Inslee's Mandatory Buffer Bill
by Don Jenkins
The state Department of Agriculture estimated 200-foot buffers would
take up more than 11,000 acres of farmland in Skagit County alone.
OLYMPIA -- Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday his mandatory buffer bill probably won't pass, blaming opposition on a lack of support for cooling streams to save salmon.
Inslee's legislation calling for wide strips of vegetation along waterways crossing farms and other rural private property has not received a hearing in the Senate and stalled in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
"I don't think there's cause for optimism on that bill as currently drafted because there is opposition to it -- on the ability to actually save salmon by making sure the water is cool enough," he said.
"There's opposition to the bill because not enough people have embraced that mission statement yet," Inslee said.
Farm groups led the opposition to Inslee's Lorraine Loomis Act, named for the late chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said Friday that the governor was wrong to attribute opposition to his bill to indifference toward salmon.
"My answer to that is (baloney)," he said. "We have groups of farmers and tribes who have met for years on this and continue to meet."
Gordon said Inslee's bill would undermine the watershed-level partnerships with mandatory buffers drawn up by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The bill doesn't specify how wide the buffers would be, though it implies the buffers could be as wide as 250 feet on either side of the stream.
The state Department of Agriculture, which wasn't involved in writing the bill, estimated 200-foot buffers would take up more than 11,000 acres of farmland in Skagit County alone.
Landowners who don't plant trees and maintain buffers could be fined up to $10,000 a day.
Even before Inslee's comments, the bill appeared to be faltering. King-5 television reporter Drew Mikkelsen said in a Tweet on Wednesday that Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, who introduced the governor's legislation in the House, said the bill won't pass.
Lekanoff did not respond to a request to comment.
Inslee announced in December he planned to propose mandatory buffers on rural land. The bill wasn't released until shortly before the session began in January.
The bill's scope, vagueness and the way it was developed became immediate targets for critics. The legislation was crafted without consulting farm groups, the agriculture department, the Fish and Wildlife Commission or counties, which would have to help enforce buffers.
"The bill was doomed from the beginning," Skagit Valley dairy farmer Jason Vander Kooy said. "You can't write a bill that goes after one group.
"Agriculture wants to be at the table. Today's generation, we want to be involved. We want to be at the table and tell our story and work on some of these issues," Vander Kooy said.
The bill included some compensation for landowners, but the costs of planting buffers and loss of property value exceeded the compensation.
Gordon said the Legislature could help salmon this year by increasing funding for conservation districts, taking advantage of federal programs that require the state to contribute toward habitat-enhancing projects.
Lawmakers also could allow more counties to join the 27 counties who are in the Voluntary Stewardship Program, he said.
VSP relies on conservation projects by willing landowners. Although the projects are voluntary, counties are obligated to see that riparian habitat is not lost. The deadline for joining VSP has passed. House Bill 1856 would reopen the program.
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