Tag Archives: mule deer

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.

Tough Winter For Elk, Deer, Even New Pronghorns In Southeast Washington

Editor’s note: Updated April 11, 2019 with comments from WDFW biologist Michael Atamian

The six-by-seven bull rose with the rest of the herd of 150-plus elk that bitterly cold March morning outside Walla Walla and began trudging south through the snow.

But then as Scott Rasley, a longtime WDFW staffer and wildlife conflict specialist for the Blue Mountains, watched the animals make their way towards the Oregon state line, “like they do every morning,” he witnessed something extraordinary.

THIS ELK GOT UP WITH THE REST OF ITS HERD ON A SUBZERO MORNING NEAR WALLA WALLA THIS PAST WINTER BUT THEN SIMPLY DIED A SHORT WHILE LATER. (SCOTT RASLEY, WDFW)

The big bull turned to its left, then “laid down, put his head back, and died in 30 seconds.”

Didn’t take any final breaths, didn’t let out any death moans. Just. Died. On the spot.

“I have never seen anything like that in 38 years,” Rasley said.

He said the bull otherwise looked like it was in OK shape and was suffering no apparent external injuries.

“The bull had the normal amount of lack of fat that we would find this time of year. And after a late and very cold snowy winter, basically none,” Rasley said.

It was a hard thing for him to see, given how he much he’s enjoyed working with elk — “a magnificent animal” — for WDFW in some of the state’s best wapiti country over the past 35 years.

“I always hate to see a magnificent bull like this die for no reason,” Rasley said.

THE BULL WDFW’S SCOTT RASLEY SAW DIE WAS PART OF THIS HERD OF 26 BULLS AND MORE THAN 130 COWS AND CALVES. (WDFW)

But it’s also symbolic of the harsh conditions Eastern Washington deer, elk and antelope suffered through in February as below-zero temperatures and record or near-record snows hit the region and lingered well into March, burying forage and pushing the animals below their normal winter range habitats.

The bull’s death and those of other critters are briefly described in recent biweekly WDFW Wildlife Program reports from February and last month.

“Veterinarian Mansfield and Wildlife Health Technician Cole have been receiving an increase in reports of dead mule deer in eastern Washington,” reads one section of the March 1-15 report. “To date, necropsies and laboratory testing indicate that the deer are in a state of chronic negative energy balance, likely a result of prolonged winter weather and deep snow pack.”

It states that one deer had a “severe” ulcer, probably because it had been suddenly forced to forage on things its stomach couldn’t deal with.

“When eaten, they ferment in the stomach, producing large amounts of acid, which cause ulcers and enter the bloodstream, usually resulting in death,” the report states in reminding us that it’s not as easy as just putting out piles of corn or whatnot for starving critters.

That report and others from February show photos of carcasses of deer found on the Grande Ronde and recently translocated pronghorns near Tri-Cities, as well as a cow elk in the snow on the 4-O Wildlife Area that was still alive but too weak to stand with the end near.

“We lost a lot of deer along the Snake River, as well,” Rasley added. “Most were last year’s fawns. I can’t remember the last time we had 40 mile an hour north winds with below zero temps and heavy snow at the same time. Pretty sad.”

Most impacts occurred east of the Cascades, but hungry trumpeter swans in the Sequim area “decimated” an organic farm’s broccoli and cauliflower crops when everything else was under a heavy blanket of snow, according to one report.

With winter-weary deer and elk expected to struggle through more bad weather, in early March WDFW closed several wildlife area units on the eastern side of the Blue Mountains to public access to reduce disturbance on wintering game. On the south side of the range, ODFW urged shed antler hunters to postpone their searches.

But the Wildlife Program reports also share images or stories of wildlife powering through late winter — a herd of 23 bulls hunkered behind a tree line to get out of a cold wind on a 3-degree day; the snow burrows of sage grouse in the northern Columbia Basin; large numbers of elk gathered at Yakima and Kittitas Counties’ feedlots; turkeys in hay barns; a cougar taking shelter under a barn.

ELK BEHIND A TREE LINE WAIT OUT STRONG NORTH WINDS. (SCOTT RASLEY, WDFW)

It’s the nature of nature, the strong — and the lucky and the accidents of birth — survive the cold season to reproduce, strengthening the herds and flocks.

I  emailed a number of wildlife biologists across the Eastside’s southern tier to find out how this winter compared to the last harsh one that hit this country, 2016-17, which began a lot earlier.

Paul Wik, the district bio for the Blues, feels that 2018-19 was “likely less severe” of a winter than two years ago because the worst weather occurred during a seven- to eight-week window.

But he also thinks the animals may have gone into it with less fuel in the tank, per se.

“I think that the animals were likely in poorer condition than normal going into this winter due to the lack of fall green-up that normally occurs,” Wik said. “With the fall rains occurring too late in the year for grass to germinate in the fall, the deer and elk were not able to access higher nutritional forage in the fall, predisposing them to the severe late-winter conditions.”

