Tag Archives: kelly susewind

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.

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.

Elwha Fishing Moratorium To Be Extended Into 2021; Good Chinook Forecast

The Elwha River will remain closed to fishing for another two years, until mid-2021, according to WDFW.

“Monitoring has shown that salmon and steelhead populations are expanding into newly opened habitats, but have not yet achieved recovery goals,” Director Kelly Susewind reported to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission this morning.

A CHINOOK SALMON EXCAVATES A NEST INSIDE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK FOLLOWING COMPLETE REMOVAL OF ELWHA RIVER DAM. (JEFF DUDA, USGS)

The north Olympic Peninsula river was closed to all sport and tribal fishing in 2011 ahead of the removal of the two dams on its lower end, Glines Canyon and Elwha.

Chinook, coho, chum, steelhead and bull trout are taking advantage of the new habitat in the pristine national park watershed, with the seagoing char observed as far as 40 miles upstream, above “five major canyons,” according to a Peninsula Daily News report from last fall.

A NATIONAL PARK SERVICE SNORKELER SURVEYS FOR SALMON ABOVE GLINES CANYON DAM. (NPS)

WDFW district fisheries biologist Mike Gross says there are also encouraging signs with Chinook, including this year’s conservatively estimated forecast of 7,400, which is well above 2018’s prediction of 5,200 and above the actual return of 7,100.

He says that last year’s strong showing of 3-year-olds should translate into a good number of 4-year-olds this fall and 5-year-olds in 2020.

That good three-year push of fish should help propel the Chinook population further and further up the Elwha

“These early re-colonizers play an important role in establishing spawning and juvenile rearing in habitats of the upper watershed,” Susewind’s director’s report states.

A SPAWNING FALL CHINOOK PATROLS SHALLOW WATERS OF THE ELWHA SYSTEM IN 2016. (NPS/USBR/USGS ELWHA RESTORATION PROJECT, FLICKR, CC 2.O)

The Elwha is fabled for once hosting returns of truly massive Chinook before the dams were built in the early 1900s.

“Hopefully the ocean cooperates the next few years,” says Gross.

As for coho, the ocean forecast is 1,679, and he expects between 1,000 and 1,200 to actually return to the river.

The extension of the moratorium, which was agreed to by WDFW, the National Park Service and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, is slated to run from June 1, 2019 through July 1, 2021.

“Recreational, subsistence and commercial fishing will resume when there is broad distribution of spawning adults in newly accessible habitats above the former dam sites, and when spawning occurs at a rate that allows for population growth and diversity, producing adequate escapement and a harvestable surplus,” Susewind’s commission briefing says.

NSIA On The Attack After Columbia Reforms Vote As WDFW’s Susewind Defends It

As a major organization in the Northwest fishing world now openly urges its members to oppose WDFW’s fee increase proposal because of the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Columbia reforms vote last weekend, the head of Washington’s agency has issued an extraordinary statement about why it was passed.

WDFW POSTED A STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND ON THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION’S COLUMBIA REFORMS VOTE AT TOP LEFT ON ITS WEBPAGE FRIDAY AFTERNOON, THOUGH IT WAS NOT SHARED ON SOCIAL MEDIA AT THIS WRITING. (WDFW)

“These actions are not only important in sustaining the economic viability of the commercial fleet,” reads an explanation from Director Kelly Susewind out this afternoon. “They are also a key factor in maintaining federal support for hatchery production and achieving compliance with WDFW’s hatchery reform policy for the lower Columbia River, because they play an important role in removing excess hatchery fish from wild spawning areas.”

With wild salmon runs overall in rough shape, judging by the myriad Endangered Species Act listings, clipped fish fuel fisheries.

The commission’s 5-1-2 vote in Spokane on Saturday morning essentially keeps nontribal gillnets on the mainstem below Bonneville as well as pushes long-planned spring and summer Chinook allocations from 80-20 recreational-nontribal commercial, where they were in 2018, down to 70-30, where they were in 2016 before the reforms began to unravel, and roughly where fall Chinook allocations have also been paused at.

That infuriated supporters of the half-decade-plus-long process such as the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, which today issued an “urgent industry call to action.”

“Their vote restores year-round non-tribal gillnetting on the Columbia River’s 13 ESA listed stocks, and dramatically shortens sportfishing seasons already pummeled due to drastic declines in salmon and steelhead returns,” an email reads.

Though this year’s coho run looks good, low fall Chinook and B-run steelhead returns could mean another year of restricted fisheries.

NSIA asked its many member companies and individuals to contact their Washington lawmakers to oppose a pair of bills in the legislature that would increase the cost of fishing and hunting licenses by 15 percent and extend a surcharge for fishing the Columbia and tribs.

Previously, the organization as well as Coastal Conservation Association of Washington had been on the fence over WDFW’s proposed fee hike, neither in favor or opposed, rather “other.”

But with the commission vote and the apparent stalling of a nontribal gillnet ban bill in the state legislature, they now appear to be trolling right through WDFW’s lane.

“Tell them [state lawmakers] you oppose the Commission’s decision to abandon the Columbia River Reforms and ask them to oppose House Bill 1708 and Senate Bill 5692 (Columbia River Endorsement and Agency Fee increase) until the agency’s bills are amended to reverse this horrible decision and hold WDFW accountable to implement the reforms,” NSIA’s email reads.

This year WDFW is asking Evergreen State legislators for a $60 million-plus bump to its budget, a quarter of which would come from the license increases, the rest from the General Fund.

And on the Southern Front, members are also being urged to contact Oregon’s governor and commission chair to try and head off changes ahead of a feared vote next week.

“We’ve got to stop this all-out assault on wild fish, sportfishing and our industry!” NSIA states.

A GRAPHIC FROM AN NSIA FACEBOOK POST CALLS ON ANGLERS TO CONTACT GOV. KATE BROWN AHEAD OF THAT STATE’S MARCH 15 FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (NSIA)

An ODFW spokeswoman says that Oregon commissioners involved in the Columbia discussions “may” give the rest of the citizen panel an update at this coming Friday’s meeting.

“No rule making actions will occur,” said Michelle Dennehy via email this evening.

As for Susewind’s WDFW statement, noting the amount of feedback his agency has received this week — confirmed by a source deep in reform issues — it outlines what led up to the commission’s decision.

The director notes that the policy agreed to by both states in 2012 and which began to be implemented in 2013 and included moving gillnetters out of the Lower Columbia and into off-channel areas of the river and testing alternative gear, included “flexibility” in its transitions.

“Despite years of effort, no new off-channel areas have yet been established in our state and none of the alternative gear are fully tested and ready to support a viable commercial fishery (although test results for some options continue to look favorable). That is why the commission took action to extend the gillnet transition period, first in 2017 and again this month,” Susewind’s statement reads.

“The goal of the Columbia River reform policy is to build a future for both recreational and commercial fisheries, not put the commercial fleet out of business,” he continues, pointing out that the recreational spring Chinook allocation has increased from 65 percent to 80 percent.

WDFW’S NEW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

That level is scheduled to remain there in 2019, unless a runsize update finds that this year’s poor forecasted run of 99,300 upriver-bound fish is likely to come in at 128,000 and change, which would result in a 70-30 split of what are essentially allowable impacts on ESA-listed salmon.

Susewind also says that the 70-30 rec-comm split of fall Chinook impacts — below WDFW’s 75-25 policy — was meant to ensure concurrency with Oregon salmon managers.

He says that with the annual salmon-season-setting process known as North of Falcon ongoing and wrapping up next month, the Washington commission’s vote was meant to make sure that fishery regulations on the shared river matched up, as well as “to fulfill (the reforms’) objective to ‘enhance the economic well-being’ of the state’s sport and commercial fisheries.”

Susewind claims that delaying the implementation of fall Chinook allocations from the planned 80-20 “would reduce fishing days in 2019 by less than 2 percent, based on model runs from previous years.”

And citing NOAA’s plan to reduce hatchery production in the Lower Columbia due to too many marked fish straying onto the gravel, he says that while “gillnets are not the final answer to this problem … we remain committed to developing new selective methods for commercially harvesting salmon in the Columbia River and implementing the objectives in the Columbia River Basin Salmon Management policy.”

As I’ve reported before, it’s been very rare for a WDFW director to issue statements like this in recent years, but Susewind appears to be bucking that with this and another recent one on the region’s other hot-button issue, wolves.

I appreciate that.

Yes, posting it on a Friday afternoon on the agency’s website but not sharing on social media will allow the agency to say it did put the word out without bearing the brunt of a weekend full of undefended comments on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

But it will not stop the heated debate about how to manage fisheries on the Columbia.

An observer draws attention to a passage about the adopted recommendations and alternatives presented to the full Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission before last weekend’s vote: “There is no substantial difference between the options concerning conservation benefits,” a staff summary reads.

The debate is sure to continue.

WDFW Fee Hike Bills Get Support During Public Hearings, But Concerns Raised Too

Washington lawmakers heard arguments for and not-quite-fully-against on a pair of bills that would increase fishing and hunting license fees by 15 percent during public hearings held late this week.

While nobody spoke out directly in opposition to HB 1708 or SB 5692, a representative for the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Northwest Marine Trade Association said the organizations were concerned about them.

“If I leave you with one message today, it is this is not about the money,” said Carl Burke. “We’ve always been willing to pay to play. However, we should not continually — consumptive users — be asked to provide more monies for less opportunity. It’s just that simple.”

He also said the industries needed predictable seasons and more effective inseason management to make decisions on how much inventory they should carry on their shelves and boat lots.

Poor ocean conditions in recent years have made managing salmon and steelhead fisheries very complex for WDFW.

NSIA AND NMTA LOBBYIST CARL BURKE SPEAKS BEFORE SENATORS DURING A PUBLIC HEARING ON A BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSE FEES. (TVW)

And Burke spoke to policies being worked on by the Fish and Wildlife Commission and WDFW that he said put recovery of ESA-listed Columbia salmon runs at risk, a reference to fishery reforms that are now being reconsidered and which has directly led to another bill in the state legislature, SB 5617, which would phase out nontribal gillnets.

He said that lawmakers would be getting a letter more fully outlining NSIA’s and NMTA’s issues and promised to work collaboratively on the bills.


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“We want a well-funded department. We also want a department that is responsive to the public and the needs of the resource. I hope you will look within the budget and fee increase process to make the focus on improving recreational fishing opportunities,” Burke stated.

Scott Sigmon of the Coastal Conservation Association said his organization was officially signed in as “other,” and that CCA’s potential support was linked to increased hatchery production, tying recreational angling fees to recreational fisheries, better fisheries management, and banning nontribal gillnets in salmon waters.

But most of the testimony yesterday afternoon and this morning before the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks and House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committees, respectively, was in full support of the bills.

Tom Echols, representing the Hunters Heritage Council, said WDFW “deserves support of this bill since they haven’t had an increase since 2011.”

Since then, the agency’s budget has seen a growing “structural” deficit in which funding hasn’t kept up with all the things piled onto its plate.

Along with provisions benefiting youths and new sportsmen and -women, the bills include new licensing packages, including a Washington Sportsperson option, “which I will be buying,” said Echols.

It combines Hunt Washington (deer, elk, bear, cougar, small game, migratory bird permit and authorization, plus two turkey tags) and Fish Washington (combo fishing plus two-pole, Dungeness and Columbia endorsements) and would run $245.20, plus dealer fees.

The two options otherwise would run $172.64 and $72.56, pre fee.

