Tag Archives: wolves

Ranch Hand Shoots, Kills Adams Co. Wolf Chasing Cattle

A ranch hand shot and killed one of three wolves he spotted chasing cattle in northeast Adams County earlier this week, a legal use of “caught in the act” provisions under state rules.

A SCREENSHOT FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS ADAMS COUNTY (RED LINE) AND A YELLOW CIRCLE SHOWS ITS NORTHEASTERN CORNER. (GOOGLE MAPS)

After seeing the livestock running on the evening of Feb. 4 then the wolves, the employee yelled, causing two of them to break off pursuit, but after a brief pause the third continued to chase one cow, WDFW reported this morning.

“The ranch employee shot and killed the wolf from approximately 120 yards away,” the agency stated.

WDFW staffers and game wardens quickly responded to the scene to investigate that evening.


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“Based on the preliminary findings, WDFW law enforcement indicated that the shooting was lawful and consistent with state regulations. In areas of Washington where wolves are not listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, WAC 220-440-080 states the owner of domestic animals (or an immediate family member, agent, or employee) may kill one gray wolf without a permit issued by the WDFW director if the wolf is attacking their domestic animals,” a WDFW statement out this morning said.

The wolf was determined to be an “unmarked” adult female but its breeding status wasn’t immediately clear. Mating season is now.

There have been other caught in the act incidents in the delisted part of the state, but what makes this one unusual is its location.

It occurred in the Channeled Scablands, at the edge of the open, lightly populated far eastern Columbia Basin and northwestern corner of the Palouse, far from what we’ve come to know as classic wolf country.

WDFW’S 2018 WOLF PACK MAP. (WDFW)

Three wolves traveling together constitutes a pack and then some — pups born in previous years? — but none are shown anywhere near here on WDFW’s wolf maps, and there aren’t many public reports from the region either.

Still, there has been at least one depredation in these parts in the past, a pregnant ewe killed in nearby northern Whitman County in December 2014.

State wildlife conflict staffers are working with the rancher to try and prevent more attacks and others are looking for the wolves to potentially add them to the pack map for the annual year-end count for 2018, WDFW reported.

With wolves in this unexpected area of Washington, it’s highly likely that the agency’s minimum count will be well above last year’s 122, with one University of Washington researcher suggesting it’s nearing 200. That was based in part on evidence his wolf-poop-sniffing dogs found in the state’s northeast corner and elsewhere.

Oly Update II: Gill Net Ban, Bainbridge Wolf Preserve Bills Introduced

Just a brief update from the Olympia Outsider™ as the second week of Washington’s legislative session comes to a close.

Lawmakers continue to introduce fish- and wildlife-related bills, and several of note were dropped this week, some more serious than others.

A TONGUE IN CHEEK BILL INTRODUCED IN OLYMPIA THIS WEEK WOULD ESSENTIALLY DECLARE BAINBRIDGE ISLAND A WOLF PRESERVE. IT’S REP. JOEL KRETZ’S RESPONSE TO A LOCAL LEGISLATOR’S BILL THAT WOULD BAR WDFW FROM LETHALLY REMOVING DEPREDATING WOLVES IN HIS DISTRICT. NEITHER ARE LIKELY TO PASS. (THE INTERWEBS)

With our rundown last Friday starting with House bills, this week we’ll lead off with new ones in the Senate:

