Tag Archives: SEA LIONS

Oregon Lawmakers Hear Dire Warning About Willamette Salmonids, Fish Passage Work

Oregon lawmakers heard grim news about the future of Willamette Valley salmon and steelhead runs unless plans to increase fish passage around the Corps of Engineers’ so-called “Big 4” dams are expedited and fully implemented.

ODFW’s Bruce McIntosh warned that the stocks otherwise will go extinct, “likely within our lifetime,” if the federal agency and Congress doesn’t better connect the large amount of fish habitat available in the upper watersheds of the North and South Santiams, McKenzie and Middle Fork Willamette to the rest of the system.

Even as some projects to do that are years behind schedule, important funding to finish the work has been zeroed out starting this fall, he said.

WATER FLOWS THROUGH FLOOD GATES AT LOOKOUT POINT DAM DURING A 2013 TEST TO DETERMINE HOW BEST TO AID THE DOWNSTREAM MIGRATION OF LISTED SALMON AND STEELHEAD STOCKS. A STATE MANAGER SAYS THAT 70 TO 90 PERCENT OF SMOLTS DIE AT THE DAMS. (MARY KAREN SCULLION, CORPS OF ENGINEERS RESERVOIR REGULATION & WATER QUALITY SECTION)

The Corps has operated 13 dams in the watershed starting with the first 50 years ago for hydropower and flood control — preventing $1 billion in damage this spring, it touted — and has provided hatchery mitigation since Congress authorized it in 1951. They’ve also built adult collection facilities.

But the problem is getting young fish hatched in redds in the mountain reaches safely down past the dams. McIntosh says 70 to 90 percent die as they try to navigate through the facilities.

It’s more and more important with listed wild returns at Willamette Falls decreasing since at least the turn of the millennium, from 20,000-plus spring Chinook in the first years of the 2000s to 5,000 last year, and from 16,000 winter steelhead in 2002 to 2000 in 2018.

“Frankly, when you look at that, you can hear the battle drums of endangered species, not just threatened species. That’s the crossroads we sit at now,” McIntosh, the state’s deputy fish chief, told members of the House Committee on Natural Resources in a televised work session (starts at about 1:12:30) yesterday.

Increasing the number of returning wild fish could mean that fishery restrictions can be eased, but if runs continue to plummet, they will only get tighter due to the Endangered Species Act.

Pointing to a slide in his presentation that also showed Grand Ronde Tribe members dipnetting for the first time, McIntosh said, “There’s a whole fleet and economy around the fisheries at Willamette Falls and the Lower Columbia that is at stake here.”

McIntosh did acknowledge the “new actor on the stage” affecting returning salmonid numbers — sea lions that arrived at Willamette Falls in the past decade and which feast on returning salmon and steelhead at the chokepoint.

But he also reported that since ODFW received the OK from the National Marine Fisheries Service last fall to kill pinnipeds there, 34 have been euthanized.

A SEA LION FLINGS A SALMONID AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

McIntosh said that most of what federal engineers need to do further up in the watershed is included in a 2008 federal biological opinion.

“Frankly, the Corps needs to get about the business of modifying those dams and operations, and Congress must fund them. That’s where we sit today,” McIntosh said.

He allowed that the Corps’ task was not easy, given the nature of the reservoirs, predation in them and how young fish prefer to travel at the surface of the lakes, and that some work has been accomplished.

Adult fish are being trucked around Detroit Dam on the North Santiam and Foster on the South Santiam, for instance, but there’s no way to collect smolts that otherwise have to go over the spillway or through the turbines and hope for the best.

THE CORPS OF ENGINEERS FISH COLLECTION FACILITY BELOW COUGAR DAM, ON A MCKENZIE TRIBUTARY. (ACOE)

He also said that other improvements are several years behind schedule, with the completion date at Lookout Point Dam on the Middle Fork — behind which is an estimated 94 percent of the highest quality spawning and rearing waters for springers in that system — now “unknown.”

Eighty-five percent of the best habitat on the South Santiam is behind Foster and Green Peter Reservoirs, 71 percent on the North Santiam is behind Detroit Reservoir, and 25 percent is behind Cougar Dam on a tributary of the McKenzie, he said.

And what’s even worse, according to McIntosh, is that the Trump Administration’s construction budget for Willamette basin work has been “zeroed out” starting this October.

McIntosh also highlighted how the Corps has been backing away from mitigating its dams with hatchery fish and is now producing 20 percent less than in past decade.

“And we frankly suspect there are more reductions to follow,” he said.

He claimed that the feds consider putting out their 4.6 million salmon and steelhead and 750,000 trout to be “discretionary” rather than a line item in their budget.

As the Corps has recently mulled turning over hatchery production in the basin to private vendors, McIntosh said he’s joked with federal staffers that they should turn over their dams to PGE, which saw “significant increase in survival” after it installed upstream and downstream fish passage at its Clackamas River dams.

At a cost of $90 million, 97 percent of juvenile salmon and steelhead now safely pass the facilities, according to the Portland-based utility.

ODFW’S BRUCE MCINTOSH SPEAKS BEFORE THE OREGON LEGISLATURE’S HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, CHAIRED BY REP. BRAD WITT. (OREGON LEGISLATURE)

“What’s at stake? It’s our legacy. While we fully support the Corps and federal government efforts to restore wild fish to sustainable levels in the valley, they also have a mitigation responsibility, and our message to them is, we will not accept paper fish in exchange for real fish,” McIntosh said.

“When they get about the business of recovering wild fish, we can talk about reducing that mitigation responsibility,” he said.

At the end of the work session, Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) said that he intended to have a letter drafted supporting construction work on the Willamette system to aid fish passage.

WDFW Fish-Hunt Fee Hike, Other Bills Introduced In Olympia

The Olympia Outsider™ almost didn’t file an update this week after — true story — messing up his shoulder really bad while swiping his bus pass on the card reader as he boarded the 41.

The pain!!!!!!!

But duty calls, and so with the muscle relaxants kicking in, here are fish- and wildlife-related bills that Washington lawmakers have introduced this week, as well as a pair three (good grief) that he totally missed from earlier in the session.

Bill: HB 1708 / SB 5692
Title: “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Fitzgibbon, Springer, Irwin, Chandler, Robinson, Riccelli, Lekanoff, Dye, Jinkins, Tarleton / Sens. Rolfes, McCoy, Takko, Wellman
Note: By request of WDFW
Bill digest: Not available, but this is the agency’s fee increase bill and while it would add 15 percent to the base cost for resident fishing and hunting licenses, by request of the Fish and Wildlife Commission it also includes a cap on how much more you’d end up paying overall. “It’s $7 on any combination of fishing licenses,” says Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison. “No fisherman will pay more than $7 more and hunter more than $15 more.” It pushes the age that kids first have to buy a fishing license from 15 to 16 and gives the commission authority to institute small surcharges after two years “to fund inflationary and other increased costs approved by the legislature in the biennial budget.” That could potentially mean “more frequent but smaller adjustments” to the cost of licenses compared to the effect of this bill, which would increase prices for the first time since 2011.

OO analysis: This is the second fee bill WDFW has floated since 2017 and Crosier is optimistic this one will do better than the last one. “It’s getting a lot more positive reach, at least in Olympia,” she notes, adding that some Republicans have even consponsored it this go-around. Overall, the agency is looking for a $67 million budget bump from lawmakers, with about three-quarters of that coming from the General Fund to make up for cuts from it since the Great Recession that haven’t been fully restored. It will be interesting to watch who testifies and what they say when the bills make it to a public hearing.


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Bill: HB 1784
Title: “Concerning wildfire prevention.”
Sponsors: Reps. Kretz, Blake
Bill digest: None available but essentially adds “wildfire fuel breaks” to the tools land managers have for preventing catastrophic blow-ups on public ground.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: Can’t say the OO is against taking better care of areas that also function as critter habitat. A recent DNR blog highlighted how tree thinning and preventative burning on WDFW’s Sherman Creek Wildlife Area and elsewhere nearby helped keep parts of last summer’s Boyds Fire on the forest floor instead of crowning out as it did elsewhere in burning over 4,000 acres.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Bill: HB 1824
Title: “Addressing the impacts of pinnipeds on populations of threatened southern resident orca prey.”
Sponsors: Reps. Young, Kloba, MacEwen, Vick, Irwin, Chambers, Lovick, Tarleton
Bill digest: None available, but requires WDFW to file a permit with federal overseers “for the maximum lethal take of sea lions in order to enhance the survival or recovery of salmon species protected in Washington,” meaning ESA-listed Chinook which are a key feedstock for starting orcas.
OO analysis: The bill has cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, including the woman who represents the Ballard Locks, where Herschell et al et all of Lake Washington’s steelhead — see what I did there? California sea lions are at their habitat’s capacity, and a recent analysis estimated that the marine mammals as well as harbor seals and northern orcas have increased their consumption of Chinook from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970. Between that and decreased hatchery production, there are fewer salmon available for SRKWs, not to mention fishermen. While thanks to recent Congressional action, WDFW is already applying for authorization to take out sea lions on portions of the Columbia and its tribs, this appears to call for a broader permit and without all the bother of RCW 43.21C.030(2)(c), something something something about big reports on environmental impacts something something. (Sorry, the Methocarbosomething something is kicking in pretty nicely.)

Bill: HB 1662 / SB 5696
Title: “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes.”
Sponsors: Reps. Dent, Springer, Kretz, Blake, Dye, Tharinger, Chandler, Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Fey, Corry, Dufault, Young /  Sens.
Bill digest: None available but according to Crosier it essentially would mirror the way DNR pays counties through the state treasurer, allowing WDFW to more fully compensate counties for the million or so acres it has taken off local tax rolls as it has purchased farms, ranches and timberlands for wildlife areas. Crosier says it sets “a more consistent methodology and pay rate.”
OO analysis: If your eyes are as glazed over as the OO’s, we don’t blame you because this PILT bill is boring as hell, but could be helpful in restoring peace in counties where WDFW land ownership has caused friction and more critter habitat is needed.

THE 4-O WILDLIFE AREA IN ASOTIN COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Bill: HB 1261 / SB 5322
Title: “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state.”
Sponsors: Reps. Peterson, Fitzgibbon, Stanford, Tarleton, Ortiz-Self, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Pollet /  Sens. Palumbo, Carlyle, Wellman, Hunt, McCoy, Hasegawa, Kuderer, Nguyen, Saldaña
Bill digest: “Specifies that a discharge to waters of the state from a  motorized or gravity siphon aquatic mining operation is subject to the department of ecology’s authority and the federal clean water act.” Per a press release from Trout Unlimited, which is supporting the bills, the bills would “ban suction dredge mining in Endangered Species Act-designated Critical Habitat for listed salmonids.” Those watersheds include most of Puget Sound; the Cowlitz and other Lower Columbia tribs; Middle and Upper Columbia tribs in Eastern Washington; and Snake River tribs, so, much of the state outside the OlyPen and South Coast river systems.
OO analysis: We’d blame the muscle relaxers for overlooking this pair of bills, but they were actually dropped well before the OO suffered his grievous muscle something something. They’ve been routed to House and Senate environmental committees, where they will have public hearings early next week. Even with mining in my family history, the OO tends to side with fish these days — if the stocks need protection from even catch-and-release angling, they should probably have their habitat protected a little more too.

IMAGES FROM AN INTENT TO SUE NOTICE FROM SEVERAL YEARS AGO ILLUSTRATE TWO ORGANIZATIONS’ CLAIMS THAT WASHINGTON’S SUCTION DREDGING REGULATIONS WEREN’T ENOUGH AT THE TIME WHEN IT CAME TO PROTECTING ESA-LISTED FISH SPECIES.

Bill: HB 5597
Title: “Creating a work group on aerial pesticide applications in forestlands.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Saldaña, McCoy, Conway, Hasegawa
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the bill, it would establish a work group comprised of representatives from various state agencies, timber and environmental interests, among others, “to develop recommendations for improving the best management practices for aerial application of pesticides on state and private forestlands.”
OO analysis: Another bill from a couple weeks ago that the OO totally missed (possibly because he was enveloped by a cloud sprayed on the clearcut he reports all this stuff from), but will be an interesting one when it has a public hearing Feb. 7.

AS FOR OTHER BILLS THE OLYMPIA OUTSIDER™ HAS REPORTED ON so far this session, here’s a snapshot of those that have moved one way or another.

HB 1036, South Coast hatchery salmon production — hearing today in House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

HB 1061, Designating razors as the state clam — an open-and-quickly-closed public hearing was held by the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations .

HB 1230, Making more disabled sportsmen eligible for discounted licenses — hearing held and executive session scheduled today by House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

SB 5100, Restarting a pilot hound hunt for cougars in select counties — public hearing held by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks with varying support, opposition and neutralness.

SB 5320, Nonlethal hound training program — hearing held, received widespread support and now scheduled for executive session by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks today. House version set for public hearing later in February.

SB 5404, Fish habitat enhancement projects definitions — hearing scheduled next week in Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.

HB 1579 / SB 5580, Chinook habitat protections and declassifying select game fish — public hearing held earlier this week before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources with strong support from fishermen, tribes, others for major portion of bill addressing hydraulic approvals, but with angler concerns about designation drops for walleye, bass, catfish. Senate version set for hearing next week.

HB 1580 / SB 5577 Vessel disturbance and orcas — public hearing before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources next week.

SB 5617, banning nontribal gillnets — officially, this bill hasn’t been given a public hearing date since being introduced late last week, but rumor is it will get one before Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks in February.

SSB 5148, OKing hunters to wear pink clothing during certain big, small game seasons — hearing held, received good support and was given a do-pass recommendation by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks. Now in Senate Rules Committee for a second reading

AND AS FOR THE REST OF THE BILLS WE’RE FOLLOWING but which are awaiting committee assignments before the Feb. 22 deadline, those include:

Writing fishing and hunting rights into the state Constitution by a vote of the people — would be nice to get on the ballot, if only Washingtonians could be trusted to vote the right way

Estimating Northeast Washington whitetails — would be nice to get more refined data on the region’s flagtails

Studying human impacts on streambeds — would be nice to know

Turning Bainbridge Island (The Wolfiest!) into a wolf sanctuary — would be nice to visit, but bill not going anywhere

Barring WDFW from lethally removing livestock-depredating wolves — ironically, bill was shot and it limped off and died somewhere on Bainbridge

Banning hounds from being used to track down timber-depredating bears — unlikely to get a hearing

And asking Congress to open hunting seasons on sea lions — not going to happen, even if CNN seems ready to go.

