Director’s Bulletin | Nov/Dec 2023

As 2023 winds down, I can’t help but reflect on what a great year it has been for fish and wildlife conservation. The highlight for me was securing $24 million for biodiversity conservation for this current biennium, and which increases to $31 million in the next biennium. This is a massive down payment to enhance our ability to implement our State Wildlife Action Plan.

Species ranging from pinto abalone to burrowing owls will benefit from this new investment. A big focus for this new funding is providing new and updated resources for residents and local governments to conserve and improve the quality and quantity of habitat that benefits Species of Greatest Conservation Need and helps keep common species common. We welcome the resources that come with this assignment, and I’m excited to lean in to demonstrate that proactive conservation is a better model than reacting to Endangered Species Act-listings when it may be too late or necessitate more costly remediation.

I continue to be so impressed by the work ethic and talents of our dedicated workforce. Each and every day, our employees seek to enhance the lives of Washingtonians through their work to conserve fish and wildlife and promote sustainable outdoor opportunities. I am proud to lead this agency and work with professionals that care so much about the natural resources of our state.

Happy holidays, and I’m eager to collaborate with you in 2024!


Kelly Susewind, Director

12 outdoor holiday adventures; razor clam digging underway

Looking for something to do outdoors over the holidays? Shrug off the “bah, humbug” and take in the merriment that’ll have you “fa-la-la-ing” from the coast to Puget Sound and across the mountains into Eastern Washington! In line with the “12 Days of Christmas”, our blog post has 12 top choices to get outdoors fishing, hunting, wildlife watching, and enjoying Washington’s great outdoors.

Whether you’re #TeamClamShovel or #TeamClamGun, razor clam digging is a favorite winter activity for tens of thousands of Washingtonians, especially families. Digging season is well underway on the Washington Coast and often peaks from late-December through April. Find dig dates, locations, and more information on our webpage. Or watch our videos to get an overview or learn how to dig and clean and cook razor clams.

Sunrise and flowers at the Big Bend Wildlife Area near Grand Coulee.

Fish and Wildlife Commission seeks public input on updated draft Conservation Policy

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has opened a public comment period on its updated draft Conservation Policy through Jan. 12, 2024. The draft Conservation Policy directs the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to preserve and protect Washington’s fish and wildlife and their habitats by proactively addressing current and emerging conservation challenges.

You are invited to comment on the draft policy by submitting written comments via email at A link to the full policy is available on WDFW’s website. All members of the public are invited to share their diverse perspectives and participate in WDFW public feedback opportunities regardless of race, color, sex, age, national origin, language proficiency, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, status as a veteran, or basis of disability.

Bull moose at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

Game management plan development process and timeline

WDFW and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission are working together to draft a new Game Management Plan (GMP) to guide the Department’s management of hunted species in Washington. The goal is to finalize the new GMP by December 2024, with a public comment period taking place as part of the plan development process. Please visit our GMP development process and timeline webpage to stay up to date on the latest progress on developing the new plan, including the timing of future public comment periods.

Wild Ways: Why keeping Washington’s habitat connected matters

Animals rely on movement to survive, in pursuit of food, resources, and habitats. Our new 10-minute video produced in partnership with Conservation Northwest highlights the importance of habitat connectivity. Habitat connectivity is about ensuring animals have the freedom of movement they need to thrive, and WDFW is working hard with its partners to help improve those connections across Washington even as our human population grows.

Habitat connectivity is also important for public safety and economics. As detailed in our recent blog post, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation, the average cost of a deer-vehicle collision was estimated at $14,014 per collision in 2022. That adds up to more than $187 million per year in damages and other costs associated with deer-vehicle collisions on Washington highways. This figure likely exceeds $300 million when collisions with elk and other species are included. Wildlife crossing structures like the ones over and under Interstate 90 substantially reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on Washington highways, and efforts are underway to bring wildlife crossings to other corridors. Learn more on our habitat connectivity webpage.

WDFW staff sampling and releasing a wild steelhead on Washington Coast

Coastal steelhead managers working to conserve Washington’s State Fish

WDFW fishery managers have announced regulations for the state’s 2023–2024 coastal steelhead fishing season. Included are special rules allowing fishing from a floating device on two sections of the Hoh River during certain days of the week to help determine impacts to wild steelhead, as well as opportunities to fish from a floating device on some other Forks-area rivers.

Braving the winter weather to fish for steelhead is a tradition for many in Washington. The steelhead, a sea-going rainbow trout that can exceed 30 pounds, is the official State Fish and a highly regarded game fish. Learn more about WDFW’s coastal steelhead management in our blog post and on our website.

Swans at Sinlahekin Wildlife Area. Photo by Justin Haug.

2023 Watchable Wildlife Grant recipients promote wildlife viewing; swans have returned

WDFW recently accepted grant applications for projects that create, improve, increase, or promote opportunities for communities to view or experience wildlife. Ideal proposals addressed barriers for underrepresented communities or applied diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging outdoors in their projects. This year, WDFW provided $30,000 to support selected applicants. To learn more about the Watchable Wildlife Grant Program, the final grantees, and their upcoming projects, visit our blog post and webpage.

