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2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part III

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

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

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

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

OCTOBER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOVEMBER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DECEMBER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

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

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

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

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

Take care, and happy new year!

AW
NWS

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

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

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

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

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

JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

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

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

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

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

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

SEPTEMBER

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

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

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

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

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

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

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

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

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

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

Washington Wolves, Ranchers, Ideas In The News

As Washington wolf managers report taking out one member of a cattle-depredating pack and suspending efforts to kill the last two in another, a pair of in-depth reports on the issues around managing the rangy predators are also in the news this week.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

They’re much better pieces than the usual slap-dash broad-brush strokes passed off as wolf reporting in these pages and elsewhere these days.

KREM 2 in Spokane interviews and brings together rancher Ron Eslick of Ferry County, whose cattle have unfortunately fed the Togo Pack, and two representatives from The Lands Council of Spokane who have an idea for restoring old meadows throughout the Colville National Forest with an eye towards grazing.

It wasn’t immediately clear how that bid might fit into the just revised forest plan, but allotments are key for livestock producers, allowing them to cut their home pastures in summer to build up a winter store of hay while their cow-calf pairs bulk up in the forested mountains, but the arrival of wolves have led to conflict between the critters as well as people.

At the tip of the spear is Ferry, Stevens and Benton Counties’ Diamond M, said to be the state’s largest ranch and which is the subject of a 2,600-word article in the Capital Press.

It charts the McIrvin family’s history on the range back to the late 1940s when members drove their cattle into the mountains of Northeast Washington in old Army trucks, but how what worked for the ranch founders and next generation or two isn’t working anymore with pack upon pack after pack settling in.

They feel like they’re not going to win the popularity contest that essentially pits the Old West against a species in the internet age widely adored around the world. A fellow producer says that if the Diamond M goes down, it would be a “humongous trophy” for environmental groups, like those that vowed the national forests would be “Cattle Free by ’93.”

In the background is WDFW, whose new director is not entirely happy with the repeated conflicts.

He termed the lethal removal protocols in place the last two seasons “pretty conservative” and while “not saying we need to make it easy to kill wolves, but as soon as we can get into a routine of managing, I think things will go better,” in another Press article.

Interesting reads.

Togo, Smackout Packs Now In Crosshairs For Continued Cattle Depredations

The clock is ticking on two more wolf packs in Northeast Washington.

WDFW this morning authorized the lethal removal of the last two members of one pack and one or two from another after continued depredations.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF THE TOGO AND SMACKOUT PACKS. THE OLD PROFANITY TERRITORY PACK RUNS TO THE SOUTH OF THE TOGOS. (WDFW)

Both operations can begin tomorrow morning at 8 after an eight-hour waiting period due to a previous court order passes.

With a third pack also in the crosshairs for total removal, in a twist, the kill order for the Togo duo was given to a northern Ferry County livestock producer, his family and employees to carry out if they see the wolves in their private pasture.

WDFW says the OK was given because the previous removal of the breeding male in September didn’t change the pack’s depredating behaviors.

The breeding female and/or a juvenile injured a calf in late October. The pack also is blamed for seven other injured or killed calves and a cow since last November.

The state wildlife management agency has shouldered the burden of removals in the past, but with three lethal operations underway at once, Susewind “decided to issue a permit rather than having department staff conduct the removal because of limitations of resources.”

As WDFW attempts to kill the last two Old Profanity Territory wolves further south in Ferry County, it will also be gunning for the Smackouts to the east in northern Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

Susewind OKed incremental removals after a fifth attack since Aug. 1 by the pack, all on private pastures.

The latest occurred Nov. 1 and followed three in the last three weeks of October.

An agency statement sent out during Election Night outlined the preventative measures two producers have been using to try and head off trouble with the Smackouts.

It said that WDFW has been pooling resources with ranchers and a local group to protect stock and deter wolves.

“The affected producer has met the expectation in the wolf plan and 2017 protocol for implementing at least two proactive non-lethal deterrents and responsive deterrent measures,” a statement said.

