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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Outdoors

Questions, and answers, with Steve Parker Washington’s newest wildlife commissioner

Steve Parker, a new Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner.  (Courtesy of Steve Parker)
Steve Parker, a new Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner. (Courtesy of Steve Parker)

The following is an interview with Steve Parker, a new Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife commissioner representing an Eastern Washington position. Parker is a retired fisheries biologist who spent much of his 45-year career with the Yakama Nation and lives in Yakima County. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What prompted you to apply to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission?

Friends and colleagues suggested that I should apply after I retired from the Yakama Nation Fisheries Program. I have enjoyed the outdoors since childhood and feel a responsibility to ensure that future generations of Washington residents can experience that enjoyment. I consider public service both a privilege and a duty when and as we can contribute to the community.

What is the role of the commission, in your view, and how should it interface with WDFW staff?

The commission is a policy-making body that directs the priorities and activities of department staff. The communication is in both directions; the commission is dependent on the department’s technical analyses to provide the scientific foundations for commission action. The commission combines this with applicable law and stakeholder priorities to arrive at decisions that, first, provide necessary and adequate protections to the state’s fish and wildlife resources and, second, provides the resource “owners,” for lack of a better term, with the use and enjoyment of those resources they have come to expect.

The decision to end the spring bear hunt was a controversial and divisive one. If you had been a commissioner, how would you have approached that decision, and what would your vote have been?

I would need to hear arguments on both sides of the issue before making a judgment. In general, conservation should drive the commission’s decision-making and, if that bar is met, public priorities and expectations should weigh heavily.

What is the biggest threat to Washington’s fish and wildlife? How will you address this issue?

Three words: habitat, habitat, habitat. Declines in the state’s fish and wildlife resources are strongly correlated with the loss and degradation of their natural habitats. Only nature can produce a deer, elk, bear or wild salmon. Reducing the recreational and commercial taking of sensitive species is not a long-term path to success; we must also make hard choices about land and water management that affect, in large part, the health of fish and wildlife that is determined by the condition of their natural habitats.

What’s been WDFW’s biggest success in the past decade?

WDFW has been quite effective in adopting a salmon hatchery management policy that explains and, to some, rationalizes the use of hatcheries to balance conservation, mitigation and harvest goals in a highly complex, multijurisdictional fishery management environment.

What’s been WDFW’s biggest failure in the past decade?

I tend not to dwell on failure as a negative because there is always information content in it and the ability to adapt going forward. In that context, I would suggest that the department’s hatchery management policy deserves a tweak and am delighted that a first draft appears ready for commission review.

What role do hunters and anglers have in fish and wildlife management? How, if at all, has that role changed?

Hunting and fishing can be essential tools in achieving resource conservation goals. As unintuitive as it may sound, hunting and fishing can actually increase the productivity, that is, the number of offspring that survive to adulthood, in situations where a natural population may overgraze its forage base if some individuals are not removed from the population. While not generally a problem in Washington, overpopulation in fish and wildlife resources leads to competition for food and space and, ultimately, to reduced population productivity in terms of offspring per parent.

Do you hunt and fish yourself?

I am the world’s worst fisher and have a reputation for depressing the catch of the good fishers in the boat with me. I have hunted in the past but, as I age and reflect, I have grown less inclined to kill things. However, I worked with and for people who depend upon and take for granted the ability to fish and hunt food for their households. I hold in high regard those who value this relationship with fish and wildlife.

What’s your favorite fish- and wildlife -related book?

“The Wolf Totem” by a Chinese writer whose name I forget. A beautiful explanation of the ecological balance between nomadic Mongolian sheepherders and their love-hate relationship with the wolves that plunder their herds but also control the wild antelopes that would otherwise denude the grasslands their sheep depend upon. The Cultural Revolution in 1960s China forced the sheepherders to produce more sheep than the grasslands could support and eventually they became dust bowls. A haunting ecological cautionary tale.

What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

I am an avid sailor when I get the chance. Not often here in the high desert of central Washington. I also enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, and hauling my wife and horse to her shows.

Who do you admire as a leader? Why?

Rather than naming names, let me describe what qualities I admire. I most admire the person who will do the right and proper thing in the face of intense criticism and, perhaps, political risk. True leadership is not the same as brokering a deal that keeps you out of political hot water, it is doing the right and difficult thing based on the information available and best advice of experts. I also admire those who have endured great hardship and are not embittered by it, but rather remain always willing to search for a better future. MLK, Billy Frank Jr., and a few of my own acquaintances at Yakama Nation were terrifically inspirational.

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