Director’s Bulletin | November/December 2020
Seasons Greetings! I hope this winter is keeping you and yours healthy and happy, and that you are still getting out to enjoy Washington’s outdoors.
2020 has been a year like no other. Here at WDFW, we’re trying to focus on our mission to preserve, protect, and perpetuate the state’s fish, wildlife and ecosystems and provide sustainable opportunities despite the destabilizing influence of a global pandemic. We’ve appreciated your support as we collectively navigate this hopefully once-in-a-century crisis.
This year we set a long-term course with our 25-Year Strategic Plan. At a time that has been driven by short term adjustments, I see it as an accomplishment that we are still prioritizing the need to address environmental and social challenges that require long-term thinking and urgent commitment.
Despite the monumental task of what we need to accomplish for species and habitats in Washington, I remain incredibly hopeful for 2021. The Governor’s budget proposals demonstrate significant support for our mission, and there is an ever-greater likelihood of putting COVID-19 in the rearview mirror and emerging with staff and partners who are itching to redouble efforts in support of outdoor recreation and nature’s resiliency.
I have spent much of 2020 in front of a virtual backdrop talking to people on screens around the state. Like you, I am looking forward to the day when we can meet again together, shake hands, and identify solutions for wildlife and people.
For all of you who have given me reason for optimism even in 2020 through your friendship, partnership, and engagement, I want to simply wish you the very best of holiday seasons.
Much to like in Governor’s budget proposals
While there is still a long legislative path ahead, overall, I’m grateful for how WDFW fared in the Governor’s 2021–23 operating and capital budget proposals. While the state’s revenue forecasts remain in deficit, the shortfall is much less than what was projected last June.
At this early stage, the agency has received significant support in the Governor’s proposed budget for hatcheries and wildlife areas, species recovery, aquatic invasive species prevention, marine mammal management work, HPA civil compliance support, wildlife rehabilitation, and maintenance level funding that keeps our agency functioning, among many other areas. This is a solid beginning as we enter the 105-day legislative session that kicks off January 11, 2021.
More information about our budget requests and the Governor’s budget proposal can be found here.
Aquatic invasive check stations stop unwanted stowaways
WDFW’s Aquatic invasive species (AIS) unit in 2020 detected more boats than ever fouled with non-native organisms. WDFW is the lead agency for statewide management of invasive species. The aquatic invasive species program runs watercraft check stations in Spokane and Pasco, looking for organisms attached to boats like Zebra and Quagga mussels, aquatic plants, or those found in standing water like fish and amphibian diseases. If these species invade ecosystems beyond their natural historic range, it can negatively impact water quality, power and irrigation systems, native wildlife, and recreational opportunities.
Currently, the Columbia River Basin is the last major watershed in the United States that is not infested by zebra and quagga mussels. With still a bit to go in 2020, WDFW has inspected more than 32,000 watercraft at two stations already this year. Almost one-third of the inspected boats came from waters in other states that are known to be infested with aquatic species that pose a threat to Washington waterways. Staff checks revealed 25 watercraft carrying invasive mussels. In addition, WDFW staff decontaminated 632 watercraft of invasive aquatic plants and 168 that had standing water in some part of the boat; 112 of which were last on waters known to be infested with aquatic invasive species.
How hunters and anglers contribute to wildlife science through teeth and scales
Hunters regularly contribute to the scientific management of our wildlife populations by providing a sample tooth from harvested animals. Anglers too share the scales from their catches with our dockside monitors. Recent blogs demonstrate how this happens with deer, cougar, and scale science — all examples of how we’re working to help the public understand the stewardship contributions of hunters and anglers alongside the management role of the Department.
The Big Bend Wildlife Area in Douglas County is expanding!
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will transfer 1,360 acres of Douglas County rangeland to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as part of a grant-funded transaction. The four rangeland parcels, which are near the Columbia River, about 10 miles north of Grand Coulee, are either inholdings or adjacent to WDFW’s Big Bend Wildlife Area. The wildlife area is critical habitat for a variety of species, including the threatened sharp-tailed grouse. These properties provide an important habitat connectivity link for sharp-tailed grouse populations in Douglas, Okanogan, and Lincoln counties and this transfer of properties to the Big Bend Wildlife Area is an important component to support our work to maintain and recover endangered and threatened species as well as a testament to the collaborative relationship between agencies.
2021 salmon forecasts
The 2021 preseason forecasts for Columbia River spring Chinook, sockeye, and upper Columbia summer Chinook are now available. There is expected to be some limited spring Chinook recreational fishing opportunity.
