The first year of the 2010s will be memorable for Northwest sportsmen and -women for several reasons.
The return of Chinook fisheries off the Oregon Coast after a two-year hiatus and good river fishing there this past fall
A kokanee that was within a midnight snack or two of double digits
A pretty damned good springer season on the Lower Columbia
And passage of a new crabbing policy that will benefit recreational fishermen.
It’s not all happy-happy, joy-joy, of course.
Poachers continue to steal our wildlife — at shocking levels in part of Oregon.
Evergreen and Beaver state wolf packs continue to grow.
Controversial regulations were passed that will affect Northeast Washington fishermen and young Oregon hunters in the coming year.
And as the recession drags on, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife faces desperate futures on two fronts: Will it remain its own agency or be folded in with other natural resource departments and see its oversight body neutered? And will lawmakers pass new license, parking pass and hydraulic permit hikes and stave off heart-killer cuts to fishing and hunting that may otherwise have to be made?
This is by no means a complete list of 2010’s top stories, but here are 14 of the more important fishing and hunting storylines around the Northwest this year:
POACHERS KILL AS MANY DEER AS LEGAL HUNTERS IN CENTRAL OREGON
There was no lack of poaching news around the region in 2010, especially late in the year when a series of incidents illustrated the magnitude and widespread nature of the illegal game killing.
Also rearing its head, so-called “spree killing” of game — the slaughter and wastage of numerous deer or elk all at once for no other apparent reason than killing for the sake of killing. There were three cases across Southeast Washington and one south of Aberdeen this year.
But perhaps most chilling of all was the stunning Nov. 16 front-page article in The Oregonian that poachers kill as many mule deer a year in Central Oregon as do legal hunters.
“If we look at the illegal take, it’s basically equal to the legal take — it’s bad,” Michelle Dennehy, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, told reporter Richard Cockle.
ODFW discovered the intensity of poaching while monitoring 500 radio-collared deer from mid-2005 to this past January. Poachers killed 19 while 21 were taken by permitted hunters.
Another 51 died of unknown causes, and some of those could certainly be attributable to poachers, the article suggested.
“Sometimes we just find the radio collar laying out in the sagebrush,” ODFW biologist DeWayne Jackson pointed out.
Even worse, poachers appear to be killing does, the key to recovering herd numbers, Cockle reports.
He quoted Mule Deer Foundation regional director Ken Hand as saying that the crime “is out of hand in Oregon. It’s going on all over the state, 365 days a year. From all the contacts I have around the state, I just hear about it constantly.”
Maybe it’s my position as an editor/reporter for a regional fishing and hunting magazine, but I’d echo that.
“We investigate poaching 12 months out of the year,” WDFW Enforcement Division Deputy Chief Mike Cenci told me. “Our guys are running their asses off.”
During a late-fall spate of activity in Southwest Washington, officers put out a deer decoy and not 10 minutes later, it was shot, Cenci says. Officers nabbed the suspect and paid a visit to his house.
“Had it been an actual deer, it would have been the sixth in a week,” he alleges.
In Idaho, two notable figures were charged with poaching.
One, former gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, was found with a Southeast Idaho cow elk in late November but a tag for a Central Idaho hunt that ended in late October. He recently pled not guilty to a misdemeanor charge and will be back in court in February — but followed up the incident by exhorting an Idaho County crowd to go poach wolves.
Anthony Mayer of saveelk.com was also charged with a felony for poaching a trophy bull elk out of season and other hunting crimes. He also plead not guilty and faces an April 2011 jury trial.
At the end of the year, some good news: One Grays Harbor poacher is headed back to jail for five months after pleading guilty in November to illegally killing five deer. He just got out of the county clink in June after serving 10 months for other hunting violations too.
More on that scofflaw in our January issue, but that and other cases we’ve reported on in 2010 show that while some sportsmen sometimes love to blame the Injuns for all the poaching, the perps often turn out to be white guys in their late teens, 20s and 30s.
WDFW SEEKS FIRST LICENSE FEE INCREASE IN YEARS
Facing even more dire cuts on top of the $37 million that’s been chopped from its budget the past two years, WDFW is asking lawmakers to hike fishing and hunting fees.
