Here’s the scoop on two momentous events capturing a lot of attention today:
— A pending deal that would end the federal government shutdown and reopen national wildlife refuges and parks.
— Saturday’s opening of the pheasant season.
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area boat launches will be reopened within a day after directives come down from Washington, D.C., if Congress ends the shutdown, said Superintendent Dan Foster.
“Our people are on furlough but on short notice to be back to work as quickly as possible once we get the directive,” he said Wednesday. “Our business is not to be closed.”
Nobody will be happier than Foster to see the national parks reopened. Word has been spreading that some anglers were told they had to stay off water managed by the National Park Service.
All public boat launches on the reservoir had been closed since Oct. 1, but anglers were legally launching at Two Rivers Marina, which is managed by the Spokane Tribe.
A few boaters were told – it’s not clear by whom – that they had to remain on the half of the reservoir closest to the Spokane and Colville tribal lands as long as the national parks were closed.
Technically, it would be a violation of the park closure to be on land or water managed by the Park Service, Foster confirmed.
It has nothing to do with the legal limbo over where state or tribal fishing licenses are required, he said, noting, “Fisheries are not our jurisdiction.”
He said he didn’t have the manpower to enforce the closure on land and on the water and that rangers weren’t directed to go out looking for boaters.
“I hope people don’t force us on that,” he said. “The shutdown has reduced our staff from almost 70 down to eight,” he said. “We have seven rangers patrolling 320 miles of lakeshore.
“Closing the lake is a terrible stupid thing but it’s what we’ve had to do under our responsibility to protect the resources and the public.
“We’re just hoping we can open this place soon.”
Pheasant hunting opens Saturday in Eastern Washington, where the good ol’ days faded away with the advent of bigger machinery and cleaner farming.
In a tradition that started in the late 1990s, pen-raised pheasants are being released at 23 designated East Side sites. Despite the non-toxic shot requirement, these sites are popular with hunters who don’t have permission to hunt private land.
The first releases of the year occurred at all sites before the Sept. 21-22 youth upland bird season. The next releases will be this week.
However, only about half of the sites will be stocked with birds for the opener, said Joey McCanna, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. The other sites will be stocked the following week, he said. All of the sites will be stocked two more times during the season.
But the agency does not divulge which sites will be stocked when.
This bit of chance and inconvenience dates back to the bad experiences agency staff had years ago when hunters often waited at designated sites for the game farm trucks to show up. In some cases, greedy hunters created dangerous situations, sometimes even blasting away as the birds were being released.
Times have changed in other ways since the early years of the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program, when the Washington Legislature required 80 percent of the funding to be spent on releasing birds while the rest was earmarked for pheasant habitat efforts.
In 2008, about $270,000 was spent to release birds on the East Side and about $32,000 went to habitat.
That year, with legislative approval, Washington Fish and Wildlife managers approved a phased-in schedule to reduce the number of birds planted until the spending equaled about 50 percent for birds and 50 percent for habitat.
“We’re right about there this year,” McCanna said, noting that 11,350 rooster pheasants will be released at the sites this year. That’s down from 11,820 last year and down from more than 20,000 birds in the initial years.
Hunter groups have supported the department’s emphasis on working with farmers to enhance habitat for wild pheasants. Methods include developing plantings that improve pheasant productivity on lands seeded into the federal Conservation Reserve Program.
For the hunters bummed by news of fewer birds destined for release sites this season, McCanna has some encouragement:
“We heard from the senior hunters, who were out the week after the youth hunters, that they were seeing quite a few birds, apparently quite a few wild birds, at the release sites and other places where they found good habitat,” he said.