Tag Archives: wdfw

Puget Sound Coho Limit Dropping To One Monday

Coho anglers from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Deep South Sound will see their daily limits drop to one starting Monday as state managers worry about the size of this year’s run as well as the size of the fish themselves.

THE 2015 SEASON WAS MARKED BY SMALL, VERY HUNGRY COHO LIKE THIS ONE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A WDFW emergency rule change notice out late this afternoon says that preliminary monitoring by the agency and tribes are finding that this year’s ocean-returning silvers “have a smaller body size and potentially lower-than-expected run sizes to many systems.”

Smaller bodies mean that hens are carrying fewer eggs, whether to the hatchery or gravel.

The news is not unlike at this time in 2015, when coho came in half the size of usual during the height of the Blob, the giant pool of warm water that reduced the amount of forage available for salmon and other species.

“WDFW is implementing this rule as a precaution to ensure escapement and hatchery goals are met,”  the e-reg states.

It affects Marine Areas 5, 6, 7, 8-1, 9, 10, 11 and 13, the central and eastern Straits, the San Juan Islands, and Central and South Puget Sound.

The daily limit is two until then.

Marine Area 8-2 has already closed for coho due to concerns of overfishing of the important Snohomish River stock.

Mark Yuasa of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, who tracks Puget Sound salmon fishing news very closely, considered the news to not be unexpected.

Even though some anglers have struggled to catch coho, others have seen good catches, albeit with a wide variety of sizes turning up on images posted to Facebook.

Indeed the run has been giving off mixed signals, but now WDFW is taking a cautious approach.

The big Everett Coho Derby is this weekend.

The change affects about a week of coho retention in a number of marine areas, but more in others.

 

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.

Steelheading To Close On Clearwater, Snake; IDFG: ‘No Surplus’ For Fishery

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

On Friday, Sept. 20, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to close all steelhead seasons on the Clearwater River because the number of returning adult hatchery fish is less than the number needed for broodstock, and there is no surplus to provide a fishery.

IDAHO’S STEELHEADING CLOSURE MEANS THAT EVEN CATCH-AND-RELEASE FISHING FOR UNCLIPPED A- AND B-RUNS, LIKE THIS ONE LANDED ON THE SOUTH FORK CLEARWATER, WILL NOT BE ALLOWED IN THE CLEARWATER DRAINAGE. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

The closure is effective at midnight on Sept. 29, 2019, and covers the Clearwater River upstream to the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork, along with the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork tributaries. The section of the Snake River downstream from the Couse Creek boat ramp to the Idaho/Washington state line will also be closed to protect Clearwater-bound steelhead. The closure in the Clearwater River drainage is consistent with harvest restrictions put in place in fisheries on the mainstem Columbia River by the Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife Departments.

Consistent with existing rules that prohibit targeting steelhead or salmon where there is no open season, anglers will not be allowed to fish for steelhead in the Clearwater River drainage after the fishery is closed, even catch-and-release.

The Clearwater River drainage closure is in addition to the already-restricted fishery the commission approved for statewide steelhead fishing during their August meeting. The existing seasons remain in place for steelhead fisheries in the Salmon and Snake river basins.

Idaho Fish and Game biologists have been tracking steelhead returns closely, and the number of Clearwater-bound hatchery steelhead has continued to fall short of projections. According to Lance Hebdon, anadromous fishery manager for Idaho Fish and Game, while the return of wild, Clearwater-bound steelhead is tracking close to the preseason forecast, the return of hatchery-origin steelhead to the Clearwater River is substantially below what was expected.

Through Sept. 18, biologists estimate about 1,158 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River have passed Bonneville Dam based on PIT tags. The small, electronic tags are embedded in fish and help biologists know which river migrating steelhead are destined for. On average, about 50 percent of the hatchery steelhead returning to the Clearwater River would have passed Bonneville Dam by Sept. 18.

“Based on average run timing, we estimate that this will result in approximately 2,300 fish crossing Bonneville Dam by the end of the season,” Hebdon said. “The result for Idaho anglers is that only 1,700 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River will make it to Lower Granite Dam by the end of the season.”

In order to meet broodstock needs for Clearwater River hatcheries (a total of 1,352 fish), 100 percent of the steelhead destined for the North Fork Clearwater River, and a high percentage of the fish destined for the South Fork Clearwater River would have to be collected, leaving no surplus fish for harvest.

Although the steelhead fishery will be closed in the Clearwater River basin, there will be no changes to the ongoing fall Chinook season, which is scheduled to close on Oct. 13. In addition, the commission approved a Coho salmon fishery in the Clearwater River basin during their conference call on Sept. 20. This Coho fishery is open effective immediately, and will run concurrent with the fall Chinook fishery.

