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WA Lege Day 57: Sometimes, it’s a zoo

OLYMPIA -- With time running out on the deadline to get bills out of their first chamber Monday, the state Senate spent some time taking care of animal concerns.

They passed a bill to study the Mazama pocket gopher. They passed another to place more sanctions on  shark "finning". And they said dogs should be able to be used to hunt cougars for the next five years.

As they churned through a stack of bills before the 5 p.m. cutoff, senators seemed to find the most mirth in the Mazama pocket gopher bill, SB 5264, which calls for a study to determine whether they are in danger of being endangered. The state Fish and Wildlife Department would do the study, and come up with a recovery plan if they were.

"Is this a gopher found in pockets, is it one that would fit in pockets or does it have pockets?" Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood asked.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester,  said he didn't know for sure.

"I represent Mazama," Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said. "Are they moving in or out?"

"I can't answer that question, either," Swecker conceded.

What's the difference between a regular gopher and the Mazama pocket gopher, Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam asked Sen. Kevin Ranker, the chairman of the committee that held hearings on the bill.

It was explained in committee by someone from Fish and Wildlife, Ranker said, but he hesitated to say because there may be school children in the galleries.

The answer, apparently, is that males have rather large genitalia...which they don't keep in their pockets. The bill passed 44-3.

SB 5688, which would make it illegal to catch a shark, cut off its fin and throw the rest of the fish back in the ocean, passed 47-0. It's unclear whether Ranker's appeal to vote yes for three sharks in the movie "Finding Nemo" -- Bruce, Anchor and Chum -- swayed the vote.

SB 5366, which extends the time for hunting cougars with dogs for another five years, passed on a 37-11 vote. Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, said the cougar population exploded in the northern counties bordering Canada and this was the best way to keep them under control. "There isn't any other way to control cougars. We'd like to keep a few around."Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, voted for the bill but couldn't resist a WSU-UW basketball dig: "Last two games, it's been the Cougars hunting the Dawgs."

We'll have more on bills that made the cut off, and those that didn't on Tuesday.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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