Tag Archives: usfws

Northwest Duck Production Up, Annual USFWS Survey Reports

Northwest waterfowlers should see more mallards and other ducks for the youth hunting weekends next month and when the general season begins in October, but potentially fewer later in fall and winter as northern birds arrive.

Those are some of the bullet points from a federal survey released today.

It reports that Oregon numbers are up 23 percent over last year while Washington counts rose 16 percent.

GADWALL AND MALLARDS TAKE FLIGHT AT STEIGERWALD NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE JUST OUTSIDE OF WASHOUGAL, WASHINGTON. (CHAD ZOLLER)

While the bulk of our flocks fly in from British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon and Alaska, local production sustains early hunting before cold weather pushes northern birds south.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 294,000 ducks were counted this year in Oregon, up from 240,000 last year, while 281,000 were tallied in Washington, a rise of 39,000 from 2017.

Those are 12 and 59 percent above the long-term averages, respectively.

Mallard counts were also up in both states, from 72,000 to 93,000 in the former and 103,000 to 125,000 in the latter. Those figures are 7 and 51 percent above the average.

USFWS reported that while habitat conditions declined in Oregon compared to 2017, they were still considered “fair to good” because of 2016-17’s wet winter. A wet April helped keep ponds up in Washington, biologists reported.

2018-19 DUCK SEASONS

Idaho: Area 1 (all counties except Valley, western half of Power and Southeast Idaho): Oct. 13-Jan. 25; Area 2: Oct. 6-Jan. 18

Oregon: Zone 1 (Western, Northcentral counties): Oct. 13-28, Oct. 31-Jan. 27; Zone 2 (Central, Eastern Counties): Oct. 6-Nov. 25, Nov. 28-Jan. 20; Statewide youth weekend: Sept. 22-23; Note: several state and federal refuges also offer youth hunting days; see the regs for dates, application deadlines

Washington: Oct. 13-31, Nov. 3-Jan. 27; Westside youth weekend: Sept. 22-23; Eastside youth weekend: Sept. 29-30

In the “prime” breeding grounds of southern and interior British Columbia, habitat conditions were “very good” to “good,” leading to a slight rise in mallard numbers.

Surveys further north, however, found fewer ducks. Numbers in Alaska and the Yukon declined 15 percent over 2017 and fell below the long-term average, while in northern BC, northern and central Alberta and the Northwest Territory, they dropped 13 percent.

Southern Alberta flocks fell 14 percent while those in Montana and North and South Dakota were essentially unchanged.

Ducks Unlimited reported that, overall, U.S. and Canadian duck numbers were down 13 percent over last year but were still 17 percent above the longterm average.

“The dip in the population for prairie-breeding puddle ducks is not unexpected and by no means unprecedented given that conditions on the prairies this spring were drier than last year,” said DU Chief Scientist Tom Moorman in a press release. “This year’s breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain the capacity of breeding habitats, particularly in the prairies as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions. Waterfowl populations are adapted well to short-term swings in habitat conditions, but we must continue to guard against the long-term loss of prairie breeding habitat.”

Grand scheme, North American mallard, gadwall, green- and blue-winged teal, shoveler and redhead numbers are all declining year to year but still above average, widgeon and canvasback numbers are about average, while pintail and scaup are below average and declining, according to USFWS.

SEATTLE DU BANQUET COMING UP

Seattle Chapter members of Ducks Unlimited are looking to build on their phenomenal support of waterfowl and their habitat with another blockbuster annual banquet early next month.

“We’ve raised more over the past decade than any other Ducks Unlimited chapter in the US,” says organizer and longtime waterfowler Greg James. “We are the first chapter to go over $300,000 net at a dinner, and then the first one to go over $400,000 net.”

In 2016, Seattle DU was honored with a place on the Chairman’s Roll of Honor chapters list, for those that raise $250,000 to $1 million.

Last year’s banquet raised $400,000 for wetlands conservation, James says, and as a DU newsletter states, the chapter’s efforts are showing “that the Emerald City can be known for something other than coffee, jets, and software.”

The 2018 edition is set for Oct. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel. The evening features a five-star dinner, wines, entertainment and an auction.

For more, contact Karin Dow-Martinez at (206) 524-5300 or karin@kdmanagement.net.

WDFW Wardens’ Reports Add Details To Okanogan Wolf Encounter, Reaction

The Forest Service worker who stumbled onto the Loup Loup Pack’s rendezvous site actually twice climbed a tree, the second time after trying to use bear spray on a wolf that was just under 50 feet away from her and then “darted in several times.”

Those are among the new details emerging about the tense encounter the 25-year-old stream surveyor had in a remote part of North-central Washington’s Okanogan County earlier this month.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE RANGE OF THE LOUP LOUP PACK ALONG THE DIVIDE BETWEEN THE CHEWUCH AND OKANOGAN RIVERS IN NORTHERN OKANOGAN COUNTY. (WDFW)

The woman related them to WDFW Officer Justin Trautman during an interview following her extrication that day by a DNR helicopter crew.

Outside of some scrapes on her legs from clambering up and down the tree several times, she was not injured during the July 12 confrontation.

