This Game Management Plan (GMP) guides the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Wildlife’s management of hunted wildlife for six year timeframes. The focus is on the scientific management of game populations, harvest management, and other significant factors affecting game populations.
The overall goals are to protect, sustain, and manage hunted wildlife, provide stable, regulated recreational hunting opportunity to all citizens, protect and enhance wildlife habitat, and minimize adverse impacts to residents, other wildlife, and the environment.
As mandated by the Washington State Legislature (RCW 77.04.012), “… the department shall preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage the wildlife…”; “the department shall conserve the wildlife… in a manner that does not impair the resource…”; and “The commission shall attempt to maximize the public recreational… hunting opportunities of all citizens, including juvenile, disabled, and senior citizens.” It is this mandate that sets the overall policy and direction for managing hunted wildlife. Hunters and hunting will continue to play a significant role in the conservation and management of Washington’s wildlife.
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was completed on November 27, 2002, after public review of draft and supplemental EIS documents. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission formally adopted the Game Management Plan on December 7, 2002. This comprehensive process facilitated public discussion and understanding, while cooperatively developing the priority strategies.
In 2008, a Supplemental EIS (SEIS) was completed to update the plan for 2009-15. The Environmental Impacts Chapter (Chapter 2) from the original EIS was retained. However, several of the original strategies and objectives had been accomplished; additional studies and research had been conducted; and some priorities had changed. Those changes were addressed in the 2008 SEIS. Public outreach during the development of the SEIS continued to refine and shape the priority issues, objectives, and strategies in the 2009-15 update.
Beginning in June 2013, the department started the public process to update the Game Management Plan for 2015-21. The next step is to post our accomplishments from the 2009-15 Plan and seek the public’s ideas for priority issues for the 2015-21 Plan. Once the priorities are determined, a random public opinion survey will be conducted to further refine the priority issues. Those issues will be used to craft objectives and strategies and draft the updated plan. The updated draft Plan will be available for public review and comment during the spring of 2014. The final draft will be created using the information received from the public and other reviewers for presentation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their June meeting where public comment will be taken once again. The commission will be asked to consider adoption of the 2015-21 Game Management Plan at their August meeting.
The first phase in updating the Game Management Plan is to ask the citizens of Washington, what they see as the major issues to address over the next six years. There are certain to be some issues from the last Plan where we will need to make more progress; some that have been accomplished and don’t need to move forward; some that are no longer priorities; and there are very likely to be new issues that need to be addressed. We have captured many issues that have been brought to our attention since the last Plan was implemented and have queried the Game Management Advisory Group (a citizen advisory group to the department) on their ideas. Now it’s your turn. Please take a few minutes to respond to the scoping survey to help us understand your perspective on what is important for game management. The survey will be available December 12, 2013 through midnight January 3, 2014.
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The Department will be conducting surveys to elicit public opinion on hunting and wildlife management in Washington. These two surveys will be conducted by Responsive Management, an internationally known public opinion and attitude survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. The surveys will begin this winter. A link will be posted to this site when the public opinion surveys are available.
Public Comment Period planned for May 2014
In order to prepare to update the Game Management Plan (Plan) for 2015-21, it is important to understand what was accomplished in the previous six-year plan. A table that tracked every objective, strategy, and activity from the 2009-15 Plan is available for review.
A summary of some of the most notable accomplishments follows:
This continues to be a critical issue for hunters and was first identified in the 2003-09 Plan as a high priority. As hunter numbers have slowly declined over the past decades, one of the key reasons was tied to limited access to hunting areas. In Washington, we were seeing fewer landowners willing to grant access to hunters due to the increasing occurrence of garbage dumping, littering, trespassing, vandalism, and general disrespect for property. Hunters identified access as a critical issue for the department and we worked together to address the issue over the past six to ten years.
We have made extensive progress on expanding our program beyond the Columbia Basin farm country, which was the historic focus of our access programs. We formed a stakeholders group to develop an outline of the kinds of programs we would provide; the Fish and Wildlife Commission developed a policy to guide program development; funding was provided through a federal grant entitled the Voluntary Public Access program as part of US Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Programs; and the department modified the special permit drawing system and used the increased funding to implement the new program.
