Tag Archives: budget

New WDFW Director Up For The Challenge Of Managing State’s Fish, Game, Future Path

If you were nervous to hear that some guy from the state Department of Ecology was taking the reins at WDFW – guilty as charged – you can breathe a bit easier.

Over the course of a 30-minute interview yesterday, I came away with the impression that Kelly Susewind has done a little fishing and hunting in Washington in his time and will likely give us and our causes a fair shake.

WDFW’S NEW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND HAS BEEN ON THE JOB FOR JUST OVER THREE WEEKS BUT IS A LIFELONG HUNTER. (WDFW)

“Basically, my life was hunting and fishing, and I tried to fit in everything else around them,” recalls the Aberdeen native about his younger days.

He took his share of upland and migratory birds then, but says his favorite game to hunt now is the big kind.

“Elk – I just love chasing elk,” he says.

A stint in Alaska put Dall sheep on his bucket list, while five or six years ago, a premo late-season Alta Game Management Unit mule deer permit taught him he didn’t always have to shoot the first big buck he saw.

“I saw four-points every day. I had never seen one without shooting it,” Susewind says.

And I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I now know a collector who might be willing to make a deal for your Remington Model 31 …

On the fishing front, Grays Harbor, the Olympic Peninsula and Washington Coast provided plenty of opportunity.

“I’ve really enjoyed Westport, but also the rivers, the fall runs of salmon,” Susewind says.

And while last Saturday he told The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN that he’s “drifted away” from fishing over the years, he says he wants to get back into it.

AFTER GRADUATING FROM HIS LOCAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE with an associate’s degree, Susewind (pronounced SOOS-uh-wind) went to Washington State University where he earned a bachelor’s in geological engineering.

He landed at the Department of Ecology in 1990, working his way through a variety of roles, most recently as the director of administrative services and environmental policy.

At 57, he decided it was time for a career change, one that might be a better fit with his interest in natural resource management – a “passion” fueled by all that time spent afield.

But also one that would put him on one of the hottest of hot seats in the state: The director’s chair at the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Everybody’s Pissed At You All The Damn Time For Something Or Other.

Which begs the question, Why in the hell would you even want the job, Kelly?!?!

“I’m still working on that answer. No, not really,” Susewind jokes. “I did pause, ‘Why would you jump into that blender?’”

There’s been a little bit of everything in WDFW’s KitchenAid of late, from hearty cupfuls of wolf management and court battles over furry fangers, to the everyday salt and pepper of salmon, steelhead and big game issues, to dashes of recent agency missteps and sex scandals.

Then there are looming budget battles in the legislature and questions about how the agency steadies its financial footing for the future.

“I see these challenges as something I want to be involved with,” says Susewind, who will be paid $165,000 a year to deal with them.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM TVW’S BROADCAST OF THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION’S AUG. 10 MEETING, SUSEWIND SHAKES HANDS WITH AN AUDIENCE MEMBER.  ASKED ABOUT HIS MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY, HE POINTED TO HIS ENGINEERING BACKGROUND AND SAID, “MY PERSONAL APPROACH … IS TO GATHER INFORMATION TO MAKE A RATIONALE, REASONABLE CHOICE.” (TVW)

WHEN FORMER HONCHO JIM UNSWORTH LEFT UNDER pressure earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Commission put out a help wanted ad that said WDFW’s next director would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

Ultimately, the nine-member citizen oversight panel unanimously chose Susewind, a self-described “wildcard” among a slate of candidates who had decades of experience specific to the field.

But perhaps they wanted someone who could see the big picture a little better.

“We’re a small state with 7 million people and a couple million more coming. There’s a budget hole to patch. We also need to look a decade or two down the road,” Susewind says.

He feels – as do a number of senior agency staffers and outside advisers – that hunters and anglers have carried too much of the funding burden since the Great Recession 10 years ago, when WDFW’s General Fund-State ration got cut by almost half.

It has yet to be fully restored, but Susewind et al are hoping to reestablish a better balance between license revenue and general tax dollars beginning with the 2019-21 budget.

“I see our outdoors as defining us as a state,” he says. “We’re at a critical point now – it could go either way.”

Susewind says he wants WDFW to be “more relevant to Washingtonians.”

“Anglers and hunters get it. That’s 1 million people. But there are 6 million more out there. We’ve really got to reach those people. If we could get the state as excited about the resources as they are about the Seahawks, it would be a better place,” he says.

