Directors Bulletin | May/June 2022
Now that ‘June-uary’ is coming to a close and summer has returned to Washington, I hope that you’ll take advantage of the numerous opportunities to get outside and enjoy all that our state has to offer. Take a look at the ‘Weekender’ for a great summary of activities currently underway.
When you explore all the fish and wildlife opportunities that can be pursued, one doesn’t have to look far to realize the importance of habitat in supporting biodiversity. To have sustainable, abundant populations, each species needs a combination of environmental factors including clean water, abundant food, shelter, and space. Further, these factors need to be arranged on the landscape so that animals can utilize those resources without unnecessary loss of energy or risk from exposure to a variety of mortality sources (predation, vehicles, etc.).
Washington is the smallest Western state with the second highest human population. With nine terrestrial ecoregions, the incredible biodiversity we enjoy here in the Evergreen State is supported by ample habitat which cannot be taken for granted.
I’ll bet when you close your eyes and think about habitat in Washington, images that likely come to mind are state-managed wildlife areas and recreation lands, national parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges, national forests, or tribal reservations. However, in Washington, private land comprises about 50 percent of our land base. While other Western states’ wildlife might be largely supported by large tracts of public land, here in Washington, the contribution by private landowners to conservation is critical.
Large private industrial timberlands often are in a mosaic of federal and state lands that provide key ingredients to support species including deer, elk, fishers, and songbirds. Agricultural lands enrolled in federal Farm Bill programs are critical for sage grouse, burrowing owls, and mule deer winter range. Small forest landowners provide critical green space corridors and riparian habitat for everything from amphibians to bobcats. Collectively, the preservation of open space and private landowners’ commitments to coexisting with wildlife and fish is critical to support the outdoor lifestyle we enjoy.
And let’s not overlook what can be done in our own backyards. It doesn’t matter if you live in the downtown of a city or in a suburban development, you can grow habitat that benefits wildlife. Replacing thirsty lawns with native vegetation, installing bat boxes, and establishing pollinator gardens are great choices that we can make to support native animals and enrich our lives by providing watchable wildlife opportunities out the kitchen window. For more information, check out our “Habitat at Home” program here.
Enjoy reading the rest of the Bulletin and I hope you have a great summer enjoying Washington’s fish and wildlife — and the habitat that supports it.
Kelly Susewind, Director
Fish and Wildlife Commission recognizes community partners
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission recently recognized volunteers who donate their time and resources to help further conservation efforts. Award recipients include Volunteer of the Year Pete Haase of Skagit Marine Resource Committee, Organization of the Year Washington Sea Grant’s Crab Team, Educator of the Year Megan Friesen, Ph.D. of St. Martin’s University in Lacey, and Landowner of the Year Don and Janet Howard of Columbia County in southeast Washington. More information on each of these dedicated volunteers is available in our news release. WDFW enlists volunteers to help with habitat projects, provide hunter education, and assist with species monitoring. People interested in volunteering with WDFW can register and explore volunteer opportunities on WDFW’s Volunteer Opportunities webpage.
Boaters reminded to Be Whale Wise to protect vulnerable Southern Resident orcas
With boating season kicking off and new scientific reports identifying several Southern Resident Killer Whales in poor condition, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has issued an emergency order requiring commercial whale-watching vessels to keep at least one-half nautical mile away from endangered Southern Resident orcas this summer, and all boaters are urged to Be Whale Wise and do the same. The effects of vessel noise are especially prominent for female orcas, which often cease foraging when boats approach within 400 yards. More information is also available in this blog post. For more details about steps recreational boaters can take to keep the whales — and themselves — safe, visit BeWhaleWise.org.
Summer salmon fishing preview, exceptional spring Chinook and shad season on the Columbia River
Summer salmon fishing got off to a hot start in Puget Sound and on the Washington Coast from Neah Bay to Ilwaco. For a rundown on salmon fishing opportunities — including where and when to go, and what to catch — check out this recent WDFW blog post. WDFW also recently released a new blog post and short video with tips to safely and responsibly release salmon that will not be retained so that they have the best chance for survival. WDFW is also celebrating a partnership with the Tengu Fishing Club of Seattle on a new research paper examining trends in the size of resident Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. On the lower Columbia River, fishery managers added additional fishing days in June due to Chinook returns coming in above expectations. Shad fishing has also been excellent, with more than 4.2 million fish returning to the Columbia. Shad fishing tips and gear suggestions are available in this June blog post.
