By Lynn Burkhead
After two years of looking on and observing wildlife conservation and hunting trends in the Pacific Northwest, The Sportsmen's Alliance (Link: https://sportsmensalliance.org/news/sportsmens-alliance-files-suit-against-wash-wildlife-commissioner-lorna-smith ) took action early this week by filling suit on Monday, March 6, 2023 against Lorna Smith, a commissioner with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission (Link: https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission/members ).
According to a news release from the hunting rights advocate group (Link: https://sportsmensalliance.org/news/sportsmens-alliance-files-suit-against-wash-wildlife-commissioner-lorna-smith ), the Sportsmen’s Alliance lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court (Link: https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/departments/superior-court ), seeks "...to prohibit and enjoin Lorna Smith from participating as a member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission (WFWC) due to her ongoing violation of state law that prohibits an individual from holding an additional elected or appointed office while on the WFWC. Smith is a member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission (JCPC)."
The Columbus, Ohio based SA group, which has a 40+ year long history of protecting and defending America's pastimes of hunting and fishing, as well as the nation’s scientifically based wildlife conservation programs, notes that "The Sportsmen’s Alliance has been watching the actions of the WFWC for more than two years and is filing on behalf of all its members and sportsmen in the state. Joining the lawsuit are two Sportsmen’s Alliance members, Marc Nelson and Kolby Schafer, who are residents of Washington. The case is USSAF v. Smith, No. 23-2-00660-34."
The group also states that Washington law is clear on this issue, noting that "RCW 77.04.040 (Link: https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=77.04.040 ) states that members of the WFWC “… shall not hold another state, county, or municipal elective or appointive office.””
Smith, described by her state bio description as a 5th generation Washington state resident, and one who comes from a long line of lighthouse keepers, boaters, fishers, and hunters, was. appointed to the Commission in January 2021 by Washington Governor Jay Inslee. According to her bio, Smith is the retired executive director of the Western Wildlife Outreach group and is serving a term that continues through Dec. 31, 2026.
But as noted in the SA lawsuit, her bio also notes clearly that she is, in fact, currently "Appointed by the Jefferson County Board of County Commissioners” and that “Smith is currently serving her second and third terms on the Jefferson County Planning Commission and the Jefferson County Conservation Futures Oversight Committee." (Link: https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission/members ).
Due to this and more, the SA organization is taking action by filing the lawsuit and looking for a day in court.
“Sadly, this violation is but one example of how off-the-rails the WFWC operates under the Inslee administration,” notes SA vice president of government affairs Todd Adkins, in the Sportsmen’s Alliance news release. “We view this lawsuit as the initial step of a long but important process to bring sanity and decency back to wildlife decision-making in Washington. It all starts here, but trust me, it won’t end here. The animal extremists are going to see a lot of the same in the coming weeks and months.”
Despite the sound of Smith's Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission bio description suggesting otherwise, Adkins and the SA organization contend that Smith isn't a friend of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and was an important reason for the cancellation of Washington's 2023 spring black bear hunt in a commission vote last November.
That decision--which came after a 5-4 vote of the WFWC on Nov. 18, 2022 (Link: https://www.thedailyworld.com/news/state-drops-spring-bear-hunt )--came after a month’s long process after the hunt was paused in the spring of 2022 by a 4-4 commission vote while the Commission lacked a member and, ultimately, a deciding vote.
After receiving public comment and gathering information for much of 2022, The Daily World newspaper and other Pacific Northwest news outlets reported on the spring bear hunt being dropped by a tight commission vote last fall. Interestingly enough, Inslee appointed three new members of the commission just before the process even began (Link: https://wdfw.wa.gov/newsroom/news-release/three-members-appointed-washington-fish-and-wildlife-commission ). And last week, news came forth about Inslee and two additional commission members being appointed (Link: https://wdfw.wa.gov/newsroom/news-release/two-new-members-appointed-baker-re-appointed-washington-fish-and-wildlife-commission ).
Which certainly might raise questions in the minds of some of whether all of this is simply coincidental timing on the calendar, or if Inslee might be attempting to grab an opportunity to overhaul the commission with votes that might lean a certain way. We’ll let you be the judge on that idea.