As for the impact hunters might see, he says some parts of his district could see reduced deer harvest, the impact may be larger in 2021 when last year’s fawns would be legal bucks.

“Our deer surveys in December documented normal fawn recruitment, but that was prior to the winter weather which may have impacted them,” Wik said.

In the district to the north of him, Michael Atamian said it was “hard” on deer and elk.

“In general I would say it was not as hard as the 2016-17 winter in Spokane and Lincoln Counties. However, in southwest Whitman County this year was likely a bit harder than 2016-17 on mule deer,” he reported.

“We might see a bit of an impact in harvest success a couple years down the line in the Whitman County area,” Atamian noted, adding, “However, the ability of a hunter to secure private land access will have greater impact on their success overall.”

Solar-powered Mule Deer Bucks Wandering Around Idaho (Sort Of)

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game is using “green” power, but not where you might expect it. Mule deer bucks currently roaming the backcountry are sporting solar-powered ear tags that allow biologists to track their movements without worrying about draining a battery in a telemetry collar.

A CLOSE-UP OF THE SOLAR-POWERED EAR TAG PLACED ON AN IDAHO MULE DEER BUCK THIS WINTER. (IDFG)

Advanced technology continues to open new doors for wildlife monitoring, and Fish and Game managers and researchers continue to be at the forefront of using that new technology in the field. During winter, they deployed 20 solar-powered, GPS ear tags to bucks in Units 22, 32, and 39.

During the hunting season, the ear tags will record and save locations of tagged bucks every 30 minutes, and that information will be transmitted remotely via existing cellular networks to a Fish and Game database when cell service is available. If cell service isn’t available during one or more of those 30 minute intervals, the location information will be stored locally on a memory card and transmitted the next time the device has service.

Researchers can access the database from their computers or smartphones to monitor the locations, movements and behavior of the tagged animals.

Biologists hope the information from this study will allow them to determine how hunting seasons affect the movement of mule deer bucks, and how wildlife managers influence mortality with the hunting season, said Mark Hurley, Fish and Game’s wildlife research manager.

“From a management perspective, we are trying to figure out how we can we optimize hunting without over-harvesting our bucks,” Hurley said.

Fish and Game biologists have for years used GPS collars to monitor mule deer fawns and does. Biologists capture and collar fawns and adult does annually each winter. For the female fawns, the collars are designed to stay on the animal into adulthood. They are cushioned with foam that is compressed and eventually degrades. The collars remain tight — but not too tight — as the female fawns grow.

For male fawns, however, the collars are stitched together with surgical tubing and designed to fall off when the animal is about a year old. There is a biological reason for that: Throughout a year, the circumference of an adult buck’s neck can vary significantly.

During the rut, the circumference can increase up to 50 percent before shrinking back to normal, which makes keeping collars on bucks difficult. While biologists have used telemetry collars on adult bucks in past studies, the durations of those studies have been short.

The new ear tags solve the problem of swelling necks in adult bucks, and because the tags are solar charged, they also enable biologists to affix a GPS device to bucks when they are fawns and continue to monitor them throughout their lives.

A BIOLOGIST PREPARES TO ATTACH A SOLAR-POWERED EAR TAG ON A BUCK. (IDFG)

There are tradeoffs with the ear tags. Out of necessity, the ear tags are light and compact — meaning there’s no room for the kind of big battery that powers Fish and Game’s telemetry collars. Instead, the tags have a much smaller, solar-charged battery. The smaller battery doesn’t have enough “oomph” to remotely transmit data back to researchers via satellite like the collars do, which is why they rely on a cellular network to do so.

Cell service is hard to come by in much of the country these deer are roaming. The tags compensate for that by storing data locally, and transmitting it to researchers if and when they eventually find service. Like the collars, the tags will send out a “mortality signal” when it hasn’t moved for an extended period of time. If the animal dies in an area without cell service, however, there could be challenges locating it.

For that reason, Hurley said researchers will rely on hunters to return some of the ear tags after they’ve harvested bucks fitted with them, so researchers can pull the location data from those devices.

No matter the type of device, tracking and transmitting location data comes at a cost: The more often GPS devices log and send locations to biologists, the quicker the battery is depleted. When the big batteries on collars run out of juice, that’s it — at least until biologists can recover the collar, replace the power supply and redeploy it.

With an ear tag, a miniature solar panel continually recharges its smaller battery — giving it a shelf life of four to five years, researchers estimate, even when it’s logging locations more often than a GPS collar.

News From Idaho: Most Fawns, Calves Surviving Winter; Springer Season Opens 4-27

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Most radio-collared fawns and elk calves survived unusually snowy February

78 percent of fawns and 94 percent of calves were still alive through February, but they’re not safe yet

Despite February storms that battered much of Idaho and pushed snowpack and precipitation above average in most areas, radio-collared young fawns and elk calves were faring relatively well across the state through the end of February.

