Tag Archives: Washington

Spokane Newspaper Reports Range Rider Allegations

WDFW wolf managers are asking a Westside prosecutor to file second-degree theft charges against several range riders after an agency investigation found they were allegedly not on the job in Northeast Washington when they said they were.


The Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s Eli Francovich broke the story yesterday and it’s based on documents filed in a separate legal matter involving wolves and WDFW, and were forwarded to the paper by wolf advocates.

The contracted riders are accused of claiming to have worked a combined 40 hours over four days during September 2018’s depredations by the Old Profanity Territory Pack, which ultimately led to the removal of two members, but according to the story were instead allegedly buying building materials at a Spokane home improvement store and staying in a fancy downtown hotel.

The OPTs were destroyed last summer after again attacking cattle in northern Ferry County’s Kettle Range.

According to the article, the alleged theft amounts to $2,000.

One of the riders, Arron Scotten, a fifth-generation rancher and retired from the Navy after 20 years’ service, told Francovich that he “disputed pretty much everything” when confronted by WDFW Detective Lenny Hahn, who began his investigation in October. 2018.

The case includes phone records tying the riders to locations outside the mountains, but Scotten says he loans his phone to others.

Scotten also claims wolves are being “used as a weapon to try to remove grazing on public lands,” the article states.

Chris Bachman of The Lands Council, which provided documents to the Spokesman-Review, called for range riding protocols to be standardized, with specific benchmarks for using it as a nonlethal conflict prevention measure.

WDFW considers range riding to be one of two “critically important tools for mitigating wolf-livestock conflict” and if employed and attacks happen and are likely to again, state managers can consider lethally removing members of an offending pack.

Last fall Governor Jay Inslee waded into wolf management in the Kettle Range, telling the agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species.”

However, Inslee’s 2020 supplementary budget proposal did not fund additional options WDFW identified to carry out that program.

Disease Kills Large Number Of Ringold Steelhead Smolts

A disease outbreak killed roughly 75 percent of the summer steelhead smolts being reared at a Hanford Reach hatchery, a blow to a fishery and program that have had a tough few years.


WDFW reports that it was able to release somewhere around 50,000 of the juvenile fish from Ringold Springs into the cooler waters of the Columbia River to give them “a fighting chance,” but couldn’t find backup stock for the other 150,000 or so that were lost.

“We actively tried to find replacements, but it was too late in the rearing cycle,” said Brian Lyon, the state hatchery complex manager, this morning. “We would’ve replaced them if we could have, believe me.”

The news was first reported on WDFW’s Medium blog Jan. 13.

Crews first detected what is known as “Ich,” or Ichthyophthirius multifilis, in December and treated a 2.5-acre pond used to rear nearly 200,000 steelhead, but were unable to stop the outbreak, so after a week and a half released the survivors.

The disease, which is spread by a parasite and affects the gills and skin of fish, was also found in other ponds at Ringold that hold coho and rainbow trout, but treatments were successful and few of those fish were lost, according to WDFW.


It wasn’t clear how the steelhead came to be infected.

Ich exists in the Columbia and could have been carried into hatchery waters by predators — Lyon says that if a bird ate an infected fish then pooped as it flew over the ponds, it could transmit the disease that way.

Otters might have also been to blame. WDFW says there are deterrents at the hatchery but sometimes hungry critters can worm their way in.

The last Ich outbreak at Ringold was 10 years ago, WDFW reported, but the 60-degree spring waters that feed the ponds are ideal growing conditions for the disease, according to Lyon.

Releasing the surviving steelhead into the cooler waters of the Columbia should have given them a “better” chance of survival, his agency reported. In December the big river was running in the upper 40s and it is now in the upper 30s below Priest Rapids Dam, at the head of the Hanford Reach.

Lyon said the smolts were about a year old at the time of the outbreak but unfortunately no surplus fish were available at other hatcheries, including Wells further up the Columbia.

The steelhead were being reared for return in 2021’s lower Hanford Reach fishery. Angling for summer-runs there has been poor in recent seasons, with the waters closed to retention this past fall and shut down early in 2018 to try and ensure that broodstock goals were reached.

Ich was blamed for the loss of about 6,100 wild and hatchery adult Chinook in Willapa Basin streams in 2015, while this past fall another naturally occurring disease, cryptobia, hit fall kings in rivers on Oregon’s North Coast.

WDFW said it is reviewing the Ich outbreak at Ringold “to determine whether measures can be put in place to prevent a re-occurrence.”

State Rep Aims To Simplify WDFW Hunting Regs; Oly Fish-Wildlife Bills Update

It was the fall of 1969, man had just walked on the moon, the road over the top of the North Cascades was still dirt and all of Washington’s big and small game seasons fit on one side of a state highway map that also featured GMU borders.

A Blue Mountains lawmaker would like WDFW to model its current 132-page pamphlet on that much simpler foldout brochure and today her bill toward that end had a hearing in Olympia.



“I think it’s just hard to figure out the rules and where you’re supposed to be,” said Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy) before the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee this morning.

She said she was inspired to propose the bill after conversations last fall with hunters who relayed to her how complex the regulations now are and subsequently discovering her dad’s 1969 copy of them among old papers of his in her barn.

“I have been hunting for over 70 years and I can remember when hunting regs were very small and very direct,” one of those hunters, Daryl Lambert, told state representatives.

Like many other sportsmen will vouch — whether it be about the hunting or fishing pamphlets, or those for Washington, Oregon or elsewhere — Lambert said you all but need to be a lawyer or land surveyor to understand them.

“I’m afraid I’m going to do something I shouldn’t be or be in the wrong zone,” said the soft-spoken man, voicing the fears of many legitimate hunters.


It was left to WDFW’s Nate Pamplin, director of budget and government affairs, to offer his agency’s hesitant opposition to HB 2557.

He acknowledged the complexity of the pamphlet and that it can be a barrier to recruiting and retaining hunters, but noted that in addition to maximizing opportunity through distributed pressure while ensuring sustainable game herds, conversations with sportsmen, land owners and treaty tribes have essentially led to today’s packed pamphlet.

“You can imagine how after 50 years of hunting conversations we’ve seen the increase in the number of rules and regulations, but we think that reducing the size of the pamphlet and thus the number of rules would severely impact and cause a loss of hunting opportunity,” Pamplin said.

He did note that the 1969 hunting regs had a 20-page addendum on file that described the legal boundaries of all the game management units shown on the highway map.

Pamplin did voice support for developing a mobile hunting app like what WDFW’s done with Fish Washington.

