With less than three weeks before their presentation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Washington wildlife managers are still scrambling with late changes to proposals for 2012-2014 hunting regulations.
Details in the developing package are likely to please some hunters and make others seethe.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will hear the revised proposals and take the last round of public comment at its March 9-10 meeting in Moses Lake. Then the commission will have a chance to make more adjustments before adopting regulations at the April meeting in Olympia.
The final supplement of proposals Department of Fish and Wildlife staff will present to the commission isn’t likely to be posted on the agency’s website until late next week.
Dave Ware, the state wildlife program manager, said he would accept public comments on the supplemental proposals through March 2 or so, even though the published deadline is Tuesday.
The process started in August, when more than 3,000 people participated in public meetings and the online survey to sort priorities for changes in hunting season regulations.
After initially proposing just six changes to regulations, more proposals surfaced from sportsmen and landowners.
Some proposals appear to be easy calls, such as expanding the wild turkey season and reinstating the September Canada goose season.
The agency appears ready to drop other proposals, such as adding spring bear hunts and allowing elk hunters to apply for special permits anywhere in the state regardless of whether they buy an East- or West-Side tag.
Washington state advisory groups for waterfowl, upland bird and bio-diversity added their two cents over the past few months.
The state Game Management Advisory Council met as recently as Saturday in Ellensburg to debate several notable proposals. The 18 representatives from across the state ended each discussion with a vote advising the state to adopt or reject the proposal as follows.
— Expand antlerless elk hunting in the Colockum region. Advice: adopt.
— Eliminate either-sex elk general season hunts for the western Selkirk Elk Herd to increase elk numbers. Advice: adopt.
Only one person – a hunter – spoke against this proposal at the Spokane public meeting, while most hunters supported the plan to increase elk. At the Colville public meeting, several landowners spoke against the proposal, fearing more winter crop damage if the elk herd was increased.
— Reduce antlerless deer harvest by 50 percent in northeastern Washington by eliminating general season antlerless hunting for seniors. The proposal would offer only three days of antlerless season for youth and disabled and six days for late-season archers in units 105-121. Advice: adopt.
— Allow electronic decoys to be used for waterfowl hunting. Advice: reject.
This proposal originated from the Waterfowl Advisory Council, which is dominated by guides. The Game Management Council debated the distinction between technology that enhances a hunt and equipment that increases harvest. The council voted 14-4 to reject the proposal because electronic equipment would increase hunter success rates.
— Allow illuminated nocks on arrows for big-game hunting. Advice: adopt.
The debate centered on lighted nocks being an asset in retrieving arrows and game rather than a tool to kill more game.
–Change cougar seasons to Sept. 1-Dec. 31 for general any-weapon hunting followed by a Jan.1-March 31 general season in which game management units could be closed if quotas are reached. Advice: adopt.
— Replace master hunter general elk seasons in units surrounding Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge with master hunter antlerless damage control hunting by special permit. Advice: not conclusive.
This is perhaps the most contentious of the proposals, because it would disrupt a cozy relationship some hunters have had with landowners who control access to most of the land surrounding the refuge.
The plan also includes the controversial creation of a Landowner Hunting Permit program to allow more hunters access to the elk in units 127-130.
Department of Fish and Wildlife managers goofed by dropping this proposal on master hunters without advance discussion among hunters and landowners involved. Both sides made good arguments at public meetings.
The agency cites a 2002 commission policy to use master hunters for damage control hunts rather than offering them coveted incentive hunts.
The local hunters and landowners point out it’s not in anyone’s best interest to give a permit holder in, say, Tacoma a 24-hour period to drive over and try to hunt elk that are damaging crops on unfamiliar property.