What could be a major battle over fish and wildlife management is brewing in Washington State, where a 98-page bill has been filed to place the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife under control of the state Department of Natural Resources, raising alarms among the state’s hunters and anglers.
Senate Bill 5721, sponsored by Democrats Jesse Salomon and Kevin Van De Wege, would also strip the Fish & Wildlife Commission of its authority, turning it into an “advisory board.”
At the same time, an Op-Ed appearing in the Spokane Spokesman-Review calling for an elected “Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife,” a proposal that hunters, especially, see as designed to marginalize their interests. In writing his opinion, Kettle Range Conservation Group’s Chris Bachman is at least candid about his perspective.
“The fundamental issue is not conservation or wildlife management,” he declares, “it is democracy, a system of representative governance based in social equality. The commission has long been, and is currently, dominated by special interests focused primarily on the use of animals and is not representing the common interest.”
Translation: Skip sound management practices and dismiss hunters as a “special interest group”—which provides millions of dollars in annual revenue to the WDFW—while instead politicizing management.
The Kettle Range Conservation Group is an organization that opposes de-listing of wolves as endangered, predicting it will lead to a “slaughter.”
There are currently two vacancies on the Fish & Wildlife Commission, and there is a strong effort to have Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee appoint former State Rep. Brian Blake, also a Democrat, to the position of “at large” member of the commission.
Blake would bring strong credentials to the citizen panel. He formerly chaired the state House Committee on Natural Resources, is a staunch pro-gunner and devoted big and small game hunter, but as noted by Andy Walgamott, editor of Northwest Sportsman magazine, lost his House seat in a Republican sweep of his region of Southwest Washington in 2020.
Walgamott describes the situation as “a gathering storm,” and it has sparked fiery debates on the Hunting-Washington forum, in two different threads that exemplify the concerns—and divisions—among Evergreen State sportsmen, many of whom are also strong Second Amendment activists who realize the same people who want to marginalize hunters are traditionally also supportive of all manner of gun control.
About 35 years ago, activist sportsmen and gun rights advocates joined forces on the Capitol steps in Olympia, demanding better fish and game management, and stronger protection of their gun rights. They created a “Sportsmens’ Rights Coalition. ” Over the years, what they have gotten from an uninterrupted string of Democrat governors and typically Democrat-controlled legislatures has been less-than-stellar, with some anadromous fish (steelhead and salmon) runs in serious trouble, reduced hatchery production, an agency many see as far more interested in wolf re-introduction than in conserving and enhancing game populations, and the perception of reduced opportunity. One can argue this at length, but there is no argument about increased predation over the past few years, and that even perception is reality.
Making matters worse, when the Legislature begins meeting Jan. 10 for a 60-day session, it will be “mostly virtual” due to continuing concerns over COVID-19. The state is nearing the start of a third year of Gov. Inslee’s “two-week shutdown to flatten the curve” which began in late winter 2020. Committee hearings will remain “mostly virtual,” according to published reports.