WITH FOREST FIRE SMOKE CHOKING THE SKIES OVER SEATTLE THIS WEEK, SUSEWIND SAID HE WOULD LIKE TO TEACH THE STATE’S NONHUNTERS AND -ANGLERS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AGENCY’S MISSION TO THE HEALTH OF THE STATE’S FISH, WILDLIFE AND RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He wants to strengthen existing partnership, and vows to be “pretty engaged” with stakeholders, tribes and others.

Commissioners lauded Susewind for meeting in his first days on the job with livestock producers over a previously proposed wolf collar data sharing plan change that would have switched things up halfway through the grazing season, but was ultimately put on pause by the citizen panel.

WDFW spokesman Bruce Botka says there’s been an “obvious sense of encouragement around headquarters” with the arrival of the new director.

And after talking with him, you can’t help but get a little excited about Susewind and his program … before the enormity of the job sobers you up again.

SUSEWIND ACKNOWLEDGES THAT HE NEEDS TO get up to speed fast on one of if not WDFW’s most important roles – fisheries management.

With Aug. 1 his first day, he will have a longer learning curve than his predecessor, who was thrust into the always contentious North of Falcon salmon season-setting process almost immediately. That year saw outrage over the closure of a key fishery, and talks the following year dragged out more than a month longer than usual and cost us opportunity.

Expect Susewind to work more collaboratively with the tribes than that, if his quote in the Port Townsend Leader is any indication: “It does no good to fight with each other.”

As for that other subject that can make Washington sportsmen a little rabid – wolves – they’re “on the landscape to stay,” Susewind says, echoing WDFW’s company line over the years.

“The only way to make that work is have them compatible with other uses on the land,” he adds quickly.

He says the species has to be managed and that the agency is engaged with the lawsuit from out-of-state groups challenging its hard won lethal removal protocol.

“We really need to have a postdelisting plan put together,” he notes too.

That’s easier said than done, if a recent wall full of Post-it Notes outlining the process is any indication, but it’s also a start and one hunters will want to watch closely.

IN ANOTHER TVW SCREENGRAB, STATE WOLF POLICY LEAD DONNY MARTORELLO TALKS ABOUT A CONCEPTUAL TIMELINE FOR A POSTDELISTING WOLF MANAGEMENT PLAN AT A FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (TVW)

“In the meanwhile, we need to strive to meet recovery goals,” Susewind adds.

We’re there in the state’s northeast and southeast corners, but many more are required throughout the Cascades to hit the current benchmarks.

SUSEWIND IS THE SECOND WDFW DIRECTOR FROM the harbor. Phil Anderson hails from Westport and resigned at the end of 2014 on his own terms after five years in the position and two decades at the agency.

“I’m looking for this job to be my job going into retirement,” Susewind says. “I hope I’ll be here eight, ten years.”

That of course depends on whether the Fish and Wildlife Commission will keep him around that long.

And that depends on what he can accomplish towards improving the state’s fishing and hunting opportunities; safeguarding its fish, wildlife and habitat; strengthening WDFW’s budgetary position; and working with its host of stakeholders.

One thing’s for sure: Susewind has motivation to try hard.

“I’ve got a brand new grandson,” he says. “I want him to fish and hunt like I did.”

Editor’s note: In addition to the above two hyperlinked articles, here are additional stories on new WDFW Director Kelly Susewind from the Spokane Spokesman-Review and the Yakima Herald-Republic.

WDFW Outlines Budget Issues, Proposed ‘Modest’ Fee Increase

WDFW hopes to lean on the general public more to fill a potential $30 million shortfall in the next budget biennium, a fundamental shift from just a few years ago, but sportsmen may still be asked to pay a “modest” increase to chase Chinook, bucks and ducks under a proposal being unveiled today.

It’s part of an overall $60 million bid that also includes strategic investments to improve angling and hunting and is now up for discussion, with tonight offering the first chance for you to hear about it first hand as state managers hold a webinar starting at 7 p.m.

Briefing reporters this afternoon, WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin says there are two fee-increase options WDFW’s looking at currently.

One is a 12- to 15-percent across-the-board hike, the first since 2011, and the other is a $10 charge that license buyers would pay once a year ($3 for temporary permits).

Neither is a done deal and the Fish and Wildlife Commission must first determine whether to ask the state Legislature to pass it during the 2019 session.

If you’ve got a sense of deja vu all over again, it’s because, yes, we just went through this.