We have now hired and deployed private lands biologists in every Region of the state and are actively signing up landowners into our access programs. We also added a new program in 2013 that allows hunters to access lands via an on-line reservation system. We have new private lands cooperators offering waterfowl hunting in the Skagit and Chehalis River systems and have additional farm properties available for waterfowl hunting over corn stubble within the Columbia Basin Irrigation project; we have over 50,000 acres of new lands available in the heart of Washington’s best pheasant hunting areas in southeast part of the state; we have several new white-tailed deer and turkey hunting areas available in northeast Washington; and we have been working with industrial timberland owners in western Washington.
Over the past two years, we are seeing an increase in the number of commercial timber companies charging access fees and limiting the number of access permits available for their properties. So, we know that our work is not done and we will be looking for strategies to ensure public access to timberlands.
As Washington’s human population continues to grow, conflicts with wildlife increase. If the public’s experiences with wildlife are increasingly negative, support for protecting wildlife and for maintaining abundant populations may diminish over time. There have been several examples in the past ten years where landowner tolerance for deer and elk damage to property was low. The primary response was to kill animals in damage areas, which resulted in reduced population levels of deer and elk. Creating a better balance of using non-lethal means before damage occurs and using lethal actions on the animals causing the damage is the key to achieving population objectives and minimizing property damage. It takes staff whose job is dedicated to alleviating property damage to be successful at achieving this balance.
In 2008, the department began a program to fund “Conflict Specialists” dedicated to minimizing wildlife conflicts. The program started with two positions in the Yakima Region of south-central Washington focusing on elk damage problems. In 2011, we added a Specialist in the Blue Mountains and by December 2013, we have deployed a total of twelve staff in all areas where we receive chronic damage complaints across the state. Funding came from a variety of sources including expanded sales of deer and elk multi-season permits; increased funding available through Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration (Pittman-Robertson); and an increase in the cost of personalized license plates (to manage wolf recovery and conflicts).
This is a major accomplishment in terms of changing the direction of the wildlife conflict program and prepares the department for what is destined to be one of the greater challenges ahead.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Wolf Plan) in 2011, after five years of development. The Wolf Plan has been acclaimed by many as one of the most comprehensive wolf recovery and management plans in the country. Implementation has fallen to the Game Division because of the expertise within the Carnivore Section for research and management of large carnivores and also because of the experience of staff in managing wildlife conflicts, which is a key component of wolf recovery.
Several challenges were evident in the first year of implementing the Wolf Plan in terms of developing adequate funding and addressing a situation involving chronic wolf attacks on livestock. However, we stuck to the Wolf Plan with our management actions and ended the 2013 legislative session with a solid funding base. With the funding secured, we entered the 2013 field season in better shape with staff to help landowners anticipate and deal with wolf-livestock conflicts before they occurred.
Wolf packs continue to expand toward recovery objectives and we are better prepared to monitor wolves and address livestock conflicts. Wolf management will likely continue to be important into the next term of the Game Management Plan especially in the context of wolf-ungulate population dynamics.
Beginning in 2008, only four of ten elk herds were meeting or exceeding their population objectives (Yakima, Selkirk, St. Helens, and Willapa). After five years, we now have six of ten meeting objective (adding the Colockum and Blue Mountains) and we have seen substantial increases in the North Cascades herd. As a result, we set a long-term record for harvest in 2012, taking over 9,000 elk that year.
The authority to use dogs to hunt cougar has been debated and challenged continuously over the past ten years. We are back to a situation in 2013 where there is no authority to hunt cougars using dogs by recreational hunters. One result of all of this debate is that the department and our cooperators have been funding several research projects over the past ten years and have gained a much greater understanding about how cougar populations function. To that end, we have changed our harvest management guidelines and feel that we will be much more stable with our management and will be able to maintain better age and sex distribution for cougar populations across the state.
Communication between the department and constituents was a very consistent and important issue to the public during the 2008 update of the Plan. Implementation of the Wolf Plan also drove home the importance of good outreach and communication. Accomplishments included major revisions to our web site including the wolf management page, the hunting page, and the hunter access page. We have also developed a waterfowl hunting page and an upland bird hunting page. We also began posting the weekly reports coming in from field staff and will be adding a web site that captures the work and discussions with our various Advisory Groups.
In addition, we have developed a list of over 120,000 hunter and other constituent email addresses to disseminate key information. This list was used several times to provide hunters and others with information on opportunities to comment on planning documents, changes to rules, reminders of important application and reporting dates, warnings regarding area fire restrictions and other information that might affect recreational access.