Bill: SB 5617
Title: “Banning the use of nontribal gill nets.”
Sponsors: Sens. Salomon, Braun, Van De Wege, Rolfes, Wilson, L., Rivers, Fortunato, Palumbo, Keiser, Das, Frockt, Randall, Warnick, Hunt, Honeyford, Brown, Cleveland, Saldaña, Nguyen, Darneille, Conway, Pedersen, Wilson, C., and Liias
Bill digest: Not available as the bill was just introduced this morning, but parsing through the text, which cites declining wild salmon runs, the importance of Chinook to orcas and reforms on the Columbia, it would phase out gillnets “in favor of mark selective harvest techniques that are capable of the unharmed release of wild and endangered salmon while selectively harvesting hatchery-reared salmon.” It would not affect tribes’ ability to net salmon.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: First thing that jumps out about this bill is the massive number of cosponsors, 24 — nearly half of the Senate on board from the get-go. The second is its bipartisan support — 17 Democrats, seven Republicans. The lead sponsor is the recently elected Sen. Jesse Salomon of Shoreline, who defeated commercial fishing supporter Maralynn Chase last fall. It’s highly likely that the bill will make it through its first committee too, which is chaired by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, one of the cosponsors. It also comes with some apparent backsliding led by Oregon interests on efforts to get gillnets out of the shared Columbia.

Bill: SB 8204
Title: “Amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to fish, hunt, and otherwise harvest wildlife.”
Sponsors: Sens. Braun, Fortunato, Takko, Wagoner, and Wilson, L.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but if passed would put the above up for a vote at the next general election.
OO analysis: The nut of this bill has been around for a few years, but here’s hoping it gets more traction this legislative session than 2017’s!

Bill: SB 5404
Title: “Expanding the definition of fish habitat enhancement projects.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Honeyford, Van De Wege, McCoy, Salomon, Hasegawa
Bill digest: None available, but essentially adds projects restoring “native kelp and eelgrass beds and restoring native oysters” to those that could be permitted to enhance fish habitat.
OO analysis: A recall watching shimmering schools of baitfish off a pier in Port Townsend that had signs talking about the importance of eelgrass to salmon and other key species, such as herring. With so many acres of beds lost over the decades, this seems like a good idea.

Bill: SB 5525
Title: “Concerning whitetail deer population estimates.”
Sponsor: Sen. Shelly Short
Bill digest: None available, but directs WDFW to annually count whitetail bucks, does and fawns on certain transects in Northeast Washington with the ultimate goal of increasing deer numbers to 9 to 11 per mile.
OO analysis: State wildlife biologists already drive roads here in late summer to estimate buck:doe ratios, but we’re not going to argue with getting more deer in the woods!

Bill: HB 1404
Title: “Concerning a comprehensive study of human-caused impacts to streambeds.”
Sponsor: Rep. Blake
Bill digest:  Unavailable, but directs WDFW, DNR and DOE to review scientific literature for the effects that mining, running jet sleds and operating diversion dams, among other impacts, have on fish, gravel and water quality, with the report due next year.
OO analysis: Could be interesting to read that report.

Bill: HB 1516
Title: “Establishing a department of fish and wildlife directed nonlethal program for the purpose of training dogs.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Dent, Chapman, Kretz, Walsh, Lekanoff, Orcutt, Springer, Pettigrew, Hoff, Shea
Bill digest: Unavailable, but essentially a companion bill to the Senate’s SB 5320, which yesterday had a public hearing and enjoyed widespread support from hunting, ranching, farming and conservation interests — even HSUS. It would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.
OO analysis: To quote the chair at Thursday’s hearing on the Senate side bill, “We love when there is widespread agreement.”

Bill: HB 1579 / SB 5580
Title: “Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing chinook abundance.”
Sponsors: Reps. Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Stonier, Tharinger, Stanford, Jinkins, Robinson and Pollet; Sens. Rolfes, Palumbo, Frockt, Dhingra, Keiser, Kuderer, and Saldaña.
Note: By request of Office of the Governor
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per a news release from Gov. Jay Inslee the bills “would increase habitat for Chinook salmon and other forage fish” through hydraulic permitting.
OO analysis: Good to see some teeth when it comes to overseeing projects done around water. Of note, this bill would also essentially reclassify some toothsome Chinook cohabitants, scrubbing smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and walleye from the list of officially approved state “game fish,” a precursor to slashing limits?

