Tag Archives: Washington

Olympia Update: Here Are Legislators’ Fish, Wildlife Bills So Far

If Washington’s legislature is back in town, so is the Olympia Outsider™!

Well, mostly anyway, what with the restraining order and all, but boy have lawmakers been busy so far at the state capitol!

There’s a bill that would update wardrobe options for Washington rifle deer and elk hunters — gonna be fab! — and another to encourage Congress to open a season on sea lions, while coastal politicians aim to name razors as our state clam and a Pugetropolis pol has dropped the obligatory Westside wolf bill.

And many more are still to come.

“We are still working with the Governor’s Office on the 15 percent fee lift and recruiting bill, along with legislation to implement the orca task force recommendations,” says Raquel Crosier WDFW’s legislative liaison. “I’m expecting to see those bills introduced next week.”

Yes, most bills do go to the legislature to die, but here’s a rundown on fish- and wildlife-related ones that have been introduced so far, along with bill digests from nonpartisan legislative staff and analysis from the highly partisan staff of the Olympia Outsider™:

Bill: HB 1036
Sponsor: Rep. Jim Walsh
Title: Concerning increased fish hatchery production.
Bill digest: “Establishes the Willapa Bay salmon restoration act. Requires the department of fish and wildlife to ensure that hatcheries in Grays Harbor, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties each produce a certain number of fish.”
OO analysis: WDFW would need to produce as many if not more fish at each of its facilities here as the average number they have over the past two decades, which, needless to say, would increase salmon and steelhead smolt releases fairly significantly but also could conflict with Fish and Wildlife Commission policies. Hatchery increases are definitely on lawmakers’ agenda this session, but the bill might have better odds with a clearer orca linkage.

Bill: HB 1045
Sponsor: Rep. Sherry Appleton
Title: Prohibiting the lethal removal of gray wolves.
Bill digest: “Prohibits the department of fish and wildlife from authorizing the killing of gray wolves. Allows the department to authorize the nonlethal removal or relocation of gray wolves that are destroying or injuring property, or when nonlethal removal or relocation is necessary for wildlife management or research.”
OO analysis: This bill has essentially been shot dead from the state’s helicopter gunship, but not before an Eastside representative took a shot at Appleton, saying he might introduce a bill to declare her home island, Bainbridge, a wolf preserve.

Bill: HB 1046
Sponsor: Rep. Appleton
Title: Prohibiting hunting with the aid of dogs for certain purposes.
Bill digest: “Prohibits a person from hunting or pursuing black bear, cougar, bobcat, or lynx with the aid of a dog”
OO analysis: If the chair of the committee that this bill has to go through wasn’t from timber-dependent country, it might actually get some traction, given coverage of bear damage hunts and a court case in Thurston County, and that would be a bad thing.

Bill: HB 1061
Sponsors: Reps. Brian Blake and Walsh
Title: “Designating the Pacific razor clam as the state clam.”
Bill digest: See above.
OO analysis: Might be a little tougher, what with just four votes from coastal district representatives and about 38,999,322 from all the reps in Geoduckland — Puget Sound — districts.

Bill: HB 1230
Sponsors: Reps. Andrew Barkis, Blake, Walsh, Laurie Dolan, Beth Doglio and Morgan Irwin
Note: Filed by request of Department of Fish and Wildlife
Title: Broadening the eligibility for a reduced recreational hunting and fishing license rate for resident disabled hunters and fishers.
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but per WDFW’s Crosier: “It broadens the discount to anyone with a permanent disability, instead of the limited disability types we currently have in statute (currently we only provide the discount to those who are in a wheelchair, are legally blind or developmentally disabled). The bill also applies the discount rate of 50% to all of our recreational licenses instead of the limited licenses that are discounted under current law.”
OO analysis: Liking the sounds of this one!

Bill: HB 1341
Sponsors: Reps. Zach Hudgins, Jeff Morris, Gel Tarleton and Doglio
Title: Concerning the use of unmanned aerial systems near certain protected marine species.
Bill digest: None available at this writing, but would bar drones from flying within 200 vertical yards above southern resident killer whales.
OO analysis: Would really add to the concept of a protective no-go bubble around Puget Sound’s starving orcas, but what about drone subs?

