WDFW Waterfowl Advisory Group discussion

D3Smartie

Active Member
I am on the board and wanted to post this in an effort to support more conversation. I'm happy to answer the questions as best i can, be a conduit to the right answer, or pass the information along.

We had the WAG wish list thread on the refuge forums and most comments are what I would call "I, Me, Mine" type of comments. What can be done to make the situation better for an individual. Often this is contrary to the perceived benefit to the whole. I say "perceived" as a lot of times things are kept a certain way because there is no data to move the needle one way or another. There are also many other issues like with merganser limits where it would have to go through the pacific flyway council and do we really want to take up effort on that topic before we handle things like mallard composition or where have the geese gone. Or can the topic get passed through the current commission, or even passed through the legislature. Its more of a conversation than just "i want X"

I would ask that a few things are kept in mind in regards to the requests.
What is the goal of the request? What is the end outcome of the request? Is there data to support a change? Can we get the data to support change? How does it benefit the hunter?
Remember average hunter - They hunt 7 days a year and kill 19 ducks. Thats a lot of guys that dont kill much at all compared to the members of this forum.

I am curious to hear what you guys think on these two topics.
What do you think are the waterfowl dept's 3 main concerns?
What do you think the 3 main topics the WAG hears about?

We had a comment about the Labor Day overlap for early goose and other user groups. Makes a lot of sense - it is now being evaluated. I will say it is a concern that many users would want to take advantage of the long weekend to hunt.

If you have any questions about the state of waterfowl in Washington or regulations. Let me know
 

Smalma

Active Member
D3Smartie-
First thank you for stepping up to be part of WAG!

Nearly all of my waterfowl hunting takes place in the north Sound region. To my mind the single largest issue facing waterfowl hunters in this area (especially those targeting puddle ducks has been the dramatic increase in the white birds. A significant majority of the waterfowl biomass in the area is swans and snow geese and to my eye during the fall and winter period there is a significant overlap and competition for food resources which has increase the lose WDFW lands to salmon recovery that traditionally grow crops for the ducks and supplied hunting ground to the public. has amplified that competition. I believe that WDFW has the population numbers for the swans, geese, ducks. Further I suspect that competition between waterfowl species and changes in relative abundances may be an issue in other regions of the State.

Questions include what are the relative biomass of those various waterfowl species? What is the agency's assessment and do they have any plans on how to maintain duck numbers? Continue to provide reasonable hunter access to the waterfowl populations as a whole? An obvious opportunity would be access to swans and yes I realize that would be heavy lift politically. The Pacific Coast Population (PCP) of trumpeter swans have been population goals for more than a decade (see Pacific fly way status report for trumpeter swans? Another question is what is the most recent status report for those swans including last census in the flyway as well as those wintering in Washington. In addition would be interested the average population growth rate (the last report I saw had that at 6%/year). Based on the number of grey birds I see every fall it doesn't look like recruitment has changed much.


Sea ducks and their status and WDFW management plans for those species would be of interest. It appears that most of those species that traditionally wintered in Puget Sound have suffered population declines. I'm concern that the decline of those sea ducks population like many other species (salmon, herring, ground fish, crabs, orcas etc.) just part of the deterioration of the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Finally if the goal is to harvest more snow geese there needs to be greater separation between the general and late season to allow the geese to forget about the recent hunting.

Curt
 

matchu865

WFF Supporter
I'd like to learn about WDFW's plans to increase the # walk in accessible acres per waterfowl hunter participant on the west side of the state. With lands being repurposed for salmon restoration, and greater participation due to covid, it seems like getting a walk-in spot to hunt becomes harder and harder.

I'd also like to know why there are no properties in King county that are part of the private lands access program - Snohomish/Watcom/and Skagit seem to have the brunt of properties enrolled.

Thanks for being part of the WAG!
 
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D3Smartie

Active Member
good luck with your endeavors, making the general public happy is a tall order
Yeah I don't worry so much about that. Pretty much impossible to make everyone happy
I'd like to learn about WDFW's plans to increase the # walk in accessible acres per waterfowl hunter participant on the west side of the state. With lands being repurposed for salmon restoration, and greater participation due to covid, it seems like getting a walk-in spot to hunt becomes harder and harder.

