Wednesday, Aug. 1, the phased start-up of Washington's 2012 fall or general season for black bear begins.
This initial opening includes five of the state's 11 black bear management units - the Coastal, East Cascades, Columbia Basin, North Cascades and Puget Sound zones - the latter two encompassing Whatcom and Skagit counties.
A second set of openings consisting of three more black bear management units occurs Tuesday, Aug. 15, when the Northeastern B, Okanogan and South Cascades management units become legal to stalk for bruins.
The last three black bear management units, Northeastern A (surrounding Spokane), Blue Mountains and the tiny Long Island area (archery only) in Willapa Bay open for black bear hunting Saturday, Sept. 1.
The fall 2012 black bear hunt ends in all units Thursday, Nov. 15.
Besides the phased bruin season starts, another change that's existed for several years and will continue this year is the later opening of the general hunt for cougars.
Mountain lion hunting's start used to coincide with that of black bear but now the general season for cougars begins Sept. 1.
BEARS MAINLY IN THE BLACK
Because of the breadth of secure habitat in which they can thrive, the status of Washington's black bear population is on the whole, good, said Donny Martorello, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's carnivore, furbearer and special species manager.
However, the department is concerned about the status of black bears in two specific locales: Northeast Washington and the southern Cascades, Martorello said.
The numbers are not alarming, Martorello said, but analysis of biological samples collected annually from successful hunters shows that by several parameters of biological integrity the sub-populations of black bears in these two areas are nearing or are at thresholds that have the attention of wildlife managers.
One metric of concern is the number of female bears in the annual general season take. The second is the declining median age of both males and females that are being killed.
Given that the agency goal is to manage for healthy, sustainable bear populations across the state, Martorello said that when biological trip-levers are reached in any area indicating that too many animals are being killed it triggers several agency responses.
To obtain more discrete information about the population and hunting activity there, the department is undertaking research projects targeting Northeast Washington, he said.
And while wanting to avoid a regulatory overreaction, Martorello said the department has already shortened the duration of bear hunting seasons in both areas, seeking to reduce the overall black bear harvest rate.
To provide for some stability and predictability from the hunting public's perspective, these changes are being done in three-year increments under the department's overall hunting season-setting process, Martorello said.
The initial adjustment was to take several weeks off the front end of the season, opening both management units in the middle or end of August instead of the first of month.
Martorello said it is the agency's goal to take a measured approach to restoring vibrant bear populations in both areas and that biologists will be paying close attention to biological trends indicated in harvest sampling as well as conclusions obtained from the directed research.
Another key thrust of the agency's black bear management plan is to encourage everyone living in or visiting rural areas to avoid giving black bears a reason to misbehave.
Martorello said that unsecured garbage/refuse sources remain the No. 1 cause precipitating nuisance or trouble bear complaints.
Insofar as the bears are concerned, such temptations almost always lead to a bad end for them.
The adage was never truer that a fed bear is a dead bear.
Legislation was even presented this year that would require all landowners to use bear-proof garbage collection and disposal equipment in the handling of all organic household waste.
In a third agency undertaking that is focused on the hunting public, Washington now has an online black bear/grizzly identification program, Martorello said.
It's at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/bear_cougar/bear/index.html.
With two small grizzly populations in the Selkirk Mountains and the North Cascades, the state agency's aim is to have black bear hunters take to the field with as well-developed a set of field identification skills as is possible, Martorello said.
Grizzlies are protected by both federal and state laws in Washington and it is the agency's goal to prevent the inadvertent killing of them by black bear hunters.
Martorello said that while some western states require the passing of such bear ID exams before hunters may get a bruin tag, Washington will hold to its program of hunter volitional self-training.
BASIC BRUIN HUNT RULES
One transport tag comes with a Washington big game hunting license package that includes black bear as a species option.
However, to legally kill a second black, hunters must first buy another dedicated black bear transport tag.
Another proviso governing black bear bags is that only one of the two may come from Eastern Washington. Hunters may, however, take both bears from the five westside management units.
Successful black bear hunters must submit a first molar tooth in an envelope (available from WDFW offices) and file an online report within 10 days of their kill. Also any big game license holder with a bear tag must make a report of their unsuccessful effort by the end of January each season.
Under state and federal laws grizzly bears are protected everywhere in Washington. There is a known remnant population in the Selkirk Mountains of Northeast Washington and a small number of griz is suspected to still be roaming the hinterlands of the North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness.
Hunters may take black bears with any lawful hunting weapon for big game; however, the use of dogs to sniff out bruins or the spreading of bait to lure them in is banned by state law.
