Washington wildlife commissioner resigns, citing ‘politicized quagmire’ – Seattle Times and others

Fred Koontz, Ph.D. (photo by WDFW)

The ongoing feud between hunters and environmentalists continues to play out in the State Wildlife Commission. Wildlife Commissioner Dr. Fred Koontz has resigned due to the ugly nature of the debates and the inability to find common ground with the hunting coalition on the commission. Dr. Koontz was more interested in ensuring that decisions were made by looking at the science. He comes from more of a scientist/educator and may have underestimated the political nature of the position and the anger that is boiling over a perceived anti-hunting point of view. Why is this story important? Because the Wildlife Commission handles a wide range of issues:

The Commission establishes policies to preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities compatible with healthy and diverse fish and wildlife populations.

From the WDFW website: https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission

The Commission in years gone by, was a stalwart sports hunting and fishing enclave, with a strong bent towards maximizing hunting and fishing and the licensing revenues it brings to State coffers. But the rise of endangered species and the growing scientific awareness of the many options in managing wild stocks, along with a declining amount of hunters and rising number of environmentally protective citizenry has changed the landscape. Those days of blanket support for sportsmen & women are tempered by new opinions that are not ready to simply rubber stamp the needs of sports over scientific baselines. An example is that recent science presented by pro bear hunt biologists in WDFW during the decision process were countered by independent research that Commissioner Koontz and other commissioners brought to the discussion. Their numbers were drastically different than state bear management staff, who claimed that they stood behind their numbers 100%. The lack of scientific agreement led to the latest impasse on opening the bear hunting season, which normally targets many sows with their cubs as they come out of hibernation. The science behind the number of sows and their lactating state at the time of their killing, caused a rift between the two groups on the Commission.

Koontz resigned saying:

“I accepted your appointment with the understanding that I would participate in the Commission’s supervising authority and policy-making to oversee the Fish & Wildlife Department’s actions. Unfortunately, I found that I had no meaningful role in protecting the public’s wildlife trust. The Commission is currently stuck in a politicized quagmire. We have largely lost the ability to have civil public conversations.”

Fred Koontz Resignation letter

I talked to another commissioner, Lorna Smith, who is from Jefferson County, about Fred’s resignation:

I’m very saddened over Fred’s departure. His voice of scientific reason was well appreciated. His ability to bring independent science to the discussions was always welcome . I have hope and confidence that the governor will realize that this impasse is not beneficial to Washington’s wildlife or it’s residents and will appoint commissioners quickly to the three open positions to help carry out his conservation goals.

Commissioner Lorna Smith

Commissioner Smith went on to urge people who care about the issue to contact the governor and urge him to see that the next appointment to the commission are made quickly have a broad conservation values.

Read one version of the story at the Seattle Times.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/washington-wildlife-commissioner-resigns-citing-politicized-quagmire/


Also, a well written short piece in an online magazine devoted to hunting detailed some of the issues in more depth from their perspective:

https://freerangeamerican.us/washington-wildlife-commish-resigns/

The PDN reporter Michael Carmen also covered the appointment of Koontz and Smith in the Peninsula Daily News in January 2021. I referenced it in this blog. Here’s the link, but the story is behind a paywall. https://www.peninsuladailynews.com/sports/conservation-common-thread-for-new-members-of-washington-state-fish-and-wildlife-commission/


The Official Press Release from WDFW:

OLYMPIA – Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Fred Koontz, Ph.D. sent a letter today to Gov. Jay Inslee resigning from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. Dr. Koontz resides in King County and occupied an “at-large” position of the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Dr. Koontz was appointed on Jan. 5, 2021 by Gov. Inslee to a six-year term that was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2026.

“We appreciate Fred’s engagement and curious mind on the Commission,” said Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair Larry Carpenter. “He encouraged us to be bold in our mission and we enjoyed his passion for biodiversity conservation.”

