With Washington nearing the end of the biennium yet again without a new state budget, agencies including the Department of Fish and Wildlife are again having to draw up contingency plans if lawmakers don’t strike a deal by July 1.
Yes, we’ve been down this rocky road before; no, a shutdown is not considered likely, as a pair of high-ranking legislators from both sides of the aisle in the upper and lower chambers are confident one will be reached by June 30.
However, doing due diligence, WDFW Director Jim Unsworth submitted a letter to the head of the Office of Financial Management about how his agency would have to deal with a shutdown.
He says some fisheries would need to be closed because of lack of monitoring, wildlife areas and state boat ramps would be gated, issuance of Hydraulic Project Approvals would be suspended, and feeding of non-Endangered Species Act-listed hatchery fish as well as ringneck pheasant at the state game farm would be put on hold.
Unsworth says it would require nearly 50 staffers to care for those millions of rainbows and other species at 40 hatcheries across the state, and two to keep the pheasant farm running.
“I want to clarify that we will do everything possible to continue to feed and care for the fish and animals in our hatcheries and other facilities,” writes Unsworth (emphasis his), “but under the constraints of a government shutdown I’m not optimistic that we can prevent the loss of life. We are also reaching out to partner agencies to assess options for enforcement activities and other critical functions.”
Terming it a potential “catastrophic waste of state resources and lives of fish and wildlife we are responsible to care for,” he asked OFM for options to head off such a disaster.
Unsworth says that WDFW would keep on feeding and managing ESA-listed fish and wildlife at its facilities. During 2013’s threatened shutdown, WDFW’s then director, Phil Anderson, successfully argued that not caring for listed stocks would be considered a “take,” which would put it afoul of federal laws.
Much of the agency’s staff, however, would be temporarily laid off if lawmakers can’t agree on how to fund the state budget.
“Like other agencies, we will be watching the Legislature’s budget negotiations closely over the next week or two to determine whether more detailed public information is needed,” notes WDFW spokesman Bruce Botka late this morning.