Tag Archives: Washington

WDFW Sends $26 Million Request To Gov. For 2020 Legislative Action

Washington fish and wildlife managers submitted a $26 million supplemental budget request to the Governor’s Office yesterday as fee bill and state lawmaker failures have left the agency underfunded in recent years.

One of WDFW’s key piggy banks could dip into the red next March and significantly so the following year because license revenues and funding aren’t keeping up with growing costs, heaped-on responsibilities and dealing with new issues that are cropping up.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT, ALL)

This new money would come out of the General Fund and WDFW hopes it will be ticketed as “ongoing” so it would not have to be reauthorized every year or two.

If approved by next year’s legislature, $6.5 million would go towards maintaining things like production of 4.5 million salmon, steelhead and trout at eight hatcheries, Columbia River fisheries, and Westside pheasant hunting, as well as dealing with problem animals in residents’ backyards and elsewhere;

(Conversely, if they’re not funded, they have been identified as having to be cut to stay in budget.)

$6.8 million would go towards “emerging needs” like monitoring fisheries on Puget Sound and two rivers, including Skagit C&R steelhead, removing more pinnipeds to increase Chinook numbers when a permit is OKed by the feds, and coming up with alternative fishing gear for Columbia netters;

and $12.5 million would go for “unavoidable” items passed on by legislators without funding, including COLAs, and rising costs associated with hatchery operations and attorney fees.

The size of the request is pretty large given the short, 60-day session that will begin in January, and WDFW Director Kelly Susewind acknowledged as much in a press release today.

But he also pointed out the substantial return on investment that state funding of fishing and hunting activities has for the economy, a message to lawmakers as much as ammo for supporters to remind their representatives and senators of.

“We would rather not be in this position of requesting a substantial amount of money to sustain basic, core activities that we know provide such fundamental public value,” he said. “We estimate that for every State General Fund tax dollar invested in WDFW, and leveraged with other fund sources, that fish and wildlife economic activities generate another $3.50 that goes back into the state coffers. We’re seeking adequate, ongoing funding to sustain that kind of return on investment into the future.”

This is all the latest act in a long-running play that began somewhere around the Great Recession when WDFW’s General Fund contributions were cut sharply and which have yet to fully return to previous levels, even as the state’s economy booms.

According to WDFW, less than 1 percent of General Fund revenues go towards itself, DNR, Ecology, State Parks, Puget Sound Partnership and other natural resource agencies, combined.

As for the last license fee increase, it was back in 2011 and bids by the current and former directors to get lawmakers to pass another and help shore up the agency’s finances have not gone over very well.

Some of that is just bad timing — making asks on the downswing of cyclical game and fish populations.

Arguably 2015’s salmon and hunting seasons were among the best of recent decades, but the dropoff since then — when Susewind and Jim Unsworth had their hands out — has been intense and widespread.

Yet even as the Blob and environmental conditions, along with ongoing, multi-decadal habitat destruction, and reduced hatchery production due to operations reforms and budget cuts are largely to blame, many of WDFW’s customers are reluctant these days to pay more for less.

Then there was the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Columbia gillnet vote this past March, as spectacular an own goal as you can kick.

Meanwhile, WDFW’s “structural deficit” grows deeper and deeper. The aforementioned piggy bank, the State Wildlife Account — where every single penny of your fishing and hunting license dollars go, every single one — has gone from a shortfall of $300,000 in the 2011-13 biennium, when the last license fee increase was passed, to $23.2 million in the 2019-21 biennum.

Its cash balance is expected to plunge into negative figures next March and much deeper in spring 2021 if nothing’s done.

A WDFW GRAPH SHOWS PROJECTED REVENUES INTO THE STATE WILDLIFE ACCOUNT, FUNDED BY FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES. MARCH MARKS THE ANNUAL LOW POINT IN THE LICENSE BUYING YEAR AS NEW ONES ARE REQUIRED STARTING APRIL 1. (WDFW)

It all threatens the fisheries and hunts we still have.

In the end lawmakers have gone with one-time funding patches, but the problem is they’re typically not enough to fill the hole.

For instance, with the agency facing a $31 million shortfall this year and next, Olympia scrapped the fee hike and instead provided $24 million in General Fund money, leaving a temporary $7 million gap — that then immediately ballooned back out to $20 million due to unfunded mandates that were passed on like the cost of living increase for game wardens, biologists, and others.

Still, $24 million is better than nothing and with how it was structured, it “front loaded” WDFW’s budget towards year one of the two-year cycle in anticipation that lawmaker would return and work on it again in 2020.

And that is how we got to today and the supplemental budget request.

Rather than attempt the folly of running another fee bill, the Fish and Wildlife Commission earlier this summer signed off on the proposal.

WDFW is also looking for another $26 million to make capital improvements to its facilities, with about 60 percent of that designated for three hatcheries, and $1 million for a master planning process to boost Chinook production by up to 55 million a year for orcas and which would also likely benefit anglers.

“Our work provides tremendous value to the people in our state,” said Susewind. “The ongoing funds to create a fully healthy agency is critical to our residents’ quality of life, critical to our ability to conserve fish and wildlife, and critical to maintaining sustainable natural resource jobs across Washington.”

A tremendous value at a time of tremendous headwinds and crosswinds and little in the form of helpful tailwinds.

Washington 2019 Rifle Deer Season Prospects

After 2017’s nadir, harvest rose last year, and there are some good signs out there for this fall.

ALSO: Quick looks at Evergreen State elk, pheasant and chukar forecasts

By Andy Walgamott

With Washington’s general rifle buck season looming large in hunters’ minds, it’s time to check in with Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists for what they are forecasting for districts spread across the state.

In some, the news is fair, as deer continue to bounce back from drought, harsh winters and/or disease outbreaks, as witnessed by rising harvest last season. But it’s not so good in others, especially where snowy, cold February and March weather impacted already weakened herds.

A DEER HUNTER GLASSES FOR BUCKS IN A ROADLESS AREA OF NORTHEAST WASHINGTON’S COLVILLE NATIONAL FOREST. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Regardless, fall springs loose eternal hope inside the hearts of Evergreen State deer hunters. Portents (and predators!) aside, it’s likely that somewhere around 77,000 of us modern firearms toters will head afield during Mother Nature’s best season to be outdoors.

And if we build on last year’s harvest of 18,071 bucks – which was up nearly 1,000 antlered whitetails, blacktails and muleys over 2017’s 20-plus-year-low harvest – so much the better.

Here’s a look at how the 2019 hunt, which begins Saturday, Oct. 12, is shaping up in Washington’s most important deer districts.

NORTHEAST

The big news in Washington’s deer basket might be the lockdown on general season antlerless harvest opportunities this fall as managers aim to protect the “reproductive element” of the whitetail herd, but bucks represent the bulk of the take here, and things aren’t looking so bad for this season, thanks to mild weather.

THOUGH THERE WON’T BE ANY INSEASON ANTLERLESS OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUTHS, NORTHEAST WASHINGTON IS STILL A GOOD BET FOR RIFLE HUNTERS YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE. LAST YEAR IT ACCOUNTED FOR ONE OUT OF EVERY FIVE GENERAL RIFLE BUCKS IN THE ENTIRE STATE. AUBRIANNE HOMES, THEN 14, HARVESTED HER FIRST DEER IN THE SELKIRK UNIT IN 2014 WITH A .270 SAVAGE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“Deer seem to have fared well this past winter and through the summer,” reports District 1 wildlife biologist Annemarie Prince in Colville. “I’ve also seen some really nice bucks while doing surveys.”

Preseason surveys show buck-to-doe ratios through Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties climbed from 25:100 in 2017 to around 32:100 or so last year, and they’re at that same level this season, a good sign. Fawn-to-doe counts have also been stable.

Generally speaking, more northerly units have been kicking out about the same numbers of antlered deer year over year for the past half-decade.

Huckleberry, one of the top units across the entire state, saw its buck take stabilize last season after declining from 2015 and that year’s “retirement” of the four-point minimum. It yielded more than a third of the district’s rifle harvest, and its 31 percent success rate and 15 days per kill were second only to Douglas, just to the north, at 33 percent and 14.

MICHELLE WHITNEY BEAMS NEXT TO HER MULE DEER BUCK, TAKEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON IN OCTOBER AND PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE STATE GAME CHECK. ACCORDING TO BIOLOGIST ANNEMARIE PRINCE, IT WAS WHITNEY’S FIRST BUCK AND SHE TOOK IT IN HER 18TH YEAR AFIELD, HIGHLIGHTING THE VALUE OF NEVER GIVING UP! (WDFW)

Both those units rate highest in an analysis that measures size against harvest, hunter density and success rates, but Kelly Hill, in “the wedge” near the Canadian border, isn’t too far behind either. It also features the most public land of the trio, though good amounts of state and federal ground are in the other two as well.

Prince’s 2019 hunting prospects also list tens of thousands of acres of Feel Free To Hunt lands in the Selkirk, 49 Degrees North and Huckleberry Units.   

WDFW asks hunters to stop at the Clayton and Chewelah game checks.

IMPORTANT 2019 DEER DATES

General bow: Sept. 1-15, 22, 27, depending on species, unit
High Buck: Sept. 15-25
General muzzleloader: Sept. 28-Oct. 6
General rifle: Oct. 12-22, 25, 31, depending on species, unit
General late rifle blacktail: Nov. 14-17
General late rifle whitetail: Nov. 9-19
General late bow, muzzleloader: Various in late November
Deadline to report hunt results: Jan. 31, 2020

EASTERN BASIN

Passing stats from Gardner Minshew weren’t the only thing rising across the loess, basalt and aglands of the eastern Columbia Basin in 2018. So too was the rifle deer harvest as it bounced back from a multi-year decline, and even if the Cougs’ QB has moved on to the Jags, the trend should generally continue as the herds recover from past years’ issues.

The strongest surge was enjoyed by Steptoe Unit hunters, as the southern Palouse produced increased numbers of both mule deer and whitetail bucks and success rates rose from 25 to 35 percent, all in comparison to 2017. That year was probably the nadir after drought, a big blue tongue outbreak and a rough winter reduced deer numbers.

TIM KLINK HARVESTED THIS NICE WHITMAN COUNTY BUCK IN A PUBLIC HUNTING AREA ON OCTOBER 2016’S OPENER. THE PALOUSE WAS ONE OF THE BRIGHTER SPOTS FOR WASHINGTON GENERAL RIFLE HUNTERS LAST YEAR AS MULE DEER AND WHITETAIL HARVESTS BOTH ROSE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

District 2 wildlife bio Michael Atamian reports muley populations are now stable, while whitetails are slowly recovering.

Buck ratios have been trending upwards since 2017 for the big-eared bounders that favor the scablands and Snake Breaks, while ratios are steady for those inhabitants of eyebrows and other wheatland habitat.

If there’s not-so-good news, it’s that the Mt. Spokane Unit’s general harvest continues to slide, from just over 2,100 in 2014 to 1,232 last year. Atamian says it’s partly a reflection of an actual decline in the area’s whitetails coming out of 2015, but also possibly landowner and hunter perceptions that there are fewer deer because of that. He says the population is actually “decent,” though not 2014 heyday-sized yet.

“I was expecting 2018 to be in line with 2017, but was surprised it was a couple hundred bucks less,” he says.

Mt. Spokane will be the only unit in Northeast Washington open for youths, seniors and disabled hunters to take any whitetail on an over-the-counter tag during select parts of October and November.

Bottom line is that whether you hunt the hobby farms around the Lilac City or the massive farms of the Palouse, or somewhere in between this season, you should “expect to have to put in more time to be successful,” Atamian advises.

That said, the average days per kill in recent years – 13 to nearly 14.5 (compared to 10s and 11s from 2013 through 2015) – would make hunters elsewhere in the state green with envy. It’s also a function of the overwhelming amount of private land here. Get permission and you’ve got pretty darn good odds, 30 percent or better most years.

But that isn’t to say the upper basin is one giant no-trespassing patch, as there are large areas of public land, especially in the Davenport-Odessa scablands, and Sprague and Revere areas.

THIS KID’S GONNA BE A SCOUT SNIPER AT THIS PACE! JAMES GARRETT “PRACTICED SHOOTING A LOT OUT TO 350 YARDS AND HE NEVER MISSED THAT PLATE,” SO WHEN THIS LEGAL MULEY POPPED IN WASHINGTON’S WESTERN PALOUSE AT 340 YARDS FOR THE 9-YEAR-OLD, HE DROPPED IT IN ITS TRACKS! (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Also of note, Spokane County’s nearly 3-square-mile Mica Peak Conservation Area will be open for hunting by reservation from Oct. 12-Dec. 15, part of a bid to reduce deer as well as turkey numbers here.

“That is really good whitetail habitat,” Atamian told Spokane Spokesman-Review outdoor reporter Eli Francovich. “It produces a lot of whitetail.”

Permit hunters – especially those after does – should also find receptive property owners through WDFW’s Private Lands Access Program.

BLUE MOUNTAINS

District 3, the state’s southeast corner foothills, rugged canyons and Blue Mountains, saw a decent bounce in harvest last season, with modern firearm hunters taking 200 more bucks than in 2017, though still 600 fewer than 2013. The hope was that this fall it would climb by another 100 bucks to around 1,950 or so tags filled, but that looks less likely after this past winter.

“Things were looking good till January, February, March,” says Mark Vekasy, assistant district wildlife biologist. “We counted mule deer out in the agricultural areas and had pretty good counts, really good buck ratios.”

Prolonged cold, snowy conditions hit the region – “not your average winter.” Vekasy says ranchers were calling in dead deer and it appears that does suffered “high mortality” and were subject to “really rare” coyote predation. Postmortems found them to be in “poor condition,” with “no fat, no bone marrow,” he says.

PREDATORS LIKE WOLVES, COUGARS AND BEARS DRAW A LOT OF CONCERN FROM SPORTSMEN, BUT BIOLOGISTS SAY THE MOST IMPORTANT DRIVERS OF DEER POPULATIONS ARE HABITAT AND WEATHER CONDITIONS. PAST YEARS’ DROUGHTS AND HARSH WINTERS ARE FACTORS IN SOME HERDS’ NUMBERS. (CHAD ZOLLER)

The assumption is that bucks also succumbed, so Vekasy is forecasting a harvest similar to 2018’s 1,857 bucks or 2017’s 1,659. Those two falls featured success percentages of 29 and 25 percent, twice as good as some of the state’s most vaunted hunting grounds, but also representative of the large amount of controlled-access ground here.

“Anecdotal road-count ratios are OK, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of mature bucks are out there,” Vekasy says. “I think mule deer numbers are still going to be OK out in the ag lands, which are all private, as long as you have access.”

There are a fair number of farm and ranch properties enrolled in WDFW’s various hunting access programs, so it wouldn’t hurt to peruse privatelands.wdfw.wa.gov for what’s available in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Walla Walla Counties.

Note that PacifiCorp’s Marengo Wind Farm is unavailable for hunting through Dec. 20, but small sections of two other green energy sites are with a permit from The General Store in Dayton.

