Tag Archives: wdfw

One O.P.T. Wolf Removed; Dead Cow Also Found

WDFW reports lethally removing a juvenile wolf from the Old Profanity Territory Pack this past Sunday.

The agency also says that the northern Ferry County wolves killed a cow in the same area, bringing the number of cattle confirmed to have been attacked and killed or injured this month to seven.

The latest depredation is believed to have occurred before the 50-pound wolf was killed by a helicopter-borne sharpshooter.

“The department is currently working to determine the next option to deter wolf depredation by the OPT pack under the current incremental removal action,” WDFW said in a statement this afternoon.

That was authorized last week by Director Kelly Susewind. It allows up to two wolves to be taken out as part of an incremental removal to change the pack’s behavior after it injured five calves and killed another.

Three other wolves were seen during air operations Sunday. WDFW said it’s difficult to discern between adult and young wolves this time of year.

The OPT Pack was believed to include three or four adults and two pups.

According to the state, the producer, identified in the press as the Diamond M, has used a range of nonlethal measures to try to limit depredations but they haven’t worked.

This is the third summer in a row that the agency has had to resort to killing wolves to try and head off livestock conflicts in this portion of Ferry County. In 2016, the Profanity Peak Pack was targeted, while last year it was the Sherman Pack.

2018 Washington Deer Hunting Prospects: A Better Hunt This Fall?

Following Washington’s worst deer season in 20 years, there are signs the harvest may rebound.

By Andy Walgamott

On the bright side, Washington deer hunters have nowhere to look but up after 2017, one of the worst falls in 20-plus years.

That might be the most positive way to look at this season’s prospects across the Evergreen State, where bowhunters took the field earlier this month, muzzleloaders at the end of September and riflemen give it a go starting the second Saturday of October.

A BIG HARVEST IN 2015 AS WELL AS DROUGHT, WINTERKILL AND THE SECOND LOWEST NUMBER OF HUNTERS AFIELD LED TO AN ABYSMAL HARVEST IN 2017 FOR WASHINGTON SPORTSMEN. DESPITE IT ALL, HUNTERS LIKE CHUCK HARTMAN WERE ABLE TO TAG OUT AND CAN LOOK FORWARD TO A POTENTIAL REBOUND THIS FALL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

There actually are some good signs out there – solid postseason buck escapement numbers in places, an easy winter that should mean more available deer in previously hard-hit units, and a liberalized bag limit in a key area for certain weapons types.

But it will be interesting to see if the hangover from 2017, when only 23.6 percent of general season hunters tagged out – the second lowest this millennium – has worn off.

Indeed, following 2015’s decade-high overall harvest of 37,963 deer, nearly 11,500 fewer whitetails, muleys and blacktails were killed during 2017’s general and special seasons, the fewest in more than 20 years.

Part of that was probably due to a near-new low number of hunters last year – 106,977, down 46,000 from the last year of the 20th Century – but also lingering aftereffects of 2015’s harvest as well as drought and harsher recent winters that depressed deer production and numbers.

Still, crying in our beer ain’t gonna fill a tag, so here’s what biologists around Washington are forecasting for this season:

A SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON MULE DEER BUCK PUTS DISTANCE BETWEEN ITSELF AND PHOTOGRAPHER-HUNTER CHAD ZOLLER LAST FALL. POSTSEASON COUNTS FOUND GOOD NUMBERS OF BUCKS IN COLUMBIA BASIN UNITS, BUT LOWER FIGURES IN CHELAN AND OKANOGAN COUNTIES. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

NORTHEAST

In terms of sheer numbers, with all its whitetails and good habitat, harvest in the upper righthand corner of the state will always be hard to beat. And for this year, bowmen and muzzleloaders will again be able to take any whitetail, which hopefully produces an uptick in the take.

“My goal is to keep steadier harvest regulations,” says district biologist Annemarie Princee.

Following the windfall of the end of the four-point whitetail minimum in two key game management units in 2015 and bucks-only rules for the aforementioned weapons types the past two seasons, harvest declined by nearly 3,000 deer, or 37 percent.

But even as those two GMUs (Huckleberry, 49 Degrees North) saw sharp declines, other units – Kelly Hill, Douglas, Aladdin and Selkirk – have kept on keepin’ on, producing near-similar harvests year after year from 2013 to 2017, with generally steady days-per-kill needed to notch a tag.

OPENING DAY WAS GETTING A LITTLE LONG IN THE TOOTH IN PEND OREILLE COUNTY WHEN THIS WHITETAIL POPPED OUT IN FRONT OF KYLIE CAREY, WHO MADE GOOD ON THE SHOT. IT WAS HER FIRST TIME HUNTING. “AWESOME EXPERIENCE!” EXCLAIMS HUSBAND LEVI. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

In the region’s core, Stevens County, longterm deer counts show fawn numbers getting back to about average of the past 10 years after a new low in 2016, and that should mean more forked horns and spikes on the landscape. Buck numbers are about average, or at least were going into last season.

In their 2018 prospects document, Prince and assistant biologist Ben Turnock rank the Douglas and Huckleberry Units as best for modern firearm hunters. Those two yielded 1.38 and 2.23 deer per square mile last year, with 36.7 and 38.2 percent success rates.

They’re on the lighter side in terms of public land, but it’s a much different story with Kelly Hill, Aladdin, 49 Degrees North, Sherman and Selkirk. The bios rank the first two units higher than the others, but the third actually has a better harvest per square mile than either.

As a reminder, youth and disabled riflemen can take whitetail does the first two weekends of general season. Senior hunters nobly opted out to provide more opportunity for others.

