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Originally published Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 7:24 PM

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Hunting could be allowed at 4 state parks

An amended bill that passed out of committee 9-2 this month would set up a pilot project to allow hunting in four state parks — two west of the Cascade Mountains, and two east of the Cascades. Future expansion to other parks would be possible.


Seattle Times outdoors editor

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Hunters might bag their limit of ducks or deer in selected state parks under a change lawmakers are considering in Olympia.

An amended bill that passed out of committee 9-2 this month would set up a pilot project to allow hunting in four state parks — two west of the Cascade Mountains, and two east of the Cascades. Future expansion to other parks would be possible.

The state parks agency, which oversees more than 125 parks and other facilities, opposes the change.

The sponsor of the original measure, Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, told the House Environment Committee he is concerned about preserving what he called “my family hunting spot,” next to Twin Harbors State Park in Grays Harbor County.

“I go there every year, just once a year, to kind of remember my father and grandfather, and spend some time out there,” said Blake, a hunter.

That land is under consideration for addition to the state park, he said.

Hunting is prohibited in all of Washington’s state parks, as is the case in California, though a number of other states allow at least some hunting in their parks.

Jerry Gibbs, of Gig Harbor, who says he has been hunting in Washington for 40 years, spoke in favor of opening parks to hunters, saying hunting is becoming “an endangered sport” because of increasing costs and diminishing access to open lands. He cited the cost of hunting permits now required on Weyerhaeuser forest lands at a price of up to $250 a year.

Roughly 9 million acres of state lands, including Fish & Wildlife sites and Department of Natural Resources holdings, are already open to hunting in Washington, while state parks have only about 111,000 acres, said Lisa Lentz, stewardship program manager for the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission.

Many state parks are densely developed with campgrounds and many are close to housing areas, so that “hunting could compose a significant safety concern,” she said.

Even in wide-open spaces of Eastern Washington, “hunting could create a risk of conflict because all state park lands are open to hikers, birdwatchers and other users,” Lentz said. “People feel parks are a refuge for people and animals and provide a safe place to recreate during hunting season.”

The Parks and Recreation Commission and staff would be tasked with deciding which parks would allow hunting. That would further tax agency resources in a time of severe budget cuts, Lentz said.

James L. King Jr., coordinator for Olympia-based Citizens for Parks & Recreation, a loosely knit organization of parks supporters, predicted that approval of hunting in state parks would provoke significant anti-hunting sentiment among park users.

“This is a dramatic change in use of our park lands,” he said.

The original bill would have left it up to the parks commission to open or not open any parks to hunting. A substitute bill that passed out of the committee mandates the pilot project, to last three years.

The state Department of Fish & Wildlife would assist in a public process to select locations removed from residential areas.

House Bill 1346 has been referred to the House General Government & Information Technology Committee for further consideration.

Brian J. Cantwell: bcantwell@seattletimes.com.



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