Tag Archives: LICENSE FEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An effect statement says his amendments:

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

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

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

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

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

Battle Over Washington License Fees More Than 110 Years Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawsuit!

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

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

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

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

But another fisherman saw it differently.

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

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

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

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

Indeed, some things never change.

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Gillnet, Fee Hike Bills Set For Public Hearings In Oly

With few new fish- or wildlife-related bills introduced in Washington’s halls of power, it was a nice, slow week for the Olympia Outsider™ to recover from last week’s grievous shoulder owie (and get into rehab for his little muscle relaxant habit).

BILLS ADDRESSING SALMON HATCHERIES, SALMON HABITAT, SALMON PREDATORS AND SALMON CATCHING ARE ACTIVE IN WASHINGTON’S STATE LEGISLATURE.,  (NMFS)

Most of the action came as senators and representatives held public hearings on previously submitted legislation or lawmakers amended bills, including one addressing in part the game fish status of walleye, bass and channel catfish, or gave them do-pass recommendations.

One bill of note was dropped, SB 5824 from Sen. Doug Eriksen, a different take on recovering southern resident killer whales.

“Tearing down dams, major land grabs and land-use restrictions are not the answer,” the Ferndale Republican said in a press release out yesterday. “A more robust hatchery system not only would mean more food for orcas, but also more opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen, more tourism, and more good-paying jobs in our communities.”


Concerned about closures in your area? Book the world’s best salmon and halibut fishing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Canada. Click HERE to learn more.

It would fund construction of a new public-private facility on Bellingham’s waterfront that would operate similar to how some in Alaska are, self-funded through the sale of returning adult pink and coho salmon, as serve as a test for more expansive use of nonstate hatcheries.

At this writing the bill hadn’t been assigned a hearing, nor had another new one (SB 5871) reauthorizing the Columbia River endorsement fee or a third addressing state land management (HB 1983).

Assuming the Great Glacier doesn’t surge out of the Great White North and shove Washington’s capitol into Black Lake over the next few snowy days, next week could still be an interesting one for watchers of state politics, as well as even the occasionally attentive Olympia Outsider™.

The nontribal gillnet phaseout and WDFW’s fee hike bills will be heard before both chambers’ natural resource committees, and who knows what other legislation is waiting in the wings.

Here’s more on those and other bills that are showing signs of life, though sadly the one designating Bainbridge Island (The Wolfiest!™) a sanctuary for wolves has not followed the lead of Punxsutawney Phil and reared its head above ground in any committee yet.

SALMON

Bill title: “Banning the use of nontribal gill nets,” SB 5617
Status: After garnering cosponsorship from 27 of Washington’s 49 state senators at its late January introduction, it is slated for a 1:30 public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 12. Sportfishing groups like NSIA are calling it a “historic bill” and are urging members to bundle up, chain up, and snowshoe their way to Room 3 of the J.A. Cherberg Building to sign in as “pro.”

LICENSES

Bill title: “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses,” HB 1708 / SB 5692
Status: With a letter of support from 13 state sporting and conservation groups, WDFW’s fee hike bill has been scheduled for a 10 a.m. Feb. 15 public hearing before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources, which should provide an even better gauge for how much support it has.

Bill title: “Broadening the eligibility for a reduced recreational hunting and fishing license rate for resident disabled hunters and fishers,” HB 1230
Status: Lawmakers liked this bill, which would set the cost of licenses for resident sportsmen with a permanent disability confirmed by a doctor, a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner at half what Washington hunters and anglers pay, giving it a unanimous do-pass recommendation out of House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources. Next stop: House Appropriations.

ORCAS

Bill title: “Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing chinook abundance,” HB 1579 / SB 5580
Status: While primarily addressing hydraulic code enforcement and saltwater forage fish habitat, a portion targeting walleye, bass and channel catfish for declassification was amended to retain game fish status but directing the Fish and Wildlife Commission to liberalize limits on the species where they swim with salmon this week by the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resource.

Bill Title: “Concerning the protection of southern resident orca whales from vessels,” HB 1580 / SB 5577
Status: Had a public hearing before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources and is scheduled for an executive session next week.

