Tag Archives: REP BRIAN BLAKE

Columbia Endorsement Still Needed Thru June 30 To Fish Salmon, Steelhead

Yes, state lawmakers just cut bait with Washington’s Columbia salmon and steelhead endorsement.

No, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to buy one if you finally decide to fish the big river should it reopen for springers, or hit Drano in prime time for kings or the Cowlitz for summers over this month and next.

WIND RIVER SPRING CHINOOK ANGLERS FISH DURING FOGGY CONDITIONS DURING THE 2011 FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Anglers pursuing salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River and its tributaries will still need the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement through June 30, 2019,” WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin said Tuesday morning.

That date late next month is the end of the current budget biennium, but the $8.75 fee was not extended past that point as the legislative session came to a close this past Sunday.

What that means for WDFW and its recreational Chinook, summer-run, coho and sockeye fisheries held everywhere from Asotin to Brewster to Cathlamet between this July and June 2021 has yet to be determined, but should become clearer as staffers parse through the agency’s just-passed budget for the coming two years.

Though lawmakers passed neither the endorsement nor 15 percent fishing and hunting license fee increase, they did provide a one-time $24 million bump in state sales tax revenues to fill a $31 million shortfall.

The Columbia surcharge has been an important funding source.

“We relied heavily on the revenue from the CRSSE to monitor and enforce recreational fisheries, in particular above McNary Dam, to comply with our ESA permits,” said Pamplin.

That’s because to hold seasons over Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead stocks, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires WDFW to watch those fisheries much more intensely than, say, those on your garden-variety trout, bass and kokanee lake.

The endorsement was passed by the 2009 legislature to patch in part a gaping WDFW budget hole caused by the Great Recession and sharply decreased General Fund contributions.

From April 2010, when it went into effect, through 2017, it has been purchased 1.6 million times and raised $12.1 million, according to WDFW.

That money goes towards “the costly activities necessary for managing fisheries while minimizing impacts to several wild fish populations in the basin that are federally protected. These management activities include enhancing fishing access, conducting research, and monitoring and enforcing fisheries,” the agency stated in a pitch to lawmakers before this year’s session.

With the endorsement expiring in mid-2019, three bills extending it were introduced by legislators.

The initial versions of WDFW’s license fee increase request bills —  HB 1708 from Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) and SB 5692 from Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge) — would have OKed it through June 30, 2023.

And the stand-alone bill SB 5871 from Sens. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) and Dean Takko (D-Kalama) had it running through that date too.

But following the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s early March vote to delay implementing Columbia reforms, in early April, the endorsement was pointedly not included in the Senate operating budget proposal and was also reduced to June 30, 2021 in an amended version of SSB 5692 by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who included a number of policy items targeting fishery management on the big river as well.

Ultimately both license increase bills died — 1708 with a proposed amendment from Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) that would have limited the endorsement to two years instead of four and another from Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) that would have tied its extension to at least $14.9 million for hatchery production.

Then in the final hours of the session last weekend, SB 5871 was reactivated, and on the floor of the Senate Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline) proposed an amendment with a one-year extension instead of four.

Neither were voted on, and they were dead in the House anyway, Rep. Blake said yesterday afternoon.

Here’s where it gets a little convoluted as fish politics come into play.

Yes, the endorsement was part of Blake’s HB 1708 and as chairman of the House natural resources committee, he said he has certain duties to the community and the state on fish and wildlife bills.

But no, he’s “never wanted to extend” the endorsement.

Blake said that the June 30 sunset clause forces WDFW to “chase the string” to get it reauthorized, and that he receives and sees a lot of complaints about the charge.

“The whining and crying is not worth it in my mind,” he said.

Anglers are angry about a lot of things these days, including decreasing runs and opportunities and piniped predation, among others, and the fish commission’s Columbia reforms vote certainly raised hackles.