I'd also like to know why there are no properties in King county that are part of the private lands access program - Snohomish/Watcom/and Skagit seem to have the brunt of properties enrolled.

Thanks for being part of the WAG!
Access is always an issue. And quality of the access is the next question. Ebey island is one area where wdfw is looking to make a purchase and has a large amount of privately donated money being contributed to support it. But it's a slow game trying to pick up lands. Especially big tracts.

In regards to king county it is really a cost issue and limited resource. There is not much land to go after, thousands of dollars spent a year on clubs and wdfw can't compete. I think there are 2 Wildlife Areas in stillwater and cherry Valley in king Co. I don't see much room for expansion on hunting opportunity there honestly.
 

D3Smartie

Active Member
D3Smartie-
First thank you for stepping up to be part of WAG!

Nearly all of my waterfowl hunting takes place in the north Sound region. To my mind the single largest issue facing waterfowl hunters in this area (especially those targeting puddle ducks has been the dramatic increase in the white birds. A significant majority of the waterfowl biomass in the area is swans and snow geese and to my eye during the fall and winter period there is a significant overlap and competition for food resources which has increase the lose WDFW lands to salmon recovery that traditionally grow crops for the ducks and supplied hunting ground to the public. has amplified that competition. I believe that WDFW has the population numbers for the swans, geese, ducks. Further I suspect that competition between waterfowl species and changes in relative abundances may be an issue in other regions of the State.

Questions include what are the relative biomass of those various waterfowl species? What is the agency's assessment and do they have any plans on how to maintain duck numbers? Continue to provide reasonable hunter access to the waterfowl populations as a whole? An obvious opportunity would be access to swans and yes I realize that would be heavy lift politically. The Pacific Coast Population (PCP) of trumpeter swans have been population goals for more than a decade (see Pacific fly way status report for trumpeter swans? Another question is what is the most recent status report for those swans including last census in the flyway as well as those wintering in Washington. In addition would be interested the average population growth rate (the last report I saw had that at 6%/year). Based on the number of grey birds I see every fall it doesn't look like recruitment has changed much.


Sea ducks and their status and WDFW management plans for those species would be of interest. It appears that most of those species that traditionally wintered in Puget Sound have suffered population declines. I'm concern that the decline of those sea ducks population like many other species (salmon, herring, ground fish, crabs, orcas etc.) just part of the deterioration of the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Finally if the goal is to harvest more snow geese there needs to be greater separation between the general and late season to allow the geese to forget about the recent hunting.

Curt
Thanks for the well thought out reply Curt.
I don't know much about the Swans or the population details there so I'll have to come back to that. I do know that you're spot on regarding the political lift to get a swan season. The other restricting factor is that we have both trumpeter and tundra swans. I can speak more intelligently to the seaducks and snows currently.

I have attached a few screen grabs to show the current seaduck status and how we're looking at it on the WAG. the huge increase in hunters is of concern especially when it comes to harlequin ducks. The last few years have really crushed some of the populations in high traffic zones. Eastern strait, West side of whidbey Island as examples. people figured out seaducks are easy to kill and where they can hunt them. Those areas are getting hit very hard.
I don't think this is so much an issue of habitat degradation but more of a hunter impact issue. Unlike the brant where there has been a major shift in wintering population and we see bad loss in habitat in their traditional migration areas.
received_386068702951661.jpeg received_180727330743591.jpeg received_197232212358934.jpeg


On the snow goose side of things we need to separate in into two issues. Eastern wa vs western wa.
ewa is the easier of the two issues because it's a new phenomenon. The goal there is to harvest birds. Expanded limits, more days, later into the season and the evaluation of electronic calls to support more harvest. We are trying to do all of that.
Just a side note for anyone still reading. We will never get a conservation season like the Midwest until the breeding grounds are deemed to be impacted by the abundance of birds. This is a different population of birds in a different area which is why we can't just follow what happens in the central flyway.

