At a time of changing theories in fish and wildlife management and conservation and the funding thereof, Washington Governor Jay Inslee has a new senior natural resource policy advisor and hunters and anglers as well as close watchers of WDFW and its oversight commission should take notice.
Ruth Musgrave recently replaced JT Austin, who held the post since February 2013.
As Inslee’s senior fish and wildlife policy advisor and assuming her brief is the same as Austin’s, Musgrave’s focus will include agencies such as WDFW, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Puget Sound Partnership and salmon-related bureaus at DNR and the Recreation and Conservation Funding Office.
Issues she’ll track include wildlife and wolf management, wildlife conservation, orca recovery, North of Falcon salmon-season setting, fisheries and comanagement, and more.
Musgrave will be no stranger whatsoever to WDFW and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, as she has appeared before the citizen panel numerous times over the past decade, speaking out on hunting contests and pollinators in February 2020 and Wedge Pack wolf removals as a DOW representative in October 2012, along with attending various meetings over the years.
But her gaze has extended beyond Evergreen State wildlife management. In late 2019 she emailed Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to say that as a longtime Yellowstone wildlife watcher, liberalized state wolf hunting and trapping policies could keep her from visiting the state, like Idaho’s “horrific” ones had, and called for “more conservative harvest regulations” of wolves. She and her husband have frequentlydonated to WolfHaven and are lifetime members of the Tenino facility.
In a refined presentation for The Wildlife Society’s annual conference in last November, Musgrave pointed out how big-tent efforts in Washington had helped convince the state legislature to shake loose increased General Fund support for WDFW; fishing and hunting license fee hikes had failed beforehand in Olympia.
She also spoke to recently changed state policies “trying to reflect the new values” of fish and wildlife agency constituents, such as restrictions on wildlife killing contests and how trapping is “getting a second look, this by legislators, to sort of force the agencies to evolve.” She said that while public values are changing, fish and wildlife agency culture and policies are slow to do so, as employees are often anglers and hunters themselves and that consumptive users don’t necessarily want more people at the table.
In the same briefing, Musgrave repeated her salient point from the 2018 conference: “I have found in my decades of working on wildlife policy that funding really does dictate conservation, and if funding can be increased, then conservation will be improved as well. But funding will always be an issue and the agencies are always going to rely more and more on [state] general and federal funds and less on licenses as hunting and fishing decline, at least after the pandemic.”
The messages and Musgrave’s hiring come at a time that has seen environmental groups pushing Inslee to appoint reform-minded people to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, which also hires WDFW’s director, and some current and former members of the panel, as well as several state legislators, have expressed interest in reinterpreting the legislative mandates around both bodies and setting a new conservation policy.
When away from the office, Musgrave’s NCEL bio states that she “hikes, tracks, travels, rafts and snowshoes with her family, always watching for wildlife and enjoying nature.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what’s next for JT Austin, Inslee’s previous natural resources policy advisor. While no Fish and Wildlife Commission appointment from the Governor’s Office will thrill everybody, some moves during Austin’s time were controversial. And certainly the five newest members have rocked the boat sharply from its traditional moorings, with sportsmen and conservation stakeholders apparently not consulted on their appointments, and one new commissioner causing an ugly scene late last month.
And that’s going to have to be all the time I have for this latest installment of a running series on WDFW, its commission, and fish, wildlife, conservation, management and the future thereof in Washington, but I’ll continue to advise hunters and anglers that this is a key time to be paying attention.