Director’s Bulletin | Nov/Dec 2022

Nov/Dec 2022

Season’s Greetings from WDFW!

This has been a big year for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). As I look back, I couldn’t be prouder to work with such a dedicated team of professionals striving to conserve fish and wildlife and provide sustainable opportunities each and every day.

Over this past year, we made significant progress in key areas: we adopted a 10-year Recreation Strategy for WDFW-managed Lands; we submitted a 10-year Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Strategy to NOAA Fisheries; and we completed the Hunting and Angling Recreation, Recruitment, and Reactivation (R3) Plan, among other initiatives.

Further, we advanced key conservation policies such as establishing a Net Ecological Gain standard on public works projects and increasing vessel approach distances for viewing Southern Resident Killer Whales. We’re eager to roll up our sleeves in 2023 to continue the conversation in the legislature.

As we look to close out 2022, our eyes gaze east to the other Washington. Hopefully, Congress will pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in the next couple weeks, which will bring sorely needed funding to implement our State Wildlife Action Plan. This once-in-a-generation piece of legislation will bring more than $20 million each year to help us and partners conserve 268 species of greatest conservation need.

I hope you have a great holiday season and a Happy New Year,

Kelly Susewind, Director

Bighorn sheep in the snow at Chelan Butte Wildlife Area, one of 268 species identified in Washington’s State Wildlife Action Plan as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

A new report released by WDFW recommends that the Legislature increase the vessel buffer for recreational boaters, commercial whale watching operators, and guided paddle tours around Southern Resident killer whales to 1,000 yards to further support orca recovery. Prompted by Senate Bill 5577, the report considers the effectiveness of rules for recreational boaters and commercial whale watching operators aimed at protecting Southern Residents from the effects of vessel noise and disturbance. Just this past summer, the Department designated 12 Southern Residents as vulnerable after researchers demonstrated they were in the lowest body condition state — the bottom 20 percent for the whale’s age and sex — which is associated with a two-to-three times higher rate of mortality.

WDFW biologists responded to numerous reports of sick or dead waterfowl in Skagit, Whatcom, Snohomish and Island counties in November and December. We’ve retrieved more than 1,000 deceased birds of several species from this area, with testing of samples confirming Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). We continue to ask members of the public who find sick or dead birds to report them immediately using this online form and not touch them. More detailed information about “bird flu” is available on this WDFW webpage and in this blog post. DO NOT attempt to move sick birds to a veterinarian or rehabilitation center, as this can spread the disease. HPAI is very contagious among birds but the risk to people is low. For hunters, waterfowl and other birds that appear healthy or are actively flying likely present minimal risk but should be cooked thoroughly. Dogs can become sick with avian influenza, and care should be taken to avoid contact between pets and either sick birds or carcasses of diseased birds.

This month we released our finalized Coastal Steelhead Proviso Implementation Plan. Consistent with existing Department policies, the plan intends to advance steelhead fishery management in the river systems of Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, and the coastal Olympic Peninsula. The plan includes guidelines and information about recreational fishery regulations, monitoring and evaluation, hatchery operations, habitat restoration, and economic vitality at coastwide and river-specific scales. We also announced 2022–2023 coastal fishing seasons in late November. The season is structured similarly to last year’s fishery, particularly in the Hoh River and Willapa Bay tributaries. Some increased opportunity, relative to last season, includes an extension of late season coho fishing in select waters in the Chehalis River and increased opportunity to fish from a boat in the Sol Duc River. The season also includes added protections in the Bogachiel River.

With hunting seasons underway for waterfowl and upland birds we’ve been getting questions about sharing WDFW-managed lands. WDFW Wildlife Areas and Water Access Areas are state public lands and are open to the public during posted hours. Hunters, birders, and other outdoor recreationists are reminded to be respectful of each other, to safely and responsibly share public lands and waters, and to appreciate that each cares deeply about birds, wildlife, and their habitat. Respectful communication and dialogue go a long way toward creating positive connections between outdoors enthusiasts. Many visitors may be unaware of hunting seasons or regulations, and a polite conversation can often resolve issues before they become a dispute. Reminder to all that intentionally obstructing the lawful taking of fish, shellfish, or wildlife — including waterfowl and game birds — is a crime. Learn more in our blog post. Looking for tips on ethical hunting? We recently blogged about that, too.

