Salmon habitat rules would restrict agricultural uses

  • Monday, January 24, 2022 9:43am
  • News

By Brooklynn Hillemann

WNPA Olympia News Service

OLYMPIA — Advocates hope mandatory conservation of key habitat areas will help salmon runs recover, but opponents worry farmers will pay a price.

House Bill 1838, to be known as the Lorraine Loomis Act in honor of the late Northwest Indian Fisheries commissioner, will reserve land on public and private property near salmon-bearing waterways.

The prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Anacortes, said salmon play a vital cultural and economic role in Washington. The potential loss of the species will affect all Washingtonians, she said.

“Salmon are an important part of this industry, always have been for Washington state,” Lekanoff said.

The bill focuses on designated riparian management zones, (RMZ), habitats identified as suitable for salmon and steelhead. Landowners with the property identified as an RMZ will be responsible for the restoration and protection of the area in exchange for compensation.

The Jan. 19 House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee drew more than 200 people who wanted to testify. They included tribal representatives, agricultural leaders and local government administrators.

Loomis’s nephew, Swinomish Tribal Communities Vice Chair Jeremy Wilbur, told the committee the act would honor his aunt’s legacy by continuing her environmental efforts.

“Our salmon need the Lorraine Loomis Act right now,” he said. “The act would create climate resiliency for salmon streams by planting millions of trees.”

Tree canopies provide shade for streams and rivers populated by salmon, regulating the water temperature. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, warming waters can increase vulnerability to disease and overall fish loss.

Lummi Nation councilmember Lisa Wilson said over 2,500 salmon were killed by warm-water side effects while returning to spawning grounds of the South Fork of the Nooksack River in October.

“The way we measure success is whether there are fish for people, not just now, but for future generations as well,” she said. “When the salmon are gone, our people are gone.”

Protections would include implementing mandatory riparian buffers, essentially ending agricultural production within an identified area, and imposing $10,000-a-day fines for landowners’ noncompliance. Farmers and their allies said the bill will have detrimental effects, an issue they argue could have been mitigated if they were allowed input during the drafting stage.

“The stewards of the land were obviously not consulted in this, which is quite shameful,” Rosella Mosby, president of the Washington Farm Bureau, said. “Farmers are your friends in conservation. I encourage you to find ways to ensure all parties have a seat at the table for these critical efforts.”

Opponents of the bill said the imposed limitations on farming land will pose a burden for rural producers, impacting Washington’s food supply.

“There is no doubt this bill would cause great damage, essentially killing agriculture, especially in Western Washington,” Whatcom Family Farmers executive director Fred Likke said.

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