No, It’s Not Now Legal For Just Anyone To Kill Sea Lions, Even With A Permit

Hold your fire!

A CNN story out yesterday that suggests anyone who wants to lethally remove sea lions in the Northwest just needs to get a permit and kill the pinnipeds in a humane manner is not really accurate.

FIXED IT FOR YOU.

The lede of a story on the website of the cable news network whose hashtag is #FactsFirst states:

“Animal control in the western United States just got more extreme. A new law allows people to kill sea lions that have been devouring the region’s endangered salmon and steelhead — as long as they first get a permit.”

When this reporter inquired of a federal official this morning where and when I could get pick up said permit, I am pretty sure I could hear them slap their forehead via email.

The real story is that a bill passed last month in Congress and signed into law by the president authorized the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington along with a handful of tribes to take out up to 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in certain parts of the Columbia River annually through an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

ODFW got on Twitter to correct CNN:

And it sounds like CNN will now do a correction.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part I

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

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

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

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles — ah, nelly, we could go on and on, but we’ll save some of our thunder for parts II and III. Meanwhile, here are events we reported on from January through May.

JANUARY

The month’s biggest Northwest fishing and hunting news came in late January when WDFW’s Jim Unsworth submitted his resignation letter, ending a rocky three-year stint as the agency’s director.

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

His tenure was marked by intense allocation battles with Western Washington tribes over declining salmon returns, an ill-fated license fee increase bid, an embarrassing run-in with state senators during a legislative hearing, and overreaching promises.

Some things were beyond Unsworth’s control, but among the final straws was developing the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan without knowledge of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which hires and fires directors.

As Joe Stohr held down the fort in the interim, the citizen panel soon launched a search for someone who would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

California sea lions reached their “optimal sustainable population,” federal biologists reported in the Journal of Wildlife Management. The 275,000 roaming up and down the West Coast and up several rivers were at their habitat’s carrying capacity.

AN AERIAL IMAGE FROM SHOWS CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS FEEDING IN THE LOWER COLUMBIA. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW, VIA NWFSC)

ODFW released news that it had its first pack of wolves in the North Cascades, and later in the year said the duo in southern Wasco County had had a pair of pups.

Better late than never — Washington lawmakers finally passed the 2017 Capital Budget, with $74 million for WDFW hatcheries (if only they’d purchased a new backup generator for Minter Creek!), critical wildlife habitat and fish passage barrier removal projects. The infrastructure budget was held up during 2017’s legislative session due to disagreements over how to address the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision and its impacts on rural landowners.

And late in the month, several Washington agencies pinned the August 2017 Atlantic salmon netpen collapse on an “excessive buildup of mussels and other marine organisms” that Cooke Aquaculture failed to deal with, allowing the nets to act as de facto underwater sails. The state legislature went on to end farming the fish by 2025.

WRECKAGE OF COOKE AQUACULTURE’S CYPRESS ISLAND NETPEN WHICH HAD HOUSED 300,000-PLUS ATLANTIC SALMON BEFORE BREAKING. (DNR)

FEBRUARY

Also in Olympia, Rep. Joel Kretz’s (R-Wolf Country) wolf translocation bill was not only translocated out of committee but the state House as well. “This is not the be-all, end-all solution by any means,” Kretz said. “But my constituents need something.” It died in the Senate.

The number of Northwest rivers getting the Google Street View treatment grew thanks to an outfit called FishViews. Basically, they strap a 360-degree camera in the middle of a raft, jab another one underneath the water and push off, recording video and environmental data the whole way, and posting it for all to see.

A SCREENSHOT FROM THE FISHVIEWS TOUR DOWN THE SKAGIT RIVER. (FISHVIEWS)

Oregon fish and game protectors added an even easier way to report poachers — dialing *OSP from your smartphone puts you in touch with the state police’s dispatch center.

WDFW also began to get more high tech with beta testing for the launch of the new Fish Washington app. The free app is meant to make it easy to see the fishing regs for the water you’re on as well as spotlight angling opportunities across the Evergreen State and how to take advantage of them. By year-end the app had 2.8 and 2.2 ratings out of 5 on the Apple App Store and on Google Play, where it is available for free.

The Oregon Hunters Association announced that 2017 saw a record payout of $24,200 through the Turn In Poachers fund, likely due to increased reward amounts. Later in this year, ODFW preference points instead of cash were made available for those whose tips lead to arrests or citations.

We looked into exactly how much of our fishing and hunting fees go to DFWs and the answer was surprising — and it wasn’t. Essentially all of your license dollars go directly to state fish and wildlife management. And what’s more, that money brings in even more federal and state dollars because for agencies to receive Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson excise tax revenues, the states must provide a 1:3 match for PR and DJ. The federal acts also “require the states to not divert funding from license fees,” WDFW’s Nate Pamplin added.

Using state and federal grants, Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission signed off on buying the last parts of a 31-square-mile wildlife area known as Big Bend in northern Douglas County. The multi-phase, multi-year deal secures sharptail grouse habitat and hunting access in a largely privately owned portion of Eastern Washington. WDFW hopes to build a new boat launch there for Lake Rufus Woods anglers.

THE 2018 PASSAGE OF THE 2017 WASHINGTON CAPITAL BUDGET INCLUDED $3 MILLION FOR THE MULTIPHASE ACQUISITION OF THE GRAND COULEE RANCH IN NORTHERN DOUGLAS COUNTY. (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONVSERVATION OFFICE)

Near the end of February, Colville wildlife managers reported that for the first time since a hunt opened in 2012, the wolf quota of three animals had been met on their sprawling North-central Washington reservation. Later in the year, the tribal Business Council would vote 9-1 to eliminate the quota in favor of an “unlimited” annual harvest.

And on the month’s last day, news broke that a WDFW IT staffer for Region 5 offices had been fired for allegedly stealing nearly $80,000 worth of fuel using his and other state staffers’ gas cards and pin numbers. According to fish and wildlife officers’ reports, Robert “Bob” D. Woodard used them to fill up his diesel pickup, his wife’s Honda, his old fishing boat, as well as his gas cans over a period of eight years.

MARCH

The smelt run was so poor that for the first time in half a decade, there wasn’t even a chance to try to dipnet them on the Cowlitz River through the population monitoring fishery that federal overseers have allowed the state to hold on the ESA-listed stock. It followed on a 2017 opener that was, in the words of one observer, actually more about paddling the river along than dipping smelt.

