Our head’s-up piece on the abolishing of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has gotten huge hits the last few days, but unfortunately, we haven’t been able to learn much beyond what is in the digest for Senate Bill 6813.
A key cosponsor has yet to call us back, but from what a WDFW source told us earlier today, because of the bill’s classification, it may not die at the midnight Feb. 5 legislative cutoff if it’s not moved out of committee, as an information officer in the state capitol informed us earlier this week.
In a nutshell, SB 6813 would kill off WDFW and the State Parks and Recreation Commission by folding them into the Department of Natural Resources. The Commissioner of Public Lands (currently Peter Goldmark) would be the head honcho.
The Fish & Wildlife Commission would be one of the mega agency’s three boards and still be in charge of making fishing and hunting rules, etc., but would only be able to make recommendations on the overall department’s budget.
A preamble, if you will, to 6813 reads:
The legislature finds that perpetual management of Washington state natural resources, including sustainable harvesting of minerals, timber, and other forest products, and the preservation and protection of fish and wildlife and recreational opportunities requires clear, efficient, streamlined, and scientific management by a single state agency. Such a consolidation will bring combined resources to bear on securing, managing, and enhancing all of the state’s natural resources. It will simplify licensing, amplify research, avoid duplication, and magnify enforcement of laws and rules. It will provide all forest landowners, fishers, hunters, users of recreation, and tribal fisheries comanagers with a single source of consistent policies, procedures, and access.
Tom Davis, WDFW’s legislative liason, says WDFW, DNR and State Parks had JUST begun to work on a fiscal impact statement for the bill this morning.
Meanwhile, he’s got his eyes on some other stuff in Olympia.
House Bill 2485 would, he says, restrain the agency’s ability to buy land in certain areas where there’s already a lot of public land.
He points to Okanogan County, part of which is repped by bill cosponsor Joel Kretz, a Republican, and deputy minority leader of the house. Washington’s biggest county has some of the biggest chunks of intact habitat left in the state, and an area WDFW’s real estate division always seems to be picking up parcels large and small.
“We need to make sure county commissioners are OK with our land purchases,” Davis says, but he also points out that private landowners are free to sell to whomever.
While they can sell to developers as well, “to us, land acquisition is the best way to protect habitat,” Davis says. “We just have to be sensitive how we do it.”
He points out that WDFW pays PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, on almost all acreage they own.
But there’s something of a sagebrush rebellion going on. Another bill in Olympia, HB 2934, which has since died, would have prevented the agency from buying land for more than the appraised current use value.
That’s different than fair-market value, and might only be 50 percent of it.
Davis says that it’s a big deal in Eastern Washington where state land buys can pull land out of agricultural productivity by outbidding local farmers.
The last bill Davis mentioned is HB 2593, dealing with derelict crab pots. This bill originally had a provision for collecting donations of $2 from recreational crabbers to collect lost pots in the Sound and Straits, but that has since been dropped, says Davis.
Now the bill would allow WDFW to spend crab endorsement money on pulling up derelict gear in the Straits and Sound.
“Twelve thousand pots a year are lost, and they may fish up to two years. You might have 1 million crab a year impacted,” says Davis. “It’s a small start, but a tool to focus on the problem.”
The bill would also allow citations to be issued to commercial crabbers if they are caught using noncompliant gear.