SALEM — The Oregon Senate voted Thursday morning to confirm two controversial appointees to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The sport fishing industry and some recreational anglers lobbied hard to stop Gov. Kate Brown’s appointment of Astoria resident Bruce Buckmaster to the commission because of his work on behalf of the commercial fishing industry, but the Senate voted 18-12 to confirm Buckmaster. The Senate also voted 27-3 to confirm Jason Atkinson of Jacksonville to the commission. Senators voted unanimously to confirm 92 other appointments by the governor to various boards and commissions.
During a committee hearing earlier this week, sport fishers said they want the governor to appoint a commissioner who works in their industry. It is unclear how Brown might respond to that request, but the Senate Committee on Rules held back the governor’s two reappointments to the commission — Holly Akenson of Enterprise, and Michael Finley of Medford — because senators said they were concerned commissioners did not do enough to prevent budget problems at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The seven fish and wildlife commissioners serve four-year terms and are appointed to represent the state’s Congressional districts. Brown appointed Buckmaster to fill the position representing Oregon’s 1st Congressional District, after former Gov. John Kitzhaber left that position vacant for more than two years.
Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, carried the Buckmaster nomination. Buckmaster previously owned a salmon feed company and served on the board of Salmon for All, a group that represents commercial fishermen, processors and other businesses on the Lower Columbia River. Buckmaster also registered as a lobbyist while serving on the board of Salmon for All and although Buckmaster said he was never paid for the work, sport fishers said this should preclude him from serving as a commissioner.
Roblan said the commercial fishing industry in southern Oregon appreciated Brown’s appointment of Buckmaster.
“His goal has always been to have plenty of fish to share with everybody, because it is very important to our community,” Roblan said of Buckmaster. “This is a person who has been actively engaged in his community wherever he lived, trying to make things better.”
Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, said he disagreed with Buckmaster on salmon policy several years ago but would still vote to confirm him.
“He was an opponent on that particular issue that was tenacious, and he was fighting for what he thought was right,” Edwards said. “I disagreed with him. We prevailed on that issue.”
Kitzhaber and the Fish and Game Commission ultimately put in place a plan to ban gillnets on the main stem of the Columbia River and move commercial use of the nets into side channels.
Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, said he was involved in the effort to ban gillnets on the main stem of the Columbia River and called upon other senators to vote “no” on the Buckmaster appointment.
“Everyone here knows I represent a region that has a lot of spawning grounds,” Girod said. “The problem with Mr. Buckmaster is, he wants to go back to the old ways ... You might say that he compromises, but the people I deal with say he doesn’t compromise.”
Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, asked the Senate to confirm Brown’s appointment of Atkinson, who is a fly-fisherman and hunter, former state senator and Republican candidate for governor.
“I think you all know Sen. Atkinson very well for his many years of involvement in this body,” Beyer said. “We certainly all know of his passion for hunting and fishing and preservation of wildlife.”
Atkinson also has important professional experience as a corporate “turnaround specialist,” and he could use those skills to improve the financial outlook at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Beyer said. Lawmakers are currently considering how to respond to the agency’s $32 million budget shortfall. The agency has a $345 million proposed budget for 2015 through 2017.