Director’s Bulletin | Sept/Oct 2022
News and updates from WDFW Director Kelly Susewind
“Conservation is not merely a thing to be enshrined in outdoor museums; it is a way of living on land,” -Aldo Leopold.
This is the essence of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Habitat Program: we help people live and work on the land in fish, wildlife, and habitat friendly ways.
The Department’s Habitat Program employees are known, in part, for applying their ecological expertise to help people avoid, minimize, and compensate for impacts to fish and wildlife and their habitats. From siting a large energy project in a manner that minimizes impacts to sage grouse and mule deer to working with a landowner to replace a culvert to improve fish passage, we are eager to partner early with project proponents and landowners to secure the best conservation outcomes.
The customer service skills of our Habitat Program employees are key — they need to understand the project proponent’s objectives and be able to translate fish and wildlife technical information and regulations into effective and realistic approaches.
The value of this technical expertise to Washington’s communities is cemented by references to consult with WDFW in the state’s Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A), Shoreline Management Act (RCW 90.58), and Forest Practices Act (RCW 76.09) and the associated rules for each of these chapters. These references are significant, as they collectively define the management of a majority of the public and private land (and therefore habitat) in Washington and call for landowners and project proponents to seek fish and wildlife technical input and incorporate it into their plans and permits.
WDFW has few direct authorities to conserve fish and wildlife habitat outside the lands we manage. One authority that I wanted to spotlight is Hydraulic Project Approvals (HPA) — a permit the Department issues that ensures that construction projects and other work in or near state fresh and marine waters is performed in a manner that protects fish and their aquatic habitat (RCW 77.55).
The Habitat Program’s Protection Division administers the HPA authority to protect fish and their aquatic habitat from potential damage caused by construction projects and other work in or near state marine and fresh waters. Regional Habitat Program employees issue 2,500 permits (HPAs) annually that contain provisions to avoid, minimize, or compensate for impacts caused by such work. Habitat Program employees often begin working with project proponents before they apply for a permit and help design fish-friendly projects or time the construction work window to avoid impacting fish at critical life stages.
So, what is the process? A project proponent can apply for an HPA online using the Aquatic Protection Permitting System (APPS). A Habitat biologist is assigned and reviews the application and issues a permit within 45 days. Habitat biologists typically meet with project proponents on site to understand the scope of the project, assess habitat and species present, and discuss the construction activities and timing of the work. These site visits are invaluable to maintain public trust and ensure proposed projects maintain or improve existing habitat statewide.
Our goal is to work with project proponents on successful compliance with the permit conditions. In 2019, WDFW received the authority, and in 2021, received funding to invest in HPA compliance inspectors, who follow up with the project proponent to ensure that the construction activities align with the permit.
During construction, the compliance inspectors may provide permittees with technical assistance to ensure correct installation of best management practices to proactively prevent indirect and direct fish life impact. Post construction, the inspectors verify the project or structure was completed as authorized in the HPA and that any required compensatory mitigation was completed to ensure no net loss.
WDFW wants to help people comply with the law. When technical assistance can’t be provided to proactively prevent a hydraulic violation, the compliance inspector begins with the lowest civil administrative enforcement action necessary to achieve compliance. Our compliance inspectors help connect landowners or contractors to the existing technical resources to remediate any impact.
Preventing or correcting issues early in the project helps avoid damage to fish and their habitats and reduces construction costs as it is often more difficult to remove or redo a non-compliant structure. Together, this work by our Habitat Program supports sustainable development while safeguarding Washington’s natural heritage and our fish, wildlife, and habitat.
