective July 1, 2019, to not exceed six days per year for salmon and steelhead below the Bonneville dam.
  • Directs the DFW to establish an observer program to monitor at least 10 % of the nontribal gill net salmon and steelhead catch on the Columbia River.
  • Directs the DFW to fund activities that maintain or enhance current recreational and fishing activities with fees from recreational fishing and hunting, and expires the requirement on July 1, 2025.
  • Authorizes the DFW to approve trial fisheries for the use of alternative gear for the mark-selective harvest of hatchery-reared salmon and to establish permit fees by rule for alternative gear fisheries.
  • Authorizes the use of pound nets to harvest salmon on the Columbia River and sets the license fee at $380 per year for a resident and $765 for a nonresident

Without getting too wonky and in the weeds, the differences between the House and Senate fee bills must be concurred on, passed by the legislature and signed by the governor before any hike goes into effect. It would be the first since 2011.

WDFW’s Crosier forecasted some “tough conversations in the coming five days” as lawmakers will have to come to an agreement on outstanding policy issues including the Columbia, hatcheries, predators and more, and how to fund her agency.

“I’m feeling optimistic,” she said. “I think this is the closest we’ve gotten. There’s motivation (by legislators) to get something passed, and fees will be a big part of it.”

And without getting too high up on my stump, the end package will also need to show hunters and anglers that there is a better future ahead from the negative malaise currently gripping the state’s sportsmen as more than a century and a half of habitat loss, hatchery production reductions, increasing ESA listings and fishery restrictions, social media, and, simply put, other legislative priorities have come home to roost, most obviously in the plight of starving southern resident killer whales that might also symbolize today’s opportunities.

Hunter Pink Green-lighted For Washington’s Fall Hunting Seasons

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

During this year’s legislative session, pink has become the new orange. On April 10, the state House of Representatives passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill (ESSB) 5148, a bill expanding orange clothing requirements for hunters to include fluorescent pink. The state Senate had already passed the bill Feb. 20; Gov. Jay Inslee signed it today.

SURROUNDED BY (LEFT TO RIGHT) CHALEE BATUNGBACAL AND DAVID WHIPPLE OF WDFW, AND PRIME SPONSOR SEN. LYNDA WILSON (R) AND HER LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT AMBER HARDTKE AND INTERN INNA VANMATRE, GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE SIGNS THE HUNTER PINK BILL. (STATE OF WASHINGTON)

 “Orange will always be the classic safety color, but I think our state’s hunters can appreciate something new and different – and because fluorescent pink doesn’t blend in with anything else in the forest or field, it also offers the excellent visibility we need for safety,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, a longtime hunter who was prime sponsor of ESSB 5148.

“This idea received unanimous support in the Legislature, and I can see hunter pink being very popular with both women and men, especially because pink is also linked to the fight against breast cancer,” added Wilson, who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer during the time that her idea has made its way into law. For more information about the bill go to http://lyndawilson.src.wastateleg.org/wilson-bill-to-let-hunters-wear-fluorescent-pink-headed-to-governor/.

Since the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) began requiring hunters to wear hunter orange, hunter injuries and incidents declined significantly in Washington. Fluorescent pink is considered equally visible to hunter orange, and nine other states have passed laws allowing hunters to wear pink clothing for safety.

“By adding fluorescent hunter pink, we are providing more choices to our hunters,” said David Whipple, hunter education division manager. “Women are one of the fastest-growing hunting groups, though we believe that this option will feel inclusionary all to new hunters. This attention is also helping to highlight the safe behaviors for continued reductions in hunter injuries and incidents.”

The current law gives WDFW the authority to adopt rules specifying gear and other hunting equipment. Currently, hunters must wear a minimum of 400 square inches of fluorescent hunter orange exterior clothing during specific hunting seasons.

The new law, like most created this year, will take effect in July. In preparation, WDFW will begin a rule making process to accommodate hunter pink. WDFW is also taking extra steps now to implement the legislation immediately, which allows time for public education and for hunters to buy pink clothing in time for fall deer, elk, and upland bird modern firearm seasons.

Those who wish to learn more about hunter safety can visit our hunter education and requirements page at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/requirements.

OHA Annual Convention Set For Mid-May in Lincoln City

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION

The auction of an Oregon Access and Habitat Statewide Elk Tag – good for a four-month season nearly anywhere in the state, and the drawings for 12 dream hunt raffles for deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and mountain goat will highlight the events when the Oregon Hunters Association’s annual State Convention returns to Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City on May 18.

The statewide elk tag and big game hunt raffles are sponsored by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and generate funds earmarked for each species, as well as wildlife habitat and hunting access programs.

The public is welcome to attend the event or bid on the statewide elk tag by telephone the night of the event. For ticket information, visit www.oregonhunters.org. For more information, or to register to bid by phone, contact the OHA state office at (541) 772-7313. Tickets must be purchased by May 8.

