3 New WDFW Commissioners Named

Editor’s note: Late this afternoon WDFW put out a press release with more information on the new commissioners.

Three new members were named to Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission today by the Governor’s Office.

They are Timothy Ragen, the retired executive director of the federal Marine Mammal Commission; John Lehmkuhl, a retired US Forest Service research biologist; and Melanie Rowland, a retired National Marine Fisheries Service attorney who is also the staff counsel for the Methow Valley Citizens Council.

Lehmkuhl and Rowland live east of the Cascades, in the Wenatchee area and near Twisp, respectively. After more than a year without the required third Eastside commissioner, the Columbia Basin now has four members, though technically Rowland fills an at-large post. Ragen resides in Skagit County.

The commission sets policy for WDFW and hires its director. It is now at full strength for the first time since late December 2020.

The appointments, effective today, were announced by Governor Jay Inslee’s office early this afternoon.

They also come a day ahead of state Senate natural resource committee hearings on three commission-related bills, including addressing other ways members could be seated or removed, and consolidating WDFW under the Commissioner of Public Lands and making its oversight panel advisory only.

And they follow last Friday’s 4-3 vote to reinitiate the spring black bear season setting process after November’s 4-4 tie put the 2022 hunt on pause.

It also means that there will be a new commission chair as Ragen replaces Larry Carpenter, who had served on the commission since 2011 and the last few years as chair, having been reelected in early December on an 8-0 vote.

“I appreciated and valued my time on the commission. I tried to make decisions to the best of my abilities. I wish the new people well. A lot of work to do,” Carpenter said.

Molly Linville of Palisades is the vice chair of the commission. Other members include Kim Thorburn of Spokane, Don McIsaac of Hockinson, Lorna Smith of Port Townsend, Jim Anderson of Buckley and Barbara Baker of Olympia.

It’s been a newsy few months for the commission as some members began working on a new draft conservation policy for WDFW, disagreeing with agency biologist recommendations over bear hunts and elk herd numbers, and saw Fred Koontz resign in mid-December.

Today’s news had the Center for Biological Diversity applauding the governor for “appointing commissioners with science and environmental policy backgrounds.”

It had hunters scouring the internet and informal networks for more details on the trio. To paraphrase a Facebook post by Duane Inglin of Fish Hunt Northwest, mid-March’s revote on the 2022 spring black bear hunt will provide a quick window into the new members’ thoughts as they apply to WDFW’s opportunity mandate and a species that is not associated with any conservation concerns.

On the recreational angling side of the equation, Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association said, “NSIA looks forward to getting to know these new commissioners and hear about their commitment to the future of sportfishing in Washington.”

That’s a cautious welcoming tone not unlike the Oregon Hunters Association’s greetings to new ODFW commissioners in recent months.