PAT NEAL: Endangered species roulette

In last week’s episode, we broke the story about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declaring war on the barred owl.

The agency announced plans to shoot 400,000 barred owls on the Olympic Peninsula and throughout the Pacific Northwest for the crime of endangering the endangered spotted owl.

We are told that this slaughter is necessary because the barred owl is an invasive species that migrated here. The spotted owl is not.

The spotted owl is the official mascot of environmentalists everywhere.

Once the spotted owl was declared endangered, it led to the shutdown of logging throughout timber country and ushered in a whole new series of threatened and/or endangered species, such as the bull trout, the island marble butterfly, marbled murrelet and now the western gray squirrel.

Being considered for endangered species status is like winning the lottery for a critter, be they fish, mammal, bird or insect.

Imagine you are just another butterfly twittering about your colorful patch of flowers.

Then one day, something wonderful happens. A biologist declares that you are an endangered species.

Suddenly, you are worth millions and millions of dollars to legions of government officials dedicated to the care and preservation of your unique species.

Consider the case of the bull trout. It is actually a char that on any given day can be the most abundant fish on the river, causing my fishing clients to complain, “If it’s so threatened and endangered, how come that’s all we catch?”

Once considered a useless scavenger and a predator of the spawn and juveniles of endangered salmon and steelhead, the bull trout flesh is pale, soft and wormy.

Alaska once put a bounty on bull trout to reduce their impact on the fisheries.

With the miracle of the Endangered Species Act, the bull trout has been transformed from a reviled trash fish to a major player in the salmon restoration industry and to land-use regulators, who spend millions claiming to restore bull trout to streams where they did not previously exist.

Say what you want about the bull trout, at least it is not an invasive species. Washington state does not tolerate invasive species, unless it does.

The invasive green crab seems to be doing OK.

An alert reader pointed out these voracious predators that are said to be endangering our shellfish industry were introduced in California in 1955 and found in Willapa Bay in 1961.

You’d think Washington state would put a bounty on them, but no.

According to Washington’s 2023 fishing regulations, it is illegal to possess or collect a green crab.

They are a protected invasive species.

The Northern pikeminnow is not so lucky. It eats juvenile salmon and steelhead. The state put a bounty on it.

In one year, anglers caught 14,109 Northern pikeminnow out of the Columbia River, for which they were paid $119,341.

It should be noted that the Northern pikeminnow is a native fish species that has coexisted with salmon and steelhead for thousands of years.

Bass and walleye, which also eat juvenile salmon and steelhead, are an illegally introduced invasive species that are currently protected by strict regulations, seasons and catch limits.

This is a prime example of how we manage fish and wildlife in Washington in an attempt to not hurt anyone’s feelings, while using the best available Disney movies.

It would indeed be the ultimate irony if the Northern pikeminnow and the barred owl were magically transformed into an endangered species after we put a bounty on them.

It has happened before, when we put bounties on wolves and grizzlies.

Those who ignore history probably don’t fish.

_________

Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealproductions@gmail.com.

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