Commissioners And Legislators: WDFW Overseers Making News

Editor’s note: Updated, 12:15 p.m., January 11, 2020, with further comments in the 12th and 13th paragraphs from Senator Van De Wege.

As the appointment of two new members to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission continues to raise eyebrows, the chairs of committees overseeing WDFW in the state legislature are also outlining their priorities for the agency.

In the case of the former, Lorna Smith of Western Wildlife Outreach and Fred Koontz, a retired zoo official, Governor Jay Inslee’s appointments are the subject of a large Sunday article in the Spokane Spokesman-Review that does the best job so far of gathering viewpoints about the change and direction of the citizen panel overseeing WDFW.

(A pared-down version appeared on The Seattle Times website.)

Outdoor reporter Eli Francovich also wraps his story around the concerns of Commissioner Kim Thorburn, who maintains that hunters are being seen “as an enemy” and their declining numbers is bad news for budgetary support of WDFW’s missions.


Near the end, the article walks a very careful tight rope to not say the names of Smith and Koontz but states that Thorburn “worries if WDFW focuses too much on ‘urban values’ it will lose its staunchest, most invested supporters.”

It can be argued that four of the eight current commissioners were appointed for their or representative of environmental interests, tipping the boat, as it were, sharply in that direction, though Thorburn now hews to her position representing Eastern Washington pretty closely.

“We manage it for all Washingtonians, not just urban Washingtonians,” she told Francovich. “I don’t think wildlife conservation and management should be by majority view on wildlife. Especially when it’s a view that really impedes conservation and management practices.”

As for WDFW and the legislature, as lawmakers convene for the start of the long session, the chairmanships of both Senate and House natural resources committees are held by North OlyPen Democrats.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim tells the Peninsula Daily News his “biggest priority will be getting control of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and attempting to bring accountability to them.”

According to reporter Paul Gottlieb, Van De Wege is looking to reduce nontribal gillnetting – his 2019 bill banning the gear made it to Senate Ways and Means – and do away with this season’s restriction on fishing from a boat for steelhead on coastal streams, which he calls “unfair and foolish.”


That certainly was the most controversial element of the changes WDFW announced last month to reduce impacts on wild winter-runs from the Forks area south Naselle to boost spawning escapement. Van De Wege will hold a committee hearing on that tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 1:30 p.m.

In a “Coffee With Colleen” discussion last week with the Clallam County Economic Development Council, the senator discussed “some punishments” were on the way to WDFW in regards to those restrictions.

“If there was a problem, I believe the tribes would also be taking methods to decrease how many fish they are catching and there’s no decrease there, which makes me think that it’s probably not even a problem over all because salmon and steelhead in general are very important, obviously, to the tribes,” Van De Wege said (see 17:30-minute mark).

Since first posting an explainer on December 9, WDFW added links to agreed-to winter steelhead harvest management plans with the Hoh and Quileute Tribes, which show scheduled tribal netting going from 4.5 days per week in November and December to 1.5 days per week by late January and none after March 21, just prior to the peak of wild fish returns.

Van De Wege is also looking to increase the say that the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee has on the governor’s Fish and Wildlife Commission appointments. Right now it can bring in members for hearings and issue recommendations to the full Senate for a vote.

Meanwhile, there has been a change in leadership of the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee. Former chair Brian Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat, was voted out of office last November as his district shifted conservative. Still, the House is controlled by Democrats and members voted Mike Chapman of Port Angeles as the committee’s new head.


The PDN’s Gottlieb reported that Van De Wege is hoping for some help on his proposals from Chapman and that Chapman “said some of those ideas are good but will wait to see the legislation.”

Coastal steelhead restrictions are on the agenda for a Friday, Jan. 15 meeting of Chapman’s committee beginning at 8 a.m., as is a report from WDFW Director Kelly Susewind.