ELLENSBURG -- For the first time in its history, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission down-listed a state endangered species at its two-day meeting here Friday and Saturday.
The commission, a nine-member board appointed by the governor to oversee the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), reclassified the peregrine falcon from state endangered status to "sensitive" because populations of the bird of prey are recovering.
The commission also set 2002 big game hunting seasons, approved a revised plan to use rotenone for fishing improvement and adopted rules to implement legislation for using excess hatchery salmon eggs to boost salmon runs.
The reclassification of the peregrine falcon was hailed at the meeting as a "joyous and historic" moment by current commissioners, and former Commissioner Martin Pedersen of Ellensburg who remembered listing the species as endangered in 1980.
WDFW Threatened and Endangered Species Program Manager Harriet Allen told the commission the peregrine falcon's recovery is due to a 30-year-old nationwide ban on pesticides that caused egg-shell thinning, aggressive captive rearing and release efforts by falconers and others, and protection of nest sites.
In 1980 there were only five known nesting pairs of peregrine falcons in the state. There are now at least 73 pairs, an increase that Allen said is beyond expectations and recovery goals. The birds are still vulnerable, she said, so the new sensitive status means the state will continue to monitor the species. Washington's reduction of protection status follows the federal government's de-listing of the species in 1999.
In other action the commission adopted most WDFW staff recommendations for elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat hunting seasons and rules for the coming hunting season. WDFW Game Program Manager Dave Ware explained that since this is the third year of a three-year regulation package, changes from last year are minor revisions to maintain general season opportunity, adjust special permit levels according to population changes and damage concerns, and adapt unit boundaries, closures and firearm restriction areas to respond to safety issues.
Hunting season and rule changes included:
- Increasing antlerless, white-tailed deer permits in eastern Washington because of increasing deer populations and damage concerns
- Increasing mule deer permits in northcentral Washington in response to increasing buck-doe ratios and populations
- Increasing antlerless elk permits in various areas across the state to address damage concerns
- Reducing bull elk permits in the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington to address declining mature bull-cow ratios and higher than anticipated harvest and poaching
- Adding bull elk permits in the Naneum, Quilomene, and Teanaway units in central Washington to take advantage of improved bull-cow ratios
- Reducing antlerless elk permits in the Bumping, Bethel and Rimrock units due to reduced calf production
- Adding the Huckleberry Unit in northeast Washington and two once-in-a-lifetime permits for moose hunting, due to increasing moose populations
Details of all big-game hunting seasons and rules will be available by late May in pamphlet form at WDFW offices and hunting license dealers across the state. The special hunting permit application deadline will be June 23.
Commission approval of a new rotenone use plan followed a year-long moratorium on fishing lake treatments and WDFW staff review to address concerns about human health and cost effectiveness. Rotenone, a natural chemical from a plant root, is used to kill fish in waters where illegally introduced exotics and other undesirable fish threaten populations of native or desirable game fish. After treatment or "rehabilitation," the waters are re-stocked with desirable species.
The new plan changes rotenone application methods to a water-based injection system to reduce airborne dust and potential harm to applicators and the public. It also includes a new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, an updated environmental impact statement addressing human health, expanded public outreach prior to proposed treatments, and monitoring impacts following use.
Approval of the new plan means that some lakes in eastern Washington will be proposed for rehabilitation this fall and next spring.