LONGVIEW — In a break from recent trends hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts received good news this week when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced expanded access to public lands for recreational activities.
In Washington, there are two national wildlife refuges and five hatchery areas that will see increased opportunity for the public to get in and get their hands dirty. Those areas include Abernathy Fish Technology Center west of Longview and the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge north of Long Beach.
The changes include a modification to a youth bird hunt so that it will align with state regulations. There was also a stark change of direction for eight wildlife refuge areas around the country which will be opened to hunting for the first time. While the local fauna will likely quibble over the use of the definition and use of “refuge” going forward the Elmer Fudds of the world will no doubt be tickled by the update.
At the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge deer and elk hunting will be opened up on 517 acres while expanding elk hunts on another 2,071 acres. Similarly, at the Abernathy Fish Tech center hatchery grounds will now be open to fishing for the first time.
“We are excited when land is made available for hunting and fishing access in Washington,” Kelly Susewind, WDFW director, said in a press release. “The expanded opportunities on these public lands will be welcomed by anglers and hunters across the state.”
For a full story and a complete list of lands affected by the USFWS action check the Thursday issue of The Daily News. In the rest of this space, we’re going to jump into the nitty-gritty details from fields and streams around the region.
One week into the Buoy 10 salmon fishing season the early returns have piqued interest in the annual fishery. Last Saturday alone, in the face of blitzkrieg heatwave, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sampled 425 salmonid boats and 133 bank anglers on the Washington side of the Columbia River who braved the sun in pursuit of king salmon.
“Seemed like the opener was good. The first three days it was open it was pretty good but they seem to be moving up the river by now,” John Bechtold, of Bob’s Sporting Good fishing desk fame, said. “They’re all the way past Bonneville already.”
With the king run on the move Bechtold recommends using 360 flashers, 3.5 spinners, and super baits for the best chance at enticing a summer hog to bite. On the mainstem of the Columbia River last week, the best bite was near the mouth of the Kalama River where the WDFW sampled 67 bank anglers kept 16 Chinook and two jacks. However, 11 rods on five boats in the same area were skunked. In the Longview area 33 bank anglers released two steelhead and 21 rods on a dozen boats kept just one Chinook.
“Down at Buoy 10 it seemed like it was primarily Chinook and the same up this way,” Bechtold said. “There’s been a few silvers in the mix but not many.”
The Cowlitz River was the most active lower Columbia tributary last week, although the kings weren’t quite ready to bite yet. Between the I-5 Bridge and the Barrier Dam 16 bank rods sampled by the WDFW kept seven steelhead, and 27 rods on nine boats kept 19 steelhead. Early this week Tacoma Power reported water conditions on the Cowlitz River below Mayfield Dam with a flow of about 6,430 cubic feet per second, 11 feet of visibility and a temperature of 50 degrees.
At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery last week crews retrieved 367 summer-run steelhead adults, 27 spring Chinook adults, 10 spring Chinook jacks, 93 spring Chinook mini-jacks, 25 cutthroat trout, and two fall Chinook. Tacoma Power employees also recycled 300 summer-run steelhead back downriver to the I-5 boat launch. Another 75 spring Chinook jacks and 75 spring Chinook mini-jacks were dropped into the Riffe reservoir.
In trout stocking news, Mayfield Reservoir was planted with 2,205 rainbow trout weighing roughly a pound each last week. That delivery brings the total for new trout this month to about 7,000 fish. Elsewhere, a single ten pound steelhead was put in the Green River.
Anglers will rejoice, and animal lovers will recoil, to know that the WDFW has received permission to expand its sea lion removal effort on the Columbia River and its tributaries. The effort is intended to help protect populations of endangered salmon and steelhead throughout the basin.
Agencies in Oregon and Idaho, along with six regional tribes, were also approved to commence lethal action against the hungry-hungry pinnipeds. Those actions may be conducted on the section of river between the I-205 Bridge and McNary dam, along with any tributaries that include spawning habitat for salmonids on the endangered species list.
Sea lions have made a particular nuisance of themselves near the downriver side of Bonneville Dam where salmon and steelhead become clustered as they try to navigate the chutes and ladders. Removal efforts could begin as early as this fall.
“Sea lions traveling up the Columbia have had a detrimental impact on already-troubled salmon and steelhead populations, and this permit represents a significant step forward in our ability to give these fish species an immediate boost to increase survival while we continue working on long-term solutions,” Kessina Lee, WDFW Southwest region director, said in a press release.
While sea lions are blamed for the loss of thousands of salmon and steelhead each year, Lee admits that a reduction in their predation will not be enough to solve the issue of dwindling salmonid stocks.
“We don’t expect this program to solve the problem on its own but it represents one more tool in the toolbox as we continue working to also restore habitat, manage hatcheries and fish harvest, and develop hydropower policy,” Lee said in the release.
The most recent rule change adds Steller sea lions to the removal list alongside California sea lions, which have been targeted in the past. Under the permit as many as 176 Steller sea lions, and 540 California sea lions may be removed over the next five years.
Bear hunts continue to barrel full speed ahead in the brambles and berry patches between the mountains to the ocean. Those hunts kicked off the seasonal start for hunters who will spend the next several months traipsing every thicket, clear cut, boggy pond, and grassy meadow where game animals are known to flock and roam.
Popular hunting seasons for species such as elk and deer will begin in September. Until then the WDFW is prodding the camouflaged public to put their energy into providing feedback on a litany of proposals for the 2021-23 hunting seasons. A list of proposed changes were released by the WDFW earlier this week and the public will be allowed to submit comments through Sept. 15.
“This process is how we attempt to understand the type of hunting experience our hunters want, and we need your feedback to help us determine the path forward,” Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, said in a press release. “We’re looking at how we can bring in more participation even as we’re having to contend with current restrictions on public gatherings.”
The WDFW has scheduled a series of virtual meetings in order to provide more information to the public. A meeting on Aug. 25 will be set aside for small game, upland game, and furbearers. Aug. 27 is set aside to talk about general issues, equipment and licensing. Waterfowl will be discussed on Sept. 1, and elk will be the topic du jour on Sept. 3. On Sept. 9 the topic will switch to deer, while bighorn sheep, boundaries, and mountain goats will be discussed on Sept. 10. Each meeting will be held between 6-7 p.m.
Feedback can be provided via text message to 855-925-2801 by using keywords such as “deer,” “elk,” “small game,” “waterfowl,” “bighorn,” or “general.” Only one subject may be included in each text message. Feedback can also be sent by mail to: Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, PO Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504.
Details regarding the proposed changes, along with links to the virtual meetings, can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/season-setting.
While there is still some time to wait before the bulk of hunting seasons begin, it’s important to remember that roadkill salvage is almost always allowed in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. However, deer are not legal for salvage in Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, or Clark counties in order to protect endangered populations of Columbian white-tailed deer. Permits are available online and must be obtained within 24 hours of any deer or elk salvage. Permit applications, and additional roadkill salvage regulations, can now be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage.