Tag Archives: jim unsworth

DOE’s Susewind Chosen As New WDFW Director

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission chose Kelly Susewind, of the Department of Ecology, as the new WDFW director.

KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

In a phone call immediately after the vote late this morning, Susewind told Commission Chair Brad Smith he was “very excited and very nervous.”

Susewind is something of an unknown and wildcard to Washington’s rank and file anglers and hunters, but the commission supported his appointment unanimously.

He has worked for the Department of Ecology for over two and a half decades, most recently as the director of administrative services and environmental policy.

According to a WDFW press release, he originally hails from the Grays Harbor area and went to Washington State University, where he earned a degree in geological engineering.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve the people of Washington at an agency whose effectiveness is critical to our ability to conserve fish and wildlife resources while providing outdoor recreation and commercial opportunities throughout the state,” Susewind said in the release. “The public has high expectations for WDFW, and I’m excited about being in a position to deliver the results they deserve.”

Pat Pattillo, who retired a few years ago from the agency after a long career in salmon management and who continues to keep a close eye on fisheries as well as advocates for sport angling, was very positive about the choice and the relative speed at which the process had moved along.

“I believe Kelly has the abilities to lead the department and communicate effectively with the many partners WDFW needs to be successful. Leadership from the top of the agency has been missing over the last two years and while capable managers for fish, wildlife, enforcement and habitat kept the wheels from falling off, it has been an agency without a head,” Pattillo said.

He said that Susewind will know whom he needs to establish relations with —  “the public, legislature, tribes and other management authorities.”

“It will take energy and, from what I’ve heard, he has that capability,” Pattillo said.

Rep. Brian Blake,  the South Coast Democrat in charge of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee which sees many WDFW-related bills, said Susewind had his “full support.”

“He is a lifelong hunter and I expect that he will be a force for positive change at DFW,” he said.

Fellow hunter Commissioner Jay Kehne of Omak nominated “Candidate P,” Susewind, for the position and was seconded by Vice Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon.

Susewind will oversee a staff of 1,800, land base of 1,400 square miles and harness a $437 million two-year budget to hold and conserve fisheries and hunting opportunities and provide scientific rationale for what it’s doing.

He also must deal with a potential $30 million budget shortfall in 2019-21 that could force the closure of the Omak and Naches trout hatcheries and other potential cuts unless the gap is filled by the legislature.

“He’s a good manager, great people skills and a real CEO type,” said Tom Nelson, co-host of a Seattle outdoors radio show on 710 ESPN.

Susewind’s soon-to-be old boss, DOE’s Maia Bellon, tweeted out her best wishes, “Congratulations, Kelly! Thank you for all the hard work and years of service at @ecologywa. We wish you all the best at @wdfw, and look forward to collaborating with you in your new role.”

When the Fish and Wildlife Commission put out its help wanted ad around four months ago, it said the next director would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

“Obviously the Commission wants to take the department in an entirely new direction.  Change is very difficult, and taking over WDFW is nearly as complex as taking over a federal resource agency, with many of the same challenges,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “We welcome the new director and look forward to working with Mr. Susewind on conservation and recovery of our fisheries, growing participation in fishing and protecting the jobs in the sportfishing industry.”

Chair Smith said that “the appointment marks the beginning of a new era in the department’s history” and spoke highly of WDFW staff and what they could all accomplish together.

Susewind begins work Aug. 1 and will be paid an annual salary of $165,000.

Nineteen people applied for the position in the wake of Jim Unsworth’s resignation this past winter. That pool was cut to seven in April and then three last month.

One of the three, Joe Stohr, who has been acting director since Unsworth left,  sat at the end of the long table as the members of the citizen panel made their choice known. He was consoled by Smith after the vote, and after Smith phoned Susewind, Smith publicly added, “Joe, you have all of our respect.”

There will be some who will be unhappy that, once again, a new director is coming from outside the agency.

Commissioner Jay Holzmiller of Anatone likened the panel’s last selection to “a kid getting cocky on a bike.”

“We got our knees and elbows skinned up,” he said before casting his support for Susewind.

