On October 29, 2020, I had the amazing opportunity as a guest of the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) to attend a historic event in Minneapolis, Minnesota – the delisting of the gray wolf in the Lower 48. The only exception to this was is the Mexican wolf, which will stay on the Endangered Species List. This is not the first attempt to delist the gray wolf, the Obama Administration attempted to delist the gray wolf in 2014 under then US Fish and Wildlife Services Director Dan Ashe. The animal-rights community sued, and that killed the delisting effort. What I wanted to highlight is the difference in the attitude toward the delisting effort in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). In 2014, Director Phil Anderson was 100% behind the nation delisting of the gray wolf. He sent in written testimony to USFWS and testified in person at one of US Fish and Services’ open meetings and had the Assistant Director of Wildlife do the same. He and the Commission provided joint written testimony to USFWS, and Director Anderson pushed federal delisting to the legislature. WDFW had a 100% commitment to federal delisting. Now we fast forward to 2020. We have a far better case for federal delisting. It is six years later, and wolves grow at an average growth rate of 28%, so there are far more wolves on the ground. So, population wise alone we have a much stronger case for delisting. Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt and United States Fish and Wildlife Services Director Aurelia Skipwith brought a strong coalition of conservation partners and tribal partners to return wolves to state and tribal management. What did we hear from WDFW before this event? Crickets! I am very proud that I was quoted in both the Department of Interior and the United States Fish and Wildlife Services press releases. This was great publicity for both me and the Hunters Heritage Council. People from around the world read or heard my words. Here is my quote: “Federal delisting of wolves is heaven sent for Washington State. With a rapidly expanding wolf population, and two-thirds of the state of Washington being federally protected, moose and elk herds are in serious decline. Washington sportsmen strongly support the return of state management authority over wolves,” said Washington State Hunters Heritage Council President Mark Pidgeon.
I was the only person quoted from the hunting community by King5, and Northwest Sportsman did a big story on the federal wolf delisting. I was quoted in Northwest Sportsman, and I was attacked by WDFW. The criticized my statement, yet they didn’t have courtesy or the courage to a name behind their comments. Gray wolf impacts on Evergreen State ungulates are the subject of ongoing research in two key hunting areas, the Okanogan and northeast corner. WDFW says there’s “no evidence” wolves are affecting big game populations, but transborder woodland caribou have been extirpated from the southern Selkirk Range in part due to wolf as well as cougar predation. I remember at the time the wolf plan was being adopted and the Commission was holding open meetings, the tribal biologist for the Colville Nation was testifying against the wolf plan. He was saying this nine years ago that there was not enough lethal control in the plan, that WDFW would not do anything to control wolves, and that the Colville Nation would have to exercise their ceded rights as sovereign nation on their ceded lands on the North Half to protect ungulate populations. Almost nine years to the day, the Colville’s announced they were exercising that right. If there is “no evidence” wolves are affecting big game populations, then why are the Colville’s allowing their members to kill wolves with no seasons, no bag limits? John Sirius is the head of the Colville Tribal Business council. “This policy was a challenge to come to, as we have cultural ties to the wolf, but his is part of making a balance, we don’t want to put stress on the deer and elk populations with a wolf population that is too large.” The Spokane Nation is also killing wolves on their ceded land and on their reservation. The tribes across the state are very unhappy with WDFW’s comments as they want to see more predator control. As I sat on the flight back, I was so grateful to be part of this historic event and how this enhanced the prestige of the Hunters Heritage Council. The Hunters Heritage Council was already an 800-pound gorilla in the room who has had great success in our lobbying efforts. In out 21 years of existence we have killed every piece of anti-hunting legislation introduced, and some even before it was introduced. I am very proud of our record. We are the only hunting organization that does electioneering, and our endorsement is sought after. I am grateful and proud that we were invited to participate on the national stage. The Washington Waterfowl Association was part of this as they are a member of Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation (WWC), who is a voting member of the Hunters Heritage Council. I knew in my heart that the animal-rights would sue to stop the publication of the final rule, but that’s their playbook to see how long they can keep species on the endangered species list. There are a total of 2,105 species added to the Endangered Species List and only 28 recovered and removed. That is slightly over 1% success rate. The animal-rights groups thrive on this and line their pockets on frivolous lawsuits. These groups care nothing about wildlife, but only about making money. These partnerships with the tribes can work very well for us in the hunting community. For the Washington Waterfowl Association, it helped shop the no shooting ordinance in Drayton Harbor. The tribal science is far superior to the science used by WDFW. This wolf delisting was done right with partnerships with many tribal efforts. We can learn from that and hold out our hands in friendship to our tribal partners. They are our friends and together we can accomplish a lot.
