Tag Archives: columbia river salmon and steelhead endorsement

WDFW Commission OKs Asking Lawmakers For $24.5 Million From General Fund

Updated 8:45 a.m., Aug. 5, 2019 near bottom with quote from Nate Pamplin on money that would go towards WDFW wolf work.

WDFW will forgo another attempt at passing a hunting and fishing license increase next year and instead ask state lawmakers for $24.5 million from the General Fund to fill gaping holes in the agency’s budget.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONERS DURING TODAY’S VOTE ON THE 2020 SUPPLEMENTAL WDFW BUDGET PROPOSAL. (TVW)

Fee hike asks haven’t worked well for the agency this decade and with spending proposals due soon for Washington’s short 2020 legislative session, Fish and Wildlife Commissioners unanimously approved the strategy to use sales tax dollars to help maintain fisheries and hunts, as well as hatchery production, fund a mix of emerging needs, and cover a large cost of living increase.

“It’s a pretty large request for a supplementary budget,” Morgan Stinson, WDFW’s budget guru, acknowledged to the citizen panel this afternoon at its meeting in the state capital.

But it’s also a pretty big hole the agency is trying to dig out of.

This past spring, lawmakers didn’t pass WDFW’s 15 percent fishing and hunting hike or extend the Columbia Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement, which were both part of an overall $67 million request that included a $31 million enhancement package, fallout from a March commission decision on fishery management on the big river.

While the House, Senate and Governor did provide $24 million in General Fund dollars, what initially was a $7 million shortfall grew to $20 million as they heaped more on WDFW’s to-do list, including an unfunded cost of living increase for state employees.

That’s led staffers to scramble to figure out how to balance the agency’s budget.

Columbia River fisheries were reduced during a period of lower returns, an after-hours customer service call center contract was eliminated and 4 percent of open biologist and other agency jobs are going unfilled for the time being.

Technically, this year’s fee bill is still alive in the legislature next year, and while there is still some interest among members, there’s been little appetite among commissioners to try it again after the failure of it and one a couple years ago.

The General Fund money that WDFW did receive was front-loaded into year one of the two-year budget biennium with the expectation that the issue would be revisited next year in the state capital, but the strategy of hoping lawmakers go for this new sales tax request does entail some risk.

“We’re putting a lot on the line in year two,” Nate Pamplin, WDFW’s policy director, told commissioners.

That’s because some of the items such as the Skagit-Sauk catch-and-release and some Puget Sound fisheries need to be monitored while the 2020 legislature is in session and the funding hasn’t yet been approved.

If it doesn’t come through in the end, that money will have to come from somewhere else in the agency’s piggy bank.

But outgoing legislative liaison Raquel Crosier did tell commissioners that lawmakers see WDFW’s budget “as a priority,” that revenues to state coffers look good, and it’s not an election year, all raising the odds.

“It’s a lot but we’re optimistic how we’ve constructed it,” added Stinson.

If approved, WDFW documents show the requested $24.5 million would go into three categories.

The first includes $11.4 million to cover increased costs, four-fifths of which was passed on by the legislature.

Another big jag would go towards maintaining/preventing loss of services:

* Conservation, $742K
* Fishing and Hatchery Production, $2,058K
* Hunting, $672K
* Wildlife Conflict Response, $956K
* Shellfish and Public Health, $553K
* Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead activities, $659K
* Land Management, $578K
* Customer Service, $410K

And lastly are recently emerged needs, either as fallout from the fee failure or popping up on their own:

* Humpback whales/Crab fishing incidental take permit: $172K
• Fund the Department’s work to reduce whale entanglement in industrial crab pots

* Puget Sound salmon fisheries monitoring: $2.4M (includes North of Falcon commitments, and Skagit Catch and Release fishery)
• Ensures state meets monitoring requirements in order to open fishing in areas where stocks are healthy
• New and existing needs in Puget Sound, the Nisqually River, and the Skagit River

* Fish Washington mobile app: $311K
• Maintain and improve the app
• Utilized by 100,000 Washington residents to learn Washington fishing rules

* Assisting property owners in protecting fish (HPA capacity): $1.7M
• Meeting legislated requirements for HPAs around civil compliance

* Columbia River sea lion management: $830K
• Reduction in the number of sea lions preying on Columbia River salmon
• Funding a second year of work to implement the Governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force recommendations

* Columbia River salmon policy commitments: $1.0M
• Funding for alternative gear pilot projects and commercial buyback analysis
• Improves fishing opportunities, while meeting salmon recovery objectives

Following a question posted Friday evening in the Facebook link to this story, Pamplin confirmed that some of the request is wolf-related.