Prince is also making a special plea to youth and disabled hunters who take a doe this fall to stop by the check station so that biologists can extract their animal’s jaw bone to study body conditions and monitor for chronic wasting disease.

A 320-YARD SHOT LED TO A NOTCHED TAG FOR CRAIG WESTLIN. HE WAS HUNTING NEAR POMEROY, IN SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON, WITH GUIDE JACK PEASLEY OF DEADMAN CREEK OUTFITTERS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

UPPER SCABLANDS, PALOUSE

Where Northeast Washington hunting lives and dies by its whitetail numbers, mule deer contribute well to the harvest in Whitman, Lincoln and Spokane Counties, spreading the risk and opportunity. Unfortunately for hunters, both species are still in recovery mode from recent years’ environmental setbacks that led to a 25 percent general-season harvest decline between 2015 and 2017.

“Though the white-tailed deer population is starting to rebound from the 2015 blue tongue outbreak and 2016-17 winter, hunters should still expect to have to put in more time to be successful,” biologist Michael Atamian and Carrie Lowe write in their game prospects. “With fawn-to-doe ratios rebounding from the droughts of 2014 and 2015, mule deer numbers should also be on the increase. Hunters should still expect to put in more time than in previous years to be successful.”

Days per kill has doubled in the Roosevelt and Cheney, and Harrington and Steptoe Units versus how long it took to tag out in 2008, rising from roughly 10 and seven to 20 and 15, respectively. It’s also risen in the Almota Unit, though not as much, but it’s now taking fewer days to bag a deer in the Mt. Spokane Unit.

The far northern Palouse is very light on public land and even farms offering access through state programs, but there are many more cooperators in the heart of the loess and along the Snake River Breaks.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON! JACK BENSON, AGE 11, FOLLOWED UP ON HIS DAD JEFF’S FINE WALLA WALLA COUNTY MUZZLELOADER BUCK WITH A GREAT FIRST BUCK DURING THE RIFLE SEASON. “HE SET THE BAR HIGH FOR HIS FUTURE HUNTS,” JEFF NOTES. WE’LL SAY! (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

BLUE MOUNTAINS

Better hunting is still a year away, according to biologists Paul Wik and Mark Vekasy. They say that 2015’s drought and the heavy winter of 2016-17 knocked back fawn numbers and led to 2017’s “poor” season and unfortunately the effects will linger into this fall with reduced numbers of legal bucks. Between 2015 and 2017 general season harvest declined 20 percent.

We “do not expect a return to average harvest until the 2019 hunting season,” they write in their game prospects. “Consequently, populations available for 2018 harvest are not expected to improve much over the poor 2017 season.”

Looking at recent years’ stats, hunter success has cratered in the wilderness Wenaha Unit, and while it’s dropped everywhere, it hasn’t been as bad in some. Rimming the edge of the mountains, Blue Creek, Dayton, Marengo, Peola and Couse have seen relatively steady harvests. While the knock on them is the general lack of public ground, there is Feel Free To Hunt and other private land that’s available, along with portions of four wind energy facilities.

But if last year is any indication, the mostly public Lick Creek and half-public Mountain View Units will still yield bucks. And the almost entirely private Prescott Unit will produce the most; look to get permission to hunt Conservation Reserve Program lands and the breaks of the Snake.

Ranking all of their units by harvest, hunter density and success, and public access, the biologists rate Mayview, Peola and Couse highest, but Lick Creek the worst.

SOUTHERN BASIN

Mule deer fawn numbers didn’t dip as low in Franklin and Adams Counties as they did higher up in the Columbia Basin, but harvest declined by nearly a quarter here.

Still, last year’s postseason buck survey found a healthy 21 per 100 does, somewhat surprising given the open nature of this country. Some of those were obviously off-limits spikes and forked horns, and it’s possible the count included deer that had migrated in from the east and north, but it’s a good sign coming into this fall.

With greater than 9 out of every 10 acres privately owned, biologist Jason Fidorra points hunters to the patches of WDFW, DNR and BLM land scattered around the district, but the Kahlotus Unit has some pretty big chunks of Feel Free To Hunt and Hunt By Written Permission properties.

Muzzleloaders should be aware that, new for 2018, antlerless mule deer can no longer be taken during the late season in the Kahlotus, part of a changing strategy for managing the herd. That hunt was shifted later in the year, though, wrapping up after Dec. 8, which could mean some nice migratory bucks in the mix.

NO WORD ON WHETHER HE WAS HUNTING ON A FELLOW STATE LEGISLATOR’S MOUNTAIN RANCH, BUT REP. BRIAN BLAKE DID GET IT DONE IN THE SAME COUNTY, OKANOGAN, WITH THIS NICE MULEY. THE ABERDEEN DEMOCRAT IS THE CHAIR OF THE IMPORTANT HOUSE AGRICULTURE & NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, OF WHICH REP. JOEL KRETZ, REPUBLICAN OF WAUCONDA, IS ALSO A MEMBER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

OKANOGAN COUNTY

If there’s good news from Washington’s best mule deer country, it might be that a relatively strong 19 bucks per 100 does were counted on the winter range coming out of last year’s hunt.

“And with almost half of those being greater than or equal to three-points, older age-class buck availability looks good,” report district biologists Scott Fitkin and Jeff Henlein in their prospects.

But while 19 per 100 is at the top end of the management objective, it’s well below the gaudy highs of late falls earlier this decade, and probably a sign of reduced recruitment.

