Inslee to Push for
by Don Jenkins
"It's a big, dumb buffer."
-- Jay Gordon, Washington State Dairy Federation
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will ask lawmakers to impose mandatory setbacks along waterways to protect salmon, a proposal that could eliminate farmland and stifle rural development.
Inslee said Tuesday his plan was the result of two years of talks between his office and tribes. The "riparian protection zones" will keep water cool for fish, he said.
"There is nothing more Washingtonian than celebrating salmon and committing to their survival," said Inslee, at an event in Skagit County hosted by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
"There is nothing that more unites us," he said.
Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said the governor's proposal will renew a battle over buffers. "Good, grief, I thought we got past that," he said.
The governor's office has not released the text of the bill. According to a policy brief, the setbacks would be statewide and would be based on the height of trees along banks.
Gordon said farm groups weren't privy to the talks between Inslee and tribes. The proposal sounds like ones previously opposed by farm groups, he said.
"It's a big, dumb buffer," he said.
The buffers are part of a $187 million salmon plan that Inslee said he will present to lawmakers. The Legislature convenes for a 60-day session Jan. 10.
Inslee rolled out the plan joined by tribal leaders. He called his salmon bill the Lorraine Loomis Act. Loomis was chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and died in August.
Nisqually Indian Tribe Chairman Willie Frank III thanked the governor for his buffer plan.
"The riparian issue is huge," Frank said. "You know that. You committed to that in 2019."
Fish habitat depends on wood from trees, according to a report by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Wood creates rearing pools, places to hide from predators and refuges from high flows.
In forested areas, wood can come from as far away as 230 feet from the stream channel, according to the report.
Washington Farm Bureau director of government relations Tom Davis said buffers will deny farmers and other landowners use of their property. "This will cripple our rural communities," he said.
The governor's plan includes providing counties with "enforcement capacity" to police the buffers under the Growth Management Act and Shoreline Management Act.
For more than a decade, the state has largely relied on voluntary programs to protect waterways bordering farm.
Lawmakers created the Voluntary Stewardship Program to allow counties to maintain riparian habitat without regulating agriculture under the Growth Management Act.
Gordon said the governor's plan would threaten voluntary conservation and be another reason for farmers to subdivide their land.
The Swinomish tribe, Inslee's hosts, lobbied legislators in 2016 for 100-foot buffers. The Environmental Protection Agency-funded campaign ended when federal lawmakers learned about it.
Inslee said his salmon plan also will touch on hatcheries, dam operations and enforcement of fishing laws. "Our proposals are based on science. That has to guide our decisions, not ideology," he said.
A 304-report finished in 2020 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife concluded that policymakers should not assume wider buffers are the best policy.
The report said other factors, such as topography and type of pollutant, should be considered, as well as cultural values and economic costs.
While buffers should be informed by science, "determining the 'right' buffer width for pollutant removal cannot be purely scientific," according to Fish and Wildlife's report.
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