Tag Archives: wdfw

Washington Wildlife Commission To Hear About Eastside’s Pronghorns

Pronghorns popping up on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission agenda for this weekend’s meetings got my hunter’s heart racing.

“Just a briefing on status or should we look for something along the lines of potential permit hunt development?” I asked state speedgoat manager Richard Harris.

He got back to me pretty quickly and tempered my enthusiasm somewhat.

“Just a briefing, at the request of the Commission. Premature for the latter …,” Harris replied via email.

Dangit!

Still, if you’re interested in the expansion of antelope herds in the eastern half of the Evergreen State, his presentation to the citizen panel does make for some interesting viewing.

Its 26 pages covers the native species’ history, its extirpation by the very early 1900s, and state (mid-1900s) and tribal (2000s) reintroduction efforts, as well as maps showing where those captured in Nevada and released onto the Yakama and Colville Reservations with GPS collars primarily range and have wandered.

Some on the former reservation have gone as far east as I-82 between Tri-Cities and the Columbia, and as far south as almost to the giant landfill above Roosevelt in Klickitat County.

Some on the latter have gone as far south as near the mouth of Moses Coulee.

A HERD OF PRONGHORN ANTELOPE ON ALERT ON THE FROZEN TUNDRA OF NORTHERN DOUGLAS COUNTY, WASH. (ERIC BRAATEN, WDFW)

The presentation also touches on population monitoring (last summer we reported there were roughly 250 out there, and WDFW and the Yakamas are planning another joint late-January survey), landowner issues (pronghorns are prone to alfalfa addictions), and the state’s existing policies.

The request for a briefing came from Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane, and with one-third of the antelope in Washington now occupying ground where WDFW has jurisdiction, Harris will brief the commission on future steps, which includes:

• Preliminary management plans for both Upper Columbia Basin and Lower Columbia Basin pronghorn groups
• Work closely with Tribes to develop complementary plans and strategies
• Public meetings to gather input and suggestions
Whether or not the tribal reintroductions ever result in limited state hunts, it’s still one to keep an eye on if you’re a Washington wildlife world watcher.

 

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Only 3 Days For Skagit Brant Hunters, But Other Westside Areas Open As Scheduled

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced a restricted, three-day hunting season for brant geese in Skagit County today, while continuing hunts in three other counties where brant counts have been stable.

A BRANT LANDS AMONGST DECOYS SET OFF THE TESORO REFINERY NEAR ANACORTES, IN WESTERN SKAGIT COUNTY, AN IMAGE SUPPLIED TO NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN FOR AN ARTICLE ON THE SPECIES WHICH RAN A COUPLE WINTERS AGO. (MAYNARD AXELSON)

This year’s brant season in Skagit County will occur on Jan. 12, 16, and 19, based on criteria set by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in April.

Kyle Spragens, WDFW waterfowl section manager, said the reduced schedule was necessary after aerial bird counts conducted in Skagit County indicated numbers fell short of the 6,000 birds required for a full eight-day hunting season for high arctic brant.

Spragens said population surveys conducted over Padilla, Samish, and Fidalgo bays in Skagit County this winter tallied 5,203 birds, triggering this year’s three-day season.

“The number of hunting days is directly related to how many brant are counted during those surveys,” he said. “These low counts require us to prioritize conservation responsibilities for this distinctive, coastal species, while providing harvest opportunity when appropriate.”

Spragens said annual counts in Skagit brant numbers can vary widely, noting that this is the third restricted brant season in the past four years.

Meanwhile, stable populations of brant that do not return to western high arctic breeding regions have allowed for continued hunting opportunities in other parts of the state.  The state has again approved a brant season – Jan. 12, 16, and 19 – in Clallam and Whatcom Counties.

Counts in those two counties have increased in recent years and have remained above the 1,000 brant threshold for the past three years, the state criteria required to consider seasons in these areas.

Also, the traditional 10-day brant season in Pacific County will open Jan. 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 27.

WDFW reminds hunters to familiarize themselves with local regulations and boundaries. Specifically, hunters in Clallam County are advised to consult the closed zones of Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Dungeness/visit/rules_and_regulations.html) and hunters in Whatcom County are advised to review boundaries relevant to Bellingham and Lummi Bays (https://www.lummi-nsn.gov/Website.php?PageID=39).

Information on brant seasons is available in WDFW’s Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Seasons hunting pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/. Brant hunters are reminded they must possess a valid migratory bird authorization and brant harvest report card.

Mobility-impaired Angler Trying To Save Access To Popular Lake Roosevelt Beach

A disabled Lake Roosevelt angler and local officials are concerned that access to a good fishing hole just above Grand Coulee Dam might be reduced, or even lost entirely.

That’s because the Bureau of Reclamation is mulling the future management of Geezer Beach, a top spot to plunk for chunky rainbow trout during the winter and early spring.

A FISHERMAN TENDS THEIR LINE AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

Hank Wiebe, a Northwest Sportsman reader who fishes there more days than not from January through June, is leading the charge to keep the area open to all.

He’s been working hard to get the word out, circulating a petition at area businesses, writing letters to the local paper and his federal lawmakers, and more.

“Due to my disabilities, this beach provides one of the few places I can access … fish,” Wiebe explained in comments sent to BOR last month during a “pre-scoping period” identifying issues to address ahead of an environmental assessment that is expected later this winter. “There is a strong group of fishermen, with varying degrees of limited mobility, who often fish alongside me.”

The Town of Grand Coulee resident describes himself as a heart attack survivor who has suffered an aortic aneurysm, and has COPD and other medical issues that combine to make walking very far “tough.”

“Not to mention a fall on the rocks would exacerbate all of the above issues, so being able to drive to this location is about my only choice for fishing from shore,” Wiebe says.

Over the years he and his family have sent us numerous pictures of themselves, including Wiebe’s granddaughter Remington, enjoying success at Geezer Beach during Lake Roosevelt’s annual winter drawdown, when anglers drive down the lakebed from a parking area and cast their lines out.

REMINGTON WIEBE SHOWS OFF A NICE RAINBOW CAUGHT OFF GEEZER BEACH IN WINTER 2015 WHILE FISHING WITH HER GRANDPA, HANK, WHO HOPES TO KEEP THE DRIVE-DOWN ACCESS SITE OPEN. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Indeed, it’s an opportunity that draws anglers from “as far away as Seattle,” Robert Poch, Coulee Dam’s mayor pro tem, wrote in his city’s official comments to BOR.

And those people “stay in our local motels, eat at our restaurants and patron our stores. The Town of Coulee Dam already struggles to maintain with the limited revenue sources it receives today.”

While the municipality fancies itself as the “green oasis at the foot of Grand Coulee Dam,” Poch worries that fewer visitors will lead to reduced sales and hotel tax revenues.

His letter stated that the city council “expressed very strong feelings against” BOR’s proposed changes.

The Star, a weekly newspaper, covered the story in a series of front-page pieces last month, and it reported that the federal agency is responding to the Colville Tribes’ issues with vehicles driving on the beach.

A PAIR OF RIGS PARKED AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

“This is a concern for both protection of cultural resources, and protection of water quality,” a tribal official stated in an email quoted for a Dec. 26 Star story, adding that driving on the lakebed is otherwise prohibited on Roosevelt but not enforced at Geezer Beach, which sets a bad example and creates an enforcement headache.

In its press release announcing a call for public comment, BOR said that entering the drawdown area in a vehicle represents a public safety risk “because these vehicles can become stuck, roll into the reservoir, or become abandoned.”

REMINGTON WIEBE TAKES A NAP AT GEEZER BEACH FOLLOWING A SUPER-EARLY WAKE UP TO GO FISHING THERE IN 2015 WITH HER GRANDFATHER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s not something Coulee Dam officials have seen, however.

“For more than 40 years, we cannot recall ever hearing of an incident where a vehicle has been stuck, driven or rolled into the reservoir or been an accident at Geezer Beach. The access roads, which have been in existence since the 1960’s, are well established and have been packed down, providing a firm surface for vehicles to travel on,” Mayor Poch wrote.

Photographs Wiebe took of different parts of the beach on Jan. 8 showed it to be remarkably clean of the type of trash one usually finds, unfortunately, at fishing accesses.

“All my fishing buddies and I strive to keep this area litter free,” he notes.

LOOKING TOWARD GRAND COULEE DAM FROM A PORTION OF GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

This is not to say that locations significant to the Colville Tribes haven’t been impacted by settlement, development, dam building and other activities or shouldn’t be protected, but in that Dec. 26 story, Greg Behrens told The Star that during a three-decade-long career working at Grand Coulee he did geological and geographic studies of the area, and that Geezer Beach was “reworked and completely modified through the construction of the Dam’s history” while being used for staging.

“If the concern for the allowed vehicle access is based on ‘cultural resource preservation’ then the prior construction activities have made this a non-issue. This includes the nearshore environment well below the accessible areas today,” Behrens told reporter Jacob Wagner.

There have been state-tribal tensions this decade over fishing at Geezer Beach and management of Lake Roosevelt.