“Overall, total general season harvest and success rates are anticipated to be around the 2017 numbers, somewhere above the 10-year low and below the 5-year average,” the biologists forecast.

For the record, general season hunters killed 1,966 deer here last year, including 1,201 by riflemen, numbers that were down 43 and 54 percent, respectively, from 2015, a ridiculously good year when even blundering hook-and-bullet editors could notch a tag.

At this writing, things had been hot and dry for months and months, and that may concentrate deer on north-facing slopes where moisture can stick around a bit longer, the biologists suggest. But if rains have returned since, that may green things up a bit and spread the animals back across this beautiful sprawling landscape until high-country snows drive the bruisers to the winter range, providing good opportunities for those lucky enough to have drawn special permits.

Meanwhile, glass those burns – Tripod, Needles, etc. – for bucks foraging on high-quality browse, then put a sneak on them. But be aware that the Twisp River’s Crescent Fire caused a large-scale closure that may still affect access into the Gardner and Alta Units. See fs.usda.gov/okawen and inciweb.nwcg.gov for more.

IT DOESN’T ALWAYS SNOW DURING WASHINGTON’S EARLY WILDERNESS RIFLE DEER SEASON, BUT WHEN IT DOES AND WHEN A HUNTER BAGS A BUCK, IT MAKES FOR A GREAT PHOTO. SUCH IS THE CASE WITH JON JACKMAN, WHO WEATHERED A DAYS-LONG STORM, TO HUNT SOME HIGH MEADOWS ON HIS LAST FULL DAY AT A DROP CAMP. WHEN HE TOOK A LAST GLANCE BACK TO WHERE SOME DOES HAD GONE, HE SPOTTED HIS BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

CHELAN COUNTY

The story is similar to the south of the Okanogan but also more positive in part. Buck numbers declined to 18:100 does coming out of last season in vaunted Chelan County due to 2015 and winters, but across the river in Douglas County, the herd is more stable.

“Hunters should consider the Chelan population to be in a rebuilding phase for the next few years. Survey numbers in Douglas County are encouraging, with overall buck-to-doe ratios above the objective of 15 bucks per 100 does,” report biologists David Volsen and Devon Comstock.

They say that their district’s eastern herd should be bigger and provide more opportunities this season, at least to those with permission to hunt the high, open Mansfield Plateau and its nooks and crannies for generally smaller bucks on private land. The bios report that there is some 150 square miles of farms and ranches open through the Feel Free To Hunt and Hunt By Written Permission programs.

And unlike other recent large state acquisitions, the entire 21,140 acres of the Big Bend Wildlife Area – the former Grand Coulee Ranch – is open to general season hunting. Expect it to be crowded on the first rifle weekend, but a boat and a good map opens up possibilities on the upper south shore of Rufus Woods Lake. Note that this wildlife area is also the first to specifically prohibit e-bikes.

Volsen and Comstock estimated that in 2017 12,680 deer occurred in Douglas County, but the herd in Chelan County south of the big fjord declined from the 15,000 to 18,000 range to 11,000 as of two years ago. The good news is the bleeding has stopped in the latter county.

“Winter conditions in 2017-18 were more normal. Decreased overwinter mortality should allow the population to start recovering from declines,” they wrote.

In the short term they expect a “flatter” harvest of big bucks and that hunters will have to “work a little harder” to find legal animals this fall. But with a stable population, good to improving habitat and the ability of deer to repopulate fairly rapidly, the long-term outlook is good.

The district’s best unit, Entiat, was only singed by the Cougar Creek Fire, but the Chiwawa Unit had big closure areas at press time due to it. Watch the above websites for updates.

AFTER KYLIE RICE AND HER DAD RYNE SPOTTED THIS EASTERN WASHINGTON BUCK DURING THE LATE MUZZLELOADER HUNT, THEY STALKED TO WITHIN 92 YARDS, THEN RYNE TOOK THE SHOT. BUT THAT WASN’T THE END OF THE 9-YEAR-OLD’S EDUCATION – KYLIE FOLLOWED A 60-YARD BLOOD TRAIL TO THE DEER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WESTERN COLUMBIA BASIN

Not unlike Douglas County to the north, Grant and Adams Counties’ best units, Beezley and Ritzville, are mostly private, but last fall’s posthunt survey found buck:doe ratios above what you might expect out of this sort of country: 16- and 21:100. Both were up over the previous autumn, and fawn ratios were also “favorable” last year, with 71- and 73:100, respectively – well up from 2015’s “all-time lows.”

“Given the modest escapement of bucks in 2017 and likely good recruitment of fawns, hunters should expect an average year for mule deer hunting throughout the district,” report biologists Sean Dougherty and Ella Rowan.

Between three private-lands access programs, there are 200,000-plus acres hunters can get onto through reservations, written permission or just walking on. And despite no hunting unit having more than 15 percent public lands, outside of the permit-only Desert GMU, there’s a wide variety of federally or state-owned ground to look into.

WASHINGTON’S TEANAWAY’S STILL GOT IT FOR BIG BUCKS, IF BART OLSON’S BRUISER IS ANY INDICATION. HE BAGGED THIS MULEY DURING A RAINY DAY NEAR THE END OF THE OCTOBER HUNT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

YAKIMA, KITTITAS COUNTIES

If you’re looking for a place to hunt with good road access, plenty of public land and loooooooow pressure, these two South-central Washington counties just might be for you. That’s also assuming you have little interest in notching a tag.

Indeed, there may be no grimmer district hunting forecast than the one issued by biologist Jeff Bernatowicz: “Wolves ate ’em all.”