One of the primary reasons for Unsworth’s departure was his handling of Puget Sound salmon fishing issues. Some hoped that the new director would come from this world.

“On the fish side, I don’t believe anyone thinks salmonid biology is (Susewind’s) strong suit but he’s a real quick study,” said Nelson, who added, “I think Susewind is a strong choice and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

But there were many issues that came to a head during Unsworth’s term,  which also suffered from the bad luck of coinciding with sharply declining salmon runs due to the North Pacific’s “Blob,”  the pool of warm water that has crushed several years of returns.

Mark Pidgeon said that the Hunters Heritage Council and Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation were welcoming Susewind “with open arms.”

“We think that he will make an outstanding Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. We realize that he is taking over a department facing many crises and he will have many difficult tasks facing him.  Both our organizations look forward to working with him to build a better and brighter future for WDFW,” said Pidgeon.

Among Susewind’s immediate challenges will be that looming budget gap, and as a member of WDFW’s Budget Policy and Advisory Group helping the agency navigate those dangerous straits, Pidgeon advised the new top honcho to “open lines of communications, especially to the hunters and fishers.”

“These users have felt shut out. The best way to bring more money in the coffers is sell more licenses, talk with us and see what we want,” he said.

Pidgeon is also on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group.

“I want the new director to know he can call on me anytime.”

Wanda Clifford of the venerable Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, one of the state’s oldest sporting organizations, also extended that offer of help.

“We are very pleased with the hire of Kelly Susewind and look forward to working with with him. We would hope that Kelly will have a better understanding of the hunting community and the number of hunters that put time and funds into our statewide budget. We feel that in the past the thoughts, needs and suggestions  from the hunting community have not been respected when in reality a large part of the department’s budget comes from the purchase of license and tags, and as a user group are often put on the bottom.”

With INWC based in Spokane, from where it puts on the annual Big Horn Show, and in the corner of the state where most of Washington’s wolves roam, you can bet that the predators were on Clifford’s mind as well.

“We also would like to see our new director work on the large wolf issue that we face here on the east side of the state,” she said, and wished Susewind good luck.

Editor’s note: My apologies for misspellings, etc., pain in the butt to report breaking news and reaction by phone on a weekend.

Stohr Named WDFW Interim Director; Unsworth ‘Exit Interview’ Out Today

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously named Joe Stohr as the acting director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife this morning.

Stohr, who has been deputy director at the state agency since 2007, takes over on Thursday, February 8, the day after current director Jim Unsworth leaves the position.

JOE STOHR WAS NAMED WDFW INTERIM DIRECTOR TODAY BY THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (WDFW)

Over the years Stohr has fielded policy, legislative and budgetary questions from this magazine, and he’s also overseen risk management, capital projects and human resources.

“We know we are leaving the agency in very capable hands by placing Joe in charge,” Commission Chair Brad Smith said in a press release out in the afternoon. “His leadership and extensive experience will be very helpful as we begin the search for a new director.”

Prior to WDFW, Stohr worked for over 20 years with the Department of Ecology. Amy Windrope, the agency’s Region 4 Director, will step temporarily into his position.

A nationwide search is also being launched to find a permanent WDFW director.

While it’s likely that that person won’t be seated during this year’s North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations with the tribes (which actually could be a good thing, says one source), whomever is chosen will be faced with the same highly complex and contentious Puget Sound fishery management issues that led to Unsworth’s resignation announcement in late January.

Essentially, the proposed and very unpopular with sport fishermen 10-year Chinook harvest management plan that came out in early December was the nail in the coffin for him.

Referencing a KING 5 interview, Puget Sound Anglers President Ron Garner said, “I’m getting a lot of praise and thanks, but we really got to praise the commission,” on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line last Saturday. “They’re the ones that understood what happened and they got called on this to step up and do the right thing and they put a lot of pressure on the director. They’re the ones to thank; we just gave them a nudge.”

As Unsworth makes his way out the door, he gave an exit interview to outdoor writer Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune and which is out this morning.

He said he’d “enjoyed” his three years at WDFW’s helm, calling it “challenging,” especially on the fisheries front.