While all individual licenses would go up in cost by 15 percent, thanks to Fish and Wildlife Commission concerns, anglers would only end up paying a maximum of $7 more, hunters $15 more.

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

HHC’s support marks a reversal from 2017 when they were a “no” on that year’s fee hike proposal.

On the fishing side, Jonathan Sawin, skipper of the Cormorant and representing both the Westport and Ilwaco charter boat associations, said he supported the bills as written “so we can continue to have great fisheries on Washington waters.”

Bob Kratzer, vice president of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association and Forks-area salmon and steelhead guide, said that WDFW is “hamstrung” by budget issues when it comes to hatchery production and enforcement of fish and wildlife laws.

He said that he routinely goes to meetings and hears agency staffers say they don’t have enough money for this or that.

“It’s about time we gave them more money so they can afford it,” he said.

“It’s a new day, we have a new director, I’m willing to give that guy a shot,” said Kratzer.

MEMBERS OF THE CHOUSE RURAL DEVELOPMENT, AGRICULTURE, & NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE LISTEN AS REP. JOEL KRETZ ASKS A QUESTION DURING A HEARING ON A BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSE FEES. (TVW)

When Jim Unsworth’s 2017’s fee increase bid went down in flames, legislators gave WDFW a $10 million General Fund bump but also “homework,” in new Director Kelly Susewind’s words, to review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan.

Out off that came the Budget and Policy Advisory Group, and last week 13 member organizations sent lawmakers a letter urging them to boost WDFW’s budget sharply, with three-quarters of that coming from the General Fund and one-quarter from the proposed license increases.

“To succeed, the Department requires at least $60 million above its present funding (not including expected orca recovery needs), half to fix the shortfall created by the state legislature in the last biennium, and half to invest in the future by helping correct inequities and the damage caused by a decade of underfunding,” the letter stated.

Signees included critical fishing and hunting organizations such as Puget Sound Anglers, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Mule Deer Foundation and Ilwaco Charterboat Association, plus nine other conservation, fishing and environmental groups.

(They also asked for $12.9 million for fish and wildlife conservation and $4.2 million for habitat improvements, “the most underfunded components of the Department’s work,” to be included in WDFW’s operating budget.)

Others testifying in front of lawmakers on Thursday and Friday in favor of the fee bills included Bill Clarke of Trout Unlimited, who was a BPAG member and said it had been interesting to dig into WDFW’s finances.

“Many things have recovered since 2009 — price of housing, the stock market, Seahawks football, Husky football, etc. What’s not recovered is the department’s budget. Their general fund support is not recovered. They’ve had a modest increase, and that’s about it,” Clarke said.

TU also supported the 2017 proposal.

Also appearing before the legislative committees to voice their support were Jen Syrowitz of the Washington Wildlife Federation, Lucas Hart of the Northwest Straits Commission and Aaron Peterson of the Regional Fisheries Coalition.

The bills would also allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to make small increases to license fees to account for inflation starting two years from now, and Clarke noted that with other state oversight boards already having such authority it made sense for WDFW’s to as well.

Still, Randy Leduc, an avid Centralia angler and CCA member, did express concern that that role would move from the legislature’s bailiwick to the commission.

The House version of the bill was dropped by Rep. Brian Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat.

I’m happy to sponsor the bill and bring it forward. I think there’s been a rigorous process going through the agency’s budget,” Blake said in speaking in support of it.

Still, you could hear the worry from his fellow South Coast representative, Jim Walsh, an Aberdeen Republican.

Walsh asked, would he hear complaints afterwards from his constituents about the fee hike if he supported it?

WDFW’s Susewind could only say that yes, he would, as we sportsmen are just generally against higher prices, but that the agency is responsive to concerns about paying more for less.

“We hear that loud and clear. We’re committed to working on it, continue working on it. Frankly, in order to provide sustainable or hopefully improving opportunities, we really need an adequately funded agency to do that and so that’s what we will put a lot of this money towards is trying to provide that,” Susewind said. “But there will always be people who don’t support a fee. I would be foolish to say otherwise.”

The fee increase bills have a long, long, long way to go before they go into effect. They must be approved and reconciled by representatives and senators and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. If they are, the hikes and license package options would go become effective 90 days after this legislative session ends, scheduled for April 28 but later is always possible if recent years are any indication.

Editor’s notes: To read the actual fee hike bills, go here and here. For what the hell it all means in plainer English, nonpartisan legislative analysis of the bills are available here and here. And to view the TVW broadcasts of both committees’ public hearings on the bills, go here and here.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part III

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and then June through September. Below we wrap up with October through December.

OCTOBER

Oregon began offering big game preference points instead of just cold, hard cash for those who help state troopers arrest or cite fish and wildlife poachers. The new option in the Turn In a Poacher program awards five points for cases involving bighorns, mountain goats, moose and wolves; four for elk, deer, antelope, mountain lions and bears. While the points all have to go to either elk, buck, antlerless deer, pronghorn or spring black bear series hunts, it significantly raises the odds of being drawn for coveted controlled permits.

OSP SENIOR TROOPER DARIN BEAN POSES WITH THE HEADS OF THREE TROPHY BUCKS POACHED IN THE GREATER SILVER LAKE AREA. (OSP)

The lowest catch station recorded the highest haul when the Columbia-Snake 2018 pikeminnow sport-reward program wrapped up this fall. “It is the first time in the Pikeminnow Program’s 28-year history that the Cathlamet station has been the number one location,” noted Eric Winther, who heads up the state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on salmonid smolts. With 25,135 turned in there, Cathlamet accounted for 14 percent of the overall catch of 180,309 pikeminnow this year. Boyer Park produced the second most, 22,950, while usual hot spot The Dalles was third with 22,461, less than half of 2017’s tally.

