Parks, wildlife merger bill advances

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Legislation to merge the state parks and wildlife agencies into a new Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation was approved Monday by the Senate Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committtee.

The committee voted 4-2 to send the a substitute version of Senate Bill 5669 to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The substitute measure changed the name of the proposed new agency from the original Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation.

The substitute measure retains the current policy and rule-making authority of the Fish and Wildlife Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission.

Currently, those commissions hire and fire their agency directors. The substitute bill gives the governor authority to appoint a Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation secretary from a list of five candidates submitted jointly by the wildlife and parks commissions.

Ed Wickersham of Ridgefield, government relations chair of the Coastal Conservation Association in Washington, said his group still opposes the measure.

"It takes away power from the Fish and Wildlife Commission and leaves it with nothing but approval authority for regulations,'' Wickersham said. "We don't find that acceptable at all. It leaves the commission with little real authority.''

Monday's vote was not on party lines. Three Democrats and one Republican voted for the bill, while one Democrat and one Republican were opposed. Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, voted to move the bill on without a pass or do-not pass recommendation.

Also added to the new department is the state Recreation Conservation office and the law enforcement portion of the state Department of Natural Resources.

The bill calls for the consolidation of the agencies to be effective July 1, 2012.