“(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid,” reads Trautman’s three-page after-action report, procured through a public disclosure request.

That and reports from two other WDFW officers add more information about the events leading up to and during the hectic hour as the woman awaited rescue while information rocketed between dispatchers and state, federal, county and search-and-rescue officials spread between the Okanogan and Methow Valleys and as far away as Moses Lake and Olympia.

INTERVIEWED IN A BREAK ROOM AT THE OMAK AIRPORT, the woman told Trautman that she was the state lead on a PIBO, or PacFish/InFish Biological Opinion Monitoring Program, project that surveys stream corridors to see if “aquatic conservation strategies can effectively maintain or restore the structure and function of riparian and aquatic systems.”

As she headed into the study area that day, she’d seen wolf tracks, and heard “barks and howls.”

The woman then saw a wolf cross a stream “and head in her direction where she had a face to face interaction with the wolf while on the phone with her boss,” Trautman’s report states.

Over the satellite phone, her supervisor told her to climb a tree, which she did.

But after 10 to 15 minutes, she climbed back down.

She then proceeded about 100 yards before she was “cut off by what she believed was the same wolf.”

“The wolf approached her as she took steps backwards and was very vocal towards the wolf,” Trautman’s report reads. “The wolf barked and growled at (the woman). (She) pulled out a can of bear spray and eventually deployed it but it was not able to reach the wolf.”

“(The woman) stated that the wolf was approximately 15 meters away when the interaction started. (She) stated that after she deployed the pepper spray in a quick warning type deployment the wolf darted in several times,” the officer writes.

Screaming at the wolf led it to back off and she climbed back up the tree again, the report says.

She told Trautman that the “interaction” lasted half a minute.

The woman then called her boss back and said she didn’t believe she would be able to leave the scene by herself.

As she waited for help she saw the wolf howl several times “in the distance,” Trautman’s report states.

When they reached her location, DNR pilot Devin Gooch and crewmember Matthew Harris saw two running wolves, they told Trautman during the interview.

DNR HELICOPTER CREW MEMBERS INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE, MATTHEW HARRIS, JARED HESS AND PILOT DEVIN GOOCH. (DNR)

QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN RAISED ABOUT the reactions three WDFW staffers — Trautman, a conflict specialist and a wolf biologist — had in the initial minutes of the incident not to send a chopper and instead hike to the scene on foot, an estimated two- or three-hour undertaking.

In a Capital Press article out two weeks ago, it was couched as due to the woman’s relative safety in the tree out of immediate danger, and the federally listed status of wolves in that part of Washington.

Trautman’s impetus appears to have also been partially based on his knowledge of the lay of the land and its lack of suitability for landing a helicopter, records show.

There was some confusion about the Forest Service having a researcher in the area of a known wolf den as well.

Ultimately WDFW acknowledged the hesitation was wrong.

“To tell the helicopter not to go was not the right call, and we have to own that,” agency wolf policy lead Donny Martorello told Press reporter Don Jenkins. “The right call was to send the helicopter. It goes without saying we value human life over everything else.”

In a subsequent editorial, the Press said that with “two wolves from the Loup Loup pack that seemed intent on making her lunch,” WDFW had flubbed the incident:

We can’t imagine that these experts really thought through the possible consequences for the young woman had it gone wrong, or considered the potential public relations disaster this episode presented.

How could they possibly spin leaving this woman clutching a tree for dear life for three hours while wolves circled below? And what did they think the optics would be if she lost her grip or otherwise made contact before rescuers arrived?

However, as the events were unfolding, public records show that other WDFW officers were in fact working to get a bird to the scene.

Officer Jason Day was off duty at his home near Carlton at the time when he independently learned of the situation from county search-and-rescue coordinator Rick Avery.

Day got in touch with Forest Service officer Dave Graves who told him there was a helicopter available at the Winthrop smoke jumper base, so he called his supervisor Sgt. Chris Busching in Moses Lake to request it be used.

“Yes! Yes! Absolutely,” Busching replied, Day’s report states.

Shortly afterward, however, it was learned that that aircraft was in fact a fixed-wing plane, so Day and Graves continued their search before Day learned from Avery that a helicopter was on the way and then from he and Graves that the woman had been picked up.

Sgt. Dan Christensen, the Okanogan County detachment lead, was in Olympia when he got a call from Trautman apprising him of the situation. The officer told him it might not be possible to land a chopper, but Christensen told Trautman “to contact DNR and send them in to get the researcher.”

Meanwhile, USFS and DNR had OKed a chopper to go in, according to the Capital Press, with DNR dispatcher Jill Jones arguing to Trautman that her department was “more concerned for [the woman’s] life than the [federally] listed animal” and it wasn’t clear how strong the tree was or how long she could hold out in it.

Reporter Jenkins wrote that according to dispatch logs, at one point DNR was going to fly into the hills anyway and “deal with aftermath of WDFW later.”

Inside the Natural Resources Building where both agencies are headquartered at the state capitol, DNR supervisor Chuck Turley went to WDFW’s Martorello to say he wanted to send the chopper, and so Martorello got him on the telephone with lead USFWS carnivore biologist Gregg Kurz.

