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Boater Safety Or Gov. Overreach? Bill Would Require Anglers, Others Aboard Small Craft To Wear PFDs

Editor’s note: Updated Jan. 28, 2020, 10:30 a.m.

In the beautiful, bucolic though also slightly cramped Nanny State of Andy Walgamott — location: King County just north of Seattle, naturally; population: 4; form of government: fathertarianism — camping out in the left lane as well as not using your vehicle’s @$#%@$ turn signal are capital offenses, and everyone is required to wear lifevests while boating.

LIFE JACKETS AWAY USE BESIDE A LAKE ON LOPEZ ISLAND IN NORTHWEST WASHINGTON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Doesn’t matter whether it’s just 4 feet deep or you can swim like Michael Phelps, if you’re in a float tube fishing for bass on a lake, plugging for winter-runs out of a drifter, or crabbing in a bay boat, I better see a PFD strapped to your person or I’m writing you up big time, Mister.

Granted, the Nanny State of Andy Walgamott, or NSAW for short, currently does not exactly have jurisdiction over any actual bodies of water (let alone highways, streets or intersections).

But as soon as I finish processing the State of Washington’s application to secede to NSAW, as its High Lord Governor and Protector of People Who Don’t Want Protection From What Literally Can Kill Them, I will have rivers, lakes, reservoirs, inlets, bays — and how.

THAT SAID, TWO OF MY LOCAL LAWMAKERS have taken up the cause of lifejackets for all this legislative session, and while you’d think I’d be donning my personal flotation device to jump on board with them, I’m actually not sure I can support them at this time.

Earlier this month, Reps. Cindy Ryu and Lauren Davis (both D-Shoreline) introduced a bill that would require teens and adults aboard all watercraft less than 19 feet long to wear Coast Guard-approved life vests while the boat is underway.

Broadly speaking, currently only kids 12 and under are, though a PFD per person needs to be available on board.

Last week HB 2443 had a hearing in Ryu’s Housing, Community Development & Veterans Committee.

“We’ve had some members of a church who lost their family members years ago, but also more recently, and any time you lose a child, even if they’re grown up, it’s devastating to their family and they mourn for that loss for years and years, if not forever,” said Ryu, the prime sponsor. “Just like the seat belts, if we can save a life — probably a lot more — by making sure that everyone who possibly can is wearing a life jacket when they’re on a ship, especially a smaller vessel or even a paddle board, a canoe, then I think it’s definitely worth all the money and time in the world.”

REP. CINDY RYU (CENTER IN RED) SPEAKS DURING AN INITIAL PUBLIC HEARING ON HER BILL THAT WOULD REQUIRE EVERYONE TO WEAR LIFEVESTS ABOARD BOATS LESS THAN 19 FEET LONG. (TVW)

During public comment, Jim Virgin of the Paddle Sports Advisory Committee for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission said he was in favor of the bill.

“Simply stated, life jackets save lives,” Virgin said, adding, “I also do dive recovery down in Vancouver, Washington, and I’ve seen the direct impact of dealing with recoveries as it happens. I’m hoping to get myself out of that job.”

Representing the parks commission itself, Owen Rowe said his agency appreciated Ryu bringing the bill forward.

“Wearing a life jacket or a PFD is the most important thing that boaters can do to prevent accidental drownings, and the majority of recreational-related drownings occur on smaller vessels and without the use of PFDSs,” Rowe stated.

But he also considered it a conversation starter, not a done deal.

“Understanding that it’s difficult to craft a one-size-fits-all policy related to manage mandatory PFD usage, we are interested to hear from recreational boaters about their positions on this legislation,” Rowe said.

Members of the local boating industry said the bill had caught them off guard.

“Frankly, we’re really proud of the importance of safety as placed in our culture at NMTA,” said Peter Schrappen of the Northwest Marine Trade Association [full disclosure, a Northwest Sportsman advertiser]. “The last thing we want is for people to think that boating is not safe. That would deter them from going on the water. I definitely appreciate your leadership on this issue, Rep. Ryu, but was caught flat footed when this was bill was dropped.”

“I’m looking forward to working with you as we move forward,” Schrappen added, “but to echo my colleague Doug’s comments, this would cast a very large net in a short amount of time and I don’t think we’re quite ready there.”

Doug would be Doug Levy of the Recreational Boating Industry of Washington.

“We take a backseat on safety to nobody. We were the ones that brought you the boater education card and worked on it for four years, and that boater education card has brought the level of fatalities down, per State Parks data,” Levy said. “This is an emotional topic and we never like to see any lives lost, but this is a really breathtaking change, folks … This is not just 13 and under; this is whether you’re 23, 43, 63.”

“We design the legislative process to be thoughtful and to get out and talk to people and work issues out and have a lot of vetting of them,” Levy added.

Even as Thomas O’Keefe of American Whitewater pointed out some pretty grim statistics that support PFD use — “Three-quarters of boating fatalities are due to drowning and Coast Guard data shows that 84, 85 percent of those people were not wearing life jackets and that the use of alcohol was a leading contributing factor” — he questioned whether the focus should be legislation or education.

