LEWISTON – Members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will continue deliberations over the fate of spring black bear hunting at a special meeting Friday.
But it’s unclear what will be on the table when they gather in Olympia and how much longer they may draw out what has been a convoluted, stop-and-go process that is now more than a year old.
In a move that caught many hunters by surprise, the 2022 spring black bear hunting season was suspended when the commission, in the fall of last year, failed to approve permit levels on a 4-4 vote. The commission was short one member at the time.
Wildlife managers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife had recommended approving the permit-only hunt, but some commissioners questioned the accuracy of black bear population data gathered by the agency. They said the hunt is controversial because it targets bears shortly after they emerge from winter hibernation and it’s possible that sows with cubs could be killed.
Last January, the commission, which was down to seven members following the resignation of spring bear hunt opponent Larry Koontz, voted to reconsider the hunt. That required restarting a monthslong rule-making process.
During the process, Gov. Jay Inslee appointed three new people to the commission – Melanie Rowland, of Twisp; John Lehmkuhl, of Wenatchee; and Tim Ragen, of Anacortes. The new commissioners, along with Barbara Baker, of Thurston County, and Lorna Smith, of Jefferson County, continued to question the department’s black bear population data and formed a majority, and ultimately canceled the spring season.
That vote pertained only to the 2022 season, leaving open the possibility a season could be held next spring. But last summer, the commission decided not to consider individual spring bear hunting seasons until it reworked the state’s policy on the hunt. Last week, commissioners agreed to move that process forward with Friday’s meeting that will be facilitated so that commission chairperson Barbara Baker and vice-chairperson Molly Linville can fully participate. Linville and Baker have been on opposite sides of the debate.
The commission hasn’t released an agenda for the in-person meeting. According to discussion at last week’s meeting in Colville, topics could range from outlining a process on making a final decision to canceling the spring hunt altogether.
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