Tag Archives: kelly susewind

WDFW Sends $26 Million Request To Gov. For 2020 Legislative Action

Washington fish and wildlife managers submitted a $26 million supplemental budget request to the Governor’s Office yesterday as fee bill and state lawmaker failures have left the agency underfunded in recent years.

One of WDFW’s key piggy banks could dip into the red next March and significantly so the following year because license revenues and funding aren’t keeping up with growing costs, heaped-on responsibilities and dealing with new issues that are cropping up.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT, ALL)

This new money would come out of the General Fund and WDFW hopes it will be ticketed as “ongoing” so it would not have to be reauthorized every year or two.

If approved by next year’s legislature, $6.5 million would go towards maintaining things like production of 4.5 million salmon, steelhead and trout at eight hatcheries, Columbia River fisheries, and Westside pheasant hunting, as well as dealing with problem animals in residents’ backyards and elsewhere;

(Conversely, if they’re not funded, they have been identified as having to be cut to stay in budget.)

$6.8 million would go towards “emerging needs” like monitoring fisheries on Puget Sound and two rivers, including Skagit C&R steelhead, removing more pinnipeds to increase Chinook numbers when a permit is OKed by the feds, and coming up with alternative fishing gear for Columbia netters;

and $12.5 million would go for “unavoidable” items passed on by legislators without funding, including COLAs, and rising costs associated with hatchery operations and attorney fees.

The size of the request is pretty large given the short, 60-day session that will begin in January, and WDFW Director Kelly Susewind acknowledged as much in a press release today.

But he also pointed out the substantial return on investment that state funding of fishing and hunting activities has for the economy, a message to lawmakers as much as ammo for supporters to remind their representatives and senators of.

“We would rather not be in this position of requesting a substantial amount of money to sustain basic, core activities that we know provide such fundamental public value,” he said. “We estimate that for every State General Fund tax dollar invested in WDFW, and leveraged with other fund sources, that fish and wildlife economic activities generate another $3.50 that goes back into the state coffers. We’re seeking adequate, ongoing funding to sustain that kind of return on investment into the future.”

This is all the latest act in a long-running play that began somewhere around the Great Recession when WDFW’s General Fund contributions were cut sharply and which have yet to fully return to previous levels, even as the state’s economy booms.

According to WDFW, less than 1 percent of General Fund revenues go towards itself, DNR, Ecology, State Parks, Puget Sound Partnership and other natural resource agencies, combined.

As for the last license fee increase, it was back in 2011 and bids by the current and former directors to get lawmakers to pass another and help shore up the agency’s finances have not gone over very well.

Some of that is just bad timing — making asks on the downswing of cyclical game and fish populations.

Arguably 2015’s salmon and hunting seasons were among the best of recent decades, but the dropoff since then — when Susewind and Jim Unsworth had their hands out — has been intense and widespread.

Yet even as the Blob and environmental conditions, along with ongoing, multi-decadal habitat destruction, and reduced hatchery production due to operations reforms and budget cuts are largely to blame, many of WDFW’s customers are reluctant these days to pay more for less.

Then there was the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Columbia gillnet vote this past March, as spectacular an own goal as you can kick.

Meanwhile, WDFW’s “structural deficit” grows deeper and deeper. The aforementioned piggy bank, the State Wildlife Account — where every single penny of your fishing and hunting license dollars go, every single one — has gone from a shortfall of $300,000 in the 2011-13 biennium, when the last license fee increase was passed, to $23.2 million in the 2019-21 biennum.

Its cash balance is expected to plunge into negative figures next March and much deeper in spring 2021 if nothing’s done.

A WDFW GRAPH SHOWS PROJECTED REVENUES INTO THE STATE WILDLIFE ACCOUNT, FUNDED BY FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES. MARCH MARKS THE ANNUAL LOW POINT IN THE LICENSE BUYING YEAR AS NEW ONES ARE REQUIRED STARTING APRIL 1. (WDFW)

It all threatens the fisheries and hunts we still have.

In the end lawmakers have gone with one-time funding patches, but the problem is they’re typically not enough to fill the hole.

For instance, with the agency facing a $31 million shortfall this year and next, Olympia scrapped the fee hike and instead provided $24 million in General Fund money, leaving a temporary $7 million gap — that then immediately ballooned back out to $20 million due to unfunded mandates that were passed on like the cost of living increase for game wardens, biologists, and others.

Still, $24 million is better than nothing and with how it was structured, it “front loaded” WDFW’s budget towards year one of the two-year cycle in anticipation that lawmaker would return and work on it again in 2020.

And that is how we got to today and the supplemental budget request.

Rather than attempt the folly of running another fee bill, the Fish and Wildlife Commission earlier this summer signed off on the proposal.

WDFW is also looking for another $26 million to make capital improvements to its facilities, with about 60 percent of that designated for three hatcheries, and $1 million for a master planning process to boost Chinook production by up to 55 million a year for orcas and which would also likely benefit anglers.