I think it’s critical that this body continues to fund and support those efforts [state parks boating programs] because at the end of the day, we can have a law on the books but what really matters is the education and outreach on this stuff,” he said.

Outside the halls of power, the bill also caught the eye of avid — and safety conscious — Puget Sound and river angler Chase Gunnell.

“On my 16-foot drift boat I’m a stickler about informing guests of PFD locations, throw cushions, throw bag use, and boat reentry immediately upon boarding. And PFDs are mandatory at the captain’s discretion, depending on the guests and water conditions,” he said.

“But for the state to require adults to wear PFDs pretty much all the time on all waters is unnecessary overreach that would be a significant change for river anglers in particular,” Gunnell added.

That is language that will resonate strongly with Washington fishermen, an independent bunch that doesn’t like anyone telling them how to rig their rods or what lures to use, let alone mandating wearing a life jacket on waters they may have fished without a problem for years or decades.

THE CHIEF COOK AND BOTTLEWASHER OF THE NANNY STATE OF ANDY WALGAMOTT, DUDDED UP IN HIS LIFEVEST, SHOWS OFF A BUOY 10 COHO. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I HAVE SPENT MORE THAN A LITTLE TIME on the state’s waters in pursuit of its salmon, steelhead, Dungeness, rainbows, largemouth and other species, and to me a few select moments spotlight the importance of always wearing a lifejacket.

Three drift boat incidents on Westside rivers … drunken outings aboard canoes during my younger days that I look back on now and shake my head about … sharing a boat with the memory of a drowned angler a few years ago.

Camping with my family on Lopez Island over the Fourth of July, I had a few hours to break away and fish Hummel Lake. As I hadn’t brought my kayak, I asked the plunkers at the launch if it was OK to use any of the half-dozen rowboats and canoes scattered around the parking lot.

They said sure, go right ahead — and also strongly recommended I grab a life jacket from the Washington State Parks-inspired life-jacket loaner program kiosk. I was going to anyway, as I’ve worn one every time I’ve been out on the water for the past 15-plus years.

But as I loaded my gear I found out why they were so adamant: I was taking out the same canoe another angler had earlier in the season, but who had fallen in.

A MEMORIAL FOR AN ANGLER WHO DROWNED WHILE FISHING A SAN JUAN COUNTY LAKE IN 2016. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

They told me it took a week before the body of Salvador Gallegos was found, by a remotely operated underwater vehicle outfitted with sonar to see among the weeds.

We may never know why that canoe overturned the day he took it out — perhaps due to the same buffeting winds that made it hard to control when I fished — but the San Juan County Sheriff’s report noted simply, “He wasn’t wearing a life preserver.”

It’s hard to understand why not, what with so many available at the launch. But then, why hadn’t I worn one for so many years?

I guess that boats and belief in our own fallible skills provide a false sense of safety. It’s a bravado that occasionally leads to death.

All it takes is a gust of wind, a mistimed lean, cold water, weeds too thick to swim through …

HUMMEL LAKE CANOE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

LAST FRIDAY, REP. RYU PROPOSED AMENDMENTS to her bill.

Those include limiting it to “human powered” watercraft, i.e., canoes, pontoons, drift boats, row boats, kayaks; deleting the requirement they be less than 19 feet long; and exempted competitive paddlers, squirt boat riders, and those using stand-up paddle boards while tethered to one by a leash or practicing yoga 100 feet from shore from having to wear PFDs.

Though no action was subsequently taken on them by the full committee last week, the bill is slated to again be considered by the Housing, Community Development & Veterans Committee this Friday starting at 10 a.m.

In this short, 60-day session, the deadline to pass non-budgetary bills out of committee in their house of origin is Feb. 7.

Even though I wear a life vest and think others should too, I also think the best approach here is to have a wider, longer conversation that includes Washington’s small boaters, especially anglers, while continuing productive outreach efforts on boating safety.

After all, we live in a democracy, not the (though still great) Nanny State of Andy Walgamott.

Meanwhile, these are the rules as they apply to boating and life jackets on Washington waters, per State Parks:

All vessels (including canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle board) must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (PFD) for each person on the boat. In addition to that requirement, one:

  • Coast Guard-approved throwable flotation device must on board vessels 16 feet or longer. Canoes and kayaks are exempt from this requirement.
  • Children 12 years old and younger must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area.
  • Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) and anyone being towed behind a boat must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket

Fundraiser For Fish, Angling-friendly State Senate Candidate Coming Up

A fundraiser for a Washington state senate candidate backed by members of the recreational angling community will be held early next week.

Jesse Salomon is running for the 32nd District seat against incumbent Maralyn Chase, and he will be on hand Tuesday evening at an area fishing tackle and boat shop.

Both candidates are Democrats and the challenger actually received 168 more votes than Chase during last month’s primary, 14,477 to 14,309. The Republican candidate, James Wood, failed to qualify for the November general election under the state’s top-two system with 9,104 votes.

According to the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, which is putting out word about the meet-and-greet, Salomon is a “champion of sports fishing and an avid sports fisher.” His website says he “cares deeply about salmon’s importance as a local icon, a sport fishing resource and an essential part the Native American way of life.”

