The first of two elk management bills to pass the Washington legislature this session was signed into law Thursday.
With a stroke of Governor Jay Inslee’s pen, Washington State University was given the lead to monitor hoofrot-stricken wapiti in the state’s southwestern corner, as well as look into the causes and possible solutions to the disease that’s leaving the animals limping.
Second Substitute Senate Bill 5474, which was sponsored by Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe), was unanimously approved by the Senate and House, and also bars moving elk out of areas with hoofrot.
“It is my hope that with the expertise of the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, working with agency officials, our Tribal leaders, sportsmen, and landowners that we can begin eradicating this horrible pestilence,” said Pearson, chair of the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, this morning.
WDFW will continue to be heavily involved in the effort the agency began in 2009 with the collection of hooves from diseased animals.
Those were sent to WSU and four other university and federal institutions, and in 2014 preliminary results suggested it was caused by treponeme bacteria, a type of dermatitis found in livestock and unfortunately considered highly infectious among free-roaming elk.
That makes it very difficult to control, though an early version of the bill would have licensed state hunters to shoot limpers on site. That was removed after objections from sportsmen and WDFW.
While the question of funding WSU’s elk work remains unresolved as of this writing, WDFW was happy with the final bill.
“We think more effort on elk hoof disease is needed,” said the agency’s legislative liaison Raquel Crosier.
As for the other elk legislation, SHB 1353 directs WDFW and the Department of Transportation to come up with a project to reduce the number of collisions between the Colockum herd and vehicles on area highways.
It calls for a three-pronged approach: increasing general season hunting ops and depredation permits, barring feeding elk by anyone but WDFW, and using cattle grazing to keep elk away from roads and homes.
The bill was delivered to Inslee’s desk April 21 but has not been signed.
Other fish- and wildlife-related bills that have come through the legislature and have been signed by the governor include:
HB 1257, which allows WDFW to move Western Washington beavers around the Westside, where before the dam builders could only be translocated to the Eastside or had to be put down, and;
SB 5761, which exempts the release of certain information about tribal fishermen and shellfish growers from public records act disclosure requests.
The beaver bill has the potential to really benefit salmon and steelhead habitat, as well as provide other wildlife benefits.
Bills sitting on Inslee’s desk include:
HB 1464, request legislation from WDFW and cosponsored by Rep. Brian Blake and others, it aims to expand recreational access to private lands by modifying immunity laws to protect owners WDFW signs agreements with from liability;
HB 1465, shielding the identities of those involved in nonlethal wolf work or depredation investigations from public disclosure requests, and;
HB 2126, which creates a grant program and account for those grants to help fund nonlethal wolf-livestock management in Northeast Washington.
The regular session of the legislature ended last week without a budget deal, but has since reconvened in a special session.
While WDFW’s fee bills — licenses, aquatic invasive species, Columbia endorsement, hydraulic permit approvals — are still alive, their fate largely may not be known until after legislators agree on an operating budget.
On the license side, Republicans in the Senate favor a General Fund infusion where the House preferred a fee hike because of McCleary funding.
There are two other bills of note out there, though action this session seems unlikely now:
Sen. Maralyn Chase’s Senate Joint Memorial 8009 calls on Congress to fund NOAA’s review of hatchery genetic management plans. While a no-brainer for you and I, some lawmakers may have balked at the downstream cost of those approved HGMPs — increased state monitoring of fisheries, which costs money.
And though it was a bit late for this go-around, Senate Joint Resolution 8206, which would add the right to hunt and fish to Washington’s constitution, is still alive for another push next year.