About DFW’s 2020 Budget Request

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 25, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

As you are no doubt aware, our DFW (Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife) has come under increasing budgetary stress over the last decade and more. It has yet to recover from the hits it took from the recession of 2008, and has repeatedly been denied sufficient operating funds by the Legislature and Governor’s Office. While many of us argue loudly and often over programs and policies to be funded, dropped, or whatever, the fact is that the Department needs money to do the work it was formed to do. In this time of decreasing hunting numbers – and therefore diminishing funding – it is especially critical that the Department be able to grow its outreach programs as it carries forward with its mission of looking after our wildlife.

This is a very big deal. In January, representatives of nearly 50 very diverse stakeholder organizations across our state sent the following to legislators. (Find the entire list at www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/legislature-fully-fund-fish-and-wildlife/.)

‘Today, a set of diverse organizations representing hunters and anglers, wildlife advocates, and outdoor recreation interests called on the Washington State Legislature to appropriate all of the $26 million in operating funds requested for the coming fiscal year by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in the upcoming session. This is substantially more than what Governor Inslee included in his budget request, which contains just $15.6 million in general operating funds for WDFW, though the Governor’s budget also includes $8.2 million that would accrue in the unlikely event that a bill passed to increase certain hunting and fishing license fees.

“Many of these same groups worked last year in favor of the Legislature appropriating $45 million in biennial operating funds (plus $17 million from a license fee increase bill that did not pass), of which a mere $24 million was provided onetime, rather than ongoing. Greater funding is needed to preserve and restore the Evergreen State’s fish and wildlife heritage, especially given growing challenges ranging from salmon and orca recovery to elk hoof disease, habitat loss and wolf management.

“If the Legislature were to fund the entire $26 million requested today, the total $50 million bump for this biennium would allow the agency to continue its existing level of service—providing recreational and commercial opportunities for Washingtonians while stewarding our state’s fish, wildlife and the habitat they depend on. This basic level of service has been put at significant risk by a structural deficit in the Department’s budget, where ongoing costs (like mandated payroll increases, Endangered Species Act requirements, and demand for outdoor opportunity from the state’s growing population) have been funded for only the initial year by onetime money. The costs continue in later years. This exacerbates an agency budget that is still not restored from cuts dating to the 2008 recession. This deficit grows each biennium as onetime solutions temporarily fill the gap, only to expire and leave a larger hole.

“In 2017, the Legislature challenged the Department to find savings, requiring it to submit to evaluation by an outside management consultant, undertake a zero-based budget exercise, and assemble a citizen advisory group to identify areas for budget cuts. That citizen advisory group, the Budget and Policy Advisory Group (BPAG), seeing what damage such cuts would cause, coalesced in support of the Department’s mission and in favor of it being sufficiently funded to succeed. This statement from leaders of diverse WDFW stakeholder groups reinforces that demand.

“Perspectives from [some] outdoor leaders:

“Butch Smith, of Ilwaco Charter Association: ‘Department of Revenue estimates that wildlife watching, hunting and fishing contribute about $170 million dollars per year to the State General Fund. Rural communities and businesses like mine depend on the activity that generates those tax revenues…’

Rachel Voss, a Tieton resident with the Mule Deer Foundation: ‘Hunting is what I live for. Our game populations and experiences face countless challenges these days, and only a strong agency offers the chance of answering those challenges and passing on our hunting heritage.’

Mitch Friedman, of Conservation Northwest: ‘Spending on wildlife diversity and outdoor recreation is particularly lacking, representing less than four percent of the Department’s budget and only a small share of General Fund appropriations to WDFW. WDFW has only enough money to implement five percent of its State Wildlife Action Plan. Biodiversity is at growing risk with this weak funding trend.’

“Jen Syrowitz, of the Washington Wildlife Federation: ‘Persistent underfunding puts Washington’s natural heritage at risk. …74 percent of Washingtonians support WDFW funding from both public tax dollars and sportsmen licenses.’

“The case for fully-funding WDFW remains evident. Not only are Washington’s wildlife and ecosystems critical to our quality of life, they are under increasing pressure from our state’s burgeoning population and increasing development. WDFW is the agency primarily tasked with sustaining our state’s priceless natural heritage against these threats.