A RADIO-COLLARED MULE DEER RUNS THROUGH SAGEBRUSH IN SOUTHWEST IDAHO. (IDFG)

Idaho Fish and Game biologists have been monitoring 207 mule deer fawns and 201 elk calves captured earlier in the winter and fitted with telemetry collars.

Through the end of February, 78 percent of the collared fawns and 94 percent of the calves were still alive. That compares with 88 percent of the fawns and 97 percent of the calves surviving through February in 2017-18, and 55 and 80 percent in 2016-17.

While snowpacks and precipitation totals are above average for most of the state, the late arrival of winter weather in 2019 has made for an easier winter for big game than in 2016-17, according to Daryl Meints, State Deer and Elk manager for Fish and Game.

In 2016-17, a prolonged, severe winter resulted in some of the lowest survival rates recorded for mule deer fawns and elk calves. Prior to what was a record-setting February for snowfall for many areas in the state, 2018-19 winter had been a mild-to-average snowfall and temperatures for most of Idaho.

While the weather may be trending warmer so far in March this year, the young animals aren’t “out of the woods” yet. In fact, the March and April are often when fawn and calf mortality is the highest because the young animals’ fat reserves are rapidly depleting and their body’s need time to convert digesting fresh forage.

“April is crucial,” Meints said. “That’s the make-or-break month, when their gas tank is hitting empty. What is going to matter now is how soon winter ends, or how soon spring shows up.”

If the warm weather continues through the end of April, Meints expects fawn survival will fall somewhere in the average range, while calf survival will be above average.

“But if for some reason we get a weather system that is cloudy, cold, and wet, and we don’t get that spring green up on south-facing slopes, we could be in for some additional mortality,” Meints said.

People getting outdoors to recreate in the spring also need to be conscious and considerate of wildlife, particularly big game that remains on low-elevation winter ranges. Despite warmer temperatures and spring green up, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope still need to be left undisturbed to give young animals a better chance of surviving their critical first winter.

…………………

F&G Commission sets spring Chinook to open April 27

Limited fishing days on Clearwater, Salmon, and Little Salmon rivers, and the Upper Snake closed

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved spring Chinook fishing on the Clearwater, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers during their meeting on Wednesday, March 13 in Boise.

Fishing will open on April 27, with a two-day-a-week season on the Clearwater River and a four-day-a-week season on the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers. The season will run until sport anglers’ shares of the harvest are met (which varies by river) or Aug. 11 — whichever comes sooner.

Due to very low projected returns the Upper Snake River in Hells Canyon, fisheries managers did not propose to open a spring Chinook season for the fishery this year.

Chinook have just started entering the Columbia River and a small portion of them are working their way through Columbia/Snake river systems. Here’s current salmon counts at the dams.

Fisheries managers are forecasting a run of about 32,000 spring Chinook through Lower Granite Dam, which is about 25 miles downstream from Lewiston and the last of the eight dams that returning salmon cross on their way back to Idaho. The forecast is similar to last year’s actual return of 39,000, and below the 10-year average return of 75,000.

Included in the forecast are about 26,000 hatchery Chinook and 6,000 wild Chinook. The 2018 returns were 32,000 and 7,000, respectively, and the 10-year averages are 58,000 and 17,000. Forecasts are a starting point for managing Chinook returns, and they will be adjusted as fish migrate through the river systems.

Because the forecasted Chinook return for the Salmon River basin is about 8,700 fish, and the sport anglers’ share would be 1,430 fish this year. Fishing will be open Thursday through Sunday, with a limit of four total fish, only two of which may be adults.

For the Clearwater River basin, the projected return is about 9,400 adult fish, and the sport anglers’ harvest share would be 470. Fishing will be open on Saturday and Sunday, with a limit of four total fish, only one of which may be an adult.

Just 123 adult fish are projected to return the Upper Snake River in Hells Canyon, where fisheries managers do not expect a sport angler harvest share at all.

“Due to extremely high flows at Hells Canyon in 2017, we had high total dissolved gasses, which are potentially lethal to fish,” aid Jim Fredericks, Fish and Game’s Fisheries Bureau Chief. “In 2017, we chose to release the fish allocated for Hells Canyon at Rapid River instead, to ensure that they survived. For that reason, we have hardly any two-year-old fish coming back to Hells Canyon this year.”

Only hatchery Chinook with a clipped adipose fin may be kept by anglers, and all others must be released unharmed. Chinook anglers are restricted to barbless hooks.

Anglers should refer to the 2019 spring Chinook salmon seasons and rules brochure for other rules and special restrictions, which will be available online in early April, and in paper form prior to the spring Chinook season at Fish and Game offices and license vendors.

The Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to decide on summer Chinook salmon fisheries on the Lochsa River, South Fork Salmon River and upper Salmon River at its May meeting. Fish return to those areas later than to the Clearwater River and Rapid River hatcheries, allowing fishery managers more time to develop season proposals.