Just kidding. He actually writes that last year’s harvest was the worst on record, the success rate was just 5 percent – two mountainous units produced just seven deer between them for 800 riflemen – and the age-class of bucks that should be on the landscape now is “missing.”

“No rebound is expected for 2018,” Bernie reports.

It’s actually pretty sad because this herd has been really struggling since the early 2000s. Recently things appeared to be slowly improving, thanks to three years of good fawn recruitment that helped spike the harvest to 1,019 deer in 2015, but that production fell off a cliff due to the aforementioned drought and winterkill, and last year only saw 499 taken.

NEW RESEARCH BY STATE WILDLIFE MANAGERS IS PROVIDING CLUES ABOUT WHERE TO LOOK FOR WESTSIDE BLACKTAIL BUCKS, LIKE THIS COWEEMAN UNIT THREE-POINT TAKEN BY BRANDON WILLIAMS DURING LAST YEAR’S LATE RIFLE HUNT. “IF A HUNTER SEES SIGNS OF DEER IN AN AREA, BUT NO DEER, THEY NEED TO BE PATIENT OR CHANGE THEIR APPROACH,” THEY COUNSEL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

KLICKITAT

The harsh, lingering winter of 2016-17 and an adenovirus outbreak added up to “very low” success rates last fall on Washington’s side of the eastern Columbia Gorge, with lowest-in-a-decade-at-least harvests in the West and East Klickitat and Grayback Units.

But biologist Stephanie Bergh believes that things will begin to turn around this fall, and, even better, fawn survival coming out of last winter was back to historic levels for these units.

As a reminder, the Simcoe Wildlife Area is permit only. And new this year, Stevenson Land Company has closed two areas, Snowden and Gilmer, to the general public.

But another 65,000 acres of Western Pacific Timber lands west of Highway 97 is open for walk-in hunting, as are Hancock lands, for the time being.

HUNTING THE SAME NORTH CASCADES HILLS AS HIS FATHER GREW UP HUNTING WITH HIS GRANDFATHER, DIEGO DEL NAGRO MADE THE FAMILY PROUD WITH THIS OPENING-MORNING BLACKTAIL, SHOT AT 150 YARDS WITH THE 10-YEAR-OLD’S NEW .243. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WESTSIDE

Last year’s harvest dropoff wasn’t just limited to Eastern Washington units – it was statewide, with all districts declining. Pacific and Grays Harbor County biologists Anthony Novack and Scott Harris report nearly 600 fewer deer were harvested in 2017 than 2016, which they termed “surprising and without an obvious biological cause.”

Part of that could be due to the aforementioned low hunter turnout, but a table the bios produced doesn’t show that much of a decline in South Coast numbers between the years. (More troubling is the long-term drop here, from 7,000 in 2008 to 4,500 in 2017, probably indicative of hunters aging out and the rise of access-fee policies).

For those who venture out for blacktail here or elsewhere on the Westside, they offer this advice based on deer collared in the Capitol State Forest:

“None of the deer monitored in WDFW’s study used an area larger than 0.38 square miles (243 acres). The average home range size was 0.14 square miles (86 acres). Some deer used an area no bigger than 45 acres in size during an entire year. If a hunter sees signs of deer in an area, but no deer, they need to be patient or change their approach.”

For more on WDFW’s deer studies, see the October issue’s South Sound column.

In Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and Lewis Counties, biologists Eric Holman and Nicholle Stephens expect hunting to be “good” this season, thanks to a mild winter.

Target regenerating clearcuts near taller second- and third-growth on state and private timberlands. Don’t have a trespass pass? WDFW’s Hunting page (wdfw.wa.gov/hunting) now has two different maps to help you find public land here and across the state.

But know that some huntable parcels may not be so readily visible, requiring extra work to sniff them out. For instance, some community forests on various Puget Sound islands are open under varying rules. Westside biologists’ online hunting prospects provide some details. 

WDFW Prepares To Take Out 1-2 O.P.T. Pack Wolves; Togo Wolf To Be Trapped

As three dozen people wave signs outside WDFW headquarters, a state wolf manager inside the building said that with a judge this morning again rejecting advocates’ request for a temporary restraining order, agency marksmen will carry out an order targeting a pack that’s attacked six calves this month.

A PAIR OF WOLVES USE A LOGGING ROAD IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (CONSERVATION NORTHWEST)

Donny Martorello says that local staffers in Northeast Washington have air, ground and trapping options at their disposal as they attempt to lethally remove one or two members of the Old Profanity Territory Pack.

It runs in rugged mountain country of northern Ferry County, where WDFW has previously had to kill eight wolves to try and head off livestock depredations in 2016 and 2017.

The OPT wolves — three to four adults and two juveniles — are confirmed to have injured five calves and killed another between Sept. 4 and 11.

Parts of the carcasses of three more calves were found in the immediate area, but their cause of death couldn’t be determined

WDFW reports the producer — identifed as the Diamond M Ranch in a news story — has been moving the cattle herd to the west but that 20 head remained in the area.

Producer Len McIrvin told the Capital Press that he had already lost an estimated 30 to 40 animals.

The state believes that without lethal action the losses will continue and hopes to change the pack’s behavior by incrementally removing members.

Not far to the north, the options are tougher with the Togo Pack, which has now attacked cattle seven times since last November, with the most recent incident coming after a sharpshooter killed the adult male.

Rather than kill the adult female and worry that the two pups might starve, WDFW is going to try a “spank and release” strategy, capturing one of the pups, outfitting it with a collar, and letting it go.

