March 19, 2009 in Outdoors

Budget, authority changes would hurt sportsmen

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A few leg bones here, a jaw bone there, some vertebrae and even an antler.

My highly evolved English setter, Dickens, has sniffed out and retrieved an impressive assortment of body parts through this savage winter during our daily romps through the woods.

Spread out on the garage floor, it adds up to the basic skeleton of a deer, minus the brain, some key joints all the meat the predators and scavengers stripped from the carcass.

The grisly scene looks a lot like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife that’s likely to be left on the butcher block of the current legislative session.

The budget crisis apparently will have an impact similar to gut-shooting chickadees with .50-caliber rifles.

A reader called to say that contrary to what our newspaper reported last week, the Colville Fish Hatchery would surely be saved because of a real estate agreement that specified the land had to be used for fisheries. Regional wildlife officials looked into that – they’re scouring any leads that might help them hold onto staff, science or programs.

But the deed had no such provision.

As if the agency’s dismemberment isn’t troubling enough, the Legislature also is into a feeding frenzy of considering a bill (SB 5127) to strip the Fish and Wildlife Commission of its authority. Among other things, the bill would give the governor the power to choose and control the agency director.

And the director, who would be accountable only to the governor, would be responsible for setting fishing and hunting seasons and rules.

This essentially would reverse a wildly popular sportsmen-sponsored initiative.

In 1995, Washington voters demonstrated impressive support – 61 percent and approval in all 39 counties – with the passage of Referendum 45. The initiative sought to give citizens and scientists a stronger voice in fish and wildlife management policy.

The key was to remove the governor’s power to hire/fire the agency director and give the responsibility to a nine-member citizen panel. The governor, however, retained the power to appoint the commissioners.

Ed Owens, a lobbyist who represents the Hunters Heritage Council, supports SB 5127 even though he helped author and support Referendum 45.

“We made some mistakes” with the referendum, Owens said. “The commission lacks accountability.”

In our litigious society, a mistake by rogue citizen commissioners could be costly to the state and sportsmen, he suggested.

But some Inland Northwest Wildlife Council members, the Coastal Conservation Association and other groups are calling foul.

Indeed, Owens summarized the situation as “a major pissin’ match.”

Mike Estes of the Richland Rod & Gun Club said it’s time again for sportsmen to stand up for the strong commission form of wildlife management.

“If the commission is going to break ground and finally work on allocation issues and implement change, whether it’s the salmon fishery or whatever, there’s going to be some controversy,” he said.

“Commissioners deal with contentious issues, for sure.

“Are they right on everything? No.

“But at least this system gives ordinary people the opportunity for input and it’s a hedge against the internal politics of the agency as well as the governor’s office.

“Sportsmen worked too hard for this to let it go.”

Other still-viable bills to watch include:

Targeting young hunters: HB 1114 would require all hunters younger than 14 to be accompanied by an adult licensed hunter. Passed the House, 70-26.

Two for the money: HB 1778 would help the Fish and Wildlife Department raise revenue by authorizing a “two-pole” stamp for fishing and increasing the annual number of big-game and turkey raffle tags from 15 to 30. Passed the House, 96-1.

Land access fee: SB 5067 would authorized a $5 surcharge on resident hunting licenses for a program encouraging landowners to increase hunter access on private lands. Do-pass from Senate Ways & Means.

Finally, I’m sorry to have elevated the hopes of moose hunters with a typo last week that doubled the number of moose hunting permits proposed in Washington for 2009.

The state’s proposal calls for 120 moose hunting permits, plus 10 new Master Hunter nuisance-damage moose permits.

Contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508, or e-mail to richl@spokesman.com.


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