Olympia – Cougar enthusiasts from Okanogan County, fish restoration experts from Wenatchee, and landowners from Naches and Sammamish shared top honors May 14 from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for their volunteer work on behalf of the state’s fish and wildlife population.
The Okanogan Cougar Project Team, consisting of Chuck Smith, Bryan Smith, Steve Reynaud and Kjell Lester, was presented with WDFW’s “Volunteers of the Year” award by Lisa Veneroso, assistant director of the department’s habitat program.
For 10 years the team and its dogs have tracked cougars by automobile, snowmobile, and foot in backcountry settings, providing WDFW with valuable data on the survival rates and density of cougars in Okanogan County.
Committing more than 10,000 hours and logging more than 100,000 vehicle miles, the group and its dogs have been instrumental in helping to build understanding of cougar biology. Team members have also educated citizens in ways to avoid cougar conflicts and have built understanding for cougars in communities throughout their region of the state.
“The Cougar Project Team’s uncommon valor, commitment to wildlife conservation, and dedication to WDFW and their community have made them role models,” Veneroso said.
The department also announced two “Landowner of the Year” awards that reflected many of those same values.
Walter Pereyra of Sammamish was recognized as a “Landowner of the Year” for his extensive work to support spawning kokanee on his 25-acre property. Pereyra purchased land to expand his efforts in kokanee restoration, and invested an estimated $175,000 to remove a narrow, 70-year-old culvert and replace it with a 40,000-pound structure that allows fish to comfortably swim upstream.
Initial indications for Pereyra’s efforts are encouraging, with the earliest, latest, and most extensive spawning activity seen in some time, said Annette Hoffmann, Puget Sound fish program manager for WDFW.
“Through the years, Wally Pereyra has demonstrated stalwart support and great commitment to kokanee conservation,” said WDFW director Phil Anderson. “The actions Wally has personally undertaken are an inspiration for us all, and demonstrate leadership in conservation through personal action.”
Bob and Carol Inouye of Naches were also recognized as “Landowners of the Year” for their work to support area fish populations. In 2009, the Inouye’s worked with the Yakama Nation and WDFW to install a mobile coho salmon acclimation pond on their property. Notably, they also piloted innovations in fish conservation, including establishing an extensive side channel on their property off Rattlesnake Creek to provide habitat for salmon and related species.
Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group (CCFEG) of Wenatchee was recognized as WDFW’s “Organization of the Year.” Raising more than $1 million in grants to support salmon restoration work, CCFEG (http://www.ccfeg.org) has been active in planting vegetation to support fish habitat on the banks of the Napeequa and along the Similkameen River near Oroville. Members have also worked with public hydro-electric dams to recover logs to enhance fish habitat, and they have established fish passage culverts designed to help salmon thrive.
Future CCFEG plans include additional habitat enhancements on the Methow, Okanogan, and White Rivers, and two fish passage projects to be completed in 2013, one in Chelan and one in Okanogan County. CCFEG is also partnering with Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery in its effort to secure funding to establish “Salmon Landscape,” a public education and visitor attraction.
Anderson noted that citizen volunteers around the state contributed an estimated 122,000 hours of time to WDFW projects in 2012.
WDFW welcomes volunteer help in activities that benefit fish, wildlife and habitat. A variety of volunteer opportunities are available, including projects on state wildlife areas, water access sites, conservation activities, and local projects that benefit salmon recovery through Regional Fishery Enhancement Groups (RFEGS). For more information, visit the agency volunteer page at http://wdfw.wa.gov/about/volunteer/.