Wildlife Conservation Group Seeks to Decrease Hunting in Washington State

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

In many states, wildlife officials utilize the help of hunters to help maintain animal populations like deer and bears. However, they also aid in managing predatory species as well. In Washington, though, this kind of management tool has become less popular among the public. In recent years, influential conservation groups have begun arguing that hunting is not nearly as necessary as it once was. Unsurprisingly, this has caused a major rift between wildlife advocates and pro-hunting organizations. And at the center of the conflict is Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

According to Outdoor Life, hunters in Coleville, WA have been seeing significantly fewer elk and white-tailed deer while this year. Many of those hunters have begun to blame local wolf and cougar populations as they edge nearer to populated areas. With these predators incrementally losing their fear of humans, hunters have called on the DFW to allow for more aggressive management of these predator populations.

Organizations became especially proactive this summer after a child was attacked by a cougar. Back in June, in the town of Fruitland (located 45 miles southwest of Coleville), a cougar ambushed a nine-year-girl while she was playing outside.

On the other hand, many wildlife conservationists argue that the increase in Washington’s predators is actually “indicative of a healthy ecosystem.”

Hunting Groups & Wildlife Advocates Clash in Washington

One group leading the charge against hunting as a wildlife management tool in the state is Washington Wildlife First. The group, founded just last year but already boasting a major following, aims to transform “the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife from a model of consumptive use” to an agency that “prioritizes the preservation of natural ecosystems.”

Taking part in the conversation is WDFW Commissioner Kim Thorburn. Thorburn is a longtime outdoorswoman and “non-hunting hippie” who recently spoke about some Washington residents’ concerns regarding increasing numbers of predators.

“We had people from the community begging us to pay attention to the changes they’re seeing on the ground,” she said, while speaking about the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s meeting in Coleville last week. “They feel that large carnivores are impacting hunting and livelihoods. We heard people say that they don’t let their kids stand out at isolated bus stops [anymore]…[and that] the deer numbers are going way down.”

She concluded, “They were asking the department to be more responsive.”

WDFW Sees a Major Shift in Politics

Three new WDFW “preservationist” commissioners have put a chokehold on the commission’s ability to respond to these problems more promptly. Now, the nine-person commission swings 5 in favor of wildlife preservationists. As such, the WDFW has begun turning its attention and resources to non-hunted and fished species. Also, Fish & Wildlife is significantly “deemphasizing” hunting as a crucial tool for conservation.

The conversation heads to Spokane this week after controversy in Coleville last week. There, hunting and wildlife advocates could, again, come to blows.

Part of what has caused the rift between these two diverse groups of people over the years is funding and which individuals typically finance wildlife management. Historically, that’s been Washington hunters, through the purchase of fishing and hunting licenses and tags. However, as stated, with several new preservationist representatives among the WDFW, it’ll definitely be interesting to see how the conversation and method of management transform from here.