In a post-session legislative wrap-up, the Coastal Conservation Association of Washington termed that decision “the greatest roadblock to its [the endorsement’s] reauthorization,” but Blake, who is known to advocate for commercial fisheries, maintains the citizen panel was being intimidated well beforehand to vote one way or WDFW’s license fee increase would die.

In the end, no fees were passed, leaving holes to fill.

Asked how he would instead fund the Columbia monitoring and enforcement that the endorsement pays for, Blake said he would roll it into an underlying fee bill so it is just part of the cost of a license, say, the Fish Washington package.

Blake said he would also like to take another stab at a fee bill as well as “stabilize” WDFW’s General Fund revenues next January, when the legislature reconvenes for the short session.

That one-time $24 million GF bump the agency received appears to be split into two-thirds for the first year of the 2019-20 biennium, one-third for the second.

“It is disappointing to be in a spot where in two years the $24 million expires and we’re back into a significant budget hole,” WDFW’s Pamplin told The Lens.

Pittman-Robertson Act allocations for state wildlife management are also expected to be down $5 million due to slower gun and ammo sales than earlier this decade.

Meanwhile, as WDFW staffers go through what they’ll have to work with and work on in the coming two years, Blake has a forecast for what will happen to angling on the Columbia and its tribs without the endorsement.

“I think the department will most likely keep the fisheries on the Columbia open as long as they have money,” he said.

With this year’s poor expected steelhead and summer and fall Chinook runs, that could be a little easier with, theoretically, fewer anglers on the water, but a big coho return is also predicted to come in later in the season.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TU also supported the 2017 proposal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DNR Lands Study Bill Amended After Outcry; Now Includes Looking At Rec, Enviro Values

UPDATED 4:25 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at end with two new paragraphs

Part of a bill that would have studied turning certain Washington DNR lands over to counties, leasing them to private timber companies and considered their value as “higher revenue-producing assets” was dropped following outcry from a sportsmen’s group and others.

“We … acknowledge that sustainable financial returns to public schools and other trust beneficiaries are key to maintaining recreational access, including hunting and fishing opportunities, to these state-owned lands,” wrote Bart George, state co-chair of the Washington chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, in comments to lawmakers ahead of their vote on Engrossed Senate Bill 6140 this morning.

“However in our opinion, this amendment goes too far by directing the DNR to explore land transfer or liquidation as possible solutions for underperforming trust lands.”

A 2012 STATE LANDS MAP SHOWS DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES PROPERTIES IN DARK AND LIGHT GREEN. (DNR)

The amendment in question — Section 6 — was not in the original legislation from Sen. Curtis King (R-South-central Washington) when it was introduced in the Senate last month.

After it passed out of his Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Olympic Peninsula) tacked it on on the floor of the Senate.

It aimed to “evaluate (the Department of Natural Resource’s) lands portfolio and revenue streams, management practices, and transaction processes, and develop options and recommendations designed to ensure the state’s fiduciary duty is being met and increase the amount and stability of revenue from state lands and state forestland over time.”

The bill passed out of the upper chamber on a 43-4-2 vote.

Then it went over to the House, where yesterday the new language stood for its public hearing, in front of the lower chamber’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Most comments focused on Section 6, with support coming from Hampton Lumber of Portland, Washington State Association of Counties, Port of Port Angeles, Washington State School Board Association and the American Forest Resource Council.

Generally speaking, they were for the study as it would provide lawmakers with an understanding of how relatively valuable the state’s timberlands and other trust properties — Eastern Washington aglands, for example — are.

But it was opposed by the Sierra Club and Conservation Northwest, the latter of which had received a reported 400 responses from an action alert it sent out late last week.

Two private citizens also spoke against it, and one suggested that federally approved habitat protection plans for logging on state lands could be brought into question.

A DNR official acknowledged it was hearing quite a bit about Section 6 and “flagged it” for lawmakers.

Tuesday afternoon, AGNR Chair Brian Blake (D-South Coast) said his committee had a lot to consider, and this morning seven amendments had been drawn up for them, including one from Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Olympic Peninsula) that trimmed the scope of the study back.