“It already has your GPS on it — what are the seasons that are open, what are the bag limits, what are the license requirements. All right there in something that is very simple and everybody carries on their person today,” he described to lawmakers.

Of course it was not exactly free to come up with and maintain that app — WDFW is requesting $311,000 in the supplementary budget to keep it going.

Following up on a question from Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama), Pamplin said that for those without smartphones, WDFW does need to consider having other simplified material available.

“On the fishing side … sometimes we will work with local government or tourism board to kind of provide like a one-page summary of ‘Here’s the trout regulations just for that area,’ so someone has that one-off opportunity, doesn’t need to pore through the whole pamphlet to figure out how to go trout fishing. So we’re definitely open to exploring a variety of ways to do that,” he said.

Perhaps what could be done is modify Rep. Dye’s idea but on the flip side of the highway/game management unit map just list most or all of the general seasons for deer, elk, bear, cougar, small game and upland birds, along with plenty of asterisks to say, See the printed or PDF versions for the full regs, definitions, deadlines, firearms restriction areas, what a wolf and a coyote look like, permit and raffle opportunities, etc., etc., etc.

If the dollars could be found for that, it could be made available where tourism brochures turn up — state ferries, chambers of commerce, sportsmen’s show booths, etc., etc., etc.

AS FOR OTHER WDFW-RELATED BILLS PERCOLATING this short 60-day session, here are a few that have caught the passing eye of The Olympia Outsider™* so far:

SB 6071/HB 2571, “Concerning increased deterrence and meaningful enforcement of fish and wildlife violations” by allowing game wardens to issue citations on the spot, like state troopers would a speeding ticket, instead of forwarding the case to county prosecutors who may or may not take it up, as well as tweak laws so poachers can’t regain possession of illegally taken fish or game after its been seized due to how their case was settled without a conviction.

HB 2549, “Integrating salmon recovery efforts with growth management” by making bringing back Chinook, coho and other stocks a goal of GMA, with counties and cities required to submit comprehensive plans toward that goal to WDFW for approval. Key term in the bill is “net ecological gain,” which means instead of just breaking even on environmental impacts of development, mitigations would outweigh them. Has a hearing this week.

HB 2443, “Requiring the use of personal flotation devices on smaller vessels,” meaning anglers 13 years and older aboard drift boats, canoes and other fishing craft less than 19 feet long would need to wear a Coast Guard-approved life vest. The bill had a public hearing earlier this week and even as they spoke to a culture of safety, it appeared to take some among the recreational boating community off guard. Slated for executive session in the House Housing, Community Development & Veterans Committee later this week.

HB 2559, “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes by the department of fish and wildlife” and just might “save the state of Washington,” per one of its two prime sponsors, Rep. Larry Springer (D), who says it’s the most important bill that he and Rep. Tom Dent (R) thought they could bring forward this session. Similar to a bill last year, it essentially shifts PILT payment responsibility from WDFW to the state treasurer’s office, like how it’s done for DNR lands. State ownership of lands in rural counties — where wildlife habitat opportunities are greatest — comes at a cost of taking dollars off tax rolls, especially with the legislature not fully funding PILT since the Recession.

SB 6166, “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses,” the fee bill proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in his supplementary budget and introduced by Sen. Christine Rolfes. Essentially it’s the same bill as last year’s failed HB 1708 and SB 5692. WDFW had pointedly requested General Funds to fill its budget hole instead of trying another fee bill.

HB 2552, “Creating a joint legislative salmon committee” to come up with bills fostering recovery of Chinook, coho and other stocks and coordinating those efforts. Has a hearing later this week.

HB 2504, “Creating the southwest Washington salmon restoration act” and requiring that future salmon production in Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific, and Wahkiakum Counties be equal to or greater than the average over the past two decades. WDFW voiced support for the bill at its public hearing this morning, and a North Sound representative was eager to incorporate her district into sponsor Rep. Jim Walsh’s proposal.

HB 2450, “Concerning license fees for emergency medical services personnel under Title 77 RCW,” which would provide five-plus-year volunteer EMTs and others with free fishing and hunting licenses, an idea that sponsor Rep. Joe Schmick hopes will help retain their services in rural areas. WDFW says it figures 700 people would apply if passed.

HB 2705, “Concerning special antlerless deer hunting seasons” and allowing hunters 65 years of age and up to harvest mule deer and whitetail does during the general rifle season in Eastside units.

SB 6509/HB 2741, “Increasing the abundance of salmonids in Washington waters” through a pilot program similar to Alaska-style private hatcheries.

SB 6072/HB 2238, “Dividing the state wildlife account into the fish, wildlife, and conservation account and the limited fish and wildlife account.” No, this doesn’t mean your license dollars — WHICH DO NOT GO INTO THE GENERAL FUND — will suddenly go into the General Fund, it is about dividing WDFW’s State Wildlife Account — where your fishing and hunting fees actually go — into two subaccounts: restricted and unrestricted moneys to “provide more clarity on these funding sources and issues,” per WDFW.

SB 5613, “Concerning the authority of counties to vacate a county road that abuts on a body of water if the county road is hazardous or creates a significant risk to public safety.” Introduced last session and resuscitated for 2020, this bill targets a water access site on the lower Lewis River but has drawn concern for potential wider impacts. It is within one reading of getting out of the Senate.

And HB 2666, “Establishing the warm water fishing advisory group” to improve angling, habitat and representation for bass, crappie, catfish, walleye and other spinyray fisheries.

* Has The Olympia Outsider™ forgotten a bill? Email him a hot news tip/kick in the side of the noggin at awalgamott@media-inc.com!

Northwest Sportsmen’s, Boat Shows Take Center Stage

Winter days a great time to check out what’s new in fishing, hunting, find deals, get advice at shows around the region.

Along with the big antler racks, the gun raffle he signed up for and the guy with the sparky fire tool thingy, what caught the eye of my youngest son at the fishing and hunting show we attended last winter was a school of fish.

Walleye to be exact.

As a gaggle of anglers began to settle into their chairs by the massive fish tank ahead of the arrival of the next expert speaker, Kiran sidled up to a corner and a few of the bugeyed Midwestern transplants swam over to say hello.


He’ll be able to renew his acquaintance with the fish as sportsmen’s show season kicks off in the Northwest, starting this weekend in Tri-Cities.

And surely 2019’s debut of the walleye tank is among the best new displays to come online in recent years as organizers look for ways to entice us hunters and anglers to take a day off work or come in on the weekend to see the sights.

