OLYMPIA - Permits have been issued to hunters selected to participate in a special black bear hunt designed to reduce bear damage to trees in two timberlands - one in Thurston and Grays Harbor counties and another in Pierce County.
The special hunt, scheduled April 15-June 15, was requested by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which manages Capitol State Forest in Thurston County, and the Campbell Group, which manages Kapowsin Tree Farm in Pierce County.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) selected 100 applicants through a random drawing to hunt black bears in each of the two areas.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the special hunt last December after timber managers for those areas sought help in controlling damage caused by black bears. The bears strip the bark from young Douglas-fir trees to eat the sweet cambium layer that lies beneath it.
Brian Prater, area manager for the Campbell Group, estimates that black bears have damaged approximately 15 percent of the young conifer plantations at the Kapowsin Tree Farm over the past decade.
"Studies have shown that a single black bear can peel up to 70 trees a day in spring," Prater said. "Over time, that constitutes a considerable financial loss."
Patty Henson, communications director for DNR, said over the past five years black bears have killed or damaged trees, ranging from 12 to 20 years old, across more than 5,000 acres in Capitol State Forest. At a minimum, she said, that damage will cost state trust funds more than $500,000 in timber sales, which otherwise would support public services in Thurston and Grays Harbor counties, the state general fund and construction of public schools and universities statewide.
"In the stands we surveyed, bears had killed or damaged an average of 40 percent of the trees," Henson said. "In some stands, as many as 75 percent of the trees were affected."
State law authorizes the Fish and Wildlife Commission to approve special hunts to control property damage caused by wildlife, said Dave Ware, WDFW game manager. Similar special hunts - open to only a limited number of permit holders - are conducted each year throughout the state to control agricultural damage caused by deer and elk.
Black bears are abundant in western Washington, with an estimated population of 25,000 animals statewide, Ware said. WDFW plans to monitor the hunt to determine its effectiveness before deciding whether to continue it in future years.
"Based on previous experience, we would expect to see a maximum of a dozen bears taken in each of the two areas," Ware said. "The human activity associated with the hunt should also keep black bears away from choice stands of trees."
Ware noted that the black-bear hunt overlaps with an annual wild turkey hunt that runs from April 15 to May 15 in the Capitol State Forest and other areas throughout the state. Hunters with permits to hunt for bears in the Capitol State Forest have received maps showing areas with extensive tree damage, and both WDFW and DNR will have observers in the field to monitor the hunt, Ware said.
"The black bear hunt will focus in the areas with extensive tree damage," Ware said. "We want to make sure hikers and other users of these timberlands are aware that these hunts are under way."