…in British Columbia and hope a similar
ban is not adopted in the territory.
“It will probably put some pressure on the Yukon to start limiting the
grizzly hunt,” said Neil Cosco, an outfitter who guides clients north of
B.C.’s Natural Resources Minister Doug Donaldson said the ban, which comes
into effect at the end of November, is not about numbers but rather reflects
changing social norms.
About 250 grizzlies are killed annually by hunters in B.C., a number
Donaldson said is “sustainable” for the population estimated at 15,000
bears, but he said public opinion on the practice has turned.
‘Unfortunate political move’
Cosco calls it an unfortunate political move.
“Grizzly bears… become a political topic, so people look at grizzly bears
in isolation where it should be part of holistic game management, where if
you’re managing the prey species you need to manage the predators,” he said.
Outfitter Don Lind, who guides in central Yukon, also questions the B.C.
“I don’t see how a new government could get in there and assess the
situation and make a decision that rapidly, other than it’s a political
According to the Yukon Outfitters Association, about 80 grizzly bears are
hunted annually in the Yukon, and although it’s one of the more popular
species for visiting hunters, it comes after Dall sheep and moose.
Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson hopes the ban in B.C. on trophy hunting grizzly
bears will lead the territorial government to take a closer look at grizzly
Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson says the territorial government should look at
the Yukon grizzly hunting situation and how B.C.’s decision might affect the
“My initial reaction is, what are we going to do in the Yukon?” Hanson said.
“The issue of how we treat our grizzly bear population is not something
that’s new here and my concern was – when I saw this ban in British Columbia
– that there would be increased pressure on big game outfitting by the big
game outfitting industry in the Yukon.”
“We don’t even know in the Yukon for sure how many grizzlies there are. If
you look at the government’s website they talk about maybe six or seven
thousand. They do say that there are some concerns,” she said.
Hanson wants to see the government step up research and make informed
decisions about the bear population.
“I would hope that they would now use this as a spur to work with the Fish
and Wildlife Management Board to get the data, and take action if necessary.
And, if that means that there is ultimately a ban, then maybe that’s where
we have to go,” she said.
Yukon Environment Minister Pauline Frost was unavailable for comment
But the department noted in a statement that it’s already working on a plan
“related to grizzly bear conservation and species management.”
It says that plan will provide “direction for addressing the range of values
and issues related to conservation and management, in this case for grizzly
bears, across Yukon.”
The BC SPCA is applauding the provincial government’s move to end British Columbia’s grizzly bear trophy hunt.“During the fall months, government will consult with First Nations and stakeholder groups to determine next steps and mechanisms as B.C. moves toward ending the trophy hunt,” the government release states.
Announced Monday by Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson and in a B.C. government release, the ban will take effect on Nov. 30 throughout British Columbia, after this year’s season.
“The decision to end grizzly bear trophy hunting is a big step in the right direction,” says BC SPCA chief scientific officer Dr. Sara Dubois.
“It demonstrates the change in people’s opinions about trophy hunting.”
The BC SPCA is opposed to the hunting of any animal for trophy or sport. Any hunting of large predators, like bears, has huge impacts on the entire ecosystem. There is great uncertainty in population numbers and more research is needed, Dubois notes.
Additionally, government will be moving forward with a broader consultation process on a renewed wildlife management strategy for the province.”
It is encouraging the provincial government is engaging in a consultation process, Dubois says.
“We’re hopeful it will be an open and collaborative process that keeps conservation and the humane treatment of animals at the forefront of any strategy or initiatives that are developed,” she says.
“We look forward to being part of the process and ensuring conservation practices represent the values of British Columbians.”
“By bringing trophy hunting of grizzlies to an end, we’re delivering on our
commitment to British Columbians,” Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural
Resource Operations Minister Doug Donaldson said in a release.
“This action is supported by the vast majority of people across our
province. In particular, we owe it to generations past and future to do all
we can to protect the beauty and uniqueness of the Great Bear Rainforest. We
believe the action we’re taking goes beyond the commitment to Coastal First
Nations made as part of the 2016 Great Bear Rainforest agreements.”
WATCH: ‘The Grizzly Truth’ documentary looks at controversial bear hunt in
The Ministry estimates there are 15,000 grizzly bears in B.C. and each year
about 250 are killed by hunters. While the trophy hunt will end, hunting for
meat will be allowed to continue.
Horgan’s pledge in 2016 was met with criticism by conservationists. Chris
Genovali from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation called it a “pretend to
eat the meat policy.”
Ian MacAllister of the group Pacific Wild, which has been fighting to end
the grizzly bear hunt for years, said at the time, Horgan’s plan is
“There’s clearly no way to enforce this. The only way they’d be able to do
that is to video-monitor a hunter as they ate their grizzly bear dinner, to
see if they did in fact consume the meat,” McAllister said.
The ministry said in the coming months Donaldson will be consulting with
First Nations and other stakeholders to figure out next steps.
The Commercial Bear Viewing Association (CBVA) said in a written statement
that it applauds the new policy and although they believe all grizzly bear
hunting is trophy hunting, will look forward to consulting with the B.C.
government about next steps.
The ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting will take effect on Nov. 30.
Grizzly bears are very important to me and, as the polls show, are very
important to a large majority of British Columbians.
I believe NDP Premier John Horgan and Green leader Andrew Weaver made
statements opposing the grizzly bear trophy hunt and in acknowledgement of
the importance grizzly bear to the ecology and economy of British Columbia.
In 2001, the NDP government implemented a moratorium on grizzly bear
hunting, but it was overturned after the B.C. Liberals took office.
In the 2017 provincial election, NDP and Green candidates pledged support to
ban the B.C. grizzly bear trophy hunt.
I am part of the very large majority of British Columbians who applaud this
position and who did not imagine that we would be waiting with bated breath
to hear an announcement from the NDP government to immediately ban this
Grizzly bears continue to be hunted for no good reason, despite the fact
that tourism revenue is far greater than that from grizzly bear trophy
I believe, as most British Columbians believe, protecting our wildlife is a
smart investment in the future.
HELENA, Mont. — The Latest on removing Yellowstone region grizzly bears from federal protections (all times local):
Wyoming, Montana and Idaho officials say they won’t declare open season on grizzly bears once federal Endangered Species Act protections are lifted for the bruins in the Yellowstone National Park region.
The three states that will take over jurisdiction of Yellowstone-area bears once federal protections are lifted this summer have submitted management plans that allow for limited hunting.
But state officials say there is no rush. Brian Nesvik of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Laurie Wolf of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks both say it’s unlikely any hunting will be allowed this year.
Nesvik says rules still must be developed, and Wolf says her agency is still focused on bear conservation.
Idaho officials also say it’s too early to discuss a possible hunting season.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is welcoming the delisting of grizzlies in Yellowstone and says the state is ready to start managing the bears.
Otter says Idaho has been on the forefront of Yellowstone grizzly bear recovery for many years and that the population has been recovered for more than decade.
He says officials in the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Office of Species Conservation will review the final delisting before making any decisions about specifics.
State officials say it’s too early to discuss a possible grizzly bear hunting season in Idaho.
Grizzlies have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for more than 40 years.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has praised the decision to take grizzlies in Yellowstone off the threatened species list, calling it long overdue.
Grizzlies have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for more than 40 years.
Mead says grizzly numbers have sufficiently recovered to justify removing the big bears from federal protection. He says he asked the Interior Department in 2013 to delist grizzly bears and is glad to see that finally happening.
The announcement means grizzlies in Wyoming outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will be under the control of state wildlife managers by late July.
State officials could decide to allow grizzlies to be hunted in limited numbers. Mead gave no guidance on when that decision might be made.
U.S. government officials say grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park region are no longer threatened, and that they will lift protections that have been in place for more than 40 years.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Thursday that the recovery of Yellowstone’s grizzlies is one of the nation’s great conservation success stories.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will turn over grizzly bear management to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by late July. The states plan to allow limited bear hunts outside park boundaries.
The ruling does not affect threatened grizzlies living in other areas of northwestern Montana and northern Idaho.
Grizzlies have been listed as a threatened species since 1975 when just 136 bears roamed in and around Yellowstone.
There are now more than 700 grizzlies in the Yellowstone region.
Updated on June 9, 2017 at 9:30 PMPosted on June 9, 2017 at 12:12 PM
HAZLET — About 36 animal rights advocates lined the north bound side of Route 36 at Poole Avenue in Hazlet Thursday evening to protest the death of a black bear on Memorial Day weekend.
Car horns blared in support of the group, while others jeered. A passerby yelled, “Go home.” One protester’s response: We’re in New Jersey, this is our home.
The bear was killed by Union Beach police on May 28, after a four-hour stakeout, and after police were denied assistance from the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, police have said.
Lauretta Iavarone, a local business owner from Red Bank, said her conscience motivated her to attend the protest. She said the killing of the bear was a real shame.
“Even though I do understand the parameters, it’s very sad and it makes you sad,” Iavarone said.
Janine Motta, programs director at the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, said they organized a protest to raise awareness about bear populations being relocated and growing in new areas, and to tell people that the state isn’t providing tools to mitigate this situation.
“This really has to be exposed and has to be talked about more,” Motta said.
Motta said the local police department has told her the department is very responsive and open to having a conversation about bear safety education programs and using nonlethal options in the future.
She said state officials refused to tranquilize the bear, because the incident was reported at night. It was also on Sunday.
This particular bear was obviously part of the state’s relocation effort, because it was registered in Stillwater, which is too great a distance for a bear to travel undetected and without incident, Motta said.
Susan M. Kearney, a member of Bear Education and Resource who helped organize Thursday’s event, said the overall response from the Union Beach community has been very positive.
“I think it was a great turnout. It’s more people than we expected,” Kearney said.
The bear was first spotted on May 27 near Edmunds Avenue.
Around 10 p.m. that day, Union Beach police sent a warning to local residents to stay away from the animal. Then police contacted state Fish & Wildlife for assistance — requesting the state tranquilize and relocate the bear. Fish & Wildlife denied the local request saying, “this is outside of our protocol,” according to a police department Facebook post.
