Washington lawmakers pass livestock rescue bill

Washington lawmakers pass livestock rescue bill

10 March 2016

published by www.capitalpress.com

USA — Legislation inspired by stories of Washington ranchers running into roadblocks as they tried to rescue livestock from wildfires has been delivered to the governor’s desk for his signature.

House Bill 2925 instructs the state Department of Natural Resources to let ranchers onto burning public lands unless fire commanders decide rescuing livestock will interfere with firefighters.

The state can’t be held responsible for anything bad that happens to people allowed through, according to HB 2925.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, said he introduced the bill because he had heard from ranchers who were blocked from reaching their livestock.

Dent said livestock owners have a moral obligation, as well as financial stake, to save their animals.

The bill as introduced by Dent was more emphatic, guaranteeing ranchers access to burning public lands in all cases.

DNR was cool to the proposal, and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs opposed it.

The bill was amended by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to give DNR some basis for denying ranchers through roadblocks.

The agency will have to “make every reasonable effort to accommodate a livestock owner’s request to retrieve or care for animals,” according to the revised bill.

The legislation passed the House 97-1 and was approved by the Senate unanimously.

Cattlemen’s groups say roadblocks don’t necessarily stop ranchers, who are forced to find other routes to their livestock.

Okanogan County rancher Scott Vejraska told the Senate Natural Resources Committee at a hearing in February that he ran into roadblocks last summer set up by sheriff’s deputies and the National Guard.

“We did drive around. We know the backroads. We know the country. We did get there. If we hadn’t got there … we would have lost over 500 head in an hour,” he said. “We need to go to our animals. It is our livelihood. We do care for them.”

HB 2925 requires information about the new law to be printed in DNR grazing leases.
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