Wolves in the western two-thirds of the state, including that part of Okanogan County where the encounter occurred, are still federally listed. USFWS is the lead agency there and works in cooperation with WDFW to manage the species.

After a brief explanation of the situation, Kurz told Turley and Martorello, “‘Absolutely’ (use the helicopter). ‘Human safety comes first,'” recalled USFWS spokesperson Ann Froschauer, who was sitting next to Kurz during the call. “That decision on our end was immediate.”

Fourteen minutes after it took off from Omak, DNR’s flight crew reached the woman’s location.

ULTIMATELY, THIS WILL ALL GO DOWN AS ANOTHER learning moment — for the woman, the myriad government agencies and the public at large.

While we’re now a decade into the recolonization of wolves in Washington, we’re still pretty new at all of this and it’s hard to predict every situation that will occur.

Hunters appear to have had the most encounters with wolves so far, including two other instances in Okanogan County, one in Kittitas County and another in Stevens County.

But it’s also at least the second involving a Forest Service employee. In that one, which occurred south of Republic in 2012, a surveyor’s dog was injured by two wolves.

This latest is a reminder to all who roam the wilds — hunters, anglers, hikers, forest workers, horsepackers, prospectors, mushroom pickers, dog walkers, etc., etc., etc. — to be aware of what to do if they encounter a wolf or wolves.

There’s no way that WDFW is going to share GPS data with us and it’s impossible to predict where uncollared dispersers might have denned up and chosen rendezvous sites, but precautions for being where wolves (or any big predators, for that matter) are or could be include being aware of your surroundings, going with multiple people, and carrying bear spray and/or a gun.

Following a 2011 incident on the divide between Lake Chelan and the Twisp River Valley, no less of a wolf expert than Carter Niemeyer told me it would have been wise of the hunter to have fired a shot in two wolves’ direction.

“No harm in teaching wolves to be wild and preventing any possible habituation behavior from developing,” Niemeyer said.

As Sgt. Christensen also noted in his report, “Under the ESA threats to a human allow for self-defense actions.”

If you feel your life is threatened and you act lethally, be prepared to answer questions as well as face public fallout from people who were not in your boots at the time but consider themselves to be wolf experts nonetheless.

More tips can be found on WDFW’s and Western Wildlife Outreach’s sites, and before he retired from the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Rich Landers posted a great video with advice following he and his dog Ranger’s encounter with two wolves last year.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM RICH LANDERS’ VIDEO ABOUT HIKING WITH DOGS IN WOLF COUNTRY. (YOUTUBE)

In this latest case, the Loup Loup Pack appears to have been defending its pups, trying to alter the woman’s course away from the rendezvous site, not so much looking for lunch, as Capital Press editorial writers would have it.

“She took many of the right actions,” Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest spokesperson Debbie Kelly told Northwest Sportsman. “She maybe could have left the area a little sooner.”

Who am I to judge, but she probably should have stayed parked in the tree too.

Efforts by Trautman to reach her satellite phone and further assess her situation were complicated by wrong numbers initially passed along by USFS and the fact that she had turned the device off to conserve battery power.

Both Kelly and USFWS’s Froschauer said the woman actually expected that a crew was going to hike to her location.

That a chopper came instead was “a bit of a surprise” for her, said Kelly.

While WDFW had informed local USFS officials about the location of the Loup Loup Pack’s den, a half mile from the rendezvous site, the woman did not know about it nor did she check with rangers before she’d headed afield that day, according to another Capital Press article.

Kelly said that some Forest Service employees such as wildlife biologists and those who work on grazing permits generally would “have a high level of knowledge about” wolves and den locations, but couldn’t say if that was broadly known among others in the district.

She said that field staffers do receive training for working in areas where large carnivores occur — pretty much the entire national forest.

“This employee received a good level of training. She was certified to carry bear spray,” Kelly said.

While the likelihood of predators like wolves attacking a person is pretty low, it is also not zero, as we saw with May’s fatal cougar attack.

They’re wild animals. Under sustained stress, human decision making can get worse.

My intention here is not to cause wolf hysteria but to continue to document all that comes with wolves resettling in Washington.

I think it’s useful to repeat the core of this incident, as summarized by WDFW Officer Day after Trautman called him following the airport interviews:

“The wolf bluff charged several times before the reporting party climbed a tree for safety,” Day wrote. “The wolf left. After approximately fifteen minutes, she exited the tree and attempted to leave. A wolf returned and again repeatedly charged, stopped short, and veered off. The reporting party went back up the tree and stayed there till extraction.”

Those who know wolves best, who yearn to have close encounters with wolves, are leading wolf tours, or relating their own zen moments near dens or rendezvous sites would do well to consider this before giving others only half paying attention the impression that everything around wolves is perfectly safe, lest another helicopter have to be scrambled.

Researcher Was At Wolf Pack’s Rendezvous Site, Near Den

Federal wildlife overseers say the researcher who had to be rescued from wolves yesterday in Northcentral Washington was at their gathering site and also within half a mile of the Loup Loup Pack’s den.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE RANGE OF THE LOUP LOUP PACK ALONG THE DIVIDE BETWEEN THE CHEWUCH AND OKANOGAN RIVERS IN NORTHERN OKANOGAN COUNTY. (WDFW)

“After an on-site investigation, USFWS and WDFW biologists have determined the site is a rendezvous site, and concluded that the wolves were acting in a defensive manner,” said Ann Froschauer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Lacey.

