Category Archives: Wolf News

Proposed Cuts Would Hack ‘Meat And Bone’ From WDFW Budget

(UPDATED SEPT. 29, 2011)

Westside salmon anglers and shell fishermen stand to lose big unless Washington lawmakers can patch up the budget over the coming months.

With the proposed closure of two state hatcheries and reduced operations at a third, 8.3 million fewer hatchery Chinook smolts would be produced annually for ocean, bay and Puget Sound fisheries under the most savage of cuts that the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has drawn up at Governor Christine Gregoire’s request to address yet another projected revenue shortfall.

The agency may also slash biologist positions that could affect salmon fishing in the Grays Harbor system and North Coast, and lower oyster and clam harvests and hamper crab and shrimp seasons in Puget Sound.

Up to seven senior managers might be laid off, the Columbia and inland salt waters may go unmonitored for invasive species arriving in cargo ships, and less work would get done on salmon recovery in the future as well.

Scare tactics or not, those measures and others reflect how WDFW would deal with 5 and 10 percent reductions in its General Fund appropriations.

A month or so ago Gregoire, a two-term governor who says she won’t seek a third term, ordered all state agencies to undergo the exercise after revised numbers from budget forecasters showed a shortfall of $1.4 billion in Washington’s coffers over the next two years.

It has since grown to $2 billion and she has called the Legislature back for a special session after Thanksgiving.

And despite last November’s anti-tax mood at the ballot box, on Tuesday the Associated Press reported that Gregoire and other Democrats may be looking into a February special election on a tax package to plug the budget.

As it stands, adjusted for inflation, WDFW says it has lost 41 percent of its General Fund support during this recession, a drop from $110 million in 2007-09 to $69 million in 2011-3. And unless kindly old St. Nicholas leaves a big old wad of cash on the statehouse grounds over the holidays instead of the usual reindeer doots these days, this next round may add incision to insult and injury.

“With all the cuts the last three years, we’re talking about cutting meat and bone out of what’s left,” Director Phil Anderson told me late last week.

PHIL ANDERSON. (WDFW)

In he and Fish & Wildlife Commission chair Miranda Wecker’s 2012 Supplemental Operating Budget Request, he told his counterpart at the Office of Financial Management, “We understand that every agency must do its part in crafting solutions to the current dilemma. However, we find ourselves out of any good options to suggest.”

Those previous cuts, he says, are now manifesting themselves in less supervision of the agency’s 1,440 full-time employees and declines in their productivity — even though some of their work helps prop up the state.

“The fish we produce and the fisheries we manage generate $2.7 billion of economic activity each year,” Anderson wrote to OFM.

Even as he proposes cuts, he also argues they would “directly lead to a loss of jobs” and “less protection of natural resources: fewer staff to protect fish life through Hydraulic Permits, fewer staff to leverage outside grants to recover salmon populations, no staff to detect invasive mussels in ballast water, and less leadership to ensure the department operates efficiently and effectively.”

While some lawmakers may want to instead shave a little more here, a little more there, Anderson says that, “We do not believe we can push any more work onto staff; we need to let go of work functions in this round of reductions.”

There was a preview of that line of thinking last fall when he said that eliminating the Puget Sound steelhead program was one way WDFW could get around the last big budget shortfall.

That and the idea to demobolize a platoon of game wardens were both dropped, and instead WDFW continued to “cut layers of management and support,” “use other funds,” and “reduce programs and service levels” to tighten its budget.

This go-around, because the General Fund does the heavy lifting for the state’s hatchery salmon program and many of those facilities are in Western Washington, that’s naturally where some of the biggest cutting is proposed.

(The fees we sportsmen pay for fishing and hunting licenses are largely protected in the State Wildlife Account, which roughly makes up a quarter of WDFW’s budget. The General Fund contributes another quarter, while local, federal and other moneys account for the other half.)

After talking with employees who may be affected by the latest round of potential cuts over the past few days, Anderson released his 144-page budget request yesterday afternoon to his staffers.

In it, under a 5 percent cut, WDFW would scale back Chinook smolt releases at Hoodsport by 800,000, chum by 12 million and pinks by half a million.

Of course, many of those young salmon will die along their journey to adulthood, but according to WDFW, 2,000 fewer kings would be harvested by sport, tribal and commercial anglers annually in Hood Canal while 60 percent fewer chums would be available for treaty and nontreaty nets.

