Two turkey hunters look over the Klickitat River after a morning hunt. 2016 Washington spring turkey season. (Photo by Shawn Lentz)

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After closing state-managed lands and suspending current fishing and hunting seasons last month, Washington state is planning to reopen both this week.

Thousands of sportsmen and -women who were shut out as fishing, bear, and turkey seasons were preparing to get underway will rejoice – maybe.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reopened some recreational fishing and hunting on May 5. But some restrictions remain in place, and the department is asking that those activities be done locally.

That means that state’s “west siders” who normally travel 4-6 hours to turkey country will be missing out this spring if they follow recommendations. Plenty of bear and freshwater fishing opportunities occur on both sides of the state.

WDFW stated it will take a “phased approach” to opening seasons. Initially, restrictions will prohibit after-dark use and overnight camping. Re-closure is possible if areas become too crowded.

In a statement on WDFW’s site, Director Kelly Susewind said, “We’ve had so many people doing their part to stay home, and we’re seeing results. We’re now at a point where we will soon be able to begin welcoming people back outdoors.”

“I’m asking people to take what they’ve learned these past few weeks and continue putting these measures into play as you fish, hunt, and enjoy your local wildlife area. We’re happy to reopen these opportunities, and we need you to continue working with us to stay safe.” 

Hunters and anglers hoping for out-of-state opportunities will be disappointed to know that neighboring Idaho and Oregon have closed their doors to non-resident hunting and fishing.

On April 10, Oregon closed all hunting, fishing, crabbing, and clamming to non-residents. Washington is closed to non-resident hunters and anglers as well. Similarly, Idaho suspended the sale of some non-resident hunting and fishing licenses. However, there is good news for Idaho non-residents who purchased their licenses before April 4 — out-of-state sportsmen and -women will still be able to take part in those hunts.

Across the country, many states have adapted hunting regulations in like of the Covid-19 pandemic. Michigan, which has been hit hard by coronavirus, kept hunting and fishing seasons open. However, like the Pacific Northwest states, the Michigan DNR has put restrictions on access and put guidelines into place to discourage long-distance travel.

For example, Michigan turkey season opened on April 18. According to the department, hunters who already purchased their tags in areas far from home can convert their area tags to statewide ones and remain legal while hunting close to home.

Other states such as New York, Texas, Colorado, and Maine have kept fishing and hunting seasons open by enacting similar, but varying forms of closures and modified access.

In addition, Idaho non-resident hunters can still apply for controlled hunts that will occur later in the year. All three states strongly encourage hunting with only members of your current household and continued social distancing while enjoying the outdoors.

Rural communities have expressed concern about the potential dangers of lifted restrictions to their areas. With many of Washington’s rural towns being outdoor destinations or gateways to recreation areas, some state parks may not open immediately due to the potential for crowding.

Heavily used parks in the Columbia River Gorge, for example, will not be part of the May 5 reopening. There is no definite timeline for when these parks will open, but according to Washington State Park officials, they are “working with local communities as well as natural resource agencies to determine an appropriate time.”

Recreationists should be well-prepared when heading out this week. WDFW, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Washington State Parks are recommending bringing face masks, hand sanitizer, water, hand soap, and toilet paper, as visitor centers and bathrooms will remain closed.

DNR, which has partnered with Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) on a social media campaign for responsible recreating, suggests some guidelines for outdoor physical distancing such as: launching one boat at a time at boat launch sites, leaving one parking space between vehicles, and avoiding high-traffic surfaces.

Youth turkey weekend was canceled and won’t return until next year, but spring turkey season will continue and end on May 31. Spring bear will be extended to June 30. Freshwater fisheries will open under normal seasons as well as some saltwater fishing units. Coastal saltwater fisheries and shellfishing will remain closed.

*** 

For a full list of closures and restrictions see the WDFW Covid-19/Coronavirus response and updates page.

WDFW Guidelines for #ResponsibleRecreation in the outdoors 

Before you go  

  • Check what’s open. While many state-managed land destinations are open for day-use, other local, tribal, and federal land may still be closed.  
  • Opt for day trips close to home. Overnight stays are not permitted. 
  • Stay with immediate household members only. Recreation with those outside of your household creates new avenues for virus transmission. 
  • Come prepared. Visitors may find reduced or limited restroom services as staff begin the process to reopen facilities at wildlife areas and water access sites.  You are advised to bring your own soap, water, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper, as well as a mask or bandana to cover your nose and mouth. 
  • Enjoy the outdoors when healthy. If you have symptoms of fever, coughing, or shortness of breath, save your outdoor adventure for another day.   

 When you get there  

  • Avoid crowds. Be prepared to go somewhere else or come back another time if your destination looks crowded.  
  • Practice physical distancing. Keep six feet between you and those outside your immediate household. Launch one boat at a time to give others enough space to launch safely. Leave at least one parking space between your vehicle and the vehicle next to you. Trailer your boat in the same way.  
  • Wash your hands often. Keep up on personal hygiene and bring your own water, soap, and hand sanitizer with you.   
  • Pack out what you pack in. Take any garbage with you, including disposable gloves and masks.