With wolves still federally listed in the western two-thirds of Washington, USFWS is the lead management agency and works in cooperation with WDFW to manage the species.

It wasn’t clear why the unnamed person was where she was, however.

WDFW described the rescuee as a “U.S. Forest Service salmon researcher” and said it had notified local forest officials of the site of the Loup Loup Pack’s den in April.

An Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest spokesperson had not returned a phone call from earlier today.

Froschauer said the researcher had initially seen wolf tracks and heard barking and yipping before she was approached by wolves.

She tried to scare them away by “yelling, waving and deploying a can of bear spray in the direction of the wolves” but was unsuccessful and so she climbed a tree and radioed out for help around 12:30 p.m.

According to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, search-and-rescue personnel and deputies were called on to respond to the scene in the Twentymile Meadows area roughly 26 miles north of Winthrop, with officers told to shoot the wolves on sight if they were still surrounding the woman when they arrived.

WDFW fish and wildlife officers were also preparing to head for the site, through several miles of rough country north of Tiffany Springs Campground.

It would have taken them several hours to hike to the location, though, and in the meanwhile, at the request of the Tonasket Ranger District, a state Department of Natural Resources wildfire helicopter was dispatched from Omak.

According to previous reports, the wolves were still near the base of the tree the woman had climbed as the chopper arrived 14 minutes later, but scattered as it landed.

She was then safely rescued.

Froschauer says that the Loup Loup Pack’s den site is “within a kilometer of the site where the incident occurred” and that GPS collar data showed that the evening before, at least one of the pack’s adults was very close to it as well.

“Rendezvous sites are home or activity sites where weaned pups are brought from the den until they are old enough to join adult wolves in hunting activity,” she said.

Froschauer said that because of the location’s remoteness from campgrounds and trails and the “defensive nature of the encounter,” USFWS doesn’t believe there’s a threat to human safety.

Federal and state biologists plan to monitor collar data from the two adult wolves.

Sheriff Rogers told regional public radio reporter Courtney Flatt he didn’t need to deal with any more wolf encounters; three notable ones have now occurred in the county since 2011.

“I’ve tried to tell people, it’s not like the movies. The wolves aren’t running around in packs hunting humans. But if you see a pack, don’t antagonize it. If it’s feeding, for god’s sake, stay away from it. If you run upon a den, stay away from it,” he told the journalist.

A statement from Conservation Northwest said that though attacks by wolves on people are “exceedingly rare,” they are territorial around dens and gathering points.

“Barking is often a warning to stay away from pups or food sources. Thankfully nobody was harmed,” the statement said.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pleased at the successful rescue of the individual, and commends the quick action of our partners in their rescue efforts,” said Froschauer.

She says that wolves are generally wary of people but also advised “taking precautions such as being aware of your surroundings, hiking and camping in groups, and carrying bear spray to help avoid potential conflicts.”

She pointed to Western Wildlife Outreach as a good source of information.

Research Student Rescued After Surrounded by Wolves

FINAL UPDATE 11:48 A.M., JULY 13, 2018: This link is the latest information on what happened during the incident.

A research student had to be rescued north of Winthrop today after she was surrounded by wolves at their rendezvous site and near their den.

The woman who was surveying in the West Fork Twentymile Creek area of northcentral Okanogan County, near Tiffany Springs and in the range of the Loop Loop Pack, called authorities around 12:30 p.m. that she had clambered 30 feet up a tree after encountering the wolves, it was reported by KREM 2 in Spokane and the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune based on a press release from Sheriff Frank Rogers.

The Seattle Times reported that she had initially encountered one and tried to pepper spray it before another arrived and she retreated up the tree.

Okanogan County deputies were initially given the go-ahead to shoot the animals on sight if they were still there when they arrived, according to the release.

Rogers told the Times that that would have been a two-hour hike for his officers.

DNR volunteered a helicopter that could get to the scene in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in less than a quarter hour and the crew was able to rescue her.

The wolves were still in the area upon the aircraft’s arrival, but scattered when it landed, according to reports.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the woman was researching, but in recent years Washington wolves have been the subject of university studies for interactions with livestock and big game.

At the end of 2017, there were at least two wolves in the Loup Loup Pack. If they were able to breed and have a litter this spring, there could be several growing pups.

It is not the first unnerving encounter between humans and wolves in Okanogan County. A lone hunter scouting for deer west of Winthrop was followed by two wolves in September 2011, and in September 2013 a hunter in the Pasayten Wilderness shot and killed a wolf after feeling threatened by it.

Others have occurred in Stevens and Kittitas Counties, also with hunters.

As the incident occurred in the still federally listed portion of Washington, USFWS is the lead agency. Late Thursday night, a WDFW official said the Service is developing a statement.

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of when it first became general public knowledge that there was a pack of wolves in Okanogan County, the state’s first since the 1930s. There are now nearly two dozen packs and a minimum of 122 wolves, nearly all east of the Cascade crest.