Our Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) unit continues working with Native American tribes, shellfish growers, other state and federal agencies, and partner organizations to control European green crabs (EGC). Learn more in our November update. We also recently published a one-pager for a summary of green crab management in 2022, as well as our first EGC Quarterly Progress Report. Incident Command System (ICS) objectives include reduction of EGC populations to below levels harmful to environmental, economic, or cultural resources. As of Nov. 30, more than 269,500 EGC have been removed from Washington waters, most from the coast and Lummi Bay. No new areas of significant infestation have emerged this year. EGC populations are responding to control in the Salish Sea Branch, including Lummi Sea Pond, but not yet in Coastal Branch management areas. State funds have been disbursed to tribes, agencies, and local communities to support their green crab control efforts. Ongoing emergency measures and coordination through the ICS will be needed in 2023, with increased efforts towards the coast.

Between Auburn and Kent is a protected parcel of land known as Horseneck Farm. King County bought the plot over 40 years ago to preserve some of the area’s last remaining farmland with the intention of providing the community accessible land and farm space. WDFW supported the project by providing technical assistance for a fish screen for the farm’s water needs. An important component to Horseneck Farm is a well-functioning irrigation system. Pumping water to garden plots from the Green River hydrates the land so farmers can harvest during hot summer months. The new fish screen protects the Green River’s fish and other aquatic species while helping keep irrigation lines clean. Learn more in our blog post.

WDFW biologists and fisheries technicians are working with co-manager tribes, fishing guides, and anglers to restore chum salmon in two iconic rivers: the Skagit and Skykomish. On the Skagit, we’re collaborating with the Skagit Indian Tribe, Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to use tangle nets to acquire wild chum for broodstock, which are then spawned at WDFW’s Marblemount Hatchery. On the Skykomish, since 2018 we’ve partnered with local fishing guides, recreational anglers, and the Tulalip Tribes to catch chum broodstock, which are then transferred to our Wallace River Hatchery for spawning. While more monitoring and scientific research are needed to determine exactly how effective the hatchery broodstock programs are for chum recovery, these efforts have already been successful as a model of collaboration between local guides, anglers, tribes, and WDFW.

With support from the Washington State Academy of Sciences and recommendations from interviews and roundtables with more than thirty experts in government, industry, civic and environmental organizations, and tribes, WDFW has released a new report to the Legislature on a Net Ecological Gain standard and existing No Net Loss standards. The full report is available online. In our work to preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife, and ecosystems, we see firsthand the need for bold polices that promote the rapid restoration of watersheds, wetlands, and other natural environments if we are to have a chance to recover threatened species. And, equally important, to prevent further declines and state or federal endangered species listings. Consulted experts largely agree that adopting Net Ecological Gain standards has merit and is an important step forward in advancing environmental protection in Washington. However, they must build from the foundation of existing environmental policy in the state.

We know Washington anglers look forward to salmon 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 tribes. Looking back at 2022, there were salmon returns that surpassed expectations and provided fishing opportunities this past spring, summer, and fall. However, 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. WDFW will host a public meeting to unveil the 2023 salmon forecasts in early March and you can view upcoming meeting dates soon on our North of Falcon webpage.

The year is coming to a close, but wildlife watching activities are still bustling. This month you can participate in the nation’s longest-running community science project with Audubon’s 123rd Annual Christmas Bird Count from Dec. 14th-Jan. 5th. Looking to fly solo? There’s always birding to be had at any of the routes along the Great Washington State Birding Trail. One of the best things about our jobs is seeing the outdoors through the eyes of children. We did this with sixth and seventh graders from West Valley School District City School in Spokane Valley recently when WDFW habitat biologist Melissa and conservation education curriculum coordinator Autumn took students to the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County to learn about shrubsteppe ecology, what’s needed to protect it, and what it means to be public landowners. Join us on their field trip in this video.

Director’s Bulletins are also archived on the WDFW Director’s webpage.

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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.