SMELT DIPPERS AND OBSERVERS GATHER ALONG THE LOWER COWLITZ ON FEBRUARY 25, 2017, DURING A FIVE-HOUR OPENER THAT WAS DESCRIBED AS “PRETTY MUCH A BUST” WHEN FEW CAUGHT ANY. (OLAF LANGNESS, WDFW)

In Washington’s opposite corner, wildlife biologists were “gobsmacked” at the size of a cougar they captured — a 197-pound, 9-year-old male mountain lion. It was tracked down, darted and collared for a research project studying how predators and prey, as well as wolves and lions, interact across the game-rich northern tier of the eastern half of the state. Northwest cougars would go on to be a big news story as the year wore on.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reported that the North Pacific was recovering from The Blob — the return of “friendly faces,” coldwater copepods, got them excited later in the year — but that it would take awhile for salmon to benefit from the demise of the giant pool of warm water that began to form in 2014 and altered the food web. The poor rearing conditions for young Columbia Chinook and coho that entered the ocean in 2016 and 2017, respectively, led to low returns this past summer and fall, but there is hope at least for the latter species as the spring 2018 survey found well above average numbers of juvenile silvers at sea.

Wayne Kruse, the last regular hook-and-bullet writer for a large newspaper in the Puget Sound region, announced it was time to “hang up my hoochie.” He enjoyed a long career towards the end of the era when sharing news about where the fish were biting, clams being dug and ducks flocking to were staples in Thursday sports sections of dailies.

WAYNE KRUSE’S MUG SHOT (THIRD FROM LEFT) APPEARS IN THE OCT. 4, 1975 ISSUE OF WESTERN WASHINGTON FISHING & HUNTING NEWS, IN WHICH HE HAD STORIES ON RABBIT HUNTING IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS AND DUCKS ON THE SKAGIT FLATS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Greg Schirato, a former WDFW wildlife manager, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison after being convicted of second-degree rape of a coworker, as well as 34 months for burglary in the first degree. Later in the year, his victim, Ann Larson, would come forward to accuse Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) of sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace following a consensual relationship they’d had a decade ago.

In March, WDFW reported that its wolf population grew for a ninth straight year, while in April ODFW said its numbers were also up 11 percent over the previous year, which led an actual Oregon wolf to heckle the wolfies who had been fretting the Beaver State’s growth had “stalled” and that it was “stagnant.”

JIMBO THE OREGON WOLF DOESN’T HAVE HIS OWN TWITTER ACCOUNT LIKE HERMAN THE STURGEON, BUT DOES OCCASIONALLY BLOG. (ODFW)

In what was the kickoff of a year-long focus on helping out starving southern resident killer whales, Governor Jay Inslee issued an executive order that called for increased hatchery production of Chinook and formed a task force to come up with other ways to increase SRKW numbers. At that point there were 76 members of J, K and L Pods, but that would dip to 74 with the heart-wrenching loss of one calf that was carried by its mother for two and a half weeks, and the death of another young ailing orca, despite efforts to feed it Chinook. Lack of salmon, along with pollution and vessel disturbance were identified as major causes for their low numbers. Later in the year the task force would make a set of recommendations that now must be funded and see new laws implemented by lawmakers.

WDFW STAFFER EDWARD ELEAZER PRACTICES RELEASING A CHINOOK DURING SEA TRIALS FOR AN EFFORT TO FEED A STARVING, ILL ORCA. (NMFS)

A footloose Oregon cougar discovered there was no room at the inn when it wandered into a room under construction at a hotel in The Dalles. With the big cat’s unusual behavior to come so far into the city it was deemed a “public safety risk” and put down, the sixth to that point in 2018.

A pair of relatively unlikely Washington fish and wildlife commissioners — at least according to conventional wisdom — said they wanted to know whether WDFW’s 2011 wolf management plan was actually working in a key area and if it could be tweaked. The effort was led by Jay Kehne, the Conservation Northwest staffer based in Omak, and Kim Thorburn, the Spokane birder, and later in the year WDFW began developing a timeline for coming up with a “long term wolf plan” for post state delisting management.

From the perspective of late December, federally restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades seems a lot less likely than it did on March 23 when Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke told reporters gathered in Sedro-Woolley that “the winds are favorable” for the longterm effort. The embattled former Montana Congressman’s recent resignation from the post seems to have stilled the winds, for the time being.

SECRETARY OF INTERIOR RYAN ZINKE SPEAKS BEFORE REPORTERS AND OTHERS ON MARCH 23, 2018, ON RESTORATION OF GRIZZLY BEARS TO THE NORTH CASCADES. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Also in the North Cascades, federal fishery overseers were said to be “wrapped up in paperwork, ass-covering, scary numbers and veiled lawsuit threats” over whether they would allow the state to open the first catch-and-release opener for wild steelhead in the Skagit and Sauk Rivers since 2009. Public comment had wrapped up months before and the delay in approving a season, not to mention low level of state funding, ultimately narrowed the window of opportunity to just 12 days in April — but oh was it glorious to get back on the river again. A three-month 2019 fishery is out for NMFS review.

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

APRIL

In an extraordinary moment during the annual North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process, tribal and state fishermen spoke together on the importance of habitat and working on key issues affecting Washington Chinook, coho and other stocks. Two longtime sportfishing observers called it “historic” and “unprecedented,” while Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, who in a very rare honor would later in the year attend a NWIFC meeting, said that if all fishermen worked cohesively, we could “move mountains.” The history of acrimony between the groups was referenced by Lummi Nation’s G.I. James, who said, “It’s a bit weird. It’s the first time I’ve been with a bunch of (sport) fishermen and haven’t heard, ‘Why are the nets all the way across the river?’” Expect more along these lines in the new year.

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAK DURING A RARE BUT WELL-ATTENDED STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION LAST WEEK ON WESTERN WASHINGTON SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Word that a second northern pike had been caught in Lake Washington but was released led yours truly to ask anglers who catch any of the unwanted nonnative species illegally introduced by bucket biologists to “Slash its gills, slit its belly, hack it in half, singe the carcass over high heat,” as well as offer a $50 reward. That caught the attention of KING 5’s Alison Morrow who, later in the year, put me on camera to talk about the problems with pike after a single female was caught within 10 miles of Grand Coulee Dam and roughly 40 miles from the Columbia’s anadromous zone. While hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on salmon and steelhead restoration weren’t at stake at Idaho’s Lake Cascade, IDFG said it was still “disheartening” when a walleye was caught there, forcing them to pull resources from elsewhere to check for more at the trophy perch fishery.

Fishing and hunting funnyman Patrick McManus passed away in early April at 84 years old. A true Northwest gem, McManus wrote for national magazines, and his works were compiled into beloved books such as A Fine and Pleasant Misery, They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They, Never Sniff a Gift Fish, and The Grasshopper Trap. Over his lifetime, McManus sold more than 5 million copies of those and a fictional series, and along with a Distinguished Faculty Award from Eastern Washington University, where he taught, in 1986 he won the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s highest honor, the Excellence in Craft award.

PATRICK MCMANUS AND SOME OF HIS FUNNIEST BOOKS. (EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY VIA FLICKR, CC 2.0)

An intensive late winter survey found only three members of an international mountain caribou herd that haunts the Washington-Idaho-British Columbia border — a 75-percent decline since 2017. What’s more, all three were cows and none were pregnant. Later in the year Canadian officials announced a desperate plan to capture the last two members of the South Selkirk Herd — the third was killed by a cougar — and another small band of southern caribou and put them in a pen near Revelstoke, 100 miles north of the border. Unless it works and a bolstered herd is returned to the region, it may mean that the two caribou spotted separately in fall in Northwest Montana are the last wild ones to visit the Lower 48.