USFWS Reviewing Status Of Still-listed Lower 48 Gray Wolves

It’s not just North Cascades grizzly reintroduction that federal wildlife overseers have begun working on again this year. They’re also putting in time on gray wolf delisting for the western Northwest and elsewhere, it appears.

A MEMBER OF CENTRAL WASHINGTON’S TEANAWAY PACK, WHICH ROAMS THE PART OF THE STATE WHERE WOLVES ARE STILL FEDERALLY LISTED, STANDS IN A FOREST. (BEN MALETZKE, WDFW)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare wolves recovered across the rest of the contiguous United States, a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “has begun reviewing the status of the species.”

That’s according to a brief two-paragraph statement emailed to Northwest Sportsman magazine Thursday afternoon by a spokesperson.

“Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the Lower 48 states using the best available scientific information,” it continues. “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”

ODFW’S LATEST WOLF PACK MAP DOESN’T SHOW THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN THE FEDERALLY DELISTED AND STILL-LISTED AREAS OF OREGON, BUT IT INCLUDES MUCH OF THE EASTERN THIRD OF THE STATE. THE RED LINE  (ODFW)

That could level the playing field, per se, in Washington and Oregon, where wildlife managers and livestock producers operate by different sets of rules depending on which side of a series of highways they’re on.

In spring 2011, Congress delisted wolves in each state’s eastern third — as well as all of Montana and Idaho and a portion of Utah — leaving management there up to WDFW and ODFW.

Meanwhile, federal protections continued in their western two-thirds, where lethal removal is not in the toolbox to deal with chronic depredations.

“Incompatibility between the Washington state management plan and the federal management plan creates a bureaucratic nightmare that leaves communities in Eastern Washington unable to defend themselves against increasing wolf attacks and livestock depredations,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Spokane) wrote to Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a letter earlier this week calling on his agency to look at delisting wolves.

Regardless of the ranch’s or grazing allotment’s location, both states stress preventative measures to head off cattle and sheep conflicts.

WDFW’S LATEST PACK MAP SHOWS THE DEMARCATION BETWEEN WHERE WOLVES ARE MANAGED BY THE STATE AND UNDER FEDERAL PROTECTIONS, THE BLACK LINE RUNNING NORTH-SOUTH THROUGH EASTERN WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

Later in 2011, USFWS declared the species recovered in the western Great Lakes states.

And then in June 2013, with “gray wolves no longer (facing) the threat of extinction or (requiring) the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” according to then-Director Dan Ashe, the feds proposed delisting them throughout the rest of their range.

But progress stalled, and then came a Humane Society of the United States court case addressing Canis lupus in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Unfortunately, the delisting of wolves in the Western Great Lakes region was successfully overturned by the courts, which prevented the Service from moving forward with the full delisting proposal at that time,” the second part of the USFWS statement concludes.

Last summer, a federal appeals court decision yielded mixed results, but the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation saw positives, including “(undoing) a number of roadblocks thus providing a path forward.”

Over the years, Washington’s and Oregon’s wolf populations have more than doubled from 2013 levels, largely in the state-managed areas.

And now, USFWS’s big, long delisting pause appears to be over, which will excite some and make others fearful.

McMorris Rodgers Calls On Zinke To Delist Wolves, Addresses Grizzlies

While wolves have been delisted in her Eastern Washington district, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is calling for that federal status to be extended across the rest of the state.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS. (CONGRESS/WIKIMEDIA)

The Spokane Republican wrote that she “would insist the (Trump) Administration look at delisting the wolf in Washington State” in a letter to Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke in which she also states her opposition to reintroducing grizzly bears in the North Cascades.

“Keeping the gray wolf listed and reintroducing the grizzly bear would have devastating consequences in Eastern Washington. I urge you thoroughly revisit both of these issues and thank you for your consideration,” McMorris Rodgers writes.

Earlier this month, one of her fellow Eastside reps, Dan Newhouse, successfully slipped an amendment into an Interior appropriations bill that defunds federal proposals to bring in the big bruins.

Newhouse also inserted language into the bill requiring Zinke to delist wolves by September 2019.

Both say they’re reacting to constituents’ concerns.

On the wolf front, McMorris Rodgers touches on a 2015 letter WDFW sent to Newhouse asking for his help in encouraging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete the delisting process, which the federal agency proposed five years ago this month.

That had been held up in part by lawsuits over packs elsewhere in the country, but USFWS has begun reviewing wolves’ status again.

“Incompatibility between the Washington state management plan and the federal management plan creates a bureaucratic nightmare that leaves communities in Eastern Washington unable to defend themselves against increasing wolf attacks and livestock depredations,” McMorris Rodgers wrote to Zinke.

Retired Disabled Vet Building ADA-accessible Blinds At SW WA Refuges, Wildlife Areas

By Brent Lawrence

Rick Spring smiles even as the cold wind and rain blow across his face in the waterfowl blind at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. The call of cackling geese overhead and the sight of wildlife relax him as he pets Max, his yellow Labrador retriever who doubles as his certified therapy dog.

Being in the outdoors is where Spring finds peace.

