December 27, 2004
Contact: Craig Bartlett, (360) 902-2259
WDFW highlights ‘productive year’ of fish and wildlife management
OLYMPIA – Some people will remember 2004 as the year the state’s first regional salmon-recovery plan was completed and a new panel was created to safeguard Washington’s biological diversity.
Others will recall long days of fishing, hunting and otherwise enjoying the great outdoors.
Either way, 2004 was a successful year for fish and wildlife management, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
“A lot of species, ranging from white-tailed deer to chum salmon, did well this year,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. “In many cases, that translated into good fishing and hunting seasons.”
Koenings also saw progress on management issues ranging from salmon recovery to cougar management. “We had a very productive year, due in large part to cooperative efforts with other organizations and individuals working toward common goals,” he said.
Environmental conditions played a key role in boosting fish and wildlife populations around the state, Koenings said. A mild winter benefited wildlife populations, while favorable ocean conditions helped boost salmon runs around the state, he said.
“It helps to have Mother Nature on our side,” Koenings said.
But new management initiatives also helped WDFW meet its dual mandate to preserve the state’s fish and wildlife species while also providing fishing and hunting opportunities for the people of Washington state, he said. Koenings cited the example of selective salmon fisheries, where anglers are required to release any salmon not clearly marked as hatchery fish.
“This year, we were able to offer more than 50 selective salmon fisheries from the Snake River to Puget Sound,” he said. “Those fisheries allowed anglers to catch abundant hatchery fish, while providing protection for weak, wild runs. Without mass marking of hatchery fish and selective fishing rules, many of those fisheries simply wouldn’t be possible.”
So, what were the year’s biggest management challenges?
“As always, loss of natural habitat to Washington’s growing human population continued to put tremendous pressure on our state’s fish and wildlife resources,” Koenings said. “Our biggest challenge is to find ways to ease those pressures at a time of tight budget constraints.”
Recounting new initiatives adopted by WDFW this year, Koenings cited progress in a number of areas:
- Salmon recovery: WDFW worked with the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board to produce the state’s first locally developed regional salmon-recovery plan ever submitted to the federal government. The department also participated in developing five other regional plans – including one for Puget Sound – scheduled for completion in June, 2005. Meanwhile, WDFW’s Watershed Stewardship Team provided scientific and technical support for dozens of locally based salmon-recovery projects throughout the state.
- Hatchery reform: The Hatchery Scientific Review Group, a nine-member panel of independent scientists created by Congress, completed a four-year review of all state, federal and tribal hatcheries in Washington state. As part of its review, the panel issued more than 1,000 recommendations designed to support the twin goals of promoting wild-salmon recovery and sustainable fisheries. WDFW is incorporating those recommendations into its long-term strategy for improving the state’s aging hatchery system.
- Expanded fishing opportunities: While working to protect weak stocks, WDFW continued its efforts to expand fishing opportunities where they are scientifically supportable. For the second year, anglers were allowed to catch marked hatchery chinook salmon in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca so long as they observed strict requirements to release wild fish. Enforcement of similar “selective fishing” rules also made it possible to conduct popular sockeye salmon fisheries in Lake Washington and Lake Wenatchee. Acting on new research, WDFW increased recreational catch quotas for razor clams fishery sought federal approval to expand the state’s $1 million-per-year commercial sardine fishery.
- Lands and property maintenance: WDFW acquired 1,935 acres of critical fish and wildlife habitat in 2004, including a 1,636-acre addition to the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area in Asotin County and a 103-acre wetland-restoration site in Skagit County. Working in conjunction with various public and private landowners, WDFW is also in the final stages of developing guidelines (“Lands Vision 20/20”) for evaluating future acquisitions. Meanwhile, the department launched six new “Adopt-an-Access” projects, enlisting volunteers to help maintain WDFW recreational areas around the state.
