MOSES LAKE - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission set 2005 hunting seasons and rules, heard about new methods to verify recreational crab catch and approved the use of wind turbines for the first time on a state wildlife area, at a two-day meeting here last weekend.
One hunting rule change-aimed at addressing growing elk damage problems on private land near the Hanford area in Benton and Yakima counties-signaled a new collaborative working relationship between local landowners and WDFW.
Game management unit 372 Kiona was divided into two units--372 Rattlesnake Hills (with elk areas 3721 Corral Canyon and 3722 Blackrock) and 373 Horse Heaven--to reduce elk numbers through short general hunting seasons, permit-only hunts, and special landowner-access permits.
"This is a significant milestone in our work with local landowners to find local solutions to a challenging elk damage issue," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "We hope our joint efforts to reduce damage will encourage federal land managers to assist by allowing public hunting in Hanford area to reduce elk numbers."
Following the recommendations of WDFW game managers, the commission also agreed to:
- Extend the eastern Washington pheasant-hunting season from a Dec. 31 closure to Jan. 16; the 16-day addition makes up 14 to 18 hunting days that are lost due to a delayed season opening aimed at minimizing landowner concerns and conflicts with deer hunters.
- Open all units statewide to youth hunters during the spring 2006 turkey season.
- Increase the fall turkey hunting general season in northeast units by seven days (Oct. 8-14) to address damage problems from turkey abundance.
- Provide two turkey, 10 deer and four elk special-hunting permits for drawing among Hunter Education instructors with at least three years service, as an incentive to recruit and retain instructors.
- Expand antlerless mule deer hunting opportunity in parts of Chelan and Okanogan counties where deer are abundant.
- Adjust deer and elk special-permit levels based on population level changes and damage concerns on private lands.
The commission deferred adoption of game management unit boundaries and elk hunting rules in the southcentral region until a conference call April 12, following a WDFW meeting with the Yakama Nation regarding hunting access to an area in Yakima County referred to as "Tract C."
Major 2005 standard hunting season dates are listed on page 12 of the 2004 WDFW's 2004 "Big Game Hunting Seasons and Rules" pamphlet. New 2005 rules pamphlets will be available in May at license dealers, WDFW offices, and on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov .
In other action, WDFW staff briefed the commission on a proposed study to determine the validity of Puget Sound recreational Dungeness crab catch estimates at select boat ramps. The study is intended to address user concerns about the accuracy of current estimates, which are used to avoid exceeding harvest target levels. The commission has scheduled a special meeting May 14 to consider adoption of a 2005-06 recreational crab fishery season, including the catch-estimation study.
The commission also authorized the WDFW director to approve a 25-year lease with Zilka Renewable Energy for the operation of seven to 12 wind turbines on 20 acres of WDFW's 17,803-acre Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area in Kittitas County, subject to final permitting by the Energy Facilities and Site Evaluation Council. The turbines are part of the 158-turbine Horse Wind Farm Project on private and other state land adjacent to the wildlife area. The lease provides $60,000 to $125,000 annually to support operation and maintenance of the wildlife area, and possible partial funding for future acquisition of property between WDFW lands in the Skookumchuck watershed.
In separate business, the commission approved WDFW acquisition of 3,307 acres in the Tieton River Canyon to provide critical habitat for a variety of federal- and state-protected wildlife species; 128 acres of waterfowl habitat in Grays Harbor County; 80 acres of prairie and oak woodland habitat in Thurston County, and 32 acres of western pond turtle habitat in Klickitat County. The land will be acquired with public grant monies.
The commission also heard a briefing on the status of negotiations for the transfer of Klickitat Fish Hatchery and Lyle Falls and Castile Falls fishways on the Klickitat River to the Yakama Nation. The tribe is the lead agency for the Yakima/Klickitat Fisheries Project, established under a 1994 agreement between the state and tribe, for restoration of anadromous fish. The transfer is intended to improve future funding of those efforts, since federal and state financial support is shrinking. The commission may consider the transfer at its June 17-18 meeting in Yakima.
The commission is the nine-member citizen panel that sets policy and direction for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).