How many natural resource agencies do we need?

It will be interesting to see whether state employees and outside observers settle on more, fewer or the same number of natural resource agencies than we now have in Washington state. As I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun, just about everything is on the table for review.

When I first moved here in the 1970s, we had a Department of Fisheries along with a Department of Wildlife. Enforcement officers were assigned to one agency or the other, but they often rendered assistance to their fellow officers downstream or out in the woods.

At some point in the past, I believe the state operated with a single Department of Fish and Game. Then after trying two agencies for a number of years, they merged into one again: the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This time, we could see a greater shakeup, as Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for a review of all natural resource agencies. That means we would add into the discussion these departments: Ecology, Natural Resources, and Parks and Recreation.

Does it make sense to consolidate agencies for a greater sharing of limited resources or stay with a greater number of agencies to hone the mission of the organization. Does one way result in fewer managers, or do you just trade top-level directors for middle managers?

Would it be better to have law enforcement officers focused on specific duties, or should they all be cross-trained to do the same thing? Should State Patrol officers learn about trees, deer and fish and help out with poachers in the woods — or is this going too far?

I don’t know the answers, but I really am interested in the outcome. The analysis has begun within documents filed on a new Natural Resources Reform Web page linked from the Governor’s Web site. It’s clear there’s much work yet to be done.

As for the number of scientists who need to stand in a stream (see Water Ways, Sept. 3), I guess some people are promoting the notion that one person could collect stream data for all three. Folks at the Puget Sound Partnership have talked about standardizing water-quality data, for example, but this issue is more complex than that.

One thing that caught my attention is the number of programs related to natural resources outside of Fish and Wildlife, Ecology, Natural Resources, and Parks. These programs may be brought into one of the agencies resulting from the reorganization. Here are some of those programs and where they currently reside:

  • Shellfish, drinking water and nuclear waste: Department of Health
  • Growth management: Department of Commerce
  • Comprehensive land-use plans and ordinances: Growth Management Hearings Boards
  • Rates for energy and solid waste collection: Utilities and Transportation Commission
  • Fines and land-use permitting: Environmental Hearings Office — including Pollution Control Hearings Board, Shoreline Hearings Board, Hydraulic Appeals Board, Environmental and Land Use Board and Forest Practices Appeals Board

For those who have an inclination to delve into this issue, there are plenty of things to consider.

One thought on “How many natural resource agencies do we need?

  1. I have both an interest in this issue and insight from working within the network of agencies funded through natural resource funds via the Governor’s budget. The thought that shuffling bureacrats around will save gobs of money is spurious. All that does is benefit some and hurt others. Those capable of riding the political tides best will win, and those not as adept will lose.

    What could make a difference would be for State Government to actually set some priorities. You can argue that there are too many bureaucrats receiving pay from these funds, but believe it or not, people in the communities of Washington State benefit from their work in one way or another. If you want to save money you have to pick missions that actually help some people and say that they are not as important as others.

    State government has been loathe to do this, at least for the last decade. Big agencies have shaved prorated percentages off of their budgets without any programs that I’m aware of being closed down. It encourages government by mediocrity, not focused and effective government.

    You can bet that I’ll be watching this develop. My agency receives some of the funding sent through these agencies, and I have no desire to be one of the losers.

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