Leaders from the outdoor, sportsmen, and conservation communities are calling on the legislature to fully-fund WDFW’s 2020 budget request through a $26 million appropriation from the General Fund.

Next week, we will look at kids and outdoor training/experience programs.

Tomorrow’s Hunting & Fishing – Part II

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 19, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

As mentioned last week, I have been picking the brains of folks whose job it is to figure out where our hunting and fishing is headed. I noted a number of changes that fishing pros are making to keep us enjoying our ocean and inland fishing – and to recruit more fishers of all ages out into fresh air and onto water.

This week’s focus is on hunting; the changes coming, and those we are already seeing.

You and I have, several times, looked at the impact of diminishing numbers of hunters across the country on wildlife management and habitat. Frances Stead Sellers’ recent (Feb. 2, 2020) article in the Washington Post laid the problem out pretty clearly. In the piece, titled “Hunting is ‘slowly dying off’ and that is creating a crisis for the nation’s many endangered species,” Sellers does a pretty good job of describing the role of the North American wildlife conservation model (established nearly 100 years ago) and its current challenges.

Sellers describes public lands as “a shared resource, open to an unlikely mix of hunters and hikers, birdwatchers and mountain bikers.” The users of these public lands are all in a symbiotic relationship, but that is a failing relationship given that “Americans’ interest in hunting is on the decline, cutting into funding for conservation, which stems largely from hunting licenses, permits and taxes on firearms, bows and other equipment. Even as more people are engaging in outdoor activities, hunting license sales have fallen from a peak of about 17 million in the early ’80s to 15 million last year, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The relationship between hunters and funding for wildlife conservation dates back to the determination of Theodore Roosevelt and many of his contemporaries who spoke out for putting money where the wildlife concerns were. Their efforts and persistence led eventually to the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R) in 1937. That Act placed an excise tax on the sale of firearms – and over time on other gear – to be apportioned each year to state wildlife agencies. Over time, the use of those funds has been approved for a broader array of conservation, including work on behalf of endangered species.

The current loss of hunters – and P-R funding – is hitting wildlife agencies hard. There have been several national calls for new conservation funding models, including a proposed new tax on outdoor gear beyond hunting, but so far they have met great resistance, and gone nowhere. Thus, more and more state wildlife agencies are asking legislatures to approve dollars from general funds, so that they might be able to continue the work they are charged with doing. The cost of managing wildlife and balancing predator-prey numbers and relationships is high, and hunters are increasingly unable to pay the tab.

Still, all may not be lost, As they look for new funding sources, virtually all states have stepped up recruitment and retention efforts to bolster hunter numbers. Here in Washington, Our Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has, with the support of various hunting and outdoor companies and groups, stepped up training and mentoring in a variety of hunting practices, including waterfowl, upland bird and wild turkey hunting. Basic Hunter Education courses are on the upswing. Virtually all the states around us are following Washington’s lead, and new hunters are finding their ways into ancient traditions.

We know that women hunters make up the fastest-growing segment of the fledgling attempts to restore hunter numbers. Virtually every western state (and many more across the country) now has at least one organization devoted to introducing women and girls to all aspects of the hunting and care of wildlife. Our Washington Outdoor Women (WOW) group has been a leader in these efforts. At the sportsmen shows over the last two to three years I have seen more young women and children than I remember seeing in decades. The shows are making women feel ever more welcome, with skilled female speakers, instructors, demonstrators and members who can speak to the unique needs and challenges of outdoor women.

More and more we are seeing young men and women (generally 18 to 40+ years of age) being drawn to hunting and harvest. Many of them are from families which do not have a tradition of hunting. They are being drawn in by hunting and shooting blogs and podcasts, and are feeling a need to return to a more natural responsibility for their food and relationship with the earth. The O’Loughlin group outdoor shows, particularly, have identified large numbers of these folks and have found ways to market to them with various social media tools and cable network shows. I was taken aback the last day of the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show in Portland, when I ran into a line of several hundred young men and women waiting to hear superstar Steve Rinella – a TV host and podcaster – talk about do-it-yourself hunting, game preparation and cooking.

