At this point it is starting to feel like one of those “how many (fill in the blank) does it take to screw in a lightbulb” jokes. Seriously Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), how long does it take to designate a river in Northern Puget Sound as a Wild Steelhead Gene Bank (WSGB)? How many commissions, special tasks forces, forums, and public comment periods do you need to undertake to make that happen? And how can you hold a public comment process and not act when 91 percent of respondents want the Skagit to be designated? Apparently for WDFW, the answer is at least nine years, one more advisory group, and “uncertainty” about the will of the people because earlier this week, WDFW decided to kick that can down the road one more time.
In 2008, WDFW was tasked with the incredibly manageable task of designating one river (JUST ONE) in Northern Puget Sound as a WSGB – a wild steelhead sanctuary that would forever be free from the threat of hatchery steelhead. The creation of this WSBG is mandated by Washington’s Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, a plan that was created because steelhead in Puget Sound and other parts of Washington are going the way of the dodo.
That’s not hyperbole. At the beginning of the 20th Century, there were nearly 1 million wild steelhead that returned to Puget Sound rivers every year. Just more than a century later and that number has plummeted to less than 15,000 fish! Even in the face of that precipitous decline, WDFW still manages to consistently drag its feet on taking any action that will help reverse this dramatic decline.
In the time it has taken WDFW to fail to make this designation, the world has become a radically different place. When WDFW started this process…
- George W Bush was President. That means everything President Obama has accomplished or ruined (depending on your perspective) was done faster than WDFW’s designation process.
- Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, and Pinterest were still years away from existing.
- Myspace was more popular than Facebook and more than likely you had never sent a tweet.
- You had never seen an iPad, Android Phone, or Fitbit before because they did not exist.
- You also couldn’t find gluten-free anything on any menus or grocery store shelves.
- And recently anointed Olympic legends Simone Biles and Katie Ladecky were still in elementary school.
It is crazy to think that a President can serve a full eight-years, that the entire world of how we interface with technology can radically change, and that Olympians can build and define their athletic careers in the time it takes WDFW to make one simple designation when 91 percent of people want the same thing. But regrettably that’s the world we live in today – a world where a government agency tasked with protecting a threatened species prefers to ignore the will of the overwhelming majority and kick the can down the road rather than take a hard stand and make bold decisions.
This punting on big decisions has to stop now. We are running out of time and opportunities to conserve wild steelhead stocks. WDFW, it is time you get your shit together and get something meaningful done. It’s time to make the Skagit a Wild Steelhead Gene Bank.
Photo credit: Dave McCoy