Regulatory policy

Washington wildlife policymakers meet in Colville to discuss spring bear hunting and caribou protection

Washington wildlife policymakers will discuss an assortment of topics – including the decision to keep caribou on the endangered species list despite local extinction and a discussion of spring bear hunting – at an upcoming meeting in northeast Washington.

Meanwhile, lingering local concerns about predators — primarily wolves and cougars — may bring fireworks during the public comment portion of the three-day meeting. The meeting will also be available live online (see box).

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-person regulator appointed by the governor, will meet in Colville Thursday through Saturday. The commission sets general policy for the WDFW and is responsible for preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable opportunities for recreational and commercial harvesting of fish and wildlife.

While no action will be taken on the controversial spring bear hunt, this agenda item will likely attract the most public attention. In 2021, the commission suspended the long-running spring bear hunt despite agency biologists recommending the hunt continue.

The discussion is about how the process of creating policies, such as the hunting ban, should look like, said Eastern Washington Commissioner Kim Thorburn.

The other notable topic for eastern Washington is whether mountain caribou should retain their endangered status. Although mountain caribou disappeared from Washington, Idaho and Montana after Canadian biologists captured the sole surviving member of a caribou herd that still occasionally roamed Idaho in 2019, it is still listed as an endangered species at the federal and state levels.

These listings provide certain protections and other restrictions on land suitable for caribou. Maintaining the state list is important to the Kalispel Tribe, who hope to reintroduce caribou to the Selkirks of Idaho and Washington in concert with Canadian authorities.

“This is a very important status review for our co-managers, the Kalispels,” Thorburn said.

Meanwhile, residents of northeastern Washington plan to address the commission during its public comment section. Of particular concern to some is a perceived increase in cougars and, therefore, more cougar-human interactions and a decrease in ungulates. Wolves, the majority of which live in northeastern Washington, are also of concern.

The area has a “runaway predator problem,” said Dale Magart, secretary of the Colville-based Northeast Washington Wildlife Group, which has about 40 active members.

He plans to address the commission and ask them to “look at the big picture” and deal with predators more aggressively.