Updates from Olympia
Chase Gunnell / Apr 12, 2019 / Legislation, State Trust Lands, WDFW
Where our legislative priorities and other conservation bills stand as of mid-April.
By Chase Gunnell, Communications Director
The 2019 session of the Washington State Legislature is scheduled to end on Sunday, April 28. Though extensions and special sessions with budget negotiations dragging on into summer have been common in recent years, it’s still a good time to update you on where our legislative priorities stand.
Conservation Northwest is represented in Olympia by our Policy Director, Paula Swedeen, Ph.D. Mitch Friedman, our Executive Director, also takes regular trips to the state capitol during session. And leaders from our conservation programs and I sometimes make the journey on behalf of specific issues, such as wolves or forest restoration. We also often contract with lobbyists during session who work daily to advance policies that support local communities while protecting, connecting and restoring wildlands and wildlife. Learn more about our team on this page!
Our two top priorities in Olympia this session have been securing full-funding for fish and wildlife, and funding the Safe Passage 97 project, which will install wildlife crossings in the Okanogan Valley.
Here’s where things stand as of mid-April:
Full funding for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)
Current state Senate and House Operating Budget proposals would fill the severe funding cuts this agency has faced since the Great Recession. That’s a start, but the additional funding proposed is far less than what’s needed.
The state House budget allocates a $15 million budget increase from the General Fund over the coming biennium (just enough to backfill those cuts I mentioned), but relies on the passage of hunting and fishing license fee increases for additional funding. Those fee bills (HB 1708 and SB 5692) currently face long odds, despite being the first such increases since 2011.
On the Senate side, their budget proposal would appropriate a roughly $30 million increase from the General Fund, but with no additional revenue from license fee increases or other sources. This level of funding would be devastating for our fish, wildlife and outdoor opportunities.
Along with the Department and other Budget and Policy Advisory Group leaders representing conservation, recreation, hunting and fishing organizations, we strongly support fully-funding WDFW with $60 million in additional funding, including modest fee increases (capped at $7 on an annual combination fishing license and $15 on an annual combination hunting license, generating approximately $15 million over two years) and $45 million in General Fund appropriations.
Safe Passage 97 in Okanogan County
In north-central Washington, there’s a short stretch of Highway 97 where more than 350 deer are hit and killed by vehicles each year. But there’s an opportunity to end this senseless loss of life.
For years, we’ve worked with local residents and community leaders, the Colville Confederated Tribes, and the Okanogan Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation to raise awareness about the need for wildlife crossings in this stretch of highway where it bisects a deer migration route. Through our collaborative Okanogan Wildlife Crossing Campaign and the support of more than 570 donors, we even raised $200,000 to pay for the first crossing where the highway passes Carter Mountain Wildlife Area.
Now we’re asking the state to step up and fund implementation and additional crossings, including $3 million for the Safe Passage 97 project in the 2019 Transportation Budget. You can contact lawmakers and budget leaders for wildlife crossings using this form!
Unfortunately, budgets are tight in Olympia this session, with many important issues in need of funding. We’re hopeful that the Safe Passage 97 project will receive no less than $1.5 million this year. That minimum amount would allow the Washington State Department of Transportation to install the first undercrossing and fencing to help keep deer and motorists safe. This would keep the project moving and demonstrate the effectiveness of these structures, which have worked very well on I-90 and other areas.
House Bill 2097: funding range riders and other non-lethal wolf conflict avoidance tools
While we had initial concerns with a part of this bill that could have set a precedent for regional wolf delisting before statewide recovery goals are met, through work with the prime sponsor, Rep. Joel Kretz, that language has been removed via amendment.
With this change, we strongly support this legislation, which would provide funding for range riders and other efforts to keep both wolves and domestic livestock safe. HB 2097 passed the House 98-0 and the Senate 43-5!
House Bill 1516: training hounds to help reduce conflicts with cougars
This bill, which we helped develop through a collaborative process with WDFW enforcement officers and wildlife specialists, the Humane Society of the United States, and others, would allow a small number of specially-authorized hound handlers to train their dogs through the non-lethal pursuit of cougars.
We support HB 1516 as sound policy that will improve tolerance for wildlife by helping to quickly resolve conflicts with these big cats that can impact local communities and other outdoor users—undermining healthy cougar populations in the long-run. HB 1516 is currently stalled in the Senate Rules Committee after passing the House 96-2.
Other Important Issues
Environmental Priorities Coalition
We’re part of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a statewide network of more than 20 organizations working to safeguard our environment and the health of our communities in Washington’s legislature. Important EPC bills this year include:
- House Bill 1579: Implementing recommendations of the Southern Resident Orca Task Force to help recover Chinook salmon (passed by both the House and Senate!)
- House Bill 1578: Increasing oil spill prevention and response capabilities (passed both chambers!)
- Senate Bill 5116: Transitioning to 100% Clean Energy by 2045 (passed both chambers!)
- Senate Bill 5323: Banning single-use plastic bags (passed the Senate, moving through the House)
- Senate Bill 5489: The Healthy Environment for All Act , supporting environmental justice and addressing environmental health disparities (passed the House and making progress in the Senate)
Read more about the passage of bills supporting orca recovery in this article!
Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program
We’re also a member organization of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which supports funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, our state’s largest grant program for outdoor access, public lands conservation, and wildlife habitat and recovery funding. The WWRC had requested $130 million in funding, but given the situation in Olympia, only $80 million in funding has been proposed by the House and $90 million by the Senate. You can contact lawmakers and urge them to support this vital fund here!
Senate Bill 5322: suction dredge mining regulation
Washington is the only Western state with threatened runs of salmon and steelhead that does not regulate recreational motorized suction-dredge mining. In comparison, California, Oregon and even Idaho have laws regulating this potentially harmful activity. Our state’s lack of regulations means we’re not in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
We support this bill to regulate motorized mineral prospecting, including bans in areas of designated Critical Habitat for ESA-listed fish, while still allowing folks to conduct responsible hobby mining and gold panning. SB 5322 has passed in the Senate, and is awaiting a floor vote in the House. You can support it through TU’s action center here. If this bill doesn’t pass, Washington will be forced to deal with this issue in the courts.
House Bill 1028: expanding off-road vehicles allowed on county roads
We oppose this legislation, which would expand the types of off-road vehicles (also known as All Terrain Vehicles or ATVs) allowed on county roads across Washington. HB 1028 has passed the House.
We believe there is a place for responsible off-road vehicle use and other motorized recreation on designated roads and trails in the great outdoors. Many ATV users ride responsibly, respecting other users and sensitive habitats, and self-policing members of their community that ride off designated roads and routes.
But before roads are opened to ORV use, there must be thorough and transparent vetting, including a discussion on right-sizing a quality motorized footprint, restoring areas with unauthorized trails, and accountability for illegal off-road riding. Learn more about our work and perspectives on ORVs/ATVs.
DNR funding, wildfires and Trust Land Transfers
Funding for outdoor recreation access and forest restoration to reduce wildfire risks on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lands are another important budget need! Our friends at the Washington Trails Association have an action alert on DNR funding, and this new op-ed from Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz (a former Conservation Northwest boardmember) outlines one possible path forward.
We also recently signed on to a joint letter with 25 other organization supporting Trust Land Transfers to preserve several local DNR areas important for our state’s natural and cultural heritage. This is a process similar to the one that we successfully championed last session to permanently protected Blanchard Mountain and Oyster Dome.