The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted new big game hunting rules for the upcoming season and an interim policy for Willapa Bay salmon fisheries during a public meeting April 9-10 in Tumwater.
The commission, a citizen panel that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also agreed to place tufted puffins on the state’s endangered species list and remove Steller sea lions from the state’s threatened list.
New hunting rules approved by the commission will expand hunting opportunities for virtually every big game species and gear type. New regulations will:
- Add two more days to the modern firearm season for mule deer.
- Shift archery elk season to start the Saturday after Labor Day to provide better opportunity for hunters in cooler weather.
- Double the amount of spring bear permits available in northeast Washington.
- Allow elk hunters using muzzleloaders to hunt in more game management units (GMUs).
- Increase moose permits to 170 from 136 in the northeast part of the state, where moose populations are near an all-time high.
The commission did not adopt a proposal to restrict the use of bait when hunting for deer and elk. Instead, the commission directed WDFW to work with stakeholders to bring forward new options for consideration next year.
All of the hunting rules approved by the commission will be included in the 2015 Big Game Hunting pamphlet, which will be available later this spring on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/, in sporting goods stores, and at other license vendors throughout the state.
In other business, the commission added tufted puffins to the state’s endangered species list to provide them with additional protection. Tufted puffins are native seabirds once considered common in parts of Washington. In recent decades, however, the population has significantly declined. WDFW will develop a plan outlining actions necessary for the species’ recovery in the state.
Steller sea lions, on the other hand, have rebounded in recent years, prompting the commission to remove the species from the state’s list of threatened species. The federal government has also delisted Steller sea lions. The species will remain as state protected wildlife and will still receive protection under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
After receiving a briefing from state fishery managers on a long-term salmon-management policy for Willapa Bay, the commission adopted an interim plan that will be in effect through 2015. The interim policy is designed to accelerate the recovery of natural-origin chinook salmon by reducing the incidental catch of wild fish while encouraging the harvest of hatchery chinook.
WDFW will work with stakeholders in the coming weeks to designate the 2015 salmon fishing dates in Willapa Bay, based on the new interim plan. The interim plan is posted on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/willapa_bay_salmon/.
The commission also took public comments on a proposal to reopen recreational fishing for flounder, sole and other flatfish – except halibut – in Quilcene Bay and the northern portion of Dabob Bay in Hood Canal. A separate public hearing was held on management of Columbia River sturgeon.
In other news, April’s meeting was attended by fishing columnist Dave Graybill and retired public health physician Kim Thorburn, who were appointed to the commission by the governor last month.