PLUNKING POWER BAIT IS A GOOD WAY TO LOAD UP A STRINGER WITH LOWER LAKE ROOSEVELT TROUT. THIS NICE BUNCH WAS CAUGHT DURING A LATE JANUARY 2014 OUTING BY TIM AND JO WIEBE. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Closing off access to Geezer entirely was one of three alternatives that BOR was gathering public comment on last month for the upcoming environmental assessment, or EA.

Another focuses on restricting parking to designated areas just off an access road from Coulee Dam and that sit at roughly the 1300-foot elevation mark. That would still allow angling but make it much more difficult for mobility-impaired anglers like Wiebe to reach the water when Roosevelt dips to as low as 1,220 feet in midspring.

The third is for maintaining the status quo.

ANGLERS FISH FROM GEEZER BEACH EARLY LAST MONTH. WATER LEVELS VARY FROM 1280 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL DOWN TO 1220 FEET AS LAKE ROOSEVELT IS DRAWN DOWN IN WINTER AND EARLY SPRING TO CONTAIN SNOWPACK RUNOFF FROM THE UPPER COLUMBIA RIVER WATERSHED AND GENERATE ELECTRICITY. (JACOB WAGNER, THE STAR)

“With the information gathered from the input we received, Reclamation will now write a draft EA and it will be available for public comment,” says Lynne Brougher, a BOR spokeswoman at the agency’s Grand Coulee office. “At this time, we anticipate that the draft EA will be available for comment in February and a final decision will be made this spring.”

Lake Roosevelt is so huge that it is part of two different Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regions, and the managers of both — Steve Pozzanghera and Jim Brown in Spokane and Ephrata, respectively — say they will be watching for the EA to come out so the agency can submit comments.

“We would hope they wouldn’t do an outright closure,” says Brown of BOR’s alternatives. “Their problem statement makes that seem a bit extreme, on its face. If it is about vehicles, that is seemingly an excessive step, when nothing in the scoping description goes beyond the stated problem being with vehicles.”

“We should be advocating for continued public access — the issue will be foot traffic versus vehicle entry,” adds Pozzanghera.

For Hank Wiebe, the latter is preferred.

“There’s many of us fishermen who have medical issues and need areas like this to enjoy/teach grandkids all about fishing,” he says.

Dalles Pool Sturgeon Retention To Close After Weekend

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

The recreational sturgeon season in The Dalles Pool (The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam) will close effective 12:01 a.m. Monday, Jan. 7, under rules announced today by fishery managers from Oregon and Washington.

THE DALLES POOL ANGLERS LIKE KATIE CRAIG HAVE JUST TWO MORE DAYS AFTER TODAY TO RETAIN KEEPER-SIZED STURGEON, STATE MANAGERS ANNOUNCED JAN. 4, 2019. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The states decided to close the sturgeon sport fishery based on catch projections which indicate the 135 fish guideline may be achieved by Friday evening.  Catch rates have been high since the season opened Jan. 1, with an estimated 69 fish kept through Jan. 3.

Sturgeon fishing remains open in the Bonneville and John Day pools, where the guidelines are 325 and 105 fish, respectively.

Retention sturgeon fishing is closed below Bonneville Dam and below Willamette Falls under permanent sport fishing regulations.

Except for specific sanctuaries, catch-and-release sturgeon fishing remains open in all of these waters, even when retention seasons are closed.

Yuasa: Blackmouth Fisheries, Seattle Boat Show, Derbies Highlight January

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

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

It’s time to hit the “refresh button” as we ring in the New Year with plenty of fishing choices, a chance to participate in a NW Salmon Derby Series event or, tops on the list, taking in the 72nd Seattle Boat Show.

I’m feeling reinvigorated just thinking about all the places to go, events to see and fish to catch, if you catch my drift!
First off there’s no need to winterize your boat in the Pacific Northwest especially with the salmon fishing opportunities that abound right now from the San Juan Islands to Olympia.

AUTHOR MARK YUASA IS EXCITED ABOUT 2019’S POSSIBILITIES. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The winter chinook fisheries hit full-stride when it opened today (January 1) for winter hatchery chinook at the highly-popular marine fishing grounds of northern and central Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Areas 7, 9 and 10).

Three key ingredients to make your outing a success is finding schools of baitfish (herring and candlefish) since blackmouth are hard-wired on feeding. That means it’s important to stay on top of baitfish and if you drift off them be sure to rev up the main motor and move right back to that same location.

The second tip is to not keep your presentation near the surface or at mid-water column depths like you often would do in the summer-time. These fish tend to hang right off the bottom digging their noses in the sand for bait like candlefish or picking off schools of herring. Keep your bait moving up and down the water column and let it soak for a little bit on or near the bottom before reeling it back up. If using downriggers set them at multiple depths and be sure one of the lead balls is bouncing right off the bottom.

Third is knowing a winter blackmouth’s habit during tidal movements and it isn’t necessary to be out on the water at the crack of dawn as you would during the summer. These fish are more predictable so if the bite occurred at a certain time of the day, it’s most likely they’ll do the same the following day only an hour later. Understanding their tendencies and where fish are hanging out on certain tides will lead to better success.

David Stormer, the WDFW Puget Sound Recreational fisheries manager says to keep in mind closing dates could hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (the minimum size limit is 22 inches).

The San Juan Islands winter fishery can’t exceed 3,176 total unmarked encounters and/or exceed 11,867 total encounters. WDFW will provide in-season catch estimates around Jan. 11.

In northern Puget Sound the encounter ceiling is 10,004 chinook; and central Puget Sound (Area 10) it is 3,596. WDFW will provide in-season catch estimates for 9 and 10 around Jan. 18.

All three areas will begin with a one hatchery chinook daily limit.
My word of advice is to go sooner than later, which will likely guarantee you more time on the water.

Salmon predictions roll out soon

We’re still a couple months out before anglers get their first glimpse of 2019 salmon forecasts but here’s early insight on pink salmon that return during odd-numbered years.

“We are just starting to get the spawning surveys and forecasts compiled,” said Marisa Litz, the WDFW pink and chum salmon biologist. “What we know for pinks is that a lot of fry can produce a lot of fish. Pinks are known to produce a lot of fry even coming off low returns. We won’t know for sure what 2019 holds but if we get that type of production we may see somewhat of an uptick in pinks.”

The pinks seem to be a very prolific fish, the run doubled from 1997 to 1999 although it is not a guarantee nor a consistent situation. It was like 1991 when 500,000 pinks returned and then soared to 1-million by 1993.

“It is something to be cautiously optimistic about,” Litz said.

WDFW and tribal co-managers are in the process of completing drafts for all salmon returns and the pink draft estimate for 2017 wasn’t very rosy.

“The pink runs are very boom or bust and we can see some pretty dramatic changes,” Litz said. “The total pink return was 480,858 pinks in 2017 (down from preseason forecast that year of 1,150,522) and to give you some context this is the lowest run size we’ve seen since 1997.”

In terms of a run-size and prior to 1997 you’d have to go all the way back to 1975 to see a lower run than that. Litz pointed out the 2017 pink return puts it in the top three lowest runs in the past 40 years.

For the past 15 years pink returns have steadily increased with more than a million returning in 2013, which was a record setting year.

“We had a lot of flooding and drought conditions in 2015,” Litz said. “That summer rivers were extremely low, and the spawning channels were very narrow when the pinks arrived. Then we had big floods and scouring of spawning beds and that wiped out a lot fish.”

The reductions from 2015 to 2017 was drastic, especially in the freshwater production environment, but the marine production was also hampered with a blow to the arm by the “Blob” – a mass of warm water that wreaked havoc on the Pacific Ocean ecosystem.

Here is a look at how some Puget Sound pink returns fared in 2017:
The Dungeness River had a pink return of 356,000 in 2015 and was 20,000 in 2017; Nooksack was 335,000 to 35,000 (96,218 was preseason forecast); Skagit was 411,000 to 86,000 in 2017 (85,600); Hood Canal was 646,000 to 39,000 (229,440); Puyallup was 800,000 to 100,000 (382,391); and Nisqually was 200,000 to 9,000 (21,463).

“The Green pink return was just getting started and new to this river system and we had close to 100,000 in 2013,” Litz said. “It appears the run is there to stay; we had about 50 percent less come back in 2017 (118,689) to what we saw in 2015.”

The Fraser River pink return was estimated at more than 8-million in 2017 and run-size ended up being 3,616,000 with an escapement goal of 6-million. That actual return was the second lowest since 1965.

Anglers got an early peek at Columbia River salmon return predictions last month that don’t look very rosy for spring and summer chinook and sockeye, and all are down from the 10-year average.

A total of 157,500 spring chinook are forecast to return down from a forecast of 248,520 last year and an actual return of 176,642. The upriver-bound total is 99,300 down from 166,700 last year and an actual return of 115,081.

Lower Columbia tributaries are also taking a hit with Cowlitz at 1,300 (5,150 forecasted in 2018 and actual return of 4,000); Kalama, 1,400 (1,450 and 2,300); Lewis, 1,600 (3,700 and 3,200); Willamette, 40,200 (53,820 and 37,441); and Sandy, 5,500 (5,400 and 4,733).

