While state lawmakers contemplate various proposals to fund the removal of fish barriers on public land managed by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) as part of a court injunction, cities and counties also want to address their culverts that potentially trigger a similar lawsuit.
A bipartisan House bill would allow private-public partnerships to fund those projects. At a Feb. 20 public hearing of the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee, forestry group members argued that the idea provides additional opportunities for further investments on top of those already made by private forestland owners.
“We find this to be a novel idea that could help link private investment to help out with the fish passage issue that’s out there on the ground,” Washington Forest Protection Association Director of Government Relations Jason Callahan said.
Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Chambers (R-25), HB 2022 would create the Local Barrier Partnership Account, though it would only have funds later appropriated by the legislature. A competitive grant process through the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) would then be set up for cities and counties to bid on project funding. WDFW would use criteria such as the impact to fish habitat and the amount of private donations when determining which projects to fund. Money from the account could only be used on public sections of a fish passage barrier project. Private donors would be recognized with a sign located near the culvert.
Chambers told committee members the partnership would be akin to an ‘adopt a highway program’, “where we may have private individuals and companies that want to help with the fish barrier challenges. It will help with salmon recovery and it’s just another tool we can use in this whole process as we’re addressing salmon recovery in the state.”
Although WSDOT must remove roughly 480 fish barriers by 2030 and a total of 844 as part of the court injunction, there are between 35,000-40,000 located in the state on private and public lands. Private landowners have spent $313 million on fish barrier removal since 2001. There is also the state Fish Barrier Removal Board that looks at culverts not affected by the court ruling.
However, Callahan told committee members that there are those who “remain frustrated that their working forests aren’t working for fish,” because other barriers prevent them from reaching habitat. “We are supportive of tools that link the investments forest landowners have made in fish habitat, and this may be one of those.”
He added that the county and city fish barriers are mostly smaller projects than those handled by WSDOT, which makes them a “little more ripe for a private public investment like this.”
The bill is scheduled for executive action on Feb. 22.