By Martha Hall
A recent Herald article on the proposal to move hundreds of mountain goats from the Olympics to the North Cascades revealed some of the major problems with the way Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) manages the wild animals in our state.
Mountain goats are an iconic species that most of us are thrilled to see when hiking in the Cascades. As the article said, WDFW allowed over-hunting for years. Their numbers in the North Cascades are now extremely low. Too few are left for the species to rebound on its own. Still WDFW cannot say no to the few people who enjoy killing mountain goats. It continues to offer a dozen or so permits each year to hunt them.
WDFW’s mandate is to manage wildlife for all residents of our state. Only about 5 percent of our residents still hunt, and the number continues to decrease. WDFW’s own website states wildlife viewers far outnumber and outspend hunters. WDFW’s committees and commissions are filled with hunters and its one million acres of land are managed to maximize hunting. Wildlife watchers are not even considered to be stakeholders. Yet WDFW requests more money from our state’s general fund every year and wonders why it isn’t more popular.
WDFW’s focus is obvious around Padilla Bay. During the fall and winter this area offers great bird watching for raptors, trumpeter swans, ducks and geese. To enjoy this, though, one must ignore the cruelty of hunters shooting birds that mate for life, birds that are having to choose daily between foraging to survive and avoiding being shot by hunters. On my one attempt to watch birds this year at Padilla Bay I saw flocks of ducks huddled in the middle of the bay when they should have been foraging along the edge. Hunters lined the shoreline and it sounded like a war zone. We went home early, upset and depressed.
The same is true of Mount Baker where bear hunting season begins Aug. Sharing the high country with hunters who are looking for cubs, and/or their mothers to shoot (yes, it’s legal to kill either) ruins wildlife viewing for most of us. A bear hunter’s shooting of a woman hiker in the head on Sauk Mountain a few years ago is also a reminder of the risks to us, as are signs at trailheads warning hikers to wear orange.
Now WDFW can’t wait to add more hunters to the high country, hunters who will be out to kill the mountain goats the rest of us are hoping to see. No, this doesn’t work. Instead millions of us will continue to flock to Yellowstone to see bear, wolves and other species that we have but cannot enjoy in our own state. When will the majority of us demand that WDFW follow its mandate and manage wildlife for all residents rather than just the 5 percent who hunt?
Martha Hall lives in Anacortes.