Update On Fish-, Wildlife-, WDFW-related Bills In WA Legislature
The Olympia Outsider™ wishes he could cover every bill dropped in the Washington legislature – from one banning octopus farming to another declaring a state cactus to far, far, faaaaaar weightier matters – but alas, ol’ Oly Outs is l-a-z-y.
Also, he has other responsibilities today, including going steelheading for awhile this morning (no bites, no nothing), doing some proofreading, and putting Mrs. Oly Outs on a plane to Vegas, so we’re going to have to stick to fish-, wildlife- and WDFW-related bills for the time being.
FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION
SB 5675 “Concerning fish and wildlife commission members.”
The gist: Would create a nominating committee to recommend qualified Fish and Wildlife Commission candidates to the governor. The committee would include reps from big and small game hunting orgs, recreational, guiding and commercial fishing groups, conservation, agricultural, outdoor industry and local government worlds, and federally recognized tribes. Nominees would need to be “Washington residents who support science-based management of game, nongame, and fish populations, support hunting and fishing as a management tool for sustainable fish and wildlife populations, have no current or prior conflict of interest in upholding the agency mandates,” as well as have no monetary conflicts of interest and base their decisions on peer-reviewed science.
Sponsor: Sen. L. Wilson initially, then Sens. Boehnke, Dozier, King, MacEwen, Schoesler, Short, Wagoner
Progress: Introduced to the legislature February 2 and referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.
Comment: A reaction to the controversy around how the Governor’s Office has been handling Fish and Wildlife Commission appointments these past two years – apparently not consulting with hunting groups – and the tack that some of the five most recent appointees have or are taking in the citizen panel that oversees WDFW policy and hires and fires its director. Given the makeup of both the bill’s assigned committee and the Senate at large, and likely to draw heat for who would and would not be on the new nominating committee, 5675 probably won’t make it far, but it does draw attention to an appointment process that has veered way out of whack and is the subject of a lawsuit threatened by Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation. In a way it’s not too far off the tack of a failed bill prime sponsor Sen. Linda Wilson (R-Vancouver) went in with former Sen. Jim Honeyford R-Yakima Valley) last year that would have put the onus on party leaders in the House and Senate to come up with consensus candidates when the Governor’s Office was slow to fill vacant seats.
HB 1699 “Concerning establishing salaries for the Washington fish and wildlife commission.
The gist: While commissioners are paid $100 per meeting, plus travel expenses, for their service on the board, this would establish an annual salary, as determined by a state citizen panel that sets pay for elected officials.
Sponsors: Reps. Kretz, Chapman, Lekanoff, Schmick, Springer, Dent and Morgan
Progress: Introduced February 1 and scheduled for a public hearing February 10 before the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Comment: This is prime sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Bodie Mountain) following up on his heartfelt testimony last legislative session around the “incredible amount of time” commissioners put in for little pay. In a press release supporting this bill, he said that that essentially limits the commission to those who are “either wealthy or retired and financially set, or are employed by certain outside groups … Providing a salary for commissioners will allow us to get the high-quality individuals we need to promote equitable, non-biased solutions for the whole state.” A former chair described their position and that of the vice chair as “full time jobs +.”
SB 5699 Increasing the compensation for members of the fish and wildlife commission.
The gist: Boosts commissioner pay to $200 a day for official activities (except if they’re also receiving compensation from the federal, state or other government the same day), plus they would be eligible to receive allowances for child or adult-care.
Sponsors: Sens. Van De Wege, Salomon, Hunt, Warnick, Short, Muzzall
Progress: Introduced February 3 and referred to Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.
Comment: Comes a day after Rep. Joel Kretz et al’s bill on the House side and its introduuction seems to indicate a fair number of lawmakers are amenable to increasing pay and benefits for serving on the Fish and Wildlife Commission in some fashion.
SALMON-RELATED RIPARIAN AND WATER BILLS
HB 1215 “Concerning the protection and restoration of riparian areas.”
The gist: As part of a $100 million budget proposal from Governor Inslee, it would establish a riparian grant program to fund restoration of critical streamside areas for salmon and steelhead, as well as develop standards using published WDFW guidance as the basis.
Sponsors: Reps. Chapman, Lekanoff, Berry, Kloba, Reed, Simmons, Tharinger, Ramel, Doglio, Macri, Senn and Pollet, at the request of the Governor’s Office
Progress: Had a public hearing January 18.
