Biologist says Washougal, Wind still have truly wild steelhead

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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It’s often said there are no truly wild fish in Southwest Washington rivers, given decades of planting hatchery-origin salmon and steelhead and their ability to interbreed with native stocks.

Biologist Dan Rawding of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says there are isolated reproductive populations of wild summer steelhead in Wind River and the upper Washougal River.

“The genetic data for the Wind and upper Washougal indicate there’s been little interbreeding with other fish,’’ Rawding said at a public meeting recently in Stevenson. “That’s not to say there’s hasn’t been any hatchery influence because we all know when you’ve been planting since 1951 how could there not be some. So there is some hatchery influence. But we can look at them and they are very different.’’

Waterfowl news

Conditions are right for an excellent waterfowl breeding season in Canada, Alaska and the north-central United States.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service reported has reported nearly unprecedented waterfowl habitat conditions and breeding duck population levels for 2011— the best in several years for some areas,” said Ducks Unlimited’s chief scientist Dale Humburg. “Full wetlands and good upland cover will likely support a strong breeding effort, particularly in the prairies this year.”

Habitat conditions across the U.S. and Canadian prairies and parklands are considered excellent. Farther north, wetland conditions in most regions of Alaska and northern Canada are good.

Total duck populations were estimated at 45.6 million breeding ducks on the surveyed area. This represents an 11 percent increase over 2010’s estimate and is 35 percent above the 1955-2010 average.

It is only the fifth time in the survey’s history that the duck population exceeded 40 million.

Among the “good’’ ducks, the mallard population was estimated at 9.2 million, up from 8.4 million a year ago, and pintails were at 4.4 million, up from 3.5 million in 2010.

The “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, 1955-2011’’ report can be downloaded from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/.

More hunting access

Washington has received a federal grant of almost $1 million to use in opening more private land to public hunting.

Authorized by the federal Farm Bill, the $993,231 is the second such grant in two years. In 2010, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife got $1.5 million.

The money will be used in three ways:

• Provide incentives to private landowners to allow hunting on forested properties in Kittitas, Klickitat, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Yakima counties.

• Work with landowners in Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Walla Walla and Whitman counties to improve habitat enrolled in both the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and state access programs.

• Initiate a “Feel Free to Fish” program in southeast Washington, paying private landowners for shoreline access to river fisheries.