The statement further said the state department provided “rudimentary” instructions on how to handle the situation, which included: Warn homeowners and pedestrians about the situation, turn emergency lights away from the animal and follow its movements from a safe distance.
The local officers followed these suggestion “to the letter,” the police wrote on Facebook.
After hours of monitoring the bear from a safe distance, the animal headed toward Florence Avenue, a busy area inundated with residents and weekend traffic.
The police department post further said the decision to put the bear down “was not made lightly. However, the safety of residents and their families must always take top priority.”
Another large bear was spotted in Middletown on Friday, May 26, but it’s unclear whether it was the same animal.
Pitkin County Landfill’s enticing environment for black bears might have proved too enticing for a tandem of Indiana hunters.
Dan Roe and his son Alex are due in Pitkin County District Court on June 19 to face charges associated with what authorities say was the illegal killing of a black bear at the landfill, a popular feeding spot for area bruins.
Details are limited on what actually transpired at the landfill Sept. 13, the day the two allegedly killed the bear. The agency that ticketed the two, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, did not have information readily available Tuesday.
Both Roes face charges of willful destruction of big game, a Class 5 felony, and misdemeanor counts of failure to dress or care for wildlife, illegal possession of wildlife and hunting on private property. The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed the charges May 9.
In a statement issued to local media Tuesday, the District Attorney’s Office said: “The charges are based upon allegations that the accused persons entered private lands, an area near the Pitkin County Landfill, in order to hunt for a bear. Upon killing a black bear on private lands, the accused persons are alleged to have intentionally abandoned the bear’s carcass and edible portions of it, keeping only the bear’s hide and head.”
The landfill’s assistant solid waste manager, Jed Miller, said Tuesday the bear’s carcass was found on the property.
“Basically, they snuck in at night, shot the bear, skinned the bear and left the bear covered up with trash,” Miller said.
Colorado law requires hunters who kill bears to present the animal’s pelt and carcass to a parks and wildlife official within five days of the kill.
The bear was fully grown, Miller said, noting Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials contacted the landfill after “they became suspicious of these gentlemen’s story. They only had the bear skin versus the whole carcass. They found that very fishy and started their investigation.”
Bear hunting is allowed in Colorado in September, October and November with various restrictions enforced in different parts of the state. Rifles, muzzleloaders and archery is permitted among license holders.
The Roes have yet to make a court appearance or enter a plea, said their attorney, Richard Nedlin of Aspen.
“All I can tell you is that these are two people who have been hunting for a long time, and they have no criminal history, from what I know,” Nedlin said. “This was a special father-and-son trip, and being hunters, they would never intentionally violate that law or be on property on which they didn’t know they were not allowed to be on or didn’t have permission to be on.”
Deputy District Attorney Sarah Oszczakiewicz said the near eight-month gap between the date of the alleged offense and the filing of charges was because “that’s how long it took to connect all the dots and to be able to allow the investigation to unfold.”
The landfill, located 9 miles west of Aspen off Highway 82, has become a well-visited feeding ground for black bears.
In 2012, a Pitkin County Landfill employee was terminated for killing a bear on the facility’s property, using a bow and arrow. The county also at one time considered opening the landfill to bear hunting, but that idea failed to gain traction.
In this May 2009 photo, a grizzly bear is seen in Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth, Wyoming.
A black-bear hunter reportedly killed a large grizzly bear in the hills 5 miles northeast of Missoula on May 16, but federal wildlife officials have released few details about the incident.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with its partners at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, is actively investigating the self-reported killing of a grizzly bear by a black bear hunter in the Johnson Creek drainage near Bonner,” FWS spokesman Ryan Moehring wrote in a press release on Tuesday.
“This is an active, ongoing investigation and the Service will share more information with the public when the circumstances of the case permit.”
That wasn’t much comfort to Andy Lennox, who lives at the base of Johnson Creek and heard about the incident second-hand.
“That’s right behind my house,” said Lennox, who’s lived along the Blackfoot River a mile north of Bonner for 30 years. “And this spring bear hunt is crazy anyway. Lots of hunters can’t tell difference between bears. This could be female with cubs, in which case they just killed two, three or four bears. This was almost two weeks ago, and the Fish and Wildlife Service never came by to let me know what’s going on. It’s like it’s some kind of big secret. That’s weird as hell.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Moehring said it was U.S. Department of Justice policy not to comment on ongoing investigations so as not to compromise them.
“Grizzly bears are a listed species (protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act), so there’s no surprise there’s federal involvement in a grizzly shooting,” Moehring said. “Whenever there’s been an incident like this, the Fish and Wildlife Service has an active role to play.”
Montana’s spring black-bear hunting season started on April 15 and closes in the Missoula area on June 15. Hunters must pass a test certifying they can tell the difference between black and grizzly bears in order to purchase a hunting license.
About 1,000 grizzly bears live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem that extends from the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula to the northern border of Glacier National Park. While wildlife researchers have occasionally tracked grizzlies traveling around the fringe of the Missoula Valley, the big bears have rarely been sighted south of the Mission Mountains or Bob Marshall wilderness areas.