Bill: HJM 4001
Sponsor: Rep. Walsh
Title: Requesting that Congress amend further the marine mammal protection act to allow the use of hunting or bounty programs as tools to effectively manage populations of predatory sea lions.
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but see above.
OO analysis: Well, with who knows how long this federal government shutdown is going to impact NOAA’s processing of permits to take out as many as 1100 or so California and Steller sea lions a year in portions of the Columbia and its tribs to reduce their predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead … But in reality, while a popular sentiment and CSLs are at their habitat’s capacity, the bill probably won’t get too far because of legislature’s makeup.

Bill: SB 5099
Sponsor: Sen. Tim Sheldon
Title: Establishing recreational target shooting areas on public lands.
Bill digest: “Requires the department of natural resources to: (1) Designate and manage recreational target shooting areas on applicable department-managed lands; (2) Establish designated shooting areas in Mason county, including Tahuya state forest, and in Skagit county; and (3) Work with interested stakeholders to evaluate and designate additional shooting areas on department-managed lands.”
OO analysis: You might say this bill appears to be on target …

Bill: SB 5100
Sponsor: Sen. Sheldon
Title: Concerning a pilot program for cougar control.
Bill digest: “Requires the department of fish and wildlife, in cooperation and collaboration with the county legislative authorities of Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Chelan, Okanogan, Mason, and Klickitat counties, to recommend rules to establish a five-year pilot program within select game management units of these counties, to pursue or kill cougars with the aid of dogs.
Requires the development of dangerous wildlife task teams in each county. Allows the department of fish and wildlife to authorize five seasons in which cougars may be pursued or killed with dogs, subject to conditions of the pilot program. Authorizes a county legislative authority to request inclusion in the pilot project after taking certain actions.”
OO analysis: A good start out of the kennel for this bill — scheduled for a hearing next week in the upper chamber’s Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.

Bill: SB 5148
Sponsor: Sen. Lynda Wilson
Title: Concerning visible clothing requirements for hunting.
Bill digest: “Requires the fish and wildlife commission to adopt rules determining the times and manner when a person who is hunting must wear fluorescent orange or fluorescent pink clothing.”
OO analysis: WDFW’s Crosier says the bill “focuses on promoting women in hunting through the use of hunters pink – I love this one!” We agree! Scheduled for a hearing next week.

Bill: SB 5320
Sponsors: Senators Dean Takko, Ann Rivers, Lynda Wilson, Kevin Van De Wege, Jim Honeyford, Judy Warnick and Shelly Short
Title: Establishing a nonlethal program within the department of fish and wildlife for the purpose of training dogs.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but speaking to the Capital Press, Rep. Brian Blake of Aberdeen said participants “wouldn’t be allowed to hunt cougars. They’d be allowed to train their dogs so they’d be available for the department.”
OO analysis: We’re hoping this bill will, er, train.

Washington Salmon Recovery Not Getting Needed Funding — State Agency

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE

Despite two decades of efforts to recover them, wild salmon are still declining—and a report released today by the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office stresses that adequate funding is needed to turn the tide on the iconic species’ future.

THE COVER OF WASHINGTON’S JUST RELEASED “STATE OF SALMON IN WATERSHEDS” REPORT. (RCO)

In the past 10 years, regional recovery organizations received only a fraction—16 percent—of the $4.7 billion documented funding needed for critical salmon recovery projects, the report sites.

““We must all do our part to protect our state’s wild salmon,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “As we face a changing climate, growing population and other challenges, now is the time to double down on our efforts to restore salmon to levels that sustain them, our fishing industry and the communities that rely on them. Salmon are crucial to our future and to the survival of beloved orca whales.”

The newly released State of Salmon in Watersheds report and interactive Web site show Washington’s progress in trying to recover salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Web site also features the office’s updated Salmon Data Portal, which puts real-time salmon recovery data and maps at the fingertips of salmon recovery professionals and the public.

Some findings from the report include the following:

·         In most of the state, salmon are below recovery goals set in federally approved recovery plans. Washington is home to 33 genetically distinct populations of salmon and steelhead, 15 of which are classified as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Of the 15, 8 are not making progress or are declining, 5 are showing signs of progress but still below recovery goals and 2 are approaching recovery goals.

·         Commercial and recreational fishing have declined significantly because of fewer fish and limits on how many fish can be caught to protect wild salmon. Harvest of coho salmon has fallen from a high of nearly 3 million in 1976 to fewer than 500,000 in 2017, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The harvest of Chinook salmon has followed the same downward trend, with about 970,000 Chinook caught in 1973 compared to about 550,000 in 2017.

