The war over the environment goes to the ballot box


Herald Writer

Whether it’s a salmon plunging down a Snake River dam or skipping up the Skykomish River, its future could depend on your vote next week.

And also at stake is the price of saving that salmon.

The congressional and state lawmakers elected Nov. 7 will be confronted with a raft of environmental issues when they take office come January.

State shoreline rules, the Growth Management Act and the Endangered Species Act all affect our environment and our pocketbooks.

How lawmakers address these issues could determine the state’s future environmental and economic health.

On Page 4A you’ll find a list of state and federal candidates who want to represent Snohomish and Island counties, and how they stand on some of the environmental issues. Every day through Saturday The Herald will run a grid with the candidates’ opinions on a variety of issues, such as health, transportation and campaign finance.

Environmental issues have hit home this year as shoreline rules intended to help protect salmon have started to affect farming and development.

The Shoreline Management Act was passed in 1972 referendum; in 1990 the Growth Management Act was adopted.

In 1996 the Legislature instructed the Department of Ecology to make sure the two sets of rules meshed.

Ecology’s new shoreline protection guidelines were issued in July.

Local governments will be asked to establish their own shoreline management policies based on the new rules. But state lawmakers are in the position to tinker with those guidelines.

"Sometimes we go back to the lawmakers to get guidance if the law is unclear," said Curt Hart, Ecology spokesman. "This last time, we had lots of guidance from the Legislature."

The Department of Ecology’s new shoreline rules will help determine how close a home can be built to creeks, rivers and lakes; and whether a property owner can build a pier or bulkhead along a riverbank or beach.

The rules apply throughout the state, to all marine waters, submerged tidelands, lakes over 20 acres in size and larger streams.

Not unexpectedly, those rules will significantly affect residents of Snohomish County, which is home to 3,000 streams.

These days, lawmakers can’t talk about streams without talking about salmon and trout. Policy dedicated to rebuilding salmon runs, listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, is being incorporated into local city and county government charters.

But some local House and Senate candidates want more specific information coming from the Department of Marine Fisheries, which oversees the listings. How will the agency determine when the salmon are restored in acceptable numbers?

How do Fisheries officials determine that the fish are back in full?

Some lawmakers say they want more information before they commit further resources to habitat preservation and restoration projects.

Breaching the dams to save salmon also figures into the inquiry.

While the federal proposal to breach the dams on the Snake River has been set aside until later, it’s an issue that will likely come up again in the coming years.

Congress may be faced with the task of deciding whether to breach the dams, or whether to make greater economic and policy commitments involving the management of hatcheries, harvest reduction, and the preservation and restoration of habitat.

And then there’s the Growth Management Act. Many House and Senate candidates, incumbents and political newcomers say it’s time to revisit the GMA to ask: Is it working?

The act, adopted in 1990, seeks to guide development and protect fish, forests and farmlands. Among other things, it directs growth for the next 20 years into boundaries drawn around cities and towns.

Local lawmakers are asking if the GMA has done the job of managing growth, reducing sprawl, and conserving critical environment, or if it has artificially raised the price of housing in Snohomish County, especially in communities struggling to find room to accommodate newcomers. Lawmakers may need to decide whether local government and neighborhoods should be allowed a greater say in how their communities grow.

Increasingly, they have also been presented with the task of interpreting people’s Initiative 655, which banned the hunting of cougars with hounds in 1996.

In March, lawmakers gave the go-ahead to the State Department of Fish and Wildlife to decide whether to re-institute the limited practice of hound-hunting to help curb the state’s growing cougar population,

But some citizens don’t view this as an issue about cougar encroachment as much as it is an issue about lawmakers’ encroachment on the will of the people.

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