Yes, that may seem in this day and age like a tough sell as we face low fish runs and harder hunting, but I find it invigorating to walk the aisles with fellow sportsmen, not to mention educational given all the seminars to take in.

And if I buy some new gear – expect to see hundreds of new products at some shows – a few scones and maybe book a trip along the way, all the better as I’m supporting our causes and keeping them strong and viable.

This winter features two dozen different shows in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and southwest British Columbia, with about half just an exit or three away on the I-5 corridor and many more in key Inland Northwest cities.

Here’s a quick look at what’s new and interesting at some of this year’s events:

THE AFOREMENTIONED WALLEYE tank was part of the Washington and Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Shows in Puyallup and Portland, and O’Loughlin Trade Shows’ Trey Carskadon called it a “huge hit last year and back again this year with big names.”

“Walleye Alley is an opportunity to learn the ins, outs and places to catch walleye in Washington state and the Columbia,” he says.


Eastside guides Shane Magnuson and Austin Moser will be in heavy rotation on the tank, and the Midwest’s Johnny Candle will be on tap too.

Also returning in late January to Puyallup is the Outdoor Cooking Championship, where the lords of the grill and barbecue pit put their briskets, steaks and hamburgers head to head – or mouth to mouth, in this case – in competition for points in national and international cooking contests.

“It’s a big deal! Last year, we had no idea how big a deal it really was until we started tasting some of the samples – OMG!” gushes Carskadon.

The chefs will also be serving up cooking tips in seminars, joining an absolute plethora of regionally renowned anglers, guides and experts on stage –somehow, 40 hours worth of seminars are packed into each day!

“It’s a true parade of pros with names like Buzz Ramsey, Robert Kratzer, Del Stephens, Glen Berry, Dan Kloer, Johnnie Candle, Brett Stoffel, Terry Rudnick, Brad Hole, Tyler Hicks and many others,” says Carskadon.


Those last two gents – Hole and Hicks – will be at the Kayak Fishing Pavilion, exclusive to Puyallup, as angling out of the nimble craft continues to explode in the region and nationwide.

For they and other techy fishermen, there’s a seminar series at Puyallup and Portland in early February that should help new and longtime Garmin owners get the most out of their electronics. In terms of good old-fashioned, hands-on skills, expert Brett Stoffel will be giving advice on how to survive in the wild in case of emergency.

For the kids, local bow clubs Skookum Archers and Sylvan Archers members will be on hand for instruction at Puyallup and Portland, respectively, while the Baxter’s Kid’s Trout Pond is “a perennial favorite” at all three shows (the third, the Central Oregon Sportsmen’s Show, is in Redmond, in mid-March), and one which annually yields fish up to 10 pounds.

“A little known fact: The uncaught fish at the end of the show are donated to a local food bank,” notes Carskadon.

Other fun stuff includes the “Fistful of Corkies” game, in which you dip into a bin of the drift bobbers from Yakima Bait, dump them in a cup and if one of those size 12s in fire tiger or whatever has a Toyota logo, fish on! you just won a prize.

“There are hundreds of incredible prizes like coolers, apparel, packs, socks, rods, camp gear and much more,” says Carksadon. “At the very least you’ll leave with a handful of Corkies – for free.”

You also stand a chance to win a gun safe, rifle, tools or boots from Fort Knox, Ruger, Gerber and Danner, among other prizes, via the Head and Horns Competition at all three shows. According to Carskadon, it doesn’t just have to be a critter you harvested last fall; it can be “one your great great uncle harvested a hundred years ago.”

(Speaking of a century ago, see the next page’s sidebar for what was at a 1924 sportsmen’s show in Seattle.)

Specific to Portland in early February is the Leupold VIP Movie Night, a first, and featuring “short hunting movies along with the celebrities that are in them.” At press time the lineup hadn’t fully been set, but Randy Newberg, the well-known public land hunter and advocate, was scheduled, and there will be raffles.

Fellow hunter Steven Rinella and several members of his show will be around for what’s being dubbed MeatEater Sunday “to celebrate this wonderful opportunity to learn how to prepare and cook all kinds of wild game.”

Portland’s own Maxine McCormick will also be holding fly rod casting seminars, representing “a rare opportunity to learn from the world’s best – not the world’s best teen or world’s best female flycaster, but the world’s best, period,” says Carskadon.

Also only in the Rose City, the Englund Marine Bait Rigging lab, with tips on setting up for tuna, halibut, Chinook and other top species from expert anglers, plus what’s known as “Retail Row,” part of what makes the Portland show so huuuuuuuuuuuuge.

Along with many of the same features as the other two O’Loughlin events, the Redmond show will see the new Sportsmen’s Cooking Competition, which organizers have high hopes for. You can also check out how fast of a draw you are for free and then clamber through hundreds of travel vehicles at what’s billed as “Central Oregon’s Largest RV Show.”

Info: otshows.com


ONE THOUSAND BOATS, 400-plus different exhibitors, 200 free seminars, nine full days, 3 acres worth of boat tech and gear, and two locations. Welcome to the 2020 Seattle Boat Show, slated again for late January into very early February.

Along with all the latest and greatest in fishing boats to drool over, the calling card for this mammoth show primarily held at the Emerald City’s CenturyLink Field Events Center is the huge number of fishing and crabbing seminars led by experts. I mean, if you’re going to have a boat, you should get some use out of it, right?!?

To that end, the Northwest Marine Trade Association, which puts on the show, annually puts together a stellar who’s who lineup of speakers, and this year’s is notable because it includes Del “Tuna Dog” Stephens. He’s one of the driving forces in offshore albacore angling since the fishery exploded earlier this millennium (last season saw Oregon’s sport catch of 100,000-plus destroy the old record). Stephens is on deck the afternoons of Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 to talk about the use of new technology for finding and catching tuna and albie fishing from A to Z, respectively.


Fellow briny blue angler Tommy Donlin is coming back to touch on those fightingest fish in our Pacific waters, as well as halibut, lingcod and Chinook. In fact, salmon are a topic for many other speakers, including Nick Kester, Chris Long, Keith Robbins, Tom Nelson, Kent Alger, Austin Moser, Aaron Peterson and others.

A new speaker this year is Leland Miywaki, who came up with the Miyawaki Beach Popper and who will go deep on fly fishing the salt for coastal cuttroat trout – a wildly overlooked opportunity – and salmon.

And Larry Phillips will wave the flag for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife during presentations on coastal fisheries and a Q&A on the myriad issues the agency is dealing with.

