Harsh winter brings changes for hunters

Courtesy of publicdomainpictures.com

Courtesy of publicdomainpictures.com

Andrew Kollar, Staff Reporter

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With the most severe winter in the last decade, many deer and elk herds experienced a higher death rate than in years past, causing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to make changes to the 2017 hunting season.

Last winter, an Arctic wind blew into the Pacific Northwest.The frigid air dealt challenges for wildlife on both sides of the state, but the east side of the Cascades was hit much harder with multiple snow storms, weeks of single-digit temperatures and freezing rain, according to Jim Unsworth, director of the WDFW.

Wild animals that live in the area have experienced mild winters in recent years, which allowed them to grow in population. Unfortunately, their populations took a hit this past winter.

The harsh winter took a toll on the wild animals that live in the area and death rates in deer and elk populations took the bigger hit than in recent years in Central and Eastern Washington.

With the higher-than-average mortality rate, the WDFW has greatly decreased permits for modern firearm permits for antler-less elk in the Yakima, Clockum and the Mount St. Helens herds.

The term “legal deer” went from any white-tailed deer to any white-tailed buck, and the WDFW has decreased the amount of white-tailed tags for senior hunters.

These changes were made for 2017 due to the extreme weather that the animals faced in the winter, just as they have increased hunting permits in the mild winters. Fortunately for the deer and elk herds, the last few winters have been mild, which increased population among the herds. With the harsh winter of this year, populations are only slightly under where the WDFW would like them to be. Limiting permits is only to protect the herds following this winter, and Unsworth reminds hunters that they are vital to wildlife conservation.

“There are still plenty of great hunting opportunities coming up throughout the state this year, and I wish you all success in the field,”Unsworth said.

Hunters are leaders in wildlife conservation, according to the WDFW, and with that, Washington deer and elk herds remain strong even with mother nature being more brutal than usual.

Along with animal conservation, hunters contribute over $313 million to Washington’s economy every year and provides upward of  5,595 jobs. Much of the revenue from hunting are spent on small businesses and in rural communities, according to the WDFW.

Even with the growing population putting more pressure on resources, hunting is not gaining popularity. Every year, there are more hunters aging and leaving the sport than there are joining. With the declining amount of hunters, the WDFW urges current hunters to recruit and mentor the younger generations.

“For many people, getting that first hunting experience can be a challenge,” said Eri Gardner, wildlife program assistant director. “Simple things like choosing the right equipment, to more complex things like using the correct technique or finding a good place to go, can keep someone at home. Having an experienced person show you how to have a great experience can be enough to turn a curious non-hunter into a lifelong hunter.”

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Harsh winter brings changes for hunters