The Upper Columbia summer chinook return is 35,900 down from 67,300 last year and an actual return of 42,120. As for sockeye it is 94,400 down from 99,000 and 210,915.

Other news from the Big-C showed a 2018 fall chinook prediction of 376,000 and preliminary returns are about 75 percent of the forecast. The good news is bright jack chinook appear improved compared to 2017 and tule jack are similar to 2017.

The 2019 fall chinook outlook show bright stocks similar, and tule stock less than the 10-year average. Poor ocean conditions the past several years will likely hinder returns in 2019.

The 2018 Columbia coho return is about 35-percent of the preseason forecast of 213,600. The good news is jack coho returns are much improved over recent years and are about 50-percent greater than the recent 10-year average.

Other salmon nibbles and bites

Anglers who ventured off the coast managed to find good coho fishing this past summer while the king fishing never really took off.

“We had a pretty darn good coho fishery coast-wide and had a couple places close, which reached their coho quota early and while that is never good news what it means is that we caught fish,” said Wendy Beeghly, the WDFW coastal salmon manager. “Chinook fishing was slow everywhere last year. It makes sense since chinook returns weren’t very good in the Columbia River.”

Beeghly noted the coho seen in sampling were healthy, bigger and fatter so that was encouraging.

“While we can’t provide anything definitive just yet, what we saw with coho last season was good news compared to prior years and we all hope that what lies ahead will be good,” Beeghly said.

Federal fisheries managers are also reporting that environmental conditions in the ocean are improving, salmon productivity has made a turn for the better and the food chain is on the mend.

“The coho response to those factors should be a lot quicker than chinook which take some time and are slower to recover,” said Ryan Lothrop, a WDFW salmon specialist for the Columbia River region.

WDFW will present their salmon forecasts at the end of February in Olympia. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will approve final salmon seasons April 9-16 in Rohnert Park, CA.

Seattle Boat Show drops anchor soon

The Seattle Boat Show – the largest boat show on the West Coast – is Jan. 25 through Feb. 2. This is your one-stop shop for checking out hundreds of fishing boats, informative fishing seminars, and state-of-the-art gear and electronics.

There will be 78 free fishing seminars (up from 55 last year), and more coverage on a variety of new topics by top-notch experts that will provide an in-depth wealth of knowledge on how to catch fish across the Pacific Northwest. For a complete list of all fishing and boating seminars, go to https://seattleboatshow.com/seminars/.

This is also a great time for visitors to check out the NW Salmon Derby Series grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer. It will be on display in the West Hall at the Master Marine Boat Center.

THE NORTHWEST SALMON DERBY SERIES’ GRAND PRIZE BOAT WILL BE ON DISPLAY AT THE HUGE SEATTLE BOAT SHOW COMING UP JAN. 25-FEB. 2. (NMTA)

The fully-rigged boat comes with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics Stereo. Other sponsors who make the derby series a major success include Silver Horde Lures; Harbor Marine; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Salmon, Steelhead Journal; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Sportco and Outdoor Emporium; and Prism Graphics. The boat will be pulled to each event by a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of our sponsor Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.

First up are the now sold-out Resurrection Salmon Derby Jan. 4-6 in Anacortes (http://www.resurrectionderby.com/); Roche Harbor Salmon Classic Jan. 17-19 (https://www.rocheharbor.com/events/derby); and Friday Harbor Salmon Classic Feb. 7-9(http://fridayharborsalmonclassic.com/.

Those will be followed by the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby March 8-10 (http://gardinersalmonderby.org/); and Everett Blackmouth Derby March 16-17 (http://www.everettblackmouthderby.com/).

There are 15 derby events in Washington, Idaho and British Columbia, Canada, and the drawing for the grand prize boat will take place at the conclusion of the Everett CohoDerby on Sept. 21-22. For derby details, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

I’ll see you on the water or come say “hi” at the great Seattle Boat Show!

 

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part III

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and then June through September. Below we wrap up with October through December.

OCTOBER

Oregon began offering big game preference points instead of just cold, hard cash for those who help state troopers arrest or cite fish and wildlife poachers. The new option in the Turn In a Poacher program awards five points for cases involving bighorns, mountain goats, moose and wolves; four for elk, deer, antelope, mountain lions and bears. While the points all have to go to either elk, buck, antlerless deer, pronghorn or spring black bear series hunts, it significantly raises the odds of being drawn for coveted controlled permits.

OSP SENIOR TROOPER DARIN BEAN POSES WITH THE HEADS OF THREE TROPHY BUCKS POACHED IN THE GREATER SILVER LAKE AREA. (OSP)

The lowest catch station recorded the highest haul when the Columbia-Snake 2018 pikeminnow sport-reward program wrapped up this fall. “It is the first time in the Pikeminnow Program’s 28-year history that the Cathlamet station has been the number one location,” noted Eric Winther, who heads up the state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on salmonid smolts. With 25,135 turned in there, Cathlamet accounted for 14 percent of the overall catch of 180,309 pikeminnow this year. Boyer Park produced the second most, 22,950, while usual hot spot The Dalles was third with 22,461, less than half of 2017’s tally.

Using DNA from northern pike, USFS researcher Dr. Kellie Carim turned the widespread assumption about where the fish that have invaded Washington came from on its head. “The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” Carim told us in early fall. “However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage.” In other words, a bucket biologist or biologists drove them between the watersheds. Also on the invasive species front, earlier in the year, scientists began to suspect that Sooke Harbor was not the source of the European green crabs showing up in Puget Sound waters but from somewhere on the Northwest’s outer coast.

SPECIALISTS FROM WASHINGTON SEA GRANT AND THE MAKAH TRIBE CONSIDER WHERE TO SET TRAPS IN AN ESTUARY FOR EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS. (WSG)

Oregon and Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commissions were urged not to roll back the Columbia River salmon reforms by no less than the former governor who got the ball rolling. “There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” said Oregon’s John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos that came out ahead of indepth reviews for the citizen panels.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS.

With salvaging roadkilled deer and elk in Oregon set to begin Jan. 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations for how the program will work. It’s similar to Washington’s, except that antlers and heads must be turned in to any ODFW office (here are addresses and phone numbers of the two dozen across the state) within five business days and Columbian whitetail deer may be salvaged, but only in Douglas County, where the species was declared recovered in 2003.

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer resigned after a distasteful photo of him with a dead “family of baboons” surfaced following an African safari with his wife. Fischer initially defended his actions, telling the Idaho Statesman, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral.” In accepting Fischer’s requested resignation, Gov. Butch Otter stated, “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”

FORMER IDAHO FISH AND GAME COMMISSIONER BLAKE FISCHER OF MERIDIAN RESIGNED AFTER GOVERNOR BUTCH OTTER REQUESTED HE DO SO. (IDFG)

This year’s return of coho to the Columbia River was woeful at best, but there was a glimmer of good news when the Nez Perce announced that the first adult in more than 50 years returned to Northeast Oregon, thanks to a joint tribal-ODFW release of half a million smolts in March 2017. At least 125 had arrived at a weir on the Lostine River as of earlier this month, and tribal fisheries manager Becky Johnson estimated there were 800 more still on their way at that point.

FEMALE COHO TRAPPED AT THE LOSTINE RIVER WEIR ON OCTOBER 26, 2018 — THE FIRST SINCE 1966. (NEZ PERCE TRIBE)

With small, 2- to 3-inch razor clams dominating the population in Clatsop County’s sands, Oregon shellfish managers with support from the public decided to postpone harvesting any until this coming March, in hopes they would be larger by then. On the north side of the Columbia River, Washington’s Long Beach will only see a limited opener this season due to low salinity levels in winter 2017 that affected survival and led to a higher concentration of small clams.

OREGON SHELLFISH MANAGERS SAY ITS NORTHERN RAZOR CLAM POPULATION IS ON THE SMALL SIDE AND SEASON WAS POSTPONED TILL MARCH. (ODFW)

WDFW’s new Director Kelly Susewind hit the highway, the airwaves and the interweb to flesh out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, set the tone for what his priorities are going forward, and listen to the needs of sportsmen and Washington residents. He hosted half a dozen meetings across the state, appeared on TVW’s Inside Olympia and did a webinar as the agency tried to build support for its $67 million ask of the legislature in 2019.

It wasn’t just small clams on the Oregon Coast sparking concerns — low early returns and catches of fall Chinook led ODFW to restrict fishing from the Necanicum to the Siuslaw, closing all the rivers above tidewater and reducing limits in the bays from three to one for the season. When subsequent surveys began to show more fish arriving on the spawning grounds, sections of the lower Siletz then Alsea and Yaquina Rivers were reopened, but further south, it wasn’t until late November before ODFW was able to lift gear restrictions on the low-flowing Chetco and Winchuck Rivers.