During discussion, Rep. Vincent Buys (R-Whatcom County) said he recognized recreational values, but that they didn’t fulfill the fiduciary responsibility of state lands.

That is, buying a backpack for hiking DNR roads didn’t contribute to school funding the same way a 32-foot Doug fir section headed down them for the sawmill does.

Still, with millions of acres in holdings across and in every corner of Washington, the state agency’s lands are of immense value beyond the going price for a thousand board-feet of lumber, such as protecting salmon and wildlife habitat.

“Our members depend on public lands and hundreds of them hunt, fish and recreate on Washington state forest lands each year,” noted George in his BHA letter to state representatives.

“These forests are vital not only for timber production, but also for the cultural and natural heritage of Washington hunters and anglers. Legislation including public land transfer provisions, or provisions mandating the ‘study’ of such transfers, presents an unacceptable precedent for our membership and for the future use and enjoyment of Washington’s public forests,” he said.

When it came time for a vote, Chapman’s amendment scrapping studying transfer options was given a do-pass recommendation by a vote of 10-3, with two members excused.

Importantly, his amendment also included looking at DNR lands’ recreational and environmental values in the review.

The committee’s action drew a letter of thanks from 10 environmental organizations, including the two that testified yesterday, as well as Outdoor Research, The Mountaineers and others.

“Our public lands are cherished and heavily utilized by vast numbers of people for recreation, inspiration, and the clean water and other products of a healthy landscape that sets Washington apart,” the letter read in part. “We fully recognize the legitimacy of generating trust revenue by management of these lands, including extractive activities. But we reject any view that would subordinate to extraction much of the value the public gains from these lands, and put them at risk of mismanagement or even transfer to private entities that would lock the public out.”

Wolf Translocation Bill Clears Washington House Committee

Translocating wolves around Washington hasn’t gotten much traction in the state Legislature — until today.

A bill prompting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to use that tool from the agency’s 2011 wolf management plan moved out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee this afternoon on a bipartisan 12-3 recommendation.

REPRESENTATIVES BRIAN BLAKE (MIDDLE) AND JOEL KRETZ CHAT BEFORE TODAY’S DO-PASS RECOMMENDATION ON THE LATTER LAWMAKER’S SUBSTITUTE HOUSE BILL 2771, TRANSLOCATION OF WOLVES, AN IDEA WHICH BLAKE WAS IN “VISCERAL OPPOSITION” TO. (TVW)

It’s a victory for Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) who has annually introduced translocation legislation — some bills more serious than others — to capture wolves in Northeast Washington, where they’re relatively plentiful, and ship them to parts of the state where there are few if any packs.

“It’s part of the wolf plan; why aren’t we using it?” Kretz asked during a public hearing yesterday on his HB 2771.

That plan calls for set numbers of successful breeding packs in three regions of Washington, a benchmark that’s only being met east of Highways 97, 17 and 395, with no known pairs in the South Cascades and Olympics Zone as of the count last March.

For its part, WDFW was officially neutral on the bill, not seeing a need with the state’s wolf population growing at 30 percent a year and the drawn-out SEPA process that would come with translocation.

“In Washington, we are seeing wolves disperse naturally — with multiple sightings on the west side of the Cascades. So while we appreciate this tool, we’d prefer to see wolves recolonize the west side of the state naturally,” said Raquel Crosier, the agency’s legislative liaison, via email.

Still, Kretz was looking to instill “a little urgency” with WDFW.

“We have a plethora of wolves in one small geographic area that is highly dependent on the livestock industry,” he told agency wolf manager Donny Martorello who testified. “We can’t wait another three of four years for you guys to decide maybe we should do something.”

REP. JOEL KRETZ’S 7TH LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT, OUTLINED IN RED ON WDFW’S MARCH 2017 WOLF PACK MAP. (WDFW)

Also in support was Tom Davis, representing the state farm bureau and cattlemen’s association.

