With a record number of ducks counted on the northern breeding grounds this year, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved migratory waterfowl hunting seasons for this fall and winter during a public meeting in Olympia Aug. 8-9.
The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also approved a new regulation that requires hunters to leave on site the hooves of any elk taken in southwest Washington to help minimize the spread of a disease that affects the region’s herds.
Under the waterfowl hunting package, most hunting opportunities in Washington will be similar to last year. That includes a statewide duck season that will be open for 107 days, starting Oct. 11-15 and continuing Oct. 18-Jan. 25. A special youth hunting weekend also is scheduled Sept. 20-21.
Limits for mallard, pintail, scaup, redhead, goldeneye, harlequin, scoter and long-tailed duck will remain the same as last season. But the commission reduced the daily bag limit for canvasback to one per day because of decreasing numbers throughout North America.
Goose hunting seasons will vary among management areas across the state, but most open mid-October and run through late January. Limits for most geese did not change, except the commission did increase the daily bag limit for cackling geese in southwest Washington from three to four.
The commission also increased the overall harvest quota for dusky Canada geese in southwest Washington from 45 to 85 birds. As in previous years, hunters are limited to one dusky Canada goose a season in southwest Washington.
The goose and duck hunting seasons approved by the commission are based on state and federal waterfowl population estimates and guidelines. According to those estimates, a record number of ducks – approximately 49 million – were on the breeding grounds this spring in Canada and the United States.
Details on the waterfowl hunting seasons will be available later this week on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
In other action, the commission approved several land transactions, including the purchase of two parcels totaling nearly 2,900 acres of shrub-steppe in Yakima County. The land, located about five miles west of Naches, serves as critical habitat for a variety of wildlife, and is an important connection between summer and winter range for the Yakima elk herd.
The two parcels will be acquired through a partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Cowiche Canyon Conservancy and the state Department of Ecology (DOE). The 2,588-acre property will be purchased for $1.38 million, while a 305-acre property will cost $170,000.
DOE and the Kennewick Irrigation District are providing the funding to acquire the two parcels to mitigate for the loss of shrub-steppe habitat that was converted to agricultural land. The properties will be managed as part of WDFW’s Oak Creek Wildlife Area.
The commission also received a briefing on a scientific panel’s determination that the disease that leaves elk in the St. Helens and Willapa Hills areas of southwest Washington with misshapen hooves likely involves a type of bacterial infection.
Members of the panel, composed of veterinarians and researchers throughout the state, agreed that the disease closely resembles contagious ovine digital dermatitis in sheep. The panel’s diagnosis is consistent with the findings of the USDA National Animal Disease Center and four other independent diagnostic laboratories that have tested samples of elk hooves submitted by WDFW since last year.
For more information on elk hoof disease, see WDFW’s recent news release at http://wdfw.wa.gov/news/jun2314a/ and the department’s wildlife health webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_disease/.
In other business, the commission conducted public hearings on the 2015-2021 Game Management Plan and proposed updates to the state Hydraulic Code.
The commission also received briefings on the department’s legislative proposals for 2015, proposed 2015-2017 operating and capital budget requests, and new potential revenue sources.
In addition, the commission was briefed on the impacts of a possible reduction in state General Funds. The potential cuts are in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s directive to state agencies to prioritize their activities and identify reductions totaling 15 percent.