WDFW Commission Sets 2021-23 Hunting Regs, Updates Hatchery And P …

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the 2021-23 hunting rules package and a new Anadromous Salmon and Steelhead Hatchery Policy during a four-hour conference call this past Friday.

The latter passed on an 8-0 vote, with members calling it a “significant update and improvement to the previous policy” it supersedes, while also stressing “wild fish are going to be taken care of.”

A CHINOOK SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

Prime sponsor Don McIsaac said it could result in more hatchery fish in some areas but also less in others.

It more closely aligns state and tribal production efforts and brings reviews back “in-house” instead of sent out to the Hatchery Scientific Review Group.

But it was also recognized as “not a panacea” to fish-run woes and starving orcas and there are still questions about how the policy’s “structured decision-making process” will work in practice instead of theory.

All that said, it had Puget Sound Anglers state board president Ron Garner declaring “What a great day.”

As for those hunting regs, probably the most notable item is that the commission maintained status quo with the Northeast Washington late whitetail rifle hunt, following a long look at antler-point restrictions and even a later start date for most years.

EASTERN WASHINGTON WHITETAIL DEER. (CHAD ZOLLER)

That means the next three years will see Nov. 6-19, Nov. 5-19 and Nov. 11-19 seasons for any whitetail buck. But noting that the issue has come up time and again over his time on the citizen panel, Chair Larry Carpenter vowed to take a deep dive into APR in the future.

While antlerless deer opportunities across Washington’s eastern tier and Northeast antlerless moose permits were reduced, one more bull permit was added in a unit near the Canadian border. Mountain goat permits hunters will also be allowed to take two in certain eastern Olympic Mountains conflict zones as the state and feds continue trying to eradicate the species from the peninsula.

The commission also voted to open the 4-O Wildlife Area in Southeast Washington to general season deer and elk hunters. Before it was permit only for those groups, though open for turkeys and other game.

Speaking of upland birds, one huge change is that grouse season has been moved back to Sept. 15 from Sept. 1 to try and boost flock numbers. According to WDFW, mother grouse make up a strong portion of the early harvest, affecting survival of the young-of-the-year, in turn leading to a longterm population decline.

SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON DUSKY GROUSE. (MD JOHNSON)

That means no more long Labor Day weekend treks to the grouse woods for now, but the commission did extend the end of season through Jan. 15. One hunter had requested a spring “hooter” season, like in Alaska for male blues, as a trade, but that didn’t get traction.

There were also some hunting proposals that didn’t make the final cut. Following public comment in late March, WDFW staffers pulled several ideas centered around equipment, specifically: allowing hunters to use a dog to track down a wounded deer or elk; allowing a red dot or 1x scope for muzzleloaders; and allowing rimfire rifles for fall turkey hunting, among others.

And then commissioners had a long discussion about the wording of the three-year fall bear proposal, with one motion made to make it a one-year, 2021, rule, but it was eventually passed as WDFW staffers originally proposed.

The commission also denied a petition to reopen part of the upper Hoh River to fishing out of a boat, following on agency staff recommendation.

The stretch from Morgan’s Crossing up to the Olympic National Park boundary was closed to angling from a fishing device in 2016 as part of a suite of major changes to winter steelheading on the West End, but petitioners Ravae and Aaron O’Leary of Anglers Obsession said it was “unreasonable that the closure would be for the entire year.” Commissioners expressed sympathy for impacts on rural businesses that this winter’s restrictions have had and want to talk more about it a June meeting.

And the members updated rules for prospecting in streams, as required by a bill passed by the Legislature, including requiring that miners’ plans show compliance with federal Clean Water Act standards.

SAUK RIVER TRIBUTARY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)