Waters open to fishing:

Clearwater River drainage — open Saturday and Sunday

  • Mainstream Clearwater River: Camas Prairie Bridge to Highway 12 Bridge; Pink House Boat Ramp to Greer Bridge
  • North Fork: Open, no boats
  • Middle Fork: Open
  • South Fork: Harpster Grade to Mount Idaho Grade Bridge.

Salmon River drainage — open Thursday through Sunday

  • Rice Creek Bridge to Vinegar Creek Boat Ramp
  • Entirety of Little Salmon River

Snake River — closed

Washington Game Commissioners Hear About Northeast Predator, Prey Issues

With the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s monthly meeting being held in Spokane, members had a chance to hear about the region’s predator and prey issues from local residents this morning.

A 197-POUND NORTHEAST WASHINGTON COUGAR SNARLS AFTER BEING TREED FOR A PREDATOR-PREY RESEARCH STUDY. (WDFW)

And from too many cougars to not enough deer to wolf management, hunters, homeowners and ranchers gave WDFW’s citizen oversight panel an earful, and then some, during public input.

In testimony that was being live-streamed, some talked about how few deer they were seeing anymore where once they would routinely see hundreds.

One hunter who had been afield for 40 years and whose family has a longtime deer camp near Sherman Pass spoke of seeing only one mature mule deer buck and a handful of does last season.

He tearfully called for a six-year deer hunting moratorium across Eastern Washington so future generations would have opportunities to see the animals.

A Colville-area man proposed a pilot Sept. 1-March 31 lion season in WDFW’s District 1, the popular game management units of Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

His idea called for a minimum harvest of 45, but if the take fell below that the hunt would be restricted as a sign of a declining population.

RESIDENTS EXPRESS CONCERNS ABOUT NORTHEAST WASHINGTON PREDATOR AND PREY POPULATIONS BEFORE THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (WDFW)

Another talked about fearing letting his kids play in the backyard, relating a story about a cougar having been as close as 3 feet from someone.

Some called for reinstating hound hunting, and another spotlighted one tribe’s predator and prey management, essentially saying that big game is their primary priority.


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A man with a CDL volunteered to help translocate wolves out of the region.

And a livestock producer told commissioners how ranchers were poo-pooed that one wolf pack had twice as many members as state managers thought, but were vindicated when a recent aerial survey showed just that.

He also indicated he was more comfortable speaking in Spokane than Olympia, where he said he felt like he might be shot in the back by audience members.

Speaking of Olympia, several predator and prey bills that could affect Northeast Washington have been active there.

SB 2097, directing WDFW to review the status of wolves in Washington, has been amended after pushback to kill the possibility of considering regional delisting;

SB 5525 deals with whitetail deer surveys and gives the agency a goal of increasing counts to eight to nine per mile;

And HB 1516 and SB 5320 would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.

Meanwhile, for this hunting season, WDFW is proposing to eliminate antlerless whitetail tags and permits for youth, senior, disabled, second deer, early and late archery and early muzzleloader seasons in GMUs 101 through 121 to try and increase the herd.

Back in Spokane, the commission’s public input period was scheduled to run from 8:15 to 8:45 a.m., but didn’t wrap up until 10:48 a.m. such was the number of people who wanted to speak.

“We heard you and we’ll start discussing this internally and see what we can do,” said Chairman Larry Carpenter in closing testimony.

At the end of today’s session, Carpenter touched on predators again, as did another commissioner.

“We’re not headed on the right compass course,” said Jay Holzmiller of Anatone, who said it was a bad idea “to keep walking down the road fat, dumb and happy.”

“We’re sitting on a powder keg,” he said.

North-central Washington Mule Deer ‘Really Changing Their Home Ranges’ In Response To Wolves: UW Study

A University of Washington press release is fleshing out something I reported before last deer season:

Muleys and whitetails are beginning to change their behavior as wolf numbers increase in North-central Washington, and hunters might want to start looking in rougher country for the big-eared bounders.

A MULE DEER DOE AND FAWN CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAM DURING A UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON WOLF-DEER STUDY. (UW)

“Overall, the researchers found that mule deer in gray wolf areas changed their behavior to avoid wolves altogether — mainly by moving to higher, steeper elevations, away from roads and toward brushy, rocky terrain,” states the news release that came out yesterday.

“Alternately, white-tailed deer that favor sprinting and early detection as ways to escape from predators were more likely to stick to their normal behavior in wolf areas, sprinting across open, gently rolling terrain with good visibility — including along roads,” it continues.

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

That conclusion from the press release is based on field research involving collared deer and wolves and trail cams from 2013 through 2016 in areas of Okanogan and Ferry Counties occupied and unoccupied by packs.

“Mule deer faced with the threat of wolves are really changing their home ranges, on a large scale,” said UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences associate professor Aaron Wirsing.

