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Final Environmental Impact Statement for the July 2003-June 2009 Game Management Plan

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Game Management and Conservation

Date Published: November 27, 2002

Number of Pages: 276

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s management of hunted wildlife for the next six years will be determined upon completion of this plan and adoption by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. The focus is on the scientific management of game populations, harvest management (hunting), and other significant factors affecting game populations.

Washington’s citizens played a strong role in developing this plan. Over the past two years, a variety of public involvement opportunities were used to solicit ideas. In all, several thousand citizens provided comments, edits, and priority issues. The Game Management Advisory Council, a group of citizens representing conservation and hunting organizations, landowners, and biologists, was continually involved in identifying and refining issues. The Wildlife Diversity Advisory Council, representing environmental organizations and mostly non-consumptive viewpoints, also provided important counsel on key predator management issues. In addition, an extensive public opinion survey was conducted for the Department by the private consulting firm, Responsive Management.

A panel of scientists, from several universities and specialists from across the west reviewed key issues associated with Washington’s elk management and made recommendations to WDFW for management direction and strategies to incorporate into the plan. The information and the priority actions identified in this comprehensive process directed the development of alternative strategies.

The priority issues identified by the public include:

  1. Scientific/professional management of hunted species
  2. Public support for hunting as a management tool
  3. Hunter ethics and fair chase
  4. Private lands programs and hunter access
  5. Tribal hunting
  6. Predator management
  7. Hunting season regulations
  8. Game damage and nuisance
  9. Species specific management issues

The first public release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Game Management Plan (GMP) was on July 26, 2002. After an extension, the deadline for public comment was September 10, 2002. Extensive public comments resulted in significant re-writing and re-formatting of the EIS and GMP. Key changes included the EIS formatting, modification of elk and cougar issues, objectives, and strategies, and consideration of the impacts of hunting on non-target wildlife species. A Supplemental EIS was released on October 18, 2002 with a public comment deadline of November 18, 2002. During this comment period, a scientific peer review of the cougar management section of the plan was also requested by WDFW.

The process of developing a non-project EIS allowed WDFW wide latitude to use an iterative process with releases of a Draft and a Supplemental EIS to take comments and add, modify, or delete alternative strategies. This iterative process was used instead of the more traditional use of preferred and alternative strategies. Essentially the number of alternative strategies was not limited and the preferred strategies were developed in concert with the public through multiple scoping and comment periods.

Key changes after the DEIS and SEIS public comment periods and review by cougar specialists (Oct. 18 to Nov. 18) were mainly focused on cougar management and refinement of elk management strategies, with less comprehensive modifications or clarifications of various other issues, objectives, and strategies.

The preferred alternative for the planning process is a six-year plan. The six-year plan was selected because it meets the Legislative mandate and Fish and Wildlife Commission guidelines. It provides long-term direction and accountability to the public. In addition, it provides sufficient time to analyze the results of management changes, while still providing flexibility.

A longer term than a six-year plan was considered, however flexibility to make changes would be more difficult. An annual operation type plan could be developed outside of the SEPA process, but it generally does not receive the same level of public participation and support. The species by species approach was used to develop plans over the past eight years with limited results. In that time, only three statewide plans were completed. An alternative suggested during the DEIS comment period to reduce emphasis on hunting of game species may be in conflict with the Legislative mandate (RCW 77.04.012) for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to “…attempt to maximize public recreational hunting opportunities…” and 82% of the public is supportive of hunting as determined in a recent public opinion survey (Duda 2002). A no action alternative would mean no change from what is currently in place. There are a total of three completed statewide plans out of over 50 game species. Currently, management direction hasn’t been clearly described or discussed in a public fashion for the majority of game species.

The strategies that remain in this FEIS game management plan are the preferred alternative strategies for the plan. The preferred alternative strategies were selected and prioritized after consideration of public and agency comments from both the DEIS and SEIS, comments from peer review, and edits by WDFW staff. Several things contributed to the selection of preferred alternatives including: the preponderance of public comment, balancing public opinion, funding and staffing levels, feasibility and ability to accomplish the alternative within the six year time frame, and agency priority.

