State Senate aims to reform commission

Bills would require quicker appointments

Members of the state Senate, including Sequim Sen. Kevin Van de Wege, have introduced legislation that would alter how and who selects the members who serve on the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who appoints members to the nine-member Fish and Wildlife Commission, has been slow to fill one existing at-large spot on the panel.

His appointments of Discovery Bay’s Lorna Smith and Fred Koontz of Duvall drew criticism from hunting and angling advocates, who felt the pair threw the commission out of balance from traditional hunting and fishing interests.

A 4-4 tie vote by the commission canceled spring bear hunts in 2022 despite state biologists’ insistence that black bear populations are stable in the state.

Koontz resigned in December and Inslee has yet to replace him.

Van de Wege, chair of the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks, and vice chair Jesse Solomon (D-Seattle) have co-sponsored SB 5656, which would make gubernatorial appointments to the commission subject to potential Senate votes after a period of time.

“If the Senate does not confirm an appointment within 12 months, the appointment to the commission expires and the governor must provide a new appointment,” the bill reads.

Yakima Republican Sen. Jim Honeyford and Van de Wege are co-sponsoring the bill, which would create a “contingency process for appointment to ensure the commission is fully functional.”

Senate and House leaders would be able to fill an open seat if a commission member exits early and the governor is slow to appoint a replacement.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Eastern Washington, which has been underrepresented for more than a year now.

And the bill would not allow commissioners to serve without being reappointed.

Chair Larry Carpenter’s term ended in October 2020, but Inslee left him on the panel and he was re-elected as chair on a unanimous vote.

Van de Wege and Salomon also co-sponsor SB 5721, which would consolidate management of natural resources under the commissioner of public lands.

The commission would be stripped of its authority to appoint the Fish and Wildlife Department director and move that decision over to the state commissioner of public lands, a position elected in a statewide vote and currently held by Hilary Franz, who manages the state Department of Natural Resources.

Further power would be granted to the lands commissioner, who would appoint the state parks director and Fish and Wildlife and State Parks’ commissioners. Their role would be to serve as advisers to agency directors.

All three bills had their first reading Monday and have been referred to Van de Wege’s committee. From there, they would need to pass out of committee, be voted on by the Senate, then the House, and finally signed into law by the governor.

Razor digs slated

With the highest of king tides and the worst of rain and widespread coastal flooding receding, razor clam digs are scheduled today through Jan. 20.

Diggers are limited to 15 clams — the first 15 they dig.

• Today, 4:43 P.M.; +0.4 feet; Long Beach.

• Saturday, 5:22 p.m.; +0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis.

• Sunday, Jan. 16, 5:59 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks.

• Monday, Jan. 17, 6:34 p.m.; -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis.

• Tuesday, Jan. 18, 7:08 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors.

• Wednesday, Jan. 19, 7:41 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Copalis.

• Thursday, Jan. 20, 8:14 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Long Beach.

Free day in parks

Admission will be free to most federal park and forest land and state park lands Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

This includes Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest and Bureau of Land Management federal land as well as state parks, Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources land.

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.

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