Bill: HB 1580 / SB 5577
Title: “Concerning the protection of southern resident orca whales from vessels.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Kretz, Kirby, Peterson, Appleton, Shewmake, Morris, Cody, Jinkins; Sens. Rolfes, Frockt, Liias, McCoy, Dhingra, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Saldaña, Wilson, C.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the Governor’s Office, “would protect Southern Resident orcas from vessel noise and disturbance. The bills would require vessels to stay at least 400 yards away from Southern Resident orcas and report vessels they witness in violation of the limit. It would also require vessels to travel under seven knots within one-half nautical mile of the whales. The legislation would create no-go and go-slow zones around the whales to protect them.
OO analysis: With vessel disturbance one of three key factors in why Puget Sound’s orcas are struggling, this bill follows on recommendations from Inslee’s orca task force. Having companion bills makes passage more likely.

Bill: HB 1639
Title: “Ensuring that all Washingtonians share in the benefits of an expanding wolf population.”
Sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but essentially declares Bainbridge Island a wolf preserve and would translocate most of the state’s wolves there so “they can be protected, studied, and, most importantly, admired by the region’s animal lovers,” as well as sets new limits for considering when to lethally remove depredating wolves, including after four confirmed attacks on dogs, four on domestic cats or two on children.
OO analysis: Rep. Kretz is known for dropping some amusing wolf-related bills in the legislature, often at the expense of lawmakers who live on islands, and this latest one needles Bainbridge’s Rep. Sherry Appleton, whose HB 1045 would bar WDFW from killing livestock-attacking wolves to try and stave off further depredations in Kretz’s district and elsewhere in Washington. Neither bill is likely to pass, but the text of HB 1639 is a hoot.

So How Many Wolves Are There Actually In Washington?

Are there twice as many wolves running around parts of Washington as WDFW’s minimum count suggests?

It seems more likely in the wake of a state Senate committee work session on the species Tuesday afternoon.

Information from it is giving Washington wolf world observers a chance to compare WDFW’s figures for parts of two northeastern counties with how many wolves that dung dog-gathered data says were actually there at the time.

Dung dogs would be canines that the University of Washington’s Dr. Samuel Wasser et al have trained to find scat. They’re so good that they can smell Puget Sound orca ordure a mile away, Wasser told senators.

On dry land between April 2015 and February 2016, they helped researchers sniff out 4,685 piles of poo in wild portions of Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties.

A MAP FROM DR. SAMUEL WASSER’S PRESENTATION TO A WASHINGTON SENATE COMMITTEE SHOWS THE ROUTES THAT HIS SPECIALLY TRAINED DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN AREAS OF STEVENS AND PEND OREILLE COUNTIES IN 2015 AND EARLY 2016, A PERIOD DURING WHICH FIVE KNOWN WOLF PACKS OCCURRED IN THE AREA. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Their survey area that season overlapped the territories of the Smackout, Dirty Shirt, Carpenter Ridge, Goodman Meadows and Skookum Packs.

With 3,917 of the samples subsequently analyzed in the lab so far, 1,878 (48%) were determined to be coyote crap, 714 (18%) to be bobcat BMs, 541 (14%) to be wolf waste, 323 (8%) to be black bear brownies and 212 (5%) to be mountain lion leavings.

What the remaining 7 percent was wasn’t clear, but the scat not only told researchers what species excreted it (as well as what they’d been, er, wolfing down), but also allowed them to genetically identify the specific animal from whose alimentary canal it exited.

While counting wolves has been an inexact science up to this point, Wasser told members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee they were able to determine that those 541 wolf samples were left by 60 different individual wolves.

WASSER’S PRESENTATION OVERLAYS WOLF SCAT WITH KNOWN WOLF PACK LOCATIONS. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

He said his abundance estimate for the area between spring 2015 through midwinter 2016 was 68.

Now, it’s not quite apples to apples, more like apples to pears, but that timing does allow us to compare his findings with some from WDFW’s 2015 year-end count, which came out in early 2016.

The state agency estimated that the packs that left all that poop numbered at least 30 wolves — eight in Smackout, eight in Dirty Shirt, two in Carpenter, seven in Goodman and five in Skookum.

Thirty is, I want to stress, a minimum number, the confirmed headcount, but it is also a lot fewer than 60, let alone 68.

