The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has already put a price tag on the effect of the voter-approved Initiative 655 that restricts certain controversial hunting methods - $1 million a year.
That’s how much the agency plans to ask the Legislature for in January so it can hire additional wildlife agents and equipment to handle the increase in nuisance calls regarding bears and big cats that’s expected as a result of the new law.
“Even before the initiative came along, we submitted a request for 31 more enforcement officers to handle increasing complaints we’re getting statewide about cougars and black bears. Essentially, the passage of 655 may give our request more of an urgent twist to it,” Fish and Wildlife Department spokesman Tim Waters said Wednesday.
Approved by 63 percent of the voters, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Initiative 655 bans the use of bait when hunting bear and dogs when hunting bear, cougar and bobcat.
The measure was sponsored by animal-rights activists who consider those methods to be cruel and unsporting.
Both methods had been supported by the Department of Fish and Wildlife as efficient means of controlling the population of those animals. Proponents say those methods give a hunter the time to identify the species, sex and size before deciding whether to kill the animal.
The prevailing theory within the agency now is that the populations of bear, cougar and bobcat will increase since the use of bait and hounds accounted for more than half of last year’s kill.
Wildlife officials are already concerned about the number of complaints about bears and bobcats sighted in populated areas.
Through Sept. 30, the agency logged 422 confirmed complaints this year about black bears that had killed livestock or posed a threat to public safety.
During the same period, 374 cougar complaints were filed, more than a quarter of which were reported in Western Washington’s populous counties of King, Snohomish and Pierce.
Concern about the number of complaints prompted the agency to submit a $5.4 million request to the Legislature for 31 additional agents to complement the 120 already in the field.
But that was before the initiative passed.