Tag Archives: WILD STEELHEAD COALITION

Fishing Groups Raising Funds To Secure Lower Ronde Access Site

A bid to permanently secure public fishing and camping access to 2,000 feet of the lower Grande Ronde is about halfway to its goal, with another $16,500 needed before the end of 2019 to buy the 8-acre parcel.

AN ANGLER PREPARES TO RELEASE A WILD SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD. (WILD STEELHEAD COALITION)

The plan is for several fishing organizations to buy the land from the owner, who is looking to sell but wants it to remain accessible to the public, and then transfer it to WDFW.

The Ronde is renown for its steelheading, especially in the fall, and the smallmouth bass fishing can be pretty good during warmer seasons.

The parcel is located between the mouth in Hells Canyon and the county bridge a couple miles upstream. It has parking and outhouse and is known by WDFW as Ebsen 1 and 2.

According to Washington State Council of Fly Fishers International, the state agency has had a recreational access easement to the land since some time in the early 1980s.

But now with owner Lynn Miller wanting to sell and WDFW not having the funding to acquire it in the short term, fishing groups have been tapped.

So far, the fly council, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Inland Empire Fly Club and an anonymous donor have raised over $15,000.

They’re now spreading the word in hopes of garnering the remainder needed to make a deal.

THE SITE SITS IN THE CENTER OF A LARGE SWATH OF STATE AND FEDERAL LANDS AND HAS OUTHOUSES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Skagit-Sauk Steelheading Could Be Cut In 2020 With WDFW’s Budget Woes

There may not be a Skagit-Sauk steelhead catch-and-release season next spring due to WDFW’s growing money woes, a “bitter pill” for the anglers who worked for half a decade to reopen the iconic North Cascades waters.

DRIFT BOATERS COME DOWN A SLIGHT RAPID ON THE SAUK YESTERDAY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The recently reinstated fishery is now on the chopping block as state managers scramble to figure out what to cut coming out of the recent legislative session that only partially filled a shortfall — and which subsequently also ballooned from $7 million to $21 million.

Rich Simms, cofounder of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, said his organization was “deeply disappointed” by the news relayed in an email late last week by WDFW Director Kelly Susewind that Puget Sound’s sole opportunity to fish for wild winter-runs would be “eliminated.”

“While we recognize the difficult budget situation the Department faces and strongly support Olympia ending the underfunding of our fish and wildlife, we believe WDFW should do everything possible to keep the Skagit catch and release steelhead fishery open,” Simms said in a statement.

Closed due to low runs in 2009, returns rebounded several years ago, but because the region’s steelhead are listed under the Endangered Species Act, federal overseers require the fishery to be monitored as part of the state permit, and that costs a pretty penny.

AN ANGLER CASTS A LINE ON THE SKAGIT RIVER AT THE MOUTH OF THE SAUK. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Before this year’s February-April season, WDFW staffers estimated that between hiring a new biologist to oversee the fishery and write reports, bringing on creelers, providing them with rigs and things like waders, and then flying the rivers to double check angler numbers, it would cost around $210,000 a year to provide the opportunity.

The receipts are still being tallied and it is already likely in the neighborhood of $150,000, per district fisheries biologiat Brett Barkdull, but it was also anticipated that that “Cadillac” level of monitoring for the first full season (spring 2018 saw an abbreviated 12-day opener) would likely be backed off in the coming years.

But now, it may be moot.

That there might not be another season for at least the next two years caught the attention of the Fish and Wildlife Commission during a conference call last Friday.

Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon defended the fishery and pointed out how the group Occupy Skagit had worked diligently with the citizen panel since the early years of this decade to open the rivers again.

“It’s about as clean a fishery as you can imagine. I would really, really object to that being eliminated. I think it’s false economics and I just don’t think it’s going to work into the future,” Carpenter said.

His comments came as commissioners discussed raising the WDFW vacancy rate — the number of agency jobs that are open but purposefully left unfilled — from 4 percent to up to 4.3 percent to save some money.

That idea didn’t go over well with Commissioner Dave Graybill of Leavenworth who related how a Bellingham creel sampler he’d talked to during a recent spot prawn opener was told there was only six month’s salary available for her position but that she could be reassigned away from the town she’s lived in for 22 years.

“We really have to think about the impact of what we’re doing if we consider any other increases to that 4 percent. I would object to any movement that would increase that,” said Graybill.

Also on his mind was the expiration of the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement after lawmakers failed to renew it and which will primarily impact opportunities in his neck of the basin.

