Melanie Rowland, an environmental attorney who lives in Twisp, has been appointed to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Rowland is one of three new members appointed last month by Gov. Jay Inslee. The Fish and Wildlife Commission is a nine-person citizen panel that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Rowland said the impact of climate change on endangered species has been a principal focus and concern during her environmental law career, and in her new role on the wildlife commission.
“Conserving our fish and wildlife and their habitat is a major challenge during these times of climate change and development pressure,” Rowland said in an announcement by WDFW. “I’m eager to help WDFW in conservation and providing sustainable recreational opportunities like fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching.”
Rowland has lived in the Methow Valley full-time for about 11 years and part-time for 23 years. Before retiring to the valley in 2011, she worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Northwest Office of General Counsel, where she advised the National Marine Fisheries Service on issues related to the Endangered Species Act and other federal environmental laws.
While at NOAA she was a member of a national working group of scientists, managers and lawyers who examined the effects of climate change on marine species, such as salmonids, whales, seals, sea lions and walruses.
As a member of the working group, she said, “I was greatly alarmed when I learned how much climate change was likely to affect habitat in ways that would threaten the survival of many species. How best to incorporate the evolving science on climate change into decision making regarding affected species is both fascinating and compelling to me.”
Since retiring from NOAA, Rowland has volunteered as a board member and legal counsel for the Methow Valley Citizen’s Council (MVCC), an environmental organization. Her work for MVCC has involved legal issues dealing with ATV access to valley roads, the Okanogan County Comprehensive Plan, and water for residential subdivisions, among others, she said.
She has also worked for the Methow Beaver Project, helping to relocate beavers from private properties, caring for beavers awaiting relocation, and educating people on the ecological benefits of beavers and ways to live with them.
Bear, wolves are priorities
As a state Fish and Wildlife Commission member, Rowland said, “I hope to work with the other commissioners to make decisions based on good science, public input, and respect for fish and wildlife.” An ongoing challenge facing state wildlife managers is “conserving the dwindling populations of Puget Sound orcas and wild salmon,” she said.
She attended her first meeting last week, where commissioners heard a report from WDFW staff who had reviewed scientific literature on human-cougar interactions. “I assume we’ll be considering options for reducing livestock predation by cougars, which seems to be the biggest category of negative interactions,” Rowland said.
“In the same vein, I imagine we’ll continue to deal with human-wolf interactions, which has been a highly controversial topic for years,” she said. WDFW is in the process of amending rules regarding wolf-livestock conflicts, after Gov. Inslee directed the agency in 2020 to develop new policies governing the killing of wolves involved in conflicts with livestock. The process is expected to be completed in May this year, according to a WDFW timeline.
“I’m looking forward to learning what current science can tell us about what is likely – or not likely – to reduce wolf predation on livestock,” Rowland said. “My inclination is to explore all potential nonlethal strategies before considering killing wolves and disrupting their tight social order, which can cause more problems for humans and devastate wolf packs.”
Debate over the future of an annual spring bear hunt is “also a hot topic” facing the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Rowland said. In January a board of seven commissioners (with two vacancies) voted 4-3 to start developing rules for the bear hunt in response to petitions calling for the hunt to be authorized.
Rowland said she wants to learn more about “the purpose of this bear hunt and the science on how it does or doesn’t contribute to species conservation. I refer to species beyond the bears, since bears have a place in the ecosystem and thus their numbers have consequences for other species,” she said. “There’s also been a lot of public outcry about the fact that the bears are weaker at that time, having just come out of hibernation, and the sows may have cubs that could be orphaned. These are both concerns of mine.”
In addition to her work for NOAA, Rowland’s background includes serving as Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society, where she worked on the national campaign to preserve Northwest ancient forests. She also served on the boards of Seattle Audubon, the Washington Environmental Council, Washington Foundation for the Environment, and Pacific Biodiversity Institute in Winthrop.
Rowland and her husband, Randy Brook, live on the Twisp-Carlton Road. Rowland said they enjoy hiking, birding and cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley, and kayaking on the coasts of Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.
Rowland was appointed to one of three at-large seats on the Fish and Wildlife Commission. The other two newly appointed commissioners are John Lehmkuhl of Chelan County, a former research wildlife biologist who has served on WDFW’s Wildlife Diversity Advisory Council since 2015. He fills one of three eastern Washington seats on the board.
Tim Ragen of Skagit County fills a one of three western Washington seats on the wildlife commission. Ragen is a former executive director at the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission.
Commissioners serve six-year terms and appointees must be approved by the Washington Senate, which is currently in session. Members are official upon appointment and serve as voting members on the commission while awaiting Senate approval.