“We have some real difficult situations with anadromous fish and (Endangered Species Act) listings and conflicts with hatchery production and harvest allocations,” Unsworth told Barker. “Those are all big challenges, and certainly any time you do this kind of job you aren’t pleasing everyone and you are disappointing some people, and at some point it’s time to move on and give someone else a shot.”

Unsworth, who came from Idaho with a very deep background in wildlife management, urged people “to pay particular attention to (salmon) habitat issues and do what we can. That is the long-term fix.”

“We need to explore opportunities for hatcheries,” he also told Barker, “and produce as many fish as we can in some of these systems that are heavily impacted (by development) and do what we can for native fish.”

In the grand scheme, Washington’s wolf issues may be tame in comparison to Westside salmon problems — work with me here, 509ers, we’re talking like from the 100,000-foot-level — but Unsworth offered some guidance for when the state’s population of the furry fangers reach population benchmarks.

“I think you need to acknowledge the success states like Idaho and Montana have had with harvest management,” he told Barker. “Both of those states are excellent examples that you can reduce your livestock conflicts and other predation conflicts with hunting and still have abundant and widely distributed wolf populations. I think there are some great lessons to learn.”

In his Jan. 24 resignation letter to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Unsworth had recommended Stohr as interim director.

The last time a WDFW director exited in a similar manner, Dr. Jeff Koenings’ December 2009 resignation, it took nine and a half months before the commission chose a new permanent director, Phil Anderson. When Anderson announced in August 2014 that he’d be leaving at the end of the year, it took the citizen panel five months before choosing Unsworth.

Unsworth’s immediate plans are to take a breather, according to Barker, then continue with his passions, managing and conserving critters.

Unsworth Resigning As WDFW Director

Jim Unsworth is resigning as director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the agency announced late this afternoon.

He submitted a letter today to the Fish and Wildlife Commission that his last day will be Feb. 7.

“Over the last three years, Jim has done an outstanding job of guiding the department through the complex challenges that come with managing natural resources in Washington,” said Commission Chair Brad Smith in a press release. “We greatly appreciate his contributions to the department and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Those are said to be “personal and professional goals.”

An interim director will be named shortly, with a national replacement search launching as well.

While Unsworth’s term at WDFW’s helm that began in early 2015 has seen highs, overall it has been a rocky one marked by intense allocation battles with Western Washington tribes over declining salmon returns, an ill-fated license fee increase bid, an embarrassing run-in with state senators during a legislative hearing, and overreaching promises, among other headaches.

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

But that things were not going to work out for Unsworth in Washington began crystalizing early last month with two key events — and surely the recent bevy of Fish and Wildlife Commission executive sessions couldn’t have all been to talk about Chinook in private.

Unsworth lost a key public supporter, Seattle outdoor radio show host Tom Nelson, over the proposed Skagit-Sauk wild steelhead fishery after WDFW staff were only able to initially offer 14 days after a nine-year closure despite untempered statements from the director that made it seem as if there would be far more opportunity this winter and spring.

And he suffered a very public rebuke from the vice chair of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Larry Carpenter, over leaving the citizen panel out of the loop on development of the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

“It’s very critical, and not having discussions with the commission, I think, is an unacceptable practice,” Carpenter said during a well-attended TVW broadcast of the meeting.

To a degree, Unsworth’s hands were tied on that one because of the federal-court-mediated, open-case nature of the discussions with area tribes and federal Department of Justice officials.

But still, the magnitude of the proposal’s potential impacts has left Puget Sound anglers and the salmon fishing industry fearing for the future. Only after the Fish and Wildlife Commission pressed the issue yesterday has a glimmer of hope shown through all of the gathering clouds.

“Jim Unsworth resigning is evidence that the Puget Sound Chinook Plan was a flawed plan from the get-go,” said Nelson, the cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line. “His signature on the document might as well have been his resignation.”

 

Unsworth had the very bad luck to come into the directorship as some salmon runs tanked due to The Blob and compounding, long-term habitat and predation problems.