The overall goals of the plan 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.

In general, the impact of developing and implementing a management plan that achieves these goals will be positive to the environment. Potential negative impacts from some of the management activities are mitigated by the strategies identified in the plan. The analyses contained in the FEIS and the GMP represents the best information available to WDFW and is based on our long history of managing game species in this state.

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.

The existing conditions, significant planned population impacts, and mitigation measures are addressed in various sections of the GMP, with existing conditions described extensively in chapter one. They are also described for individual species or groups of species in chapter four under headings of population status, recreational opportunity, and data collection. Chapters three and four identify significant impacts within the “Issue Statements” mainly under the separate titles: habitat, population, and recreation management, information and education, research, and enforcement. Strategies to address and mitigate impacts are listed for each objective under the Issue Statements. There are few if any significant impacts that have not or cannot be successfully mitigated as described.

With all of these issues, it is understood that the implementation of strategies are conditioned first on meeting game population objectives. Science is the core of wildlife management, supporting WDFW’s Legislative mandate to preserve, protect, and perpetuate wildlife populations while maximizing recreation.

General Management Issues

With science and the goal of sustaining game populations as the foundation, many of the preferred strategies in chapter three identify education, public involvement in decisions and participation in data collection, and subsequent monitoring of public satisfaction as priorities. Hunter ethics/fair chase issues such as the development of equipment restrictions are largely based on public opinion because any biological or environmental impacts from equipment technology can be mitigated in other ways. Techniques for mitigating equipment impacts on hunted species include adjustment of season length and timing, bag limits, and other harvest restrictions.

Preferred tribal hunting strategies hinge on the development of cooperative harvest management plans and increased coordination in the management of our respective hunters. Strategies to review and improve private land programs and address game damage rely on working groups of stakeholders to develop recommendations for future actions.

Attention is given to those values identified in recent public opinion surveys for predator management and hunting season preferences. The intent of the preferred alternatives is to provide intensive public education on key issues to maintain public support for hunting; address human/wildlife conflicts with focused hunting strategies; and provide a variety of hunting opportunities that satisfy different preferences while meeting game population objectives.

Road management issues are complicated with a precarious balance between protection of wildlife and hunter access. The development of road management plans is the key preferred strategy to develop and maintain an appropriate balance.

As mentioned previously, the foundation for all objectives and strategies identified in this plan is science and the professional judgment of biologists. At times, the science may not be as strong as managers would like. In those instances, management actions will be more conservative to minimize the potential for significant negative impacts to hunted wildlife species. Chapter four focuses on the science and management of hunted species and lays out how those populations will be monitored to ensure perpetuation of these species over the long term.

Elk Management

The preferred strategies are designed to maintain or increase the number of mature (five year old/six points or greater) bulls that survive after hunting seasons; to determine habitat limitations and estimate carrying capacity for several herds, and where populations are meeting or exceeding goals, to increase harvest of antlerless animals. These measures will be phased in and monitored over six years with expected improvements to recruitment and herd dynamics. Improvements are planned to better monitor population status and determining herd composition. Distinct population management units will be reviewed and updated to form the geographic boundaries for achieving herd objectives.

From the recreational standpoint, current general season strategies will be maintained to the extent possible with a variety of hunting opportunities available and balanced for archers, muzzleloaders, and modern firearm hunters within each of WDFW’s seventeen districts. Spike only management will continue to be emphasized in most of eastern Washington, using branch bull permit levels to achieve sex ratio objectives and three point or better regulations will be retained in western Washington, mainly relying on road management to achieve sex ratio objectives.

Deer Management

Recommended changes to deer management are subtle, since many factors that determine population levels are beyond the control of state wildlife managers-such as weather, wild fires, disease, and timber harvest. Preferred strategies will emphasize improvements in population monitoring, mule deer research, and refinement of population model inputs such as mortality and recruitment rates. Actions will be increased for surveillance of chronic wasting disease and determination of population impacts from hair slip syndrome.

