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Effort To Declaw Agents Irks Some Some Fishermen Upset At Proposal To Limit Powers Of Wildlife Agents

Sport fishermen and hunters are taking aim at proposed legislation that would remove the police powers of Washington’s 174 fish and wildlife agents.

Sponsored by a host of Republicans and approved by the GOP-dominated House of Representatives, HB1010, the “regulatory reform bill,” would require state agencies to give two warnings before issuing citations for violations of state environmental laws.

However, to the consternation of many hunters and fishermen, as well as officials of the Fish and Wildlife Department, it would also reduce the authority of fish and wildlife agents to that of “technical assistants.”

The bill is one of several hunting/fishing measures pending in the state Legislature, including a hotly contested one that would return the power to hire and fire the fish and wildlife director to the state Wildlife Commission.

Opponents say the bill dealing with agents would lead to increased poaching and illegal salmon snagging, reduce the state’s ability to restore declining fish runs and even endanger agents who regularly deal with people who are armed.

“We want to see an expansion of law enforcement presence on the water, not a reduction,” said Frank Urabeck, Northwest representative for Trout Unlimited. “This would help put recreational fishing in a death spiral.”

Said J.J. Johnson, bird hunter and member of Pheasants Forever, “I would think the wildlife agents need all the police power they can get. You know, when they’re dealing with a situation like guys spotlighting elk (a poaching method), they’re dealing with people who are armed.”

Rep. Steve Fuhrman, R-Kettle Falls, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said that provision of the bill is unlikely to be retained in any regulatory reform measure that the Democratically controlled Senate might pass.

It could also be amended or removed in a House-Senate conference committee once both bodies pass versions of the bill.