Since at least the 2002 season, it’s cost Washington residents $21.90 for a freshwater fishing license and $72.27 for a deer/elk/cougar/bear combo license. (A two-year surcharge that came online in summer 2009 in response to budget crunches did add 10 percent to the cost of a license.)
If passed, however, seniors, youth angler and disabled veterans would be exempt from the increase, according to agency director Phil Anderson.
Citing cuts of up to $20 million from his General Fund and another $6 million if the surcharge which expires this coming June isn’t extended, he says that if approved, the suite of tag and license increases could raise $14.3 million and “help maintain fishing and hunting opportunities as well as support important conservation efforts now under way throughout the state.”
If the hikes go down in flames, WDFW will have to look at killing Puget Sound steelheading, closing anywhere from seven to 11 hatcheries, pink-slipping a platoon of game wardens, closing some access sites or other measures, Anderson has warned.
“Sound resource management requires funding for biologists, enforcement officers and catch/harvest reporting as a basic condition of opening hunting or fishing seasons. Absent new funding, WDFW will be faced with reducing fishing and hunting opportunities, along with public access to state lands and our statewide conservation efforts,” he said in a guest editorial that appears in the January issue of Northwest Sportsman.
WOLF NUMBERS GROW IN WASHINGTON, OREGON
Wolves were put back under Endangered Species Act protections in the Northern Rockies, including the eastern thirds of Washington and Oregon, last August when a U.S. District Court judge in Missoula ruled the predators couldn’t be managed by the states in some parts of their range but the federal government in others. That killed planned hunts in Idaho and Montana.
At least one wolf from Oregon’s Wenaha pack was illegally shot in late September while the alpha female from Washington’s Lookout Pack went missing this past spring. It’s unclear whether age or a bullet caught up with it. There was no resolution to the case of a Twisp, Wash., man accused of killing another member of that pack in late 2008, though it is said that the new U.S. attorney in Spokane is being made aware of the importance of the case.
Populations in both states continued to grow. In Northeast Oregon, a recent aerial survey found at least 15 if not 16 wolves in the Imnaha Pack, up from 10 videotaped in November 2009. There are another six animals in the Wenaha Pack, according to ODFW, up from four the year before.
The agency is also investigating reports of wolves in the Catherine Creek, Keating, Beulah, Desolation and Starkey Units.
In Washington, the Diamond Pack of central Pend Oreille County had another litter, and numbered two adults, four yearlings and six pups earlier this year. Another two wolves, part of the unconfirmed “Salmo” Pack, were photographed by remote camera last summer in far northern parts of the county, according to WDFW.
There were also reports of wolf tracks and doots around Hozomeen on upper Ross Lake as well as continued reports of animals in the Blue Mountains north of Oregon’s Wenaha Pack.
And west of Omak, a trail cam photo snapped last July shows a canid that wildlife biologists are not not calling a wolf, though they have no DNA evidence it is.
ODFW made “minor” tweaks to its wolf management plan while WDFW began categorizing and answering the 65,000 comments made on its draft document. A final plan won’t be ready until late next year.
BYE-BYE, WDFW; HELLO, UH, DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND RECREATION?
For the past year and a half, WDFW’s future as a stand-alone agency has been shaky at best.
First, in 2009, Gov. Chris Gregoire convened it and several other departments to come up with ideas on how to reform natural resources management, reduce costs and improve service delivery. That process spit out two-, three-, four- and five-agency models; one had WDFW folded into an “Ecosystem Management and Recreation Agency.”
It more or less was recommended against, but in early February 2010, Senate Bill 6813 was introduced by a trio of central Pugetropolis Democrats to abolish “the department of fish and wildlife and (transfer) its powers, duties, and functions to the department of natural resources.”
By late February, the Senate Ways & Means Committee’s 2010 supplemental budget had zeroed out WDFW’s budget for 2010-11 and consolidated it with DNR and State Parks.
But strong opposition from sportsmen, among other groups, led the full Senate to toss the idea.
