Director’s Bulletin | March/April 2022

The international theme for this year’s Earth Day was “Invest in Our Planet.” As our planet faces increasing threats from climate change, biodiversity loss, and habitat conversion, it’s more important than ever to preserve, protect, and perpetuate Washington’s fish and wildlife. At the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) our conservation efforts make a significant investment in the Earth and our natural heritage every day.

Thankfully we’re not alone in this work. The State Legislature made significant investments in the WDFW in the 2022 legislative session. From funding salmon recovery actions to combating invasive species to increasing capacity to operate and maintain WDFW-managed lands, we are grateful that the Legislature made appropriations to support our efforts. We view appropriations as assignments to do work, and funding these investments demonstrates the Legislature’s commitment to our mission and their collective confidence in our ability to deliver results.

WDFW’s mission is significantly broad, and we’ve got a long way to go to fully implement the agency’s mandate. For example, in 2015, the agency adopted the State Wildlife Action Plan which identifies 268 species of greatest conservation need. We estimate that we have 5 percent of the funding needed to fully implement the plan. We’re just one-twentieth of the way there! And if we aren’t successful now with efforts to keep common species common, those species could become imperiled, increasing the cost and effort to turn that situation around. The old adage that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ comes to mind when considering the financial wisdom of conserving biodiversity today, versus waiting until tomorrow.

Did you know that we have had the same Enforcement Officer staffing level since 1994, when the Departments of Fisheries and Wildlife merged? In the 1990s, the Enforcement Program had one officer per 30,000 residents; today there is only one officer for every 52,000 residents. With the increasing residential population, we’re seeing an increase in the variety and types of impacts to fish, wildlife, and habitat on state-managed lands and waterways. We are simply not able to keep pace with the enforcement presence that is needed to ensure the public’s safety and protect the fish and wildlife resources.

The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office released their State of the Salmon report where they estimate that the broader salmon restoration community has 22 percent of the funding needed to recover salmon in Washington. While many smaller projects have been implemented across the state, the salmon recovery community still does not have the resources and authorities needed to tackle some of the larger, more complex challenges that ultimately hinder recovery efforts.

This gap, in turn, limits another part of our mandate which is to provide sustainable opportunity. The constraining salmon stocks limit our ability to access healthier stocks or hatchery fish, and thus it is imperative that we continue to make meaningful progress on recovery and work diligently to avoid slipping further behind in our efforts to achieve our salmon recovery goals. There is no ‘easy button’ to return to the good ol’ days of salmon fishing; and if we’re not careful and provide a back-stop to the concerning trends, today’s constrained fisheries will be reflected on as the good ol’ days for future anglers.

I pledge to continue to seek the resources we need to fully implement WDFW’s mission. Our dedicated staff, the fish and wildlife resources, and Washington’s public deserve nothing less.

We had fun celebrating Earth Day this year — showcasing staff around the state on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, and I encourage you to view those posts. For our staff, please check out our WDFW Earth Day intranet page to get a glimpse at the work your colleagues are doing to conserve fish and wildlife.

I hope you have a great spring and that you find some time to get out to enjoy all that Washington has to offer.

Sincerely,
Kelly Susewind
WDFW Director

A young angler with a nice Puget Sound Chinook salmon. Photo by Mark Reidesel.

Washington salmon seasons tentatively set for 2022–23

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fishery managers announced earlier this month that anglers in Washington can expect similar salmon fishing this year compared to 2021, with some improved opportunities in the ocean driven by strong expected coho returns. Information about these tentatively adopted fisheries is available on our Season summaries and agreed fisheries webpage. Negotiations between WDFW and co-managers this year were guided in part by a new Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan that has been submitted to federal regulators and is expected to provide long-term fishery guidance if approved. Season recommendations now move forward for approval by the National Marine Fisheries Service and final rulemaking, including additional opportunity for public comment and consideration of those comments.

A mule deer buck seen in Douglas County, north-central Washington.

