OLYMPIA — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is currently accepting enrollment applications through April 16 for its redesigned Master Hunter program.
An orientation meeting on the application and certification process will be held March 22, from 1 to 4 p.m., in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building (NRB), 1111 Washington St., Olympia. Details on the program and enrollment procedures are available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/masterhunter/.
Formerly known as Advanced Hunter Education (AHE), the program was revamped in 2007 to redefine its purpose and clarify requirements for participation. Enrollment in the program was suspended for nine months until the redesign was completed.
Master hunters participate in controlled hunts to remove problem animals that damage property or threaten public safety. To qualify for the program, applicants must demonstrate a high level of skill and be committed to lawful and ethical hunting practices, said Bruce Bjork, chief of the WDFW Enforcement program that manages hunter education.
“Since the beginning, the purpose of the program was to create a pool of highly qualified hunters who could help the department manage wildlife in sensitive or problem areas,” Bjork said. “Over the years, the effort has been largely successful, with problem animals removed from damage situations and millions of dollars saved in crop damage.”
But the program was not without its problems, which led to the recent overhaul, Bjork said.
“Some people took advantage of the privilege and were hunting illegally, which damaged the reputation of the program and defeated its purpose,” he said. “It was clear we needed a new direction to attract people who not only had the skills, but were committed to ethical and responsible hunting.”
As part of that new direction, hunters enrolling in the program are now required to undergo a criminal background check and sign a Master Hunter Code of Ethics. New applicants will also be required to provide at least 20 hours of volunteer service on projects that benefit the state’s wildlife resources.
Those who successfully complete the enrollment process will receive a certificate, a patch and a master hunter identification card and will be eligible to participate in special depredation hunts throughout the year.
Former AHE members also must comply with the new regulations to be considered for retention in the new program. Those who turned in their forms will be notified by May 12 on their certification status.
“This is a great opportunity for conscientious, committed hunters to assume a leadership role among their peers,” Bjork said. “Their knowledge and conduct in the field can help build positive relationships with landowners and assure public hunting opportunity in the future.”
Along with the new requirements, a Master Hunter advisory group is also being formed to help guide the department’s efforts, provide oversight and help improve the effectiveness of program.
Changes in the Master Hunter program do not affect WDFW’s Basic Hunter Education program. Washington hunters born after Jan. 1, 1972 are required to complete Basic Hunter Education in order to purchase a valid hunting license.