Bipartisan legislation in the state House of Representatives to improve salmon recovery and riparian habitat is scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 10:30 a.m. in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
House Bill 1720 would protect and restore riparian areas by establishing a voluntary, regionally focused riparian grant program designed to improve the ecological functions of critical riparian management zones.
Reps. Mike Chapman, Tom Dent, Debra Lekanoff, and Joel Kretz signed on as the initial sponsors of the bill.
“Salmon restoration is too important for our state to delay action any longer. We need a true solution and I think this measure can get us there. The keyword here is voluntary. I want to make sure that this is crystal clear, because the whole point is for folks to see the value of the program and want to participate,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. “I also want to acknowledge that this legislation would not have been possible without the collaboration and negotiations with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. This really is an example of a solid bipartisan bill, and I am glad it came to fruition.”
The Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC) would develop and implement the riparian grant program to fund protection and restoration of the critical riparian management zones. The commission is responsible for developing the criteria for the grant program.
“This bill is the result of many hours of meetings and collaboration by lawmakers, tribal members, farmers, fishermen, landowners, and others to find an effective way to restore critical salmon habitat without imposing restrictive or mandatory laws and regulations,” said Dent, R-Moses Lake and lead Republican on the AGNR Committee. “The strong bipartisan work on the bill gives us an opportunity to improve riparian habitat, increase salmon stocks and protect valuable farmland. We still have a lot of work to do to get this to the governor’s desk, but the bipartisan work on this potentially historic legislation up to this point is very encouraging.”
The grant program is also intended to complement the standard of no net loss of riparian habitat established in the voluntary stewardship program within the Growth Management Act. This means projects must at least maintain existing riparian habitat, if not improve and expand the habitat through voluntary work with landowners.
Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda said input from the tribes was vital to finding a workable solution.
“Farmers, ranchers, and landowners can be assured that this program is voluntary and lacks the punitive regulatory approach that has been threatened in previous attempts at riparian management,” said Kretz. “By bringing so many people to the table and working across the aisle in a collaborative process, I believe we’ve arrived at a proposal that will work. It will work for landowners who want to participate. And it will work for habitat restoration and preservation.”
Also under HB 1720, a salmon riparian habitat policy task force is established in the governor’s salmon recovery office to monitor and review the implementation and successes of the grant program. The task force members are appointed by the executive director of the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office and includes:
- four representatives from federally recognized tribes in Washington, two from east of the crest of the Cascade mountains and two from west of the Cascade mountains;
- four representatives from agricultural and livestock producers;
- one representative from a regional salmon recovery organization;
- one representative from a forestry and agriculture organization, as recommended by a recognized statewide agriculture or forestry organization; and
- one representative from a nonprofit environmental organization that owns or manages undeveloped land in Washington, as recommended by a recognized statewide environmental organization.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and the State Conservation Commission shall have a representative serve in a technical advisory role to the task force.
Since the four legislators introduced the bill an additional 21 co-sponsors have signed on to the legislation in the House.