In today’s world, we don’t need an awful lot of help fostering misunderstanding and polarization. That’s why a recent editorial defending Gov. Kate Brown’s nominations to the ODFW Commission was so disappointing.
The editorial vilified the conservation organization for which I work in a rush to offer unqualified support for the governor. It ignored that our objections were based on legitimate concerns that deserve to be heard.
The media focused primarily on one nominee due to now-redacted photos of him posing with a zebra, hippo, and other exotic trophies. Even in Idaho, Gov. Butch Otter demanded the resignation of a commissioner for similar photos. But that glosses over the elephant in the room and the primary reasons for our objection.
Like several other nominees — and the Commissioner he was set to replace — he had a tremendous conflict of interest. He was asking to serve on a commission that his father frequently lobbies on behalf of the livestock industry. There he has pushed for weaker protections for wolves, elk, and other native wildlife. The nominee publicly stated he would not recuse himself from votes that would benefit his father or his organization.
Other candidates had similar conflicts with one even initiating a $1.4 billion lawsuit against the state of Oregon on behalf of the timber industry.
It’s the continuation of a pattern. The commission has long been dominated by profit-driven and consumptive interests — often the very industries they are meant to oversee. Those interests disproportionately influence policy, and that dynamic is largely responsible for the agency losing public trust, suffering a financial crisis, and Oregon’s standing as a conservation leader continuing to erode.
The Wildlife Commission has a troubling lack of diversity. Non-consumptive appreciators of Oregon’s wildlife are barely represented and are often treated with outright hostility despite making up the majority of the state.
The Fish & Wildlife Commission is supposed to serve the public and ensure our fish, wildlife, and their habitats are conserved as a legacy for future generations. My organization has supported ranchers, hunters, and others with diverse backgrounds from across the state. For months, the conservation community has made it a top priority to see a commission made up of diverse, thoughtful, science-minded individuals who represent 21st century Oregon values. Brown’s recommendations to the commission undermined that vision.
The governor’s staff essentially admitted their slate was unvetted and that they had simply rubber stamped the wishes of lobby groups the commission is supposed to regulate.
Knowing all that and more, it took a lot of audacity for the editors to say it was we who spun a “false narrative.” It’s one thing to take exception to how another outlet (or its fans on social media) cover an issue. However, creating straw men and attacking them doesn’t foster anything but more polarization and demonization on both sides.
Our communities deserve better. So do Oregon’s fish and wildlife.