TWISP -- In response to public input received at their meeting here this weekend, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission postponed taking action on adjustments to a public safety cougar removal process to make greater improvements.
The Commission also adopted a ban on "robotic" duck decoys and set 2001-2002 waterfowl hunting seasons.
After hearing from at least 18 persons about cougar threats to children, pets, and livestock, the Commission voted unanimously to make decisions on cougar removals at their already scheduled workshop on August 17 in Cle Elum.
The nine-member board directed Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff to develop even more aggressive adjustments wherever possible to the year-old cougar removal permit system that allows use of dogs. That system was initiated last year at the direction of the 2000 state legislature, stemming from increased cougar problems since a 1996 ballot initiative banned the use of dogs to hunt cougars.
Only about 30% of all special permitees under last year's new system were able to remove cougars, however, so WDFW staff proposed ways to try to increase removal rates. One way was to modify the criteria used to determine locations because rates of reporting cougar sightings has been higher in urban/suburban areas than in rural areas. Another way was to set a quota system in which hunting would continue, repeatedly by successful hound hunters, until a target number of cougars is removed.
Commissioners asked WDFW staff to prepare for the Aug. 17 meeting by considering suggestions made by the public, including review of the benefits and legalities of pursuit-only cougar hunting to keep hound-hunters available for use and for behavior modification of cougars. They also suggested allowing only hound-hunters to apply for permits to improve the removal rate, and development of public education about cougars and the need for reporting incidents.
WDFW director Jeff Koenings told the Commission "we've listened to citizens on this issue and we'll flesh out a plan that's within our legal sideboards to address public safety cougar problems. We came here to change this process because we were not successful with it last year, and we will make changes later this month."
In a 6-2 vote, the Commission adopted a ban on waterfowl hunting with battery-powered or electronic decoys.
Commission chairman Russ Cahill, who was among the six in favor of the ban, called it a "fair chase" issue. Cahill said many waterfowlers he heard from said use of the so-called "robotic" decoys "just increases the killing, not hunting participation." Other Commissioners expressed concern about increased harvest resulting in future restrictions on waterfowl hunting. Commissioners Kelly White and Will Roehl voted against the ban; Commissioner Fred Shiosaki was absent during that vote.
Under federal migratory guidelines, the Commission adopted the 2001-02 waterfowl hunting seasons and rules with calendar date adjustments and the following changes from last year's season:
- A new Brant hunt in Skagit and Pacific counties will be open only on Nov. 17, 18, 21, 24, and 25, and the traditional five-day January season was adopted; if brant numbers are too low in January, that season may be cancelled, as it was last year;
- Canvasback duck hunting will be closed Oct. 6 - Dec. 14, due to a nationwide decline in the species;
- Hunters in all of Grays Harbor County will be required to obtain a special permit for Canada geese, as already required in other parts of southwest Washington, to protect the dusky subspecies that has been documented there.
Complete waterfowl hunting seasons and rules will be available in pamphlet form and on WDFW's website (www.wdfw.wa.gov) in early September.
In other business, the Commission:
- allowed qualifying disabled hunters to use modified archery equipment, but not crossbows;
- adopted rules for special trapping permits to use certain body-gripping traps for animal nuisance problems or for legitimate wildlife research;
- adopted standards on shipping ballast water management to minimize the risk of introducing nuisance and deleterious aquatic species;
- delegated authority to the director to adopt new federally-approved non-toxic shot types for waterfowl hunting, as they become available;
- amended Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group geographic boundaries to align more with the state's Water Resource Inventory Areas;
- approved land transactions in Clallam County for salmon habitat;
- adopted Puget Sound commercial crab buoy tag rules to improve enforcement of crab pot limits;
- advanced rule making on the definition of the southern boundary of the Medicine Creek Tribes' ceded area after a briefing on that process;
- heard a report on Washington's endangered pygmy rabbits and emergency action to capture rabbits for captive breeding and rearing at Washington State University for later release to avoid extinction;
- heard a report on domestic livestock grazing permits on WDFW lands;
- and were briefed on proposed 2002 supplemental operating budget and legislation requests.