Because these fisheries will close Oct. 13, or earlier if catch limits are attained, any incidental impact on Clearwater hatchery steelhead is expected to be minimal.

“Early in the fall, many of the steelhead in the Clearwater river basin are actually fish destined for the Salmon and Grande Ronde rivers, which have pulled into the Clearwater until water temperatures in the Snake River start to cool off,” Hebdon said. “The main component of the Clearwater River steelhead run starts arriving in the middle of October.”

Columbia King Managers Decide Against 1-day Lower River Opener

Columbia fall Chinook managers today reduced the bag limit in the Hanford Reach to one but also passed on a lower river reopener in favor of giving gorge pools anglers continued access to this year’s run.

WDFW and ODFW staffers had recommended opening the big river from Buoy 10 to Bonneville this Saturday for fall kings after the URB component forecast was upgraded slightly, from 159,200 to 167,200.

COLUMBIA SALMON MANAGERS DECIDED AGAINST REOPENING THE LOWER RIVER FOR ONE DAY OF CHINOOK RETENTION. STEVE MEUCHEL AND KARI WILLARD CAUGHT THIS PAIR OVER LABOR DAY WEEKEND IN ST. HELENS AREA. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

That would have coincided with sturgeon retention (above Wauna) and was modeled to yield a catch of 950 kings.

It would also have taken upriver bright, or URB, catch-plus-release mortalities to 99 percent of what managers are allowing this season.

(The fishery was closed earlier this month three days early after exceeding the initial URB allocation for that runsize and stretch of water.)

But during a midafternoon conference call there was only mixed support for the one-day opener, with state sportfishing advisors in favor and the general public not.

Some didn’t have any appetite for all the days anglers would subsequently lose on the Columbia between Bonneville and Highway 395 in Tri-Cities, which would be forced to close much earlier than scheduled to provide the room for the lower reopener.

Dan Grogan of Fisherman’s Marine called that “absolutely ludicrous,” while others talked to issues of fairness and upriver anglers taking it in the shorts for lower fishermen’s opportunities in the past.

It would also cut into apparently better-than-is-being-let-on fishing in the pools, if images from Fish Camp this week and one advisor’s report are any indication.

The call also confirmed continuing concerns on two fronts: tule Chinook broodstock, and steelhead.

WDFW’s Bill Tweit warned that Drano Lake king catches were being watched very closely and it wasn’t clear how long the fishery would stay open.

Managers are worried about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Little White Salmon and Spring Creek Hatcheries collecting enough adult tules for spawning. While the latter facility is seeing good numbers, a lot are also jacks.

As for steelhead, the run has again been downgraded, the fourth time in the past few weeks, now to 69,200, with just 2,500 B-runs expected.

Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission is meeting Friday and could shut down all fishing for steelhead on the Clearwater and much of the shared Snake, and Washington will likely follow suit, Tweit indicated.

WDFW and ODFW were also advised they needed to put out a statement directing anglers to not even catch-and-release steelhead in areas where they’ve been closed to retention due to the low return.

As for Hanford Reach URBs, with only 22,121 wild kings expected to spawn in the free-flowing section of the Columbia — well below the escapement goal of 31,100 — the daily limit will drop from two to one starting Friday, Sept. 20, WDFW announced this morning.

Even though the Reach and the Columbia from McNary downstream are managed under two different plans, it might not have looked very good to have allowed downriver fishermen to intercept 500 or so URBs needed up at Hanford as anglers there see their catch reduced.

In other Columbia Chinook news, yesterday tribal managers OKed six more days of commercial gillnetting in the gorge pools, which will bring the URB catch to 15,375 of the 38,456 available at current run sizes.

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)

Limits At Popular Washington Bass Fisheries Could Be Scrubbed For Orcas

One hundred and forty-six lakes across Washington have been identified for elimination of bass, walleye and channel catfish limits after state lawmakers earlier this year passed a bill aiming to increase salmon numbers for starving orcas.

WDFW is taking public comment on the proposal which would affect 108 waters in Puget Sound, 14 in coastal watersheds, 12 in Southwest Washington and another dozen on the Eastside.

LAKE WASHINGTON SYSTEM POND LARGEMOUTH BASS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Most if not all don’t actually have walleye or channel catfish in them, let alone any preying on young Chinook, coho and steelhead, but some popular largemouth and smallmouth fisheries are on the list.