“Our work provides tremendous value to the people in our state,” said Susewind. “The ongoing funds to create a fully healthy agency is critical to our residents’ quality of life, critical to our ability to conserve fish and wildlife, and critical to maintaining sustainable natural resource jobs across Washington.”

A tremendous value at a time of tremendous headwinds and crosswinds and little in the form of helpful tailwinds.

WDFW Launching Post-wolf Recovery Planning With ‘Extensive’ Scoping Meetings This Fall

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has opened a public comment period to gather input on how the department will manage wolves in Washington post-recovery.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

Biologists are confident that Washington’s wolf population is on a path to successful recovery. Since 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown an average of 28% per year. WDFW documented a minimum of 126 individuals, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs during the last annual population survey.

“Long-term sustainability and persistence of Washington’s wolf population will always be a department priority,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “We know that Washington wolves are doing well, and it’s our responsibility to be prepared to help wolf and human populations coexist in the same landscape.”

Although it may be a few years before meeting wolf recovery goals, WDFW is preparing for when wolves are no longer designated as state or federally endangered by developing a post-recovery conservation and management plan. It will guide long-term wolf conservation and management.

As part of using the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process, WDFW will include an extensive public input and engagement process to develop the plan. This involves preparing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will evaluate actions, alternatives, and impacts related to long-term wolf conservation and management. The department will develop the draft EIS based on feedback, and the public can review and comment on the draft once it is complete.

“The department currently uses the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, adopted in 2011, to guide wolf management activities in Washington,” said Julia Smith, WDFW wolf coordinator. “However, the 2011 plan was developed specifically to inform and guide Washington wolf recovery while wolves are considered threatened or endangered. The new plan will focus on how the department will conserve and manage wolves after their recovery.”

Public input and feedback is vital to this effort. The public scoping comment period is open from Aug. 1, 2019 through Nov.1, 2019. You can share your thoughts by taking an online survey at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/gray-wolf/post-recovery-planning, or by attending one of the following 14 public scoping open houses in your community:

Spokane
Sept. 3, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Spokane Community College (SCC), The Lair Student Center, Building #6, Sasquatch and Bigfoot Room 124 & 124C, 1810 Green St., Spokane, WA 99217

Colville
Sept. 4, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Agriculture & Trade Center, 215 S. Oak St., Colville, WA 99114

Clarkston
Sept. 5, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Quality Inn and Suites, Half Mahogany Room, 700 Port Drive, Clarkston, WA 99403

Chelan
Sept. 11, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Chelan Fire Station, 232 E. Wapato Ave, Chelan, WA 98816

Pasco
Sept. 25, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Franklin PUD auditorium, 1411 W. Clark St, Pasco, WA 99301

Selah
Sept. 26, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Selah Civic Center, 216 S. 1st St., Selah, WA 98942

Mt. Vernon
Oct. 7, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, 10441 Bayview-Edison Rd., Mt. Vernon, WA 98273

Issaquah
Oct. 8, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Eagle Room, City Hall, 130 E. Sunset Way, Issaquah, WA 98027

Kelso/Longview
Oct. 9, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Red Lion Hotel and Conference Center, 510 Kelso Drive, Kelso, WA 98626

Morton
Oct. 10, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Lyle Community Center, 700 Main Street, Morton, WA 98356

Olympia
Oct. 15, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Natural Resources Building (Room 172), 1111 Washington SE, Olympia, WA 98504

Goldendale
To be determined

Port Angeles
Oct. 29, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Peninsula College, House of Learning (Longhouse), 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd., Port Angeles, WA 98362

Montesano
Oct. 30, 2019 – 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano, WA 98563

A webinar will also be available for those who are interested. A date and time for it will be announced later.

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More Wolf-Calf Problems In Ferry County; Togo Wolf Shot

Updated, 9:05 p.m., July 31, 2019

For the second time in two years, a Togo Pack wolf has been shot under reported caught-in-the-act provisions, and the northern Ferry County wolves have also attacked three calves in the past 10 days.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

It means WDFW Director Kelly Susewind may have another decision to make this week on whether to lethally remove wolves from a Eastern Washington pack to try and head off more livestock losses.

This morning he reauthorized taking out members of the OPT Pack after continued depredations there that now tally at least 27 since last September.

Protocols call for removals to be considered after three confirmed/probable attacks in 30 days, or four in 10 months.

An agency update out late this afternoon on the Togo depredations says, “WDFW staff are discussing how best to address this situation; Director Susewind will also assess this situation and consider next steps.”

This evening WDFW wolf policy manager Donny Martorello said staff will meet internally to go over variables such as the rate of depredations, what happened, what deterrence are being used, the wolf shooting and put it all on the table for the director to consider.

Part of today’s wolf update was also to give the public an alert that there is an issue with the Togo wolves and it may require action.

