THE ADVOCACY SPEAKS OUT ON WILLAPA
April 12, 2014
To: The Honorable Members of the Fish & Wildlife Commission
Re: The recently adopted interim Willapa Policy
First, I thank the Commission for the time invested in developing a new policy for the Willapa.
Secondly, I wish to address a question that arose during the Commission hearing and apparently afterwards in the short time that has followed. Specifically, whether or not the 14% harvest rate adopted by the Commission was discussed publicly before the action taken by the Commission. Let me assure all that it was discussed repeatedly in the Ad Hoc and public workshops wherein all the AHA modeling showed a maximum harvest rate of 14% would be required to restore natural spawning Chinook within 16-21 years. When the Department came out with another draft long term policy as the ad hoc process schedule was winding down it contained the 20%. This high harvest rate was immediately and repeatedly challenged as exceeding the 14% that was being discussed throughout the process.
On March 18, 2015, approximately 20 citizens who are ad hoc members and public at large participants in the public process for Willapa met in the Elma Library. Steve Theisfeld delivered a copy of the Department's proposed interim policy, offered an explanation of the draft and took questions. Subsequently we spent until 10 pm that evening discussing the Department's proposals. Topping the list of concerns was the insertion of 20% into the drafts, including the interim policy seen for the first time that evening.
The attached meeting minutes were submitted to the Department staff on March 23, 2015 with copy to the Commission, Director, and all the citizens listed as participants that were in attendance. Further, the minutes were posted on websites and blogs and sent out to over 300 individuals who are signed up to the contact list of the website Fishingthechehalis.net
The meeting minutes say it this way:
Recapping and highlighting some of the commentary:
• All of the AHA modeling conducted during the ad hoc process showed the different alternatives would require a reduction in the maximum harvest rate to 14% to reach long range recovery goals in 16-21 yrs. The draft under all 3 Chinook Alternatives calls for a 20% harvest rate in the first phase (yrs. 1-4) which could delay the beginning of the recovery process up to 5 or more years. Further, the higher than modeled harvest rate proposed by the Dept. could continue the decline in NOR return run size to the point natural spawning recovery is delayed for decades and even limit future hatchery production (lack of NORs available for blending into hatchery broodstocks). While a 20% short term harvest rate would allow a greater Chinook harvest of returns from the higher past releases from hatcheries, the corresponding effect on NORs could create extremely difficult obstacles for the long term. The likelihood conservation goals could be reached would improve if harvest in the short term was reduced (10% suggested) and then raised it in the future to the 14% modeled using AHA.
Long term policy recommendations:
• Regardless of the Chinook Alternative adopted, reduce the proposed 20% harvest rate in Phase 1 (Years 1-4) from 20% to the 14% used in AHA modeling to reach goals in 16-21 years.
Interim policy recommendations:
• A harvest rate of 20% is set for both the Willapa and Naselle. Having a harvest rate on both rivers is considered by many to be a key component for success in the future. The recommendation is to reduce the harvest rate in 2015 to the 14% modeled by AHA and begin the recovery process without further delay and reduce the risk the Department will install a 2015 season that results in a further decline in NOR populations.
The cover email transmitting the minutes and recommendations to the Department staff, Director, and Commission on March 23rd contained a clear and precise request that the Department staff and the Commission consider adoption of the recommendations shown on the attached minutes with the following:
The group respectfully asks the Department to support, and the Commission to adopt, each of the recommendations outlined in the attached minutes.
To be frank, especially once one reviews the record of the ad hoc and public workshop process used for Willapa, the notion being raised that the Commission can only adopt language that has been some how posted by Department staff on its website or something of that order is novel at best. Worse, such a concept would tie the hands of Commissioners and effectively transfer the decision making power from the Commission down to the Department staff. I would argue the Commission was created by a vote of the people specifically to insure policy decisions were not left in the hands of Department staff, but rather rest with the Commission members who were intended to be the "representatives of the people."
The same problem of role blocking exists for the public at large under this scheme. Just how would the public get any input into the process if the Commission is limited to only considering language coming from the Department staff? The Department chose to ignore public's concern over the 20% during the process and likewise rejected the group's recommendation to adopt 14%. Under this scheme, the staff effectively blocked consideration of the public's input by simply refusing to insert the public recommendations into the draft produced for the Commission's consideration. Under such a doctrine, the public's confidence in the Commission would decline to the point where it is hard to imagine why anyone would be willing to take the time to drive to Olympia for a Commission meeting or even send an email.
I point out how Dr. Kraemer (ad hoc member) expressed to all of you his frustration over the Department's use, or misuse, of the citizens in the Willapa process during his testimony before the Commission on Thursday. Now, comes this latest wrinkle. Imagine how it will look to Dr. Kraemer and others who have invested so greatly in this process if this dubious claim lack of public disclosure is somehow rug-weaved into grounds for a "flip-flop" by the Commission? I surely wouldn't want the challenge of selling that rationale to the public to rest on my shoulders.
In summary, a claim that the Commission did not follow legal protocols when amending the draft interim policy from 20% to 14% is contrary to our legislative processes in WA wherein the use of "floor amendments" are common place. The claim fails once again under the standards of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Further, the claim also contradicts the Department's own historical behavior. As an example, the Department adopted a commercial season WAC for Grays Harbor in 2013 at the request of its commercial advisers that was significantly different than the season presented to the public in advisory meetings and the APA hearings on the WAC. The rest of the advisers and the general public found out about it after the season was adopted and the WAC published. The Department quickly pointed out that the APA allowed changes from the original language as long as the record showed a citizen could reasonably envision a change was possible. The record for the interim policy as shown in the attached meeting minutes clearly establishes the standard quoted regularly by Department staff was met and exceeded long before the Commission voted on Thursday.
Twin Harbors Fish & Wildlife Advocacy
Posted on Mon, April 13, 2015
by Dave Hamilton