Two wolves in the pack were removed in 2017 following four depredations in a 10-month period, one of two triggers for considering a kill order under WDFW’s protocols. The other is three attacks in a month.

The state says taking out as many as two members of the Smackout Pack, which has four or five adults and no juveniles, is not expected to impact wolf recover in Washington at all. It says that average wolf mortality between 2011 and 2018 has been 11 percent, well below the 28 percent modeled in the management plan adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Still, signing off on a kill order is no easy decision.

“Authorizing the removal of wolves is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my professional career,” said Susewind in a press release out later in the day. “Our department is committed to working with a diversity of people and interests to find new ways to reduce the loss of both wolves and livestock in our state.”

For more details, see WDFW’s Gray Wolf Updates page.

WDFW Reports More Cattle Depredations By 2 Northeast Washington Packs

Wolves continue to attack cattle in Northeast Washington, with two depredations by the Togos and Smackouts in recent days leaving WDFW mulling what to do next with both packs.

State wolf managers report that the former pack, in northern Ferry County, injured a calf on Oct. 26, while the latter took down a heifer on Halloween, the third cow killed by the northern Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties wolves in the space of two and a half weeks and fourth overall since midsummer.

(WDFW)

That now could trigger incremental lethal removals under the agency’s protocols.

“Director Susewind is reviewing the details of the four depredations by the pack and is considering next steps,” a WDFW statement out this afternoon reads.

The Smackouts have been the subject of intense range-riding and other nonlethal efforts to keep cattle and the pack from tangling for several years now, but in mid-2017 two of its 13 to 15 members at the time were taken out following four depredations in a 10-month period.

As for the Togos, on Oct. 19 WDFW sent out what was to be the last update for the pack after 42 days passed without any known depredations and the removal of the alpha male in early September to change the wolves behavior.

Despite a subsequent attack, WDFW took no action because the agency’s options were poor — the pack included the alpha female and two juveniles.

But the state also said that lethal removals could resume if there was another attack.

Wolf-cattle conflicts have mostly occurred during the summer grazing season on federal allotments, but have also taken place afterwards, typically on private ground.

WDFW Prepares To Take Out 1-2 O.P.T. Pack Wolves; Togo Wolf To Be Trapped

As three dozen people wave signs outside WDFW headquarters, a state wolf manager inside the building said that with a judge this morning again rejecting advocates’ request for a temporary restraining order, agency marksmen will carry out an order targeting a pack that’s attacked six calves this month.

A PAIR OF WOLVES USE A LOGGING ROAD IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (CONSERVATION NORTHWEST)

Donny Martorello says that local staffers in Northeast Washington have air, ground and trapping options at their disposal as they attempt to lethally remove one or two members of the Old Profanity Territory Pack.

It runs in rugged mountain country of northern Ferry County, where WDFW has previously had to kill eight wolves to try and head off livestock depredations in 2016 and 2017.

The OPT wolves — three to four adults and two juveniles — are confirmed to have injured five calves and killed another between Sept. 4 and 11.

Parts of the carcasses of three more calves were found in the immediate area, but their cause of death couldn’t be determined

WDFW reports the producer — identifed as the Diamond M Ranch in a news story — has been moving the cattle herd to the west but that 20 head remained in the area.

Producer Len McIrvin told the Capital Press that he had already lost an estimated 30 to 40 animals.

The state believes that without lethal action the losses will continue and hopes to change the pack’s behavior by incrementally removing members.

Not far to the north, the options are tougher with the Togo Pack, which has now attacked cattle seven times since last November, with the most recent incident coming after a sharpshooter killed the adult male.

Rather than kill the adult female and worry that the two pups might starve, WDFW is going to try a “spank and release” strategy, capturing one of the pups, outfitting it with a collar, and letting it go.

Martorello says that sort of negative stimulation might help prevent further conflict, but also that telemetry data will be given to the local producer and a RAG box set up in their pasture to try and help prevent more attacks.

Back in Olympia, for a second time in two weeks Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy denied a Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands request for a temporary restraining order, again because they hadn’t met the criteria for injunctive relief through the state’s Administrative Procedures Act, according to WDFW.