Comment: A more voluntary approach to last session’s failed Lorraine Loomis Act, the bill still received a “lukewarm” reception, with tribes and ag interests neither rejecting or jumping up and down over it, to paraphrase one legislative watcher. Members of both stakeholder groups and others were said to have held “lengthy meetings” about the bill, according to another, and those discussions appear to have led to a whole new bill. Speaking of which …
HB 1720 “Concerning the protection and restoration of riparian areas through the establishment of a fully voluntary, regionally focused riparian grant program designed to improve the ecological functions of critical riparian management zones.”
The gist: Similar to the aforementioned HB 1215, except that it takes a more voluntary and more targeted approach to setting up and implementing a riparian restoration grant program for private landowners. It strips out using two WDFW tomes – Riparian Ecosystems, Volume 1: Science Synthesis and Management Implications and Riparian Ecosystems, Volume 2: Management Recommendations – “as the best available science” for restoration work, which had had some ag interests uncomfortable. And it sets up a Salmon Riparian Habitat Policy Task Force to monitor and review the program.
Sponsors: Reps. Chapman, Dent, Lekanoff, and Kretz
Progress: Introduced February 2 and set for a public hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee February 7.
Comment: Given the critical importance of riparian areas and how restoration could give young Chinook, coho and winter- and summer-runs more habitat, as well as the evolution of this conversation in the halls of power, it will be interesting to see if this edition gets everyone closer together at its public hearing.
HB 1381 “Concerning salmon-safe communities.”
The gist: Addressing the “urban heat island effect,” local governments holding National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase I municipal stormwater general permits would need to report their jurisdiction’s impervious surface and tree canopy coverage, monthly median temperature in waters designated as critical habitat for ESA-listed stocks, and detail their approach to cooling those streams and lakes. Those doing the best job would stand to win awards from the Department of Ecology.
Sponsors: Reps. Dye, Lekanoff and Pollet
Progress: Had a public hearing January 23 in the House Environment & Energy Committee, but at this writing the bill hasn’t been scheduled for a possible recommendation vote.
Comment: A lot of salmon-related bills focus on what can be done in rural areas, but this looks at large cities and towns. “I think it’s important first step we know how much of an impact that our urban structures have on the quality of habitat for our salmon in these more urban, populated areas,” noted prime sponsor Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy). She said the awards might spark friendly competition between burgs.
LOWER COLUMBIA GILLNETTTING
SB 5297: “Concerning nontribal commercial salmon fisheries in Washington waters of the Columbia river.”
The gist: Bans gillnets for catching salmon in the mainstem of the Lower Columbia effective January 1, 2025, and creates an account to fund the continued voluntary buyback of nontribal commercial gillnetting licenses to work the big river below Bonneville Dam.
Sponsors: Sens. Van De Wege, Salomon, Rivers, Wilson, L., Liias, Nobles, at the request of the Governor’s Office.
Progress: Introduced on January 11 and had a well-attended public hearing on February 2 (coverage here) before the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.
Comment: The latest in a series of bills introduced to ban gillnetting in Washington waters, this bipartisan offering is notable for its relative precision – it would still allow the activity in off-channel areas of the Lower Columbia – and who requested it, Governor Inslee. His senior natural resource policy advisor, along with prime bill sponsor Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), made it abundantly clear the bill “does not, can not and will not” affect treaty fishing rights to use gillnets, and there’s $500,000 in his budget to prevent harassment of tribal fishermen exercising those rights. Likely to move further.
FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSING
HB 1226 “Providing for recreational licensing of smelt, crawfish, and carp.”
The gist: Where smelt dippers, crawfish catchers and carp anglers don’t need a fishing license to pursue those species, they would if this bill (more coverage) is passed.
Sponsors: Reps. Chapman, Fitzgibbon, at the request of WDFW
Progress: Had a public hearing January 20 in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and received a do-pass recommendation on a party-line vote (6-3-2). Referred to the Rules Committee and has been placed on second reading.
Comment: Republican opposition centered around addressing smelt overlimits through education rather than a new license requirement, but given the Endangered Species Act listing for Columbia eulachon and the feds signaling to WDFW that they’re going to look at rules to ban or restrict take of the stock, it behooves state management to better regulate this important community fishery to ensure it’s accessible when runs are strong enough to support harvest, as they have been the past few years.
