WA Legislative Update

Good news if you hate poachers and derelict nets.

Bills that would toughen penalties for spree wildlife killings and require commercial fishermen to report lost nets are moving forward in the Washington legislature.

The former, HB 1340, was passed out of the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources on a 13-0 vote last week and has been placed on the floor of the House for a second reading. It:

Adds a new element to the crime of unlawful hunting of big game in the first degree so that a person may be convicted of this crime without first being convicted of a different wildlife-related crime if the person kills, or attempts to kill, three or more big game animals within the same course of events.

We wrote about it here.

The latter, SB 5661, is waiting in the Rules Committee for a decision on whether it will be placed on the floor of the Senate for a second reading. Under current law, skippers who lose nets are only encouraged to call WDFW. It was voted out of the Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee on a 7-0 vote.

We wrote about it here.

Substitute Senate Bill 5669, the WDFW merger bill, sits in Ways and Means. We wrote about it here, here, here and here.

Another WDFW-related bill, SSB 5622, which creates a $30 annual parking pass to access state lands ($7 for hunters and anglers) is also before Ways and Means. It cleared Natural Resources with a 6-0 vote, with one senator forwarding it without recommendation.

A trio of predator-related bills are stirring as well.

In a bit of a surprise, HB 1109, which had been considered all but dead earlier in the week, has been scheduled for a public hearing before the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources at 8 a.m. on March 4. It:

“prohibits the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from sending the final gray wolf conservation and management plan, along with the associated environmental impact statement, to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for final review and approval without first receiving legislative approval of the documents.”

We wrote about it here and here.

Meanwhile, two bills aim to extend cougar hunting with hounds in several Eastside counties, one for five years (SSB 5356), the other permanently (SHB 1124).

The former was voted out of the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee on a 5-1 vote earlier this week and has been sent to the floor of the Senate, the latter out of the House Ag and Naters committee on a 9-4 vote last week and is in the rules committee.

Comments for and against 5356 included:

PRO: The pilot project for hunting cougar with dogs has been successful, and should be continued. This is a sensitive issue, but DFW is trying to use it as a tool to address public safety and better cougar management. Livestock producers have noticed a decrease in cougar depredation in areas where the pilot has occurred. This program has worked in the field, and the date indicates the pilot is working.

CON: Citizens have banned the use of dogs for hunting cougar by initiative. This is not extension of the pilot, but instead is a permanent and broader bill. Outfitters should not be able to profit from facilitating cougar hunting with dogs. This program is not responsible cougar management, and is not supported by good science.

Persons Testifying: PRO: Donny Martonello, Dave Ware, DFW; Lee Barker, citizen; John Stuhlmiller, WA Farm Bureau; Heather Hanson, Cattle Producers of WA; Jess Kasger, Jack Field, WA Cattlemen’s Assn.; Brad Cameron, Klickitat Co. Cattlemen.

CON: Jennifer Hillman, Humane Society of WA; Sylvia Moss, PAWS; Bob Aegerter, citizen; Seth Cool, Conservation NW.

Comments for and against 1124 included:

(In support) There were minimal issues related to cougars prior to 1996 when an initiative was passed banning the use of dogs in the hunting of cougars. Before the initiative, cougar population levels were at a healthy level, but there were few complaints or negative human interactions because the cougars were conditioned to fear humans after being pursued by dogs. After the initiative passed, the cougars lost that fear and animal and human attacks started to be reported. Human safety must be paramount in managing any wildlife.

The seven-year cougar hunting pilot project gave confidence in rural communities that something was being done about cougar populations. As a result, cougar populations were able to be managed according to science and proper management and not through vigilante poaching incidents. The pilot program has also led to less complaints and requests for depredation permits. A permanent program would continue these benefits.

When the initiative passed, it reflected an ethical standard for hunting cougars with dogs for sport. However, the indication is now that society values a science-based management approach designed for improving safety and maintaining healthy population levels. This bill allows additional hound hunting opportunities in a controlled manner and allows management based on science and not rhetoric.

It is critical for the WDFW to have as many tools available as possible to manage predatory wildlife. Utilizing licensed hunters to help control population levels, as opposed to using public money to hire contract hunters, is both more cost-effective and accepted by the public.

A statewide program allows this and provides the flexibility to address the management differences that exist between urban and rural settings. Less money available in the WDFW’s budget leads to fewer management options, and licensed hunters provide options.

Cougar attacks on livestock threaten businesses and livelihoods. Killed livestock is a total loss to the owner. However, even livestock that is not killed still leads to expense to the owner and a diminishment of the animal’s value.

Hounds allow a hunter to confine a cougar to a tree before killing it. This allows selection as to the age and sex of cougars harvested and provides a clean, humane shot. A hunter who is not given the option of hunting cougars with the aid of dogs is only given a few seconds to decide if a cougar he or she sees is one that should be taken, and often leads to shots that injure the cougar but does not kill it. Hounds are necessary for tracking problem cougars in western Washington where the rainfall makes tracking the animals without dogs very difficult.

The will of the voters is a transient event and is often invoked as a term of art. The drafters of Washington’s Constitution provided a mechanism for initiatives to change over time to reflect changing circumstances. Controlled, science-based management does not return state law to the pre-initiative cougar hunting provisions.

(Opposed) The citizens overwhelmingly passed an initiative in 1996 to stop hound hunting. The Legislature has eroded that initiative over the years, and now proposes the final repeal of the initiative and the erosion of the voter’s intent.

It has never been disputed that there is a need to protect public safety and private property, but this bill allows for the blanket use of dogs for sport and not for targeted problems. Sport hunting with dogs is not an acceptable wildlife management tool. The existing law provides the necessary tools and there is no need to undermine the will of the people.

Persons Testifying: (In support) Representative Blake, prime sponsor; Representative Kretz; Dave Ware, Department of Fish and Wildlife; Lee Barker; Bruce Vandervort; John Stuhlmiller, Washington Farm Bureau; Ed Owens, Hunters Heritage Council; Jack Field and Keith Kreps, Washington Cattlemen’s Association; Jess Kayser, Brad Cameron, and Bruce Davenport, Klickitat County Cattlemen’s Association; Clay Schuster and Harry Miller,
Klickitat County Livestock Growers; Duane Dewey; Jim Detro, Okanogan County; Heather Hansen, Cattle Producers of Washington; and Darvin Ecklund.

(Opposed) Jennifer Hillman, The Humane Society of the United States.

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