In other watchable wildlife news, trumpeter and tundra swans are returning to Skagit, Snohomish, Whatcom, and other western Washington counties. Large white flocks of swans and geese dazzle the eye and draw many curious onlookers and photographers. While enjoying this spectacle, it’s also important to remember how to be an ethical wildlife photographer and viewer. WDFW has re-established a hotline to report sick, injured, or dead swans in Washington as part of its ongoing effort to assess the impact of lead poisoning on the birds. People can call 360–466–0515 to report swans that have died or need human help. Please note that this is a new phone number for the hotline.

Transient orca whales in the San Juan Islands. Photo by Chase Gunnell.

WDFW seeks public input on status of Washington wildlife

WDFW is seeking information from the public about several species of Washington wildlife to inform the conservation status of the species and guide future recovery actions. Public feedback is invited until Feb. 19, 2024, to provide input on a draft Periodic Status Review for killer whale that includes a recommendation to keep the species on Washington’s endangered species list due to the status of the Southern Resident killer whale population. The Department is also collecting information on nearly two dozen other Washington species for which the agency will be developing new or updated status reports.

WDFW volunteers at a fishing event.

WDFW volunteers: Making a difference — one fish at a time

One Spokane-area resident has been cleaning thousands of fish per year at family fishing events for almost 30 years! He recently dropped off 81 pounds of fresh fish to a food bank in a community heavily impacted by this summer’s wildfires. Meet Jim Kujala and find out how he’s making a difference for his community, one fish at a time, in this blog post.

Elk with signs of chronic wasting disease in Wyoming. Photo WGFD

New incentives for chronic wasting disease testing

WDFW teamed up with the Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers for 2023 deer hunting seasons to encourage people to have their harvested deer and elk tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD). Hunters who stopped by a hunter check station in WDFW’s Region 1, or made other arrangements to have animals tested, had their names put into a random drawing for a free multi-season deer tag for 2024, paid for in part by BHA. People who salvage roadkill are also asked to have salvaged deer and elk tested for CWD.

WDFW Police Officer Murray checking salmon anglers on a coastal river.

Pacific County angler sentenced to 50 days in jail for salmon snagging violations

A Pacific County judge has sentenced a recreational fisherman to 50 days in jail, fined him $1,500, and imposed a five-year fishing license suspension for repeat salmon snagging violations. WDFW Police investigated the latest snagging case in August 2023. More information is available in our news release. The term “snagging” means an effort to take fish with a hook and line in a manner that the fish does not take the hook or hooks voluntarily in its mouth. Salmon snagging can artificially increase the success rate for anglers and decrease the number of salmon able to return to the hatchery and can shorten the length of a salmon season for honest anglers. This type of illegal activity takes opportunity away from those lawful anglers who follow the rules.

Female (left) and male (right) European green crabs caught on the Washington Coast.

Invasive European green crab report leads to rapid response

In late October, WDFW received a report from the Coastal Watershed Institute of a European green crab (EGC) at Salt Creek Recreation Area. The site is a popular Clallam County park on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Within days of the report, WDFW worked with the county to gain access to the area and trap for EGC, catching three additional crabs between Oct. 24 and 26. “This incident and the rapid response trapping that followed is a prime example of how important reports of suspected European green crabs are for managing this harmful invasive species,” said Justin Bush, WDFW’s Aquatic Invasive Species policy coordinator and Incident Commander for the state’s EGC emergency response.

The summer through fall field season for trapping and removing invasive EGC has wrapped up, though WDFW staff, shellfish growers and partners will continue trapping and monitoring some areas through the winter. Learn more in our Nov/Dec EGC Public Update or on our EGC online hub.

Mule deer in a snowy winter landscape.

Methow Wildlife Area units close temporarily to protect wintering mule deer

To protect the largest migratory mule deer herd in Washington, WDFW closed five units of the Methow Valley Wildlife Area to public access from Dec. 15, 2023 through March 31, 2024. Much of the Methow Wildlife Area land was acquired to conserve winter habitat for migrating deer. The temporary closure will protect crucial winter foraging habitat and support potential monitoring on the impacts of temporary recreation closures on winter deer use and movement.

The Methow Wildlife Area spans approximately 34,600 acres of WDFW-managed land separated into seven units. The five units listed for partial closure include Texas Creek, Golden Doe, Big Buck, Methow, and Rendezvous. Areas to be closed within those units will be clearly marked with closure signs and maps detailing the closure. Learn more in our news release.

Roosevelt elk on the Olympic Peninsula. Photo by Chase Gunnell.

Roosevelt elk: icons of the Pacific Northwest’s coastal rainforests

You may be familiar with the cuddly teddy bear named after Theodore Roosevelt, but the 26th president’s name was also passed along to the mighty elk of Western Washington. Roosevelt elk are one of two elk subspecies native to Washington and are generally found to the west of Interstate 5. They prefer temperate rainforests and thrive in places where sunlight hits the forest floor and helps to grow vegetation. Elk are important in Washington for food, recreation, culture, Indigenous tribes, and the economy. Learn more about WDFW’s elk conservation and management efforts, where to find Roosevelt elk, and how to avoid conflicts in our blog post.

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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.