The news is not all bleak.

·         Summer chum in the Hood Canal are increasingly strong and are nearing the recovery goal.

·         Fall Chinook populations in the Snake River are showing signs of progress, thanks largely to improvements in hatchery management, passage at dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers and habitat restoration work.

“It’s not that we don’t know how to recover salmon,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, home of the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, which created the report and Web site. “We know what needs to be done, and we have the people in place to do the hard work. We just haven’t received the funding necessary to do what’s required of us.”

“Salmon recovery projects that can make the biggest impact now are often larger scale, engage many jurisdictions and depend on collaboration and significant funding from state, federal and private sources to make them happen,” said Phil Rockefeller, chair of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, which distributes state funding for salmon recovery.

The report also calls for stronger land use regulations and more enforcement of those regulations to protect shorelines and improve fish passage and water quality.

Recovery efforts benefit more than just salmon. According to the report, restored rivers provide clean and reliably available water for drinking and irrigation, reduce flood risk and support outdoor recreation and the state’s economy. Salmon restoration funding since 1999 has created jobs and resulted in more than $1 billion in total economic activity, the report states.

The report also notes changes that need to be made to improve salmon recovery, including addressing climate change, removing barriers so fish can reach more habitat, reducing salmon predators and better integrating harvest, hatchery, hydropower and habitat actions.

The report also outlines steps people can take in their everyday lives to contribute to salmon recovery, including conserving water, safely disposing of unused prescription drugs and keeping up on car maintenance to prevent oil and fuel leaks.

“It’s going to take all of us coming together to make a change for salmon and our future,” Cottingham said.

Learn more at stateofsalmon.wa.gov.

Ring In The New Year’s During Jan. 2-6 Razor Clam Digs At 3 Washington Beaches

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

The next round of evening razor clam digs will run Jan. 2-6 at Twin Harbors, along with openings at other beaches for the last three days.

CADEN AND NATHAN HOLDER DISPLAY RAZOR CLAMS DUG ON THE WASHINGTON COAST THIS PAST JANUARY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

State shellfish managers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved the dig on evening low tides after marine toxin tests showed the clams are safe to eat. No digging will be allowed on any beach before noon.

The upcoming dig is approved on the following beaches, dates, and evening low tides:

  • Jan. 2, Wednesday; 4:22 p.m.; 0.2 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Jan. 3, Thursday; 5:06 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Jan. 4, Friday; 5:46 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 5, Saturday; 6:23 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • Jan. 6, Sunday; 6:59 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, recommends that diggers hit the beach about an hour or two before low tide for the best results.

“Diggers should come prepared with good lighting devices and always keep an eye on the surf, particularly at this time of year when the best low tides come after dark,” Ayres said.

Ayres said the department has also tentatively scheduled a second dig in January, pending the results of another round of marine toxin tests. If those tests are favorable, that dig will run Jan. 17-21, and will include the first dig of the season at Kalaloch.

More information on planned digs can be found on WDFW’s razor clam webpage at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2018-19 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov and from license vendors around the state.

Under state law, diggers at open beaches can take 15 razor clams per day and are required to keep the first 15 they dig. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

Next Washington Wolf Count Likely To Show Increase, Possibly Sharp Jump

An out-of-state environmental group is trying to minimize the number of wolves running around Washington, but the year-end tally is likely to be significantly higher than their “approximately 120.”

That figure comes from a pressure ad by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity that appeared in the Seattle Times and is aimed at getting the governor to force WDFW to stop killing wolves in response to repeated livestock depredations.

A RECENT AD FROM THE CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY MAKES SEVERAL DEMANDS ABOUT HOW WASHINGTON WOLVES SHOULD BE MANAGED.

It comes as the two parties are locked in a court battle over the state’s lethal removal protocols for wolves.

Twenty have been taken out by WDFW since 2012, an average of just three a year as Washington’s gray wolf population has more than doubled, but it still might have been the inspiration for a Central Puget Sound lawmaker to prefile a bill for the 2019 session along those exact same lines a couple days later.

Ultimately it all may backfire.

In response to CBD’s estimate, instate wolf advocates are indicating that there may actually be more than 150 wolves in Washington these days — even 200.