Other highlights of the live and silent auctions, which feature more than 100 items, include safaris in Africa and Argentina, North American hunting and fishing trips, getaways, top quality firearms, hunting gear and fine art.

The annual convention is the biggest fund-raising banquet of the year for OHA, the largest Oregon-based pro-hunting group with 26 chapters and 10,000 members statewide.

Other featured raffles at the event will offer more than 100 items worth more than $30,000, including firearms, hunting optics, gear and wildlife art. Raffles include the popular annual Les Schwab Raffle, this year featuring a Sig optics combo, and the new Coastal Farm & Ranch Raffle, featuring a Nosler Custom M48 Liberty rifle.

One OHA membership is required per couple or group. A one-year membership is $35 for individuals and $45 for families and includes a subscription to Oregon Hunter magazine and the Oregon Hunter’s Calendar.

There will be complimentary drawings for kids, ladies, OHA life members and – on Armed Forces Day – our veterans.

All funds raised stay in Oregon to support OHA’s mission of protecting Oregon’s wildlife, habitat and hunting heritage.

 

Brown Sends Oregon Senate List Of 5 New Commission Nominees

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has submitted a slate of Fish and Wildlife Commission candidates to the state Senate for consideration next month.

The field includes a double Purple Heart recipient/Northeast Oregon hunting guide; Willamette Valley winery owner/former Department of Fish and Wildlife staffer; Siletz guide/crabber; chair of the ODFW legislative funding task force; and a Wild Rivers Coast Alliance board of directors member/South Coast rancher.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES LUKEMAN PRESENTS 1ST LT. JIM NASH OF THE 2ND TANK BATTALION WITH ONE OF TWO PURPLE HEART MEDALS HE RECEIVED ON MARCH 6, 2013 FOR WOUNDS SUSTAINED IN A MORTAR ATTACK AND FROM AN IED WHILE DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN. (CPL. AUSTIN LONG, DVIDS)

Those nominees are Capt. James Nash, Jill Zarnowitz, Robert Spelbrink, Mark Labhart, and Mary Wahl.

Nash is a member of a longtime Wallowa County cattle ranching family and served as a Marine Corps tank commander in Afghanistan. He describes his life on the ranch and his duty overseas in a compelling July 2018 video produced by Oregon optics maker Leupold.

Zarnowitz has a master’s degree from the University of Washington in fish and wildlands management and worked on water policy for ODFW, and has been the general manager and now coowner of Stag Hollow Wines outside Yamhill.

Spelbrink guides on the Siletz River and has operated the F/V Alliance fishing commercially for crab as well as salmon and albacore.

Wahl also comes from a ranching family, but in the opposite corner of Oregon, near Langlois. With a masters in public administration from Harvard, she managed toxic cleanups for the state and watershed operations in Portland before retiring “to focus on conservation efforts on Oregon’s south coast,” according to her commission application.

And Labhart worked for the Oregon Department of Forestry, served on a board looking into sudden oak death syndrome issues, retired after several years as a Tillamook County Commissioner, and chaired the state legislature’s task force that looked for ways to better fund ODFW before moving to Sisters.

They are scheduled to be considered by the Senate Rules Committee on May 8.

At full strength, Oregon’s commission has seven members, one from each of the state’s five Congressional districts, a sixth from west of the Cascades, the seventh from east of the crest.

Currently there is one open seat while the terms of Chair Michael Finley of Medford and members Holly Akenson of Enterprise and Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria all expire in the coming two months.

The nomination of Buckmaster four springs ago sparked well-founded unease amongst the sportfishing industry, though he was ultimately confirmed by the Senate. His term isn’t being extended for a second four years, but Brown has nominated him to serve on the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board — where he had been the Fish and Wildlife Commission representative since last year — in an at-large seat, according to a member of the governor’s staff.

The terms of Jim Bittle of Central Point and Greg Wolley of Portland run into next year, while that of Bob Webber of Port Orford had been extended past the end of his second term in February 2018 until new commissioners are named, when his service will end, according to the official.

Editor’s note, 9 a.m. April 22, 2019: The last two paragraphs have been tweaked to clarify that Mr. Buckmaster’s appointment to the watershed board would essentially transition from being the representative of the Fish and Wildlife Commission to a public at-large position if confirmed, and that Mr. Webber’s extended term on the commission would end in mid-May after Senate confirmation of new members.

Washington Lawmakers Approve Adding Pink To Hunters’ Wardrobe

A bill allowing Washington hunters to wear bright pink instead of just blaze orange while pursuing deer and elk with a rifle, among other game, is headed to Governor Inslee’s desk.

Washington senators and representatives unanimously passed SB 5148, which would make the state at least the eighth to OK the color for meeting hunter safety visibility requirements in the field.