If you hunt black bear, state wildlife managers strongly recommend verifying that your target is not a female with a youngster or youngsters in tow before shooting. Young of the black bear in the company of a sow can range from 30 to 50 pounds by fall and the small cubs often lag behind their mother when on the move or the family is foraging.
Washington also has spring options for black bear that are entirely allocated by drawing. The application period starts in January for hunts that occur between April 1 and June 15.
For more details on the vernal black bear hunt, check page 63 of Washington's 2012 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations pamphlet.
RAYMOND TALKS OF HAIG-BROWN
Award-winning Seattle Times columnist, author and fly fisher Steve Raymond will appear Friday, Aug. 3, from 1-3 p.m. in the Special Collections area on the 6th floor of Wilson Library at Western Washington University, presenting "Return to the River: Exploring the Literary Legacy of Roderick Haig-Brown."
One of the pre-eminent conservationists of the last century, Roderick Haig-Brown spent a good share of his life in British Columbia and wrote more than 25 books, including the acclaimed "A River Never Sleeps."
Raymond's presentation is free and open to the public, and will be followed by tours of Western's extensive fly fishing collection including fishing equipment, videos, periodicals and books.
AUGUST SALTWATER VENUES
Several significant changes to saltwater salmon rules occur with the turn of the August calendar page.
First, Puget Sound terminal areas including Skagit Bay, Port Susan and Port Gardner become available to saltwater fishers as marine areas 8.1 and 8.2 open for their 2012-13 extended salmon seasons.
Though anglers must release all chinook caught in these zones until the first of November, coho and chum salmon are fair game at the start.
With these openings all of Washington's inlands waters will be available for the taking of at least one or more species of salmon.
Also changing on the first of August are salmon retention rules in Marine Area 7. The bag limit stays at two salmon with only one being a chinook, but all wild coho and chum must be released as of Wednesday, Aug 1. That still leaves room on catch record cards for kings, adipose fin clipped silvers and late Fraser-bound reds and the odd even-year humpy if one happens to bump into you.
Remaining closed to fishing for salmon for a while longer are Greater Bellingham Bay, inside Samish Bay, Lummi Bay and the South Rosario/East Juan de Fuca Strait zones. Boundaries of these zones are defined and depicted on pages 108 and 109 of the 2012-2013 Fish Washington Sport fishing rules pamphlet.
Bellingham Bay opens in mid-August with a four-salmon-per-day limit including two chinook.
With the mid-July start of personal use crabbing in our local waters including greater Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7 South), only one zone remains to open: the Gulf of Georgia reach known as Marine Area 7 North.
This often lucrative western Whatcom County near-shore crab fishery starts at 7 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 16.
Both Marine Area 7 sub-sectors will be open Thursdays through Mondays for the recreational pursuit of Dungeness and red rock crab through Sept. 30.
However, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, crabbers must begin recording their Dungeness catches on the winter crab catch record card. Those cards will be available at license dealers by mid-August.
Also on Sept. 4 the summer catch card reporting period begins and all crabbers, to stay in fish and wildlife department graces, have a number of weeks to report their summer season personal Dungeness take.
COMMISSION TO SET BIRD HUNTS
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission's August session traditionally is the meeting at which the suite of fall hunting opportunities for migratory birds is set.
With annual population estimates and federal management guidelines as well as department recommendations in hand, the state panel will adopt hunting seasons, bag limits and other regulations for ducks, geese, band-tailed pigeons, mourning doves and several other non-upland gamebird quarry.
The 2012-13 package to be presented to commissioners in Olympia on Aug. 3-4 will include a 107-day duck season together with a complex of opportunities for geese (mainly Canadas and snows) similar to last year's that will vary across the state among each of six goose management zones.
With overall record breeding ground duck populations this year, one proposed change in this year's regulations will simplify things a bit for hunters.
Scaup, whose diminished numbers in recent years had prompted a season curtailment and reduced daily takes, have rebounded across the continent. Washington's species-specific regs protecting them are likely to be eliminated from this fall's duck hunting rules.
Also up for consideration by commissioners is a recommendation to impose a $10 civil penalty on holders of specialized permissions to hunt if they do not make their mandatory post-season reports.
These so-called written authorizations must be obtained to hunt and bag brant, snow geese in Goose Management Area One and sea ducks (harlequins, scoters, long-taileds and goldeneye). A similar authorization is required to hunt band-tailed pigeons.
Besides accurately tracking hunter numbers, the authorizations double as harvest report cards on which all possessors must document the numbers of birds of each species that they kill. Hunters must send these cards back to the department or file an online report for each authorization category.
The penalty would be imposed when a hunter applies for their 2013 special migratory bird documents.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983 has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.