Here’s How Much WDFW’s Proposed Fee Increase Would Cost You

I’d pay between $13.75 and $17.57 more to fish, crab and hunt in Washington under a 12 to 15 percent fee-increase proposal, one of two that WDFW put out for comment this week.

The across-the-board hike would raise the price of my combination fishing license, deer tag, and Puget Sound Dungeness, two-pole and Columbia River endorsements from $132.55 a year to $146.30 to $150.12.

That’s according to a draft estimate matrix produced by WDFW staffers at my request.

It shows potential out-the-door prices that reflect increases to both the agency’s base license and 10 percent transaction fees, but not the $.50 to $2 outside vendor charge. That means prices vary from true 12 to 15 percent rises.

But the tally would still rise commensurately for hunters and anglers who buy even more licenses than I do, say deer + elk + bear + cougar + small game (from $117.50 to $131.36 to $134.83), Westside pheasant (from $84.50 to $94.40 to $96.88) and shellfish/seaweed (from $17.40 to $19.25 to $19.71).

CHINOOK ANGLERS TROLL POSSESSION BAR EARLIER THIS MONTH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE EXERCISE IS BEING DRIVEN BY A LOOMING $30 MILLION 2019-21 budget shortfall that has WDFW considering patching it in part with sportsman dollars but also the state General Fund, if state lawmakers sign off on it next winter and spring.

WDFW’s second proposal would be less expensive, at least for some, a single $10 fee that each license buyer would pay once annually ($3 for those who only buy a temporary license).

That option would save me and the agency’s highest-spending customers a little money over the other.

But it would be a relatively higher hit for fishermen who just work the lakes for trout in spring or bass in summer, clammers who only head to ocean beaches to dig razors in winter, and hunters who only chase quail in fall.

Ten bucks works out to a 7.6 percent increase for me and 5 percent for the sportsman who buys $200 in licenses, endorsements and tags, but 34 percent for the guy or gal who only plunks at Green Lake.

I can tell you right now which option I’d prefer, but is that fair to those who use less of the resource than I do, and would it lead to some of them deciding to just not buy a license? Trout anglers are one of WDFW’s most numerous constituencies.

Either way, nothing is set in stone yet and WDFW’s running an opinion survey in the lead-up to next month’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, where a final decision on what sort of package to take to legislators will be made. If a percentage increase is chosen over the $10 option, the price matrix would be updated with new costs.

A HERD OF MULE DEER IN THE PRESCOTT GMU. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

THIS IS THE SECOND TIME IN TWO YEARS that WDFW has sought a license increase. The 2016 Wild Futures Initiative proposed 10 percent hunting and 17 to 20 percent fishing increases, along with new $17 to $11.50 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon that were later reduced to $10 each.

It went down in flames in Olympia during last year’s legislative session, but lawmakers did provide a $10 million one-time dip into the General Fund to cover this biennium’s large budget shortfall.

They also gave the agency marching orders to review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis, come up with a long-term funding plan, and work more closely with stakeholders.

WDFW identified $3 million worth of cuts as well and those are scheduled to occur over the next year.

With those chores ticked off and the deadline for submitting 2019-21 budget proposals to the Fish and Wildlife Commission and then the Office of Financial Management approaching, earlier this week WDFW held an hour-long evening webinar on their predicament and increase proposals, available here.

Following his presentation, Policy Director Nate Pamplin took about a half hour’s worth of “good questions” from viewers.

The 60 to 65 who tuned in at any one time wondered why revenue from hunter and angler license sales is only holding steady or dropping over time — a major cause of the shortfall and similar to national trends — how WDFW can hope to increase participation when it seems opportunities are increasingly limited, whether selling off wildlife areas was an option, and what’s being done to bring in dollars from nonconsumptive users, among others.

On that last one, Pamplin pointed out to reporters earlier in the day that two-thirds of WDFW’s overall proposed $60 million ask of the legislature to fill the shortfall and increase some fishing and hunting ops, along with fund key conservation work, would be paid for through the General Fund, the other third by sportsmen. With Wild Futures, it all would have fallen on the wallets of sportsmen.

That is a different direction than just a few years ago but also a recognition that, say, producing salmon not only benefits anglers but also society as a whole through commercial and tribal fisheries that provide fillets for those who don’t venture out, as well as ecological benefits to the food web, Pamplin said.

Indeed, this week there’s grim news that another baby orca has died, part of a resident population that is in nutritional distress because their key feedstock, Puget Sound fall Chinook, is in decline.

Pamplin also wondered aloud about whether the time game wardens spend dealing with black bears getting into suburban residents’ garbage cans should really be paid for with hunter dollars, as it is now, or the General Fund?

LAST YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA STATIONED IN THE SOUTHERN SECTION OF NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK CAPTURED AN IMAGE OF THIS WOLF. (NPS)

HONESTLY, $10, $13.75 AND $17.57 AREN’T A LOT FOR Ol’ Moneybags Walgamott. At the midpoint, it is about half what it cost to go out to a barbecue joint with my wife Tuesday night when we were both too lazy to cook, and around what I spent on used books later that evening.

Dinner was one and done, but I might read the books a second time, if they’re good.

The fishing and hunting licenses allow me to go over and over and over and fill my freezer.

(Well, theoretically if I was actually any good at catching salmon and chasing down deer.)

But while the fee increase might also help catch up to inflation since the last one in 2011, for those expressing opposition so far, that is not the point.

It is that the quality of Washington’s fishing and hunting experience is not $10 or 12 to 15 percent better than it was last year, that they don’t agree with WDFW’s direction on wolves and other predators, that the state may have lost the productive Skokomish River meat Chinook fishery — fueled by a WDFW hatchery, no less — for good, and any of a thousand other beefs with the agency and its management of the public’s fish, wildlife and wildlands that they’re already paying to fund but are unhappy with the current product.

Pamplin acknowledged as much that the increases are a tough sell, and that there are concerns WDFW could price sportsmen out of the market, a vicious loop for the budget.

Still, with potential cuts to hatchery operations, enforcement, wildlife conflict prevention, lands management and other programs, and over 100 jobs at stake if WDFW’s proposal falls flat again, he wants to hear what the public’s priorities are.

My thoughts don’t matter, but yours do. You can make your feelings known through WDFW’s survey.

And the Fish and Wildlife Commission is slated to talk about the proposal at its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Olympia before making a recommendation to lawmakers who draw up and vote on WDFW’s budget. Fee bills would also be subject to legislative hearings where you can have your say as well.

Correction: A miscalculation of increases proposed under the Wild Futures Initiative led to too-low estimates of select fishing license increases. Instead of 8 to 9%, those should have read 17 to 20%.

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