Using DNA from northern pike, USFS researcher Dr. Kellie Carim turned the widespread assumption about where the fish that have invaded Washington came from on its head. “The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” Carim told us in early fall. “However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage.” In other words, a bucket biologist or biologists drove them between the watersheds. Also on the invasive species front, earlier in the year, scientists began to suspect that Sooke Harbor was not the source of the European green crabs showing up in Puget Sound waters but from somewhere on the Northwest’s outer coast.

SPECIALISTS FROM WASHINGTON SEA GRANT AND THE MAKAH TRIBE CONSIDER WHERE TO SET TRAPS IN AN ESTUARY FOR EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS. (WSG)

Oregon and Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commissions were urged not to roll back the Columbia River salmon reforms by no less than the former governor who got the ball rolling. “There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” said Oregon’s John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos that came out ahead of indepth reviews for the citizen panels.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS.

With salvaging roadkilled deer and elk in Oregon set to begin Jan. 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations for how the program will work. It’s similar to Washington’s, except that antlers and heads must be turned in to any ODFW office (here are addresses and phone numbers of the two dozen across the state) within five business days and Columbian whitetail deer may be salvaged, but only in Douglas County, where the species was declared recovered in 2003.

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer resigned after a distasteful photo of him with a dead “family of baboons” surfaced following an African safari with his wife. Fischer initially defended his actions, telling the Idaho Statesman, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral.” In accepting Fischer’s requested resignation, Gov. Butch Otter stated, “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”

FORMER IDAHO FISH AND GAME COMMISSIONER BLAKE FISCHER OF MERIDIAN RESIGNED AFTER GOVERNOR BUTCH OTTER REQUESTED HE DO SO. (IDFG)

This year’s return of coho to the Columbia River was woeful at best, but there was a glimmer of good news when the Nez Perce announced that the first adult in more than 50 years returned to Northeast Oregon, thanks to a joint tribal-ODFW release of half a million smolts in March 2017. At least 125 had arrived at a weir on the Lostine River as of earlier this month, and tribal fisheries manager Becky Johnson estimated there were 800 more still on their way at that point.

FEMALE COHO TRAPPED AT THE LOSTINE RIVER WEIR ON OCTOBER 26, 2018 — THE FIRST SINCE 1966. (NEZ PERCE TRIBE)

With small, 2- to 3-inch razor clams dominating the population in Clatsop County’s sands, Oregon shellfish managers with support from the public decided to postpone harvesting any until this coming March, in hopes they would be larger by then. On the north side of the Columbia River, Washington’s Long Beach will only see a limited opener this season due to low salinity levels in winter 2017 that affected survival and led to a higher concentration of small clams.

OREGON SHELLFISH MANAGERS SAY ITS NORTHERN RAZOR CLAM POPULATION IS ON THE SMALL SIDE AND SEASON WAS POSTPONED TILL MARCH. (ODFW)

WDFW’s new Director Kelly Susewind hit the highway, the airwaves and the interweb to flesh out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, set the tone for what his priorities are going forward, and listen to the needs of sportsmen and Washington residents. He hosted half a dozen meetings across the state, appeared on TVW’s Inside Olympia and did a webinar as the agency tried to build support for its $67 million ask of the legislature in 2019.

It wasn’t just small clams on the Oregon Coast sparking concerns — low early returns and catches of fall Chinook led ODFW to restrict fishing from the Necanicum to the Siuslaw, closing all the rivers above tidewater and reducing limits in the bays from three to one for the season. When subsequent surveys began to show more fish arriving on the spawning grounds, sections of the lower Siletz then Alsea and Yaquina Rivers were reopened, but further south, it wasn’t until late November before ODFW was able to lift gear restrictions on the low-flowing Chetco and Winchuck Rivers.

NOVEMBER

Western Washington tribes launched an ambitious, coordinated, long-term effort to identify and restore key salmon habitats as well as gauge land-use decisions in the region. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s Tribal Habitat Strategy was described by chair Lorraine Loomis as an “effort … based on what we know is actually needed to achieve ecosystem health, not what we think is possible to achieve given current habitat conditions.”

THE COVER OF THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION’S NEW “TRIBAL HABITAT STRATEGY” REPORT SHOWS A KITSAP COUNTY CULVERT ON CARPENTER CREEK THAT HAS SINCE BEEN REMOVED, IMPROVING FISH PASSAGE AND ESTUARY FUNCTION. (NWIFC)

Cattle depredations that seemed like they’d never end in Northeast Washington led to essentially three different lethal wolf removal operations ongoing at once, two by WDFW targeting all the remaining OPT wolves and one Smackout Pack member, and one by a producer for any Togo wolves in their private pastures. By year-end at least four wolves had been killed by state shooters in hopes of reducing livestock attacks, and the Capital Press reported at least 31 calves and cows had been confirmed to have been either killed or injured by wolves in 2018, “more than double any previous year.”

LIFE COULD BE WORSE — YOU COULD GROW A BUCK ON YOUR BUTT … OR AT LEAST HAVE A TRAIL CAMERA RECORD SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES. THIS UNUSUAL ALIGNMENT WAS RECORDED AT A WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AREA IN THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THE STATE DURING THE FALL RUT. (WDFW)

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas was among the key recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee after months of discussion and public comment. Members also urged suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years. The recommendations were generally supported by sportfishing reps who took part in the task force’s work. “Production needs to be ramped up immediately, and follow the recovery/ESA sidebars in the recommendations,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who also expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

IDFG Director Virgil Moore announced that he was retiring in January after eight years at the helm of Idaho fish and wildlife management and a four-decade-long career in the field, including a year as ODFW’s director. “Working together, Fish and Game and our wildlife resources are in excellent shape and ready to be handed off to new leadership,” he said in a press release. Fellow Fish and Game honcho Ed Schriever was named as Moore’s replacement.

