Washington Votes To Ban Springtime Bear Hunting

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Washington Fish and Game Commission officially ended the state’s long-standing springtime black bear hunting season.

The vote was contentious and comes one year after commission members issued a controversial pause on spring bear hunting in Washington. Biologists at the Washington Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) advocated for the hunt to move forward, causing a rift amongst the wildlife officials.

The vote to end “recreational hunting of black bears in the spring” followed hours of debate by the nine-member commission. The meeting occurred in Olympia on Friday, November 18. Ultimately, five members voted to end the hunt, while the remaining four members opposed the vote.

Hunting-centric conservation groups in the state decried the vote. They claimed it was an affront on hunting rights and science-based wildlife management.

Marie Nuemiller, Executive Director of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, spoke about the decision. The INWC is a Spokane-based conservation group that fights on behalf of bear hunting. She said the commission offered little opportunity for public opinion before releasing the controversial decision.

“It feels like [the commission] skirted the rules in order to push forward their emotion-based opinions instead of listening to their own department scientists,” Neumiller said. “Whether you’re for spring bear hunting or not, I think the way that they went about closing this season is concerning because that could very easily happen for any other hunting activity.” 

People in opposition to springtime bear hunting say claim the practice is unethical. This is because it could leave vulnerable cubs orphaned. However, hunters are encouraged not to shoot sows with cubs and it rarely occurs, according to WDFW harvest data.

Last spring, hunters supported a WDFW rule change that would have outlawed the hunting of sows with cubs for both the spring and fall seasons. However, the commission voted it down.

Wildlife Council Spokesperson Talks About Bear Hunting Ordinance

WDFW biologists repeatedly state that the spring bear hunt in Washington state should continue. They bring up population data that shows rising bear numbers in the state. However, certain members of the commission have disregarded and decried the department’s population statistics.

Neumiller said the commission’s latest decision moves to ultimately separate hunting from game management policy in Washington.

“They’re working to shift fish and game management from a consumptive-based model to what they call a compassion-based model,” she stated. “Recreational hunting is a wildlife management tool. They’re trying to pull the two apart, but they’re really one and the same.”

The ban on spring bear hunting still leaves the possibility for what it calls “management hunts” in instances of livestock or timber depredation. However, Neumiller says those opportunities wouldn’t be abused, and that they would be few and far between. Any management hunts would most likely require a “master hunter” certification, and most regular hunters don’t have this.

“We’ve had commissioners say that it is immoral to kill any predator under any circumstances,” she said. “When you take that stance, how can you protect biodiversity? What about our Blue Mountain elk herd that’s being decimated by predators? I hope that the governor will hear our concerns and appoint people [to the commission] who will be willing to craft policies the right way, to follow the law, and to actually listen to the science at hand.”