Martorello says that sort of negative stimulation might help prevent further conflict, but also that telemetry data will be given to the local producer and a RAG box set up in their pasture to try and help prevent more attacks.

Back in Olympia, for a second time in two weeks Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy denied a Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands request for a temporary restraining order, again because they hadn’t met the criteria for injunctive relief through the state’s Administrative Procedures Act, according to WDFW.

The agency also said that the groups had actually asked for the TRO after the eight-hour challenge window following the kill order announcement had passed, so perhaps it was all just for theatrical purposes, what with today’s prowolf rally and “die-in.”

Indeed, as Northwest Sportsman spoke to Martorello, he moved to a window in the Natural Resources Building and said he could see 30 to 40 protesters outside holding signs.

Meanwhile, other wolf advocates are choosing to focus their work in the hills.

Martorello added that Judge Murphy expedited a hearing on the merits of the CBD et al’s lawsuit against WDFW over the Togo and now OPT kill orders and is encouraging all parties to schedule it before the end of the year.

It Wasn’t That Long Ago …

Man, what a difference three years makes.

On this day in 2015 I posted* that Columbia River salmon managers had upped their fall Chinook forecast to a staggering 1,095,900.

ANGLERS ENJOYED SUPERB FALL CHINOOK FISHING ON THE COLUMBIA SYSTEM IN 2015 AS A RECORD 1.3 MILLION RETURNED, BUT THIS YEAR WE ARE SEEING THE OPPOSITE END OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE SALMON CYCLE SWING. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

They were off by a mile — 210,000 miles.

The final estimate is that 1,305,600 upriver brights and tules made it to Buoy 10 that year.

Of those, 954,140 were counted at Bonneville, the most on record.

And more than all but two other entire annual returns of Chinook — i.e., springers, summers and fall fish — at the dam since counts began in 1938.

The fishing was preposterous — 36,535 kings kept at Buoy 10, 41,525 on the Lower Columbia, 13,260 from Bonneville to Highway 395. Treaty and NT comms got their shares.

We were all smiles — our smiles couldn’t have been any wider or we would have broken our faces.

“These are the good ol’ days for Chinook, ladies and gentlemen,” I wrote later that month.

CRITFC FISHERIES TECHNICIAN AGNES STRONG HOLDS A COLUMBIA RIVER FALL CHINOOK TRAPPED PRIEST RAPIDS HATCHERY DURING THE 2015 RUN. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AGNES STRONG)

Looking back, it was the culmination of three outstanding years of salmon fishing, but there were troubling signs, other blogs I wrote that month show.

Sept. 23: Columbia Early Coho Forecast Reduced Sharply; Snake King Return On Record Pace: “Even as what could be a record return of Snake River fall Chinook heads for Idaho, Columbia salmon managers took the fishbonker to this year’s prediction for early-run coho, smacking it hard from an expected 140,000 to just 27,000 past Bonneville.”

Sept. 15: Clearwater Coho A No-go, IDFG Announces: This year’s run of coho up the Columbia is not living up to expectations, at least not yet.”

Sept. 11: No Plans To Halt State Humpy Fishery On Skagit: “Initial netting by the Upper Skagits turned up just 10 percent of the expected catch during what is typically the peak of the run of the odd-year fish.”

Earlier that summer hundreds of thousands of sockeye died as they migrated up the too-warm Columbia, as did dozens of oversize sturgeon.

Summer streams were bone dry due to the previous winter’s snowpack failure. Many waters were closed or under restricted fishing hours. Forest fires roared in the mountains and hills.

The Blob was hungry in 2015, though the high numbers of Columbia kings and relative snappiness of starving coho and pinks initially hid it from us, and we foolishly didn’t consider how long the North Pacific’s hangover would last.

Now in 2018 we’re at the other end of the salmon cycle.

ODFW’s Tucker Jones said that if the fall king run continues tracking as it has, it will be the lowest return since 2007, when 220,200 limped into the mouth of the Columbia.

I wonder if it won’t ultimately come in at lows not seen for two and a half decades — the 214,900 in ’93.

Funny how that number and the offage between the mid-September 2015 runsize update and what it ultimately came in at are so close.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER SHOWS THE 2018 FALL CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE (RED LINE) VERSUS LAST YEAR AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

There is some hope, though. Last year’s run spiked unexpectedly after the usual high-count days, so we’ll see.

But in the meanwhile Chinook as well as coho and steelhead fishing have been closed from Buoy 10 all the way to Tri-Cities, and the steelie bag reduced to one hatchery a day in the Snake River basin.

CRITFC postponed a gillnet opener decision, though platform fisheries remain open, and nontreaty commercial fishing in the SAFE zones were shut down.

In the usually productive free-flowing Hanford Reach, the adult URB limit has been cut to one a day.

Just three falls ago, we harvested a record 33,885 in the Reach, and that November I wrote, “What a year!!!!!!!! Remember this one — it truly is The Good Ol’ Days.”

There were warning signs, but to hit the bad old days after such highs so fast is a reminder that the runs do ebb and flow.

Hopefully the closures and restrictions WDFW and ODFW have announced help rebuild the stocks and get us out of this hole and back on the water sooner.

*Editor’s note: Hat tip to Mike Fisenko who brought back this memory on Facebook.

Samish Closing For All Fishing To Help Meet Chinook Eggtake Goals

WDFW E-REG

Action: Close part of the Samish River to all fishing.

