The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted new 2019 hunting season regulations and reviewed annual wolf population findings during their April 5-6 meeting in Olympia.
The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also received public comments about proposed changes to suction dredging rules and approved two land transactions.
After months of public feedback, the commission approved new hunting seasons for ducks, geese, deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and other game species for 2019-20.
Key changes approved by the commission for the upcoming season will:
- Expand a requirement across western Washington that has successful hunters leave elk hoofs in place to prevent the spread of hoof disease.
- Eliminate minimum arrow weight restrictions.
- Reduced the number of antlerless elk permits available in southeast Washington.
- Eliminate this season’s antlerless white-tailed deer hunts to conserve deer populations in northeast Washington.
- Let turkey hunters forgo hunter orange requirements when hunting outside of modern firearm and elk seasons.
- Add Feb. 1, 2020 as a waterfowl hunting day set aside to honor military and veteran service members. The day aligns with one of two youth waterfowl hunting days.
In other business, the commission reviewed the department’s annual wolf report. The report documents a growing wolf population for the tenth consecutive year, with a minimum of 126 individuals, 27 packs, and 15 breeding pairs. This includes the first documented western Washington pack the Diobsud Creek Pack — since wolves were virtually eliminated from Washington in the 1930s.
The commission reviewed agency wolf efforts regarding proactive non-lethal deterrents and wolf-livestock conflict in 2018. WDFW staff then briefed the commission on an upcoming wolf periodic status review that will evaluate the species’ status in relation to state endangered species requirements and state wolf recovery objectives. The department is planning extensive public outreach as a part of the periodic review, which is required for all state-listed species.
A news release about the 2018 wolf report is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/news/washingtons-wolf-population-increases-10th-straight-year. The full report is posted at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/gray-wolf.
On another issue, the commission heard public comment on agency-proposed suction dredging rule changes that would require an annual report and Hydraulic Project Approval permit for gold and mineral prospectors operating in or near waterways. The commission is expected to act on the changes proposed by agency staff at a future commission meeting.
Commissioners also heard a staff briefing and public testimony on a salmon-management policy for Grays Harbor, plus analysis of Willapa Bay salmon fishery management options. The commission selected a Willapa Bay salmon fishery option that continues 2018 Commission guidance for a 20 percent maximum impact rate on chinook salmon, given anticipated ocean interception reductions. The commission also elected to remove restrictions on where commercial fishing can occur within the bay, and gave department staff the discretion to set bag limits.
In addition, the commission approved two land transactions. The WDFW, in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Forterra, acquired approximately 3,555 acres of shrub-steppe, oak woodland, and over 6 miles of instream habitat supporting steelhead and bull trout recovery in Yakima County.
The second acquisition, approximately 1,600 acres of forest and aquatic habitat in Kittitas County, is part of the Heart of the Cascades project. Both of these properties provide critical habitat and migration corridors for elk and mule deer.
A briefing and public comment regarding commercial fishing guide logbook requirements was rescheduled to the June 14-15 meeting. In response to public feedback, the commission also requested a future agenda item to discuss elk management in the Skagit Valley.