Joe Baker was dismissed Tuesday after 20 months as Washington state veterinarian, apparently falling short of Department of Agriculture Director Derek Sandison’s expectations.
Sandison evaluated Baker and decided to make a change, a WSDA spokesman said.
The department gave no other reason for Baker’s dismissal. Efforts to reach Baker were unsuccessful.
The spokesman said the department has not named an acting state veterinarian.
As state veterinarian, Baker managed WSDA’s Animal Health Program, a vital government office for the livestock and poultry industries.
During his tenure, WSDA was faced with containing bird flu, guarding against livestock diseases circulating in the West and implementing changes in how the state traces the movement of livestock in case of a disease outbreak.
Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jack Field said he was surprised by Baker’s dismissal.
“I thought he did well,” Field said.
Field, however, said he thought Baker was handicapped in his ability to leave Olympia to meet producers because of a vacancy in the assistant state veterinarian’s position.
“I think that might have been a challenge,” Field said. “Obviously, that reduces visibility. Whether it’s the state veterinarian or our own vet, when you have a chance to interact, you can build a bond and have a closer relationship.
“I think we need both a state veterinarian and assistant state veterinarian, so we have the Olympia office covered, and the ability for the state veterinarian to get out,” he said.
Field said he hoped WSDA will fill the position quickly.
The vacancy “leaves the industry in a big hole right now. We’ve get a lot going on,” he said. “The good news is we have a strong core of regional vets.”
The Washington State Dairy Federation had a good relationship with Baker, Jay Gordon, the group’s policy director, said.
“I always thought Dr. Baker did a pretty fair job, but for whatever reason, the department wants to go in a different direction,” Gordon said.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said he too was surprised by Baker’s dismissal. Schmick and another lawmaker recently asked Baker to meet with ranchers in Pullman to talk about bluetounge virus.
Schmick said Baker had valuable experience responding to disease outbreaks in New Mexico.
“I think his addition to that meeting was very valuable,” Schmick said. “He brought a lot to the table.”
Baker earned a bachelor’s at Washington State University and then his doctorate from WSU in 1977.
Before coming to WSDA, he had spent much of his career in New Mexico, including a stint as interim state veterinarian.
He also had been a field veterinarian; headed New Mexico’s Food Safety, Meat and Poultry Inspection Division, and had held positions with the New Mexico Livestock Board.
He joined WSDA in November 2014, hired by then-Director Bud Hover, who resigned five months later.
Baker was a strong advocate for vaccinating horses against West Nile virus and in a recent interview was critical of the horse industry for not following health requirements when transporting horses between states.