Update On Fish, Wildlife Related Bills In Oly

As WDFW edges towards retooling its statewide trout stocking in the coming years — an effort that may lead to bigger rainbows and more focus on Regions 4 and 6 — a bill in Olympia could potentially sideswipe it by requiring that up to 50 percent of the money the agency spends on growing the fish be spent on buying them from private trout farms by mid-2014.

Senate Bill 6268 just had a hearing today, and while it’s unclear if it will get anywhere before early next week’s bill cutoff, it would be a step towards privatizing Washington’s trout production.

UPDATE: Here’s our report on that hearing.

What else is shaking in Oly?

Here’s a rundown on fishing- and hunting-related bills that have seen some movement in recent days:

A majority of the Senate’s Transportation Committee say Substitute Senate Bill 6123 should be passed. That’s the one which would create a National Rifle Association license plate, with funds going to enhance support for hunter and firearm safety education.

From the nonpartisan legislative staffer write-up of comments from a public hearing:

Staff Summary of Public Testimony on Original Bill:

PRO: The name might make it sound controversial but it provides funds to an important safety program. This provides needed funds for the fire arm safety and education which is one to the main goals of the NRA. This program provides training for 16,000 people each year, utilizing 800 volunteers.
This bill will continue to ensure that this no cost or low cost service continues. Currently, the state trains the volunteers and provides the training materials. More and more of this training is used by the general public for firearm safety, not just hunters.

Persons Testifying: PRO: Senator Hatfield, prime sponsor; Jim Williams, citizen; Carl Klein; DFW.

An NRA plate would cost $40 to buy and $30 to renew. A fiscal report indicates that sales would probably top out in 2014 at 1,226 plates a year and it could raise as much as $90,000 annually by the late 2010s.

However, WDFW legislative analyst Ann Larson isn’t sure it will make it much further this session.

Then there’s House Bill 2365, which would classify wolves as game animals, in anticipation of their eventual delisting, and ban feeding of bears and other large carnivores.

Its substitute version, which 11 of the 12 members of the House Ag Committee recommended be passed, also extends livestock depredation payments to hobby farmers, ups the livestock depredation payout cap out of the State Wildlife Account from $50,000 a year to $200,000, and reduces the penalty for poaching a wolf from $4,000 to $1,000.

While the bill came at WDFW’s request, the agency is not too supportive of the tweaks, says Larson, pointing to the potential increased use of hunter license dollars to pay for wolf-killed cattle and sheep which may rankle sportsmen, potentially larger amount of damage claims that would have to be paid if noncommercial farms are included, and the downgrading of the penalty for shooting a wolf.  She says that currently, it’s a $12,000 fine to shoot similarly rare grizzly or caribou and $2,000 for far more populous deer and elk.

“We have some concerns about the amendments and will continue to work with legislators,” Larson says.


Staff Summary of Public Testimony:
(In support) Large carnivores are a critical part of the landscape, but their very nature creates conflicts with humans. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is obligated to manage carnivores, but also has a responsibility to protect the safety of citizens and their property.
The longer the carnivore-human conflict goes unaddressed, the less support there is in the general public for carnivore management. The key to carnivore management is balance with other species and the needs of humans.
The state has made promises in both the wolf management plan and the wildlife damage compensation program. This bill takes steps towards fulfilling those promises.

(With concerns) Wildlife damage compensation should not be funded from the State Wildlife Account. The State Wildlife Account is funded by hunters and fishers license sales. It is an unfair policy shift to put the burden of funding wildlife conflict issues on the very individuals who are the most instrumental in reducing the conflict.
Even if that policy shift is accepted, it will take more than $50,000 to compensate all of the affected livestock operators. Funding at that low of a level does not come close to meeting the known needs. At the very least, the funding should roll over and accumulate so it can be used in years of heavy carnivore damage. It is unfair that only commercial livestock producers can receive compensation. Small scale family farms also suffer from carnivore predation.
Too much authority is being given to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. The Legislature should maintain some control in the wildlife damage compensation program to ensure it is run in an equitable manner.
There are better ways to protect wolves than assessing a $4,000 administrative penalty when one is killed. A penalty of that magnitude may create a fracture between hunters and livestock operators.

(Opposed) None.

Persons Testifying: (In support) Dave Ware, Department of Fish and Wildlife. (With concerns) Tom Davis, Washington Farm Bureau; and Jack Field, Washington Cattlemen’s Association.

Persons Signed In To Testify But Not Testifying: None.

Next stop is General Government Appropriations & Oversight.

Frankly I’ve seen zero about Substitute HB 2364, a fish and wildlife enforcement bill which warranted an uncommonly long seven-page, bill analysis from legislative staffers to explain the ins and outs of.

They summarized it thusly:

Makes a number of changes related to the enforcement policies of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the crimes primarily enforced by the WDFW.
Creates new fish and wildlife related crimes, decriminalizes certain acts, provides new penalties for existing crimes, and changes details for certain crimes.
Provides new direction to the WDFW regarding seizure and forfeiture of property.
Provides new definitions for existing terms.