That higher number comes from Mitch Friedman, head of Conservation Northwest, which put out the lower figure in a post that Friedman shared publicly and in doing so offered his own guesstimate.

Those would be 23 to 64 percent increases over the official 2017 minimum (122).

The former is unsurprising, given the longterm 30 percent annual growth rate, and while the latter may seem shocking it is not outside the realm of possibility any more.

WDFW’s 2018 count probably won’t come out until March, like it has for the past five years, but for the first time wolf poop could help provide a much more accurate estimate of how many animals are really out there.

Earlier this year a University of Washington researcher was awarded a $172,000 grant from the state legislature to run his dung-detection dogs through areas where the number of public wolf reports has grown but no packs let alone breeding pairs were known to exist.

“If there are wolves south of I-90, the odds of the dogs locating them should be quite high,” Dr. Samuel Wasser, who heads up UW’s Center for Conservation Biology, told me for an April story. “Colonizing wolves range widely, our dogs can cover huge areas, and their ability to detect samples if present is extraordinary.”

With the 2018 field season over, the samples are now in the lab and being analyzed, and the data will also provide information on diet.

“It will be a little while because we are moving to Next Generation Sequencing, which allows us to simultaneously identify the carnivore scats and what they ate in a single run,” Wasser said by email this week.

Up to this year, WDFW’s year-end count has been a mix of collaring individual wolves and then locating them and their packs again in winter, when they’re easier to track or spot in the snow from the air, monitoring breeding pairs and collecting imagery from a network of trail cameras.

The agency has stressed that their annual tallies were just minimums, that there were likely more wolves on the landscape that had eluded them, and hunters have generally believed there to be many more than official figures.

So using DNA this new information could provide a closer estimate of the state’s actual population, not to mention possibly help us get to the wolf management plan’s recovery goals sooner.

As of this past March there was just one known breeding pair in the Northern Cascades Zone, the Teanaway Pack, and none in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast Zone.

Under the plan there must be four in each, but since that count there have been tantalizing public reports around Granite Falls, the northwest side of Mt. Rainier, and Stampede and White Passes.

Wasser says the new method for testing wolf doots his dogs find is just about dialed in, with results likely available later in winter.

“We are close to having it validated, using sample previously run using our old method from Northeast Washington,” he says. “Once that’s done, we will move forward with the Central Washington samples. That should move pretty quickly once we’re at the stage. We hope to finish the validations this month. If all goes well, we aim to have all our results by the end of February (or March), although that could be optimistic.”

The results could arrive just about the time that the Center for Biological Diversity and WDFW attend a court hearing for CBD’s lawsuit over the state’s development of the removal protocols. Both parties are due before Thurston County Superior Court Judge John C. Skinder on March 8 to review documents submitted in support of their arguments and determine when to set a trial.

By that time, it’s pretty likely that Rep. Sherry Appleton’s (D-Bainbridge) HB 1045, which would bar WDFW from killing cattle- and sheep-killing wolves and — hilariously — instead require the agency to relocate them, will have died without a committee hearing.

But not before it offered Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) yet another chance to needle Westside wolfies, this time to mull introducing a counter measure to designate Appleton’s island a wolf preserve.

In other Washington wolf news, in October WDFW issued a notice that it was beginning a periodic review of the species.

“Based on the information collected and reviewed, the department will make recommendations to maintain the species current listing status as endangered or reclassify species to sensitive, threatened, or other status,” the agency stated.

Public comment will be announced later.

And late this morning WDFW announced a confirmed wolf depredation of a calf on its Chiliwist Wildlife Area, part of the Sinlahekin complex.

The 400-pound animal was among a herd of cattle that had just been brought off of DNR land on Nov. 27 to a traditional gathering site on WDFW land and was found dead the next day.

The producer was advised to cover the carcass and did so, and on the 29th, an examination of the remains revealed typical wolf wounds along with the tracks of a single.

The incident occurred in the still-federally listed part of the state, in or very close to the Loup Loups’ territory, but in detailing the attack, WDFW did not attribute it that pack.

“No collared wolves were present in the area at the time of the depredation,” the agency stated.

It would be one of the latest if not the latest attack to occur in any year since wolves began recolonizing the state.

Spill Test Set To Begin On Columbia, Snake; Could Validate Benefits For Outmigrating Smolts

Federal, state and tribal officials have agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers.

