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Spring Bear Hunting Seasons

Spring Bear Hunting Seasons

By: Marie Neumiller, INWC Executive Director

*Quick disclaimer – I started hunting birds with my dad as a child, and then as an adult I began hunting big game more frequently, but I have yet to go on a spring bear hunt. So when the spring bear permit decision blew up at the December WDFW commission meeting [1] I realized that I had a lot of learning to do. I would like to give special thanks to Commissioner Kim Thornburn and WDFW Game Division Manager Anis Aoude for taking time to; answer my questions, educate me in general bear management/conservation, and clear up my misunderstandings. Also, thank you to Clay Newcomb (Bear Hunting Magazine/Meat Eater), Bruce Tague (Sportsmen’s alliance), Jacob Hupp (Sportsmen’s alliance), and Jesse Ingles (Cattlemen’s association) for talking time to talk with me on this issue in depth. Your INWC representatives have spent the better part of the past month sifting through research and talking with reliable sources to be able to share a wide variety of information on the topic. Our hope is that the following article will present valuable information so that you can decide on the issue currently brewing in Washington State.

Spring Bear Permits in Washington State

The Spring bear season in Washington State is a part of the overall game management plan [2]. “The majority of bear hunting opportunity is in the fall, but a limited permit-only spring hunt is available. Spring hunts are designed to address emerging management needs, such as bear damage to trees in commercial timberlands, bear-human conflict, or to more evenly distribute harvest compared to fall seasons,” [2] (pg 101). Each year WDFW employees evaluate conservation goals for each area. They pair those goals with bear harvest data from past years and set new permit number suggestions for each of the bear units individually. These adjusted numbers are then presented to the Commission for approval prior to selling raffle entries. This permit hunt, as opposed to an over-the-counter hunt, allows the department to fine tune the take numbers and ensure population balance in each individual hunting area.

Bear Behavior in Spring

As temperatures begin to rise in the spring, bears awaken from their extended slumber. However, science has found that bears do not all emerge at the same time, and their overall hibernation period ranges from 131-171 days. As noted by the National Park Service [3], “Male bears emerge first, usually from early to mid-March (average days denned = 131 days), followed by solitary females and females with yearlings or two-year-olds (average days denned = 151 days) in late March through mid-April (Haroldson et al. 2002). Last to emerge are females with new-born cubs (average days denned = 171), from mid-April through early May. Males, sub adults, solitary females and females with yearlings or two-year-olds usually leave the vicinity of their den within a week of emergence while females with new-born cubs remain in the general vicinity of the den for several more weeks.”

Image courtesy of Jason Neumiller

As for predation, bears tend to only be a threat to ungulate (deer, elk, and moose) youth in spring and early summer.  Bears are omnivores that are on a constant search for foods that will provide the most calories while expending the least number of calories.  In spring, black bears seek out sugar rich, quick growing grasses, which also tend to be ideal locations for ungulates to hide their fawns/calves. Being opportunistic by nature bears will take advantage of this situation which contributes to spring being the highest time of predation by bears. After about July these solitary hunters will generally stop preying on ungulate young as they begin to reach a more formidable size. They will instead seek out insects, plants, and carrion as their primary food sources (excepting for years of low plant yields or over grazing).

Image courtesy of RL Erdahl Photographics

Arguments Against Spring Season

Let us start with the elephant in the room – orphaned cubs. Many groups that oppose spring bear hunting have a shared mantra, “one bullet kills an entire family.” Hollywood and hunting opposition groups will paint a picture of mama bear and her cubs all cozy in their beds in their quaint cave. Mama bear heads out of the cave to gather berries for her sweet babies not knowing that an evil hunter is lying prone a short distance away gun scope trained on the cave opening, intent on killing the sow and by proxy her cubs. Is this an emotional argument, or does the science support the claim that spring bear hunting is causing cubs to be orphaned in masse potentially putting bear populations at risk?