RICK SPRING, A DISABLED NAVY VET, BOEING RETIREE AND MEMBER OF ONE OF WASHINGTON’S OLDEST FISH AND GAME CLUBS, THE VANCOUVER WILDLIFE LEAGUE, POSES WITH HIS SERVICE DOG MAX BY ONE OF SEVERAL WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE WATERFOWL BLINDS HE’S BUILT ON PUBLIC LANDS IN THE LOWER COLUMBIA. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

For many people, however, there are barriers to finding that outdoor enjoyment. A disabled Navy veteran himself, Spring knows that spending time hunting, fishing and hiking isn’t always a given for injured veterans or other people with disabilities.

That’s why Spring pours his passion for accessibility to the outdoors into building hunting and birdwatching blinds on federal and state lands that are compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. A Spring-made blind, for example, is big enough to accommodate two wheelchairs.

SPRING’S BLINDS CAN ACCOMMODATE TWO WHEELCHAIR-BOUND HUNTERS OR BIRDWATCHERS. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

He does it as a volunteer, donating countless hours to the cause.

“Before they were disabled, veterans were usually very active people,” says Spring, a Boeing retiree who also served as an E4 3rd Class Petty Officer for three years in the U.S. Navy, running ship-to-shore teletypes and crypto aircraft identification. “Then they get injured and they feel like their time in the field isn’t available anymore. Knowing that these blinds are available, it will help veterans move on and have prosperous lives. They want and need this experience.”

Spring is one of conservation’s good neighbors, creating opportunities that open the door to nature for people who otherwise wouldn’t get to see a flock of mallards coming in to land or even hear the wind whistle through the Douglas firs.

MAX SOAKS UP THE RAYS AT THE JOB SITE ON A WARM SPRING DAY. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Whether they hold a shotgun or a camera, those aiming to connect with nature need access to enjoy the outdoors, regardless of their physical abilities. That’s why Spring hopes to expand the use of his custom-designed blinds to Oregon and then to the national level so more people with disabilities can have access to the outdoors.

It’s impossible to quantify the impact ADA-compliant access has on disabled veterans, says Heath Gunns, outreach manager with Honored American Veterans Afield. The impact on an individual, however, is easy to see when you witness it first-hand.

“You’re a 19-year-old kid and you go to boot camp, where they build you up to think you can do anything. Then you get hurt and the first thing doctors do is tell you the things you’ll no longer be able to do. … That is wrong,” Gunns says.

“Disabled veterans just have to learn to do it differently and that’s where ADA-compliant blinds and other access opportunities come in. The outdoors can’t give them their legs back, but it can give them hope.”

A RIDGEFIELD NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE BLIND SITS NEXT TO A FLOODED FIELD. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Spring is determined to keep that hope alive for people with disabilities. He pulls in partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Vancouver Wildlife League, Washington Waterfowl Association, Northwest Steelheaders, and numerous businesses to make it all happen.

The Service manages the National Wildlife Refuges, where Spring does some of his best work.

In addition to the blind at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, two of his custom ADA-compliant blinds can be found at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and another at Vancouver Lake. Spring is a member of Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission ADA Advisory Committee, and he’s finalizing a proposal to build ADA-compliant blinds in each of the commission’s six state regions.

The importance of Spring’s work is underscored by a surprising statistic: 60 percent of requests for Washington’s reduced-fee or special-use permits come from disabled veterans. Overall, there’s a high level of public interest in ADA-compliant facilities, according to Sam Taylor, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s liaison to the seven-member ADA advisory committee.

“This is an amazing volunteer advisory group,” Taylor says. “They’re having a real impact on hunting and fishing opportunities in the state. Rick is doing some great work, and not only with the blinds. He’s also working on a shooting range that is ADA compliant and looking at some other opportunities for fishing piers.”

POSITIONED NEAR A TREELINE AND WATER, A RIDGEFIELD NWR BLIND SITS IN A GOOD LOCATION FOR DUCK HUNTERS AND OTHERS. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

That access-for-all-people policy plays an important role in public lands recreation. A recent Service report shows the outdoors has a strong allure. In 2016, an estimated 101.6 million Americans – 40 percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older – participated in hunting, fishing, wildlife-watching and related activities. The findings reflect a continued interest in engaging in the outdoors. These activities are drivers behind an economic powerhouse, where participants spent $156 billion in 2016.

Spring reached out to Jackie Ferrier, project leader at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex, last year to discuss opportunities for adding a new blind. They had never met prior to the call, but Ferrier quickly seized the opportunity to improve recreational opportunities for the public.

“We had a discussion about some of his work at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and we had an instant rapport. I realized we had an amazing opportunity to partner with him on this,” Ferrier  says. “He and his team of volunteers were amazing.”

Willapa Refuge plans to add another ADA-compliant blind once some habitat restoration is complete on a different part of the refuge.

“Access is a priority for us, and Rick will make sure it happens. He gets things done,” Ferrier says. Spring, she notes, is a part of the refuge’s hunter working group that provides input on hunting opportunities. “He’s an incredibly dedicated, positive and inspirational person to work with.”

