HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recently released its assessment of this year’s statewide hunting prospects. Informative and comprehensive in scope and long on hunting opportunity, the report is basically a blueprint of last year’s assessment. The issue of possible hunter crowding in western Washington due to restrictive access to private lands was not addressed in the report, probably because the department has taken a wait-and-see stance on the issue. Hunter crowding may not be a problem in eastern Washington, but it is a distinct possibility on the west side.
Locally, Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667) and Hancock Timber Resource properties (GMU 653 and 654) are forecasted to provide excellent big-game opportunities, but both require the purchase of access permits to enter. The Elbe Hills State Forest (GMU 654) is also expected to provide ample opportunity for small and big-game hunting. Hunters are reminded a Discover Pass is required to access this unit. Both the North Rainier and South Rainier elk herds are partially contained in District 11, providing an opportunity to harvest elk as they migrate out of Mount Rainier high country and follow lower river drainages during the hunting season.
General deer season harvest in District 11 has been relatively stable with a weak decline, according to Michelle Tirhi, WDFW district biologist for Pierce and Thurston counties. In 2012, archery hunters had a 17.6 success rate, modern firearm hunters 20.8 percent, and muzzleloaders 10 percent success rate during the general season.
Harvest numbers for elk have been gradually increasing over the past five years in District 11. Last year, archery hunters experienced a 12. 8 percent success rate; modern firearm hunters a 13 percent success rate and 16.7 percent for muzzleloaders compared to a statewide success rate average of 13.5 percent.
Cougar harvest in District 11 rose slightly in 2010, followed by a decline in 2011 and 2012. A total of five cougars were legally harvested in the district in 2012, which may represent significant under-reporting. This total does not include dangerous cougar removals, poached animals and road kills. Bear harvest within the district has also seen a decline. Over the past five years, there was a 52 percent decline from 2011 to 2012
Approximately 1,900 pheasants will be released at the Skookumchuck Wildlife area this season, with 50 to 75 birds released each day on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays . The releases began Sept. 17 and continue through Thanksgiving Day morning. Approximately 3,700 pheasants will also be released in the Scatter Creek Wildlife area, with 60 to 70 birds released each day on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. Some areas of Scatter Creek are off limits to hunters due to endangered species recovery work.
The department will also release 5,000 pheasants on Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). Military training will dictate which fields will be open in any given week, and hunters must register to hunt on JBLM through NW Adventure Center (253-967-8282), at which time they will be informed about the pheasant hunting process including which fields are open to hunting. Non-toxic shoot is required to be used on all pheasant release sites, statewide.
Forest grouse have been experiencing a downward trend in District 11 over the past five years, however, about 2,000 grouse are harvested in Pierce County annually, while Thurston County averages about 1,000 birds annually. The season runs Sept. 1 through Dec. 31 with a daily limit of four of any species and a possession of 12 of any species.
Duck harvest in Pierce County increased 17 percent from 2011 to 2012 and 21 percent over the previous five years. Combined duck harvest in the district mirrored annual breeding survey results. Tirhi said that unfortunately, there was a 3 percent decline in Canada goose harvest from 2011 to 2012, although the five-year average in the district is up 27 percent, which is a good indicator that hunting prospects look good for this season’s goose and duck hunters.
USA Today (Sept. 9) reported that, according to WDFW estimates, the elk population in Kittitas County may be larger than the city of Ellensburg’s population, and the number of hunters who travel to the area in search of big game outnumber both.