However, as the state’s budget woes deepened this past summer, Democrats Lisa Brown, Washington’s Senate majority leader, and Frank Chopp, the speaker of the House, put out a joint statement saying “the current budget situation clearly demonstrates that state government must be rescaled to fit the new fiscal reality.”
Around the same time, WDFW’s Anderson told a gathering of sportsmen, ranchers and others in Okanogan County that the agency was at “a critical turning point” and “predicted” the Legislature would again look at combining WDFW, DNR and the Department of Ecology.
Gregoire beat them to it.
On Dec. 14, she proposed merging WDFW into a new Department of Conservation and Recreation. The agency would be joined at the hip with a seriously defunded State Parks & Recreation Commission as well as the Recreation and Conservation Office. It would also pick up DNR’s law enforcement arm.
It’s unclear what role the Fish & Wildlife Commission would have under Gregoire’s plan — advisory at best, at any rate — but the DCR director would be appointed by the governor instead of hired by the FWC.
Yeah, yeah, I know the state’s facing a $4,7-plus-billion revenue shortfall, but her full slate of natural resource agency merger proposals would save a mere $2.5 million and eliminate 14 jobs.
We’ll see whether legislators come up with their own ideas on reshuffling the deck when the session opens in January.
ORANGE REQUIRED FOR OREGON YOUTH HUNTERS STARTING IN MID-2011
The Oregon Hunter’s Association calls it a “misfire,” but the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in September approved new rules that will require youth hunters 17 years of age and younger to wear hunter orange tops or hats.
The rules take effect Aug. 1 and are required when hunting game mammals and upland birds except turkeys with any firearm.
The father of a 15-year-old mistakenly shot dead by his uncle while hunting called the commission’s move “the right decision,” but OHA’s Duane Dungannon argued that what you wear while afield should be a personal choice.
“The comission (sic) needs to get back on task in reversing the declines in our state’s deer and elk herds and the dwindling number of Oregon hunters,” he told a reporter for The Oregonian, not working on “needless new regulations.”
Termed an “almost-bold” move by one blogger, it split the difference between three proposals before the commission — wear whatever you want; kids in orange; everyone in orange.
PARTIAL LEAD-TACKLE BAN FOR LOONS
Is it the 747th cut of the thousand that will end recreational fishing as it is known in Washington?
Scientifically unjustified regulations?
Or a targeted effort to protect a rare and cool bird from slugging down certain types of fishing tackle and dying of lead toxicosis?
There’s something for everyone in the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission’s December passage of new rules outlawing the use of lead weights and jigs measuring 1 1/2 inches or less along their longest axis at 12 lakes and lead flies at a 13th.
Debated for a year, the commission passed on a sportfishing community-based approach suggested by industry reps and a proposed full lead-tackle ban, and instead went with the partial prohibition at the lakes. They are primarily in the mountains of North-central and Northeast Washington.
Opponents of the new rule said it would have a “significant negative impact on recreational anglers and fisheries resources in Washington.”
A WDFW spokeswoman pointed out that the reason loons are at the 13 lakes in the first place is the relative lack of disturbance needed to raise their broods.
The new rules go into effect May 1, 2011.
NOTABLE PASSAGES FROM THE NORTHWEST FISHING AND HUNTING WORLD
I never talked to Tami Wagner, but something compelled me to write about the ODFW assistant district wildlife biologist for the Central Coast after news of her death broke in late October.
She was killed in a three-vehicle accident outside Toledo, Ore.
Coworkers fondly remembered Wagner as a “great woman and valued employee,” and said that though she was smaller in stature, she was up for big jobs.
“She was not shy about handling elk 10 times her size,” one recalled.
She was 52.
Two months earlier, a pair of Idaho state biologists — Larry Barrett and Dana Schiff — as well as their pilot died when their helicopter crashed during a salmon-spawning survey.
They were 47 and 34.
Longtime Seattle-area fisheries biologist Steve Foley also died while working out at a gym in March.
Other passings in the Northwest outdoors world included bowhunting pioneer Glenn St. Charles, known as “the watchdog of bowhunting in Washington State and eventually throughout the country,” and John Amos Nosler, the founder of the famed premium-bullet-making company based in Bend.
They were 98 and 97.
