Tag Archives: washington fish and wildlife commission

WA Commission To Look At Fee Proposals, Long-term Funding Plan

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission members will hear in the coming days how WDFW staffers want to balance a looming budget shortfall now estimated at $32.9 million as well as put the agency on a more stable financial footing in the future.

While anglers and hunters will focus on the proposed fee increases — 12 to 15 percent across-the-board hikes or a $10 surcharge — what’s notable is that sportsman dollars would become supplementary to a wider foundation of funding, a “transformative concept.”

“The goal is for 50% or more of the Department’s funding to come from a sustainable, reliable, broad?based revenue source. Currently approximately 18% of the Department’s spending is from the general fund,” reads a recommendation from WDFW’s draft long-term funding presentation to the citizen panel.

It came out of the multistakeholder Budget and Policy Advisory group and is described as a “first step” and “set of ideas” to build upon.

But as 2019-21 legislative proposals are drawn up, the agency’s $65.4 million request does lean more heavily on the General Fund than in the past — approximately two-thirds GF-S, one third user fees.

Figures posted for the commission meeting show that the one-time annual surcharge bowhunters, clam diggers and salmon moochers would pay if lawmakers approve next year would raise $20.3 million, the 15 percent hike $18.9 million and 12 percent $16.1 million.

With the failed Wild Futures Initiative in 2016-17, sportsmen bore the entire lift of the package, and coming out of the Great Recession in 2010 one top manager told me WDFW was “making a concerted effort to make itself less dependent on the General Fund.”

The agency’s funding issues are “structural” in that state appropriations, license revenues and ESA requirements are not keeping up with the costs. Last year, after giving it a $10 milllion bump from the General Fund instead of approving Wild Futures, the legislature ordered WDFW to undergo reviews and perform a zero-based budget analysis. It has also identified several million in cuts and efficiencies.

The $65.4 million would go towards maintaining and enhancing fishing and hunting, with $45.5 million from the General Fund, $16.4 million from the license-supported Wildlife Account and $3.6 from the Columbia River endorsement, which needs to be renewed by lawmakers.

After the proposed fee increases were revealed last month, a survey was posted online, and as of the end of July, 556 people had responded.

According to WDFW, 75 percent said that the agency should be supported by the General Fund and that “general taxes should contribute more.”

Other results showed:

• 48% were “very unlikely” to support a fee increase
• 43% prefer across-the-board fee increase while 47% prefer the surcharge
• 62% supportive if no fees, pursue GF-S request

The survey is still up, and you can also comment on them in person this Thursday in Olympia when the commission convenes. Public testimony will be taken during presentations on the proposed 2019-21 operating budget.

The meeting continues Friday with the potential for commission action later in the afternoon.

With Orcas In Mind, WA Salmon Hatchery Reform Policy Under Review

Three principles dictating salmon hatchery operations in Washington have been suspended by the Fish and Wildlife Commission during a policy review, a move in part reflecting a “change in attitude” about production practices.

It comes as the state begins to respond in earnest to the plight of southern resident orcas — one of which was reported missing and presumed dead over the weekend, bringing Puget Sound’s population to its lowest point in 30 years.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO THE RACEWAYS AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS SUMMER CHINOOK, COHO AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“I’m afraid that a lot of potential sites where there could be Chinook enhancement to increase the prey base for killer whales will be disqualified by our own policy,” said Commissioner Don McIsaac of Hockinson, in Clark County, during Friday’s meeting of the citizen panel.

In mid-March, Governor Jay Inslee issued an executive order directing WDFW to increase hatchery production of king salmon, the primary feedstock for resident orcas and the lack of which could be leading to their low reproduction rates.

Vessel traffic and pollution have also been identified as problems.

Saying that after 10 years it was time for a review, McIsaac made the motion to suspend the first three tenets of the commission’s CR 3619, Hatchery and Fishery Reform Policy, including using guidance from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, and prioritizing broodstock from local watersheds.

He noted that genetic protections for wild Chinook would still be in place through Endangered Species Act restrictions.

“What I wouldn’t want to have anyone to believe is that this would be going back to what was characterized as the Johnny Appleseed days before of no hatchery constraints on operations,” McIsaac said. “We’re looking for good hatchery operations, and so what this is more about is just some slight differences here over the course of the next six months to allow for a good look at this and not to squelch any killer whale initiatives that are out there.”

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

He termed it “a change in attitude about our salmon hatchery policy” and indeed, his six- to 12-month review will look at results of those reforms, updating scientific knowledge and could include “changing language tone about the positive value of hatchery programs,” as well as consider adding mitigation facilities.

While Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane expressed some concern about suspending portions of the policy, Commissioners Jay Holzmiller of Anatone and Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon voiced their support of it.

“I don’t want to blame anybody here, but what we’re doing now, and I’m not just speaking to HSRG … across the board simply isn’t working. It’s not working for businesses, it’s not working for individuals, it’s not working for state government. The money’s drying up, the salmon are drying up,” said Carpenter.