As for public lands, large state wildlife area parcels wrap around the fringes of the eastern half of the Blues (note that the 4-O is draw-only), while higher up is the Umatilla National Forest – not that Vekasy is recommending it.

“The best advice is not to go into the Wenaha and Tucannon,” he says bluntly. “The habitat should be pretty good in there (from past years’ Grizzly and School Fires). We’re way into habitat recovery in the Tucannon. There’s tons of shrubbery, tons of browse. I have heartburn over the Tucannon and am hoping to see improvement in the Wenaha.”

He acknowledges that predation “is certainly part of” why both units aren’t producing like they could, but notes that cougar harvest has been increasing and local wolf packs haven’t been too productive in terms of successful litters.

“In (GMU) 175 (Lick Creek), things have been going down for a long time,” Vekasy adds.

Those three mountainous units together yielded just 71 bucks for riflemen, with success percentages ranging from 5 to 12 percent.

By comparison, the large Prescott unit produced the most last year, 442, or just over a quarter of all the antlered deer killed in the entire district. Mayview and Peola featured the highest success percentages, 40 and 39 percent.

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD JACK BENSON HAD A GREAT 2018, BAGGING A PERMIT BULL AND THEN THIS WALLA WALLA MULE DEER. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“It’s going to be time in the field,” Vekasy says. “Most guys are only hunting two or three days.”

On average it took 14 hunter days per buck killed in his district in 2018, though as few as seven in Marengo, nine in Peola and 10 in Couse, but as many as 69 in Tucannon and 66 in Wenaha.

If you make a weeklong trip, consider including your shotgun. Vekasy reports “really good” quail numbers, particularly in the foothills from Walla Walla towards Dayton.

EASTSIDE CHUKAR, PHEASANT FORECASTS 

WDFW biologists forecasted good spring chukar chick survival and summer forage on Whitman County’s Snake River Breaks, where last year’s harvest doubled versus 2017, and hunter effort also rose.

Hunters in Chelan and Douglas Counties also had a good year, taking 25 percent more birds than the five-year average. With good growing conditions here and to the north in the Okanogan, it could be a good season in North-central Washington.

INTRODUCED TO THE NORTHWEST NEARLY 150 YEARS AGO, PHEASANT REMAIN A CHALLENGE FOR UPLAND BIRD HUNTERS. WHILE NOWHERE AS NUMEROUS AS THEY ONCE WERE DUE TO HABITAT LOSS, WILD RINGNECKS CAN STILL BE FOUND ACROSS EASTERN PORTIONS OF OREGON AND WASHINGTON, WITH BIRDS ALSO RELEASED ON STATE WILDLIFE AREAS AND OTHER SITES THERE AND WEST OF THE CASCADES. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

And Kittitas and Yakima Counties have also seen increasing harvests, with that trend expected to continue in 2019. In addition to their usual haunts on the Colockum and Yakima Training Center, biologists suggest looking to the western and northern edges of their range here.

Last year saw a nice bump for Palouse pheasant hunters even as wingshooter numbers remained steady. Between that region, the Blue Mountain foothills and the thick habitat of the pheasant heartland that is Grant County, state biologists can be said to be optimistic about bird and young-of-year numbers. There are also around 30 sites across the Eastside where pheasants will be released. –AW

HUNTERS DISCUSS THE DAY AROUND A CAMPFIRE IN THE OKANOGAN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

OKANOGAN

Where other hunting districts saw improvement last year, harvest again dropped in Okanogan County, where just 13 percent of riflemen tagged out, taking 1,145 bucks, the fewest since at least 2013 and just 44 percent of 2015’s tremendous kill.

Don’t look for the latter season to rear its head again either.

“My guess is the season will be similar to last year,” says WDFW’s Scott Fitkin.

He reports that fawn recruitment was below average coming out of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 winters, meaning fewer 2½- and 3½-year-old bucks running around this year. But with a “respectable” (if not as gaudy as mid-decade numbers) 19:100 buck:doe ratio following last season and more than a third of those being three-plus-pointers, “older age class buck availability looks decent.”

HUNTERS SKIN OUT AN OKANOGAN MULE DEER. SINCE 2015’S BIG HARVEST, THIS FAMED AREA HAS BEEN LESS PRODUCTIVE, BUT HABITAT AND FORAGE CONDITIONS ARE PRIMED TO HELP THE HERD RECOVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Last year, the Okanogan East unit was the district’s most productive with 329, just a slight dip from 2017 though still well below three straight 500-plus-animal years in the mid-2010s. Still, it’s a pretty good mix of range, state and national forest lands.

On the west side of the Okanogan River, the Wannacut, Chiliwist, and Pogue Units had the district’s highest success rates, 22, 18 and 15 percent, and they do have good amounts of public lands, especially the further west one goes.

A fair amount of the county has been hit by wildfires, especially above the lower Methow and Okanogan Valleys, and that does bode well for muleys and whitetails in the future.

“Those areas that burned a few to several years ago should be producing good summer forage, so does in those areas may be a little more productive, which may translate into a few more bucks in those areas,” Fitkin reports.

He notes that radio-collar work for a big predator-prey study has found the deer have a strong fidelity to their traditional summer and winter ranges.

Across the district, the average days per kill has more than doubled from the low 16.3 of the 2015 season to 37 last year. Wannacut had the lowest at 17 days per kill, followed by Chiliwist at 24 and Pogue at 26, while Pearrygin and Chewuch had the worst at two months’ worth of hunting per buck.

“Good news is the winter range recovery appears to now be progressing nicely and summer range this year was moister than it’s been in a while,” Fitkin adds. “So I’m guardedly optimistic for some improvement in fawn productivity and recruitment that should translate into a growing population and improved opportunity moving forward.”

That good condition on the high summer range may see bucks linger longer there before heading to lower ground, potential tough news for upper Methow Valley hunters targeting early migrators. They saw some pretty low success rates in 2018, just 8 percent in both the Chewuch and Pearrygin Units, though 212 bucks were pulled out of the pair.

THE WEATHER WAS WARM AND THE MOON BRIGHT AT NIGHT IN EASTERN WASHINGTON LAST OCTOBER, BUT CHAD WHITE WAS STILL ABLE TO NOTCH HIS TAG. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

CHELAN

The news is somewhat brighter to the south, where the postseason ratio was 23 bucks per 100 does, up from 18:100 the year before. Still, acting district biologist Devon Comstock notes the long, lingering winter in his prospects, as well a tough one in 2016-17.

“Hunters should consider the Chelan population to be in a rebuilding phase for the next few years,” he advises.

There will be plenty of browse to help fatten the herd too as burn scars and bowls high in the Cascades recover from past wildfires and produce good browse. This summer saw little fire activity and cooler and moister conditions, generally speaking. Again, it’s possible that that could keep these migratory deer tucked back up in the Alpine, Chiwawa, Clark and Slide Ridge Units, where they’re relatively difficult to ferret out, given the abundance of escape cover. Success rates in the quartet were just 3 to 7 percent last fall.

As a whole, hunters typically have better luck in the Entiat, Swakane and Mission Units, which represent winter range but also shouldn’t be discounted as bereft of bucks in fall either, if last year’s harvest of 92, 108 and 97 by riflemen is any indication.

“Harvest of older age-class deer should be flatter in 2019, given previous success rates and increased winter mortality,” Comstock forecasts.

WESTERN BASIN

If you’ve got access to aglands in the western Columbia Basin, you might be interested to see last fall’s postseason buck escapement figures. Those were all at or above 20:100, with the highest – 27 and 26 – observed in Douglas and Adams Counties. Management objective for the region is just 15 to 19.