WORLD-RECORD KOKANEE CAUGHT
So how about some good news?
For starters, Ron Campbell of La Grande, Ore., caught a new state- and world-record kokanee at Wallowa Lake in mid-June.
The lake had been on fire for giant landlocked sockeye salmon since the previous summer when Jerry Logosz set a new state record with a 7-pound, 1-ouncer.
That fish was aced out by Bob Both‘s 8-pound, 13-ouncer in May.
But then Campbell’s 9.67-pound monster not only topped Both’s, but beat out the standing world record, a 9-pound, 6-ounce British Columbia fish landed in 1988.
In mid-October the retired firefighter was recognized by the International Game Fish Association as the all-tackle and 12-pound line-class record holder.
SUPER SOCKEYE RUNS
Campbell’s colossal kokanee wasn’t the only thing king-sized when it came to Onchorynchus nerka in 2010.
The run of 386,525 sockeye up the Columbia was the most since fish counts began at Bonneville Dam in 1938.
And in a spectacular rags-to-mega-riches story, the Fraser saw a mind-boggling 34 million sockeye back — the largest run since 1913. It came a year after the BC river saw the worst return in over five decades, a mere 1.3 million, just 10 percent of the forecast.
What caused the turnaround?
Scientists suspect that in 2008, ash from an eruption of the Kasatochi volcano the hell and gone out in the Aleutians somehow fertilized the Gulf of Alaska with the mother of all phytoplankton blooms just as the young Cannuckleye year-class moved into the area to feed.
The bad news is that Kasatochi has apparently gone back to sleep, so it may be awhile before the Fraser sees that sort of run again.
The good news is, aren’t the rest of the Aleutians volcanic too?!?! Let’s shake those bad boys a little bit!
GOOD FISHING FOUND AROUND THE REGION
Outside of Lakes Washington and Wenatchee, the Columbia’s Brewster Pool and the southwest side of Vancouver Island, the science of sockeye catching is still in its infancy in the Northwest, but fortunately other species provided pretty good fishing here in 2010.
The Oregon Coast saw its first Chinook retention fishery in two years as well as expanded opportunities to catch and keep wild coho. Fall king fishing was also pretty good, especially on the Umpqua and Chetco Rivers. The latter saw action extend into December.
The summer steelhead run up the Columbia and Snake topped 400,000, providing even earlier fishery openings in North-central Washington.
Back offshore, after a slower start, the albacore fleet brought an estimated 37,743 tuna back to Newport, Coos Bay, Garibaldi and other Oregon ports, according to ODFW’s Eric Schindler, third best only to 2007 (58,922) and 2009 (42,055).
Preliminary data from WDFW shows that 2010 may also be the best year yet for charter and private boats. An estimated 31,508 tuna were brought back to Ilwaco, Westport and elsewhere. That’s more than 6,000 fish beyond what the previous high marks (2006 and 2007) saw, though final data won’t be in until February.
And also on the salt, an estimated 225-pound halibut was landed in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca in early May.
COLUMBIA SPRINGER FORECAST WELL OFF — BUT THE CATCHING WAS GREAT
Fishery managers are still trying to dial in forecasts for upriver-bound spring Chinook in the Columbia. For the 2011 run, they’re using over 40 different models. That’s up from the seven they used to predict an all-time-best run, some 470,000 salmon, in 2010 — a prediction that fell short by a full third.
Still, at 315,345 fish, this year’s run ended up being the third best in modern history, behind 2001 (just shy of 450,000) and 2002 (a bit under 350,000).
It also provided the highest catch of all time.
In the end, we sports killed at least 23,533 upriver springers below Bonneville (keep plus release mortalities), the commercials got 7,609, the tribes roughly 5,000 and the sea lions 5,392, according to a postseason analysis we put together.
The Willamette surprised everyone with a six-figure return as well.
As an aside, nobody knows exactly where Columbia springer smolts go once they swim off into the North Pacific, but one can’t help but wonder if the record-breaking number of jacks that came back in 2009 (some 81,000) were feeding in all that phytoplankton Kasotchi volleyed into the ocean.
