Washington Spring Bear Hunt Can Proceed After Court Denies Sisters’ Petition

A Washington court has denied a petition against this spring’s special permit black bear hunt, meaning the season can begin as scheduled April 15, according to a WDFW spokeswoman.

The hunt had been the subject of a lawsuit by sisters Martha Hall of Anacortes and Sharon Stroble of Seattle who sued WDFW around New Year’s to stop it, following up on their earlier threat.


But after a hearing this afternoon Thurston County Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson ruled against their bid to cancel the season.

“The department thanks the court for its time and close examination in this case,” said Eric Gardner, WDFW Wildlife Program Director. “We know that this is a controversial issue, and that people feel passionately on both sides. We remain committed to working with all Washington citizens to create hunting opportunity and ultimately maintain sustainable black bear populations for future Washington generations.”

Hall and Stroble had claimed the agency didn’t “properly notify the public that it was considering approval of the spring bear hunt” last year, and what word hunting managers did put out “characterized the rule amendment authorizing the hunt as merely an ‘editorial’ change” to 2020’s seasons – which had already come and gone last spring – and not the upcoming 2021 hunt, per the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

They wanted WDFW to resubmit the 2021 proposals for public comment and consider arguments for and against the hunt, which they say had drawn opposition as “cruel, unethical, and unpopular.”

For their part, in the buildup to the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s final decision late last year, WDFW staffers described 2021’s 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.

They made it clear they were proposing 2021 seasons in an October 8, 2020, press release that was picked up in Spokane and Tacoma papers, among other sources.

The by-special-permit-only hunt has been held in Washington since 2002. Tags peaked at 814 in 2017 and since have declined.

In mid-December and in the face of the sisters’ threatened lawsuit, the Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the season on an 8-1 vote, with Chair Larry Carpenter and Commissioners Jim Anderson, Dave Graybill, Bob Kehoe, Molly Linville, Don McIsaac, Brad Smith and Kim Thorburn in favor and Vice Chair Barbara Baker against.

While Graybill, Kehoe and Smith subsequently left the commission as their terms ended at the end of 2020, the citizen panel overseeing WDFW also vowed to “continue discussion of the broader topic in the future.”

Then Hall and Stroble sued.

Afterwards, WDFW advised hunters applying for a tag that the spring season was the subject of a legal challenge. It was more of a heads up about the pending litigation than a flashing red light.

The draw was held in March and a total of 668 special permits were awarded.

The hunt is held primarily in the state’s northeast and southeast corners, with some tags allocated for select Westside units.

It’s meant to provide a limited hunting opportunity while reducing timber damage caused by hungry bears, increasing fawn and elk calf survival, and minimizing the odds of bruin-human conflict. WDFW urges hunters to not shoot sows with cubs.

Washington is one of eight states – all in the West, all with copious black bears and no conservation concerns about the species – that allow spring bruin hunting.

But recent years have seen environmentalists increasingly targeting WDFW over predator management, suing over the select use of hounds and bait to deal with bears depredating private timberlands as well as lethal wolf removals.

Out-of-state groups and in-state residents have also gone to the governor over cougar seasons, as well as wolves, upsetting a hard-won stakeholder balance.

This week a Spokane organization urged Gov. Inslee in an eyebrowraising letter to appoint two new Fish and Wildlife Commission members in the same vein as Fred Koontz and Lorna Smith, who tipped the boat sharply when they came aboard the citizen panel in January.

Hall was a frequent public commenter during last week’s commission meeting, using her allotted time to provide input on a range of big and small game and waterfowl season proposals.