A hunting practice banned by Washington voters two decades ago continues to this day. Hound hunters are used to protect stands of commercial timber from the destructive habits of black bears. But a year-long KING 5 investigation shows the bears, killed for tree damage, may not be causing any problems whatsoever.
Hunting bears with dogs, outlawed in 1996 by the voter-approved Initiative 655, happens every spring in Washington. Animal rights advocates who backed I-655 decried the practice as cruel and unsportsmanlike. Hounds chase bears over long distances, exhausting them and allowing hunters to zero in for a final kill. Dogs are then rewarded by chewing on the bear. Bears are typically already dead or near dying.
Hunting bears with dogs is perfectly legal under an exception built into I-655. The provision in the law allows hound hunting to continue for the protection of property, but critics and experts say the legal loophole is being abused by the state and timber farmers against the letter and spirit of the law.
The official codification of I-655 – RCW 77.15.245 – includes the following allowance: “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit the killing of black bear, cougar, bobcat, or lynx with the aid of a dog or dogs by employees or agents of county, state, or federal agencies while acting in their official capacities for the purpose of protecting livestock, domestic animals, private property, or the public safety. A dog or dogs may be used by the owner or tenant of real property consistent with a permit issued and conditioned by the director.”
The controversy centers on an interpretation of what it means to to protect private property. It’s pitting the Washington Department of Wildlife against its own staff and the backers of I-655.
“I think it’s disgusting and it’s frankly quite surprising to me that the Department of Fish and Wildlife would be so open violating a state initiative that the people of this state resoundingly approved,” said Lisa Wathne, who spearheaded the I-655 campaign 20 years ago while working for PAWS. Today, she is the Captive Wildlife Specialist for The Humane Society. Her group’s efforts to ban recreational hound hunting in Washington won with 63 percent of the vote.
Wathne was comfortable with the loophole in I-655 that allowed hound hunting to protect property by removing problem animals.
“They were to be very specific and for specific animals, not for a wholesale thinning of a population by any means,” she said.
In the case of bears, the allowance is used every spring on timber farms. Bears are hungry when they come out of hibernation, and trees offer a quick, high-calorie snack thanks to syrup underneath the bark. When the bears peel the bark, though, they can damage or even kill trees. Trees between the age of 12 and 25 years old are the most vulnerable. The Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) blames bears for millions of dollars in damage every year.
Timber farmers argue they need to protect their trees from bears that are damaging their product. But KING 5 found the springtime bear hunts on timber farms are not focused on targeting problem bears. Hundreds of internal staff emails and documents obtained by KING 5 show that the program centers on reducing the overall number of bears in vulnerable tree stands, not – as state law requires – removing specific bears known to be damaging trees.
A man who has hunted for the Bear Timber Depredation Management Program (BTDM) for decades said the program is being abused, at the expense of non-offending bears. He describes a system that has evolved into an elite hunting club rather than a damage-control program. It didn’t start that way, he says. He’s noticed a trend that’s taken the program away from its original intent.
“The idea was to take the problem bear and there was no pressure on you to get out there and kill as much as they are now,” the man said. He asked us not to disclose his identity for fear of retaliation against his family and his dogs.
For decades the man has used his dogs to hunt bears, helping kill hundreds of them. But he said he’s concerned that both large industrial timber foresters and small forest landowners are no longer concerned with targeting problem bears. They just want to kill bears, he says, and WDFW enables it while clouding the hunts in secrecy.
In recent years, declared kills on timber farms have resulted in the reported death of about 100 bears. Other years, the number of bears removed has hovered around 200. But a year-long KING 5 investigation concludes those official tallies could be considerably inaccurate, as the bear hunts on private lands have historically occurred with little oversight. Even the state’s wildlife enforcement officers say the system is so broken that there’s little they can do to enforce hunting rules.
This hunter says he’s never once crossed paths with wildlife police.
“The old saying is, if you don’t see it, you don’t have to think about it,” he said. “It’s just like, OK, it’s all-out war guys.”
When foresters find one damaged tree, WDFW grants a permit to kill two bears. Permits are also granted on what’s called “historical damage” from the previous year. That means a forester can get a renewed permit to kill bears the year after they find fresh damage. They do not have to prove bears are causing any new issues. It doesn’t matter if several bears were already killed for the damage in the year prior.
Stacks of emails KING 5 obtained through public disclosure show state employees are also alarmed about the program. In a late 2016 internal email, a WDFW biologist wrote about timber giant Weyerhaeuser, “They are viewing the bear damage program as a means to suppress the overall bear population and therefore, reduce damage. I get why, as a timber company, they would want to do that but that is not the way this program was designed.”
In another 2016 staff report, a wildlife specialist argues Weyerhaeuser is creating a large hunting area. Several complaints KING 5 uncovered show that timber companies stack permits beside each other to maximize land areas for the hunt. The wildlife specialist who wrote the report says it goes against the program’s intent “to avoid killing more bears than necessary.”
