The following is a recent letter submitted to the WDFW Commission in response to current discussions around the WDFW Game Management Plan.
July 11th, 2022
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
To WDFW Commission:
As advocates for sound wildlife policy and sustainable management, the Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is deeply invested in any decision the commission may make to deny outdoor opportunity to the residents of the state. As you continue to debate the merits of a sustainable hunt within the scope of your mandate, the commission is exploring the possibility of superseding the existing motion related to spring bear. For any commission discussions on this matter, it is our responsibility to outline the below pertinent aspects of the Game Management Plan (GMP). While it may not be possible to sway deeply held convictions of individual commissioners, we do seek to reinforce the operational capacity and guidance by which the commission is empowered to make such a decision. We ask that you keep in mind the following from the GMP:
- The Executive Summary states that the goal of the GMP includes minimizing “adverse impacts to residents, other wildlife and the environment.” Cancellation of an opportunity needs to clearly demonstrate that the commission has solicited and evaluated any potential adverse impacts to prey populations and residents, which includes hunters and rural communities. (Paragraph 5)
- The Executive Summary also states that “science and the professional judgment of biologists is the foundation of all objectives and strategies” in the game management plan. The recommendation of Dr. Stephanie Simek, the Department Carnivore Section Manager, poses no biological reason to cancel the hunt, and should be considered as the strongest possible professional endorsement for the continuation of the season for any commission discussion regarding this opportunity. (Paragraph 7)
- Cancellation of the Spring Bear Hunt that does not first evaluate and consider the potential “adverse impacts to residents (and) other wildlife” would be against the language in Chapter 1, reinforcing the intent of the statement from the Executive Summary to this effect. (Introduction, Paragraph 4)
- Additionally, Chapter 1 states that the issues and options in the GMP may be modified or developed as new information becomes available but does not state that opportunity may be upended or cancelled if commissioners’ desired information is not available. (Introduction, Paragraph 2)
- Regarding Chapter 1, The Commission “shall attempt to maximize the public recreational hunting opportunities of all citizens” and therefore any cancellation of opportunity is in direct opposition to their authorities unless it can be scientifically supported. (Commission and Department Authorities, Paragraph 2, bullet 3)
- Chapter 1 states “Hunting seasons and regulation recommendations should be based on good science. When biological information is lacking or insufficient, management decision should be sufficiently conservative to ensure protection of wildlife resources” The language states that the science must be good, neither perfect nor all encompassing. Additionally, If the commission feels that the science may be incomplete or insufficient, it should first request a Blue Sheet from the department clearly explaining the requested data and full scope of inquiry in the proper format before cancelling the season (Commission and Department Authorities, paragraph 4)
- Additionally, in the same Chapter the GMP clearly states that “Continuity in hunting seasons over time is highly valued by the public,” as the spring bear opportunity has been present in Washington state for decades, any cancellation of this longstanding opportunity fails to fulfill this stable and continuous opportunity, particularly without direct scientific evidence of a declining population. (Commission and Department Authorities, paragraph 4, number 2)
- Regarding the length of the season or amount of opportunity to hunt black bears provided by the state, Chapter 1 states hunting seasons should “provide maximum recreation days while achieving populations goals. Therefore, any argument to eliminate the spring hunting dates because of existing fall hunt seasons is not valid under GMP guidance (Commission and Department Authorities, paragraph 4, number 4)
- Chapter 1 clearly outlines the expenditures for hunters as a significant economic impact, particularly for local economies that surround hunting locations, which is particularly significant in rural areas. Additionally, license sales and Pittman Roberts funds provide a core funding channel for the department. Cancellation of any hunting opportunity should be advanced or discussed only after exploring the negative impact to residents, industry and the department if the hunt is not permitted to continue (Economics)
- Chapter 2 clearly empowers biologists and managers retain the sole responsibility of seeking peer-review for their recommendations and is not a power reserved for the commission in decision making on these issues under the GMP. (Scientific/Professional Management of Hunted Wildlife, Strategies, Letter B)
