Keep your guard up, your hopes in check, and maintain a firm grip on your wallet.
The Washington Legislature is approaching the critical Feb. 25 cutoff that determines which among this year’s flock of outdoors- related measures will fly or die.
While individual bills – such as the so-called “hiker orange” requirement – capture public attention, the greatest impacts likely loom in the way the ax falls as lawmakers whack toward a balance in the record budget shortfall.
Staffing, funding and programs at state parks and wildlife agencies will be reduced, posing impacts to everything from Sno-Park programs to fish hatcheries.
Gov. Chris Gregoire appears to be backing away from a proposal to merge Fish and Wildlife Department enforcement agents into the State Patrol. But some legislators want to gut the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Several bills, with names as mundane as “Regarding wildlife interactions,” call for state compensation to livestock growers for losses caused by bears, cougars and wolves.
Here’s a sampling of other House and Senate bills still kicking around in the capitol.
Fine for feeding: HB 1885 would ban the public from intentionally feeding wildlife or attracting wildlife to land or a building. The bill defines “wildlife” as bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, deer, elk, turkeys, raccoons, opossums and skunks.
Comment: Yes! Finally a way to fine people for letting their cats roam free.
Avalanche windfall: SB 5596 would authorize a $2 surcharge on snowmobile registration fees and winter recreational area parking permits to fund the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.
Senior discount: HB 1748 would reduce the age from 70 to 65 to qualify for a senior discount on a Washington resident fishing license. A senior pays just $5 for either the $18 saltwater license or the $20 freshwater license.
Comment: The only encouraging news of the year for people age 65.
Two for the money: HB 1993 would increase state revenue by allowing anglers to use two fishing rods in some waters if they add a $10 stamp to their fishing license.
Marmot moment: SB 5071 (the most benign in a slug of outdoors-related bills sponsored by Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle) would designate the Olympic marmot as the state endemic mammal.
Search, rescue, access: SB 5067 (Jacobsen) allows a $5 surcharge on resident hunting licenses to help fund a landowner compensation program to open public access to more farms and ranches. Legislators have shrugged of this proposal for several consecutive years despite the backing of sportsmen’s groups.
Some representatives had no qualms about introducing HB 1214, which would add a surcharge on all hunting and fishing licenses, to fund the state’s Emergency Management Division for search and rescue.
Question: Why are sportsmen being targeted for the fee when EMD statistics indicate operators of motorized vehicles, such as snowmobiles, are among the most common search victims and the fastest-growing trend in search cases involves Alzheimer’s patients or lost children?
Puny panel: SB 5127 (Jacobsen) and other proposals seek to reduce, gut or eliminate the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Targeting young hunters: HB 1114 would require all hunters younger than 14 to be accompanied by an adult licensed hunter.
SB 5559 (Jacobsen) would step up the age to 16.
Get the lead out: SB 5095 (Jacobsen) bans lead shot for hunting in areas where “waterfowl, California condors or other endangered, threatened or sensitive species could be harmed by lead shot.”
Comment: That appears to be just about everywhere. The penalty would be $1,000 and loss of hunting privileges for two years.
Another pass: SB 5761 (Jacobsen) would create a $15 recreation pass required at sites managed by the Department of Natural Resources.
Hell on wheels: Three bills – all opposed by ORV groups – would stiffen rules for off-roading on public lands. One bill would require ORV safety training for operators. Another aims at curbing ORV damage to sensitive nature areas. The other would require ORVs to display permits size 4-by-7 inches. Currently they are 2-by-4 inches.
Fluorescent hikers: HB1116, dubbed the Hiker Orange Bill, would require all hikers, berry pickers and other recreationists to wear a minimum amount of fluorescent orange clothing while recreating on public lands where hunting is allowed. The bill says the requirement must be posted on all public lands where hunting occurs with other recreation.
Comment: Over my dead body.