Is There Path Forward On Reduced WDFW Fee Increase Bill?

Fishing and hunting organizations and everyday sportsmen gave Washington lawmakers their thoughts on WDFW’s fee increase bill yesterday afternoon, and it’s unlikely the original package will emerge from the legislature.

But the agency was buoyed by what it heard during the public hearing on HB 1647 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

“Overall, we’re encouraged by the fact that our stakeholders increasingly appreciate why we need additional revenue to maintain and expand opportunity,” said spokesman Bruce Botka. “We’re also encouraged that several of the key fishing and hunting groups are willing to work with us and the bill sponsor to fine-tune the proposal.”

MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE LISTEN DURING A PUBLIC HEARING YESTERDAY ON A BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE THE PRICE OF FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES. (TVW)

That would include Puget Sound Anglers, and the venerable organization’s Frank Urabeck was one of several members who spoke yesterday.

“I’m optimistic we’ll come up with a substitute bill everyone can support,” he said earlier this afternoon, adding that there also needed to be some visible wins for sport anglers, and specifically pointed to reopening the lower Skokomish River for salmon fishing.

PSA’s Ron Garner said they were working on a substitute bill.

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association’s Liz Hamilton spoke to members’ fear of losing customers, and said that without meaningful angling opportunities, the bill was a heavy lift.

Still, while NSIA couldn’t support the current bill, Hamilton said the industry was committed to working with WDFW and lawmakers “to get to the right place.”

Coastal Conservation Association Washington president Dale Scott echoed that, saying that the state’s 17 chapters were ready to find a “workable path forward.”

According to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth, the agency needs $25 million to meet a building structural deficit and to maintain operations, with funding above that to meet needs identified in meetings held around the state.

Some speakers were in support of the fee increases, which would hike the price of hunting licenses by 10 percent across the board, and jump the cost of fishing licenses by varying percentages while also introducing $10 catch cards for salmon, sturgeon, steelhead and halibut.

Nick Chambers of Trout Unlimited said his organization was “strongly supportive,” calling the bill “essential to maintain critical management and increase opportunities.”

He said that without more money, WDFW couldn’t afford to open Skagit River catch-and-release steelhead fisheries and alleviate pressure on Olympic Peninsula streams.

Lee Blankenship, a WDFW retiree, said he supported the bill to stave off inflation and deal with the increasing cost to manage the resource in the face of a growing human population and changing climate.

“There is a cost to maintain what we have,” he said.

On the no side were two representatives from the Hunters Heritage Council, including president Mark Pidgeon.

“The No. 1 reason is we feel we’re at a point we’re going to drive hunters out of the field,” he said.

The umbrella organization’s Tom Eckles said the best way to increase revenues was to get more hunters afield, but that there’s “enormous discontent” about how expensive and complex it is to hunt in the state.

Late in the hearing there was a bit of fireworks between Grays Harbor fisherman Robert Graham and committee Chairman Brian Blake, who represents the harbor, after Graham talked about lawmakers receiving campaign contributions from tribes and commercial interests.

While there is still not a companion in the state Senate, making passage of a bill more onerous, PSA’s Urabeck gave Blake credit for giving the bill a hearing.

Where it goes from here will be interesting.

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