In 1989, the state, tribes, feds and others released 71 million Chinook; in 2016, just 33 million were, due in part to WDFW budget cuts over the years.

Yet even with ESA listings,  hatchery reforms and millions upon millions spent on habitat work, wild king numbers are still poor, suggesting something different is at play — perhaps density of harbor seals, according to a just-released paper, not releases of clipped Chinook.

“I simply have a forecast in my view that if we don’t make a change in our programs and methodology, that we don’t have more than 10 years left to have a salmon fishery of any kind — of any kind — in this state,” said Carpenter. “Let’s figure something out and get going on it.”

“Of any kind” surely was a reference to tribal fishing, and in a June 14 letter to Inslee, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission lent their considerable weight to the issue.

NWIFC Executive Director Justin Parker wrote that his organization wanted to work with the governor’s office to “develop an appropriate and accountable co-manager scientific review process at the same time that the HSRG’s role is phased out of the State budget language and process.”

Certain elements in WDFW’s appropriations are tied to HSRG.

He suggested that it lacks accountability and process, doesn’t undergo enough peer review scrutiny, diminishing its “credibility,” and is scientifically stagnant.

Where the 1970s’ Boldt Decision split the two fleets for decades, more and more, tribal and recreational fishermen are finding common cause. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association supported the tribes and feds side against the state of Washington in the culvert case that came before the Supreme Court, and Puget Sound Anglers president Ron Garner recently had the extremely rare honor for a nontribal member — let alone a sport fisherman — of being invited to an NWIFC meeting.

“Over and over I was told, ‘It took some courage for you to come here today.’ It didn’t take courage,” said Garner during public comment last Friday afternoon on HSRG. “It took us running out of fish. We are running out of fish … We are so aligned on our problems it’s nuts. We understand them. It’s going to take us and the tribes to fix them.”

DON PITTWOOD SHOWS OFF A HATCHERY CHINOOK CAUGHT OFF WHIDBEY ISLAND’S POSSESSION POINT DURING THE SUMMER MARK-SELECTIVE FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Despite being the newest member of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, it’s the second major salmon-related shift McIsaac’s been involved with this year.

This past winter, with WDFW honchos folding to pressure from the National Marine Fisheries Service on Puget Sound Chinook management and which could have sharply curtailed already-reduced fisheries, he called for a conservation hatchery on a habitat-constrained river system, an example of thinking outside of the box rather than going along for the ride to ruin.

“Much more needs to be done outside of fishery restrictions,” he said at the time.

On Friday afternoon, in a voice vote on McIsaac’s salmon hatchery reform motion, no nays were heard. Afterwards, clapping from the audience could be.

DOE’s Susewind Chosen As New WDFW Director

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission chose Kelly Susewind, of the Department of Ecology, as the new WDFW director.

KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

In a phone call immediately after the vote late this morning, Susewind told Commission Chair Brad Smith he was “very excited and very nervous.”

Susewind is something of an unknown and wildcard to Washington’s rank and file anglers and hunters, but the commission supported his appointment unanimously.

He has worked for the Department of Ecology for over two and a half decades, most recently as the director of administrative services and environmental policy.

According to a WDFW press release, he originally hails from the Grays Harbor area and went to Washington State University, where he earned a degree in geological engineering.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve the people of Washington at an agency whose effectiveness is critical to our ability to conserve fish and wildlife resources while providing outdoor recreation and commercial opportunities throughout the state,” Susewind said in the release. “The public has high expectations for WDFW, and I’m excited about being in a position to deliver the results they deserve.”

Pat Pattillo, who retired a few years ago from the agency after a long career in salmon management and who continues to keep a close eye on fisheries as well as advocates for sport angling, was very positive about the choice and the relative speed at which the process had moved along.

“I believe Kelly has the abilities to lead the department and communicate effectively with the many partners WDFW needs to be successful. Leadership from the top of the agency has been missing over the last two years and while capable managers for fish, wildlife, enforcement and habitat kept the wheels from falling off, it has been an agency without a head,” Pattillo said.

He said that Susewind will know whom he needs to establish relations with —  “the public, legislature, tribes and other management authorities.”

“It will take energy and, from what I’ve heard, he has that capability,” Pattillo said.

Rep. Brian Blake,  the South Coast Democrat in charge of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee which sees many WDFW-related bills, said Susewind had his “full support.”

“He is a lifelong hunter and I expect that he will be a force for positive change at DFW,” he said.

Fellow hunter Commissioner Jay Kehne of Omak nominated “Candidate P,” Susewind, for the position and was seconded by Vice Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon.

Susewind will oversee a staff of 1,800, land base of 1,400 square miles and harness a $437 million two-year budget to hold and conserve fisheries and hunting opportunities and provide scientific rationale for what it’s doing.

He also must deal with a potential $30 million budget shortfall in 2019-21 that could force the closure of the Omak and Naches trout hatcheries and other potential cuts unless the gap is filled by the legislature.

