Pointing to hunter ethics and image and longheld wildlife conservation beliefs, Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners voted to ban hunting contests targeting coyotes and other animals that don’t have bag limits.
They also made it an infraction to hold hunting contests without a permit issued by WDFW.
According to one person during public comment before the vote this morning, Washington is now the seventh state in the country to prohibit these types of hunting competitions.
Speaking as “Hunter Smith,” Brad Smith of Bellingham said, “The word ‘contest’ in hunting goes against my core. We respect what we kill, we feel sadness when we walk up to what we kill. I can’t think of anything that fuels the anti-hunting sentiment more than the social media pictures of a pile of dead animals.”
Kim Thorburn of Spokane agreed that putting images like that on Facebook, etc., was “unseemly,” but she also pushed back hard on the commission dictating hunter behavior.
“Brad, you’re doing it again. It’s your personal values and your personal ethics and you want to impose them on others,” she responded.
Earlier in the meeting Thorburn said that she “strongly opposed” the proposal and considered it part of a “relentless campaign to nullify hunting” one element at a time.
She said that language used by those outside the commission who were advocating for the change had been all about eliciting an emotional response and didn’t actually describe legal hunting.
In an interesting twist, the other commissioner from the state’s biggest cities also voted against it.
Bob Kehoe of Seattle agreed with Thorburn, saying he too saw it as an ethics issue similar to efforts to ban baiting deer and elk. Ultimately the commission only changed those regulations slightly.
“No science [shows] that these contests put in jeopardy coyote populations or other populations,” he said.
While respecting Smith and prime sponsor Barbara Baker’s thoughts, he said the issue was beyond the scope of the commission and that the legislature was a better place to address it.
“To me this is an unneccessary step into another controversy. The last thing we need is more controversy,” Kehoe said.
WDFW has had a rough couple years following commission decisions to walk back Columbia River salmon reforms – which Kehoe is in favor of – and Gov. Inslee’s directive this spring to halt all fishing and hunting for six weeks to try and help slow the spread of Covid-19.
It also pits out-of-staters and Westsiders against Eastern Washington, Kehoe said.
Voting in favor of the ban, Jim Anderson of Buckley said he wasn’t swayed by the nonresident argument.
“As a lifelong hunter, I don’t see this as consistent with the ethics I had growing up or with the ethics most hunters have,” he said.
Anderson added that contests offered no value to WDFW from a population management standpoint.
For rancher Molly Linville of Moses Coulee, science neither supports competitions nor condemns them. She said that while she too has concerns about neonate survival – her calves – she pointed out that the change would not affect the ability to hunt coyotes or taking out a bunch of them.
“The only thing being taken away is the prize,” Linville said.
Technically speaking, the motion she voted in favor of reads, “Contests involving unclassified and classified wildlife species without a bag limit are prohibited and will not be permitted.”
A WDFW staff summary in support of the change states, “The department did not want to eliminate prizes since these are what draw participants to these contests. Regulating what can be hunted is a better way to solve this problem of contests that incentivize the killing of large numbers of animals.”
For instance, a nonprofit with a WDFW permit to hold a contest could still offer a prize for biggest buck brought in during the season as the bag limit is one.
WDFW has annually permitted a handful of competitions, if that. Those held from 2014 through 2016 saw from 149 to 535 coyotes taken. Prize value is limited to $2,000. Application and permit cost a total of $94.
Reading a line from my article yesterday that contests are held “mostly in winter and under the radar of the masses,” Baker expressed disdain for WDFW to be associated with things that are hidden from view of the general public.
The Olympia-area resident said the vote “bans games that use game as pawns.”
After weighing arguments on both sides, Don McIsaac of Hockinson voted for the ban, as did Dave Graybill of Leavenworth and Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon.
Correction, 10:10 a.m., Tuesday, September 15, 2020: Hunting contests can only be held by nonprofits registered with the state. The original paragraph fifth from bottom suggested that a tavern could, but that is inaccurate, per WAC 220-412-110.