Washingtonians should reconsider the purpose of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Threats to biodiversity and shifting human values challenge the foundation of the Department and its Commission. These changes require that the department evolve from its traditional game and fish emphasis to a more ecologically focused, democratically inclusive agency that protects all of Washington’s animal diversity. Unfortunately the Department, the Commission and our political leaders are caught in a political quagmire.
The commission struggles to address the growing disagreement around its decisions, most recently on spring bear hunting and wolf management. Conflict in meetings typically erupts when testimony splits into two camps: protection versus harvest. Debate begins to erupt over the perceived benefits and risks that harvesting fish and game or lethally managing predators pose to wildlife populations, ecosystem health, and animal well-being. Each side continues to debate the “best available science”, often in the press and online.
The Commission’s decisions depend on science and values. And herein lies the swamp reason: Whose values matter most in determining Washington’s fish and wildlife priorities, regulations, and policies? Stakeholders promote their values by pressuring the governor over commission appointments and advocating for pending votes. For many it is a fight for survival, obsession and sometimes rude behavior. The commission tries to find direction by implementing its legislative mandate.
mandate, RCW77.04.012, written in 1994, directs the Commission and the Department to: protect, maintain and protect the fish, shellfish and wildlife of the State; Protect and authorize so as not to put the resource at risk; seeks to maintain the economic well-being and sustainability of the fishing industry; And try to maximize hunting and fishing opportunities for all citizens. By mandate, the department explains its mission: to preserve, protect and maintain fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreation and commercial opportunities.
The result is a dual purpose that is regrettably the same conservation-versus-crop dualism that creates conflict. It is clear that consensus is unlikely with dual mandates and sharply differing perspectives on priorities. Many hunters and fishermen fear that any change in priority will reduce their chances of harvest. Others say that the department’s functions have always been aimed at hunting and fishing, at the expense of the nongam and the ecosystem.
In response to the conflict, the governor and legislature have the opportunity to amend the 28-year-old mandate. Several bills related to agency reform were proposed in the last legislative session, including: HB 2027 called for a task force to review mandate and governance; None of the bills moved forward. They too got stuck in the swamp. However, the debate over whose values matter most in the light of current science should be reconsidered.
science tells us that Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate. With climate change increasing species extinctions threaten the well-being of Washington’s people and threaten the future of our children. Today’s poor wildlife forecast did not exist 100 years ago when wildlife agencies were established to maintain the harvest of fish and game. Their “intelligent use, without waste” purpose was understandable in that earlier era. Time is different and needs of the people have changed.
States are obliged to protect wildlife for present and future generations. The sad truth is that we are failing. Despite knowing more than 200 other Washington animals, the department’s historical focus has remained on maintaining only a modest number of edible fish and game animals. need protection And common species also require management. The inconvenient truth is that the current mandate is heavily weighted toward recreational and commercially valuable animals. As a result, long-term biodiversity health is at risk.
Clarifying the mandate of the Department around the top priority of conservation of all wildlife for all people will give an integrated direction to the Commission and strengthen the Biodiversity Mission of the Department. An improved mandate would direct the Department and the Commission to recognize that as a public wildlife trust it has an existential objective to ensure the long-term diversity, health, resilience and sustainability of wildlife. Resource extraction of a subset of diversity should be secondary.
Changing the purpose of the department recognizes that government agencies require modifications as society’s needs and public values change. The department’s shift toward a more ecologically focused agency protecting Washington’s animal diversity doesn’t have to mean ending hunting or fishing—just our relationship with animals and nature is evolving.