The Commission is comprised of nine commissioners, including three members from west of the Cascade Mountains, three members from east of the Cascade Mountains, and three “at-large” members who may reside anywhere in the state. No two Commission members may reside in the same county.

There are now two vacancies on the Commission. Gov. Inslee will need to appoint an “at-large” position and an Eastern Washington position. (Fred’s resignation makes that three vacancies)

Commission appointees are subject to confirmation by the state Senate, which will reconvene in January 2022. However, members are official upon appointment and serve as voting members on the Commission while awaiting Senate confirmation.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is a panel appointed by the governor that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). WDFW works to preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities. 

State Allows Limited Opportunity For Public Input On Major Changes In Nearshore Protection Code

This just in from Sound Action. As usual, there is way more to this than meets the eye. The State is pushing for major changes, putting out hundreds of documents, and ‘fast tracking’ these changes with little opportunity for public input. This often means that the details where the devil lies, is not able to be seen easily, and non profits that work to protect the near shore, have nearly no time to read and understand impacts. I’ve netted out the recommendations from Sound Action at the end of this Press Release. You can help by reading these, look at the whole document if you wish at the link below, and offer your own comments. Or just email them with your thoughts. Thanks.

State Allows Limited Opportunity For Public Input On Push For Major Changes In Nearshore Protection Code
The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission are moving forward with plans for major revisions to the only state law specifically protecting critical nearshore habitats and at-risk fish species. The department and commission have allowed for a minimal public comment period and a single, middle-of-summer, late Friday afternoon public hearing in Olympia on August 8.

The state Hydraulic Code is intended to protect fish and fish habitat from in-water development impacts of bulkheads, groins, piers and marinas and was established to ensure no net-loss of the state’s critical nearshore habitats.

The nearshore environment in Puget Sound is where forage fish such as herring, surf smelt and sand lance spawn and where juvenile Chinook salmon grow. The decline in Puget Sound populations of killer whales, sea birds and salmon has been traced to disruptions in the prey-predator balance and loss of spawning and rearing habitats in the nearshore.

The state has proposed a full overhaul of the code guiding the application of this law and recently released approximately 400 pages of documents, including 150 pages of proposed rule language, and provided only a 14-day formal comment period with an additional 15 days for informal comment acceptance. A related 150-page draft Environmental Impact Statement was also released with only 30 days for a public comment period to run concurrently with the rule proposal. The Hydraulic Code revision and the dEIS are found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/hpa/rulemaking/ and http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/sepa/sepa_comment_docs.html , respectively.

“The Hydraulic Code is the state’s primary tool for Puget Sound habitat protection and many of the revisions lead to a weakening, not a strengthening, of protections,” said Amy Carey, executive director of Sound Action. “The documentation and accompanying environmental impact statement are voluminous. Important regulations like these deserve much, much more time for public review and comment than the minimal time period and one hearing opportunity the department has provided.”

Sound Action’s draft comments regarding the code changes are found at “Preliminary Comments on Hydraulic Code Proposed Rulemaking”http://soundaction.org/hparule/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/SA-preliminary-comments-upload-use.pdf

Carey added that Sound Action and other conservation groups had requested that WDFW extend the comment period beyond the August 15 deadline another 30 days and to provide additional public hearing opportunities in Puget Sound. The request, according to Carey, was rejected by the department.

# # #

Sound Action: Turning The Tide For Puget Sound
http://www.SoundAction.Org
http://www.Facebook/SoundActionNW

HERE ARE SOME OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS BY SOUND ACTION:

Establish an appropriate definition of protection of fish life:

Establish an appropriate definition of “no net loss”

Amend language to reflect clear requirements for both department and applicant actions.

Add protective provisions for macroalgae.

Add provisions to strengthen forage fish protections.

Add provisions to protect fish life and habitat from the impacts of shoreline armoring.

Establish strong generalized habitat and fish protecting provisions throughout:

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