Today, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to set aside a spring black bear trophy hunt in 2022, acknowledging widespread public opposition to the hunt. Thousands of people submitted written and oral comments to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Commission to oppose it, consistent with a 2019 report by the National Shooting Sports Foundation which found that the majority of westerners, including Washingtonians, are opposed to spring bear hunting.
Historically, Washington has been one of only eight states to allow a bear hunt during the spring, a time of year when bears are extremely vulnerable and malnourished after months of hibernation. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also permits the trophy hunting of mother bears and even cubs, meaning that trophy hunters were allowed to kill these vulnerable animals just months after birth.
WDFW estimated that trophy hunters would kill as many as 145 black bears during the 2022 spring hunt if approved by the Commission. For context, nearly 2,000 black bears were killed during Washington’s last fall hunt. WDFW claimed the hunt was important to “carry forward a longstanding recreational hunting opportunity” and to “address bear management.” However, WDFW was unable to provide any sufficient evidence to show that indiscriminately killing 145 black bears would have any meaningful impact on bear management in the state.
Dan Paul, Washington senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said: “We applaud the Commission’s decision to pause the spring black bear hunt in 2022, which would have allowed trophy hunters to kill bears, including mothers and cubs, when they are at their most vulnerable. Today, we saw the Commission turning the page for Washington’s wildlife, prioritizing science-based, ethical management over the interests of a handful of trophy hunters. We look forward to continuing our work with WDFW to find commonsense, nonlethal strategies to manage and prevent conflicts with wildlife, and we urge the Commission to adopt this position for future seasons.”
More than 50,000 U.S. black bears were killed by trophy hunters in 2020 alone. Over the last ten years, trophy hunters have killed more than 18,000 black bears in Washington, which is more than in any other western state except Idaho and Alaska. The Commission’s vote to prohibit the 2022 spring bear hunt is historic for Washington and for the protection of bears across the country.
- Spring bear hunts are especially cruel because trophy hunters often kill mother bears with newborn cubs. These orphaned cubs cannot survive without their mothers and will inevitably die from starvation, predation or exposure to the elements. During the 2021 Washington spring bear hunt, trophy hunters killed 45 female bears, likely resulting in the orphaning and death of numerous cubs.
- Bears are easy targets for trophy hunters in the spring when they’re emerging from the hibernation den and lethargic from months of sleep. Bears are in poor body condition after spending the whole winter without food – especially pregnant bears, who by spring have given birth and nursed their cubs relying solely upon their fat reserves.
- Mother bears may forage at long distances from their cubs, resulting in hunters often killing lactating female bears. Hunters have difficulty determining the sex and nursing status of black bears.
- Research shows that spring bear hunts do not address human-bear conflicts and may even worsen conflicts. Bear biologists have warned that trying to kill our way out of conflicts will result in black bear extirpation (localized extinction) in some places. Residents must do more to prevent attracting bears to places where they don’t want them.
- Because of climate change, bears are out of the den for longer periods of time. Non-lethal deterrents, such as stowing garbage in bear-resistant containers, are far more effective at preventing conflicts than a spring trophy hunting season.
- Bears are highly intelligent, and provide specific benefits to the ecosystem, spreading more seeds than birds, opening up forest canopies allowing sunlight to filter to the forest floor and enhancing biological diversity, and their feeding habits near riparian corridors help to fertilize trees with fish carcasses and their own nitrogen-rich urine. New research also finds that bears act as shields for gray foxes from other larger carnivores.