The “Orphans from Spring Harvest” study [4] conducted out of Manitoba set out to answer that exact question. The study found that, “The 41 cubs that may have been orphaned each spring hunting season represented <2% of those that may die annually from natural causes,” (pg 30). They noted that, “comparing the estimates of orphaned cubs to those that die from natural causes (starvation, cannibalism, abandonment, predation, disease, human-related accidents) adds perspective to the situation,” (pg 30). After evaluating all the data collected over the study’s four-year period (1996-2000) these researchers concluded that, “The spring hunting season is a valuable wildlife management tool. It can be used to reduce or maintain black bear population at or below biological or cultural carrying capacity, thereby reducing, or maintaining problem bear incidents at tolerable levels in a cost-effective manner.

Image courtesy of RL Erdahl Photographics

The second argument commonly made is that weak and vulnerable sows will cache their cubs in trees while they seek food so hunters cannot properly identify sows with cubs. The results from the Manitoba study again directly contradict the argument. “The spring bear hunting season, when there are few other hunting opportunities, distributes hunting pressure over a greater period, gives hunters the advantage of short and sparse vegetation (which increases detectability of cubs with female bears).” [4] (pg 32). In fact, they found that spring bear seasons tend to help, ““…select against nursing females because they are less mobile and tend to avoid areas of disturbance.”

Benefits of a Spring Season

Black bears have little to no natural predators, in fact “hunting is the largest source of mortality for bear populations where hunting is allowed (Bunnell and Tait 1985, Pelton 2000)” If we were to remove spring season, or bear hunting altogether, then the black bear populations could be allowed to grow unchecked. Leading to a reduction in food sources as habitat becomes over utilized and ungulates become over predated. It would take a few years to see the direct effects of food sources being depleted by increasing populations. Without proper management we could see increased human-bear conflicts as bears move into populated areas in a desperate attempt to find food. We could also see an increase in cubs abandoned by their mothers and left to starve as the sows begin to realize that they can no longer provide for both themselves and their young. If the food source remained poor, then bear populations could face another major setback, the loss of new births. Bear reproductions can be a delicate matter as “food quality and availability largely influence reproductive potential in a density independent manner… considered 35 kg to be the threshold body mass for females to come into estrus in Quebec.” [4] (pg 28). Making food quality and availability vital to black bear reproduction.

According to WDFW [2], “Washington has a unique and challenging situation when it comes to the management of our black bear population. Washington is the smallest of the 11 western states, yet has the second highest human population; a population that continues to grow at record levels.” (pg 102). This challenge makes appropriate game management vital as we cannot afford to wait for nature to balance itself out, after food source loss, given the encroachment on wild habitat and human caused changes to our climate.

Spring bear seasons serve so much more than just timber protection. When effectively managed a spring bear hunting season can; improve ungulate youth survival rates, balance black bear populations, balance overall hunting season pressure on bears, reduce human/bear conflicts, provide quality recreational opportunities, while also providing quality food for hunters and their families. As stated in the Manitoba study [4], the spring season, “…supports the rural economy and the tourism industry, offers hunters the opportunity to harvest an animal when its coat is prime and the meat less fat and more palatable,” (pg 32).

Real Spring Bear Hunting – Not Hollywood

The hunting opposition groups would have you believe that weak bears are being harvested in mass as they exit their dens with no regard for cubs. The truth could not be any farther from this image being portrayed. In fact, the spring harvest is minimal by design so that it can be used as a fine tool in the management plan. “Since 2006, the average harvest during fall and spring (excludes bears harvested under depredation permits) seasons were 1,549 and 21 bears, respectively,” [2] (pg 101).

Father/son bonding time a recent hunting & scouting trip

Real spring hunting involves many long back country hikes in search of quarry. Washington based PN Wild did an excellent job of documenting what a full spring bear hunt really is. From the excitement of the draw, scouting efforts, the joy of being outdoors with family and friends, hard work, setbacks, perseverance, inclement weather, and so much more. You can view both episode 1 and episode 2 of their 2020 spring bear hunt on their YouTube channel [5]

You Decide

How do you feel about spring bear hunting seasons? We love to hear from our members and the public. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (proverbs 27:17). Please share your thoughts, experiences and/or photos in the comments section or by email at inwcexec@gmail.com.

