The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is accepting public comment on proposed rule changes for the state’s spring black bear hunt.
The proposal comes after a March 19 vote by the Washington Game and Fish Commission to halt the long-running, limited-entry spring bear hunt despite widespread opposition from hunters and conservationists across the country.
The commission’s decision to halt the hunt went against the recommendations of the department’s wildlife biologists and disregarded prevailing science that black bear populations are stable and even thriving in the Evergreen State.
With its latest proposal, which was submitted via a regulatory form called CL101, WDFW complies with an earlier motion by Commissioner Don McIsaac to revisit the spring bear hunt no later than October 2022.
According to WDFW Wildlife Program Director Eric Gardner, the agency’s filing of CL101 is the first step in an administrative rulemaking process that could eventually lead to another vote on spring bear hunts. by the Washington Fish and Game Commission.
“Washington has a legal framework that says, if you are going to change the regulations, the first thing you need to do is inform the public that you will consider proposing changes to the regulations,” Gardner told MeatEater. “That is the CR101 process. It’s like opening the book to say, ‘Hey folks, we’re going to consider some of the proposed rule changes here.’ Now there is an opportunity for the public to let us know what they think about it and what they would like us to consider.”
Both CL101 and the public comments it generates will be topics of discussion at an upcoming meeting of the Washington Fish and Game Commission.
According to Gardner, the commission’s discussion of spring bear hunting during its June 24 meeting is likely to guide the department’s spring bear rulemaking process going forward.
“I have no doubt that with the commissioners’ interest in this issue, they will want to know what we hear during this process,” he said. “But what is going to matter from a legal proceedings perspective is what we present in a proposal in a CR102 and then the specific dialogue and interaction back and forth in an actual proposed rule.”
A CR102 is the next step in the WDFW standards development process. If the department files and moves forward with a CR102 that puts official rule changes for spring bear on the table, the commission will be forced to vote on whether or not to reinstate spring bear hunting, Gardner said.
“Ultimately, we propose that rule through a CR102, and the commission is bound to make a decision on that rule as long as the proposal stands,” he said. “Assuming there is a CR102 with a proposal that is still active, the only resolution to that is action by the commission as to whether they approve that rule or deny it.”
Gardner said if a CR102 is eventually filed, it’s not likely to happen until the commission revisits the issue of spring bear hunting at its June 24 meeting. That meeting will take place in person in Olympia, Washington.
If CR102 comes to fruition, it will spell out the exact rule changes the department is considering.
“When we publish CR102 that’s when we say what we’re considering,” Gardner said. “Seasonal changes, dates, permit numbers, locations, harvest methods, the time, place and manner of hunting — those would be the kinds of things we would look at in a CR102 proposal.”
The Washington Fish and Game Commission recently joined three new members: John Lehmukl, Tim Ragan and Melanie Rowland. All of the new commissioners were appointed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee shortly before the March 19 vote that canceled spring bear season. All three voted to stop the hunt.
While the current public comment period will not result in an immediate vote on spring bear hunting in Washington, it is a great opportunity for hunters to participate in the WDFW rule-making process. The more feedback the department receives in support of the spring black bear hunt, the more likely its slow-moving levers in administrative policymaking will lean back in the direction of sound, science-based bear management.
If you support the WDFW Spring Bear Hunt and would like to see it reinstated one day, now is the time to speak up. You can comment on the proposal here, or you can contact the department more directly by emailing [email protected].
MeatEater will continue to monitor the Washington spring bear saga as more developments emerge.
Featured image via Tony Bynum.