Western wa snows are a bit more difficult for a number of factors. Namely it is the traditional wintering area of the wrangle island flock and we have agreements with Russia and Canada on how to manage and evaluate them. One example of that is that harvest card to know about how many birds we are killing.
there is also an obligation to keep that population in its traditional wintering area. We can't really kick them out completely because they'll go sit off the run way at Vancouver Airport and create issues there.
So if you look at what wdfw is trying to do with things like expanding harvest zones for management boundaries which was part of the last survey. Or partnering with private land owners or dairy farmers to get more access through the PHLO program.
As far as the dates and management go, it is an ongoing discussion as to how to best divvy up our 107 days of opportunity. We can't hunt more than that and have to break those down into no more than 3 periods.
The late season has already shown to be a great impact on harvest and opportunity. I think we're adding about 1500 more birds to the harvest through the late season.
 

JS

Active Member
Finally if the goal is to harvest more snow geese there needs to be greater separation between the general and late season to allow the geese to forget about the recent hunting.

Curt
That last paragraph is everything. As a rule, unless it’s super windy prime conditions, the white birds get too deke savvy after a few weeks of getting it.

Access to land is such a huge issue too, we get locked out of more and more areas where the snows will hold up. WDFW needs to work with land owners to give opportunities to mitigate depredation.

Is there any movement on the electronic call situation for snows? I heard a rumor, but have decreased my time spent online in a huge way and am out of the loop.
 

D3Smartie

Active Member
That last paragraph is everything. As a rule, unless it’s super windy prime conditions, the white birds get too deke savvy after a few weeks of getting it.

Access to land is such a huge issue too, we get locked out of more and more areas where the snows will hold up. WDFW needs to work with land owners to give opportunities to mitigate depredation.

Is there any movement on the electronic call situation for snows? I heard a rumor, but have decreased my time spent online in a huge way and am out of the loop.
Yes there is movement on the electronic call side of things. It's being worked on but has to be when no other seasons are open.

Access is always an issue and I'm sorry to say that hunters are our own worst enemy when it comes to access. Lack of respect of private grounds and rules associated with the access creates a management nightmare with the PHLO program.

Any suggestions on how to fix that or get more snow goose access?
 
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D3Smartie

Active Member
One other item i should mention Curt is that there is a need for us to get better data on WA bred mallards to support your comment on maintaining duck numbers. I dont have time at the moment for in an in depth post on it but we are looking at it.
 
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JS

Active Member
I’ll think on it for sure.

I think that WDFW needs to lean into the private land owner access program. The whole thing needs looked at again, because currently there are (in EWA, can’t speak to the west side) land owners enrolled in the program, getting all of the benefits, and not allowing access at all. I can cite specific outfits if that helps, but I’d rather do that via pm if you’re interested at all.
 

D3Smartie

Active Member
I’ll think on it for sure.

I think that WDFW needs to lean into the private land owner access program. The whole thing needs looked at again, because currently there are (in EWA, can’t speak to the west side) land owners enrolled in the program, getting all of the benefits, and not allowing access at all. I can cite specific outfits if that helps, but I’d rather do that via pm if you’re interested at all.
I've seen that before myself and know it's an issue.
 
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matchu865

WFF Supporter
I've seen that before myself and know it's an issue.
Are these the “hunt by written permission” lands where when you contact the state they tell you to drive out there to the post to find out (probably a minimum 1hr drive from the closest city with a McDonald’s)? It’s pretty ridiculous, why can’t they just share or post the address or email of the landowner enrolled in this type of property? Although I must say I’ve mostly seen this for areas I’d maybe want to deer hunt.

PHLO on the west side is an awesome program that I wish could be expanded more with better enforcement of the rules. I’d be more than happy to participate in mid/post season clean ups on these properties, and I do really think a thank you gift program paid for by hunters would be an awesome way to reward folks who participate above what the state pays them.
 

