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Fishing, hunting closures could become more targeted, WDFW Director says during S-R forum

“We are taking a lot of hits. The reputation of the agency is at a low because of these closures,” Kelly Susewind said Thursday. He is shown here on Nov. 5, 2018, in Spokane, during a statewide listening tour. (Eli Francovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Widespread fishing and hunting closures, which have raised the ire of many, may become more targeted, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind.

During a 30-minute livestreamed discussion conducted as part of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages online forums, Susewind explained why the state’s wildlife management agency elected to suspend spring fishing and hunting seasons.

At its core, the suspensions are about reducing travel and slowing the spread of the coronavirus, he said. The decision to close seasons was made after looking at hunting permit data and talking to local health officials.

Northwest Passages / The Spokesman-Review

Based on hunting permit information, roughly 70% of spring turkey hunters in 2019 traveled out of their home county to hunt, he said. Ninety percent of spring bear hunters traveled for their hunt.

He acknowledged the frustration many hunters and anglers have expressed at the closures. The agency will suffer losses to its finances and its reputation as a result of season suspensions, he said.

“We are taking a lot of hits,” he said. “The reputation of the agency is at a low because of these closures.

“We are trying to get folks out there, to maintain these opportunities.”

And he offered notes of hope for cooped-up sportsmen and sportswomen. This week, he met with representatives from more than 30 outdoor advocacy groups and discussed how best to reopen the seasons.

“One of the big things we hear from those groups is, open in a way where the locals can participate,” he said.

A proposal for in-county hunting, particularly for the turkey season, which was supposed to have opened Wednesday, was rejected by WDFW. Susewind said that’s because enforcing it would have been difficult. It also raises issues of equity.

But going forward, he said it is likely that the agency will adopt a more targeted approach. Under the current order, all hunting and fishing is closed until May 4.

“We’re looking at a number of ways to try trying to open this,” he said. “We’re committed to trying to open it as soon as we can.”

WDFW closed fishing statewide on March 25, following Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The closure angered many anglers who wished for a narrower approach. WDFW also canceled the youth turkey hunting season, which was set to open April 1, and black bear hunting in some units. Those measures were followed by the statewide closure of all spring fishing and hunting.