The mandate to conserve Washington’s fish and wildlife while maximizing angling and hunting opportunities is among the topics Fish and Wildlife Commission members will talk about at a get-together next week.
The citizen panel that sets WDFW’s policies and many seasons and hires its director will discuss the state legislature’s overarching directive to the agency and itself at a two-day retreat in Walla Walla, as well as “Commission processes … commissioner roles, and … future policy considerations.”
The Wednesday-Thursday, May 18-19, meeting in The Marcus Whitman Hotel‘s Renaissance room will be open to the public, but unlike nearly all commission confabs, this one won’t be broadcast live on TVW or Zoom. Neither was a similar workshop last year, but general minutes will be posted afterward on WDFW’s website. No decisions are expected.
The retreat’s posted agenda and a WDFW press release about it are rather vague, but the session is described as about building relationships among the nine governor-appointed members and developing a better understanding of where each is coming from as applied to the agency’s mission, as well as how they view their roles, commission procedures and comment from the public.
It does come at a time of increasing strife as the body has been shifted away from its strongest supporters and members have made a series of controversial decisions about bear hunting and stunning statements about elk herd management in recent months. Additionally a few have sought to redefine what conservation means, talked openly about reinterpreting the mandate and want to use a “precautionary principle” that goes far beyond the accepted conservation-based management.
At a recent Wildlife Committee meeting of the commission, there were also calls for a new approach to updating the six-year Game Management Plan, including taking climate change into account (most if not all of Washington’s hunted species are generalists with widespread distribution throughout the West), along with using more than science, i.e., public opinion and the role of predators in ecosystems, to determine hunting seasons.
Some members will no doubt even consider WDFW’s mandate to be at odds with itself.
“The commission, director, and the department shall preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage the wildlife and food fish, game fish, and shellfish in state waters and offshore waters …
“The department shall conserve the wildlife and food fish, game fish, and shellfish resources in a manner that does not impair the resource …
“The commission shall attempt to maximize the public recreational game fishing and hunting opportunities of all citizens, including juvenile, disabled, and senior citizens.”
But I’m not so sure that it is. To be clear, there can be no opportunity without conservation, first and foremost. Everything – everything – revolves around and flows from that. In other words, conservation is already first.
If we maximized all the opportunities, there wouldn’t be much left to hunt or fish for next season, even less the year after that, and nothing beyond.
Instead, fish and game populations are carefully husbanded by the state’s professional biologists, species specialists, modelers and managers to provide sustainable harvests well into the future, even as they account for human population growth, habitat conditions, winter severity, previous harvests, disease and other factors in setting seasons.
And I’d argue that when hunters – the original conservationists – see their herds struggling, they are more likely to stay home or go elsewhere, which may have happened last fall after Northeast Washington, Palouse and San Juan Islands deer herds were hit by heavy EHD and AHD dieoffs and harvest and sportsman effort dropped off.
Sure, we’ll grumble like hell when things are shut down early, but we want to keep fishing and hunting. It’s our pastime. And it gives back to all fish and wildlife and wildlands they require.
But back to the retreat. Without a video feed, this is one meeting I really, really should attend in person, as the agenda topics represent a through line on all the commission reporting I’ve been doing since early last year, but the damned June deadline has me pinned down those days next week.
Excuses, excuses …
For interested hunters and anglers, fellow hook-and-bullet reporters and other folks who might be able to attend in person, the hotel’s address is 6 West Rose Street, Walla Walla, WA 99362. I imagine some parts of the commission meetings may be eye-wateringly dull, but I’d bet it will be insightful and educational overall. You’ll probably want to contact the Commission Office for what times the festivities start and end each day.