Letter From Hunters Heritage to legislature to Support SSB5127 now, SB5127 Bad news.
former commissioner Jerry Gutzwilers response.
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TO HUNTERS HERITAGE COUNCIL COMMUNICATION FROM MARCH 2, 2009
This letter is being written in response to a communication put out to hunters across Washington State by, or at least signed by, the Executive Committee of the Hunters Heritage Council (HHC). I’m responding to this communication because it contains information and opinion that are not only false but potentially very damaging to Washington’s wildlife management and the management of habitats that support these animals. It has taken the current Fish and Wildlife Commission nearly four years to develop and implement policies, goals and objective that move the Department in a positive direction relative to the management of these resources.
Until January 2008, the Department never had meaningful measurable goals and objectives for managing the state’s game herds since the merger of Departments of Fish and Game. As an example, the current Commission set goals for the Department that focus on getting all 10 elk herds in the state to their respective target population objectives. Currently, six of 10 fall short of their objective. Likewise, there are measures for other wildlife species and fish. These goals and objectives are public information and can be accessed through the Commission secretary in Olympia. The Commission has consistently focused on improving the performance of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, especially in areas where we believed that the Department has not performed well.
During my years on the Commission, I and other Commissioners felt that the Department’s Wildlife Program had serious problems and needed strategic direction. In its role as policy setting body for the Department, the Commission reviews and approves the long term strategy for wildlife—the Wildlife Management Plan. That plan is updated every six years. We were asked to approve a Plan prepared for 2008. The Commission did not approve the first three drafts of this document because it lacked action steps, goals, and other critical details to assure accountability and wildlife herd improvements. The Commission’s Wildlife Committee spent long hours repeatedly making comments to see that the Plan would provide the substantive guidance needed by the Wildlife Biologists to improve wildlife conditions over the next six years. The Six year Wildlife Management Plan now insures that the Department is held accountable for positive trends in wildlife management.
Another area of emphasis by the current Fish and Wildlife Commission has been public education and communication. The Department has made some improvements in this area but there is still a long way to go. There are goals and objectives for these activities that the Commission is monitoring and pressing the interim Director to achieve. The Department’s record in developing working relationships with sports organizations, schools and universities and other stakeholder groups needs to be greatly improved. Again, this has been a continuing emphasis of the Commission on the Department's leadership. Publicly available goals and objectives and policy statements are available for those that would like to examine them and even input to them.
The accusation in the HHC communication that citizens testifying before the Commission are treated poorly and that their input is rarely reflected in decisions is simply not true. When I chaired the Commission, I asked people to cease their testimony only when their allotted time had ended. In rare instances, citizens testifying before the Commission were argumentative and asked to cease their testimony. These occasions occurred very infrequently. Generally, public comments are heard, appreciated and the speakers thanked by the Commission. Further, between Commission meetings, Commissioners spend a lot of time reading e-mails and letters and answering telephone calls from interested constituents. These communications are also weighed into discussions leading up to policy development. The access to decision makers now provided by the Commission process will be essentially eliminated if SSB 5127 passes.
The HHC document indicates that there were “several instances where members of the Commission have, or are, engaged in rule making-related activity that attacks one user group over another.” Frankly, who ever authored this statement needs to be held accountable for it. It's not true!
The inference that Fish and Wildlife Commissioners intimidate staff and manipulate regulations for their personal agendas is a strong charge and cannot be substantiated, to my knowledge. However, there have been times when individual Commissioners have known that the truth was not accurately provided by staff . Biased wildlife staff presentations including errors of omission and /or commission are a serious concern for the Commission. Staff presentations should always be accurate, unbiased and credible to provide solid foundation for policy development. Some Legislators have made it known to the Commission that they see this as an issue which threatens the integrity of the process. At times, Commissioners have expressed their frustration to staff and have discussed this problem with the Director. I don't consider that as intimidation or manipulation. Rather, the examples above high light some of the wildlife staff problems that need to be remedied.
Currently, the Commission has nine member positions, when fully staffed. Given the diversity and complexity of wildlife and fish issues in Washington and the population of the state (6.8mm), the workload is more than full for the members of this volunteer Commission. The incumbents are citizens of the state with diverse interests and experience. They work hard to understand the many diverse issues associated with wildlife and fish management and are committed to doing the best job possible in developing policies and guidance for the Department.
Actions of the current Commission have, in general, been very positive for the hunting community, although not always apparent and high profile. If SB 5127 is passed and the Commission responsibility and authority over the Director reduced, hunters will be extremely disappointed in the results. Since 1995, Referendum 45 has provided an opportunity for “the voice of the people” and it is misleading and irresponsible to insinuate otherwise. While not perfect, I believe that the current Commission system is a far more effective policy and guidance approach for the Department than placement of the agency in the Governor's Cabinet. It is, in fact, vastly more responsive to wildlife and fish issues and to the people of Washington than a Director appointed by and accountable only to the Governor ever could be. Think about it! That is why this People's Referendum passed by a sizable margin (For – 809,083, Against – 517,433) in November, 1995.
If SB 5127 passes and policy and Director reporting are placed with the Governor's office, subsequent policy development for fish and wildlife will be strongly influenced by tribal and commercial fishing interests and as hunters, you should understand those implications. Further, the Governor's staff currently is anti-hunting. Will any of these groups (tribal, commercial fishery, or Governor's staff ) advance the interests of the non-tribal hunting community in Washington?
Lastly, I'd like to discuss why the HHC communication supporting SB5127 was really brought to the hunting community for support. Senator Jacobsen, Chair of the Senate Ocean and Natural Resources Committee, has opposed the current Commission since it was appointed by Governor Gregoire in 2005. From the beginning of my term, the Senator viewed our Commission as a threat to the dominance of the commercial fishery in Washington The Senator has a number of constituents in the Ballard area that are commercial fishermen or otherwise vested in that industry. In 2008, the Commission worked to resolve Salmon fishing issues between recreational and commercial fishers on the Columbia River. The result of this work was a move in toward conservation of wild salmon that did not set well with commercial fishers. This inspired Senator Jacobsen to develop legislation in the form of SB 5127. By reducing the Commissions responsibility/authority through SB 5127, he is securing the interests of the commercial fishing industry. The Bill, as written, would restrict or eliminate public input on wildlife management and recreational fishing issues. Future policy would be directed out of the Governor's Office and influenced primary by input from the Governor's anti hunting staff, tribes and commercial fishing interests.
Unfortunately, whoever drafted this biased and untruthful communication that the HHC Executive Committee has signed and distributed has appealed to the hunting community to act against the very things that it wants to see from the Department and the Commission. I ask you to strongly consider distributing this message to set the record straight. The person/persons that provided input to the content of the HHC letter had an alternative purpose in mind and that was to protect the Senator’s special interest clients and advance the tribe’s agenda by stripping the Commission's authority. It was not intended to improve the agenda of the hunting community or wildlife. If SB 5127 passes the Director will be selected by the Governor and be directed by a governor's staff that is generally less informed about wildlife and fish issues) as well as pressured by strong tribal influence and the commercial fishery interests in Washington. Contact your senator and representatives today as well as Governor Gregoire. NO ON SB 5127!
I'd be happy to discuss any part of this or other issues relating to the Department or the Commission of Fish and Wildlife.
Immediate past Chair, DFW Commission