Fish and Wildlife Commission updates, land acquisitions, and hunting seasons

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission made decisions on spring black bear rule-making, commercial shellfish rules, and elected Barbara Baker as Chair during its March 17–19 meeting. The Commission also unanimously approved three land transactions to enhance conservation and public recreation opportunities, including acquiring 1,035 acres of prairie-oak woodland and wetland habitat in Thurston County, 1,513 acres in Douglas County to protect and conserve shrubsteppe, and 94 acres in Pacific County to provide recreational access to more than 300 acres of tidelands. During its April 7–9 meeting, the Commission made decisions on 2022–2023 hunting seasons and approved acquiring a 94-acre property along the Chehalis River. The Commission approved most of the Department’s proposed recommendations for hunting seasons including landowner hunting permits, a variety of big game general seasons and special permits, migratory waterfowl seasons and regulations, hunting equipment rule changes, and importation requirements for wildlife harvested from out of state due to chronic wasting disease. The 2022–23 Big Game Hunting Regulations pamphlet is now available online.

Five wolves in Eastern Washington. Photo by Sarah Bassing, University of Washington.

Annual Washington wolf population report shows growth in 2021

Washington’s wolf population continued to grow in 2021 for the 13th consecutive year. The Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2021 Annual Report was released this month by WDFW and shows a 16 percent increase in wolf population growth from the previous count in 2020. As of Dec. 31, 2021, WDFW, partner agencies, and tribes counted 206 wolves in 33 packs in Washington. Nineteen of these were successful breeding pairs. This is up from 178 wolves in 29 packs and 16 breeding pairs in the 2020 count. Because this is a minimum count, the actual number of wolves in our state is higher. Since the first WDFW wolf survey in 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown by an average of 25 percent per year. The full report is available online. The Fish and Wildlife Commission also heard updates on wolf-livestock deterrence rule making during its April meeting, though no action was taken at this time.

Sophia and Neil with two nice trout caught at Martha Lake in Mill Creek on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Trout season ramps up after lowland lakes open, WDFW Derby underway

Ideal weather conditions and good fishing greeted trout anglers across Washington on April 23 for opening day of the lowland lakes fishing season. Creel reports are available online and anglers can expect decent fishing for weeks to come. “For the most part the weather cooperated around the state and there seemed to be a lot of happy anglers,” said Steve Caromile, WDFW’s Inland Fish Program Manager. “Some lakes were still in the low 40’s, and others we’re in the middle of turnover, neither of which is great for fishing,” noted Caromile. “Catch rates should be improving over the next few weeks.” WDFW’s 2022 Trout Derby also began on opening day. Anglers can catch tagged trout in lakes across Washington, each of which comes with a prize. There are more than 800 prizes available in 2022, with a total value of over $37,000. The derby runs through Oct. 31, 2022. Visit WDFWderby.com to see lakes containing tagged fish or to redeem a tag for prizes. Over 16 million trout and kokanee were planted across Washington in the past year; check WDFW’s website to see which lakes have been stocked in recent weeks or to find a stocked lake near you.

A happy young hunter with their first turkey. Photo by Sally McKerney.

New license year, spring turkey hunting, and Special Hunt applications

Washington hunters and anglers are reminded that a new license year began April 1! Hunting, fishing, and shellfish licenses can be purchased online, by calling 360–902–2464, or from hundreds of authorized dealers around the state. More information and details on license packages are available at myWDFW.com. The spring wild turkey season began April 15 and runs through May 31 statewide. More information on turkey season is in the 2022 Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Regulation Pamphlet. WDFW’s Hunter Education and Marketing teams partnered with the First Hunt Foundation and National Wild Turkey Foundation to offer a First Turkey Program, including “Turkey Camp” near Kettle Falls. First Turkey Certificates and information on the Washington Turkey Slam are available online. Through May 19, hunters may also submit special hunt applications for 2022 deer, elk, mountain goat, moose, bighorn sheep, and fall turkey permits. Special hunt permits offer a chance to participate in a unique hunt while directly supporting conservation and management in Washington.

A black bear checks out bird feeders. Photo by Aaron McEwen.

Bears are emerging from dens: tips to reduce and prevent conflicts

Black bears have begun to emerge from their winter dens hungry and in search of calories. During this time of increased activity, WDFW is asking for your help to secure un-natural food sources to reduce bear encounters — especially around your home or while on the trail. Read our recent blog for tips to prevent conflicts. When black bears emerge, natural foods may be scarce, and they often look for the easiest source of food, which may include garbage, bird feeders, and fruit trees. We know people can be tempted to feed bears or tolerate them feeding on grasses and plants near dwellings, but you should never attempt to provide food for black bears or allow them to be comfortable around people.

