201016_cp1_news_dj wdfw conservation districts

Volunteers clear weeds for a project organized by the Thurston Conservation District in Western Washington. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking to become a voting member of the State Conservation Commission.

Washington conservation district supervisors and managers are being asked whether they want the Department of Fish and Wildlife to become a voting member of the State Conservation Commission.

The survey, due back Oct. 30, will help the commission make a recommendation to the Legislature on whether to change the commission's makeup.

Commissioners elected by conservation districts already are a minority on the 10-member board.

Three state departments and Washington State University are represented. Two members are named by Gov. Jay Inslee. He appointed representatives of environmental groups and tribes.

Four commissioners are elected by the 45 conservation districts and include the president of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts.

"One may wish to consider how the addition of another representative will fit within this balance," according to a notice sent by the state commission staff to conservation districts.

Conservation districts in Washington date back to the 1930s. They are charged with conserving soil and water quality, including to protect fish and wildlife, through voluntary projects with landowners. The state commission oversees the operations and finances of conservation districts.

Fish and Wildlife serves as a non-voting adviser to the state commission.

In a letter to the commission, Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind said that since half the state is privately owned, the department can't preserve fish and wildlife unless it works with private landowners.

Susewind acknowledged some people might be concerned about adding another state agency. He said he supported adding other voting members to balance the commission.

The survey that the state commission sent to conservation districts poses several options:

• Add just Fish and Wildlife.

• Add Fish and Wildlife and another conservation district representative.

• Add Fish and Wildlife and a representative of urban or small acreage agriculture.

• Add Fish and Wildlife and a tribal representative.

The state Department of Agriculture, Department of Ecology and Department of Natural Resources are represented on the commission, as is WSU's dean of the agriculture college.

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