Washington Laws and Regulations for WCOs

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Technician Goals

  1. Understand the Washington Laws, called Revised Codes of Washington (RCW), which pertain to the wildlife work performed by WCOs.
  2. Understand the Washington Rules, called Washington Administrative Codes (WAC), which pertain to the wildlife work performed by WCOs.

Important Concepts

Act of Damaging   Private property is in the process of being damaged by wildlife.

Animal Problem   Any animal that threatens or damages timber or private property or threatens or injures livestock or any other domestic animal.

Body-gripping Trap   In Washington, this is defined as a trap that grips and holds an animal’s body or body part. Body-gripping traps are illegal in Washington, but certain of these traps may be authorized through the issuance of a Special Trapping Permit (STP; see definition). Cage and box traps, suitcase-type live beaver traps, and common rat and mouse traps are not classified as body-gripping traps and do not require a STP.

Damage   Economic losses caused by wildlife interactions with humans.

Owner   A person who has a legal right to commercial crops, livestock, or other private property that was damaged during a wildlife interaction.

Predatory Birds   Bird species that a WCO may harass, control, or kill, with permission of the property owner, that are causing damage to public or private property. These species include black-billed magpie, American crow, European starling, house (English) sparrow, rock dove, and Eurasian-collared dove.

Raw fur   A pelt that has not been processed for purposes of retail sale.

Relocate   In Washington, wildlife may not be captured and transported or relocated off the owner’s property (parcel where damage occurred) unless by order of the WDFW Commission or by written permit by WDFW.

Special Trapping Permit (STP)  A permit that may be issued by WDFW, upon receipt of a complete and valid application that allows for the use of a specific body-gripping trap to capture a damage-causing wild animal. The only three traps that may be authorized with this permit are a 1) Conibear-type trap submerged in water, 2) padded leg-hold trap, or 3) non-strangling foot snare. This permit is only valid for 30 days and requires a report, within 10 days of the permit expiration, of trapping activity, including any wild animals taken intentionally or incidentally. Anyone authorized to use a STP is  required to follow the most up-to-date version of the AVMA Guidelines for Euthanasia, and AVMA Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals.

Unclassified Wildlife   Wild animals in Washington that are not classified as Game, Furbearer, Endangered, Threatened, or Protected species. Unclassified wildlife includes, but is not limited to, coyote, nutria, and eastern gray squirrel.

Wild Animal   Those species of the class Mammalia whose members exist in Washington in a wild state.

Wildlife Control Operator   A person who has successfully completed the training and obtained one or more levels of certification from WDFW to assist landowners to prevent or control problems caused by wildlife and charge a fee.

Wildlife Interaction   The negative interaction and the resultant damage between wildlife and commercial crops, livestock, or other property.

What are the requirements for becoming a WCO in Washington State?

To be eligible for WCO certification, applicants must:

  1. Be at least 18 years of age.
  2. Pass the Washington State Recreational Trapper Education Exam (visit http://wdfw.wa.gov for more information),
  3. Possess a minimum of two-years’ experience that demonstrates the knowledge and ability to control wildlife species causing conflict or property damage. Methods of documenting experience include, but are not limited to:
    1. Possessing a recreational trapper’s license for two (2) years,
    2. Providing a letter of recommendation from a currently certified WCO or trapper stating the individual has two years’ experience,
    3. Providing evidence of the individual being employed in the wildlife abatement field for a minimum of two (2) years,
    4. Providing a written statement verifying the individual is currently working with a certified WCO and has done so for a minimum of two years, OR
    5. Other method as identified by the department (this on-line course qualifies).
  4. Take and pass the WDFW-approved WCO basic certification course.
  5. Not have a felony or domestic violence charge that precludes the WCO from carrying a firearm.
  6. Not have within the last three (3) years more than one finding of paid or committed as a final disposition for an infraction under RCW 77.15 or a conviction for a fish and wildlife crime under RCW 77.15.
  7. Pay the $50 enrollment fee per certification training/education.

A Washington WCO Certificate allows a WCO to do the following:

  1. Trap problem wildlife year-round without regard to season.
  2. Trap problem wildlife statewide.
  3. Trap problem wildlife without a recreational trapping license. However, if a WCO wants to possess/sell the hide of a problem wildlife species trapped during the recreational trapping season, then the WCO must possess a valid recreational trapping license prior to trapping the animal.