Info: seattleboatshow.com


The year was 1924. There wasn’t exactly a walleye tank on site and probably no seminar speakers either over in Tent 4, but that July did see Seattle’s second annual Sportsmen’s Show, held at the corner of 3rd and Blanchard, not far from the Pike Place Market.

While doing genealogy research last year, my mom discovered an article about the show in the July 12 edition of The Seattle Daily Times, where it was front-page, above-the-fold news.

One of the show’s anchors was the state Department of Game, which had a 15,000-square-foot exhibit with featured a “little brook” running between pens with wildlife, including 11 elk calves captured by “teacher-trapper” Dora Huelsdonk from the Hoh River country, as well as cutthroat and bass.

Along with a mammoth reproduction of Mt. Rainier and Snoqualmie Falls, there were also displays of old shotguns and ammo. That year’s show was set to run seven days and was open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. No word whether fire-starting trinkets were available for purchase, but the event was also a membership drive for the Seattle Sportsmen’s Club. –AW

COMING AGAIN TO Central Washington are a trio of shows in January and February, and among the highlights is the second annual Yakima Bait Yard Sale at the Sundome in Yakima, where you’ll find fishy lures and more at “ridiculously low prices,” according to Shuyler Productions

Between that venue and halls in Tri-Cities and Wenatchee, Northwest Big Game displays will be on tap, along with head and horns competitions and plenty of seminars from local experts like Wayne Heinz, Jerrod Gibbons, Jesse Lamb, Rob Phillips and others on bass, walleye, kokanee and others species.

If you’re looking for some ideas for cooking up your catches and kills, Richy Harrod of Harrod’s Cookhouse will be in the kitchen.

The young’ns can try their luck at North, West and South Lunker Lakes, if you will, at all three shows. The Valley Marine Kids Korner will be at each too. And at Yakima there’ll be a fun trout race on Saturday afternoon. I’d put five on Finny McFinface!

Shuyler reports that its first show of the season, the Tri-Cities Sportsmen’s Show at the HAPO Center (formerly TRAC), will also have an expanded arena that will feature boats, campers, trailers and more.

Info: shuylerproductions.com

AND THE GRANDDADDY shindig in our region, the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, will celebrate its 60th anniversary in mid-March, and organizers are making a renowned event even better.

“For the 2020 show we have added a second seminar room and many new outfitters and guides have joined,” reports Wanda Clifford of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council.


The Big Horn show might be best known for its big bucks and bulls competition – “how it all began,” INWC touts – and as always there will be certified Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young measurers on hand.

There’s also a trout fishing pond, gun raffle, shooting and archery ranges and other kid- and family-friendly things to do.

“The Reptile Man will be joining us for Saturday and Sunday, and Family Day [March 22] will bring free activities for the family,” adds Clifford.

For grown-up sportsmen and -women, ladies night is Friday with half-off drinks.

“We are bringing back our $8 entry off an adult ticket for Thursday, and our She Shed was so successful we are bringing in a Man Cave this year as a raffle item,” adds Clifford.

Info: bighornshow.com/info

For the full list of Northwest sportsmen’s and boat shows, go here.

Thoughts On The Cancellation Of Skagit-Sauk C&R Steelhead Season

Like many North Sound steelheaders, I’m disappointed with this week’s news that not enough wild winter-runs are forecast to return to the Skagit and Sauk this year to support another catch-and-release opener.


I’m also frustrated, given how much effort that I saw fellow anglers as well as state and tribal biologists and managers put into convincing federal overseers to approve the North Cascades fishery.

And angry because after just a season and a sixth on these vaunted waters in the entirety of last decade — a mere 101 days of opportunity — me and a whole lot of other devotees are right back on the bank again.

Just like where we were in January 2010.

So much for making the run out to Darrington, floating down from Marblemount, or swinging spoons or flies near Rockport and Concrete this February, March and April.

So much for another million dollars for the region, like what last season generated –$22 and change from me alone after lunching up at the IGA in the home of the Loggers.

So much for rejuvenating one’s self in the beautiful solitude of this country as winter ebbs into spring and snowfields glisten under blue skies and the willows bud and the grouse drum.


Now, I am not going to sit here and pretend that I am the most aggrieved Sauk-Skagit steelheader of all time.

Yes, I have been fishing here occasionally since, I want to say, the early 2000s, but most others have far longer histories with these waters, and needless to say far, faaaaaaaar more catches.

Hell, the last thing I caught out of these rivers was a scolding last April Fools’ Day for parking in a known tweeker den so I could fish a certain run!

But I have been writing about it and the rest of Puget Sound steelheading’s highs, lows and woes over the past decade or so, and this feels like a bitter blow.

For want of a measly 38 fish …



THE PROBLEM, AS EVERYWHERE ANYMORE, is that not enough fish are returning to hold a season, and since these happen to also be listed under the Endangered Species Act they require significant protection on their road to recovery.

This year’s forecast calls for just 3,963 natives, which essentially is too few because of incidental impacts that will occur to them in other fisheries.

Overlapping the run to various degrees are state and tribal seasons targeting blackmouth, spring Chinook, sockeye and bull trout, and they have their own devotees.

The winter-spring native fishery is operated under April 2018’s Skagit River Steelhead Fishery Resource Management Plan and uses a “stepped” impact rate, which is to say that the more fish that are predicted to return, the more that can removed one way or another from the population.

Think those incidental impacts elsewhere, and catch-and-release handling mortalities and tribal harvest that are allowed under the federal permit.

To be clear, the three Skagit Basin tribes that went in with WDFW on the management plan will not be netting wild steelhead this season while we state anglers are shut down.

With runs of 8,001 or more fish, the impact rate is up to 25 percent ; for runs between 6,001 and 8,000, it’s 20 percent; for runs between 4,001 and 6,000 it’s 10 percent; and when it’s 4,000 or fewer, the rate drops to just 4 percent, which as it stands gets eaten up by other fisheries.

So mathematically it’s all quite simple, actually.


BUT SCRUBBING THE SEASON WAS NOT AN EASY decision for WDFW to make, I understand.

There was the weight of the considerable time and energy that the fishing public and agency invested in getting it off the ground again — the grassroots effort known as Occupy Skagit, the institutional buy-in from staff and the Fish and Wildlife Commission, having three separate tribal nations on board, writing the plan, putting it out for comment and then getting the nervous nellies at the National Marine Fisheries Service to approve the damn thing already.

There was the forecast, soooooooo close to the line and coming at a time when any fish prediction is immediately suspect — especially given the pretty crazy new signals the North Pacific is throwing off with the rise of The Blob.