Referenced Sources:

[1] https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission/meetings/2020/december-3-5-2020-meeting-transcript

[2] https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/01676/wdfw01676.pdf

[3] https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/denning.htm

[4] https://www.bearbiology.org/publications/ursus-archive/using-reproductive-data-to-model-american-black-bear-cub-orphaning-in-manitoba-due-to-spring-harvest-of-females/hristienko_pastuck_15_1_/ [5] https://www.youtube.com/c/PNWild/featured

Fire Updates

Fire Updates

The 2020 fire season started with a vengeance, with over 330,000 acres of land burning in a single day. Public lands commissioner Hilary Franz called it a, “historic fire event,” with “58 new wildfire starts and nine large fires on the landscape, compounded by hurricane-level winds.” Many of these fires are still burning throughout the state and the fire danger remains high especially in Eastern Washington.

Closures

As a result of the fires, our area has seen the following closures:

*The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has closed all of the public lands that they manage East of the Cascade Mountains through September 17th, though that closure could be extended if weather conditions do not improve. *DNR reopened their lands on September 18, 2020 visit dnr.wa.gov for current information.

*Hancock Natural Resource Group, a partner with our disabled access program, has closed their lands to all recreation at this time (you can find updates Hancock here). This includes the Huckleberry and Blanchard hump disabled access areas. We will continue to update our disabled access program participants as we receive more information. *Access to Hancock property will reopen on October 6, 2020.

*At the commission meeting on Friday, September 11th, it was announced that WDFW would be employing an education campaign instead of closing WDFW lands as hunting seasons are opening. Below is their informational sheet (more in-depth WDFW fire updates can be found here)

Before you go outdoors

*Check the conditions in the area that you will be visiting. The greater Spokane area is circled by fires at varying levels of containment, please make sure an area is safe before heading out.

*Be aware of the air quality. As of Saturday, September 12th the air quality in Spokane was listed at hazardous and considered unsafe for for the entire population.

*Pack smart for the back country – Officials are advising a cold camp so skip the Mountain Home and coffee over a propane stove and instead pack food/beverage options that do not need to be heated.

Stay safe and recreate with caution during this time!

Responsible Recreation

One of the silver-linings of COVID-19 is that many people are discovering/re-discovering all the amazing outdoor recreational opportunities that our area has to offer.  Hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, bird watching, mountaineering, horseback riding and so much more! Nothing quite matches the quiet offered by the outdoors. This temporary freedom from the hustle and bustle of everyday life relaxes and rejuvenates many who seek the outdoors as their refuge. In addition to the peace and quiet, the outdoor community has the small town feel reminiscent of a simpler time. However, to preserve the peace, tranquility, and beauty of these wild spaces we each must do our part: 

Pack it in – Pack it out 

Nothing ruins an outing quicker than stumbling across a pile of someone else’s trash while enjoying the outdoors.  Not only does litter mar the beautiful landscape, but it can create hazards for the wildlife that call the area home.  You might think that the one wrapper that you left behind will not have much of an effect, but it all adds up quickly.  In fact, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, “Every year in Washington, more than 12 million pounds of litter is tossed and blown onto highways and roads. Another 6 million pounds is tossed in parks and recreation areas.” (https://ecology.wa.gov/Waste-Toxics/Solid-waste-litter/Litter). 

(Photo from WDFW facebook post showing litter at public dock)

Wild animals are naturally curious, constantly searching for food and have no understanding of the dangers presented by things like plastic wrappers or aluminum cans.  Their excellent sense of smell usually helps wild animals find food and unfortunately attracts them to the food smells remaining on litter.  Which sadly can lead to animals and fish being choked or strangled by the mess we left behind.  Whenever you head outdoors bring along a container to hold all your garbage so that you can make sure everything you pack into the woods packs back out with you.  

Speak Softly 

Wild animals are naturally shy, their survival instincts encourage them to constantly be on alert and ready to flee from danger.  One of the great joys of recreating outdoors is the opportunity to view these shy creatures in their natural habitat.  If you are making too much noise while you are out exploring, you will not get the opportunity to see these animals and others nearby will lose their opportunities as well.  Some animals, like the threatened Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, “are sensitive to human disturbance. Do not flush or otherwise disturb these birds.” (https://wdfw.wa.gov/places-to-go/wildlife-areas/swanson-lakes-wildlife-area-unit).  If you recreate in a way that maintains the peaceful nature of outdoors you may receive the opportunity to view some of the rare and beautiful species out in the wild. 

