The Legislature adjourned its 60-day session on schedule March 8. Lawmakers passed supplemental operating, capital and transportation budgets and approved the 2017-19 capital budget, which they weren’t able to agree on during last year’s 193-day session.
This report summarizes the highlights of the Legislature’s actions related to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department):
Early in the session, the Legislature developed a policy fix for the Hirst water availability issue, which created gridlock and stalled passage of the capital budget last year. The legislative fix (SB 6091) allows the development of new wells in areas with watershed plans in place, limits water withdrawals, and establishes a mitigation program, which will fund $300 million in watershed restoration and enhancement work over the next 15 years. Habitat Program staff worked hard to ensure that the Department will play a significant role in determining appropriate mitigation projects under this new framework. The Legislature provided the Department $580,000 to carry out its responsibilities under the legislation.
With the Hirst issue resolved, the Legislature was able to pass the 2017-19 capital budget, which provided the Department more than $57 million for new projects and an additional $17 million in grants and federal/local authority. It includes $5 million for forest health and prescribed fire work; over $20 million for hatchery infrastructure improvements; $6 million for habitat restoration work; and $11 million for minor works projects at Department facilities throughout the state. In addition, the Legislature passed a 2018 supplemental capital budget adding another $3 million to repair and replace fire damaged facilities at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area; begin design to relocate the Hurd Creek Hatchery; and complete several minor projects in support of southern resident killer whale recovery.
Because the Legislature spent the first couple weeks of session on Hirst and the capital budget, less time was available for other issues, and a large number of bills died before the first policy
cutoff. Unfortunately, one of the Department’s bills which focused on hunter and angler recruitment failed to advance.
However, another of the Department’s request bill did win legislative approval. HB 2649, which will streamline rules for complying with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and reduce barriers for hunters and fishers with disabilities, was approved unanimously by the House and Senate. When lawmakers adjourned, it required only the Governor’s signature to become law.
Also of note was the Department’s proposed commercial fee bill (SB 6317) which adjusted non-resident commercial fishing fees and reduced resident fishing guide rates. The Legislature amended the original bill to add a reduction in the fee for small fish dealers and to expand the ceremonial and subsistence fishing rights for Wanapum tribal members to all food fish, instead of just salmon.
Fisheries- and Habitat-Related Legislation and Budget Items
Carbon Tax: After much deliberation, the Legislature did not approve a carbon tax this session. Supporters of the tax are expected to propose an initiative for the statewide election ballot this fall.
Atlantic Salmon Net Pens: The Legislature spent many hours in committee and on the floor debating the regulatory framework around net pen aquaculture in Washington State. In the end, lawmakers passed HB 2957 to phase out all commercial net pen aquaculture facilities that raise non-native species, such as Atlantic salmon. The bill provides funding ($65,000) for the Department to work with Ecology to update the state guidance on net pen aquaculture and assist with increased assessments of structural integrity at existing facilities until they are phased out in 2022.
Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery: Lawmakers did not approve proposed legislation on killer whale recovery, which would have further regulated the speed of marine vessels and prevented vessels from disturbing these endangered marine mammals. However, the operating budget provided significant funding for increased enforcement patrols to reduce marine vessel noise around whales ($548,000), increased Chinook production to supplement their prey base ($1.6 million), increased juvenile salmon survival through new fish screens ($30,000), and funding for the facilitation of a taskforce to identify early actions necessary to recover these iconic species ($115,000).
Fish Health and Disease: The Legislature provided $500,000 for the Department to hire an additional veterinarian and epidemiologist to ensure compliance with new federal and state laws related to the veterinarian licensure and environmental health, which require additional on-site coverage at the state’s 81 hatchery facilities.
Puget Sound Steelhead Early Marine Survival: The Legislature provided $790,000 for the last phase of the Puget Sound Steelhead Early Marine Survival Study. This funding will allow the Department to wrap up research into the key limiting factors for steelhead survival in the Puget Sound and begin looking into appropriate management actions to address them.
Halibut: The Legislature passed a bill (SB 6127) to establish a $5 halibut catch record card for anglers who buy an annual halibut license. Revenue from the new fee will be used to increase data on angler effort and harvest.
Oil Transport Safety: The Legislature passed SB 6269, which raised the oil spill response tax ($0.01 per barrel) and the oil spill administration tax ($0.04 per barrel). The bill requires an update to contingency plans, a large-scale oil spill drill every three years and the establishment of a Salish Sea water forum. The Legislature also provided a one-time fund shift of $4.7 million from the Oil Spill Prevention Account to the Oil Spill Response Account which will support the Department’s oil spill response team.
Lands & Wildlife Management Related Legislation and Budget Items
Wildlife Trafficking: The Legislature provided $300,000 for the Department to increase investigation and enforcement efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. This funding will enable the agency to implement Initiative 1401, which was approved by 70 percent of Washington voters in 2015 to outlaw the possession and trade of critically endangered wildlife species.
Payments in Lieu of Taxes: The Legislature provided $22,000 to increase payments to Adams, Asotin, and Lincoln counties whose PILT payments were reduced from the last several year’s of legislative policy that capped the Department’s PILT payments.
Discover Pass: After much debate on the issue, the Legislature did not pass HB 2652, which would have implemented the first phase of recommendations from the Ruckleshaus assessment on recreational access to state managed recreation lands. The Legislature instead provided $75,000 for the Department, State Parks, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Office of Financial Management to explore the fiscal and economic effects of the three recommendations outlined in the Ruckleshaus report.
Wildlife Transfer Notice: The Legislature passed HB 2276 to expand public notice requirements when the Department proposes to translocate big game animals or certain carnivores for population enhancement. Wildlife Program staff worked closely with the bill sponsors to ensure this will complement current outreach efforts.
Wolf Translocation: The Legislature did not pass HB 2771, which would have directed the Department to initiate the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process to review the use of translocation as a tool for managing wolves. However, lawmakers approved funding ($183,000) to enable the Department to begin that process in the coming year, with a status report due on December 31, 2019.
Good Neighbor Authority: The Legislature passed a bill (SB 6211) to establish a dedicated account for DNR and the Department to deposit federal funds from Good Neighbor Agreements we develop with federal partner agencies. This will allow greater flexibility in land management and will allow the Department to receive additional federal dollars for land management activities.
Human Resources, Administration, and Information Technology-Related Budget and Legislation
Enforcement Records Management: The Legislature provided $1.4 million to update the Department’s outdated enforcement records management system to meet heightened security standards.
Network Infrastructure: The Legislature also provided $2.5 million for the Department to begin rebuilding the aging IT Network.