There was the low expected return of 5-year-olds, a class that typically makes up a very strong plurality of any given season’s return.

There were the almost uniformly poor early hatchery steelhead returns from southern mainland British Columbia down through Puget Sound and on the Washington Coast and Lower Columbia tribs — were those a sign of ocean productivity that could be applied to wild runs?

And there’s the fact that WDFW has been using the Skagit-Sauk season as a key example of what it calls “emergent needs” and requires a budget boost of somewhere around a couple hundred thousand bucks to perform the heavy monitoring required under the permit from NMFS because of the listing.

Throw in the watchful eyes of NMFS, and undoubtedly a lawsuit sitting on the Wild Fish Conservancy’s fax machine just waiting for Kurt Beardslee to hit send, and, well … I’m damn glad I wasn’t the one being paid to make the decision.


ULTIMATELY, STEWARDSHIP WON OUT and I can respect and support that.

There is a lot riding on Puget Sound’s last best stock. Under NMFS’s new recovery plan, it’s one of four separate winter steelhead populations in the North Cascades that to delist must meet set escapement goals  — 15,000 in the case of the Sauk-Skagit.

Yes, there’s a long way to go, but if this year’s forecast is actually correct, it would still be 1,000 and 1,400 more wild steelhead back to the system than the next two lowest runs: 1979’s 2,982 and 2009’s 2,502.


A WDFW graph shows that those years were ultimately followed by large increases in run sizes; following the last nadir it jumped to 8,727, 9,084 and 8,644 in back-to-back-to-back years in the mid-2010s.

With good habitat in the headwaters and lots of restoration work ongoing elsewhere, carrying capacity will increase more.

Hell, if we were patient enough to sit on the bank for the eight straight seasons that a fishery wasn’t even on the table — 2010 through 2017 — what’s another year?

The wild card, though, is just how much damage The Blob wrought as it dewatered tributaries and overheated streams onshore and affected the foodweb offshore, potentially impacting a handful of year-classes.

Another year could become two, three years … more?

We’re patient, we steelheaders are, but the state of affairs with our favorite winter pastime in Pugetropolis is beyond aggravating.

The continual grinding loss of opportunities over the decades, the declining runs, the listing, the reduction in hatchery releases, pinnipeds and lawsuits eating away at the scraps that are left …

Joining our feelings of disappointment, frustration and anger is sheer utter hopelessness. We can’t take any more. The problem for the fish is so huge. Why did you ever let us start steelheading in the first place if it was all going to go to sh*t, oh lord?

God, maybe Phil Anderson should have just put us out of our misery back in 2010 when he broached the idea of “eliminating steelhead fishing in Puget Sound” in response to his agency’s budget woes.

As we know (and do we ever know), those woes are still around.

And yet while everything else has seemingly bled out, Skagit-Sauk wild steelhead are still around.

They’re an amazingly strong stock, a plastic absurdity of a fish– those in the Skagit Basin exhibit nearly 36 different life histories, three @#$%@$# dozen!

They will cycle back up and along the way be better able to adapt to the changing conditions in so many of their habitats.

One of which I occasionally visit in winter and spring, float and spoon rods in hand as bull ruffies drum up mates and the smell of cottonwood sap fills my nostrils.


Groups Urge Washington Lawmakers To Tap General Fund For WDFW

A broad range of fishing, hunting and other outdoor groups are calling on Washington lawmakers to fully fund WDFW through the General Fund and say that the license fee increase proposed by Governor Jay Inslee is “unlikely” to pass.

“Greater funding is needed to preserve and restore the Evergreen State’s fish and wildlife heritage, especially given growing challenges ranging from salmon and orca recovery to elk hoof disease, habitat loss and wolf management,” urges their letter, which came out this afternoon.


It was signed by 45 “outdoor leaders,” and the list includes the state board of Puget Sound Anglers; David Cloe of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council; Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association; Carmen Vanbianchi, board member of the Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers; and Rich Simms, cofounder and board member of the Wild Steelhead Coalition.

“Hunting is what I live for,” said another, Rachel Voss, state chair of the Mule Deer Foundation and a Tieton resident. “Our game populations and experiences face countless challenges these days, and only a strong agency offers the chance of answering those challenges and passing on our hunting heritage.”

Many of the signatories like Voss have been working with WDFW on its chronic budget issues over the past couple years, and their letter follows today’s start of the short, 60-day session of the state legislature.

It also comes after fee bill failures in 2017 and 2019 led WDFW to ask Inslee to fill this year’s budget shortfalls with $26 million from the General Fund.

While the governor’s proposed supplementary spending plan does include $15.6 million in sales tax dollars, it also leans on a 15 percent across-the-board hike in the cost of fishing and hunting licenses to raise $7-plus million a year, along with another $1.5 million or so from a resurrected Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

The reintroduction of both of those fee packages was “unanticipated,” according to WDFW.

“A really good outcome for us coming out of 2020 is for the department’s budget to be stable,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, late last week.

He hopes lawmakers book funding as ongoing instead of one time, which means the agency has to return year after year with hat in hand as costs mount.

Other signatories to the letter to state senators and representatives included Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest; Brad Throssell of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited; Jason Callahan of the WA Forest Protection Association; Kevin van Bueren of the Methow Valley Fly Fishers; Sherry Penney of the Regional Fisheries Coalition; Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association; and numerous birding, climbing, river and other groups.

They say that WDFW’s ability to perform its twin mandates of providing opportunities while conserving critters and habitat has been “put at significant risk by a structural deficit in the Department’s budget, where ongoing costs (like mandated payroll increases, Endangered Species Act requirements, and demand for outdoor opportunity from the state’s growing population) have been funded for only the initial year [2020] by onetime money.”

“The costs continue in later years. This exacerbates an agency budget that is still not restored from cuts dating to the 2008 recession. This deficit grows each biennium as onetime solutions temporarily fill the gap, only to expire and leave a larger hole,” they write.

Yuasa’s 2020 Visions: Halibut Highlights, Blackmouth Openers, First Derbies Coming Up

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

This month marks a time when anglers begin gazing into the crystal ball to see what the 2020 fishing season has in store for halibut, salmon and other fish species.

For starters, the good news is halibut chasers can look forward to a more stabilized fishery in marine areas enabling them to make early plans for the upcoming spring season.


“In Area 2A (Washington, Oregon and California) we’ve moved in a new direction that started in 2019 and goes through 2022 where quotas remain status quo barring any unforeseen issues,” said Heather Hall, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fish policy coordinator.

