WDFW is looking for public comment on a 2022 spring black bear season that would begin May 1, as well as modify harvest and inspection procedures, and make it illegal to kill sows with cubs and cubs.
Input is being taken from today through March 12, with the Fish and Wildlife Commission also hosting a public hearing March 11 ahead of a final decision planned for March 18.
“We are seeking feedback on the proposed rule to set a shortened spring black bear special permit season,” stated Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, in a press release this morning.
This year’s season was paused last November when the citizen panel’s authorizing vote ended in a 4-4 tie, which essentially prevented changing the date in the hunt’s enabling statute from 2021 to 2022.
Then, last month the commission voted 4-3 to approve hunting organizations’ petition to reinitiate rulemaking and remove the year from the regulations.
Since then, three new members have been added to the board that oversees WDFW policy. Their March vote on the topic will provide a quick read on commissioners’ feelings towards the agency’s legislative mandate “to provide sustainable recreational hunting opportunity.”
That is touched on in WDFW’s reasoning for supporting the proposal, which also states:
“Spring bear special permit hunts are one of a very limited number of spring hunting opportunities and there is very strong interest from hunters for the limited spring bear hunting permits. Washington State black bear population is robust and an annual spring hunt with approximately 664 permits is sustainable. WDFW is proposing a reduction in permit numbers for hunt unit 684 (from 10 to 6 compared to 2021) in order to reduce crowding on the limited accessible areas of mostly private land. Removing the year from the title would minimize the need for annual rulemaking unless hunt areas or permit levels need adjustment. The addition of a prohibition on the harvest of offspring and females with offspring would minimize the potential of orphaning cubs. The edits to the language related to animal inspection would clarify to hunters the components necessary for harvest check and inspection. The proposed revisions clearly state that the pelt and head must be unfrozen and that evidence of sex and the head must be attached to the pelt. Further the proposed edits would assist WDFW staff’s implementation of the rule by adding a requirement that a successful hunter schedule an inspection with WDFW staff within 72 hours of the harvest.”
If approved as is, WDFW would still need to go through the traditional fall public comment and commission approval process if it were proposing to change special permit levels or hunt dates. With 2022’s spring season proposed to open May 1 instead of April 15, as it was last year, that would need to be tweaked later this year for 2023 if the agency wanted to return to the two-month season length. Permit levels have declined since a peak of 814 in 2017.
The new rules would also strengthens protections for sows. Currently, WDFW advises hunters that they “should avoid harvesting females with cubs,” and to take time before the shot to search for the “small, often difficult to see” animals that may be trailing behind their mother when the sow is covering country. They’re also told to look for “visible swollen teats” and “certain behaviors such as looking behind or vocalizing.”
While last spring’s harvest was two-thirds male, one-third female, WDFW inspections found only one sow that was lactating.
Still, the possibility of harvesting sows with cubs was a point of contention during previous public comment. Idaho bars taking sows accompanied by cubs, while in Oregon it’s illegal to harvest sows with cubs less than a year old.