OLYMPIA - Adoption of waterfowl hunting seasons for 2003-04 will be a key item on the agenda when the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meets Aug. 1 through Aug. 2 in Bellingham.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 8:30 a.m. both days at the Hampton Inn/Fox Hall, 3985 Bennett Dr. Waterfowl seasons will be considered on Friday afternoon.

Encouraged by improved breeding conditions during the past year for North American ducks, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is recommending that the commission adopt a 107-day hunting season for most species of ducks and geese.

A 107-day season, the maximum period allowed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would be consistent with the number of hunting days approved by the commission in recent years.

"Wet weather in south central Canada created good conditions for duck production this year," said Dave Ware, WDFW game division manager. "That, in turn, bodes well for a good duck-hunting season."

However, local duck breeding populations are at lower levels than last year, Ware said.

In southwest Washington, however, WDFW is proposing substantial reductions in the number of days open to goose hunting.

Ware said state budget reductions, together with uncertainty over federal funding, will result in fewer WDFW checking stations for rare dusky geese. That means WDFW can support fewer days of hunting in southwest Washington, because all geese taken in that area must be checked to determine the impact on the dusky goose population.

"It all comes down to a question of funding," said Ware, noting that goose-hunting seasons in southwest Washington could be extended if federal funding becomes available.

As it stands, WDFW will recommend that the commission delay the start of the goose-hunting season in this part of the state until mid-December, rather than open it in late November as it has in recent years.

The public will have a chance to comment on that and other issues during comment periods throughout the two-day commission meeting. Other actions scheduled for consideration by the commission would:

• Authorize several changes in license provisions, including one that would allow the creation of a raffle for lifetime fishing or hunting licenses;

• Restrict eligibility for public safety cougar removal permits to Washington residents with a valid big game license;

• Adopt a pre-season fishing schedule for gillnet fisheries in Puget Sound.

In addition to those action items, WDFW staff will brief the commission on several issues not scheduled for action at the Aug. 1-2 meeting. They include:

• A proposal to reduce the number of sturgeon an angler is permitted to catch each year from ten to five.

• A status report on WDFW's budget for 2001-03 and the two-year budget approved by the state Legislature 2003-04; and

• The department's strategy for implementing legislation approved earlier this year (ESSB 1418), which exempts current tide gates from fish passage requirements.

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