The Togos run to the north of the OPTs, but unlike issues with grazing cattle with that pack, these latest depredations occurred on private lands, according to WDFW.

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

The wolf shooting was reported on July 24 to WDFW, and is listed as being “under investigation” in the update, to not presuppose game wardens’ final report, but this afternoon an agency spokeswoman confirmed a Capital Press story that said the animal had been “lawfully” shot by a producer “as it was attacking a calf,” according to WDFW.

“We have heard that the preliminary assessment (from WDFW law enforcement) is that this was a lawful caught in the act incident. There was no evidence of foul play” said Martorello.

The wolf’s carcass was not recovered but it is believed to have been fatally wounded. The calf’s body was left in the field to aid in trapping and collaring efforts but was later removed.

The other two Togo depredations were looked into July 29 and earlier today, according to WDFW. More information on the latter is expected in the coming days.

“The livestock producer (producer 2) who owns these livestock removes or secures livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd (when discovered), removes sick and injured livestock (when discovered) from the grazing area until they are healed, calves away from areas occupied by wolves, avoids known wolf high activity areas, delays turnout of livestock onto grazing allotments until June 10 when calving is finished (and deer fawns, elk calves, and moose calves become available as prey), and monitors the herd with a range rider,” WDFW reported.

Early last September, a Togo adult male was taken out following a series of summertime depredations and after a Thurston County Superior Court judge denied a preliminary injunction from Arizona-based Center For Biological Diversity that had halted WDFW’s initial plans to remove the animal in mid-August.

In late October 2017, an uncollared female Togo wolf was shot by a rancher during a series of depredations that summer and fall.

Hardcore wolf advocates had eight hours starting this morning at 8 a.m. to challenge in court Susewind’s OPT authorization, and were reportedly mulling it early in the day. They didn’t try to block an early July one that resulted in the removal of the pack’s breeding male.

After the day’s business hours were done, Martorello said that none was filed.

“We’re preparing to initiate that operation. We’ve passed 5 p.m.,” he said, adding it would likely begin in the morning on Thursday.

Wolf advocates appear to be issuing press releases and firing off tweets instead of trying the courts, perhaps in an effort to attract the attention of the governor who is involved in the presidential race.

WDFW stresses that removing OPT wolves is “not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective,” which it has done so and how in the federally delisted eastern third of the state.

Martorello said “multiple animals” could be removed, meaning two or more.

“We think Washington’s approach is the best conservation strategy for wolves in any Western state today,” Conservation Northwest also said in a statement sent out late in the day. “Through these policies and the collaborative work of the [Wolf Advisory Group], our wolf population continues to grow, expanding to more than 126 animals at the end of last year. While at the same time, the number of ranchers using proactive conflict deterrence measures is increasing, and livestock conflicts and wolf lethal removals remain low compared to other states.”

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WDFW Kills One O.P.T. Wolf, Now Evaluating Pack Behavior

Editor’s note: Updated 11:15 a.m., July 17, 2019, with more info from WDFW near bottom

Washington wolf managers say they have lethally removed a member of the Old Profanity Territory Pack and are now evaluating the livestock-depredating wolves’ behavior.

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

WDFW reports killing the collared adult male on July 13 and made the announcement yesterday.

The pack is blamed for 20 attacks on cows and calves in northern Ferry County since early last September, with 15 of those falling within a rolling 10-month window that allows for the agency to consider taking wolves out to try and head off more depredations.

Director Kelly Susewind authorized “incremental removals” on July 10 after a dead cow was found July 6 and determined to have been killed by a member or members of the pack, allowing for an eight-hour court window for challenges, but none were filed.

“WDFW’s approach to incremental removal consists of a period of active operations followed by an evaluation period to determine if those actions changed the pack’s behavior. The department has now entered an evaluation period,” the agency states in an online update.

State sharpshooters have now taken out three members of the pack, two last fall, but some are calling for the complete removal of the animals which share countryside with cattle on federal grazing allotments and private pastures, while others say the problem will only continue because of the quality of the landscape for wolves.

It was the scene of livestock attacks and wolf killing in 2016.

WDFW says that it may restart removals of the OPTs if another depredation turns up and is determined to have occurred after Saturday’s wolf was killed.

Wolf policy manager Donny Martorello describes the animal as the pack’s breeding male, which had been part of previous depredations.

Taking out the largest, most able member is meant to reduce the rest of the pack’s ability to attack livestock, he said.

“It’s not only the removal of a key individual but the hazing can have an effect to change wolf behavior,” Martorello added.

There were believed to be five adults and four juveniles in the pack as of a week or so ago. At least two had collars, the alpha male and a yearling male captured in March.

Martorello reported there was nothing new with the Grouse Flats Pack, which killed a calf on WDFW’s 4-O Ranch Unit of the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area, but that the agency is gearing up to hold a number of public meetings in the coming months.