- Lower River Columbia spring Chinook tributary forecasts, including Cowlitz and Willamette, are slightly improved from last year at 68,000, but at 84 percent of their 10-year average.
- Upriver Columbia River spring Chinook forecasts are similar to the last few years at 75,000. This would be the second lowest since 1999 and just 47 percent of the 10-year average.
- Columbia River sockeye forecasts are below last year’s return at 156,000 and 69 percent of the 10-year average.
- Upper Columbia summer Chinook forecasts are higher than last year’s return at 78,000, representing 109 percent of the 10-year average.
WDFW staff work to recover wildfire-scarred lands
Wildfires that swept through eastern Washington in September left thousands of acres of WDFW lands barren. Crews and volunteers are working to beat the winter weather at the Wenas Wildlife Area near Selah to get native plants and grasses planted to prevent weeds from taking over in the spring and to provide habitat for wildlife. A helicopter was used recently to drop seeds on 750 acres of remote terrain on Cleman Mountain and Black Canyon, while staff on the ground covered 600 acres on foot and ATV, doing broadcast seeding and drill seeding. This huge effort took a lot of coordination and time from staff and volunteers and we thank everyone who helped.
Big Game Hunting Pamphlet cover photo contest
We’re looking for first-time hunt photos for this year’s Big Game Hunting Rules and Regulations pamphlet! Did you hunt for the first time this year or know someone who did? Send us your photos for a chance to win! Submit your photos anytime before Monday, Feb. 15. Winners will be announced on WDFW’s Facebook page in March.
With 2020 nearly behind us, licenses for 2021–22 are available now!
Open the door to your best season yet in 2021–22 with great deals through license combos like the Fish Washington and Get Outdoors packages. The Fish Washington package includes your annual freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, and shellfish and seaweed licenses, as well as the Puget Sound Dungeness crab and two-pole endorsements.
The Get Outdoors package features everything in the Fish Washington package plus deer, elk, bear, cougar and small game licenses, a migratory bird permit, a migratory bird hunt authorization, two turkey tags, and bear and cougar tags. Licenses for the new year are valid starting April 1, 2021. And don’t forget the Discover Pass. It makes a great gift and provides vehicle access to millions of acres of Washington state parks and recreation lands. You can buy licenses and passes by calling 360–902–2464, visiting our licensing website, or going to a license dealer near you.
WDFW accepting applications for ALEA grants
WDFW is accepting grant applications for volunteer projects that benefit the state’s fish and wildlife resources and the public’s enjoyment of them. WDFW estimates having approximately $867,000 available for grants, funded through the state’s Aquatic Land Enhancement Account (ALEA), for projects occurring between July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2023. (Applicants should note that the ALEA program may see its funding impacted by budget reductions due to decreased state revenues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.) The program funds five major types of projects, although other project types may be considered. Project types include artificial fish production, facility development, public education and outreach, habitat restoration, and scientific research/community science.
Domoic acid thwarts razor clam seasons and coastal crab fishing
2020 has been a challenging year in many respects, and the story has not been different for our shellfish team working to find creative solutions that allow our citizens to get out and have fun while still keeping them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now with rising domoic acid levels.
We started this fall with extensive dates for razor clam digs across all 58 miles of coastal beaches, an effort to encourage “digging while distancing.” By November, domoic acid — a naturally occurring toxin produced by certain types of marine algae — was hitting our fisheries hard. Our colleagues at Washington’s Department of Health set maximum safe toxin levels for public consumption of these toxins in order to avoid the serious effects of Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning and we have been exceeding these levels regularly in recent weeks and months, leading to cancellation of razor clam digs through December and many coastal crab fishing opportunities as well.
While domoic acid levels may remain high for weeks — or months, WDFW plans to work with DOH to re-evaluate marine toxin levels in early January and will move forward on scheduling tentative razor clam digs as early in 2021 as conditions allow. Our agency is keenly aware of the impact of these closures on clam enthusiasts, crab enthusiasts, commercial fishers and coastal communities. We hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and aim to communicate health-related closure decisions taken alongside health experts just as fast and as transparently as we can.
Regional virtual open houses available online
Over the last several months, I have participated in a series of digital open houses alongside WDFW regional directors, and several partners entities. If you couldn’t attend the events live, you can now watch the event recordings online at your convenience:
· Cowiche Watershed Conservation and South-Central Washington Q&A
· Managing Sea Lions in the Columbia River and Southwest Washington Q&A
· Habitat Restoration and North Puget Sound Q&A