Statement of concern regarding Bear Timber Depredation Management Program

Statement of concern regarding Bear Timber Depredation Management Program

Conservation Northwest / May 24, 2017 / Hunting, Restoring Wildlife

On May 22, KING 5 News released an in-depth investigation into alleged abuse of a loophole in Washington’s ban on hound hunting, RCW 77.15.245, approved by statewide vote in 1996 as Initiative 655.

We’re concerned by what we’ve learned so far, and believe it’s extremely important that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and other involved parties are transparent regarding how relevant policies are being implemented, as well as how they are going to rectify any violations of procedure or public trust that may have occurred. This openness and transparency from state wildlife managers is vital for maintaining public trust, as well as ensuring effective and responsible wildlife conservation and management in our state.

The law allows agencies, and private landowners when authorized by WDFW leadership, to remove problem black bears with the use of hounds “for the purpose of protecting livestock, domestic animals, private property, or the public safety”. In particular, black bear timber damage depredation permits may be issued to timber companies and other private forest owners under WAC 220-440-210 in response to bears feeding on the cambium layer of trees. This spongy, syrupy layer beneath the bark offers bears an easy, high-calorie food source, but it can also cause permanent and even fatal damage to valuable trees. King 5’s reporting indicates that these permits are being used to suppress bear populations in and around private forests, instead of focusing on specific bears causing damage.

We’re not unsympathetic to the needs of private forest landowners, without whom many working forests in our region would be developed and would no longer provide significant habitat and wildlife benefits on private lands. We also recognize that black bear populations appear to be quite healthy in Washington, though more accurate population surveys may be required.

Still, it’s important that policies to reduce black bear damage be conducted in accordance with the language and intent of I-655, a measure we were directly involved in the passage of. We will be looking into this matter further in coordination with other conservation organizations, biologists and policy experts, and will provide more information and perspective as it becomes available. Based on what we learn, we will work with the Department, other stakeholders and the Fish and Wildlife Commission to advance any needed adjustments.