The Nemah Hatchery south of Raymond and Samish Hatchery north of Mount Vernon would both be eliminated under the 10 percent option.

Killing the former would lead to a 43 percent reduction in king production in Willapa Bay (it sends out 3 million smolts annually) while eliminating the latter would tear a 20 percent hole in Puget Sound hatchery Chinook releases (it produces 4.5 million smolts).

Well-known South Coast salmon angler Tony Floor termed the potential Nemah cut “a dagger to the heart” as most of Willapa Bay’s returning Chinook are hatchery produced, including 32,476 of the 36,768 adults expected back this year.

“WDFW does a poor job, when it comes to identifying priority cuts, with little or no concern about cutting a sport fishery which generates incredible economic input to the Department and the state,” said the fishing affairs director for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

In an email sent out to all agency staffers (and posted here), Joe Stohr said closure of Nemah would deal a nearly half a million dollar a year blow to the local economy.

Samish kings contribute to various sport fisheries throughout the year, but primarily are caught in summer and fall in Skagit and Bellingham Bays and the Samish River by sportfishers and commercial netters.

The facility also supplies half a million Chinook eggs to the Lummi Tribe.

The trio of hatchery cuts would pare $1.25 million from the budget over the next two years.

In 2009, state-operated hatcheries released 32.5 million mass-marked Chinook smolts into Puget Sound and coastal river systems north of the Columbia. Tribes also raise and release salmon.

At first glance, one potential cut appears to be a “win” for sports, but closing commercial salmon and sturgeon seasons in Grays Harbor would also affect recreational fishing in Southwest Washington because a support biologist and a statistician who work on both groups’ fisheries would be laid off under the 10 percent reduction. That would save $382,000.

Thirty percent fewer clams and oysters would be seeded on Puget Sound beaches under a 5 percent cut that includes laying off one of two shellfish biologists, leading to a 20 percent drop in the harvest within two to three years, according to WDFW. In Hood Canal alone, recreational gatherers harvested 657,000 oysters in 2009. The move would cut over a quarter million dollars the next two years.

And senior regional managers, special assistants to Anderson himself, and upper level game wardens are at risk. Under a 5 percent reduction, five would be laid off while seven would under the harsher cut.

That would save nearly $1.8 million over two years — but also decrease the number of people working with the tribes and other governments on comanaged fisheries, WDFW says.

Overall, around 36 full-time staffers might be laid off and $6.9 million hacked from the two-year budget under th 10 percent reduction. Under the lower amount, the agency would have to do without $3.45 million and 18 fewer employees.

“We’re at the early stages,” says Stohr, pointing to two more upcoming budget forecasts, one before the special legislative session and one after 2012’s short session. “These were meant to be our best advice/recommendations on how to manage those level of cuts. It’s very possible the November forecast may require us to do even more. Then there’s the March forecast.”

Still, even as the department details how it would deal with fewer dollars, it’s also requesting more money.

With fish food rising in cost 20 percent since just January 2010, and tens of millions of hatchery salmon, steelhead, trout and kokanee mouths to feed, WDFW is asking for $180,000 more to make due through mid-2013.

It also wants to move out of its Region 5 office, located in a “high crime” area of Vancouver. According to WDFW, there have been 28 “incident reports” through the first nine months of 2011 alone; a staffer reports lots of gas thefts, syringes in the parking lot, at least one employee’s car being stolen when it was parked on the street, and homeless people camping and peeing on the grounds.

REGION 5 OFFICE. (WDFW)

Anderson et al is asking lawmakers for $360,000 to move the office to a building at the Port of Ridgefield in late 2012 and outfit it with phones and other equipment.

And there’s also a request for an additional $75,000 $150,000 for wolf population monitoring over the next two years ($75,000 per year). That would go towards hiring a field staffer to search for more packs in the Blues, Cascades and Northeast as well as pay for travel, supplies and other items. Funding would come from sales of endangered wildlife license plates.

(The importance of putting radio and GPS collars on wolves to follow their movements was underscored recently by ODFW’s decision to kill off two more members of its Imnaha Pack, which were tracked to the location of a 14th confirmed livestock wolfkill over the past year and a half.)

WDFW proposes creating new wolf and cougar license plates that, it says, would raise $150,000 a year starting in 2013.

I’ll admit, there are a lot of ifs, mights, woulds and coulds in this article, but this deserves close attention from Washington sportsmen.

Wolf Protesters Arrested Outside ODFW Office

Two wolf advocates were arrested by police late this morning after they allegedly refused to unshackle themselves from the front door at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s office in Salem.

The duo were part of a dozen or so protesters upset with the agency’s management of the species.

In a video posted to the Salem Statesman-Journal‘s Web site, a man and others can be heard shouting, “The blood, the blood is on your hands … ODFW, what do you say, how many wolves did you kill today?”

More chants can be heard in videos posted to the Keizer Times site.

ODFW recently announced that two members of the Imnaha Pack would be killed after it found “clear evidence of a wolf attack” on a cow calf in Wallowa County and said that it was likely the entire pack fed on it.

While ODFW has been less likely to confirm wolf kills than the Fed’s USDA Wildlife Services — and under fire from cattlemen for that — it brings the total number of livestock known to have been killed by wolves in the Imnaha Pack’s range to 14 over the past 18 months, according to ODFW.

The agency has previously authorized the killing of four wolves since 2009, including two tied to the deaths of 29 domestic livestock animals in the Keating Valley.

The incident in front of ODFW headquarters occurred between 10 and 11:40 a.m. The two people arrested were Stephanie Monet Taylor, 28, and Justin R.D. Kay, 22, both from Portland, according to OSP.

STEPHANIE MONET TAYLOR IS HANDCUFFED IN FRONT OF ODFW'S SALEM OFFICE AFTER ALLEGEDLY REFUSING TO UNSHACKLE HERSELF FROM THE FRONT DOOR. (OSP)

They were taken to the Marion County Jail and charged with second-degree criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental offices, according to OSP.

The Times identifies the protesters as members of the Portland Animal Defense League.

With the possibility of dinner hour spent in the jail, the organization put out a plea for supporters to call the hooskow and “politely request they receive adequate vegan meals.”

A teddy bear donation fund has also been set up should they have to spend the night.

Outdoor reporter Henry Miller of the Salem Statesman Journal has a brief article on the episode.

KAY. (MARION COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

TAYLOR. (MARION COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

Wolf News Update

My apologies for a lack of wolf news over the past month or so.

If you haven’t heard, it’s believed the Teanaway Pack in Central Washington tangled with a sheepherder’s dog, and ODFW is targeting two more members of the Wallowa County’s Imnaha Pack after a 14th confirmed livestock kill over the past year and a half.

WDFW will also hold another public comment meeting Oct. 6 on wolves early next month.

And now this morning, ODFW is reporting that the Walla Walla Pack had pups thjs season.

The agency says that the group in northern Umatilla County had at least two pups, according to trail camera footage.

If the pups survive to year end, the pack would be considered a breeding pair. While Imnaha had a pup, Wenaha may not have. The development puts Oregon closer to the threshold of four breeding pairs.

Deschutes, Pinks, Wolves, The Warden And More

Several stories over Labor Day Weekend caught my eye, including:

DESCHUTES RIVER EN FUEGO

I worried that our articles on Deschutes steelhead fishing this summer would be a bust, what with the weird water year on the Columbia compounded by early and midsummer spill operations at Pelton Dam, but freelance outdoor writer Bill Monroe reports in The Oregonian that the North-central Oregon river is “on fire in more ways than one”:

While crews struggled to contain a gnarly blaze blackening tens of thousands of acres and closing an entire section of the river upstream, the lower Deschutes lit up literally and figuratively the past few weeks. A monster run of summer steelhead has detoured into its cool water, finding haven beneath billowing clouds of smoke and the summer-heated Columbia River.

Anglers are finding willing biters throughout the lower river’s popular 12-mile stretch. One guide reported a whopping 90-strike day recently (fish, not lightning), with 54 summer steelhead landed. Most were released.

COLUMBIA PINK RUN WILL PROBABLY SET RECORD TODAY

“Stay tuned,” advised fisheries biologist Joe Hymer last week as an unusually large return of pink salmon moved up the Columbia, and today, in all likelihood, a new record run past Bonneville will be set.

