Lawsuit Filed To Bar Smith From WA Fish And Wildlife Commission
Updated, 4 p.m., Monday, March 6, 2023, with comments from the Governor’s Office in the 21st-24th paragraphs.
A national sportsmen’s organization today filed a lawsuit to bar Lorna Smith from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission due to an “ongoing violation of state law” related to her concurrent position on the Jefferson County Planning Commission.
The Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation says the Revised Codes of Washington are “clear on this question,” with RCW 77.04.040 specifically stating that members of the commission “… shall not hold another state, county, or municipal elective or appointive office.”
According to Smith’s bio on the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s website, the Port Townsend resident is in her second term on the Jefferson County Planning Commission, to which she was appointed prior to her January 2021 appointment by Governor Jay Inslee to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. She is slated to serve on the county panel through March 17, 2026; her state position runs through December 31, 2026.
The lawsuit seeks to “prohibit and enjoin Lorna Smith from participating” in the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
“Sadly, this violation is but one example of how off the rails the (Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission) operates under the Inslee administration,” said Todd Adkins, vice president of government affairs at the Sportsmen’s Alliance, in a press release. “We view this lawsuit as the initial step of a long but important process to bring sanity and decency back to wildlife decision-making in Washington. It all starts here, but trust me, it won’t end here. The animal extremists are going to see a lot of the same in the coming weeks and months.”
The Ohio-based hunting, fishing and trapping rights organization, which filed the lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court with two Washington resident members, terms Smith “the driving force behind the canceling of the spring black bear hunt” and says she has also worked other angles to “destabilize traditional management approaches and systems in the state.”
Last November, the limited-entry permit season that’s been around since the early 1970s with an expected harvest of 145 bruins, largely males, was shelved by the commission as a “recreational” hunt but technically still could be used as a “management” tool if WDFW brings forward super-specific proposals to, say, reduce timber damage or mitigate deer fawn and elk calf predation. Smith has been unmoved by Blue Mountains elk herd woes, linked to predation, and voted against a cougar limit increase this season.
The citizen panel that oversees WDFW policies and hires and fires its director has also been working on a new conservation policy for itself and the agency, and a member or two has questioned their twin legislative mandate to maximize hunting and fishing while also conserving the state’s critters in perpetuity.
Smith regularly draws the ire of hunters, 6,500 of whom have signed a petition for her to resign for perceived anti-hunting bias, but at the same time she also routinely voted to approve big game, small game and waterfowl hunting seasons and special permit levels in her first two years on the Fish and Wildlife Commission – votes that filled many a freezer with many many a deer, elk, moose, duck, goose, quail and pheasant, among other species – albeit in 2021 while also trying to peel fall bear season out of the three-year hunting season package and set it as a stand-alone one-year season, a motion that ultimately failed.
The lawsuit arrives as Smith stands to slide in as the new chair of the Wildlife Committee, following last week’s departure of hunter favorite Kim Thorburn, who was not reappointed to the commission by Inslee after her term officially expired at the end of 2022.
The committee is working on a two-pronged approach to updating the statewide six-year Game Management Plan and Smith has proposed including a whole new chapter around “Wildlife Management Issues” such as predator-prey relationships and trophic cascades, reviewing what constitutes “actual dangerous wildlife situations and response,” hunter ethics and other elements.
At the last meeting, Smith claimed her move was not about abolishing or curtailing hunting, but “(infusing) more science into the process.”
“Science has certainly been a big part of the process all along, we all know that, but to be a little bit more transparent and explain how and when science is appropriate and how it’s going to be used to help us to manage these species,” she stated during a late February Wildlife Committee meeting.
The chair of the committee is elected by its members and at this point, besides Smith, the other two are Melanie Rowland of Twisp and Jim Anderson of Buckley. Rowland would likely vote for Smith.
Like other recent Inslee appointees – Rowland, the resigned Fred Koontz – Smith is lightning rod and a recent segment on Fish Hunt Northwest provided an example.