If you’re interested in learning more about our HPA authority or how to apply for a permit, please visit Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) | Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
Kelly Susewind, Director
Hunting seasons underway; check the hunting prospects or watch our video to learn more
Hunting is a vital way of life for many people in Washington and contributes to important conservation efforts. Whether you want to harvest delicious wild food, spend time in nature with friends and family, seek adventure in the mountains, marsh or shrubsteppe, or all of the above, we offer tips in our new Hunt Washington blog post as well as a video on Big Game Hunting from WDFW’s Sales & Marketing program. Looking for a place to go hunting? WDFW’s Hunt Planner webmap is an excellent resource with layers showing game management units, wildfires, private land hunting opportunities, water access, hunting season dates, and more. To help hunters have a successful season, WDFW has also released its annual Hunting Prospects, which provide guidance and hunting information for each district. If fall fishing is more your thing, we offer tips in this Fish Washington blog post.
WDFW expands testing for chronic wasting disease
With deer and elk hunting seasons underway, WDFW is expanding its chronic wasting disease (CWD) surveillance program in eastern Washington’s Region 1. While CWD has not been found in Washington to date it was detected in Idaho in 2021. WDFW staff are taking samples from harvested deer and elk at voluntary hunter check stations in northeast and southeast Washington. To slow the spread of the disease, there are also new rules regarding what parts of harvested deer, elk, and moose can be brought into Washington by those who hunt out of state. You can find that information on WDFW’s CWD webpage as well as a list of hunter check stations and other ways to have your harvested animal sampled for CWD. We are also seeking applicants for a new Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Advisory Council focused on advising WDFW’s director on implementation of the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Plan.
Now recruiting Fish and Wildlife Police officers; Karelian bear dog retires
WDFW has been working hard over the past year to increase commissioned law enforcement personnel to adequately enforce the agency’s rules and regulations and to proactively manage Washington state lands and waterways. In short, having more Fish & Wildlife police officers deployed increases patrols and leads to less crime and supports natural resource protection as well as opportunity and safety for the public. This summer the program developed new recruiting tools including updated videos to share messages that attract new officers while also showcasing the fortitude necessary to join this exceptional career. This month we also celebrated a special retirement from the WDFW Enforcement program: after 14 years of service Karelian bear dog Colter will be hanging up his K9 badge. Over the years he helped catch dozens of poachers by finding illegally killed game, furthered wildlife research and monitoring projects, and attended countless public events teaching people how to better coexist with wildlife in the North Puget Sound Region and beyond. I would like to commend K9 Colter for distinguished public service to the state of Washington and to WDFW Police. His retirement is well earned.
King of the Reach fishing derby questions answered
The annual King of the Reach fishing derby on the Hanford Reach portion of the Columbia River ran Oct. 21–23 this year. WDFW has partnered with the Grant County Public Utility District and the Coastal Conservation Association to put on this event every October since 2012. King of the Reach differs from most tournaments in that angler participation helps ensure the future of the Hanford Reach population of natural origin Upriver Bright fall Chinook salmon. The goal of this derby is to collect broodstock — mature fish used for breeding future generations of fish. These salmon are spawned at WDFW’s Priest Rapids Hatchery and play an important part in integrating the natural and hatchery populations of fall Chinook in the Hanford Reach. More info on the King of the Reach derby and how it helps salmon conservation is in a recent blog post.
Prescribed burns support forest health and habitat; WDFW continues Shared Stewardship
With rains finally falling, WDFW is coordinating with the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on prescribed burns in central and eastern Washington to support forest resilience and healthy fish and wildlife habitat. Actively managing healthy forests is a major part of the department’s goal to ensure Washington’s natural resources continue to support wildlife populations and local communities for generations to come. Since 2019, WDFW has also been involved in Shared Stewardship initiatives with DNR, the U.S. Forest Service and others. A Shared Stewardship Memorandum of Understanding allows these partners to work collaboratively across boundaries toward mutual goals and effectively respond to the increasing suite of challenges facing communities, landscapes, and natural resources. Director Susewind has appointed Mike Kuttel, Jr. as WDFW’s Shared Stewardship Coordinator.
Expanding fish and wildlife education and outreach
WDFW is proud to announce the publication of our latest 3rd grade lesson bundle, “State of Salmon”. Throughout the series, students engage with the phenomenon of Pacific salmon population decline as they discover what makes healthy habitats for salmon. The culminating project has students working as engineers on a team to develop a tool that supports salmon recovery. The unit is aligned with state standards in science, social studies, and environment and sustainability. Check it out today! Did you get a chance to share your favorite Watchable Wildlife moment with us on social media? Were you able to explore ways your yard or balcony can be made into wildlife Habitat at Home? Did you see the post where house spiders move a half a meter a second? If you missed any of these fun opportunities, don’t sweat — there’s more coming on WDFW social media with our #WildlifeWednesdays and #HabitatAtHome Thursdays series of posts. After a two-year hiatus, our team is back with more education and outreach capacity this summer. We were able to serve constituents in programs at Millersylvania State Park, the Washington State Fair, Return of the Salmon, Orca Recovery Day, ZooBoo, Hoot and Howl, and more. We hope to see you at the next fish and wildlife event.
Coastal steelhead research released and public input underway for 2023 season
This fall, WDFW is hosting a series of virtual town halls to gather feedback from the public on coastal steelhead management ahead of the 2022–2023 season. These virtual town halls will inform pre-season efforts to design fisheries that meet management objectives and provide necessary protection for declining wild steelhead populations. More than 150+ people joined us for the first virtual town hall this October to learn more about trends in abundance, preliminary catch estimates, and monitoring efforts. Future virtual town hall meetings will occur in November ahead of season announcements later this year. For more information, visit our coastal steelhead management web page. Our pre-season planning process also follows efforts this year to better understand coastal steelhead migration and survival. The innovative research project could have important implications for how managers design future coastal steelhead fisheries and prioritize habitat restoration projects. Visit our blog post to learn more about the project.
New legislative report shows public opinion split regarding e-bike use on WDFW and DNR-managed lands
The Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Natural Resources (DNR) are sharing their findings related to electric bicycle (e-bike) use on WDFW and DNR-managed lands in a new report to the Legislature this fall. The report culminates a 9-month process that included tribal roundtable meetings, virtual town hall meetings attended by more than 250 people, an online public survey garnering more than 7,000 responses, and a literature and policy review. The report indicates that public opinions about e-bikes are both strong and divergent, with about the same percentage of respondents to the public survey indicating that e-bikes should not be allowed on any nonmotorized trails as participants who indicated that e-bikes should be allowed on all nonmotorized trails. More information is available in this blog post.
International partners work together for tufted puffin research
Did you know that tufted puffins have nesting colonies here in Washington state? These iconic seabirds nest across the North Pacific Rim from California through British Columbia and Alaska to Japan. Roughly 80 percent of tufted puffin nesting colonies are in North America, mostly on Alaskan islands. WDFW has worked collaboratively with researchers from Environment and Climate Change Canada, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and University of Puget Sound to examine tufted puffin population trends throughout their North American range, and we recently published a research article in Bird Conservation International summarizing our findings. Learn more in this blog post. Interested in seeing these amazing birds for yourself? Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge near Port Angeles, San Juan Island National Historical Park, and Cape Flattery on the Makah Reservation near Neah Bay are among the best locations to view puffins in Washington.
Salmon, seals, and new technology at Capitol Lake
Every September, visitors to Capitol Lake in Olympia have a chance to see Chinook salmon returning to the Deschutes River. This year, research nonprofit Oceans Initiative — under a contract with WDFW — continued to test a unique device designed to startle seals away and prevent predation on salmon gathering at the base of the fish ladder leading into the lake. Learn more about this latest deployment in our blog post. Oceans Initiative has been testing this technology in areas around Puget Sound for the past several years, with promising results. WDFW continues to research the impacts of seals and sea lions on salmon throughout Puget Sound through efforts such as tagging, diet studies, and pinniped surveys.