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Voter Response Heartening, But Big Job Remains

Thu., Nov. 9, 1995

Washington’s natural resources got a vote of confidence Tuesday.

Passage of Referendum 45, the election of John Roskelley for county commissioner and defeat of Referendum 48 collectively reenforce what the ultra-conservative talk-radio hosts have been trying to ignore since last November.

Public support for getting government spending under control isn’t a license to loot the environment.

KXLY commentator Mike Fitzsimmons reacted to election results Wednesday by predicting that Roskelley will loose his luster with voters in a year because he’s an “eco-twinkie” with “no governing ability.”

Which begs the question: What are Phil Harris’s governing abilities?

It’s a pity to see Fitz succumb to the “eco-twinkie” label that’s used with similar indiscretion by his rival angry-talk station.

One can’t expect these name-calling talk-radio hosts to understand the danger in creating fragmented natural environments. They can’t even understand the dangers of a fragmented society.

The words “socialist” or “Marxist” or even “Nazi” come up anytime an environmental issue is hammered on KGA’s local angry talk show.

Which begs the questions, can we learn something from recent events in Israel, or should we just go on pretending it can’t happen here?

Roskelley has proposed no environmental revolution. He simply had the guts to suggest that growth management is important for preserving the quality of life people have come to expect in Spokane County.

God help him.

No one should be surprised at the public resentment toward industry’s attempt to paralyze environmental regulation through R-48.

Now that the people have spoken, the job is to evaluate current land-use regulations and see how they can be made less frustrating for private property owners. At the same time we must bolster vital protection for wetlands and other wildlife areas.

Perhaps most surprising among Tuesday’s vote is the massive public support for R-45, the little-understood measure to return authority over the Fish and Wildlife Department to a nine-member commission.

R-45 was one of the few ballot measures that truly had grass-roots origins with no financial support from big business.

The measure originated from frustration wildlife enthusiasts have had with politically tinged wildlife management direction - particularly that of the current director, Bob Turner.

Turner was in his Olympia office Wednesday, but did not return phone calls.

Beginning July 1, the authority to appoint the agency’s director and set department policy will be returned to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which had the power stripped away by the legislature in 1987.

Reaction close to the Fish and Wildlife Department was largely enthusiastic in off-the-record telephone interviews Wednesday.

“Ding dong the witch is dead,” said one former employee who could muster little respect for the intimidating management style of the current director.

“It’s going to be a different life for top management when they have to face the public at commission meetings again,” one employee said.

“My relief is tempered with the uncertainty,” a biologist said.

“I don’t view this as a panacea,” an agent said, “but I’m hopeful that questions over who’s in charge won’t get in the way of managing wildlife.”

“The lobbying on the commission is going to go from a trickle to roar,” one insider said.

Commissioner Jim Walton, a professor at Peninsula College, promised the panel would deal with the non-target killing of endangered salmon and marine mammals by gillnets - the issues that spawned Initiative 640, which was defeated Tuesday.

But sportsmen who think they’ve won an exclusive voice in fish and wildlife management are wrong.

“I don’t think we can ever go back to the way the commission was in the days of the old Game Department,” Walton said. “That wasn’t working, either. We need better relations with the governor and the legislature.”

Mitch Johnson, commission chairman from Seattle, said the panel will meet Nov. 17-18 in Olympia to begin planning the transition.

“We’re not taking any steps backward,” Johnson said.

“Now that the referendum has passed, the governor said he’ll do all he can to help the commission,” said Jack de Yonge, Lowry senior policy maker. But he reminds us that the major threats facing wildlife are still running rampant.

“We are adding the equivalent of a new Seattle to the I-5 corridor every three years,” de Yonge said. “All these people need a place to live, water and a place to recreate and the impact on wildlife is staggering.”

So is the job ahead.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review

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