While we need to be real about why that is – the land is mostly private, with controlled access – it is good news for those with permission or who hunt the scattered patches of public ground.

No, you’re probably not going to bump into El Gigante due to the open nature of this landscape (yes, George Cook did bag his Benge 9×12 not so long ago), but the good news is you will still have some life expectancy left should you connect. At just nine days needed per kill last fall, the Ritzville Unit was among the lowest in the state; the success rate of 35 percent was among the highest.

As for this year, biologist Sean Dougherty is forecasting an “average” season.

“Winter of 2018 was relatively mild overall, but late-winter (February through March) did increase in severity. There were numerous reports of winter-killed deer, but hunters can still expect to see average numbers of deer throughout the hunting season,” he reports.

Between Adams and Grant Counties, WDFW says nearly 175,000 acres of private land are enrolled in access programs this season, mostly hunting by written permission.

To the northwest, 95,000 acres have been similarly signed up in Douglas County, which has the added benefit of large, contiguous blocks of state and federal land.

One of the newest sections, the 31-square-mile Big Bend Wildlife Area, has been productive and helped lead to a harvest of 101 bucks in its overarching unit last fall. Nineteen percent of hunters were successful and needed 18 days per kill.

DAYN OSBORN, 9, HAD A GREAT RIFLE OPENER, TAKING THIS THREE-POINTER IN NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON’S DOUGLAS COUNTY WITH A 60-YARD SHOT OUT OF HIS REMINGTON 700 IN .243. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Saint Andrews, Badger and Moses Coulee didn’t produce quite as many bucks (91, 74 and 74), but did see higher success rates (29, 25 and 25 percent) and fewer days to notch a tag (12, 12 and 14). Of the trio, Moses might command more attention, as it has two large BLM blocks.

“Douglas County is a consistent producer of mule deer opportunity, and conditions should be similar in 2019,” forecasts Comstock, the wildlife bio for the county.

SOUTH-CENTRAL

Yakima and Kittitas Counties share the pitiful distinction of boasting deer success percentages that are essentially the same as the notoriously low ones elk hunters see – in the single digits. Last year two open units even produced goose eggs for rifle buck hunters, Bumping and Rimrock.

The “best” units – the largely public Naneum, Manastash and Teanaway – required 53, 64 and 77 hunter days per kill in 2018. Needless to say, don’t expect it to get better in 2019.

“Surveys found no increase, so District 8 will likely be around 5 to 6 percent success again,” biologist Jeff Bernatowicz grimly forecasts.

EVERGREEN STATE RIFLE ELK PROSPECTS

If you’re hunting wapiti in Eastern Washington on a general season rifle tag, this may be a tougher year to bag one.

Elk in the South Cascades and Blue Mountains are all down due to past years’ drought, harsh winters and consequent reduced productivity. In the case of the Yakima Herd, a large 2015 cow harvest (nearly 2,000) removed many animals.

ELK HUNTING IS PERPETUALLY LONG ODDS IN WASHINGTON, BUT CHAD SMITH GOT IT DONE LAST YEAR ON THE OPENING DAY OF WESTERN WASHINGTON’S RIFLE SEASON. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Both Yakima and Colockum elk are below objective and are down somewhat over 2018 numbers. Biologist Jeff Bernatowicz says that will amount to roughly five dozen fewer spikes for the former herd (“over that large of an area [it] won’t be noticeable,” but more like 70 for the smaller, latter herd. “Hunters are fairly concentrated, so might notice a lower harvest,” he says.

In the Blues, bios Paul Wik and Mark Vekasy are forecasting “another below average year for yearling bull harvest.” Coming years will likely see reductions in branched-antler tags due to poor recruitment.

In the South Cascades, the St. Helens herd has stabilized, albeit it at a lower level than objective or historical numbers, according to biologist Eric Holman. He’s expecting a “generally less productive elk hunting season,” but districtwide success rates were still twice as high last year as the aforementioned Eastside ones, with the winter-sheltered Ryderwood and Willapa Hills Units among the best.

Further west, March aerial surveys of the North River, Minot Peak, Fall River and Lincoln Units found “exceptionally robust” bull:cow and cow:calf ratios (23:100 for the former), “indicating a highly productive herd with great harvest opportunities,” per biologist Anthony Novack. Just don’t expect to kill a trophy here.

And on the Olympic Peninsula, the most productive unit, Clearwater, bounced back in 2018 after a two-year decline. AW

COLUMBIA GORGE

Just to the south, District 9 saw an uptick in its overall harvest last year, from 1,113 in 2017 to 1,208, but that might be attributed almost solely to 100 more bucks taken in the Washougal Unit (360 versus 257) than anything else.

“Those Westside game management units were not nearly as affected by the severe winter of 2016-17, so likely have more robust deer populations at the moment,” reports biologist Stefanie Bergh.

As it recovers from a one-year dip in form a couple seasons back, Washougal might be worth looking into, if you’re not already familiar with it. It actually features quite a bit of actively logged state timberlands that back up to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, as well as three Weyerhaeuser fee blocks. Its 23 percent success rate and 23 days per kill were among the better marks in the district.

As for the best units by those measures, those were Battle Ground and its blacktails yielding a 28 percent success rate and 16 days per kill, and East Klickitat and its muleys at 26 and 15. They served up 211 and 202 bucks, respectively. However, both units are almost entirely private. The former is firearms restricted and requires shotguns to be used during rifle season, while in the latter, though it doubled in size this year to over 10,000 acres, the Simcoe Wildlife Area east of Goldendale is still being managed as permit only for deer.

Hunting is typically fairly consistent year to year in this long, narrow district pinioned by windmills and powerlines, but it still has yet to build back to the marks seen in the mid-2010s, general rifle harvests of 1,500 to nearly 1,750 bucks. That may require a few more years following a harsh winter and an adenovirus hemorrhagic disease outbreak the following summer, both of which impacted mule deer and fawns in three key eastern units.

“In our Klickitat GMUs we continued to see a drop in harvest in 2018, which is likely still fallout from the 2016-17 winter and AHD,” says Bergh. “Our postseason surveys of East Klickitat and Grayback in December showed a continued decline in the mule deer population there.”

If there’s good news, it’s that this past late winter’s “crazy snowfall” doesn’t appear to have knocked down fawn numbers.

“We did not receive reports of adult or fawn mortality and our annual spring survey showed a slightly above average fawn-to-adult ratio, indicating that winter fawn survival was good despite the deep snow,” Bergh reports.

Overall, the district is likely to produce another 1,200-plus-buck harvest – and probably more next year, as long as Mother Nature helps.

EARL FOYTACK’S GRANDDAUGHTER WAS A HUNTING AND FISHING FIEND IN 2018! NOT ONLY DID EMILY CATCH ALASKA SALMON DURING A DOWN YEAR, BUT TOOK HER FIRST BUCK, A THREE-POINT BLACKTAILS FROM SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON’S STELLA UNIT. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

SOUTHERN CASCADES

Harvest last year in the much-logged foothills and mountains on either side of I-5 between Chehalis and Vancouver bounced back, and the local biologist believes that will continue.

“I expect a continuation of the upward trend. The winter of 2018-19 was also mild and the summer of 2019 has been cool, wet and productive,” reports Eric Holman. “Deer hunting should be good in Western Washington during the fall of 2019.”

His district is the most productive west of the Cascade Crest, at least in terms of harvest, accounting for nearly 28 percent of all the blacktail bucks killed by general season riflemen in 2018, some 1,873 animals. Yes, that’s down from the 2016 campaign’s “very good” take of 2,206, but also up nearly 200 from 2017’s drop-off.

