Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director’s Bulletin
I hope you are doing well and enjoying the spring weather that has finally arrived. I know this is an incredibly busy time of year for field staff. Hopefully, switching from rain gear to sunglasses will make the tasks a bit more enjoyable.
It’s been a busy winter on my end. The legislative session occupied a lot of my time, and I’ll share some more details later in the bulletin. This year, the Department enjoyed a lot of support from a diverse set of stakeholders. Many worked hours visiting with legislators, organizing email campaigns, and writing op-eds. It is impressive and humbling to see external partners work so hard to support this agency and the work we do. It was a game-changer for us this year, and while we have some difficult choices to make to balance the budget for 2019–21, it would be much harder without the actions of our partners.
In March and April, I participated in my first North of Falcon salmon season setting process — and I am so appreciative of the talented and dedicated team that we have navigating that process for us. Also, I worked with the Commission to adopt the 2019–20 hunting seasons.
As we shift gears to summer, my attention is going to be focused internally on the agency. I’ve spent the past nine months learning a lot and thinking about how best to move forward. We’re working hard on our next strategic plan to serve as a ‘north star’ for our conservation work and I am excited to partner with you to ensure that WDFW meets tomorrow’s challenges.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director
2019 Legislative Session and Budget Highlights
The 105-day session has now adjourned. We had a number of great successes this year, in particular with our agency’s efforts related to recovering the imperiled southern resident killer whale. There is significant new legislation and funding to support this important work.
2SSB5577 was passed this session to help us better protect Southern Resident Killer Whales from vessel disturbances and underwater noise. Enhanced legal protections will include increases to the distance that boaters need to keep between themselves and the whales — 400 yards in front and behind, and never less than 300 yards. In addition, any boat within a half mile of the whales will be required to slow engine speeds to 7 knots, or less. To reduce daily and cumulative vessel impacts, the Department’s authority was also expanded to regulate and license commercial whale watching vessels. 2SHB1579 provides additional protections for forage fish and salmon, which Southern Resident Killer Whales need to survive. The legislation gives the Department more tools and authority regarding permitting construction projects built in aquatic environments that can affect forage fish and salmon. Additionally, the legislation requires anyone fishing for smelt in marine waters to obtain a license to provide for better management of this important forage fish species. It also directed the Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt rules to loosen bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in waters with salmon, to reduce the number of smolts eaten by predators. ESHB1578 also passed this legislative session to improve the safety of oil transportation. The legislation requires tug boat escorts for some oil tankers as they move through Southern Resident Killer Whale territory in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Rosario Strait, and connected waterways, to prevent the potentially devastating impact of an oil spill.
I’m happy to report that three bills we supported passed through the Legislature and will help to provide safe and respectful state workplaces. ESHB 1692 protects information concerning employees who have filed a claim of harassment or stalking. SSB 5861 extends respectful workplace code of conduct provisions to all members of the legislative community. EHB 2020 exempts public disclosure of names in employment investigation records. I’m pleased these efforts were adopted and see it as progress for our Department, and all state agencies.
Unfortunately, the 2019–21 operating budget is a bit of mixed bag for the Department. The Legislature provided significant new financial resources for us to recover killer whales, including substantial investment in hatchery production and enforcement.
However, the Legislature did not pass our agency request recreational fee bill and did not extend the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement, and thus a number of critical services we identified last year in our zero-based budget analysis will not be funded. In addition, without a fee bill we will not be able to pursue a number of enhancements we identified for hunters and anglers. Of the $31 million structural deficit we faced beginning July 1, the Legislature provided $24 million. I’ll be working with our executive management team over the next few weeks to balance the budget and will share more about the results of those decisions as they are made. A good summary of the context of our budget situation can be found at the following link.
Turning to the capital budget, we received $53.1 million in new appropriations and $58 million in re-appropriations. Tim Burns, Assistant Director of the Capital Asset and Management Program, does an outstanding job and the appropriations and investment in WDFW is a positive reflection of his leadership and the Capital and Asset Management Program’s ability to get projects done — thank you!
IN OTHER NEWS:
Washington’s salmon fisheries a mixed bag
Washington anglers can expect varied salmon fisheries this year. This season, fishing opportunities are designed to take advantage of higher numbers of coho salmon forecasted to return to Washington’s Columbia River and ocean waters. At the same time, projected low returns of key chinook stocks in Puget Sound have new, necessary restrictions to protect Puget Sound salmon, particularly in August. For more on fishing seasons for Puget Sound, the Columbia River, and the ocean, please see our news release.
More wild spaces for nature and people in Gray’s Harbor County
The agency just completed the first phase of an acquisition that, in partnership with Ducks Unlimited, adds 1,110 acres to John’s River Wildlife Area in Grays Harbor County. The property includes saltwater estuarine habitats, old growth spruce stands and cedar grove forests, not to mention fresh water wetlands and ponds. The purpose is to protect year-round habitat for Roosevelt elk, black-tailed deer, black bear, cougar, salmon, and numerous waterfowl and other bird species, yet the property is also important to Westport water supplies. The Department expects to complete a second, final purchase of 1,750 acres before the end of this year. This phase 2 work has been funded by the Legislature.
The hugely popular Statewide Trout Fishing Derby is entering its fourth season and continues through October 31. Conceived as a means to draw new anglers, youth, and families into fishing, the derby has drawn participation from both businesses and anglers. Anglers who catch one of 1,000 blue-tagged trout can claim prizes provided by license dealers and other sponsors located across the state. The total value of prizes is more than $39,000. For a list of lakes with prize fish and details on how to claim winnings, visit our fishing derby webpage.
New mobile-friendly website
The WDFW website receives approximately 10 million visits each year. Last month the Department launched a new version with improved mobile access and accessibility. Work to fine-tune the new site continues, and comments and suggestions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working with partners to meet the challenges of invasive green crabs
The Salish Sea is at high risk of invasion from European green crabs that could threaten wild and commercial shellfish, the Dungeness crab fishery, and salmon recovery. This region’s response to European green crab detections is a success story seldom seen in the world of Aquatic Invasive Species. The Department is collaborating with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Washington Sea Grant, and the Puget Sound Partnership to produce a Salish Sea Transboundary Action Plan that will guide the next two years of efforts, and provide a foundation for long-term state and federal funding.
No tame campaign: Buttons the elk
You may have heard of recent events surrounding a Washington elk known to some as “Buttons.” This story started like so many, with a baby animal presumed to be an orphan who had become a pet to some, and a pest to others. While she is now secure at the Woodland Park Zoo, her situation could have been much different. A team of Department Wildlife Program and Public Affairs staff worked to turn the unfortunate situation into an education opportunity. Their efforts produced more than 30 newspaper mentions, editorials, radio, and television appearances throughout the state, plus a social media reach exceeding 100,000. It was a chance to share the value of leaving baby animals undisturbed, or contacting trained rehabilitators who care for orphaned animals while being careful to avoid causing unnatural dependencies on people. Visit this blog for a regional wildlife program manager’s perspective on the situation.
Recognition from outdoor writers
In late April, the Department received the Fred Peterson Award from the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. The award recognized the agency for its support for outdoor journalism, outdoor education, youth and outdoor recreation. Northwest Outdoor Writers Association is made up of professional hunting, angling, travel, and outdoors writers, photographers, videographers, and radio personalities, ranging across the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The agency has provided presentations at annual conferences on social media, Fish Washington, and, most recently, an introduction to the biology and management of wolves. The award recognizes the work that staff across the agency are doing to reach new, essential audiences and provide open communication to the public.