By Douglas Boze
Hunting is under attack. If you don’t believe me, check out www.howlforwildlife.org and notice the action items they have available for you to comment on to make your voice heard. From bear hunting coast to coast, to beagles used to hunt rabbits (yes, you read that right), we, as hunters are being assaulted relentlessly by the well-funded and organized anti-hunting establishments across the United States. We could use some victories. January 21st, 2022, in Washington, we got one. To quote Robert Kroger, Founder of Blood Origins, “Today we took one step closer to getting back the spring black bear (hunt). It’s just one step. Not the finish line. It’s a full court press to March 1st.”
Spring bear hunting in Washington is a special draw, meaning, you must put into a lottery draw and only very few tags are distributed (645 last year), to be filled in very specific areas inside of certain GMUs (game management units). This is designed to alleviate timber damage done by bear, help the struggling ungulate population and curb bear infanticide. To put it simply, its an effective management tool.
Estimates indicate less than 1% (.58%) was the harvest take for spring bear compared to the general bear population (between 25-30,000 estimated). It is obviously sustainable. Of those bear taken last year in the spring, there was one lactating sow. I have drawn this tag twice since about 2005, filling it both times with 2 boars, respectively.
Virtual Commission Meeting Recap
The Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife commission held a special session on Friday Jan 21st, 2022, to address six petitions filed from various individuals/groups regarding their November 2021 split 4/4 vote that basically cancelled a long-standing spring bear season until at least 2023. We are supposed to have 9 commissioners to avoid this very type of situation, but Governor Inslee has been dragging his feet in appointing the 9th commissioner (for over a year) likely due to the fact the missing commissioner is supposed to represent eastern Washington, which is typically pro hunting.
Three of the six petitions submitted were considered legal, three were not, due to what they were asking of the commission. Of those three, one was considered for a motion. That petition was created by the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, MeatEater, Blood Origins, Safari Club, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Wenatchee Sportsmen Association, Hunters Heritage Council and Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation.
Keep in mind, these are legal petitions, not the type of petition that you would find online, looking for your signature for some generic cause. Currently, if you were to look online at www.change.org there is a petition to bring back spring bear hunting in Washington with over 20,230 signatures, but these were not that type of petition. The commission has 60 days to address the legal petitions that are turned in, with the hopes of addressing a rule change.
The meeting in question was one of those special session meetings, specifically for the spring bear ruling. It started off with explaining the various petitions and why some were legal, some were not and why they were only going to consider the last one in question. A key point about this is that a month ago, one of the no vote commissioners, Commissioner Koontz, prematurely resigned from his 6-year appointed position (less than 12 months in) claiming the commission was stuck in a political quagmire. This, along with the hunting community outcry, aimed specifically at the no vote commissioners had a lot to do with it in my opinion. To our advantage, this gave pro hunters a +1 vote (4 for and 3 against spring bear).
Fast forward back to the meeting. There was discussion back and forth about anti-hunting “social concern” from the no vote commissioners. How a “thoughtful and thorough” discussion was not accomplished prior due to insufficient data supplied by the WDFW biologists (despite massive amounts of data indicating otherwise), and the “woe is me” argument about the “backlash from their November decision” being “hard and strong” from the hunting community (for which I can say, bravo to each of you). If you call the act of spring bear hunting “unethical” like Commissioner Smith did, it makes sense that you would receive some feedback from people who know that it is completely ethical.
It was interesting to hear Commissioner Baker mention how the commission is essentially “knee capped” due to the number of commissioners (especially now that we have a vote advantage). It was mentioned that new commissioners will be appointed within days or weeks which could be good or bad for the hunting community.
A press release by the WDFW stated the commission approved a motion “declaring an intent to conduct a comprehensive review of a spring bear hunting policy starting in spring 2022.” Hopefully, that will be a positive change to the hunt and how it is regulated.
I could continue with all the ins and outs of what was said, but it boils down to this: the commission is now in the process of rule making for a spring bear season for 2022 and will be having a meeting about this in two months (March 17-19 meetings). Prior to those meetings, the WDFW needs to file state code revisers, allow for public comment and hearings and so on. If a 2022 spring bear hunt happens, it will likely be delayed until early May instead of the usual April 15th due to the work that needs done prior to green lighting the hunt.
The bottom line is that the spring bear hunt for 2022 (and beyond really) is still very much in question. What isn’t in question will be the onslaught of the same venomous attacks by anti-hunting groups at every public comment period from here until it is voted on. They will tout how bear hunting is “trophy hunting”, avoid the fact we must take the meat of the bear for consumption, accuse us of shooting sows with cubs despite the proven data disputing this, provided by the WDFW biologists themselves, and carry on with the same emotion-based ramblings that have got them this far. But, forcing this reconsideration of the spring bear hunt for 2022 is a step in the right direction.
Guard the Gate
Knowing this, the hunting public must continue the fight with a renewed vigor that can be encouraged by the sudden tidal wave of political awareness that has seemingly flooded hunting social media in the last two months. We have been outperformed on most levels by the anti-hunting establishments for far too long. I truly believe, late 2021 and 2022 has really “awoke a sleeping dragon” in the outdoor community. Daily attacks on conservation, our heritage, family quality time and way of life can no longer be ignored. Every single one of us needs to be vocal, articulate and involved at every opportunity to speak publicly, give comment, and defend the North American model for conservation. We cannot afford to be silent, to be content to leave people alone and to be left alone. I am guilty of this train of thought, but no more. For the sake of hunting generations to come, for stories untold, for the adventures that await, we need you to guard the gate. Will you stand with me?