AWDFWbiologist wrote in one email dated November 7, 2016: “It seems like the system in place is just being manipulated by those who want to be able to run their dogs and to some extent by timber owners/individual foresters who are facilitating it…it seems like they don’t even want the bears, just the chance to pursue them.”
Another WDFW biologist wrote in a 2014 email, “Only one-quarter of bears killed have bark in their stomach.” An additional 2016 internal report to WDFW management says the system is “purposely being abused,” but staff are discouraged from revoking privileges.
The hunter we interviewed believes the program has turned into a secret fraternity where power and politics provide an exclusive bear hunting season – the only one left in Washington for hunters who want to use dogs. Timber farms benefit by reducing the potential for damaged trees, he says, while hunters get to run their hounds. They’re chosen by the timber companies and approved by Georg Ziegltrum, the longtime head of WFPA’s Animal Damage Control Program.
“If given opportunity they all girdle trees and they all are ‘problem’ bears in damage areas,” Ziegltrum said.
For Ziegltrum, every bear has the potential to peel.
“Intraspecific stress (too many bears in one given area) may have more to do with timber damage than one ‘guilty’ ingenious bark peeler,” he said. “I-655 is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. The WDFW understands our problem and is closely and effectively working with our industry. Regulations for bear removal are plentiful and heavy. All damage is witnessed and approved by WDFW. I have a 100 percent compliance record with the agency for years and I’m proud of it.”
KING 5 learned that foresters often tell hunters not to discuss the hunt, for fear of public outrage.
“Some of the foresters want you to kill, kill, kill – no matter what. Even the foresters have kind of a game between ‘em to who gets the trophy every year for the most bear killed,” the hunter said. “Just like one forester said, ‘All I want to know is about the first bear and the last bear. In between, I don’t care.’”
Internal WDFW emails and reports reveal that kill permits are given to timber farms before wildlife specialists verify damage. A program administrator wrote in a 2014 email, “Timber companies have put pressure on the program to issue first, then verify.” Another staffer wrote in 2015, “Often times the permit has been filled before the Conflict Specialist has gone out to the site to even verify.” In another 2015 email, a wildlife specialist said, “I have not been able to verify the preliminary damage prior to them taking two bear.”
Sources told KING 5 that procedures like this, aimed at speeding up the permitting process, are unique to the bear damage program even though elk damage, for instance, is far more common statewide. Reports also show that, sometimes, staff arrive to alleged damage sites only to find “no significant damage at all.” But it’s too late, as bears authorized for kill might already be dead.
One state biologist wrote in a 2016 email, “This is not the way this program was designed.”
WHY BEARS ARE TARGETED
For Ken Miller, the damage is anything but insignificant.
“Brown spots all over the hillside and those were dead trees,” he said while pointing toward a ridgeline in Oakville, southwest of Olympia.
Miller is a small forest landowner, which means he farms far less land than an industrial company like Weyerhaeuser. His tree farm borders the Capitol State Forest near Olympia, which is prime bear habitat. He took us on a long and bumpy drive to see his trees, though land he says foresters protect from development. He thinks his profession is often the object of unfair negativity, criticized for killing trees and sometimes the wildlife that hurts profit. He argues, more often than not, bears benefit from tree farming.
“It really is cool to be a tree farm,” he said. “We’re doing great stuff for the environment.”
Miller and his wife saw their farm as an investment in their retirement or grandchildren’s education. The couple and their son planted 18,000 trees by hand in three months. They each planted 500 a day.
“I made bags we wore around our waist,” said Ken’s wife, Bonnie. “We were really proud of ourselves. We had some nice trees. Then all of a sudden, we found something.”
What they found alarmed them – dozens of trees damaged by bears.
“I was desperate, in a panic, because our financial wherewithal for our retirement years was on the line,” Ken said. “That’s big money. That’s like someone stealing money out of your 401(k).”
Ken admitted that he was so desperate that he asked a hunter to kill bears in secret. He says that was 15 years ago, and he hasn’t broken any rules since.
“Maybe I’m not totally proud of it, but I would do it again if I was in that same situation and that was the only option I had to protect my property,” Ken said.
He said there are too many bears for available habitat, and he believes he is drowning in a permitting process that prevents him from killing bears fast enough to protect his trees. For Miller, small forest landowners suffer unduly from bear damage and need more help from the state, given that a few damaged trees represent a much greater percentage of lost investment compared to industrial farms.
If the program is about population control as critics argue it is, he says, WDFW is failing.
If there were fewer bears, and the state eased the path toward removing them, Miller believes he would have fewer problems.
Ninety-percent of the damage is typically reported in Regions 5 and 6, which includes Pierce, Cowlitz, Lewis, Wahkiakum and Clark Counties. The bear harvest during timber hunts tends to be about 35 percent of the bears harvested in those regions during the general season. WDFW does not include the timber hunt harvests in the information shared with the public on its website.
“I think we under harvest bears, probably, in this state as a whole,” said WDFW Game Division Manger Anis Aoude.
In an interview that lasted two hours, KING 5 asked Aoude and his WDFW colleague, Stephanie Simek, about the Bear Timber Depredation Management Program. A couple years ago, the program’s oversight was handed from Enforcement to the Wildlife Program. Aoude and Simek created a subcommittee comprised of biologists, conflict specialists, enforcement officers, and foresters in order to forge new paths toward better management.
