January Legislative Update: Washington

In Washington by Alexei Calambokidis

January marked the start of the 2022 legislative session in the State of Washington. Trout Unlimited and Wild Steelheaders United are actively working on several pieces of legislation that would affect steelhead, their habitat, and their management in the Evergreen State. 

Top of the list is a subsection of bills that, either as their primary focus or as an element of a larger piece of legislation, make salmon and steelhead recovery a specific goal of the Growth Management Act (GMA). The GMA establishes environmental protections and land use designation requirements, and is the premier comprehensive land use planning structure for cities and counties in Washington.  

The lead bill in this area is engrossed second substitute House bill 1117, sponsored by Rep. Lekanoff (D–40). This bill makes it a goal of the GMA to support recovery of salmon and steelhead populations to fulfill Washington treaty obligations, support fisheries, and achieve delisting and recovery of threated and endangered runs under the Endangered Species Act.  

Alexei Calambokidis, Washington Conservation Manager for Trout Unlimited, gets some time on the river before he swaps out the waders for a suit in the “virtual” halls of the state capitol this session.
Image: Jonathan Stumpf/Trout Unlimited

House bill 1117 has passed the House and is awaiting referral to a policy committee in the state Senate. 

A major legislative focus in this session is recovery of steelhead populations in the greater Columbia River Basin. As most WSU followers are aware, removal of the lower four Snake River dams would dramatically improve access for fish to quality cold-water habitat in the Snake’s headwaters and tributaries; there is vital funding in Washington Governor Inslee’s salmon budget that needs to be appropriated by the legislature to continue to support the process of preparing for dam removal.  

Improved escapement of steelhead in the Columbia is another area of emphasis in our work in the Washington legislature. In particular, TU supports efforts to move Washington away from commercial, non-Tribal mainstem gillnetting. This non-selective commercial harvest of salmon has large impacts on B-run steelhead whose run timing and size puts them at high risk as bycatch.  

We are exploring options to reduce non-Tribal gillnetting through voluntary purchase of Washington commercial gillnet licenses through supplementary budget language, and through Senate bill 5567, sponsored by Senator Van De Wege (D-24), which would support testing and legalization of more selective forms of salmon harvest.  

Simply put, higher escapement through fisheries in Washington’s reach of the Columbia River would mean more wild steelhead on spawning grounds in the Columbia.

The 2022 Washington legislative session ends on March 10, so keep tabs on our wild steelhead conservation efforts between now and then – and what you can do to help — by reading our action alerts, the monthly Wild Steelheader newsletter (sign up here), and social media channels.