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Oly Update II: Gill Net Ban, Bainbridge Wolf Preserve Bills Introduced

Just a brief update from the Olympia Outsider™ as the second week of Washington’s legislative session comes to a close.

Lawmakers continue to introduce fish- and wildlife-related bills, and several of note were dropped this week, some more serious than others.

A TONGUE IN CHEEK BILL INTRODUCED IN OLYMPIA THIS WEEK WOULD ESSENTIALLY DECLARE BAINBRIDGE ISLAND A WOLF PRESERVE. IT’S REP. JOEL KRETZ’S RESPONSE TO A LOCAL LEGISLATOR’S BILL THAT WOULD BAR WDFW FROM LETHALLY REMOVING DEPREDATING WOLVES IN HIS DISTRICT. NEITHER ARE LIKELY TO PASS. (THE INTERWEBS)

With our rundown last Friday starting with House bills, this week we’ll lead off with new ones in the Senate:

Bill: SB 5617
Title: “Banning the use of nontribal gill nets.”
Sponsors: Sens. Salomon, Braun, Van De Wege, Rolfes, Wilson, L., Rivers, Fortunato, Palumbo, Keiser, Das, Frockt, Randall, Warnick, Hunt, Honeyford, Brown, Cleveland, Saldaña, Nguyen, Darneille, Conway, Pedersen, Wilson, C., and Liias
Bill digest: Not available as the bill was just introduced this morning, but parsing through the text, which cites declining wild salmon runs, the importance of Chinook to orcas and reforms on the Columbia, it would phase out gillnets “in favor of mark selective harvest techniques that are capable of the unharmed release of wild and endangered salmon while selectively harvesting hatchery-reared salmon.” It would not affect tribes’ ability to net salmon.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: First thing that jumps out about this bill is the massive number of cosponsors, 24 — nearly half of the Senate on board from the get-go. The second is its bipartisan support — 17 Democrats, seven Republicans. The lead sponsor is the recently elected Sen. Jesse Salomon of Shoreline, who defeated commercial fishing supporter Maralynn Chase last fall. It’s highly likely that the bill will make it through its first committee too, which is chaired by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, one of the cosponsors. It also comes with some apparent backsliding led by Oregon interests on efforts to get gillnets out of the shared Columbia.

Bill: SB 8204
Title: “Amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to fish, hunt, and otherwise harvest wildlife.”
Sponsors: Sens. Braun, Fortunato, Takko, Wagoner, and Wilson, L.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but if passed would put the above up for a vote at the next general election.
OO analysis: The nut of this bill has been around for a few years, but here’s hoping it gets more traction this legislative session than 2017’s!

Bill: SB 5404
Title: “Expanding the definition of fish habitat enhancement projects.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Honeyford, Van De Wege, McCoy, Salomon, Hasegawa
Bill digest: None available, but essentially adds projects restoring “native kelp and eelgrass beds and restoring native oysters” to those that could be permitted to enhance fish habitat.
OO analysis: A recall watching shimmering schools of baitfish off a pier in Port Townsend that had signs talking about the importance of eelgrass to salmon and other key species, such as herring. With so many acres of beds lost over the decades, this seems like a good idea.

Bill: SB 5525
Title: “Concerning whitetail deer population estimates.”
Sponsor: Sen. Shelly Short
Bill digest: None available, but directs WDFW to annually count whitetail bucks, does and fawns on certain transects in Northeast Washington with the ultimate goal of increasing deer numbers to 9 to 11 per mile.
OO analysis: State wildlife biologists already drive roads here in late summer to estimate buck:doe ratios, but we’re not going to argue with getting more deer in the woods!

Bill: HB 1404
Title: “Concerning a comprehensive study of human-caused impacts to streambeds.”
Sponsor: Rep. Blake
Bill digest:  Unavailable, but directs WDFW, DNR and DOE to review scientific literature for the effects that mining, running jet sleds and operating diversion dams, among other impacts, have on fish, gravel and water quality, with the report due next year.
OO analysis: Could be interesting to read that report.

Bill: HB 1516
Title: “Establishing a department of fish and wildlife directed nonlethal program for the purpose of training dogs.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Dent, Chapman, Kretz, Walsh, Lekanoff, Orcutt, Springer, Pettigrew, Hoff, Shea
Bill digest: Unavailable, but essentially a companion bill to the Senate’s SB 5320, which yesterday had a public hearing and enjoyed widespread support from hunting, ranching, farming and conservation interests — even HSUS. It would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.
OO analysis: To quote the chair at Thursday’s hearing on the Senate side bill, “We love when there is widespread agreement.”

Bill: HB 1579 / SB 5580
Title: “Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing chinook abundance.”
Sponsors: Reps. Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Stonier, Tharinger, Stanford, Jinkins, Robinson and Pollet; Sens. Rolfes, Palumbo, Frockt, Dhingra, Keiser, Kuderer, and Saldaña.
Note: By request of Office of the Governor
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per a news release from Gov. Jay Inslee the bills “would increase habitat for Chinook salmon and other forage fish” through hydraulic permitting.
OO analysis: Good to see some teeth when it comes to overseeing projects done around water. Of note, this bill would also essentially reclassify some toothsome Chinook cohabitants, scrubbing smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and walleye from the list of officially approved state “game fish,” a precursor to slashing limits?

