The state Fish and Wildlife Commission this afternoon issued a statement opposing Senate Bill 6813.
The bill would transfer natural resources management duties currently managed by Fish and Wildlife and Parks and Recreation to the Department of Natural Resources. The bill is scheduled for public hearing in the Senate Natural Resources committee Wednesday at 8 a.m.
Click here for information on the hearing and bill’s text.
The commission discussed the bill during its regular montly meeting last week and again during this morning’s conference call.
Audio recordings of the meeting and this morning’s discussion will be available for listening at the commission’s Web site.
Here is the statement:
The Fish and Wildlife Commission hereby expresses its strong opposition to Senate Bill 6813. This proposed legislation would abolish the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Parks and Recreation Commission and transfer their powers, duties, and functions to the Department of Natural Resources. While the Legislature states that it intends no transfer of powers and duties away from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, it in fact would eliminate the central authority of the Fish and Wildlife Commission — the power to hire and fire the Director. It would also remove the Commission’s authority over the Department budget.
The three agencies that are affected by this bill have very different mandates and missions — each important to the quality of life of our citizenry. It would be improper to intentionally or unintentionally make the vital resource conservation mission of the Department of Fish and Wildlife subordinate to the resource extraction mission of the Department of Natural Resources.
After a thoughtful and deliberative process considering the costs and benefits of various natural resource agencies re-organization options, the Governor proposed ways to enhance efficiency and reduce redundancy. The Governor’s government reform process involved resource professionals, the affected stakeholders, and the public. SB 6813 proposes to enact a merger option that was thoroughly reviewed but ultimately eliminated because it lacked benefits sufficient to justify the costs and risks to the state’s natural resources.
The merger proposed in this bill will diminish the ability of each component agency to successfully focus and consolidate the needed resources on the core elements of its own unique mission. Because of the important differences in their purposes, the component parts of the agencies would not be integrated, but would remain distinct parts of the resulting combined agency. The transition is likely to give rise to a host of procedural issues which will distract staff from strategic priorities.
The impact on the governance of WDFW is our preeminent concern. In passing Referendum 45 in 1995, the voters of Washington empowered the Fish and Wildlife Commission with supervisory authority over the Department director for a purpose: to guarantee that fish and wildlife management would be both directly responsive to the public and insulated from political pressures. As is the case in states around the country, the Commission process was designed to assure that the interests of long-term conservation would not be compromised for short-term political ends.
By eliminating the Commission’s source of authority — the authority to hire and fire the director — this bill will reverse Referendum 45. If enacted, this bill will remove the power of the Commission. It will remove the Commission’s ability to demand conservation of fish and wildlife. The Commission will no longer be able to provide the public a direct avenue to exert control over the agency that sets important hunting and fishing rules. The Commission will no longer have the clout to insulate uniquely important conservation decisions from the politics of the day.
The people made their intent absolutely clear. The people voted to provide a citizen commission with the authority to govern the agency that makes decisions on the fish and wildlife resources of this state.