“We’ve added a lot more days of fishing up front in 2020 compared to last year,” Hall said. “It helps knowing we have the catch quota available (there was 39,000 pounds leftover in 2019 Puget Sound fisheries) and how our fisheries did last year.”

In past seasons, the sport halibut fishery would open in early May, but in 2020 the proposal is to open the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 6 to 10) on April 16.
In those two areas, fishing is allowed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from April 16 to May 16 and May 28 to June 27, plus Memorial Day weekend on May 22-24.

The western Strait (Area 5) will be open Thursdays and Saturdays only from April 30 to May 16; and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from May 16 to June 28. Fishing is open daily from May 22-24 on Memorial Day weekend only.

The northern coast off Neah Bay and La Push (Areas 3 and 4) is open Thursdays and Saturdays from April 30 to May 16 and May 28 to June 27, plus Memorial Day weekend on May 22-24.

Just like last year, the southern ports of Westport and Ilwaco (Areas 1 and 2) are open Thursdays and Sundays from April 30 to May 17 and May 28 to June 28; and May 21 only during Memorial Day weekend.

Fishing areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved and/or additional fishing dates might be added if quotas aren’t attained.

“The season(s) will last as long as there is available quota,” Hall said. “We aren’t sure what kind of effort and fishing success there will be in that early April opener. It’s been many years since we opened in April so it will be interesting to see how it goes.”

In general, a shift in how the halibut fisheries are devised annually continues to be well received since it provides no last-minute changes or closures that have frustrated anglers prior to 2017 who have made fishing plans well in advance of the dates set forth.

The Area 2A catch quota (includes Washington, Oregon and California) for sport, treaty tribal and non-treaty commercial is 1.5-million pounds, and 89 percent – 1,329,575 pounds – of the quota was caught in 2019.

The total sport halibut catch quota is 277,100 pounds for Washington, and 97 percent – 270,024 pounds – of the quota was caught in 2019.

A breakdown in the sport allocation in Puget Sound-Strait (Areas 5 to 10) fisheries is 77,550 pounds; Neah Bay/La Push (Areas 3 and 4) is 128,187 pounds; Westport (Area 2) is 62,896 pounds; and Ilwaco (Area 1) is 15,127 pounds.

The average weight of halibut in 2019 was 18.5 pounds in Puget Sound-Strait; 17.6 pounds at Neah Bay/La Push; 18.3 pounds at Westport; and 14.5 pounds at Ilwaco.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission meets Feb. 3-7 in Anchorage, Alaska to determine seasons and catch quotas from California north to Alaska. The National Marine Fisheries Service will then make its final approval on halibut fishing dates sometime in March or sooner.

Facts on winter chinook

The holiday celebrations are in the rearview mirror and it’s time to look at winter chinook fishing options, including a few that began this month.

Central and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Areas 10, 11 and 12) are now open for winter hatchery blackmouth – a term used for a chinook’s dark gum-line. Area 10 is open through March 31; and Areas 11 and 12 are open through April 30.

“There wasn’t a lot of bait around in Area 10 when it was last open (fishing closed on Nov. 12) although we managed to release some bigger sized blackmouth,” said Justin Wong, owner of Cut Plug Charter in Seattle. “We didn’t catch a lot of shakers (chinook under the 22-inch minimum size limit) so that is a good thing.”


Lastly, consider getting out sooner than later since early closures hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (fish over the 22-inch minimum size limit).

In central Puget Sound look for blackmouth at Jefferson Head; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; Point Monroe; Fourmile Rock; Rich Passage; Southworth; Manchester; northwest side of Vashon Island by the channel marker; Yeomalt Point and Skiff Point on the east side of Bainbridge Island; and Allen Bank off Blake Island’s southeastern corner.

In south-central Puget Sound try around the Clay Banks off Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; the “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Quartermaster Harbor; Point Dalco on south side of Vashon Island; Southworth Ferry Landing; and Colvos Passage off the Girl Scout Camp.

Hood Canal doesn’t garner as much attention in the winter but don’t underestimate what can be a decent fishery off Misery Point, Hazel Point, Pleasant Harbor, Toandos Peninsula, Seabeck Bay and Seal Rock.

Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) open year-round for hatchery chinook is another overlooked fishery. Good places are Fox Point; Gibson Point; Point Fosdick; Hale Passage; Anderson Island; Lyle Point; and Devil’s Head and Johnson Point.

Other choices on the horizon for winter chinook are the San Juan Islands (Area 7) open Feb. 1 through April 15; northern Puget Sound (Area 9) open Feb. 1 through April 15; and the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) open Feb. 1 through April 30.

Salmon season meeting dates set for 2020

It’s never too late to begin making plans to be a part of the sport-salmon fishing season setting process. For the moment the early outlook appears to resemble last year’s fisheries with a few improvements, but more details won’t come to light until later next month.

Tentative meeting dates – Feb. 28, WDFW salmon forecast public meeting at DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia; March 16, North of Falcon public meeting at Lacey Community Center; March 19, North of Falcon public meeting in Sequim; March 23, Pacific Fishery Management Council public hearing at Westport; March 25, North of Falcon public meeting at WDFW Mill Creek office; and March 30, North of Falcon public meeting at Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Avenue West in Lynnwood.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt final salmon seasons on April 5-11 at the Hilton Vancouver, 301 West 6th Street in Vancouver, WA.

Specific meeting agendas and times should be known soon. Details: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/management/north-falcon.

Oldest salmon derby gets underway

The Tengu Blackmouth Derby – the oldest salmon derby that began prior to and shortly after World War II in 1946 – is held on Sundays 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. starting Jan. 5 through Feb. 23 on Elliott Bay at the Seacrest Boathouse (now known as Marination Ma Kai) in West Seattle.

In previous years, the derby started in October when Area 10 opens for winter hatchery chinook. However, this year’s non-retention of chinook delayed the event to coincide with the Jan. 1 opener. Last year, the derby was cancelled when WDFW decided to shutdown Area 10 just a few weeks after it began.

What makes the derby so challenging is the simple fact blackmouth are scarce around the inner bay during winter months.

The derby is named after Tengu, a fabled Japanese character who stretched the truth, and just like Pinocchio, Tengu’s nose grew with every lie.

In a typical derby season, the catch ranges from 20 to 23 legal-size chinook and has reached as high as 50 to 100 fish although catches have dipped dramatically since 2009. The record-low catch was four fish in 2010, and all-time high was 234 in 1979.

The last full-length season was 2017 when 18 blackmouth were caught and a winning fish of 9 pounds-15 ounces went to Guy Mamiya. Justin Wong had the most fish with a total of five followed by John Mirante with four fish.

