Edited to add the commenting by emailing period has been extended until March 16th at 1159 PM.
I’ll admit it I am an unapologetic wildlife advocate and feel compelled to speak out against a proposed new rule that could permanently allow spring bear hunting in Washington State.
Black bears visit my valley yard from April to October every year. Starting in June 2020, I enjoyed watching a mom and cub hanging out together until October of 2021, when they separated.
While living with bears requires some lifestyle changes that were unnecessary in my hometown in the Seattle area, I’ve learned to co-exist with my furry neighbors and appreciate seeing them emerge each spring.
Our first spring bear sighting is always exciting and extra special when our resident bears have cubs in tow. We watch them in awe and wish to assure the mother bears’ ability to nurture and protect her cubs so they can grow into adulthood.
On November 19, 2021, the Fish & Wildlife Commission voted 4-4 not to approve the rule that would have established a 2022 spring bear hunt. Thousands of people had weighed in during the rulemaking process to oppose the trophy hunt, and more than a hundred people showed up to the rulemaking hearing to give testimony.
Commissioners who voted against the hunt emphasized that Department managers failed to substantiate the purported “management need” ”or the hunt. That management’s rationale contradicted the Department’s published science, annual game reports, and game management plan.
Following this vote, several trophy hunting organizations launched campaigns against the Commissioners who opposed the hunt, specifically targeting recent appointees Fred Koontz and Lorna Smith.
Commissioner Koontz resigned, citing a “political quagmire” ” as the reason for his departure. He and Commissioner Smith endured vicious attacks, including threats to their lives.
Before the vacant seat on the Commission could be filled, the four Commissioners supporting the hunt used their temporary advantage and voted 4-3 on January 21 to approve the rulemaking petitions, asking the Department to propose a new rule to allow spring bear hunting. Just three days later, the Governor appointed three new Commissioners.
Most people disapprove of spring bear hunting. Only 15% of people in Western states favor spring bear hunting. Although Washington has not been polled separately, we can assume opposition to spring bear hunting is even higher here.
Spring bear hunting receives much stronger disapproval than other controversial hunting methods, like hunting fenced animals or hunting with bait or dogs. Washington is one of only eight states that still allows spring bear hunting. The others are Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
WDFW singles bear out for spring hunting. Because of the stress that spring hunting puts on all wildlife populations as they recover from winter and rear their young, Washington does not allow spring hunting of any other species except turkey. We allow no hunting of newborns, except for bears and cougars.
Spring bear hunting violates fundamental principles of ethical hunting and “fair chase.” In spring, black bears are weak from hunger and sluggish from hibernation in their most vulnerable state. Food is scarce, requiring bears to forage in clearings with no cover.
This new rule would orphan bear cubs and leave them to die. Even though the new proposed rule purports to prohibit the killing of sows with cubs, state wildlife officials and other experts agree there is no way to prevent cubs from being orphaned during spring bear hunting. The hunts occur when the sows are still nursing cubs.
Hunters cannot distinguish between female and male bears, and nursing mothers will often stow their cubs in a safe place out of sight when they forage during the spring. Hunters are only required to have skins inspected – not carcasses – making lactation difficult to determine and monitor the effects of a spring hunt.
Tomorrow, March 11, the Commission will hear public testimony at a public hearing for the spring black bear special permit rule proposal.
The new proposed rule for spring bear hunting would make the season permanent. It was amended to remove the “2022” date, meaning that it would establish a permanent spring bear season that no longer requires yearly Commission approval.
In addition to general feedback on the topic, specific items that members of the public are invited to comment on include:
- The spring black bear rulemaking CR-102 (the notice used to publish the text of the proposed rule) that was filed Feb. 1, 2022.
- Responses prepared by WDFW staff to Commissioner questions following the Black Bear Spring Special Permit Rule
- Information on the topic shared at Fish and Wildlife Commission meetings on Jan. 21, 2022 and Nov. 19, 2021.
You may also leave comments by sending an email, either with or without an attachment, to SpringBearPetition102@PublicInput.com or by leaving a voicemail message at 855-925-2801 and entering project code 6453.
Public comments will be accepted until the close of the comment period on March 12, 2022, at 11:59 pm.
The Commission is scheduled to decide on spring black bear rulemaking at its March 17-19 virtual meeting. More information on the proposed rule change is available on WDFW’s webpage.
Members of the public interested in providing verbal public comments can pre-register on WDFW’s website. The Interim Chair may change the amount of time allotted for each speaker depending on the number of people registered.
This meeting will be conducted online and be available to the public to watch or listen via webinar or conference call. The session will also be recorded and posted online so people can watch it afterward at their convenience. To find more information on commenting and seeing agendas, visit WDFW’s website.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is a panel appointed by the Governor that sets policy for the WDFW. WDFW works to preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities.
Many Washingtonians do not often show up to speak about wildlife policy, which means organized hunting groups usually control the discussion. Please, comment and defeat this new rule on spring bear hunting if you care about Washington State bears.