Washington Considering Controversial Spring Black Bear Hunt: What to Know

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by Jessica Matthews/For The Washington Post via Getty Images )

A controversial Washington spring black bear hunt revote will be on Friday, and there are a few things residents need to know.

Last year’s revote before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission went nowhere. This time, hunting advocates lobbied successfully to get another voting opportunity.

Activists and other critics say spring bear hunting will target hungry bears and kill mother bears. Those deaths can lead to young bears starving. According to The Seattle Times, pro-bear hunters say they are defending a cherished recreational opportunity as well as a valued food source.

Black bear population numbers are “healthy,” but the numbers are not exact. In 2020, bear population numbers were an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 in the state.

Hunters Want Spring Black Bear Hunt, Too

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wants the commission to OK a rule for 664 spring bear permits this year. The agency thinks hunters would kill 145 black bears.

The hunters already have the fall season to hunt. A 2020 spring hunt took in 145 of the 2,092 bears killed that year. 

The 2021 season had 8,830 hunters wanting spring black bear hunt permits in Washington. According to preliminary data, according to the department that year, they killed 79 males and 45 females with one lactating female.

The upcoming spring hunt rules would ban female bear killings who had cubs this year. Also, hunters would have to report kills to the department, present the pelt and head in five days to determine a lactating bear.

Another part of the spring hunting rule would end the annual reauthorization of seasonal hunts, making hunting no longer year specific.

Since 1969, state officials have said black bears are game animals. A Washington spring black bear hunt season set up in 1973 was authorized in “bear timber damaged areas” from April to June.

Why Spring Hunting In First Place?

Wildlife officials wanted to “apply pressure” to areas where timber-damaging bears lived. But the agency doesn’t have an effective program to determine bear hunting impacts on tree damage or human-bear conflicts.

A former Woodland Park Zoo conservation director, Fred Koontz, left the commission over the last few years. The director was critical of the commission and department over the spring hunting revote.

Koontz wanted policymakers to think about the ramifications of hunting during the spring months. He also wanted lawmakers to not just think about killing enough animals to sustain the population. 

“It is my opinion that the public at large is not in favor of hunting bears for recreation in the spring,” Koontz told The Seattle Times. “There is an opportunity to hunt bears in the fall, and there are no other clear, nonrecreational benefits.”

Koontz is not a fan of killing mother bears inadvertently.

On the other hand, bear hunters want the opportunity to harvest bears for food. They also see positives to recreation. 

Inland Northwest Wildlife Council executive director Marie Neumiller said many wanted a rehearing on the vote because there was confusion about technicalities. The group thought they would get to hunt.

“The feedback we got was people didn’t participate in those sessions because they didn’t think the validity or ethics of the hunt was up for review,” Neumiller said.