Late Summer and Fall 2012. WWA partnered with the local community and Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler opposing proposed breaching of dikes along the Columbia River to create salmon shallow water habitat in Willapa Bay.
WNWR had an agency approved Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to flood a major portion of the WNWR for salmon shallow water habitat but resistance was developing to prevent implementation.
During the first week in September 2012 the Willapa WNWR breached a dike on Willapa bay to flood 621 acres at the south end of the bay. The WNWR did not have the appropriate permits required to breach the dike. WWA alerted the partnership that the breach occurred. WNWF was directed not to breach any more dikes and the project was terminated. Local head of commercial fishing association who was interviewed did not support the breach either, especially since there were better locations for fish enhancement. He also did not want to provoke waterfowlers because they had a great conservation program
This was a big win since several hundred acres of waterfowl habitat were preserved.
November 2016. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) proposed a revised Shillapoo Wildlife Area salmon restoration project called South Shillapoo Project, also called Buckmire Slough Project. WDFW partnered with Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). This is a federal project. Vancouver Wildlife League (VWL) partnered with WWA, WA Senators Ann Rivers and Lynda Wilson, WA Rep Paul Harris. VWL also partnered with WA Senator Annette Cleveland, WA Reps Brandon Vick, Liz Pike, Monica Jurado Stonier, Paul Harris, Sharon Wylie, Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler and Clark County Rifle Association (CCRA). Project was terminated February 2019. This preserved approximate 1,000 ac of wildlife habitat much of which was for waterfowl and preserved the pheasant release site. Avoided impacts to other wildlife including threatened/endangered Columbian whitetail deer and endangered sandhill cranes.
June 2013. Shillapoo Lake Bottom (COE 536 Project) proposed breaching of dikes along the Columbia River to create salmon shallow water habitat in Shillapoo Wildlife Area. This was federal project. WWA partnered with Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beulter to oppose the project. WWA provided comments opposing the project. Rep Beutler (WA) and Rep DeFazio (OR) introduced a bill in Congress in 2013 that ecosystem restoration projects (536) could not have impacts to other wildlife. The Corps of Engineers withdrew the Shillapoo 536 Project. The bill was not passed by Congress. This preserved over 1300 acres of wildlife habitat with significant preservation of waterfowl habitat and avoided significant impacts to the pheasant release site and waterfowl hunting area. Also avoided impacts to other wildlife including threatened/endangered Columbian whitetail deer and endangered sandhill cranes.
February 2013. Post Office Lake, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (RNWR) Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Section 536 Ecosystem Restoration, Clark County, WA. (Corps of Engineers Report and Environmental Assessment) was released for public review. The proposed project was to restore juvenile salmonid access to Post Office Lake on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (RNWR), improve tidally-influenced habitat and floodplain connectivity, and develop forest riparian habitat while still ensuring that the primary trust resources associated with the establishment of RNWR were preserved.
WWA partnered with Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beulter to oppose the project and WWA provided comments during the public review. The proposed project was terminated in mid-2013 by the RNWR on environmental concerns. The project has not been revived to date. This preserved over 100 ac of wildlife habitat primarily for waterfowl and was the first project of three projects along the Columbia River to restore juvenile salmonid access to shallow water habitat. The other two were Fazio Farm (private land) and Shillapoo Wildlife Area. (state land). The plan was to link the three projects hydraulicly to provide smolt salmon habitat.
January 2018. Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) completed the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for Steigerwald Lake Floodplain Restoration Project (SLFRP). Held public meeting on EA February 12, 2018. Vancouver Wildlife League (VWL) partnered with WWA, WA Senators Ann Rivers, Lynda Wilson and Annette Cleveland, WA Reps Paul Harris, Brandon Vick, Liz Pike, Monica Jurado Stonier, Sharon Wylie and Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler.
Public comments were submitted by VWL, WWA and WWC in February 2018. VWL submitted letters to legislative partners and requested WWA and WWC to do the same. The letters requested state legislature to pull Washington State funding for the project in August 2018. Washington legislature pulled funding, $4.6 million, and the project was terminated in late 2018.