“He’s a good manager, great people skills and a real CEO type,” said Tom Nelson, co-host of a Seattle outdoors radio show on 710 ESPN.

Susewind’s soon-to-be old boss, DOE’s Maia Bellon, tweeted out her best wishes, “Congratulations, Kelly! Thank you for all the hard work and years of service at @ecologywa. We wish you all the best at @wdfw, and look forward to collaborating with you in your new role.”

When the Fish and Wildlife Commission put out its help wanted ad around four months ago, it said the next director would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

“Obviously the Commission wants to take the department in an entirely new direction.  Change is very difficult, and taking over WDFW is nearly as complex as taking over a federal resource agency, with many of the same challenges,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “We welcome the new director and look forward to working with Mr. Susewind on conservation and recovery of our fisheries, growing participation in fishing and protecting the jobs in the sportfishing industry.”

Chair Smith said that “the appointment marks the beginning of a new era in the department’s history” and spoke highly of WDFW staff and what they could all accomplish together.

Susewind begins work Aug. 1 and will be paid an annual salary of $165,000.

Nineteen people applied for the position in the wake of Jim Unsworth’s resignation this past winter. That pool was cut to seven in April and then three last month.

One of the three, Joe Stohr, who has been acting director since Unsworth left,  sat at the end of the long table as the members of the citizen panel made their choice known. He was consoled by Smith after the vote, and after Smith phoned Susewind, Smith publicly added, “Joe, you have all of our respect.”

There will be some who will be unhappy that, once again, a new director is coming from outside the agency.

Commissioner Jay Holzmiller of Anatone likened the panel’s last selection to “a kid getting cocky on a bike.”

“We got our knees and elbows skinned up,” he said before casting his support for Susewind.

One of the primary reasons for Unsworth’s departure was his handling of Puget Sound salmon fishing issues. Some hoped that the new director would come from this world.

“On the fish side, I don’t believe anyone thinks salmonid biology is (Susewind’s) strong suit but he’s a real quick study,” said Nelson, who added, “I think Susewind is a strong choice and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

But there were many issues that came to a head during Unsworth’s term,  which also suffered from the bad luck of coinciding with sharply declining salmon runs due to the North Pacific’s “Blob,”  the pool of warm water that has crushed several years of returns.

Mark Pidgeon said that the Hunters Heritage Council and Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation were welcoming Susewind “with open arms.”

“We think that he will make an outstanding Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. We realize that he is taking over a department facing many crises and he will have many difficult tasks facing him.  Both our organizations look forward to working with him to build a better and brighter future for WDFW,” said Pidgeon.

Among Susewind’s immediate challenges will be that looming budget gap, and as a member of WDFW’s Budget Policy and Advisory Group helping the agency navigate those dangerous straits, Pidgeon advised the new top honcho to “open lines of communications, especially to the hunters and fishers.”

“These users have felt shut out. The best way to bring more money in the coffers is sell more licenses, talk with us and see what we want,” he said.

Pidgeon is also on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group.

“I want the new director to know he can call on me anytime.”

Wanda Clifford of the venerable Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, one of the state’s oldest sporting organizations, also extended that offer of help.

“We are very pleased with the hire of Kelly Susewind and look forward to working with with him. We would hope that Kelly will have a better understanding of the hunting community and the number of hunters that put time and funds into our statewide budget. We feel that in the past the thoughts, needs and suggestions  from the hunting community have not been respected when in reality a large part of the department’s budget comes from the purchase of license and tags, and as a user group are often put on the bottom.”

With INWC based in Spokane, from where it puts on the annual Big Horn Show, and in the corner of the state where most of Washington’s wolves roam, you can bet that the predators were on Clifford’s mind as well.

“We also would like to see our new director work on the large wolf issue that we face here on the east side of the state,” she said, and wished Susewind good luck.

Editor’s note: My apologies for misspellings, etc., pain in the butt to report breaking news and reaction by phone on a weekend.

3 WDFW Director Finalists Named

The names of the three final candidates for the director’s position at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have been unofficially revealed.

The Chinook Observer reports them as Joe Stohr, Jennifer Quan, and Kelly Susewind, names that Northwest Sportsman had also heard independently in recent weeks but did not publish.

After WDFW sent out a press release last week announcing the decision was imminent, the Observer had requested the identities of the finalists from the staff of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, but wrote in a story headlined “Next WDFW Director being selected in secrecy” that it had been “refused.” So the paper subsequently went to “other sources” and updated their story yesterday afternoon with the three names.

Since they are now out there, here is more on the trio:

Stohr has been acting director at WDFW since former director Jim Unsworth left in midwinter. He has held various high-ranking positions at the agency since arriving there in 2007.

Quan was a lands manager and governmental affairs advisor with WDFW, and currently is the Central Puget Sound Branch manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service.

Susewind is more of an unknown and wildcard, at least to Washington’s fishing and hunting world.

He has worked for the Department of Ecology for over two and a half decades, initially as an engineer and is currently the third person on DOE’s contacts page, where he is listed as the director of administrative services and environmental policy.

