Ever hear the term, “guard the gate”? I am willing to be that as a bear hunter you have. It is a common term or hashtag now used throughout the hunting community thanks to in part, Mr. Clay Newcomb of Bear Hunting Magazine fame. It refers to the defense of our beloved hunting pastime, specifically with bear, but not excluding the rest.
Unbeknownst to me (and many others) until recently, Washington State’s gate was wide open and under treacherous assault. Assault from not only within the WDFW (Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife) game commission but the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States). While hunting in general is always the focus of attack from the HSUS, it seems a rather slippery attack was performed last week. For the point of this blog we will be discussing the WDFW and the WDFW Fish and Wildlife Game Commission (two separate but related entities). The commission is made up of 9 commissioners, all appointed by Governor (no comment here) and confirmed by the legislature. It is made up of 4 for the east side of Washington, 4 for the west and one floater. Currently there are only 8 commissioners, as the 9th has not been appointed yet (for reasons I don’t know off the top of my head).
Spring bear hunting in Washington is a special draw, meaning, you put in for a lottery basically. Only a select few (664 tags) are divided out to lucky individuals for the entire state for very specific areas that are receiving damage from bear (tree damage from peels) or need specific predator management. It’s a draw, regulated, and lasts from April 15th till June 15th. Generally, about 145 bears (out of an estimated population of 20,000+) are taken.
The proposed rule making (annual review) states:
“The purpose of the proposed amendments is to carry forward a long-standing recreational hunting opportunity to address bear management by continuing to use recreational hunting under a spring bear special permit in 2022; The purpose and anticipated effect of the amendments is to continue geographically focused spring hunting of black bear in areas where WDFW have observed on-going human-bear conflicts, low fall harvest modification to harvest and inspection procedures.” (CR 102, Implements RCW 34.05.320)
To summarize the specifics, maybe some permit numbers in one unit goes down from 10 to 6 permits and there might be some language edits related to animal inspection that will clarify to hunters what is expected for harvest check and inspection. Overall, the average hunter reads that and thinks, “No big deal”. Notice there is nothing noted about the “ethics” of the hunt whatsoever, or even the possibility of cancelling the hunt.
According to Anis Aoude, Game Division Manager, “…the same argument was brought up last year when the spring bear season passed and was challenged in court. This (continuing the hunt) has been an issue for a long time.” Which I must admit, is news to me. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that bear hunting is a “low hanging fruit” and is being challenged constantly nation-wide, but I do not recall it going to court previously. My issue with that statement, is that the description set forth by the WDFW during the online comment period, prior to any official meetings by the WDFW and Game Commission reinforces the overwhelming desire of hunters to continue the spring hunt as is even noted in their “Reasons for supporting the proposal” in the legal document noted above. My point is, the online comment sections was filled with lots of positive endorsement of the spring bear season. Most of us hunters, I believe, felt that was enough. I am sure there were some against, but that was likely anti hunters (many of whom are out of state), not current bear hunters.
Let me ask you this, would you ask to have a meeting with your wife on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of year? Or would you ask your husband to have a meeting during the super bowl? Well, maybe you would if you didn’t want them to show up and you could easily get what you wanted. So, the public input date was set for October 22nd, you know, the Friday of the second weekend (one of only two weeks we get for general deer season) of modern firearm season. Was this on purpose or accidental? I cannot truly say, but it is certainly suspect in my opinion having the option to pick 104 other days (they happen on Fridays and Saturdays). But you think to yourself, not a big deal, the description of the proposed changes seems marginal, and I’ve left my online comments, I am going hunting.
While off enjoying what little time you have to hunt the HSUS and other anti-hunters seemed organized and well aware of this and flooded the online meeting with anti-hunting comments filled with your typical knee jerk emotion and lacking science. This went along well for a few of the “no” vote category commissioners, who, despite the legal description, decided to take the “ethics” of the hunt into consideration as well as the so called “public outcry”. A vote was taken a few weeks later, 4 voted not to continue the hunt, 4 voted yes to continue the hunt and since the 9th has yet to be appointed, a tie leads to cancelling the hunt. Which again, seems odd to me but I am told that is how the RCW is written.
So, while you may have put in your online comments and not worried about your upcoming chances to enjoy a glorious spring bear hunt to dust off cabin fever, the HSUS was busy writing a “Victory” article on their website. When I emailed and asked one of the “no” votes about her reasoning, (Commissioner Lorna Smith) she listed how the WDFW failed to incorporate science (despite 100 pages of it) and various other weak arguments but her true colors were revealed when she stated, “So while the argument is strong that spring hunting of bears as they emerge from hibernation when they are thin, starving, lethargic and less able to avoid threats violates the hunting ethics of fair chase, in my opinion, that is simply the underpinning of my vote…”
Hit the brakes right there. An appointed commissioner (yet to be confirmed), one of 9, admits in writing that in her opinion, spring hunting of bear is a violation of hunting ethics. Ok, then, she must hunt bear. She must see how “lethargic” and “starved” they are. I mean, I have hunted bear for decades and haven’t really seen a lethargic bear, they always seem pretty alert to me except when they are busy eating or chasing the ladies. Wrong, according to her when I asked how many spring bear she has hunted, her response was “Never, nor will I ever”. So a non-bear hunter, is going to preach to me about hunting ethics all the while admitting to a held belief that spring bear hunting is wrong despite the morality of the hunt never being in question. And this is who the WDFW and their biologists have to answer to? This is what we are dealing with in Washington (among many other things).
The long and short of it is, currently, the 2022 spring bear season is cancelled in Washington for now, unless by some miracle the vote can get reversed due to the obvious bias against bear hunting Commissioner Smith has, or some other legal loop hole. My point is this, there are very odd circumstances surrounding this vote, some I have pointed out, and some I cannot point out until I receive my Freedom of Information Act request. And it all happened fairly quiet and quickly while I was busy hunting deer.
But I am proud to say, the hunting community is not taking this lying down. We have work to do, lets get to it. Guard your gate, because they are coming.
By Douglas Boze
To sign petition click here: Anyone anywhere can sign!
If your a Washington resident you can go one step further and contact your State Senator and explain to them your frustration with current commission situation. Ask them no vote no on appointing Lorna Smith!