SEATTLE – A conservation group on Thursday sued the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, alleging it illegally allows black bears to be killed using hunting methods that were banned by voters.
The state agency exploits narrow exceptions to two voter-approved initiatives by allowing hunters to use bait, dogs and body-gripping traps to kill bears on private commercial timberland, the lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity argues.
The group said the state reportedly authorizes black bears to be killed to prevent them from stripping tree bark to eat sapwood, but that the program instead allows hunters to indiscriminately kill the animals in areas away from damaged trees.
Bruce Botka, a spokesman with the Fish and Wildlife Department, said Thursday that the agency just received the petition and won’t comment at this stage.
According to the lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court, the state has authorized about 900 black bears to be killed since 2010 using bait, dogs and traps.
“State wildlife officials need to stop this illegal program that allows a small group of hunters to shoot bears over bait, chase them with hounds and catch them in traps,” Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney representing the group, said in a statement. She called the bear-killing program “cruel, ineffective and ecologically harmful.”
Washington voters approved two initiatives in 1996 and 2000, which together banned the use of bait, hounds and body-gripping traps to kill bears.
The initiatives, however, allowed certain exceptions for landowners or agents of government agencies to use dogs to kill bears to protect public safety, domestic animals and private property.
Food is scarce in early spring when black bears emerge from winter dens, so the animals strip the bark of trees to eat newly formed wood underneath. Such peeling can cause significant damage to some timber stands.
The lawsuit argues the state program fails to target specific problem black bears that cause tree damage and also issue permits without requiring that nonlethal alternatives are used. It asks a judge to revoke the permits issued in 2018 and prevent the agency from issuing more permits that allow the bears to be killed using bait, dogs or traps.