He is one of six UW, Oregon State University and other coauthors of an article recently published in the journal Oecologia recently.

He said that the species is moving uphill into less smooth territory “where wolves are less likely to hunt successfully.”

While the UW press release does note that that shift “could affect hunting opportunities” — “Indeed, some hunters in eastern Washington have already reported seeing mule deer higher on ridges where they are less accessible than in past years” — what it doesn’t mention is that that move just puts muleys closer to the jaws of another predator better adopted to stalking rough country.

Mountain lions.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM A VIDEO CAMERA SLUNG AROUND THE NECK OF A WHITETAIL DOE FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON’S DEER-WOLF STUDY SHOWS A MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK. THE CAMERA WAS LATER RECOVERED AND ITS VIDEO POSTED TO NRA PUBS’ YOUTUBE CHANNEL.

One of the coauthors, Justin Dellinger, pointed that out when I spoke to him in the lead-up to 2018’s rifle buck hunt.

While the number of deer killed by wolves in the study was considerably fewer than how many cougars took –2 vs. 12 — he was quick to note that the data set is short, and it’s specific to North-central Washington and the early stages of wolf colonization.

Dellinger stated that the study occurred during relatively easy winters and theorized that in a severe one, mule deer driven down into open lowland winter range by snow could be preyed upon more heavily by wolves.

But there can be no doubt that even as deer adapt to the return of the long-legged lopers, they are still ending up on the menu.

Not far to the east of the study area, in similar though more densely forested country with fewer muleys and more whitetails, another UW researcher and his scat-sniffing dogs found that deer are the primary food source for wolves.

LAST YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING HINDQUARTERS OF A WHITETAIL FAWN BACK TO THE DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

Earlier this winter, Dr. Samuel Wasser told Washington lawmakers, who funded his work, that they collected 8,456 piles of poo in northern Stevens and Pend Oreille County between April 2015 and June 2017, ran 6,095 through a lab and found that 826 had been left by 114 individual wolves.

As for what those packs were digesting, deer represented the largest portion of their diet, though moose weren’t far behind.

A PRESENTATION BY A UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON PROFESSOR BEFORE THE STATE LEGISLATURE SHOWS WHAT LAB ANALYSIS FOUND TO BE KEY PARTS OF THE DIET OF WOLVES IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (DR. SAMUEL WASSER)

Deer also made up the plurality of cougar and coyote diets.

According to the UW press release, wolves will chase deer  “sometimes upwards of 6 miles.”

It postulates that whitetail hunting “likely won’t change to the same degree with the presence of wolves.”

It also says that the return of wolves to deer country “could affect other parts of the ecosystem,” likely meaning vegetation cover, “and perhaps reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions.”

A heat map detailing where roadkill salvagers have picked up the most deer on state routes since July 2016 does show a number on Highways 20 and 21 in the area near where the wolf-deer study took place, but much higher concentrations in more populated areas where wolves are somewhat less likely to occur.

A MAP PREPARED FOR THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION EARLIER THIS WINTER SHOWS ROADKILL SALVAGE HOT SPOTS FOR BLACKTAIL, WHITETAIL AND MULE DEER ACROSS THE STATE. (WDFW)

The UW wolf-deer study was funded by the university, National Science Foundation, WDFW, Safari Club International Foundation and Conservation Northwest.

The Colville Tribes recently changed its wolf season for tribal members in areas that were part of the study — the reservation and the “North Half” — to year-round without a quota.

WDFW and UW researchers are also in year three of a five-year predator-prey study across the northern tier of Eastern Washington that should also bring new information about how wolves, deer, moose, elk, cougars, coyotes and other critters in the area’s wildlife guild are adapting to the changing dynamics.

IDFG Reports On 2018 Deer, Elk Harvests

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Hunters took more mule deer and fewer white-tailed deer in 2018 compared to 2017, while the elk harvest was similar between the two years — dropping by less than 2 percent from 2017 to 2018.

The 2018 elk harvest was about 15.4 percent above the 10-year average, and the overall deer harvest was less than 1 percent below the 10-year average. Although white-tailed deer harvest dipped in 2018 compared to 2017, gains in the mule deer harvest – largely from spike and two-point bucks – brought the overall deer harvest for 2018 above that of 2017 .

(IDFG)

ELK
At a glance
Total elk harvest: 22,325
Overall hunter success rate: 23.5 percent
Antlered: 11,326
Antlerless: 10,999
Taken during general hunts: 13,473 (18.2 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 8,853 (42 percent success rate)

How it stacks up

The past few years have been a great time to be an elk hunter in Idaho; in fact, the current stretch is among the best in the state’s history. In 2018, elk harvest exceeded 20,000 for the fifth straight year. Going back to 1935, only a nine-year run that started in 1988 – the first year in that hunters harvested more than 20,000 elk in the state – and ran through the mid-1990’s ranks higher.

