A recent Senate hearing provided a glimpse of Washington’s newest Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, a woman who may be unknown to the state’s anglers and hunters but is no stranger to legislators.
Barbara Baker of Olympia called joining the citizen panel charged with overseeing the protection and perpetuation of the state’s critters “a dream job,” one for which she put down two leading lawmakers from either side of the aisle as her professional references.
That’s because Baker worked in the House of Representatives for 20 years, the last five as the chamber’s chief clerk, and on March 6 she told Senator Kirk Pearson’s Natural Resources and Parks Committee that as time passed she needed new challenges and that she was interested in natural resource policies and tribal issues.
She said that it took about a year and a half to convince the Governor’s Office that someone with her background would be a fit for the commission, but she was eventually appointed by Gov. Inslee, on Jan. 17 to fill retiring commissioner Conrad Mahnken’s seat.
Pearson asked Baker to outline her thoughts on fish production, hunting and recreational access, questions he considered to be very important.
“I am a very strong supporter of both hunting and fishing, recreationally in the case of hunting, and then both commercially and recreationally in the fishing avenues,” Baker responded. “There are qualifications to that, but they’re the qualifications that we all share. I want those things to happen within the law. I’m not interested in people poaching. I’m not a big advocate of baiting. But other than that, I come from a family where people fish and people hunt. My daughter met her partner gillnetting in Alaska — they still do it …. I’ve been a ‘small-scale rancher’ myself. I’ve had to shoot a lamb when a coyote ate its back leg off. I know what that feels like … I’m not interested in getting on this board to try to curtail people’s right to hunt or fish.”
Speaking to hatcheries, she said there’s a lot of conflict around them “that doesn’t benefit anybody,” that money isn’t going into upkeep of the facilities and that federal overseers aren’t putting their “imprimatur” on genetic management plans fast enough.
When Baker’s appointment was announced in January, Rep. Brian Blake, chair of a House committee dealing with WDFW issues as well as a hunter and generally considered to be a commercial fisheries advocate, called her “honest and open-minded,” while sportfishing interests said she’d subsequently been briefed on the importance of conservation in fisheries and that she seemed to agree with that path.
Though the Senate committee has not given a recommendation one way or the other to the full Senate on Baker’s appointment, which is not unusual, she seemed to draw support from Sens. John McCoy and Kevin Van De Wege, who both thought her skills and training would serve her well.
Pearson, who has been very critical of WDFW in recent months in terms of his words, public hearings he’s held and bills he has and hasn’t moved through the legislature, asked Baker to be a liaison to lawmakers on numerous management issues.
She said that she loved working with legislators, calling the commission a place where she could put her skills to good use.
According to biographies supplied to the Governor’s Office and WDFW, Baker comes from Texas ranching families (in later years raising unique horse and sheep breeds) and graduated from high school in Alaska. Among her early jobs were stints at Mt. McKinley (now Denali), on the Alyeska Pipeline and construction at Boeing before graduating from the University of Puget Sound School of Law and becoming a lawyer representing clients in state and federal courts.
In applying, she listed this skill set as “timely, useful and applicable” to the commission:
– policy analysis on issues involving deeply divided constituencies,
– thorough research skills, using science, on subject areas – even when the answers seem obvious,
– successful mediation in times of conflict (pretty much my entire current job in the House),
– ability to engage in legal analyses, read precedent and interpret statutes,
– budget development and passage experience on all levels, including allotment setting, for agency, local and state governements,
– deep appreciation of Tribal sovereignty and limited proficiency in the law related to Tribal governments
Baker, 61, is described as “an avid outdoorsperson, spending all of her free time hiking, camping, biking and especially kayaking in Alaska, BC and Washington,” and who lives on a houseboat in Deep South Sound.
Her appointment as one of three at-large members of the commission runs through 2022.