The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has voted to postpone indefinitely a proposal to allow special cougar pursuits with dogs.
The commission, which establishes policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), met Dec. 7-8 in Vancouver, Wash. The panel set the 2002 Columbia River spring chinook harvest allocation, established a new southern boundary for treaty Indian hunting in southwest Washington and heard testimony from dozens of citizens regarding proposed sport fishing rules for the 2002-03 season.
The proposed cougar pursuits by hunting dogs would have been allowed only in areas already selected for special public safety cougar hunts using dogs, and only after the recommended number of cougars had been removed from those areas.
The pursuit proposal was originally requested by the commission in August as an effort to condition cougars to avoid humans, and to provide additional opportunity for training hunting dogs.
Several commissioners indicated they want to reconsider the pursuit proposal after newly formed cougar control regional task groups report back to the commission. Those task groups, formed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and comprised of citizens, local government authorities, and WDFW enforcement and wildlife staff, are intended to examine public safety issues presented by cougars and proposed solutions. The panels are expected to meet early next year and submit reports to WDFW Director Jeff Koenings by mid-April, 2002.
In other business, the commission adopted a two-year policy for allocating Columbia River spring chinook salmon between sport and commercial fishers. The policy sets a sliding scale based upon run abundance, of Willamette and upriver stocks and generally allows sport fishers 50 percent of the non-treaty harvest. At moderate and large run sizes, the objective is to extend the sport fishery through April and into May if it is possible to do so without jeopardizing wild upriver fish.
The sport fishery, which would target marked (fin clipped) hatchery fish, occurs on the mainstem Columbia primarily downstream of Bonneville Dam and begins in late March. The policy sets a sliding scale which would allow sport fishers a larger percentage of the available upriver impacts in smaller upriver run sizes, and a declining percentage at larger upriver run sizes.
The commission voted 6-2 with one abstention to adopt a new southern hunt area boundary for Medicine Creek treaty tribes. The new boundary extends the tribes' hunting area further south from the earlier boundary set by the state. The additional hunting area encompasses most of eastern Lewis County and a portion of northern Skamania County. The new boundary was identified by two independent consultants selected jointly by the state and tribes. The consultants considered historic documents and maps in revising the boundary line.
The commission heard public testimony on the proposed 2002-03 sport fishing regulation package, including two proposed changes to statewide steelhead fishing rules. The proposals are to require statewide release of wild steelhead with no exceptions, or to standardize a limit of one wild fish per day for a total of 10 wild fish per year limit. Anglers are currently required to release wild steelhead on all but 16 Washington streams.
The commission also heard testimony on a proposal to allow anglers to purchase a second license and use a second fishing pole, and a proposal to ban jet boats on the upper Satsop and Wynoochee rivers.
The commission is expected to adopt the new sport fishing rules package at its February meeting in Olympia.
The commission also amended the state's bald eagle protection rules to create a new "sensitive" status category. The new category would be created to join the "endangered" and "threatened" categories in the rules so that eagles could continue to receive special management if they were to be down-listed from "threatened" to "sensitive" under the state Endangered Species Act.
The commission postponed its anticipated down-listing of the eagle to "sensitive" until the federal government take action to remove bald eagles from the federal endangered species list, which is expected to come in 2002.