“The winter of 2016-17 was very severe, with unusually cold and wet weather for much of the winter,” Holman states. “This likely impacted the deer population, especially fawns that would have been yearlings for the fall of 2017 hunt. The winter of 2017-18 was mild and therefore allowed the bounce back.”

ASHLEY MASTERS MADE A PERFECT 160-YARD SHOT ON THIS COWEEMAN UNIT BLACKTAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Where many of the Eastside’s top units are mostly farms and ranches, District 10’s are dominated by private timber corporations. Weyerhaueser charges access fees, whether you come in by vehicle or foot, but Sierra Pacific allows walk-in hunting for free. Last year the Coweeman, Ryderwood and Winston Units saw the largest kills, 406, 327 and 275, respectively, along with 31, 25 and 23 percent hunter success rates. A backup plan might be the Lincoln Unit, which has three large blocks of state timberlands, saw 202 bucks harvested for a 26 percent success rate, and required 22 days to tag out, among the lowest in the district. Coweeman was lowest at 19.

Similar to the core of the Blues, upper Cowlitz Valley units produce low numbers of deer, lower success percentages and many days per buck – 88 in South Rainier. 

Holman also echoes fellow biologist Vekasy’s stick-to-it advice.

“I’ll just encourage blacktail hunters to get out there and put in the effort hunting these challenging, secretive deer,” he says. “Always keep in mind that the deer are there; you’re unlikely to ever see very many of them, but that persistence, patience and effort can often result in a successful blacktail hunt.”

BLACKTAILS A TOUGH HUNT FOR BIOLOGISTS TOO

In 2017 Evergreen State wildlife biologists began a five-year study on blacktail bucks to determine their “survival, causes of mortality, and vulnerability to harvest.” But it hasn’t always been very successful because, well, it turns out there’s a reason the species is known as the ghost of the forest.

“Considering the difficulty we had finding deer, I’m always surprised that our hunters do as well as they do in Western Washington,” says bio Michelle Tirhi, who oversees Thurston and Pierce Counties as well as Lewis County’s Skookumchuck Unit. “But then, we are attempting capture in spring and summer, which is harder than fall.”

WASHINGTON STATE WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST ANTHONY NOVACK LIFTS THE HEAD OF A SPIKE CAPTURED IN THE FALL RIVER UNIT THIS PAST JULY AS PART OF A BLACKTAIL BUCK MORTALITY STUDY. (WDFW)

She says her crews didn’t collar any bucks during the 2018-19 field season during day and night operations.

“We were targeting DNR’s Elbe Hills and Tahoma State Forests and simply seldom saw any deer, in particular bucks, so no chance to dart and collar. Those we saw at night were often does or too far for a shot. We had more luck in DNR’S Crawford Block near Skookumchuck Wildlife Area, but missed a few good shots,” she adds.

To Tirhi’s south, Eric Holman has had better success spotting deer, but laments the lack of funding that’s limiting crews’ ability to capture them.

“Unfortunately, our financial challenges just haven’t allowed for enough funding to support large-scale captures, i.e., helicopter net gunning,” he says. “We’ve captured what we can from the ground using darts and nets but this is a hard way to get many deer, and unfortunately our sample sizes remain very small to draw meaningful conclusions from. I’m hopeful that our situation will improve and we’ll be able to go ‘all in’ on this project and learn more about blacktail bucks and the impacts of our hunting seasons.”

The pages of WDFW’s biweekly Wildlife Program report occasionally have details on the study, including word of a spike captured in Holman’s district in 2018 and killed by a cougar just a mile away this past summer. Another detailed how a net gun suspended over bait led to a successful capture.

The buck study follows on another that looked into habitat use and survival of does and fawns in commercial timberlands. Results are expected soon on that one. A third that looked at forest management with an eye towards its effect on forage quality found that spraying herbicides on clearcuts “reduced the amount and quality of forage available to deer” for three years, but that “overall forage was still more abundant in these early seral stands than those 14 or more years old.”

If you shoot a blacktail with a collar – they are fair game – you’re asked to call the phone number on it, or your local WDFW office, and turn in the device, which can contain “valuable data, is expensive, and can be used again,” according to Holman. AW

BALANCE OF THE STATE

As for the rest of Western Washington, three districts stand above the reprod for deer: 15, on the east side of the Olympics including Kitsap County; 17, the South Coast; and 11, the western and northern foothills of Mt. Rainier. They produced 1,217, 1,102 and 854 bucks last year.

In District 15, the Mason Unit was most productive in 2018, yielding 289 blacktails for a 29 percent success rate, but access is poor unless you have a Green Diamond permit. Of the two public-land units, Olympic put out nearly twice as many bucks as Skokomish, 247 to 127.

WASHINGTON WILDLIFE MANAGERS WERE OFFERING LANDOWNERS IN SAN JUAN AND ISLAND COUNTIES UP TO $1,000 TO ALLOW HUNTERS ONTO THEIR PROPERTY THIS FALL, PART OF A BID TO ALSO REDUCE A LARGE BLACKTAIL POPULATION AND HELP OUT OTHER NATIVE FLORA AND FAUNA. JD LUNDQUIST BAGGED THIS BUCK ON HIS FAMILY’S ORCAS ISLAND HOMESTEAD IN 2017. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

A one-year dip in District 17’s harvest back in 2017 puzzled biologist Anthony Novack, who reports the long-term trend is that the deer population is otherwise stable, and indeed last year’s harvest pretty much bounced back. If trends seen this decade are any indication, more will be harvested this year than in 2018 too. Top units are Capitol Peak (227), which also has the most public land, Wynoochee (204), which is mostly private timberland with varying access, and Minot Peak (157), again mostly private with some nonmotorized state land on its east end.

And in District 11, nearly half of all the bucks taken came out of the Skookumchuck (409), which includes Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm. While the overall harvest trend in the South Sound and environs is down as timberlands go to fee access, graphs from biologist Michelle Tirhi show generally increasing buck take since 2012 in Puyallup, Anderson Island and Deschutes, but they have their own access and firearms restriction issues.

For more on WDFW’s expectations for 2019’s hunts, see the agency’s hunting forecasts at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/locations/prospects.

YOU’VE HEARD OF A MIXED BAG IN FISHING. WELL, BEAU SMITH AND TRAVIS ALLSUP ACCOMPLISHED SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES WHILE HUNTING LAST FALL. ALLSUP DROPPED A BLACK BEAR AND THEN A WHITETAIL BUCK, AND WHILE SMITH WAS SEARCHING FOR HIS OWN DEER, A FULL-GROWN MOUNTAIN LION MADE A CLOSE-RANGE APPEARANCE. “OUT OF PURE REACTION I PULLED UP MY RIFLE AND SQUEEZED. THE CAT FELL NOT 25 FEET FROM ME … IT WAS A 2018 DEER SEASON I WILL NEVER FORGET.” WE’LL SAY! (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

4 Cougars Spotted On Banks Of Cowlitz Near Toledo

A man captured a rare sight last week — a quartet of cougars along the banks of a famed Southwest Washington salmon and steelhead river.

Three approach the Cowlitz just downstream from the Blue Creek ramp and appear to take a drink or smell something on the gravel bar, while the fourth sits in the treeline.

AS A FLOCK OF DUCKS LOOKS ON, TWO COUGARS STAND BY THE BANKS OF THE COWLITZ RIVER WHILE A THIRD STROLLS AWAY FROM THE RIVER AND A FOURTH WATCHES (TAN SPOT AT RIGHT) FROM THE TREELINE. (ED TORKElSON, COWLITZRIVERLIVE.COM)

The scene was filmed by local resident Ed Torkelson late last Wednesday afternoon and posted to he and wife Gladys’s website, Cowlitzriverlive.com, billed as “The fisherman’s window on the river.” The video lasts five minutes.

