TUKWILA - High waterfowl populations will mean good hunting opportunities in the 2000-01 season under hunting rules adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission during a three-day meeting that ended today.
Consistent with its approach in recent years, the commission adopted a 107-day hunting season for most species of ducks, geese and other waterfowl as allowed under federal rules.
The season will run statewide from Oct. 7-18 and from Oct. 21-Jan 21. A two-day closure was set to allow hunting to begin on a Saturday and end on a Sunday, while observing federal season-length limits.
The commission also expanded the youth hunt from one day to two to coincide with other youth game bird seasons scheduled Sept. 23-24.
"We're pleased that our waterfowl populations are in good shape and that we can continue to offer hunters seasons like this," said commission Chairman Kelly White. "All the biological information we've seen suggests a good season for both birds and hunters this year."
In addition to setting waterfowl seasons, the commission also took action on a number of other issues, including:
- Ballast water: New controls were adopted on the discharge of ballast water into state waters by establishing criteria for the type of ballast water that can be discharged; allowing Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) personnel to conduct inspections of ballast water; and requiring vessel owners to notify the agency 24 hours before discharging ballast water into state waters.
- Regional Enhancement Groups: The commission authorized the director of the WDFW to create two additional Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups (RFEGs) in Eastern Washington.
- Marine conservation areas: Three new marine conservation areas were established at Saltars' Point Beach in Steilacoom, at Waketickeh Creek on Hood Canal and at Orchard Rocks on Rich Passage to protect rockfish and other marine species. The commission also established a new marine preserve at Colvos Passage north of Gig Harbor, where all fishing will be prohibited except recreational salmon trolling.
- Commercial fishing: The commission banned roller trawl gear in the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of the Sekiu River, the last area in state waters where that kind of commercial fishing gear was allowed. The commission also adopted new limits on the number of crab pots individual commercial fishers can deploy in the coastal Dungeness crab fishery.
- Trapping: New trapping seasons were adopted through 2002 along with a new requirement that animals must be removed from live traps within 24 hours, down from 48 hours under the previous rule. The commission also reopened the area around Mount St. Helens to trapping and extended the season for beaver and otter trapping in western Washington by 15 days, partly in response to increasing damage complaints. Seasons for mink, muskrat and raccoon were also increased in Skagit and Whatcom counties prompted by evidence that those species have rebounded there in recent years.
Don Kraege, WDFW waterfowl section manager, told the commission that favorable weather and conservation measures under way in both the United States and Canada are boosting waterfowl populations.
"We're well above long-term averages for most species," Kraege said.
However, for brant and several other species below average population levels, the commission adopted agency recommendations to reduce seasons from last year. The brant season was reduced from nine days to five, based on population levels and the results of a recent independent scientific review of WDFW's brant management strategy. The season for southwest Washington Canada geese was also reduced from five to three days due to the loss of federal funding to operate mandatory goose-check stations.
Hunters should consult the WDFW Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Season pamphlet, available in September, for specific details on waterfowl hunting rules, including bag limits.
Still under consideration for future brant seasons are other recommendations by the scientific panel, including shifting seasons to late February or March to better protect gray- bellied brant. Kraege said the state is still working to obtain approval for that shift in timing from the Pacific Flyway Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Apart from setting the 2000-01 season, the Commission received briefings on two other issues related to waterfowl, including the increasing popularity of electronic decoys known as "roboducks." The commission instructed WDFW staff to continue research on the implications of these devices and on the toxic effects of lead shot, which is no longer allowed for hunting waterfowl but is still used for hunting other game birds.
The Commission also received an update on new policies being developed by the agency to guide the use of hounds in removing cougars that represent a threat to public safety. WDFW staff discussed the deployment of eight new officers funded by the Legislature to improve response rates and outlined a strategy for using hound hunters to remove cougars in areas of the state with the highest number of confirmed cougar complaints.
The agency's plan for removing cougars that present a threat to public safety is available on the WDFW website or by calling 360-902-2936.
Written comments on the plan will be accepted through Sept. 8. The Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan at its meeting in Wenatchee on Sept. 16, before taking action on the proposal.