Hunters and others have long suspected that there are more wolves running around than WDFW’s minimum, and the evidence collected by scat-sniffing dogs from just one part of the state, albeit a wolf-heavy one, seems to bear that out.

So how might the state agency explain such a big numerical difference?

Partially it’s that this is a different, more precise way to count wolves than how WDFW has had funding to do it — collaring wolves and trying to find them and their packies later on.

But some of Wasser’s 60 known animals could have been pups born in spring 2015, defecated all over, but didn’t survive to the end of the year to be counted during the state’s aerial surveys.

They could have been dispersers from elsewhere that, say, ate a 49 Degrees North deer/moose/elk/cow/bird/rodent/snowshoe hare/etc., left a dropping or two and continued on their journey out of the area.

They could have been born to one of the packs, learned how to hunt and subsequently dispersed before biologists buzzed around that winter in the Cessna.

They could have been poached — state game wardens did find evidence that a man illegally killed at least two members of the Goodman Meadows Pack prior to a March 2016 search warrant on his cabin.

And it’s possible that at least three if not more of WDFW’s nine listed known lone/miscellaneous wolves in the greater Eastern Recovery Zone at the end of 2015 were in this area during the survey, so it’s the known 30 plus that many more.

Still, it’s eye-opening, and what’s more Wasser also told senators that during the following field season his dogs found evidence of at least 92 wolves in the same area, and he estimated there were 95 there then.

He said that between the two sessions of fieldwork, they found evidence of 114 unique wolves there.

The bottom line?

Later this winter WDFW will release its 2018 year-end minimum count. That figure is likely to be a lot higher than 2017’s 122, and it may also include new packs from a whole new area of Washington.

While state wolf managers have yet to confirm there are any wolves in the South Cascades, thanks to legislative funding, last year Wasser’s dogs found potential evidence in northwestern Yakima County and multiple parts of Skamania County.

ANOTHER SLIDE FROM WASSER’S PRESENTATION SHOWS ROUTES HIS DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN THE CENTRAL AND SOUTH CASCADES AND WHERE THEY FOUND POTENTIAL WOLF POOP THAT IS NOW UNDERGOING FINAL ANALYSIS WITH RESULTS EXPECTED SOON. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Those feces are now undergoing final analysis with results expected soon, but if “potential wolf” droppings the dung dogs found in the known Teanaway Pack territory are any indication, it seems possible there may be a pack or two in the South Cascades.

Yes, wolves, wolf impacts and wolf people are pains in the ass to manage, but having four successful breeding pairs there is important to reaching the recovery goals that begin statewide delisting processes, and the sooner that occurs the better.

Well, the better for everyone except the groups that are trying to keep the species under kid-glove management, including through an upcoming court case against WDFW.

But this new data strengthens the argument that there are far more wolves in Washington, they’re likely far more widespread and they’re far, far more resilient than Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity etc., want you to know.

Senators Briefed On Washington’s Wolves, Ongoing Research

No, wolves don’t have rainbows shooting out of their butts, but what is being excreted from the wild canids’ back end had the attention of state senators in Olympia this afternoon.

They learned that among the more than 1,100 scat samples collected in South Cascades by poop-sniffing dogs last year are suggestions that there are indeed wolves in a part of Washington that none are known to occur, key for meeting statewide recovery goals.

A SLIDE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON’S DR. SAMUEL WASSER SHOWS ROUTES HIS DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN THE CENTRAL AND SOUTH CASCADES AND WHERE THEY FOUND POTENTIAL WOLF POOP THAT IS NOW UNDERGOING FINAL ANALYSIS WITH RESULTS EXPECTED SOON. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

And DNA from wolf doots collected in the state’s wolf-heavy northeast corner paint a highly complex picture of packs’ numbers, diets, movements and even pregnancy rates — one rising pack had three females in the family way, per se, at a single time in a recent winter.