NOVEMBER

Western Washington tribes launched an ambitious, coordinated, long-term effort to identify and restore key salmon habitats as well as gauge land-use decisions in the region. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s Tribal Habitat Strategy was described by chair Lorraine Loomis as an “effort … based on what we know is actually needed to achieve ecosystem health, not what we think is possible to achieve given current habitat conditions.”

THE COVER OF THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION’S NEW “TRIBAL HABITAT STRATEGY” REPORT SHOWS A KITSAP COUNTY CULVERT ON CARPENTER CREEK THAT HAS SINCE BEEN REMOVED, IMPROVING FISH PASSAGE AND ESTUARY FUNCTION. (NWIFC)

Cattle depredations that seemed like they’d never end in Northeast Washington led to essentially three different lethal wolf removal operations ongoing at once, two by WDFW targeting all the remaining OPT wolves and one Smackout Pack member, and one by a producer for any Togo wolves in their private pastures. By year-end at least four wolves had been killed by state shooters in hopes of reducing livestock attacks, and the Capital Press reported at least 31 calves and cows had been confirmed to have been either killed or injured by wolves in 2018, “more than double any previous year.”

LIFE COULD BE WORSE — YOU COULD GROW A BUCK ON YOUR BUTT … OR AT LEAST HAVE A TRAIL CAMERA RECORD SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES. THIS UNUSUAL ALIGNMENT WAS RECORDED AT A WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AREA IN THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THE STATE DURING THE FALL RUT. (WDFW)

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas was among the key recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee after months of discussion and public comment. Members also urged suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years. The recommendations were generally supported by sportfishing reps who took part in the task force’s work. “Production needs to be ramped up immediately, and follow the recovery/ESA sidebars in the recommendations,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who also expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

IDFG Director Virgil Moore announced that he was retiring in January after eight years at the helm of Idaho fish and wildlife management and a four-decade-long career in the field, including a year as ODFW’s director. “Working together, Fish and Game and our wildlife resources are in excellent shape and ready to be handed off to new leadership,” he said in a press release. Fellow Fish and Game honcho Ed Schriever was named as Moore’s replacement.

Federal researchers found that one top way to recover Chinook in Puget Sound streams is to restore side channels. Providing space for the young ESA-listed fish to grow as well as shelter from flood flows adds complexity to river systems, increasing its potential value as habitat. The work, some of which was done on the Cedar River, could help answer where and how to get the best bang for restoration dollars. In a related story, for the first time since the project wrapped up in 2014, a pair of kings chose to spawn in a portion of a Seattle stream that had been engineered for salmon to dig redds. “That’s a vote of confidence!” said a utility district biologist.

A SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITY IMAGE SHOWS A PAIR OF CHINOOK SALMON ON THE GRAVEL OF LOWER THORNTON CREEK, EAST OF NORTHGATE MALL. (SPU)

With the threat of a federal lawsuit hanging over their heads, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in mid-November to suspend steelhead season in early December. IDFG’s permit to hold the fishery had expired nearly 10 years ago and other priorities had kept NMFS from issuing a new one, providing an opening for yet another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit from the usual suspects. “The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable,” said Virgil Moore in a letter to Idaho steelheaders. The pending closure didn’t affect Washington fishermen angling the shared Snake, and it led one of the six litigant groups to subsequently back out, saying its goal of spurring the feds into action had been achieved. But on the eve of the shutdown, an agreement was reached between a newly formed group of anglers and towns, Idaho River Community Alliance, IDFG and the other five parties. It kept fishing open, closed stretches of the South Fork Clearwater and Salmon, and included voluntary measures.

A LAST-MINUTE AGREEMENT KEPT STEELHEADING OPEN ON THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER AND OTHER IDAHO STREAMS FOLLOWING A THREATENED FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER A LACK OF A FISHERIES PERMIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The federal Fourth National Climate Assessment, released over Thanksgiving weekend, painted a rough go of it for fish, shellfish and wildlife in the Northwest. It projected that Washington salmon habitat will be reduced by 22 percent under a scenario that includes continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, razor clamming would decline “due to cumulative effects of ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, higher temperatures, and habitat degradation,” and that more management to ensure sufficient waterfowl habitat would be needed. The report, required by Congress, did say deer and elk may actually thrive due to less winterkill and improving habitat because of increased wildfires, but could also be impacted by “increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

ODFW launched its new electronic license program, so easy that even hook-and-bullet magazine editors can (eventually) figure it out. Essentially, the app allows sportsmen to carry an e-version of their fishing and hunting licenses on their phones, etc., as well as tag critters and fill in punch cards with an app that works even offline in Oregon’s remote canyons.

In what would also be a continuing news story in the year’s final month, ODFW received federal permission to lethally remove as many as 93 California sea lions annually at Willamette Falls and in the lower Clackamas. “This is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette River,” said ODFW’s Dr. Shaun Clements, whose agency had estimated that if nothing were done, there was a 90 percent chance one of the watershed’s wild winter steelhead runs would go extinct. “We did put several years’ effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and Chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location,” he said in a press release.

And near the end of the month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 196 to 180 to fully delist gray wolves in the Lower 48. But that was as far as the Manage our Wolves Act, co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, was going to get, as at the end of the year it went nowhere in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works and the incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee flatly told a reporter that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years. Meanwhile, WDFW and the University of Washington began year three of predator-prey research across the northern tier of Eastern Washington.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING FAWN QUARTERS BACK TO A DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

DECEMBER

Poor fishing up and down the West Coast in recent years was among the factors that forced the owners of Ollie Damon’s reel repair shop in Portland to close up for good this month, ending the run of a famed name that first opened for business in the late 1940s. “It’s sad for us but we can’t work forever,” said Rich and Susan Basch who bought the shop in the 1990s and used to service as many as 5,000 to 6,000 reels annually, and who said that they’ll miss their customers “immensely” as they also retire.

PORTLAND’S OLLIE DAMON’S CLOSEd ITS DOORS DEC. 29, MARKING THE END OF AN ERA. (OLLIE DAMON’S)

We’ll know a lot more about 2019 salmon expectations later in winter, but the year’s first forecasts came out in early December, with Columbia River managers expecting an overall run of 157,500 springers, 35,900 summer kings, and 99,300 of the red salmon, all below 10-year averages but no surprise given recent ocean conditions. The outlook for upriver brights is similar to 2018, with tule Chinook below the 10-year average, but with spring’s offshore survey finding good numbers of young coho in the ocean and a strong jack return to the river this fall, there is some potential good news for silver slayers.

The poaching of one of Oregon’s rare moose north of Enterprise in November led to a handsome reward offer of not only $7,500 at last check but a guided elk hunt on the nearby Krebs Ranch, a $3,500 value in itself. “The poaching of a moose is a tragic thing,” said Jim Akenson of the Oregon Hunters Association, chapters of which stepped up to build the reward fund. “Especially because our moose population is low – fewer than 70 in Oregon.” This is at least the second moose poached in Northeast Oregon in recent years. Thadd J. Nelson was charged in early 2015 with unlawfully killing one in mid-2014. He was later killed by robbers.

OREGON’S MOOSE POPULATION WAS LAST ESTIMATED AT 75 OR SO. (PAT MATTHEWS, ODFW)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his proposed 2019-21 budget. It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts, a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, and $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries (hopefully testing generators more frequently!). Inslee’s budget, which must still be passed by lawmakers, also includes the fee increase but $15 million WDFW asked for for conservation and habitat work was pared down to just $1.3 million for the former.

With the significance of Chinook for orcas in the spotlight of course a mid-December windstorm would knock out power to a state hatchery, and when the backup generator failed to immediately kick in, around 6 million fall and spring fry died. That angered fishermen and killer whale advocates alike, and led to a rare statement by a WDFW director, Kelly Susewind on the “painful loss.” As an outside investigation is launched into what exactly what went wrong, up to 2.75 million fish from a mix of state, tribal and tech college hatcheries were identified as possible replacements, pending buy-in from several more tribes.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

Federal, state and tribal officials agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers. The agreement came after early in the year U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered spill to occur and Eastern Washington House of Representatives members tried to kill it. Testing begins this coming April — “It can’t happen soon enough,” said NSIA’s Hamilton.

WDFW’S FIRST KARELIAN BEAR DOG, MISHKA, PASSED AWAY LATE IN THE YEAR. HANDLER “BRUCE (RICHARDS) SAID OF MISHKA THAT WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED IN ONE YEAR WAS AKIN TO WHAT ONE WILDLIFE OFFICER COULD ACCOMPLISH IN A LIFETIME OF WORK,” BEAR SMART WA POSTED ON INSTAGRAM. THE DUO HAD A LONG CAREER OF CHASING BEARS AND HELPING ON POACHING CASES IN GREATER PUGETROPOLIS. ALSO IN 2018, ANOTHER WDFW KBD DOG, CASH, DIED FOLLOWING A BATTLE AGAINST PROSTRATE CANCER. (WDFW)

And finally, and in probably the best news of the whole damn year — which is why we saved it to last, but also because it happened so late in 2018 — the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act was signed into law by President Trump after zipping through the Senate and House this month. With bipartisan leadership from Northwest lawmakers and support from the DFWs, tribes and fishing community among others, the bill essentially provides up to five one-year permits to kill as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia River and its salmon-bearing tributaries. Not that that many likely will be taken out, but this should FINALLY help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.