Starting in early August, expect to begin hearing more about planning for postrecovery wolf management in Washington, a scoping process that will include more than a dozen meeting across the state from September through November.

WDFW will essentially be asking the public if there is anything missing in its plans for how to deal with wolves after they reach population goals in the coming years.

“It’s about making sure we have the bookends at the right places,” says Martorello.

He says that for hunters or others unable to attend the meetings, there will be a webinar version.

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Washington Lawmakers Tour Wolf, Wildfire Country In Search Of Solutions

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON STATE HOUSE REPUBLICANS

In the past decade, perhaps no two issues have affected local communities, ranchers and families in Northeast Washington more than wolves and wildfires.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers joined with legislative staffers, agency officials, local ranchers and federal foresters to discuss the problems, frustrations and potential solutions to these two critical issues.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: REP. TOM DENT, R-MOSES LAKE; REP. MIKE CHAPMAN, D-PORT ANGELES; REP. LARRY SPRINGER, D-KIRKLAND; REP. BRIAN BLAKE, D-ABERDEEN; REP. DEBRA LEKANOFF, D-BOW; SEN. SHELLY SHORT, R-ADDY; REP. JOEL KRETZ, R-WAUCONDA; REP. ED ORCUTT, R-KALAMA; REP. JOE SCHMICK, R-COLFAX. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Members of the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee began their day at the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area Headquarters.  They were welcomed by local legislators, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda and Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, as well as Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  They then listened to WDFW officials describe their animal capture plans, techniques, and equipment.

Afterwards, the legislators drove through scarred and burnt federal forestland on their way to the Deer Creek Summit Campground at the top of Boulder.  There, the lawmakers heard from Republic District Ranger Travis Fletcher.  The group saw the damage done to the forest and then discussed the forest management techniques now being utilized on state land to help prevent massive wildfires.

The tour ended with a stop at a local ranch near Danville to hear from fifth-generation cattle producers about the struggles they are having with wolves.

The ranchers described how the threat of wolves continues to force cattle off the higher elevation grazing areas, leading to an overabundance of dry grasses, which serves as potential fuel for wildfires.  This also places more stress on lowland grazing areas needed for later in the year as well as using up water at lower elevations.

The cattlemen also described their encounters with wolves, their interactions with WDFW officials when going through the “confirmed wolf kill” process, as well as the effects the wolves have on the pregnancy rates and weights of their cows.

“As a state, we’ve got to do better by these communities,” said Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen and chair of the committee.  “We need to be thinking out-of-the box in order to keep our producers whole and ensure these multigenerational ranchers have a chance at staying in business.”

Blake’s committee was invited to tour the region and interact with local community members by Kretz, an outspoken critic of recent forest and wolf management practices.

“It seems we are making some headway with our forest management so that we might have a fighting chance when the next major wildfire strikes our region,” said Kretz.  “But we’re not seeing a lot of progress on the wolf side of things.  My four northern counties have enough wolves to delist in the entire state, but because of political boundaries, it’s not been possible.  My district continues to be held hostage by statewide wolf repopulation expectations.  There are folks here that are barely hanging on.  They can’t wait another three or four years for a solution.  They needed one yesterday.  I’m glad some of our Westside lawmakers traveled across the state to see firsthand the problems we face.”

Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, said that some of her fondest childhood memories include time spent in Northeast Washington and that committee members acknowledge the urgency of the situation.

“Is there another way, by using increased management methods in the wolf management plan, to address the problems ranchers and cattlemen are facing?” asked Lekanoff.  “What can the Legislature do to better manage the resources or provide the policy, laws, regulations, science, data and funding to help this rural community sustain its way of life with the predators, prey and livestock that all call this place home?  Let us start by changing our terminology and stop calling this the wolf conflict, but rather the Washington State Wolf Management Plan.  We take our commitment of continued economic viability to this rural community seriously and commit to address these issues with urgency.  We are not turning our backs on rural Washington.”

The visit to Northeast Washington by members of the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee was the first to the region in nearly a decade.

“This is a committee that deals with rural issues.  It’s vitally important that committee members get out of Olympia whenever possible in order to see the real-world problems our folks in rural Washington are up against,” said Kretz.  “I’m very grateful for the legislators who made the trip up here.  I’m hopeful that come next legislative session, we can work in a bipartisan fashion to provide relief to my communities.”

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Susewind OKs Targeting OPT Pack Wolves For Chronic Livestock Attacks

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind this morning authorized incremental lethal removals of a Northeast Washington wolf pack involved in at least 20 cattle depredations since last September, the latest a cow that was killed sometime before this past Saturday.

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

“This is a very difficult situation for all those involved, especially given the history of wolf-livestock conflict in this area,” Susewind said in an agency statement. “Our goal is to change this pack’s behavior.”

His OK is subject to an eight-hour window for any possible court appeal.

State sharpshooters took out two members of the OPT or Old Profanity Territory Pack last fall following a series of attacks on calves.

