Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff faced a frustrated group of waterfowlers Monday as they presented an update on the progress of the Buckmire Slough Project being developed for the South Unit of the Shillapoo Wildlife Area near Vancouver, and took comments from the public.
Washington senators Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, were in attendance at the meeting held at the Region 5 headquarters in Ridgefield.
The senators were there in response to complaints brought by their constituents about concerns over the proposed project.
Kyle Spragens, the WDFW Waterfowl Section Manager, gave a presentation about waterfowling trends in Washington, and an overview of the proposed project. The staff then heard concerns from members of the public and answered questions.
The Buckmire Slough Project is designed to provide rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead. The Bonneville Power Association and partners are looking to satisfy a court order to restore salmon habitat in the lower Columbia River basin.
The project would essentially open sections of the South Slough Unit to the Columbia River.
The area is currently managed for waterfowl habitat and hunting. There are a number of dikes and water control devices that allow managers to flood different marshes with pumped-in water.
The marshes, about 500 acres in total, are now closed off from the river.
If the marshes are open to the Columbia they would only hold water when the river is high enough. They would only be flooded from about December through March.
This would mean many areas open to hunting would not have water in them to attract waterfowl for about two months of the season.
Members of the public in attendance were from a number of hunting and waterfowl clubs, including Ducks Unlimited, The Washington Waterfowl Association, and the Vancouver Wildlife League, among others.
The project has been in the planning stages for about 10 years.
Unlike past meetings, the public in attendance were not broken up into smaller segments, something the public was not happy about.
WDFW staff heard from hunters and others that oppose the project. None of the public in attendance spoke in favor of it. When it was proposed to put forward a vote as to who in the audience might be for or against the project, WDFW staff were reluctant.
However, Rivers asked for a vote of people in attendance that were for the proposal. No one raised their hand.
The project has run into firm resistance from local hunters that are concerned about the loss of hunting opportunities and waterfowl habitat.
The 2,370-acre Shillapoo Wildlife Area, located within the floodplain of the Columbia River in Clark County, was established in 1952 for habitat protection and bird hunting. Many of those against the project spoke to the fact that the project would run counter to the wildlife area’s core purpose.
They also pointed out that the wildlife area provides habitat for a number of threatened species, including the Dusky Canada Goose.
The WDFW has admitted that there would be less hunting opportunities during the waterfowl season if the project moves forward, although they contend it would be minimal.
After the meeting, Senator Wilson, who is a hunter herself, said she was there to support her constituents.
“I believe it’s necessary for these guys to be able to voice their opinion in a good setting, and a fair setting,” She said. “I am bothered by the way they break the meetings into small groups.”
She was also bothered that after 10 years of planning the department often could not answer the public’s questions.
“It seems like this has been going on for a long time,” she said, “and they don’t have many answers.”
A number of speakers expressed frustration, and said it looked as if the department and BPA would move forward with the project, even in the face of such strong opposition.
Rivers defended her constituents against such an act.
“Hunting is a part of our social fabric,” she said. “I lay my head down next to a hunter every night. I will fight for you.”
The next meeting concerning the project will be held in October.
For more Information: call Nicole Czarnomski, Estuary Habitat Program Manager: 360-906-6732, and Daren Hauswald, Shillapoo Wildlife Area Manager: 360-906-6756.