He hardly got much of a pass in spring 2015 when a key central Puget Sound Chinook fishery was closed and we lost access to the Skokomish River and its state-reared kings.

But the following year saw negotiations with the tribes go a month and a half longer than usual, resulting in all sorts of angst and lost business, and a month after that WDFW began pitching a license fee increase complete with new $17 and $10 catch cards for four species.

He overpromised on a Snohomish coho fishery later in 2016 only to see the run pause and then get called on the carpet by a powerful senator, though eventually the fish did come in.

Just a few months later he and fellow honchos had the unenviable task of telling the same senator– the one who had gone to bat for the agency over hatchery winter-run production elsewhere — they didn’t have a compelling story to tell about the large loss of Cowlitz steelhead smolts.

Indeed, a 30-plus-year career in wildlife management in Idaho did not translate well to dealing with Washington’s highly complex fisheries situations.

Yet Unsworth leaving will be no magic elixir that will make Washington’s fishing and hunting world suddenly all better.

For starters, WDFW is now leaderless going into a critical North of Falcon negotiations, and between that, the Chinook plan and NOAA requirements, among other outstanding items, one agency source describes things as “more topsy turvy than I’ve seen in my career.”

They would almost prefer having Unsworth around than not, even if sportsmen like Nelson feels that WDFW has been otherwise rudderless with him as director.

The source said Unsworth was human like any of us and that he tried hard. The question now becomes, what sort of person will the next director be and what will their priorities be in terms of fishing, hunting and habitat?

They will need to be a strong, effective leader to rebuild WDFW. 2017 was not a good year for its image in other respects, including reports on a “highly sexualized culture” at agency headquarters and another hatchery, holding the scientific high ground but losing the public low ground on escaped Atlantic salmon, a raid on a Rochester wild animal recovery operation and the seizure of a family’s pet raccoon.

WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH IN EXTREME SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON’S 4-O RANCH WILDLIFE AREA. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

But Unsworth’s time hasn’t been all bad.

Under his watch WDFW has begun simplifying its fishing regulations and — despite discontent over how much an outside advisor is being paid — the state’s wolf world is relatively calm.

Relatively.

WDFW’s press release pointed to other accomplishments:

* Initiating “a multi-year initiative to strengthen the department’s relationships with communities, increase support for conservation and outdoor recreation, and help ensure WDFW programs and services meet the public’s needs.”

“I have had some great experiences as director,” Unsworth told agency staff, according to the press release, “but by far the best part of the job has been getting to know many of you. I appreciate your professionalism, work ethic, and passion for fish and wildlife.”

The director was also known for fishing the state’s rivers and talking to anglers about things.

Now, he’ll have more time to do that in the near future, maybe on the Skagit-Sauk sometime in April.

If OKed, Skagit-Sauk Steelhead Fishery May Not Open Till Spring

Between the hopes, the vow, the disappointment, the so-so run forecast, the budget and the feds, will anybody be happy with a wild steelhead fishery on the Skagit-Sauk if we get one this year?

However long it might last.

Whatever shape it might take.

Whenever it might get approved.

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

THE VOW

In early December, the National Marine Fisheries Service put WDFW and local tribes’ proposed fisheries on the North Cascades river system out for final comment.

Two days later, during open public input at WDFW’s December 9 Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia, Leland Miyawaki of Occupy Skagit — which has long been a driving force behind reinstating the catch-and-release season — spoke once again in support of it.

WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH DURING THE DEC. 9, 2017 FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION, TELEVISED ON TVW, WHERE THIS SCREEN GRAB CAME FROM. (TVW)

As he finished his testimony, Commissioner Jay Holzmiller from Anatone, in the opposite corner of the state from the Skagit, asked WDFW Director Jim Unsworth if he could get Miyawaki some answers.

Unsworth went one better.

“If we get the approval, it’s going to happen,” he said right then.

THE DISAPPOINTMENT AND THE BUDGET

The “if” really isn’t a question, but Unsworth’s vow confidently glossed over a crucial unresolved issue: finding the funding to monitor and enforce the rules during a federally permitted fishery over what is an ESA-listed stock, albeit the strongest one in Puget Sound.