SEN. LYNDA WILSON TESTIFIES IN SUPPORT OF HER HUNTER PINK BILL WHILE WEARING A PINK CAMO HUNTING VEST IN THIS SCREENSHOT FROM TVW. (TVW)

It was sponsored by Sen. Lynda Wilson, a Clark County Republican who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer and whose husband went hunting last fall while wearing a pink T-shirt in support of her.

“Depending on the time of year, the leaves on the trees can be almost as bright as the fluorescent orange that is now the only safety color allowed in Washington,” said Wilson in a press release. “Blaze pink doesn’t look like anything else in the forest or field, and more visibility means more safety.”

She added that it could also attract more hunters to the field and thus more dollars in support of wildlife management.

Wilson’s bill was supported by the Hunters Heritage Council and WDFW during a January public hearing.

It essentially requires the Fish and Wildlife Commission to add pink to requirements that deer and elk hunters, along with those pursuing other game during open modern firearm deer and elk season, must wear at least 400 square inches of orange clothing above the waist.

The bill passed out of the Senate in February on a 48-0 vote and the House early this month on a 92-0 vote. If signed, it becomes effective 90 days after the legislature is adjourned.

Other states that have OKed blaze pink include Wisconsin, which was first to do so, Colorado, Louisiana and New York in 2016; Virginia in 2017; and Wyoming and Illinois in 2018.

It’s been rejected as a substitute for orange in Michigan, Montana and Maine.

Arkansas has allowed chartreuse since at least 2010.

ODFW Posts Revised Draft Wolf Plan For Comment Ahead Of June Commission Vote

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

ODFW released its draft proposed Wolf Conservation and Management Plan today at www.odfw.com/wolves

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to vote on the Plan at its June 7 meeting in Salem.

Once adopted, the Plan will be the third edition of the Wolf Plan, which was first adopted in 2005 after an extensive public process and revised in 2010.

A WALLA WALLA PACK WOLF WALKS THROUGH SNOWY COUNTRY IN FEBRUARY 2019. (ODFW)

The proposed Draft Plan was written by staff but involved extensive meetings with stakeholders and public comment at several prior Commission meetings. In 2018, the Commission also directed ODFW staff to host facilitated meetings with stakeholders to seek consensus on unresolved issues.

The draft Plan incorporates ideas where consensus was reached, but agreement was not possible on all topics. See a report on the facilitated meetings’ outcomes here https://www.dfw.state.or.us/Wolves/WPSR.asp

“Wolf management is a polarizing topic with strong views on all sides, so it’s tough to find consensus,” says Derek Broman, ODFW carnivore and furbearer program coordinator. “But regardless of people’s views on wolves, the wolf population in Oregon is growing in size, number of packs and packs reproducing, while expanding its range.”

Defining chronic depredation that might lead to lethal control of wolves and hunting of wolves are some of the most contentious issues. Staff previously proposed the definition of chronic depredation be three confirmed depredations in a 12-month period in Phase 2 and 3, a change from the current definition (two confirmed depredations in an unlimited timeframe). Due to feedback from stakeholders at the facilitated meetings, the Draft Plan now proposes two confirmed depredations in nine months in Phases 2 and 3 (so the only change from the current definition is a  9-month time restriction).

Like the original Plan, the Draft Plan would allow controlled take only in Phase 3 (currently eastern Oregon) in instances of recurring depredations or when wolves are a major cause of ungulate populations not meeting established management objectives or herd management goals.

ODFW is not proposing any controlled take of wolves at this time, but believes regulated hunting and trapping needs to remain a tool available for wolf management.  Any proposal for controlled take of wolves would require Commission approval through a separate planning and hunt development process.

Other major topics addressed in Plan include:

  • Wolf-livestock conflict, including an expanded section on the latest non-lethal tools and techniques for reducing conflict.
  • Wolf interactions with native ungulate populations, including annual ungulate population estimates before and after wolf establishment. Elk, wolves’ primary prey, have increased in some units with wolves and decreased in others. However, interpretation of the impact of wolf predation on elk is confounded by management efforts to reduce elk numbers in units where they are over management objective or to minimize conflicts with elk on private land. Mule deer have been below desired levels for more than two decades, before wolves’ returned to Oregon, with changing land management strategies, invasive weeds, and recent severe weather among the main reasons for their decline.
  • Wolf population monitoring and potential conservation threats.
  • Strategies to address wolf-human interactions.

Public testimony on the draft Plan will be taken during the June 7 meeting and can also be sent to odfw.commission@state.or.us. Emails sent by May 23 will be included with staff proposal as part of the review materials shared with Commissioners prior to the meeting.