“That request is to sustain current level of wildlife conflict work, and is tied to the fixing our structural deficit. We are asking to have that component made whole in the second fiscal year of the biennium, as well as have it be appropriated as on-going so that we are not submitting a perennial request to maintain current services,” he said via email.

Commissioner Don McIsaac of Hockinson made the motion to proceed with the General Fund-based supplemental budget request and it was seconded by new Commissioner Jim Anderson of Buckley.

The next step is now for WDFW to submit it to the state Office of Financial Management.

It would then need to be part of the governor’s or legislators’ proposed budget(s) and be approved by lawmakers and then signed into law.

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Columbia Endorsement Still Needed Thru June 30 To Fish Salmon, Steelhead

Yes, state lawmakers just cut bait with Washington’s Columbia salmon and steelhead endorsement.

No, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to buy one if you finally decide to fish the big river should it reopen for springers, or hit Drano in prime time for kings or the Cowlitz for summers over this month and next.

WIND RIVER SPRING CHINOOK ANGLERS FISH DURING FOGGY CONDITIONS DURING THE 2011 FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Anglers pursuing salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River and its tributaries will still need the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement through June 30, 2019,” WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin said Tuesday morning.

That date late next month is the end of the current budget biennium, but the $8.75 fee was not extended past that point as the legislative session came to a close this past Sunday.

What that means for WDFW and its recreational Chinook, summer-run, coho and sockeye fisheries held everywhere from Asotin to Brewster to Cathlamet between this July and June 2021 has yet to be determined, but should become clearer as staffers parse through the agency’s just-passed budget for the coming two years.

Though lawmakers passed neither the endorsement nor 15 percent fishing and hunting license fee increase, they did provide a one-time $24 million bump in state sales tax revenues to fill a $31 million shortfall.

The Columbia surcharge has been an important funding source.

“We relied heavily on the revenue from the CRSSE to monitor and enforce recreational fisheries, in particular above McNary Dam, to comply with our ESA permits,” said Pamplin.

That’s because to hold seasons over Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead stocks, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires WDFW to watch those fisheries much more intensely than, say, those on your garden-variety trout, bass and kokanee lake.

The endorsement was passed by the 2009 legislature to patch in part a gaping WDFW budget hole caused by the Great Recession and sharply decreased General Fund contributions.

From April 2010, when it went into effect, through 2017, it has been purchased 1.6 million times and raised $12.1 million, according to WDFW.

That money goes towards “the costly activities necessary for managing fisheries while minimizing impacts to several wild fish populations in the basin that are federally protected. These management activities include enhancing fishing access, conducting research, and monitoring and enforcing fisheries,” the agency stated in a pitch to lawmakers before this year’s session.

With the endorsement expiring in mid-2019, three bills extending it were introduced by legislators.

The initial versions of WDFW’s license fee increase request bills —  HB 1708 from Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) and SB 5692 from Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge) — would have OKed it through June 30, 2023.

And the stand-alone bill SB 5871 from Sens. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) and Dean Takko (D-Kalama) had it running through that date too.

But following the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s early March vote to delay implementing Columbia reforms, in early April, the endorsement was pointedly not included in the Senate operating budget proposal and was also reduced to June 30, 2021 in an amended version of SSB 5692 by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who included a number of policy items targeting fishery management on the big river as well.

Ultimately both license increase bills died — 1708 with a proposed amendment from Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) that would have limited the endorsement to two years instead of four and another from Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) that would have tied its extension to at least $14.9 million for hatchery production.