Bill title: “Addressing the impacts of pinnipeds on populations of threatened southern resident orca prey,” HB 1824
Status: This bill directing WDFW to apply to NOAA for a permit to take out the maximum number of sea lions to increase salmon survival for orcas has been scheduled for an 8 a.m. Feb. 14 public hearing with the House Committee on Environment & Energy.

HUNTING

Bill title: “Concerning visible clothing requirements for hunting,” SB 5148
Status: Hunter pink received a unanimous do-pass recommendation from the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee and was sent to Rules Committee where it’s set for a second reading before placement on the Senate Floor calendar.

WILDLIFE

Bill title: “Concerning wildlife damage to agricultural crops,” HB 1875
Status: Dropped this week by a pair of elk country lawmakers, Reps. Eslick and Dent, this bill changing who is on the hook for agricultural damage from deer and wapiti from hunters to the state general fund is scheduled for a 10 a.m. Feb 15 hearing before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

PREDATORS

Bill title: “Establishing a nonlethal program within the department of fish and wildlife for the purpose of training dogs,” SB 5320
Status: Enjoyed a lot of supportive baying during a public hearing and the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee gave it a 6-1 do-pass recommendation and sent it to Rules for a second reading. House version (HB 1516) receives a public hearing today.

OTHER

Bill title: “Designating the Pacific razor clam as the state clam,” HB 1061
Status: Could get a “show” of hands, or at least ayes and nays, after a Feb. 15 executive session in the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations.

Bill title: “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes,” HB 1662 / SB 5696
Status: Received public hearings in both chambers, with wide support for changing how counties are reimbursed for lands WDFW wildlife area acquisitions take off property tax rolls. Scheduled for an executive session with the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources next week.

Bill title: “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state,” HB 1261 / SB 5322
Status: Public hearings held in both chambers’ environmental committees on this bill addressing suction and other mining in critical salmon habitat, with executive session scheduled by the House panel next week.

ALSO ACTIVE

SB 5404, “Expanding the definition of fish habitat enhancement projects,” would include eel grass beds, scheduled for an executive session by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks this afternoon, assuming Snowmaggedon The Reckoning stays away.

HB 1341, “Concerning the use of unmanned aerial systems near certain protected marine species,” given a do-pass recommendation by House Committee on Innovation, Technology & Economic Development and sent to Rules 2 Review

SB 5525, “Concerning whitetail deer population estimates,” addresses Northeast Washington herds, scheduled for a 1:30 p.m., Feb. 14 public hearing before Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks

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.

WDFW Director Looks For Public Budget Support, Assures Sportsmen He’s ‘Adding To, Not Changing Our Base’

WDFW’s new director Kelly Susewind fielded more than three dozen questions about salmon, hatcheries, sea lions, orcas, wolves, increasing fishing and hunting opportunities, and more during an hour-and-a-half-long webinar last night.

The “digital open house” provided a glimpse into Susewind’s priorities and goals as the head of the agency overseeing fish and wildlife management in the state, how he hopes to patch glaring budget holes, and lead WDFW into the future.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (LEFT) TOOK QUESTIONS DURING A ONE-HOUR, 37-MINUTE WEBINAR ON THE AGENCY AND ITS FUTURE. MOST WERE SUBMITTED BY THE PUBLIC AND READ BY AGENCY POLICY DIRECTOR NATE PAMPLIN. (WDFW)

And in seeking to get the wider public on board with his agency’s mission, he assured its most loyal customers they weren’t being abandoned for greener pastures.

With a $67 million budget boost proposed this coming legislative session — 75 percent from the General Fund, 25 percent from a license fee hike — it was part of an outreach effort to build across-the-board support for the agency’s myriad and sometimes seemingly at-odds objectives.

Susewind himself has already hosted five open houses in Spokane, Ephrata, Selah, Montesano and Ridgefield, with a sixth scheduled for Issaquah next month, but Wednesday’s webinar allowed him to take the message statewide and beyond.

“We need to become known, trusted and valued by 6 million people,” he said, speaking to the number of Washington residents who are not already intimately or closely familiar with WDFW, people who aren’t sportsmen, hikers, bikers or other recreationalists.

