By BRETT DAVIS
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — At a Wednesday morning House committee public hearing in Olympia, Wash., Native American tribal representatives made known their support for legislation that would require landowners to set aside large buffers on each side of streams on their land to help salmon. Farmers and their allies countered that passing such a law would devastate agriculture in Washington state.
The Lorraine Loomis Act — named after the late chair for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Swinomish fisheries manager — calls for mandatory riparian buffers to conserve the iconic fish, including $10,000-a-day-fines for landowners who don’t plant trees along waterways crossing their property.
Tribal representatives, as well as members of Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration, spoke before a virtual meeting of the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee that saw more than 100 people on both sides testify about House Bill 1838.
“Salmon are an important part of this industry – always has been for Washington state,” said Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, who introduced the legislation via HB 1838. (Its companion in the other chamber is Senate Bill 5727).
Rep. Lekanoff, the only Native American member of the Washington state Legislature, went on to say, “This is an important bill for all Washingtonians.”
Ms. Loomis’s nephew, Swinomish Vice Chair Jeremy Wilbur, helped craft the legislation.
“The act is necessary because the status quo is failing our salmon, failing our killer whales, failing all of Washingtonians that enjoy fishing here in Puget Sound,” Mr. Wilbur told the committee, dismissing any notion the legislation amounts to the taking of private property.
J.T. Austin, senior policy advisor to Gov. Inslee, agreed.
“A shift in the trajectory of salmon recovery requires aggressive, different action and attitudes, for everyone is suffering from the degradation of our environment,” she said.
According to the biennial “State of the Salmon in Watersheds 2020” report, 14 species of salmon and steelhead are listed as at-risk of extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
Farmers, farm groups and other supporters expressed dismay at the prospect of a lot of farmland being taken out of production, but also with being kept out of the loop in terms of the writing of the legislation.
Brett Davis covers the Washington state government for The Center Square.