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New hunting rules for 2011-12 adopted by state wildlife officials

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved new hunting rules for deer, elk and other game animals during a public meeting last week.

The commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, adopted the new rules for the 2011-12 hunting season after a 60-day public comment period and a public hearing in Spokane.

None of those proposals drew more public comments - both pro and con - than one that adds a four-point antler restriction for hunting white-tailed deer in game management units 117 and 121 in Stevens County. In years past, hunters have been allowed to take any buck in those two game management units, where white-tailed deer populations are considered depressed.

Commissioners approved the new four-point antler rule by a 5-2 vote after an extensive public review process.

"The commission carefully considered the science surrounding white-tailed deer management," said Commission Chair Miranda Wecker. "Based on those considerations, it was clear that a four-point restriction would not create a conservation issue or adversely affect the area deer population.

"After reviewing the broad range of public input received over the past nine months, the commission found the input received from area residents and local governments favoring this proposal to be compelling in making this decision."

Another measure approved by the commission will reduce antlerless deer hunting in northeast Washington to help those deer populations recover from past hard winters.

In addition, the commission approved new rules that will:

* Increase permit hunting for antlerless elk in the Yakima area and for bulls and antlerless elk in the Mount St. Helens area, where elk populations are exceeding management objectives.

* Increase spring black bear hunting seasons and permits in western and northeast Washington to help reduce timber damage, address bear nuisance activity and expand hunting opportunities within population management guidelines.

* Authorize certain landowners in Asotin County to issue hunting permits to increase access to deer and elk hunting on private lands. Hunting permits for those properties also would be available to the public through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's special permit drawing.

* Clarify public-conduct rules on private lands open for hunting under cooperative agreements with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

All of those new rules will be incorporated into the state's 2011-12 Big Game Hunting Seasons rule pamphlet, which will be available at sporting goods stores and other licensing outlets later this month. The new pamphlet will also be available on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

In a separate action, the commission voted to relax current state requirements for site-specific management plans for bald eagles, which were removed from the federal Endangered Species Act in 2007 and are considered recovered in Washington state.

Habitat protection for bald eagles will continue under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, but site-specific state management plans will no longer be required unless bald eagles are again listed as a state threatened or endangered species.

The commission also approved acquisition of land for fish and wildlife habitat and public recreation in Wahkiakum, Okanogan, Whatcom and Chelan counties. The 56-acre property in Wahkiakum County includes a popular boat ramp on Deep River.

Dan Budd, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife real estate manager, said 25 percent of the private boat trips for sturgeon in the estuary originate at the Deep River ramp. He also noted that funds used to acquire properties in all four counties will be included in the state's capital budget and are not available to meet Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's operating costs.

For more information on the commission's April 8-9 meeting and future meetings, see the commission's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.

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