“I pause there for a second,” he added, “because as I’ve told people that that’s where I really want to head, some of our traditional users have expressed concern and are fearful that I’m stepping away from our traditional core users — the outdoor enthusiasts, the hunters, fishers — and that’s not the case at all. I want to reassure folks that I’m talking about adding to our base, not changing our base.”

Joining him was WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin who read off questions as they came in.

Most did sound like they were coming from the agency’s regular customers — hunters, anglers, commercial fishermen — or those who watch its moves very closely, and in general they followed the hot-button issues of the day.

Many grouped around salmon — producing more of them for fishing and orcas; dealing with sea lions eating too many; improving wild runs; gillnets; North of Falcon transparency.

With the lack of Chinook identified as a key reason southern resident killer whales are starving in Washington waters, several questions focused around what can be done to increase fish numbers, which would also benefit angling.

Susewind said that a new hatchery is being mulled for the Deschutes system near Olympia, with production boosts elsewhere.

“I don’t think we can recover salmon or maintain salmon over the long term without intelligent use of hatcheries, and I think that means higher production levels than we are at now,” he said.

Tens of millions more used to be released in Puget Sound — 55 million by the state in 1989 alone — and elsewhere in the past, but those have tailed off as Endangered Species Act listings and hatchery reforms came into play to try and recover wild returns.

As he’s quickly added in the past, Susewind said that doesn’t mean going back to the Johnny Appleseed days of indiscriminately releasing them everywhere.

Early next month the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will be briefed on “what is possible towards a time frame of implementing the increase of approximately 50 million additional smolts at hatchery facilities.”

Boosting production will require a “substantial investment,” Pamplin noted, adding that the 2019 budget request into Governor Jay Inslee includes a “pretty assertive ask” towards that.

And it would also come with a responsibility to not damage wild returns.

(WDFW)

Responding to “somewhat of a loaded question” about his thoughts on getting nonselective gillnets out of the water, Susewind said, “I’ll get out on a limb here: I think there’s a place for gillnets. Right now, as we increase production to feed killer whales, as we increase production to provide opportunities, we need a good way of making sure those fish don’t end up on the spawning grounds, and gillnets are one of the ways to manage that.”

Asked if using a stenographer to increase transparency during the state-tribal North of Falcon salmon season meetings was possible, Susewind said all kinds of ideas — Facebook feed, better social media presence — are being considered.

“We recognize it’s not a satisfying process in terms of transparency,” he said.

In supporting being able to manage federally protected pinnipeds on both the Columbia and Puget Sound, Susewind said that data is showing that there’s a real problem in that the millions of dollars being spent on salmon recovery are essentially being spent on feeding sea lions.

He talked about some of the other problems the agency has, saying that it needed to improve its communications with the public, and with a personal aside he acknowledged how hard it is to decipher the regulations pamphlets.

While pointing out the complexity of the regs is actually a function of WDFW trying to eke as much opportunity as possible out of what’s available, Susewind said he was befuddled when he picked up the fishing rules for the first time in a long time.

“I found it was too difficult to go through to quickly go out fishing. You have to want to go and do it in advance, and I think we can improve on it,” he said.

Earlier this year WDFW did roll out a mobile app and it sounds like more may be coming.

Asked how he planned to increase hunting and fishing opportunities to keep the sports viable, Susewind emphasized the importance of habitat. As for better access, he called the Farm Bill a “great onramp,” with provisions especially helpful in Eastern Washington, and pointed to a key recent deal with Green Diamond that led to a drift boat put-in on the upper Wynoochee.

Asked why, if killing wolves leads to more livestock depredations, WDFW lethally removes pack members, Susewind said that in his on-the-job research he’s found that the science wasn’t as clear as that, actually.

He said that pragmatically it does reduce short-term depredations and felt that it changes pack behavior in the long run.

In response to another question on the wild canids, he said that WDFW was going to recover wolves in Washington using the 2011 management plan and in a way that was compatible with traditional land uses.

A couple ideas from the online audience perked up Susewind’s and Pamplin’s ears for further investigation — an annual halibut limit instead of set fishing days, a family hunting license package.

