Commissioners considering epidemiologist, discuss hunting seasons with WDFW
January 6, 2022
Wahkiakum County commissioners gave tentative approval of adding an epidemiologist to the county health department staff and discussed hunting seasons and wildlife herd issues with regional state fish and wildlife officials when they met Tuesday.
Commissioners and Health and Human Services Department Director Chris Bischoff said they've been surprised by reaction to the potential arrival of an epidemiologist. The position, Bischoff said, will involve research and project development and won't have any mandatory authority.
In discussions with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials, commissioners urged a reduction in hunting pressure on local deer and elk herds.
Commissioners and WHHS Director Bischoff said there has been opposition to the new epidemiologist position.
The position is funded by the state, Bischoff said, and will be shared with other counties.
The epidemiologist will analyze data and advise health directors and county boards of health on public health issues.
"The epidemiologist isn't a decision maker," Bischoff said. "It would be a valuable tool for you as the board of health and for me."
"I've got more hurt with this than any subject out there," commented Commissioner Dan Cothren. People are tired from the covid-19 pandemic response and fear the government is imposing more control on them, he said.
"They (the epidemiologist) is just packaging information," Bischoff said. "Nothing that comes out of that will be a mandate."
Another issue, Bischoff said, is who employs the epidemiologist. They could be a Wahkiakum County employee under Bischoff; they could work out of the Cowlitz County Health Department or if neither county employs them, they would work out of Clark County.
Bischoff recommended Wahkiakum be the employer.
"It would be better for us to have someone who works for us," Bischoff said.
Commissioners asked Bischoff to complete paperwork to create the position and bring it to them at a future meeting.
At the invitation of the county commission, regional managers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) attended the meeting to discuss various wildlife management issues.
Regional Biologist Eric Holman reviewed populations for elk, deer, bear and cougar, saying they are stable in areas across and around the county.
WDFW biologists use helicopters to monitor elk herds. Hunters' reports indicate levels for deer and cougar. Traps that collect hair for DNA analysis provide data on bears. The department can adjust harvest in individual game management units, if data show a need, and they've done so.
Commissioner Cothren, a life-long hunter who travels forests in his employment, urged the visitors to reduce hunting seasons on deer and elk, which run from September into mid-December.
In his observation, based on years of traveling the woods, population levels aren't what they used to be.
Commission Chair Gene Strong and people in the meeting audience agreed.
A major problem, Cothren said, is that some timber companies have closed their lands to the general public and allow just a few hunters access on a paid permit basis. That forces other hunters into smaller, crowded areas.
"I appreciate that comment," Holman replied. "That's very valid--the thorny issue of reduction of access to private timberlands.
"Our agency has really struggled with finding a way to address this."
Commissioners also commented that Wahkiakum County residents have been sighting cougars that are potential problems.
Regional Manager Kessina Lee said she would ask staff to provide information about cougar interactions and how to report sightings.
She thanked commissioners for their comments.
"We really are listening," she said.