THE SAMISH RIVER WILL CLOSE TO FISHING AROUND EDISON AND ELSEWHERE BELOW I-5 AS OF SEPT 15. (BENJAMIN CODY, WIKIPEDIA)

Effective dates:  Sept.15, 2018 until further notice.

Species affected: All species.

Location: From the mouth (Bayview –Edison Road) to I-5 bridge

Reasons for action: The return of fall chinook to the Samish Hatchery is currently projected to be below the number needed to meet egg take goals for 2018. Closing the fishing season in the lower Samish River will increase the number of hatchery fish available for broodstock and help ensure future hatchery returns.

Other information: The season will be reopened if egg take needs are projected to be met. Please refer tohttps://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/for further information on seasons.

WDFW Director OKs Incremental Removal Of Wolves In Old Profanity Pack Territory

Updated 5:42 p.m., Sept. 12, 2018

WDFW plans to go after wolves in a Ferry County pack that has killed or injured at least six calves in rugged country this month.

The agency will begin incremental removals — meaning one or two animals — to change the pack’s behavior starting tomorrow afternoon if an eight-hour business-day window passes without challenge from wolf advocates. One appears likely.

A similar kill authorization last month for a depredating pack just to the north led to a temporary restraining order after out-of-state groups sued WDFW.

That one involved the Togo Pack and was lifted in late August by a Thurston County judge.

The latest incidents involve the Old Profanity Territory, or OPT, Pack which runs to the south, in the same country that the Profanity Peak and Sherman Packs occupied before members were lethally removed the past two summers.

“This is a very difficult situation, especially given the history of wolf-livestock conflict in this area,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a statement. “We are committed to working with a diversity of stakeholders in a collaborative process to seek other creative and adaptive solutions to prevent future losses of wolves and livestock.”

The criteria for considering lethal removal is three confirmed attacks in a 30-day span or four over 10 months, and the former was met in the space of half a week.

But unlike other recent removals, some members of the agency’s Wolf Advisory Group have balked this go-around.

“… In our eyes the state killing wolves in one general area three years in a row for the same livestock producers does not fit within the intent and letter of the (lethal removal) protocol,” said Chase Gunnell of Conservation Northwest this morning.

Another staffer said that the mix of preventative and lethal tactics is not working in the area but the organization said it was willing to “roll up our sleeves” on short-term nonlethal measures instead.

Shawn Cantrell, the state representative for Defenders of Wildlife, called the kill order inappropriate and suggested the right nonlethal measures nor grazing practices had been implemented.

But some WAG members are sticking by WDFW’s side.

“I am very proud of Director Kelly Susewind for standing tall and doing the right thing in authorizing lethal action on the OPT Pack,” said Dave Duncan of Ellensburg. “I was greatly disappointed with the conservation groups taking a stand against lethal action and blaming overstressed cattlemen, who have been pushed into and required to perform in a costly experiential and sometimes unreliable concept of animal husbandry. They are the real heroes in wolf management today and without a doubt need more tools, support and relief.”

According to WDFW, the rancher — identified by the Capital Press as Len McIrvin of the Diamond M — grazing his cattle on a Forest Service allotment has been using “several” of the preventative measures called for by the protocol, including turning out calves nearly a month and a half later than otherwise allowed under the grazing agreement, using range riders, and removing sick and injured animals and taking care of carcasses.

The OPT Pack includes three or four adults and two juveniles, according to WDFW. An adult male has been wearing a GPS collar since early June.

Data from it showed that when the cattle were turned out July 10, the pack was denning “north and adjacent to the allotment where the depredations occurred” and that the initial rendezvous site was 2.5 miles northwest of the den site.

However, by mid-August, telemetry showed that wolves were now heavily using an area 5.5 miles to the southeast, in the grazing area, leading to increased range riding and coordination with the rancher to head off conflicts.

That appears to have not worked.

Last night the state reported that the bones and bits of three calves had also been found in the area in late August, but there was too little remaining to determine their causes of death.

Still, it led to increased range-riding patrols and efforts to move the cattle away from the area, according to WDFW.

Then on Sept. 4 two injured calves were found, followed by a dead one Sept. 5 and two more injured ones Sept. 6 and 7.

All were confirmed to have been attacked by wolves, as was a sixth in recent hours.

Nonlethal measures put into place after the initial attacks haven’t worked, says WDFW, which believes the depredations will continue.

“It’s not a sustainable situation. It’s a wreck,” McIrvin told Capital Press reporter Don Jenkins.

McIrvin estimated 30 to 40 calves had already been lost and when the grazing season is done, the loss will be double that, and he is expecting decreased pregnancy rates and lighter cattle brought to market.

WDFW says about 20 cows are still in the area being used heavily by the OPT Pack.

According to The Seattle Times, the Center for Biological Diversity is planning to file another request for a TRO.

That, however, was not specifically mentioned in a press release in which CBD stated it and a number of other wolf advocacy organizations will rally this Friday at noon outside WDFW headquarters and plan to stage a “die-in.”

The agency says its lethal removals won’t hurt efforts to recover wolves across Washington.

“In fact, the wolf population in the eastern recovery region has increased to more than three times the regional recovery objective,” the agency states.

WDFW Provides New Details on Wolf Depredations In Profanity Peak Area, Prevention Measures; Key Group Balks At Going Lethal

Updated: 10:15 a.m., Sept. 12, 2018

Washington wolf managers Tuesday night issued a lengthy statement on five recent confirmed depredations by a pack of wolves running in a rough, mountainous part of Ferry County that has seen other livestock attacks and lethal removals the past two summers as well.