Questions so specific as to stump both honchoes — what’s being done to improve fish habitat on the Snoqualmie River, for example —  saw them advise that those be emailed in so they could be routed to the right field staffer or — as with the above case — the member attend the upcoming meeting at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery so biologist Jenni Whitney could answer it.

Asked if one day Washington hunters might be able to hunt cougars with hounds, which was outlawed by a citizen initiative, Susewind essentially said he doubted it, but noted that the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will be holding a work session on the wild cats next week.

He fielded questions on increasing youth involvement; where to find information on preventing bear and wolf conflicts; global warming; what’s being done to prevent whale watching boats from pursuing orcas; if recreational crabbing could begin at the same time tribal seasons did; his thoughts on hoof disease in elk and fish farming; and his favorite places to fish and hunt (the Humptulips and Westport growing up, and brushy, wet Western Washington, though “there’s something to be said about the Methow too.”)

PAMPLIN POSES A QUESTION TO SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Pamplin took an opportunity to pitch a softball, asking a “myth busting” question whether license fees go to WDFW or the General Fund.

“It is a myth that hunting and fishing license fees go into the General Fund to build whatever –roads … They are specific to the agency and specific to hunting and fishing opportunities,” Susewind replied.

Part of the agency’s 2019 budget request is a 15 percent increase on licenses.

Susewind explained that the Great Recession of 10 years ago led to big cuts from the General Fund and that WDFW’s “heavy reliance” on user fees hasn’t kept pace with rising costs.

“We need to get a dedicated fund,” he said.

But in the meanwhile, WDFW needs more from the General Fund, Susewind added.

As the webinar wound to a close, one of the final questions — perhaps from a late-arriving member of the public — was, what were his top priorities as director.

With not even four months on the job, and the legislative session, budget and North of Falcon looming, just getting up to speed on everything was Susewind’s first reply.

But he said his single top priority was to “make us more relevant to the broader population.”

“We need to get a lot more people enthused and engaged and supporting the mission of the agency,” Susewind said. “The other 6 million people need to know that natural resources don’t just come naturally; it takes a lot of work to preserve and enhance natural resources, and that’s going to take all of us.”

Even as Washington sportsmen will step up and buy licenses next year, and the year after, and the one after that — grudgingly and otherwise, regardless of whether a fee hike passes — Susewind said another of his priorities is for the public to see that WDFW is managed well.

“They need to know we are efficient in how we operate and we are a good investment,” he said.

Susewind and crew have a big job ahead of them that will require more than a half-dozen open houses and the internet, but it’s a start.

WDFW Commission Decides On 15 Percent Fee Hike After All, But With Caps

Washington fishing and hunting overseers are now recommending a 15 percent across-the-board fee hike — three times as much as they’d decided on just two weeks ago — but they also softened the hit to WDFW’s most ardent license buyers.

The move during a conference call this morning follows on the request of more than a dozen leading sportsmen and others that the Fish and Wildlife Commission reconsider its Aug. 10 decision to ask state lawmakers for just a 5 percent hike.

A letter signed by 15 of the 20 members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group said that that wouldn’t have covered inflation since the last increase in 2011 and they also feared that it would be “frowned upon by legislators and force the department into cuts that will harm our interests and our state’s natural resources.”

Fifteen percent was the top end of the initial range of license increases that were first proposed in June.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the new proposal on a voice vote of 6-1, with Don McIsaac against and Jay Holzmiller leaving the call during discussion. Earlier they also approved asking lawmakers for inflationary adjustments.

Overall for its 2019-21 budget, WDFW is requesting $60 million more to deal with a looming structural shortfall as well as enhance fishing, hunting and conservation work, with as much as two-thirds of that dependent on money coming from the General Fund, a sharp departure since the Great Recession put the onus on user fees supporting the agency.

It all still needs to be presented and passed during next year’s legislative session in Olympia and signed by the governor, but the commission set $7 and $15 caps on fishing and hunting license bundles.

For instance, the new Fish Washington package — combo license plus two-pole, Puget Sound crab and Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsements — would rise 9.66 percent from $79.62 to $87.31 instead of $91.56 under the across-the-board 15 percent hike.