Battle Over Washington License Fees More Than 110 Years Old

If you think there’s anger about Washington fishing and hunting license fee increases today  — why pay more for less! fire all the back-office hacks first! not until they get rid of all the wolves! — it’s safe to say not much has changed in the past 112 years.

A February 1907 article states some anglers weren’t all that excited by a new-fangled proposal to start charging them to fish in state waters.

AN ANGLER BALANCES ALONG THE BANKS OF AN UNKNOWN WASHINGTON RIVER. (DETAIL, FISHING/ASAHEL CURTIS, 1910-1930, ASAHEL CURTIS, GENERAL SUBJECTS PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION, 1845-2005, WASHINGTON STATE ARCHIVES, DIGITAL ARCHIVES, HTTP://WWW.DIGITALARCHIVES.WA.GOV, ACCESSED APRIL 11, 2019)

“One sportsman characterizes the law as an attempt to deprive a man of the right to take his family out once a year for a day’s fishing,” the Tacoma Daily News reported.

The cost: $1 for your home county, $5 for anywhere in the state.

“No man will want to take out a license for every member of this family for the privilege of catching a few fish while on a picnic or camping trip,” the brief article quotes an unnamed fisherman as saying.

“If he happens to take them outside the county in which he resides, he will be up against the proposition of paying a state license fee of $5. The law is the worst ever proposed and if it is passed, fishermen should unite to test it in courts,” the man continued.

Lawsuit!

Five bucks is how much I paid our sales manager after she won our March Madness pool — truly no big loss — but for a dad during the days of the Teddy Roosevelt Administration, $5 actually represented a helluva lot more:

$135.21 in today’s dollars, according to officialdata.org.

(The US Department of Labor inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, when $5 would have been worth $129.69.)

So you can understand the backlash from a guy suddenly having to contemplate outfitting the whole fam damily with licenses.

But another fisherman saw it differently.

“There was much objection when the hunting law was passed,” they said during a time when the county license was also $1 and the statewide one was $5, “but nobody now denies its good effects.”

To add a little more perspective, today’s freshwater-saltwater combo license plus the Columbia River salmon steelhead endorsement, a pair which essentially let you fish anywhere, runs $64.10 after dealer fees, or $2.37 in 1907 dollars, per officialdata.org.

If somehow WDFW’s fee bill unrolls itself from the Senate gillnet it’s caught in and is passed and signed into law, it would raise the price of those two licenses to a total of $72.34, or $2.68 back then.

“I’m willing to pay $1 a year for my fishing,” the enlightened and apparently frugal angler, who lived at a time when you didn’t have to travel across county lines to find good fishing, told the Daily News. “Why should not fishermen and hunters be treated alike? One thing is sure — that is that we’ve got to do something very quickly if we are to have any trout at all.”

Indeed, some things never change.

THE FRONT AND BACK COVERS OF THE 1905-06 WASHINGTON STATE GAME LAWS. THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT IS HELD BY THE OKANOGAN COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

I couldn’t tell you if the proposal was approved that year– my mom, who found the old article while doing genealogy research, is currently napping or something.

And I couldn’t tell you what hunting and fishing fees back then went towards — I assume wardens, county game commissions buying elk to restock overharvested herds, perhaps the budding hatchery system and maybe printing super-brief regs books (just four pages for the 1905 big game pamphlet, four-deer limit but closed for elk statewide and pheasants and quail on the Eastside), and I believe the coffers were also raided by the unscrupulous.

But I do know that today all of my license dollars — Every. Last. Penny. Of. Them — by state and federal laws go to the management of fish, wildlife, angling and hunting opportunities, NOT the General Fund.

And I cannot deny that “good effect” as we struggle to maintain and try and grow the opportunities we still have against a king hell tide of habitat destruction that’s come on since and even before 1907, politicians’ and even sportsmen’s apathy, and the roller coaster of bust-and-boom game cycles.

Westside Pheasant, Sound Steelheading, More At Risk Of Cuts As Lawmakers Consider WDFW Budget

Washington lawmakers are split on how to fund WDFW over the coming two years and patch up a potential $31 million shortfall.

The state House assumes the agency’s proposed fee bill passes but provides just a two-year General Fund bump to fill that gap, while the Senate would provide ongoing support from sales taxes but doesn’t raise the cost of fishing and hunting licenses.

The legislative session is scheduled to wrap up April 28, and while extra time in Olympia has become routine in recent years, WDFW brass are increasingly nervous as they eye the gulfs between the two chambers’ spending proposals for the 2019-21 biennium and have to consider cutting more popular programs.

“Each day that passes, we become a little more anxious,” said policy director Nate Pamplin on Tuesday.

Last Friday, his boss, Director Kelly Susewind, warned the Fish and Wildlife Commission that the Senate’s budget approach could lead to “some pretty devastating potential cuts for us.”

