Washington State black bears emerging sluggishly from their dens this spring won’t be facing high-powered rifles, thanks to a recent vote by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW)’s Fish and Wildlife Commission.

A 5-4 vote nixxed a proposal to allow 664 specially issued permits to target the animals in a spring hunt, with several Commissioners saying they needed more data and a better understanding of how the hunt would impact the state’s black bear populations.

Lady Freethinker thanks the more than 44,200 people who signed our petition denouncing this cruel and inhumane hunt – including the more than 600 Washington residents who signed or submitted public comments because of our petition.

We sent those signatures, and comments, to the DFW during the open public comment period and received confirmation that the information had been sent on to the proper people. Your voices were heard!

The spring hunt, while opposed by thousands within Washington, has taken place since the 1970s but came under scrutiny last November, when the Commission stopped plans for the 2022 hunt with a split 4-4 vote. A petition from a pro-hunting group reopened discussions, with provisions – on paper – to prohibit hunters from killing cubs or female bears with offspring.

But animal advocates, including LFT, spoke up – noting in particular that foraging mother bears aren’t always with their offspring and that hunters can’t always accurately tell the sex of a bear before they kill her. 

During this year’s deliberations, DFW Wildlife Program Director Eric Gardner identified the spring hunt as being primarily a “recreational hunting opportunity,” according to King 5.

While black bears are found in 41 U.S. states, spring bear hunts are only permitted in eight, including Washington, said nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Staff attorney Sophia Ressler said the hunt’s cancellation this year was abig win for both science and black bears.”

“The Commission once again told state wildlife officials that they won’t authorize a hunt without a proper analysis of the threats to Washington’s bears,” Ressler said.

The Humane Society of the United States-Washington also commended the vote, with Wildlife Program Director Dan Paul saying the spring hunt is “particularly cruel and inhumane.”

“They’ve come out of their dens from long hibernation. They’re groggy and weary and desperate for food. The mothers have been nursing and lactating,” Paul told King5. “So, the time when they’re really trying to just recover and sustain themselves, to have hunters take them out this particular time, it’s just particularly bad.”

The 9-member commission will discuss and update the state’s overall game management plan again in June, which could lead to a permanent ban on the hunts if the members are so inclined.

If these cruel hunts aren’t permanently ended, they’re likely to be a topic of controversy for years to come. 

“This is an ethics issue in our state,” Paul said. “We know that there’s a robust black bear population, but we’re not going to sit there and allow the bears to be sort of targeted this way in the spring. This is an issue that won’t go away.”