D3Smartie

Active Member
There is some nuance around the PHLO and private lands access. Basically the balance between quality hunting, hunter access, and goal of the property. Most land owners open it up to get birds off the land on the west side. east side they seem to open land up to get some value out of a barren patch of dirt the state took into the program for some reason. Sure a deer may walk across it but it is unlikely to happen during legal hours. And then you might have a quality patch and it will be found and overrun within hours of opening.
So how do you effectively manage the lands? We;ve seen the various types of attempts with restricted hours, online reservation, various signs etc but there is always a balance and ultimately it comes down to how the public interacts with the owners, other hunters and the land itself. We're our own worst enemy.

personally i hate the reservation system and restricted hours but on the flip side i would never open my lands up to the general public for a free for all either. And lets be clear, the amount of money they get from being in the program is not a lot.
 
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matchu865

WFF Supporter
There is some nuance around the PHLO and private lands access. Basically the balance between quality hunting, hunter access, and goal of the property. Most land owners open it up to get birds off the land on the west side. east side they seem to open land up to get some value out of a barren patch of dirt the state took into the program for some reason. Sure a deer may walk across it but it is unlikely to happen during legal hours. And then you might have a quality patch and it will be found and overrun within hours of opening.
So how do you effectively manage the lands? We;ve seen the various types of attempts with restricted hours, online reservation, various signs etc but there is always a balance and ultimately it comes down to how the public interacts with the owners, other hunters and the land itself. We're our own worst enemy.

personally i hate the reservation system and restricted hours but on the flip side i would never open my lands up to the general public for a free for all either. And lets be clear, the amount of money they get from being in the program is not a lot.
There are a couple of different options.

Feel Free to Hunt - basically treated the same way as public land except the property is owned privately.
Hunt by Reservation - You've got to make a reservation online. It's understandable as landowners want to know who is hunting their property, however there could be some improvements in the actual registration process to maximize use per $.
Hunt by Written Permission - you've got to write/contact the landowner and ask to hunt. Tell me again why the state pays for these? I could just as easily write someone not in the program, and like I mentioned earlier the state does not make it easy to get the landowner's contact info and tells you that you need to drive out to the sign posted at the property itself. IMHO these types of properties should be either moved into one of the other categories, or at the very least the contact info of the landowner should be available on the privatelands website.
Register to Hunt - basically these properties are first-come-first-serve with a limited number of hunters allowed on the property.

Overall I love that the state offers this program, and I'm even happier that some landowners participate, but that doesn't mean that there aren't improvements needed.
 
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D3Smartie

Active Member
There are a couple of different options.

Feel Free to Hunt - basically treated the same way as public land except the property is owned privately.
Hunt by Reservation - You've got to make a reservation online. It's understandable as landowners want to know who is hunting their property, however there could be some improvements in the actual registration process to maximize use per $.
Hunt by Written Permission - you've got to write/contact the landowner and ask to hunt. Tell me again why the state pays for these? I could just as easily write someone not in the program, and like I mentioned earlier the state does not make it easy to get the landowner's contact info and tells you that you need to drive out to the sign posted at the property itself. IMHO these types of properties should be either moved into one of the other categories, or at the very least the contact info of the landowner should be available on the privatelands website.
Register to Hunt - basically these properties are first-come-first-serve with a limited number of hunters allowed on the property.

Overall I love that the state offers this program, and I'm even happier that some landowners participate, but that doesn't mean that there aren't improvements needed.
At a glance I'm not sure how this is different than what we have now aside from HBWP being abolished. I actually like that fact that someone cant get the info without going and scouting. creates a benefit for those willing to put in the leg work.

The biggest issue i have right now is the register to hunt and hunt by reservation. If you look at the issues in Whatcom county last year with the register to hunt sites, it was more headache than benefit. If you have a first come first serve spot, people sleep on it to get it. Landowners dont want people sleeping in their back yards, shit in the ditches, loud trucks driving the streets at 2am etc... I get it.
So we then have to go to a hunt by reservation system which limits the opportunity to hunt in that spot to 1 party per day. We lose 50% off the top by not being able to refill. A poor trade in my book especially when the bird hunting up north is so weather dependent.
Ultimately we have more regulation and more enforcement over less opportunity. And the second we add more process or regulation, the cost goes up.
 

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