Those were among the highlights of a presentation that Dr. Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology gave to members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

IN THIS SCREENSHOT FROM TVW, DR. WASSER POINTS TO A SLIDE IN HIS PRESENTATION BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE. (TVW)

WDFW and other UW officials were also on hand to detail the state of the state’s wolves and provide an update on a  big legislatively funded predator-prey study.

It was an interesting hour or so rich with presentations, graphs, maps that added to what’s known about the wild dogs here.

There were details on the diet of wolves in Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties — primarily deer but also moose and to a much lesser degree elk — as well as coyotes there, including a stronger percentage of moose than you might expect from the diminutive dogs — but are they merely scavenging wolf kills?

Just as senators heard that wolf and coyote densities differ markedly, they also learned that the predator-prey study aims to look at the effect of whether the former reduces numbers of the latter and thus their predation on fawns, as well as sort out the interactions between wolves and cougars and whether the big cats have to kill more often to make up for the wild dogs taking their quarry.

They learned that Washington’s wolf population continues to rise by an average of 30 percent a year, even as 22 have been killed to try and head off livestock depredations that have also occurred at a lower rate than in the Northern Rockies states.

And they saw how collecting dung with dogs and then sequencing it could give much more accurate wolf counts. Two years’ worth from Pend Oreille and Colville Valley packs show at least 60 different wolves and an estimated 68 there between April 2015 and February 2016 and 92 and likely 95 between October 2016 and June 2017.

“The dogs got samples from almost every single wolf,” Wasser said.

While WDFW has been careful to stress that its annual wolf counts are minimums and that more are likely out there, this new information will begin to put up a better ceiling on numbers.

After the presentations senators asked several questions, including one whether it was possible to breed for nondepredating wolves, which Wasser said was impossible.

Chase Gunnell at Conservation Northwest said his organization believes there are north of 150 wolves running around the state and was excited to see the upcoming 2018 year-end census.

“We strongly support the stewardship of these species, and believe wolf conservation and management must find a balance that works in the long run—for wolves, people and all the Northwest’s wildlife,” he said.

Revised ODFW Wolf Plan Sent To Wildlife Commission For Adoption

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

After completing the last scheduled facilitated meeting with stakeholder representatives on Monday, Jan. 8, ODFW staff are working to finalize a revised Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. That Plan will be presented to the Commission at its March 15 meeting in Salem for final adoption.

SNAKE RIVER PACK WOLVES CAPTURED BY REMOTE CAMERA IN THE HELLS CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA. (ODFW)

Last year, Commissioners decided to postpone Wolf Plan revisions and conduct additional facilitated outreach in hopes of getting more consensus from stakeholders. Professional facilitator Deb Nudelman with Kearns and West facilitated five meetings with stakeholders from late August 2018 through early January 2019.

While stakeholders representing ranching, hunting and wolf conservation came to agreement on some topics, there was no consensus on several of the most controversial issues including the number of livestock depredations that leads to consideration of  lethal removal of wolves when nonlethal deterrents have not worked. Environmental group stakeholders with Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife announced late last Friday, Jan. 4 that they would not attend the final meeting.

“We were disappointed these groups left the discussion and we did not have the full stakeholder group present at the final meeting,” said Derek Broman, ODFW Carnivore Coordinator. “Since the drafting of the original 2005 plan, stakeholders remain very passionate so consensus is challenging to achieve.”

The facilitated process was designed to create a space for stakeholders to negotiate and allow for give and take on all sides,” he continued. “We thank all stakeholders for their time and attention at the meetings and for the progress made on several issues, and everyone thanks Kearns and West for their professional facilitating of these meetings.”

Stakeholder groups were able to find some consensus on wolf collaring priorities, the desire to increase the use of nonlethal techniques and funding enhanced population modeling. But stakeholders remained divided on lethal take of wolves when they are killing livestock, including the number and time frame of confirmed depredations before lethal control of wolves is considered.

