Strong bipartisan votes moved a pair of very contentious fish and wildlife issues out of a Washington House committee this morning.
One bill would establish a process for wolves to be managed at the county level in areas of the state where they’re federally delisted and have met certain population goals, while the other piece of legislation takes an incentivized voluntary approach to restoring riparian areas important to salmon and steelhead through regionally focused grant programs.
Both bills received 11-0 do-pass recommendations from the six Democrats and five Republicans on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. That’s the kind of bipartisanship you might expect on a vote to break for lunch, not highly charged issues centered on wolf management or private property usage.
HB 1698, the wolf bill, was amended after good feedback at its public hearing earlier this month, with one tweak centered around WDFW convening a stakeholder workgroup and led by a third-party neutral when a county notifies the state that there have been three successful breeding pairs of wolves for three years in a row in that county and 15 across the state. It also tasks WDFW with completing a regional management plan within six months.
Another element, that wolves would be managed as if removed from endangered or protected status, was cleaned up to just endangered. Some public commenters tried to twist the original wording to mean it would be open season on wolves, which was strongly denounced by bill sponsors.
The bill is directed towards Northeast Washington, where 66 percent of the state’s packs are and most livestock depredations.
“I appreciate the work from Rep. (Debra) Lekanof (D-Bow) to perfect, I guess hopefully, the bill,” prime sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Bodie Mountain) said about his cosponsor and HAGNR colleague during today’s committee meeting. “I think it clears up some things and addresses some of the concerns we heard in testimony. And I would like to just give my appreciation to the committee. We’ve got members on this committee that their districts are not affected by this but I appreciate the consideration and questions that they’ve asked, taking an interest in something that doesn’t affect their district, which makes it a pleasure serving on this committee, frankly.”
Kretz said the bill would help provide more local input on wolf management by bringing in county commissioners, law enforcement and local tribes such as the Colvilles.
“I would argue that they have got probably the best wildlife program in the state,” he said of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. “They’ve managed wolves to where they’ve got strong, sustainable populations, but they’ve also managed them with the thought that we need to keep our deer, elk, moose populations – and those are all growing on the reservation, which shows there are ways to manage everything in a balance where everything is thriving. I’m looking forward to their expertise and I hope they have an impact on this to improve the way we’re doing this in a local sense.”
In a sense that was a rebuke of a theme from the public hearing faulting tribal wolf hunting in Northeast Washington for impacting wolf recovery in the rest of the state, something that may – or may not; maybe my tinfoil hat’s on too tight – pop up in WDFW’s upcoming population status review.
As for that other bill, HB 1720 amounted to “a lot of work and a lot of negotiations and a lot of meetings and a lot of staff time to get to a bill that we can consider for passage today concerning the protection and restoration – a voluntary program to protect and restore riparian areas,” stated prime sponsor Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles.
“We have buy-in from our agriculture community, we have the tribes that have stepped up and said, ‘Yeah, we can work together, keep going on this,'” noted Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake), the ranking minority member.
“It was a stakeholder-driven bill, not a legislative bill,” added Chapman, seated next to him.
“That’s right … We didn’t write it. The legislature did not write it, OK. It was written by stakeholders,” noted Dent. “Give them a lot of credit too with the hours they put into it.”
Ron Allen of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Rosella Mosby of the Washington Farm Bureau were credited with hammering things out.
In a The Impactsegment on TVW earlier this week, Chapman said he had put a marker down that the riparian bill was going to be bipartisan rather than take advantage of Democrats’ numerical superiority to ram something through the legislature. He said the bill is about “recognizing the importance of salmon recovery efforts while also respecting and putting on the table the hard work of the men and women of the agricultural community.”
Today was the last day for bills to make it out of their policy committee. The next deadline – to get bills out of their chamber of origin – is March 8.
All in all, today amounted to kind of a bad day for Governor Inslee, who has now seen his last threeriparianbills go absolutely nowhere in the legislature given their regulatory approach to governing land use around streams, a nonstarter with the agricultural community that wants to help save salmon but not necessarily with the proffered stick-first approach. Inslee’s first bill, last year’s Lorraine Loomis Act, was introduced with no farmland input.
And on that wolf bill, besides taking a swipe at tribal hunting, the Governor’s Office had testified that under Washington law endangered species can only be delisted at a statewide level, not regionally, and that the bill undermined the authority of WDFW and the Fish and Wildlife Commission to manage wolves.
One wag found that pretty ironic, given the Governor’s Office history of telling WDFW how to manage wolves. Then there’s appointing commissioners who would likely hew to his viewpoints on predators.
Correction, 6:15 p.m., Friday, February 17, 2023: HB 1698 calls for counties to request for more local wolf management when there are three successful breeding pairs within all or a portion of its borders, not four, as initially mistakenly stated.