“I don’t know where we’re going to find the money to conduct fisheries in my region particularly,” Graybill said.

This year’s runs are poor, so there won’t be much fishing, but just like the Skagit-Sauk, some of those seasons are subject to federally required monitoring.

Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane sympathized with her colleagues.

“These are really hard decisions. Everybody has a favorite fishery and whatever we cut is going to be hurt. As David’s pointed out is, what’s being cut across the board are the Upper Columbia fisheries,” she said.

While funding for those fell victim to state lawmakers not extending the endorsement, money for the Skagit C&R fishery was built into WDFW’s license fee increase proposal to the legislature, which also died.

The steelhead coalition’s Simms blamed the latter failure on organizations that opposed the hike because of “contentious issues and discontent with the Department” — code for the commission’s Lower Columbia salmon reforms pause vote.

A CLIENT OF GUIDE CHRIS SENYOHL SHOWS OFF A WILD WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING APRIL 2018’S 12-DAY REOPENING OF THE SKAGIT AND SAUK RIVER. (INTREPID ANGLERS, VIA AL SENYOHL)

Technically, the Skagit money has been on the “enhance opportunities” side of the fee increase ledger, and WDFW Director Susewind told commissioners he would struggle to move it out of what is effectively an optional category over to the “maintain” side.

“We’ve been pretty transparent with folks that, absent money, we’re not going to be able get to the enhancements and that was one of them. We’ll dig in, we’ll do some additional work, but … at some point we have to make the final decision. And we also, frankly, have to quit doing everything that we said we couldn’t do when we don’t get the money,” he said.

Susewind said that leads to credibility issues with lawmakers about the original need, and also results in a poorer work product “which further erodes our credibility.”

But an immense amount of work also went into getting the Skagit-Sauk fishery back — that longterm lobbying Carpenter referenced, staff from not only WDFW but three tribes writing a joint management plan, and the feds weighing and ultimately signing off on the document.

For WSC’s Simms, the Skagit-Sauk fishery is not only an economic driver for mountain towns well off the beaten path in late winter and early spring but the “sustainable” opportunity is a “powerful tool” for conservation.

“Losing this fishery once again after only one full fishing season would be a bitter pill to swallow, especially given the hard work of so many steelhead advocates, many of whom support fish and wildlife funding and other conservation programs,” he said.

THE “FAMILY OF ARCHERS” STATUE IN DARRINGTON MARKS THE ENTRY TO THE I.G.A. STORE, WHERE THE BLOGGER IN CHIEF POINTEDLY STOPPED TO PICK UP (MORE THAN ENOUGH) SUPPLIES DURING AN APRIL OUTING ON THE MIDDLE AND LOWER SAUK RIVER FOR WILD STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Feds, Tribe Prevail In Elwha Salmon, Steelhead Hatchery Appeal

Federal and tribal fishery overseers have prevailed in a court case involving Elwha River salmon and steelhead that allows for continued use of hatchery fish in the restoration of runs to the north Olympic Peninsula watershed.

After hearing arguments last month, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court’s ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service had done its homework when approving state and Lower Elwha Klallam production programs for after two dams were removed.

THE ELWHA RIVER ABOVE THE SITE OF THE DAMS. (OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK)

“The Ninth Circuit found our analysis was complete and that both NOAA and the (National) Park Service have thoroughly adequately assessed the impacts involved, from the dam removal process to the efforts to recover salmon and steelhead populations,” explained Michael Milstein, a spokesman  for NOAA’s Fisheries Service in Portland.

That analysis was the target of a long-running challenge in U.S. District Court for Western Washington by the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and Wild Salmon Rivers.

According to federal court documents, they had argued that NMFS’s approval of hatchery programs violated the National Environmental Policy and Endangered Species Acts, and that the tribe’s facility output represented a taking of ESA-listed fish.

But 9th Circuit Court Judges Susan P. Graber, Sandra S. Ikuta and Andrew D. Hurwitz largely agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle’s earlier ruling, and according to Milstein that “clears the way” for NMFS and its partners to focus on restoring the river, including with hatchery fish per a 2012 environmental assessment that found minimal risk and some benefits from them.

The Elwha restoration is a project on a huge scale, featuring the removal of Elwha Dam in 2012 and Glines Canyon Dam in 2014, freeing up dozens of miles of river and tributaries that flow from the heart of the Olympic Peninsula.