WDFW’S NATE PAMPLIN BRIEFS REPORTERS DURING A WEBINAR ON ITS BUDGET ISSUES.

Pamplin acknowledged that fee bills are tough sells, and that was definitely the case with former Director Jim Unsworth’s Wild Futures Initiative, which flamed out in 2017.

It proposed 10 percent hunting and 17 to 20 percent fishing increases, along with new $17 to $10 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon.

Pamplin attributed that to “a real lack of trust in the department” but with lawmakers’ one-time $10 million bump that year instead of license increases came requirements that the agency review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan.

Essentially, the funding problem isn’t bloated management and too many IT staffers but long-term issues caused by revenues from sportsmen not keeping up with how much it costs to manage fish, wildlife and opportunities to pursue them, increasing legislative requirements, deep budget cuts in the years after the Great Recession and the looming expiration of the key Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

“Your power bill goes up, our fish food bill goes up,” Pamplin said.

Three million dollars worth of cuts to fish stocking, habitat work and volunteer grant programs have also been identified and will occur in the coming months.

And WDFW created a budget and policy work group made up of influential members of the fishing and hunting communities — Ron Garner, Andy Marks, Rachel Voss, Mark Pidgeon — and other groups in Washington’s outdoor world, and for several months now they’ve been getting an eyeful about where and how license money comes from and what it’s used for.

“We lifted up the hood on our budget,” says Pamplin when asked what made this effort different from Wild Futures’ failure.

One thing that I learned when I took my own peak earlier this year was just how much of my fishing and hunting license money went to WDFW.

All of it.

Even so, adding to the price to go crabbing, troll for coho, and wander the Palouse for pheasants will see pushback, as it should because the product isn’t what it once was — habitat issues, decreased hatchery production, a booming state population are all impacting the quality and experience.

Pamplin said WDFW recognized those “optics” as well as concerns about pricing hunter and anglers out of the field and off the water.

ANOTHER SCREENGRAB FROM TODAY’S WEBINAR.

But what’s also different with WDFW’s request this time is that in 2017, the budget “solution” was entirely based on the wallets of the state’s sportsmen, as Pamplin told Northwestern Outdoors Radio host John Kruse, whereas this time only 33 percent is.

That’s because Pamplin et al hope that lawmakers will recognize that much of what WDFW does benefits that state as a whole and should be funded thusly.

That represents a shift from 2010, when one top manager told me at the time WDFW was “making a concerted effort to make itself less dependent on the General Fund” because it didn’t compete well with public health, prison and education.

Where it leaned heavily on us in the following years, the agency is now trying to broaden its funding base.

Pamplin said hunting and fishing produce $3.4 billion in economic activity annually in Washington, and based on current appropriations from it, a 350 percent return on investment to GF-S, the state General Fund.

Answering a Kruse question, Pamplin wondered out loud who should pay for the game warden who has to go out to the suburban house and deal with the bear eating out of the garbage cans? Right now, hunter dollars fund the work but he feels that the General Fund should instead.

As for what WDFW would do if it were to receive that $60 million package from the General Fund and license increases from legislators, Pamplin pointed to a mix of programs that could continue/not have to be cut and long-term investments it could focus on, including:

Wildlife conflict prevention and response ($4.4 million)
Shellfish enforcement and consumer protection ($2.5 million)
Land management ($2.7 million)
Hatchery operations and fisheries management ($9 million)
Hunting management, including hunter education ($3.2 million)
Recovery of at-risk species and prevention of invasive species ($3.5 million)
Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement program ($3.3 million)
Customer service support ($1.9 million)

 And:

Conservation investments in such programs as salmon recovery, watershed health, biodiversity, and conservation enforcement ($14.7 million)
Expanded fishing opportunities and hatchery improvements ($5.6 million)
Hunting enhancements, including improved law enforcement and access ($3.5 million)
Orca recovery (amount TBD)

If those were the carrots, there wasn’t much stick in Pamplin’s webinar.

But he did point to seven hatcheries at risk if no funding is found — a list that includes Reiter Ponds, Humptulips and Omak, among others — as well as the warmwater program, ensuring early winter steelhead programs are ESA compliant and rehabbing lakes and streams.

Along with tonight’s webinar, Pamplin says there will be a chance to make your feelings known through an upcoming public opinion survey.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is also 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 budget bills.

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%.

