Washington hunters are still growling about the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s tie vote last Friday morning that suspended the spring black bear special permit season for at least 2022.
They’re debating what went wrong online, as well as organizing and contacting members of the citizen panel over their votes, and have also started a petition to bring the hunt back and already have over 2,050 signatures.
“The people who voted to not have a spring bear hunting season, made their decision strictly out of emotion and with no scientific facts to support their reasoning for not having a spring bear hunting season,” states the somewhat hastily written petition to Governor Inslee, among others, and calls for the permanent reinstatement of the limited-entry hunt.
There were to be 664 permits available for the April 15-June 15, 2022, season, which is meant to provide recreational big game hunting opportunity, along with secondary benefits of reducing deer fawn and elk calf predation, timber damage and human-bear conflict.
Last spring saw 145 bruins harvested, with just one known lactating female. Hunters are asked to not shoot sows with cubs.
WDFW brass was squarely in support of the season, with the director and carnivore manager both urging the commission to approve it.
“You’ve heard loud and clear from staff, repeatedly, our professional managers, that these hunts do not impair or cause a concern for the bear population,” Director Kelly Susewind said. “I think we are stronger and better for differences of opinion, but where I stumble a little bit is when we start using that opinion to try to change facts or glean facts. What we’ve heard in no uncertain (terms) is we have plenty of bears.”
North Sound bear hunter and bear hunting author Douglas Boze said he was “disgusted, blindsided and frustrated with the vote.”
He said that most hunters saw WDFW announcements about 2022’s proposal “and thought, “These are minor issues,’ and that the season would continue (as the WDFW anticipated), as it has for years, with the possible reduction of a few permits on the coast – overall, not a big deal.”
Boze also pointed out one of the big meetings on the hunt was held right before the start of the second weekend of Washington’s rifle deer season, one of the busiest of the year, and which might have tamped down sportsmen comments, although WDFW did provide an online portal to lodge input.
And he took issue with the notion that hunters are only out for trophies and to kill.
“I am an avid hunter with 33 seasons under my belt. I would be the first to request a stop to a spring bear season if I felt the population in danger or in need of recovery. I love hunting bear, I love watching bear, and I want that activity to be around for the public forever. But, having read the 100-plus-page document outlining the data provided to the Commission from the WDFW, I can tell you the science is there that the bear population is healthy and the harvest rates are well within tolerable levels,” Boze said.
The commission vote deadlocked when Chair Larry Carpenter unexpectedly joined a bloc of preservationist-minded members in opposing it. The others had cast doubt on their agency’s own science, estimates and read tea leaves in management plan statements, and favored following public opinion over WDFW’s legislative mandate.
Carpenter’s reasoning was to use a one-year pause to better document what WDFW knows about the state bear population, answer the questions that were brought up in public comment on the 2022 proposal, and then get it reinstated.
His no vote left fellow member and yes voter Don McIsaac “shocked and disappointed,” but the Vancouver-area resident said that WDFW would now “play the hand dealt us.”
Speaking of WDFW, the agency put out a curiously headlined press release in the wake of the vote and said that staffers would be “assessing the path forward for offering” spring bear hunting ops in the years ahead.
“Staff will be examining the process that will be used to evaluate future spring bear seasons, and the multi-year Game Management Plan is one process that can establish a broader approach to setting black bear population objectives, recreation opportunity objectives, and bear management objectives,” explained spokeswoman Sam Montgomery. “A rule would still be needed to adopt a spring season(s), but the overall management framework could be examined within the overarching Game Management Plan.”
Follow-up questions on whether WDFW would at least be offering the points option to put in for next year and what might happen to hunters’ points if the season is never reinstated went unanswered.
Meanwhile, the commission has an incredibly crucial vote the afternoon of Friday, December 3, in which the chair and vice chair for the next two years will be chosen. Stay very much tuned.
The meeting also features a chance to provide public input. To do so, commenters must preregister by 8 a.m. on the 3rd. More info here.