But someone who only fishes for trout in lakes would see a 13.98 percent increase and pay $4.13 more for the freshwater license that now runs $29.50,

Though no such bundle is available, a “hunting enthusiast” currently shelling out $149.80 for the deer, elk, bear, cougar + small game combo, two special permit applications and a turkey tag would pay $16.50 more, an 11.01 percent increase, according to WDFW.

A commission presentation says that the 1B option would raise $13.7 million over the next two years and that:

• All customers contribute but none in excess
• Lessens pocketbook impact to most dedicated customers
• Simple messaging about the maximum increase

Commissioners looked at several other options drummed up on short notice. Those included a phased-in, 8 to 15 percent approach; an $8 resident endorsement; and a $5 endorsement plus a 5 percent increase.

Earlier this month members also approved asking lawmakers to make the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement permanent. It otherwise expires at the end of next June and supports a range of fisheries.

That the Fish and Wildlife Commission backtracked from 5 percent to 15 percent on the fee increase proposal is a sign that it must have taken the letter to heart, that a wide range of stakeholders had their back, to paraphrase one BPAG member.

Among hunter and angler representatives urging the citizen oversight panel to reconsider were Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers, David Cloe of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Rachel Voss of the Mule Deer Foundation, Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association, and Mark Pidgeon of the Hunters Heritage Council,

Some of them were against WDFW’s previous fee hike proposal, the Wild Futures Initiative, just last year. After that failed, lawmakers provided a one-time $10 million bump that came with requirements that the agency review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan. Out of that also came BPAG.

“It’s a tough call but we need to keep the department funded but want to see more money pumped into hatchery production. We do need legislature to approve general fund money and also federal funds on hatchery increases for both the orcas and us,” said PSA’s Garner.

Others members who signed include Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, Jason Callahan of the timber industry’s Washington Forest Protection Association, and Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association.

But there’s been far less support for an increase among rank and file deerstalkers, salmon anglers and other sportsmen for a fee hike.

Preliminary results from a survey after WDFW rolled out 12 to 15 percent increases or a one-time annual $10 surcharge said nearly half of all respondents were “very unlikely” to support one.

Here’s How Much WDFW’s Proposed Fee Increase Would Cost You

I’d pay between $13.75 and $17.57 more to fish, crab and hunt in Washington under a 12 to 15 percent fee-increase proposal, one of two that WDFW put out for comment this week.

The across-the-board hike would raise the price of my combination fishing license, deer tag, and Puget Sound Dungeness, two-pole and Columbia River endorsements from $132.55 a year to $146.30 to $150.12.

That’s according to a draft estimate matrix produced by WDFW staffers at my request.

It shows potential out-the-door prices that reflect increases to both the agency’s base license and 10 percent transaction fees, but not the $.50 to $2 outside vendor charge. That means prices vary from true 12 to 15 percent rises.

But the tally would still rise commensurately for hunters and anglers who buy even more licenses than I do, say deer + elk + bear + cougar + small game (from $117.50 to $131.36 to $134.83), Westside pheasant (from $84.50 to $94.40 to $96.88) and shellfish/seaweed (from $17.40 to $19.25 to $19.71).

CHINOOK ANGLERS TROLL POSSESSION BAR EARLIER THIS MONTH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE EXERCISE IS BEING DRIVEN BY A LOOMING $30 MILLION 2019-21 budget shortfall that has WDFW considering patching it in part with sportsman dollars but also the state General Fund, if state lawmakers sign off on it next winter and spring.

WDFW’s second proposal would be less expensive, at least for some, a single $10 fee that each license buyer would pay once annually ($3 for those who only buy a temporary license).

That option would save me and the agency’s highest-spending customers a little money over the other.

But it would be a relatively higher hit for fishermen who just work the lakes for trout in spring or bass in summer, clammers who only head to ocean beaches to dig razors in winter, and hunters who only chase quail in fall.

Ten bucks works out to a 7.6 percent increase for me and 5 percent for the sportsman who buys $200 in licenses, endorsements and tags, but 34 percent for the guy or gal who only plunks at Green Lake.

I can tell you right now which option I’d prefer, but is that fair to those who use less of the resource than I do, and would it lead to some of them deciding to just not buy a license? Trout anglers are one of WDFW’s most numerous constituencies.

