Rep. Joe Schmick: Governor’s salmon bill would devastate Ag community

In Olympia, large-scale bills with huge impacts for all Washingtonians are usually best conceived, perfected, and implemented when many opinions, experiences, and priorities are brought to the table.

I think back to the legislative fixes to the McCleary decision that dealt with education funding and the Hirst decision that dealt with water availability and water rights.

No matter what you thought of these legislative fixes, the fact is, they were worked on by legislators, stakeholders, and legislative staff with various backgrounds, interests, and expertise.  There was buy-in from all involved that there was a problem and that a solution to the problem was attainable and in the best interest of Washington citizens.

Contrast that to recent legislation introduced at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee dealing with salmon and riparian management zones (RMZ).  House Bill 1838 mandates the end to all “agriculture” uses within 150 to 250 feet of waterways and floodplains.  Trees and other mitigation actions would need to be taken by landowners to ensure adequate salmon habitat, at mostly their own expense.  Failure to comply could result in fines of $10,000 per day.

The bill, which had a two-day public hearing recently in the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee, has the potential to dramatically affect our agriculture community, including farmers, ranchers, orchardists, cattle and ranching operations, dairy farms, and even small forest owners.  Property owners that have any water running through their property could also be impacted.

I've spoken with several farmers in my legislative district who told me the day this proposal becomes law is the day they go out of business.  Period.  We're talking small- and medium-sized family farms that have been around for generations.

No one disputes that salmon are good and that more can be done to help ensure adequate survivals rates.  But at what cost?  The governor's bill was written in a very closed environment with no stakeholder input.  We're talking about a community (agriculture) that feeds millions and employs over a hundred thousand Washington workers.  The economic footprint of agriculture in this state is enormous and especially vital to our local rural economies.

Yet the governor didn't feel the need to make a phone call and bring any other opinions and ideas to the table?

While I don't know the final outcome of this legislation, I can tell you that I'm actively working to kill this bill.  Instead, legislators should bring more people to the table to find workable solutions.  Let's bring members of the agriculture industry, willing tribes, forest owners, conservationists, and lawmakers from around the state together.  Let's acknowledge the efforts and work that's already been done on thousands of acres of land already to help salmon habitat and find ways to encourage and incentivize others to do the same.

(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is a long-time member of the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee.)

State Representative Joe Schmick, 9th Legislative District
426B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(253) 275-1425 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000