Washington Department of Natural Resources officials are investigating how and why keys to state timber lands in central King County were given out earlier this spring.
Much is unclear, but DNR communications director Bryan Flint confirmed this afternoon that someone at their South Sound region office in Enumclaw gave out gate keys to parcels in the Raging and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers near Preston and North Bend, apparently for bear hunting.
“Giving of the keys was not authorized,” said Flint.
He did not know when they were given out, if they were used, when they would be returned, or have many other answers.
“We’re still at the beginning of sorting this all out,” he said.
DNR headquarters was alerted to the situation by state legislators, including Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) yesterday, Flynt said. A now-six-page-long thread on Hunting-Washington — “Dangerous Precedent- DNR Gives Gate Keys To Tribes for Bear Hunting, What’s Next” — was started Monday morning and yesterday afternoon Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review blogged about it.
The thread includes an email from a Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife wildlife biologist to an unknown party that, if legitimate, indicates that on May 20 a WDFW law enforcement officer gave the biologist the head’s up that a DNR manager had “issued gate keys and permission to hunt over bait on all their lands south of Hwy 18 to the Muckleshoot Tribe. Our guess is that this is their way of solving their peeling problems.”
The “peeling problem” is bears chewing the bark off young Douglas firs, trying to get at the sugar-rich cambium layer after their winter slumber. The girdling kills the valuable timber. The issue has led WDFW to adopt a number of spring hunts in Western Washington to try and control damage.
It appears that DNR first tried that way to deal with the hungry bears.
“They approached us about establishing a spring bear hunt in that area” sometime last year, said WDFW spokesman Craig Bartlett. “We’ll likely propose that in the next three-year game package” to the Fish & Wildlife Commission.
The biologist’s apparent email indicates several concerns for the agency, including how the episode will appear to nontribal sportsmen. It says:
1) WDFW officers will not be able to distinguish a tribal bait pile from an illegal one
2) Officer safety could become a factor because of the confusion over who has a right to hunt vs those who don’t
3) Non-tribal hunters will likely be dismayed because they don’t have access, can’t use bait, and can’t hunt at this time of the year
4) Non-hunters in King County will likely be dismayed over bears killed in the spring using bait
A Muckleshoot spokesperson had no immediate comment today but indicated he would get back to Northwest Sportsman tomorrow.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the original version of this article, DNR spokesman Bryan Flint’s name was misspelled as Flynt. Our apologies.