With $30 Million Budget Gap Looming, WDFW To Hold Public Webinar On Problems, Possible Fixes

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public webinar for 7 p.m. Monday, July 23, to discuss current funding challenges and opportunities for the State of Washington to invest in fish and wildlife management and conservation of lands and habitat.

To take part in the webinar, the public should visit this link (https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8360838542216730371) — also available at wdfw.wa.gov — and follow the instructions there to register. Registration via the website is available now through Monday.

Alternatively, for those who only wish to listen in, please call +1 (415) 655-0052 after 6:45 p.m. Monday and enter code 281-297-953 to participate.

During the webinar, Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, will describe the work of independent consultants and the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group to explain the causes of a projected $30 million gap in funding faced by the department over the two-year budget cycle that begins in July 2019.   

Pamplin will describe planned budget cuts and proposed funding increases that are designed to eliminate the shortfall and ensure the department has adequate funding in the future.

He said several factors have caused the shortfall, including:

  • Several one-time funding patches approved by lawmakers in recent years will expire soon.
  • WDFW revenue from the sale of recreational licenses has not kept pace with spending authorized by the Legislature for managing fish, wildlife, and their habitat.
  • The department still has not fully recovered from the deep cuts imposed during the recession, and license fees have not been adjusted since 2011.

To meet the challenge, the department is preparing a set of proposals to the Governor and Legislature and is exploring options for recreational license fee increases to avoid reducing service to the public and to fulfill its conservation mission.

Documents describing spending and revenue proposals are available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/budget/development/.

ODFW To Hold 8 Public Meetings Next Month On Proposed 2019-21 Budget

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is hosting a series of town hall meetings around the state in April to gather public input on the agency’s proposed 2019-21 budget.

NEWPORT — SEEN HERE FROM THE CRABBING PIER — IS AMONG THE TOWNS AROUND OREGON THAT ODFW WILL HOLD A PUBLIC MEETING AT TO TALK OVER THE AGENCY’S 2019-21 BUDGET PROPOSAL. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The proposed budget, which is being developed by ODFW and an external budget advisory committee, will be presented for review and comment at the meetings listed below taking place in Bend, Klamath Falls, La Grande, Medford, North Bend, Newport, Portland and Tillamook.

“This is a great opportunity for us to meet with our constituents and get their feedback,” said Curt Melcher, ODFW director. “I encourage folks to attend, meet with our staff and learn more about our funding proposals to manage Oregon’s fish and wildlife.”

No major changes to the budget or new fee increases are proposed, though ODFW is discussing the feasibility of eliminating an already planned and approved fee increase set to take effect in 2020.

Public comments will be used to help refine the budget before it is presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on June 7 in Baker City. Once a proposed budget is approved by the Commission, it will be submitted to the Governor for her consideration. The budget will ultimately be determined by the 2019 Legislature.

All meetings will be held from 7-8:30 p.m.

·        La Grande, Monday, April 2, Blue Mountain Conference Center, 404 12th Street.

·        Bend, Tuesday, April 3, Central Oregon Community College, Boyle Education Bldg, Rm 155, 2600 NW College Way

·        Klamath Falls, Wednesday, April 4, Oregon Institute of Technology, College Union Bldg, Mt Baily Room, 3201 Campus Drive

·        Medford, Thursday, April 5, Jackson County Library, Branch Adams Room, 205 S Central Ave

·        North Bend, Monday, April 9, Public Library, 1800 Sherman Ave

·        Newport, Tuesday, April 10, Hallmark Resort, 744 SW Elizabeth St

·        Tillamook, Wednesday, April 11, County Library, 1716 3rd Street

·        Portland, Thursday, April 12, Doubletree Inn (Lloyd Center), 1000 NE Multnomah Street

Comments on the agency proposed budget can also be submitted through May 1 by email to ODFW.TownHallComments@state.or.us  or by mail to ODFW Director’s Office, 4034 Fairview Industrial Dr. SE, Salem, OR 7302-1142. Public testimony will also be heard at the Commission meeting June 7 in Baker City.

How Washington Budget Affects WDFW, You (Hint: No Rec Fee Hike)

UPDATED 3:50 P.M., JUNE 30, 2017 WITH COMMENTS FROM SEN. KIRK PEARSON

A budget that Washington lawmakers are racing to approve before midnight’s deadline includes money from the General Fund for WDFW instead of the agency’s requested recreational license  increase.