The agency also said that the groups had actually asked for the TRO after the eight-hour challenge window following the kill order announcement had passed, so perhaps it was all just for theatrical purposes, what with today’s prowolf rally and “die-in.”

Indeed, as Northwest Sportsman spoke to Martorello, he moved to a window in the Natural Resources Building and said he could see 30 to 40 protesters outside holding signs.

Meanwhile, other wolf advocates are choosing to focus their work in the hills.

Martorello added that Judge Murphy expedited a hearing on the merits of the CBD et al’s lawsuit against WDFW over the Togo and now OPT kill orders and is encouraging all parties to schedule it before the end of the year.

Judge Denies Out-of-state Groups’ Initial Bid To Derail WA Wolf Protocols

Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will be updated as additional material arrives.

A Thurston County judge this morning turned down out-of-state environmental groups’ bid to stop the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from lethally removing the breeding male of a depredating wolf pack in northern Ferry County.

“As a result, a temporary restraining order issued by the court on Aug. 20, which has prohibited WDFW’s lethal removal action, will expire at 5 p.m. today,” spokesman Bruce Botka said.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS WHERE THE TOGO PACK IS BELIEVED TO BE CENTERED IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (WDFW)

In video tweeted out of the courtroom by KING 5 reporter Alison Morrow, Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy denies the organizations’ request for injunctive relief because it didn’t meet a legal benchmark to allow it to move forward.

“That applies both to the extension of the temporary order, or a preliminary injunction, or I use the word ‘stay,’ essentially staying the action until the resolution of this matter,” said Judge Murphy. “It also applies to the request to halt any future orders under the 2017 plan.”

That plan is the state’s lethal removal protocols, a hard-won compromise between ranchers, hunters and instate wolf advocates and WDFW that Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon’s Cascadia Wildlands are trying to derail through the court.

Two Monday mornings ago, when WDFW announced it would target the Togo Pack for six depredations since last November, including three in a 30-day space this summer, the two organizations filed a lawsuit and another Thurston County judge issued an order that temporarily blocked any lethal removals and set a hearing date for today.

The groups claimed the protocol was “faulty” and should have undergone a state environmental review.

Judge Murphy acknowledged how controversial the issue is but said that WDFW was following its 2011 wolf management plan and the protocol.

“It is clear to me from the record that there was some process that was followed,” she said in the Morrow video.

KUOW reporter Tom Banse tweeted, “Agency director (Kelly Susewind) watched from back of courtroom, said he is ‘glad’ WDFW’s authority to manage wolves to facilitate ‘social acceptance’ upheld.”

There were real concerns about what might happen in Eastern Washington if the TRO had been extended by the court.

Susewind, at his post less than a month, made a second trip to the state’s northeast corner last weekend to listen and talk with Rep. Joel Kretz and livestock producers about the situation.

“It would have absolutely exploded here” if Judge Murphy had ruled the other way, said Kretz this afternoon.

With a horse ranch on Bodie Mountain, on the Okanogan-Ferry County line, Kretz has been in the middle of the issue literally and metaphorically for seven years and. He said he’s been trying to keep people in his district from “going over the edge” and that the ruling was “a relief.”

From his vantage point he’s seen the “tremendous amount of work” that has gone into development of 2011’s wolf plan, the protocols and more, all of which he said were upended for 10 days as the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands essentially ran wolf policy in the state.

Speaking to the collaborative approach being taken with Washington’s wolf issues, where everybody is getting some but not all of what they want, as well as local forestry management that was challenged by another out-of-state group, Kretz said he hoped that the era of running to court to block things was coming to an end.

But in the aftermath of today’s court skirmish, defiant CBD spokeswoman Amaraq Weiss told the Capital Press, “We’re not done.”

She told KING 5 that there would be a future court date over WDFW’s alleged violation of two state acts in creating the lethal removal policy.

Following last week’s lawsuit, instate wolf advocates, hunters and the editorial board of the ag-oriented Press all issued statements of support of the protocol.

After Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese issued the TRO last week, the Togo’s breeding male was apparently hit by the bullet of a livestock producer checking on his cattle and who felt threatened as it approached and barked at him. The wolf survived but with a broken leg.

In a statement posted after the judge’s ruling, WDFW says that the kill order will be implemented after 5 today because wolf managers believe:

  • There is no evidence to indicate the pack’s behavior – the killing of livestock – will change.

  • While the male wolf is injured, the adult female may have trouble feeding both the adult male and her two pups unless she continues to prey on livestock.

  • It is more difficult for wolves to successfully capture wild game animals, such as deer and elk, than cows and calves.

Key Court Hearing On Washington Wolf Management Friday Morning

All eyes in Washington’s wolf world will be focused Friday morning on a Thurston County courtroom where a judge will determine whether to extend a temporary restraining order against a WDFW kill order.

(WIKIMEDIA)

It’s a decision with implications as out-of-state environmental groups try to insert themselves into the management of an already hot-button species and the hard-won lethal removal protocols reached by the Wolf Advisory Group’s ranchers, hunters, wolf advocates and WDFW over how to deal with the inevitable depredations.

“Lots of people in my world are very concerned that it may become a permanent restraining order,” Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Jay Holzmiller of Anatone said during a teleconference Monday. “If it becomes permanent, it’s going to be Katy bar the door because people are frustrated.”

The TRO applies only to the Togo Pack of northern Ferry County, and last weekend, new Director Kelly Susewind made another trip to Northeast Washington to meet with local state Rep. Joel Kretz and livestock producers and hear their concerns.

During the conference call, he said he’d vowed WDFW would present its best legal case Friday but also that vigilantism would be counterproductive if the order is extended by Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese.

“People are really on edge. If it goes that way, they’re going to abandon the collaborative approach, I think, and what that means I’ll leave to them,” Susewind said.

A WDFW spokesman declined today to give a comment for this blog.

The agency hasn’t reported any depredations since Susewind’s Aug. 20 kill order for one or more members of the pack and that may be in part due to extra effort in the field.

In continuing to draw a very sharp contrast between the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity’s and Oregon-based Cascadia Wildlands’ court tactics and its own collaborative approach, Conservation Northwest this afternoon reported its staffers and contracted range riders have been working hard to prevent further depredations by the Togos.

“We and others stepped up to help the rancher protect cattle day and night given the Temporary Restraining Order [on lethal removal]. We have reduced possible wolf depredations by using night herd monitoring and also through the use of day time range riders that are protecting cow/calf pairs currently in the midst of the Togo Pack territory in the north Kettle Mountains. The well-trained range rider group uses years of experience and low-stress livestock handling methods to potentially aggregate cattle and document and monitor wolf activity,” the Seattle-based organization said in a statement this afternoon.

On Aug. 23, the breeding male also was apparently hit by the bullet of a livestock producer checking on his cattle and who felt threatened as it approached and barked at him.

According to WDFW, the pack has been involved in six attacks on two producers’ cattle since last November, including three in a 30-day period this summer, a triggering level for consideration of lethal removals.

After some hesitation to better gauge the pack, that was approved but immediately stymied by the lawsuit which contends the lethal removal protocols are “faulty” and should have been subject to a state environmental analysis.

Wolves in this part of Washington are managed by WDFW and by all accounts appear to be doing pretty well, despite the agency’s rare removals after chronic depredations to prevent further conflicts.

The editorial board of the Capital Press, which reports on ranching and farming issues, lent its voice to the issue today, scolding WDFW for agreeing to give an eight-hour window to challenge kill orders, but also taking direct aim at CBD and Cascadia Wildlands.

“The two environmental groups claim their interests would be damaged if one Togo wolf was killed. But it’s nothing compared to the damage those two groups and their lawsuit have done to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s years of efforts to reach a consensus on managing wolves.”

Hunters on the WAG have also said they support WDFW’s position and others’ stance against the outside groups.

The hearing begins at 9 a.m.

