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March 25, 2004
Contact: Madonna Luers, (509) 456-4073

Fish and Wildlife Commission considers hunting rules, orca protective status at April 2-3, 2004 meeting in Spokane

OLYMPIA - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider adding Puget Sound's orcas to the state's list of endangered species when it meets April 2-3 in Spokane.

The nine-member citizen panel, which establishes policy and provides direction for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), is also expected to adopt a number of amendments to hunting seasons and rules.

Puget Sound's resident orca population has declined by 18 percent since 1995, according to a recently issued WDFW status report. The report cites several factors that could be responsible for the decline in orcas, including a drop in the overall salmon abundance, accumulations of long-lived pollutants, and possible harassment from marine vessels.

The state "endangered" designation is given to native Washington species that are seriously threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the state. The state listing process is separate from the federal protective status designation process.

Orcas are protected by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. A petition to add Puget Sound's resident orca population to the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) was recently denied, but federal wildlife officials are currently reviewing that decision.

Amendments will also be considered in hunting rules affecting:

  • Deer and elk hunting seasons and special permits;
  • Special species permit levels and big game auction and raffles;
  • Allowable equipment for hunters with disabilities;
  • Game Management Unit boundaries; and
  • Small game hunting seasons.

The commission is expected to consider amendments to shellfish disease control protection rules that would provide a greater degree of protection to the wild and cultured oyster stocks in Washington's waters, and a new rule regarding residency requirements for fishing and hunting license purchasers.

Commissioners are scheduled to hear briefings on Washington wildlife and recreation program grant proposals, WDFW's wildlife-viewing strategic plan and possible recreational fishing opportunities on the Entiat and Wenatchee rivers. Commission agendas are online on the Internet.

The commission meeting is scheduled to run from 1-5 p.m. on April 2 and 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on April 3 at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park, 303 North River Dr., in Spokane.