A WOLF CAPTURED ON A FERRY COUNTY TRAIL CAMERA IN 2017. (CONSERVATION NORTHWEST)

Among the new details released is that three other calves also died in the area of unknown causes; only their bones and scraps were left by the time a county wildlife specialist and contracted range riders found them in late August.

That area appears to have become a second rendezvous site for the pack this summer, according to telemetry off of a male member captured in early June.

The unnamed pack known by the acronym OPT for Old Profanity Territory, consists of three to four adults and no more than two pups, it is believed. Its existence was first reported in late May.

WDFW’s statement outlines preventative measures taken by the livestock producer running his cattle on the Forest Service allotment, including turning out calves nearly a month and a half later than otherwise allowed under the grazing agreement, as well as preseason scouting for wolf activity by contracted range riders, and data sharing of wolf locations.

Following discovery of the calf carcasses on the landscape, range riding activities were increased — at least 150 days of effort occurred from April through July but August and September data isn’t available — and the cattle herd also began to be moved west.

But in early September injured and dead calves began turning up, with WDFW late last week ultimately confirming wolves had attacked five.

State Rep. Joel Kretz, who lives nearby, has reported some details on WDFW’s initial then reclassified depredation determinations on his Facebook page.

Nowhere in the agency’s Tuesday night statement are the words “lethal removal” mentioned.

“The depredations in this area happened in quick succession, and department staff have spent several days gathering information, assisting the producer, providing reports, and considering next steps,” WDFW summarizes.

One instate-based wolf advocacy organization, which in the past has supported the state taking out problem wolves under agreed-to lethal removal protocols, is balking this go-round.

“We appreciate the report, and the level of effort, but there’s nothing new there from our perspective,” said Chase Gunnell of Conservation Northwest, which had put out a statement Monday night that it couldn’t support taking out wolves in response to the depredations.

The organization says the recurring conflicts here don’t meet removal protocols it and other members of the state Wolf Advisory Group agreed to, and that the rugged terrain should be taken into account to adjust tactics to increase the odds that cattle and wolves don’t tangle.

In 2016, seven members of the Profanity Peak Pack were removed for a string of depredations and last year the Sherman Pack male was killed by state sharpshooters.

“It’s a tough situation, but our positions haven’t changed. We continue to support the protocol, and the need for coexistence and collaborative management,” says Gunnell. “Still, in our eyes the state killing wolves in one general area three years in a row for the same livestock producers does not fit within the intent and letter of the protocol.”

Before the agency issued more information, another member of the WAG, Shawn Cantrell of Defenders of Wildlife, said WDFW shouldn’t authorize lethal removals.

An out-of-state group is poised to try to again take legal action against WDFW, KING 5 reported Tuesday night.

Editor’s note: I’ll continue to fold in comments through the day as I receive them or are reported elsewhere.

 

Lower, Middle Columbia Closing To Salmon Fishing

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM THE WASHINGTON AND OREGON DEPARTMENTS OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

WDFW: Starting Thursday (Sept. 13), fishing for salmon will be closed on the mainstem Columbia River from Buoy 10 upstream to Hwy 395 in Pasco under new rules approved today by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.

COHO RETENTION HAD BEEN SCHEDULED TO CONTINUE DEEP INTO FALL ON THE COLUMBIA BUT WILL CLOSE EARLY DUE TO CONCERNS ABOUT LOW RETURNS OF CHINOOK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

Deep River in Washington and other tributaries in Oregon (Youngs Bay, Tongue Point/South Channel, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough) are also closed to salmon and steelhead angling.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) already prohibited steelhead retention in much of the same area of the Columbia River several weeks ago, and the new emergency rule closes angling for both salmon and steelhead in those waters as well.

Bill Tweit, Columbia River fishery coordinator for WDFW, said the counts of fall chinook at Bonneville Dam are 29 percent below preseason forecasts, and on-going fisheries are approaching the allowable catch limits under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“We recognize that this closure is difficult for anglers, but we have an obligation to meet our ESA goals so that fisheries can continue in the future,” he said.

Tweit said the upriver fall chinook run provides the bulk of the harvest opportunity for fall fisheries, but that returns in recent years has been declining due to unfavorable ocean conditions. The preseason forecast for this year is 47 percent of the 10-year average return of upriver bright fall chinook.

The new emergency fishing rule is posted on WDFW’s website at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.

…..

ODFW: With fall Chinook salmon returns to the Columbia River tracking well below preseason predictions, fishery managers announced today the Columbia River from the mouth at Buoy 10 to the Hwy 395 Bridge near Pasco, Washington will close for angling and retention of all salmon and steelhead at 12:01 am Thursday, Sept. 13.

As of Sept. 10, a total of 105,795 adult fall Chinook had passed Bonneville Dam, 75 percent of expectations based on preseason forecasts. The upriver bright Chinook return, which includes ESA-listed Snake River fish, are currently projected to return at 69 percent of expectations which means if left open fisheries could exceed the allowable harvest rate.  In response, Oregon and Washington managers decided today to close all salmon fisheries until further notice.

According to Tucker Jones, ODFW Columbia River Program manager, if the return continues on this track, this could be the lowest fall Chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia since 2007. “2018 is a pretty bad year for Columbia River salmon returns,” said Jones, “Except for upper Columbia sockeye most runs will come in at 30 percent or less of pre-season forecast.”

Steelhead fishing closed on the Columbia River Aug. 27, also due to poor returns, and will also remain closed until further notice

New Report Details Teanaway Wolf Depredations

Wolves in Central Washington killed one sheep, injured another as well as a calf, and probably killed a lamb earlier this summer.

