Washington Court Rules Against Giving Private Hunters Black Bear Hunting Permits

In this May 17, 2015, file photo, a Louisiana black bear, sub-species of the black bear that was protected under the Endangered Species Act, is seen in a water oak tree in Marksville, Louisiana. Gerald Herbert/AP

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will no longer offer black bear hunting permits to timberland owners intent on protecting trees from the animals, a federal court has ruled.

The Court of Appeals in Tacoma ruled on Tuesday that the practice violated a voter-approved initiative from 1996 which banned private hunters from using bait, hounds, and traps to remove problematic bears. By contrast, public employees are permitted to do so to protect public land.

The three-judge appeals court unanimously overruled a Thurston County Superior Court decisions which upheld the WDFW’s policy in 2019. The decision was in response to a lawsuit originally filed against WDFW by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Timberland owners and the WDFW held the position that killing the bears to protect private property was constitutional.

“We know that this is a controversial issue and that people feel passionately on both sides,” said WDFW Wildlife Program Director Eric Gardner. “We remain committed to working with a diversity of Washington citizens on ways to address bear timber damage and conflict and ultimately maintain sustainable black bear populations for future Washington generations.”

Judges Lisa Worswick, Anne Cruser, and Rich Melnick concluded that the r protects public and private property.

“The rule allows the department to issue permits to any hunter ‘authorized by’ the agency, but statute requires that the hunter be an ‘agent’ of a county, state or federal agency,” Judge Rich Melnick wrote.

The Center for Biological Diversity will continue to press to eliminate the program and would lobby against the Legislature changing the law to allow landowners to use private hunters, said Collette Adkins, the group’s carnivore conservation director and senior attorney.

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SOURCE: The Center Square