WDFW Recognizes Citizens’ Contributions Toward Fish and Wildlife Stewardship

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OLYMPIA – Two men instrumental in distributing millions of pounds of surplus hatchery fish to needy families over the past 10 years received a standing ovation from employees of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) at an awards ceremony here May 30.

Andy Vitalek, a Bellingham seafood processor, and Jim Coates, director of Grays Harbor/Pacific Counties Food Banks, were two of 10 Washington citizens and organizations recognized by WDFW for their help in providing stewardship for state fish and wildlife resources over the past year.

Other award-winners ranged from an expert Okanogan houndsman to Congressman Norm Dicks, a national leader on issues including habitat protection, salmon restoration and sustainable fisheries.

“As with any organization, our success depends on the support of citizen volunteers and others throughout our state dedicated to fish and wildlife stewardship,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. “Fortunately, this department has a strong network of support, as evidenced by the people we are honoring here today.”

Citing volunteer efforts by citizens throughout the state, Koenings recognized three individuals with the department’s Volunteer of the Year award:

  • Chuck Smith, an expert houndsman from Okanogan, has lent his expertise in helping the department establish a cougar-monitoring program in Okanogan County. He has also provided lodging for WDFW biologists during capture efforts, and allowed them to use his snowmobiles, dog sleds and other equipment.
  • Mike Estes of Kennewick, a 22-year member of the Richland Rod and Gun Club, worked with the department to develop a system for donating seized big-game carcasses to charitable organizations. He is also chairman of the advisory group that has helped to guide efforts to restructure WDFW’s Master Hunter Program.
  • David Beatty of Bellingham was recognized for his 15-year commitment to working as a volunteer to preserve fish and wildlife in the Skagit and Nooksack watersheds. Since 1995, he has helped to train Stream Team volunteers on the Skagit River and now serves on the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association’s board of directors.

The department’s Organization of the Year award went to Long Live the Kings, a non-profit group that helped WDFW develop a long-term plan to maintain healthy salmon and steelhead populations in the face of rapid urban development and climate change. The award was presented to Jim Youngren, chairman, and Barbara Cairns, executive director, of the organization.

“Long Live the Kings has set an example of how a private non-profit organization can use its professional expertise to team up with a state agency and provide a brighter future for a public resource,” Koenings said.

Also recognized for their collaborative efforts were the Weyerhaeuser Company’s St. Helens Tree Farm staff and the South West Land Access Coalition, which worked with WDFW to expand hunting opportunities across thousands of acres of private timberland near Mount St. Helens last year. Weyerhaeuser expanded motorized access to its land, while the Access Coalition organized hundreds of volunteers to staff the gates, post signs and distribute information to hunters.

Besides recognizing Congressman Dicks for his “tireless fight for Washington’s citizens and natural resources,” Koenings gave special awards to two other public figures for their dedication to fish and wildlife issues.

John Bundy won a Director’s Award for nine years of service as a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, including the last three as vice chair. Koenings credited Bundy, a Seattle fish processor, for his keen intellect and fairness on the 15-member panel charged with managing various fisheries in federal waters off the coast of Alaska.

Koenings also recognized the contributions made by Will Roehl of Bellingham, who resigned from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in May after 10 years of service. As a member of the commission, which sets policy for WDFW, Roehl had served terms as commission chairman and as a member of its executive committee.

Twenty-three other awards were also presented to WDFW staff members, including Officer Lenny Hahn, who was named Employee of the Year. Hahn, of Spokane, won the award for his extensive involvement in community activities that protect and promote Washington’s fish and wildlife resources.