Contact: Aoibheann Cline, Western States Coordinator
The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects beyond health concerns and “shelter-in-place” orders, and the impact is being felt by sportsmen and women in Washington State. Most notably, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) closed recreational fishing statewide in the wake of Governor Inslee’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ directive. While public safety being the utmost priority and staying within the guidelines outlined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Emergency Orders, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has encouraged National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucus (NASC) members, Governors and state agencies to retain opportunities for people to responsibly enjoy the outdoors to the greatest extent possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The positive physical and mental attributes associated with hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and being outside allow people to better cope with the significant restrictions on our daily lives at this time. Hunting and fishing by nature, encourage social distancing, and many sportsmen and women turn to our time-honored traditions as an avenue of escape.
On March 20, CSF sent a letter to over 2,000 NASC members respectfully asking for their help in working with their governors and state natural resource agencies to maintain access to public lands and waters such as state parks, forests, wildlife management areas, boat launches, and other hunting and fishing areas while still following the advice of public health officials to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Despite Governor Inslee’s ‘Stay Healthy, Stay Home’ directive including a specific exception for “engaging in outdoor exercise activities,” as an essential activity that was permitted as of March 23, WDFW announced its closure of state parks and wildlife areas on March 24, then the closure of recreational fishing statewide on March 25, followed by cancellation of youth spring turkey hunts and closure of spring bear season on March 30.
Following these closures, on April 1, CSF sent an additional letter to Governor Inslee’s office respectfully requesting that he encourage the re-opening of recreational fishing and maintaining spring hunting seasons, when Washington is set to reconsider the current closures. In this letter, CSF provided the following suggestions for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting management during the COVID-19 pandemic:
“Keeping turkey season open as scheduled; continuing to allow access to state wildlife management areas and other public lands; temporarily waiving fishing license requirements; withholding trout stocking announcements to prevent crowds from congregating at popular fishing locations; considering fishing tackle retailers and manufacturers as essential businesses; and, allowing shooting ranges to remain open while implementing social distancing practices.”
Similar letters were also distributed to all 50 Governors across the country.
WDFW did shift hunter education programs from an in-person class to an online format. CSF commends this adaptation and encourages new hunters to take advantage of the extra time the shelter-in-place has afforded us by completing the hunter education course so they can participate in the upcoming fall hunting seasons.
CSF is committed to taking responsible action to ensure that hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities remain available across the country and will continue to work with legislators, state agency officials and Governor Inslee to encourage the re-opening of recreational fishing and spring hunting seasons.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?