ODFW is responsible for investigating livestock depredations and uses a rigorous, evidence-based process to determining if a wolf or wolves was responsible.  A certain number of “confirmed” livestock depredations can lead to consideration of lethal removal of wolves by the department or a landowner. Currently, the Plan allows for consideration of lethal removal after two confirmed depredations within no specific time frame, but ODFW typically authorizes lethal removal after three or more confirmed depredations. In practice, ODFW has denied more lethal removal requests for wolves than it has approved.

Since the first Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was approved in 2005, hunting of wolves has been in the Plan as a potential tool to manage wolf populations. Throughout the current review of the Wolf Plan, no proposals have been made by ODFW to begin hunting wolves.  If hunting of wolves were to be proposed by staff in the future, it would have to be approved by the Commission in a public rule-making process.

The Wolf Plan proposal will be available for review prior to the March 15 meeting Commission meeting on the wolf website at www.odfw.com/wolves

The Daily Howler: Jan. 9, 2019 Edition — Oregon, NE WA Wolf People, Wolves In News

After environmental groups pulled out of facilitated meetings on sticky issues with Oregon’s wolf management plan last week, state managers say they plan to bring updates to the Fish and Wildlife Commission later this winter anyway.

“We did hear what was important to folks, and where there is some agreement,” ODFW’s Shannon Hurn told the Capital Press in a story out this afternoon.

OREGON WOLF TRACKS IN MUD. (ODFW)

The four in- and out-of-state organizations claimed that the new version would allow depredating wolves to be lethally removed quicker and in a letter to the governor said instead ODFW “must focus on prioritizing meaningful, transparent, enforceable, and effective non-lethal measures and only allow wolves to be killed in active defense of livestock.”

They withdrew before yesterday’s Wolf Plan Stakeholders meeting with RMEF, the Oregon Hunters Association and cattlemen’s and farm groups in Clackamas and got widespread press coverage because of it.

One ranching member of the group initially likened the move to a “bid to try and get attention. Like a little kid throwing a tantrum.”

In Washington, a group with representatives from different instate camps successfully agreed on lethal removal protocols after quick, repeated depredations and stressed nonlethal work as well. They’ve held together despite outside pressure.

Back in Oregon, a member from Oregon’s hunting community, Jim Akenson told the Press he was ready to move ahead with ODFW’s plan revisions, but also called for population caps for wolves in certain parts of the state over fears of impacts to big game herds.

Meanwhile, in the southwest corner of the state, the Rogue Pack was blamed for an eighth livestock death since October. The wolves run in Jackson County, in the still federally listed portion of Oregon.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, Stevens County Commissioners issued an advisory to citizens in different parts of the Northeast Washington county to keep an eye on their pets, livestock and any attractants that might be lying around outside after wolves had reportedly approached “very close” to homes.

Also in this part of the state, the Press reported that a Ferry County rancher who shot and wounded a Togo Pack wolf had been cleared following a state investigation.

WDFW wolf manager Donny Martorello said the man, who had been checking his cattle and heard barks and saw pups, then the charging alpha male, “felt threatened for his personal safety, and was within his rights to protect himself.”

The wolf was later shot and killed during a lethal removal operation.

And WDFW reported in its monthly update that in December field staffers had been surveying the state’s known packs as well as following up on “reports outside of known pack territories in the Methow and areas south of I-90 to try and locate recent wolf sign.”

The agency urged members of the public to continue uploading sightings, images, audio, etc., to its reporting database., calling the information “incredibly helpful” for confirming more packs on the landscape.

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 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.

Next Washington Wolf Count Likely To Show Increase, Possibly Sharp Jump

An out-of-state environmental group is trying to minimize the number of wolves running around Washington, but the year-end tally is likely to be significantly higher than their “approximately 120.”

That figure comes from a pressure ad by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity that appeared in the Seattle Times and is aimed at getting the governor to force WDFW to stop killing wolves in response to repeated livestock depredations.

A RECENT AD FROM THE CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY MAKES SEVERAL DEMANDS ABOUT HOW WASHINGTON WOLVES SHOULD BE MANAGED.

