Director’s Bulletin | Jan/Feb 2024

Since time immemorial, the tribes of the Pacific Northwest have stewarded the fish and wildlife resources in what is now known as Washington state. In the mid-19th century, many tribes signed treaties with the U.S. government, ceding hundreds of thousands of acres of land to allow for the peaceful settlement of the territory. In the treaties, the tribes reserved the right of fishing at usual and accustomed areas — a right central to their culture and traditions, to their very identity as Indians.

Unfortunately, since signing the treaties there were years of terrible atrocities committed against the tribes by the government, including not honoring the treaties — the Supreme Law of the Land under the U.S. Constitution — as tribes pursued their off-reservation fishing rights.

The predecessor agencies of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Washington Department of Fisheries and the Washington Department of Game, fought, persecuted, and acted abhorrently toward the treaty tribes as they exercised their off-reservation treaty fishing right — an embarrassing and shameful chapter of my agency’s otherwise proud and rich legacy.

In 1974, a landmark ruling by Judge Boldt in the U.S. v Washington case changed that trajectory in an impactful and positive way. The decision established tribal governments as co-managers of Washington fisheries and ensured that 50% of the harvestable surplus is available to treaty tribes. The years that followed continued to be difficult, but ultimately, the co-managers came together to create a new process to establish sustainable fishing seasons.

Today, the tribes are leaders in salmon recovery and fisheries science. The partnerships and strong alliances that have emerged from the profound, landmark Boldt decision are reinforced every day as we work toward our shared goal of recovering salmon and ensuring healthy and robust salmon populations are available for sustainable harvest for all generations to come.

March kicks off the North of Falcon salmon season setting process, with our first hybrid meeting in Olympia on March 1. Stay tuned for North of Falcon updates at this webpage. More information on salmon and steelhead co-management is also available on this webpage.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission produced a great documentary summarizing the Boldt Decision. We will have an internal hybrid all-staff viewing and panel discussion on March 29, 2024, in Olympia. More information about that internal viewing opportunity will be sent to you soon.


Kelly Susewind, Director

Director Susewind speaking on a panel with tribal leaders as part of NWIFC’s U.S. vs. WA (also known as the Boldt Decision) 50th anniversary celebration in early February.

Updates on WDFW’s 25-year Strategic Plan

This winter, we passed the three-year mark for our 25-year Strategic Plan, which outlines a forward-thinking vision for the future of fish and wildlife conservation through 2045. To provide an update on how this plan is being implemented, we recently published a blog post highlighting major milestones to proactively address conservation challenges, engage communities through recreation and stewardship, deliver science that informs Washington’s most pressing fish and wildlife questions, and model operational and environmental excellence.

Photos by Jillian Garrett (scoping animal while hunting), Gavin Ullom (kid’s coho), Susan Johnson (clam digging), and WDFW (wildlife watching).

National survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation

In January, we released participation and spending data about fishing, hunting, and wildlife associated recreation in Washington in 2022. The data, collected during a national survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, documented the number of hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers, and related outdoor recreationists in Washington and collected demographic information about participants. The survey also quantified consumer spending related to these activities and how much time participants spent hunting, fishing, watching wildlife, or participating in other wildlife-related recreation activities in 2022. Survey results showed that approximately 290,000 people went hunting, 1.2 million people went fishing, and 6.2 million people watched wildlife in Washington in 2022. Refer to our news release for more information.

Photo by Chase Gunnell.

Annual North of Falcon salmon season-setting process gets underway

We know Washington anglers look forward to salmon fishing seasons each year, with many planning trips well in advance. WDFW is committed to providing sustainable fishing opportunities balanced with salmon conservation needs, and we are continually working to improve fisheries management in the interest of salmon, recreational anglers, the commercial fleet, and treaty tribes. WDFW hosted a virtual meeting on Jan. 30 to discuss a range of topics related to recreational salmon fisheries and provide valuable insights to the challenges of managing mixed-stock salmon fisheries in areas where certain stocks are Endangered Species Act listed. On March 1, the annual salmon season-setting and co-management process known as North of Falcon will formally kickoff with a hybrid meeting to unveil the 2024–25 salmon forecasts. Learn more in our news release and on our North of Falcon webpage. The road to salmon recovery is an upstream battle. WDFW remains dedicated toward rebuilding the state’s wild salmon runs and restoring the vital habitat and clean water that sustains them, while also managing sustainable and science-based fishing seasons.

Photo by WDFW.

Public comment period underway on proposed wolf status change

WDFW is seeking public input on a rule making proposal to reclassify Washington’s gray wolves from state endangered to sensitive and is asking for public input on the topic. Based on 14 years of data and trends on Washington’s wolf population as well as a population model developed at the University of Washington (UW), WDFW staff recommend reclassifying wolves from state endangered to sensitive. State endangered is defined as “seriously threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the state”, while sensitive is defined as “vulnerable or declining and likely to become endangered or threatened in a significant portion of its range within the state without cooperative management or removal of threats.” More information and how to provide input through May 6 is available in our news release. Earlier in January, WDFW responded to Gov. Inslee granting an appeal to a rule-making petition on wolf-livestock regulations. And in February, we issued a statement on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s gray wolf federal status review announcement. We also recently published a blog post encouraging people to take extra precautions with dogs in wolf country.

Photo by WDFW.