New Pollinator Garden unveiled at Washington State Capitol
A new pollinator garden to support thriving butterflies, bees and birds was unveiled this month at the Washington State Capitol Campus in Olympia. The garden was created in partnership between the Office of Governor Jay Inslee, Washington Department of Enterprise Services, WDFW, Washington Department of Agriculture, Woodland Park Zoo, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The garden features pollinator-attracting plants to provide food, water and shelter to pollinators, and has signage that informs visitors about the critical role of pollinators and how to attract and protect them. The garden will provide a peaceful and quiet spot for legislators, state employees, and visitors at the otherwise bustling Capitol Campus. Learn more in this June news release. In recent years, scientists have documented a decline in pollinators due to habitat loss, invasive species, pesticides, and climate change. Tips to “bee a friend” to pollinators are also available in this WDFW blog post.
Avian influenza: common questions
A racoon kit (baby) found at a park in Franklin County tested positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus H5N1 126.96.36.199 strain. It was one of four kits found; two were dead and two euthanized due to showing obvious signs of being sick. A gull from the same park also tested positive for HPAI. While this development may be concerning to some as it signals a spread of the HPAI virus from birds to mammals in our state, it is not completely unexpected and not something to panic about. WDFW staff prepared a blog post with information on HPAI, transmission to mammals, and what can be done to prevent the spread. If you observe sick or dead birds, or other wildlife, please report it using WDFW’s online reporting tool. If sick or dead poultry are observed, please report to the Washington Department of Agriculture.
WDFW updates age for fully virtual hunter education
With the school year ending and summer vacations nearing, WDFW urges prospective hunters to complete hunter education now to make sure they can participate in fall hunting opportunities. In response to COVID-19 and associated public health measures, WDFW implemented an all-online course during the past two years. On June 1, WDFW increased the minimum age to take that course from 9 to eighteen. Students under eighteen can complete the online course, but they must attend a field skills evaluation before they can become certified. Traditional classroom courses are also available. There is no minimum age to take a course with an instructor-led component. Hunters can find hunter education course information and valuable short video resources to reinforce safety practices for new hunters on WDFW’s webpage. Experienced hunters who have never taken a hunter education class may also find them valuable.
Emergency measures deployed to control invasive European green crabs
As summer beings, deployment of emergency measures to control invasive European green crabs on the Washington Coast and at sites within the Salish Sea is well underway, including the implementation of an Incident Command System (ICS) to facilitate statewide coordination between various agencies, tribes, and partners. WDFW has been working with tribes, other agencies, as well as shellfish growers and private tidelands owners to establish a coordinated response, hire and deploy personnel, and purchase and distribute equipment to areas with known green crab infestations. Three boats, nearly a dozen new employees, and more than 700 specialized traps have been deployed, with more on the way. More than 64,000 European green crabs have been removed from Washington waters in 2022 as of June 11. Crab identification guides and an online reporting form are available at wdfw.wa.gov/greencrab. More detailed information and regular updates are also posted on this webpage.
Asian & Pacific Islander American Heritage Month spotlight
At the WDFW we believe that science and conservation are best advanced by the leadership and contributions of people with widely diverse backgrounds, experiences, and identities, who reflect the communities they serve. In celebration of Asian & Pacific Islander American Heritage Month we interviewed Mark Yuasa, one of our communications managers, about how his Japanese heritage influences his connection to the outdoors and dedication to his community. Mark is an avid outdoorsman and was the fishing and hunting writer for 25 years at the Seattle Times, which took him on hundreds of outdoor excursions across the Pacific Northwest to write more than 7,000 stories or blog posts over his 33+ year career. Mark lives in the greater Seattle area with his wife who is a first-generation Chinese American and their two sons.
Learning from the Landscape with STEAM students at Sagebrush Flats
This spring, students from Waterville and Bridgeport elementary schools in north-central Washington explored science, engineering, math, and art on the Bridgeport Unit of Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area with our biologists and local farmers as part of the North Central Educational Service District’s STEAM in the Field collaborative with the Methow Beaver Project, Douglas County Public Utility District (PUD), Foster Creek Conservation District and WDFW. Taught by subject-matter experts, this program is unique in that it focuses student learning on solving complex, real-world natural resources issues. This type of outdoor, experiential learning can provide students with the skills and experiences to solve today’s, and tomorrow’s complex challenges. Read more about this inspiring collaboration in our May blog post: Learning from the Landscape.
Memorable razor clam digging season and tips for gathering shellfish
The coastal razor clam season wrapped up on May 7, and the future looks bright with one of the strongest clam populations seen in the past 25 years. Clam diggers took nearly half-a-million trips during 120 calendar days of digging in the 2021–2022 season. Read more in our blog post. “Thanks to healthy ocean conditions providing very abundant populations of razor clams, the 2021–22 season was one for the record books with nearly 8.4 million clams harvested taken in 484,324 diggers trips,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. To learn more about razor clam abundance, population densities at various beaches, and how seasons are set, visit the WDFW razor clam webpage. In other clamming news, WDFW staff recently highlighted shellfish gathering opportunities around the state in a four-part blog series, covering clam digging basics and licenses, butter and horse clams, where to go for cockles and eastern softshell clams, and the iconic and occasionally elusive geoduck.