The revelations of the names will set off more intense jockeying among WDFW’s myriad interest groups as the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission nears its decision on who the next director will be.

That person is expected to lead the agency through a “transformative” period as budget pressures increase, requiring “clear vision, true leadership, and firm decisions” on their part, according to the job posting.

“The Director will be asked to develop effective new approaches to conserving and recovering fisheries resources, while resolving long-standing and increasing conflicts among competing stakeholders,” read just one part of a 10-point list of challenges the director will face.

Whomever is chosen will oversee a staff of 1,800, land base of 1,400 square miles and harness a $437 million two-year budget to hold and conserve fisheries and hunting opportunities and provide scientific rationale for what it’s doing.

The three candidates will be interviewed again by the nine-member citizen panel on Thursday, with a finalist slated to be chosen late Saturday morning.

WDFW Director Candidate Field Winnowed To 7

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission members are poring over the resumes of seven finalists for WDFW Director, and will interview them in mid-May before making a final choice in the coming months.

Yesterday, a subcommittee of the citizen oversight panel winnowed the septet out of a field of 19, mostly agreeing on the applicants known publicly only as A, B, I, L, N, P and R.

Commissioner Jay Kehne, who led the 23-minute morning teleconference, said he wasn’t surprised Chair Brad Smith, Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, Commissioner Barbara Baker and himself concurred on the choices.

“It always seems there’s like a group at the top, a group of however many that seem to just have what it takes or everything matches — their skill set, their experience — and then there’s kind of a break and others are much lower in terms of abilities, skills and knowledge,” Kehne said.

Baker said she’d earlier worried the pool might be weaker, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

“I’m happy with these initial seven as potential interview candidates for the whole commission,” Baker said.

Both Carpenter and Kehne agreed with her.

For the most part, the other 12 candidates received all “nos” or a “maybe” or two as the commissioners went through the list alphabetically.

No information about the individuals was available, per policy, but it’s rumored that at least two WDFW staffers were interested in the position.

Smith’s votes were conveyed by Kehne as he dealt with a pet emergency.

The search for a new director was precipitated in late January, when after a rather disastrous year for the agency in some respects and not long after the new proposed Puget Sound Chinook management plan came out, former director Jim Unsworth announced his resignation.

The help wanted ad WDFW subsequently put out said that whomever the next director might be, they would lead the agency through a “transformative” period as budget pressures increase, requiring “clear vision, true leadership, and firm decisions” on their part.

It forecasted a tightening fiscal picture as hunters and anglers, who fund the department through license sales, “age out” of pursuing fish and wildlife, and says that unnamed choices the agency faces in the future “make this a watershed time” for WDFW and the next director.

The position just might be one of the most demanding in the country, what with its cross-currents of state and tribal comanagement, endangered species listings, growing human population and loss of fish and wildlife habitat in the smallest state in the West, all performed under the glaring lamp of many disparate stakeholders and in an increasingly polarized environment.

“The Director will be asked to develop effective new approaches to conserving and recovering fisheries resources, while resolving long-standing and increasing conflicts among competing stakeholders,” read just one part of a 10-point list of challenges in the job description.

Nine more grenades to juggle — enforcement, budget, organizational issues, state lawmakers, non-consumptive users, among others — await whomever is ultimately hired.

They’ll oversee a staff of 1,800, land base of 1,400 square miles and harness a $437 million two-year budget to hold and conserve fisheries and hunting opportunities and provide scientific rationale for what it’s doing.

During the search, Joe Stohr is holding down the fort as the acting director. He’s been a top deputy in various positions at WDFW since coming to the agency in 2007.

Applications for the job were accepted through March 30 and 19 people sent in resumes, though one subsequently withdrew theirs, according to Tami Lininger, the commission’s executive assistant.

She said she will soon be scheduling interviews for the commissioners with the seven finalists for May 11 and 12.

A final decision is expected “later this summer,” a WDFW press release in February stated.

WDFW Buys Last 7,200 acres Of 31-square-mile Douglas Co. Spread For Habitat, Recreation

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has approved the final phase of a 20,000-acre land acquisition to conserve critical wildlife habitat and support public recreation in Douglas County seven miles downstream from Grand Coulee Dam.

(WDFW)

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), approved the land purchase during a public meeting Feb. 8-10 in Olympia.

Also at that meeting, the commission heard staff briefings and public testimony on other issues ranging from salmon fisheries to mineral prospecting.

Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW lands division manager, said the purchase of the 7,217-acre Grand Coulee Ranch LLC property completes the third and final phase of the larger acquisition by the department to protect sharp-tailed grouse and secure quality recreation access through the Mid-Columbia/Grand Coulee project.

Comprised mostly of native shrubsteppe, the property provides critical habitat for the once-common inland bird now listed by the state as a threatened species.

“This property has special importance, because it connects sharp-tailed grouse populations in Douglas County with those in Okanogan and Lincoln counties,” Wilkerson said. “Securing this habitat could make a real difference in the effort to recover this species.”