Recruitment efforts are underway all across the country. Even with great success and large new numbers of hunters, we will likely need new funding models to ensure that we have wild things and wild places for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

We are in for some long and important discussions. Stand by…

Tomorrow’s Hunting & Fishing – Part I

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 12, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

I have been picking the brains of folks whose job it is to figure out where our hunting and fishing is headed. And what can – or must – be done to prepare for the changes coming. Much of my last – and very interesting – week was spent at the O’Loughlin’s Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show at the Expo Center in Portland, Oregon.

Discussions involved owners of saltwater and freshwater fishing outfits, reps of state and national wildlife agencies, and some of the people involved in putting on – and continuing to put on – the various sportsmen shows we chase this time of each year. While individual perspectives vary a bit, as you might expect, the overall outlook was surprisingly uniform.

It may be useful to look at fishing and hunting futures and changes separately, and then consider approaches to our overall outdoor future.

The future of ocean fishing, in the eyes of the Pacific Northwest ocean charter owners was summarized repeatedly as “more cost, less opportunity,” particularly as it comes to salmon. Reasons given included increased state and federal regulation, changing and varying ocean temperature patterns, severe predation from sea lions, cormorants, and pikeminnows, and growing concern for the well-being of Pacific Coast orcas.

Coastal conservation groups and charter associations are working increasingly with federal and state regulators to find solutions – particularly in those situations in which protected species like sea lions are heavily impacting threatened and endangered species like salmon. The newly-appointed director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Aurelia Skipwith, spent a day during last weekend’s Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show in Portland speaking with fishing and hunting industry representatives and the public about the role of her agency in streamlining regulations and working for a sustainable future for the fishing and hunting with which she grew up. The agency, she noted, was committed to supporting the role of fishers and hunters in conservation – and to remembering that conservation is as much about people as it is about wildlife. There are a number of initiatives underway to protect and increase fish stocks while dealing fairly with the predators which must also be managed.

Determined to remain as viable businesses while all these issues are worked to restore salmon and steelhead seasons, limits, and availability, charter operators are increasingly marketing abundant bottom fish such as sea bass and lings, and various seasons for both catch-and-release and catch-and-keep sturgeon.

In the meantime, sportsmen show planners, such as the O’Loughlins (owners of several shows in the West, including the Puyallup and Portland shows) are watching the ocean fishing efforts and noting new trends among the fishers attending their shows which may also attract new attendees. Over the last couple years, for example, as ocean salmon fishing has struggled, a significant growth is seen in surf fishing and kayak fishing (literally hundreds of folks lined up for advice and coaching at booths and talks during several of this year’s shows). In response to more limited inland river fishing for salmon and steelhead, a good many of the river guides are marketing trips for walleye and bass. The sportsmen shows are seeing an increase in marketing of fishing tourism on large inland lakes, and an uptick in interest in warm water fish such as bass, perch and panfish, along with the fairly abundant trout found across the interiors of Pacific states.

On the hunting side of things, conversations were even more intense. You’ve been hearing about the concern over dropping numbers of hunters across the country – and the subsequent loss of the revenue needed to manage wildlife – for some time. Maybe you saw the recent article in the Washington Post which focused on the impact of that diminishing number of hunters, and their dollars, on endangered species management. We will continue that large and looming conversation next week.

In the meantime, there are groups in which we are seeing – and will see – significant growth in hunter numbers. The fastest growing of them is women. In surrounding states, and several others, fish and wildlife agencies and private groups now offer special workshops specifically to train women in finding, getting and caring for fish and game animals. Our Washington Outdoor Women (WOW) group is a prime example. Several states are noting something that our local Kittitas County Field and Stream Club Basic Hunter Safety course instructors have seen for some time – half and more of their students are women and girls. The O’Loughlin group, and other sportsman show producers are hiring and recruiting women leaders and speakers, who are attracting increasing numbers of women to hunting and fishing. And with them are coming more kids and youth than in many years.

More young urban adults are suddenly wanting outdoor lives that include game and fish. How they are being recruited, and supported, is very different than how many of the rest of us found our paths into hunting and fishing. That fascinating process, and a lot more about our changing outdoor world, when we continue this next week.

See you in Yakima this week, at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, where some of the face-to-face “future” conversation continues.

Big Water Fish – DeVar’s Tale

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 5, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

About this time of year, we wander the alleys and aisles of the regional sportsman shows immersed in offers of hunting and fishing trips we have long dreamed of taking. Those outdoor opportunities and fantasies await only our decision to go (and maybe a buck or two). As we feel spring rising before us, we particularly think about fishing. Thus, now, we begin seriously planning our ocean halibut and bottom fish adventures, and spring trips for the salmon heading up our rivers.