Those include Ballinger, Big, Bosworth — home to the state record bucketmouth — Clear (Skagit), McMurray, Osoyoos — which features the heftiest tournament bags — Riffe, Sawyer, Sammamish, Silver, Stevens, Tanwax, and Washington, among others.

Dozens upon dozens of other “secret” bass lakes are also on the list.

Because they’re classified as anadromous waters, they are targeted by Second Substitute House Bill 1579.

It passed 26-20 in the state Senate and 57-37 in the state House before being signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

TOURNAMENT BASS ANGLERS FISH A LAKE WASHINGTON SHIP CANAL BAY TWO SPRINGS AGO. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

At the pushing of federal fishery overseers to do more to protect outmigrating smolts preyed on by the three nonnative spinyrayed species, as well as to align with Oregon regs, WDFW several years ago waived daily and size limits on the Columbia system.

Biologically, it’s questionable if applying the same rule on these new lakes, ponds and reservoirs would have any effect whatsoever, either on reducing highly fecund warmwater populations or increasing salmon availability for killer whales.

Bass aren’t as coveted on the table as other species in our region; channel catfish have only been stocked in select landlocked lakes and can’t breed in our cooler waters; and walleye are also only found in the Columbia-Snake system, though some jackass(es) put a few in Lakes Washington and Sammamish.

Chinook, the primary feedstock for orcas, as well as steelhead mostly originate in our large river systems, though coho make use of smaller streams often connected to all the lakes left behind by the Great Glacier.

But now with this new state law, which came out of the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force last year, WDFW will hold five public meetings in the coming weeks in Mill Creek, Olympia, Ridgefield, Ephrata and Spokane on the proposal, as well as take comment online through Oct. 17.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission will also take testimony at its mid-October meeting, with a final decision expected in December.

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 Lays Out Tentative Razor Clam Digs Thru End Of 2019

THE FOLLOWING IS A WDFW PRESS RELEASE

State shellfish managers have tentatively scheduled additional razor clam digs on ocean beaches for dates in October, November and December.

Final approval of all scheduled openings will depend on whether results of marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat.

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) typically announces whether a dig will go forward about a week before the opening, said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the department.

“Abundant razor clam populations on all beaches, except Kalaloch, are allowing for more digging opportunity this year,” said Ayres. “But, it is important that razor clam diggers be sure to only dig where it is allowed.”

Razor clam diggers can find detailed beach maps that indicate locations and local names for beaches on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations/razor-clams#beachmaps.

The proposed razor clam digs to date, along with low tides and beaches, are listed below:

  • September 27, Friday, 5:52 a.m. -0.9 feet; Long Beach only
  • September 28, Saturday, 6:36 a.m. -0.8 feet; Long Beach only
  • September 29, Sunday, 7:19 am -0.6 feet; Long Beach only

No digging is allowed after noon for the late September digs where low tide occurs in the morning.

  • October 26, Saturday, 5:59 pm, 0.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • October 27, Sunday, 6:47 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • October 28, Monday, 7:33 pm, -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • October 29, Tuesday, 8:18 pm, -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • October 30, Wednesday, 9:03 pm, -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • October 31, Thursday, 9:50 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • November 1, Friday, 10:38 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

 

  • November 11, Monday, 5:51 pm, 0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • November 12, Tuesday, 6:27 pm, -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • November 13, Wednesday, 7:03 pm, -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • November 14, Thursday, 7:41 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • November 15, Friday, 8:22 pm, -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • November 16, Saturday, 9:08 pm, -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • November 17, Sunday, 9:59 pm, -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

 

  • November 24, Sunday, 4:47 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • November 25, Monday, 5:34 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • November 26, Tuesday, 6:18 pm, -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • November 27, Wednesday, 7:02 pm, -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • November 28, Thursday, 7:44 pm, -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • November 29, Friday, 8:29 pm, -0.7 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • November 30, Saturday, 9:10 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

 

  • December 10, Tuesday, 5:28 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 11, Wednesday, 6:06 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 12, Thursday, 6:45 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 13, Friday, 7:26 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 14, Saturday, 8:08 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 15, Sunday, 8:53 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 16, Monday, 9:41 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

 

  • December 23, Monday, 4:35 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 26, Thursday, 6:47 pm, -1.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 27, Friday, 7:26 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 28, Saturday, 8:05 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 29, Sunday, 8:43 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

No digging is allowed before noon during digs in October, November and December where low tide occurs in the afternoon or evening.

Ayres notes that low tides around New Years are not low enough for successful razor clam harvest, so digging will not open then.

In order to ensure conservation of clams for future generations, WDFW sets tentative razor clam seasons that are based on the results from an annual coast-wide razor clam stock assessment and by considering harvest to date. WDFW authorizes each dig independently after getting the results of marine toxin testing.

