Washington Gov. Jay Inslee appointed three new members to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Monday, including two people from the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain Range.
Melanie Rowland, of Twisp, John Lehmkuhl, of Wenatchee, and Timothy Ragen, of Skagit County, will join the nine-member panel that has been prone to heated policy disputes over the past year.
Lehmkuhl, a retired research biologist for the U.S. Forest Service, who has studied a wide range of wildlife species from birds and small mammals to big game animals like deer and elk, fills a seat that by statute is reserved for a resident of eastern Washington. According to background information provided by Inslee’s press team, Lehmkuhl is a lifelong hunter and angler who believes Washington needs a new fish and wildlife funding regime.
He enjoys riding horses and serves on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Diversity Advisory Council. During his professional career, his research integrated wildlife management with management of dry forests types found on the eastern side of the state.
The seat he will occupy had been empty for more than a year.
Rowland is a retired attorney who worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and specialized in conservation of threatened and endangered species such as salmon, steelhead and southern resident killer whales. She has previously worked for the Wilderness Society, taught law at the University of Washington and served on boards for the Seattle Audubon Society, Washington Environmental Council and the Pacific Biodiversity Council. She is a birder and participates in a wide range of other outdoor activities such as cross-country skiing and sea kayaking. Rowland’s “at large” seat is not reserved for a specific geographic region. It was formerly held by Fred Koontz who resigned late last year.
Ragen is a marine mammal expert. He retired in 2013 as the executive director of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. During his career he worked on projects to recover Steller sea lions and Hawaiian monk seals.
After he retired, Ragen continued to work on marine mammal issues including a project to protect salmon runs diminished by predation from California and Steller sea lions. He believes solving tough conservation and wildlife management problems requires time and collaboration.
Ragen replaces commission chairman Larry Carpenter, whose term expired more than a year ago. Carpenter agreed to continue on the panel until a replacement was named.
With the new appointments, Inslee has a chance to remake the board that has seen policy clashes in recent months. Flash points have included fights over the 2022 spring black bear hunting season and the potential that mountain lion harvest might be increased to help the struggling Blue Mountain Elk Herds. Inslee’s appointment of Koontz, of Duvall, and Lorna Smith, of Discovery Bay, last year drew protests from hunters and anglers who felt they were hostile to hunting and fishing. Likewise, some conservation organizations have been critical of both the department and the commission for its policies on large carnivores.
Jay Holzmiller, a rancher, logger and former member of the commission from Anatone, said listening and a willingness to engage are important qualities for commissioners.
“The biggest thing is if they will be open minded,” he said. “You are one of nine, so you have to build relationships.”
Chris Bachman, of the Kettle Range Conservation Group, said he is familiar with both Lehmkuhl and Ragen. He likes that Lehmkuhl is a hunter and angler with experience in conservation science and said Ragen’s marine mammal experience is a plus.