With $172,000 from Washington’s legislature, Dr. Samuel Wasser and his dung-detection dogs were a go for sniffing out wolf doots in the South Cascades, where the number of public reports has grown but no packs let alone breeding pairs are known to exist. Last week, the University of Washington researcher said DNA sequencing results should be available by late winter.

Also in the South Cascades, the first case of elk hoof disease was found east of the crest, near Trout Lake, and that led WDFW to initiate the first euthanizations to control its spread. The agency’s coordinator for the problem, Kyle Garrison, says that 12 elk have so far been lethally removed through a combination of state staff and landowner efforts and special damage hunt permits, and that surveillance and training continues. Hoof samples were sent to Washington State University and Dr. Margaret Wild, who in June was chosen to lead the state’s research into what’s causing the “polymicrobial, multifactorial disease” to strike wapiti. Funding came from a 2017 bill passed by the legislature.

AN ELK’S HOOF AFFECTED BY THE CONDITION. (WDFW)

MAY

Early Washington actions to help out orcas included a “difficult request” from WDFW that anglers and boaters avoid a fishy strip along the west side of San Juan Island, a key foraging area the marine mammals targeting Fraser River-bound Chinook. The voluntary no-go zone was panned by some in the fishing community, including Kevin Klein who called it a “feel-good ‘win’” for the species’ enthusiasts. Eventually another idea came out of the governor’s task force — a moving no-go bubble around the pods. As for Canadian efforts to help out orcas, fishing was closed seasonally in portions of the BC side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands.

(NORTHWEST STRAITS INITIATIVE)

Speaking of the islands, just offshore of Anacortes, the jump-off point to the San Juans, crews from the Northwest Straits Initiative Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Project located 614 lost crab pots strewn across the bottom, some still fishing with dead Dungies attracting still more. “It’s probably about the highest density we’ve seen,” a rep told a KOMO reporter. The pots were being collected and while crab numbers were still relatively good in the North Sound, it’s a far, far different story at the other end of the Whulge. Areas 11 and 13 were shut down for harvesting Dungeness and even red rocks after the former’s numbers crashed due to excessive harvest, poor water conditions, and the distance larva must ride currents to here from primary breeding areas. State managers say they want to try and rebuild the populations.

PUYALLUP’S JASON BROOKS PULLS A POT OFF MARINE AREA 13’S FOX ISLAND DURING THE 2013 SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

What should have been an Idaho wildlife success story was derailed in federal court by a lawsuit. The Fish and Game Commission approved for the first time a grizzly bear hunt, with one tag on offer for the southeastern corner of the state, where Ursus horriblis has been recovered since the first years of this millennium and was delisted in 2017. But later in the year and spurred by the Humane Society of the United States, a U.S. District Court judge in Missoula effectively postponed the season in Idaho as well as Wyoming for the time being.

Washington State University and Rob Wielgus reached a $300,000 settlement for the professor to resign and leave as part of a deal in which neither party admitted wrongdoing following an academic freedom lawsuit. Wielgus once was a darling of wolf advocates but began to fall out of favor with some former allies, especially so after a summer 2016 claim he made led to a stunning rebuke from WSU.

Southwest Washington poaching suspects and others were hit with new charges in Oregon after county prosecutors in The Dalles filed 122 wildlife misdemeanors, including a combined 87 against the two men — Erik C. Martin and William J. Haynes — whose phones led game wardens in Oregon and Washington to discover a shocking amount of alleged illegal killing of wintering bucks for their antlers, as well as unlawfully chasing bear and bobcats with dogs. Cases in both states are still working their way through the court system.

The first of two fatal cougar attacks in the Northwest in 2018 occurred near North Bend, Washington, when an otherwise healthy lion went after a pair of bicyclists who successfully initially fended it off, but then came back and had Isaac Sederbaum’s head in its jaws before Sonja J. “SJ” Brooks attempted to flee but was run down and killed. The cougar was immediately tracked down and lethally removed, but it took longer to locate the one that killed Oregon hiker Diana Bober, who disappeared in late summer near Mt. Hood. A network of trail cams put up around the trail where her body was found turned up another otherwise healthy cougar and it was tracked down with the help of dogs and killed.

And finally, two weeks after a Thurston County judge dismissed one lawsuit against WDFW, over wolves, the Center for Biological Diversity was right back in superior court with another, this one concerning the removal of black bears damaging valuable private timber. The state agency ultimately had to temporarily halt issuing new depredation permits using dogs, bait and other methods banned by voters.

In the next installment, we tackle notable Northwest fish and wildlife events that occurred in June, July, August and September.

U.S. House Passes Senate’s Sea Lion Bill; Next Stop: White House

The U.S. House today passed the Senate’s Columbia sea lion bill and it now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature, according to Northwest lawmakers.

A SEA LION LOAFS ON AN ASTORIA DOCK. (BENJAMIN STANDFORD, NOAA-FISHERIES)

The bipartisan Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, which gives states and tribes more leeway to manage the predatory pinnipeds feasting on ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead as well as other stocks in the river and its tributaries, was approved by unanimous consent, just as it was in the upper chamber last week.

“I suspect many would wish the times were different and this legislation wasn’t necessary,” said Jaime Pinkham, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “But the reality is that this legislation has become necessary. Tribal and state fisheries co-managers collaborated to explore and implement alternatives for over a decade and the imbalance shifted the greatest risks to the salmon and steelhead, and we remember how the story ended at Ballard Locks. I’m grateful Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to give us the local flexibility to protect the tribal treaty resources we share with others in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.”

S.3119, as the bill is known, was cosponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID).

“Today’s passage of our bill to control sea lions was a hard-fought victory – it’s a personal victory for each of us who treasure our Northwest salmon runs and want to see them preserved for generations to come,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-3) in a joint press release with Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5). “I’m grateful for the partnership of my colleague Kurt Schrader, and for Senators Risch and Cantwell for shepherding this through the Senate. I’m so pleased we are able to give Northwest fish managers this critical tool to help save our salmon and steelhead runs.”

Herrera Beutler, a Republican, and Schrader, a Democrat, represent communities on either side of the Lower Columbia.

Schrader said it was a problem he’d worked on since first coming to Congress.

“Ratepayers and my constituents are paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually towards the largest mitigation program in the country for threatened and endangered salmon. These sea lions, whose population has become totally inconsistent with their historic range, have been undoing all of that work by feasting on the endangered species. Our legislation will provide a great step forward in eliminating this threat to our iconic Oregon salmon that are struggling to survive once and for all,” he said in a press release.

In another quickly issued press release, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Yakima Valley) applauded the “bipartisan effort to improve management of pinnipeds threatening salmon” in both chambers of Congress.

“We really appreciate our state’s Congressional delegation’s leadership and support to pass this legislation,” added Nate Pamplin, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s policy director. “The sea lion population in the Lower Columbia River has increased dramatically in recent years, presenting a greater threat to wild salmon and steelhead runs than ever before.”

He said the bill, which had widespread support not just in the aisles of Congress but among stakeholders, would “provide us and co-managers with the tools needed to protect these vulnerable fish populations.”

Rodmaker Gary Loomis of Coastal Conservation Association said “CCA was proud to be part of this coalition effort and is thankful of the years of efforts by our members in support of this legislation.”

