The appointment of an Eastern Washington environmentalist to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has upset some rural officials, who say their small-town values are unfairly being pushed aside in favor of big-city views about what’s best for nature.
Okanogan County commissioners this week sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire complaining that Jay Kehne does not reflect their opinions, in part because he supports the continued protection of wolves in the region. Kehne works for Conservation Northwest, a Bellingham-based environmental group that also supports continued government protection of wolves.
“We believe a conflict of interest does exist,” Okanogan County commissioners said in their letter, which was also sent to state Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, whose Agriculture, Water & Rural Economic Development Committee has the power to remove Kehne from his new position.
Kehne, a longtime resident of Eastern Washington, said there is no conflict of interest in being an environmentalist and a member of the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
“I was chosen for my credentials,” said Kehne, a wildlife biologist. He said he will not resign from the commission, to which he was appointed in early December.
Kehne is one of three representatives from Eastern Washington on the nine-member commission.
“It is an Eastern Washington position, not an Okanogan County position,” he said.
The job of a Fish and Wildlife commissioner is to look at the best science possible and make a good decision for wildlife, he said. Politics and one’s place of employment should not be involved, he said.
“Everybody works for somebody,” Kehne said. “I’ve got degrees in wildlife biology and soil science and have had jobs for 31 years across Eastern Washington and California.”
But State Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said politics play a part. The commission has plenty of urban representation, as most of the commissioners hail from populous Western Washington, he said.
The three positions from Eastern Washington should better reflect the values of rural areas, Kretz said.
“Those three Eastern Washington positions should put some diversity in there, rather than the same thing people in Seattle and Olympia are thinking,” Kretz said.
Kretz said rural residents have the most contact and assume many of the costs of dealing with wildlife.
“I’ve got deer in my haystack right now,” Kretz said.
Conservation Northwest issued a statement last week saying Kehne was an outstanding choice for commissioner.
“The Governor appointed Jay to the commission to represent himself,” the group said.
“Conservation Northwest is disappointed that some politicians have reacted to Jay’s appointment in ways that generate only heat, not light, to public discussion,” the group said. “Where people disagree on important issues, including tough ones like wolf recovery, the best approach is civil and informed dialogue, not personal attacks.”
The letter from the commissioners to Hatfield accused Kehne of being disrespectful to people who want gray wolves removed from endangered species protection.
In fact, Kehne is dismissive of the county’s push to delist wolves in the county, saying the attempt is pointless.
“It can’t and won’t happen,” Kehne said.
Trying to get him removed from the commission in favor of someone who supports hunting of wolves is also a bad idea, he said.
He noted the state’s recently released wolf management plan was unanimously adopted by the commission, indicating it was based on science.
“Politicians in Okanogan County want to get stuck in the past and not have wolves,” Kehne said.
Kehne also rejected the notion that Conservation Northwest was a radical group, noting that they were working on ways to help ranchers co-exist with wolves, and trying to develop more wildlife corridors so there are fewer collisions between deer and motor vehicles.
“These aren’t radical environmental things,” he said.