When WDFW rolled out its Wild Futures fee increase proposal last year, the cost to hold a Feb. 1 to April 30 season on the Skagit between Concrete and Rockport and the Sauk from its mouth to Darrington was modeled at $110,000.

Wild Futures went nowhere in the state Legislature.

The $110,000 evaporated.

That meant the money has to come from elsewhere in WDFW’s coffers.

Sure, their wolf people tamer just got a new $425,000 contract extension, but the reality is this money could never come from that pot. Instead, local staffers would need to be retasked from their important stream surveys, work at hatcheries and crunching data to do creel sampling.

Anglers like you and I might accept that as a good tradeoff, though ultimately it could cost us down the road in other ways.

Anyway, with Unsworth all but guaranteeing we’ll fish, when WDFW held the first of two recent public meetings with steelheaders to help shape a fishery, managers said they had located enough funding — roughly $30,000 — for a two-week season.

Er, two weeks?

Having not been able to fish the Sauk and Skagit in prime time — February, March and April — since 2009, it would be fair to say that 14 days is not exactly what many anglers such as myself had in mind.

The federal plan allows fishing from as early as Feb. 1 to as late as April 15 or 30. (It’s unclear which is meant — both are listed as end dates in different areas of the document.)

So … JUST TWO WEEKS?!?!

That’s like … a freshwater halibut season, man!

A mad rush to the river, overcrowded boat ramps, 20 drifters or sleds side-drifting every run and lumberyard, fly guys and spoon chuckers and bobber lobbers lining the banks, Howard Miller packed to the gills.

It didn’t go over so well with some.

Subsequent to that first meeting was a second, and afterwards Occupy Skagit reported on Facebook “there was talk from the presenters at Sedro Woolley that the entire season may well be funded.”

Setting aside what “the entire season” might mean for just a moment, it wasn’t clear where those additional dollars were coming from, though it’s possible Unsworth — who is an eager river angler himself — took some words from Commissioner Kim Thorburn to heart.

“Director, you can do double duty, doing the monitoring while you’re fishing,” the Spokane birder said at the Dec. 9 meeting.

THE FEDERAL REALITY

Regardless of how much spare change Unsworth et al have found underneath the agency’s assorted cushions, how long we’re able to fish the Sauk and Skagit in 2018 boils down to when Barry Thom literally signs off on it.

Thom would be NMFS’s West Coast administrator in Portland. His minions put the fishery proposal out for a 30-day comment period starting Dec. 7 and ending Jan. 8.

During that time, NMFS received somewhere around 120 missives, according to spokesman Michael Milstein.

So now of course those have to be gone through for their merits.

I imagine many are legit — clearing up that confusing double end date deal, say — while others may be more about delaying or even scuttling a 2018 season altogether.

I want to be clear that this doesn’t work for me What. So. Ever, but an argument can be made to just take a deep breath and get everything in order for a full February-April fishery in 2019.

Spread out the pressure, maybe there will be more fish than the 4,000 to 6,000 expected this year, down from recent years’ average spawner escapement of 8,800.

But with 2017’s North Sound salmon fisheries (LOL) and all this with the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan and its potential impacts if king forecasts are low, getting area anglers something — anything — is pretty damned important.

So it’s good to hear that federal overseers are busting their butts to potentially get us on the river.

“We have put extra people on this and expect a decision this spring, but we don’t have a date. It won’t be January, but we’re moving quickly so Barry can make a decision as soon as possible,” NMFS’s Milstein says.

“This spring” technically means anywhere between March 20 and June 21, though an approval in the latter half of the period is utterly useless in terms of a fishery this year.

Trying to buy us some more time, I pointed out to Milstein that, according to University of Washington weather blogger Cliff Mass, the Westside’s meteorological spring actually starts “the third week in February.”

He didn’t respond.

Maybe he’s helping review all those comments.

WDFW Asks Douglas PUD To Reconsider On Ending Hatchery Contract

WDFW is asking Douglas County PUD to reconsider dropping the state agency as operator of the utilities’ hatchery facilities in North-central Washington following allegations of sexual harassment at one.