DeVar Gleed offers a look into one of those springtime ocean fishing trips – a trip with his buddy Gary and Gary’s brother-in-law Captain Roy – and takes the reader along. The judges were pretty sure you would enjoy his entry into this year’s Inside the Outdoors Writing Contest.

“I hadn’t been saltwater fishing for three years, so I was super excited when my buddy Gary called and asked if I could go fishing. Captain Roy had called him and said, ‘If the weather holds I’m going after halibut and rockfish and have room for two.’ He wouldn’t know until a few days before, to make sure conditions are right. Captain Roy’s a true saltwater captain – made from the same cloth of Captain Rob who Jim Huckabay wrote about back in 2013. The stars aligned – the call came – and off we went!

“The trip from Ellensburg to the fertile waters off La Push, Washington, (out on the far west side of the Olympic Peninsula) wasn’t a short one. We left shortly after work at 7pm, drove over Snoqualmie pass, through Seattle, rode across on the ferry, and drove around Crescent Lake to the mysterious town of Forks.

“The plan was to park and sleep until 4am. Unfortunately, we woke Captain Roy up when we arrived. He couldn’t get back to sleep…so two hours later we were on our way to the docks. We stopped to gas up at the all night mini-mart. This was a true fisherman’s mini-mart: Fried foods piled high for customers…at 3am! (They’d be sold out by sunrise.) We were one of the first on the water. Now this is the most important lesson I’ve learned when going saltwater fishing: take one Dramamine walking down the dock to the boat! Nothing ruins a great fishing trip more than sea sickness. (I speak from experience!)

“30 rough miles later we were fishing 800 foot water for highly coveted halibut. Going that far down you want to make sure that EVERYTHING is right. Your weight, bait, etc. This isn’t cast and retrieve fishing. When halibut fishing you discover long lost muscles in your arms and back.

“Okay, I know the Good Book says to not covet. But as rods and reels were being handed around Captain Roy’s looked suspiciously nicer than the rest of ours. I knew it was when he attached a cord to the battery. An electronic reel! My repentance process for breaking that great commandment still hasn’t happened. Wow – what a reel. He caught the first halibut and what a beauty (I mean the reel)! Sure, Captain Roy had to hold the rod and fight that fish – but the reel did half the work. It brought the fish in, fought it with a pre-set drag setting, take line in, let a little out, and so on. I’d never seen such a reel – and I coveted.

“We each caught a back-breaking halibut – what a prize! One of the best eating fish out there.

“We went after rockfish on our way back to La Push. Now, Captain Roy has a very nice fish finder – but I could not for the life of me tell how he knew where the fish were. The ocean floor topography looked the same to me wherever we were. But he’d yell ‘Put ‘em down!’ And we’d catch rockfish like mad! Two at a time. Then we’d drift off the bite. He’d go back to his chosen spot and yell again – and again we were on fish. We came in with limits of halibut and rockfish.

“Back at camp Captain Roy taught us all how to fillet halibut.

“A good night’s sleep in Gary’s tent that rivaled the Taj Mahal was what I needed – even if it was only four hours of shut eye. 4am we were on the water again for another glorious round of saltwater fishing. The whales, pod of dolphins, sunfish and albatross are always a bonus.

“I’m grateful for good friends, captains crazy enough to go 30+ miles into the ocean, and the bounty we enjoy in the beautiful waters of Washington State.” DeVar Gleed

And here’s to each of us enjoying our own unique and joyful outdoor adventure in the months ahead.

So, what really lies ahead for us and our fishing, hunting and shooting outdoor lives? I have been picking the brains of several gurus from the season’s regional and national sportsman shows – folks who spend their time and money looking beyond today. The changes coming in our outdoor play will not necessarily be bad or too difficult to manage, but they are significant. I figure you and your family would like to know what this 21st Century is bringing, too, so next week I will pass along what I have learned. Stand by…

Last Moment Elk

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 29, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

How often did your mom or dad remind you that waiting until the last minute to do something was foolish and always had a price? Over the decades. I have discovered that – even if you start early – taking until the last moment to accomplish something does, indeed, have a price. It will likely be well worth it, but there is a price.