It would also allow game wardens from other states, agencies or tribes to enforce Washington fish and wildlife laws if they have a mutual aid agreement with WDFW, and bar rifle hunters who have had their licenses suspended for three years from taking up bowhunting.

Staff Summary of Public Testimony:
(In support) The ranking of 15 fish and wildlife-related felonies on the standard sentencing
grid allows judges to utilize the sentencing grid as appropriate so that the penalty reflects the seriousness of the crime. The 16 current crimes are being turned into civil infractions because new proposed court rules will make it very difficult to prosecute misdemeanors by requiring some level of adjudication in lieu of the current practice of relying on bail forfeitures for conviction. Allowing enforcement officers from other states to serve as ex officio enforcement officers in Washington will allow for more complete and standardized enforcement along Washington’s borders.
It is important to private landowners to discourage trespass by hunters who may enter private property in the pursuit of game. It is also helpful for ranchers to make it easier to bring changes when a misguided hunter kills a person’s livestock instead of wildlife. The current protections against both of these acts are insufficient to defer the behavior.

(Opposed) None.

Persons Testifying: Bruce Bjork, Department of Fish and Wildlife; Tom Davis, Washington Farm Bureau; and Jack Field, Washington Cattlemen’s Association.
Persons Signed In To Testify But Not Testifying: None.

With thumbs up from a majority of the Ag Committee, it was referred to Ways & Means.

Substitute HB 2650 hit Piscatorial Pursuits awhile back, and is basically a tool that would allow the private sector to run closed state hatcheries with approval from WDFW, as well as allow the operators to sell some of the fish they raise for sale to fund facility upkeep and whatnot, but is not obligatory like SB 6268 (above).

Larson says the agency “definitely promotes having public-private partnerships.”

Staff Summary of Public Testimony:
(In support) Alaskan hatcheries are funded and operated by local fisherman through a cost sharing arrangement. This bill introduces that concept in Washington. The bill provides a tool that may be used by the state to keep hatcheries open, but the state is not required to use the tool.
The initial legislation on this topic was passed in 2009 and was inspired by the potential closure of one important hatchery. Since that time a handful of agreements have been formalized and significant funds have been raised to keep hatcheries open. The problem moving forward is that in the later years of the agreement, fund raising and contributions have dropped off. Allowing the partner to a hatchery operation agreement special access to hatchery fish is a way to counteract the human tendency to reduce charitable giving to an effort over time.

(In support with concerns) The current partnership agreement program should be modified before expanded. It currently does not adequately address tribal co-management consultation and appropriate bidding mechanisms.

(With concerns) The initial 2009 legislation focused on commercial chum salmon production. Opening that door wider to all salmon hatcheries could allow private interests control over fish runs that are shared with recreational and tribal fishers. Private partnership agreements should be limited to hatcheries designed to exclusively or primarily serve the commercial fishing industry. It is a laudable goal to not rely on the General Fund for hatchery funding, but it is important to not upset a decades-old state hatchery policy that favors fish for the recreational fisheries. A loss of recreational fishing opportunities will result in a significant reduction in the economic contributions made by recreational fishers.

(Opposed) None.

Persons Testifying: (In support) Representative McCune, prime sponsor; Bob Kehoe, Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association; Ed Owens, Coalition of Coastal Fisheries; Ray Honea, Washington Department of Agriculture Salmon Commission; and Heather Bartlett, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

(In support with concerns) Steve Robinson, Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement and Harvest
Association and the Tulalip Tribes.

(With concerns) Scott Sigmon, Coastal Conservation Association; Carl Burke, Puget Sound Anglers, Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association, and Fish Northwest; and Matt Zuvich, Washington Federation of State Employees.

SSB 2650 was referred out of the Ag Committee to Rules 2 Review.

Larson adds that WDFW is also watching HB 2214, the apex carnivore bill, and SB 6137, which it supports and provides something of a self-defense defense for killing wolves under very limited conditions, such as catching one in the act of gnawing on livestock in areas where they are federally delisted and you report it within 72 hours.

And she confirms that HB 2241, the lead tackle sale bill, is still dead.

Here’s the Legislature’s 2012 Cutoff Calendar:

January 9, 2012     First Day of Session

February 3, 2012     Last day to read in committee reports in house of origin, except House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees.

Feburary 7, 2012     Last day to read in committee reports from House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees in house of origin.

February 14, 2012     Last day to consider bills in house of origin (5 p.m.).

February 24, 2012     Last day to read in committee reports from opposite house, except House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees.

February 27, 2012     Last day to read in opposite house committee reports from House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees.

March 2, 2012*     Last day to consider opposite house bills (5 p.m.) (except initiatives and alternatives to initiatives, budgets and matters necessary to implement budgets, differences between the houses, and matters incident to the interim and closing of the session).

March 8, 2012     Last day allowed for regular session under state constitution.

* After the 54th day, only initiatives, alternatives to initiatives, budgets and matters necessary to implement budgets, matters that affect state revenue, messages pertaining to amendments, differences between the houses, and matters incident to the interim and closing of the session may be considered.

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