Conservation Northwest is neutral, according to spokesman Chase Gunnell.

Responding to Wednesday’s comments from WDFW and others, the substitute bill that was passed today clarifies that livestock-depredating and other problem wolves not be part of a translocation program and removes a cap that required it be completed in three years.

The amended legislation also calls on WDFW to make a report to lawmakers by the end of 2020.

That said, the bill is a long way from becoming actual law. It first would need to be passed by the full House, the Senate and then signed by Governor Jay Inslee.

Among those voting against Kretz’s bill was committee Chairman Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen).

Yesterday, he acknowledged the frustrations felt by cattle producers in Northeast Washington but he also told the Capital Press he has “a visceral opposition to translocation.”

Before today’s vote he joked he might be “a lone wolf” with his no vote, but he was joined by his fellow South Coast representative, Jim Walsh, a Republican, and Ed Orcutt, also a Republican who represents much of the rest of Southwest Washington.

Voting yes were Republicans Vincent Buys of Whatcom County, Joel Kretz of Northeast Washington, Tom Dent of Central Washington, Bruce Chandler of the Yakima Valley and Joe Schmick of Southeast Washington, and Democrats Mike Chapman of the Olympic Peninsula, Joe Fitzgibbon of western King County, Kristine Lytton of the San Juan Islands and Bellingham, Eric Pettigrew of Seattle’s Rainier Valley and Renton, June Robinson of Everett and western Snohomish County, Larry Springer of north King County and Derek Stanford of southwest Snohomish County.

Olympia Update: Fishermen Support Boosting Salmon Production For Orcas; More Bills In Play

Top Washington fishing organizations lent strong support to a bill that would raise 10 million more Chinook and other salmon a year — for orcas.

Leaders and representatives from Puget Sound Anglers, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Fish Northwest and Coastal Conservation Association, the salmon fishing ports of Ilwaco and Westport and commercial fleets all spoke in favor of House Bill 2417, which provides $1.55 million in General Fund revenues for the bid to benefit the state’s struggling killer whale population.

A MEMBER OF A SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE POD FLICKS ITS TAIL. (CANDACE EMMONS, NMFS, FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/)

It’s one of two major proposals this session to ramp up salmon production, the other being in Governor Jay Inslee’s budget, which also features fixing up hatcheries to support the goal and increased patrols to protect the marine mammals.

During yesterday’s public hearing on HB 2417 before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, PSA’s Ron Garner called orcas “one of the neatest animals in the world” and shared up-close encounters as the whales chased salmon against his fishing boat to catch their dinner.

“I think this is a time when all of us to come together — the tribes, the commercials, the recreationals — all of us can come together because we need to save our precious orcas,” said Garner. “It’s a way of life, our fishing, and if we’re able to fish more with it, that’s great, but we can’t let our orcas go extinct on our watch. I think that’s an important thing. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t support helping our orcas out.”

Butch Smith, representing both the Ilwaco and Westport Charterboat Associations, said, “The ocean salmon fishermen do not want the orca to go extinct, especially when we have the ability to produce salmon to help the orca whale.”

Steve Westrick, skipper of the Westport-based Hula Girl, said that diminishing hatchery production had put orcas close to a tipping point.

“The whole world’s watching us,” said Greg King of Friends of the Cowlitz. “Are we going to let these orcas die and have that blood on our hands? I don’t think we want that, and I support two four one seven.”

The bill also drew support from two representatives from the commercial fishing industry, Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association and Dale Beasley of the Coalition of Coastal Fisheries.

But some like NSIA also called on prime sponsor Rep. Brian Blake, Democrat of Aberdeen, to expand it to include hatcheries in Puget Sound and bump up production goals.

And Garner pointed out that strong harbor seal predation on Chinook smolts also needs to be addressed.

Under the bill’s initial version, the salmon would be raised at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Kalama Falls, Beaver Creek, Naselle, Humptulips, Skookumchuck, and Lake Aberdeen hatcheries.

