With statewide drought and wildfire season intensifying, we need efficient, untethered natural resources management

Washingtonians are fortunate to live in communities that value land and resource management, and take the impact of their environmental footprint seriously. We all have a vested interest in preserving our environment and protecting our natural resources. Realities of the current drought and wildfire season remind us of the need for efficient management.

In May, Congressman Tom McClintock, R-California, made claims during his opening statement before the Subcommittee on Federal Lands Oversight that appeals and “frivolous lawsuits” hinder the U.S. Forest Service from providing critical management services on federal lands. A similar issue has vexed our state, and was profoundly evidenced in last year’s wildfire season in Eastern Washington. The impacts of litigation extends to other areas as well, such as salmon recovery, water resources, energy conservation and more.

Take the lawsuit filed last month against the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, tasked with protecting depleting juvenile salmon and steelhead populations listed under the Endangered Species Act, as an example. Five conservation groups – including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Audubon Society of Portland – are suing in an attempt to halt a plan that would kill 11,000 cormorants in the Columbia River estuary. Cormorants have surged from 100 mating pairs in 1989 to 15,000 in 2014, and are known to eat juvenile salmon swimming en route to the Pacific Ocean. The species is a direct threat to salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest.

Killing thousands of animals in an effort to conserve others is never going to be palatable. Even project manager Robert Winters acknowledged the unsavory nature of this scenario. Salmon population recovery is a complicated endeavor requiring agencies to meddle in a tangled, complex ecosystem that makes it difficult to identify any clear winners or losers. The alternative is inaction; for as many groups that encourage a hands-off approach to conservation, there are just as many who prefer hands-on management.

Washington’s own Department of Ecology spent nearly half of its 2013-15 $9.5 million AGO budget, which includes attorney and paralegal costs, on litigation.  More than $1 million of that was spent on water resources litigation alone. Among many conservation functions, Ecology seeks to manage water on a holistic level by maintaining instream flows, bolstering irrigation to support farming and agriculture, and navigating a complex and difficult-to-manage water rights system. The amount of time and resources spent on mounting litigation could, and should, be used instead to more effectively conserve and manage natural resources.

As the drought continues and wildfire season approaches, we are reminded of the need for efficient land and resource management. Because the conditions of our natural resources are constantly in flux, we must meet that vulnerability and unpredictability with sound management policies. Despite their clear efforts to keep our environment healthy and sustainable, our natural resource management agencies are constantly juggling competing interests of environmentalists, conservationists, tribes, farmers and others. We cannot continue to tie the hands of agencies with costly litigation that hinders officials from protecting the natural resources we so desperately seek to preserve. Litigation should not take precedent over sound policy and management, especially as our state faces critical natural-resource disasters.

Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, serves as the ranking member on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. He represents the 42nd Legislative District in Whatcom County, which includes Blaine, Everson, Ferndale, Lynden, Nooksak, Point Roberts, Sumas and part of Bellingham. Readers can sign up for his email updates by visiting his website at www.representativevincentbuys.com

State Representative Vincent Buys, 42nd Legislative District
465 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7854 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000