If anything’s become clear in all this, it’s that the court action to delay and tie managers’ hands that had been seen in other states has arrived in Washington, and now Fish and Wildlife Commissioners are thinking longterm towards delisting planning, the battles there and getting their ducks in a row to limit hold-ups in the process.

“We’ve got a recovered wolf population in Eastern Washington. Our hands are tied because we’re still doing recovery management and we have to go through a bunch of legal steps on paper to get to where we really are in Eastern Washington. I’m really concerned about any delays,” said Kim Thorburn of Spokane.

Togo Pack Update: Injured Male Wolf Found Following Reported Self-Defense Shooting

THE FOLLOWING IS A STATEMENT FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

On Aug. 27, four days after a Ferry County livestock producer reported shooting at a collared adult wolf in self-defense, a WDFW wolf biologist and a county wildlife specialist located the animal – injured but mobile – in the Togo pack territory in northeast Washington. Radio signals and recent GPS locations from the collared wolf led biologists to the vicinity where they saw and identified the wounded animal as the adult black male from the Togo pack.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

The wolf biologist got within approximately 20 yards of the injured wolf and saw that its left rear leg appeared to be broken below the knee. Within seconds, the wolf ran into a wooded area. A remote camera in the area showed that the adult female from the Togo pack had been nearby the night before.

Based on their experience with other animals, WDFW wolf managers believe the injured wolf has a good chance of surviving, and the department will continue to monitor its movements. If the wolf does not remain active, the department will consider whether it should be euthanized.

The department is also continuing its investigation into the shooting incident. Additional information appears in four earlier wolf updates on the Togo pack, all of which appear below.

CBD Wolf Lawsuit ‘A Giant Step Backward For Social Tolerance’ — Hunter

Hunter representatives on Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group are lending their voices to the growing backlash against out-of-state environmentalists’ legal actions temporarily blocking lethal removal of Togo Pack wolves.

“The Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit is a giant step backward for social tolerance and management of wolves on the landscape,” said longtime WAG member Dave Duncan. “Sadly it is all about cash flow.”

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

Duncan, of Ellensburg, belongs to Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation, an umbrella organization of sportsmen’s clubs and others around the state.

Last Monday, after WDFW announced it was going to take out one or more members of the northern Ferry County pack for depredations stretching back to last November, including three in a recent 30-day period, CBD of Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands of Oregon got a Thurston County judge to issue a temporary restraining order, blocking implementation of the kill order.

It took several days but anger began to bubble to the surface from other members of the WAG.

On Thursday, Conservation Northwest said it saw “little upside” in going to court because “lawsuits and polarization haven’t worked out well for wolves elsewhere,” and the organization instead called for continued collaboration.

Essentially, the lawsuit is over the hard-won lethal removal protocol that WDFW and the WAG came up with.

“It was really difficult to get through,” Rep. Joel Kretz, a Republican who represents almost all of Northeast Washington, told the Capital Press. “It’s all out the window now.”

County officials and ranchers in this part of the state held a meeting on Friday about what to do.

“When the judge put the restraining order on the department he didn’t put the restraining order on the wolves,” Stevens County commissioner Don Dashiell told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

WDFW hasn’t reported any more depredations, but last Friday the agency investigated after a livestock producer checking on cattle when collar data showed a wolf near them fired a shot at one in self-defense.

In the meanwhile, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese has scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing for this Friday. That could determine how long the restraining order is in place for.

“I concur with Conservation Northwest, Northeast Washington lawmakers, area county officials, and others speaking against it,” said Mark Pidgeon of Hunters Heritage Council, a political action organization dedicated to hunting, and who is also a longtime WAG member. “I think Representative Kretz’s comments sums it up the situation pretty well: ‘I think it’s a tragedy.'”

I’m going to butt my way into this story to say that when CBD and Cascadia Wildlands inevitably went to court last Monday I actually felt my tolerance level for this whole thing slip a few notches.

Like I told someone, I get that it’s process and I’m not going to suddenly starting spouting SSS, but in these wildly overly politicized times, it boggles my mind why in the hell the two groups would mess with things here.

Jet fuel, anyone? How’d that work out the last time?