It has been a while since a big fish was caught in the derby dating back to 1958 when Tom Osaki landed a 25-3 fish. In the past decade, the largest was 15-5 caught by Marcus Nitta during the 2008 derby.

To further test your skills, only mooching is allowed in the derby. No artificial lures, flashers, hoochies (plastic squids) or other gear like downriggers are permitted. The membership fee is $15 and $5 for children age 12-and-under. Tickets will be available at Outdoor Emporium in Seattle. Rental boats with or without motors are available from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Some Dungeness crab fisheries extended into January

The Dungeness crab season along the east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2) will remain open daily through Jan. 31 – originally it was scheduled to close after Dec. 31.

WDFW indicates crab abundance can support an additional in-season increase to the harvest shares. Managers made the decision to extend the season to offset a closure that occurred between Oct. 23 through Nov. 28 while crab abundance was assessed.


Elsewhere some sections of northern Puget Sound and Hood Canal are also open daily now through Jan. 31. They are Area 9 between the Hood Canal Bridge and a line from Foulweather Bluff to Olele Point (Port Gamble, Port Ludlow) and the portion of Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) north of a line projected due east from Ayock Point.

Crabbers won’t be required to have a Puget Sound Dungeness crab license endorsement or record Dungeness crab retained on a Catch Record Card when crabbing in January in Areas 8-1 and 8-2 and open sections of Area 9 and 12. However, a valid shellfish or combination license is required. The 2019 winter catch cards must be returned to WDFW by Feb. 4.

Sport crabbers are reminded that setting or pulling traps from a vessel is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.

NW Fishing Derby Series begins next month in San Juan Islands

The future of the revamped series is just on the horizon with three derbies happening in the San Juan Islands (Area 7), which is a winter chinook fishing hotspot.

They include the Resurrection Salmon Derby in Anacortes on Feb. 1-2 (sold out but has a waiting list); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. Each has a first-place prize for the largest fish of $12,000 to $20,000.

Other events soon after are Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15 with a $10,000 first place prize; and Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22 with a $3,000 check for the largest fish.

New events are the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively; Father’s Day Big Bass Classic on Tenmile Lake at Lakeside, Oregon on June 21-22; and the Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19.

The highlight of the series is a chance to win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. The boat is equipped with Shoxs Seats for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas; a custom engraved WhoDat Tower; Raymarine Electronics; Burnewiin Accessories; Scotty Downriggers; and a Dual Electronics stereo.


Anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package.

A huge “thank you” to our other sponsors who make the series a success are Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Ray’s Bait Works; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.

You can get a first glimpse of the new derby boat pulled with a 2019 Chevy Silverado – provided by our sponsor Northwest Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet – during The Seattle Boat Show from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1 at the CenturyLink Field and Event Center in Seattle.

The Northwest Fishing Derby Series is part of the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating Program which serves the NMTA’s core purpose—to increase the number of boaters in the Pacific Northwest.

The derby series is the most visible element of the program, which promotes boating and fishing throughout the region by partnering with existing derbies and marketing those events through targeted advertising, public relations and promotional materials. For details, go to www.NorthwestFishingDerbySeries.com.

I’ll see you on the water soon!

Coast Guard, Samaritan Rescue 3 Skagit Waterfowlers After Boat Sinks


The Coast Guard and a good samaritan rescued three duck hunters after their vessel capsized Sunday near the Skagit River entrance.


Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound watchstanders received an initial request for assistance from the Skagit County Sheriff Department as deputies were attempting to rescue the two men who remained stranded in mud flats roughly 200 yards from the Skagit River entrance near Milltown. A good Samaritan in the area rescued one of the three hunters and brought him to a nearby marina where he called 911.

Sector Puget Sound watchstanders directed a Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crew to respond at approximately 12 p.m. The aircrew had been conducting routine training operations nearby in the vicinity of San Juan Island.

At 12:18 p.m. the aircrew arrived on scene and observed two men in knee-high water attempting to reach shore on foot. A rescue swimmer assisted the two men as they were hoisted into the aircraft.

The men were transported to waiting emergency medical services at a nearby baseball field at 12:50 p.m.

“They stayed with the vessel, got out of the water as best they could, and used life jackets they had kept onboard,” said Ensign Joshua Straits, pilot aboard the rescue helicopter. “These decisions limited the effects of hypothermia and helped us to locate them quickly.”

The survivors are reportedly in healthy condition.

Jan. 1 Steelhead, Crabbing Retention Closures On Nooksack, Everett Flats


Nooksack River closing to hatchery steelhead retention

Action: Closes the mainstem Nooksack and all forks to hatchery steelhead retention.

Species affected: Hatchery steelhead.



  • The Nooksack River from the mouth to the confluence of the North and South Forks.
  • The North Fork Nooksack from the Highway 9 Bridge to Nooksack Falls.
  • The Middle Fork Nooksack from the mouth to city of Bellingham diversion dam.
  • The South Fork Nooksack from the mouth to Skookum Creek.

Effective dates:  Jan. 1 through Jan. 31, 2020.

Reasons for action:  Hatchery steelhead returns to the Nooksack River and Kendall Hatchery are not meeting escapement goals. This closure is necessary to ensure hatchery broodstock goals are met.

Additional Information: The fishery may reopen earlier if broodstock needs are met. Other gamefish fisheries will remain open. On Feb. 1, hatchery steelhead retention on the North Fork only will reopen. Please refer to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ for further information on seasons and closures.

Everett Flats portion of Marine Area 8-2 to close during January recreational crab fishery extension

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today that the Everett Flats portion of Marine Area 8-2 will close to recreational crab harvest Jan. 1, 2020, and remain closed through the end of the month.

Historically, a large proportion of the crab inhabiting the Everett Flats portion of Marine Area 8-2 have been softshell after December. Under the current management plan, co-managers agreed to close this shallow region to all crab harvest after Dec. 31 to protect softshell crab during their critical molt period.

Earlier this month, state and tribal co-managers came to an agreement that the crab abundance in Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2 would support allowing state recreational crabbing to remain open through the end of January. Crabbers will be able to crab in Marine Area 8-2 outside of Everett Flats, including Port Susan, all areas of Marine Area 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), a portion of Marine Area 9 between the Hood Canal Bridge and a line from Foulweather Bluff to Olele Point (Port Gamble, Port Ludlow), and in Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) north of Ayock point seven days a week through Jan. 31.