And with that, I’m calling it a year on this three-part year in review — read the first chunk, covering January through May here, and the second, June through September, here.

Take care, and happy new year!

AW
NWS

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and below are what we reported during the next four, June through September.

JUNE

One of the region’s biggest fish of the year was hooked in late spring in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, a 254- to 265-pound halibut. It was fought and caught by Tom Hellinger with help from son Caleb in late May, but word didn’t begin to hit the mainstream until early June. Though no official measurement was recorded, the 61/2-foot-long flattie was within 25 to 35 pounds of the Washington state record. “I was just really thankful and grateful,” Hellinger told us. “You don’t really realize how rare that is. Big fish are rare. To be an hour from my home and catch something like that is special.” His fish had a 42-pound head, and produced 140 pounds of filets and 1.5 pounds of coveted cheek meat.

ALEISHA, TOM AND CALEB HELLINGER AND LUKE REID POSE WITH TOM’S EASTERN STRAITS HALIBUT. (TOM HELLINGER)

Speaking of big fish, June 21 proved to be a very active day for state records in Washington, where not only was a new high mark set for redbanded rockfish — John Sly’s 7.54-pounder caught off Westport — but arrowtooth flounder — Richard Hale’s 5.93-pounder, landed out of Neah Bay. As 2018 came to a close, there were a total of eight new state record fish caught this year in the Northwest, twice as many as 2017, with seven coming from Washington and nearly all of those caught in the Pacific — three off Westport alone.

ISABELLA TOLEN AND HER 41-POUND TOPE SHARK, THE FIRST EVER SUBMITTED AS A WASHINGTON STATE RECORD. (VIA WDFW)

While mountain goats are meant to hang out in the mountains, federal wildlife managers issued a final record of decision that most of the progeny of those that were introduced by hunting groups in the Olympics in the late 1920s would be captured and taken to the North Cascades, while those that proved too hard to catch would be shot by, among others, “skilled public volunteers.” The two-week-long joint NPS-USFS-WDFW-tribal operation ultimately moved 68 nannies and 30 billies to the other side of Puget Sound, with six kids taken to Northwest Trek and 11 others either dying in the process or deemed “unfit for translocation.” Crews will return to the Olympics in 2019 for another round of removals.

THREE MOUNTAIN GOATS ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER AT A RENDEZVOUS POINT DURING SEPTEMBER’S TWO-WEEK-LONG CAPTURE AND TRANSLOCATION OPERATION. (NPS)

In an “anti-climactic” move, the Supreme Court left a lower court ruling stand that the state of Washington must continue to fix fish passage barriers. While the 4-4 decision was billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, it also saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen, a turnaround from the Boldt era. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Association of Northwest Steelheaders, among others, filed a friends of the court brief that stated, “With salmon populations hovering at such precariously low levels, the significant increase of spawning and rearing habitat that will result from removal of the state’s barrier culverts would be a lifeline for salmon and fishing families alike.”

There’s a lot of grim news out there about Puget Sound these days — drugged-up mussels and Chinook, starving orcas, too much shoreline armoring, etc., etc. — but spring aerial photos from the state Department of Natural Resources revealed some good: the striking return of anchovy to the waters of the Whulge in recent years. WDFW biologist James Losee said it was part of some “exciting things” happening here from “a prey resource point of view.” In May, the Northwest Treaty Tribes blogged that an anchovy population boom in 2015 might have helped more Nisqually steelhead smolts sneak past all the harbor seals.

A SCREENSHOT FROM A DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY PDF SHOWS SCHOOLS OF BAITFISH OFF THE PURDY SPIT WEST OF TACOMA. (DOE)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare gray wolves recovered across the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere outside the Northern Rockies in the Lower 48 — a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly put out word it had begun “reviewing the status of the species” again. The initial hope was to get a delisting proposal onto the Federal Register by the end of the year, but that did not occur and so the long, slow process will continue into 2019.

After narrowing the director candidate field of 19 to seven and then three, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously chose the Department of Ecology’s Kelly Susewind as the new WDFW chief head honcho. A lifelong hunter and lapsed fisherman, Susewind was hailed as a good choice by members of the sporting world, with Rep. Brian Blake of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and fellow Grays Harbor resident calling him “a force for positive change at DFW.” Susewind took the reins Aug. 1 and had to immediately deal with multiple wolf depredations in the state’s northeast corner.

WDFW’S DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT HIS NEW DESK. (WDFW)

For years I’ve reported on the weird wanderings of Northwest wildlife, and June provided two more bizarre examples — a wolverine that visited a very, very non-wolverinelike part of King County in late spring, the woods just outside the lowlands town of Snoqualmie before being found dead along I-90 20 road miles away; and a pair of bull elk that swam over to Orcas Island and gave Uncle John Willis quite a start — “Well, this morning I planned on going to town, but chose not to do that. I looked out my window at my sister’s house and here are two bull elk eating leaves off of a filbert tree in front of her house,” he told us. “I was not quite ready to see two elk this morning.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF WHERE THE WOLVERINE TURNED UP ON A TRAIL CAM AND WHERE THE SAME ONE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK ON I-90. (WDFW)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelhead in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes came up with a plan to replace the strain in the Skykomish River with Tolt summers instead. The whole thing could take years to get approved let alone implement, but it’s also a testament to the lengths officials are willing to go these days for Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunity and appears to be progressing. Later in the year and in Oregon, a study found “little evidence to suggest a negative effect of hatchery [Skamania] summer steelhead abundance on [wild] winter steelhead productivity.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER’S SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT ON A RAINY DAY BY WINSTON McCLANAHAN WOULD BE REPLACED WITH TOLT RIVER SUMMERS UNDER AN AMBITIOUS PLAN WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

JULY

In a year of generally poor salmon returns to the Columbia, sockeye came back stronger than expected and that allowed for an unexpected opener on the upper river. And the shad run topped more than 6 million, thoroughly stomping the old high mark of 5.35 million.

SHAD SWIM THROUGH THE FISH LADDER AT BONNEVILLE DAM IN 2017. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

Washington steelheaders again have access to a coveted section of the middle Wynoochee with the opening of a new put-in just below the 7400 Line bridge, thanks to a five-year agreement between WDFW and Green Diamond Resource Company, which owns the land. The river is one of the most productive on the Westside, with over 1,200 winters and nearly 2,100 summers kept during the 2016-17 season, and it’s known for good fishing for wild fish too. But the agreement does come with a caveat, that “access is contingent on good citizenship of those who visit,” according to WDFW.

A MAP PUT TOGETHER BY WDFW SHOWS THE 7400 LINE ACCESS IN THE WYNOOCHEE VALLEY. (WDFW)

July marked the 10-year anniversary of when it became abundantly clear that wolves weren’t just moving through Oregon and Washington anymore, they were settling down and having families. In the subsequent years and along with all the accompanying angst, livestock depredations and poachings, this month also saw an unusual incident in North-central Washington, where a Forest Service stream surveyor was forced to twice climb a tree when she came across the rendezvous site of the very protective Loup Loup Pack. After initial WDFW hesitation about sending in a state helicopter, a DNR bird was dispatched to extract the woman. She was debriefed by a game warden whose after-action report procured through a public records request stated that “(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid.”

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON THE RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). PHOTO/DNR

WDFW began unveiling a new $67 million proposal to fill a large budget gap and enhance fishing and hunting opportunities. It would raise license fees but also puts the onus on the General Fund for three-quarters of the money. The latter is a fundamental shift from the agency’s previous increase pitch that leaned entirely on sportsmen and failed in the state legislature, but also reflects the feeling that the public at large has a larger role to play in helping pay the bills for WDFW’s myriad missions, especially following cuts due to the Great Recession that have not been restored. The Fish and Wildlife Commission initially balked at a 12 to 15 percent fee hike and wanted 5 percent instead, but at the urging of numerous sporting members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group and others, went with 15. It’s now up to state lawmakers to approve.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

A new analysis by federal and state biologists showed the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas. Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha Rivers were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs. It led to more calls to increase hatchery production.

The summer of 2018 will long be remembered for what felt like months and months of choking smoke that settled in the Northwest, but the heat was notable too, with Maui-warm waters forming a thermal block at the mouth of the Yakima that forced WDFW to close the Columbia there to prevent overharvest of Cle Elum-bound sockeye, and low, 79-degree flows that led ODFW to reinstate 2015’s trib-mouth fishing closures on the lower Umpqua to protect returning steelhead and Chinook. A couple weeks later Oregon added hoot owl closures on the North Umpqua to protect wild summers that came in well below average.

