Rocky Barker: Wildlife commissioners no strangers to politics

June 24, 2013 

Joan Hurlock, the second woman to serve on Idaho's Fish & Game Commission, spoke before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee on Feb. 4, 2013.


A Fish and Game commissioner is removed after a polarizing campaign by hunters claiming the commissioner pushed nonconsumptive wildlife value and was insufficiently anti-wolf.

No, I am not talking about the smear campaign that led the Idaho Senate to deny Joan Hurlock confirmation to Idaho's Fish and Game commission. This time, it's Washington state.

Earlier this month, a Washington Senate Committee sent Fish and Wildlife Commissioner David Jennings' confirmation to the floor without a recommendation. Gov. Jay Inslee pulled the renomination of the Olympia birder, wildlife-watcher and scuba diver because it was doomed.

Jennings, an environmental public health professional, has a bachelor of science in forest resources/wildlife management and a master's of public health in biostatistics. He'd served since 2009.

Jennings, a member of the Black Hills Audubon Society and the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, was portrayed by critics as a radical environmentalist who liked wolves and wanted to close off wide areas of the ocean to fishing.

"For the sportsmen of Washington, Jennings was too much of a polarizing figure, and we don't need that on the Fish and Wildlife Commission," Republican Sen. Kirk Pearson of Monroe said in Northwest Sportsman magazine.

The Washington story comes as Idaho Gov. Butch Otter must weigh recommendations from his search committee of sportsmen, former commissioners and his staff to replace Hurlock, who comes from Buhl, and Commissioner Tony McDermott from Sagle.

Otter is expected to choose from three finalists for each opening by the end of the month. The names being recommended remain secret.

Hurlock's major initiative on the commission was to help get kids more interested in wildlife, including hunting and fishing. Her major drawback is that, while she supported a wolf hunting season, she didn't hate wolves and didn't hunt enough to meet the senators' high bar.

Yet current Fish and Game Commission Chairman Bob Borowsky of Payette had not owned a hunting license for more than a decade before his 2004 appointment. One senator revealed sexism as an issue, suggesting Hurlock was a better fit for the nursing board.

As you would expect, demonization can go both ways. California Fish and Game Commission President Daniel Richards was pushed out of his post in 2012 after a photo was published that showed him displaying a mountain lion he'd shot while hunting in North Idaho. Voters had outlawed mountain lion hunting in California.

Polarization in wildlife management is not new, but it comes as the traditional funding sources for fish and wildlife management are drying up and as the number of young people getting involved in the outdoors is dropping dramatically.

That's why Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore organized the Idaho Wildlife Summit last August. It attracted thousands of Idahoans interested in helping wildlife.

But politics since suggest things are going to get worse before they get better.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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