OLYMPIA — Legislation headed for the governor’s signature will update state guidelines for mitigating crop damage caused by deer and elk, prioritizing relief for smaller farms.

SB 5784, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Lake Sutherland), raises the limits on damage claims and prioritizes their payout according to the highest percent of loss compared to gross sales, ensuring that small farmers will receive faster relief.

“I’m sure this program met the needs of farmers back when it was created in 1947, but the rates of compensation have fallen behind the times,” Van De Wege said. “This bill addresses the needs of small farmers and an industry that generates valuable revenues for our state.”

SB 5784 enlarges the state’s fund for mitigating crop damage to commercial farms to raise the claim limit from $10,000 to $30,000 while capping the maximum appeal award at $30,000. The state’s statutory limit is increased from $150,000 annually to $420,000 annually and 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.

The bill directs the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to develop a three-year pilot project in South Central Washington in consultation with Tribal comanagers to collar and monitor elk in the effort to reduce crop and property damage. Data collected during the pilot project will be reported to the legislature.

“The pilot project is a valuable, collaborative effort to find meaningful solutions for all resource and land managers,” said Mark Charlton, a Kittitas Valley farmer. “We need to scientifically account for how development and recreation are changing the movement patterns of elk.”