The effort was paused twice, and there were three attacks in January on private land attributed to the pack, though those “were not considered in the Director’s decision.”

All totaled, WDFW says that the wolves in the northern Ferry County group have killed at least seven calves and cows and injured 13 since Sept. 5, with 15 of the attacks occurring in the rolling 10-month window where lethal action can be considered.

Yesterday afternoon, the agency began laying out its case for possibly making this decision, detailing nonlethal preventative measures taken by the producer including turning out calves later and older, wolf-livestock conflict avoidance work being done where the cattle are grazing on a Colville National Forest allotment, and outlining the pack’s chronic history of depredations.

Those were reiterated and expanded in this morning’s announcement.

“As called for in the plan and protocol, incremental removal includes periods of active removals or attempts to remove wolves followed by periods of evaluation to determine if pack behavior has changed,” WDFW states.

This mostly public-lands, mountainous and forested/burned forest region interspersed with some meadows and grazing allotments has seen numerous depredations in the past, including last year by the Togo Pack, in 2017 by the Sherman Pack, in 2016 by the Profanity Peak Pack and in 2012 by the Wedge Pack.

It’s believed there are nine members in the OPT Pack, five adults and four pups.

We’ll have more as news comes in.

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WDFW Shortfall Grows; Leaders Take Questions During Livestream

Washington fish and wildlife managers are now projecting they will have a $20 million budget shortfall over the coming two years — and it could more than double in the following two.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind broke the news earlier this week during a 2.5-hour-long livestreamed virtual open house.

WDFW HONCHOS LINE A TABLE DURING MONDAY NIGHT’S LIVE-STREAMED DIGITAL OPEN HOUSE. (WDFW)

“We ended up with less than we needed to get through the biennium, which means we’re not going to be able to provide the services we had hoped to,” he said about the recently concluded legislative session.

Lawmakers did give WDFW a one-time $24 million General Fund bump to fill a preexisting $31 million hole instead of raising fishing and hunting license fees and extending the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement.

But Susewind said that the shortfall also grew from that new initial $7 million difference to $20 million after legislators also “passed a lot of provisions that further increased our costs. Those increased costs came without additional revenue.”

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

This afternoon his budget and policy director Nate Pamplin said the $13 million ballooning was due to increased salaries for staffers and “other central service costs” that weren’t matched with new revenues; lower than expected disbursements from both the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts; and one-time hits from things like the Skagit catch-and-release wild steelhead fishery and Fish Washington app that would have been funded through the fee bill but now must be another way or get cut.

“We’re still reviewing what has been identified as at risk and trying to balance the budget,” Pamplin said.

Back on Monday’s live stream, Susewind acknowledged that legislators had “front loaded” the agency’s General Fund contribution towards the first year of the two-year budget “to come as close as we can to staying whole” in anticipation of working on it again when state senators and representatives return to Olympia next January .

But he also projected that the shortfall could grow to $46 million during the 2021-23 biennium if nothing’s done.

SUSEWIND HAS BEEN MAKING MORE USE of new ways to talk to WDFW’s constituents than past directors, and in this latest virtual town meeting he brought in a bevy of department heads and managers to talk about their programs and expertises.

But it also included about an hour’s worth of questions sent in by the public as they watched, and as you can imagine many inquiries dealt with the hot-button topics of the day — wolves, North of Falcon, Columbia fisheries.

One of the first questions was from a gentleman by the name of Bill who felt that over the past three years there’s been a lot of lost fishing opportunity and he wanted to know how WDFW was supporting sport anglers.

“We’re trying to maximize the opportunities within the constraints we have,” Susewind stated.

Those restrictions include all the Endangered Species Act listings on fish stocks that often swim alongside healthier ones, fisheries that require extensive and not-cheap monitoring for the state to receive federal permits to hold them.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS MAKE THEIR WAY DOWN THE SAUK RIVER DURING APRIL 2018’S 12-DAY FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Susewind said the agency was looking at ways to increase hatchery production, and he pointed to spill down the Columbia system to aid outmigrating smolts as well as habitat work to increase wild returns which would mean higher allowable impact rates on listed stocks

“This is an area I want to be direct with folks,” Susewind said. “I know there’s a ton of frustration around lack of opportunity at the same time we asked for an increase. I’d just ask folks to think through the situation. In these times of incredible constraints, declining runs, it costs more to actually provide the opportunity. The declining opportunity, the effort it takes to provide what opportunity is available is more.

“You all can make your own choice whether it’s a good investment if fees are worth it or not, but those fees are what are going to allow us to continue to manage, to allow us to hopefully turn around this run return and allow us to provide more opportunities,” he said, adding, “That’s what we’re trying to do. Time will tell if we’re successful.”

Asked whether WDFW was considering any early retirements to reduce the budget hole, Susewind said he couldn’t do that without a change in state law, but that staff cuts and not filling vacancies were being looked at.

