Hunters cry foul at wildlife area plan

Plan to aid salmon in Shillapoo could impact hunting

By Terry Otto, Columbian staff writer

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RIDGEFIELD — Biologists, wildlife managers, and representatives of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife faced a skeptical room of hunters and sportsman at a meeting at its Region 5 office Wednesday. About 60 people were in attendance.

The department was seeking public comment on a plan to open the marshes of the state-owned Shillapoo Wildlife area to the Columbia River to provide rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead.

The popular hunting area is currently managed with pumps and control structures to hold water in the pools for migrating waterfowl and other wildlife. The proposal would breach dikes and remove structures to allow the Columbia River to flow into the area.

However, this action would mean many marshes would remain dry until winter rains lifted the river enough to fill them. This did not sit well with hunters, who are alarmed that this would remove early season waterfowl hunting opportunities.

The WDFW admits that some marshes that would normally be filled in the early months of the hunting season would remain dry until winter.

Jim Cortines of the Washington Waterfowl Association expressed his concern that the project would veer from the original purpose of the wildlife area, which is to provide habitat for waterfowl and wildlife.

“This would take away from the purpose of the wildlife area,” said Cortines. “I’m also afraid this is just the first step. We may see more projects with similar goals.”

Other concerns raised during the meeting included the negative effects on over 80 species of wildlife, including protected species such as the Dusky Canada goose.

Other concerns listed included:

• Loss of hunting opportunities.

• Loss of waterfowl habitat.

• Millions of dollars spent for a small return for fish.

• Negative impacts on other recreational opportunities.

Many members of the public also questioned why there was no representation at the meeting from the BPA, the major partner of the project.

Others felt the public’s objections would be disregarded.

“We feel like we are being steamrolled,” added Cortines.

Before comments were taken Nichol Czarnomski, the Estuary Habitat Program Manager for the department, gave an overview of the South Unit and Buckmeyer Slough Project. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) funded project is part of a plan to increase fish habitat in the Columbia River basin.

The meeting was broken into small groups to take comments and concerns. None of the sportsmen present spoke in favor of the proposal.

Comments from people unable to attend the meeting can be sent to Nichol Czarnomski at: Nicole.Czarnomski@dfw.wa.gov