I could probably cite several examples, but a couple Washington State end-of-late-season master hunter permit elk damage hunts are currently in my head.

A decade or so ago, I got an early fall start on the elk damage season in Paradise, but was pulled away to deal with various family issues. Once I found time to resume looking for a fattened-on-some-rancher’s-haystack cow elk, there were precious few days left in the damage hunt ending on 31 December. The days slipped by without finding the elk which were raiding haystacks at night and disappearing into the hills before first light.

Dawn of the 31st found us watching 40 elk a mile up a steep draw above Cooke Canyon north of Ellensburg. Six inches of fresh snow lay under still, clear, 5-degree air. “Okay,” I said. “I think I can get on them, but that’s a long way up in bitter cold, and a long way back down with a big lead cow. How is that going to happen?” “No problem,” partner said, “we have permission here, and we can get the four-wheeler up to it.” Thus began a very long and very cold stalk.

A bit over two hours later, I was able to make a good prayer and a perfect shot on the cow that seemed to be in charge of the group. I was atop a ridge overlooking Cooke Canyon, a mile down below. Cell phone confirmation of the downed elk met with “Oh, actually, we can’t get the four-wheeler to that spot… Just drag it down to the canyon and I’ll meet you there with the truck.” I was hard pressed to move the big field-dressed cow even on the snow and downhill. As luck would have it, a younger master hunter – for whom sainthood awaits, I’m sure – volunteered to climb up and help. Somehow, in that bitter cold and snow, we got the elk to the bottom by mid-afternoon.

The price? Sheer exhaustion, and frostbit toes and fingers that continue to be pretty sensitive to very cold temperatures, no matter how well clothed I might be. Worth it? Of course…

A bit over a week ago, on January 20, 2020, the late-season master hunter permit elk damage hunt on the U.S. Army’s Yakima Training Center ended. Homey and fellow master hunter permit holder Wee Clogston and I have been actively pursuing cow elk on the Training Center for a time now. These are elk which, early in the fall, raid crops in Badger Pocket and move before daylight up onto the Army ground. Later in the fall, they are moving onto and off ag ground to the south, and often drifting across traffic on I-90 above Vantage.

This was one of those seasons during which we were able to spend some early fall time on the Center, but then sidetracked until late November. In mid-December, we were able find elk and I filled my tag. Wes’ elk suddenly became an almost impossibility. Over a number of trips, we found the elk harboring in a central Impact Zone – off limits to hunting – and not venturing out.

Once off-and-on snowfalls began, we were able to find where a few elk were moving, but were unable to actually locate them. Over several unsuccessful (other than always enjoying being on that amazing 325,000 or so acres of federal ground) January hunts, the 20th began to loom larger. Thus, predawn of the last possible day of the late season, we checked in at the gate.

Morning was a repeat of our previous trips. On a hunch, we said more prayers and moved up to the area where we might find any elk who had recently crossed over I-90 in the recent snow. A couple other master hunters reported seeing elk and tracks, and one fellow was on his way back to a draw to help his buddy extract an elk. Things were looking up.

We found fresh tracks and tried to figure out where the elk went. As probably every hunter knows, when you are scanning big country there are myriad bushes and rocks that look just like elk and deer (“rock elk,” “bush elk,” etc.) – until you get binoculars on them. On the other hand, when you actually see critters, you know instantly. Suddenly, there they were.

We worked our way around to get ahead of them, and Wes took off on a stalk. They were moving away and he had no shot. After a couple more unsuccessful sneaks, we moved to where we thought they might be and Wes headed for the edge of a deep draw. Through my binoculars, this time, I watched him shoot down – way down – into the draw. It was just before 1 p.m.

By the time we figured out where we were, and I had hiked back to the truck, returned with the game cart, and had his young cow loaded and secured to it, the afternoon was waning. We were burning daylight.

Somehow, we horsed that loaded cart three-quarters of a mile up out of the bottom of that snowy draw to the top, then made the quarter-mile downhill to the truck. We closed the tailgate on the tagged and loaded elk about the time it went full dark.

Price? Two exhausted hunters in their seventh decade of hunting. Worth it? Duh…

Hmmm… When does NEXT season end?