Makah Tribal member Patrick DePoe announces bid for WA public lands commissioner

Makah Tribal member Patrick Finedays DePoe has announced that he is running as a Democrat for Washington state’s Commissioner of Public Lands.

If elected, DePoe would become the first Native American to hold a statewide position in the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m running to be the Commissioner of Public Lands to protect all that is great about our state, its lands and the people they sustain,” DePoe said in his campaign video. “I’ve seen first-hand how public policy impacts our environment and our livelihoods. As Washington moves towards a better future, we need to bring new energy and creativity into using, and sustaining, what nature provides us.”

In an interview with McClatchy on Thursday, DePoe said that he has always had ambitions to run for statewide office, and that he has always had a passion for natural resources because he comes from a Tribe that depends on those resources. He said that seeing the impacts of environmental public policy made in Olympia has laid out his path for him.

When asked what he thinks the most pressing issue is for climate sustainability in Washington, and how he hopes to tackle those issues, DePoe said that he can bring it back to something as simple as planting more trees.

“I say that because it sounds like a task that’s not unattainable,” DePoe said. “It’s about expanding and thinking outside of the box, and bringing new energy and creativity to this position to show that we can find ways where we don’t have to go to legislation year after year with our hands out asking for more money to support tree planting.”

He said he wants to look at carbon sequestration, and at managing current revenue streams with DNR to prioritize planting trees.

“You plant trees, you’re tackling the climate crisis head on — you capture more carbon and you’re providing more jobs in our rural communities,” DePoe said. “I want to get in front of this and do everything I can to make sure we’re using our lands, our waters to the best of our ability in the most sustainable way possible.”

DePoe, who was raised on the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay where he still lives, serves as Director of Tribal Relations for the Department of Natural Resources, and he said that he makes his way to Olympia at least twice a week. Prior to that he was a commercial fisherman and a land manager.

In his role with the Makah Tribal Council he focused on coordinating with state and federal level agencies regarding climate resilience and habitat restoration.

Hilary Franz, the current Commissioner of Public Lands, already has endorsed DePoe for the position. Franz, who first assumed the office in 2017, is running for governor.

“Patrick’s Tribal community depends on natural resources for their culture and their livelihoods which shapes his approach to conservation, natural resources, and rural economic development. His life experience, deep knowledge of land management, and thoughtful leadership make him uniquely qualified to lead this department,” said Franz in a press statement Thursday.

“I’m proud to endorse Patrick because he’s the most qualified person and will make an outstanding Commissioner of Public Lands, and I’m excited about the historic nature of his candidacy. ...”

According to the Public Disclosure Commission, DePoe is one of five candidates in the race for Public Lands Commissioner.

Democratic state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege from Sequim so far leads the other candidates with more than $75,000 in donations.

Former state Senator Mona Das is also in the running after she chose not to run for re-election to her seat in 2022. So far her campaign has raised more than $46,000.