Four initial proposals for rule changes affecting Eastern Washington hunters are being presented online and at meetings as the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department gears up to establish its regulations for the next three years.
Public input gathered over the next few months will help guide the 2012-2014 hunting regulations to be set by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in April.
Rising to the top of the regulation considerations:
• Adjusting cougar hunting seasons by increasing hunting opportunity where cougar numbers are high and decreasing season or permits where cat numbers are low.
• Increasing black bear harvest in certain areas, perhaps with a general spring hunting season.
• Allowing elk hunters with Western Washington transport tags to apply for East Side special permits, and vice versa.
• Further liberalizing fall turkey seasons to reduce overwintering flocks.
Details needed for making specific proposals are lacking in some cases as the agency’s biologists and managers try to finish surveys, reports and plans.
Cougar harvest quotas will be scrutinized especially in Central Washington, the Blue Mountains and in Stevens County, said Kevin Robinette, WDFW regional wildlife manager in Spokane. Researchers from the agency and Washington State University have been conducting studies in these areas, but the findings aren’t compiled, he said.
Some of the research indicates that overharvest of adult toms in areas such as Unit 105 between the Kettle and Columbia rivers creates a void the lures young cougars prone to causing conflicts with humans and livestock.
“In the Blue Mountains we seem too many cougars, although we’re still analyzing data on radio-collared cats. Our options there include things like letting archers and muzzleloaders hunt cougars outside their seasons and with any weapon.”
“Targeting more bears in certain areas could involve increasing the number of special permits offered for spring hunts, which we’ve already been doing,” Robinette said. “Another option would be offering a general spring season. If we did that, we’d have to shorten the fall season to avoid overharvesting the females.”
Elk hunters in Western Washington have enthusiastically supported a proposal to allow a hunter to apply for any elk special permit regardless of whether he holds an East Side or West Side transport tag.
The odds for drawing a Blue Mountains quality bull elk tag already are high, but the odds would increase under that proposal.
No other significant elk hunting proposals are on the table, at this time, partly because the management plans for the Selkirk elk herd has not been completed nor has the and the Blue Mountains elk plan revision, Robinette said.
The Selkirk Elk Plan has been in the works since the late 1990s.
As elk have gained more stature in northeastern Washington, some hunters have challenged the department’s policy of allowing liberal either-sex hunting to keep elk numbers from expanding too much.
“Changing the ‘any elk’ hunts to bull hunts is something the elk plan will address,” said Dana Base, department wildlife biologist in Colville.
Dave Ware, WDFW game program manager in Olympia, said public comments received at the statewide meetings and from an online survey through Sept. 20 will help the agency shape seasons and regulations.
“We want to hear people’s concerns, especially those that address a significant conservation or management issue,” Ware said.
However, he pointed out that Gov. Chris Gregoire has issued restrictions that prevent state agencies from adopting unnecessary new rules.
Starting in October, WDFW will begin incorporating staff reports and public comments into more specific hunting rules proposals. Public comment on those proposals will be accepted in January.
Then final recommendations will be developed for presentation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in March.
The commission will vote on the final recommendations in April.