Saying that 90 days is not enough time to turn over the Wells and Methow Hatcheries while safeguarding the salmon and steelhead being reared there, Director Jim Unsworth proposes to honor the existing contract while working out concerns that PUD has.

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

“WDFW and Douglas PUD have a long history of working together to benefit the fishery resources of the upper Columbia Basin. Hatchery production at the Douglas PUD facilities is very important to the state, federal, and tribal natural resource entities” there, reads a Sept. 7 letter from Unsworth to Gary Ivory, the utilities’ general manager.

The relationship has been rocky in recent weeks after news reports about sexual harassment and a hostile work environment at Wells surfaced this summer.

WDFW fired four employees allegedly involved in it, but then the PUD commission voted to terminate its contract with the state to operate the two hatcheries, as well as a weir and acclimation pond near Twisp.

Unsworth’s letter notes that “in retrospect WDFW failed to keep our partners at Douglas PUD informed of the progress of our investigation. WDFW was also aware of news coverage and we should have notified Douglas PUD of this potentially embarrassing issue.”

A draft agenda for the PUD commission shows Wells Hatchery operations are on the agenda today.

 

 

4 Wells Hatchery Workers Fired Following Investigation Into Activities

A high-ranking state lawmaker and a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner are calling for changes within WDFW after reports surfaced that a highly sexualized culture also existed at an Eastern Washington hatchery, where four workers were fired last week.

Two stories out this morning paint an ugly picture of goings-on at the Wells Hatchery on the Upper Columbia, where the manager and three top hatchery specialists allegedly “routinely talked about sex and asked explicit sexual questions of coworkers” and made remarks about “the bodies of women who visited the hatchery.”

The pieces are reported by Walker Orenstein of The News Tribune of Tacoma and Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network.

They’re based on a 30-page report by Daphne R. Schneider and Associates commissioned this March after workers at a nearby hatchery expressed their concerns about alleged behavior at Wells to a WDFW officer.

Northwest Sportsman has filed a public disclosure request for the document, but in the meanwhile the reporters’ articles paint a picture of both the alleged activities and the workers’ defense.

The four men who were fired passed their conversations off as “locker room talk,” but it was allegedly so bad for one coworker that she left for a position elsewhere.

WDFW said that it is not pursuing criminal charges against the quartet “because their misconduct did not appear to rise to that level, agency spokesman Bruce Botka said. Also, the consulting firm did not conclude anyone had been sexually harassed,” Orenstein reported.

They can appeal their removal.

For WDFW, the latest story is effectively a one-two punch.

Early last week, Orenstein and Jenkins reported about a law firm’s investigation of sexual harassment claims at the agency’s Olympia headquarters.

Afterwards, Botka told Northwest Sportsman that “Director Jim Unsworth again today said he has no tolerance for the sorts of allegations that have surfaced in these stories and in this case.”

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

This latest incident left Unsworth “startled and taken aback” and he felt that the firing of the four would send a strong message throughout WDFW’s 1,500-plus employees.

Certainly, a problem was identified, investigated and action was taken, but some are calling for even more.

Rep. Brian Blake, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which many WDFW-related bills go through, called on WDFW’s overseers to put their foot down.

REP. BRIAN BLAKE, D-ABERDEEN. (TVW)

“The [Fish and Wildlife] Commission who governs this agency needs to step up and through the director communicate very strongly that there needs to be somebody in charge that does have this expertise in the ability to change cultures,” Blake told the newspaper and radio reporters.

One of those members, Commissioner Barbara Baker, who was appointed earlier this year by Governor Jay Inslee, said that even more stringent training is needed, it was reported.

IN THIS TVW SCREENGRAB, WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONER BARBARA BAKER SPEAKS BEFORE THE SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES AND PARKS COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING ON HER APPOINTMENT TO THE PANEL, SET TO RUN AT LEAST THROUGH 2022. (TVW)

Wells Hatchery is owned by Douglas County PUD and operated by WDFW. It rears hundreds of thousands of summer steelhead, summer Chinook, trout and kokanee for fisheries, as well as sturgeon for conservation programs.

