Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Dale Magart
Northeast Washington Wildlife Group 

Whitetail hunting in jeopardy

 


The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group is very concerned about the whitetail deer in District 1 of Region 1 in Northeast Washington.

The harvest numbers for the area in 2019 and 2020 set record lows and the blue tongue outbreak in 2020 was worse than the very bad outbreak of 2015.

The city of Colville removed over 160 carcasses from within city limits last year, in 2015 they removed 80. When asked if the state Department of Fish and Wildlife had any plans to help deer numbers rebound, the department replied: “Indeed, disease outbreaks of this kind have the potential to reduce deer abundance and understandably raise concern for population viability. Before this outbreak, however, WDFW took regulatory steps to reduce harvest of antlerless white-tailed deer, the demographic primarily responsible for population trajectory.

In 2019, we eliminated antlerless harvest throughout District 1 and, at a broader regional scale, we reduced antlerless harvest around Spokane for the 2021-23 seasons. These changes should mitigate declines attributed to this summer’s EHD outbreak.”

With that, there was no change for District 1 since the antlerless reduction “around Spokane” is not in District 1.

A Public Records Request for the 2021 harvest numbers was submitted in early February and we were told should be available in May. The state Fish and Wildlife Commission approves the 2021 season regulations at their April meeting, the department presented their recommendations at the March 17-19 meeting.

How is the commission able to make a decision on our hunting when they do not even know how the last season went?

Regardless, the Northeast Washington Wildlife Group believes the 2021 harvest is going to be around 3,000, down 30% from the record lows of 2019 and 2020. Something to be considered is a conservative estimate of the annual predator take for this same area is 20,000 plus whitetails.

Because nothing has been done to reduce the number of kills by predators other than an almost ineffective increase in the cougar quota the only thing that can be done to halt this unsustainable drop in our deer is to decrease the human take.

A number of options have been discussed, including, east or west tags; species-specific tags; region, district or GMU tags; or a combination of options. It was felt that, for one reason or the other, none of these would be effective or acceptable to hunters.

Therefore, our group recommends a 3-point antler restriction for District 1, GMUs 101-121.

Doing this would make the whole east side of the state – from Canada to Oregon – compatible, requiring whitetails to have 3 points on one or both sides before it would be legal to shoot.

All, that is except GMU124, Spokane and for consistency’s sake; it could also require the restriction. A minority of our members advocate for implementation of Eastern and Western Washington deer tags – the same as elk seasons – as this would further reduce hunting pressure and harvest.

After pressure from our, Sen. Shelly Short and one commissioner, the department on March 25 released harvest numbers for whitetails.

These numbers were not as bad as previously thought they were going to be. But at 3,412, it is a new record low, down from 4,019 in 2019 and 4,400 last year. The commission heard testimony from our group March 18 and 19, where we recommended the implementation of the 3-point APR plus the need for more predator control.

Our testimony fell on deaf ears.

We expect no change in our hunting season that would prevent further decline in deer numbers. And the commission’s recent vote to eliminate the spring bear season – the three brand new commissioners all voted no. Facts presented by scientists show a “robust” bear population; the lack of a spring hunt should be alarming to anyone who appreciates Washington’s deer, elk, moose, sheep and goats.

The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group believes that our whitetail deer are in trouble and their numbers have dropped to the point that recovery is impossible given the direction state

Region 1 game managers and the Fish and Wildlife Commission has taken.

Something needs to change. The commission meets digitally April 7-9.

Our group encourages you to participate during the public comment periods from 8:45-9:45 a.m. Friday and 8-9 a.m. Saturday.

To comment, pre-registration is required at 8 a.m. Thursday or Friday online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission/meetings#public-testimony, scroll down to the Webinar section and click “register.”

— Dale Magart is the secretary of the Northeast Washington Wildlife Group. Email him at [email protected]

 

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