Penny Becker, WDFW diversity manager, said her agency was in favor of HB 2417.

“We’re committed to ramping up hatchery production to try and deal with this issue of prey availability for southern residents as possible,” she said.

Becker said WDFW was working with Blake on production goals and cautioned that Endangered Species Act issues, Hatchery Review Scientific Group recommendations and broodstock requirements needed to be considered.

Some of those concerns were echoed by retired WDFW Director Phil Anderson, who now sits on the Pacific Salmon Commission and is chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and who also called the bill a “great start.”

“As we’re putting these packages together, looking at all available resources and facilities, that we keep in mind there can be multiple benefits coming from this additional production,” said Anderson. “Orcas is the primary and we ought to be looking and selecting stocks that are most likely to increase the prey base for southern resident killer whales. But we can also build into that strategy looking for economic opportunities in terms of reinforcing recreational and commercial fisheries as we make those selections.”

Nobody spoke against the bill.

Rep. Vincent Buys, a Republican who represents most of Whatcom County outside of southern Bellingham, asked WDFW Hatchery Division Manager Eric Kinne if the state still had the facilities to ramp up production.

“We have taken out some of the infrastructure but most of that infrastructure still exists,” Kinne said.

AGENCY-REQUEST LEGISLATION

As you might expect, HB 2417 isn’t the only fish-, wildlife- and habitat-related bill active in Olympia. Between state legislators and Department of Fish and Wildlife-request bills, there is a host of other proposals out there to flesh out.

Raquel Crosier, who is WDFW’s very busy legislative liason, provided a rundown on three bills the agency has asked for state representatives’ and senators’ help on.

They address sportsman recruitment, ADA accommodations, and a bill that would “fix” another from last year that delivered a “disproportionate” impact on instate guides.

Through the lens of our old friend the Olympia Outsider here’s a look at those and others in play:

Hunting and Fishing Recruitment Bill: With Washington sportsmen aging dramatically, House Bill 2505 and its companion in the Senate, SB 6198, aim to increase participation in fishing and hunting through a multi-pronged approach.

“It raises the youth age for fishers to 16, provides a hunter education graduate coupon of $20 on your first hunting license, and provides the department authority to develop bundled discount license packages (like multiyear or family packages),” Crosier says.

It would also let anglers buy a temporary license to fish during April’s lowland lakes opener instead of requiring a more expensive year-round one.

Recruitment is a big problem for fish and wildlife agencies, and WDFW is no different. According to handout Crosier forwarded, the average age of the state’s hunters and anglers has increased from 46 for both groups in 2007 to 52 and 54, respectively in 2015.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Brian Blake, D, South Coast, Sen. Dean Takko, D, South Coast

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Anything that makes it easier and cheaper to get more people on the water in the woods, thereby helping conservation and, yes, our industry, is a good thing.

ADA Accommodations Bill: HB 2649 aims to make it “easier for disabled hunters and fishers to get into the sport and (improves) the department’s service delivery and accommodations process,” Crosier reports.

“(It) condenses multiple disabled hunting and fishing licenses and permits into one special use permit and expands who can sign disabled hunter and fisher reduced rate and accommodation forms,” she explains.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Andrew Barkis, R, Pierce County

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Another good bill to pass.

Fishing Guide Fee Fiasco Fix Bill: While Washington hunters and anglers were spared fee increases last year, not so with fishing guides. Instate operators saw their license costs more than double, while out-of-state guides received a dramatic price break.

HB 2626 and SB 6317 aim to reverse that.

“The fishing guides got a disproportionate increase compare to other commercial license types,” says Crosier. “Also, we were tracking a court case on nonresident rates as session was going and didn’t quite get the nonresident commercial rates in line with the court-approved model. We are looking at increasing the nonresident rates to set them at the court-approved rate ($385 above the resident rates) and using that savings to reduce the resident fishing guides rates.”

Under the bill, a resident food fish guide license would be reduced from $280 to $210 (it was $130) while the corresponding nonresident fee would go from $355 to $595 (it was $630).

