TUMWATER – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today adopted new hunting rules for 2006-08 that expand hunting seasons for wild turkeys, add a day of elk hunting with modern firearms in western Washington and take steps to improve mule-deer buck survival on the east side of the state.
The commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also added 30 special-hunt permits in the Mount St. Helens area to address concerns about capacity of the scarred terrain to sustain the size of the local elk herd.
The new hunting rules, which take effect this year, reflect the overall health and stability of the state’s game animals, said Ron Ozment, who chairs the nine-member citizen commission.
“Hunters and state biologists alike are telling us that most game populations are stable or increasing after nearly a decade of mild winters,” Ozment said. “These hunting seasons reflect the current stability of most populations, while reducing hunting pressure in those local areas where certain species aren’t doing as well.”
WDFW wildlife managers submitted the three-year hunting plan for the commission’s consideration after a 14-month public-involvement process that elicited responses from 5,000 citizens across the state. During that process, several preliminary proposals – including those calling for expanded spike-only elk areas and three-point white-tailed deer units were dropped.
Key changes in hunting seasons approved by the commission include:
Deer: The general hunting season for mule deer in northcentral Washington will be reduced from 14 to nine days, although late-season special-hunt permits will be increased to provide late-season buck-hunting opportunities in the area. Also in that area, the commission approved additional hunting seasons for anterless mule deer to prevent them from over-browsing available forage. In addition, hunting opportunities for antlerless white-tailed deer will be expanded in areas of northeastern Washington for youth, seniors and people with disabilities. In Klickitat County, the black-tailed deer season in the Grayback game management unit will be reduced to 14 days and a three-point minimum buck regulation was put in its place to increase buck survival.
Elk: One day was added to the general modern firearm elk-hunting season in western Washington and 30 special-hunt permits were added in the Mount St. Helens area to address concerns about the area’s ability to sustain the size of the local elk herd. Another 19 special-hunt permits for bull elk were added in the Blue Mountains. In addition, more special-permit hunting opportunities were approved for for archers hunting elk from the Colockum herd.
Wild turkey: With wild turkey populations on the rise, the commission increased the annual bag limit to five birds (three in the spring and two in the fall) and expanded hunting seasons throughout the state. In northeast Washington, a new late-fall permit hunt will run Nov. 20 to Dec. 12. That will follow the current general hunt from Sept. 23 to Oct. 6, which coincides with a special-permit hunt in Klickitat County, Spokane County and four counties in southeast Washington. Starting in 2007, the spring hunt in all areas of the state will be expanded by one week through the end of May.
Pheasant: No changes were made in the opening dates for general seasons in eastern or western Washington. The eastern Washington season will continue to start the week after opening day of the modern firearm season for deer.
Black bear and cougar: The Copalis game management unit and several units in northeast Washington were added to a permit-only spring bear hunt. No significant changes were made in cougar-hunting rules.
Moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat: WDFW surveys indicate that current state populations of these animals are stable or increasing. In each of the next three years, the commission approved 100 hunting permits for moose, 35 for bighorn sheep and 16 for mountain goat.
Rules and seasons for trapping beavers, bobcat, river otters and other forbearing animals were unchanged through 2009.
In addition to establishing future hunting seasons, the commission adopted several measures affecting the type of hunting equipment hunters can use in the field. One action by the commission will expand restrictions on the use of electronic decoys and calls to turkey and deer hunters. On the other hand, state rules will no longer restrict the degree to which “let-off” technology makes it easier to draw a compound bow used in hunting.
“One challenge we face as a commission is to provide access to hunting, while maintaining the ethic of fair chase,” Ozment said. “People have strong feelings about these issues. I think we’ve struck a fair balance here today.”
(4/10/06 - Correction made in the third bulleted item)