600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091
December 30, 2003
Contact: Tim Waters, (360) 902-2262
2003 meant gains for state's fish and wildlife, good opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts
OLYMPIA—Washington’s fish and wildlife benefited from a number of actions in 2003, including progress on recovery plans for threatened and endangered species, the acquisition of critical habitat and implementation of initiatives designed to remove derelict commercial fishing gear and combat invasive species.
These conservation measures took place at the same time outdoor enthusiasts enjoyed some of the best opportunities in years, including exceptionally robust salmon fishing seasons on the Columbia River which produced an estimated 400,000 angler trips, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
“Even though our state’s diverse fish and wildlife species continue to face immense pressures brought about by habitat loss or alteration, the past year has been a good one in terms of moving forward with important conservation measures,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. “At the same time, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to continue to provide diverse recreational opportunities to the state’s citizens.”
Koenings also noted that in 2003 WDFW joined with officials from the state Department of Community Trade and Economic Development to draft the first-ever strategic plan aimed at increasing wildlife-viewing tourism in rural areas. The plan was the outgrowth of Senate Bill 5011.
“What makes all of these accomplishments even more remarkable in my mind is that they occurred against a backdrop of continued agency budget cutbacks caused by the state's larger economic problems and shifting priorities on the federal level,” Koenings said.
Following are some key fish and wildlife accomplishments in 2003:
Wildlife species recovery initiatives: The Department continued progress on recovery plans for numerous native fish and wildlife species, including Puget Sound orcas, pygmy rabbits, sea otters, sage grouse and the leopard frog. In addition, the Department took a major step forward in conservation efforts to rebuild the depleted North Cascades elk herd by transferring elk to the area from Mt. St. Helens.
Cougar management: Work continued on various cougar management initiatives, including the development of expanded public education efforts, a new population research project and continuation of the public safety cougar removal permit program.
Expansion of selective fisheries: In a move to broaden selective fishing, which allows anglers to target hatchery-produced fish while sparing protected wild salmon, WDFW fish managers created the first-ever marine area recreational selective chinook fishery in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca. Anglers made an estimated 25,000 trips and harvested 3,585 marked hatchery fish, providing an economic boon for businesses from Sequim to Sekiu. In addition, WDFW also signed a landmark, 10-year agreement with federal and public utility officials that allowed a mark recreational fishery on upper Columbia River steelhead.
Acquisition of critical fish and wildlife habitat: WDFW acquired 8,500 acres, including high-quality steppe grassland and riparian habitat, along the South Fork Asotin Creek and George Creek in southeastern Washington. The land, known as the Schlee property, was acquired with support of county commissioners and purchased with mitigation funds provided by the Bonneville Power Administration. The land will provide valuable protection for federally listed bull trout, steelhead, and chinook salmon. The agency also purchased 636 acres of wetlands and 39 acres of lakeshore buffer at Sprague Lake near Spokane. This property, known as the Hercules Ranch, was purchased with a state aquatic lands enhancement grant and will provide important waterfowl habitat and improved recreational opportunities.
Derelict gear removal: The Department joined with the Northwest Straits Committee, various counties and others to develop protocols for identifying, reporting and removing derelict commercial fishing gear from Washington's waters. The broad private/public effort is designed to reduce marine resource mortality and wastage as well as improve the environment. A public reporting system for derelict gear is now in effect, and a web site that provides citizens with information on the effort and its importance has been developed.
Salmon recovery: WDFW continued work to complete scientific management plans for hatcheries in 2003, and worked with citizen groups and others to open hundreds of miles of habitat to wild fish stocks. The Department also completed development of SalmonScape, a new interactive computer mapping tool that delivers various types of scientific information to those involved in recovery efforts. SalmonScape will deliver the data planners need to quickly and accurately identify and prioritize restoration and protection activities offering the greatest benefits to fish.
Puget Sound chinook harvest plan: The Department and Puget Sound treaty tribes completed revisions to a comprehensive, multi-year chinook harvest plan that provides protection improvements for listed Puget Sound chinook and should allow for the continuation of a Section 4(d) take exemption. The federal exemption is necessary to maintain important sustainable fisheries on abundant hatchery salmon stocks and other species such as chum, pink and sockeye. The plan is currently being reviewed by federal fisheries officials and is expected to be approved next year.
Chelan hydroelectric project agreement: Negotiations were completed with the Chelan Public Utilities District on a major re-licensing agreement for the Chelan Hydro Project that includes major provisions for both fish and wildlife. Under the Chelan River portion of the agreement, the stream flow and westslope trout populations will be restored, and habitat will be enhanced for spawning summer/fall chinook in the lower river and powerhouse tailrace. In Lake Chelan, funding will be provided to stock westslope cutthroat and kokanee, to conduct lake fisheries evaluations, and to remove alluvium barriers from tributary stream mouths to allow adfluvial salmonid spawning access. The Chelan-Douglas County Land Trust also will receive funds to obtain conservation easements on up to 400 acres of private lands that provide critical mule deer winter range on the north shore of Lake Chelan.
Spartina control: The Department exceeded its expectations for spartina control in 2003 in both Willapa Bay and North Puget Sound. In Willapa Bay, 5,600 acres - more acreage than in the past six years combined-were treated through the combined efforts of WDFW, the state departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oyster Growers Association. In North Puget Sound, all Department land infested with the invasive aquatic weed—about 500 acres in total—were treated.
Internet service: The Department continued to increase the number of constituents it serves via the Internet, with a 61 percent increase in Internet license sales from 2002 to 2003. The agency reached the $1 million sales mark for 2003 recreational hunting and recreational fishing licenses in early May.
Angler education: WDFW’s Youth Sport Fishing program staged 12 "Fishing Kids clinics" throughout the state, teaching an estimated 7,600 kids the fundamentals of fishing. At the same time, "hot spot" fisheries were created in three juvenile-only waters, a youth fishing website was developed and a "Youth Sportfishing in Washington" pamphlet was produced.
Enforcement recognition: WDFW's Enforcement Program in 2003 became one of only two fish and wildlife agencies in the country to be formally recognized by the Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.