Yeah, OK, so they’re not springers, summers or upriver brights, they’re not B-run steelhead, they’re not million-strong shad runs, they’re not oversize sturgeon, but for those of us who feel that humpies are the gods’ gift to Salmon Country and want to spread the humpy love near and far, this is big news.

Through yesterday, a total of 627 pinks had gone over the dam, and with the all-time high mark since counting began in 1938 just 10 fish away (637, set in 1991) and daily totals anywhere from 38 to 74 over Labor Day Weekend, it’s a cinch that today will The Day.

GAME WARDENING IN SEATTLE NOT JUST ABOUT CHECKING HOOKS, PATROLLING GREEN LAKE

A week or so ago, as I headed home from work, a gold F-150 with a star on the driver’s side door was stuck in a traffic jam. I took a closer look and the officer in the cab was Erik Olson, Seattle’s lone game warden.

Dunno where he was headed at that point, but the Spokane Spokesman-Review has a big old article on many of the things he does work on here in Bay City.

A 1998 Whitworth College graduate with a degree in political science, Olson is the department’s officer of the year, and has been with the agency seven years, six of them in Seattle. With a shaved-bald head, crisp uniform and fully stocked police belt, he can be an imposing figure, but is more likely to let first-time offenders off with a warning.

In a break from inspections Wednesday evening, he rounded up several people illegally fishing from the Spokane Street bridge into the Duwamish River below. He gave most a warning but issued a citation to Arthur Ferrera, who had hooked a salmon and stowed it in his car. But even Ferrera seemed relieved that the ticket was only $109, and the two parted on good terms.

“I want you out here fishing but I want you to follow the rules. Otherwise there won’t be any salmon left for anyone,” Olson said.

He didn’t study marine biology at Whitworth, but over the years has developed a wealth of knowledge about Northwest fish and shellfish in the marketplace.

Top-grade geoduck in a market case raises a red flag. The large clam native to Washington and British Columbia is much prized in Asia, where the top grade brings as much as $100 a pound. So if he sees geoduck in the Seattle markets that’s labeled as No. 1, going for a price Americans would agree to pay, he knows something’s fishy and demands to see the paperwork.

WDFW TO FOLLOW UP BLUE MOUNTAIN WOLF REPORTS

Eric Barker of the Lewiston Morning Tribune reports on growing numbers of wolf sightings in the northern Blue Mountains.

It’s not unexpected, of course, with three packs on the Oregon side of the range, but as more and more hunters move into the hills for deer and elk seasons, reports are sure to increase as well.

In fact, for an article in the October issue of Northwest Sportsman, our contributor Jeff Holmes spoke to WDFW wildlife biologist Paul Wik on deer and elk prospects in the Blues, and the conversation, of course, eventually led to wolves.

Wik told Holmes:

“Just this last week I got five pictures of wolves in the Dayton Unit from three different remote cameras,” said Wik in late August.  “They came from hunters out there scouting elk…I suspect we have a pack.  We have a lot of reports coming from the breaks of the Tucannon all the way to Blue Creek, but I can’t say yet until we confirm the wolves are breeding.

“We are going to spend some time this fall following up on [those reports] trying to confirm them.”

As for that other animal new to the Blues, Wik says:

Despite a rash of sightings of cows and calves, including by the author, Wik estimates the Blues’ moose population at only 10-20 animals.  “We’re nowhere near offering permits for moose, but they are here.”

OREGON RIVER WILD COHO SEASONS APPROVED

And finally, my apologies for the late post on this significant and noteworthy Oregon fishing opportunity that we put into the September issue of Northwest Sportsman. NOAA finally approved retention fisheries for wild coho on a number of coastal river systems.

ODFW’s press release from — ahem, Mr. Walgamott — last week states:

Oregon anglers will enjoy the largest wild coho fishery on Oregon’s coastal rivers in 15 years when the season opens on Sept. 15.

For the third year in a row, predicted coho salmon returns are high enough to open some rivers and lakes to the harvest of wild fish.  In 2011 these include the Nehalem, Tillamook Bay, Nestucca, Siletz, Yaquina, Alsea, Siuslaw, Umpqua, Coos, and Coquille rivers and Tenmile Lakes. Established wild coho fisheries will continue in Siltcoos and Tahkenitch lakes.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the seasons in June but, because coastal coho are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, fishery managers also needed approval from NOAA Fisheries, which came on Aug. 24.