Members of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council aren’t planting trees and shrubs for wildlife habitat this fall.
Instead, the wildlife conservation group is planting yard signs asking voters to approve state Referendum 45.
The Spokane-based group of about 1,000 members has taken the lead in a statewide measure designed to remove politics from fish and wildlife management.
More than 50 supporters from at least a dozen hunting, fishing and conservation groups kicked off their “Yes on R-45” campaign at a news conference Monday.
Referendum 45, which will be on the November ballot, seeks to restore the authority of a nine-person citizens commission to appoint the director of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department.
In 1987, the Legislature took that authority and gave it to the governor. The Fish and Wildlife Commission had appointed the director for the previous 54 years.
“Since then, more and more wildlife management decisions are made behind closed doors in Olympia instead of at public meetings,” said Dean Lydig, a commissioner who was reappointed by Gov. Mike Lowry.
“The agency administrators have stopped coming to the public meetings,” said Bob Panther, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council executive director. “That’s not what we call being responsive to the public.”
The 1995 Legislature, with bipartisan support, voted to put the issue to a public vote.
Panther said the council has committed about $20,000 to the campaign, four times more than any other single group that has filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.
Contributions to the Yes on R-45 campaign so far total $44,761.
No organized opposition has filed with the disclosure commission.
The wildlife council is recognized statewide for the zealousness of its members to contribute manual labor for fish and wildlife projects. More than 20 members have volunteered more than 300 hours so far this year, council records show.
“Our organization has a unique mix of people committed to wildlife conservation,” Panther said.
“We also see tangible results by ensuring that legislatively we provide for the preservation and perpetuation of wildlife.”
Panther said the council has made Referendum 45 its priority this year “because members realize much work is needed to explain the importance of the issue to the public.”
Bob Turner, current fish and wildlife director, can’t comment on the referendum, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said.
Vern Ziegler, a Spokane businessman and former commission chairman, said morale among department employees is low. “Nobody knows who the boss is,” he said. “There’s nobody at the regional level who will take accountability for anything because they fear for their jobs.”
Referendum 45 has been endorsed by more than 50 groups as diverse as Audubon Society chapters, the Safari Club International and the Federation of Fly Fishers. However, the League of Women Voters recently opposed the measure.
“We have a longstanding position that government should be open and accountable,” said Karen Verrill, the league’s state president. “The governor is elected and the commission is appointed. The public has a more direct influence on the governor.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AT A GLANCE If approved, Referendum 45 would: Continue to allow the governor to appoint three fish and wildlife commissioners to six-year terms every two years. Give the Fish and Wildlife Commission, rather than the governor, the power to appoint the Fish and Wildlife Department’s director. Expand the commission’s authority to include commercial fisheries and allocation of shellfish and ocean food fish, as well as inland sport fish. Give the commission authority over tribal and international fish and wildlife agreements. Permit the commission to approve the department’s budget. Allow the commission to select its own staff. Require that the commission include representatives of various viewpoints, including property owners, sportsmen and environmentalists.