Wildlife Bills Active In Oly, Salem

I’ve been trying to put together a legislative bill update this week, but, well, sometimes it’s just best to let other people do the work for you.

Doing the heavy lifting in this case is the Seattle Times, The Oregonian, Spokane Spokesman Review and Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association all out with news from Oly and Salem.

Among the big items, a bill that would have extended Washington’s hound-hunting-for-cougars pilot program is said to be dead — “because of pure politics and the culture wars without regard for the issues,” its prime sponsor told Rich Landers of the SSR — while the Oregon House yesterday passed a bill that would, for the first time since a ban there, allow dog chases for the big cats in counties opting into the the program.

“The bill now goes to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain fate,” reports Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian.

The players and arguments for and against the bill will be familiar to Washingtonians, where the pilot program has been running in several Eastern Washington counties since the mid-2000s, but Mapes reports that the difficulty in getting it to Governor Kitzhaber will be because:

The bill needs a two-thirds vote in each House. (Rep. Brian) Clem (D-Salem) said he thinks it will be difficult for supporters to get 20 votes in the Senate, which has a narrow Democratic majority.

The two-thirds vote is needed because of a separate tough-on-crime ballot measure, also passed in 1994, that says the Legislature can only reduce voter imposed crime sentences on a two-thirds vote. The ballot measure regarding cougars made it a crime for sport hunters to use dogs in hunting cougars.

That was yesterday. This afternoon at 3 p.m. in Salem the Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee will hold a work session and vote on a bill that would ban gillnetting in the Columbia except for off-channel areas in the lower river.

Backers believe that they have the votes to get an amended version of SB 736 out of the committee and Senate and over to the House, but are asking sport anglers to email several lawmakers they consider undecided or against, including Sens. Alan Olsen and Chuck Thomsen, to back it.

The committee will meet in Capital Hearing Room C; media will be available here.

Meanwhile, Landers reports that the $30 Discover Pass has been passed by both houses.

The fishing and hunting license increase package that WDFW Director Phil Anderson is pinning a lot of revenue hopes on — SSB 5385 — has made it out of Washington’s Senate and has been placed on second reading in the lower chamber as well.

Pardon the lengthy quote, but Landers reports that Ritzville Republican Senator Mark Schoesler said of the fee hike:

“Most sportsmen realize the state is digging itself out of a $5 billion hole and they’re begrudgingly going along to avoid losing essential functions.

“I fear the end of the session when I have to go back and tell my dad that I voted to increase his license fees.

“Some people might not buy a license because of the increase, but we’ll lose people quicker (if) we don’t stock fish in lakes or have the biologists setting hunting seasons.”

Landers also reports more on natural resource agency consolidations — not mergers — being discussed in the Senate. As I reported earlier this week, that may mean that WDFW has to reduce the number of its regional offices from six to four.

There are three offices on the Eastside, in Spokane, Yakima and Ephrata, and three on the Westside, Vancouver, Montesano and Mill Creek.

And finally, among the dozens of bills that have made it to Governor Gregoire’s desk this session — and one I’ve been obsessively reporting on — she put her signature on HB 1340 yesterday, increasing penalties for spree shooting of wildlife.

To quote myself:

Basically, House Bill 1340 expands what can be considered unlawful hunting in the first degree, a class C felony. Previously, offenders had to have a previous wildlife misdemeanor within the past five years to get hit with that charge. But now someone who poaches three or more deer, elk, moose, mountain goat, caribou, cougars, black bears or grizzly bears within 24 hours or “course of events” can be charged straight away in the first degree.

“I’m sure we’ll have a number of times to apply it this year, unfortunately,” said WDFW Deputy Chief of Enforcement Mike Cenci.

The bill flew through the lower chamber on a 97-0 vote (with one member excused), and cleared the upper, 49-0.

It comes after at least four spree wildlife poachings in the past year and a half and with the recent jailing of a man who game wardens suspect has illegally killed over 100 animals.

Big tip of the cap to the Legislature and Governor Gregoire for that one.

Now, to figure out how to get the rest of the work done by Friday’s end of the session or in overtime.


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