Tag Archives: togo pack

Washington Governor Asks WDFW For Changes In Wolf Management

Updated 6:30 a.m., Oct. 1, 2019.

For the second time in recent years, Washington Governor Jay Inslee is stepping in state wildlife managers’ wheelhouse on predator management, in 2015 with cougars and this fall over wolves.

He sent WDFW Director Kelly Susewind a letter today that in part asks the agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species.”

A WASHINGTON WOLF TAKES A LOOK AROUND. (WDFW)

Referring to issues in Ferry and Stevens Counties, Inslee claims that the state wolf plan “does not appear to be working as intended” there and that he believes WDFW “cannot continue using the same management approach on this particular landscape.”

Northeast Washington is not only where the most wolves in the state are and where recovery goals were met long ago but also the sight of the most conflicts with livestock, mostly cattle but some sheep, on federal allotments and private lands.

Even as most Washington wolf packs generally stay out of trouble, there have been chronic depredations in the Kettle Range three of the past four years with the Profanity Peak, Old Profanity Territory, Togo and Sherman Packs coming under WDFW’s gun as livestock pile up and nonlethal tactics fail.

The agency uses a hard-won protocol to detrmine when to remove wolves, with requirements that producers use a set number of conflict prevention measures and that there have been either three confirmed/probable wolf attacks in a month or four confirmed in a year. It was agreed to by WDFW and members of its Wolf Advisory Group, made up of ranchers, hunters, advocates and others from Washington. Ever since it has been in place, out-of-state groups have been trying to blow it up.

Triggered by issues there again this year, wolf advocates, mostly from out of state and now including Wayne Pacelle, formerly of HSUS, have been mounting yet another pressure campaign on the governor.

It also involved a court battle this summer that saw WDFW lethally remove what were believed to be the last four OPT wolves just before a judge ordered them to cease the operation.

“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state. The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable,” writes Inslee.

Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) is right in the thick of things in Northeast Washington and read the letter for the first time this evening.

He reiterated that he supports non-lethal work that is site-specific as well as more innovative local range riding programs, but also said that problem wolves need to be dealt with quickly, effectively and completely to head off more down the road.

He feels that 2018’s and 2019’s OPT Pack was the same as the Profanities that were in the middle of 2016’s end-of-summer nightmare.

Kretz said he prefers working with those invested in the area and claimed groups like Center for Biological Diversity are driven to create conflict for the revenues it brings in rather than the good of the local community.

“I think it’s people from hundreds of miles away throwing hand grenades,” Kretz said.

Pacelle’s Maryland-based Center for a Humane Economy bought a full-page ad in The Seattle Times this summer and reintroduced former WSU professor Rob Wielgus, now in Oregon, back into the fray. A Spokane-based group also put a message on a video billboard along I-5 for a couple week.

WDFW wasn’t expected to have a comment until Tuesday.

The letter to Susewind and cc’ed to Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Larry Carpenter comes not long after the director authorized incremental removals on the Grouse Flats Pack in the Blue Mountains and as there is an ongoing operation on the Togo Pack, and WDFW sent Inslee a request to include $26 million from the state General Fund in its supplemental budget next legislative session.

It arrives as the federal grazing season wraps up.

And it comes as WDFW’s post wolf delisting planning stage kicked off earlier in September.

“I believe the Canadian Gray wolf population within Washington’s borders has reached a population level that warrants delisting by the Fish and Wildlife Commission,” Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), chairman of the House natural resources committee which WDFW legislation goes through, said Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, Inslee is asking the agency to fast track an ongoing lethal management guidelines update and work with the Forest Service, which is in charge of grazing on national forest lands.

And he gave them a Dec. 1 deadline for a progress report on his requests.

3 More Wolves Removed From OPT Pack; Operation ‘Ongoing’

WDFW reported yesterday afternoon that it had removed three more Old Profanity Territory wolves, making four for the summer and six overall as the agency deals with a pack blamed for 29 livestock depredations since last September.

The latest animals are described as an adult and two juveniles, and WDFW describes the lethal operation as “ongoing” in a weekly updated posted to its website.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE OPT PACK TERRITORY, OUTLINED IN RED, IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (WDFW)

The problems are occurring on Colville National Forest grazing allotments in the Kettle Range of northern Ferry County, scene of past years’ wolf-livestock conflicts as well.

Another nearby pack is also the subject of a Director Kelly Susewind removal order after three depredations in a month and four in ten.