There are, however, exceptions to this rule that need to be remembered.  If you are exploring in predator rich areas, especially bear country, it is recommended that you make a bit of noise to avoid “surprising” those predators.   Walking sticks with bear bells, periodically clapping your hands, or normal conversation are all methods that will let bears and other predators know that you are in the area and they will most likely attempt to avoid you.  Most bear attacks occur when a bear is surprised by a human and feels the need to defend their young or their food. 

Leave it as you found it 

Pretty flowers, unique rocks or even driftwood can be very tempting to take home as souvenirs.  Not only does it affect the habitat but in some areas, like national parks, it can be illegal to remove natural objects.  Instead of loading up on treasures from the field consider taking a camera along on your outings and creating a photo journal to display all your finds.  That way theses treasures remain for other outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy.  Theodore Roosevelt said it best when he declared that, “wild flowers should be enjoyed unplucked where they grow.” 

(Photo courtesy of INWC member Jason Neumiller)

Other important considerations to maintaining the beauty of these wild spaces is to tread lightly. Here’s a short list of ways you can minimize your impact when recreating outdoors: stick to maintained trails when available, avoid drilling or cutting into trees for things like hammocks, if you clear an area of stones/pinecones for a tent site be sure return them before you leave. 

Act Neighborly 

The outdoor community can be quite a tight knit and supportive group and it is up to each of us to maintain that sense of community.  It can be as simple as waving to a passing car on a backroad, smiling at those you pass while out on your adventures, or stopping to help someone.  Other ways to contribute to this community include mentoring someone interested in your sport or joining a local conservation group and/or sporting club like the INWC and becoming an active volunteer. 

If we all take a few simple steps each time that we head out into the wild spaces, we can ensure that these areas and the numerous gifts that they have to offer are preserved for generations to come.  Not just for us and our children, but also for the wildlife that call these areas home. 

Fish Quiz

How many Washington State fish can you name? Test your fish skills in our quiz, share your results to compete against your friends.

Tracks Quiz

We may not always have a chance to see wildlife in the woods, but they often leave tracks behind. Are you able to identify the tracks that you pass while out on your adventures? Test your skills with our track quiz, bragging rights if you can identify the track without using the hints.

Wildlife Quiz

Are you an expert at identifying the wildlife of Washington State? Take our quiz to test your skill!

Providing Access and Opportunity for all Disabled Sportsmen

Ten years ago the INWC had a vision of providing better hunting opportunities for disabled hunters, specifically those in wheelchairs.  A number of wheelchair platforms with ramps were built and soon deployed to several locations in the Colville National Forest (one on Brewer Mtn, and two on Betty Cr), One on Inland Empire Paper Company land (which somehow later was stolen!), while some were donated to the Boy Scouts, and one currently sits out on Vern Zieglers land and will soon return to the warehouse for maintenance and redeployment.  Finally, two additional sat out behind the warehouse as spares awaiting a location to be used.

Barrier Free

Today we stand on the shoulders of the men and women who worked to make that vision a reality.  Little did I know that when I signed on with this outfit at the BHS back in 2014, that I would someday become the chair of the Disabled Access Committee.  In the late winter of 2016, Larry Carey passed the baton to me, along with some sage advice on the who, what, where, and when of this committee.  So, here’s a short run down of what has happened since then …

With the three platforms that were already up in the Colville National Forest, and had been there for seven years at that time, I began making an annual trip up to inspect them for any needed maintenance.  Seeing as those three seemed to be faring well, our attention was now needed in making sure the Application process for the Inland Empire Paper Co disabled hunter program progressed as normal.  Jean and Wanda were a huge help in getting this done. 

