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Agency Plans and Reports - Annual Reports
Date Published: July 2002
Number of Pages: 176
Author(s): Craig Bartlett, Editor
In many ways, the 1999-01 Biennium marked the beginning of a new era for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), tribal managers and everyone involved in fish and wildlife management in Washington.
Salmon recovery became a statewide priority, supported by new funding and a new level of involvement at the local level. Science also played an increasingly important role in guiding policy decisions about resource management of all kinds, while WDFW’s own business systems were retooled for the modern age.
As a key participant in these and other changes, WDFW developed an array of new partnerships, new technologies and new management strategies that helped to set a new course for fish and wildlife stewardship in the 21st century. It also continued to build on its unique working relationship with Washington’s treaty tribes, who share management responsibilities for hunting, fishing and hatchery operations in many areas of the state.
Throughout this dynamic period, WDFW was guided by its legislative mandates to conserve Washington’s fish and wildlife resources, while also working to maintain fishing and hunting opportunities for the people of the state.
From surveying streams to enforcing the state’s fishing and hunting laws, WDFW performs hundreds of activities each year to fulfill its mission of providing “sound stewardship of fish and wildlife.” Below are some key actions taken during the 1999-01 Biennium that not only advanced the Department’s immediate goals but also set a new course for the future.
GOAL 1: Healthy and Diverse Fish and Wildlife Populations and Habitats
- Salmon recovery: No issue received more attention from WDFW or the Commission than the recovery of declining wild salmon, steelhead and bull trout stocks. Key recovery efforts include:
- Selective salmon fisheries: Mass-marking of hatchery salmon made it possible to extend selective fishing rules to 52 recreational salmon fisheries, providing protection for weak wild runs as well as fishing opportunities on abundant hatchery stocks. Successful tests conducted with new types of commercial fishing gear paved the way for selective commercial fisheries in the years ahead.
- Local salmon recovery: WDFW provided critical technical assistance to a new network of local salmon recovery organizations, which together helped to channel $92 million in funding to 510 restoration projects during the biennium. Besides supporting the new network of Lead Entities created by the 1998 Legislature, the Department continued its partnership with Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups (RFEGs) and other volunteer organizations to restore vital freshwater salmon and steelhead habitat.
- Hatchery reform: Recovery programs for wild salmon at state hatcheries resulted in several record returns in 2001. Meanwhile, WDFW filed reports on 128 hatchery programs to comply with federal requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and worked with treaty tribes, federal agencies and a panel of independent scientists to reform state, tribal and federal hatchery operations.
- State/tribal conservation plans: Years before the 1999 listing of seven salmon and steelhead stocks under the ESA, state and tribal fisheries managers began working together on harvest conservation plans for two declining stocks: Puget Sound chinook salmon and Hood Canal/Strait of Juan de Fuca summer chum salmon. Those plans were completed and submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2000, providing the foundation for the first comprehensive recovery plans for those species.
- Adaptive management in forestry: The landmark Forests and Fish Agreement of 1999, which WDFW helped to design, includes a provision that allows for adjustments in forestry rules as new scientific information becomes available. Under this groundbreaking “adaptive management” provision, WDFW scientists initiated a number of studies that may help to further refine the state’s forestry rules.
- Habitat restoration: Besides providing technical assistance to local organizations, WDFW spearheaded several habitat restoration projects of major importance. The Deepwater Slough project – one of the largest of its kind in the nation – opened up more than 300 acres of prime estuarine habitat to juvenile salmon on the south fork of the Skagit River. On Goldsborough Creek in Mason County, WDFW teamed up with Simpson Timber and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove an aging wooden dam, opening up 14 miles of ideal spawning habitat upstream. WDFW also helped to negotiate an agreement for the removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in 2006.
- Focus on science: By creating the position of “chief scientist” within each of the Department’s three resource-management programs, WDFW Director Jeff Koenings established a clear priority for the role of science in the Department. Major topics of research during the biennium include interactions between hatchery and naturally spawning salmon, marine biotoxins and the effects of various forestry practices on fish and wildlife. The Habitat Program also continued work with treaty tribes on a mapbased database linking salmon runs to stream conditions throughout western Washington.