A FLY ANGLER WORKS THE NORTH UMPQUA (BLM, FLICKR, CC 2.0)

Speaking of well below average and too-warm water, the Ballard Locks count for Lake Washington sockeye came in as the second lowest since 1972, but the grim news only got worse between there and the spawning grounds and hatchery on the Cedar. An “all-time low” entered the river, just 23 percent of how many went through the locks, likely victims of prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that are “becoming more prevalent/effective with the higher water temperatures” the salmon experience as they swim the relatively shallow Ship Canal to the lake. “Now just about everything that can go wrong is going wrong,” lamented longtime metro lake angler and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who earlier in the year had helped organize a meeting on how to save the fish and fishery.

RUB A DUB DUB! THREE MEN TROLL FOR SOCKEYE DURING THE 2006 LAKE WASHINGTON SEASON, WHICH YIELDED THE HIGHEST CATCH IN A DECADE BUT HAS ALSO BEEN THE ONLY FISHERY IN A DOZEN YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Center for Biological Diversity got a Thurston County Superior Court to temporarily block WDFW from taking out one member of the Togo Pack for a string of cattle depredations, earning the out-of-state organization a strong rebuke from in-state wolf advocates as well as representatives of the hunting community on the Wolf Advisory Group, which helped craft the lethal removal protocols that CBD wants to derail. “Sadly it is all about cash flow,” said WAG member Dave Duncan. A judge ultimately denied CBD’s bid, sending relief — good for some, bitter for others — through Washington’s wolf world and greenlighting WDFW to kill the breeding male, though the group’s underlying beef will still have its day in court.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters heralded a federal judge’s preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest. “We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville. They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk.

With one of the worst returns of steelhead in dam counting history underway, state managers closed the Deschutes River coolwater plume to all fishing — even fall Chinook — then shut down steelhead retention on 300-plus miles of the Columbia and portions of the lower John Day, closed Drano Lake and Wind River at night, and dropped limits from three to one a day in the Snake watershed. It’s the second season in a row of such strong measures to ensure enough return for spawning needs.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THIS YEAR’S STEELHEAD RUN (RED LINE) AT BONNEVILLE DAM AS IT COMPARES TO LAST YEAR’S LOW RETURN (BLUE LINE) AND THE TEN-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK LINE), A DECADE THAT SAW A RECORD 604,000 IN 2009. (FPC)

There were a number of large-scale poachings in 2018 — the three people who’d dug 37 times their daily limit of clams, for instance — but one of the most jaw dropping was the de facto commercial fishing operation a 74-year-old Kitsap County resident was running in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu. When his 23-foot Maxxum was boarded, a state game warden and sheriff’s deputies found he had five more lines out than allowed, six barbed hooks and was in possession of eight more fish than permitted — including five off-limits wild kings and wild coho. The consensus was that this was not the guy’s first rodeo, given the complexity of fishing five commercial flasher-lure combos off bungees behind two downriggers. The boat, which was seized, is now the property of the state of Washington as its forfeiture was not contested, along with the gear, and the man has been charged by county prosecutors with 10 criminal violations.

WDFW OFFICER BRYAN DAVIDSON POSES WITH THE 23-FOOT MAXUM CABIN CRUISER, TRAILER, DOWNRIGGERS, FISHING ROD AND COMMERCIAL FLASHER-LURE COMBOS SEIZED FOLLOWING AN AT-SEA INSPECTION THAT TURNED UP EGREGIOUS FISHING RULES VIOLATIONS. (WDFW)

SEPTEMBER

Just a week after ODFW lifted the Deschutes plume fishing closure, allowing anglers to target fall Chinook there as the Columbia’s upriver bright run got going, Oregon and Washington salmon managers shut it and the rest of the big river from Buoy 10 to Pasco due to lower than expected returns and catches of Snake River wild kings that were subsequently in excess of ESA mortality allowances. Not long afterwards, the limit in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia above Tri-Cities was also reduced to one. It all felt like a stunning U-turn from just three Septembers before, when managers had adjusted their fall Chinook forecast upwards to a staggering 1,095,900 — ultimately 1.3 million entered the river — to cap off three successive gargantuan runs. But on the bright side, late October’s King of the Reach live-capture derby brought in a record number of fish — over 1,200 — to fuel a hatchery broodstock program.

A HELPER AT KING OF THE REACH HOLDS A NICE WILD FALL CHINOOK BUCK BROUGHT IN BY ANGLERS DURING THE LIVE-CAPTURE DERBY. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

As if wolf issues weren’t hot enough in August, things really heated up in September when what was eventually named the Old Profanity Territory Pack killed one calf and injured three others. While WDFW built its case, key groups balked at going lethal though the protocol had been met because of the fast, repeated nature of depredations there. As more occurred, Director Susewind ultimately gave the go-ahead to kill a wolf or two to head off more livestock attacks, and after histrionics on Twitter, in superior court and at the steps of the state capital, the next week WDFW took out a juvenile.

US and Canadian salmon managers reached a new 10-year West Coast Salmon Treaty on Chinook harvest and conservation, one that must still be approved in the countries’ capitals but calls for reduced northern interceptions when runs are poor. Fisheries off Southeast Alaska would be cut as much as 7.5 percent from 2009-15 levels in those years, those off the west coast of Vancouver Island up to 12.5 percent, while Alaska salmon managers report that Washington and Oregon fisheries could see reductions from 5 to 15 percent.

In a great-news story, Boggan’s Oasis, the famed waystation on the Grande Ronde River that burned down in November 2017, reopened and was again serving up its famous milkshakes and more to hungry and thirsty steelheaders, travelers and others along lonely Highway 129 in extreme Southeast Washington. “The layout’s about the same, but it’s a bigger building,” said coproprietor Bill Vail, who added that he and wife Farrel were “happy to start the next chapter in our lives.”

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

With a win-win habitat project mostly wrapped up, Oregon’s Coquille Wildlife Area reopened in time for the start of fall waterfowl seasons. Restoration of the Winter Lake Tract will provide young Endangered Species Act-listed coho salmon with 8 miles of winding tidal channels and will also help local cattle ranchers stay in business. “The tide gates, working with reconnected channels and new habitat will provide the best of both worlds,” said the National Marine Fisheries Service, which stated that 95 percent of the Coquille’s best salmon habitat has been lost since settlement.

AN AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS NEW CHANNELS FOR FISH HABITAT CREATED AT WINTER LAKE, PART OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE’S COQUILLE VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA. (CBI CONTRACTING VIA NMFS)

And in what certainly was the Northwest poaching case with the highest fine, Hoon Namkoong of Orient Seafood Production of Fife was sentenced to pay Washington and Westside tribes $1.5 million in restitution for buying and selling 250,000 pounds of sea cucumbers illegally harvested by tribal and nontribal divers in Puget Sound in recent years. The activities came at a time that concerned fishery managers were lowering quotas for legal harvesters due to declining numbers of the echinoderm, but the illegal picking was actually increasing. “It is no wonder, then, that we have failed to see signs of recovery as a result of the work of sea cucumber managers and the sacrifices of the lawfully compliant harvesters,” said a WDFW manager in presentencing documents. Namkoong was also sentenced to two years in prison.

Editor’s note: OK, this was supposed to be just a two-part YIR, but I gotta catch my breath now so I can try to put together the events of October, November and December in a couple days.

Chinook Fry From WDFW, Tribal, Tech College Hatcheries Would Help Replace Half Lost At Minter

Washington fishery managers are adding more details on their Christmas Eve press release about where they hope to get fall Chinook fry to replace nearly half of those lost during a power outage and backup generator failure.

YOUNG SALMONIDS AT ANOTHER WDFW HATCHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The young fish would be transferred from a mix of state, tribal and college hatcheries located everywhere from the North Sound to Hood Canal to Deep South Sound.

They include WDFW’s Samish, Hoodsport and George Adams Hatcheries, the Nisqually Tribe’s Clear Creek Hatchery, the Suquamish Tribe’s Grovers Creek Hatchery and Bellingham Technical College’s Whatcom Creek Hatchery.

It wasn’t clear how many would come from each, but according to WDFW a total of 2.75 million replacement fish have been identified to partially make up for the loss of 5.7 million fall kings at Minter Creek following the December 14 windstorm.

The available “excess” fry, as they were called in the press release, are more of a “byproduct” during rearing than an insurance policy against catastrophic loss, according to WDFW spokesman Craig Bartlett.

“NOAA sets the parameters for smolt releases and hatchery managers want to make sure they raise enough fry to meet those targets. Since raising the exact number of fry needed isn’t possible, they’d rather raise a few too many than come up short,” he explained.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries branch gave WDFW tentative approval to move the fish on the condition that the agency get nine treaty tribes to agree to it.

Bartlett said that as of earlier this week, four tribes had already and he hoped another five would after the holidays, when more state and tribal staffers are back in their offices.

A spokesman for NMFS’ West Coast region couldn’t be reached for comment on the caveat due to the partial government shutdown, but Eric Kinne, WDFW’s hatchery manager, typified it as “just part of co-management.”

The fry would be reared at Minter and released next spring in the creek there and at Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River near Olympia.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind called losing the fall fry along with half a million spring kings set for release in the White River “a painful setback for state and tribal fishers, for the communities that depend on fishing, and for southern resident orcas that feed on Chinook.”

