Legislation passed today by the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee would update the state’s mitigation for losses caused by deer and elk to commercial crops.

“This program was created in 1947 to encourage and support the farming industry and the revenues it brings our state, but its outdated provisions don’t accurately reflect the losses suffered by farmers,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Lake Sutherland), the bill’s sponsor. “This bill simply updates the mitigation to reflect the modern levels of loss and, at the same time, prioritize the needs of small farmers.”

SB 5784 updates the state program’s statutory limit from $150,000 annually to $420,000 in order to accommodate claims and damage awards to farmers. To pay for this, the state general fund allotment is increased from $30,000 to $300,000 per year in addition to the state’s existing Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Fund allotment of $120,000, which would not change.

“Farmers have faced underpayment and long delays in payment, jeopardizing their ability to operate and the valuable revenues they bring our state,” Van De Wege said. “There’s no reason for the state not to fully mitigate claims that both the farmers and the state have agreed are reasonable.”

In addition to increasing the size of the fund, SB 5784 raises the state claim limit from $10,000 to $30,000 while capping the maximum appeal award at $30,000.

The bill was amended in committee to establish a three-year pilot program at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to collar and monitor elk in south central Washington and report the results to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2027. Another change in committee prioritizes the payment of commercial crop damage claims based on the highest percent of loss compared to gross sales.