Fish and Wildlife Commission under fire

Take back: Bill to strip body of authority stems from 'people trying to
implement their agenda'

The News Tribune
March 7, 2002

Rep. Mark Doumit (D-Cathlamet), chairman of the House Natural Resources
Committee, has introduced a bill to strip the state Fish and Wildlife
Commission of much of its authority and return that authority to the governor.

If passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Locke, it would
constitute the latest swing in a long, seesaw battle among Washington's
citizens and the legislative and executive branches of government for
increased influence over fish and wildlife management.

Originally, responsibility for management of Washington's sport fish and
wildlife rested with county governments. Washington's voters changed that
in the 1930s through an initiative measure that created the state Game
Department and a Game Commission to supervise it and to hire its director.
That department and commission were ancestors of the current Fish and
Wildlife Department and its commission. The initiative measure gave the
governor the power to appoint the commission's members, subject to
confirmation by the Senate.

In 1988, then-Gov. Booth Gardner wrested away much of the commission's
power, including its authority to appoint the department's director, and in
1995 the voters - tired of what they apparently saw as abuse of that power
- retook it from the governor through a referendum, R-45. The referendum
restored the power to the commission.

Doumit's bill, which he introduced late last month, would return the power
of appointing the department director once again to the governor and would
also, Doumit said, shift "some budgetary control back to the governor."

At the same time it would provide the commission an independent staff,
which it now lacks, and would partially pay for that staff by eliminating
the governor's Salmon Recovery Office.

Doumit said one of the issues raised at a recent Natural Resources
Committee workshop concerning the commission was that the Fish and Wildlife
Department provides the only staff the department has, a situation that
sometimes interferes with the commission's oversight role.

Doumit introduced his bill too late for the House to act on it before the
deadline by which measures must be out of their house of origin. He said
the House could hold it for action next session, or could declare the
measure necessary to the implementation of the state budget, in which case
it would be exempt from the cut-off. He said he introduced the measure
because there needs to be "a better defined connection (from the
commission) back to the executive branch."

Rep. Bob Sump (R-Republic), ranking minority member of the House Natural
Resources Committee, said the committee's commission-oriented workshop on
Feb. 13 had been prompted by unhappiness among some legislators over how
the commission has operated.

"Many of us feel like the commission is creating policy, not implementing
(law)," Sump said. "They have gone way outside their bounds, so we're
looking very seriously at bringing back some legislation."

Sump said an example of a commission misstep was its implementation last
year of a ban on use of electrically powered duck decoys, on grounds they
violated tenets of good sportsmanship. Another misstep, Sump said, was the
commission's overly conservative rules-making in implementing a newly
passed law that required expanded opportunities for hunting cougars with
hounds for reasons of public safety. A commission member appeared before
the committee, he said, and told it she didn't think the law was right.

"We're not interested in what they think," Sump said. "We're interested in
them crafting a (rule) that totally reflects the (law).

"There are people on the commission that have brought an agenda with them,"
he said, "and are trying to implement their agenda. That's not their job.
If they're looking for a showdown, we will give them one."

The commission received a request this year from at least one legislator
asking it to undo its ban on electric decoys.

It didn't change the rule, but did agree to review what other states are

"For example, California has a sort of half-ban, which prohibits them in
some parts of the season but not in others," said Russ Cahill, the
commission's chairman. "We promised to take a look at that."

Cahill said the commission has no position on Doumit's bill. But his
personal feeling, he said, "is that the people of the state have for almost
70 years been switching back and forth between having a commission make
these rules and having the governor in charge of it. My position is, we
ought to give (the commission) a try for awhile. Shifting back and forth
... we'll never get it right."

The Legislature can "repair" anything the commission does as things go
along, Cahill said.

"If they think the commission is off on policy, they can make a law that
tells us what to do," he said. "That's within their constitutional authority."


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