Harvest in 2018 was similar to 2017, down by just 426 total elk, or about 2 percent, from 2017. The antlered harvest dropped 325 animals, and the antlerless harvest fell by 101 animals. While lower than the prior year, 2018’s elk harvest was still the third-highest in the last decade, and the tenth-highest all time.

(IDFG)

MULE DEER
At a glance
Total mule deer: 26,977
Overall hunter success rate: 31.1 percent
Antlered: 21,471
Antlerless: 5,506
Taken during general hunts: 20,060 (27.1 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 6,917 (55.3 percent success rate)

How it stacks up

Hunters harvested 1,480 more mule deer in 2018 than in 2017, an increase of 5.8 percent. The bump in harvest was a step in the right direction after a 31 percent drop in total harvest from 2016 to 2017. The statewide mule deer harvest in 2018 was about 3.5 percent lower than the 10-year average harvest of 27,969 animals.


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Leading up to the 2017 hunting season, Idaho’s mule deer population had been on an upswing, but a tough winter across most of Southern Idaho in 2016-17 resulted in the second-lowest statewide fawn survival rate on record, meaning fewer animals were recruited into the herds for the 2017 hunting seasons.

Those male fawns would have been two-points, or spikes, in the fall of 2017 had they survived, which typically account for a large portion of the mule deer buck harvest. In response to that harsh winter, Fish and Game wildlife managers cut back on antlerless opportunities to protect breeding-age does and help prime the population for a rebound.

Those circumstances resulted in 2,517 fewer antlerless mule deer and 3,709 fewer two points or spikes being harvested in 2017 than 2016. The drop in doe and young buck harvest (spikes and two-points) accounted for more than half of the overall drop in the mule deer harvest in 2017.

There wasn’t much of an increase in antlerless harvest in 2018, as most of the protections for breeding-age does remained in place, but there was a bump in the number of young bucks harvested in 2018 compared to 2017 – a result of an average winter across most of the state and a return to average fawn survival rates.

This age group of bucks accounted for the majority of the uptick in mule deer harvest numbers from the 2017 to the 2018 season. Hunters took 8,975 bucks with two points or less in 2018, up from 6,562 in 2017 – an increase of 2,413 animals, or 38 percent.

(IDFG)

WHITE-TAILED DEER
At a glance
Total white-tailed deer: 25,134
Overall hunter success rate: 41.5 percent
Antlered: 15,163
Antlerless: 9,969
Taken during general hunts: 21,975 (40.2 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 3,158 (53.8 percent success rate)

How it stacks up

Statewide, hunters took 1,368 fewer white-tailed deer in 2018 than they did in 2017, a decrease of about 5.2 percent. Despite the dip, white-tailed deer harvest in 2018 remained above the 10-year average of 24,191 animals harvested. It was the fifth-straight year that harvest exceeded 25,000 white-tailed deer. The all-time harvest record of 30,578 was set in 2015, and the 2018 harvest ranks fifth all time.

The vast majority of the white-tailed deer harvest occurs in the Northern Idaho. Hunters in the Panhandle region harvested 10,378 animals in 2018, down about 6.4 percent from the 11,084 white-tailed deer harvested in 2017. In the Clearwater region, hunters harvested 12,464 white-tailed deer in 2018, down about 6 percent from the 13,259 animals harvested in 2017.

“We can have plus or minus 15 to 20 percent in the harvest annually, due to the weather,” said Clay Hickey, Fish and Game’s Regional Wildlife Manager in the Clearwater Region. “Last fall was hot and dry, and we would have expected harvest to be down some without a change in hunter numbers.”

The overall decrease in white-tailed deer harvest was split fairly equally between antlered and antlerless animals: Antlered harvest in 2018 dropped 732 compared with 2017, while antlerless harvest fell by 638. Statewide, the success rate, hunter days, and percentage of five-points remained consistent with 2017.

WDFW Appealing Wenatchee Development Plan’s Low Deer Mitigations In Priority Habitat

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) plans to appeal a decision by the City of Wenatchee that denies the department’s bid to require mitigation for impacts to mule deer from a 13-acre subdivision under development in the Wenatchee Foothills.

A PORTION OF A MAP SHOWING THE BLACK ROCK TERRACE DEVELOPMENT NEAR WENATCHEE. (CITY OF WENATCHEE)

The department intends to file its appeal in Chelan County Superior Court next week, said Jim Brown, WDFW regional director.

Brown said WDFW is concerned about the loss of prime mule deer habitat and the potential for human-wildlife conflicts resulting from the Black Rock Terrace development, located near Skyline Drive within Wenatchee’s city limits.

He noted that the land under development for a subdivision is designated by the state as priority mule deer habitat and supports the largest herd of wintering mule deer in Chelan County.

“We’re not trying to stop the project, but we do ask that the developer help to mitigate potential conflicts with deer and for lost wildlife habitat,” Brown said. “At minimum, we would expect conflicts to include an increase in collisions with deer and complaints about damage to landscaping around homes from deer eating ornamental plants.”