Chase has represented the district, which includes Shoreline, and parts of northwest Seattle, Edmonds and Lynnwood, since 2002 both in the House of Representatives and Senate, but has been standoffish towards sport angling interests, though she did twice cosponsor a bill urging Congress to provide NMFS funding to finish habitat genetic management plans that would benefit Puget Sound recreational as well as commercial and treaty fishers.

The evening begins at 6 p.m. at Three Rivers Marine, which is located in 24300 Woodinville-Snohomish Road.

To RSVP for the event, call NSIA at (503) 631-8859.

Contributions are up to attendees, but if you can’t attend, checks made out to Elect Jesse Saloman can be mailed to Carl Burke, 4041 Legacy Drive NE, Olympia, WA 98516.

Bills That Aim To Increase Washington Fishing, Hunting Participation Face Tight Deadline

Time is running out in Olympia to move a pair of bills meant to increase fishing and hunting participation in Washington.

Today’s the cutoff to get legislation out of one chamber and over to the other, but it’s unclear whether HB 2505 and SB 6198 will get any love from state representatives and senators before the 5 p.m. deadline.

A MAN AND BOY FISH OFF OF RICHMOND BEACH THIS PAST SUMMER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“It’s a full-court press today,” Raquel Crosier, legislative liaison for WDFW, which requested the bills, said this morning.

She says CCA and the Hunters Heritage Council are helping lobby lawmakers to move the bills.

In a nutshell, they would raise the age that kids first start having to buy a fishing license from 15 to 16; give new hunter ed grads a $20 coupon good towards their first hunting license; and allow anglers to buy a temporary license to fish the popular lowland lakes opener instead of requiring them to buy a year-round one.

Both bills made it out of their initial committee assignments, and the House version passed Appropriations, but they’ve since been mired in rules committees.

Crosier says they’ve received a “ton of support” from hunters, but are competing with a huge volume of bills introduced during the short session.

With Passage Of Capital Budget (Finally!), $74 Million For Hatcheries, Habitat, Access On Way To WDFW

With Washington’s 2017 Capital Budget finally approved by lawmakers yesterday and now on Governor Inslee’s desk for his signature this afternoon, tens of millions of dollars worth of repairs and upgrades to Washington hatcheries are set to begin.

THE JUST-PASSED 2017 CAPITAL BUDGET INCLUDES $2 MILLION FOR IMPROVEMENTS AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR WHICH REARS COHO, SUMMER CHINOOK AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The package also includes $5 million to improve the health of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s forestlands, $1.5 million for Tucannon River floodplain restoration, $1.2 million for elk-damaged fencing, $1 million for Lake Rufus Woods access and $600,000 for waterfowl habitat across the state, among other projects.

“We very much welcome the Legislature’s action,” said Tim Burns, who heads up WDFW’s Capital and Asset Management Program. “The budget includes $74 million in direct appropriations and grant authority that will enable WDFW to continue making major improvements at our hatcheries, wildlife areas, and other facilities across the state.”

The budget wasn’t passed last year due to disagreements over how to address the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision and its impacts on rural landowners.

But this week saw a breakthrough compromise from lawmakers. It involves a mix of limiting how much water new small wells can withdraw, $300 million for inbasin conservation work and shifts the onus of permitting back to the Department of Ecology instead of counties, per the Tacoma News Tribune.

Among WDFW’s fish hatcheries that will benefit from the deal and the work it funds:

Naselle: $8 million for renovations
Minter Creek: $6.5 million for work on intakes
Clarks Creek: $6.35 million for rebuilding
Hoodsport: $4.756 million for holding pond renovations
Forks Creek: $2.425 million for work on intakes, diversion
Wallace: $2.001 million for replacing intakes, holding pond
Soos Creek: $2 million for renovations
Eells Spring: $1.4 million for renovations
Kalama Falls: $816,000 for work on raceways
Dungeness: $615,000 for replacing main intake
Samish: $350,000 for work on intakes

The Capital Budget also includes grants for habitat, recreation and fish passage barrier removals, including:

South Coast: $7.242 million for 14 Coastal Restoration Initiative projects
Buford Creek (Asotin Co.): $4.7 million for a fish passage barrier removal project
Lower Chehalis River: $4.079 million for surge plain protection project
Chico Creek: $3.875 million for fish passage barrier removal project
Woodard Bay: $3.233 million for wetland restoration project
Big Bend Wildlife Area: $3 million for critical habitat project
Cowiche Watershed: $3 million for critical habitat project
Klickitat Canyon: $2.4 million for critical habitat project
Simcoe Wildlife Area: $2.14 million for critical habitat project
Kennedy Creek: $2.111 million riparian project
Sinlahekin Wildlife Area: $245,000 for a campground project
Samish River access: $182,000 for parking, recreation project

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.

Update From Olympia: Elk Hoof, Beaver Bills Signed, Others On Inslee’s Desk

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.

AN ELK’S HOOF AFFECTED BY THE CONDITION. (WDFW)

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.