“HE’S AN INCREDIBLY DEDICATED, POSITIVE AND INSPIRATIONAL PERSON TO WORK WITH,” SAYS WILLAPA NWR’S JACKIE FERRIER OF SPRING. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

When not helping veterans get into the field, Spring and Max bring that inspiration to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Vancouver. Two days a week they spend time with veterans and their families at the hospital, often devoting hours to patients in hospice care.

Just like he does in the hunting blind, Max will gently nudge his big yellow head alongside the hand of a veteran.

Spring watches as they slowly rub Max’s head with their fingers, hoping it brings them the same peace, hope and memories of the outdoors.

Editor’s note: Brent Lawrence is a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region in Portland. Governmental agencies and non-profit groups interested in connecting with Rick Spring’s regarding his blinds may contact the author at brent_lawrence@fws.gov.

Congress Members Hears About Importance Of National Wildlife Refuge System

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM DUCKS UNLIMITED

Today, the bipartisan Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill entitled “Wildlife Refuges 101.” This briefing covered the important role refuges play in conservation and recreation in the United States, issues facing the Wildlife Refuge system, funding for the refuges and the role Congress plays in supporting the refuge system. Representatives from Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service served as briefing panelists.

SILETZ BAY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE IS HOME TO WOOD DUCKS, AMONG OTHER WATERFOWL AND OTHER SPECIES. (ROY W. LOWE, USFWS)

The Refuge Caucus is chaired by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA-05), Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA-01), Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-02) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-03).

“As founder and co-chair of the Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus, I’ve seen firsthand how refuges bring together an extraordinarily diverse group of people, from hunters and anglers, to endangered species activists, to public lands advocates,” said Rep. Thompson. “By offering insight from a broad range of expert panelists, this Wildlife Refuge 101 briefing will help members of Congress and their staff as we continue working to protect and enjoy our shared natural heritage.”

“When it comes to ducks and duck hunters, our nation’s system of National Wildlife Refuge lands is the most important,” said Dan Wrinn national director of government affairs for Ducks Unlimited. “But they are so much more than that. Hunting, fishing, birding and exploring wild places go on every day at our nation’s refuges. This system of lands is the envy of the world and needs support from Congress to continue this legacy.”

Refuges also benefit from one of Ducks Unlimited’s top policy priorities, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). Since 1989, NAWCA has impacted the conservation of wetland habitats and their wildlife in all 50 states, conserving more than 33.4 million acres. NAWCA grants support wetland conservation on private and public lands across the country, including the refuge system.

“Our national wildlife refuges offer spectacular natural beauty and critical habitat for wildlife,” said Rep. Kind. “But they are also economic engines that create jobs in local communities. We need to continue protecting and investing in our refuges and in public lands in Wisconsin and across the U.S., to keep local economies strong and to ensure our open spaces can be enjoyed by future generations.”

“National Wildlife Refuges host nearly 50 million visitors each year and make up 850 million acres of pristine public lands dedicated to the conservation of fish and wildlife,” said Rep. Wittman. “My state of Virginia has 14 of those refuges where people of all ages can visit, explore, fish, hunt and study wildlife. Growing up and even as an adult, visiting the Rappahannock River Wildlife Refuge in my district taught me the value of nature and wildlife in our society and the importance of environmental stewardship.”

The National Wildlife Refuge System is made up of more than 96 million acres of public land in the United States. Refuges aid in habitat restoration and protection, help to control flood and erosion while providing economic benefits to countless communities. Refuges support a $2.4 billion recreation industry. With more than 48 million visitors a year, refuges provide a unique opportunity to see these landscapes while supporting local economies.

“South Jersey is home to three national wildlife refuges that offer visitors a wide array of habitats to explore and myriad animal and plant species to learn about. They play a vital role in sustaining fragile ecosystems and their environmental and economic importance in my district is immeasurable,” said Rep. LoBiondo. “It is important to continue a dialogue with our colleagues to educate them on critical issues facing our wildlife refuges. Forums like Wildlife Refuge 101 ensure Congress is hearing from the appropriate experts and enthusiasts of these environmental treasures.”

Zinke To BLM, USFWS, NPS: Figure Out How To Increase Fishing, Hunting Access

Federal land managers are being directed to figure out how to provide more fishing and hunting access under a directive signed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke today, a move lauded by sportsmen’s groups.

It follows on troubling news earlier this week that participation in hunting dropped by 2.2 million between 2011 and 2016, but could help open more lands, so key to the opportunities we enjoy.

MANAGERS OF NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT GROUND AND THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE ARE BEING ASKED HOW TO INCREASE HUNTING AND FISHING ACCESS UNDER AN ORDER FROM DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR SECRETARY RYAN ZINKE. THAT PROCESS HAS BEEN ONGOING AT PLACES LIKE TURNBULL NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, WHERE SPECIAL HUNTS FOR AN INCREASING ELK HERD HAVE BEEN HELD, BUT ZINKE’S ORDER COULD OPEN EVEN MORE OPPORTUNITY. (TURNBULL NWR)

“The more people we can get outdoors, the better things will be for our public lands,” said Zinke in a press release. “As someone who grew up hunting and fishing on our public lands – packing bologna sandwiches and heading out at 4 a.m. with my dad – I know how important it is to expand access to public lands for future generations. Some of my best memories are hunting deer or reeling in rainbow trout back home in Montana, and I think every American should be able to have that experience.”