“We did not receive any court challenges on the Togo Pack, so we can move forward,” WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman in Spokane reported this morning.

Monday was the agency’s designated eight-hour window for opponents to file a restraining order, though they can also do so at any time.

Diehard wolf advocates had attempted to block the OPT lethal authorization in a King County court early this month but a judge allowed it to move forward pending an August 16 “follow-up status report.”

Meanwhile money is being raised for an I-5 billboard and pressure is being mounted on the governor.

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Togo Pack To Be Removed Due To Livestock Attacks, WDFW Director Decides

WDFW says the last two members of a Ferry County wolf pack that’s blamed for three depredations in the past month, four over 10 months and 11 since late 2017 will be removed.

“The proactive non-lethal deterrents used by the two producers in the area have not curtailed repeated depredations,” the agency stated in announcing this afternoon that Director Kelly Susewind had authorized the removals.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF THE TOGO PACK (TOP CENTER). (WDFW)

Following an eight-hour court challenge window on Monday, operations could begin on Tuesday.

The announcement also gives Northeast Washington ranchers and others an idea about WDFW’s plans for dealing with the pack.

One member was shot in late July after being caught in the act of attacking a calf. Afterwards were two more confirmed depredations by the pack that left one young cow dead and another injured.

Following livestock attacks last summer and then a judge’s temporary restraining order that was lifted, one Togo wolf was taken out in September.

That didn’t change the pack’s behavior as more depredations occurred but with WDFW tied up in other removal operations, a livestock producer, his family and employees were given a permit to carry out a kill order if they saw the wolves in their private pasture.

None were shot.

Today’s news comes as things appear quiet, or at least there was no news to report — with the Old Profanity Territory Pack just to the south of the Togos and in the Blue Mountains with the Grouse Flats Pack, according to WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman.

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WDFW OPT Wolf Removal Op Can Proceed After Lawsuit Attempt

Editor’s note: Since this blog was posted around 3:30 p.m. today, Aug. 1, 2019, a King County Superior Court judge has sided against parties trying to stop WDFW from lethally removing livestock depredating wolves. “Judge decided in DFW’s favor so we can move forward with removal,” said agency spokeswoman Staci Lehman at 5:30 p.m. via email. “However, we don’t have a timeframe currently and someone else could file another TRO at any time.”

Editor’s note 2: During the Aug. 2, 2019 Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, Director Kelly Susewind provided an update to say that there will be an Aug. 16 court date “for a follow-up status report” and that in the meanwhile WDFW is “actively looking” to implement his lethal removal authorization.

Another active day in Washington’s wolf world, as the focus shifted from northern Ferry County to Seattle today.

That’s where a Maryland-based organization says a motion has been filed to stop WDFW from killing more Old Profanity Territory wolves for chronic cattle depredations.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The state agency has paused its planned lethal operation against the pack now blamed for killing or injuring 27 cows and calves since last September pending a judge’s decision.

A temporary restraining order could be granted with a follow-up court date in several days, or the injunction could be tossed out, which would allow WDFW to proceed, according to spokeswoman Staci Lehman.

As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, word one way or another had yet to emerge from court.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind had greenlighted more OPT removals first thing yesterday morning, and following an eight-hour window for court challenges, state staffers could have begun targeting the eight wolves last evening or this morning.

But the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court by “two Washington residents” represented by Seattle attorney Johnathon Bashford and “with the support” of Wayne Pacelle’s Center for a Humane Economy put a halt to that.

Lehman says that technically motions can be filed by anybody at any time but that the eight-hour notice is a “courtesy” for people to get their “legal ducks in a row” before WDFW takes action.

Appealing for a restraining order is the same play that the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands made last August after the Togo Pack had attacked three times in 30 days and Susewind OKed killing one or two to try and head off more problems.

A Thurston County Superior Court judge initially granted the out-of-state groups a TRO, but it was lifted about 10 days later by another judge because it didn’t meet a legal benchmark to be able to move forward, and one Togo wolf was ultimately taken out.

In this latest lawsuit threat, the parties are taking issue with WDFW for removing wolves depredating on Diamond M Ranch cattle on federal grazing allotments and trying to draw attention to the livestock producers’ alleged “needlessly provocative actions.”

Meanwhile, they’re also taking their own — attempting to break the fragile peace that is wolf management in Washington, just as the Arizona- and Oregon-based organizations before them.