Wilkerson noted that WDFW’s acquisition of the property will also provide public access to hunting and fishing. Anglers will gain access to four more miles of river frontage on the Columbia River. Plans also call for opening thousands of acres to hunting for mule deer, upland birds and waterfowl.

Julie Sandberg, real estate services manager, said WDFW will pay the appraised value of $3.1 million for the Grand Coulee parcel, financed through grants from the state Recreation and Conservation Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Once the purchase is finalized, WDFW plans to combine the entire 20,000-acre acquisition to form the Big Bend Wildlife Area – the 33rd wildlife area owned and managed by the department in the state.

Other issues addressed by the commission include:

  • Sturgeon fishing: The commission encouraged the department’s acting director to begin discussions with Oregon fishery managers to develop a limited retention fishery in the lower Columbia River, similar to that in 2017. A presentation by WDFW staff showed that the number of adult sturgeon has increased in recent years, while the number of juvenile sturgeon has continued to decline in those waters.
  • Salmon fisheries: Commissioners received staff briefings and heard public comments on salmon management in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay. At the request of WDFW staff, they agreed to clarify the intent of a 2015 policy that established priorities for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries in Willapa Bay. That decision is scheduled during a conference call Feb. 16.
  • Mineral prospecting: The commission heard from prospectors, anglers, environmentalists, and others about their views on state regulations on small-scale suction dredging for gold and other minerals. The commission will consider the information presented at the hearing in future deliberations about the issue.
  • Director search: Commissioners discussed plans for recruiting and hiring a new WDFW director to replace Jim Unsworth, who resigned from the position Feb. 8. Joe Stohr, who has served as deputy director for more than a decade, has since been named the agency’s acting director.

Commissioner Calls For Snake Chinook-like Conservation Hatchery On Stilly

UPDATED AT BOTTOM WITH WDFW PRESS RELEASE ON TODAY’S COMMISSION TELECONFERENCE

Pointing to the successful restoration of Snake River fall Chinook from the edge of extinction, a Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner called for a new conservation hatchery program on the Stillaguamish.

It would rear more kings as habitat work is done in the Snohomish County watershed where the stock is having trouble rebuilding itself despite fishery cuts over the decades and which has been identified as a major constraint in the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

It’s the brainchild of the newest member of the citizen panel, Hockinson’s Don McIsaac, the retired chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“Much more needs to be done outside of fishery restrictions,” McIsaac said during a commission teleconference this morning.

His plan would need funding from the state legislature and buy-in from the Stillaguamish Tribe, which already operates a facility on the river.

But commissioners are trying to show the angling public that there are ways to mitigate the feared impacts of the controversial 10-year plan that’s been in the news so much of late.

In a nutshell, McIsaac explained that after construction of the four dams on the lower Snake River, fall Chinook returns dropped to just 78 wild fish in 1990.

But through joint tribal-state-federal efforts — along with habitat and river flow improvements — the run has been rebuilt to as high as 60,000 hatchery and wild kings past Lower Granite Dam in recent years, and sport and tribal anglers have been able to fish for and harvest the salmon.

Basically, eggs were taken from Snake kings and reared at WDFW’s Kalama Falls Hatchery for a couple generations. The progeny of those were then returned to the Snake.

McIsaac termed it “a successful example of a conservation hatchery helping out while habitat is worked on.”

He acknowledged that building a larger conservation hatchery on the Stilly would take time, so he suggested using existing state facilities as bridges.

And he stressed that the Stillaguamish Tribe would need to be amenable to it.

Of note, the extirpation of the basin’s Chinook is a nonstarter for the tribe and Washington.

McIsaac also touched on the 900-pound gorilla in the room, the “severe” predation on Chinook in Puget Sound by increasing numbers of MMPA-protected seals and sea lions that is “not being addressed.”

He said that pinnipeds are picking off tens of millions of the salmon as they leave the rivers as smolts, swim through the estuaries and out of the inland sea before returning after several years as adults.

“So in some ways it’s no wonder we’ve seen no rebound in fish numbers,” McIsaac said.

And he challenged WDFW staff to come up with a “genuine habitat restoration plan” for the Stillaguamish Basin too.

Ultimately, it all gives the agency negotiating tools as work continues on the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan, etc.

McIsaac also said a better job needs to be done communicating with the angling public on the plan, and asked WDFW staffers to put out a press release following today’s teleconference that would in part put out “true facts” on the plan’s impacts and “dispel rumors and exaggerations.”

He said that allegations that Puget Sound would be closed for salmon fishing for 10 years “are just not true.”

That said, in years of low runs, both state and tribal fisheries could be restricted in places as federal overseers lower acceptable risks on the stocks.

But there have been some indications that the plan will not be used as a blueprint for designing 2018 fisheries, meaning the reduced impact rates may not have to be applied this season. NMFS has numerous problems with what the state and tribes have come up with for many basins and the plan may not be approved until the 2020 season.