The news actually came as state salmon managers and sportfishing industry officials were meeting in Clackamas to review the 2019 Columbia spring Chinook forecast, which is roughly just one-half of the 10-year average.

That is due in part to very poor ocean conditions in recent years, but in 2014, the loss of 40 percent of the year’s first Columbia salmon run — an estimated 104,333 fish — was attributed to sea lion predation.

So when the bill came before federal lawmakers in Washington DC this afternoon, NSIA’s Liz Hamilton says that ODFW staffers paused the run forecast meeting to watch on the big screen.

“Applause all around,” she said of the room’s reaction to the House’s move, “combined with optimism for the future of Willamette wild winter steelhead and hope for other stocks deeply impacted by pinniped predation, including sturgeon.”

Earlier this fall federal overseers granted ODFW a permit to remove up to 93 sea lions around Willamette Falls after state officials estimated that there was a 90 percent chance one of the Oregon trib’s steelhead runs would go extinct if nothing was done.

The states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho have had federal permission to remove specific animals gathered at Bonneville Dam since March 2008.

This bill, which amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five years, extends that authority to the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs Tribes and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

It allows for the lethal removal of sea lions in the Columbia from the dam down to River Mile 112 and upstream to McNary Dam, as well as in the river’s tributaries with ESA-listed salmonids.

Congress Moving Different Directions On Sea Lions, Wolves

Attempts in Congress to give state managers more latitude to deal with two of the most polarizing predators in the Northwest these days are going in opposite directions.

Yesterday saw the US Senate pass a bill that would expand where sea lions could be removed on the Columbia River system, and while the House of Representatives must still concur, a bill delisting gray wolves passed last month by the lower chamber will not go anywhere in the upper house in December, it now appears.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. THE ENDANGERED SALMON AND FISHERIES PREDATION ACT PASSED BY THE SENATE AND WHICH GOES NOW TO THE HOUSE WOULD GIVE STATE MANAGERS MORE LATITUDE TO LETHALLY REMOVE THE SPECIES IN TRIBUTARIES OF THE COLUMBIA. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

The Manage Our Wolves Act, cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republican representatives will likely die in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works as federal lawmakers’ workload piles up at the end of the two-year session.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) indicated federal budgetary issues would take precedence, according to a report from the DC Bureau of the McClatchy news service.

And even if the Republican-controlled Senate were to still pass the bill in 2019, with November’s election changing the balance of power in the House, a spokeswoman for the new chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), told wire reporter Kellen Browning flatly that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years.

It’s probably best to let the biologists determine when a species is recovered rather than run things through Congress like this, but that also takes time and meanwhile frustrations mount over very real concerns and unintended consequences of 1970s’ environmental protections, and the drag-it-out-in-the-courts approach the laws have inspired in some in the environmental community.

In the case of the wolves of the river, Marine Mammal Protection Act-listed sea lions are taking unacceptably large bites out of Endangered Species Act-listed Columbia salmon and steelhead, putting their recovery — not to mention the tens, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it — in the watershed at increasing risk.

With pushing from fishermen, state wildlife agencies, tribal managers, even conservation organizations, a bipartisan coalition of Northwest senators and representatives has now been able get sea lion bills passed in both houses of Congress this year.

But even as we live in an era when the back door to delistings and amended protections is being opened wider and wider, it appears that for the time being we’ll need to go through the front one, the traditional way, to clear the wolves of the woods off the ESA list.

Once again.

Back in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly announced that it had begun to review the status of the species in the Lower 48 for, what, the third? fourth? time since the early 2000s due to court actions.

That could lead to the delisting of gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington, Oregon and elsewhere in their range, handing over management from USFWS to WDFW, ODFW and other agencies.

A PAIR OF WOLVES CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAMERA NEAR MT. HOOD. (ODFW)

This morning I asked the feds for an update on how that was proceeding and they sent me a statement that was very similar to one they emailed out around the summer solstice.

Here’s what today’s said:

“The USFWS is currently reviewing the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information. On completion of the review, the Service will, if appropriate, publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”

With six long months ahead of it, June’s version had this as the third sentence: “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”

Now it’s more open-ended.

And comparing a second paragraph USFWS sent along as background, the update has removed the words “under the previous administration,” a reference to the 2013 proposal by the Obama Administration’s USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

The rest of that para touches on the “sound science” that went into that determination and the court action that subsequently derailed it.

It sounds like the science is strong with the sea lion removal authorization, so let’s hope that once the House agrees and president signs it, it isn’t challenged in court, and if it is, that it clears the hurdles that are thrown up — and which lead to bypassing the judicial system all together.

Orca Task Force Proposed Mission Statement Blasted For Overlooking Seal Predation

“This is going to be the Kill Sport Fishing Task Force.”

That’s Tom Nelson’s no-holds-barred assessment of an initial work product out of Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

TOM NELSON SAYS THAT THE GOVERNOR’S ORCA TASK FORCE IS OVERLOOKING A HUGE PROBLEM, SEAL AND SEA LIONS THAT ARE CONSUMING SIX TIMES AS MANY PUGET SOUND CHINOOK AS RECREATIONAL, COMMERCIAL AND TRIBAL FISHING FLEETS ARE. (THEOUTDOORLINE.COM)

Rather than address the fact harbor seals and other marine mammals are eating up starving local orcas’ breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks, a proposed mission statement from the group says it will instead seek to enact “temporary emergency measures to offset any shortfall in prey availability.”

Nelson, co-host of the Saturday morning fishing and hunting radio show The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN, interprets that to mean cutting salmon angling seasons, plain and simple.

“We’ve suffered cut after cut after cut after cut,” he bristles.

The statement also calls for reducing vessel traffic in whale feeding areas by 50 percent by the year 2022.

That probably doesn’t mean ferries, tankers and other shipping traffic, at least in Nelson’s eyes.

“It’s all going to be fishing and whale watching and recreational boats,” he says.

It all boggles Nelson, and this afternoon he ripped the apparent low-hanging-fruit approach on KIRO Radio 97.3’s Dori Monson Show.

He told his fellow radio host that officials were “ducking, dodging and diving from doing the right thing.”

A HARBOR SEAL SWIMS BESIDE A BOAT OFF KINGSTON IN MID-JULY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The task force’s “full draft” report for how to recover orcas isn’t due till Oct. 1, but that the mission statement doesn’t mention pinnipeds is highly perplexing.

Nelson points to a 2017 paper that looked at king salmon consumption in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands and Hood Canal over the previous 45 years.

“Converting juvenile Chinook salmon into adult equivalents, we found that by 2015, pinnipeds consumed double that of resident killer whales and six times greater than the combined commercial and recreational catches,” the authors’ abstract reads.

Another paper from last year with a wider lens says, “Harbor seals in the Salish Sea (i.e. Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, and Strait of San Juan de Fuca) accounted for 86.4% of the total coast wide (Chinook) smolt consumption in 2015, due to large increases in the harbor seal abundance in this region between 1975 and 2015 (8,600 to 77,800), as well as a large diet fraction of Chinook salmon smolts relative to other regions.”

