Sisters File Lawsuit Over Washington Spring Bear Hunt

Two Western Washington sisters have followed through on their threat to sue WDFW over its recently approved 2021 spring bear permit hunt, filing a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court last week.

MONICA WEEKS TOOK THIS CINNAMON-PHASE BLACK BEAR DURING 2017’S SPRING PERMIIT HUNT IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (COAST HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Per the Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s Dave Nichols, Martha Hall of Anacortes and Share Stroble of Seattle claim the agency didn’t “properly notify the public that it was considering approval of the spring bear hunt” last year, and what word WDFW did put out “characterized the rule amendment authorizing the hunt as merely an ‘editorial’ change” to 2020’s seasons – which had already occurred last spring – and not the upcoming 2021 hunt.

Stroble said WDFW “has a legal obligation to give Washington citizens the opportunity to speak up and have their voices heard,” according to the reporter.

In midafternoon, a WDFW spokeswoman said that given the ongoing litigation, she couldn’t speak to specifics of the case.

Stroble, Hall and many others more than made their thoughts known during public comment taken at the December 4 Fish and Wildlife Commission in the lead-up to the citizen panel’s later up-or-down decision.

That strong concerted effort even caught the attention of hunter Steve Rinella’s The MeatEater podcast in a pre-Christmas broadcast (around the 90– 30-minute mark).

Then there was the October 8, 2020, press release from WDFW which called for comment and quotes Game Division manager Anis Aoude as stating, “We need your feedback on the proposed rule to better understand how the public feels about adjusting season dates and permit numbers in some areas. We’ll use this information to guide how we offer spring black bear opportunities in 2021.”

The news release was picked up in Spokane and Tacoma papers, among other sources.

WDFW described the proposed changes as “minor” – standardizing season lengths to April 15-June 15; clarifying the harvested bear check-in process; removing Weyerhaeuser lands from a Skagit hunt; and reducing Long Beach permits by two.

On Dec. 18, in the face of the sisters’ threatened lawsuit, the commission heard from its lawyer, Joe Panesko of the state Attorney General’s Office, before taking a vote.

“With respect to the litigation threat, there are litigation threats made against various decisions of the commission and the department. Over time, they’re becoming more common, actually, and sometimes those threats are followed through and cases are filed, and sometimes they’re not. And when cases are filed, we are here to defend the actions of the agency. … The commission is free to proceed with this action item as planned,” Panesko advised them.

The commission then voted 8-1 in favor of the changes.

It truly beggars belief that WDFW, its state attorney and the Fish and Wildlife Commission would have opened themselves up to possibly having a judge shut down the 2021 spring bear hunt, but if the lawsuit is successful it would point to the need of agency staffers to pay attention to the utmost minute of details when filing rule change proposal notices, in particular anything dealing with bears, cougars, wolves and other predators. WDFW management of those critters has attracted several lawsuits and actions by the governor to override state managers.

Washington is one of eight states – all in the West, all with copious black bears and no conservation concerns about them – that allow spring bruin hunting. They’ve occurred since 2002 in the Evergreen State and hunters must apply for a chance to be drawn for a special permit; 688 are available for the 2021 season.

They are meant to provide a limited hunting opportunity, reduce timber damage by hungry bears, increase fawn and elk calf survival, and minimize the odds of bruin-human conflict.