WDFW has been hobbled talking about the plan to a degree because of the nature of the closed-door negotiations between the state and tribes in a federal court that left the commission and angling public out. They have made little effort to explain it to us, and so the plan has been picked apart by their own retired experts as well as radio show hosts and others.

“It’s important that we try to improve the communications as we go through this,” McIsaac urged.

At the commission’s meeting in Ridgefield on Friday, Ron Warren, the agency’s Fish Program Manager, acknowledged that public trust with WDFW had been “eroded” and he apologized to anglers in attendance and across the state for that.

Seven of the commission’s nine members were in on today’s conference call, and McIsaac’s proposals drew very strong support from Vice Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon.

“We have a crisis on our hands here and we have to show leadership on the issue,” he said.

Carpenter, who is a former owner of Master Marine, had lobbied for another teleconference earlier this month in hopes of being able to share “perhaps something positive” with stakeholders before the big upcoming Seattle Boat Show “so it’s not a total disaster.”

Others were in support of McIsaac’s ideas, though caution was expressed about certain facets, including sending a letter to the governor asking for $5 million for the new hatchery, whether $5 million was a realistic figure, the potential for litigation over pinnipeds from “protection organizations,” McIsaac’s “off ramp” for fishery restrictions if runs improve, and the fact that the Stilly isn’t the only Chinook basin with problems — there’s also the Nooksack, among others, so what about them?

But it’s a start.

Ultimately, the commission did not vote on any specific resolution as, according to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth, staff had enough direction to work with.

 

THE FOLLOWING IS A WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE

Commission advises WDFW on chinook plan that would guide Puget Sound salmon fisheries

OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission advised state fishery managers to strike a better balance between conservation and harvest opportunities as they work with tribal co-managers to revise a proposed plan for managing chinook harvest in Puget Sound.

During a conference call Tuesday, the commission – a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) – instructed state fishery managers to explore a variety of options as they revisit catch rates and other pieces of the updated Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

The plan defines conservation goals for state and tribal fisheries that have an impact on wild Puget Sound chinook salmon, which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under that law, no fisheries affecting Puget Sound chinook can occur without a conservation plan approved by NOAA Fisheries.

“Ultimately, we would all like to see salmon runs restored in Puget Sound, but severely restricting fisheries isn’t the only path to achieving that goal,” said Brad Smith, chair of the commission. “For that reason, we advised WDFW staff to explore other salmon recovery options, including improvements to habitat and hatchery operations.”

State and treaty tribal co-managers initially submitted the proposed plan to NOAA Fisheries on Dec. 1, 2017. The plan would reduce state and tribal fisheries in Washington, especially in years with expected low salmon returns. For example, increased protections for wild chinook salmon returning to the Stillaguamish and Snohomish rivers would likely restrict numerous fisheries because those fish are caught in many areas of Puget Sound.

Despite the restrictive nature of the plan, NOAA has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key salmon stocks would not meet new — more restrictive — federal conservation objectives.

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard from many people who are concerned this plan could result in the closure of all Puget Sound sport fisheries, but that’s not the case,” Smith said. “Yes, the plan does call for reductions to some fisheries, especially in years of low salmon abundance. But we have an opportunity – given the need to revise the plan – to use various mitigation tools to offset impacts from fisheries when and where appropriate.”

Mitigation tools the commission asked WDFW to explore include:

  • Increasing habitat restoration efforts.
  • Improving hatchery operations, including increasing production to support salmon recovery efforts.
  • Reducing populations of predators, such as seals and sea lions.

NOAA has indicated its review process will take 18 months once the federal agency deems the plan is sufficient for a full review, making it likely the 10-year plan won’t be in place until the 2020-2021 fishing season. There will be opportunities for public comment during that review process.

State fishery managers believe that a long-term management plan will reduce uncertainty in the annual salmon season-setting process, providing more stability for recreational and commercial fisheries.

In the meantime, state and tribal co-managers are working on conservation objectives to guide this year’s salmon season-setting process. During its call Tuesday, the commission asked state fishery managers to continue to discuss the possibility of using the 2017 conservation objectives for this year’s upcoming planning efforts.

The commission directed state fishery managers to provide regular updates as the negotiations of this year’s objectives and the 10-year plan continue. State fishery managers will also provide updates throughout the process to citizen advisors during open public meetings.

The plan, along with feedback from NOAA, is available on WDFW’s website athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/.

WA Fish Commission Adds Another Meeting On Sound King Plan, OKs Some Reg Simplifications

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a package of simplified sportfishing rules for Washington’s rivers, streams and lakes during its Jan. 18-20 meeting in Ridgefield.

 

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also was briefed on proposed updates to a management plan for harvesting Puget Sound chinook salmon.

Commissioners decided to continue to discuss – and potentially provide guidance on – the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan during a special conference call on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The commission will convene the call at 8:30 a.m.

The public can listen to the work session, but there will be no opportunity for public comment. More information about the call will be posted Monday on the commission’s website athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2018/.

