Washington hunting put on hold

These tom turkeys can breathe a temporary sigh of relief: Washington’s spring turkey hunting season, as well as its bear hunting season, won’t open next week, officials announced Monday.

Washington’s spring turkey and bear hunting seasons won’t open next week, and anglers in the state will remain idled as the fight to contain COVID-19 through social distancing and stay-home orders continues.

Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife chose, to delay the hunting seasons and keep in place fishing bans until May 4 or “as new information becomes available from public health officials.” The move was made, in part, at the request of officials from rural counties who feared hunters and anglers from metropolitan areas may carry the disease that has sickened more than 1 million people around the globe.

“Local public health authorities have relayed to us their concerns regarding the risk that hunting, fishing and recreational travel poses to their communities right now,” Susewind said. “With the support of the governor’s office, we’re asking people to put their recreation plans on pause while we work together to get this situation under control.”

But Susewind apparently rejected a nuanced turkey hunting proposal pushed behind the scenes that would have allowed people to pursue toms as long as they did so in their home counties. The idea would have allowed people in places like Clarkston, Asotin and Pomeroy, among others, to hunt the wiley birds so long as they didn’t cross into neighboring counties.

Jay Holzmiller, a former Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner from Anatone lobbied for the idea that he said had strong support. Holzmiller noted turkey hunting is a solitary pursuit.

“I thoroughly understand we don’t want inundation from metro areas into these rural areas, but for those of us that live in these outlying areas it’s very sad, because it’s a very good season for oldesters and youngsters and everybody in between to get out,” he said.

The idea was also pushed by Asotin County Commissioner Brian Shinn.

“The state and federal policy is social distancing, so people shouldn’t have a problem hunting in their own counties as it complies with not traveling out of your region. If there are no turkeys in your county, you don’t hunt,” Shinn wrote in an email to Susewind.

Holzmiller acknowledged the compromise would have allowed some Washington residents to hunt but not others and could be seen as inequitable. But he countered it would help improve mental health of people going stir crazy.

“We are not proposing this going forward; this is just a one-off, ” he said.

Susewind did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposal. However, a news release issued by his department indicated both turkey and spring bear seasons would be reevaluated on May 4 and could be reopened then. State parks, wildlife areas and ground managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources are closed through May 4.

Susewind’s decision also affects the traditional opening of fishing in many lakes and reservoirs across Washington, halibut season that opens later in April, some spring chinook seasons and coastal shellfishing.

On Saturday, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission put a freeze on the sale of nonresident hunting and fishing permits, licenses and tags. The temporary action is designed to cut down on out-of-state hunters coming to the state for turkey and bear hunting seasons.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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