It comes as the two parties are locked in a court battle over the state’s lethal removal protocols for wolves.

Twenty have been taken out by WDFW since 2012, an average of just three a year as Washington’s gray wolf population has more than doubled, but it still might have been the inspiration for a Central Puget Sound lawmaker to prefile a bill for the 2019 session along those exact same lines a couple days later.

Ultimately it all may backfire.

In response to CBD’s estimate, instate wolf advocates are indicating that there may actually be more than 150 wolves in Washington these days — even 200.

That higher number comes from Mitch Friedman, head of Conservation Northwest, which put out the lower figure in a post that Friedman shared publicly and in doing so offered his own guesstimate.

Those would be 23 to 64 percent increases over the official 2017 minimum (122).

The former is unsurprising, given the longterm 30 percent annual growth rate, and while the latter may seem shocking it is not outside the realm of possibility any more.

WDFW’s 2018 count probably won’t come out until March, like it has for the past five years, but for the first time wolf poop could help provide a much more accurate estimate of how many animals are really out there.

Earlier this year a University of Washington researcher was awarded a $172,000 grant from the state legislature to run his dung-detection dogs through areas where the number of public wolf reports has grown but no packs let alone breeding pairs were known to exist.

“If there are wolves south of I-90, the odds of the dogs locating them should be quite high,” Dr. Samuel Wasser, who heads up UW’s Center for Conservation Biology, told me for an April story. “Colonizing wolves range widely, our dogs can cover huge areas, and their ability to detect samples if present is extraordinary.”

With the 2018 field season over, the samples are now in the lab and being analyzed, and the data will also provide information on diet.

“It will be a little while because we are moving to Next Generation Sequencing, which allows us to simultaneously identify the carnivore scats and what they ate in a single run,” Wasser said by email this week.

Up to this year, WDFW’s year-end count has been a mix of collaring individual wolves and then locating them and their packs again in winter, when they’re easier to track or spot in the snow from the air, monitoring breeding pairs and collecting imagery from a network of trail cameras.

The agency has stressed that their annual tallies were just minimums, that there were likely more wolves on the landscape that had eluded them, and hunters have generally believed there to be many more than official figures.

So using DNA this new information could provide a closer estimate of the state’s actual population, not to mention possibly help us get to the wolf management plan’s recovery goals sooner.

As of this past March there was just one known breeding pair in the Northern Cascades Zone, the Teanaway Pack, and none in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast Zone.

Under the plan there must be four in each, but since that count there have been tantalizing public reports around Granite Falls, the northwest side of Mt. Rainier, and Stampede and White Passes.

Wasser says the new method for testing wolf doots his dogs find is just about dialed in, with results likely available later in winter.

“We are close to having it validated, using sample previously run using our old method from Northeast Washington,” he says. “Once that’s done, we will move forward with the Central Washington samples. That should move pretty quickly once we’re at the stage. We hope to finish the validations this month. If all goes well, we aim to have all our results by the end of February (or March), although that could be optimistic.”

The results could arrive just about the time that the Center for Biological Diversity and WDFW attend a court hearing for CBD’s lawsuit over the state’s development of the removal protocols. Both parties are due before Thurston County Superior Court Judge John C. Skinder on March 8 to review documents submitted in support of their arguments and determine when to set a trial.

By that time, it’s pretty likely that Rep. Sherry Appleton’s (D-Bainbridge) HB 1045, which would bar WDFW from killing cattle- and sheep-killing wolves and — hilariously — instead require the agency to relocate them, will have died without a committee hearing.

But not before it offered Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) yet another chance to needle Westside wolfies, this time to mull introducing a counter measure to designate Appleton’s island a wolf preserve.

In other Washington wolf news, in October WDFW issued a notice that it was beginning a periodic review of the species.

“Based on the information collected and reviewed, the department will make recommendations to maintain the species current listing status as endangered or reclassify species to sensitive, threatened, or other status,” the agency stated.

Public comment will be announced later.

And late this morning WDFW announced a confirmed wolf depredation of a calf on its Chiliwist Wildlife Area, part of the Sinlahekin complex.