A woman named Carol asked about a “conservation license,” and Susewind expressed some interest in it as a funding source though also for more durable, across the board funding. Pamplin added that the Reclaiming America’s Wildlife Act now in Congress was a “potential game changer … for us to invest in areas that need support.”

WDFW’s twin mandate tears it between providing harvest opportunities which raise money to pour back into providing more while also having to protect imperiled species that suck money the other way.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

THIS AND RECENT YEARS HAVE SEEN A LOT OF ANGER about the results from North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations and the pruning of opportunities in inland saltwaters, and during the livestream, a question from Chad asked why there couldn’t be open meetings between WDFW and all Western Washington tribes.

Susewind, who just emerged from his first iteration of the annual set-to, called the idea unwieldy and said that the agency had a responsibility to represent its stakeholders during the talks but that that didn’t allow for them to behind those closed doors.

Salmon policy lead Kyle Adicks was more blunt.

“The tribes are sovereign governments. They don’t have to meet with us if they don’t want to. They don’t have to meet with members of our public if they don’t want to,” he said. “Ultimately it’s the tribes’ decision: If they want to have a government-to-government meeting, then that’s what we have.”

RON GARNER, PUGET SOUND ANGLERS PRESIDENT, SPEAKS AT AN ANGLERS RALLY IN LACEY, WASH., IN MAY 2016 AS STATE-TRIBAL NORTH OF FALCON NEGOTIATIONS WERE AT AN IMPASSE AFFECTING THE STATE OF THAT YEAR’S SEASONS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW piggybacks on the tribes’ federal nexus to get sport salmon seasons approved faster than they otherwise might be.

While Adicks also pointed back to a January 2017 Fish and Wildlife Commission briefing on the Open Public Meetings and Administrative Procedures Acts, in recent days a long-threatened legal challenge has been filed that contends that how WDFW sets salmon seasons with the tribes violates those two state laws.

Filed by Twin Harbors Fish and Wildlife Advocacy of McCleary, the petition asks a Thurston County Superior Court judge to throw out the state’s adopted 2019-20 salmon seasons.

WDFW had no comment when I asked about the matter earlier this week — “As you probably know, we don’t comment on ongoing litigation” — but did pass along their efforts to increase transparency:

WDFW values and works hard to provide transparency in the development of fishing seasons. The development of fishing seasons also includes work with tribal co-managers, and those meetings involve highly sensitive government-to-government negotiations with 20 individual treaty tribes during the North of Falcon process.

In 2019, the department held more than a dozen public meetings to discuss potential salmon seasons in various locations around the state. Three of the meetings were live-streamed on WDFW’s website and made available for the public to watch later. WDFW also provided the public with the option to submit comments electronically through the department’s website. During the closing portion of North of Falcon negotiations, which took place during the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in California, the department had daily conference calls with advisors and constituents to discuss the latest developments.

ANOTHER QUESTION FOCUSED ON WHY the Fish and Wildlife Commission had allowed gillnets back into the Columbia this year, gear that had been schedule to be phased out by 2017 under fishery reforms.

Susewind called that policy an adaptive one that aimed to keep commercial fisheries viable on the big river too but that replacement gear hasn’t been figured out, so the citizen panel decided to extend gillnetting “while we figure out how to implement the rest of the policy.”

With spring Chinook now coming in far below forecast and summer Chinook not even opening, gillnetting this year will be limited to a handful of days targeting fall Chinook near Vancouver at the end of summer.

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

Dozens more questions were asked and they covered the gamut:

* What WDFW was doing to increase branch-antler bull elk opportunities;

* How much  it costs to investigate wolf depredations;

* Whether WDFW plans to dispute the status of perennially fishery constraining mid-Hood Canal Chinook as a distinct stock (they’re essentially locally adapted Green/Duwamish strays released into the Skokomish);

* Reducing commercial bycatch;

* If WDFW was considering opening a spring bear general season;

  • What the agency was doing to increase access to salmon and steelhead, boosting mule deer and elk populations, and upping steelhead production;

* If WDFW can fine people who create repeat predator issues;

  • If Westside- and Eastside-only deer tags were possible;

* Instead of bag limits, if tags for salmon were possible;

* The latest on Southwest Washington hoof rot.

* And why weren’t WDFW staffers required to be hunters and anglers.

To see WDFW’s responses, skip to about the 1:23:00-mark of the digital open house.

A SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON MULE DEER BUCK PUTS DISTANCE BETWEEN ITSELF AND PHOTOGRAPHER-HUNTER CHAD ZOLLER. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

“I hope we have your continued support as we try to turn this around and provide more opportunity in this state for hunting and fishing,” Susewind said in wrapping it up.

As he stated earlier, time will tell if WDFW is successful.

WDFW Again Signals Support For Federal Wolf Delisting In Western Two-thirds

It’s unsurprising at this stage, but the top Washington wildlife official once again said his agency is ready to take over wolf management statewide.