A root cause analysis will be performed to figure out why the backup generator couldn’t be started for nearly three hours, cutting water flow to hundreds of trays holding thousands of Chinook each, depriving them of oxygen.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part I

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles — ah, nelly, we could go on and on, but we’ll save some of our thunder for parts II and III. Meanwhile, here are events we reported on from January through May.

JANUARY

The month’s biggest Northwest fishing and hunting news came in late January when WDFW’s Jim Unsworth submitted his resignation letter, ending a rocky three-year stint as the agency’s director.

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

His tenure was marked by intense allocation battles with Western Washington tribes over declining salmon returns, an ill-fated license fee increase bid, an embarrassing run-in with state senators during a legislative hearing, and overreaching promises.

Some things were beyond Unsworth’s control, but among the final straws was developing the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan without knowledge of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which hires and fires directors.

As Joe Stohr held down the fort in the interim, the citizen panel soon launched a search for someone who would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

California sea lions reached their “optimal sustainable population,” federal biologists reported in the Journal of Wildlife Management. The 275,000 roaming up and down the West Coast and up several rivers were at their habitat’s carrying capacity.

AN AERIAL IMAGE FROM SHOWS CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS FEEDING IN THE LOWER COLUMBIA. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW, VIA NWFSC)

ODFW released news that it had its first pack of wolves in the North Cascades, and later in the year said the duo in southern Wasco County had had a pair of pups.

Better late than never — Washington lawmakers finally passed the 2017 Capital Budget, with $74 million for WDFW hatcheries (if only they’d purchased a new backup generator for Minter Creek!), critical wildlife habitat and fish passage barrier removal projects. The infrastructure budget was held up during 2017’s legislative session due to disagreements over how to address the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision and its impacts on rural landowners.

And late in the month, several Washington agencies pinned the August 2017 Atlantic salmon netpen collapse on an “excessive buildup of mussels and other marine organisms” that Cooke Aquaculture failed to deal with, allowing the nets to act as de facto underwater sails. The state legislature went on to end farming the fish by 2025.

WRECKAGE OF COOKE AQUACULTURE’S CYPRESS ISLAND NETPEN WHICH HAD HOUSED 300,000-PLUS ATLANTIC SALMON BEFORE BREAKING. (DNR)

FEBRUARY

Also in Olympia, Rep. Joel Kretz’s (R-Wolf Country) wolf translocation bill was not only translocated out of committee but the state House as well. “This is not the be-all, end-all solution by any means,” Kretz said. “But my constituents need something.” It died in the Senate.

The number of Northwest rivers getting the Google Street View treatment grew thanks to an outfit called FishViews. Basically, they strap a 360-degree camera in the middle of a raft, jab another one underneath the water and push off, recording video and environmental data the whole way, and posting it for all to see.

A SCREENSHOT FROM THE FISHVIEWS TOUR DOWN THE SKAGIT RIVER. (FISHVIEWS)

Oregon fish and game protectors added an even easier way to report poachers — dialing *OSP from your smartphone puts you in touch with the state police’s dispatch center.

WDFW also began to get more high tech with beta testing for the launch of the new Fish Washington app. The free app is meant to make it easy to see the fishing regs for the water you’re on as well as spotlight angling opportunities across the Evergreen State and how to take advantage of them. By year-end the app had 2.8 and 2.2 ratings out of 5 on the Apple App Store and on Google Play, where it is available for free.

The Oregon Hunters Association announced that 2017 saw a record payout of $24,200 through the Turn In Poachers fund, likely due to increased reward amounts. Later in this year, ODFW preference points instead of cash were made available for those whose tips lead to arrests or citations.

We looked into exactly how much of our fishing and hunting fees go to DFWs and the answer was surprising — and it wasn’t. Essentially all of your license dollars go directly to state fish and wildlife management. And what’s more, that money brings in even more federal and state dollars because for agencies to receive Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson excise tax revenues, the states must provide a 1:3 match for PR and DJ. The federal acts also “require the states to not divert funding from license fees,” WDFW’s Nate Pamplin added.

Using state and federal grants, Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission signed off on buying the last parts of a 31-square-mile wildlife area known as Big Bend in northern Douglas County. The multi-phase, multi-year deal secures sharptail grouse habitat and hunting access in a largely privately owned portion of Eastern Washington. WDFW hopes to build a new boat launch there for Lake Rufus Woods anglers.

THE 2018 PASSAGE OF THE 2017 WASHINGTON CAPITAL BUDGET INCLUDED $3 MILLION FOR THE MULTIPHASE ACQUISITION OF THE GRAND COULEE RANCH IN NORTHERN DOUGLAS COUNTY. (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONVSERVATION OFFICE)

Near the end of February, Colville wildlife managers reported that for the first time since a hunt opened in 2012, the wolf quota of three animals had been met on their sprawling North-central Washington reservation. Later in the year, the tribal Business Council would vote 9-1 to eliminate the quota in favor of an “unlimited” annual harvest.

And on the month’s last day, news broke that a WDFW IT staffer for Region 5 offices had been fired for allegedly stealing nearly $80,000 worth of fuel using his and other state staffers’ gas cards and pin numbers. According to fish and wildlife officers’ reports, Robert “Bob” D. Woodard used them to fill up his diesel pickup, his wife’s Honda, his old fishing boat, as well as his gas cans over a period of eight years.

MARCH

The smelt run was so poor that for the first time in half a decade, there wasn’t even a chance to try to dipnet them on the Cowlitz River through the population monitoring fishery that federal overseers have allowed the state to hold on the ESA-listed stock. It followed on a 2017 opener that was, in the words of one observer, actually more about paddling the river along than dipping smelt.

SMELT DIPPERS AND OBSERVERS GATHER ALONG THE LOWER COWLITZ ON FEBRUARY 25, 2017, DURING A FIVE-HOUR OPENER THAT WAS DESCRIBED AS “PRETTY MUCH A BUST” WHEN FEW CAUGHT ANY. (OLAF LANGNESS, WDFW)

In Washington’s opposite corner, wildlife biologists were “gobsmacked” at the size of a cougar they captured — a 197-pound, 9-year-old male mountain lion. It was tracked down, darted and collared for a research project studying how predators and prey, as well as wolves and lions, interact across the game-rich northern tier of the eastern half of the state. Northwest cougars would go on to be a big news story as the year wore on.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reported that the North Pacific was recovering from The Blob — the return of “friendly faces,” coldwater copepods, got them excited later in the year — but that it would take awhile for salmon to benefit from the demise of the giant pool of warm water that began to form in 2014 and altered the food web. The poor rearing conditions for young Columbia Chinook and coho that entered the ocean in 2016 and 2017, respectively, led to low returns this past summer and fall, but there is hope at least for the latter species as the spring 2018 survey found well above average numbers of juvenile silvers at sea.

Wayne Kruse, the last regular hook-and-bullet writer for a large newspaper in the Puget Sound region, announced it was time to “hang up my hoochie.” He enjoyed a long career towards the end of the era when sharing news about where the fish were biting, clams being dug and ducks flocking to were staples in Thursday sports sections of dailies.

WAYNE KRUSE’S MUG SHOT (THIRD FROM LEFT) APPEARS IN THE OCT. 4, 1975 ISSUE OF WESTERN WASHINGTON FISHING & HUNTING NEWS, IN WHICH HE HAD STORIES ON RABBIT HUNTING IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS AND DUCKS ON THE SKAGIT FLATS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Greg Schirato, a former WDFW wildlife manager, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison after being convicted of second-degree rape of a coworker, as well as 34 months for burglary in the first degree. Later in the year, his victim, Ann Larson, would come forward to accuse Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) of sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace following a consensual relationship they’d had a decade ago.

In March, WDFW reported that its wolf population grew for a ninth straight year, while in April ODFW said its numbers were also up 11 percent over the previous year, which led an actual Oregon wolf to heckle the wolfies who had been fretting the Beaver State’s growth had “stalled” and that it was “stagnant.”

JIMBO THE OREGON WOLF DOESN’T HAVE HIS OWN TWITTER ACCOUNT LIKE HERMAN THE STURGEON, BUT DOES OCCASIONALLY BLOG. (ODFW)

In what was the kickoff of a year-long focus on helping out starving southern resident killer whales, Governor Jay Inslee issued an executive order that called for increased hatchery production of Chinook and formed a task force to come up with other ways to increase SRKW numbers. At that point there were 76 members of J, K and L Pods, but that would dip to 74 with the heart-wrenching loss of one calf that was carried by its mother for two and a half weeks, and the death of another young ailing orca, despite efforts to feed it Chinook. Lack of salmon, along with pollution and vessel disturbance were identified as major causes for their low numbers. Later in the year the task force would make a set of recommendations that now must be funded and see new laws implemented by lawmakers.

