Rugged mountains at sunrise.
Text: The editorial voice of the Mountain Lion Foundation.


Can Washington Change?

Washington's Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) is looking for a new director and they are conducting an on-line public survey to assist in the hiring process. One of the value factors they are asking respondents is whether the new director should have a conservation based orientation or be someone who might promote additional hunting opportunities. The survey also asks respondents to rate WDFW's priorities (i. e. increased hunting opportunities, conservation, riparian restoration, etc.).

Since most Washington residents won't visit the WDFW website unless they are interested in hunting issues, and a quick search of the web only found notice of the survey on hunting-oriented websites, there doesn't seem much chance that this will be a fair and impartial survey of Washington's citizens. More likely it will turn into a justification to violate even more of the mandates that voters approved in 1996 as part of Initiative 655; as recently demonstrated with the reauthorization of cougar hunting with the aid of hounds in Chelan, Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille and Klickitat counties.

I am not surprised by WDFW's actions. Many have pointed out that the decision making process of most state wildlife agencies primarily serves the special interests of hunters and livestock ranchers while disenfranchising large segments of the public. In large part this is because their primary funding comes from the sale of hunting licenses; but an equally defining factor is the very nature of the institutions themselves.

State wildlife agencies throughout the West were designed to restrict public participation in wildlife management decisions. Moreover, these agencies have shown themselves to be extremely resistant to change and have responded aggressively when their authority and control were challenged; as demonstrated in Oregon and Washington in response to the passages of Measure 18 and I-655, respectively.

According to several surveys across the West, increased public participation in decisions concerning environmental issues, such as mountain lion conservation, is widely viewed as an important societal goal. Yet, for the most part state wildlife agencies have proven incapable or unwilling to develop policies that secure the common interest of all citizens.

In the long-term it might be necessary to change the structure of these agencies and their commissions to ensure that wildlife management policies reflect the citizenry's common interests, which includes conservation of mountain lions, their prey, and sufficient habitat to support them.

Take the WDFW Director survey