Latest draft of Washington's controversial conservation policy out for public review


A controversial policy guiding the management of Washington's fish and wildlife is set to go back in front of the public for review.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Friday to put the latest draft of its conservation policy out for its public comment.

The three-page policy is meant to set the guiding principles for the commission, with conserving the state's fish and wildlife listed as the top priority and other items such as using science to inform their decisions, considering the risks and uncertainties and respecting the rights of Indigenous tribes.

Friday's vote opened public comment on the latest draft from  Monday to Jan. 12. Barbara Baker, chair of the commission, said Friday the panel would then review the comments and aim for a final decision on the policy at the end of January.

It has been the subject of much debate over the past year, and it's become one of the flash points in the ongoing battle over wildlife management in Washington.

Some have raised concerns that the policy could lead to an erosion of hunting and fishing opportunities, particularly on the heels of the commission's cancellation of spring black bear hunting in 2022.

Others believe those concerns are overblown, and that the policy properly sets priorities for the commission.

The first version of the policy was released for public review last spring, and it's gone through a couple of rounds of edits. On Thursday, the commission's wildlife committee considered the latest draft.

The draft lines out seven principles meant to affirm the commission's commitment to conserving fish and wildlife and sustainably managing them "to meet the needs of current and future generations."

Seven guiding principles are listed in the document: conservation first; conservation of all species, habitat and ecosystems; conservation partnerships; knowledge and science; risk and uncertainty; innovative leadership and solutions; and aligning mandate, strategy, staff and budget. Each  is paired with a paragraph that lays out what the commission means by the principle.

The final paragraph of the policy addresses "tribal considerations." It says the document isn't meant to "interpret, expand, impede or minimize tribal treaty rights" and doesn't replace other agreements between WDFW and tribal nations.

The committee made a few minor changes and signaled that there's still debate among commissioners over certain provisions — in particular, language around how the commission considers the risks and uncertainties of their decisions.

Some commissioners have bristled at the lengthy process. Baker said Thursday the long process was a response to the heated debate over what should be in the policy, and to ease worries that it "has some sort of diabolical intent" to limit people's enjoyment of the state's natural resources.

"That isn't the intent of this policy. I think we all agree on that," Baker said.

The conservation policy can be viewed at