Three members of a group that took a deep dive into WDFW’s budget woes say that state legislators need to fully fund the agency so it can better perform its mission as Washington’s population balloons and critters and their habitats struggle.
“All of us are demanding healthy ecosystems and abundant fish and wildlife. But if we want the department to hold back the tide, we need to give the agency a bigger bucket,” write Rachel Voss, Butch Smith and Mitch Friedman in a Seattle Times op-ed out late this week.
They say that “underfunding … has exacerbated fish and wildlife declines, generating understandable frustration.”
That and ESA listings, lawsuits, hatchery fiascos, commission decisions and predator issues, but the unified message comes as lawmakers in Olympia begin to focus on coming up with a budget for the coming two years.
WDFW is asking for a $60 million bump to help deal with shortfalls, inflation and unfunded mandates from the legislature, as well as provide better fishing and hunting ops, but only a quarter of that would be raised through the license hike, the rest through the General Fund.
Voss, the Washington chair of the Mule Deer Foundation, Smith, an Ilwaco charter boat skipper, and Friedman, director of Conservation Northwest, were part of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group.
It was convened after the last major legislative session in which state representatives and senators granted WDFW a stop-gap $10.1 million to deal in part with a budget shortfall but also demanded it be audited.
That found “the department compared well with other state agencies and found no significant fat to trim,” the trio write.
What’s more, they say that while WDFW gets just $70 million in state tax money, the fishing, hunting, clamming and other opportunities it provides generates $170 million for coffers in Olympia.
And anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers plunk down “hundreds of millions of dollars … often in small towns from Ilwaco to Chewelah — places that really need these dollars and jobs,” they write.
But chronic underfunding at WDFW since the Great Recession has put natural resources at risk as their problems only grow — declining salmon and steelhead runs, starving orcas, increasingly crowded public lands, continuing habitat loss.
“Fish and wildlife are vital to Washington’s quality of life. Now is the time to invest in conservation and outdoor opportunity, not continue to shortchange the legacy we hold in trust for future generations,” Friedman, Smith and Voss write in urging readers to contact their legislators.