Washington Death Sparks Review of Hunting Safety Issues
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) managers plan to examine hunter-education practices, possible hunting-age restrictions and other potential safety improvements for areas where mixed-use recreation occurs during hunting seasons.
The increased safety effort follows a fatal accident Saturday, in which a Skagit County hiker was accidentally shot by a 14-year-old bear hunter on federal land. WDFW officers are assisting the Skagit County Sheriff's Office in the investigation.
"The safety of all people recreating outdoors is our primary concern, and our previous hunting safety record is testimony to that ethic," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "As the state's population grows, and use of outdoor recreational areas increases, we must be sure we're doing everything we can to protect all users. We plan to take a look at our own lands and consult with other land managers to see if there are steps we can take to enhance safety for various user groups."
For example, warning signs, staggered recreation times and locations and temporary recreational area closures are among the steps that have been used in some areas where mixed recreational uses occur, Koenings said. Such precautions have been effective in addressing safety concerns and should be reviewed for wider use, he said.
"A fatal hunting accident involving a non-hunter is extremely rare, but that doesn't make it any less tragic," said Koenings. "I'm personally very sorry that this tragedy has occurred. Anything we can do to reduce the risk of another such incident is well worth pursuing."
Saturday's accident was the state's first hunting-related fatality involving a non-hunter in at least a quarter-century. The eight hunting-related fatalities in Washington in the past decade all were hunters. There has been a significant decrease in hunting fatalities over the past 20 years, in part because of mandatory hunter-safety instruction, hunter-orange garment requirements and other safety efforts. All first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1972, are required to successfully complete a hunter-education course.
A statewide law that once required some teen-age hunters to be accompanied by an adult is no longer on the books, and examining hunting supervision laws is one of the actions WDFW will undertake, Koenings said. Changes in hunting-age restrictions are subject to legislative approval.
In the meantime, all land users including hunters, hikers, photographers, food gatherers and others, are reminded to be safety conscious in mixed-use recreation areas. Hunters are trained and expected to be sure of their targets and are required to wear hunter-orange garments for some hunts. Others are reminded to be aware of hunting seasons, wear bright-colored clothing and make noise to make their presence known. Details on hunting season dates and areas are available on WDFW's website at wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/hunter/hunter.htm.
Hunting for black bear opened Aug. 1. Other state hunts occur every month of the year except June and July. Over 200,000 hunters go afield each year in Washington, and are outdoors a combined total of more than 3.5 million hunter-days annually. Deer and elk are the most sought after big-game animals, but 50,000-60,000 hunters purchase bear tags annually.