The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to respond next month to three formal citizen petitions centered on its mid-November vote that put the 2022 limited-entry spring black bear permit season on hold, according to statements from WDFW’s director last night.
Filed by residents of Monroe, southern Stevens County and Liberty Lake near Spokane, the petitions variously ask for a repeal of that action and to adopt the previously proposed rules for next year, and say that the commission erred in failing to follow WDFW’s mandate to provide recreational hunting opportunities.
Yet even as the citizen panel that sets WDFW policy has now gone down a member – Fred Koontz resigned Monday – since that 4-4 tie vote last month, it’s unclear if the body would backtrack on its bear decision, or what sort of further Hell might arise if it did. The Governor’s Office now has two vacancies in its back pocket.
But for the record and because this is newsworthy, one of the petitioners, Al Martz of the Northeast Washington Wildlife Group, says the hunt helps mitigate “loss of [deer and elk] neonates, minimize timber damage, and keep the WDFW in line with their mandate to Preserve, Protect, Perpetuate and manage Wildlife.”
Under the Revised Codes of Washington, people or organizations can petition state agencies and institutions to “adopt, amend or repeal an administrative rule,” and the petitioned body “will give full consideration to your petition and will respond to you within 60 days of receiving your petition.”
The trio filed their petitions in early December and WDFW Director Kelly Susewind spoke to them last night during the Region 6 virtual open house, carried over Facebook.
His comments begin around the 30:00 mark and address a question from the public about what could be done to restore the state spring bear season.
“So if you are on the side of the coin that thinks we need to reestablish those seasons, I would encourage you to, 1) make sure you’re informed, track what’s going on and reach out to commissioners and let them know that. Commissioners put a lot of value in what we hear from the public, and so provide that to the commissioners,” Susewind stated.
One path to eventual reinstatement – and which the director expressed confidence in during last week’s Region 3 open house – was a review of the hunt, bear population data and more over the coming months before the 2023 proposal comes up for a commission vote next fall.
“In addition, the commission will be hearing petitions for rulemaking,” Susewind said. “We’ve received a couple petitions for rulemaking to … in detail, it would actually be an establishment of a 2022 spring season, and that is scheduled, I believe, for a January 21 meeting of the commission to determine whether or not to grant that petition or deny that petition. So that’s the next opportunity for that.”
As of this writing this morning there is not yet a January 21 meeting officially posted on the commission’s schedule, but the petitions are expected to be responded to before the end of that month, Northwest Sportsman understands.
Along with the three formal efforts, there’s a Change.org campaign to reinstate the season and which now has 19,100-plus signatures.
The hunt has been targeted since a lawsuit to stop it was filed last December. While ultimately a judge ruled against the lawsuit and the 2021 season proceeded, the 2022 edition faced a tidal wave of driven opposition, and three of the commissioners who voted against it questioned state wildlife managers’ science, the size of Washington’s bear population, shifting rationales and social concerns, while the fourth worried about litigation and essentially made a strategic decision to use a one-year pause to really root the hunt in even more solid data. He has vowed to bring it back for a vote next fall.
Meanwhile, Susewind reiterated his agency’s support for the spring season and he advised everyone both in favor and against it to submit their comments.
“As you know, the agency has been supportive of the hunt. Right now, the next opportunity would be the petition. That’s clearly in the commission’s wheelhouse. They’re the deciders of that. And so if you have an opinion on either side of that question, your best bet would be to reach out to the commissioners and let them know how you feel. And you can do that through the agency as well and we can make sure that all those suggestions get passed on to the commission.”
It’s also likely Susewind will touch on the issue of the spring bear season during Thursday evening’s virtual open house for Region 1, where the vast bulk of the permit hunts occur. Some 664 tags were proposed to be available statewide in 2022.