It was the moment when many staffers hoped chronic abuses of the program would finally see change, internal sources told KING 5. Today, that hope has turned into increased frustration. As one employee wrote in a November 2016 email, “Wow, I am blown away that the same issues keep occurring over and over with absolutely no consequences. It seems absolutely crazy that we have taken the time to careful (sic) develop all of these rules and they aren’t being followed.”
“We’re trying to find a way where folks can still grow timber and harvest it and bears can still be on the landscape,” Aoude said. “We hear the criticism. We take it to heart. We are working to improve things.”
For Aoude, any bear that lives near vulnerable trees is a potential problem.
“You’re never going to know what bears are peeling and what bears are not,” he said.
He pointed to efforts at tightening restrictions like reducing the hunt zone from a 5-mile radius to a 3-mile radius. That way, he and Simek said, hunters don’t kill bears far away from damage.
In an email Simek sent on April 15, 2015, she told several foresters, “Remember that the presence of a bear on your property does not mean it has or will cause any damage.”
And yet, Simek and Aoude support allowing hunters to use hounds for killing bears before damage ever occurs. When trees are between 15 and 30 years old, they are most susceptible to bear peeling. Aoude says it makes for efficient property protection to reduce the number of bears in timber stands of that age class.
“Once the damage has occurred, you’re almost too late,” he said. “So if you had damage the year before, you can almost guarantee you’ll have damage the year after. Because not only are those trees peeled and could be peeled further, there are trees next to them that are the same age.”
The hound hunting ban allowed bear populations to grow problematically and hurt the state’s ability to manage the carnivores, Aoude said.
“It’s unfortunate that the tool was removed by legislation, because it is one of the most effective ways to pursue and harvest bears,” he said.
Aoude defended the practice of killing two bears per permit as well, even if no fresh damage was found, by calling it an efficient way to give good customer service.
“And at this point, bears are doing fine in the state. Their populations are doing just fine and there’s really no need for us to be concerned with individual woodlots,” he said.
As for allegations the system is abused by foresters, Simek says, it’s an unfair characterization.
“I think it’s an overgeneralization. People say what they want to say and what they want to believe,” Simek said.
Still, people like Wathne and others are concerned WDFW’s approach violates the law. That’s because they believe the spirit of I-655 only allowed for hound hunting when animals are actively causing damage. They believe voters wanted to ban the practice for population control, and allow for it only when an animal proves it’s a problem.
About 40 hunters participate in the program annually, but the vast majority of bears are taken by a few dozen. By comparison in the same regions, the recreational bear season sees about 3,500 hunters buying licenses to harvest bears later in the year. Their success rate is far lower than the hound hunters.
If someone wants to know how many bears are killed on tree farms, though, it’s not so easy to find. WDFW does not include the data on its website with other bears harvested in general seasons.
That’s why KING 5 filed a request for the number of bears killed each year since 2004. Our research shows, in some years, the state’s authorized the killing of as many as 334 bears for timber damage alone. That was in 2011. It was the highest number of permits granted in the records we obtained. The total amount of bears harvested on the 2011 permits was 182, with 66 females and 116 males killed. The lowest year for permits written was 2016, with 162 bears authorized for removal. Of the total allowed, 86 were reported killed; 27 were females and 59 were males.
Without exception, male bears are killed far more often than females. Typically, hunters kill nearly double the amount of male bears as female bears. For WDFW bear expert, Rich Beausoleil, that’s concerning since data shows the offending bears are more often hungry females, many with new cubs. Male bears, however, may be targeted for their size.
“What we’re finding from the removal statistics that are coming in is that males are being targeted. Females are dying too, but more males than females. That makes us wonder, are we targeting the right bear?” he said.
Beausoleil said the state has used hunter data to estimate the bear population until recently. Hunters are supposed to turn in a tooth from the bear for research, but they only do that 20 percent of the time. That’s why Beausoleil’s recent research project is showing that the long-held belief Washington has 35,000 bears is wrong. He estimates the number is much closer to 20,000. The average bear has an annual survival rate of about 80-90 percent, but on timber farms, that number drops to 60 percent.
Though the number of bears killed for causing timber damage typically totals only 10 percent of the bears killed every year statewide, Beausoleil says the number is much higher when considered from a more localized perspective.
“We could see harvest rates at 40 percent, and that’s higher than we’d like to see. That can cause a population decline, if that’s not what we want to do as an agency,” he said. “So, it’s really important not to look at it on a washed-out statewide view or even on a regional view, but to zoom and see what’s going on, because this could be your backyard, and you might have an interest in knowing the bears are OK where you live.”
Timber farms are invaluable assets for protecting wildlife in the state, Beausoleil says. That’s why he hopes collaboration with foresters and better program management will provide opportunity for change.
“These lands that private timber provide, provide habitat in a big way. There’s a lot of land out there that’s helping wildlife,” he said.