Mitigation measures sought by WDFW include:

Clustering development in order to maintain migration corridors for mule deer;
Adding signage cautioning drivers to watch for deer;
Installing deer fencing around the development to minimize human-deer interactions;
Shielding lights to reduce glare and light;
Using cattle guards across ungated driveways to keep deer out of yards;
Installing native shrub-steppe vegetation to provide a functional strip of habitat;
Requiring that pets be leashed when they’re outside fenced yards; and
Minimizing disturbance of vegetation on the property and controlling invasive and noxious weed species.

A city hearing examiner denied WDFW’s mitigation request at a hearing Dec. 14, 2018, and again on reconsideration Jan. 7, 2019.

Brown said WDFW designates the area scheduled for development as priority habitat for mule deer, and the City of Wenatchee’s comprehensive plan calls for “appropriate mitigation and enhancement measures” for development in habitat conservation areas.

The city acknowledged WDFW’s priority habitat designation in its Mitigated Determination of Non-significance environmental statement for the Black Rock project, but Brown said the only mitigation it required was installation of a six-foot fence.

Brown said the city relied on the applicant’s mitigation plan, which relied on an outdated 2010 report to characterize the project site as a “low” priority area for mule-deer habitat. More recent information that reflects the significant impact of recent wildfires on that area, he said.

“The project’s consultant has since said the site is frequently used by mule deer for winter foraging,” he said. “We simply want to work with the city to reduce the impacts of the project on mule deer and area residents before the development moves forward.”

2nd Weekend: Some Deer Taken Despite Dry, Warm Weather

Editor’s note: Updated at 2:30 p.m., Oct. 25, 2018, with information on deer hunting in Klickitat County.

How warm and dry was it for the second weekend of rifle mule deer season in Northcentral Washington?

“It was so warm and dry the Crescent Mountain Fire flared back up and has burned an additional 3,000-plus acres,” reports WDFW’s Okanogan County district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin.

DAYN OSBORN, 9, SHOWS OFF HIS FIRST BUCK, A DOUGLAS COUNTY, WASHINGTON, MULE DEER, TAKEN WITH A 60-YARD SHOT FROM HIS REMINGTON 700 IN .243. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

He says that given the conditions it wasn’t surprising how slow hunting was the final Saturday and Sunday.

The check station that Fitkin and fellow bio Jeff Heinlen run at Winthrop’s Red Barn saw 65 hunters bring in 12 deer, nearly as many critters as the first weekend (13) but by fewer riflemen (82).

Still, this year’s overall harvest saw an increase, at least as measured at the game check.

“For the season we checked 147 hunters and with 25 deer,” Fitkin notes. “Both of these numbers are up from last year — 131 hunters with 15 deer — suggesting a modest increase in hunter success in 2018 despite the mildest general season weather in recent memory.”

Indeed, it was a far cry from 2017’s hunt, when yours truly and my dad rolled into Deer Camp before opening weekend to find a skiff of snow, then a much heavier fall blanketed western Okanogan County during the second.

But despite the warmth and crackle of twigs, needles and cones underfoot and the haze from the aforementioned fire burning up the Twisp River, we gave it a pretty good go this October, and I had my chance at bringing home a buck. It was also pretty amusing to have two deer run through camp at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the final day of the 11-day season.

Hunting continues, however, through tomorrow, Oct. 26, in Northeast Washington for whitetails.

District biologist Annemarie Prince runs the Deer Park check station and she reports checking 81 hunters with seven bucks and seven does, all flagtails.

On last year’s second Sunday, 75 came into Deer Park with 15 bucks and 10 does, as well as one antlered muley.

WDFW also had a station at Chewelah, where another 11 whitetails were brought, including six bucks and five does, by 38 hunters, Prince reports.

The late rifle season for whitetails in Game Management Units 105-124 is Nov. 10-19, which includes two full weekends.

In the opposite corner of Eastern Washington, Klickitat Wildlife Area manager Susan Van Leuven says the general season was “very poor” this year.

“I only checked two legal bucks the first weekend. I heard of a couple other deer that were taken on or near the Soda Springs Unit, but that is all,” she says.

Van Leuven says it’s the fourth consecutive October with “near-nonexistent deer harvest” and she worries that the herd’s recovery will be more of a gradual one than a quick response.

Some of that is likely due to the hard 2016-17 winter in these parts, but her wildlife area is also primarily winter range and there hasn’t been any weather to speak of that would push deer down to it. There was also an adenovirus outbreak here in summer 2017.

Reports Van Leuven’s hearing from western Klickitat County aren’t much better.

In Western Washington, blacktail hunting runs through Halloween, and many units open up again Nov. 15-18 for the late season.

Next month and December also see numerous bow and black powder opportunities for those with unnotched tags and archery, muzzleloader or multiseason hunting licenses.

