YAKIMA -- The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission set 2000-2002 hunting seasons at a two-day meeting that concluded here today, and scheduled to adopt rules in late summer for hound-hunting of cougars.
Hound-hunting of cougars to address public safety concerns was authorized as an emergency through legislation signed by the governor last week. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff told the Commission they will work with hound hunters, the Humane Society, and other interested groups to develop rules by late summer for the use of hounds to remove cougars that pose safety threats.
The Commission, a nine-member, governor-appointed board that oversees WDFW, also designated the Common loon as a state sensitive species, approved a commercial crab harvest plan, and heard department response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Lower Snake River dams Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
The Commission rejected recommendations to reduce late-season hunting for northeast whitetail buck deer and to allow crossbows for disabled big game hunters. A three-antler-point minimum restriction was retained for mule deer hunting. Simplification of elk tag areas from five to just two -- western and eastern -- now means that already- printed tags for the former Colockum, Yakima, Blue Mountains, and Northeast areas are valid for elk hunting anywhere in eastern Washington.
All of the hunting season rule changes that the Commission adopted will be available in pamphlet form next month. They included:
- restrictions on southwest blacktail deer hunting, elimination of modern firearm and muzzleloader antlerless deer permits in some parts of western Washington, restriction to buck-only archery hunting in southwest areas, and expanded muzzleloader deer hunting in 20 game management units statewide;
- addition of 100 muzzleloader antlerless elk permits in the Cowiche unit (368),reduction of southwest antlerless elk hunting, increase of Yakima branch-antlered bull elk permits in some areas and reductions in another, and elimination of Colockum branch-antlered bull elk hunting;
- increase of moose hunting permits from 49 to 67, decrease of sheep hunting permits from 16 to 14, and decrease of goat hunting permits from 41 to 38;
- close of hunting for jackrabbits; and
- addition of non-toxic shot requirements at about a dozen game bird hunting areas.
The Commission's protection of the loon was based on WDFW's limited surveys confirming only 20 pairs of nesting loons in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, King, Okanongan,and Whatcom counties. Lack of information about possible other nesting pairs prevents further designation as threatened or endangered and Commissioners encouraged WDFW staff to find ways to survey more intensively.
The Commission adopted three-tiered crab pot limits based on commercial vessels' best catch season out of the past three years, as part of a coastal Dungeness crab even flow harvest management plan. The new pot limits are a first step to reduce overall harvest by non-tribal crab fishers and to maintain an even flow of harvest to maximize economic benefits. Pot buoy identification by vessel requirements were also adopted.
The Commission applauded WDFW's assessment that the Snake River dams DEIS focuses too narrowly on alternatives that cannot stand alone to quickly aid recovery of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. WDFW recommends that the Corps and other federal agencies immediately take specific actions, from flow augmentation to funding hatchery marking of salmon, rather than risking the delay in benefits to fish that dam breaching poses.
In other action, the Commission:
- re-authorized landowner damage hunts to control deer and elk;
- approved regulations to support implementation of an automated licensing system; and
- discussed a youth fishing program plan to increase participation and fishing opportunities.