How Many State Natural Resource Agencies Are Needed?
By Christopher Dunagan (Contact)
Monday, September 14, 2009
Creating two giant agencies to protect Washington’s environment, manage fish and wildlife and oversee state-owned lands is one of 26 government-reform ideas put forward Monday by a governor’s task force.
Under equal consideration are suggestions to consolidate natural resource functions into three, four or even five state agencies.
“They are not recommendations or even options,” noted John Mankowski, chairman of the task force. The 26 ideas announced for public comment represent alternate ways of meeting Gov. Chris Gregoire’s goals of improving customer service, increasing efficiency and protecting the environment and public health, he said.
The state currently has three primary natural resource agencies, but related functions are scattered among a handful of other agencies. Corralling all such functions became a goal of the task force, called the Governor’s Natural Resources Subcabinet.
The ideas for reform will be circulated through state agencies and anyone interested until Oct. 28. People may use a special Web site to comment on the ideas or offer suggestions of their own. Eventually, the best suggestions will become recommendations to the governor, commissioner of public lands and Legislature.
“How do you get the work done with less overlap?” Mankowski asked. “In the natural resource world, we have a broad array of government structures, which sometimes make it a bit of a challenge to organize and get things done.”
The task force dug deeply into the agencies to identify duplications and note how agencies do the same things differently.
“The point,” Mankowski said, “is to begin the public dialogue on reforming and improving our state’s natural resources functions.”
If the state went to dual agencies, a system used in nine other states, the divisions likely would be a Department of Environmental Regulation — in charge of various permits and grants — along with a Department of Resource, Recreation and Land Management — in charge of state forests, agriculture lands, aquatic lands, parks, fishing and hunting. Both agencies would have duties related to public education and scientific monitoring.
A three-agency system would include an Environmental Protection Agency; an Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Agency; and a Resource, Recreation and Ecosystem Conservation Agency. With some realignment — notably parks — that system is closest to the existing Department of Ecology; Department of Natural Resources; and Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Besides consolidating agencies, suggested ideas could:
— Create consistent geographic regions from one agency to the next, allowing offices to be shared,
— Form a single law-enforcement agency for hunting, fishing and land use, possibly combined with the Washington State Patrol,
— Consolidate natural resource grants into a single agency or coordinating council,
— Launch a pilot program to test the merits of a single permitting program for all agencies,
— Coordinate incentives offered to landowners for enhancing ecosystems in targeted areas,
— Consolidate mapping and geographic information systems,
— Set up a uniform appeals process with cases submitted to special review boards, possibly within a new Land Use Adjudicatory Agency,
— Revisit the structure of the growth management hearings boards and possibly review the entire Growth Management Act.
Asked which of the ideas are most likely to survive, Robin Arnold-Williams, the governor’s policy director, said all ideas have equal weight at this point. All the ideas have been used in one or more states across the United States, she said. The question for the public is whether they make sense for Washington state.
“We are trying real hard not to prejudge,” Arnold-Williams said. “It is not an issue of whether something is feasible. It is whether it is advisable.”
For specifics, go to the Web page for http://Natural Resources Reform at w...lresources.asp. A copy of the 166-page report is available to download.;http://www.governor.wa.gov/prioritie...lresources.asp[url]
(From the Kitsap Sun)
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