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Lorraine Loomis salmon habitat bill will now be a 2023 priority

The late Lorraine Loomis is gone, but not forgotten.

Nor is the salmon habitat restoration legislation bearing the name of the longtime Swinomish leader, though it stalled in Olympia after public hearings in January, joining the vast majority of bills not advancing to floor votes.

Introduced by State Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, the Lorraine Loomis Act faced opposition from the agricultural community over concerns that farmers and private landowners would shoulder the financial burden and lose acreage in the creation of tree-shaded buffer areas along salmon streams.

Supporters, however, have insisted that the legislation – a key element of Gov. Jay Inslee’s salmon recovery program – is not a “fish versus farm” measure and must be enacted to save salmon, the region’s signature migratory fish.

“Salmon are the keystone that supports dozens of other species of fish and wildlife,” wrote Ed Johnstone in his monthly “Being Frank” column last week.

“Their survival and ours,” said Johnstone, who succeeded Loomis as chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission upon her death last summer, “depends on clean, cool, flowing rivers and streams.”

Riparian habitat area is wooded land nestled along rivers and streams. Farmers told state lawmakers during the hearings that they support rebuilding wild salmon runs and restoring habitat areas. They wanted more input into the crafting of the legislation.

Another problem, they testified, is that creation of riparian management zones under terms outlined in the bill would take significant amounts of farmland out of production –estimated at 30,000 acres in Whatcom County alone.

In his February column, Johnstone responded. He said costs to farmers would be mitigated by state commitments that offer financial assistance to those needing help complying.

“Getting trees in the ground is the first step toward protecting riparian habitat,” Johnstone said, adding that “planting trees won’t put anyone out of business.”

Climate change is a primary culprit when it comes to threatened wild salmon stocks. According to Johnstone, temperatures in Washington streams are the highest on record, along with an increase in temperature-impaired salmon stream segments.

Thus the need to prioritize riparian habitat, contends Johnstone and the various environmental groups, such as the Orca Conservancy, that supported the act.

Inslee announced his $187 million salmon initiative, highlighting the Loomis legislation, during a Dec. 14 appearance at Swinomish.

“We applaud the governor’s strong commitment to create climate resiliency in our salmon streams,” Swinomish Senate Chair Steve Edwards said at the time.

Johnstone vowed continued endorsement of the Lorraine Loomis Act.

“We understand that the bill is not progressing in the state legislature this year,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the work stops. It can’t. We’re already behind schedule.”


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