Somewhere along the way, having two spare platforms out behind the warehouse didn’t seem right to me.  Surely, there must be a place we could put these where they could be used.  I started asking questions at the WDFW office, and was given the contact info of Daro Palmer, Asst Mgr for the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area.  After trading some emails, and visiting the Rustler’s Gulch Unit of the WLA, he agreed to let us put one out there.  After Pete Butler and I scouted the area for the right location, we informed Mr. Palmer, and scheduled a work party.  And in October of 2018, Pete, Matt Mimnaugh, myself, and one of Daro’s field tech’s installed the wheelchair platform on the low side of Rustlers Gulch Wildlife Area just off of the Holly Rd.  We must have done a pretty good job, the following Spring we were invited to install one at the Sherman Creek Unit near Kettle Falls.  It was preparing this platform that I realized the existing ramps were not ADA approved.  We modified the ramps to meet the current spec, and with help from several members: and Daro Palmer, it was installed without a problem, and huckleberry shakes for everyone on the way home.  Within the next two months, we had modified the ramp at Rustler’s Gulch and Brewer Mtn, to include moving the Brewer Mtn platform outside of a timber sale area to a new location on the same mountain.

Then one year ago, after learning that a freshman at CVHS was looking for an Eagle Scout project, I reached out to him, shared the idea, then met with him and his father, who then agreed to move forward with the proposal.  When the project got the go ahead, we used funds from our committee budget to purchase the materials.  Member Jack O’Brien and I pre-cut all the materials on a Friday afternoon, and Saturday morning the Scouts showed up at the warehouse with two adult leaders, and after I shared some initial instructions and safety precautions, the boys got started, led by the Eagle Scout candidate.  The boys exercised incredible initiative, asked for clarification when in doubt, and left this old man very impressed that they had completely assembled the entire platform, ramp and handrails in just three hours.  Two weeks later, we loaded it on Daryl Bush’s truck, and he, Cody Bush, Ron Zubrick and myself led the way up to Squirrel Meadows with the scouts right behind us.  The same dedication to the task at hand that they showed me during assembly was once again demonstrated on site.

So what’s next?  We are currently in the process of removing the two platforms from Betty Creek which are in a Road Access Entry Program (RAEP) area and bringing them back to the warehouse for repairs and some fresh stain.  Since the RAEP on Betty Creek is a lottery draw, we have decided to relocate them to other areas within the Colville National Forests Disabled Hunting Program.  The platform on Brewer Mtn is already a part of this program, as is the one installed at Squirrel Meadows.  Aladdin Mtn is also part of the program but does not have a platform as of yet.

We have also received confirmation this week from WDFW’s ADA Advisory Council, through our own Ron Zubrick, who is an ADAAC member, that they will be providing the funding for us to build two brand new platforms.  Along with the two from Betty Creek that will be updated soon, those four platforms will find new homes at Aladdin Mtn (2 ea), Rustler’s Gulch (1 more), and Blanchard Hump. 

As you know, the Hancock Paper Company has provided two parcels to us for disabled hunting: Little Sweden and Huckleberry – both within GMU 121.  Access to the Little Sweden parcel has been difficult the past few years.  As we have jumped through all the hoops to get permission to install a platform on Hancock property, we were able to work out an agreement with them that if they would allow us access to one of their tracts at Blanchard Hump, then we would surrender Little Sweden from the program.   I will be scouting that area with a WDFW private lands biologist soon, and by the time you read this newsletter, it will have already been scouted, and a suitable location flagged for platform installation very soon.

Of course none of this would be even remotely possible without the continued support of all of you, and the hard working volunteers that have helped so much the past few years: Matt Mimnaugh, Pete Butler, David Chromy, Jack O’Brien, Phil George, Rich Furry, Ken Hoff, Jason Neumiller, Z Zubrick, Daryl and Cody Bush, (I’m sure I’ve forgotten a name or two) and a few non-members.

With the needed repairs to be done on two platforms, and building of two new ones – any help is appreciated.  While we still have to remember the current COVID restrictions, work parties of five or less are still approved.  If interested in assisting, please contact me.  I will add you to an email list created just for Disabled Access.  Your continued support, and sore backs are greatly appreciated.

The vision to birth this program along with the tireless dedication and passion to see access and opportunity for all disbaled sportsmen will continue to move forward … with people like you!

 

Respectfully,

Ken McNaughton, Chair

Disabled Access Committee