“The lack of a fee bill really hurts the fishing and hunting side of the agency pretty hard,” Morgan Stinson, WDFW’s budget director, said yesterday.

On the fishing side of the fillet board are federally required monitoring of the last early winter steelheading opportunities on Puget Sound rivers and on the Skagit-Sauk in spring; the closure of Reiter, Whitehorse, Naches, Chelan and Meseberg hatcheries, which together produce 2.6 million steelhead, salmon and trout; rehabbing lakes for better trout fishing; and a brutal whack at the warmwater program.

STEELHEADERS IN A DRIFT BOAT COME DOWN A SLIGHT RAPID ON THE SAUK LAST WEEK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“The lower priorities fall off because we don’t have any low priorities. They’re low among all high — these are the lowest highs,” Susewind told members of the commission.

Over on the hunting side, the Master Hunter program, which the state uses to manage problem animals with the help of select sportsmen, would end, as would the Western Washington pheasant program.

Like largemouth, ringnecks are also nonnative, putting them on the wrong end of the list, but Pamplin added that the cost to raise and release the birds at Westside wildlife areas also exceeds the revenues the hunting opportunity brings in.

WESTERN WASHINGTON PHEASANT HUNTERS GATHER AROUND A GAME WARDEN AT A NORTH SOUND RELEASE SITE NEAR MT. VERNON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“If we bring in 15 percent more revenue, maybe we can restore it,” he said.

Fifteen percent is how much WDFW’s across-the-board fee hike would cost hunters and anglers, but with a $7 cap on bundled license packages, a caveat that came from the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

It would be the first license increase since 2011 and is meant in part to shore up the shortfall and maintain opportunities.

A LEGISLATIVE ANALYSIS SHOWS HOW MUCH MORE INDIVIDUAL WDFW FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES WOULD COST UNDER THE FEE INCREASE BILL. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

The agency’s budget woes are primarily due to our license revenues not keeping up with costs to produce fish and manage critters and seasons; the Great Recession, which chopped its state General Fund stake from $110 million in 2007-09 to as low as $57.7 million in 2011-13 (with a one-time $10 million infusion for the current budget it grew back to $94.4 million); and inflation over the years.

Stinson said that WDFW’s structural deficit — how much lawmakers says it can spend versus how much money it actually takes in — is around $31 million this biennium.

APRIL 5, 2019 WDFW COMPARISON OF GOV. INSLEE, STATE HOUSE AND SENATE BUDGETS (FIGURES ARE IN MILLIONS)

Maintain/ Buy-back Decision Packages Gov House Senate
Maintain wildlife conflict response $4.4 $4.4 $4.4
Maintain public health and safety, Shellfish $2.5 $2.5 $2.5
Maintain land management $2.6 $2.6 $2.6
Maintain fishing and hatchery production $9.4 $9.4 $3.7
Maintain hunting $3.1 $3.1  –
Maintain conservation $3.4 $3.4 $3.4
Maintain Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement $3.0 $3.0  –
Maintain customer service $1.9 $1.9 $1.9

 

Enhancement Decision Packages Gov House Senate
Enhance conservation $1.3 $0.6  –
Enhance hunting and conflict response $0.8  –
Enhance fishing $6.9 $2.6  –
Lands enhancement  –  –
Enhance Regional Fishery Enh. Groups $0.7  – $0.7

 

Additional

Gov

House

Senate

CB1 – Salmon Marking Trailers

$0.5

P2 – Global Wildlife Trafficking

$0.3

$0.3

WR1 – Orca Whale Recovery-Prey

$10.5

$4.6

$10.5

WR2 – Orca Whale Recovery-Vessels

$1.7

$1.5

$1.4

WR4 – Orca Whale Recovery-Capacity

$0.6

PILT (house gets county $ right)

$0.8

$0.8

$.08

Enforcement RMS (senate IT pool)

$1.5

$1.5

Elk fencing in the Skagit Valley

$0.1

$0.4

State Data Center

$1.0

$1.0

Local and tribal hatchery production

$6.0

Wolf Recovery – (2097)

$1.0

$0.9

Without the fee bill, hunter education, private lands access and game management would also be reduced, WDFW warns.

And while extending the important Columbia salmon and steelhead endorsement is part of the House budget, it’s not in the Senate’s, and that could impact the agency’s ability to hold and monitor fisheries on the big river.

Now, no doubt that WDFW warning its constituents about such dire cuts to programs is meant in part to spur hunters and anglers to contact their lawmakers to try and head things off, but on the flip side it will also just stir an already buzzing hornet’s nest of sportsman angst and anger towards it.

“They’re upset at us for a number of reasons, like they always are,” Director Susewind told the commission last week about the Columbia endorsement, “but this would actually make us less able to deliver the things they’re upset at us for not having more of.”

“Upset” might be a bit of an understatement.

