Improving hunters' image part of Fish and Wildlife plan

Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2002

TACOMA (AP) -- Improving the image of hunters and boosting public support for hunting cougars and black bears are among the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's goals in a proposed six-year plan for managing the state's game species.

The plan certainly won't please everyone.

Management of predators ''is one of the most contentious issues'' the department will face in the next few years, a draft environmental impact statement said. A 1996 ballot initiative that outlawed the use of hounds to hunt black bears and cougars ''has resulted in a dramatic polarization of public opinion regarding predator management,'' the statement said.

The Legislature modified the initiative in 2000 to allow use of hounds to hunt cougars where public safety requires.

At the same time, hunters and hunting ''will continue to play a major role in wildlife conservation and management in Washington's future,'' Fish and Wildlife said in its plan for 2003 through 2008. By mandate, the department must balance the protection of wildlife with +outdoor+ recreation, such as hunting.

Much of the draft EIS sets out plans for managing individual species, including elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, moose, black bear, cougar, waterfowl, mourning dove and upland game birds.

One broader objective is increasing public support by 10 percent for hunting of cougars, black bears and other fur-bearing animals to better manage their populations.

The department also seeks to boost support for maintaining nonnative species, releasing game birds to improve hunting success and providing hunting opportunities for youth and senior citizens.

Another proposal is to increase compliance with hunting regulations and improve the public's perception of hunters.

''A majority of the general public thinks that a lot of hunters violate hunting laws,'' the draft said, adding the public supports increased hunter training.

Hunters are concerned about recent closures of private timberlands in southwest Washington, lack of access to waterfowl hunting in Western Washington, limited access to pheasant hunting in Eastern Washington and forest-road closures in south-central Washington.

The department also seeks to improve ''public understanding and acceptance of treaty hunting rights,'' and to improve coordination of treaty-Indian and non-Indian hunting and wildlife management, the draft said.

The department will take comments on its draft EIS through Aug. 26.


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