Either way, nothing is set in stone yet and WDFW’s running an opinion survey in the lead-up to next month’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, where a final decision on what sort of package to take to legislators will be made. If a percentage increase is chosen over the $10 option, the price matrix would be updated with new costs.

A HERD OF MULE DEER IN THE PRESCOTT GMU. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

THIS IS THE SECOND TIME IN TWO YEARS that WDFW has sought a license increase. The 2016 Wild Futures Initiative proposed 10 percent hunting and 17 to 20 percent fishing increases, along with new $17 to $11.50 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon that were later reduced to $10 each.

It went down in flames in Olympia during last year’s legislative session, but lawmakers did provide a $10 million one-time dip into the General Fund to cover this biennium’s large budget shortfall.

They also gave the agency marching orders to review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis, come up with a long-term funding plan, and work more closely with stakeholders.

WDFW identified $3 million worth of cuts as well and those are scheduled to occur over the next year.

With those chores ticked off and the deadline for submitting 2019-21 budget proposals to the Fish and Wildlife Commission and then the Office of Financial Management approaching, earlier this week WDFW held an hour-long evening webinar on their predicament and increase proposals, available here.

Following his presentation, Policy Director Nate Pamplin took about a half hour’s worth of “good questions” from viewers.

The 60 to 65 who tuned in at any one time wondered why revenue from hunter and angler license sales is only holding steady or dropping over time — a major cause of the shortfall and similar to national trends — how WDFW can hope to increase participation when it seems opportunities are increasingly limited, whether selling off wildlife areas was an option, and what’s being done to bring in dollars from nonconsumptive users, among others.

On that last one, Pamplin pointed out to reporters earlier in the day that two-thirds of WDFW’s overall proposed $60 million ask of the legislature to fill the shortfall and increase some fishing and hunting ops, along with fund key conservation work, would be paid for through the General Fund, the other third by sportsmen. With Wild Futures, it all would have fallen on the wallets of sportsmen.

That is a different direction than just a few years ago but also a recognition that, say, producing salmon not only benefits anglers but also society as a whole through commercial and tribal fisheries that provide fillets for those who don’t venture out, as well as ecological benefits to the food web, Pamplin said.

Indeed, this week there’s grim news that another baby orca has died, part of a resident population that is in nutritional distress because their key feedstock, Puget Sound fall Chinook, is in decline.

Pamplin also wondered aloud about whether the time game wardens spend dealing with black bears getting into suburban residents’ garbage cans should really be paid for with hunter dollars, as it is now, or the General Fund?

LAST YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA STATIONED IN THE SOUTHERN SECTION OF NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK CAPTURED AN IMAGE OF THIS WOLF. (NPS)

HONESTLY, $10, $13.75 AND $17.57 AREN’T A LOT FOR Ol’ Moneybags Walgamott. At the midpoint, it is about half what it cost to go out to a barbecue joint with my wife Tuesday night when we were both too lazy to cook, and around what I spent on used books later that evening.

Dinner was one and done, but I might read the books a second time, if they’re good.

The fishing and hunting licenses allow me to go over and over and over and fill my freezer.

(Well, theoretically if I was actually any good at catching salmon and chasing down deer.)

But while the fee increase might also help catch up to inflation since the last one in 2011, for those expressing opposition so far, that is not the point.

It is that the quality of Washington’s fishing and hunting experience is not $10 or 12 to 15 percent better than it was last year, that they don’t agree with WDFW’s direction on wolves and other predators, that the state may have lost the productive Skokomish River meat Chinook fishery — fueled by a WDFW hatchery, no less — for good, and any of a thousand other beefs with the agency and its management of the public’s fish, wildlife and wildlands that they’re already paying to fund but are unhappy with the current product.

Pamplin acknowledged as much that the increases are a tough sell, and that there are concerns WDFW could price sportsmen out of the market, a vicious loop for the budget.

Still, with potential cuts to hatchery operations, enforcement, wildlife conflict prevention, lands management and other programs, and over 100 jobs at stake if WDFW’s proposal falls flat again, he wants to hear what the public’s priorities are.

My thoughts don’t matter, but yours do. You can make your feelings known through WDFW’s survey.