WDFW STAFFER EDWARD ELEAZER PRACTICES RELEASING A CHINOOK DURING SEA TRIALS FOR AN EFFORT TO FEED A STARVING, ILL ORCA. (NMFS)

A footloose Oregon cougar discovered there was no room at the inn when it wandered into a room under construction at a hotel in The Dalles. With the big cat’s unusual behavior to come so far into the city it was deemed a “public safety risk” and put down, the sixth to that point in 2018.

A pair of relatively unlikely Washington fish and wildlife commissioners — at least according to conventional wisdom — said they wanted to know whether WDFW’s 2011 wolf management plan was actually working in a key area and if it could be tweaked. The effort was led by Jay Kehne, the Conservation Northwest staffer based in Omak, and Kim Thorburn, the Spokane birder, and later in the year WDFW began developing a timeline for coming up with a “long term wolf plan” for post state delisting management.

From the perspective of late December, federally restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades seems a lot less likely than it did on March 23 when Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke told reporters gathered in Sedro-Woolley that “the winds are favorable” for the longterm effort. The embattled former Montana Congressman’s recent resignation from the post seems to have stilled the winds, for the time being.

SECRETARY OF INTERIOR RYAN ZINKE SPEAKS BEFORE REPORTERS AND OTHERS ON MARCH 23, 2018, ON RESTORATION OF GRIZZLY BEARS TO THE NORTH CASCADES. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Also in the North Cascades, federal fishery overseers were said to be “wrapped up in paperwork, ass-covering, scary numbers and veiled lawsuit threats” over whether they would allow the state to open the first catch-and-release opener for wild steelhead in the Skagit and Sauk Rivers since 2009. Public comment had wrapped up months before and the delay in approving a season, not to mention low level of state funding, ultimately narrowed the window of opportunity to just 12 days in April — but oh was it glorious to get back on the river again. A three-month 2019 fishery is out for NMFS review.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS MAKE THEIR WAY DOWN THE SAUK RIVER DURING APRIL’S 12-DAY FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

APRIL

In an extraordinary moment during the annual North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process, tribal and state fishermen spoke together on the importance of habitat and working on key issues affecting Washington Chinook, coho and other stocks. Two longtime sportfishing observers called it “historic” and “unprecedented,” while Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, who in a very rare honor would later in the year attend a NWIFC meeting, said that if all fishermen worked cohesively, we could “move mountains.” The history of acrimony between the groups was referenced by Lummi Nation’s G.I. James, who said, “It’s a bit weird. It’s the first time I’ve been with a bunch of (sport) fishermen and haven’t heard, ‘Why are the nets all the way across the river?’” Expect more along these lines in the new year.

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAK DURING A RARE BUT WELL-ATTENDED STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION LAST WEEK ON WESTERN WASHINGTON SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Word that a second northern pike had been caught in Lake Washington but was released led yours truly to ask anglers who catch any of the unwanted nonnative species illegally introduced by bucket biologists to “Slash its gills, slit its belly, hack it in half, singe the carcass over high heat,” as well as offer a $50 reward. That caught the attention of KING 5’s Alison Morrow who, later in the year, put me on camera to talk about the problems with pike after a single female was caught within 10 miles of Grand Coulee Dam and roughly 40 miles from the Columbia’s anadromous zone. While hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on salmon and steelhead restoration weren’t at stake at Idaho’s Lake Cascade, IDFG said it was still “disheartening” when a walleye was caught there, forcing them to pull resources from elsewhere to check for more at the trophy perch fishery.

Fishing and hunting funnyman Patrick McManus passed away in early April at 84 years old. A true Northwest gem, McManus wrote for national magazines, and his works were compiled into beloved books such as A Fine and Pleasant Misery, They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They, Never Sniff a Gift Fish, and The Grasshopper Trap. Over his lifetime, McManus sold more than 5 million copies of those and a fictional series, and along with a Distinguished Faculty Award from Eastern Washington University, where he taught, in 1986 he won the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s highest honor, the Excellence in Craft award.

PATRICK MCMANUS AND SOME OF HIS FUNNIEST BOOKS. (EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY VIA FLICKR, CC 2.0)

An intensive late winter survey found only three members of an international mountain caribou herd that haunts the Washington-Idaho-British Columbia border — a 75-percent decline since 2017. What’s more, all three were cows and none were pregnant. Later in the year Canadian officials announced a desperate plan to capture the last two members of the South Selkirk Herd — the third was killed by a cougar — and another small band of southern caribou and put them in a pen near Revelstoke, 100 miles north of the border. Unless it works and a bolstered herd is returned to the region, it may mean that the two caribou spotted separately in fall in Northwest Montana are the last wild ones to visit the Lower 48.

With $172,000 from Washington’s legislature, Dr. Samuel Wasser and his dung-detection dogs were a go for sniffing out wolf doots in the South Cascades, where the number of public reports has grown but no packs let alone breeding pairs are known to exist. Last week, the University of Washington researcher said DNA sequencing results should be available by late winter.

Also in the South Cascades, the first case of elk hoof disease was found east of the crest, near Trout Lake, and that led WDFW to initiate the first euthanizations to control its spread. The agency’s coordinator for the problem, Kyle Garrison, says that 12 elk have so far been lethally removed through a combination of state staff and landowner efforts and special damage hunt permits, and that surveillance and training continues. Hoof samples were sent to Washington State University and Dr. Margaret Wild, who in June was chosen to lead the state’s research into what’s causing the “polymicrobial, multifactorial disease” to strike wapiti. Funding came from a 2017 bill passed by the legislature.

AN ELK’S HOOF AFFECTED BY THE CONDITION. (WDFW)

MAY

Early Washington actions to help out orcas included a “difficult request” from WDFW that anglers and boaters avoid a fishy strip along the west side of San Juan Island, a key foraging area the marine mammals targeting Fraser River-bound Chinook. The voluntary no-go zone was panned by some in the fishing community, including Kevin Klein who called it a “feel-good ‘win’” for the species’ enthusiasts. Eventually another idea came out of the governor’s task force — a moving no-go bubble around the pods. As for Canadian efforts to help out orcas, fishing was closed seasonally in portions of the BC side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands.

(NORTHWEST STRAITS INITIATIVE)

Speaking of the islands, just offshore of Anacortes, the jump-off point to the San Juans, crews from the Northwest Straits Initiative Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Project located 614 lost crab pots strewn across the bottom, some still fishing with dead Dungies attracting still more. “It’s probably about the highest density we’ve seen,” a rep told a KOMO reporter. The pots were being collected and while crab numbers were still relatively good in the North Sound, it’s a far, far different story at the other end of the Whulge. Areas 11 and 13 were shut down for harvesting Dungeness and even red rocks after the former’s numbers crashed due to excessive harvest, poor water conditions, and the distance larva must ride currents to here from primary breeding areas. State managers say they want to try and rebuild the populations.

PUYALLUP’S JASON BROOKS PULLS A POT OFF MARINE AREA 13’S FOX ISLAND DURING THE 2013 SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

What should have been an Idaho wildlife success story was derailed in federal court by a lawsuit. The Fish and Game Commission approved for the first time a grizzly bear hunt, with one tag on offer for the southeastern corner of the state, where Ursus horriblis has been recovered since the first years of this millennium and was delisted in 2017. But later in the year and spurred by the Humane Society of the United States, a U.S. District Court judge in Missoula effectively postponed the season in Idaho as well as Wyoming for the time being.

Washington State University and Rob Wielgus reached a $300,000 settlement for the professor to resign and leave as part of a deal in which neither party admitted wrongdoing following an academic freedom lawsuit. Wielgus once was a darling of wolf advocates but began to fall out of favor with some former allies, especially so after a summer 2016 claim he made led to a stunning rebuke from WSU.

Southwest Washington poaching suspects and others were hit with new charges in Oregon after county prosecutors in The Dalles filed 122 wildlife misdemeanors, including a combined 87 against the two men — Erik C. Martin and William J. Haynes — whose phones led game wardens in Oregon and Washington to discover a shocking amount of alleged illegal killing of wintering bucks for their antlers, as well as unlawfully chasing bear and bobcats with dogs. Cases in both states are still working their way through the court system.

The first of two fatal cougar attacks in the Northwest in 2018 occurred near North Bend, Washington, when an otherwise healthy lion went after a pair of bicyclists who successfully initially fended it off, but then came back and had Isaac Sederbaum’s head in its jaws before Sonja J. “SJ” Brooks attempted to flee but was run down and killed. The cougar was immediately tracked down and lethally removed, but it took longer to locate the one that killed Oregon hiker Diana Bober, who disappeared in late summer near Mt. Hood. A network of trail cams put up around the trail where her body was found turned up another otherwise healthy cougar and it was tracked down with the help of dogs and killed.

And finally, two weeks after a Thurston County judge dismissed one lawsuit against WDFW, over wolves, the Center for Biological Diversity was right back in superior court with another, this one concerning the removal of black bears damaging valuable private timber. The state agency ultimately had to temporarily halt issuing new depredation permits using dogs, bait and other methods banned by voters.

In the next installment, we tackle notable Northwest fish and wildlife events that occurred in June, July, August and September.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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