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Sprague Lake issue stirs debate

Sprague Lake’s value as a fishery and a wildlife sanctuary will be scrutinized next week when the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission votes on fishing rule changes.

State wildlife biologists have proposed reinstating boundaries of a wildlife reserve at the southwest end of the lake as a refuge for birds ranging from terns to geese. Also, a no-fishing buffer is proposed around Harper Island.

Fish and Wildlife Department officials have been receiving comments about the issue since The Spokesman-Review readers were alerted to the proposals by this column two weeks ago.

Two letters copied to me seem to nail the arguments on both sides of the issue.

One side is presented by Ivan Lines, a hunter/conservationist supporting the proposed restrictions. Lines is a former Ducks Unlimited biologist and current Spokane Audubon board member.

The other point of view comes from Scott Haugen, owner of Four Seasons Campground, who speaks for Sprague-area businesses and anglers who do not support the proposed restrictions on boating access to the lake’s southwest waters.

Based on their letters, here’s how a debate between the hunters and the anglers might go:

Angler: After a $500,000 fisheries rehab of the lake by the Fish and Wildlife Department, do we really want to limit the fishing opportunities in this great fishery?

Hunter: Sportsmen and conservation groups supported rehabilitating the fishery with rotenone, especially to get rid of the carp, which muck up the bottom and reduce aquatic insects and vegetation both fish and waterfowl need for food.

At the same time, they supported closing the lower end of the lake during critical portions of the year to help prevent disturbing thousands of birds that use that shallow, marshy end for nesting as well as resting during migrations.

Angler: This could have a negative impact on our economic recovery statewide because of lost sales for fishing equipment, gasoline, food, camping equipment, campgrounds and fishing licenses.

Hunter: The wildlife reserve (from the Lincoln/Adams county line south and west) has been in place for decades. The current proposal would reinstate the boundaries that have been relaxed in recent years.

Angler: The proposed year-round fishing closure at the cattail-bulrush line and identified bays should not include the water’s edge or the lily pads, which provide great fishing opportunities for crappie, bluegills, channel cats and bass.

Hunter: Birds are under severe stress during both the nesting and migration seasons. One power boat or one fisherman can cause hundreds of birds to take flight and burn precious calories during already stressful periods.

Angler: Prohibiting boats with gas engines year-round from waters west of Harper Island would put anglers in danger in the frequent case of sudden winds that can overpower electric motor or oar-powered boats.

Hunter: Once the fishery was restored, most people seem to have forgotten the original promises that were made by WDFW and the Wildlife Commission to provide an undisturbed area for wildlife.

Angler: Prohibiting fishing west of Harper Island from Sept. 1-April 30 would be unnecessarily long. A Nov. 1-April 1 closure would have much less impact on fishermen.

Hunter: It makes no sense during spring or fall migration to allow power boats and fishermen within the reserve, where they severely disturb wildlife by their mere presence.

Angler: Prohibiting fishing within 50 feet all the way around Harper Island would keep anglers from some good fishing for bass and channel catfish.

The proposal is to deter people from beaching boats and fishing from shore. Few people go on the island the way it is because they don’t want to get bombed by all the seagulls.

Hunter: The current proposed fishing and engine restriction would only close less than 20 percent of the lake for a portion of the year. Surely fishermen can share that much with wildlife.

Angler: Fishing is the highest use of Sprague Lake and the state’s investment in it.

Hunter: Sprague Lake is extremely valuable for both fish and wildlife. Extensive areas of open, shallow, warm and fertile water, abundant production of aquatic plants and insects, vast expanses of surrounding cropland and one of the largest cattail-bulrush marshes in Eastern Washington contribute to its high value for fish AND wildlife.

Time is up.

The judges will decide the winner of the debate or whether compromises are in order next week in Olympia.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or e-mail

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