Wolves, bears, prescribed burning and more were discussed during a virtual Q&A session Monday.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind and regional Director Steve Pozzanghera answered questions from Region 1 residents.
The virtual Q&A was the second digital open house held by Susewind. The hour-long session is part of a larger agency effort to better communicate WDFW’s mission and importance to the public.
The session started with an edgy question about what WDFW is doing to ensure human safety and whether or not the agency prioritizes animals over people.
Susewind pushed back and said, “We do not prioritize animals over humans.”
In fact, in a recent memo to staff, Susewind made it “clear that we prioritize public safety,” and made assurances that he would back up enforcement officers decisions when dealing with problem cats.
Meanwhile, WDFW is reviewing recreational cougar hunting policies a year early in direct response to concerns raised by the public in a January Fish and Wildlife commission meeting in Spokane.
“We heard a lot,” Susewind said in an interview Monday. “And a lot of direction from our commission that, ‘Hey, we need to be looking into this.’ And so that’s what we’re doing following through on that commitment.”
The next question touched on new black bear hunting rules. Black bear hunting will open Aug. 1 throughout the state and hunters may tag up to two bears. Previously, eastern Washington had different season dates and hunters could only keep one bear from eastern Washington.
Wolf management was up next with the questioner asking what WDFW will change about its wolf management and whether WDFW was sharing wolf collar data with ranchers and other groups.
The agency does share information about den sites and wolf movement, Pozzanghera said.
“We’re doing everything we can to minimize the chance that wolves and livestock will be interacting,” he said.
The next questioner asked why WDFW doesn’t have point restrictions for whitetail deer hunters. In 2019 WDFW eliminated antlerless deer hunting in Game Management Units 101 and 121.
“We don’t believe that we have a buck problem from the standpoint of a breeding efficiency,” Pozzanghera said, adding that pregnancy rates are about 90 percent in Eastern Washington. “We believe antler point restrictions would be an unnecessary restriction on recreational opportunity.”
Finally, Susewind and Pozzanghera were asked why WDFW is doing prescribed burns on some of its more than 1 million acres of land – including 800 acres in the Sherman Creek area this spring. The prescribed burning is part of WDFW’s effort to better manage its forestland and conserve Washington’s natural resources, Susewind said.
“I think we have a huge conservation role to play,” he said. “Too large a portion of the state doesn’t recognize us as a conservation agency.”
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