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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

A dam good bill with some teeth in it

OLYMPIA -- Beavers making a nuisance of themselves in Western Washington could be relocated to Eastern Washington areas that need their help in damming streams, but the furry critters from Eastern Washington couldn't be shipped west under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate.

Seems there's already too many of the tree-chomping mammals west of the Cascades.

The proposal, described by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, as a "cute, furry little bill," allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife to set up a system in which a landowner who wants to improve groundwater or downstream flows can request beavers being captured elsewhere and removed from land where they are creating a nuisance. It also provided several legislators some much-needed work on their joke delivery.

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It's not enough that Western Washington sends other nuisances east, groused Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, now they want to send beavers over, too. "If those beavers become liberals and they won't build any dams, I don't know how they're going to survive."

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, tried to inject a bit of seriousness, noting that beaver's are "nature's engineers." If that's the case, asked Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, will the state make them take continuing education courses and make them subject to Labor and Industries rules?

"Only if we can include domestic partnerships for beavers," said Ranker.

After senators got over their giggles, the bill passed 49-0, and was sent back to the House, where a slightly different version also passed unanimously.

The bill actually represents a meeting of the minds between city and rural residents in Eastern Washington, Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said. And it has a serious purpose, as well as a long history, sponsor Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said. He and other landowners in northwest Washington were interested in getting relocated beavers to help recharge their aquifers and help regulate streamflows, but the Department of Fish and Wildlife said there was no authority to do that.

The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a similar bill, minus the regional restrictions, in 2005, but Gov. Chris Gregoire exercised the first veto of her tenure to kill it because of objections from Fish and Wildlife. Studies were ordered, and several subsequent bills got part way through the Legislature before running out of time.

Since then, the Lands Council has received a grant from the state Department of Ecology to trap and relocate beavers as whole families. Research shows that a single relocated beaver will usually leave its new location to return to its old home and family; a relocated family tends to stay put in the new home. That group will take the lead on the relocations.

The bill also brings environmental groups like the Lands Council together with Kretz, who says that too much support from environmentalists could cost him re-election in his northwest Washington district. It should have no trouble getting through the House again, said the Lands Council's lobbyist, whose name -- and we're not making this up -- is Neil Beaver.

 Kretz would still like a beaver family for a stream on his property at some point, but the issue has gone beyond that, to improving water conditions in dry parts of the state. "I'm just interested in water retention, up high.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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