“Razor clam digs are a major source of livelihood for coastal communities, bringing out hundreds of thousands of tourists each year to enjoy all we have to offer, including terrific nature, food, entertainment and fun on the beach for the whole family,” said Andi Day, Executive Director at Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.  “We value and appreciate WDFW’s work to manage this terrific resource for our communities.”

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach.

Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license (starting at $9.70) to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov and from some 600 license vendors around the state.

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

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

OlyPen Mountain Goat Move Ends For Year With 101 Shipped To Cascades

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM WDFW ET AL

Capture and translocation operations are now complete for 2019 with 101 mountain goats moved from Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest to the northern Cascade Mountains. Since September 2018, a total of 275 mountain goats have been translocated.  An additional two-week capture and translocation period is planned for summer 2020.

WDFW REPORTS THAT 16 MOUNTAIN GOATS WERE REMOVED FROM MT. ELLINOR, ABOVE LAKE CUSHMAN, DURING THIS SUMMER’S TRANSLOCATION OF THE ALPINE DENIZENS FROM THE OLYMPICS OVER TO THE CASCADES. (JOEL NOWACK, USFS, FLICKR)

This effort is a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and the USDA Forest Service (USFS) to re-establish and assist in connecting depleted populations of mountain goats in the Washington Cascades while also removing non-native goats from the Olympic Mountains.  Though some mountain goat populations in the North Cascades have recovered since the 1990s, the species is still absent or rare in many areas of its historic range. Mountain goats were introduced to the Olympics in the 1920s.

In addition to the 101 mountain goats released in the North Cascades, there were seven adult mortalities related to capture, plus four animals that could not be captured safely were lethally removed.

Ten mountain goat kids that were not able to be kept with their families were transferred to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in 2019. One will remain at Northwest Trek and live in the park’s 435-acre free-roaming area. The other nine kids will have new homes at other zoos. A total of 16 mountain goat kids have been given permanent homes in zoos: six in 2018 and ten in 2019.

August 2019 Results
Translocated Zoo Capture Mortalities Transport Mortalities Euthanized Lethally Removed
101 10 7 0 0 4

 

Leading Edge Aviation, a private company which specializes in the capture of wild animals, conducted aerial capture operations through a contract. The helicopter crew used immobilizing darts and net guns to capture mountain goats and transported them in specially-made slings to the staging areas located at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park and the Hamma Hamma area in Olympic National Forest. The animals were examined and treated by veterinarians before volunteers working with WDFW transported them to pre-selected staging areas in the North Cascades. The mountain goats were transported in refrigerated trucks to keep them cool.

Once at the staging areas, WDFW and participating Tribal biologists worked with HiLine Aviation to airlift the crated goats to release areas where volunteers and Forest Service wildlife biologists assisted with the release. Release areas were chosen based on their high quality mountain goat habitat, proximity to the staging areas, and limited disturbance to recreationists. Weather did complicate airlifting goats to preferred locations on 6 days, but crews were able to airlift goats to alternative locations on these days.

“We were very fortunate to have a long stretch of good weather in August which enabled us to safely catch mountain goats throughout the Olympics and make good progress towards reaching our translocation goals,” said Dr. Patti Happe, Wildlife Branch Chief at Olympic National Park “Many thanks to all the volunteers and cooperators, including several biologists and former National Park Service staff who came out of retirement to assist with the project.”

During this round, release sites in the Cascades included Cadet Ridge and Cadet Creek, Milk Lakes on Lime Ridge, Pear Lake, and between Prairie and Whitechuck Mountains on the Darrington Ranger District of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest; between Vesper and Big Four Mountains on Washington Department of Natural Resource Lands; on Hardscrabble Ridge and privately-held land; and near Tower Mountain on the Methow Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

“An operation such as this is impossible without the support and participation of a large team,” said Dr. Rich Harris, a WDFW wildlife manager who specializes in mountain goats. “All have worked tirelessly to give every goat the best possible chance at a new beginning in native habitat. In future years, we hope to be able to look back with the satisfaction of knowing we helped restore this wonderful species where there are currently so few.”

Area tribes lending support to the translocation plan in the Cascades include the Lummi, Muckleshoot, Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, Tulalip, and Upper Skagit tribes. Volunteers from the Point No Point Treaty Council, Quileute Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Makah Tribe, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Skokomish Indian Tribe, and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe also assisted at the staging areas in the Olympics

A total of 22 mountain goats were removed from Olympic National Forest in August. Sixteen mountain goats were removed from the Mount Ellinor and Mount Washington area and six from The Brothers Wilderness.

