The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fee hike proposal is still in play in Olympia.
While last week’s proposed operating budget from Senate Republicans pointedly left out the agency’s request for fishing and hunting license increases, the Democratic House’s spending plan released yesterday has them in there.
Now, whether you end up paying more to hunt, fish, crab, etc., in the Evergreen State in the future depends on leaders in both chambers of the legislature agreeing to a final budget with that element and Governor Inslee signing it into law by this time next month, or later if a special session is required..
Odds of that?
Hard to say at this juncture, and the Olympia Outsider is notoriously bad at predicting the legislature.
But as it stands, the House’s budget for July 2017-June 2019 includes $22.7 million to maintain and increase fishing opportunities and $5.4 million for enhanced hunting ops, both paid for through higher fees for licenses, tags, endorsements, catch cards, etc.
Those are not hard and fast numbers; they’re more like placeholders based on the governor’s original budget and House Bill 1647, which had a hearing early last month, then was sent out to fishing and hunting groups to be “right-sized.”
An internal WDFW memo circulated last night comparing the two budget proposals side by side says that “reaching agreement with stakeholders and the legislature on moving revenue legislation towards adoption will be very important over the next few weeks.”
Firmer numbers can be found elsewhere in the House proposal. It includes $3.1 million for better IT security on WDFW’s website. There’s also money for better steelhead management and support for fish habitat projects, but not for a steelhead mortality study.
It also reduces funding for pheasant and warmwater programs due to shortfalls and decreased license sales, as does the Senate’s budget.
Both chambers would give WDFW a bump over the last two-year spending plan, with the House allocating $449 million, the Senate $416 milllion, increases of 8.3 and .6 percent, according to the agency.
WDFW reports the main difference between the two chambers’ bottom line is largely due to four pieces of agency-request legislation addressing rec and commercial fees, the hydraulic permit approval process and aquatic invasive species management that are included in the House version but not the Senate proposal.
The House would provide almost $2.3 million more to improve HPA processing and a bump of nearly $1.3 million to prevent more bad things from gaining a foothold in our waters.
Highlights from the Senate budget include $5 million from the General Fund to “protect hatcheries and core agency functions,” as a press release from Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) put it.
That money would come with a caveat — a review of WDFW’s management and organization.
Pearson, chair of the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, which deals with many fish and wildlife issues, has been critical of the agency, especially its leadership, including on hoof rot in elk, the disappearance of at least a couple hundred thousand Cowlitz River summer steelhead smolts, and the fee hike proposal.
He says that “(dwindling) fish populations, diseased and scattered wildlife and animal conflict problems have set back the WDFW’s mission over the past few years” but that the Senate budget has the “the tools” needed to “protect and grow hunting and fishing opportunities both now and in the future.”
The Senate budget does include $1.5 million for continued funding of nonlethal depredation prevention work and the agency’s Wolf Advisory Group, about $200,000 more than the House would.
And it increases payments in lieu of taxes to counties for WDFW-owned land, as well as proposes a much higher level than the House budget does, $1.6 million a year compared to $580,000.
Next up will be for both chambers to pass their own budget bills, then negotiate out the differences in a conference committee. That could be challenging, given the $32 million difference between House and Senate proposals.
The regular session is scheduled to wrap up April 23, but may go into overtime if an overall agreement on the budget for the state isn’t reached in time.