Gladys says that Ed had been watching a beaver acting oddly, sniffing the air and swimming in circles before slapping its tail.

Several ducks can also be seen moving off the bank into the river.

As Ed focused on the beaver he saw four paws on the rocks and raised the camera to see a single cougar strolling up the bank.

A BEAVER (BOTTOM CENTER) WAS INITIALLY WHAT ALERTED LOCAL RESIDENT ED TORKELSON THAT SOMETHING UNUSUAL WAS GOING ON. AFTER SEEING PAWS WALK PAST THE TOP OF THE FRAME, HE RAISED THE CAMERA TO CAPTURE A COUGAR STROLLING BY. (ED TORKELSON, COWLITZRIVERLIVE.COM)

“He was all eyes,” Gladys says of Ed.

The cat walked a bit further before cutting into the trees, and then two minutes later a pair come out and walk over to the river.

A third joins them while the fourth watches from cover.

“Who ever sees four cougars in the wild? You hardly ever see one,” says Gladys.

She says in the four years they’ve run the camera on their property located a river bend downstream from the famed steelheading boat launch and at which they’ve lived on for a decade, they’ve seen deer, sea lions and otters, “but never a cougar.”

THREE COUGARS AT THE EDGE OF THE COWLITZ. (ED TORKELSON, COWLITZRIVERLIVE.COM)

Brian Kertson is WDFW’s cougar researcher and says he’s “pretty certain” the Torkelsons’ video shows a family group.

“That would be my first guess. Litter sizes are typically two to three,” he says.

The area is a rural part of Lewis County with scattered homes, a few farms and logged-over hillsides nearby.

What makes this more unusual, though, is that the group was viewed in real time rather than recovered later from a stationary trail cam, as with the images of eight cougars that a Wenatchee hunter found on his device posted in Moses Coulee in early 2011.

Kertson says that that was likely two related lions and their litters meeting where their ranges overlapped. He says that GPS collars are also revealing that the big cats interact more than previously believed. He says that while they are loners, “they’re not necessarily asocial.”

He relates story about how an adult female killed a deer and shared it with not only her three subadults but likely their father.

(ED TORKELSON, COWLITZRIVERLIVE.COM)

Cougars have been in the news a lot in recent years, for killing a Washington bicyclist and Oregon hiker last year, turning up in the wrong places — Mercer Island last month and a Spokane neighborhood last week — and their impact on Idaho elk herds compared to wolves.

Now they’re giving a pair of local residents and others reason to pay closer attention to their wildlife cams — and not just for river and fishing conditions — and help shed more light on the Northwest’s critters.

WDFW Schedules Wolf Webinars To Talk Postrecovery Planning, Management

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled three online, interactive webinars this September and October to discuss planning and management for wolf populations once they are no longer listed as endangered in the state.

“We know that wolves are a huge topic of interest to the public and we want to hear everyone’s input, in a respectful and productive way, on how to manage them,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “These digital open houses will allow anyone who is interested to learn about Washington’s wolves, ask questions, and find out how to provide feedback on the topic.”

While public comment won’t be accepted during the webinars, the goal is to both educate about wolves and share ways that people can voice their thoughts to WDFW concerning wolf management. This input will help to inform the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process that will be used to develop a post-recovery plan for wolves.

The dates for the interactive webinars are:

Everyone is welcome to take part in these webinars. They can be accessed by either clicking the links above or going to the home page of the WDFW website at wdfw.wa.gov and clicking on a link there.

There are other ways to participate in WDFW’s scoping process as well; WDFW is accepting comments via an online survey, online commenting, and in writing by mailing to Lisa Wood, WDFW – Wolf Post-Recovery Plan Scoping, PO Box 43200, Olympia WA 98504-3200.

“This is an important topic that many people are passionate about and we want ideas on how to find a balance where wolves can coexist with people, livestock, and other wildlife,” Susewind added.

The public scoping comment period remains open until Nov. 1. The Department’s work to develop this plan is a multi-year effort and, as wolf management options begin to take shape, there will be further opportunities to engage with agency staff.

More information on wolves in Washington and wolf post-recovery planning can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/wolves-post-recovery.

Editor’s note: Here is what the webpage immediately above states:

Wolf post-recovery planning: Purpose, background, and FAQs

Purpose

The purpose of this Environmental Impact Statement is to develop an updated conservation and management plan for wolves in Washington to ensure a healthy, productive wolf population with long-term stability once wolves are recovered and no longer designated as state or federally endangered. The plan will guide WDFW in long-term wolf conservation and management.

Background

Historically, gray wolves (Canis lupus) were common throughout most of Washington, but they declined rapidly between 1850 and 1900. The primary cause of this decline was the killing of wolves by Euro-American settlers as ranching and farming activities expanded. They were essentially eliminated as a breeding species from the state by the 1930s. Wolves were classified as endangered in Washington at the federal level in 1973 and at the state level in 1980.

Confirmed reports of dispersing wolves in northern Washington from growing populations in Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia, Canada began to increase after 1990, but the first resident pack in the state since the 1930s was not documented until 2008 in Okanogan County in north-central Washington. Since that time, wolves have continued to naturally recolonize the state by dispersing from resident Washington packs and neighboring states and provinces.

In response to the return of wolves to Washington, there was a need for a state recovery plan per WAC 220-610-110, and in anticipation of the eventual return of all wolf management to the state, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) initiated development of a state wolf conservation and management plan under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) in 2007. Assisted by an 18-member working group comprised of stakeholders, the plan was developed during 2007–2011 and was adopted in December 2011 by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. The 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan provided the outline for state wolf management and was designed to restore and protect a self-sustaining wolf population in Washington. It is the guiding document for wolf management in the state to date.

Since 2008, Washington’s wolf population has grown by an average of 28 percent per year. As of December 31, 2018, wolf numbers in Washington have increased to a minimum of 126 individuals, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs, marking a population increase for the 10th consecutive year and the highest counts to date. Not only is Washington’s wolf population growing, but its distribution is also expanding westward in the state. In 2018, WDFW biologists confirmed the state’s first wolf pack west of the Cascade crest in the modern era, while the number of packs in the North Cascades recovery region increased from three to five and the number of successful breeding pairs from one to three. WDFW is confident that Washington’s wolf population is on a path leading to successful recovery.

In addition, on March 15, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposal to federally delist gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Under the proposal, wolves in Washington statewide would be federally delisted and management authority would be returned to the state, except for tribal reservations and national parks.

In anticipation of and given the pace of wolf recovery, and in light of potential listing status changes, WDFW proposes to develop a post-recovery conservation and management plan for wolves to guide long-term wolf conservation and management under state authority once wolves are considered recovered in Washington and are no longer designated as state or federally endangered.

FAQs

What is a post-recovery plan?     

A post-recovery conservation and management plan for wolves will guide long-term wolf conservation and management under state authority once the wolf population in Washington is considered recovered and is no longer designated as state or federally endangered.

Doesn’t the department already have a wolf plan?

Yes, the department currently uses the 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan to guide wolf conservation and management in Washington. However, this plan is now eight years old and was developed specifically to inform and guide wolf recovery in the state while wolves are considered endangered. The new wolf plan will focus on how the department will conserve and manage wolves in the long term after wolf recovery objectives are achieved.

Why does the department need to develop a new wolf plan now?

Given the current pace of wolf recovery, the post-recovery planning process is being initiated proactively because WDFW anticipates it will likely take two to three years to complete. Ideally, the pace of our planning process would match the pace of Washington wolf recovery.

