Celebrating Legislative Successes for Conservation

The short 2018 session in Olympia resulted in some big wins for nature and people.

The Washington state Legislature adjourned its session on March 8 after a whirlwind short session. With several budgets to pass and a record-breaking number of bills introduced, lawmakers took up impressively numerous issues during this year’s 60-day session.

Methow Wildlife Area along the Chewuch River. Photo by John Marshall.

As an even-numbered year, 2018 was not a “budget year” in the Legislature. However, lawmakers did pass on Jan. 18 the 2017-2019 capital budget that had been delayed from last year’s long session, as well as supplemental capital and operating budgets with important funding supporting the health of Washington’s communities and natural resources.

Dozens of bills addressing high-profile conservation matters were introduced this session. After debate over the Hirst water decision and last year’s capital budget, lawmakers discussed the banning of Atlantic-salmon net pens, a tax on carbon pollution, oil-spill prevention and a host of other challenges.

Meeting in Sen. Curtis King's office in Olympia. Tom Bugert, TNC, left, and the Senator in the foreground, with Dale Swedberg, Tonasket; Tom Lannen, Skamania County; and Nicole Budine, Gifford Pinchot Collaborative, facing. Photo © Hannah Letinich / TNC

One of our top priorities this session was reducing carbon pollution and preparing our state for the impacts of climate change by putting a price on carbon. A bill introduced by Sen. Reuven Carlyle at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee made it through two key committees before failing to advance to a floor vote. Although it didn’t result in legislation, the bill generated robust engagement from stakeholders across the state, including many businesses who want to see climate action in Washington.

Climate change is an urgent problem and we believe Washingtonians want action on this issue, which is why we’re part of a coalition supporting a ballot initiative that everyone can vote on in November of this year — one that puts our state on a path to a cleaner future.  

More Momentum:

During each Legislative session, we take part in the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a network of more than 20 Washington-based organizations supporting environmental policy at the state level. This year, the Coalition celebrates the passage of the Oil Spill Prevention Act, the phase-out of toxics in food packaging and the progress toward sustainable water management in Washington. With the momentum generated by the climate-change discussions during this session in Olympia, we look forward to bringing the question of carbon pricing to the ballot in November.

We also worked with legislators to support programs that have proven successful for Washington’s lands and waters and the communities that depend on a healthy, resilient environment. Our innovative partnership with the state Department of Ecology and the Puget Sound Partnership, Floodplains by Design, will take the step from good to great thanks to a capital budget proviso to review the program.

A high-profile case of non-native salmon escape into Puget Sound waters last year prompted extensive debate and the decision by lawmakers to phase out non-native finfish net pens in Washington waters as current leases expire over the next few years, protecting native salmon and aquatic ecosystems. The supplemental operating budget also included funding for increased Chinook salmon hatchery production to support orca whale recovery and funding for a task force on this urgent need. Gov. Inslee’s executive order called for immediate actions to support Orca recovery.

Also relating to salmon, orcas and other communities that depend on healthy water, the capital budget included increased funding for the Stormwater Financial Assistance Program to help stem the flow of pollutants into our waterways.

The Legislature unanimously passed several forest health bills in support of the Department of Natural Resource's (DNR) 20-year forest health plan and more resilient forest ecosystems across Washington. One bill establishes a prescribed-fire training program at DNR. A second creates a Good Neighbor Agreement revolving account to facilitate cooperation between state and federal agencies. And a third improves community preparedness and response to wildfires through the Wildland Fire Advisory Committee. 

Prescribed fire in ponderosa pine forest in fall on Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County. Treatment unit is Conner 5, which had been logged and thinned in winter prior. Seth Midkiff lighting with drip torch. Photo by John Marshall.

All three received unanimous support in both chambers, illustrating the importance of healthy, resilient forests in Washington to all of us. DNR also received a proviso in the capital budget to develop its Community Forest Program.

We look forward to working with our state-agency partners to make the most of the dollars allocated to conserving and supporting Washington’s lands and waters. To learn more about how we work to shape environmental policy in Olympia and in Washington, D.C., visit our Advocacy page.