WDFW’s fee bill in the Senate is caught tighter than a salmon in a gillnet over management issues on the big river.

In early March, the Fish and Wildlife Commission paused ongoing Columbia fishery reforms for 2019, voting to continue allowing nontribal gillnetting below Bonneville (phaseout had been planned by 2017), and reducing sportfishing ESA impact allocations on spring and summer Chinook from 80-20 to 70-30 (though the lower figure applies only if there are enough springers this year after a run update).

That infuriated longtime supporters of the reforms and efforts to end gillnetting in the Northwest, especially as it followed on the death of a Senate bill that would have barred the nontreaty commercial practice on the river in a couple years.

A GUIDE BOAT RUNS UP THE LOWER COLUMBIA DURING 2014’S BUOY 10 FALL SALMON FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association called on members to oppose WDFW’s fee bill, claiming the commission vote “restores year-round non-tribal gillnetting on the Columbia River’s 13 ESA listed stocks.”

According to ODFW and WDFW documents, there were four days of nontribal gillnetting for salmon on the mainstem last year. Those occurred in late August and targeted fall Chinook between Bonneville and the mouth of the Lewis. Low runs are expected to continue this year, making for limited fishing opportunities for all fleets.

Asked how the gillnet vote has impacted the fee bill, Pamplin acknowledged that it’s one of those big issues that always pops up each session.

“We have heard from legislators about concerns with the Columbia and the fee bill,” he said.

But he also pointed back to WDFW’s Budget and Policy Group of “opinion leaders” in the state fish and wildlife world and said that despite their own issues — “wolves, carnivores, hatcheries, allocations” — they “pretty quickly” saw a “healthy funded” agency was necessary, and some members continue to push for lawmakers to fully fund it.

BPAG came out of a 2017 legislative requirement that WDFW review its funding and operations.

It included an agency audit that found WDFW’s money problems weren’t due to mismanagement. And it mandated a zero-based budgeting exercise, which Pamplin said prioritized native species over nonnative ones, thus the warmwater and pheasant programs being proposed for cuts.

“But we recognize the value” of bass and other species, Pamplin quickly added. “We don’t want to cut it.”

And before last year asking for an overall $60-plus million fee hike and General Fund increase to maintain and enhance opportunties, WDFW also trimmed $2 million, affecting a number of IT positions, reduced grant funding, and triploid trout stocking.

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

Elsewhere in legislators’ proposed 2019-21 budgets, the House makes a “really strong investment” for orcas with $14.8 million for additional hatchery salmon production, “one of the most important near-term fixes as we work on culverts,” in WDFW’s words.

Senate support for clipped fish isn’t as high, but members are taking a bit more of a regulatory approach for getting more Chinook to the southern residents, focusing on shoreline armoring, vessel distance and regulating the whale-watching industry, Pamplin said.

Now, as budget negotiations begin in earnest, WDFW staffers are reaching out to lawmakers, highlighting what could be impacted in their districts, and trying to make recommendations to each chamber about what a compromise might look like.

“What we’re focusing on right now is contacting legislators to walk through the difference between both budgets,” says Pamplin.

How that plays out will determine what gets cut and what gets saved in the coming two years and probably longer.

Idaho Hunt Managers Tout 2019 Spring Turkey Prospects

THE FOLLOWING IS AN IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME PRESS RELEASE

The youth turkey season opens Monday, April 8, and the general turkey season and many controlled hunts in the state open the following Monday, April 15. Hunters can see which units have general hunts in Fish and Game’s turkey hunting rules, in addition to details about the seasons.

COLTYN SMITH, THEN AGE 14 FROM HORSESHOE BEND, IDAHO, AND CONNER TOMLINSON, THEN AGE 13 FROM MERIDIAN, IDAHO EACH HARVESTED THEIR TURKEY DURING THE YOUTH HUNT IN APRIL 2016. THEY WERE ESCORTED BY THEIR FATHERS, KIT SMITH AND SCOTT TOMLINSON. THE BOYS HUNTED ON A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, IN THE IDAHO CITY AREA. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

There are some rule changes for the 2019 season that hunters should be aware of, specifically pertaining to controlled hunts:

  • A general tag or an extra tag may be used with a controlled hunt permit in both the spring and fall seasons
  • Immediately after any wild turkey is killed, the turkey tag and permit, if a controlled hunt, must be validated and securely attached to the wild turkey. To validate the tag and permit, the hunter must cut out and completely remove two triangles on the border of the tag and permit, one for the month and one for the day of the kill
  • The tag and permit must remain attached so long as the turkey is in transit or storage

Hunters will find most general hunting opportunity in the Panhandle, Clearwater, and Southwest and Southeast Regions, while most other areas are limited to controlled hunts.