For a roundup of photos of successful hunters and their deer, check out this thread on Hunting Washington.

And feel free to send your pics and stories to Northwest Sportsman for our annual Bucks and Bulls feature in our February issue! Email the editor at awalgamott@media-inc.com with details! All photos are automatically entered in our Browning Photo Contest.

Decent 2018 Washington Rifle Deer Opener–Check Station Numbers

Opening weekend of Washington’s rifle deer season was “good” in the state’s northeast corner and average in the Okanogan, according to results from check stations.

“We heard mostly positive comments about how the season is going so far,” reported Annemarie Prince, the WDFW district wildlife biologist in Colville.

MICHELLE WHITNEY SHOWS OFF HER FIRST BUCK IN 18 YEARS OF HUNTING, A NICE MULE DEER. SHE WAS OUT IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON OVER OPENING WEEKEND OF RIFLE DEER. (WDFW)

That might have been because success was up at the game check along Highway 395.

“The Deer Park check station kept us busy,” Prince said. “I think the cool/cold weather also contributed to a successful opener.”

She reports that 127 hunters had 35 whitetails, including 24 bucks, and three antlered mule deer.

That’s the same exact number of harvested deer as 2017, but last year it took 174 hunters to produce those results.

WDFW also opened a check station at Chewelah and had 49 hunters bring in eight whitetails (two bucks and six does) and two mule deer, along with a pair of cougars and two turkeys.

Northwest Sportsman Facebook reader Jason Discher posted a picture of his daughter with her first buck, a Pend Oreille County spike, taken in just her second year afield!

Further west in the Evergreen State’s northern tier, 13 deer — as well as three bears — were brought to Winthrop’s Red Barn by 82 hunters.

“These numbers suggest participation is about the same as last year but success is up — 83 hunters with seven deer last year,” reported Scott Fitkin, Okanogan district wildlife biologist.

I would not have guessed that after what felt like a very quiet opening day and a half — well, quiet except for the howl of Friday night’s winds, the crashing of trees and sound of so many needles falling on our tent I thought it might actually be raining.

Unlike last October, it doesn’t look like any actual rain or snow for that matter is in the forecast, and that might make things tough as season continues through Tuesday, Oct. 23.

WDFW BIOLOGIST JEFF HEINLEN CHECKS TOOTH WEAR ON A MULE DEER BUCK BROUGHT INTO THE WINTHROP GAME STATION ON 2018’S OPENING WEEKEND. (WDFW)

“The forecast is for drier and warmer than average weather for the rest of the general season,” reports Fitkin, “so hunters are unlikely to get an assist from Mother Nature, although the access to high elevation country will be good.”

He says that he believes deer numbers are down somewhat from where they were five years ago.

“Since then we’ve had major habitat disturbances interacting with unfavorable weather events. Over that time much of the winter shrub forage was burned off of hundreds of thousands of acres of winter range, four of the last five summers have experienced drought conditions and we’ve had a couple of modestly tough winters,” he says. “Those cumulative effects appear to be having a negative effect on both fawn productivity and recruitment.”

The rest of our camp is coming out of the hills today, but Dad and I are heading back to take advantage of the back end of the 11-day season that was implemented three falls ago and led to a good take that year.

Opening weekend 2015 saw 39 deer checked by 101 hunters.

“The harvest spike in 2015 was almost certainly the result of the later season calendar dates interacting with weather to move deer and increase harvest vulnerability, not the result of a significant change in the deer population,” Fitkin says. “And of course a modest bump in buck harvest like that does not affect productivity or have any significant impact on the overall population, it just means less carryover of older age class bucks for the following season.”

Elsewhere in Washington, Facebook reader Peter Manning shared a pic of his daughter’s very nice first deer, a flatlands muley taken with one shot early on opening morning.

JACK BENSON’S HAVING A HECKUVA 2018 HUNT. AFTER MAKING GOOD ON HIS SILVERDOLLAR ELK PERMIT, HE BAGGED THIS NICE WIDE MULE DEER OVER OPENING WEEKEND. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

TIMOTHY ZOLLER NOTCHED HIS FIRST DEER TAG WITH THIS SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON FOUR-BY-THREE, TAKEN WITH A 186-YARD SHOT ON OPENING DAY. HE WAS HUNTING WITH HIS DAD CHAD ON THE ZMI RANCH. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

BEFORE SEASON BEGAN, JAMES GARRETT WAS DIALED IN, SO WHEN THE 9-YEAR-OLD SPOTTED THIS SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON 3-POINT AT 340 YARDS, HE WAS READY TO TAKE HIS SHOT. “DROPPED RIGHT IN ITS TRACKS!” WROTE JESSICA PELISSER, WHO SENT THE PIC. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Got success pics? Send them to awalgamott@media-inc.com with details on the who, where, when and whatnot and we’ll fold them into this blog!