Oly, Salem Legislative Update (4-22-11)

Yesterday, legislators in Olympia passed two wildlife-related revenue bills to the governor and a tweaked gillnet ban on the Columbia got out of a Senate committee in Salem.

On the north side of the Columbia, bills that will increase fishing and hunting licenses for the first time in over a decade and require those who use state recreational lands to buy a $30 pass are on their way to Governor Gregoire for her signature.

SB 5385, the license bill, and SB 5622, the Discover Pass, were both passed on the exact same 55-42 House vote.

Representatives lined up almost entirely along party lines, with all Democrats except Rep. Tim Probst of east Vancouver voting for it and all Republicans voting against it, save for Rep. Larry Crouse of northeast Spokane County who was excused.

Both bills had been passed out of the Senate with bipartisan support.

WDFW officials have been pinning a lot of hope on passage of the bills to offset lost General Fund dollars.

In Salem, the Senate’s Environment & Natural Resources Committee moved SB 736, which would shift gillnetting off the mainstem Columbia and into lower river bays, forward on a 3-2 vote.

However, Senators amended it to only affect commercial fisheries during the spring Chinook run from March through May, excluding summer and fall salmon runs, according to a press release from one sponsor group, Northwest Steelheaders.

The lower river bays already provide netters with salmon which return directly to release sites there.

Supporters still heralded it as a “watershed moment” for all “Northwest sport anglers.”

“This progress is an indication that in working together towards a common goal we can move mountains. This is the first step towards positive change that will expand Columbia River salmon seasons, enhance conservation efforts, preserve jobs, provide fish to the public and generate tens of millions of dollars of economic benefit and jobs,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

She thanked those who weighed in on the issue as well as members of the Association of N.W. Steelheaders, Coastal Conservation Association, N.W. Guides and Anglers, Trout Unlimited and the Oregon Conservation Network for support, but said there’s still work ahead.

The new Washington fishing and hunting license fees would go into effect starting Sept. 1, 2011. To view how much more you’ll be paying, see the bill as passed legislation which details changes in base prices — figures that do not include the two-year, 10 percent surcharge (which stays in effect an extra two months) or dealer fees.

If there’s a problem with the Discover Pass, it’s that the lion’s share of the revenue collected from it will go to the State Parks and Recreation Commission — even if wildlife watchers and others are using the pass to access game department lands. The bill dictates that 84 percent of fees go to Parks, 8 percent to WDFW and 8 percent to DNR.

We hunters and anglers will continue to get complimentary vehicle passes for WDFW lands when we buy our big and small game, freshwater and other licenses.

And finally, what would a legislative update these days be without some sort of predator tie-in?

That’s right, a howling shame.

In Oregon, HB Bill 2337, which would allow a new limited hound hunt for cougars for the first time since voters banned the practice, leapt out of the House on a 45-14vote on Wednesday. It’s now prowling around the Senate.

It was followed yesterday by Bill 3562 which would allow people to kill wolves that are threatening them.

According to The Oregonian‘s Jeff Mapes, “Supporters said the bill would end any ambiguity about whether it is OK to shoot a wolf – which has received protection as an endangered species – in defense of one’s own life or another person.”

It passed on a 51-7 vote and it too is hunting for votes in the Senate.

In Washington, which has a similar population of wolves as Oregon, Canis lupus bills didn’t get very far — and an extension of a pilot program that has allowed for limited cougar chases with hounds since 2004 also died.

It sparked an angry statement from Rep. Joel Kretz, a Republican who ranches way out in the boonies of eastern Okanogan County and whose herd has been hit by several cougar attacks.

“It died because of pure politics and the culture wars without regard for the issues, the science or the merits of the bill,” he told the Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s Rich Landers.

Landers quotes state Senator Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville Republican, as adding:

“Seattle animal rights activists have the Speaker in their pocket,” he said …

It had appeared that HB 5356 had renewed life in early April after Kretz and Conservation Northwest came to an agreement that led CNW to switch from opposing to supporting it.

But even though the bill is dead for now, it appears to have at least sparked continued discussion about the role of hunters, hounds and how cougars should be managed.

CNW executive director Mitch Friedman says that he and Kretz are noodling some kind of forum that will bring together boot hunters and biologists, cougar lovers and legislators.

Friedman blogs that the boot hunt “is having a terrible impact on cougar populations.”

“Research indicates that heavy and/or nonselective hunting leads to a younger overall population, with fewer females and lower kitten survival. Some researchers and stakeholders believe conflicts are most commonly associated with younger cats, and that overhunting can therefore actually increase problems. If we can reach broader agreement on this and other key issues, better cougar policy and more public acceptance will follow,” he blogs.

Cougar harvest has never exceeded more than 300 animals a season in 75 years of record keeping, but complaints spiked following 1996’s passage of I-655, which outlawed dog hunts and led to tens of thousands more hunters afield with cougar tags in their pocket, according to WDFW documents.

In the years since, harvest and complaints have declined. In 2009, the latest year statistics are available, 142 cougars were killed statewide by all hunters — boot, hound, depredation permit — and complaints were down to post-I-655 levels, according to WDFW.

Friedman notes that “there will always be pressure for cougars to be killed” because of our relationship with predators, and given that, “it’s essential that researchers, managers and elected leaders be closer to agreement on what sound cougar policy looks like. Otherwise we are set up for polarization and backlash that hurts not just cougars, but also wolves and other wildlife.”

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