But for what it’s worth, the Spokane newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, noted that last fall, Smith was one of the five Commissioners who voted yes to "...not approve recreational hunting of black bears in the spring.” The newspaper also noted that Smith, along with the three new commissioners (appointed in early 2022), and with Commission Chair Barbara Baker, continued to "...question the department's black bear data."
How so? At least some of that questioning apparently revolved around the WDFW’s reporting of timber damage and its usage in estimating the Evergreen State’s bear population.
For a little background there, in October 2021—and after a previous lawsuit by the controversial hunt’s critics failed to stop the state’s spring black bear hunt—reporter Eli Francovich noted that (Link: https://www.chronline.com/stories/washington-wildlife-managers-extend-public-comment-opportunity-on-contentious-spring-black-bear,275825 ) the Washington spring black bear hunt “…is used to address timber damage, human-bear conflicts and concerns about fawn deer and elk survival.”
The report also noted that after the agency had completed its data gathering and analysis, having a bear hunt in 2022—the hunt has reportedly been in place in some form from 1999 through last year—and offering hunters 664 permits in 2022 was agreeable, in light of an agency expectation that up to 145 bears would be tagged by hunters in the state’s permit hunt.
For context, the previous year in 2021, the Francovich story notes that Washington hunters killed 124 black bears that year, 45 of them being female bears and one of those a lactating bear apparently with cubs. None of those numbers suggested that there was a decline in the state’s bear population, nor a need to trim back or eliminate the management activities secured by the hunt’s existence.
"Right now, in Washington, we have a fairly robust and stable population statewide," said Stephanie Simek, carnivore section manager for the WDFW, in the Francovich report. "We are working on improving our population monitoring process. But at this point we don't have any concerns."
Critics like the Humane Society of the United States disagreed, however, and according to Francovich’s story, despite Simek’s contention that the state’s bear population was robust, “…several commissioners questioned Simek, focusing particularly on WDFW's black bear population and density estimates. Commissioner Lorna Smith also questioned how timber damage was reported.”
According to Adkins and the Sportsmen’s Alliance organization, all of this isn’t coincidence. In fact, in a separate news release issued last month by Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Ohio organization noted that Smith led a discussion in February 2022 on a draft that would establish a new wildlife management plan for Washington that Adkins contends is "...straight out of the anti-hunting playbook to destroy effective fish and wildlife management and remove hunters from the landscape." (Link: https://sportsmensalliance.org/news/washington-commission-meeting-to-discuss-extreme-new-direction ).
Thanks to Monday's lawsuit in the Evergreen State, Adkins and his colleagues at SA hope to throw a roadblock up in that process, challenging the legal standing of Smith and others that Adkins contends are not playing by the state’s rules.
"It’s more than a little instructive to note that there is not a single commissioner currently serving on the WFWC that has been confirmed by the senate,” Adkins also noted. “The whole thing is being run like a political cabal, so we can’t be surprised that Smith could care less about the rule of law and her own disqualifying behavior.”
With Adkins point being duly noted about the lack of senate confirmations so far, it is still apparently legally permissible for Washington commissioners to vote and make policy changes despite not having been senate confirmed. According to the WDFW news release above on two new members being appointed, it is stated that “Commissioners are appointed to six-year terms; appointees are subject to confirmation by the state Senate, which is currently in session. However, members are official upon appointment and serve as voting members on the Commission while awaiting Senate confirmation (Link: https://wdfw.wa.gov/newsroom/news-release/two-new-members-appointed-baker-re-appointed-washington-fish-and-wildlife-commission).
But given Adkins’ and SA’s strong contention that the WFWC is embarking down a dangerous trailway that leaves Washington’s hunters and the scientifically based wildlife conservation measures that used to define the state’s efforts, it’s easy to wonder about a majority overhaul of the state’s commission panel in the past 14-months, something that SA and others contend sets the Evergreen State on a dangerous slope that ultimately betrays the Commission’s purpose of working “…to preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities.“
What’s the bottom line here? Given the news from Washington over the past few months, as well as the old adage "where there's smoke, there's fire,” and it’s certainly reasonable to expect plenty more developments in this case in ensuring months.
As always, we'll work to keep our Outdoor Sportsman Group readers up to date on the latest information regarding this contentious case building in the Pacific Northwest. Stay tuned, there is certainly more to come.
To hear more about the Sportsmen's Alliance, checkout the Episode 35 of the Petersen's Hunting Adventures Podcast with guest Brian Lynn
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