Washington Wildlife First doesn’t present holistic view

A response to a recent Dec. 1 opinion piece in The Beachcomber.

Washington residents love our wildlife.

To that end, we appreciate the energy and concern Claire Loebs Davis, representative of Washington Wildlife First (WWF), expressed in her Dec. 1 opinion piece in The Beachcomber and at the “Conversations and Cocktails” event held at Vashon Center for the Arts on Dec. 12.

WWF desires to reform the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Davis holds that WDFW’s problems are primarily from catering to hunters. We hold that WDFW policy doesn’t “cater to demands of hunters,” WWF does not represent a holistic view, and the polling by WWF used is not transparent.

In the opinion piece, Davis made the claim that WDFW policy “primarily caters to the demands of hunters.”

However, none of the three policy examples Davis notes, including the killing of wolves, beaver trapping, and spring bear hunting, support this claim of being driven by and catering to the demands of hunters.

First, Davis cites the killing of 41 wolves. It is, in fact, still illegal for hunters to kill wolves in Washington State. As stated in the opinion piece, “roughly 85% of these wolves were killed after conflicts with livestock.” How is this catering to hunters?

Davis’s second example of beaver trapping also doesn’t support the claim of policies catering to hunters. It is a narrow view to simply claim that WDFW allows trappings because they are trying to “primarily cater to demands of hunters,” while ignoring the fact that human-beaver conflicts account for significant portions.

Davis cites allowing “roughly 2000” to be killed yearly. Beaver kills have been tracked by WDFW — and in 2016, 72% of the 2,425 beavers trapped were a result of direct human-beaver conflicts. In 2020, 34% of the 1,472 total beavers trapped were to remedy those conflicts.

Finally, Davis cited the spring bear hunt. Approximately 664 permits would be given out (0.37% of all Washington hunters) with only 145 harvested. Although Director Susewind, as a hunter, supported a spring bear hunt season, to label it as pandering to hunters, is not holistic as it ignores WDFWs four cited reasons.

WWF and Davis fail the burden of proof by not presenting a holistic view of the rationale of WDFW policies. In the case of beaver trappings, the harm caused to Washington residents through human-beaver conflicts was ignored.

Similarly, the four goals of the spring bear hunt were to target “areas where WDFW have observed ongoing human-bear conflicts, low fall harvest results, commercial timber damage, or concerns for ungulate species (hooved animals) recruitment.”

Davis, on Dec. 12, also decried the increased cougar hunts in the Blue Mountains. Davis and WWF took a narrow view, calling laughable the WDFW’s goal to boost Blue Mountain elk herds by allowing an increased cougar hunt. Her reasoning was that the ecosystem can’t support a heightened elk population. Evidence? Elk feeding in the valleys on hay.

However, this inference disregards the fact that elk have different summer and winter ranges and as opportunistic animals, go wherever the easiest sources of food are, which in this case, are the valleys full of hay.

In looking at WDFW policies and whether they need reform, it is necessary to take a holistic view assessing all factors involved, which Davis neglects to present.

Finally, as it is currently presented, the WWF poll used to support claims is not verifiable as accurate or authoritative on public opinion. Yet, Davis uses it to support her claims that “less than 20%… supports the killing” of wolves, “only 12%… supports” the policy of beaver trapping, and spring bear hunts are “opposed by 80% of Washington voters, including 69% who come from hunting households.”

However, the poll only included 713 participants (0.009% of Washington’s population).

Given the small group surveyed, it is not verifiable as true public opinion. Similarly, citing the population of active hunters (“less than 3%”) does not accurately represent the population that would welcome or not oppose hunting (20% responded that the state’s goal in managing fish and wildlife should be for “maximizing hunting and fishing opportunities.”)

While WWF and Davis present an argument for the reform of WDFW, they currently lack a holistic view, conclusive evidence, and verifiable justification to say WDFW “primarily caters to hunters.”

At the same time, Davis alienates conservation-minded hunters like us, who love Washington wildlife and are passionate about reasoned management.

— Wilson Hu is a Vashon resident and Washington Hunter Education Instructor who enjoys bow hunting and listening to the outdoors. Kim Forhart is a Washington Hunter Education Instructor who loves to hunt with her Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Editor’s Note: In the process of fact-checking this commentary, we shared it with Claire Loebs Davis, who provided assistance and also offered a response, which we have included in our Letters to the Editor section in this Jan. 19 edition.