Bill: HB 1580 / SB 5577
Title: “Concerning the protection of southern resident orca whales from vessels.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Kretz, Kirby, Peterson, Appleton, Shewmake, Morris, Cody, Jinkins; Sens. Rolfes, Frockt, Liias, McCoy, Dhingra, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Saldaña, Wilson, C.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the Governor’s Office, “would protect Southern Resident orcas from vessel noise and disturbance. The bills would require vessels to stay at least 400 yards away from Southern Resident orcas and report vessels they witness in violation of the limit. It would also require vessels to travel under seven knots within one-half nautical mile of the whales. The legislation would create no-go and go-slow zones around the whales to protect them.
OO analysis: With vessel disturbance one of three key factors in why Puget Sound’s orcas are struggling, this bill follows on recommendations from Inslee’s orca task force. Having companion bills makes passage more likely.

Bill: HB 1639
Title: “Ensuring that all Washingtonians share in the benefits of an expanding wolf population.”
Sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but essentially declares Bainbridge Island a wolf preserve and would translocate most of the state’s wolves there so “they can be protected, studied, and, most importantly, admired by the region’s animal lovers,” as well as sets new limits for considering when to lethally remove depredating wolves, including after four confirmed attacks on dogs, four on domestic cats or two on children.
OO analysis: Rep. Kretz is known for dropping some amusing wolf-related bills in the legislature, often at the expense of lawmakers who live on islands, and this latest one needles Bainbridge’s Rep. Sherry Appleton, whose HB 1045 would bar WDFW from killing livestock-attacking wolves to try and stave off further depredations in Kretz’s district and elsewhere in Washington. Neither bill is likely to pass, but the text of HB 1639 is a hoot.

OlyPen Senator Named Natural Resources Committee Chair

A state senator representing a fish- and wildlife-rich part of Washington — and who’s known to dangle a hook there — will head up the committee where WDFW-related issues come before lawmakers.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim was named the chair of Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks by fellow Democrats after last week’s special election in which they picked up a seat and became the majority party in the legislature’s upper chamber.

SENATOR KEVIN VAN DE WEGE REPRESENTS THE 24TH DISTRICT, WHICH ENCOMPASSES ALL OF THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA EXCEPT MASON COUNTY. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Van De Wege, a firefighter, had been the ranking minority member in former Sen. Kirk Pearson‘s Natural Resources and Parks Committee, and was believed by observers to be interested in the chairmanship.

The senator, who was also a five-term state representative for the sprawling 24th District, enjoys fishing. A quick scan of his personal Facebook feed shows he and family members on the saltwater with bottomfish and salmon. And in March he was among those calling for a seven-day halibut season this year.

Through bills he’s sponsored, Van De Wege has shown an interest in regulating the fishing guide industry, particularly out-of-state entrants, and one he introduced earlier this year addressing Olympic Peninsula rivers led to WDFW’s ongoing meetings around the state on managing salmon and steelhead guiding.

Also this session, he twice voted against Senate Joint Memorial 8009, which called on Washington DC to expedite Puget Sound hatchery reviews.

The committee Van De Wege now heads is where many WDFW-related bills originate in the Senate, and the chair has the power to hold public hearings on them and determine if they advance. This past session, the agency’s fee increase package got zero traction with Pearson in charge. When Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) was chair, he questioned WDFW’s 2012 lethal removal of the Wedge Pack and planned to hold hearings before election results changed the equation and Pearson came in.

Sen. John McCoy, the Tulalip Democrat who was also a member of Natural Resources & Parks, will sit alongside Van De Wege as the committee’s vice chair.

Van De Wege will also serve on Ways & Means and Health & Long Term Care Committees.

“These committees focus on major issues critical to all Washingtonians but particularly critical to 24th District residents,” he said of all his committee assignments in a press release. “I look forward to solving problems confronting residents of our district as well as prioritizing legislation that will lead to stronger households and communities across our state.”

Olympia Budget Impasse Kills Critical Hatchery Work

Editor’s note: This blog post has been updated since news that the state legislature is out of business for the year.

Critical new fish hatchery renovations won’t move forward because legislators in Olympia failed to approve a Capital Budget.

New land buys in Central Washington and elsewhere are also on hold for the foreseeable future, a setback for habitat projects and recreation including hunting and fishing in a key part of the state.

THE CAPITAL BUDGET CONTAINS SEVERAL MILLION DOLLARS FOR RENOVATIONS AT WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY, WHICH REARS SUMMER CHINOOK, COHO AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A deal was unreachable due to an impasse between how Republicans and Democrats want to address the Hirst decision from the state Supreme Court on new wells in rural areas.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife had been anticipating receiving $51 million to $61 million in funding from the Capital Budget, depending on whether the upper or lower chambers’ bill was ultimately passed.

Either way, 75 percent of that would have gone towards fish hatcheries across the state and the other 25 percent to forest health projects at wildlife areas, according to the agency’s Tim Burns.

He said that with many hatcheries more than half a century old, the improvements are really needed.

Among the projects that are now on hold:

$8 million for Eells Spring in Mason County, WDFW’s largest trout-rearing facility in Western Washington;

$6 million for Puyallup in Pierce County, which is being  converted wholly to salmon production with trout moved to Eells Spring;

$8 million for Naselle in Pacific County;

$5 million for intake work at Samish in Skagit County;

$5 million for renovating rearing ponds at Hoodsport in Mason County;

$2 million for intake improvements and pond renovations at Wallace in Snohomish County.

WDFW’s Raquel Crosier termed the work “pretty critical renovations.”

Five million dollars also would have gone towards hazard-fuel reduction at wildlife areas, mostly in Eastern Washington.

And another $9 million to $14 million would have paid for “minor works” at 40 WDFW facilities, mostly hatcheries.

Earlier this summer the legislature did pass a reappropriations bill, so that some $50 million in current capital projects will continue to be worked on.

But Burns says that without the new funding, he will probably have to lay off staff, including engineers and designers as well as tradespersons at the agency’s Yakima and Lacey shops.