FIGURES IN “COMPETING TRADEOFFS BETWEEN INCREASING MARINE MAMMAL PREDATION AND FISHERIES HARVEST OF CHINOOK SALMON,” PUBLISHED IN SCIENTIFIC REPORTS LAST FALL, ILLUSTRATES THE INCREASING CONSUMPTION OF INDIVIDUAL CHINOOK AND CHINOOK BIOMASS BY HARBOR SEALS (BLUE) AND OTHER MARINE MAMMALS. (CHASCO ET AL)

Coastwide, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

As for the paper that the governor’s group appears to be leaning on, it doesn’t mention harbor seals or sea lions once.

It does say that “a 50% noise reduction plus a 15% increase in Chinook would allow the (SRKW) population to reach the 2.3% growth target.”

That 15 percent figure can also be found in the task force’s proposed mission statement: “By 2028: In the near term, our goal is to maintain reductions in vessel disturbance and underwater noise and increase Chinook prey abundance by 15% by 2028.”

Hatchery production increases are being considered and recently state and federal biologists identified the most important Chinook rivers for SRKWs.

Noise, pollutants and prey availability are believed to be the three key factors in why J, K and L pods are struggling, but the task force paper also states, “The whales’ depleted status is due in large part to the legacy of an unsustainable live-capture fishery for display in aquariums.”

It was popular to go to SeaWorld and see orcas eat fish out of trainers’ hands.

Ironically, Nelson was threatened with a $500 fine this week for flipping a finger-sized chunk of a salmon carcass to a harbor seal hanging out in the Everett marina, where he moors his boat.

He was on camera with KING 5 for a story illustrating the abundance of harbor seals in Puget Sound.

As soon as he tossed out that piece of fish to one of the “water puppies” that more and more appear to beg for scraps from fishermen and others, he and the camera crew’s phones started ringing and he eventually found himself on the line with a federal enforcement officer.

It all may go down as a warning, but it’s illegal to feed the Marine Mammal Protection Act species.

The day before a harbor seal ate a wild Chinook right off the end of Nelson’s line as he tried to release it.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS SALMON LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

So how would Nelson deal with the overpopulation of harbor seals that are eating Puget Sound Chinook, many of which would otherwise grow into adults and upon their return to the Salish Sea provide nourishment for the orcas?

“If we could cut their numbers in half, it could do something. We could stop this by trapping and releasing them in the ocean,” he proposes.

There, they’d be subject to being preyed on transient killer whales, the pinniped-eating kind.

“We’re going to have to act,” he says. “It ain’t gonna be nice, it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

This week, lawmakers in Washington DC voted to expand state and tribal managers’ authority to remove sea lions from more of the Lower Columbia and its tribs to reduce their predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

Hold that thought, Senators.

Bipartisan Salmon Predation Prevention Act Passed By US Senate Committee

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM U.S. SENATORS MARIA CANTWELL (WA-D) AND JIM RISCH (ID-R)

Today, bipartisan legislation to build upon existing laws to manage the sea lion population passed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The legislation, proposed by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID), will give state and tribal fishery managers more flexibility to address predatory sea lions in the Columbia River system.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION HOLDS A SALMONID — EITHER A SPRING CHINOOK OR STEELHEAD — BELOW WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW, FLICKR)

The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, which helps protect endangered salmon and steelhead populations, passed without objection and will be considered next on the Senate floor. The bipartisan bill would allow wildlife agencies to better protect vulnerable fish populations through science-based management of these invasive, non-ESA listed sea lion populations, while also maintaining a strong Marine Mammal Protection Act that supports research, science-based management, and public process.

“Wild salmon are central to the culture, economy, and tribal treaty rights of the Pacific Northwest and protecting these fish is crucial to the health of Southern resident orcas,” said Senator Cantwell. “This science-based, bipartisan bill enhances existing tools that state and tribal wildlife managers need to address salmon predation, protect the health of sea lion stocks, and ensure that we are managing wildlife based on the best science available. Pacific salmon should be protected for generations to come.”

“Threatened and endangered species of salmon are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River, severely impacting Idaho’s efforts to restore the populations” said Senator Risch. “I’m grateful to Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson for making this a committee priority and for quickly advancing our bill.”

Support for this legislation is bipartisan and crosses multiple Pacific Northwest states. The governors of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon wrote to the Northwest Senate delegation in support of the bill, and the four chairs of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission have all voiced their support. The National Congress of American Indians has called the legislation “essential” to protect salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon.

“Congressional action is critical to reducing the numbers of sea lions that prey on salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Botka. “We welcome the Senate’s progress and look forward to final passage of legislation that will enable the Northwest states and our tribal partners to better protect endangered fish.”

“We applaud the bi-partisan leadership of Senators Cantwell and Risch to get unanimous support today from the Senate Commerce Committee for S. 3119. The bill will expand the ongoing efforts of tribal and state co-managers who have collaborated both on the river and in Congress to address sea lion predation. This legislation reconciles two important conservation laws while it also recognizes the four treaty tribes expertise and role as caretakers of ancestral resources in the lower Columbia River basin,” said Jaime Pinkham, Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

“This bill provides a thoughtful and practical approach to addressing sea lion predation in critical areas of the Columbia River,” said Guido Rahr, President of the Wild Salmon Center. “It also for the first time enables managers to respond before the number and habits of sea lions become an insurmountable problem for returning wild salmon and steelhead populations. Salmon recovery requires a multi-faceted response. We appreciate the leadership of Senator Cantwell on this issue.”

“Senator Cantwell has stepped up during a crisis and delivered a solution to prevent extinction of fragile Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead stocks. The businesses of NSIA are appreciative of the Senator’s leadership in resolving this very tough issue. All who care about salmon recovery, food for Southern Resident Killer Whales, and have jobs that depend on healthy fish stocks owe Senator Cantwell our deepest gratitude,” said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

“Sea lions are killing as many as 43 percent of the spring-migrating Chinook salmon in the Columbia River, including threatened and endangered species. This is an immediate problem that needs an immediate solution, a more streamlined and effective process for removing the most problematic sea lions,”said Guy Norman, a Washington member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. “The bill enables states and tribes to deal with a major bottleneck to salmon survival. It’s a big win for the fish and for the people of the Northwest who are deeply invested in salmon recovery.

Federal, state, and tribal governments and other organizations have made significant conservation and restoration investments throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sea lion populations have increased significantly along the West Coast over the past 40 years; today, there are roughly 300,000. These sea lions have entered into habitat where they had never been before, including areas around the Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.

recent study by Oregon State University found that increasing predation from sea lions has decreased the fishery harvest of adult Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest. According to the study, if sea lions continue their current salmon consumption habits, there is an 89 percent chance that a population of wild steelhead could go extinct. The study also noted that future long-term salmon management plans will need to address the increased salmon predation throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Companion legislation has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

………………………………..

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation today passed a legislative proposal by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would give state and tribal managers more flexibility in addressing predatory sea lions in the Columbia River system that are threatening both ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. S. 3119, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, passed without objection and will be considered next on the Senate floor. Companion legislation has already passed the House.

“Threatened and endangered species of salmon are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River, severely impacting Idaho’s efforts to restore the populations,” said Senator Risch. “I’m grateful to Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson for making this a committee priority and for quickly advancing our bill.”