While much of the state experienced deep snowfall in February, the winter was relatively mild until that point, meaning turkeys were not stressed for a long period of time. Add that to the fact that most of the state’s turkey populations were in good shape heading into the winter, and hunters can expect good to very good turkey hunting in the spring of 2019.

Hunters are warned that many areas experience flooding during late winter and early spring, so they should double check access to their favorite hunting spots. They might also encounter lingering snowdrifts that block them from their hunting spot.

AN I.D.F.G. MAP SHOWS THE PARTS OF IDAHO THAT ARE OPEN TO GENERAL SEASON SPRING TURKEY HUNTING (BLUE) AND AREAS THAT REQUIRE A CONTROLLED TAG. (IDFG)

Fish and Game’s regional staff give an overview of what’s happening with turkey hunting in their regions:

Panhandle Region

Turkey season in the Panhandle is looking quite good despite the snow that accumulated in the lower elevations late winter.

The region currently has near-normal winter snowpack, but the majority of snow fell later in February and March. Turkeys were likely not stressed for a long period because of the mild early winter conditions. Things should begin to melt soon and with the ample late snowfall we should see a very nice spring green-up due to the abundant moisture.

A challenge for turkey hunters this year might be access due to poor road conditions and the potential for flooding, but there should be abundant turkey numbers. Snow may also hang on in some areas of the region potentially affecting access.

During the spring season, hunters may purchase and use up to two turkey tags; only bearded turkeys may be harvested in spring. As always, remember to respect private property, and ask first before you hunt there.

– Micah Ellstrom, Panhandle Region Wildlife Manager

Clearwater Region

Turkeys are present throughout all forested portions of the region with the highest densities found in and adjacent to the Clearwater River drainage up to the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway Rivers, the Snake River drainage up the confluence with the Salmon River, the lower Salmon River drainage up to White Bird, and the Dworshak (Reservoir) area.

Good opportunities for turkey hunting are found on Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area, state and federal property, private property, as well as corporate timber land. The entire region is open to general turkey hunting April 8-14 (youth only) and April 15 – May 25 for the general spring season.

Production the past five years has been at or above the long-term average. Relatively mild conditions during the bulk of the past two winters should result in good overwinter survival. Consequently, turkey numbers this hunting season should be comparable to those observed in recent years.

Late winter snows could potentially preclude access to some higher elevation areas depending on weather conditions and snowmelt between now and the opener. The Hunt Planner is a good tool for showing different federal land ownership. For information on corporate timberland, visit websites for the Potlatch Timber Corporation and the Bennett Lumber Company.

– Dave Koehler, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Upper Snake Region

The Upper Snake Region generally has small populations mainly along the Henry’s Fork and South Fork of the Snake River.

With the late arrival of winter this year and lower than normal temperatures in February and March, we would anticipate some winter mortalities within the region.  With above normal snowpack in higher elevations in many parts of the region, expect to find turkeys at lower elevations later into the season.

Anticipate stable to slightly declining turkey populations in the region for spring hunting.

– Curtis Hendricks, Upper Snake Region Wildlife Manager

Southeast Region

Turkeys fared extremely well last spring/summer with high production and survival rates resulting in flock increases across the region.

Winter conditions were above average, however, turkey numbers were extremely high this past year, and despite some winter mortality, there should still be robust turkey populations for hunters to enjoy.

During the early period of the spring season, hunters might find turkey distributions to be slightly different due to lingering snow at higher elevations.

– Zach Lockyer, Regional Wildlife Manager

Southwest Region

The turkey outlook in the Nampa subregion of the Southwest Region is good. Winter conditions have been mild in the valley and we expect high overwinter survival in GMU’s 38 and 39.

Additionally, 100 turkeys were trapped on private land near Parma (GMU 38) and relocated to public land on the South Fork Boise River below Anderson Ranch Dam (GMU 39).

Turkeys have been faring well in the Treasure Valley for several years and numbers are up. Spring turkey hunting throughout the area should be good this spring.

– Rick Ward, Regional Wildlife Manager, Nampa Subregion

Turkey numbers are increasing throughout occupied parts of the Southwest Region.  Although many areas saw deep snow this winter, it came late and stayed for a relatively short time, so did not adversely affect turkey populations in most places.

Units 22, 31, 32A and 23 all have general spring turkey hunts, as does a portion of Unit 32. In areas around Cecil D. Andrus WMA, Cambridge, Weiser and Midvale, most turkeys will be at low elevations during the early part of the spring season.

Motorized travel is restricted on Andrus WMA until May 1, but walk-in hunting is welcome.  In addition, there is turkey hunting available on Access Yes properties near Cambridge, Indian Valley, and New Meadows.

– Regan Berkley, Regional Wildlife Manager, McCall Subregion

Salmon Region

The region has low turkey densities, about 400 in Custer County and about 125 to 225 in Lemhi County. There are limited controlled hunts for these birds.

