The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has voted 5-4 to tell WDFW wildlife managers not to prepare a proposal for a spring bear hunt for approval this October.
The argument from Chair Barbara Baker of Olympia was that a spring bear hunting policy needs to be hashed out first, a deep dive she’s asked for since December 2020’s vote on the 2021 season.
Her motion to “sequence review and potential revision of the Department policy on spring bear hunts prior to any rulemaking for annual seasons” was supported by Commissioners Melanie Rowland of Twisp, Lorna Smith of Port Townsend, John Lehmkuhl of Wenatchee and Tim Ragen of Anacortes.
The action basically superseded a January commission decision on how to get to an October vote on a 2023 season.
The argument against is that spring bear hunting is already part of the statewide game management plan and the Washington Administrative Codes.
“We have a policy in the Game Management Plan and for some reason we’re trying not to follow that,” said Commission Jim Anderson of Buckley.
He was joined in voting no by Vice Chair Molly Linville of Douglas County, who said while she was ready for a policy discussion, the hunt is already “on the books” – the game plan and WACs.
A letter from the Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers earlier this week outlined spring bear hunting touchpoints in the game plan.
Also voting against Baker’s motion were Commissioners Don McIsaac of rural Clark County and Kim Thorburn of Spokane.
Lehmkuhl said his vote was neither for or against spring bear hunting itself but to clarify the policy first. He felt that it is possible, if the commission bore down, that there could still be a vote on a 2023 season, which would otherwise begin next April.
McIsaac rebutted that, saying this was a decision not to have a permit hunt next year, and said that proper process wasn’t being followed in a number of ways.
Later in the meeting Lehmkuhl called out that spring bear policy wasn’t on the commission’s year-at-a-glance calendar.
Ragen said that the commission wouldn’t make much progress until getting past questions of process.
He also spoke to his interpretation of WDFW’s mandate to conserve wildlife resource and an “affirmative responsibility not to impair the resource” and said he couldn’t make a judgement about whether that was being followed in terms of the bear population.
Perhaps it was just Ragen’s researcher background talking, but once again WDFW Director Kelly Susewind had to step in and set the record straight.
“Staff have been more than crystal clear this [the spring bear hunt] will not impair the resource. We take that seriously. This one doesn’t come close,” Susewind said.
And yet a long-standing Washington hunting season and tradition now faces an increasingly dim future.
Today’s stated goal may be all about trying to set a policy first, but it remains to be seen if the commission will actually make the time to do so. It is updating the game management plan, but that’s subject to a vote too.