The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has extended a statewide fishing ban and put the spring turkey season on hold.
Monday’s order will extend through at least May 4. The spring turkey season was scheduled to open April 15 and close May 31. If hunting is reopened May 4, hunters will be able to finish the season.
“Local public health authorities have relayed to us with their concerns regarding the risk that hunting, fishing and recreational travel poses to their communities right now,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind in a news release. “With the support of the Governor’s office we’re asking people to put their recreation plans on pause while we work together to get this situation under control.”
The extensions also impact spring black bear hunting, which was set to open April 15 as well.
Refunds for licenses and permits, if initiated before opening day, are available. Hunters can also get their points reinstated for spring bear season if requested prior to the start of the season, according to the agency release.
On March 25, WDFW closed fishing statewide, following the Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The closure angered many anglers who wished for a more targeted approach. WDFW also canceled the youth turkey hunting season (set to open April 1) and black bear hunting in some units. The agency also closed access to WDFW owned lands.
WDFW considered more limited closures, said WDFW deputy director Amy Windrope in an interview last week. After talking to wildlife managers in other states, officials deemed that would put enforcement officers at more risk of infection and, potentially, encourage travel.
In particular, more targeted closures bring up issues of equity and enforcement, said Susewind last week. For instance, a proposal that would allow people to hunt or fish only in their county of residence would be difficult to enforce and not fair to some.
But, ultimately the closures aren’t about equity or enforcement, they’re about public health, he said.
“We need to make the decisions based on how it affects the community,” he said. “Not whether an individual could actually participate in a way that was safe.”
He called the entire saga “one of the greatest challenges of our day.”
“The scary part is, we’re just getting started,” he said.
Numerous petitions, including at least one sent by a number of state legislators, were filed with Gov. Inslee and WDFW during the past weeks. Those are in addition to more informal calls to boycott the agency tasked with managing Washington’s wildlife.
Susewind pushed back on calls to boycott, encouraging everyone to take the long view.
“These aren’t easy decisions or light decisions,” he said. “We agonize over these closures. We spend our careers trying to provide these opportunities. I would just encourage folks to look at the bigger picture. We will be here when this is over. We will be partners when this is over.”
Because the spring turkey season is toms only, the closure likely won’t have a big impact on the overall turkey population, said Annemarie Prince, northeast district wildlife biologist.