Troublingly, Jenkins’s report mentions possible misuse of state equipment by the former manager, while Orenstein’s article says that the WDFW officer’s initial report suggested hatchery workers had been “coached to provide false numbers for fish stocking records.”

This is not the first time WDFW hatcheries have been in the news for sex-related activities.

In 2012,  Carl E. Jouper, the former manager of the George Adams Hatchery in Mason County, was jailed for 90 days after pleading guilty to voyeurism, putting a camera in the women’s bathroom there.

WDFW To Remove Some Smackout Wolves, Reports Ranchhand Legally Killed Attacking Wolf

THIS BREAKING STORY IS BEING UPDATED

WDFW Director Jim Unsworth has authorized the removal of wolves from the Smackout Pack of Northeast Washington following an attack on a calf in recent days.

They’re set to begin this week; there is no specific number of wolves that will be killed, but protocols say one or two initially, followed by a review of actions, with the goal to stop the pack from harming more cattle.

The latest calf was the fourth confirmed or probable depredation by the east-central Stevens County pack on calves in the past 10 months.

While most of those occurred last September, in June an employee of a ranch also legally killed a pack member after spotting it and another wolf attacking cattle.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SMACKOUT PACK NORTHWEST OF SPOKANE IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

“The incident was investigated by WDFW Enforcement and was found to be consistent with state regulations,” a statement from the agency reads.

Under state law, you can kill a single gray wolf if you are witnessing one or more attacking your domestic animals in the federally delisted eastern third of Washington. This particular wolf was a female that had been radio collared in 2015, according to WDFW.

It’s the first time the caught-in-the-act provision has been used by livestock operators in Washington.

As for the latest depredation, the calf was found injured on Forest Service ground on Tuesday.

Bite marks and collar location data show that the Smackout wolves have been near the cattle herd “on a frequent basis.”

The attack occurred in a fenced area, and according to WDFW several deterrence measures have been taken.

Per WDFW:

“The livestock producer that sustained the July 18, 2017 confirmed wolf depredation is currently using: several range riders (one range rider is primary, but others fill in on an as needed basis), has maintained sanitation by removing or securing livestock carcasses, actively hazed wolves with a firearm and pyrotechnics, kept cattle in a fenced pasture within the allotment due to wolf activity, spotlighting nightly, wolf GPS collar data in the area to monitor activity near cattle, used fladry when needed, a RAG box when needed, and several other deterrents in the past. The range rider started patrolling the area prior to the June 1 turnout in 2017, and communicates frequently with the producer and the local Wildlife Conflict Specialist. Information on denning and wolf activity was also shared with the producer, which the producer has avoided those high use wolf areas. Another producer that was involved in one of the three 2016 depredations within the Smackout territory have been using WDFW contracted range riders, sanitation, and removal of injured cattle from the range.”

Conservation Northwest, which has long been involved in helping ranchers in this part of Washington’s wolf country, as well as elsewhere, issued a statement saying it hoped any removals plus the caught-in-the-act take last month would end the attacks on livestock and end the need to kill more wolves.

The organization also said it was “deeply saddened by the loss of these wolves, and for the strife this incident has caused ranchers operating in this area.”

Last year’s depredations occurred in late September and included a confirmed kill of a calf, a probable kill of a calf and a confirmed injury of a calf.

One other calf has been killed by wolves and two injured stretching back to 2015 in the general area.

“The purpose of this action is to change the pack’s behavior, while also meeting the state’s wolf-conservation goals,” the agency’s wolf manager, Donny Martorello, said in a press release this morning. “That means incrementally removing wolves and assessing the results before taking any further action.”

The pack is believed to have numbered eight coming out of 2016, with an unknown number of pups on the ground this year.

“The lethal removal of wolves is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives statewide or within individual wolf recovery regions,” a WDFW statement reads.

This means that for a second summer in a row, agency marksmen will be targeting wolves as Washington’s population continues to grow at about a 30-percent-a-year clip. Last year it was the Profanity Peaks, while previous removals occurred in 2014 (Huckleberry) and 2012 (Wedge).