Federal researchers found that one top way to recover Chinook in Puget Sound streams is to restore side channels. Providing space for the young ESA-listed fish to grow as well as shelter from flood flows adds complexity to river systems, increasing its potential value as habitat. The work, some of which was done on the Cedar River, could help answer where and how to get the best bang for restoration dollars. In a related story, for the first time since the project wrapped up in 2014, a pair of kings chose to spawn in a portion of a Seattle stream that had been engineered for salmon to dig redds. “That’s a vote of confidence!” said a utility district biologist.

A SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITY IMAGE SHOWS A PAIR OF CHINOOK SALMON ON THE GRAVEL OF LOWER THORNTON CREEK, EAST OF NORTHGATE MALL. (SPU)

With the threat of a federal lawsuit hanging over their heads, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in mid-November to suspend steelhead season in early December. IDFG’s permit to hold the fishery had expired nearly 10 years ago and other priorities had kept NMFS from issuing a new one, providing an opening for yet another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit from the usual suspects. “The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable,” said Virgil Moore in a letter to Idaho steelheaders. The pending closure didn’t affect Washington fishermen angling the shared Snake, and it led one of the six litigant groups to subsequently back out, saying its goal of spurring the feds into action had been achieved. But on the eve of the shutdown, an agreement was reached between a newly formed group of anglers and towns, Idaho River Community Alliance, IDFG and the other five parties. It kept fishing open, closed stretches of the South Fork Clearwater and Salmon, and included voluntary measures.

A LAST-MINUTE AGREEMENT KEPT STEELHEADING OPEN ON THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER AND OTHER IDAHO STREAMS FOLLOWING A THREATENED FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER A LACK OF A FISHERIES PERMIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The federal Fourth National Climate Assessment, released over Thanksgiving weekend, painted a rough go of it for fish, shellfish and wildlife in the Northwest. It projected that Washington salmon habitat will be reduced by 22 percent under a scenario that includes continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, razor clamming would decline “due to cumulative effects of ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, higher temperatures, and habitat degradation,” and that more management to ensure sufficient waterfowl habitat would be needed. The report, required by Congress, did say deer and elk may actually thrive due to less winterkill and improving habitat because of increased wildfires, but could also be impacted by “increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

ODFW launched its new electronic license program, so easy that even hook-and-bullet magazine editors can (eventually) figure it out. Essentially, the app allows sportsmen to carry an e-version of their fishing and hunting licenses on their phones, etc., as well as tag critters and fill in punch cards with an app that works even offline in Oregon’s remote canyons.

In what would also be a continuing news story in the year’s final month, ODFW received federal permission to lethally remove as many as 93 California sea lions annually at Willamette Falls and in the lower Clackamas. “This is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette River,” said ODFW’s Dr. Shaun Clements, whose agency had estimated that if nothing were done, there was a 90 percent chance one of the watershed’s wild winter steelhead runs would go extinct. “We did put several years’ effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and Chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location,” he said in a press release.

And near the end of the month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 196 to 180 to fully delist gray wolves in the Lower 48. But that was as far as the Manage our Wolves Act, co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, was going to get, as at the end of the year it went nowhere in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works and the incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee flatly told a reporter that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years. Meanwhile, WDFW and the University of Washington began year three of predator-prey research across the northern tier of Eastern Washington.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING FAWN QUARTERS BACK TO A DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

DECEMBER

Poor fishing up and down the West Coast in recent years was among the factors that forced the owners of Ollie Damon’s reel repair shop in Portland to close up for good this month, ending the run of a famed name that first opened for business in the late 1940s. “It’s sad for us but we can’t work forever,” said Rich and Susan Basch who bought the shop in the 1990s and used to service as many as 5,000 to 6,000 reels annually, and who said that they’ll miss their customers “immensely” as they also retire.

PORTLAND’S OLLIE DAMON’S CLOSEd ITS DOORS DEC. 29, MARKING THE END OF AN ERA. (OLLIE DAMON’S)

We’ll know a lot more about 2019 salmon expectations later in winter, but the year’s first forecasts came out in early December, with Columbia River managers expecting an overall run of 157,500 springers, 35,900 summer kings, and 99,300 of the red salmon, all below 10-year averages but no surprise given recent ocean conditions. The outlook for upriver brights is similar to 2018, with tule Chinook below the 10-year average, but with spring’s offshore survey finding good numbers of young coho in the ocean and a strong jack return to the river this fall, there is some potential good news for silver slayers.

The poaching of one of Oregon’s rare moose north of Enterprise in November led to a handsome reward offer of not only $7,500 at last check but a guided elk hunt on the nearby Krebs Ranch, a $3,500 value in itself. “The poaching of a moose is a tragic thing,” said Jim Akenson of the Oregon Hunters Association, chapters of which stepped up to build the reward fund. “Especially because our moose population is low – fewer than 70 in Oregon.” This is at least the second moose poached in Northeast Oregon in recent years. Thadd J. Nelson was charged in early 2015 with unlawfully killing one in mid-2014. He was later killed by robbers.

OREGON’S MOOSE POPULATION WAS LAST ESTIMATED AT 75 OR SO. (PAT MATTHEWS, ODFW)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his proposed 2019-21 budget. It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts, a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, and $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries (hopefully testing generators more frequently!). Inslee’s budget, which must still be passed by lawmakers, also includes the fee increase but $15 million WDFW asked for for conservation and habitat work was pared down to just $1.3 million for the former.

With the significance of Chinook for orcas in the spotlight of course a mid-December windstorm would knock out power to a state hatchery, and when the backup generator failed to immediately kick in, around 6 million fall and spring fry died. That angered fishermen and killer whale advocates alike, and led to a rare statement by a WDFW director, Kelly Susewind on the “painful loss.” As an outside investigation is launched into what exactly what went wrong, up to 2.75 million fish from a mix of state, tribal and tech college hatcheries were identified as possible replacements, pending buy-in from several more tribes.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

Federal, state and tribal officials agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers. The agreement came after early in the year U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered spill to occur and Eastern Washington House of Representatives members tried to kill it. Testing begins this coming April — “It can’t happen soon enough,” said NSIA’s Hamilton.