State and treaty tribal co-managers initially submitted the plan to NOAA Fisheries on Dec. 1, 2017. NOAA has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key salmon stocks would not meet new — more restrictive — federal conservation objectives.

The plan is required by NOAA for the state and tribes to hold fisheries affecting wild Puget Sound chinook, which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The proposed 10-year plan, along with feedback from NOAA, is available on WDFW’s website athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/.

During the meeting in Ridgefield, commissioners approved rules aimed at simplifying sportfishing regulations for freshwater species, including steelhead, trout, warmwater fish, sturgeon, shad and carp.

These rules – which apply to freshwater throughout the state, with some exceptions – will go into effect July 1, 2018. Some of the rules adopted by the commission include:

·       Reducing the number of exceptions to the year-round lake season.

·       Eliminating mandatory steelhead retention.

·       Standardizing the daily limit and minimum size requirements for bass, walleye and channel catfish in the Columbia River (downstream of Chief Joseph dam) and its tributaries, including the Snake River and its tributaries. This change aligns regulations on several rivers with a previously adopted rule that eliminated daily limits and size requirements for these species in most of the region.

WDFW staff withdrew a few proposals that had been put forth during the public review process. One such rule would have allowed chumming statewide while another would have eliminated special rules for panfish statewide. Another rule that was withdrawn would have eliminated a provision that requires anglers using bait to stop fishing for trout after landing the daily limit for that species, regardless of whether the fish are kept or released.

More information on the simplified rules can be found online athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2018/01/agenda_jan1818.html.

In other business, the commission directed WDFW staff to initiate a public process to strengthen the conservation and protection of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, which has been classified as a threatened species under state law since 1998. Commission members said they favored elevating the level of protection to endangered, which could increase the likelihood of the species’ survival and recovery.

In the 1800s, the sharp-tailed grouse was the most abundant game bird in eastern Washington, with its highest densities in relatively moist grassland and sagebrush vegetation. But with much of its habitat converted to cropland, and in the wake of major fires in 2015, the population has declined to an estimated total of less than 600 birds.

In the coming weeks, WDFW will seek public comments on the proposed change within a timetable that will enable the commission to make a final decision later this year.

A draft report on the bird’s status is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/endangered/status_review/.

The commission also voted to make changes to rules for compensating commercial livestock owners for animals killed or injured by wolves. One of those changes establishes market value for the loss of livestock and guard dogs. Another requires livestock producers to exhaust all available compensation from non-profit groups before receiving payment from the department.

Additionally, commissioners approved the purchase of 1.3 acres of floodplain in Whatcom County to restore habitat and 115 acres of land in Ferry County, which includes 3.4 miles of undeveloped shoreline on the Kettle River. The Ferry County acquisition will protect habitat and allow for public access to the river for a variety of non-motorized recreational activities and wildlife viewing.

Minutes and audio recordings of the commission meeting will be available online early next week athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/minutes.html.

Commissioner ‘Not Very Happy’ To Be Left Out Of Loop As New Sound Chinook Plan Negotiated

This morning, more light was shed on the new proposed Puget Sound Chinook harvest comanagement plan, the result of confidential negotiations mediated by a federal judge but which left the vice chair of the Fish and Wildlife Commission “not very happy” about things.

The plan only came to light this Tuesday following months of talks behind closed doors between WDFW, tribal and Department of Justice officials following the disastrous 2016 North of Falcon and its delayed state fisheries.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN LARRY CARPENTER TOLD WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH HE WAS NOT HAPPY TO HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT OF THE LOOP AS A PROPOSED 10-YEAR PUGET SOUND CHINOOK HARVEST MANAGEMENT PLAN WAS NEGOTIATED IN SECRET BY AGENCY, TRIBAL AND DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OFFICIALS. (TVW)

And while meant to try and avoid that fiasco again, as well as conserve key stocks, that the negotiations were done without knowledge of the citizen panel that oversees policy for the state agency irked the recently reappointed Larry Carpenter.

“Director (Unsworth), the commission delegates authority to you on a variety of issues, and that’s an appropriate thing to do. I agree with it. But I don’t think that that eliminates your responsibility to have consultations with us on issues of importance,” the former Mount Vernon boat seller and member of the Southern Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission said during a meeting of the commission in Olympia broadcast on TVW.

“And I certainly consider the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan to be an issue of significant importance. It’s very critical, and not having discussions with the commission, I think, is an unacceptable practice.”

WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH BRIEFED THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION ON THE PROPOSED CHINOOK PLAN. (TVW)

Carpenter, who is the chair of the commission’s  fish committee and member of its executive committee, said that at a recent closed-door briefing just enough information about the ongoing mediation was given to he and fellow commissioners to “read between the lines about what was really happening.”

“We didn’t know,” he said.

Then the plan was posted online, and with its warnings of potentially reduced fishing for the basin’s premier salmon stock, anglers and tackle and boat makers immediately started fretting about the future of fishing and the industry.

