4 ODFW Commission Nominees Given Do-Confirm Nod As 5th’s Dismissal Stirs Debate

Four Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission nominees received do-confirm recommendations yesterday afternoon from a state Senate committee that also declined to consider a fifth.

The move means that senators will take up the appointments of Mark Labhart, Robert Spelbrink, Mary Wahl and Jill Zarnowitz on the floor of the upper chamber, while the dismissal of Capt. James Nash continues to stir debate.

ROBERT SPELBRINK, MARY WAHL AND JILL ZARNOWITZ SPEAK BEFORE A SENATE COMMITTEE DURING A HEARING ON THEIR NOMINATION TO SERVE ON THE OREGON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. A FOURTH NOMINEE, MARK LABHART, PHONED IN TO DISCUSS HIS QUALIFICATIONS. (OREGON)

Nash, a Northeast Oregon hunter, outfitter and conservationist whose nomination was first reported here, drew the ire of environmental groups who poked around in his Instagram account and brought images to the attention of reporters, which resulted in puzzling headlines at the Willamette Week and The Oregonian, as if it was wrong to have a hunter on the panel overseeing the management of the state’s fish and wildlife.

They also didn’t like that he was a member of a longtime Wallowa County ranching family and the son of a critic of wolf management in the area.

As the Oregon Outdoor Council rallied to Nash’s defense, there was pushback from both Jayson Jacoby of the Baker City Herald and Bill Monroe, outdoor writer at The Oregonian.

“Photos of his hippo and crocodile kills triggered an unfair rush to judgment of a man who, after medical retirement from the Marines, dedicated his life to the environment, river restoration, responsible range management and teaching others to hunt and fish,” wrote Monroe in arguing Nash deserved a hearing.

“The implication, at least based on the headlines and photographs, is that a man who not only kills animals but does so, in some cases, for sport rather than for food, is incapable of responsibly overseeing the conservation of wildlife,” wrote Jacoby.

After Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) spiked Nash’s nomination, it came out that “his big-game hunting was never the real issue.”

“The real issue, [environmental groups] say, is that Gov. Brown had a rare opportunity to change the culture at the top of her fish and wildlife agency and instead chose not to,” reported OPB.

It all led one longtime Northwest hook-and-bullet-world writer to wonder if “social prejudice” and “political correctness” wasn’t at work.

“The irony of environmentalists blocking the nomination of a veteran and lifelong outdoorsman to serve on the Fish & Wildlife commission — which is responsible for setting hunting and fishing seasons and regulations — seems overwhelming,” wrote Dave Workman for Ammoland.

As for the four whose nominations are proceeding, they detailed their interests to the Rules Committee.

Labhart, who worked for the state Department of Forestry, was a Tillamook County Commissioner and now lives in Sisters, told senators that he’d been involved with ODFW “for decades” and would approach the commission position with an open mind and wasn’t coming in with an agenda.

Spelbrink, a retired commercial fisherman of 40 years and fishing guide of 20 years on the Siletz, said the state’s natural resources had “been a huge part of my life” and hoped that his background would be valuable to the citizen panel.

Application documents show that both Labhart and Spelbrink hunt and fish.

Wahl, who managed toxic cleanups for the state and watershed operations in Portland and now lives in Langlois and co-owns her family’s ranch and is on the board of Wild Rivers Land Trust, said with her on-the-job experiences and policy work would make her “an effective, enganged commissioner.”

Zarnowitz operates a winery near Yamhill and said she had had a 40-year career in natural resources management in Oregon and Washington, and was “pleased” to offer her services to the state.

Their nominations, as well as dozens of others, including outgoing ODFW Commissioner Bruce Buckmaster to the Oregon Water Enhancement Board, were given do-confirm recommendations without any debate by Sen. Burdick’s committee.

Next up in the process is a floor vote.

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