WDFW’S 2018 WOLF PACK MAP SHOWS WHERE THE 27 GROUPS OF WOLVES OCCUR. (WDFW)

“The Department finds the USFWS proposal to remove gray wolves from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and return management authority in the western two-thirds of Washington to the Department appropriate and timely,” writes WDFW Director Kelly Susewind, words not unlike his two predecessors and others there.

His April 18 letter of support comes as the public comment period on the federal proposal to delist the species in the western two-thirds of Washington and elsewhere in the Lower 48 draws to a close in mid-May.

Some 56,000-plus other comments have been submitted as well, including in support from members of Hunting-Washington and the Washington Farm Bureau, among others, but also plenty of opposition.

Susewind’s letter follows on:

* Former Director Jim Unsworth’s 2015 request to US Rep. Dan Newhouse to spur USFWS towards completing its wolf delisting proposal;

* Former Director WDFW Phil Anderson’s 2014 letter to USFWS that the state “no longer needs federal oversight to recover and manage wolves“;

* WDFW wolf policy manager Donny Martorello’s 2013 comment that that year’s delisting proposal was “timely” (it was ultimately waylaid in court).

* The agency’s 2012 opposition to the cockamamie idea that wolves in the western two-thirds of the state were a different stock from those in the eastern two-thirds, which were Congressionally delisted in 2011.

* And a Fish and Wildlife Commission position statement on wolves, during the development of which then Chair Miranda Wecker said, “Some wolf enthusiasts want wolves to live out their natural lives. That’s not the position of the department. Let me be crystal clear: Wolves will become a game species. They will be managed, and not for maximum population.”

Federal delisting would allow WDFW to use the same management tools in the Cascades and Western Washington as it does in the state’s eastern third.

“This is the right direction for wolf conservation and management in our state,” Susewind said, pointing to the agency’s recovery plan, legislative funding, stakeholder work and efforts to manage wolves in perpetuity.

WDFW has also begun a status review of the state’s population, which at last minimum count stood at 126 wolves in 27 packs and has surely grown since then as pups hit the ground this spring.

Based on that review, WDFW will make a recommendation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission on whether gray wolves’ continued state ESA listing is warranted or not.

WDFW’s Susewind To Hold Another Digital Open House May 13

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

Kelly Susewind, director of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will host a virtual open house on Monday, May 13 to give the public a chance to ask about the department’s policies and direction.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND WILL HOLD ANOTHER WEBINAR TO TALK ABOUT HIS AGENCY’S ISSUES. LAST NOVEMBER HE HELD HIS FIRST. (YOUTUBE)

“I want to share some updates on the agency, but the main purpose is to have a two-way conversations with those who aren’t always able to attend our in-person events,” said Susewind. “People care deeply about the work we do and we want to make it easier for them to tell us what’s on their mind and what’s important to them in their everyday live.”

Introductory topics will include an overview of the department’s work, a summary of legislative session actions that affect WDFW, and how the department is working to address long-term challenges affecting fish and wildlife in Washington.

Director Susewind will also be joined by a number of his staff who share wildlife, fish, law enforcement, and habitat expertise.

The online webinar starts at 7 p.m. The public can go to https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019051001 during the event to watch and submit questions. After the event the open house video will remain available from the agency’s website, wdfw.wa.gov.

Support For Lake Washington Sockeye Restoration Assessment At Meeting

With a show of hands last night in Renton, anglers and others asked a longtime Lake Washington sockeye advocate to request WDFW look into what it would take to recover the salmon stock and restore the fabled metro fishery.

ANGLERS AND SOME CEDAR RIVER COUNCIL MEMBERS RAISE THEIR HANDS IN SUPPORT OF HAVING FRANK URABECK (STANDING AT LEFT) ASK WDFW TO ASSESS WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO RESTORE LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s a long-shot proposition with seemingly all factors now lined up against the fish, and two of the people who’d gathered in the Red Lion conference room supported just throwing in the towel instead.

But nobody was in favor of the status quo, which is modeled to lead to the extinction of the run in 40 years time — perhaps as few as 30 with this year’s lowest-ever forecast of just 15,153 back to the Ballard Locks is any indication, according to the local state fisheries biologist.

“The reality is, it’s going to be very, very, very tough to get all the players to do something,” acknowledged Frank Urabeck before calling for the vote from the 40 or so members of the public and 10 members of the Cedar River Council.

Not everyone held up a hand for any option, but Urabeck’s plan is to approach WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and ask that the agency conduct a feasibility assessment on what can be done and how much it would cost to bring sockeye back to fishable numbers.

Urabeck said it would likely require “a massive effort, a huge amount of money.”

But even as predation on smolts in the lake grows and more and more adult sockeye are dying between the Ballard Locks and the Cedar River, there are still some glimmers of hope.

