Outdoors blog

Revised plan to merge natural resource agencies gets committee approval

OLYMPIA -- Legislation to merge the Washington’s parks and wildlife agencies into a new Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation was approved Monday by the Senate Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee, but not before compromises were made.

Allen Thomas of the Vancouver Columbian reports the substitute measure retains the current policy and rule-making authority of the Fish and Wildlife Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission. The original proposal supported by Gov. Chris Gregoire would have reduced the panels to advisory roles.

Currently, those commissions hire and fire their agency directors. In 1995, Washington voters approved Initiative 45 to secure the commission's role in hiring and firing the Fish and Wildlfie director. But Gregoire wanted that authority so the director of the new agency would be on the governor's cabinet.

The substitute bill compromises by giving the governor authority to appoint a Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation secretary from a list of five candidates submitted jointly by the wildlife and parks commissions.

Also added to the new department is the state Recreation Conservation office and the law enforcement portion of the state Department of Natural Resources.

The substitute version of Senate Bill 5669 -- which changed the name of the proposed new agency from the original Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation -- goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Read on for more details.

The original SB 5669 and its companion bill in the House, 1850, came at the request of Governor Gregoire who last December proposed merging natural resource agencies in an effort to save perhaps $2.5 million a year.

Organized sportsmens groups have opposed the bills in a hearing covered by The Columbian and Kitsap Sun.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission finally took a stand on the merger bill with a statement issued last Friday evening, and reported here in a blog post shortly thereafter.

Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman magazine pointed out that Gregoire’s policy advisor for natural resources, John Mankowski, explained their reasoning to High Country News in what is now a slightly outdated article:

“The commission form of government can work, but it’s an expensive way to run government. It takes a lot of time and money to hold meetings all around the state and get input. The commission also makes fine-scale decisions about management that should be at the discretion of the director (of Fish and Wildlife).”

He posted this audio file of the Fish & Wildlife Commission’s conference call last Friday in which the members decided to publically opposed the original merger legislation.

Commissioner Rollie Schmitten of Lake Wenatchee described Gregoire’s estimated savings of $2.5 million and elimination of 14 jobs — which would come from reducing the number of natural resource agencies from 11 to five — “very, very modest.”

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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