Santa Claus came early for game wardens patrolling Washington’s rugged steelhead country.
Fish advocates and sporting goods companies this year donated $20,000-plus worth of one-man rafts, waders and boots, nearly 40 remote cameras and a drone to WDFW, extending state fish and wildlife officers’ “ability to survey a much wider geographical area, and many more miles of river, than might otherwise be possible.”
The news was announced on the Wild Steelhead Coalition’s blog and follows on a 2019 donation of trail cams, spotting scopes and a raft and oars.
That original gifting was focused on the Olympic Peninsula, but according to WSC, the new game and security cams will also be installed along Hood Canal, Chehalis Basin and North Sound waterways, as well as repurposed in the offseason to help deter wildlife and timber poaching.
Recent years have seen Washington steelhead runs take a turn for the worse, with unprecedented fishery restrictions the past two winters, highlighting the need to do what it takes to protect returning spawners.
“As state and tribal co-managers take a conservation minded approach to coastal steelhead seasons, enforcement efforts will be a key component,” stated Capt. Dan Chadwick, who heads up WDFW’s coastal Region 6. “It is necessary for Fish and Wildlife Police to increase enforcement presence, and utilize state-of-the-art equipment to ensure resource protection. Partnerships with local and statewide community organizations like Wild Steelhead Coalition, Trout Unlimited, and Wild Salmon Center are essential in maintaining safe and properly managed recreation opportunities for the residents and visitors to Washington State. We appreciate their generous donations of equipment which will allow our officers to monitor secluded areas with the use of cameras and to access these remote areas with rafts and personal wading gear.”
The vast majority of Washington anglers and hunters abide by the rules, but poachers have no regard for regulations or the status of fish and wildlife populations.
The new cameras were highlighted during a September news segment on Seattle’s KING 5. It focused on the northeast Olympic Peninsula’s Dungeness River, closed to fishing during summer to protect its Endangered Species Act-listed Chinook but attractive to scofflaws bearing long-handled nets and fishing rods.
The cameras, described as “little bigger than a deck of cards” by TV reporter Drew Mikkelsen, can livestream video and alert officers to poaching in progress, allowing officers to beat feet to the scene of potential crimes after receiving a heads up on their phones.
The units are well-camouflaged to help evade detection, but the point of the story was to make it very clear to poachers that wardens could be watching them in real time.
“With more steelheaders visiting the Olympic Peninsula each year, it’s critical that Washington Fish and Wildlife Enforcement have the necessary staff, resources, and tools to keep pace with the additional angling effort,” said Jonathan Stumpf of Wild Steelheaders United of Trout Unlimited. “Combine that added effort with the past two years of emergency fishing regulations for the winter steelhead fisheries put in place by WDFW fish program staff, and it becomes absolutely imperative that the fish and game wardens in the field are able to provide the necessary coverage to enforce regulations, educate anglers, and protect these last best runs of wild steelhead.”
Along with Wild Steelhead Coalition and Wild Steelheaders United, the Wild Salmon Center was also involved in asking for and acquiring equipment from companies such as Simms, Outcast Boats, and Sawyer Paddles & Oars.
“We are proud to be collaborating with conservation and industry partners to provide this new equipment to WDFW Law Enforcement,” said Greg Topf, WSC board chair. “Washington’s Game Wardens are the first line of defence for the shared, public resources all of us value and want to see safeguarded for the future. We have immense respect for their work and know how much these boats, cameras, and drone will expand their reach and ability to protect wild steelhead and salmon when these key coastal fish populations need it most. Our earlier donation meant more poachers were caught and more fish were protected. We can’t wait to see the impacts of this larger set of tools during the coming years.”