WATER SURGES THROUGH BONNEVILLE DAM IN THIS JUNE 2014 CORPS OF ENGINEERS PHOTO. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

It’s already believed to, but the deal will allow for more flexible spring operations at eight dams to test the idea beginning next year through 2021, according to a report in the Lewiston Tribune.

“Collaboration is key to this new approach to Columbia River system management. Working together, the region’s states, tribes, and federal agencies have developed an approach that demonstrates environmental stewardship and affordable sustainable energy are not mutually exclusive,” reads a joint statement from “key supporters” of the agreement.

The parties include the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon, Washington, BPA, Army Corps and Bureau of Reclamation. The states of Idaho and Montana are also on board with it.

The trial will include the four Lower Snake dams in Washington and the four on the shared Columbia between Washington and Oregon.

Both states will need to “harmonize” how they measure total dissolved gas measured below the spillways, with Washington’s Department of Ecology needing to up its allowance by early April and consider boosting it to 125 percent for tests in 2020.

A 2017 report by the Fish Passage Center says that “increasing spill for fish passage within the safe limits of 125% total dissolved gas has a high probability of improving smolt to adult return rates.”

The more fish, the more for fishermen of all fleets to catch and orcas to eat as well as escaping to spawn in the wild.

“It’s incremental progress at time when Columbia River spring Chinook are projected to return at very low numbers,” said spill advocate Liz Hamilton at the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who added that it was “hardly the bold action we were seeking in (Governor Jay Inslee’s) Orca task force prey work group.”

She said NSIA will be watching closely, especially as dissolved gas levels are ramped up to the 125 percent benchmark.

“It can’t happen soon enough,” she said.

But concerns have been raised that spilling water will reduce electrical generation capacity in the hydropower system, and according to outdoor reporter Eric Barker’s piece in the Tribune, this week’s agreement was panned by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who also introduced a bill in the House this year against it.

In early 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon, who has been overseeing a long-running case over Columbia salmon and dam management, had ordered spill to occur.

 

Governor’s Budget Proposal Includes ‘Unprecedented’ $1.1B For Orcas, Salmon

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is touting an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his just-released 2019-21 budget proposal.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts to increase returns by 186,000 fish, potentially a key bridge for starving orcas — and fishermen — as habitat work comes on line in the coming years and decades.

“Salmon hatcheries can play an important role in increasing prey abundance for Southern Resident orcas in the near term,” the next three to 10 years, a statement from Inslee’s office on Medium states.

Besides increasing SRKWs’ prey base, the governor’s multipronged approach includes a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, opening up more salmon habitat as well as to abide by this year’s Supreme Court decision to let a lower court’s ruling on fixing culverts to stand.

There’s a much-needed $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries, $17.8 million to incentivize voluntary habitat work by landowners and $4.7 million to “collect additional population information and develop management options for pinnipeds in Puget Sound and to increase management actions in the Columbia River.”

This week, Congress sent President Trump a bill that helps on the latter waterway, giving states and tribes more leeway to remove sea lions in parts of the big river and its tribs.

Another line mentions reducing salmonid predation by nonnative fish.

The budget also calls on DOE to allow more spill at dams in the Columbia Basin to aid outmigrating Chinook and other smolts.

“Increased spill will speed travel of smolts out to the ocean and help cool the water,” the governor’s Medium page story states.

Inslee’s also calling for go-slow zones around J, K and L Pods and a three-year moratorium on watching those particular whales.

Those and many of the other proposals unveiled today came out of the SRKW Task Force that the governor formed last March in response to decreasing numbers of southern residents. Since 1996’s high point, their population has dropped 24 percent to 74 animals, with several recent high-profile deaths spurring things on.

Of course there’s far, far more to Inslee’s proposed budget, including proposed fishing and hunting license fee increases.

And it all must first be passed or modified by state lawmakers during next year’s session.

But today’s rollout was a start to a better focus on the health of salmon runs, orcas and our fisheries and waters.

NMFS Touts Economic Boost, Expected Catches From Rebuilding West Coast Groundfish Stocks

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS STORY FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

The successful rebuilding of several West Coast groundfish stocks that declined precipitously nearly three decades ago is now opening the way for increasing recreational and commercial fishing opportunities for many of the West Coast’s most delicious and nutritious fish species.