PUGET SOUND DUNGENESS POLICY CHANGE BENEFITS SPORT CRABBERS
In the words of Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission chairwoman Miranda Wecker, a new crabbing policy that benefits recreational harvesters in Puget Sound has been “coming for a long time.”
In early October, the commission voted to kibosh Dungeness quotas and go with seasons instead. A vote to change the actual regulations was slated for this February.
A change to five-day-a-week summer and seven-day-a-week winter seasons is expected to boost the sport catch by up to 40 percent. The new policy would also result in a reduction of the nontribal commercial harvest from 67 percent to 55 percent of the state take.
The move accommodates a growing sport fleet. The number of crabbers has grown by 60,000 to 220,000 over just the past five years, according to WDFW. Figures from a News Tribune article suggest that the change will nearly double the catch out of Tacoma, growing it by 40,000 pounds, while another 20,000 pounds of Dungies may crawl into Hood Canal crab pots.
However, there have been rampant issues of, shall we say, “noncompliance,” among recreational crabbers. According to the News Tribune, Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association “said the sport fishing industry is ready to assist the state in helping recreational anglers comply with crabbing laws.”
DAM REMOVAL GAINS MOMENTUM
For the first time in over a century, Chinook, coho and steelhead can use all 150-plus miles of the Rogue River from the Pacific up to Lost Creek Lake dam to spawn in thanks to the midsummer sundering of Gold Ray Dam just north of Medford.
It made hash of downstream fishing for a time, but almost immediately salmon began using the now-free-flowing waters behind the dam.
The Oregonian reported that as of early October, 31 Chinook redds could be found in the former reservoir which until late summer had been “far better suited to nonnative bass than the king of Northwest rivers.”
Powerdale Dam on the Hood River came out a few weeks after Gold Ray, opening up 100 miles of free-flowing river on the east side of Mt. Hood.
The damcracking continues in 2011. Two monoliths on the mighty Elwha are scheduled to begin to be decommissioned this coming year.
It is said that once upon a time, Chinook returning to this northern Olympic Peninsula river reached 100 pounds, but as crews take out Glines Canyon and Elwha Dams, WDFW is proposing a fishing moratorium on the river to help native fish restoration in the 70 miles of spawning habitat that will be opened up.
STILL FISHING, STILL HUNTING, STILL BUYING GEAR, DESPITE THE RECESSION
And finally, despite the recession, Northwest sportsmen still have their wallets open.
When WDFW offered hunters twice as many choices to get drawn for a special permit this year, we bought, well, nearly twice as many applications.
“I’m pleased to tell you that we sold 230,000 special hunt permits this year, raising $1.1 million,” Craig Bartlett, a spokesman in Olympia, told us in mid-June. “That’s up from 125,000 permits and $654,000 last year.”
And in raising new revenue for the agency, we also helped ourselves secure new access to private hunting ground across the state.
The Northwest boat market remains tough, so a consortium of builders in the Lewiston and Clarkston area are right now brushing up on their “dankes” and “bittes” before heading to a massive show in Dusseldorf, Germany, in January to show off their wares. They hope to get into the virtually untapped European market for shallow-draft aluminum boats.
But Cabela’s thinks highly enough of the local sporting goods market that, this past spring, they announced plans to build their fourth store in the Northwest, this one in Springfield.
“Cabela’s brings a strong tradition of supporting hunting, fishing and camping through clinics and classes. We look forward to possibly partnering with them to get people outdoors,” ODFW’s marketing coordinator David Lane told us.
And to get ahead of the Nebraska’s company potential move to the Portland-Vancouver market, Dan Grogan of Fisherman’s Marine is going to open a third store location in Tigard, Bill Monroe reports today.
If yours truly truly had all the time in the world, this list might also include action on Oregon’s marine reserve program front, the 30th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens’ eruption, a possible sighting of a grizzly bear in Washington’s Cascades, sturgeon declines in the Columbia and Willamette, the increase of illegal marijuana grows on public land, and other stuff, but, well, I do have magazines to put together, starting with the Feb.
So what will 2011 bring?
That’s a good question, but I suspect more wolves, more woes, more record fish and more wins for Northwest sportsmen.
Till then, Happy New Year!
AW over and out.