(The Center Square) — During a House committee public hearing Wednesday morning, Native American tribal representatives voiced their support for legislation that would require landowners to set aside large buffer zones on either side of creeks on their land to help the salmon. Farmers and their allies argued that passing such a law would devastate agriculture in Washington state.
The Lorraine Loomis Act – named after the former chairman of the North West India Fisheries Commission and Swinomish Director of Fisheries – calls for mandatory riparian buffer zones to conserve iconic fish, including fines $10,000 per day for property owners who do not plant trees along waterways crossing their property.
Tribal officials, along with members of Governor Jay Inslee’s administration, addressed a virtual meeting of the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, which saw more than 100 people from both sides testify about Bill of 1838.
“Salmon is 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. (Her companion in the other chamber is Senate Bill 5727).
Lekanoff, the only Native American member of the Washington state legislature, went on to say, “This is an important bill for all Washingtonians.”
Loomis’ nephew, Swinomish Vice President Jeremy Wilbur, helped craft the legislation.
“The law is needed because the status quo is failing our salmon, our killer whales, all the Washingtonians who love to fish here in Puget Sound,” Wilbur told the committee, dismissing any notion that the legislation amounts to the taking of private property.
JT Austin, Governor Inslee’s senior policy adviser, agreed.
“A change in the recovery trajectory of salmon requires aggressive and different actions and attitudes because everyone suffers 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 rainbow trout are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Farmers, farmer groups and other supporters have expressed dismay at seeing much farmland taken out of production, but also being kept out of the drafting of legislation.
“You know, the biggest issue for us as farmers and other landowners was the lack of input from anyone interviewed during the creation of this bill,” said Darrin Morrison, a farmer fourth generation from the Skagit Valley.
He added: “The act will result in a huge loss of agricultural land. If we lose our farmland…we will lose our local food system.
“You need red potatoes with that salmon on your plate,” he concluded.
Others were again excluded from the process.
“Bill 1838 was created without stakeholder input and therefore is an unfunded mandate that would nullify the Voluntary Stewardship Program,” said Ron Wesen of the Skagit County Board of Commissioners.
The Voluntary Stewardship Program helps fish through conservation projects led by willing landowners.
“The voluntary stewardship program and local food security would be devastated,” said Dan Wood, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation. “Our state will lose its ability to grow fresh food and local fiber.”
This will negatively impact the state’s tax base, Wood said, causing taxes to increase to make up the difference.
“The stewards of the land were obviously not consulted on this, which is quite shameful,” Washington Farm Bureau (WFB) President Rosella Mosby said. “Farmers are your friends in conservation. I encourage you to find ways to ensure that all parties have a place around the table for these essential efforts. »
His colleague WFB agreed.
“A collaborative approach is really needed to find a viable path,” said Tom Davis, director of government relations for the WFB.
Whatcom Family Farmers executive director Fred Likkel said there has already been a casualty on that front.
“But the trust now due to this process has really been damaged,” he said.
Yakima County Commissioner Landon Linde summarized what farmers are concerned about the Lorraine Loomis Act.
“It does not take into account the impact on farmers’ ability to earn a living on their property or on our food supply,” he said.
And then there’s the prospect of a long legal battle.
“If passed, the issues of taking private land will certainly end up in court,” Davis said. “It doesn’t benefit anyone.”
Rep. Tom Den, R-Moses Lake, a Grant County rancher with a long history in farming, put things into perspective.
“The agricultural sector in the United States of America and Washington State has the highest suicide rate of all,” he said. “And that kind of burden to put on our agricultural producers could push even more people into that barrel.”
Farmers are among those at the greatest risk of suicide, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention.
An hour after the start of the committee’s public hearing at 10 a.m. which was still continuing, the senses. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor and Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro Woolley held a short virtual session press conference where they reiterated many of the same complaints about the buffer bill.