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Groups Urge Washington Lawmakers To Tap General Fund For WDFW

A broad range of fishing, hunting and other outdoor groups are calling on Washington lawmakers to fully fund WDFW through the General Fund and say that the license fee increase proposed by Governor Jay Inslee is “unlikely” to pass.

“Greater funding is needed to preserve and restore the Evergreen State’s fish and wildlife heritage, especially given growing challenges ranging from salmon and orca recovery to elk hoof disease, habitat loss and wolf management,” urges their letter, which came out this afternoon.


It was signed by 45 “outdoor leaders,” and the list includes the state board of Puget Sound Anglers; David Cloe of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council; Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association; Carmen Vanbianchi, board member of the Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers; and Rich Simms, cofounder and board member of the Wild Steelhead Coalition.

“Hunting is what I live for,” said another, Rachel Voss, state chair of the Mule Deer Foundation and a Tieton resident. “Our game populations and experiences face countless challenges these days, and only a strong agency offers the chance of answering those challenges and passing on our hunting heritage.”

Many of the signatories like Voss have been working with WDFW on its chronic budget issues over the past couple years, and their letter follows today’s start of the short, 60-day session of the state legislature.

It also comes after fee bill failures in 2017 and 2019 led WDFW to ask Inslee to fill this year’s budget shortfalls with $26 million from the General Fund.

While the governor’s proposed supplementary spending plan does include $15.6 million in sales tax dollars, it also leans on a 15 percent across-the-board hike in the cost of fishing and hunting licenses to raise $7-plus million a year, along with another $1.5 million or so from a resurrected Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

The reintroduction of both of those fee packages was “unanticipated,” according to WDFW.

“A really good outcome for us coming out of 2020 is for the department’s budget to be stable,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, late last week.

He hopes lawmakers book funding as ongoing instead of one time, which means the agency has to return year after year with hat in hand as costs mount.

Other signatories to the letter to state senators and representatives included Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest; Brad Throssell of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited; Jason Callahan of the WA Forest Protection Association; Kevin van Bueren of the Methow Valley Fly Fishers; Sherry Penney of the Regional Fisheries Coalition; Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association; and numerous birding, climbing, river and other groups.

They say that WDFW’s ability to perform its twin mandates of providing opportunities while conserving critters and habitat has been “put at significant risk by a structural deficit in the Department’s budget, where ongoing costs (like mandated payroll increases, Endangered Species Act requirements, and demand for outdoor opportunity from the state’s growing population) have been funded for only the initial year [2020] by onetime money.”

“The costs continue in later years. This exacerbates an agency budget that is still not restored from cuts dating to the 2008 recession. This deficit grows each biennium as onetime solutions temporarily fill the gap, only to expire and leave a larger hole,” they write.

Washington Lawmakers Called On To Fully Fund WDFW In Op-Ed

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.