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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Rich Landers: Hunting rule proposals have a backstory

Washington could follow the lead of Montana in requiring bear hunters to prove they can distinguish a black bear from a grizzly. (MIKE BRODWATER / MIKE BRODWATER)
Washington could follow the lead of Montana in requiring bear hunters to prove they can distinguish a black bear from a grizzly. (MIKE BRODWATER / MIKE BRODWATER)

More than 50 proposals are in early rounds of discussion regarding Washington’s hunting seasons and regulations for the next three years.

Should the cost of hunting wild turkeys in fall be reduced and the seasons lengthened? Should the pheasant and deer season open on the same weekend in October? Should black bear hunters be tested to prove they can distinguish a grizzly?

Sportsmen and wildlife managers have suggested changes aimed at improving populations of forest grouse and moose, preventing bobcat hunters from accidental killing lynx, improving odds for drawing coveted big-game hunting permits and more.

Every proposal will have support and opposition. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is looking for consensus.

“Some of these ideas will move forward and some won’t depending on what the public has to say,” Anis Aoude, department Game Division manager, told sportsmen in Spokane last month.

The July 25 meeting was the first of six public open houses held through Aug. 3 across the state as the agency seeks comments on alternatives for 2018-20 hunting seasons.

The public can still comment online through Aug. 31 on the WDFW hunting regulations season setting web page.

“We have a real appreciation for how important hunting seasons are to you personally and to local economies,” said Steve Pozzanghera, manager of the agency’s Eastern Washington Region based in Spokane. “This is a big deal.”

Indeed, some hunters would rather miss their wedding anniversary than the opening day of elk season.

Yet the turnout for the Spokane meeting was not overwhelming.

“We have a ton of web users, but this is disheartening,” Pozzanghera said overlooking the 16 people in attendance. Nearly as many wildlife biologists where in the room to take comments and answer questions.

Many of the attendees were representing area sportsmen clubs that have memberships in the hundreds, but most unattached hunters had something better to do an a pleasant summer evening.

“If you think the game department doesn’t listen to you, you’re wrong,” said Matt Mimnaugh of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. “I recognized a lot of these recommendations because some of the alternatives came out of a meeting the department had with three sportsmen groups this spring.”

Thousands of hunters will go online to express their opinions. But being at the meeting and talking to the professionals enables sportsmen to probe issues more deeply. Most proposals have a backstory.

Halfway through a five-year study of moose in northeastern Washington, researchers are finding clues that moose numbers may be declining for the first time since permit-only moose hunting was opened in 1977, confirmed Carrie Lowe, department wildlife biologist.

That information is driving recommendations to reduce the number of antlerless moose.

Meanwhile, the high odds against drawing a moose tag are prompting hunters to recommend abolishing the youth-only moose hunts and spreading those tags through the other categories of hunters. The reasoning is that hunters under age 18 should have to earn their stripes as sportsmen before having a chance at drawing such a coveted tag.

Speaking of reducing the odds, some hunters are pointing out a loophole that enables kids, even toddlers, to begin applying for big-game permit ghost tags and accruing preference points even before they are old enough to hunt. That could be changed, perhaps requiring youngsters to complete hunter education before accruing preference points.

Grouse hunters don’t seem to be as willing as big-game hunters to accept recommendations that might improve quarry numbers. Hunters tend to cling to the traditional Sept. 1 opener for mountain grouse rather than support data that waiting until mid-September to open the would reduce the heavy pressure on hens and chicks of the year.

Questions at the Spokane meeting from a pair of hunters regarding the Nov. 19 ending date for the “late buck hunt” in northeastern Washington prompted Jerry Nelson, department deer and elk manager, to give a short summary of 1980s research. During years of data gathering, former wildlife biologist Steve Zender pegged the peak of conception for the whitetails to be just after Nov. 19. Closing the season then gives hunters the benefit of the upswing of the rut while minimizing disturbance to all-important breeding.

More antlerless hunting opportunity for deer, elk and moose is always in demand and always a goal for agency managers. But killing the females that produce the next crop is often the first thing to be cut back when populations are in question. Many proposals reflect that concern.

Equipment innovations have always prompted regulation, and this year is no exception. Should modern air rifles be allowed for use in hunting? Sportsmen will decide.

Endangered species protections factor into a proposal for black bear hunters to prove in an online test that they can distinguish a black bear from a grizzly. Montana already is requiring hunters pass a brief online course before purchasing a bear tag, said Stephanie Simek, WDFW carnivore manager.

Grizzlies, which remain federally protected in the region, are gradually showing up more often in Washington, she said.

Comments received from the public in this summer’s first round of discussions will be used to develop specific recommendations for 2018-20 hunting seasons. That pared-down list will be available for further review in January.

Final recommendations will be presented to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission for adoption in the spring of 2018.

“Our wildlife professionals know what the data is,” Aoule, the state’s wildlife program manager told sportsmen in Spokane, “but we manage these resources for you and we want your input.”

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