The Everett Flats closure will include the portion of catch area east of a line from Howarth Park due north to the south end of Gedney Island and the portion east of a line from the north end of Gedney Island to Camano Head, and south of a line drawn from Camano Head to Hermosa Point on the Tulalip reservation.

A valid shellfish or combination license is required to harvest throughout the remainder of the season, and Dungeness crab caught through Dec. 31, 2019 must be recorded on winter catch record cards. However, recreational crabbers participating in January’s extended crab season in Marine Areas 8-1, 8-2 or 12 do not need to record Dungeness crab on a catch record card.

Other reminders for the recreational crabber:

  • Setting or pulling traps from a vessel is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.
  • The daily limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6 1/4 inches.
  • Crabbers may also catch six red rock crab of either sex per day with a minimum carapace width of 5 inches, and six Tanner crab of either sex with a minimum carapace of 4 1/2 inches.
  • All 2019 winter crab catch record cards are due to WDFW by Feb. 4, 2020.

For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/fishing/catch-record-card/dungeness.

For more information on crabbing regulations, visit WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations/crab.

Inslee Proposes Fish-Hunt Fee Increase, Bringing Columbia Endorsement Back

Governor Inslee is proposing to increase Washington fishing and hunting licenses and bring back the Columbia River endorsement to partially fill gaping holes in WDFW’s budget, surprising agency officials.


The supplementary budget from the two-term governor running for reelection also includes $15.6 million from the General Fund to mostly meet WDFW’s big ask of $26 million in tax dollars, a decision fish and wildlife managers made after seeing their two previous fee hikes flame out.

“That was news to us that the Governor’s Office was planning to use a fee bill,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW Director of Budget and Governmental Affairs, this rainy morning.

Still, he and Director Kelly Susewind were optimistic that Inslee’s proposed overall $23.8 million budget bump would help get them through the current two-year biennium.

“In general, we’re seeing the budget conversation shift from if this work should continue, to how this work should be funded—which is a positive sign,” Susewind wrote in an all-staff email on Thursday.

The release of the governor’s budget ahead of the short, 60-day legislative session beginning in mid-January is said to “set the tone” for counter proposals from the House and Senate, which must approve any license hikes before they go into effect.

It’s now up to the governor’s Office of Financial Management to submit a fee bill, but WDFW brass believes it will be the same or similar to the 15 percent across-the-board package introduced during this year’s long session.

That one had widespread support until a Fish and Wildlife Commission vote in March on Columbia River salmon reforms  backlashed things.

OFM is also expected to reintroduce a bill to reestablish the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement, which was not extended last session by lawmakers. It helps fund fisheries and monitoring, primarily in the upper river, that is required to hold seasons over the numerous Endangered Species Act-listed stocks in the region.

Pamplin called those two pieces “a significant chunk of the budget proposal” from the Democratic governor who now has majorities in both chambers of the legislature.

Before they fell by the wayside last session, it was estimated that a 15 percent fee increase would bring in $14.3 million every two years, the CRSSE $3 million every biennium.

If passed this session, they would pay for “at-risk” hatchery production and fisheries, hunting and wildlife work, customer service, and the aforementioned Columbia seasons, and “emergent” needs such as WDFW’s Fish Washington app. Commercial crabbers would be tapped to pay more as efforts ramp up to prevent offshore whale entanglements.

A mix of fee and General Fund moneys would help cover other  emergent needs such as monitoring Puget Sound and Skagit-Sauk salmon and wild steelhead fisheries, respectively, and a large cost of living increase OKed last session by lawmakers, who didn’t identify where that funding would come from.

There’s also $924,000 from the General Fund for pinniped management on the Columbia, where the state and others have applied to remove hundreds of California and Steller sea lions, and $573,000 to submit a report by next December on how to “develop alternative gear methods for the commercial gill net fishery and a draft a plan to reduce the number of commercial gill net licenses” on the big river.

Interestingly, while Inslee sent WDFW a letter in late September to come up with more ways to nonlethally manage wolves in Northeast Washington’s troubled Kettle Range — the scene of dozens of cattle depredations and the removal of two full packs over the years — and the agency recently sent him a “suite of activities for additional capacity,” the governor’s budget doesn’t fund those options.

It does, however, “preserve current levels of service from law enforcement officers and wildlife conflict specialists,” with dollars coming from the General Fund.

There’s also money for continuing a Lake Washington predator study. Initial results from this spring suggested yellow perch might be having a larger impact on Chinook and other smolt survival, at least at the Gasworks Park chokepoint, than bass, which have been targeted by lawmakers to increase king salmon abundance to benefit orcas.

And Inslee’s Capital Budget proposal includes $2.9 million to continue renovations on Soos Creek Hatchery on the Duwamish-Green River, $1 million for master planning for orca recovery and boosts appropriations for Forks Creek and shifting production at Eells Springs Hatcheries.

WDFW had gone into the 2019 legislative session facing a $31 million shortfall this year and next because license revenues and funding haven’t been able to keep up with growing costs, heaped-on responsibilities from lawmakers or new issues cropping up. The agency’s General Fund contributions were also cut sharply during the Great Recession and have yet to fully return to previous levels — even as the state’s economy booms. Washington state natural resource agencies suck the hindmost tit in this state, given less than 1 percent of General Fund revenues.

With the death of the fee and CRSSE bills earlier this year, lawmakers gave WDFW $24 million in General Fund money instead, leaving a temporary $7 million gap — that then immediately ballooned back out to $20 million due to unfunded mandates such as the COLA for wardens, biologists and others.

Afterwards, with the failure of 2017’s and 2019’s fee bills staring them down, WDFW honchos took the tack that since much of their work also benefits the state as a whole, they wouldn’t take another run at increasing the price of licenses and instead submitted the $26 million General Fund request, a large ask they acknowledged.

The Governor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on why it decided to take another stab at a fee bill. The last one was approved in 2011.

Inslee’s proposal does set up issues for WDFW budgeting down the road.

“The good news is that our work is funded through the balance of the biennium,” Director Susewind told staff. “Our challenge is the Governor’s Budget appropriates more expenditure authority for the State Wildlife Account in out-biennia than the recreational fee bill would generate, leaving us a gap that we would need to resolve in 2021. We’ll work with the Legislature to try to avoid that outcome and see if we can convert the appropriations to be backed by revenue and thus sustain the work into the future.”

Washington’s 2020 legislative session begins on Jan. 13 and is scheduled to adjourn March 12. Any fee and CRSSE bills must be approved by both chambers and be signed by the governor who proposed them.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated how much was proposed in the budget for pinniped management. The correct figure is $924,000, not $924 million.