WDFW Commission Hears From Public Before Bear Petitions Vote

“I might not get to comment!”

That was the message Brian Lynn sent me this morning as the clock ticked down on open public input before the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.


Chair Larry Carpenter had just warned there was only 20 minutes of comment opportunity left and that – with the day’s agenda full – he’d be moving the meeting on to its next topic at 9:45 a.m.

Lynn, a resident of Liberty Lake just outside Spokane and who is the vice president of communications for Sportsman’s Alliance, had prepared a 425-word statement urging the commission to reconsider its November 19 spring black bear hunt vote and follow WDFW biologists’ recommendations.

Today’s meeting was the only chance Lynn and many others had to speak their minds on the matter to the citizen panel directly before its Friday, January 21 decision on several petitions from local hunters and organizations such as the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council and MeatEater that essentially aim to reinstate the season.

It’s not clear if any will result in a 2022 hunt, but along with Lynn’s organization, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation had also directed its members to talk to the commission about the matter.

All totaled, some 78 people had registered by this morning’s 8 a.m. deadline, but in the end 26 by my count were able to speak.

Lynn wasn’t one of them and it left him scrambling to figure out how to get his thoughts entered into the official record.

He and others are still able to via email – use this portal: commission@dfw.wa.gov – but earlier, at the start of what ultimately turned out to be a 1-hour, three-minute public comment period, Carpenter said that with “significantly more people” signed up than there was time allotted for, everyone was going to be limited to talking for two minutes.

Nearly all of the first dozen speakers used their time to beat up on WDFW.

They took issue with the Klickitat County Sheriff’s safety-based cougar removals, which appears to be outside of WDFW’s control but maybe not the state legislature’s, if a recent bill in Olympia is any indication.

Tried to head off lion removals the agency may consider to save the Blue Mountains elk herd.

Berated WDFW for not firing a regional director who self-reported allegedly killing a whitetail buck with a rifle in a unit only open for archery hunting at that point of the season, and called for a commission investigation.

And lambasted Director Kelly Susewind for his comments that he and his staff would be “working our butts off” to ensure the spring bear hunt was only paused a year.

For frequent commenter David Linn, the phrasing showed where Susewind’s loyalties indeed do stand and he proposed a different sort of spring season.

“Why not compromise with a camera-only wildlife hunt?” Linn said.

They told the commission not to be swayed by the hunter petitions and said no new information would be available next Friday for the commission to change its mind from November.

Others used their time to call hunters “childish” for using state government’s petition process (which they themselves have used with the commission, and then stomped their feet, balled their fists and gone to the governor to get their way).

With comment thusly front-loaded, it wasn’t until speaker 13 in my notes that the commission heard support for the spring bear hunt. Speaker 15, Bryce Levin, a Lake Stevens-based Washington Backcountry Hunters and Anglers volunteer, pointed to WDFW stats since 2010 that he said show growing bruin numbers, an argument he based on rising harvest and fewer days needed per kill, figures that do not suggest a struggling population or one that requires conservation measures.

Douglas Boze and Brad Thomsen touched on a Change.org petition that now has 20,125 signatures and asks for the permanent reinstatement of the hunt.

James Forslund, who reported filling two of four spring bear permits over the decades, said derailing the season was part of an “organized attack on hunting, not just in Washington but nationwide.”

Jon Dykes, Western Washington’s most excited hunter, said he’s no trophy hunter and is in it for the meat and to help deer and elk herds, the newborns of which are targeted by bears during a narrow spring window. (“I’m going cougar hunting tomorrow,” he added. “I love cougars, I hope they flourish.”)

Ryan Garrett, a Stevens County resident who described a journey from farmer to hunter as he cultivates a fuller relationship with the land, had a reply to Linn:

“I can’t eat a photo, and that photo doesn’t raise any revenue to support wildlife,” he said, referring to license sales and the lack of any tax whatsoever on photography and wildlife watching equipment that might be harnessed in the same way that billions of hunter and angler dollars from gear buys have over the decades.

After another comment or two, Chair Carpenter wrapped it up with an apology to those who hadn’t spoken.

It was much less public input than the extended session heard in early December after the initial spring bear vote, but one-day full commission meetings instead of one-and-a-half-day Friday-Saturday shindigs markedly compress the agenda, which these days is often full of meaty topics, and given that they’re held over Zoom, seem to attract even more comment.

Commissioner Don McIsaac pushed back, saying it was disappointing to those who didn’t get to speak before the decision. (Later, other members also wanted to talk more about letting the public talk more.)

Meanwhile, commissioners took umbrage with some of the day’s more heated testimony – symbolic but in holding unfortunately with the state of play nationally – with Lorna Smith also noting that it wasn’t just the director who was getting flak but herself as well.

Commissioner Jim Anderson called attacks on the commission and WDFW staff “not particularly helpful … If you want to be effective with testimony, avoiding personal attacks is the best way to get my attention.”

Everything may pivot on Anderson on January 21, if November’s votes hold true.

He, Kim Thorburn, Molly Linville and McIsaac were yeses on the 2022 spring bear hunt, Smith, Carpenter, Barbara Baker and Fred Koontz – since resigned – were nos.

With the commission down to seven members going into its petitions decisions, Anderson advised fellow members early in today’s meeting he will be in Costa Rica for a long-planned trip next week but would “do my best to get on the call.”

If he’s unable, it’s possible the commission could again tie, and we all now know how spring bear tie votes work out.

Spring bear hunters will want to strike while the proverbial iron’s hot, which may also explain why so many signed up from the other side, and perhaps even this week’s increasingly unusually timed selective release of charging papers from Ferry County to the media.

Equally as intriguing – but unfortunately very difficult for WDFW – will be determining recommendations on each petition, to deny or approve, as they’ve issued in recent years on others, though perhaps none so sticky as this collection.