The meeting followed on a similar one last year but which did not include Seattle Public Utilities.

Last night, SPU was at the table in the form of watershed manager Amy LaBarge, who gave a presentation about the utility’s Landsburg mitigation hatchery, completed in 2012 with a capacity of 34 million sockeye eggs, but which has only ever been able to collect 18 million due to low returns.

And since that 2018 gathering, Urabeck indicated that there had been talks going on behind the scenes too.

“I can’t say if I’m optimistic, but there has been dialogue,” he said near the end of the two-hour meeting.

Other players in the issue include the Muckleshoot Tribe and WDFW, the latter of which operates the sockeye hatchery for SPU.

Brody Antipa, the regional hatchery manager for the state agency, was in house and he talked about how he began his career as the guy who “lived in a trailer down by the river” at the old temporary facility on the Cedar, which was opened in the early 1990s over concerns that the run at the time was faltering.

The system produced reliably high returns of as many as 400,000 spawners into the river in the 1960s and 1970s, at the end of the era when Lake Washington was thick with blue-green algae that hid the smolts from predators.

Following cleanup efforts, water clarity went from as little as 30 inches in 1964 to 10 feet in 1968 to up to 25 feet in 1990, according to WDFW district fisheries biologist Aaron Bosworth.

Native cutthroat and northern pikeminnow primarily but also nonnative bass, yellow perch and other species suddenly had the advantage over the young sockeye.

The years of 400,000 reds on the redds were over just as anglers had figured out how to reliably catch sockeye in the lake with just a plain old red hook.

In the 1990s, Antipa said that testing at the hatchery determined that feeding the young sockeye was helpful before turning them loose to rear in the lake a year to 14 months.

By the early 2000s, fisheries went from once every four years to once every other year — 2002, 2004, 2006.

But since then there’s been nothing but a string of increasingly bad years, with last fall seeing just 7,476 of the 32,103 sockeye that went through the locks reaching the Cedar, despite no directed fisheries and only a small biological sampling program operating at Ballard.

IF WE DON’T GET OFF OUR COLLECTIVE ASS, THAT FLAT LINE REPRESENTS THE FUTURE OF LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE, BUT A FEW ARE READY TO THROW IN THE TOWEL WITH THE ENORMITY OF THE JOB AND CHALLENGES THE FISH FACE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The rest died from prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that may have become more deadly and prevalent due to warmer water in the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

During last night’s question-and-answer period, the audience and Cedar River Council members focused on tweaking the hatchery operations — whether or not Baker and Fraser sockeye could be used to reach full eggtake capacity; if the facility was able to hold the fry longer for a feeding and later-release programs that show promise; and if it could be used to just raise coho and Chinook instead.

The short-term answer to all that was “no” — the current management plan that the hatchery operates under doesn’t allow it.

So, asked a member of the council, how do we change that plan?

LaBarge, the SPU staffer, said that would need to go through stakeholders to get buy-in.

“The conversation is starting about that,” she said.

Another issue is all the predators in Lake Washington.

Antipa said that where once just getting 40 million fry into the lake all but guaranteed a fishery a few years later, the 70 million that swam out of the Cedar in 2012 didn’t result in anything.

Partly that’s due to the circular feedback of PSM issues affecting how many eggs are available at the hatchery and in the gravel , but rock bass have joined the suite of piscovores, along with walleye and at least one northern pike.

A bill on its way to Gov. Inslee’s desk would require WDFW to drop daily and size limits on largemouth and smallmouth in Lake Washington, along with all other waters used by sea-going salmonids in the state.

Realistically that won’t do diddly to bass populations, but gillnetting efforts the Muckleshoots have begun more seriously next door in Lake Sammamish might.

TWO THUMBS UP FOR SEATTLE SOCKEYE FROM THIS ANGLER DURING THE 2004 SEASON. (RYLEY FEE)

Before the show of hands, Max Prinsen, the chair of the Cedar River Council, recalled how in 1979 he came north from California at a time when bald eagles and condors were “gone” in the Golden State.

“But with changes we made as a society we brought those species back,” he noted.

After Urabeck’s vote, he spoke again.

“These fish aren’t just important as a fishery, but as a part of Northwest life,” Prinsen said. “I think it’s important to conserve this resource. It’s great to see this much interest.”

I would quibble with his use of the word “resource” — by chance this morning on the bus while proofing our Alaska magazine I read a quote from the author Amy Gulick about a Tlingit woman in Sitka who taught her that “The word ‘resource’ implies an end product, a commodity. But ‘relationship’ is so much deeper and multi-faceted. If you have a relationship with salmon, then you also have a relationship to a river, a home stream and the ocean. And you probably have relationships with people in your community connected to each other by way of salmon. We show gratitude for healthy relationships because they make our lives richer.”

But Prinsen was also among those who’d raised their hands, and I’ll bet something along the lines of a relationship with the sockeye was what he meant anyway.