How will the department develop a wolf post-recovery plan?

The department will propose development of the plan using the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process. This involves preparing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will be available for public review. This statement will evaluate actions, alternatives, and impacts related to long-term wolf conservation and management.

The first step of the SEPA process involves scoping, which helps us determine proposed actions, alternatives, and impacts to be discussed in the impact statement. Scoping improves decisions and encourages collaboration, cooperation, and early resolution of potential conflicts. It is intended to narrow the impact statement to the relevant issues.

Scoping is a public process and we encourage everyone to provide input.

How can I provide my input?

Please submit comments in one of the following ways:

Comments can be submitted online (our preferred method for receiving comments).

Mail a written comment to:

Lisa Wood
SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division
P.O. Box 43200
Olympia, WA 98504

We are unable to accept or record verbal comments. The deadline for submitting comments is Nov. 1, 2019 at 5:00 pm.

What is the time frame for this effort?

Right now, we’re in the scoping phase for this project. We plan to review comments, write a draft environmental impact statement, and hold more public open houses once the draft environmental impact statement is released. The final plan is expected to be completed in 2021.

New ‘Get Outdoors’ Fish-Hunt License, Corn Ponds, Salmon Hatcheries On WA Commission Agenda

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

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to take action on a new combination fishing and hunting license at its September meeting.

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will meet Sept. 13-14 in Room Pasayten B at Sun Mountain Lodge, 604 Patterson Lake Road, Winthrop. The meeting will begin at 8 a.m. both days.

A full agenda is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission/meetings. The Sept. 13 meeting will be livestreamed on WDFW’s website at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019091003 and the Sept. 14 meeting will be available at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019091004.

Using statutory authority to create license packages, WDFW is proposing to create a new Get Outdoors license for state residents. The license would include:

  • An annual combination recreational freshwater, saltwater, and shellfish license;
  • Two-pole endorsement (allowing anglers to fish with two poles in allowed areas);
  • Puget Sound crab endorsement;
  • Annual combination hunting license for deer, elk, bear, and cougar;
  • Bear and cougar transport tags;
  • Small game license;
  • Migratory bird permit and migratory bird authorization; and
  • Two turkey tags.

If approved, the new license would cost $235.18 including fees, and would be available for purchase beginning Dec. 1 for the 2020 license year, which runs April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021.

Department staff will also brief the commission on proposed regulations for aquatic invasive species. One proposal would reclassify northern pike – a highly invasive predator found in the Box Canyon Reservoir on the Pend Oreille River and Lake Roosevelt in northeastern Washington – as a Level 1 invasive species. The new classification will facilitate rapid response and emergency action by WDFW and partners if the species spreads downstream into the Columbia River.

The commission will also hear a briefing on the state’s policy on hunting for ducks on “corn ponds” or flooding standing crops and will receive an update on the department’s timeline for evaluating the state’s hatchery and fishery reform policy. The policy is intended to improve hatchery effectiveness, ensure compatibility between hatchery production and salmon recovery plans, and support sustainable fisheries.

NOAA Warning Of New Blob Off Northwest Coast

Federal oceanographers say a new Blob has formed in the North Pacific off the Northwest Coast in recent months and is already second in size to the one earlier this decade that hit salmon and other marine life hard, led to a nearly snowless winter in parts of the region and elevated summer temperatures.

GRAPHICS FROM NOAA SHOW THE ORIGINAL BLOB AND THE NEW ONE THAT HAS FORMED IN THE NORTH PACIFIC. (NOAA)

“It’s on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event,” said Andrew Leising, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in California in a story out ahead of a press call at noon. “Already, on its own, it is one of the most significant events that we’ve seen.”

Researchers are monitoring the new marine heatwave’s development and say that despite typical coastal upwellings that keep nearshore waters cooler in summer, warm water appears to have moved onshore to the Washington Coast.

Westport and Ilwaco anglers have reported catching numerous more southerly species, including yellowtail, bluefin and mahi mahi, and last week a 7-plus-foot-long striped marlin was caught off Garibaldi, on Oregon’s North Coast.

According to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, that species of marlin is usually only seen as far north as Southern California‘s Channel Islands.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM A USGS VIDEO SHOWS A SOCKEYE SUFFERING FROM LESIONS SWIMMING AROUND DRANO LAKE IN AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE THE HOT WATERS OF THE COLUMBIA MAINSTEM DURING 2015’S BLOB EVENT. (USGS)

Still, there is some uncertainty in how bad this new blob might get. NOAA says it’s still early and it could break up or moderate as fall cools.

“It looks bad, but it could also go away pretty quickly if the unusually persistent weather patterns that caused it change,” said Nate Mantua, a federal research scientist formerly with the University of Washington.

UW atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass called it “a junior Blob” on his blog yesterday for how relatively recently it has formed. He notes the variance from normal sea surface temperatures is up to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, among “some of the most unusually warm water across the planet” at this moment.

Only portions of the west coast of Greenland and Arctic nearshore areas compare.

The 2014-15 blob was the largest marine heatwave in 40 years, according to the feds, and this new one is “almost the same size.”

The winter of 2014-15 saw rain in the Northwest’s mountains, leading to a snow drought that by summer had fishery managers restricting angling to protect fish in record-low, warm streams.

2015’s Puget Sound pinks and coho came in small and starving because of how bad ocean feeding conditions were for them, but 2019’s pinks have been good sized. It’s likely the former year-class were exposed for a longer period to the original blob than the latter fish to the new one.

NOAA’s story continues, saying:

A key question is whether the new heatwave will last long enough to affect the marine ecosystem. Biologists say that its large size means it probably already has. For example, warmer conditions during “the Blob” left lesser-quality food available to young salmon entering the ocean. It also shifted predator distributions in ways that contributed to low returns of salmon.

Other impacts linked to the earlier heatwave include:

  • The largest harmful algal bloom recorded on the West Coast, which shut down crabbing and clamming for months.
  • Thousands of young California sea lions stranding on beaches.
  • Multiple declared fishery disasters.

NOAA Fisheries scientists recently convened a special meeting to discuss the emerging heatwave and how to anticipate and track its effects. They are now reviewing impacts documented during the “the Blob” to compare them against the effects of the emerging heatwave.

“Given the magnitude of what we saw last time, we want to know if this evolves on a similar path,” said Chris Harvey, a research scientist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Pink Bonus Limit On Puyallup Starting Saturday

THE FOLLOWING IS A WDFW E-REG

Anglers allowed to retain 2 additional pink salmon in the lower Puyallup River on days open to fishing

ADAM BROOKS, SON OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN CONTRIBUTOR JASON BROOKS, HEFTS A HEAVY HAUL OF HUMPIES MADE IN MID-AUGUST 2011. (JASON BROOKS)

Action: Anglers may retain 2 additional pink salmon as part of the salmon daily limit.

Effective date: Aug. 31 through Oct. 31

Species affected: Pink salmon.

Location: Puyallup River, from the 11th St. Bridge to the East Main Bridge.

Reason for action: 170,000 Pink salmon have been passed above the Buckley trap, exceeding the preseason forecast and the escapement goal for the Puyallup. The higher than expected return supports additional harvest opportunity for recreational anglers.

Additional information: Salmon: Min. size 12”. Daily limit 6. Up to 2 adults plus 2 additional pink salmon may be retained. Release chum and wild Chinook.

A reminder: Pink salmon over 12” are considered adults. Anglers may not continue to fish for salmon after the adult portion of their daily limit has been retained. The lower Puyallup River is closed to all recreational angling Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays during the months of September and October.

