OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has approved a comprehensive conservation plan to manage the state's game species for the next six years.
The nine-member citizen panel, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) met Dec. 6-7 in Mt. Vernon.
The plan sets out management philosophies for all of the state's hunted species, including deer, elk, moose, black bear, cougar, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, furbearing animals, migratory and upland birds and unclassified animals.
"We worked with the public on the game management plan for two years to determine the best approaches for managing game species in Washington, and this plan provides us with excellent guidance," said WDFW Game Division Manager Dave Ware.
Ware said the plan ensures WDFW's accountability to the public through an annual reporting of management actions for each species.
Commissioners also approved rules regarding marine finfish aquaculture. The rules require growers to report significant fish escapes within 24 hours, submit annual reports on the total number of escaped fish, and annual inspections of each facility by WDFW.
The rules were generated as a result of legislation in 2001 giving WDFW new authority over marine finfish aquaculture. The U.S. Department of Commerce has proposed doubling the nation's aquaculture capacity, increasing the likelihood that Washington could have proposals for new saltwater aquaculture facilities. Any new salmon farming operation must first go through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting process.
Additional agenda items acted on by the commission include:
- Amendments to rules protecting peregrine falcons allowing the capture of nestling juvenile birds for falconry purposes. The recovery of peregrine falcon populations throughout the United States led to a federal Endangered Species Act de-listing for the species in 1999. Licensed master falconers would be allowed to take young birds for training, and the state's plan is contingent upon adoption of a federal falcon management plan.
- A three-year management framework of policies and management objectives for lower Columbia River sturgeon fisheries. This action is a prelude to development of fishing plans and regulations in 2003 that will likely include significant changes in sport harvest regulations, including reduced bag limits, area harvest restrictions and other measures.
- A policy controlling domestic livestock grazing on WDFW lands. Commissioners stressed the importance of the plan's monitoring component to ensure that grazing activities don't harm fish, wildlife or habitat resources. At present, grazing is allowed on about 5 percent of WDFW lands.
- Amendments to rules governing big game and wild turkey auctions, raffles and special incentive permits, including closing the Swakane Sheep Unit to auction and raffle hunters to avoid overharvest of mature bighorn rams.
- Establishing 2003 Private Lands Wildlife Management Area hunting seasons, rules and boundary descriptions for deer and elk.
- Spring black bear permit season and quotas for 2003 that maintain 2002 hunt levels.
- An advanced hunter education rule that would increase penalties for master hunters found guilty of violating hunting rules.
Commissioners postponed discussion on a staff proposal to eliminate the annual recreational harvest limit for hatchery steelhead. The current regulation, adopted in 2001, allows an annual limit of 30 fish per year, no more than five of which can be wild steelhead. Commissioners are expected to take up the issue again during their Feb. 7-8 meeting in Kelso.
The commission also heard public testimony on the 2003-04 sportfish rule proposals and Puget Sound shrimp fishery policies.
Recreational shrimp fishing has grown significantly in popularity recently, and seasons have been shortened to accommodate increased fisher participation. Features of the proposed policies include continuing to provide recreational and commercial harvest opportunities and establishing an allocation system in all shrimping areas. The commission is expected to consider shrimp policies at its Feb. 7-8 meeting.