Ocean and Puget Sound salmon fisheries and key trout and steelhead hatchery programs may have to be reduced or eliminated under budgets proposed by Washington lawmakers, WDFW warns.
As this year’s legislative session hits the late innings, the agency reports that there’s a gap of at least $10 million between what it needs over the next two years and what the House and Senate want to provide it with via both chambers’ Operating Budgets, revealed over the past two weeks.
Unless that funding is restored, WDFW may need a two-year surcharge of 13 percent on all fishing and hunting licenses, or a 22 percent on fishing and 6 percent on hunting licenses, to make up the difference to keep a bunch of programs up and running.
That’s according to a fact sheet prepared at the highest levels of the Natural Resources Building in Olympia yesterday.
“Without additional revenue, both budgets would require us to reduce current recreational and commercial fishing opportunities, reduce our enforcement capacity, and restrict service delivery in other areas,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth told Northwest Sportsman earlier today.
It’s a fine welcome-to-the-job for the man from Idaho, but not altogether that different than what his predecessor faced back in 2009 when he had the hot seat. During his tenure, Phil Anderson only had to deal with a $50 million cut from the General Fund.
Even so, WDFW knew that there could be more cuts this legislative session, as last year Gov. Jay Inslee asked it and other agencies to prepare scenarios for a possible 15 percent reduction to their operating budgets.
But spokesman Bruce Botka says that the governor didn’t include all those cuts in his own proposal for the agency.
He says that lawmakers’ ones don’t include the 15 percent either, but would still put WDFW in a “difficult position.”
Basically, according to the fact sheet, there are gaps between its spending authority and projected revenues, and how much more is needed to sustain certain operations. Under the House budget, it’s a $10 million gap; under the Senate’s, it’s $10.5 million.
Even as sportsmen will howl to take it out of the wolf management budget, most at risk is the Fish Program, though Wildlife could take some hits as well.
Scare tactic to rally sportsmen to the agency’s side or not, the fact sheet includes an unprioritized list of potential closures, reductions and eliminations to reach that $10 million mark, including shutting down Reiter Ponds, on the Skykomish outside Gold Bar.
That could affect steelheading in Puget Sound sharply as the rearing ponds there raise something like three out of four smolts released in to the basin in these post-Wild Fish Conservancy/pre-NMFS HGMP approval times. WDFW estimates that amounts to $393,000 in costs.
Also identified as potentially under the knife, trout production in the Okanogan and South-Central Washington via closure of the Omak and Naches Hatcheries ($909,000). Rainbow fry couldn’t be put into 40 lakes in the hills above Omak, Tonasket and Loomis, while 86 percent of trout put into Yakima, Klickitat, Kittitas and Benton Counties would be eliminated.
The Spokane Hatchery could see a 25 percent reduction as well ($180,000).
Because we fish through ESA-listed stocks to get at healthy runs, saltwater salmon fisheries off Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay could be closed because of the need to monitor them to ensure compliance with federal and treaty obligations ($745,000).
Likewise, Puget Sound Chinook seasons could be reduced in terms of openings and bag limits because limited monitoring ($91,000).
Five game wardens, six biologists specializing in working with private landowners to provide hunting access and two Habitat Program positions might have to be cut ($2.5 million).
Weeding, commercial fisheries, hatchery maintenance and shellfishing ops would also be affected.
And even if the last two winters have been kind to Central Washington big game herds, elk feeding in Kittitas and Yakima Counties could be reduced ($214,000).
In other words, if the $10 million gap isn’t funded, there could be a pretty widespread impact.
That’s probably the point of the nitty-gritty details in the fact sheet, to get Evergreen State anglers from all points of the compass to take notice.
While it’s not a done deal — legislators will still be negotiating final agreements over the coming weeks as the session comes to a close — WDFW is clearly hoping to raise awareness of what’s at stake.
“We are compelled to let lawmakers know what’s at-risk if we are forced to make yet another round of cuts on top of the reductions we had to take during the recession of the past few years,” says Unsworth.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that the shortfall was in lawmakers’ proposed Capital Budgets for WDFW. That was incorrect. The shortfalls are in their proposed Operating Budgets.