- Chapter 2 explicitly states that not only have black bear populations increased to sustainable levels in Washington, but that a core challenge is addressing potential predator effects on prey species. A Spring bear hunt places pressure on predator population, at a particularly vulnerable period of calf/fawn recruitment. Cancellation of the spring bear season should express clear analysis and consideration of the potential negative impacts such a cancellation may have on these populations during the spring season (Predator/Prey Interactions, Paragraph 1)
- Chapter 2 expresses that “affected co-managers and stakeholders should be consulted prior to taking significant actions.” If the commission is considering the cancellation of the spring bear season, it is obligated to facilitate and integrate dialogue from tribal entities and stakeholders. As a stakeholder group recognized in multiple RCW’s, we do not find that the commission has completed this obligation. As a public party, we have not seen the commission demonstrate full consideration of the input from tribal natural resource leaders, as demonstrated by the testimony provided by Tino Villaluz of the Swinomish tribe that supports the continued season. (Predator/Prey Interactions, Guiding Principles, Number 3)
- Chapter 2 states that “Conservation, ecological, economic, recreational and societal values will be considered” in issues related to black bears as predators. At this time, the commission has not demonstrated a full consideration of these values (i.e., economic, recreational) in public meetings and is not empowered to place any value (i.e., societal) as a greater authority in their decision making, even as some commissioners have publicly stated that as a deciding factor. (Predator/Prey Interactions, Guiding Principles, Number 3)
- Chapter 2 also states the managing black bear is used to “address emerging management needs” and therefore does not require a single or dominant motivation such as recreation, timber damage, or wildlife conflict. (Predator/Prey Interactions, Guiding Principles, Number 3)
- Chapter 2 expresses a goal of improving our understanding of predator prey relationships. Removal of the spring bear season would have adverse impacts on the ability to understand these dynamics and result in less scientific data available for interpretation. (Predator/Prey Interactions, Guiding Principles, Number 5)
- The Black Bear section of the GMP clearly defines the scientific strategy for the establishment of seasons and black bear abundance but does not reserve to the commission the right to redefine the data strategy or suggest alternative methodology (Objective 87)
Throughout the game management plan, the importance of public engagement by the commission in it’s work is clearly and repetitively stated (in addition to the legal requirements outlined in the Open Public Meetings Act). The public has not been adequately informed by the commission about the potential finality of your decisions on July 15th. This is perhaps most succinctly expressed in the Game Management Plan’s first sentence in the public involvement section that “active public involvement is important for successful planning.” We encourage the commissioners to carefully consider if expeditiously reaching a spring bear decision at this time, which will have a lasting impact for wildlife and recreation, is in keeping with the need to properly engage the public and all stakeholders.
The Game Management Plan affords the commission the ability to adopt major hunting seasons every 3 years and the make minor adjustments annually. Nowhere however does the GMP clearly provide the commission the opportunity to cancel a long-standing hunting opportunity without following standard rule-setting procedures. Cancelling the spring bear season is not only ahistorical but doing so does not demonstrate adherence to the existing game management plan. We encourage the commission to proceed in this process in keeping with RCW 77.04.013, “in an open and deliberative process that encourages public involvement and increases public confidence.”
Finally, while the Game Management Plan clearly states that while the establishment of hunting season, bag limits and geographic areas is exempt from State Environmental Policy Act rules through WAC 197-11-840, it does not exempt the cancellation or removal of hunting seasons via the WAC. To wit, all “policy development, planning and other game management actions are not considered exempt from SEPA acts.” We encourage the commission to avoid potential litigation throughout this decision and policy making process as it goes about its business and considers removing the longstanding season for spring black bear.
As vested stakeholder group identified in RCW 77.04.040, as well as affected members of the public referenced by RCW’s 77.04.012, 77.04.055, 77.04.020 and the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission Rules of Procedure, we are eager to provide any resources or insight for commissioners that may seek additional input in their decision-making. We hope that the commission will also carefully seek and consider the input of tribal co-managers and follow closely to department recommendations in this process. We look forward to a spring bear decision that upholds the integrity and good governance of this commission, as well as a public, transparent, and deliberative process that strengthens the commissions relationships and with volunteers, funding partners, recreationists, and concerned citizens. Thank you for your consideration and service.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers