Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Hunting group files suit against WA wildlife commissioner

OLYMPIA - A nationwide hunting advocacy group is attempting to give the boot to a Washington wildlife commissioner for serving on another volunteer board.

The Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation alleges that Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Lorna Smith is serving in two public roles in violation of Washington rules. The lawsuit filed Monday in Thurston County says Smith has served on the Jefferson County Planning Commission while simultaneously serving on the Governor-appointed wildlife commission.

The alliance also said in a press release that Smith is "pushing an extremist view of fish and wildlife management and is adamantly opposed to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Smith was the driving force behind the canceling of the spring black bear hunt and has pressed for other initiatives to destabilize traditional management approaches and systems in the state."

However, wildlife commissioner Molly Linville, who has traditionally been more aligned with Sportsmen's Alliance positions, also served on a county planning board and is currently an elected member of a rural school board, both facts which are listed on her WDFW Commission biography.

"I was advised by our legal counsel that it was not a conflict of interest," Linville said.

Linville, who lives in Douglas County, left the Douglas County planning commission about six months ago because of the work load of serving on two commissions and the school board.

In an email Smith pointed out that she was serving on the Jefferson County planning commission in a volunteer role when she applied and was appointed to the WDFW commission. Her role is an advisory one, she said.

"The Governor's Office was comfortable with my holding that volunteer position when I was appointed," she said in an email. "It is my understanding that 'appointive office' as used in RCW. 77.04.040 does not include a volunteer position like a planning commission member who serves in an advisory capacity only. I am proud to have been of service to both my County and my State in these volunteer positions."

Brian Lynn, the Spokane-area-based vice president of communications for Sportsmen's Alliance, was unaware that Linville serves on a school board and said the Sportsman's Alliance was "focusing on Lorna" adding that she was in "direct violation" of the RCW. As for whether the lawsuit might unintentionally discourage people from volunteering on boards or commissions, particularly in rural counties where volunteers are hard to come by, he said that was neither his nor the Sportsman's Alliances' concern.

Washington's code regarding commissioners reads "persons eligible for appointment as members of the commission shall have general knowledge of the habits and distribution of fish and wildlife and shall not hold another state, county, or municipal elective or appointive office."

"My concern is whether the game commission (is) following the law," he said. "If that's an issue then someone in the Legislature needs to fix that."

More broadly, he pointed out that most of the WDFW commissioners aren't confirmed by the state senate, despite state law saying that they must be. Commissioner Barbara Baker was confirmed by the senate six years ago.

"The government is running this cabal. They get to do whatever they want," he said. "They are not elected. They are appointed."

He added that the Sportsman Alliance plans to file more lawsuits in the near future against the WDFW commission.

"This is kind of the first step," he said. "There are more to come. There are more lawsuits to come. They're just running roughshod, out of control."

Clarification: Due to a reporter's error it was incorrectly reported how many WDFW commissioners are confirmed by the state senate. The story has been updated.