- Streamlining the permit process: Many timber companies working in or near non-fish-bearing streams will no longer need to obtain a hydraulic project approval (HPA) from WDFW if they follow the equally protective requirements of a forest practices permit obtained from the state Department of Natural Resources. This new policy, approved in November and set to take effect June 1, 2005, is part of an ongoing effort to streamline the HPA process that has significantly reduced the number of permits required each year. Also completed during the past year were a staff training program and a new database to help track and process permits.
- Ecoregional planning: In a step toward a broader vision of natural resource stewardship, WDFW joined with The Nature Conservancy and the Department of Natural Resources to complete ecoregional assessments for three regions of Washington. Three more are scheduled for completion in early 2005. These assessments, the first of nine planned throughout the state, prioritize landscapes most critical to conserving biological diversity. Designed as a new tool for land-use planning, they are also expected to guide the work of the new Washington Biodiversity Council in developing a coordinated strategy for protecting the state’s biological heritage. Director Koenings is a member of the 23-member council, which met for the first time in October.
- Cougar hunting pilot program: Consistent with Substitute Senate Bill 6118, WDFW worked with five Eastern Washington counties to develop a special cougar hunt specifically designed to address concerns about public safety and livestock depredation. The three-year pilot program allows resident hound hunters with special permits to use dogs to track cougars in Chelan, Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the special hunt, which began Dec. 1.
- Public information and community involvement: WDFW opened several new lines of communication with the public during the past year – some via the Internet, others through direct contact with specific groups and whole communities. The department’s new map-based GoHunt site (http://wdfw.wa.gov/mapping/gohunt/index.html) allows users to view the last three years of hunting statistics and zoom in on specific geographic areas. The new site received 1,600 “hits” the first week it debuted. Another new site provides anglers with up-to-date information about emergency fishing rules (https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/index.jsp) for various types of recreational fisheries. Meanwhile, the department expanded outreach activities with Asian-Pacific Islander communities, created a new upland game advisory group and joined a cooperative effort to address diking and drainage issues in the Skagit River watershed. WDFW also worked with the state office of Community,Trade and Economic Development and civic and business leaders to develop the first-ever strategic plan focused on expanding wildlife tourism and economic growth in communities across the state.
- Environmental education: WDFW joined with academic institutions and other partners to promote environmental education in Washington state. As a board member of the Pacific Education Institute, Director Koenings worked with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Audubon, the Washington Forest Protection Assn. and other partners to integrate real-world environmental issues with state learning standards in Washington classrooms. This approach, shown to be successful in raising academic achievement, has received international attention through “Project Cat,” an ongoing partnership between WDFW and the Cle Elum-Roslyn School District. WDFW also played an active role in guiding the development of the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center, a salmon-research and education center scheduled to open near Belfair in 2006.
- Hydropower mitigation: On the Baker River in northwest Washington, Puget Sound Energy has agreed to redirect flows to improve upstream and downstream passage of sockeye and coho salmon. On the Lewis River, PacificCorp will reopen 174 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for spring chinook salmon, coho salmon and bull trout. These are some of the fish-protection measures WDFW designed with hydropower companies during dam-relicensing negotiations concluded in the past year.
- Hunting access: WDFW worked with landowners to develop new ways to meet the growing demand by hunters for access to private lands. The department will propose a measure during the 2005 Legislative Session to add a nominal fee on small- and big-game hunting licenses to help compensate landowners who open their lands to hunters.
- High-tech enforcement tools: For the first time, all 140 WDFW enforcement officers were equipped with laptop computers, digital cameras and global positioning system (GPS) devices, allowing them to send and receive critical information while in the field. Funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, these new tools helped officers make a number of arrests and saved them an average of two hours per day previously spent traveling to their offices to file reports and check messages.
- Financial systems upgrades: Two new system improvements were completed in 2004, allowing WDFW to better plan and monitor its expenditures on fish and wildlife stewardship. One upgrade will improve the department’s monitoring and development of contracts, which currently total more than $55 million per year. The other provides a more detailed view of the department’s financial activities, giving managers greater ability to prioritize limited funding.