His order calls for:

  • The Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service to come up with plans within four months for expanding access to hunting and fishing on their lands;
  • Amend management plans for national monuments to specifically ensure hunting and fishing on them;
  • Identify federal lands where those activities are limited;
  • Expand outreach to underserved communities;
  • Develop a “one-stop” website outlining sporting opportunities on all Department of Interior lands;
  • And improve wildlife management collaboration with states, tribes, conservation groups and others.

Ducks Unlimited was supportive, particularly the part of Zinke’s order calling for “significantly” increasing waterfowl populations through habitat projects, as well as more hunting opportunities.

“Wetlands are not only a valuable resource for our nation’s waterfowl, but they also benefit more than 900 other species of wildlife,” noted Dale Hall, DU CEO, in a press release. “Investments in the conservation of wildlife habitats, like wetlands, are vital in preserving, protecting and advancing our nation’s long hunting and angling heritage. At the end of the day, it’s all about ensuring that all Americans and those generations to come, have access to the wildlife and wild places that we enjoy today.”

In recent years, USFWS has gradually been increasing waterfowl, big game and fishing opportunities on Northwest refuges and those across the country.

Land Tawney of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said his organization looked forward to working with Zinke and Interior.

“Our hunting and fishing traditions rely on both conservation and access, with insufficient access being the No. 1 reason cited by sportsmen for forgoing time afield,” Tawney said in a press release. “The importance of Secretary Zinke’s commitment to sustaining and expanding public access opportunities to the outdoors, therefore, cannot be overstated.”

Others supporting the move included the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as well as National Rifle Association.

“For too long, sportsmen’s access to our federal lands has been restricted, with lost opportunity replacing the ability to enjoy many of our best outdoor spaces. This extension to Secretarial Order 3356 will go a long way to reversing that trend and help grow the next generation of hunters, fishermen, and recreational shooters,” added Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in a press release. “I appreciate this new order and am committed to working with Secretary Zinke and my colleagues to do everything we can to expand and enhance access to our federal lands for all Alaskans, and all Americans, so that we can continue our rich sportsmen’s heritage.”

USFWS Proposes Adding More Hunting, Fishing Ops At 2 Western Oregon Refuges

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Oregon hunters and anglers could have additional opportunities on two National Wildlife Refuges as early as this fall.

In the proposal announced Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge would open bank fishing access on the Siletz River, and Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge would add a youth waterfowl hunt beginning in 2018.

GEESE FLY OVER BASKETT SLOUGH NWR, WHERE FEDERAL MANAGERS WANT TO ADD YOUTH WATERFOWL HUNTING OPPORTUNITIES. (GEORGE GENTRY, USFWS)

“We’re always looking for opportunities to expand public access at our National Wildlife Refuges, and these are two great opportunities,” said Kevin Foerster, Chief of Refuges for the Pacific Region. “Because of our focus on habitat management, we have some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities on public land. Some of the most prized hunting tags in the state of Oregon are on refuges, including antelope at Hart Mountain and mule deer at Umatilla.”

Secretary Zinke’s proposal would open or expand opportunities at 10 national wildlife refuges nationwide. If finalized, this would bring the number of refuges where the public may hunt up to 373, and up to 312 where fishing would be permitted.

“I grew up in the mountains of northwest Montana, where I spent my time hunting and fishing on our shared public lands. I was lucky to take my boys out on the same land that my dad and granddad took me,” Secretary Zinke said. “As the steward of our public lands, one of my top priorities is to open up access wherever possible for hunting and fishing so that more families have the opportunity to pass down the heritage. The last thing I want to see is hunting and fishing become elite sports. These 10 refuges will provide incredible opportunities for sportsmen and anglers across the country to access the land and connect with the wildlife.”

Siletz Bay NWR, located south of Lincoln City, proposed walk-in access for bank fishing on the Siletz River, which has coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. The refuge opened the Alder Island trail this spring, which offers easy access to the river.  The 568-acre refuge also offers seasonal waterfowl hunting in designated areas.

“We’re excited that more people will be able to use the refuge for fishing,” said Kelly Moroney, project leader for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “We hope to get it approved in time for fall fishing.”

Baskett Slough, a 2,492-acre refuge located west of Salem, proposed to add a 10-person youth waterfowl hunt beginning in fall of 2018. The hunt would follow Oregon state hunting regulations.

“This is a great opportunity to introduce the next generation to quality hunting,” said Laila Lienesch, deputy project leader for the Willamette Valley Refuge Complex. “We already have fantastic elk and black-tail deer hunting at William L. Finley Refuge, so this adds another hunting opportunity to our refuge complex in the Willamette Valley.”

Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $144.7 billion in economic activity across the United States, according to the Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years. More than 90 million Americans, or 41 percent of the United States’ population 16 and older, pursue wildlife-related recreation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages hunting and fishing programs to ensure sustainable wildlife populations while also offering other traditional wildlife-dependent recreation on public lands, such as wildlife watching and photography. The unparalleled network of 566 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts means there is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas.

For the national news release, go to http://bit.ly/2vPpMi6.