FEDERAL FISHERY OVERSEERS SAY THAT MANAGEMENT AND COLLABORATION HAS LED WEST COAST GROUNDFISH STOCKS TO REBUILD FASTER THAN EXPECTED, LEADING TO INCREASED ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES. (NMFS)

NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region published a new rule this week that increases catch limits and eases fishing restrictions for many West Coast groundfish, including rockfish, such as Pacific Ocean perch; flatfish, such as petrale sole; and roundfish, such as Pacific cod and sablefish. Groundfish represent one of the West Coast’s most important recreational and commercial fisheries, earning some $140 million annually for commercial fishermen who catch them with a variety of gear, including trawls, longlines, pots (traps), and baited hooks.

West Coast communities will see an increase of about 900 jobs and $60 million in income in 2019, according to an economic analysis of the new harvest rule. Recreational anglers will take about 219,000 more fishing trips, most of them in southern California with some in Oregon and Washington.

The collapse of several West Coast groundfish in the late 1990s led to severe fishing cutbacks so these stocks could rebuild, greatly curtailing a mainstay of the coastal economy. The groundfish fleet had to limit fishing even for the other more abundant groundfish stocks to avoid unintentional catch of the overfished stocks.

Through careful science-based management and collaboration among fishermen, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, tribes, West Coast states, and NOAA Fisheries, many stocks, including canary rockfish, bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, and Pacific Ocean perch, rebounded faster than expected and are now fully rebuilt. Research and stock assessments by NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest and Southwest Fisheries Science Centers documented the resurgence, opening the way for more harvest opportunities. Others, such as cowcod and yelloweye rockfish, have been found to be rebuilding much faster than anticipated.

AN ODFW DIVER FILMS A CANARY ROCKFISH OFF OREGON. (ODFW)

Those continued collaborative and scientific efforts made higher annual catch limits possible for many groundfish species for 2019 and 2020. This will increase recreational and commercial fishing for bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, Pacific Ocean perch, lingcod north of the California/Oregon border, and California scorpionfish. The new rule also reduces depth restrictions for recreational fishing and increases trip limits for fixed-gear fishermen.

The changes are expected to boost commercial and recreational fishing revenues, with sport anglers expected to take thousands more fishing trips off the West Coast as a result. Their spending on motels, meals, charter trips, and more is expected to boost recreational fishing income coast-wide by about $55 million, with the largest increases in California.

The harvest rule changes also promote quota trading among fishermen in the Shore-based Individual Fishing Quota Program, also known as the Groundfish Catch Share Program, which will help them make the most of the new fishing opportunities. The changes will also allow increased catches of underutilized species, such as yellowtail rockfish, lingcod, chilipepper rockfish, and Pacific cod.

Although the bycatch of Chinook salmon in the groundfish fishery is low and is expected to remain low, this new rule adds tools for NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council to respond quickly to address any unexpected changes in the amount of bycatch.

All of this good news for fishermen is also good news for fans of healthy and delicious fish. Groundfish provide lean protein and are a good source of omega-3s. West Coast groundfish, including Dover sole, sablefish, and lingcod are versatile fish available year-round that lend themselves well to a variety of preparations.

Congress Moving Different Directions On Sea Lions, Wolves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again.

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

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

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

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

Here’s what today’s said:

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

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

Now it’s more open-ended.

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

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

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

WDFW Director Looks For Public Budget Support, Assures Sportsmen He’s ‘Adding To, Not Changing Our Base’

WDFW’s new director Kelly Susewind fielded more than three dozen questions about salmon, hatcheries, sea lions, orcas, wolves, increasing fishing and hunting opportunities, and more during an hour-and-a-half-long webinar last night.

The “digital open house” provided a glimpse into Susewind’s priorities and goals as the head of the agency overseeing fish and wildlife management in the state, how he hopes to patch glaring budget holes, and lead WDFW into the future.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (LEFT) TOOK QUESTIONS DURING A ONE-HOUR, 37-MINUTE WEBINAR ON THE AGENCY AND ITS FUTURE. MOST WERE SUBMITTED BY THE PUBLIC AND READ BY AGENCY POLICY DIRECTOR NATE PAMPLIN. (WDFW)

And in seeking to get the wider public on board with his agency’s mission, he assured its most loyal customers they weren’t being abandoned for greener pastures.

With a $67 million budget boost proposed this coming legislative session — 75 percent from the General Fund, 25 percent from a license fee hike — it was part of an outreach effort to build across-the-board support for the agency’s myriad and sometimes seemingly at-odds objectives.