Cohost Tommy Donlin read from an email by Smith to a constituent about hunter representation on the commission in which she wrote, “Although we don’t actively hunt and fish, we endorse both past-times and our freezer is always generously stocked with fish, crab and venison that our neighbors and family generously supply when their harvest is more than they can consume! We operate on the barter system here in our neighborhood.”
“It is absolutely illegal. You cannot barter the fish or game you harvest for anything. You cannot, it’s not legal,” Donlin stated.
Cohost Duane Inglin pointed to Washington Administrative Code 220-200-110, which states, “It is unlawful to offer for sale, sell, purchase, or barter edible parts of wild animals or game birds. It is unlawful to offer for sale, sell, purchase, or barter edible parts of game fish.”
Both hosts considered it hypocritical for a sitting commissioner to not know the rules, as well as to try and use it as a connection to hunters and anglers.
In the end the barter tack may not produce much more than smoke or smoked salmon, but going to court is a much more muscular action than usually is seen from sporting quarters and is essentially a page out of environmental and animal rights groups playbook. Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation is threatening to sue Inslee over recent appointments that have left the commission “out of balance with five environmental/animal-rights members” and “is illegal” per RCWs that say the governor “shall seek to maintain a balance” among members recommended by fishing, hunting, landowner and environmental groups.
This afternoon, Mike Faulk, a spokesman at the Governor’s Office, said they had not reviewed the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation’s lawsuit, “but we believe the governor’s appointees are qualified to serve under statute.”
“It’s our understanding that her other position is not one of the disqualifying ‘offices’ under the statute,” he said.
Pressed to identify where that understanding flowed from, Faulk demurred.
“The state’s response to the court will address that more specifically. Since this is pending litigation, we don’t have more to add here,” he said.
Sportsmen’s Alliance says it has been watching the Fish and Wildlife Commission for over two years, a period which coincides with the lead-up to the spring bear vote and the appointment of Smith, and is filing the lawsuit on behalf of its members, including Washington residents and avid hunters, fishermen, outdoorsmen and conservationists Marc Nelson and Kolby Schafer, as well as Evergreen State sportsmen in Washington as a whole.
“It’s more than a little instructive to note that there is not a single commissioner currently serving on the WFWC that has been confirmed by the senate,” added SA’s Adkins. “The whole thing is being run like a political cabal, so we can’t be surprised that Smith could care less about the rule of law and her own disqualifying behavior.”
Speaking of the Senate, the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee will hold a public hearing on three Fish and Wildlife Commission members – two sitting and one new – this Thursday afternoon. Chair Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) will bring in Vice Chair Molly Linville of Douglas County, Tim Ragen of Anacortes and new guy on the block Woody Myers of Spokane for a chat.
It will be a second appearance before the committee for Linville, who last year was given a bipartisan 5-2 do-confirm recommendation, with Van De Wege and Sen. Jesse Salomon dissenting. That same day Smith also appeared and drew a narrow, partisan 4-3 do-confirm recommendation. Ultimately, neither appointment was voted on by the full Senate but commissioners can serve without it.
Late this afternoon, Eli Francovich at the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported that until half a year ago Linville had served on her home county’s planning commission.
“I was advised by out legal counsel that it was not a conflict of interest,” Linville told Francovich.
And in the evening, Smith told the Spokesman-Review reporter via email, “The Governor’s Office was comfortable with my holding that volunteer position when I was appointed. It is my understanding that ‘appointive office’ as used in RCW. 77.04.040 does not include a volunteer position like a planning commission member who serves in an advisory capacity only. I am proud to have been of service to both my County and my State in these volunteer positions.”
Had she won her primary for Jefferson County Commissioner in 2020 and gone on to win the general election, things might be different.
A court challenge will clear up the strength of the RCW around Fish and Wildlife Commission members holding other office, but as it stands, the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation vows “substantial” moves in the future, meaning a road that’s become rocky will become rockier.