KING 5 told former state legislator Hans Dunshee about its investigation of the bear depredation program. Dunshee, a Democrat from Snohomish, served as the 44th District state representative for two decades and was a fierce supporter of I-655 and opposed several attempts to repeal it.
“You’re not authorized by the will of the people to just exterminate all bears in an area, because they might be a problem,” he said. “This program violates the initiative because it focuses on population. It assumes population is a problem not a problem animal.”
Dunshee believes the state’s abusing its power and violating voter trust, all while setting a bad example.
“We’re all supposed to follow the law. If government doesn’t follow the law, then citizens say, ‘We don’t have to,’” he said. “The department is destroying the trust of everybody, and it’s creating lawlessness.”
And that’s exactly what we found WDFW staff are concerned about, as well.
“I’ve had more than one officer tell me, ‘I’m not going to work these anymore,’” said retired WDFW Captain Murray Schlenker.
Schlenker retired from WDFW police last year. He calls the rules confusing and inconsistent.
“You can go out and knock yourself out as a law enforcement officer, but cases aren’t going to get anywhere,” he said.
Our investigation found hunters caught breaking the rules aren’t held accountable. They’re almost always allowed to keep on hunting. In a 2014 case involving one of the program’s most prolific hunters, an enforcement officer recommended the state ban an offending hunter from killing bears on timber farms.
Here’s what happened: Hunters get one yellow tag per bear they’re allowed to kill. That tag is supposed to be immediately clipped onto the bear’s ear so that it cannot be reused, a policy aimed at preventing hunters from taking more bears than allowed. This particular hunter was located nearly four miles from the kill site, the bear gutted and packed in a box used to transport dogs. But the hunter had the tags in his pocket.
Though the officer who filed the case told management the hunter should not be allowed to hunt on timber permits any longer, WDFW management did nothing. That hunter continues to be one of the most active in the program
KING 5 obtained an email written by the enforcement officer at the time. He complained, “My frustration level is at an extreme,” because hunters “pick and choose” what rules to follow.
“That level of frustration is there for them and they don’t want to try good faith, conscientious effort and have it thrown back at them. That’s very demoralizing from an employee standpoint,” Schelnker said.
“It’s becoming harder to get good people out there, but we still have the good people: the good hound hunters, the ethical hound hunters, the people who play by the rules. We still have them working for us,” Ziegltrum said.
Ziegltrum, director of WFPA’s Animal Damage Control Program, is the one who gives final approval or denial of all hunters allowed on the BTDM permits. Aoude said that if hunters are legally allowed to harvest bears in Washington, WDFW has no power to deny their participation in the program. Ziegltrum does that.
“There is a very strong incentive for these people to stay in line,” he said. “They recognize we are the only game in town.”
As for the hunter caught with tags in his pockets, Ziegltrum says it was an honest mistake.
“This guy is still hunting, because we explained the situation to the state agency, and this young gentleman did not get himself into trouble,” he said.
Last year, WDFW Wildlife Program Manager Sandra Jonker wrote a letter of commendation to honor a hound hunter for exceptional efforts. “In particular I want to thank you and your hunting party for your help over the years…for ethically responsible hunting behavior,” she wrote.
It belongs to the same hunter who said the timber hunts are so mismanaged that ethical hunters are being forced out, leaving behind those willing to bend the rules.
“And, the way the foresters think, is that they will have to do it our way because we’re the biggest employers in the state,” he said.
He’s not against hound hunting. He thinks dogs, with their keen sense of smell, are the best way to target problem bears. But dogs only do what their handler wants, and he says too often, foresters and hunters just want blood.
“These guys don’t have no respect for wildlife. The more they get, they think the better hunter they are,” he said.
Dunshee believes WDFW’s management of the BTDM program could set the agency back in its efforts to unite culturally and politically disparate groups in Washington, often divided over wildlife.
“I think it destroys the trust in the agency. The agency is doing good things on wolves and cougars. I think this destroys the good will that’s been built between rural communities and animal welfare advocates,” Dunshee said. “I think the legislature should do an investigation. The evidence you have should be laid out for the public to see. I think it ought to be dealt with and if there are people in the upper management who have been burying this story, I think they ought to be held accountable.”
For Wathne, it’s criminal. She believes WDFW has turned a problem bear into a hunting season. She calls that poaching.
“And the department is enabling it. They are putting their stamp of approval on it apparently. You bet it’s poaching. It’s a violation of the law,” she said. “The initiative itself is very clear. So, perhaps it’s time to go to the Governor.”
In a staff report filed by a WDFW animal conflict specialist concern is voiced over the long-term effects of the timber farm hunts. In some Game Management Units, between a quarter and a third of the bears are killed because of tree damage. The report said, “During a conference call it was brought up that conflict staff in Region 5 does not support killing 2 bears per permit because we do not know the population effects. That statement was countered with the argument that if we don’t know the populations (sic) effects then why not allows (sic) two bears per permit? Is this consistent with this agency’s mission?”
In other documents KING 5 obtained, employees expressed concern that the bear hunts on timber farms reduce the available bears for harvest during recreational seasons, when hunters are paying for licenses that support the budget of WDFW.
