An online petition urging Washington State wildlife commissioners to reinstate the spring black bear hunt is gaining traction online, but it's unlikely to affect any change.
"I wonder if it is too little too late," said Marie Neumiller, the executive director of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. "I'm not sure that the commission will take up the spring bear topic again until next year.
"We tried to motivate our members to participate in the commission process, but unfortunately, we were unable to generate interest until after the vote took place."
As of Tuesday, more than 8,000 people had signed the Change.org petition asking the state to reinstate the hunting season, which was suspended on Nov. 19 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission in a tied vote.
The petition — which is addressed to Gov. Jay Inslee and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — is unlikely to change anything. Gov. Inslee appoints the nine-person commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not manage or regulate state hunting seasons.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife commission voted 4-4 on the proposed 2022 spring bear hunt on Nov. 19. The nine-person commission is appointed by the governor to oversee WDFW. Since January, however, one of the commission's three Eastern Washington seats has been vacant.
WDFW staff had recommended the commission approve the permit-only hunt, which has occurred in one form or another since 1999. Biologists said the hunt was a useful management tool and would not hurt the overall black bear population.
There was substantial public backlash against the hunt, however, which some call unethical as it targets bears in the spring, when they are weak and groggy after a winter of hibernation.
Although the petition is unlikely to change anything, it does highlight how few hunters participated in the various public meetings and comment sessions the commission held leading up to the vote, Neumiller said.
"Hopefully, this petition will show the commission that there is interest in the season," she said. "Maybe if enough hunters speak up the commission will be more likely to follow the department's science next time ... if they feel that people are truly interested in the season."
For example, during one October public meeting, 50 people gave public testimony against the proposal while only two supported it. According to a staff presentation during Friday's vote, WDFW received more than 5,000 comments on the proposed season. National advocacy groups like the Humane Society of the United States urged its members to oppose the hunt.
The commission has said it will reconsider the spring bear hunt next year.
Per state law, citizens can also petition the commission directly to repeal state administrative rules. Agencies "will give full consideration" and respond within 60 days.