Very Meaty 3-day WDFW Commission Meeting This Week
Spring bears, cougars, wolf-livestock conflicts, game management, e-bikes, conservation policy.
Top it off with a proposal to exclude salmon, steelhead, halibut, sturgeon and shellfish from Free Fishing Weekend license exemptions and you’ve got the makings of what could be a pretty substantive Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission session later this week.
The citizen panel that sets WDFW policies convenes starting Thursday at 8 a.m. for a three-day series of in-person meetings in Olympia that will also be carried on TVW and Zoom (see previous link), and Evergreen State hunters and anglers would be advised to keep tabs on things, as the commission has exhibited a tilt towards preservationism and hands-off predator management since effectively being reformed by Governor Jay Inslee with five appointments over the past year and a half.
Technically, there is only one pending decision on their agenda – acquiring 350 more acres to add to the 1,035-acre Violet Prairie Wildlife Area near Yelm, home to protected gophers and butterflies and which may one day host hunting opportunities.
I’d put a nickel down that that one will be approved on a 9-nil vote, but this meeting also sets up a series of important and likely to be less unanimous shows of hands down the line.
To that end, public comment will be taken on:
- WDFW’s proposal to increase the bag limit on cougars in the Blue Mountains to two a year to potentially reduce predation on the hard-bitten elk herd, which is not producing enough calves to rebuild itself from levels well below management objectives;
The rub is that the mountain lion hunting guidelines would stay the same for the three separate cat management units, meaning the overall harvest would still be capped at current levels (18 to 22 adult cougars; 19 were taken last season, with one of the units closing January 21 and the other two staying open through April), but the proposal is also beginning to see pushback from predator advocates who are trying to point to environmental conditions as the limiting factor for the elk herd instead of what scientific WDFW capture-collar data collected over the last year clearly shows, that predation is the major limiting factor in recovery, and cougars are the core of the problem. The proposal would go into effect this coming season if approved at the commission’s July 15 meeting.
- Limiting early June’s Free Fishing Weekend license exemptions to species that don’t require punch cards (think trout, walleye, bass, lingcod, rockfish) and aren’t clams, mussels or other bivalves, to primarily address “high levels of harvest of shellfish, which limits other opportunities throughout the year” but also “challenges regarding catch accounting” around Chinook, summer-runs, etc.;
Kirt Hughes, WDFW’s lead on the subject, states that over the past 19 years, FFW has lined up more than half the time with some of the year’s lowest tides, attracting huge turnouts – which in one case he cited saw the state’s entire intertidal clam share dug out of a Hood Canal beach in just two days – as well as parking, public safety and trespassing issues and regulation and overlimits violations. To be clear, the proposal would still allow clamming and fishing for punch card fish that weekend, but you would need the proper licensing to do so, making them no longer free activities.
- Updating the six-year Game Management Plan, which guides deer, elk, moose, bear, etc., etc., etc. hunting seasons across Washington for 2022-28, and the commission’s “touchpoints” to that process.
There have been calls for a new approach, including taking climate change into account, using more than science, i.e., public opinion and the role of predators in ecosystems, to determine hunting seasons, but also attempts to steer it back towards a more doable and manageable process.
And the commission and its subcommittees will hold discussions on:
- An amended draft conservation policy that was first brought up last September and sparked controversy for its tone and proposed new definition of “conservation”;
The 2021 draft, which stated WDFW and the commission’s foremost priority would be “the preservation of Washington’s native fish, shellfish and wildlife” [emphasis mine], drew pushback because it could have alienated groups like Pheasants Forever, which while focused on the imported Asian game bird also do important work that benefits the state’s prairie grouse populations, so the updated policy has added “naturalized” after native, likely a deft touch from Kim Thorburn, one of two commissioners tasked with coming up with a second draft (the other up and quit, but still offers commission advice via Fairview Fanny-printed memos).
- Adopt wolf-livestock conflict deterrence rules, thereby making them challengeable in state court and further straitjacketing agency wolf management;
During a May 13 meeting on the subject there were signs of an unexpected split among the block of commissioners who arguably would be expected to be in favor of it, as one who admitted that in a past life they sued the state all the time now appeared satisfied the current nonshackling but still tightly binding protocols seemed to be working, a judgment one wonders whether is being reconsidered perhaps after last week’s quick removals of two Togo wolves to get ahead of repeated calf depredations, showing WDFW will still act lethally.
- The legislatively mandated review of e-bike rules on WDFW as well as DNR lands, stakeholder talks and a literature review for a recommendation to lawmakers this fall;
This goes along with the Free Fishing Weekend in that it focuses on increased use of the outdoors seen in recent years and how to manage that.
- And “discuss making changes to the spring bear policy” in the aforementioned overarching state game plan;
This will be a veritable double-barreled blast of fun given the commission’s swerves across all lanes over the past half year in ultimately cancelling the 2022 edition of the limited-entry bruin hunt that could have helped mitigate said Blue Mountains elk predation issues, and several members’ feigned tiredness around the topic. Commissioner Don McIsaac essentially rescued the subject earlier this month, following up on a January promise to take a deeper dive on spring bear issues.
Of note, this will also be the first in-person Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting since Covid cut short a two-day confab in Kennewick in March 2020. Again, it will also be viewable online two ways, Zoom and TVW.
Between Thursday’s back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings of the Wildlife, Habitat, Fish and Big Tent Committees, Friday’s always-interesting full-commission discussions, open public input, Director Kelly Susewind’s report, agency staff and community awards (I know two organizations that will NOT be receiving any from WDFW for their intemperate attacks that in one case perhaps badly screwed up a poaching investigation) and more, plus Saturday morning’s bruins, game plan and two-hour executive session to really put a bow on it, if you’re a Northwest fish and wildlife commission junkie, this is your drug.
Gonna get me some of that good stuff!