- Marine Enforcement Division: In light of the new ESA listings in 1999, all marine enforcement detachments were consolidated under a new division to step up enforcement of state salmon regulations. Field contacts with anglers showed a 98% compliance rate with new selective fishing rules.
- Groundfish/shellfish protection: WDFW and the Commission took a number of actions to protect marine fish and shellfish in state waters. On the coast, bottom trawling was prohibited to protect declining groundfish stocks and pot limits were established for the commercial crab fishery. Changes in Puget Sound included new harvest quotas on Dungeness crab, limited entry for commercial shrimp fisheries and two new marine reserves to provide long-term protection for rockfish species.
- Game management: Most big game populations showed substantial recovery from the hard winter of 1996-97, but some needed a helping hand. For the first time, long-term plans were drafted for all 10 state elk herds, identifying management actions needed to bolster those with sagging populations. WDFW increased sampling of deer and elk for chronic wasting disease, even though no cases of this fatal disease have been detected to date in Washington.
GOAL 2: Sustainable Fish and Wildlife-Related Opportunities
- Selective salmon fisheries: Besides providing protection for listed salmon populations, selective fisheries helped to expand recreational fishing opportunities focused on abundant hatchery stocks. In 2000, for example, the selective season for salmon anglers fishing in the ocean area off Westport lasted a full six weeks. If not for the requirement to safely release unmarked coho, fisheries managers estimate that they would have had to close that season after a week to 10 days of fishing to protect weak wild stocks. The situation was much the same in fisheries from northern Puget Sound to the Columbia River.
- Triploid trout: Fishing in Washington’s lowland lakes got a lot more interesting in 2000, when WDFW began stocking triploid trout with the support of funding provided by the state Legislature. Voracious feeders, the sterile rainbow trout quickly grow to an average size of 1½ pounds.
- Warmwater fisheries: The Meseberg Hatchery, the state’s first large-scale rearing facility for warmwater fish, became fully operational, producing bass, walleye and other species for one of the state’s fastest-growing recreational fisheries.
- Commercial sardine fishery: In 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the first commercial sardine fishery in nearly 50 years, based on stock assessment surveys showing steady growth in the sardine population.
- Youth fishing: Nearly 700 volunteers taught 8,900 young people how to handle a rod and reel through WDFW’s Fishing Kids program, newly expanded with funding provided by the state Legislature.
- Hunting opportunities: Increasing waterfowl populations allowed for some of the most liberal duck-hunting seasons on record. The harvest of deer and elk grew significantly during the biennium as the state’s big-game populations rebounded from the hard winter of 1996-97. The wild turkey harvest also increased in proportion to their growing popularity among hunters.
- WildWatchCams: Tens of thousands of people logged on to WDFW’s new EagleCam website to watch a pair of eagle tend their eggs – and eventually their chicks – in real time. The same educational technology was used to produce a BatCam and SalmonCam, building on WDFW’s public outreach efforts.
GOAL 3: Operational Excellence and Professional Service
- Automated license sales: WDFW’s new electronic licensing system allows hunters and fishers to purchase recreational licenses over the phone or the Internet – for the first time – or from dealers throughout the state. The new system, the Washington Interactive Licensing Database (WILD), also eliminated the old practice of processing licenses by hand, streamlining the process and adding greater financial accountability.
- New business systems: Improvements in agency technology, including new financial accounting and information systems, also contributed to the Department’s efficiency and financial accountability. After running a substantial revenue shortfall in 1998, the Department finished the 1999-01 Biennium well within budget.
- Strategic planning: In 2001, after extensive involvement by WDFW employees throughout the state, the Department adopted its first formal strategic plan, clarifying WDFW’s goals and objectives. In June of 2000, the Legislature consolidated all fish and wildlife laws under a single statute, also contributing to the Department’s new sense of unity and stability.
- Cougar management: After hound hunting for cougars was banned by voter initiative in 1996, public complaints about cougars grew year by year. At the direction of the Legislature, WDFW designed a system for removing cougars that present a threat to public safety within the parameters of the initiative.
- Hydraulic permit turnaround: In 2001, the Department significantly reduced processing time for Hydraulic Permit Approvals (HPAs) needed before doing various types of work in or near state’s waters. By the last quarter of the year, only 1.5% (14 permits) of HPAs took longer than 45 days to process compared to 6.2% (57 permits) in the first quarter.
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