Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Director’s Bulletin
At just a third of the way into my first legislative session with WDFW, I can tell you that it’s been busy. So far my time has been largely occupied meeting with the state’s legislative leaders, budget writers, and natural resource committee members in both chambers.
Each time I have the opportunity to present our plans and progress to state legislative committees, I am impressed with the professionalism that we, as a team, bring to the table. In recent months, I’ve highlighted our staff’s work on hatchery production, fish barrier removal, wolf management, and southern resident killer whale recovery efforts — just to name a few high-stakes conversations.
I’m meeting with legislators and other citizens both in the office, and in the field. In early February, for example, Region 4 Director Amy Windrope, Commission Chair Larry Carpenter and I met with Representatives Carolyn Eslick, Robert Sutherland, Debra Lekanoff, and Tom Dent, Senator Keith Wagoner, and Swinomish Senator Jeremy Wilbur to discuss elk management in the Skagit Valley (picture above). It’s my belief that meeting face-to-face with legislators and communities builds trust.
When we better understand issues from a local perspective, the department makes more informed decisions, and we are more responsive in our actions. When legislators and the public see that our decisions are informed by local conversations, they are more likely to honor us with the flexibility and resources we need to act decisively on behalf of Washington’s wildlife and citizens.
I have seen regular examples of how we are earning trust by going above and beyond to serve the public interest. Just in recent weeks, we have heard news of employees from our hatcheries and aquatic invasive species programs rescuing duck hunters whose boat capsized in freezing waters. We also saw one of our fish and wildlife police sergeants honored as Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for his extraordinary efforts to rescue the crew of a crashed helicopter. In addition, The Spokesman Review took the opportunity to highlight the work of the agency’s “Women in Wildlife,” via a series of articles focused on contributions of female wildlife managers, habitat and veterinary experts to achieve better conservation results for fish and wildlife in our state.
I am inspired by the work we are doing on behalf of fish, wildlife, habitat and people, and I’m committed to finding the paths forward to help our agency fulfill its mission.
Topics in this message include:
* Improving hatcheries
* Restoring fishers
* Monitoring wolf recovery
* Developing partnerships to protect lands, plants and animals
* Creating co-management infrastructure
* Encouraging volunteer support
* Learning from outdoorspeople
* Managing razor clams
* WDFW video streaming
Reconstruction efforts at two chinook salmon hatcheries continue to proceed on time and on budget. The $42 million investment at Tumwater Falls and Pioneer Park facilities will reduce juvenile salmon mortality, increase annual adult returns to some 3.8 million fish, and improve discharge water to comply with Clean Water Act standards. Renovation of the Tumwater Falls Facility began this month and is expected to be completed in October 2019.
Habitat loss and over-trapping meant that fishers, an elusive, housecat sized member of the weasel family, were eliminated in Washington in the mid-1900s. Now, with federal, state, local, tribal and non-profit partners, including notably, Conservation Northwest, the National Park Service, The Calgary Zoo, USFWS, and USFS, among many others, we have been able to demonstrate success in establishing reproducing populations of fishers in the Olympics and South Cascades, and we are working actively toward that goal in the North Cascades as well.
The third phase of the fisher reintroduction effort began late last year. Twenty-four fishers have been released in the North Cascades so far, with a goal of releasing 80 animals by 2020. We anticipate that fishers will form a self-sustaining, naturally reproducing population in Washington, in combination with populations released into the Olympic Peninsula (phase 1) and South Cascades (phase 2), as the project continues to progress.
Monitoring wolf recovery
Wolf biologists are currently busy placing remote cameras, looking for tracks, and flying by helicopter to count wolf pack members. It’s all part of the annual wolf survey. This year biologists are also including the Methow Valley and areas south of I-90 — based on recent sightings. Since wolves returned to the state ten years ago, Washington wolf populations have typically increased by 30 percent each year. Results of current efforts to monitor their recovery will be available in March.
Developing partnerships to protect lands, plants and animals
The agency is actively seeking opportunities to improve elk habitat around the state. Feedback from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation indicates that the department will secure funding for all six of its proposed projects. If so, habitat improvements will include wildfire restoration work in the Wenas and L.T. Murray areas outside of Yakima, forest restoration along Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Naches and Yakima, support for native vegetation in the Blue Mountains, and winter forage improvements with 2,000 native shrubs and trees planted near Mount St. Helens.
Creating co-management infrastructure
Tribal Policy Advisor Jim Woods is in the process of developing a communications protocol to improve consultation and coordination with co-managers and tribal governments. The Department participates, shares and coordinates with tribes often, and effective processes are key to meeting the consultation and coordination provisions of the 1989 Centennial Accord and subsequent Millennium Agreement.
Encouraging volunteer support for outdoor recreation
Dedicated agency volunteers provided valuable services in 2018. Hunter education instructors donated about 28,000 volunteer hours, hosting 708 classes and certifying 9,670 students in pursuit of safe, responsible hunting practices. In addition, 104 individuals became master hunters in 2018. The agency’s master hunters donate about 15,000 hours of their time each year on wildlife reintroduction projects and provide support for resolution of human-wildlife conflict, habitat restoration, and outreach efforts.
The agency’s R3 (recruitment, retention, reactivation) efforts continued strong over 2018 as the Hunter Education Division worked with several non-profits to hold six turkey clinics, a mentored hunt oriented specifically to women (among other mentored hunts), plus six upland bird clinics. In addition, the Department and 65 youth participated in a Moxee, Washington-based National Hunting and Fishing Day celebration in September.
Learning from outdoorspeople, sharing knowledge
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is also participating in six major hunting and fishing oriented sports shows, the boat show, community fishing, shellfish gathering, and hunting events, as well as wildlife viewing and outdoor recreation events across the state.
Managing razor clams to benefit coastal communities and Washington’s clam diggers
We are progressing through the 2018–19 razor clam season, and so far we’ve been able to provide for some 123,000 recreational razor clam digging trips with more than 40 days to get out and enjoy Washington’s beaches and coastal communities. That’s pumped an estimated $11.7 million into local economies — and secured 1.5 million clams for Washington’s tables. If you want to experience the razor clam bounty in person, plan a trip to Ocean Shores on March 16 and 17, or Long Beach on April 20, where razor clam festivals are just around the corner.
WDFW video streaming
WDFW is piloting new technology to enhance the public’s access to information. Additional Commission meetings, plus several North of Falcon presentations taking place March 19 and April 3 as noted at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/, will be broadcast live via the WDFW website, www.wdfw.wa.gov. The improvement will allow members of the public to view meetings or presentations in real time, or video after-the-fact, in order to learn more about topics they’re interested in.