Susewind himself has already hosted five open houses in Spokane, Ephrata, Selah, Montesano and Ridgefield, with a sixth scheduled for Issaquah next month, but Wednesday’s webinar allowed him to take the message statewide and beyond.

“We need to become known, trusted and valued by 6 million people,” he said, speaking to the number of Washington residents who are not already intimately or closely familiar with WDFW, people who aren’t sportsmen, hikers, bikers or other recreationalists.

“I pause there for a second,” he added, “because as I’ve told people that that’s where I really want to head, some of our traditional users have expressed concern and are fearful that I’m stepping away from our traditional core users — the outdoor enthusiasts, the hunters, fishers — and that’s not the case at all. I want to reassure folks that I’m talking about adding to our base, not changing our base.”

Joining him was WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin who read off questions as they came in.

Most did sound like they were coming from the agency’s regular customers — hunters, anglers, commercial fishermen — or those who watch its moves very closely, and in general they followed the hot-button issues of the day.

Many grouped around salmon — producing more of them for fishing and orcas; dealing with sea lions eating too many; improving wild runs; gillnets; North of Falcon transparency.

With the lack of Chinook identified as a key reason southern resident killer whales are starving in Washington waters, several questions focused around what can be done to increase fish numbers, which would also benefit angling.

Susewind said that a new hatchery is being mulled for the Deschutes system near Olympia, with production boosts elsewhere.

“I don’t think we can recover salmon or maintain salmon over the long term without intelligent use of hatcheries, and I think that means higher production levels than we are at now,” he said.

Tens of millions more used to be released in Puget Sound — 55 million by the state in 1989 alone — and elsewhere in the past, but those have tailed off as Endangered Species Act listings and hatchery reforms came into play to try and recover wild returns.

As he’s quickly added in the past, Susewind said that doesn’t mean going back to the Johnny Appleseed days of indiscriminately releasing them everywhere.

Early next month the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will be briefed on “what is possible towards a time frame of implementing the increase of approximately 50 million additional smolts at hatchery facilities.”

Boosting production will require a “substantial investment,” Pamplin noted, adding that the 2019 budget request into Governor Jay Inslee includes a “pretty assertive ask” towards that.

And it would also come with a responsibility to not damage wild returns.

(WDFW)

Responding to “somewhat of a loaded question” about his thoughts on getting nonselective gillnets out of the water, Susewind said, “I’ll get out on a limb here: I think there’s a place for gillnets. Right now, as we increase production to feed killer whales, as we increase production to provide opportunities, we need a good way of making sure those fish don’t end up on the spawning grounds, and gillnets are one of the ways to manage that.”

Asked if using a stenographer to increase transparency during the state-tribal North of Falcon salmon season meetings was possible, Susewind said all kinds of ideas — Facebook feed, better social media presence — are being considered.

“We recognize it’s not a satisfying process in terms of transparency,” he said.

In supporting being able to manage federally protected pinnipeds on both the Columbia and Puget Sound, Susewind said that data is showing that there’s a real problem in that the millions of dollars being spent on salmon recovery are essentially being spent on feeding sea lions.

He talked about some of the other problems the agency has, saying that it needed to improve its communications with the public, and with a personal aside he acknowledged how hard it is to decipher the regulations pamphlets.

While pointing out the complexity of the regs is actually a function of WDFW trying to eke as much opportunity as possible out of what’s available, Susewind said he was befuddled when he picked up the fishing rules for the first time in a long time.

“I found it was too difficult to go through to quickly go out fishing. You have to want to go and do it in advance, and I think we can improve on it,” he said.

Earlier this year WDFW did roll out a mobile app and it sounds like more may be coming.

Asked how he planned to increase hunting and fishing opportunities to keep the sports viable, Susewind emphasized the importance of habitat. As for better access, he called the Farm Bill a “great onramp,” with provisions especially helpful in Eastern Washington, and pointed to a key recent deal with Green Diamond that led to a drift boat put-in on the upper Wynoochee.

Asked why, if killing wolves leads to more livestock depredations, WDFW lethally removes pack members, Susewind said that in his on-the-job research he’s found that the science wasn’t as clear as that, actually.

He said that pragmatically it does reduce short-term depredations and felt that it changes pack behavior in the long run.

