Many loose ends still need to be tied in Olympia, but as the Washington Legislature tries to wrap up, it’s at least clear that cougar hunting with hounds has been shot down while hunting and fishing license fees will shoot upward.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved a new Discover Pass to be required for access to state lands and parks. But the details on whether sportsmen will have to buy it must be worked out with the House version.
Merger bills: One of the most significant remaining questions is whether Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional or field offices will be closed.
The proposed merger of the WDFW, state parks and several other agencies has been abandoned and the concept winnowed to a consolidation of the supporting services such as computer and human resources services, said Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, the Republican floor leader.
“But the plan being discussed (in the Senate) calls for reducing the number of regional offices from six to four while leaving the field offices – such as Colville, Dayton, Wenatchee – untouched,” Schoesler said.
The regional offices are in Spokane, Ephrata, Yakima, Mill Creek, Vancouver and Montesano.
The idea is to save money by eliminating regional directors and assistants rather than closing hatcheries or losing more people in the field, he said.
“We can teleconference and let technology do the walking to be more efficient.”
Spree poachers: Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the so-called “spree killing bill” Wednesday, increasing the penalties for poachers who kill multiple big-game animals. Wildlife enforcement wanted more clout to bag the thrill-kill mentality that seems to be catching on with a ghoulish faction of shooters.
Cougar hounding: The death of the bill to extend limited cougar hunting with hounds in northeastern Washington has failed for this session, said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, deputy minority leader.
“It died because of pure politics and the culture wars without regard for the issues, the science or the merits of the bill,” he said.
“What’s frustrating is that the pilot program’s been working well,” he said, noting that the number of conflicts between humans and cougars has been dramatically reduced while cougar populations are healthy.
The bill seemed to be on a roll last week after the environmental group Conservation Northwest withdrew its opposition.
The House had the votes to pass the bill, but it didn’t get off the floor,” Schoesler said.
“Seattle animal rights activists have the Speaker in their pocket,” he said, noting the Humane Society of the United States brought in their national leader, Wayne Pacelle, to sway the case.
Discovery Pass: Bills approved by both houses establish a Discovery Pass – $30 a season, $10 daily – for access to state parks and recreation areas. (Currently a state parks season boat-launch pass alone is $70.)
The Discovery Pass is needed primarily to help support state parks, which have been excluded from other state funding.
Under the Senate version, purchase of a hunting or fishing license would continue to provide access to Fish and Wildlife boat launches and land access sites. Sno-Park permits would suffice for using Sno-Park facilities.
“We wanted to avoid making people pay twice for something,” Schoesler said.
It was not clear whether a separate permit would be needed for access to Department of Natural Resources Lands.
The House version tries to simplify the issue by requiring everyone using any state lands or state parks to have a Discovery Pass, but it would cost sportsmen only $15 when purchased with hunting or fishing licenses.
WWRP funding: The House and Senate capital budgets are vastly different in their funding for the statewide program that preserves open space, parks and working farms.
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program would get $50 million under the House version, which likely would provide about $2 million to the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program to complete the third phase of securing Antoine Peak.
In the Senate, the priority projects received $20 million, plus $16 million directed to politically popular projects primarily in Puget Sound.
License increases: A bill to raise most hunting and fishing license fees was approved in the Senate Wednesday. The increase was requested by the WDFW – the first significant increase in 14 years.
“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,” Schoesler said.
“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 of we don’t stock fish in lakes or have the biologists setting hunting seasons.”