They’ve taken out a full-page ad in The Seattle Times in recent weeks and reintroduced Rob Wielgus into the fray, he of the 2016’s incendiary comments about the Diamond M and where they allegedly turned their cows out — and which led to a sharp rebuke from the university where he worked at the time.

Yesterday, WDFW also announced that a Togo Pack wolf had been shot by a rancher as it chased a calf and that the pack had three attacks within the past 30 days. The agency also alerted the public a week or so ago the Grouse Flats Pack had three in the past 10 months.

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More Wolf-Calf Problems In Ferry County; Togo Wolf Shot

Updated, 9:05 p.m., July 31, 2019

For the second time in two years, a Togo Pack wolf has been shot under reported caught-in-the-act provisions, and the northern Ferry County wolves have also attacked three calves in the past 10 days.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

It means WDFW Director Kelly Susewind may have another decision to make this week on whether to lethally remove wolves from a Eastern Washington pack to try and head off more livestock losses.

This morning he reauthorized taking out members of the OPT Pack after continued depredations there that now tally at least 27 since last September.

Protocols call for removals to be considered after three confirmed/probable attacks in 30 days, or four in 10 months.

An agency update out late this afternoon on the Togo depredations says, “WDFW staff are discussing how best to address this situation; Director Susewind will also assess this situation and consider next steps.”

This evening WDFW wolf policy manager Donny Martorello said staff will meet internally to go over variables such as the rate of depredations, what happened, what deterrence are being used, the wolf shooting and put it all on the table for the director to consider.

Part of today’s wolf update was also to give the public an alert that there is an issue with the Togo wolves and it may require action.

The Togos run to the north of the OPTs, but unlike issues with grazing cattle with that pack, these latest depredations occurred on private lands, according to WDFW.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE OPT PACK TERRITORY, OUTLINED IN RED, IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (WDFW)

The wolf shooting was reported on July 24 to WDFW, and is listed as being “under investigation” in the update, to not presuppose game wardens’ final report, but this afternoon an agency spokeswoman confirmed a Capital Press story that said the animal had been “lawfully” shot by a producer “as it was attacking a calf,” according to WDFW.

“We have heard that the preliminary assessment (from WDFW law enforcement) is that this was a lawful caught in the act incident. There was no evidence of foul play” said Martorello.

The wolf’s carcass was not recovered but it is believed to have been fatally wounded. The calf’s body was left in the field to aid in trapping and collaring efforts but was later removed.

The other two Togo depredations were looked into July 29 and earlier today, according to WDFW. More information on the latter is expected in the coming days.

“The livestock producer (producer 2) who owns these livestock removes or secures livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd (when discovered), removes sick and injured livestock (when discovered) from the grazing area until they are healed, calves away from areas occupied by wolves, avoids known wolf high activity areas, delays turnout of livestock onto grazing allotments until June 10 when calving is finished (and deer fawns, elk calves, and moose calves become available as prey), and monitors the herd with a range rider,” WDFW reported.

Early last September, a Togo adult male was taken out following a series of summertime depredations and after a Thurston County Superior Court judge denied a preliminary injunction from Arizona-based Center For Biological Diversity that had halted WDFW’s initial plans to remove the animal in mid-August.

In late October 2017, an uncollared female Togo wolf was shot by a rancher during a series of depredations that summer and fall.

Hardcore wolf advocates had eight hours starting this morning at 8 a.m. to challenge in court Susewind’s OPT authorization, and were reportedly mulling it early in the day. They didn’t try to block an early July one that resulted in the removal of the pack’s breeding male.

After the day’s business hours were done, Martorello said that none was filed.

“We’re preparing to initiate that operation. We’ve passed 5 p.m.,” he said, adding it would likely begin in the morning on Thursday.

Wolf advocates appear to be issuing press releases and firing off tweets instead of trying the courts, perhaps in an effort to attract the attention of the governor who is involved in the presidential race.

WDFW stresses that removing OPT wolves is “not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective,” which it has done so and how in the federally delisted eastern third of the state.

Martorello said “multiple animals” could be removed, meaning two or more.

“We think Washington’s approach is the best conservation strategy for wolves in any Western state today,” Conservation Northwest also said in a statement sent out late in the day. “Through these policies and the collaborative work of the [Wolf Advisory Group], our wolf population continues to grow, expanding to more than 126 animals at the end of last year. While at the same time, the number of ranchers using proactive conflict deterrence measures is increasing, and livestock conflicts and wolf lethal removals remain low compared to other states.”

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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.