It was a tough pill to swallow this past Saturday, March 19th for Washington outdoorsmen and women who have fought very hard for quite some time. If you have been living under a rock this past few months, let me bring you up to speed really quick. There is more too this, but I am going to be giving you the Cliffs notes version.
In Nov of 2021, there was a tie vote (4/4) by the WDFW Game Commission (who is responsible for enacting hunting policy) in regard to what should have been very minor, annual changes in a spring bear special hunt draw. These changes would have included an updated text (to change the year from 2021 to 2022) and lessen a few tags from 10 to 6 in a particularly small, crowded unit. Overall, this spring bear hunt (special draw lottery) has been going on for decades in Washington to help alleviate some timber damaged caused by bear as they peel trees in the spring and help with ungulate herd retention as well as some human/bear conflict issues. When the tie vote occurred, this basically did not allow the season to progress (it was basically a “no action”), and this was due in part to some on the commission claiming spring bear hunting was “unethical”, when in fact ethics of the hunt were never in question.
Jump ahead to February and a legal petition was submitted to the commission by Meat Eater, Inland Wildlife Council, Back Country Hunters and Anglers, SCI, Blood Origins etc. This petition asked that the annual text update of the year be removed (making government more efficient) and that sows with cubs be protected from the hunt. This last point is important as it was part of what antihunters were upset about in the first place with spring bear hunting (or at least what they choose to admit to). In Washington, while discouraged (and rarely if ever practiced upon), it is not illegal to shoot a sow with a cub or a cub in general. But I want to stress in the 34 years I have been hunting I have never witnessed or heard of a person shooting a sow with cubs, nor would I ever. In fact, just a few years ago, our elk hunting camp saved an orphaned cub despite it being completely legal to shoot, a small color phase cinnamon bear we named, “Cindy”. She is doing quite well according to the WDFW who sent her to a rehab facility and tagged her upon release back to the wild.
From the first vote to the time the petition was submitted a “no” vote commissioner resigned, having served less than a year of his 6-year term. With this situation, the commission passed this petition in a 4/3 vote, allowing the rule making process and public comment period to start all over again. Keep in mind, this originally was just about a minor text issue and maybe a reduction of a few permits of an otherwise 664 permit special draw for a very select area(s) of the state.
Over 26,000 comments were received via email, online portal, voice mail and so on. Some for, some against. The science provided by Dr. Simek (carnivore biologist for the state), her recommendation and the overall department recommendation clearly stated that the spring bear hunt had no negative effect on the overall population, helped reduce tree damage and helped overall ungulate calf recruitment.
Now from the time the petition from Meat Eater was voted on, our environmentalist Governor Inslee (of whom I am not a fan) who appoints the commission members, filled the vacant seats, so now there is a full commission. The spring bear hunt failed to pass in a 5/4 vote on Saturday. Now, the reason this is a hard pill to swallow is twofold. One, the department fully supported the hunt, as it has been proven, over the last several decades to be completely sustainable. Two, 60 plus years of historical data, recent data provided by the state biologists, the added rule to make it illegal to kill a sow with cubs, or cub under 50 lbs and even a shortened season were not good enough for 5 of the 9 commissioners. This, despite having a legal mandate to “maximize hunting opportunities”.
The other infuriating issue was to hear their (the no vote commissioners) state over and over how the science “wasn’t good enough”, how it would negatively affect the population (despite so much counter evidence) and the fact they were completely ignorant of certain hunting seasons. For example, it was claimed bear hunting was the only hunt in the spring, when in fact we hunt turkey and cougar in the spring and coyotes year-round. And these are the people in charge of creating policy. It’s absolutely mind blowing.
The truth of the matter is plain to see for anyone paying attention across this nation. The commissioners who voted “no” and others like them, who are in power creating hunting and fishing policy care little about the best available science, unless it is provided by the HSUS or other so called animal rights group. They do not care about decimated elk herds in the Blue Mountains of Washington, which WDFW studies have shown that there is zero elk calf recruitment year to year due to cougar and bear predation (for which spring bear hunting in that unit is designed for). They ignore hard facts when presented with over 100 pages of support for a hunt that would take an estimated 145 bear out of a population documented to be 25-30,000 individuals using two different methods of estimation.
What first was something very small and routine has now morphed into the loss of a sustainable and beneficial opportunity for hunters at least for spring of 2022 and, in my opinion, beyond. That is, unless we can somehow change or convince those on the commission that have the slightest bit of objectivity and reason to change their vote next time around. It was stated in the same meeting on Saturday that there will be another discussion about spring bear in June of this year to see if it should be a hunt at all, meaning a permanent ban. My intuition tells me that our liberal fall bear season is next on the chopping block, especially now that they have the numbers to vote things out in the commission.
So, when you hear “this is just a pause in the rule” don’t buy it. That phrase is just a delay tactic often used by the antihunting community until they can either post pone the hunt indefinitely or wait until some lawsuit comes up to rid it completely. Have no illusions, Washington is a testing grounds for the HSUS and the like, to try out their strategies. If they can get things cancelled here, they will use this strategy beyond. And remember, they do not care about borders or methods of take or species. They will be coming for it all and we need to be prepared to defend it all. Every single method of take, from hound hunting, to baiting, to muzzle loader, predator calling, all of it. We must unite and stand our ground and start to go on the offensive.
Too often and for far too long we hunters and fisherman have been on the defensive. It is high time that we get on the offensive, legally, and start suing animal rights groups whenever possible, suing state commissions when they refuse to follow mandates or for lack of proper procedure. I am just a very small fish in a very large pond, but my hope is that larger organizations will wake up before its too late and really start to pour it on the enemies of conservation. We cannot afford to remain quiet any longer. We are not the only ones who will lose in the end, the wildlife we love and cherish will be the true losers in this war. We must guard the gate.