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Proposed Laws Will Endanger Many Projects

Thu., Feb. 16, 1995

Environmental fascism is alive and well in Olympia.

If you have a beef with those nasty agencies trying to maintain a little clean water for fish, brush for birds or trees for elk, you’ll find plenty of heroes in the Legislature.

A landslide of legislation is in the works to undo Washington’s environmental infrastructure.

The timing couldn’t be worse.

Our salmon runs have lost their legs. The Blue Mountains elk herd is hanging on by a hoof. Most of the state’s original wetlands have been drained.

And Washington’s human population is mushrooming with people who can’t resist plopping a house on a lake shore or a big game winter range.

Yet the baskets at the capitol are filled with bills that seem to be based on vengeance rather than sense.

For instance:

House Bill 1000 neuters the state’s role in identifying and listing endangered species.

HB 1805 authorizes the Fish and Wildlife Commission to open hunting seasons on western gray squirrels and Canada lynx, but prohibits the panel from designating these two species as threatened or endangered.

Senate Bill 5839 revives the fight to authorize private deer and elk ranching even though the state already has spent countless dollars and time to justify what other states and provinces had already proved: Allowing the captive breeding of elk and some deer species is a major health threat and genetic time bomb for wild populations.

Among the most inane proposals is HB 1617, sponsored by 50 representatives from northeastern Washington. It calls for a moratorium on land acquisition by state and local agencies through 1997.

It also would eliminate funding for previously approved projects that have not yet been completed.

The bill apparently is designed to spank the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department for using Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program funds to purchase and protect critical habitat for mule deer, sharptails and sage grouse.

However, the bill also would stop the program’s funding for prized recreation projects. Recent examples in this area include the Centennial Trail, Little Spokane River natural area and Mount Spokane State Park recreation trails.

Chewelah’s city recreation complex was funded under this program. So was Pavilion Park near Liberty Lake and the Methow Valley Trail near Winthrop.

You’d have to be an anti-environmental thug to sign onto this bill.

No moratorium on public land acquisitions should be imposed in this state until there’s a moratorium on immigration.

People don’t move here for the pavement. They’re attracted by the quality of life. Even realtor groups support the Washington Wildlife and Recreation program’s funding because they know that parks, trails, natural areas and wildlife increase land values.

Meanwhile, cracks are forming between recreationalists and environmental groups over bills that would restore the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Commission to appoint the director of the Fish and Wildlife Department.

HB 1540 and SB 5777 would return this power, which was taken away from the commission in 1987. The bills also would give the commission authority over commercial salmon seasons, a proposal that’s opposed by commercial and tribal fishermen.

Sportsmen’s groups statewide are virtually unanimous in supporting the bills. Environmental groups seem to be split on the issue along the Cascade Mountains.

The Spokane Audubon Society, for instance, favors a stronger role by the commission. Audubon lobbyists oppose it.

West Siders apparently feel as though they have access to the governor.

“We think it’s ultimately valuable to have one person who’s politically accountable calling the shots,” said Ron Shultz, state Audubon lobbyist.

Yet sportsmen’s groups across the state and East Side environmental groups have found the governor’s office and the Fish and Wildlife Department’s Olympia staff to be about as penetrable as Fort Knox.

Kurt Beardslee, a Washington trout board member, said “We really feel the natural resource decisions coming out of the commission have reflected the best available science. You can’t say that about agencies that are bogged down in politics.”

Following are other bills of interest to sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts.

SB 5492 would make it a felony to use bait and hounds to hunt bears and cougars.

SB 5108 would repeal a law enacted last year requiring that anyone born after 1972 must complete a hunter education course before purchasing a hunting license.

SB 5171 would affirm the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s authority to require hunter-orange clothing for hunters.

SB 5154 would remove the commission’s authority to require hunter orange.

SB 5560 would throw wildlife biology out the window and put legislators in charge of setting elk seasons. The bill would prohibit the Fish and Wildlife Department from enforcing spike-only hunting seasons in the Colockum and Yakima areas. The rules were set last year to avert the eventual collapse of the elk herds.

HB 1538 would give the Wildlife Department 48 hours to respond to wildlife damage claims on private property. It also would allow ranchers to make claims for damage to wild grass.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review

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