Important facts about a WA WCO Certificate:

  1. An individual who passes this course must apply for certification through WDFW. Solely taking and passing this course does not permit a person to act as a WCO in Washington.
  2. WCOs are not an employee of the state or agent thereof.
  3. A WCO Certificate is valid for three (3) years.
  4. The WCO Certificate must be carried at all times while conducting WCO-related work.
  5. All employees in a wildlife/pest control company that trap or control wildlife are required to be certified as a WCO. Personnel at that company who do not trap or control wildlife do not need to obtain a WCO certificate.
  6. All WCOs are responsible for knowing the expiration date of their Certificate and applying to WDFW for renewal (email specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov for a recertification application).
  7. A criminal background check is conducted upon initial certification and for each recertification.
  8. All WCOs must report on their WCO-related activities each year on a WDFW-approved Annual Report form (http://wdfw.wa.gov), whether they have trapped or not. The Annual Report is due by April 20 each year, and must include WCO-related activity that occurred between April 1 of the previous year and March 31 of the current reporting year. A WCO should report all animals captured while performing WCO-related work, including incidental, non-target species.
  9. A WCO certificate does not cover the use of drugs, poisons, or chemicals to capture or kill wildlife causing damage. The use of chemicals is allowed only with a Pesticide/SPI License issued by the Washington Department of Agriculture. The use of sodium fluoroacetate, or compound 1080, is illegal in Washington and not permitted under any certificate or license (RCW 77.15.196).

What factors may cause me to have my certificate revoked?

A WCO certificate may be revoked if:

  1. Information contained in a WCO’s application is found to be intentionally inaccurate or false;
  2. The WCO fails to comply with WDFW statutes or rules;
  3. A WCO violates a trapping or other Fish and Wildlife law; or
  4. A WCO is no longer eligible to possess a firearm, due to a felony or domestic violence charge.

What wildlife may I trap and what traps are allowed?

As a practice, whenever you have a question about a specific species or use of a specific trap, please refer to the WDFW website, call your regional WDFW office, call the Wildlife Customer Service desk in Olympia at (360) 902-2515, or email specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov.

A WCO may assist a landowner, with their permission, by addressing damage to public or private property caused by the following species: raccoon, fox, bobcat, beaver, muskrat, mink, river otter, weasel, hare, opossum, cottontail rabbits, predatory birds (see Terms to Know), and unclassified wildlife, including coyotes, nutria, and eastern gray squirrels.

The WCO certificate does not permit the intentional trapping, killing, or control of domestic animals, such as cats or dogs. All trapped domestic animals must be released immediately on-site. Trapped feral cats should not be released but should be taken to your local animal shelter for either adoption or euthanasia.

All bats in Washington are protected and cannot be hunted, trapped, or killed. However, a WCO may legally remove bats found in or immediately adjacent to a dwelling or other occupied building. When there is no immediate threat to human health, safety, or property, a WCO should consider not excluding bats from a structure from mid-October through April, because of the potential for bats to be hibernating, or from mid-May through mid-September, because of the potential for flightless offspring. If possible, call your WDFW Regional office (see contact information at the end of this chapter) and seek the assistance of your Regional District Wildlife Biologist if exclusion of bats is a necessity.

A WCO may not harass, control, or kill the following classified game animals: black bear, cougar, moose, deer, or elk. It is unlawful for a WCO to intentionally trap and kill state or federally protected wildlife or endangered species (defined in RCW 77.08.010) unless authorized by WDFW commission rule or with a permit from WDFW, with the following additional requirements:

(a) Federally listed threatened or endangered species will require federal permits or federal authority, in addition to a state permit.

(b) All migratory birds, such as woodpeckers, raptors, and waterfowl, are federally protected and may require a federal permit or federal authority, in addition to a state permit. Typically, migratory birds and other federally protected species are the responsibility of the USDA Wildlife Services, and WCOs should refer customers to them if the customer’s complaint involves these species.

Live traps and other non-lethal means must first be used to mitigate or attempt to mitigate wildlife damage issues. Examples of live traps include cage traps, box traps, and suit-case traps. Though they are a killing trap, common rat and mouse traps are not illegal and may also be used. If the use of these traps or other non-lethal methods do not mitigate a wildlife damage problem, a person may apply for a Special Trapping Permit in order to use a body-gripping trap.

Each WCO must identify their traps or devices by attaching a metal tag with the owner’s WDFW-assigned identification number (WILD ID or WCO number) or the name and address of the trapper legibly written in numbers or letters not less than one-eighth inch in height, or by inscribing the WDFW-assigned identification number or name and address of the WCO into the metal of the trap. Failure of a WCO or recreational trapper to identify their traps is a misdemeanor.

What is a Special Trapping Permit?

A Special Trapping Permit (STP) allows a person to use a specific body-gripping to help mitigate damage caused by certain species of wildlife. Before applying for a STP, the applicant and/or the landowner must first have tried to mitigate the problem using non-lethal measures or be able to document on the application form why these non-lethal measures would not be effective (RCW 77.15.194). Permittees must adhere to all conditions of the permit (RCW 77.15.194 and WAC 220-440-070).

A WCO or property owner can obtain the current application for a STP by searching for “Special Trapping Permit” on the WDFW website (http://wdfw.wa.gov). Please see the definitions for Body-gripping Trap and STP at the beginning of this module.