“I think that as an agency we should be concerned with the fact that in the south Cascades in 2015 we had a recreational bear harvest of 99, but in 2016 we had a depredation harvest of 37. That is 27 percent of the recreational harvest, and we are talking about 3,600 recreational bear hunters versus a handful of hound hunters. The success rate for recreational hunters was 2.7 percent. I can’t help but wonder if taking these bears through the depredation hunt it isn’t taking away an opportunity from thousands of other recreational hunters who are purchasing a bear tag,” a WDFW biologist wrote in 2016.
Another staffer wrote in the same thread, “the system in place is just being manipulated.”
“We are not providing people with recreational opportunity,” Ziegltrum said.
Wathne met with Ziegltrum in the 1990s to discuss I-655. She met with many stakeholders as they molded the allowance for hound hunting to reduce tree damage. She believes the intention of the law was clear, not just for her but for WDFW and the timber industry. There should be no misunderstanding, she says, the loophole was never meant to cull bear populations.
“And what does it say to the people of Washington state?” Wathne said. “The Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t give a damn about what you voted for or about the bears of this state.”
Watch the TV version of this story with closed captioning: Part 1 | Part 2
A conversation with Alison Morrow on outlawed bear hunting
Wednesday 5 October 2016 11.08 EDTLast modified on Thursday 6 October 2016 05.14 EDT
Romania has banned all trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats in a surprise decision that gives Europe’s largest population of large carnivores a reprieve from its most severe and immediate threat.
The move on Tuesday reverses a trend which has seen the number of large carnivores being shot by hunters grow year on year since Romania’s accession into the European Union in 2007. In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months.
Over the last decade, hunting has grown into a multimillion-euro industry in Romania, with hunters from all over the world paying up to €10,000 (£8,800) to claim a ‘trophy’ – hunting parlance for the carcass of a hunted animal – from the Carpathian mountains.
The government has claimed that in order to exist, the industry relies on a loophole in European law which allows for the culling of wild animals that have been proven to be a danger to humans. Under the habitats directive, all large carnivores are protected in European Union member states, yet the state can order the killing of specific animals if shown to have attacked a person or damaged private property.
“Hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway,” environment minster, Cristiana Pasca-Palmer, told the Guardian. ‘The damages [clause in the habitats directive] acted as a cover for trophy hunting.”
Each year, hundreds of hunting associations across the country would submit two numbers; the total population of each large carnivore species, and the total number which they believed to be likely to cause damages. The second number would then act as a basis for a government-issued hunting quota for each species. These quotas were then carved up between hunting companies and sold as hunting rights to the public.
“This method raised some questions,” says Pasca-Palmer. “How can hunting associations count how many animals are causing damages a priori – before the damages have happened? By introducing the ban, what we are doing is simply putting things back on the right track, as the habitats directive originally intended.”
Wildlife NGOs claim that the methodology also tended to dramatically overestimate the populations of large carnivores. The official figure for the number of bears in Romania is over 6,000, and for wolves is 4,000. Yet with hundreds of hunting associations each responsible for monitoring a small area of land, and animals prone to wandering, it is understood that individual animals were often counted multiple times, potentially pushing the total population statistics up by thousands.
Announced late on Tuesday evening, the ban is expected to divide Romania’s population, pitching rural and urban dwellers against each other. The government’s decision has strong support in the larger cities, which have seen a growing movement against hunting in recent months. But in much of Romania’s remote countryside large carnivores are a daily threat to villagers and a persistent nuisance to livestock farmers, and many see hunting as the only solution.
Csaba Domokos, a bear specialist with wildlife protection NGO Milvus group, is convinced that the success or failure of the hunting ban rides on the government’s ability to address the rural population’s fears.
“Damages caused by large carnivores are a very real concern in the countryside,” he said. “The system up until now did not work; hunting does not reduce conflicts between carnivores and humans; in fact many studies show that with wolves and large cats, it can actually increase the problem.
“But the rural population believe that hunting is the answer, and unless they can be convinced otherwise, people may well start to take the problem into their own hands. The ban is a great step, but we don’t want hunting to be replaced by poaching.”
Domokos points out that hunters also have a vested interested in the protection of their quarry. “To some extent, hunting acts as a financial incentive for wildlife management, from preventing poaching to conserving habitats. There is some concern that once you take that away, the government will not invest enough to replace it.”
The government’s response is to take management into its own hands. A special unit is to be set up within the paramilitary police force that will assess any reports of damages by large carnivores and deal with the culprit animal directly. The ministry of environment have discussed the possibility of relocating the target animals abroad to countries interested in ‘rewilding’.
The ban comes amid a growing push for the protection of Romania’s wild mountains that has seen anti-corruption officers convict dozens of foresters, hunters and local officials in recent years.
Gabriel Paun, an activist and conservationist behind a petition that collected 11,000 signatures in the weeks before the hunting ban, sees the government’s decision as a step towards a safer future for Europe’s wild spaces: “The Carpathian mountains are home to more biodiversity than anywhere else in Europe, but for too long they have been ruthlessly exploited for forestry and hunting. Let’s hope the government’s decision is a sign of things to come.”