WDFW’S FIRST KARELIAN BEAR DOG, MISHKA, PASSED AWAY LATE IN THE YEAR. HANDLER “BRUCE (RICHARDS) SAID OF MISHKA THAT WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED IN ONE YEAR WAS AKIN TO WHAT ONE WILDLIFE OFFICER COULD ACCOMPLISH IN A LIFETIME OF WORK,” BEAR SMART WA POSTED ON INSTAGRAM. THE DUO HAD A LONG CAREER OF CHASING BEARS AND HELPING ON POACHING CASES IN GREATER PUGETROPOLIS. ALSO IN 2018, ANOTHER WDFW KBD DOG, CASH, DIED FOLLOWING A BATTLE AGAINST PROSTRATE CANCER. (WDFW)

And finally, and in probably the best news of the whole damn year — which is why we saved it to last, but also because it happened so late in 2018 — the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act was signed into law by President Trump after zipping through the Senate and House this month. With bipartisan leadership from Northwest lawmakers and support from the DFWs, tribes and fishing community among others, the bill essentially provides up to five one-year permits to kill as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia River and its salmon-bearing tributaries. Not that that many likely will be taken out, but this should FINALLY help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.

And with that, I’m calling it a year on this three-part year in review — read the first chunk, covering January through May here, and the second, June through September, here.

Take care, and happy new year!

AW
NWS

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and below are what we reported during the next four, June through September.

JUNE

One of the region’s biggest fish of the year was hooked in late spring in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, a 254- to 265-pound halibut. It was fought and caught by Tom Hellinger with help from son Caleb in late May, but word didn’t begin to hit the mainstream until early June. Though no official measurement was recorded, the 61/2-foot-long flattie was within 25 to 35 pounds of the Washington state record. “I was just really thankful and grateful,” Hellinger told us. “You don’t really realize how rare that is. Big fish are rare. To be an hour from my home and catch something like that is special.” His fish had a 42-pound head, and produced 140 pounds of filets and 1.5 pounds of coveted cheek meat.

ALEISHA, TOM AND CALEB HELLINGER AND LUKE REID POSE WITH TOM’S EASTERN STRAITS HALIBUT. (TOM HELLINGER)

Speaking of big fish, June 21 proved to be a very active day for state records in Washington, where not only was a new high mark set for redbanded rockfish — John Sly’s 7.54-pounder caught off Westport — but arrowtooth flounder — Richard Hale’s 5.93-pounder, landed out of Neah Bay. As 2018 came to a close, there were a total of eight new state record fish caught this year in the Northwest, twice as many as 2017, with seven coming from Washington and nearly all of those caught in the Pacific — three off Westport alone.

ISABELLA TOLEN AND HER 41-POUND TOPE SHARK, THE FIRST EVER SUBMITTED AS A WASHINGTON STATE RECORD. (VIA WDFW)

While mountain goats are meant to hang out in the mountains, federal wildlife managers issued a final record of decision that most of the progeny of those that were introduced by hunting groups in the Olympics in the late 1920s would be captured and taken to the North Cascades, while those that proved too hard to catch would be shot by, among others, “skilled public volunteers.” The two-week-long joint NPS-USFS-WDFW-tribal operation ultimately moved 68 nannies and 30 billies to the other side of Puget Sound, with six kids taken to Northwest Trek and 11 others either dying in the process or deemed “unfit for translocation.” Crews will return to the Olympics in 2019 for another round of removals.

THREE MOUNTAIN GOATS ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER AT A RENDEZVOUS POINT DURING SEPTEMBER’S TWO-WEEK-LONG CAPTURE AND TRANSLOCATION OPERATION. (NPS)

In an “anti-climactic” move, the Supreme Court left a lower court ruling stand that the state of Washington must continue to fix fish passage barriers. While the 4-4 decision was billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, it also saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen, a turnaround from the Boldt era. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Association of Northwest Steelheaders, among others, filed a friends of the court brief that stated, “With salmon populations hovering at such precariously low levels, the significant increase of spawning and rearing habitat that will result from removal of the state’s barrier culverts would be a lifeline for salmon and fishing families alike.”

There’s a lot of grim news out there about Puget Sound these days — drugged-up mussels and Chinook, starving orcas, too much shoreline armoring, etc., etc. — but spring aerial photos from the state Department of Natural Resources revealed some good: the striking return of anchovy to the waters of the Whulge in recent years. WDFW biologist James Losee said it was part of some “exciting things” happening here from “a prey resource point of view.” In May, the Northwest Treaty Tribes blogged that an anchovy population boom in 2015 might have helped more Nisqually steelhead smolts sneak past all the harbor seals.

A SCREENSHOT FROM A DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY PDF SHOWS SCHOOLS OF BAITFISH OFF THE PURDY SPIT WEST OF TACOMA. (DOE)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare gray wolves recovered across the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere outside the Northern Rockies in the Lower 48 — a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly put out word it had begun “reviewing the status of the species” again. The initial hope was to get a delisting proposal onto the Federal Register by the end of the year, but that did not occur and so the long, slow process will continue into 2019.

After narrowing the director candidate field of 19 to seven and then three, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously chose the Department of Ecology’s Kelly Susewind as the new WDFW chief head honcho. A lifelong hunter and lapsed fisherman, Susewind was hailed as a good choice by members of the sporting world, with Rep. Brian Blake of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and fellow Grays Harbor resident calling him “a force for positive change at DFW.” Susewind took the reins Aug. 1 and had to immediately deal with multiple wolf depredations in the state’s northeast corner.