To that end, earlier this spring, WDFW, the National Park Service and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe extended a fishing moratorium on the Elwha through May 2019.

For its part, WDFW doesn’t appear interested in stocking steelhead into the river, as last summer it declared the Elwha a wild steelhead gene bank. The Wild Steelhead Coalition said that designation was the result of “decades of work,” but the tribe’s hatchery means the sanctuary “still does not exist.”

Contrasting Videos Highlight Plight Of Westside Steelhead, Fisheries

Steelhead videos out in recent days both bemoan the same thing — a lack of fish returning to Western Washington — but come from disparate perspectives.

A slick series produced by the Wild Steelhead Coalition contrasts sharply with a 13-minute preview piece cobbled together by Restore the Cowlitz, but they both recall a great past, focus on the poor present, and call for a better future, but through, literally, different lenses.

I appreciate them both, as they show a fire in the belly that is lacking when it comes to most of Washington’s other stocks, a deep concern for the resource and the real impacts policy decisions have on fish populations and people’s livelihoods.

The former, dubbed “Steelhead Country,” leads off with the downfall of Puget Sound steelheading, listing a number of rivers no longer open for all or part of the seasons due to plummeting native returns, and focuses on the experiences of the iconic Bill Herzog.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM “STEELHEAD COUNTRY, PART I,” SHOWS BILL HERZOG ON THE BANKS OF THE MCMILLAN DRIFT, ON THE PUYALLUP RIVER, AT ONE TIME ONE OF THE BEST SPOTS IN ALL OF PUGETROPOLIS TO CATCH WINTERS, BUT NOW CLOSED. (WILD STEELHEAD COALITION)

He loads some of the downfall on his own back: “We killed too many fish. Again, horrible management, they allowed us to take two fish, wild fish, till the end of April, ad naseum … My little squad, we killed 200 out of the Nisqually alone, just us, just us, 10 guys, killed 200. Easy. Let’s see, if we did that, wouldn’t take much, would it?”

The third video in the six-part series (the back half hasn’t been released at this writing) looks at “The Hatchery Fix,” which highlights the striking success WDFW’s predecessor’s increased stocking had, producing a “ten-fold” leap in the catch between 1947 and 1963, but also how that likely clubbed the heck out of the early part of the wild run, “which historically was the peak of the run.”

DEANNA WILSON HOISTS HER FIRST STEELHEAD, A SKYKOMISH HATCHERY WINTER-RUN. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Fixing the hatchery runs is what “Project Cowlitz” aims for, pointing out the deep economic impacts the end of releases of early-timed winter steelhead into the Cowlitz has caused.

According to another Washington fishing icon, guide Clancy Holt, where in the past he normally would have run four guides and pulled in $300,000 from mid-November to mid-February, yielding some $24,000 in state sales tax, this past winter, his operation ran two trips for $2,000 and collected just $150 in sales tax.

IN THIS SCREENGRAB FROM RESTORE THE COWLITZ’S NEW VIDEO “PROJECT COWLITZ,” LOCAL GUIDE CLANCY HOLT TALKS ABOUT ECONOMIC IMPACTS FROM THE LOSS OF THE EARLY-RETURNING STEELHEAD TO THE RIVER. (RESTORE THE COWLITZ)

He’s echoed by guides Dave Mallahan, Mark Youngblood and others, while Derek Breitenbach of Ethel Market & Sports details the dropoff in winter business at his Lewis County shop.

“This isn’t working,” Holt says, adding, “There has got to be a way to generate another run of fish in the winter from November to the middle of February — steelhead in the Cowlitz River.”

It would take time — a whole lot of time and even some fishery restrictions (not to mention a few more fish) — but I wonder if it isn’t possible to begin creating an early-returning strain out of the basin’s endemic late stock, recovering that temporal span that winters once covered.

I’m not a biologist, so I can’t say how possible that even is, but as a steelheader and someone who’s been writing about the decline for some time now, there’s a lot of good stuff in these videos, and I appreciate the passion both filmmakers put into them.

Is one righter than the other?

I just know that I need fish for all of us to fish for, and while I do see positive signs here and there on the wild front, I also know that today’s rivers have carrying capacities that will never get us back to late 1800s abundances. I do look forward to seeing what sort of solutions “Steelhead Country” proposes in its upcoming releases, but as pared back as hatchery releases have become, they’re essential bridges as habitat work continues and we work to figure out other problems affecting the survival of all of our favorite fish.

Hat tip to all, you rock for Doing Something.