Revisited: Washington Spring Bear Vote Puts Pressure on Gov. Inslee

When Washington state failed to pass regulations for the 2022 permit-only spring black bear hunt, the highly regulated season was cancelled. Game commissioners opposed to the hunt questioned their own biologists’ ability to estimate the state’s population and cast dispersions on the science of wildlife management, as well as citing a number of public comments against the hunt.

The backlash was immediate and fierce. Hunters, in the state and nationwide reacted to the obvious bias of western Washington commissioners who have a background rooted not in wildlife management or hunting, but in protectionism (Lorna Smith) and the Woodland Park Zoo (Fred Koontz).

Lorna Smith remains steadfastly on the commission, even though she’s yet to receive senate confirmation after more than a year. Koontz however, resigned amid the criticism (he too had yet to be confirmed). The problems with the commission don’t end there. Gov. Jay Inslee has not filled a year-long vacancy for a commissioner from eastern Washington, and Commission Chairman Larry Carpenter, whose term expired last year, remains active on the board.

All of this chaos, and the reaction of hunters, has caused Evergreen legislators to introduce a couple of bills to thwart the reckless behavior of the governor.

Senate Bill 5656, introduced by sponsored by Sens. Jesse Salomon and Kevin Van De Wege, would require unconfirmed appointments to vacate their seat and force the governor to provide a new appointment.

Currently, commissioners can serve immediately, regardless of confirmation status by the state senate, and indefinitely, as evidenced by Koontz and Smith having yet to be approved by the upper chamber.

Senate Bill 5661, sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford, would force the governor to fill a vacated seat within 60 days if a commissioner resigns; if the governor doesn’t do so, senate and house leadership would assume that power. The bill would also bar commissioners from serving without reappointment, as chairman Carpenter is doing currently.

Both bills would help rectify the current pitiful state of the Washington fish and game commission, but whether they would benefit hunters and anglers is a crapshoot. Gov. Inslee, and likely any governor in the foreseeable future, isn’t likely to rankle urban western Washington voters any time soon with the appointment of hardcore hunters to the board. The two chambers aren’t likely to either. So, while it could force the governor to act, those actions could be just as detrimental to sportsmen as no action.

That said, as part of the backlash to the cancellation of the spring bear hunt under a 4-4 tie, three official petitions (not the petition) were filed and accepted for discussion by those who remain on the commission, which has seven members now instead of nine (it can still operate with a quorum of just five members).

Here’s where things could get interesting in the next few days …

If Gov. Inslee doesn’t appoint anyone to the vacant seats, and if all votes remained consistent, the hunt could be adopted on a 4-3 vote. Getting it through the regulation process in time for the spring hunt could be difficult, however.

In the meantime, Gov. Inslee could appoint someone to fill the seat vacated by Koontz, and if that person was of a similar ideology, we’d be back at a 4-4 tie vote. However, while he can fill the seat, it would be very bad optics (not that Inslee cares) to do so without filling the long-unappointed eastern Washington seat.

Now, Inslee could fill Koontz’s seat with a similar-thinking person, throw a bone to sportsmen by appointing a pro-hunting person to the empty eastern Washington seat (or vice versa), which would push the bear-hunt vote back to a 4-4 tie and keep the hunt on the shelf.

But remember, Inslee also has the flexibility to dismiss chairman Carpenter, who is, again, just serving at his whim, neither officially reappointed or replaced, and put someone averse to predator management and other sportsmen’s issues in his seat. Chairman Carpenter, while he voted against the hunt, has long been pro sportsman. Losing him permanently to someone with the same bent as Smith or Koontz wouldn’t just doom the bear hunt, it could devastate wildlife management from the sportsmen’s perspective for years.

It’s a power play that would serve Gov. Inslee and his supporters’ agenda well, while continuing the anti-sportsman ideology prevalent among several of the state’s commissioners, as well as a growing problem throughout the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife itself.

We’ll see what happens soon, as the Jan. 21 commission meeting is fast approaching. Something’s got to give … or not, Jay Inslee and big government love paralysis.

About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is responsible for public education, legal defense and research.  Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible. Stay connected to Sportsmen’s Alliance: OnlineFacebookTwitter and Instagram.