Hunting group files lawsuit against Washington wildlife commissioner, says more lawsuits to come

SPOKANE — A nationwide hunting advocacy group is trying to take Washington’s wildlife commissioner to task for serving on another all-volunteer board.

The Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation alleges that Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Lorna Smith is performing two government functions in violation of Washington regulations. The lawsuit, filed Monday in Thurston County, says Smith served on the Jefferson County Planning Commission while also serving on the Governor’s Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The alliance also said in a press release that Smith “promotes an extremist view of fish and wildlife management and strongly opposes the North American model of wildlife conservation. Smith was a driving force behind the abolition of the spring black bear hunt and pushed for other initiatives to destabilize traditional management approaches and systems in the state.”

However, Wildlife Commissioner Molly Linville, traditionally more aligned with the Sportsmen’s Alliance, has also served on the county planning board and is currently an elected member of the rural school board, both facts listed in her WDFW Commission bio .

“Our legal counsel informed me that it was not a conflict of interest,” Linville said.

Linville, who lives in Douglas County, left the Douglas County Planning Commission about six months ago because of his workload on two commissions and the school board.

In an email, Smith noted that she was working on the Jefferson County Planning Commission in a volunteer role when she applied and was appointed to the WDFW commission. She said her role is advisory.

“The governor’s office was comfortable with me serving in this volunteer position when I was appointed,” she said in an email. “As I understand it, this is the ‘destination service’ used in RCW. 77.04.040 does not include a volunteer position, such as a planning commission member, who serves only in an advisory role. I am proud to have served both my county and my state in these volunteer positions.”

Brian Linn, vice president of communications for the Spokane-based Sportsmen’s Alliance, did not know Linville was a school board member and said the Sportsmen’s Alliance is “focusing on Lorna,” adding that she is in “direct violation” of the RCW. As for whether the lawsuit could inadvertently discourage people from volunteering on boards or commissions, especially in rural areas where volunteers are hard to find, he said that’s not a concern of his or the Sportsmen’s Alliance.

The Washington Code of Commissioners states that “persons eligible for appointment as members of the commission shall have a general knowledge of the habits and distribution of fish and wildlife and shall not hold elective or appointive office in another state, county, or municipality.”

“I’m concerned about whether the gaming commission is following the law,” he said. “If that’s a problem, then somebody in the Legislature needs to fix it.”

More broadly, he noted that none of the WDFW commissioners have been confirmed by the state senate, even though state law says they must be.

“The government runs this cabal. They can do whatever they want,” he said. “They are not elected. They are appointed.”

He added that the Sportsman Alliance plans to file new lawsuits against the WDFW commission in the near future.

“This is like the first step,” he said. “There is more to come. There are still trials ahead. They just act rudely, out of control.”

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