Has anybody new been appointed to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in the last 15 minutes?!?! That’s a question I find myself asking about 45,000 times a day as I hurry over to Governor Inslee’s Recent Appointments and WDFW’s Commission members pages to check up on things.
So far there’s only been the one change on the nine-member citizen panel, the vacancy left when Don McIsaac of rural Clark County stepped down at the end of his term.
Two other members’ tours of duty technically also ended as the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, that of Chair Barbara Baker of Olympia and Kim Thorburn of Spokane. That said, commissioners can continue to serve without reappointment, as was seen with the 400-some-odd-day hanging-on of former chair Larry Carpenter.
It’s not just a commission nerd like me watching and waiting for word.
Washington Wildlife First has opened another campaign that urges people to write the governor and ask him “to appoint progressive, qualified candidates … who will prioritize conservation over consumption, value science, work to reform the Department,” etc., etc., etc., while the Endangered Species Coalition is pushing three names in their effort to further protect already protected wolves.
Overall, some 50 or so people are said to have put their names in the hat. They’re critical positions overseeing WDFW policies around conserving and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife so we can angle and hunt game species forever and protect and ensure nongame ones also have habitat and a future, as well as hires and fires the agency’s director. I’ve written reams about the commission these past few years as it has tangled with Columbia gillnetting, wolf management, reformists and the Governor’s Office bending it away from its traditional strongest supporters, and all sorts of other stuff.
Meanwhile, Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation is taking another tack on the whole matter. WWC plans to sue Inslee because his appointees in recent years have left the commission “out of balance with five environmental/animal-rights members” solidly in control of things, perhaps most egregiously with the cancellation of the spring black bear hunt as it’s been known and despite a healthy bruin population and a controlled season with relatively few special tags issued for select areas.
Inslee putting his thumb so heavily on the commission “is illegal” per RCWs that say the governor “shall seek to maintain a balance” among members recommended by fishing, hunting, landowner and environmental groups, with the first three categories going uncontacted in recent years, “stacking the Commission in radical environmentalist/animal-rightists favor,” according to WWC.
So taking a page out of the other side’s sue-early-and-sue-often playbook, WWC says the only solution is to file a lawsuit against the governor “to bring back balance,” and the organization cites two successful suits brought last year by the Building Industry Association of Washington and Associated General Contractors of Washington over a pair of appointments to the State Building Code Council. According to an Associated Press article, Inslee’s office was ordered by a Thurston County Superior Court judge in December to name two new people to the council after “he ignored builder group recommendations and instead named two of his own picks” as well as pay $70,000 because one of Inslee’s staffers “made a material false statement in a sworn court declaration by saying one of Inslee’s nominees had been put forward by another building trade group, when he had not.”
For a story earlier this week on WWC’s threatened lawsuit, Jaime Smith, an Inslee spokeswoman, told Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune, “We are confident our appointment process seeks to comply with all applicable statutes.”
There’s always the legislature, but unlike last year, with its multiple bills looking at the commission and WDFW, things have been pretty quiet so far. About the only related news I can drum up is yesterday’s appearance of Commissioner Lorna Smith during a public hearing on House Bill 1215, the voluntary riparian grant program, and she was quick to say she was expressing her “own views” in support of the bill, not those of the two panels she serves on. (The other is the Jefferson County Planning Commission.)
As it stands, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission next meets January 26-28, with an agenda featuring game management plan, draft conservation and WDFW-tribal hatchery policy conversations in subcommittees on Thursday, followed on Friday and Saturday by land acquisitions (a 109-acre transfer at the mouth of the Union River at the very end of Hood Canal, a 399-acre buy near McLoughlin “Falls” on the Okanogan River), another spring bear petition – this one asking to immediately begin rule-making for a 2023 hunt – Columbia smelt management, decisions on downlisting Southwest Washington whitetails and uplisting Cascade red foxes, and a briefing on “Statewide Population Status, Trend, and Limiting Factors of Deer and Elk,” a request from Commissioner John Lehmkuhl.