The 400-pound animal was among a herd of cattle that had just been brought off of DNR land on Nov. 27 to a traditional gathering site on WDFW land and was found dead the next day.

The producer was advised to cover the carcass and did so, and on the 29th, an examination of the remains revealed typical wolf wounds along with the tracks of a single.

The incident occurred in the still-federally listed part of the state, in or very close to the Loup Loups’ territory, but in detailing the attack, WDFW did not attribute it that pack.

“No collared wolves were present in the area at the time of the depredation,” the agency stated.

It would be one of the latest if not the latest attack to occur in any year since wolves began recolonizing the state.

Congress Moving Different Directions On Sea Lions, Wolves

Attempts in Congress to give state managers more latitude to deal with two of the most polarizing predators in the Northwest these days are going in opposite directions.

Yesterday saw the US Senate pass a bill that would expand where sea lions could be removed on the Columbia River system, and while the House of Representatives must still concur, a bill delisting gray wolves passed last month by the lower chamber will not go anywhere in the upper house in December, it now appears.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. THE ENDANGERED SALMON AND FISHERIES PREDATION ACT PASSED BY THE SENATE AND WHICH GOES NOW TO THE HOUSE WOULD GIVE STATE MANAGERS MORE LATITUDE TO LETHALLY REMOVE THE SPECIES IN TRIBUTARIES OF THE COLUMBIA. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

The Manage Our Wolves Act, cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republican representatives will likely die in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works as federal lawmakers’ workload piles up at the end of the two-year session.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) indicated federal budgetary issues would take precedence, according to a report from the DC Bureau of the McClatchy news service.

And even if the Republican-controlled Senate were to still pass the bill in 2019, with November’s election changing the balance of power in the House, a spokeswoman for the new chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), told wire reporter Kellen Browning flatly that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years.

It’s probably best to let the biologists determine when a species is recovered rather than run things through Congress like this, but that also takes time and meanwhile frustrations mount over very real concerns and unintended consequences of 1970s’ environmental protections, and the drag-it-out-in-the-courts approach the laws have inspired in some in the environmental community.

In the case of the wolves of the river, Marine Mammal Protection Act-listed sea lions are taking unacceptably large bites out of Endangered Species Act-listed Columbia salmon and steelhead, putting their recovery — not to mention the tens, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it — in the watershed at increasing risk.

With pushing from fishermen, state wildlife agencies, tribal managers, even conservation organizations, a bipartisan coalition of Northwest senators and representatives has now been able get sea lion bills passed in both houses of Congress this year.

But even as we live in an era when the back door to delistings and amended protections is being opened wider and wider, it appears that for the time being we’ll need to go through the front one, the traditional way, to clear the wolves of the woods off the ESA list.

Once again.

Back in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly announced that it had begun to review the status of the species in the Lower 48 for, what, the third? fourth? time since the early 2000s due to court actions.

That could lead to the delisting of gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington, Oregon and elsewhere in their range, handing over management from USFWS to WDFW, ODFW and other agencies.

A PAIR OF WOLVES CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAMERA NEAR MT. HOOD. (ODFW)

This morning I asked the feds for an update on how that was proceeding and they sent me a statement that was very similar to one they emailed out around the summer solstice.

Here’s what today’s said:

“The USFWS is currently reviewing the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information. On completion of the review, the Service will, if appropriate, publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”

With six long months ahead of it, June’s version had this as the third sentence: “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”

Now it’s more open-ended.

And comparing a second paragraph USFWS sent along as background, the update has removed the words “under the previous administration,” a reference to the 2013 proposal by the Obama Administration’s USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

The rest of that para touches on the “sound science” that went into that determination and the court action that subsequently derailed it.

It sounds like the science is strong with the sea lion removal authorization, so let’s hope that once the House agrees and president signs it, it isn’t challenged in court, and if it is, that it clears the hurdles that are thrown up — and which lead to bypassing the judicial system all together.