SHB 1235 “Modifying miscellaneous provisions impacting department of fish and wildlife licensing requirements.”
The gist: Changes include pushing the age kids are required to get a fishing license from 15 to 16 years old and eliminates the $8.05 fee for a youth combo license, allows anglers to use a temporary combo license on the opening day of lowland lakes season on the fourth Saturday in April, creates a new multi-year combo license that can be sold at a cheaper rate and single-year permits, and gives WDFW’s director the authority to temporarily discount license fees so as to boost participation, among other tweaks.
Sponsors: Reps. Chapman, Kretz, Tharinger and Lekanoff.
Progress: Original bill had a hearing January 20 before being slightly modified in committee and given an 8-0-3 do-pass recommendation and referred to the Rules Committee.
Comment: The original bill got traction last year before stalling in committee, and following its reintroduction this session, an element that would have removed the 10-hour hunter-safety-instruction certification requirement was kept but modified to pertain to in-person students. Saw no opposition at its hearing, and shouldn’t.
WILDLIFE DISEASE CHECK STATIONS
SB 5306 “Authorizing the department of fish and wildlife to establish disease interdiction and control check stations.”
The gist: Would allow WDFW to post signs on highways and interstates requesting those transporting fish, wildlife, shellfish or seaweed to stop at an upcoming roadside station so their harvest can be checked. Signage would have to clearly state what biologists want to inspect and/or sample.
Sponsors: Sens. Short, Van De Wege, Nobles and Stanford, at the request of WDFW.
Progress: Had a public hearing January 23 with no opposition, and an amended version received a 9-0 do-pass recommendation vote from the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.
Comment: With the spread of wildlife disease and invasive species towards and into Washington, including CWD just across the border in Idaho, this bill basically expands on the game checks WDFW already operates during rifle deer seasons and the watercraft inspection stations on I-90. The amendment centered around exempting aquaculture workers or those carrying “cultured aquatic products” from check station stop requests.
WOLF STATUS IN FAR EASTERN WASHINGTON COUNTIES
HB 1698 “Providing flexibility for the department of fish and wildlife to collaborate with local governments to manage gray wolves.”
The gist: Directs WDFW to manage gray wolves in certain counties as if they’d been removed from state endangered and threatened protections when: Washington as a whole has 15 or more breeding pairs for at least three years; there are at least three breeding pairs in that county; and the species is federally delisted there.
Sponsors: Reps. Kretz, Chapman, Lekanoff, Dent, Maycumber, Springer, Morgan and Eslick.
Progress: Introduced February 1 and scheduled for a public hearing House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 8.
Comment: Basically, it fast-tracks state delisting (more coverage by us and the Capital Press) in Northeast Washington, where the vast bulk of the state’s wolves and packs are and is way out ahead of reaching delisting goals under WDFW’s statewide wolf management plan, but is being held up by slow colonization of two other recovery zones. Prime sponsor Rep. Kretz is known for wolf bills – long live the Bainbridge Island Wolf Preserve! – but this one has some serious bipartisan support from, count ’em, four Democrats along with three fellow Republicans. If wolf recovery rates continue, counties could give the state a heads up they’d reached benchmarks as early as 2024.
SB 5371: “An act relating to protecting southern resident orcas from vessels.”
The gist: More than doubles the distance that vessels must stay away from southern resident orcas in Washington waters, from 400 yards to 1,000 yards, as well as increases the penalties for commercial whale watching boats that venture too close to the marine mammals and allows WDFW to revoke licenses of those convicted of violating that space within a year of a previous offense.
Sponsors: Sens. Lovelett, Shewmake, Hasegawa, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Nguyen, Pedersen,
Randall, Robinson, Rolfes, Saldaña, Valdez, Wellman and Wilson, C.
Progress: Had a public hearing January 30 in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee and is scheduled for an executive session on February 9.
Comment: Per a November WDFW report to the legislature, recreational whale watching boats had all the approach-limit and speed violations in 2021 and 2022, while sport fishermen, kayakers (both guided and unguided) and commercial whale watching boats had none. Reducing vessel traffic and noise has been identified as important while SRKWs are feeding.
Editor’s note: Did the Olympia Outsider™ miss an important bill? Of course he did; drop a line to his boss, firstname.lastname@example.org, and he’ll have a word with ol’ Oly Outs, as well as his continued employment as our capital correspondent.