“This operation would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance of volunteers, including the Olympia Mountaineers,” said Susan Piper, Forest Wildlife Biologist with Olympic National Forest.  “We also want to acknowledge that having popular destinations such as Mount Ellinor and Lake of the Angels closed may have been inconvenient to visitors, but it was important to have a safe and successful capture operation in those areas.”

In May 2018, the NPS released the final Mountain Goat Management Plan which outlines the effort to remove the estimated 725 mountain goats on the Olympic Peninsula. Both the plan and the associated environmental impact statement were finalized after an extensive public review process which began in 2014.

For more information about mountain goats in Washington State, see WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/oreamnos-americanus.

For more information and updates on the project, visit nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/mountain-goat-capture-and-translocation.htm.

Columbia-Snake Steelhead Run Again Downgraded; Treaty Salmon Fishery Set

Columbia fishery managers heard more grim news about this year’s steelhead run, now forecast to come in at 71,600, the third downgrade from the preseason forecast.

WILD UNCLIPPED A- AND B-RUN STEELHEAD ARE OUTPACING HATCHERY RETURNS SO FAR AT BONNEVILLE, SOMETHING THAT “HAS NOT BEEN OBSERVED” IN THE QUARTER CENTURY OF TALLYING THE DIFFERENCE AT THE DAM. (BRIAN LULL)

Weaker than expected hatchery A-run numbers continue to largely be to blame, but B-runs, which return later and haven’t been updated, are now also “tracking below expectations.”

The preseason forecast was 118,200 As and Bs, but was dropped to 86,000 on Aug. 28 and 74,000 on Sept. 3.

Unusually, more unclipped summers have been tallied at Bonneville than clipped fish, 29,658 to 26,856 since July 1, something that “has not been observed” at the dam since managers began counting the number of adult steelhead with and without adipose fins in 1994, according to today’s fact sheet.

The new forecast calls for 35,000 unclipped steelhead.

Also troubling — though not concrete — is that Dworshak Hatchery-bound fish are “almost absent, based on PIT tags,” WDFW’s Bill Tweit said during a state-tribal conference call this morning.

PIT tags are passive integrated transponders placed in smolts at the hatchery or in the wild and which record a fish’s passage to and from the ocean.

If the steelhead run comes in at this new low forecast, it would be the worst since at least 1984.

Already, state managers have shut down retention on large sections of the Columbia, extended it in some places and reduced upriver bag limits from three to one for when the fish arrive in Southeast Washington, Northeast Oregon and Central Idaho streams.

The main thrust of today’s call, however, was to hear about CRITFC plans to hold a two-and-a-half-day tribal commercial gillnetting opener in Zone 6, the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day Pools, from 6 a.m., Monday, Sept. 16 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 18.

According to the fact sheet, it and a “late fall platform” fishery are modeled to bring the tribal harvest in the fall management period to 28,448 Chinook, including 11,794 upriver brights and 2,152 steelhead, including 425 B-runs.

The fact sheet states that at current run forecasts, that would leave 24,834 URBs for tribal fisheries. It also says that based on typical run timing, the goal of getting at least 60,000 past McNary Dam will be met.

While URBs, which spawn in the Hanford Reach and Snake River and provide sportfisheries there and in the aforementioned pools, are “tracking similar to pre-season expectations,” there is more concern about Columbia Gorge hatchery tule returns meeting broodstock needs.

CRITFC’s Stuart Ellis acknowledged that it “seems likely we will be quite tight” in reaching goals at Spring Creek Hatchery, but that if necessary, Bonneville Hatchery fish could be substituted as they are the same strain.

When ODFW’s John North asked other tribes, WDFW, NOAA and the public for comment on the proposed tribal opener, none was given.

State managers did query Ellis about a preliminary estimated catch of “0” steelhead during last week’s tribal Chinook fishery, to which he explained that none had been sampled, leading to the zero for that week. He also said that actual steelhead catches had been less than were being modeled.

He added that managers need to keep an eye on the Dworshak situation.

ODFW’s Jeff Whistler, who chairs the Technical Advisory Committee, which puts out run updates, said that one for A- and B-run steelhead, URBs and tules was “quite likely” to come out next Monday.

In a weekly newsletter out last Friday evening, NSIA noted that TAC was also reviewing Chinook passage at Bonneville this past Monday and that managers “have committed to acting as quickly as possible to reopen chinook fishing from Warrior Rock to Bonneville if the passage numbers warrant.”

No sport fisheries were proposed today, but next week’s update might show whether any are possible.