Lake Washington Sockeye Count Tops 110,000, But Declining

The odds of a Lake Washington sockeye fishery this year — long to begin with — seem remoter still with today’s updated count unless somehow hesitant salmon managers acquiesce to a Hail Mary bid.

A total of 111,509 have passed through the Ballard Locks since the tally began June 12, and the year’s best days appear to be behind us.

IT’S BEEN 11 YEARS SINCE THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FISHERY, AND DESPITE CALLS FOR AN “OLD TIMES SAKE” SEASON THIS YEAR, THAT’S INCREASINGLY UNLIKELY WITH THE LATEST BALLARD LOCKS COUNTS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Nearly 7,500 were counted July 4, with 21,740 in the three days before and day afterwards.

But since then daily counts have dipped to 2,772 Wednesday and 2,271 yesterday.

The run has typically peaked by now, though of note 2006 didn’t hit its midmark till mid-July.

If there’s good news, it’s that the forecast of 77,292 was wrong, and there does appear to be some softening on the standing escapement goal of 350,000 sockeye to trigger sport and commercial tribal fisheries.

According to a recent WDFW letter, talks have been ongoing with the comanagers about “a new abundance-based management framework that allows for some directed fisheries at run-sizes of 200,000 or greater.”

Written July 7, the communique from Director Jim Unsworth expresses cautious optimism that that figure might be reached.

But Frank Urabeck, a longtime recreational angling advocate who closely watches the counts, now estimates the run will come in somewhere north of 130,000, which is above the 100,000 that he hoped might trigger a “token, for old times’ sake” fishery on Lake Washington, where we haven’t seen a sockeye season since 2006.

Since then, an average of 78,000 — high: 2013’s 178,422; low: 2009’s 21,718 — have entered the locks with fewer still actually spawning.

By comparison, between 2006 and 1972, only three years saw 78,000 or fewer sockeye enter; even the bad salmon years of the mid-1990s were higher.

It’s believed that despite the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, young sockeye are suffering increasing and strong predation in the lake and as they make their way through the Ship Canal, which also appears to be a thermal block for returning adults, leaving them more prone to disease.

This year’s run would also have been at sea during the fish-run-destroying Blob.

Among Urabeck’s aims is to draw attention to what he considers to be a failing run, and he sees this year’s return as what amounts to a last-gasp opportunity to get anglers on the lake and rally support for what once was a wonderful salmon fishery in the heart of the state’s biggest metropolis.

If you never had a chance to partake in it, it was the absolute best kind of insanity going.

Urabeck wants one last go.

“I encourage sportfishing anglers to contact Director Unsworth and the MIT to encourage them to avoid losing this special opportunity to gain public support for our fisheries programs,” he said this morning.

Unsworth, who wrote that Urabeck’s call for a season if the count hit 100,000 “certainly caught my attention,” agreed that Lake Washington salmon aren’t faring well, but was more optimistic about the future.

“It will be a challenging task, but the restoration of clear, clean, and swimmable water to Lake Washington in the 1960s shows what can be accomplished with our engaged and supportive public,” Unsworth states in the letter to Urabeck.

The director says that his agency as well as the tribes, county and utilities are “now implementing and advocating for the actions necessary to improve salmon survival in the Lake Washington basin.”

“In this urban setting, we will need to think ‘out-of-the-box’ to find solutions that provide for salmon in the future. In part, this will likely require rethinking how we use our hatcheries. As you recall, we joined with you and others in the Year-15 Comprehensive Review of the City of Seattle’s Habitat Conservation Plan in recommending new supplementation techniques that maximize fry-to-adult survival through a combination of extended rearing and delayed release timing,” Unsworth states.

Meanwhile, the Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes are holding their annual ceremonial and subsistence fisheries, with goals of 1,000 and 2,500 sockeye each, and yesterday saw dipnetting in the ladder as tribal biologists in conjunction with WDFW collected salmon for a longterm biological sampling program.

What the longterm health of the sportfishery holds is anyone’s guess, but at the moment, it is on life support at best this year.