The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is accepting public comment on proposed rule changes to spring black bear hunting in the state.
The proposal comes after a March 19 vote by the Washington Fish and Game Commission to pause the long-running, limited-entry spring bear hunt despite widespread opposition from hunters and conservationists across the country.
The commission’s decision to stop the hunt went against the recommendations of department wildlife biologists and disregarded prevailing science that says black bear populations are stable and even thriving in the Evergreen State.
With its latest proposal, which was submitted through a regulatory form called a CL101, WDFW is honoring a previous motion by Commissioner Don McIsaac to revisit spring bear hunting no later than October 2022.
According to WDFW Wildlife Program Director Eric Gardner, the agency’s filing of the CL101 is the first step in an administrative rulemaking process that could eventually lead to another vote on spring bear hunting by the Washington Fish and Game Commission.
“Washington has a legal framework that says, if you’re going to change regulations, the first thing you have to do is let the public know that you will be considering proposing changes to the regulations,” Gardner told MeatEater. “That’s the CR101 process. It’s kind of like opening the book to say: ‘Hey folks, we’re going to be considering some proposed rule changes here.’ Now there’s an opportunity for the public to let us know what they think about it and what they’d like us to consider.”
Both the CL101 and the public comment 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 topic, they will want to know what we heard during this process,” he said. “But what’s going to matter from a legal proceedings perspective is what we put out in a proposal in a CR102 and then the specific dialogue and interaction back and forth on an actual proposed rule.”
A CR102 is the next step in the WDFW rulemaking process. If the department files and follows through with a CR102 that puts official rule changes for spring bear on the table, the commission will be compelled to vote on whether or not to reinstate the spring bear hunt, Gardner said.
“Ultimately we propose that rule via a CR102, and the commission is compelled to make a decision on that rule as long as the proposal stands,” he said. “Assuming there’s a CR102 with a proposal that’s still active, the only resolution to that is commission action as far as, do they pass that rule or do they deny that rule.”
Gardner said that if a CR102 is ultimately filed, it’s not likely to happen until after the commission revisits the topic of spring bear hunting at its June 24 meeting. That meeting will be held in person in Olympia, Washington.
If the CR102 comes to fruition, it will spell out the exact rule changes that the department is considering.
“When we publish the CR102 is when we say what we are considering,” Gardner said. “Season changes, dates, permit numbers, locations, methods of take, the time, place, and manner around hunting—those would be the types of things that we would contemplate in a CR102 proposal.”
The Washington Fish and Game Commission was recently joined by three new members: John Lehmukl, Tim Ragan, and Melanie Rowland. The new commissioners were all appointed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee shortly before the March 19 vote that canceled the spring bear season. All three of them voted to stop the hunt.
While the current public comment period will not result in any immediate vote on spring bear hunting in Washington, it’s a great opportunity for hunters to engage with the WDFW rulemaking process. The more comments that the department receives in support of spring black bear hunting, the more likely its slow-moving levers of administrative policy-making are to tilt back in the direction of sound, science-based bear management.
If you are a supporter of WDFW’s spring bear hunt and would like to see it reinstated someday, now is the time to speak up. You can comment on the proposal here, or you can contact the department more directly by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MeatEater will continue to monitor Washington’s spring bear saga as more developments emerge.
Feature image via Tony Bynum.