WDFW Director Candidate Field Winnowed To 7

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission members are poring over the resumes of seven finalists for WDFW Director, and will interview them in mid-May before making a final choice in the coming months.

Yesterday, a subcommittee of the citizen oversight panel winnowed the septet out of a field of 19, mostly agreeing on the applicants known publicly only as A, B, I, L, N, P and R.

Commissioner Jay Kehne, who led the 23-minute morning teleconference, said he wasn’t surprised Chair Brad Smith, Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, Commissioner Barbara Baker and himself concurred on the choices.

“It always seems there’s like a group at the top, a group of however many that seem to just have what it takes or everything matches — their skill set, their experience — and then there’s kind of a break and others are much lower in terms of abilities, skills and knowledge,” Kehne said.

Baker said she’d earlier worried the pool might be weaker, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

“I’m happy with these initial seven as potential interview candidates for the whole commission,” Baker said.

Both Carpenter and Kehne agreed with her.

For the most part, the other 12 candidates received all “nos” or a “maybe” or two as the commissioners went through the list alphabetically.

No information about the individuals was available, per policy, but it’s rumored that at least two WDFW staffers were interested in the position.

Smith’s votes were conveyed by Kehne as he dealt with a pet emergency.

The search for a new director was precipitated in late January, when after a rather disastrous year for the agency in some respects and not long after the new proposed Puget Sound Chinook management plan came out, former director Jim Unsworth announced his resignation.

The help wanted ad WDFW subsequently put out said that whomever the next director might be, they would lead the agency through a “transformative” period as budget pressures increase, requiring “clear vision, true leadership, and firm decisions” on their part.

It forecasted a tightening fiscal picture as hunters and anglers, who fund the department through license sales, “age out” of pursuing fish and wildlife, and says that unnamed choices the agency faces in the future “make this a watershed time” for WDFW and the next director.

The position just might be one of the most demanding in the country, what with its cross-currents of state and tribal comanagement, endangered species listings, growing human population and loss of fish and wildlife habitat in the smallest state in the West, all performed under the glaring lamp of many disparate stakeholders and in an increasingly polarized environment.

“The Director will be asked to develop effective new approaches to conserving and recovering fisheries resources, while resolving long-standing and increasing conflicts among competing stakeholders,” read just one part of a 10-point list of challenges in the job description.

Nine more grenades to juggle — enforcement, budget, organizational issues, state lawmakers, non-consumptive users, among others — await whomever is ultimately hired.

They’ll oversee a staff of 1,800, land base of 1,400 square miles and harness a $437 million two-year budget to hold and conserve fisheries and hunting opportunities and provide scientific rationale for what it’s doing.

During the search, Joe Stohr is holding down the fort as the acting director. He’s been a top deputy in various positions at WDFW since coming to the agency in 2007.

Applications for the job were accepted through March 30 and 19 people sent in resumes, though one subsequently withdrew theirs, according to Tami Lininger, the commission’s executive assistant.

She said she will soon be scheduling interviews for the commissioners with the seven finalists for May 11 and 12.

A final decision is expected “later this summer,” a WDFW press release in February stated.

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