OLYMPIA - With participation in a mandatory postseason hunting report program declining every year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has proposed adding a fee of up to $50 to the cost of licenses for those hunters who fail to submit their information on time.
As of mid-January, only 31 percent of hunters who purchased a 2004 deer, elk, black bear or turkey tag had submitted their hunting information. The reports are due by Jan. 31.
"Compared to past years, we should have received a significantly higher number of reports by now," said Dave Ware, WDFW Game Division Manager. The number of hunters who meet the deadline has decreased every year since 2001 when the mandatory reporting program was put in place.
"Hunter report data is a critical component of our management of game species throughout the state," Ware said. "Declining compliance has the potential to seriously compromise our ability to determine hunting season impacts on game populations."
Currently, failure to report hunting activity is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail. The penalties would be replaced by the fee beginning January 2006.
"The idea of the administrative fee is to decriminalize failure to report and increase the number of hunters reporting on time," Ware said. "We don't want to put hunters in jail for not following the reporting rules, but we really need this hunting data," Ware said.
The proposal, which still needs approval by the Washington State Legislature, is the latest attempt at improving hunter compliance in the reporting program. Since the program's inception, WDFW has added a drawing for special hunting permits as an incentive to hunters to file their reports early.
"We also send reminder postcards to hunters prior to the reporting deadline, but we're still not getting the compliance we need," Ware said.
Funds generated by the proposed fee would be used to expand outreach efforts that encourage and assist hunters in reporting, to improve the reporting system and to improve the accuracy of harvest information.
Hunters can file their harvest reports by an automated, toll-free phone line at 1-877-945-3492, or via the Internet at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov.