April 1 has passed, but it’s still April Fools Day for Washington sportsmen who don’t think they’re affected by what’s going on in Olympia this week.
Anglers should note that Dry Falls and a few other Columbia Basin lakes opened for fishing on Wednesday.
Hunters should be preparing to take the kids out for the youth wild turkey season this weekend.
But everyone ought to be aware that the Fish and Wildlife Commission is meeting through Saturday to set hunting seasons and rules for the next three years – and the legislature is still in session with a few lawmakers who’d like to take away the citizen commission’s authority.
The original commission-neutering bill (SB 5127) covered in this column last week died a slow, whimpering death apparently because commercial fishing and tribal interests tried to heap on more amendments to squeeze even more blood out of the panel.
However, the latest form of the legislation has been added to House Bill 1778. On the surface, this bill doesn’t look so objectionable. But it appears the governor would regain the authority to hire and fire the Fish and Wildlife director.
Regardless of whether one approves or disapproves of every action the current commission has taken, that would be a step backward to the politically pungent days dominating wildlife management before 1995 and Referendum 45.
Sportsmen have already been there, and it was a quagmire.
Incidentally, Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, reportedly has been trying to summon Miranda Wecker, the current commission chair, before his committee for a Congress-style grilling to ease his grudge for the panel’s siding with sportsmen over gillnetters in the recent salmon allocation deliberations.
Updates and background on these issues are in the “Eye on Olympia” blog by the S-R’s capital bureau reporter Rich Roesler.
Meantime, here are a few East Side highlights in the three-year package of hunting proposals the commission will consider for adoption on Friday and Saturday.
Trimming turkeys: Likely to pass are proposals for checking turkey populations with more fall permits in the Blue Mountains, extending the early fall season from one week to two weeks (through the muzzleloader elk season) and changing late fall season in northeastern Washington from a permit hunt to a general season, Nov. 20-Dec. 15.
Also, landowners would be offered up to five permits they could give to hunters for use outside of hunting seasons to deal with damage issues.
Get lead out: The commission appears to be favoring a lead shot ban for upland bird hunters at two Western Washington pheasant release areas for this fall followed by a lead shot ban on all state pheasant release areas, including Fishtrap Lake, in 2010.
The original proposals for requiring nontoxic shot in all state wildlife areas and eventually statewide apparently will be postponed for consideration until the next three-year regulation cycle.
Archers prevail: The proposal to extend rifle hunting for deer in Unit 101 near Sherman Pass was withdrawn after vigorous lobbying by bowhunters in March. Archers also seem to have persuaded the commission to favor letting those among them with concealed weapon permits to carry firearms during deer and elk archery seasons for protection from predators such as bears.
Three-point push: The Fish and Wildlife Department is not officially proposing a three-point minimum for whitetail bucks in a few northeast units, but Commissioner Gary Douvia and Colville-area businessmen are pushing hard for it.
Hunting antlers: Still on the table with little apparent opposition are proposals for Thanksgiving-period buck hunting permits in a portion of northeastern Washington and – a first – bull elk bugle-season permits for rifle hunters in the Blue Mountains.
Turnbull elk hunt postponed: On Friday the Fish and Wildlife Department withdrew its plan to offer 63 elk permits for Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge this fall. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service apparently will not get around to approving the hunt until after the special permit applications are due on May 20.
“Next year,” said Kevin Robinette, WDFW regional wildlife manager in Spokane. “Yes, I know I said that last year, too.”