The region likely had some late winter mortality but hunting success rates should remain good. Access will not be a problem due to snow.

– Greg Painter, Salmon Region Wildlife Manager

Magic Valley Region

The region has a limited number of turkeys in Unit 54, with most residing on the west side of the unit. Turkeys are limited to controlled hunts only in the region, and normal survival is anticipated after the winter.

– Mark Fleming, Regional Wildlife Habitat Manager

Oregon Gobbler Hunting Forecast For Spring 2019

Editor’s note: This is an abridged version of Troy Rodakowski’s Oregon spring turkey prospects story that ran in the March 2019 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine and was written in early February, before heavy winter snows that are now melting fell across eastern portions of the Beaver State.

By Troy Rodakowski

I always wonder where my opening day will take me as I try to think of new options, consider revisiting old haunts and wondering what the new season might have in store.

Talking to a few biologists never hurts and I have found that sometimes they have good insights for hunters looking for new locations and tracking where flocks are moving.

JAYCE WILDER GOT HIS GOBBLER IN 2016 WHILE HUNTING DOUGLAS COUNTY. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

“We are seeing some range expansion in parts of the Columbia Basin and eastern Malheur County, where Idaho birds are pioneering some new areas,” notes Mikal Cline, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s game bird biologist.

The state agency also conducts some trap-and-transplant operations, moving problem birds to more desirable locations, but only to improve existing flocks.

According to several local landowners and turkey hunters there are also improving flocks in the upper Deschutes watershed and locations around Bend, as well as the Hood River Valley.

With below average snowpack and a fairly mild winter – at least as of this writing – larger flocks have been congregating in the lowlands near the mountain ranges of Northeast and Central Oregon. I have also seen some expansion of several flocks throughout the Umpqua River drainage.

According to biologists, we are also seeing some range expansion in southern Wasco and Wheeler Counties, part of the Fremont National Forest north of Lakeview, and south of Ontario. No matter where you look it is very likely that there are some new areas to check out this spring.

NORTH-CENTRAL AND NORTHEAST OREGON SAW QUITE A BIT OF SNOWFALL IN FEBRUARY AND EARLY MARCH, AND WHILE IT IS BEGINNING TO MELT OUT, IT MAY AFFECT WHERE TO HUNT TURKEY AT THE START OF THE SEASON. MATHEW GOODMAN-GRAY GOT HIS TOM DURING SPRING 2015’S HUNT ABOUT A MILE FROM HIS GRANDPA’S PLACE NEAR UNION. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

“The mild winter throughout Oregon has provided good conditions for our wintering turkey flocks,” notes Cline.

It is likely that weather-related mortality will be low, but hens should be going into spring in good physical condition as well.

“This of course also allows the hens to produce plenty of eggs and withstand the energetic needs of incubation,” adds Cline.

We of course have been fooled by mild early and midwinter patterns only to have onslaughts of wet, cold and snowy conditions later on, turning the tables and changing things drastically as we progress into spring.

Of course it is no secret that turkey populations seem to be robust throughout much of the Northwest. Oregon has a very liberal bag limit, with hunters able to purchase three tags apiece throughout the season. The West is becoming a turkey hunting destination for many across the U.S. Throughout Oregon harvest rates have been steady over the past five years, “though this doesn’t reflect the increasing density of wild turkeys that are not in huntable locations,” Cline says.

“Our Eastern Oregon brood survey routes show a 27 percent bump in turkey density from 2017 to 2018, so I would expect a strong showing this spring, particularly in the vicinity of the Umatilla, Malheur, Wallowa-Whitman, and Ochoco National Forests,” she forecasts.

THE TOP FIVE Western Oregon units in recent years have been the Melrose, Rogue, Willamette, Evans Creek and Applegate. All had good harvests, with some of the highest in Melrose and Rogue, followed by Evans Creek and Willamette respectively.

One unit to keep an eye on for this year will be the Siuslaw near Lorane, especially in the southeast portions near the small towns of Drain and Creswell. Also, the McKenzie, Alsea, Chetco and Keno Units have seen increasing numbers of birds on private lands near the foothills.

DON’T TELL THE TRUANT OFFICER BUT KEVIN KENYON MIGHT HAVE SKIPPED SCHOOL A COUPLE SPRINGS AGO TO HUNT TURKEYS WITH HIS UNCLE, SUCCESSFULLY BAGGING THIS WESTERN OREGON TOM. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

In Central and Eastern Oregon, locations near LaGrande, Imbler, Elgin, Union, Cove, Wallowa, Sumpter and Flora all hold decent flocks. The Catherine Creek, Sumpter, Walla Walla, Pine Creek and Minam Units all saw decent harvest in 2017-18. And units that showed significant increases in harvest during the past few years include the Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Keating and Starkey.