OLYMPIA – New hunting rules approved by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for the 2012-14 seasons will expand hunting opportunities for elk and cougar, but leave intact the statewide ban on using electronic decoys to attract waterfowl.
The commission, a nine-member citizen panel that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), took action on those and dozens of other proposed rules during a public meeting March 13-14 in Olympia.
With most of the state’s 10 elk herds increasing in size, the commission increased the number of bull-elk permits for the Nooksack, Blue Mountain and Yakima herds. Permits for antlerless elk were also increased in the Blue Mountain, Yakima, and Colockum areas.
In addition, a day was added to the general season for elk hunters using modern firearms in western Washington, giving those hunters a total of 12 days in the field this year.
“The health of our elk herds has shown real improvement since 2001, when the department started developing management plans specific to each herd,” said Commission Chair Miranda Wecker. “Most of our elk herds are now at or near the population goals established under those plans.”
The commission also expanded hunting seasons for cougar, reflecting changes in laws and management models for the species. Starting Sept. 1, the general hunting season will run through March 31 statewide, so long as harvest guidelines are not exceeded.
In addition, the commission added two landowners to the state’s Landowner Hunting Permit Program, which sets terms for special hunts on participants’ property. With the new additions in Spokane and Walla Walla counties, nine landowners are now enrolled in the program, all of them in eastern Washington.
But the commission rejected a proposal to lift the statewide ban on using electronic decoys to attract waterfowl. Also not adopted was a proposal to allow the use of illuminated arrow nocks, which make it easier for bow hunters to recover their arrows. The commission did, however, indicate a willingness to revisit that issue next year.
“The commission has struggled with the issue of allowing new technologies in hunting,” Wecker said. “It raises questions of fair chase, equal opportunity among hunters and the very tradition of the sport. The commission has to uphold those standards, and some of us believe we have to draw the line at the use of electronics.”
All of the changes approved by the commission will be posted on WDFW’s website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/) and incorporated into the state’s 2012 Big Game pamphlet, available later this month.
In other business, the commission approved a request by WDFW to purchase 1,144 acres along Asotin Creek in Asotin County and 49 acres on the Methow River in Okanogan County to maintain habitat for fish and wildlife.
Both properties support salmon and bull trout populations listed for protection under federal endangered species laws. The Asotin property also features shrub-steppe habitat beneficial to sharp-tailed grouse, elk, and bighorn sheep.
Also approved was a Statement on Wolves in Washington, developed by the commission to guide WDFW’s implementation of the state’s wolf plan. The final statement will be posted later this week on the commission’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.