The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is rather light on active anglers and hunters these days, per a report from a Wenatchee-based radio show host today.
John Kruse of Northwestern Outdoors Radio and America Outdoors Radio says that just one of the eight current members of the citizen panel that oversees and sets policies for the Department of Fish and Wildlife bought a hunting license in 2017 and only three had a fishing license last year.
Commissioner Don McIsaac of Hockinson and the former longtime director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council purchased both while Chair Brad Smith of Bellingham and Dave Graybill, the “fishing magician” of Leavenworth, held the latter.
“Four other commissioners, Robert Kehoe, Barbara Baker, Jay Holzmiller and Kim Thorburn, do not appear to be hunters or recreational anglers based on this license purchasing review and the biographies published about them on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission Web Page,” Kruse wrote in a story.
Kehoe, of Seattle, is the director of a commercial fishing association; Baker is the retired clerk of the state House of Representatives; Holzmiller is an Asotin County rancher and equipment operator; and Thorburn is a retired public health official and Spokane birdwatcher.
The eighth member, Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, a staunch angling advocate, told Kruse he had been a license-buying sportsman for 70 years but hadn’t bought any the past two seasons due to medical issues that kept him from taking to the field and waters around his Mount Vernon home.
The commission usually has nine members, but last month Jay Kehne of Omak resigned to spend more time with his family and afield. He bought hunting and fishing licenses last year.
Kruse says his reporting is based on a public disclosure request that he filed several months ago and follow-up questions with commissioners, and his story comes out after members last month voted to ask state lawmakers to increase license fees by 15 percent during next year’s legislative session. If passed and signed into law, it would be the first hike since 2011.
Hunters and anglers are WDFW’s key constituency, providing roughly one-third of its budget through license fees and federal kickbacks from Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts’ excise taxes on sporting equipment.
And we are also among the electricity rate and sales tax payers who along with state residents help pay the rest of the agency’s bills through local utility contracts to operate hydropower mitigation hatcheries, etc., and the state General Fund.
So it’s an expectation that members of the governor-appointed board are like us. That so relatively few are — at least by 2017 license purchases — will raise eyebrows and elicit concern about representation.
How can they know what’s going on on Chinook streams and in the mule deer mountains, in the duck marshes and on the trout lakes if they’re not out there at some point? And how can they relate to our pain at the pump, per se?
At the same time, not all of us who identify as hunters and anglers get licenses every year either, what is known in the industry as churn.
There are others out there in the state with a stake in fish, wildlife and wildland management too.
And this is not to say that commissioners who may not fish or hunt aren’t looking out for our interests, in one way or another. Earlier this year Thorburn was one of two members wondering loudly if, with Northeast Washington packed with wolves, there wasn’t a way to tweak the statewide management plan to alleviate pressure. The other was Kehne, and ultimately all except Baker signed on to a bid asking agency staffers to look into it. Even if Holzmiller doesn’t fish or hunt, he’s still tuned in to us, as his comments during commission meetings indicate.
The Revised Codes of Washington require that commissioners only be registered voters and be separated geographically from one another. The Washington Administrative Codes say, “In making these appointments, the governor is required to seek to maintain a balance reflecting all aspects of fish and wildlife. Commission members are appointed because they have general knowledge of the habit and distribution of fish and wildlife and are often recommended by interest groups, such as sport fishers, commercial fishers, hunters, private landowners, and environmentalists.”
Kruse’s story comes at a time when WDFW is actually looking for more general public support for its missions, as our interview with new director Kelly Susewind last month and the agency’s budget proposal for the next biennium make clear.
Where WDFW leaned entirely on sportsmen to pay the freight with its 2016-17 Wild Futures Initiative, which failed badly due to lack of support from sporting groups, the latest ask from the agency puts two-thirds of the onus for new funding on the state General Fund.
That’s a sharp course reversal since the Great Recession put the burden on user fees, but also a recognition of increasing legislative requirements and, as Kruse notes, declining hunter and angler numbers — and dollars — as we age out and opportunities slump due to habitat and other issues.
Hat tip to John for digging up the information. It’s not like other members are making anti-sportsman decisions, but it will be interesting to see who is appointed to the commission to fill the empty seat. Even as I recognize that WDFW needs broader support, I’d feel more comfortable knowing it was someone like us.