The separate incidents involving the Teanaway Pack and two different livestock producers’ animals occurred a month ago or more but details didn’t emerge until this afternoon with WDFW’s August monthly gray wolf update.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE RANGE OF THE TEANAWAY PACK OF NORTHERN KITTITAS, SOUTHWEST CHELAN AND NORTHEAST KING COUNTIES. (WDFW)

According to the agency, the injured calf was reported July 31 and recovered the next day by the producer.

An exam determined its injuries had come from one or more wolves, and it led the rancher to move his cattle to another part of his grazing allotment on the Teanaway Community Forest.

Then, a week and a half later, a WDFW range rider alerted wolf managers to a possible depredation on Forest Service land.

Lacerations and puncture wounds on an injured and a dead sheep, along with telemetry data that put the Teanaway wolves nearby, led to the attack being classified as a confirmed wolf depredation.

A lamb from the flock was also determined to be missing.

WDFW reports that the shepherd moved the sheep to another part of the allotment and that many different conflict prevention tactics had been taken to minimize conflicts.

“(The producer) delayed entry onto the allotment until July, after wild ungulates are born. A sheepherder stays with the sheep at all times, accompanied by five herding dogs and three guarding dogs. The sheep are gathered tightly together each night and guarded by the dogs, the sheepherder, two Foxlights, and a Radio Activated Guard (RAG) programmed to trigger when a collared wolf approaches the sheep. Additionally, sick and injured sheep are removed from the allotment. The sheepherder, range rider, and WDFW actively haze wolves with human presence, air horns, and gunfire when they are detected near the sheep,” the agency stated.

A cursory search suggests the depredations are the first for the Teanaway Pack since two in 2015.

Wolves in this portion of Washington are still federally listed and WDFW only considers lethal removals in the delisted eastern third of the state.

The news follows recent confirmed and probable depredations by two different packs in northern Ferry County — the Togos and “the Unnamed pack using the old Profanity territory” — and the removal of the Togo’s breeding male.

WDFW’s monthly update also details August nonlethal work around Northeast Washington packs including Carpenter Ridge, Dirty Shirt, Goodman, Huckleberry, Leadpoint and Smackout.

Also, WDFW appears to have posted a new map for the Teanaway wolves as well. It shows an expanded territory that stretches from the Teanaway Valley north to nearly Stevens Pass.

Mountain Goats On The Move: Olympics-to-North Cascades Effort Starts Next Week

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

Starting September 10, a coalition of state and federal agencies, with support from local tribes, will begin translocating mountain goats from Olympic National Park to the northern Cascade Mountains to meet wildlife management goals in both areas.

A TRIO OF MOUNTAIN GOATS CLING TO ROCKS ON THE RIDGE ABOVE THE ROAD TO HURRICANE RIDGE. (OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK)

This effort to translocate mountain goats from the Olympic Peninsula is a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS), the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), and the USDA Forest Service (USFS) to re-establish and assist in connecting depleted populations of mountain goats in the Washington Cascades.

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.

In May, 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.

This month’s two-week effort to move mountain goats to native habitat in the northern Cascades is the first translocation operation since the release of the final Mountain Goat Management Plan. Two additional two-week periods are planned for next year. Mountain goats were introduced to the Olympics in the 1920s.

“Mountain goat relocation will allow these animals to reoccupy historical range areas in the Cascades and increase population viability,” said Jesse Plumage, USFS Wildlife Biologist.

While some mountain goat populations in the north Cascades have recovered since the 1990s, the species is still absent from many areas of its historic range.

Aerial capture operations will be conducted through a contract with a private company that specializes in the capture and transport of wild animals. The helicopter crew will use tranquilizer darts and net guns to capture mountain goats and transport them in specially made slings to the staging area on Hurricane Hill Road beyond the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in Olympic National Park. The staging area will be closed to public access.

The animals will be examined by veterinarians before WDFW wildlife managers transport them overnight to staging areas in the north Cascades for release the following day.

During this first round, WDFW will only translocate goats from the park to non-wilderness release sites in the Cascades. There will be no closures for release operations in the national forests in 2018. To maximize success, goats will be brought directly to alpine habitats that have been selected for appropriate characteristics. To access these areas, goats will be airlifted in their crates by helicopter.

WDFW plans to release the mountain goats at five selected sites in the Cascades this month. Two release areas are near mountain peaks south of the town of Darrington, on the Darrington District of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS). The others are near Mt. Index, on the Skykomish Ranger District of the MBS, Tower Peak in the Methow area of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and the headwaters of the Cedar River Drainage, which is land owned by Seattle Public Utilities.

“The translocation effort will relieve issues with non-native mountain goats in the Olympics while bolstering depleted herds in the northern Cascades,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. “Mountain goats cause significant impacts to the park ecosystem as well as public safety concerns.”

Mountain goats follow and approach hikers because they are attracted to the salt from their sweat, urine, and food. That behavior is less likely in the north Cascades where visitors are more widely distributed than those at Olympic National Park, said Rich Harris, a WDFW wildlife manager who specializes in mountain goats.

“In addition, the north Cascades has an abundance of natural salt licks, while the Olympic Peninsula has virtually none,” Harris said. “Natural salt licks greatly reduce mountain goats’ attraction to people.”

For more information about mountain goats in Washington state, see WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/mountain_goats.html.

Along with the staging area closure on Hurricane Hill Road, several trails in Olympic National Park will be closed for visitor and employee safety during helicopter operations. For more information and updates, visit www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/mountain-goat-capture-and-translocation.htm.