Comment: A full commission is needed for better wildlife management


By Bryce Levin / For the herald

On November 19, Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission voted on proposed changes to the structure of the Limited Entry Spring 2022 Bear Hunt. While the public notice stated that the vote was for language and opportunity updates, it quickly became apparent that the issue of bear hunting in Washington was on the line. The vote ended with a 4-4 tie, ending the 2022 spring bear hunt.

The commission consists of nine governor-appointed members mandated to establish policies to preserve and perpetuate fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable recreational and harvesting opportunities for fish and wildlife. It works closely with Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), receives recommendations from WDFW biologists, and holds meetings allowing public input to set regulated hunting seasons and commercial and recreational fishing seasons.

In January 2021, two new commission members were appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to fill two of the three seats vacated by commissioners whose terms had expired in December 2020. Twelve months later, the third seat, a seat of eastern Washington, was left without a nomination, leaving an eight-member commission at the time of the vote.

At the October 22 meeting, two newly appointed commissioners, Lorna Smith and Fred Koontz, went on the offensive, overwhelming WDFW staff with a long list of questions, targeting the accuracy of department data and challenging the ethics of bear hunting. In response, WDFW biologists provided a 100-page response citing their methodology for obtaining data, unit by harvest unit, population estimates, ungulate predation, den emergence and timing of den. harvest, to name a few.

Biologists viewed the spring season as a tool to reduce human-bear conflict, prevent damage to timber, and mitigate predation on elk calves and newborn fawns. Biologists estimated that there were between 18,000 and 21,000 adult black bears statewide, a robust, stable and growing population.

The data presented showed that the 10-year harvest rates for spring and fall hunting average between 8.22% and 9.59% of the population, falling within or below the objective of 9% to 11% harvest rate per year for a sustainable population. A 2020 study of predation in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington found 125 elk calves; 77 calves were lost to predators, with 16-20% attributed to black bears. This same herd of elk has experienced a significant population decline over the past seven years and is one of the areas where a significant number of spring bear tags are being assigned, in an effort to reduce predation and give this flock some much-needed relief.

Historically, public comment at commission meetings has been limited to in-person comment, but in response to covid, WDFW is now allowing public comment via Zoom, opening up public comment to citizens nationwide. With this new tool on the table for individuals and anti-hunting organizations, the FWC has been inundated with coordinated feedback from local and national anti-hunting organizations.

These groups cite fallacious emotional arguments opposing hunting as unethical and cruel and use terms such as “trophy hunting” to paint pictures of wasteful and unnecessary killing of wildlife. In addition to the tools provided by the hunt and the revenue generated, state law requires that all edible parts of harvested game be consumed. This manual has been adopted and is being implemented in California, Colorado and Arizona in an effort to reduce or eliminate cougar, bear and bobcat hunting. This is a coordinated attack on the North American wildlife conservation model, a management model that has recovered depleted wildlife populations like grizzly bears, gray wolves and bald eagles while maintaining populations wildlife through scientific and objective management.

Where does the funding come from? In the 2019-2021 biennium, $97.4 million in revenue was generated by hunters and anglers through license sales and statewide applications. These revenues – in addition to funding received through the Dingell-Johnson Act, a 10% tax on fishing tackle, and the Pittman-Robertson Act, an 11% tax on guns and ammunition – generate 30% of WDFW’s annual budget.

Since these laws came into effect, more than $22.9 billion has been collected and allocated to states, including nearly $1 billion in 2020.

Hunting isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. But turning a blind eye to the beneficial role hunting plays in wildlife management and funding is a loser for wildlife and people who value balanced and diverse ecosystems and wildlife. We must manage wildlife using the best available science and demand that the governor appoint people to the Fish and Wildlife Commission who believe in the North American model of wildlife conservation.

You can learn more about how we can hold our commission and our governor accountable at

Bryce Levin is the Conservation and Policy Manager for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Washington Chapter. He lives in Lake Stevens.

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