Though half of what it had hoped to raise through higher fishing and hunting fees, the $10.1 million bump in an overall budget of $437 million is still being termed a “significant” amount considering the legislature’s major focus on education this year and other economic challenges.

“While this year’s budget doesn’t include much new program funding, we received a significant amount of new general fund which will help address the agency’s budget shortfall,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth said in an all-staff late-morning email.

Raquel Crosier, the agency’s legislative liaison, called it “a really good Band-Aid and will help us avoid painful reductions.”

PINK SALMON ANGLERS FISH UNDER CLEARING SKIES AT WHIDBEY ISLAND’S KEYSTONE SPIT IN JULY 2015. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

But it’s also a one-time fix that means WDFW will have to ask for another General Fund hit again in two years.

“The agency will be working over the coming months to identify smart reductions that avoid harsh impacts to our customers. We will also be working with legislators to consider some alternative long-term funding solutions for the agency,” Crosier added.

That would suggest sportsmen are off the hook for more than just two years for covering the budgetary shortfalls and enhanced fishing and hunting opportunities WDFW had been angling for with its $20-plus million Washington’s Wild Future package the past two years.

While it had been supported in proposed budgets from House Democrats and Governor Inslee, there was no interest in a fee hike from Senate Republicans, who favored dipping into the General Fund instead, and that appears to be what will pass.

The last fee increase was in 2011, which itself was the first in a decade.

That $10.1 million General Fund appropriation does come with a caveat — “a management and organizational review.”

Senators Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) and John Braun (R-Centralia) have not been happy with WDFW and what they’ve been hearing about it from hunters and anglers.

“When WDFW proposed to increase hunting and fishing license fees to cover their fiscal problems early this year, we heard loud and clear from sportsmen that these increases were not to be bargained with. Instead, we are backfilling $11 million into the agency to maintain hunting and fishing opportunities while we begin addressing the problems at WDFW,” Pearson said. “Clearly, there are both fiscal and management problems that need to be addressed. Now we can better account of how their dollars are spent and bring a level of accountability to the agency that hasn’t been in place for years.”

That review comes with $325,000 to perform the audit.

“This is a big victory for those of us who want to see more hunting and fishing opportunities and a better-run department,” added Pearson. “We need to get WDFW back up and running in structurally sound way. This budget gets us back on that path.”

Meanwhile, Inslee is urging lawmakers to get him the budget as soon as possible to avoid a partial government shutdown that would also close all but one fishery in the state, shut down boat ramps and leave wildlife areas unstaffed.

In his message to staff, Unsworth said the bill should pass and get to the governor in time to head that off, as well as cancel the layoff notices most of his staff received.

On separate late-developing fronts in Olympia, a bill authorizing a fee increase for commercial fisherman is zipping through the Senate as I write and is expected to bring in $1.26 million.

Lawmakers have also pushed through a two-year extension of the Columbia River endorsement that otherwise would have expired tonight.

That helps preserve $3 million in funding to hold salmon and steelhead fisheries in the watershed that otherwise would not be able to occur because of monitoring requirements in federal permits due to ESA stocks.

And a bill that raises $1 million to fight aquatic invasive species passed both chambers in the past 24 hours.

Back to WDFW’s budget, it includes nearly $1 million for wolf management, including depredation prevention efforts and a consultant who is assisting the wolf advisory group.

It maintains funding regional fisheries enhancement groups with a $900,000 allocation, and provides $167,000 for a pilot project to keep Colockum elk away from I-90 and elsewhere in eastern Kittitas County.

It also authorizes spending $530,000 from the new steelhead plate for work on that species, $448,000 for studying ocean acidification, and $200,000 for operating the Mayr Brothers Hatchery in Grays Harbor County.

Besides not funding the Wild Future initiative, the budget leaves out money for increased enforcement of wildlife trafficking.

It also cuts $341,000 for surveying wildlife and $1 million from payment in lieu of taxes for wildlife areas it owns. The latter could have been worse — Inslee had proposed a $3 million hack.

And instead of $2.3 million for hydraulic project approvals, the legislature is appropriating $660,000.

Still to be determined is the state Capital Budget, which funds upkeep and renovations at hatcheries, access sites, as well provides grants for acquiring new wildlife areas.

According to Unsworth, one is expected in the coming weeks.

Washington Legislators Put Out WDFW Budget Proposals, With, Without Fee Hikes

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.

SPRING CHINOOK ANGLERS TROLL THE COLUMBIA BELOW WASHINGTON’S BEACON ROCK LAST SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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.