Hunting season changes will be similar to elk regarding maintenance of current general season strategies while ensuring that a variety of hunting opportunities are available and balanced within each of WDFW’s seventeen districts. These guidelines will allow continued debate regarding hunter preferences for season regulations while maintaining the minimum population objective of 15 bucks per 100 does after the hunting season.

Special Species Management

Management strategies for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose will largely continue along current paths. The greatest issue for bighorns continues to be a slow recovery of Rocky Mountain bighorns along the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers. The main strategy for California bighorns is to continue reintroductions to suitable portions of their historic range. With populations of mountain goats in apparent decline and subsequent reductions in hunting opportunity, a new mountain goat research project is being initiated with federal funding. Moose populations continue to expand and management will focus on better documentation of suitable range and development of appropriate levels of harvest. Carefully regulated hunting will continue for all three species by issuing limited numbers of permits and managing for high success rates in these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Black Bear Management

Preferred strategies for black bear management will emphasize resolution of public concerns for public safety, pet and livestock depredation, and timber damage. Hunting opportunities will focus on these concerns as well as providing recreational harvest. The potential development of a spring hunting season to help address timber damage will be considered through strategies identified in the plan.

Cougar Management

This section of the plan has seen the greatest number of changes, mainly in response to peer review and public comment. The greatest issues appear to be the concept or need for reserves where cougars would not be hunted and for harvest guidelines. Most public comments suggested that many areas currently function as reserves and based on sightings, reports of problems, and harvest levels, they do not see a need for identification of reserves.

Identification of areas where cougar survival is high and acting as a source for areas where survival is lower will replace the idea of creating reserves. These areas may fulfill similar functions, but would not be necessarily designated as reserves. In addition, monitoring strategies will be increased in units designated for cougar population reductions to provide greater assurances that hunting will not have a significant negative impact on the perpetuation of cougar populations. Population objectives and female harvest guidelines for each cougar management unit (CMU) have been retained in the plan. The preferred strategies identify ways to improve monitoring protocols and data collection.

Similar to black bear management strategies, harvest will be focused in those areas with concerns for public safety and pet and livestock depredation. A recently initiated cougar research project will be continued to determine behavior and habitat use of cougars with an emphasis on the urban-wild lands interface.

Management of Migratory Birds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pacific Flyway states, including Washington, cooperatively manage migratory birds. Management efforts will continue to emphasize protection and enhancement of declining wetland habitats and to closely monitor harvest management. Refinement of harvest strategies will further emphasize regional differences and address crop damage concerns, while protecting populations of migratory birds of management concern. Studies will be developed to determine the impact, of snipe hunting on other wildlife (especially shorebirds) and investigate hunting impacts on mourning doves.

Management of Upland Game Birds

Preferred strategies for upland game birds (pheasant, quail, and partridge) and wild turkeys will continue to focus on enhancing populations in suitable habitats and providing appropriate harvest opportunities for these largely non-native species. Wild turkey populations have expanded dramatically due to enhancement activities over the past twenty years. Several strategies were developed and modified during the review process to re-evaluate current management direction, gauge the success of introductions, consider impacts to native wildlife, and determine future direction. Mountain quail are considered native to parts of south central and southeast Washington. Preferred strategies are identified to re-establish mountain quail in their native range in eastern Washington and to better monitor harvest in western Washington.

Pheasants continue to be the focus of upland bird management efforts. Other upland bird populations such as California quail are either considered healthier or receive less attention from hunters. Dedicated and targeted funding for pheasant management is discussed with identified strategies for changes in emphasis. Access to private lands continues to be emphasized with strategies to focus on expanding opportunities in higher quality pheasant habitat and hunting areas. Forest grouse management strategies suggest emphasis on improving harvest management and population monitoring.

Management of Small Game Animals, Furbearers, and Unclassified Wildlife

Small game animal management strategies are largely focused on refining distribution information and addressing nuisance problems. Harvest and education strategies will attempt to minimize negative human-wildlife interactions and potential accidental harvest of protected wildlife.

Suggested Citation:
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2002. Game Management Plan. Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington, USA.

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