Thoughts On Fishing For Pink Salmon In A Warm River

I can’t say that I’ve reached zen hookless fly fishing master copacetic status yet — that’s a whole lot more meditation and holistic consciousness away for this Coug.

But with water temperatures running in the less-than-salmon-friendly mid-60-degree-range on Seattle’s Duwamish River this week, I’ve been trying to be mindful of how long I’ve played and how long I’ve fished for humpies the last few days.

I will admit that that statement was only partially true on Monday, after I’d returned from a weeklong vacation in Northeast Washington and lost track of how many I hooked in a 40-minute midday sesh that brought back memories of a truly preposterous day on the Snohomish in 2001.

“Amy! Bring the boys down! We will slay!” I told my wife.

Then I googled the USGS gauge for the golf course in Tukwila and saw how warm the water really was and started thinking that maybe I didn’t need to play fish that I was catching and releasing that long.

Not that I was.

I mean, I’ve been all business down there on the banks of the muddy DGR with my converted plunking rod and reel and .99-cent Sportsman’s Warehouse humpy jig.

My mainline looks like it might hold horses to hitching posts at the Republic-area guest ranch we enjoyed a trail ride at last week.

After all, the faster you bring a fish in or it successfully throws the hook, the faster you can take another cast for ’em. It’s a numbers game.

These are beautiful pinks too.

Silver-bright bucks and hens.

Fat, fat, fat.

Studs and egg wagons.

The kind of fish that will really, really, realllllllly help rebuild a run that was hurt by The Blob.

(Please, please, Mother Nature, hold off on your super-soaker fall atmospheric rivers this fall, please.)

I don’t know that I ever — EVER — considered water temperature effects on salmon health before 2015 hit Columbia sockeye hard and a quarter million fish just … vanished without a trace.

It was more like catch-and-release all day long.

Advice from a fisheries biologist I sent a message to today about my moral dilemma of whether to fish for pinks in 66-degree water during my lunchbreak: Don’t.

But at the same time, they allowed the river IS open for retention of pinks because there IS a harvestable surplus of them, and that assumes some loss from C&R mortality.

For those of us without boats and are largely or entirely left on the bank, this is our time to shine.

So in the mental battle between conserving the resource for the future and the saying on the NSIA T-shirt I wear — “The tug is the drug” — I’m opting for the former with a good dash of the latter.

The hook on my jig is bent at an angle I wouldn’t tolerate if I was fishing for Chinook, coho, steelhead or any other species.

It’s pinched though it wouldn’t be if I was fishing for the table.

The past few days I’ve enjoyed watching pinks at my feet slash and take swipes at my twitched jig, pulling it away from some, letting others take it.

I give hooked fish a head turn or three or four to show me their stuff, then purposefully slacken the line or change its angle in hopes the debarbed point pulls out. Less stress equals higher survival to spawning.

It works for most, though not all; some I have to haul to shore to give the hook a quick twist before sending the fish on their way to the gravel.

It’s fun and all, and I have a deep, abiding love of this unloved, scoffed-at species and what it represents, but I’ll also soon get bored and turn to Chinook and coho.

Maybe if I was more enlightened, I would stay off the river all together till it cools back into the 50s.

Or just clip the hook off at the bend in the shank and count coup with every line pull.

But I have a ways to go to attain that level of coexistence and harmony with the salmonverse.

Om mani padme hu-there’s one!

Also, it’s very, very, very difficult to turn your back on a river full of snappy fish.

God, is it ever.

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WDFW Mulling Cougar Hunting Changes Ahead Of 2020 Season

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has assembled an internal working group of department biologists and enforcement officers to develop recommended changes to the cougar hunting seasons.

WASHINGTON HUNTING MANAGERS ARE DEVELOPING POTENTIAL CHANGES TO COUGAR SEASONS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

After hearing from concerned constituents at the March 2019 commission meeting, the department began reviewing its current cougar hunting rules in order to bring the commission potential amendments for their consideration.

“Our group has met five times over the last six months to discuss changes to the hunt structure,” said Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager. “After completing our internal process, we will begin a public engagement process to receive feedback from our stakeholders.”

In the coming months, WDFW will discuss progress with the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their Wildlife Committee meetings, seek input from key external stakeholders, open a public comment period, host a digital open house with a question and answer session, and provide information through social media.

In addition, the commission will seek public comment as they consider changes during a public hearing on proposed rules in March prior to making a decision in April 2020.

“Public safety remains one of our highest concerns,” said Aoude. “This internal cougar working group continues to work at finding the balance between maintaining sustainable cougar populations while also addressing public safety.”

On March 5, the department filed a CR-101 that advertises the intent of possible rule making. The CR-101, and any future filings related to this process, can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/about/regulations.

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Short Humpy Opener Coming Up On The Snohomish

Editor’s note: Updated 3:15 p.m., Aug. 29, 2019, with comments from a WDFW stock analyst.

Break out your humpy jigs, there will be a short pink season on the Snohomish after all.

“While three days is not a ton of opportunity, it’s better than the total closure we were looking at, and welcome news for local retailers,” said Mark Spada of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club this morning. “It should be a three-day zoo.”

The Sept. 1-3 fishery only has a limit of one salmon — coho or pink — but the popular Central Sound river wasn’t otherwise scheduled to open for the odd-year fish in 2019 due to a relatively low forecast.

WILL LUTZ SHOWS OFF A NICE HUMPY BUCK CAUGHT ON THE UPPER SNOHOMISH IN 2011. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The preseason prediction was 128,362 fish, just a tenth or less of some recent years’ escapements, but it appears more are returning.

“It appears the low pink forecast was way off, and there looks to be an abundance of pinks in the Snohomish,” says Spada. “An overachieving forecast is good news for future pink runs if the fall weather cooperates.”

After 2015’s run came in and spawned, their redds were hit hard by four pretty big October, November and December floods.

That year’s fish were also skinnier and less fecund due to The Blob  in the North Pacific, leading to a low 2017 return.

But that year’s progeny appear to have done better at sea.

“Early information indicates that the return of pinks to the Snohomish River is large enough to support a small recreational fishery in the river,” WDFW stated in an emergency rule-change notice.

Pink salmon biologist Aaron Dufault in Olympia said the escapement goal is 120,000 and with the forecast so close to that mark, the state and tribes initially wanted to manage the stock conservatively.

“Now that we’re seeing some positive signs in-river we thought a small fishery was acceptable. We’re already open for coho during this time, so pink would be caught and released regardless. This way some can show up in some angler coolers instead,” he stated.

The official go-ahead is posted here.

As for what to use, a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jig with a squid skirt and a pink Buzz Bomb are good starting points. Dick Nites are also popular.

LOWER RIVER HUMPIES LOVE THEM SOME PINK JIGS, LIKE THIS ONE THAT A DUWAMISH BUCK BIT EARLIER THIS WEEK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Public boat ramps include 10th Street in Everett at the mouth, Lowell-Snohomish River Road and the small one just south of the town of Snohomish, while Langus Waterfront Park just upstream from Dagmar’s has bank access.

At this point, after Sept. 3, the Snohomish will remain open for one coho a day only through the end of the month. Recent years have seen some very low wild runs, including 2015’s smallest on record — just 12,804 — and that has drawn scrutiny from federal fishery overseers who now list one of Puget Sound’s historically strongest silver stocks as overfished.

A review of the draft plan to rebuild the run is the subject of a Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting next month.

The Snohomish has also been among Puget Sound’s strongest pink salmon systems. While this opener may provide a glimpse of its past glory, including a truly epic day for yours truly and a friend off the former sawmill that yesterday burned, managers and anglers should be careful not to stress the run too much.

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