In response to another question on the wild canids, he said that WDFW was going to recover wolves in Washington using the 2011 management plan and in a way that was compatible with traditional land uses.

A couple ideas from the online audience perked up Susewind’s and Pamplin’s ears for further investigation — an annual halibut limit instead of set fishing days, a family hunting license package.

Questions so specific as to stump both honchoes — what’s being done to improve fish habitat on the Snoqualmie River, for example —  saw them advise that those be emailed in so they could be routed to the right field staffer or — as with the above case — the member attend the upcoming meeting at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery so biologist Jenni Whitney could answer it.

Asked if one day Washington hunters might be able to hunt cougars with hounds, which was outlawed by a citizen initiative, Susewind essentially said he doubted it, but noted that the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will be holding a work session on the wild cats next week.

He fielded questions on increasing youth involvement; where to find information on preventing bear and wolf conflicts; global warming; what’s being done to prevent whale watching boats from pursuing orcas; if recreational crabbing could begin at the same time tribal seasons did; his thoughts on hoof disease in elk and fish farming; and his favorite places to fish and hunt (the Humptulips and Westport growing up, and brushy, wet Western Washington, though “there’s something to be said about the Methow too.”)

PAMPLIN POSES A QUESTION TO SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Pamplin took an opportunity to pitch a softball, asking a “myth busting” question whether license fees go to WDFW or the General Fund.

“It is a myth that hunting and fishing license fees go into the General Fund to build whatever –roads … They are specific to the agency and specific to hunting and fishing opportunities,” Susewind replied.

Part of the agency’s 2019 budget request is a 15 percent increase on licenses.

Susewind explained that the Great Recession of 10 years ago led to big cuts from the General Fund and that WDFW’s “heavy reliance” on user fees hasn’t kept pace with rising costs.

“We need to get a dedicated fund,” he said.

But in the meanwhile, WDFW needs more from the General Fund, Susewind added.

As the webinar wound to a close, one of the final questions — perhaps from a late-arriving member of the public — was, what were his top priorities as director.

With not even four months on the job, and the legislative session, budget and North of Falcon looming, just getting up to speed on everything was Susewind’s first reply.

But he said his single top priority was to “make us more relevant to the broader population.”

“We need to get a lot more people enthused and engaged and supporting the mission of the agency,” Susewind said. “The other 6 million people need to know that natural resources don’t just come naturally; it takes a lot of work to preserve and enhance natural resources, and that’s going to take all of us.”

Even as Washington sportsmen will step up and buy licenses next year, and the year after, and the one after that — grudgingly and otherwise, regardless of whether a fee hike passes — Susewind said another of his priorities is for the public to see that WDFW is managed well.

“They need to know we are efficient in how we operate and we are a good investment,” he said.

Susewind and crew have a big job ahead of them that will require more than a half-dozen open houses and the internet, but it’s a start.

WDFW Director Holding Live Webinar Tonight To Talk Fish, Wildlife, Future

Weren’t able to make this month’s five WDFW open houses across the state with new Director Kelly Susewind?

He’s hosting the digital version of one tonight.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Washington hunters, anglers and other residents will be able to hear directly from Susewind on his fish and wildlife management goals and the long-term needs of the state’s critters and maintaining and improving sporting opportunities during an online webinar.

It comes as the director approaches the end of his fourth month in the hot seat and with the agency hoping that next year lawmakers in Olympia will approve boosting its budget by around $60 million to negate a large shortfall due to long-term structural funding issues as well as to enhance hunting and fishing and enhance conservation measures.

About 75 percent of it would come from the state General Fund, the rest from a 15 percent across-the-board increase on license fees, with some caps on hikes.

That will be a heavy lift, but after last year’s proposed increase died and was replaced with a one-time $10 million bump, WDFW was subsequently independently audited for inefficiencies and staffers also identified $2 million in cuts.

Challenges with recovering orcas and other ESA-listed species as well as a changing climate’s effects on fish and wildlife will only make the agency’s job tougher in the future.

Susewind’s in-person open houses saw him doing a lot of “listening” in Spokane and fielding “some tough questions” in Selah.

Here’s a link to the online event, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

More information is also available here.

But even if you miss tonight’s webinar, there are still two more chances to hear from Susewind and WDFW.

The whole thing will be posted tomorrow, and you can catch up to the director and his minions at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery on Wednesday, Dec. 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.