Only three types of body-gripping traps may be authorized with a STP: a Conibear-type trap submerged in water, a padded leg-hold trap, or a non-strangling foot snare. No other trap that grips an animal’s body is legal, even with a STP, and this includes traps such as dog-proof raccoon traps, mole traps, or neck snares.

A permitted body-gripping trap must be checked at least every 24 hours and may not be used to capture wildlife for recreational or commercial purposes. This permit is only valid for 30 days and requires a report within 10 days of the permit expiration, regardless of trapping success. The animals listed on the report should include authorized species and any incidentally trapped non-target species.

It is unlawful for a WCO to use body-gripping traps within thirty feet of any exposed animal carcass, meat bait, or nonedible game parts which are visible to flying raptors.

Animals taken with the use of a body-gripping trap may not be retained and must be disposed lawfully and in accordance to State and Local ordinances or as specified in WAC 220-440. An exception occurs for the raw fur which may be kept for personal use or educational purposes, but the fur cannot be sold.

What should I do with a trapped animal?

All animals trapped by a WCO must be released on-site (the same property where it was captured) or euthanized and properly disposed of. A firearm may be used to euthanize a trapped animal. Air guns do not meet the definition of a firearm (RCW 9.41.010) and are prohibited for the euthanasia of trapped wildlife. If you euthanize an animal, you must use humane methods to do so. Inhumane and unacceptable methods of euthanasia include live burial, freezing a live animal, or drowning an animal (the exception is a legal killing set sometimes used by trappers). Widely accepted methods for euthanasia set by the American Veterinarian Medical Association include, but are not limited to:

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) or carbon dioxide (CO2) supplied to a chamber from a compressed gas cylinder (small and medium sized animals).
  • A shot to the head from a firearm (small and medium sized animals; check local firearm’s ordinances).

A WCO may not relocate any animal from the property where it was captured to a different property unless by rule of the WDFW Commission or through a permit issued by WDFW or dispose of a euthanized animal without the consent of the property owner where the animal is to be disposed.

A WCO may retain the fur of an animal trapped using non-body gripping traps during the general trapping season, as long as the WCO has a valid Washington State Trapper’s license. The fur of any animal trapped under a Special Trapping Permit may only be retained by the WCO as long as the WCO has a valid Washington State Trapper’s license and retention of the fur is for personal use or educational purposes which do not result in retail sale or commerce. You may not sell a fur acquired under a Special Trapping Permit.

All non-target or threatened or endangered species should be released unharmed upon discovery, if possible. If a protected or endangered species is accidentally trapped and is injured, dies, or requires euthanasia, the incident must be reported to WDFW within 24 hours to WILDCOMM (1-877-933-9847) or the nearest Regional Office.

All wildlife taken and euthanized by a WCO must be lawfully disposed of as specified by WDFW or as otherwise provided in statute, rule, or local ordinance. Unless otherwise specified in permits issued by WDFW, humanely dispatched wildlife must be disposed of within twenty-four hours, or as soon as feasible, in a manner so as not to become a public or common problem or cause pollution of surface or groundwater.

The person responsible for disposal of dead wildlife must dispose of it by burial, landfilling, incineration, composting, rendering, or another method approved (such as natural decomposition) that is not otherwise prohibited by federal, state, or local law or regulation. A person must have the permission of the property owner to dispose of an animal on their property.

A person disposing of dead wildlife by burial must place it so that every part is covered by at least three (3) feet of soil; at a location not less than one hundred (100) feet from any well, spring, stream or other surface waters; not in a low-lying area subject to seasonal flooding; and not in a manner likely to contaminate groundwater.

A person disposing of a dead animal must not bury or compost it within the sanitary control area of a public drinking water supply source.

Contact Information for WDFW Headquarters and Regional Offices:


Natural Resources Building
1111 Washington St. SE
Olympia, WA 98501
Telephone (360) 902-2515

Fax (360) 902-2162

Region 1 Office

2315 North Discovery Place
Spokane Valley, WA 99216-1566

Telephone: (509) 892-1001
Fax: (509) 921-2440

Region 2 Office

1550 Alder Street NW
Ephrata, WA 98823-9699

Telephone: (509) 754-4624
Fax: (509) 754-5257

Region 3 Office

1701 South 24th Avenue
Yakima, WA 98902-5720

Telephone (509) 575-2740
Fax (509) 575-2474

Region 4 Office

16018 Mill Creek Boulevard
Mill Creek, WA 98012-1541

Telephone (425) 775-1311
Fax (425) 338-1066

Region 5 Office

5525 S. 11th Street
Ridgefield, WA 98642

Telephone (360) 696-6211
Fax (360) 906-6776

Region 6 Office

48 Devonshire Road
Montesano, WA 98563

Telephone (360) 249-4628
Fax (360) 249-1229