WDFW’S DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT HIS NEW DESK. (WDFW)

For years I’ve reported on the weird wanderings of Northwest wildlife, and June provided two more bizarre examples — a wolverine that visited a very, very non-wolverinelike part of King County in late spring, the woods just outside the lowlands town of Snoqualmie before being found dead along I-90 20 road miles away; and a pair of bull elk that swam over to Orcas Island and gave Uncle John Willis quite a start — “Well, this morning I planned on going to town, but chose not to do that. I looked out my window at my sister’s house and here are two bull elk eating leaves off of a filbert tree in front of her house,” he told us. “I was not quite ready to see two elk this morning.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF WHERE THE WOLVERINE TURNED UP ON A TRAIL CAM AND WHERE THE SAME ONE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK ON I-90. (WDFW)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelhead in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes came up with a plan to replace the strain in the Skykomish River with Tolt summers instead. The whole thing could take years to get approved let alone implement, but it’s also a testament to the lengths officials are willing to go these days for Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunity and appears to be progressing. Later in the year and in Oregon, a study found “little evidence to suggest a negative effect of hatchery [Skamania] summer steelhead abundance on [wild] winter steelhead productivity.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER’S SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT ON A RAINY DAY BY WINSTON McCLANAHAN WOULD BE REPLACED WITH TOLT RIVER SUMMERS UNDER AN AMBITIOUS PLAN WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

JULY

In a year of generally poor salmon returns to the Columbia, sockeye came back stronger than expected and that allowed for an unexpected opener on the upper river. And the shad run topped more than 6 million, thoroughly stomping the old high mark of 5.35 million.

SHAD SWIM THROUGH THE FISH LADDER AT BONNEVILLE DAM IN 2017. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

Washington steelheaders again have access to a coveted section of the middle Wynoochee with the opening of a new put-in just below the 7400 Line bridge, thanks to a five-year agreement between WDFW and Green Diamond Resource Company, which owns the land. The river is one of the most productive on the Westside, with over 1,200 winters and nearly 2,100 summers kept during the 2016-17 season, and it’s known for good fishing for wild fish too. But the agreement does come with a caveat, that “access is contingent on good citizenship of those who visit,” according to WDFW.

A MAP PUT TOGETHER BY WDFW SHOWS THE 7400 LINE ACCESS IN THE WYNOOCHEE VALLEY. (WDFW)

July marked the 10-year anniversary of when it became abundantly clear that wolves weren’t just moving through Oregon and Washington anymore, they were settling down and having families. In the subsequent years and along with all the accompanying angst, livestock depredations and poachings, this month also saw an unusual incident in North-central Washington, where a Forest Service stream surveyor was forced to twice climb a tree when she came across the rendezvous site of the very protective Loup Loup Pack. After initial WDFW hesitation about sending in a state helicopter, a DNR bird was dispatched to extract the woman. She was debriefed by a game warden whose after-action report procured through a public records request stated that “(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid.”

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON THE RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). PHOTO/DNR

WDFW began unveiling a new $67 million proposal to fill a large budget gap and enhance fishing and hunting opportunities. It would raise license fees but also puts the onus on the General Fund for three-quarters of the money. The latter is a fundamental shift from the agency’s previous increase pitch that leaned entirely on sportsmen and failed in the state legislature, but also reflects the feeling that the public at large has a larger role to play in helping pay the bills for WDFW’s myriad missions, especially following cuts due to the Great Recession that have not been restored. The Fish and Wildlife Commission initially balked at a 12 to 15 percent fee hike and wanted 5 percent instead, but at the urging of numerous sporting members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group and others, went with 15. It’s now up to state lawmakers to approve.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

A new analysis by federal and state biologists showed the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas. Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha Rivers were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs. It led to more calls to increase hatchery production.

The summer of 2018 will long be remembered for what felt like months and months of choking smoke that settled in the Northwest, but the heat was notable too, with Maui-warm waters forming a thermal block at the mouth of the Yakima that forced WDFW to close the Columbia there to prevent overharvest of Cle Elum-bound sockeye, and low, 79-degree flows that led ODFW to reinstate 2015’s trib-mouth fishing closures on the lower Umpqua to protect returning steelhead and Chinook. A couple weeks later Oregon added hoot owl closures on the North Umpqua to protect wild summers that came in well below average.

A FLY ANGLER WORKS THE NORTH UMPQUA (BLM, FLICKR, CC 2.0)

Speaking of well below average and too-warm water, the Ballard Locks count for Lake Washington sockeye came in as the second lowest since 1972, but the grim news only got worse between there and the spawning grounds and hatchery on the Cedar. An “all-time low” entered the river, just 23 percent of how many went through the locks, likely victims of prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that are “becoming more prevalent/effective with the higher water temperatures” the salmon experience as they swim the relatively shallow Ship Canal to the lake. “Now just about everything that can go wrong is going wrong,” lamented longtime metro lake angler and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who earlier in the year had helped organize a meeting on how to save the fish and fishery.

RUB A DUB DUB! THREE MEN TROLL FOR SOCKEYE DURING THE 2006 LAKE WASHINGTON SEASON, WHICH YIELDED THE HIGHEST CATCH IN A DECADE BUT HAS ALSO BEEN THE ONLY FISHERY IN A DOZEN YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Center for Biological Diversity got a Thurston County Superior Court to temporarily block WDFW from taking out one member of the Togo Pack for a string of cattle depredations, earning the out-of-state organization a strong rebuke from in-state wolf advocates as well as representatives of the hunting community on the Wolf Advisory Group, which helped craft the lethal removal protocols that CBD wants to derail. “Sadly it is all about cash flow,” said WAG member Dave Duncan. A judge ultimately denied CBD’s bid, sending relief — good for some, bitter for others — through Washington’s wolf world and greenlighting WDFW to kill the breeding male, though the group’s underlying beef will still have its day in court.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters heralded a federal judge’s preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest. “We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville. They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk.