A resident game fish guide license would drop to $305 from $410 while the nonresident one would increase from $485 to $690.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Brian Blake, D, South Coast; Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Math has never been the OO’s strongest suit, but it should cost much more for nonresident guides to benefit from the state’s fish stocks. This corrects last year’s error.

ALSO PERCOLATING

Beyond those three agency-request bills, there are many more bills prowling the halls of power, including:

HB 2771: “Managing wolves using translocation”

Effect: Directs WDFW to immediately begin capturing and moving wolves from areas where they’re causing livestock depredations — for instance, Northeast Washington — to areas they’re not (yet).

Prime sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz, R, Northeast Washington

Bill status: Referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: It’s clear Northeast Washington is bearing the brunt of wolf problems, but translocation bills haven’t moved much in recent years, and it’s possible this one won’t either.

HB 2276, SB 6315: “Concerning notification of wildlife transfer, relocation, or introduction into a new location”

Effect: Requires WDFW to hold a public hearing before moving critters to different parts of the state, and there must be 30 days advance notice of that hearing in the communities most affected.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R, North Cascades; Sen. Ken Wagoner, R, North Cascades

Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 11; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Inspired by word that the National Park Service and WDFW would like to move mountain goats from the Olympics to North Cascades, the bill still needs better definition so it doesn’t squelch releases of, say, pheasants or butterflies to state wildlife areas, or suburban-garbage-raiding bears into the woods.

SB 6127: “Improving the management of the state’s halibut fishery”

Effect: WDFW would need to “advocate” for halibut fishing openers to be on consecutive days instead of the opener’s Thursday, Saturday setup. Also sets the price of a halibut catch card at $5, which would go towards monitoring and managing the sport fishery.

Prime sponsors: Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula

Bill status: Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: The senator from the Straits has been itching to address halibut fishing for awhile, and now can as the chair of the committee that can hear this bill.

SB 6268, “Creating the orca protection act”

Effect: Requires WDFW to add extra marine patrols to protect baby killer whales, orca feeding areas and pods during the busiest whale-watching weeks of the year.

Prime sponsor: Sen. Kevin Ranker, D, San Juan Islands

Bill status: Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Just so long as it’s funded and, say, everyone is policed evenly.

HB 2337: “Concerning civil enforcement of construction projects in state waters”

Effect: Would allow WDFW to issue a stop work order if hydraulic code or other rules were being broken and levy fines of up to $10,000 overall, up from $100 a day.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D, westernmost King County

Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 11; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: From a salmon-friendly perspective, not a bad idea to put a little enforcement behind the rules.

HB 2175, “Concerning natural resource management activities”

Effect: Allows WDFW to sign off on a range of land management activities — brush cutting, grazing, firewood gathering and others — without having to prepare a state environmental impact statement.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R, Northeast Washington

Bill status: Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 9; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

OTHER BILLS

In the wake of the Cypress Island netpen failure that led to the escape of upwards of 160,000 Atlantic salmon, a few of which are still turning up, three bills take on aquaculture in Puget Sound.

They would (HB 2418) study existing facilities and report back to the legislature before authorizing more to be built, bar the “cultivation” (HB 2260) of Atlantics in the state’s saltwaters, and prohibit DNR (SB 6086) from signing new or extending existing leases, effectively ending the farming of nonnative fish by 2024.

Of those, the last — sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D, San Juan Islands — has moved the furthest. It’s now in Senate Ways and Means.

An unresolved issue from last year’s lengthy legislative session, the Hirst Decision and its potential effect on rural landowners as well as salmon-bearing waters is the subject of two bills, HB 2740 from Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D, westernmost King County HB 2740 and SB 6091 from Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula.

The latter has made the most progress; a substitute bill was sent to the Senate floor and there were long negotiations with the legislature’s four main caucuses.

4 Wells Hatchery Workers Fired Following Investigation Into Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They can appeal their removal.

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

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

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

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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