“And we got stakeholders calling us and emailing us — angst,” Carpenter said. “I feel like we were really, really left out on a limb on this one. And I’m really not very happy about it.”

During public input afterwards, some of his concerns were echoed by Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, among the state’s largest sporting organizations.

“The commission needs to be apprised of this as a major stakeholder,” Garner said.

RON GARNER, PRESIDENT OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS, SPEAKS DURING PUBLIC COMMENT AT TODAY’S FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (TVW)

He also took issue with a major change from the previous management strategy for Puget Sound — lowering exploitation rates on Stillaguamish fall kings, which are caught in fisheries everywhere from Stanwood to Juneau.

The plan reduces that rate from 13 percent to 8 percent. While that lower figure is actually near the rate of recent years, it also drops down to as low as 4 percent for years of lower abundances.

Garner called that “very restrictive,” and while he said he understood the reason why, he disagreed that it would actually help out Stilly Chinook.

“Even if you shut down every fishery on the West Coast, the Stillaguamish River would not recover. It’s strictly a habitat-water issue,” he said.

“It has the possibility of closing down a lot of businesses, manufacturing businesses, loss of jobs, maybe in the tens of thousands, and the quality of life in Washington state,” Garner added before his three minutes of time to speak were up.

Using 2017 preseason fishery forecasts as an example, Mark Yuasa, the former Seattle Times fishing reporter and current Northwest Marine Trade Association staffer, reported that sport fishers would have lost out on 18,000 Chinook in mostly hatchery-targeted fisheries in North and Central Puget Sound this year, all to save nine wild Stillaguamish kings. Nine.

It is not immediately clear how it would affect tribal fisheries, but likely would impact open-water fishermen more so than terminal zone ones.

Following the meeting, Perry Mancheca, who has been calling for more open meetings between state and tribal officials, asked fellow anglers to attend tomorrow’s commission meeting and pour on the pressure.

“It is now more important than ever that the we follow such a strong statement by our Commission with a loud and strong message from the stakeholders,” he said via a petition update on Change.org.

The job of informing the Fish and Wildlife Commission how the confidential negotiations came about fell to Assistant Attorney General Mike Grossman, who advises WDFW on legal matters.

Grossman explained that after 2016’s highly contentious North of Falcon wrapped up, the state received a request from the U.S. Department of Justice and tribal officials to “meet and confer,” which resulted in confidential discussions mediated by U.S. District Court for Western Washington Judge Marsha Pechman.

He said that the number one priority of those talks was an updated 10-year resource management plan for Puget Sound Chinook, and to get it in place by April or May 2019, it needed to be wrapped up by Nov. 30 for the National Marine Fisheries Service’s NEPA review, estimated to take about 17 months.

The previous 10-year plan expired in 2014 and the comanagers have been taking it year to year.

ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL MIKE GROSSMAN SPEAKS BEFORE THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (TVW)

Grossman said that the state “benefited from being able to converse with the tribes on a confidentiality basis.”

He acknowledged the “tension” that that created with state laws on openness, and indeed, news of the secret talks comes as sportsmen like Mancheca have been working for more than a year to open up the state-tribal North of Falcon negotiations, which otherwise aren’t public.

Grossman explained that without Endangered Species Act coverage through the Chinook plan, “we can’t fish,” meaning nontribal anglers, as the feds “don’t have the view” they’ll do an individual consultation for the state like they would the tribes.

“Really, this … comanagement plan or a unilateral plan, which would very problematic, are the only two vehicles. And we made a decision, after a lot of talk with you and with the agency to proceed based on a comanager plan,” he said.

He described it as an umbrella, underneath which the state and tribes could divvy up the harvestable catch, though work remains.

“But it is a crucial piece that I think does recalibrate and puts us in a much better position to negotiate North of Falcon not having to worry about whether or not we have ESA protection at the end of the day. The focus will then entirely be on, do we have fair and balanced fisheries between the various comanagers, knowing that collectively we have to live within these limits,” Grossman said.

More details on what the Chinook plan may mean for sport fisheries may be forthcoming at the commission’s January meeting.

Outside today’s meeting, a question was raised by Frank Urabeck, a member of the sportfishing community, about whether not having the commission approve the plan before it was sent to the feds might invalidate it, but Garner said that that had been looked at and WDFW can act and then inform members.

One final note on the commission and Chinook: During discussion about Puget Sound orcas, Director Unsworth said that WDFW is evaluating what can be done via their facilities.

“Hopefully we can do something to increase hatchery production that will be helpful for killer whales, as well as salmon in general and our recreational and commercial, tribal use of those fish,” he said.

More information could come out as Governor Inslee pushes out his supplemental budget proposals for the coming legislative session.

Editor’s note: This blog was updated at 8 a.m., December 11, 2017, to clarify Mark Yuasa was reporting estimated 2017 fishery impacts and the figures were not his own. Larry Carpenter’s commission committee assignments were also added.

4 Wells Hatchery Workers Fired Following Investigation Into Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They can appeal their removal.

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

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

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

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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