And the Fish and Wildlife Commission is slated to talk about the proposal at its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Olympia before making a recommendation to lawmakers who draw up and vote on WDFW’s budget. Fee bills would also be subject to legislative hearings where you can have your say as well.

Correction: A miscalculation of increases proposed under the Wild Futures Initiative led to too-low estimates of select fishing license increases. Instead of 8 to 9%, those should have read 17 to 20%.

WDFW Outlines Budget Issues, Proposed ‘Modest’ Fee Increase

WDFW hopes to lean on the general public more to fill a potential $30 million shortfall in the next budget biennium, a fundamental shift from just a few years ago, but sportsmen may still be asked to pay a “modest” increase to chase Chinook, bucks and ducks under a proposal being unveiled today.

It’s part of an overall $60 million bid that also includes strategic investments to improve angling and hunting and is now up for discussion, with tonight offering the first chance for you to hear about it first hand as state managers hold a webinar starting at 7 p.m.

Briefing reporters this afternoon, WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin says there are two fee-increase options WDFW’s looking at currently.

One is a 12- to 15-percent across-the-board hike, the first since 2011, and the other is a $10 charge that license buyers would pay once a year ($3 for temporary permits).

Neither is a done deal and the Fish and Wildlife Commission must first determine whether to ask the state Legislature to pass it during the 2019 session.

If you’ve got a sense of deja vu all over again, it’s because, yes, we just went through this.

WDFW’S NATE PAMPLIN BRIEFS REPORTERS DURING A WEBINAR ON ITS BUDGET ISSUES.

Pamplin acknowledged that fee bills are tough sells, and that was definitely the case with former Director Jim Unsworth’s Wild Futures Initiative, which flamed out in 2017.

It proposed 10 percent hunting and 17 to 20 percent fishing increases, along with new $17 to $10 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon.

Pamplin attributed that to “a real lack of trust in the department” but with lawmakers’ one-time $10 million bump that year instead of license increases came requirements that the agency review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan.

Essentially, the funding problem isn’t bloated management and too many IT staffers but long-term issues caused by revenues from sportsmen not keeping up with how much it costs to manage fish, wildlife and opportunities to pursue them, increasing legislative requirements, deep budget cuts in the years after the Great Recession and the looming expiration of the key Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

“Your power bill goes up, our fish food bill goes up,” Pamplin said.

Three million dollars worth of cuts to fish stocking, habitat work and volunteer grant programs have also been identified and will occur in the coming months.

And WDFW created a budget and policy work group made up of influential members of the fishing and hunting communities — Ron Garner, Andy Marks, Rachel Voss, Mark Pidgeon — and other groups in Washington’s outdoor world, and for several months now they’ve been getting an eyeful about where and how license money comes from and what it’s used for.

“We lifted up the hood on our budget,” says Pamplin when asked what made this effort different from Wild Futures’ failure.

One thing that I learned when I took my own peak earlier this year was just how much of my fishing and hunting license money went to WDFW.

All of it.

Even so, adding to the price to go crabbing, troll for coho, and wander the Palouse for pheasants will see pushback, as it should because the product isn’t what it once was — habitat issues, decreased hatchery production, a booming state population are all impacting the quality and experience.

Pamplin said WDFW recognized those “optics” as well as concerns about pricing hunter and anglers out of the field and off the water.

ANOTHER SCREENGRAB FROM TODAY’S WEBINAR.

But what’s also different with WDFW’s request this time is that in 2017, the budget “solution” was entirely based on the wallets of the state’s sportsmen, as Pamplin told Northwestern Outdoors Radio host John Kruse, whereas this time only 33 percent is.

That’s because Pamplin et al hope that lawmakers will recognize that much of what WDFW does benefits that state as a whole and should be funded thusly.

That represents a shift from 2010, when one top manager told me at the time WDFW was “making a concerted effort to make itself less dependent on the General Fund” because it didn’t compete well with public health, prison and education.

Where it leaned heavily on us in the following years, the agency is now trying to broaden its funding base.

Pamplin said hunting and fishing produce $3.4 billion in economic activity annually in Washington, and based on current appropriations from it, a 350 percent return on investment to GF-S, the state General Fund.