With one of the worst returns of steelhead in dam counting history underway, state managers closed the Deschutes River coolwater plume to all fishing — even fall Chinook — then shut down steelhead retention on 300-plus miles of the Columbia and portions of the lower John Day, closed Drano Lake and Wind River at night, and dropped limits from three to one a day in the Snake watershed. It’s the second season in a row of such strong measures to ensure enough return for spawning needs.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THIS YEAR’S STEELHEAD RUN (RED LINE) AT BONNEVILLE DAM AS IT COMPARES TO LAST YEAR’S LOW RETURN (BLUE LINE) AND THE TEN-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK LINE), A DECADE THAT SAW A RECORD 604,000 IN 2009. (FPC)

There were a number of large-scale poachings in 2018 — the three people who’d dug 37 times their daily limit of clams, for instance — but one of the most jaw dropping was the de facto commercial fishing operation a 74-year-old Kitsap County resident was running in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu. When his 23-foot Maxxum was boarded, a state game warden and sheriff’s deputies found he had five more lines out than allowed, six barbed hooks and was in possession of eight more fish than permitted — including five off-limits wild kings and wild coho. The consensus was that this was not the guy’s first rodeo, given the complexity of fishing five commercial flasher-lure combos off bungees behind two downriggers. The boat, which was seized, is now the property of the state of Washington as its forfeiture was not contested, along with the gear, and the man has been charged by county prosecutors with 10 criminal violations.

WDFW OFFICER BRYAN DAVIDSON POSES WITH THE 23-FOOT MAXUM CABIN CRUISER, TRAILER, DOWNRIGGERS, FISHING ROD AND COMMERCIAL FLASHER-LURE COMBOS SEIZED FOLLOWING AN AT-SEA INSPECTION THAT TURNED UP EGREGIOUS FISHING RULES VIOLATIONS. (WDFW)

SEPTEMBER

Just a week after ODFW lifted the Deschutes plume fishing closure, allowing anglers to target fall Chinook there as the Columbia’s upriver bright run got going, Oregon and Washington salmon managers shut it and the rest of the big river from Buoy 10 to Pasco due to lower than expected returns and catches of Snake River wild kings that were subsequently in excess of ESA mortality allowances. Not long afterwards, the limit in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia above Tri-Cities was also reduced to one. It all felt like a stunning U-turn from just three Septembers before, when managers had adjusted their fall Chinook forecast upwards to a staggering 1,095,900 — ultimately 1.3 million entered the river — to cap off three successive gargantuan runs. But on the bright side, late October’s King of the Reach live-capture derby brought in a record number of fish — over 1,200 — to fuel a hatchery broodstock program.

A HELPER AT KING OF THE REACH HOLDS A NICE WILD FALL CHINOOK BUCK BROUGHT IN BY ANGLERS DURING THE LIVE-CAPTURE DERBY. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

As if wolf issues weren’t hot enough in August, things really heated up in September when what was eventually named the Old Profanity Territory Pack killed one calf and injured three others. While WDFW built its case, key groups balked at going lethal though the protocol had been met because of the fast, repeated nature of depredations there. As more occurred, Director Susewind ultimately gave the go-ahead to kill a wolf or two to head off more livestock attacks, and after histrionics on Twitter, in superior court and at the steps of the state capital, the next week WDFW took out a juvenile.

US and Canadian salmon managers reached a new 10-year West Coast Salmon Treaty on Chinook harvest and conservation, one that must still be approved in the countries’ capitals but calls for reduced northern interceptions when runs are poor. Fisheries off Southeast Alaska would be cut as much as 7.5 percent from 2009-15 levels in those years, those off the west coast of Vancouver Island up to 12.5 percent, while Alaska salmon managers report that Washington and Oregon fisheries could see reductions from 5 to 15 percent.

In a great-news story, Boggan’s Oasis, the famed waystation on the Grande Ronde River that burned down in November 2017, reopened and was again serving up its famous milkshakes and more to hungry and thirsty steelheaders, travelers and others along lonely Highway 129 in extreme Southeast Washington. “The layout’s about the same, but it’s a bigger building,” said coproprietor Bill Vail, who added that he and wife Farrel were “happy to start the next chapter in our lives.”

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

With a win-win habitat project mostly wrapped up, Oregon’s Coquille Wildlife Area reopened in time for the start of fall waterfowl seasons. Restoration of the Winter Lake Tract will provide young Endangered Species Act-listed coho salmon with 8 miles of winding tidal channels and will also help local cattle ranchers stay in business. “The tide gates, working with reconnected channels and new habitat will provide the best of both worlds,” said the National Marine Fisheries Service, which stated that 95 percent of the Coquille’s best salmon habitat has been lost since settlement.

AN AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS NEW CHANNELS FOR FISH HABITAT CREATED AT WINTER LAKE, PART OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE’S COQUILLE VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA. (CBI CONTRACTING VIA NMFS)

And in what certainly was the Northwest poaching case with the highest fine, Hoon Namkoong of Orient Seafood Production of Fife was sentenced to pay Washington and Westside tribes $1.5 million in restitution for buying and selling 250,000 pounds of sea cucumbers illegally harvested by tribal and nontribal divers in Puget Sound in recent years. The activities came at a time that concerned fishery managers were lowering quotas for legal harvesters due to declining numbers of the echinoderm, but the illegal picking was actually increasing. “It is no wonder, then, that we have failed to see signs of recovery as a result of the work of sea cucumber managers and the sacrifices of the lawfully compliant harvesters,” said a WDFW manager in presentencing documents. Namkoong was also sentenced to two years in prison.

Editor’s note: OK, this was supposed to be just a two-part YIR, but I gotta catch my breath now so I can try to put together the events of October, November and December in a couple days.