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No spring bear hunts in Washington – again

A black bear sits next to a white log in the center of the photo. All around the black bear is green grass. There are two small green bushes on the left and the right of the bear.
Two petitions to allow a spring black bear hunt next year – are denied by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission denied two petitions for a spring black bear hunting season next year.

The commission paused spring bear hunts starting in 2022. Animal advocacy groups had called the hunts cruel. They said the spring hunts could orphan cubs.

However, hunters said the hunts taught people how to make ethical choices and protected timber from bears that emerged from hibernation. They say the hunts also protect elk and deer numbers and people’s safety.

The ongoing discussion and subsequent pauses have been met with multiple petitions asking to reinstate spring bear season, many by the same petitioner.

Commissioner Melanie Rowland said the commission won’t authorize a hunt until there is a new, proven management reason to do so.

“Unless we show that there is a management need, unless we show that there is some reason to allow recreational hunting in the spring. We have not been shown that,” she said during a special Sept. 8 meeting.

The Sept. 8 meeting allowed the commissioners to decide on multiple recent petitions, including spring bear season and cougar hunting. The department also decided to purchase land for enforcement staff living near Forks, Washington.

One petition suggested reinstating the hunts next year because some science suggests bears can kill their young. Fish and Wildlife biologists say that isn’t a concern in Washington because the population isn’t too dense or overpopulated.

Another petition suggested there is more support for spring bear hunting in the state than against it.The department said the public comments it received suggests the public has very mixed feelings.

Commissioner John Lehmkul said it seemed like there needed to be some clarification – because the same issues keep repeating.

“I feel like Bill Murray on ‘Groundhog Day.’ I open my department email or look at the public comments, and it’s the same thing over and over again,” he said.

Department staff said there are times they could clarify these issues further, like during discussions of the game management plan, but there won’t be more spring bear hunts in Washington until a new management issue crops up.

Oregon and Idaho both allow spring bear hunts.

Courtney Flatt is a Richland-based multi-media correspondent for Northwest Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network focusing on environmental, natural resources and energy issues in the Northwest.