Answering a Kruse question, Pamplin wondered out loud who should pay for the game warden who has to go out to the suburban house and deal with the bear eating out of the garbage cans? Right now, hunter dollars fund the work but he feels that the General Fund should instead.

As for what WDFW would do if it were to receive that $60 million package from the General Fund and license increases from legislators, Pamplin pointed to a mix of programs that could continue/not have to be cut and long-term investments it could focus on, including:

Wildlife conflict prevention and response ($4.4 million)
Shellfish enforcement and consumer protection ($2.5 million)
Land management ($2.7 million)
Hatchery operations and fisheries management ($9 million)
Hunting management, including hunter education ($3.2 million)
Recovery of at-risk species and prevention of invasive species ($3.5 million)
Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement program ($3.3 million)
Customer service support ($1.9 million)

 And:

Conservation investments in such programs as salmon recovery, watershed health, biodiversity, and conservation enforcement ($14.7 million)
Expanded fishing opportunities and hatchery improvements ($5.6 million)
Hunting enhancements, including improved law enforcement and access ($3.5 million)
Orca recovery (amount TBD)

If those were the carrots, there wasn’t much stick in Pamplin’s webinar.

But he did point to seven hatcheries at risk if no funding is found — a list that includes Reiter Ponds, Humptulips and Omak, among others — as well as the warmwater program, ensuring early winter steelhead programs are ESA compliant and rehabbing lakes and streams.

Along with tonight’s webinar, Pamplin says there will be a chance to make your feelings known through an upcoming public opinion survey.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is also slated to talk about the proposal at its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Olympia before making a recommendation to lawmakers who draw up and vote on WDFW budget bills.

Correction: A miscalculation of increases proposed under the Wild Futures Initiative led to too-low estimates of select fishing license increases. Instead of 8 to 9%, those should have read 17 to 20%.

Oregon Fish-Wildlife Commission To Talk Cougar Plan, License Fees

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

The Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet Friday, Oct. 13 at the Crook County Fairgrounds, 1280 Main St in Prineville beginning at 8 a.m.

The meeting will follow this agenda, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/minutes/17/10_oct/index.asp, and be livestreamed online via ODFW’s @MyODFW account on Periscope and Twitter.

THE OREGON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING FRIDAY, OCT. 13, WILL BE LIVE STREAMED. (PERISCOPE)

The Commission will be asked to adopt an updated Oregon Cougar Management Plan. The Plan was last revised in 2006. The draft updated Plan incorporates new scientific literature and Oregon-specific research about cougars, including a genetics and habitat analysis, but does not propose major management changes. The updated Plan continues to stress coexistence with Oregon’s more than 6,400 cougars.

The Commission will also be asked to adopt new fees for recreational and other licenses that will take effect Jan. 1, 2018. These fees were already approved by the Oregon State Legislature when it passed ODFW’s 2015-17 budget. Typically, ODFW raises fees once every six years but during this six-year cycle, fee increases are staggered with a more modest fee increase every two years. The first stage occurred for 2016 licenses. Beginning with 2018 licenses, the cost of an annual hunting license will increase by $1.50 to $33.50, an annual fishing license will increase by $3 to $41 and a Combination License will increase by $4 to $69. The cost of juvenile licenses will stay the same as part of efforts to make hunting and fishing affordable for young people and their families. To see the full Recreational Fee License Schedule visit ODFW’s budget page.

Public testimony before the Commission will be held first thing Friday morning, just after the adoption of temporary rules. Persons seeking to testify on issues not on the formal agenda may do so by making arrangements with the ODFW’s Director’s office, at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, by calling 800-720-6339 or 503-947-6044.

Reasonable accommodations will be provided as needed for individuals requesting assistive hearing devices, sign language interpreters or large-print materials. Individuals needing these types of accommodations may call the ODFW Director’s Office at 800-720-6339 or 503-947-6044 at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.

On Thursday, Oct. 12 the Commission will tour the Prineville area with stops at Bowman Dam on the Crooked River to discuss fish management and at Opal Springs to discuss fish passage. Some parts of the tour during are not open to the public as they are at privately-owned facilities. For more information see the tour itinerary.