Black Bear on the Pacific Coast - Washington
By Gary Lewis
With mild temperatures and abundant food sources, bear habitat is ideal along the Pacific Coast. There are many places to pursue Ursus americanus, but Washington, Oregon and California offer some of the best opportunities in North America. From the beach to the Great Basin and beyond, we help you find some of the best places to hunt in each state.
Black bears occupy all the forest habitats of western Washington, the Cascade Mountains, the Okanogan, the Selkirk and Blue Mountain ranges. For management purposes, biologists divide the state into nine black bear management units (BBMUs). Based on computer modeling and reconstruction studies, the statewide population is thought to number between 25,000 and 30,000 animals.
Hunting for bears with bait or with hounds has been illegal since 1996. Since then, bear seasons have been lengthened and bag limits increased. In most areas, fall black bear seasons begin between August 1 and September 1 and continue through November 15. Spring seasons start in early or mid-April and run through late May or into June.
In the last 15 years, hunter success has averaged between 3 percent and 9 percent. In 2010, the last year for which all the data is available, overall hunter success was 8 percent for a total harvest of 1,972 bears.
Organized according to population dynamics and habitat type, the BBMUs vary in size and, of course, accessibility. Harvest numbers are highest in the coastal zone (BBMU 1), in the Cascades (BBMUs 3 and 6) and in the northeast corner of the state (BBMU 7).
Bears peel tree bark to get at the cambium layer. Such activity has a significant economic impact with potential losses that can figure in the millions of dollars. Several spring hunts – the Kapowsin in Game Management Units 653 and 654 north and west of Mount Rainier National Park, Monroe spring hunt is held in a portion of the GMU 448 (in the North Cascades), Copalis hunt is held in GMU 642 (northwest of Aberdeen) on Rayonier Timber Company land, and the North Skagit hunt in GMU 418 –address the growing population of bears and tree damage.
In northeast and southeast Washington, a number of small spring hunts are offered to provide recreation opportunity and minimize human/bear conflicts. With seasons that start in early April and run into June, hunters have a chance to target big males in the breeding season.
Hunters interested in applying for a spring permit must purchase a hunting license that includes bear as an option and a permit application. Hunting license, bear transport tag and bear permit application can be purchased at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov or by calling (866) 246-9453.
Though the spring hunts offer the highest success rates, the fall provides the most opportunity with long seasons and the opportunity to pursue secondary species. In the statewide late summer and fall hunts, an individual may take up to two bears, only one of which may be taken on the east side.
In the northeast corner of the state, hunter success ran 10 percent in 2010. Male bears made up the majority of the harvest and the median male age was 3.5 years.
On the coast in BBMU 1, hunter success was a reported 8 percent with a median male harvest of 2 to 4 years of age.
The traveling hunter should pay attention to localized seasons and restrictions. A hunter must have a special deer permit as well as a bear tag to hunt bear in GMU 485 and the Long Island GMU 699 is designated archery-only.
Successful black bear hunters must submit the premolar tooth. Tooth envelopes are available at all WDFW offices.