OLYMPIA - A retired police captain and a former construction worker shared top honors from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) last week for their volunteer work on behalf of the state’s fish and wildlife populations.
Hal Mahnke, of Longview, and Jack Smith, of Sequim, were each presented WDFW’s "Volunteer of the Year" award by WDFW Director Phil Anderson during the department’s annual awards ceremony May 15.
"This year’s award winners have each spent countless hours of their own time on the front lines of natural resource conservation," Anderson said. "These volunteers, and others like them, provide invaluable assistance to the department in caring for fish and wildlife in our state."
Anderson noted that citizen volunteers around the state contributed 167,673 hours of their time to WDFW projects ranging from clearing brush to assisting in fish hatchery operations last year.
Mahnke, who currently serves as president of the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group (LCFEG), first worked with the department in 1988 to help rebuild wild steelhead runs on the North Toutle River after the eruption of Mount St. Helens.
Since retiring from the Longview Police Department in 1999, he has returned each year to the North Toutle River to help transport wild coho and wild winter steelhead around the earthen dam to spawn upstream. Since 2002 he has also operated a nutrient enhancement project on the Toutle, broadening those efforts to the Coweeman River in 2009.
In addition to his work with the LCFEG, he is a board member for the Lower Columbia FlyFishers and a member of the Coastal Conservation Association.
Jack Smith, a retired construction worker from Sequim and a member of Puget Sound Anglers, has spent the past 13 years - August through April - as a volunteer for the summer chum salmon recovery project on Jimmycomelately Creek.
"All winter long, he goes to remote sites to monitor stream flows, respond to alarms, or feed the fish," said Joe Stohr, WDFW deputy director. "Every spring, he nets and packs buckets of chum fry uphill to transport them to the stream mouth."
Since 2010, he has also caught rockfish and lingcod for tagging studies off the coast, and worked with a bottomfish research team in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Both projects rely on volunteer anglers, whom Smith has been highly effective in recruiting.
In addition, Smith has worked since 1999 as a volunteer at hunting check stations and assisted in operations to capture and collar elk.
Other citizen awards announced last week were:
- Organization of the Year: The Yakima Fly Fishers Association won the award for sponsoring and raising funds for a local kids’ fishing event, teaching young people fly tying and fly fishing, and educating the public about the need to protect bull trout in the region
- Landowner of the Year: Leroy and Betty Sanderson of Douglas County were recognized for improving habitat on their large ranch to benefit threatened sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife. For the past 16 years, they have also opened their lands to hunters.
- Educator of the Year: Bonnie Blessing, of Olympia, has worked with WDFW to monitor Oregon spotted frogs since 2009. Last year, she found two new breeding sites for this endangered species, bringing the number of known breeding sites in the state to 10.