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. 

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