(The Center Square) – Farmers in Washington who experience damage to commercial crops caused by deer and elk could see an increase in state payments for their losses.
On Thursday, the state Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks advanced Senate Bill 5784, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Lake Sutherland. The bill has been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
“This bill simply updates the mitigation to reflect the modern levels of loss and, at the same time, prioritize the needs of small farmers,” Van De Wege said in a press release.
The compensation program was created in 1947 to support the farming industry and revenues it provides to the state, but its “outdated provisions” no longer accurately reflect “the losses suffered by farmers,” he said.
As proposed, SB 5784 would increase the state program’s current statutory limit from $150,000 annually to $420,000 for claims and damages awarded to farmers.
To pay for the increase, said Van De Wege, the state’s general fund allocation would be raised from $30,000 to $300,000 per year. That’s in addition to the state’s existing Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Fund allotment of $120,000, which would not change, he said.
Along with increasing the fund size, the measure would raise the individual claim amount from $10,000 to $30,000, with a maximum appeal award also capped at $30,000.
Van De Wege said the bill was amended in committee to also establish a three-year pilot program for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to collar and monitor elk in south-central Washington and report results to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2027.
Another committee change prioritizes payment of commercial crop damage claims based on the highest percent of loss compared to gross sales.
Along with Van De Wege, the bill has bipartisan sponsorship from fellow Democratic Senators Mark Mullet and T’wina Nobles and Republicans Ron Muzzall, Keith Wagoner, and Judy Warnick.
WDFW, which requested the measure, has information about filing damage claims on its website.
When practical, the agency works with landowners and tenants to control game damage without killing the animals, in part to increase the harvest of damage-causing animals in hunting seasons. The state Fish and Wildlife Commission may authorize special hunts to reduce damage from wildlife if there are recurring complaints.