Gathering shellfish can be fun for the kids and a good time to also explore the many creatures that inhabit the tidelands. Photo by Paul Kim.

Saltwater opportunities aplenty: shellfish gathering, halibut openers, jetty fishing, and more

WDFW Fish program and Enforcement staff have been busy this spring with saltwater opportunities aplenty now open. This is the time of the year when shellfish fanatics like to “shellibrate” a growing list of places to go in Puget Sound and Hood Canal, and a blog post with shellfish tips is available online. Halibut fishing opened April 7 in North Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca — nearly a month earlier than recent years’ openers. “An earlier opening in the Puget Sound region builds on the input we’ve been hearing from stakeholders in recent years,” said Heather Hall, WDFW intergovernmental fisheries policy manager. “The earlier start and consecutive open days per week provide anglers with more opportunity to access the quota for that area.” WDFW reminds anglers that barbless hooks are required in Marine Areas 5 through 13, including for halibut. Don’t have a boat or want to save on gas? Jetty fishing on the Washington coast is a great way to bring home delicious bottomfish. We offer suggestions for a safe and fun outing fishing from the rocks in this blog. Visit the WDFW Weekender Report for more saltwater opportunities near you.

WDFW plans prescribed fires, dependent on conditions, on Eastern Washington wildlife areas

Annual prescribed fires on WDFW Wildlife Areas in Eastern Washington started in April. Prescribed fires, an important forest management practice, reduce the risk of future wildfires, decrease the severity of wildfires when they do happen, and improve habitat for wildlife. WDFW has two prescribed fire teams — including five full-time foresters and 18 burn team members — that conduct prescribed fires every spring and fall on public lands managed by WDFW statewide. With funding from the state’s 2021–2023 Capital Budget and grants, they will treat over a thousand acres of Eastern Washington wildlife areas with prescribed fire by the end of the 2022 spring season. More information is available in this news release. WDFW staff and partners also recently installed a new shooting range at the Swakane Wildlife Area, and conducted clean-ups at the Wenas Wildlife Area.

Next steps for the 10-Year Recreation Strategy for WDFW-managed Lands, public input sought on e-bikes

After a 49-day public comment period this past winter, we are now working to incorporate public feedback on a draft 10-Year Recreation Strategy for WDFW-managed Lands. More information is available in this update. We appreciate the individuals and organizations who took the time to provide comments on the draft strategy. Your input is valued and important! The purpose of the 10-Year Recreation Strategy for WDFW-managed Lands is to improve visitor access and nature-based recreation experiences, while increasing protections for natural, cultural, and tribal resources on WDFW-managed lands. Also related to our wildlife areas and other state public lands, WDFW and the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are seeking public input on electric-assist bicycling, or e-biking, on WDFW and DNR-managed lands as part of a process directed by Senate Bill 5452, a bill that passed the state Legislature in 2021.

Merwin Dam on the Lewis River in southwest Washington. Merwin Dam is the lowermost of the three dams blocking fish passage on the North Fork Lewis River. Photo by Thomas O’Keefe.

New hope for salmon and steelhead passage on the Lewis River

On March 15, PacifiCorp took a significant step toward restoring access to critical salmon habitat in Washington's Lewis River. After several years of dodging its responsibilities to Tribes, and salmon and steelhead, PacifiCorp finally signaled its intent to build fish passage at Lewis River dams by the end of 2028. A coalition of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakama Nation, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), along with American Rivers, Columbia Riverkeeper, and Trout Unlimited cautiously welcome PacifiCorp’s new course of action and view it as a critical step to recovering Endangered Species Act-listed fish in the Lewis River, an important tributary to the lower Columbia River. PacifiCorp operates three dams on the North Fork Lewis River. For more than 80 years, these dams have blocked fish passage to over 100 miles of quality salmon and steelhead habitat. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of the Tribes, WDFW, and non-governmental organizations, fish passage is back on the table.

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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.