New ‘cabinet’ may redraw regional boundaries

I’ve always wondered why our natural resource agencies have such widely varying regional boundaries. If anyone knows the history of these various regions, please let me know.

Gov. Chris Gregoire yesterday announced a reorganization of the state’s natural resource agencies. While consolidation of entire agencies was taken off the table, plans are moving forward to consolidate the regions and possibly regional offices of multiple agencies. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

We’ll talk more about the new Natural Resources Cabinet and other elements of the reorganization in the future. For now, take a look at the regional boundaries for our three major resource agencies:

Department of Ecology: Kitsap County is in the Northwest Region, along with King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties. The regional office is located in Bellevue.

Department of Fish and Wildlife: Kitsap County is in Region 6, along with Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Jefferson, Clallam, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. The regional headquarters is in Montesano, on the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Department of Natural Resources: Kitsap County is in the South Puget Sound Region, along with King, Pierce and Mason counties and portions of Snohomish and Lewis counties. The headquarters is in Enumclaw, northwest of Mount Rainier.

It won’t be as easy as one might think to fight tradition and create a new uniform set of regions for all three agencies. But times have changed, and these particular regions may not work as well as when they were originally set up. I’m fairly certain that agency heads will start with agreed principles for setting the boundaries, considering population, travel time, ecological functions and other things.

Should they be divided along county lines, as most are now, or maybe along watersheds or so-called “eco-regions”?

I like the idea of creating regional headquarters in the same place for all agencies, so that various staffs could work in concert. Because of the cost of construction, the agencies might not be housed in the same buildings at first, but putting regional staffers in the same town or city would be a good start.

4 thoughts on “New ‘cabinet’ may redraw regional boundaries

  1. In a region thoroughly shaped by water and ice, watersheds are the defining boundary. Thanks for suggesting that, and I hope official Washington is listening.

  2. Region boundaries are often based on distribution of workload. In natural resource agencies the workload can be a combination of governmental services, regulatory administration, and state owned land management activities which often are not uniformly distributed across the landscape. Agencies often try to avoid creating regions that are considerably different in size based on workload and number employees. Part of the basis for this is organizational consistency and unit cost based on things like administrative functions.

    Another criterion for establishing boundaries has been county boundaries because much of what is done often intersects with the counties. Dividing counties betweeen regions generally has been viewed as creating complexity, frustration and confusion to all involved including the public.

  3. Here is a note I received from a former manager of the agency that is now the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

    I do know some of the history behind the different boundaries at the state agencies. They vary from agency to agency but I think the evolution is similar. My knowldege comes from activities during my tenure at the Dept. of Fisheries, as a manager there prior to and during the merger with the Dept. of Wildlife in 1994.

    The Wildlife Dept. was originally the Dept. of Game. The Game Department originally had representatives from each County, where local control of hunting and fishing made most sense. Just imagine when most of the State was rural, not that long ago (my lifetime). There were always fishing, shellfishing and hunting opportunities, because the resources were so plentiful.

    The Game Commissioners had an East and West sort of management and eventually had three commissioners from each side of the state. They divided the counties up somewhat evenly into the 6 regions that still exist today. They funded themselves entirely with license fees, so promoting the opportunities to harvest game was very important to the functioning of the agency. They were directed entirely by the 6 Game Commissioners, who were appointed by the Governor.

    The agency’s scope grew as the responsibility for management of the game species was more and more managed legislatively (ESA and SEPA for example). But they were still the champions of non-commercial (sport) harvest.

    The Dept. of Fisheries had the distinction of managing the commercially harvested species – salmon, marine fish and shellfish. These were big money makers for the state for many years. Again, the resources (and habitat) were so plentiful that protection was not a huge concern. (That said, there are many cautionary statements made by researchers and sportsmen. I have an old book called “Sport Fishing on Puget Sound” by Harry Howard published in 1947. The introduction has this statement: “Economists remind us that the salmon is an important article of food and of great commercial value, angler and economist alike may fairly doubt whether our present fish laws are within measurable distance of being desirable.”)

    The WDF was funded mostly through state general funds; the commercial industries lobbied well for continued regulations that supported their industries.

    The merger was mandated by the legislature. There were so many obviously duplicated activities that were not well coordinated at all! For instance, the WDW was building a new steelhead hatchery on the Skagit because the WDF hatchery was not in their agency. Now, the WDFW hatchery rears salmon, steelhead and trout. The proposed new steelhead hatchery (Grandy Creek) was never built. If you wanted to do work in the stream you had to obtain permission from both WDF and WDW, etc., etc.

    When the 2 agencies merged, the old Wildlife department regions remained, regardless of the fact that they do not make sense geographically anymore. Hence, part of Puget Sound (including Kitsap County) is included in Region 6 (Coastal Region) rather than Region 4 (the Eastern Puget Sound Counties). I won’t even go into the details about Ref. 45 or whatever it was that was passed by the Citizens in the late 90’s transferring all WDFW management to the current WDFW
    Commission.

    One more example – The Watershed Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) concept was done basically as a stream numbering exercise, because so many of the stream names were used repeatedly around the state. Like several “Mill Creek” and “Anderson Creek” labels. The WRIA numbers then were a logical way to treat water withdrawals, when water resources started to be managed. But by that time, the Dept. of Ecology had organized itself by County. I am not sure how they organized their regions, but they sure didn’t pay attention to the WRIA boundaries when the WRIAs were designated (around 1975).

    As each agency grew, mostly through federal and state legislative mandates, they started to hire their own specialists rather than rely on their sister agencies. Why trufor the mineral resources (DNR) when you are put in charge of shorelines. (Shoreline Management is the Dept. of Ecology’s job?)

    So now we have these existing agencies, with differing boundaries for their regions. Thank goodness the great managers and scientists from the state agencies have started informal coordination in many ways. It
    shouldn’t be that difficult to move this realignment forward.

    This is probably more detail than you wanted, but it is really pretty
    fascinating public policy to see how the natural resource management is changing with the times.

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