“Wild salmon are central to the culture, economy, and tribal treaty rights of the Pacific Northwest and protecting these fish is crucial to the health of Southern resident orcas,” said Senator Cantwell. “This science-based, bipartisan bill enhances existing tools that state and tribal wildlife managers need to address salmon predation, protect the health of sea lion stocks, and ensure that we are managing wildlife based on the best science available. Pacific salmon should be protected for generations to come.”

There are ESA threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead being significantly harmed by the increasing sea lion population. This predation of ESA-listed fish is negating the large investments being spent on salmon recovery associated with habitat, harvest, and hatcheries. If enacted, this bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to provide for better management of these invasive, non-listed sea lions.

Anglers Urged To Contact US Senators In Support Of Salmon-Sea Lion Bill

Northwest anglers are being urged to contact their U.S. senators to support a bill that would give salmon managers more leverage to deal with problematic pinnipeds.

A SEA LION WITH A SALMONID BELOW WILLAMETTE FALLS. PREDATION BY THE MARINE MAMMALS ON ESA-LISTED WINTER STEELHEAD HERE HAS A 90 PERCENT CHANCE OF LEADING TO THE EXTINCTION OF AT LEAST ONE RUN, ODFW ESTIMATED LAST YEAR. (ODFW)

The Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, S 3119, is expected to go before the Senate’s Commerce Committee this Wednesday.

With sea lions chewing up ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead, as well as other stocks, in the Columbia and its tribs, the bill would tweak the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow state and tribal to remove as many as an additional 100 a year.

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association’s Liz Hamilton is urging people to call their two senators to “ask them to support the bill, and let them know that failure is not an option here. And be sure to thank them!”

The exact same bill, HR 2083, passed the U.S. House late last month with yes votes from every single Idaho, Oregon and Washington representative.

The Senate version is cosponsored by Idaho’s James Risch (R) and Washington’s Maria Cantwell (D) and was introduced in mid-June.

“Pacific salmon are central to our culture, our livelihoods, and our economy in the Pacific Northwest,” Cantwell said. “Taxpayers throughout Washington, Idaho, and Oregon have made significant investments in Pacific salmon restoration, and we must continue to support science-based management methods to ensure future generations have access to wild Pacific Northwest salmon.”

Cantwell’s office can be reached at (202) 224-3441.

Washington’s other U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, can be reached at  (202) 224-2621.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden can be reached at (202) 224-5244 while Senator Jeff Merkley can be reached at (202) 224-3753.

Since 2008, Northwest states have had the authority to move sea lions preying on salmon and steelhead below Bonneville Dam, including to euthanize the worst offenders.

Both bills in Congress would expand that down to the I-205 bridge over the Columbia and in any of its tribs with ESA-listed stocks.

And it would allow for NOAA to not only issue one-year permits to the states but also to a number of tribes including the Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Umatilla, Yakama and Cowlitz, as well as the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Last year, a CRITFC employee died on the way to perform sea lion counts after the boat he was on capsized due to strong winds.

It’s notable that both the House’s and Senate’s sea lion bills have received bipartisan support from the Northwest’s federal lawmakers.

“I want to thank my colleague Senator Risch for working with me on this bipartisan, science-based solution that will help protect salmon for future generations,” said Cantwell, who is a Democrat of the Idaho Republican.

Congress Moves Closer To OKing States, Tribes To Lethally Remove More Columbia Sea Lions

Efforts to reduce sea lion predation on ESA-listed Columbia River salmon and steelhead got a big boost today with the passage of a bill that would provide state and tribal managers more latitude to deal with the hungry pinnipeds.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION CAPTURES A SPRING CHINOOK. (BRYAN WRIGHT, ODFW, VIA NMFS FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

HR 2083, introduced by a pair of Lower Columbia Congressmen from either side of the river and political aisle and which would allow sea lions to be culled in parts of the mainstem and its tribs to save fish, sailed out of the U.S. House of Representatives on a 288-116 vote this afternoon.

Cosponsors Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA3) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR5) were joined by every single one of their fellow Washington and Oregon representatives, as well as both of Idaho’s, in voting for the measure.

The move comes just days after similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate, making action now suddenly more likely after previous versions of the House bill had stalled.

Herrera Beutler said it was the result of a “team effort” and credited Schrader for getting the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act to a vote, Washington U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D) and Idaho U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R) for introducing one in the upper chamber, and “all the local and tribal agencies and fishermen who have trumpeted the plight of our salmon for years.”

A SEA LION SURFACES NEAR A FISHING BOAT DURING 2017’S LOWER COLUMBIA SPRING CHINOOK SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Along with testimony from the Columbia River Inter-Tribe Fish Commission last year, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association has lent its strong support.

An exultant Liz Hamilton, NSIA’s executive director, called this “truly a good day for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon!”

She said lawmakers’ action offered “huge progress … giving fishery managers another tool to prevent extinction and help with recovery.”

Essentially, the bill would expand the scope of removals by, according to a Coastal Conservation Association of Washington press release, amending a portion of the “Marine Mammal Protection Act to authorize the Secretary of Commerce to provide states and local tribes the tools necessary to humanely manage sea lions on the waters of the Columbia River and its tributaries as long as the sea lions are not classified as an Endangered Species Act listed species.”

Between 2008 and 2016, as predation at Bonneville Dam increased, ODFW and WDFW were allowed by NOAA to remove 161 California sea lions, euthanizing 139 of those and finding zoos and aquariums for another 15.

But they’re smart critters and know where the food is at and readily return to unnatural pinchpoints.

In a joint letter, the heads of CRITFC, IDFG, ODFW and WDFW said passage of HR 2083 was “critical to ensuring we can manage the ever-increasing issue of predation on sturgeon, lamprey, and Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin,” according to a press release.

Back in April, ODFW took the strongest stance, specifically calling on Congress to act, pointing out that male sea lions gathering below Willamette Falls were driving the basin’s steelhead “closer to extinction,” not unlike what Herschel did at the Ballard Locks to Lake Washington’s stocks.

Earlier this year, federal researchers said that California sea lions had reached their “optimal sustainable population,” a triggering point in the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and a high enough level that West Coast states could begin to take over management.

“The California sea lion population has experienced a huge population recovery in recent years; unfortunately, that population has now grown to numbers totally inconsistent with its historic range, posing a very serious threat to the endangered salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia River system,” Rep. Schrader said in a press release.

Even as passage of HR 2083 put the focus on pinnipeds, that’s not to say that NOAA issuing one-year take permits to CRITFC, IDFG, ODFW, WDFW, and the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Cowlitz Tribes to take out up to 100 of the Chinook-, steelhead- and sturgeon-munching marine mammals is a be-all, end-all solution to fish run woes.

“Salmon recovery isn’t about just one issue, and the data is crystal clear that this [sea lion predation] is an important component, just as dam removal must be,” said angler Chase Gunnell, a Wild Steelhead Coalition boardmenber. “We can’t ignore the real short term threats from unnaturally high predation on endangered salmon and steelhead, even if Bonneville and other dams have exacerbated the situation. Pragmatic, strategic conservationists and wild fish and river advocates should celebrate this sensible policy, just as we should continue working to remove the lower Snake River Dams. It’s not either/or.”

But in the short term it is progress.

NSIA’s Hamilton thanked all three states’ Congressional delegations,  especially Herrera Beutler and Schrader, and also urged fellow fishermen to show gratitude to their representatives.