This past winter the predator impact on ungulate populations in the state of Washington has been front and center. This blog will give you a couple of updates on what is going on and how you might be able to get involved.
After much pressure from sportsmen, in late January, the Wildlife Commission opened up a public comment period to consider a spring bear hunt again in 2022. The public can make comments online right now at the following link https://publicinput.com/SpringBearPetition102. I would encourage everyone reading this to put down a quick comment supporting the spring bear hunt as it is scientifically based and will not negatively impact the population. This will go to a decision probably in the next six weeks so fast action is needed. We know the anti-hunters will be making their voices heard, hunters need to continue to do the same. If the spring hunt is approved the season will run from May 1st to June 15th. This is a very important hunt as it helps reduce the predation on the ungulate population.
In the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington, a recent survey(2021) of elk calves discovered that only 9 of the 125 calves that were fitted with radio collars survived. The survey determined that predators accounted for most of the calf deaths. Of those it was determined that 70% of those predation mortalities were caused by cougars. Such a high mortality rate puts the long term health of the herd in jeopardy. Local county commissioners have made a petition to the WDFW to extend the cougar season in this area to increase the harvest. A recent predator study showed the Blue Mountains had a considerably higher density of cougars than any other area in the state. The Blue Mountains have historically held some of the biggest bulls in the state and the population right now is only about 50% of what it historically has been, hovering around 3600 animals which is down from 5700 in 2016.
The predator population in the State has been increasing since the mid 90’s when hunting with dogs and baiting were prohibited by an Initiative vote of the people. While Washington may not be a destination state for deer and elk hunters, perhaps it is time to shift the perspective and realize that Washington is probably one of the top states in the continental US for predator hunting. We have generous seasons and plenty of targets for those who get out there. The fall bear season that is open statewide has a bag limit of two bears and a season that opens August 1st. The early cougar season runs September 1st-December 31st, followed by a late season of January 1st-April 30th in units where the harvest guidelines have not been met. Both of these hunts offer a great opportunity to get out there and help the local deer and elk herds at a time where other hunting opportunities might be limited.