The head of Washington’s wildlife management service visited the Spokane area Monday, fielding questions about wolves, hunting opportunities, bird watching, angling and more.
Kelly Susewind started his job at the head of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Aug. 1. He was thrown immediately into the hot seat with starving orcas, wolf attacks and a looming agency budget crisis grabbing headlines.
Although Susewind spent most of Monday listening, he opened with a dire assessment of Washington’s wild lands.
“Our wild places are wild things,” he said. “Hunting, fishing. That’s what defines us as a state and we’re at critical point. We need to pay special attention or we’re not going to have it for our kids or grandkids.”
Balancing a growing population with conservation is the agency’s “real challenge” he said.
“And if we don’t, we’ll lose it,” he said.
A key step in addressing that issue is reaching out to people who are not traditionally served by WDFW, he said. He pointed out that 1 million people hunt and fish in Washington while the remaining 6 million don’t.
“We really need to broaden our base,” he said. “We need to get a lot of people who aren’t in this room into this room.
“They have to care.”
Although most of the two-hour session was spent fielding questions from the audience, Susewind opened with general remarks about his strategy and approach as director.
About 40 people attended the Q&A. Attendees included Northeast Washington ranchers, bird watchers, hunters, anglers and local conservation leaders.
That focus on new users doesn’t mean WDFW should or will turn its back on traditional users such as anglers and hunters, he said.
One of the first questions came from the wildlife-watching perspective. A woman asked how groups such as the Audubon Society can better support WDFW.
The second question involved the feasibility of moving wolves from Northeast Washington to other areas. Susewind said the agency is starting a state environmental review of that proposal, but said it’s unlikely that will happen.
“I don’t know how realistic it is, to be honest,” he said. “We’ll give it a fair shot to see if its realistic.”
Representatives from the livestock community in Northeast Washington followed up, stating their concerns about wolves.
“We’ve got to figure out how to manage it,” Susewind said. “Wolf recovery has been successful. We have a lot of wolves, particularly in the Northeast. We have to figure out a way to manage them.”
The Wolf Advisory Group will be looking at a postdelisting plan, Susewind said. He added that something has to change.
Attendees also asked about WDFW’s $30 million budget shortfall. Susewind didn’t have many specifics to share on the budget shortfall, but he said it’s unlikely that the agency will receive all the money it needs from the Legislature.
Concerns were also raised about gillnets on the Columbia, hatchery production and poaching enforcement.
Susewind didn’t have specific answers to most questions, although he often provided background information. Instead, he said he was most interested in listening and learning about local concerns.
From Spokane, Susewind headed to meetings in Ephrata on Tuesday and Selah on Wednesday.
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