Spring recreational black bear hunting was banned indefinitely by the state last week.

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 5-4 on Friday against recreational black bear hunting in the spring, effectively banning the annual practice unless the commission reverses.

The commission said Friday the ban doesn’t preclude the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from proposing recreational hunts “when needed to address certain management objectives, such as timber damage, achieving ungulate management objectives, or human-wildlife conflict issues.”

Washington’s fall recreational black bear hunting season goes from August 1 until the middle of November. A big game hunting license is required and permitted hunters are allowed to kill two black bears each season. The state had contended recreation hunting didn’t impact black bear population sizes in Washington, where they number around 20,000.

The controversial spring hunt was canceled this year after the commission voted 5-4 against it in March, a narrow margin after the same subject caused a split vote in November 2021. A vocal supporter of and participant in black bear hunting, Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind was adamant earlier this year the 2023 spring hunt would go forward, but a majority of the commission felt differently.

The decision was hailed by animal rights groups.

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“Ending this cruel, unnecessary and unpopular spring hunt is a big win for Washington’s black bears,” Sophia Ressler from the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release Monday. “There’s no reason why hunters should be targeting vulnerable bears as they emerge from hibernation with babies to feed.”

Black bears are found in 41 states and, until last week, Washington was one of eight states that allowed permitted hunters to kill black bears for sport during the spring.

“After a lengthy and often painful process, the Commission has finally made it clear that Washington will no longer have a recreational spring bear hunt,” Samantha Bruegger, executive director of Washington Wildlife First, said in a statement Friday. “It has long been clear that the Washington public is overwhelmingly opposed to recreational spring bear hunting.”