Coastal commercial crab season underway, 2022–23 season valued at more than $64 million

Washington’s coastal Dungeness crab commercial season opened with a reduced pot limit on Feb. 1. The coastal Dungeness crab industry is one of the most important commercial fisheries in the state, particularly for coastal communities and economies. According to a recent WDFW report, the value of state crab landings during the 2022–23 season was $64.6 million. This is the second-highest total value recorded in the past 10 years, surpassed only by the previous season high of $88.2 million in 2021–22. More information is available in our recent news release and on our commercial fishing webpages. WDFW also worked to help replace buoy tags that belonged to WDFW-registered gear and were lost in a recent fire at the Port of Ilwaco.

Photo by WDFW.

Hells Canyon bighorn sheep test positive for lethal bacteria

We are working with our partners at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to monitor and address a disease outbreak following a pneumonia detection in the Northern Hells Canyon bighorn sheep population in December 2023. This is one of several pneumonia outbreaks in bighorn sheep that have occurred over the past century in the Hells Canyon area. The disease is confirmed in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon and potentially affected bighorn sheep populations are located along the Snake River and tributaries in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. To report dead or sick bighorn sheep in Washington, use WDFW’s reporting tool. Refer to our news release for more information. In other bighorn news, in the Yakima Canyon and Cleman Mountain areas of Central Washington, we recently captured animals and fitted them with GPS collars to learn more about how groups of sheep interact with each other and their habitat. More information is available in this news release.

Angler Leah Kiyohara carefully holds a wild winter steelhead in the water. Photo by Joe Princen.

North Puget Sound and Coastal steelhead fisheries balance conservation and opportunity

The steelhead, a sea-going rainbow trout that can exceed 30 pounds, is the Washington State Fish and an icon of the Pacific Northwest that has been a source of important cultural and economic benefits throughout the region’s history. Across Western Washington, we’ve been working to balance steelhead fishing with conservation efforts. Catch and release fishing for wild steelhead opened Feb. 3 on the Skagit and Sauk rivers under a popular and carefully regulated fishery that is part of a 10-year management plan approved in 2023. On the Olympic Peninsula, for the first time in three years, steelhead anglers are allowed to fish from a floating device on the lower and middle sections of the Hoh River on certain days of the week. As detailed in a recent blog post, these special rules are part of a one-season study to determine the impacts of fishing from a floating device on wild steelhead to better inform future rulemaking and conservation actions.. Learn more about steelhead management and conservation on our webpage.

Photo by WDFW.

Washington Shrubsteppe Restoration and Resiliency Initiative strategy

Alongside the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC), in January we released our draft Washington Shrubsteppe Restoration and Resiliency Initiative (WSRRI) Long-term Strategy. Following historic wildfires in 2020 that burned more than 600,000 acres of shrubsteppe habitat in our state, the Washington Legislature directed WDFW, SCC, and DNR to take immediate action to address the impacts of the fires and provided funding to restore shrubsteppe habitat, support at-risk shrubsteppe wildlife species, and support working lands that are vital for maintaining these habitats and species. The Legislature also directed the agencies to collaboratively produce a long-term strategy for proactively addressing threats facing this landscape. More information about the draft report is available on our website. Following robust public review, we anticipate a final draft will be available later this spring.

Female (left) and male (right) European green crabs removed from Washington waters. Photo: WDFW

Cases of mistaken crab identity underscore request to report and release suspected European green crabs

In February, our Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) unit received a report from a concerned member of the public who claimed to have collected nine invasive European green crabs from a Hood Canal beach. Upon reviewing their photos, we quickly determined these were in fact helmet crabs, a common native species unlawful to kill or retain. While we appreciate their concern about invasive species, the reporting party was reminded to photograph and report suspected European green crabs using the form at, leaving the crab in question where it was found. Unfortunately, misidentified crab reports are common in the Puget Sound Region, where invasive European green crabs remain rare in most areas. Incidents like this are one reason why WDFW has not yet opened recreational harvest for European green crabs in Washington. Other reasons include restrictions on access to private tidelands and shellfish beds, and concerns about bycatch of protected fish and shellfish, especially if traps are exposed during low tide. Read more in our blog post.

Brant goose standing in tidelands. Photo by Alan Schmierer.

Bird and wildlife enthusiasts: catch up on our latest blog posts

In January, we published a series of blogs sharing the stories of our recent Wildlife Program efforts, including:

  • Brant geese: a favorite among both birders and hunters in Western Washington. Visitors from the high arctic, these sea geese spend the winter in coastal and Puget Sound estuaries, and are renowned for their unique vocalizations, striking plumage, and as table fare due to their diet of eelgrass and other aquatic vegetation.
  • A moose monitoring effort in WDFW’s Eastern Region in northeast Washington involves capturing and collaring cow moose via helicopter. The GPS radio collars will allow biologists to assess annual survival rates of the species in the study area and provide information about how moose use the landscape. Additionally, Department staff will collect samples from the captured moose to estimate pregnancy rates and to evaluate them for disease and parasites, like ticks. Twenty-eight moose were captured. Additional capture efforts will take place next winter.
  • A partnership with nonprofit Home Range Wildlife Research to capture lynx in western Okanogan County. These valuable study animals are providing important information that will help WDFW and land management agencies understand how lynx are using the fire-impacted landscape across a gradient of fire scars of different ages. Results will inform forest and fire management strategies to help maintain adequate lynx habitat in the face of growing wildlife risk.



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.