Then in the final hours of the session last weekend, SB 5871 was reactivated, and on the floor of the Senate Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline) proposed an amendment with a one-year extension instead of four.

Neither were voted on, and they were dead in the House anyway, Rep. Blake said yesterday afternoon.

Here’s where it gets a little convoluted as fish politics come into play.

Yes, the endorsement was part of Blake’s HB 1708 and as chairman of the House natural resources committee, he said he has certain duties to the community and the state on fish and wildlife bills.

But no, he’s “never wanted to extend” the endorsement.

Blake said that the June 30 sunset clause forces WDFW to “chase the string” to get it reauthorized, and that he receives and sees a lot of complaints about the charge.

“The whining and crying is not worth it in my mind,” he said.

Anglers are angry about a lot of things these days, including decreasing runs and opportunities and piniped predation, among others, and the fish commission’s Columbia reforms vote certainly raised hackles.

In a post-session legislative wrap-up, the Coastal Conservation Association of Washington termed that decision “the greatest roadblock to its [the endorsement’s] reauthorization,” but Blake, who is known to advocate for commercial fisheries, maintains the citizen panel was being intimidated well beforehand to vote one way or WDFW’s license fee increase would die.

In the end, no fees were passed, leaving holes to fill.

Asked how he would instead fund the Columbia monitoring and enforcement that the endorsement pays for, Blake said he would roll it into an underlying fee bill so it is just part of the cost of a license, say, the Fish Washington package.

Blake said he would also like to take another stab at a fee bill as well as “stabilize” WDFW’s General Fund revenues next January, when the legislature reconvenes for the short session.

That one-time $24 million GF bump the agency received appears to be split into two-thirds for the first year of the 2019-20 biennium, one-third for the second.

“It is disappointing to be in a spot where in two years the $24 million expires and we’re back into a significant budget hole,” WDFW’s Pamplin told The Lens.

Pittman-Robertson Act allocations for state wildlife management are also expected to be down $5 million due to slower gun and ammo sales than earlier this decade.

Meanwhile, as WDFW staffers go through what they’ll have to work with and work on in the coming two years, Blake has a forecast for what will happen to angling on the Columbia and its tribs without the endorsement.

“I think the department will most likely keep the fisheries on the Columbia open as long as they have money,” he said.

With this year’s poor expected steelhead and summer and fall Chinook runs, that could be a little easier with, theoretically, fewer anglers on the water, but a big coho return is also predicted to come in later in the season.

WDFW License Bills Moving Again As End Of Regular Legislative Session Nears

After hibernating for the past two months, WDFW’s fee bills have woken up and are moving again, but what will emerges from the den that is the Washington legislature remains to be seen.

Both the House and Senate versions include the 15 percent increase to fishing and hunting licenses and extend the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement, but also contain sharp differences that will need to be reconciled before the end of the session.

“This is pretty intense, from zero bills moving to two bills moving,” said Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison, this morning.

The upper chamber’s bill would sunset the angling fee hike after six years, extends the endorsement two years instead of four like the House, and would not allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to impose surcharges to keep up with rising costs.

That’s different from the Senate’s Operating Budget proposal, released earlier this month without any fee increase or the endorsement and which leaned on General Fund instead.

The lower chamber’s bill, which like the House Operating Budget proposal had the hike and endorsement, would limit the commission’s fee-raising authority to only cover costs lawmakers add to WDFW’s gig and no more than 3 percent in any one year.

Though the Senate version presents something of a fiscal cliff in 2025, the fee increase would produce $14.3 million every two years, the endorsement $3 million.

As for WDFW’s big hopes for a big General Fund infusion to pay for its myriad missions, improve its product and dig out of a $31 million shortfall, any new money it receives will likely be allocated for orcas instead, and that is putting the onus squarely on passing a license increase.

The sudden activity on the fee bills after February’s twin hearings comes with the scheduled Sunday, April 28 end of the session and follows a House Appropriations Committee public hearing yesterday afternoon and an executive session in the Senate’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee this morning.

During the House hearing on HB 1708, representatives from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Northwest Marine Trade Association and Coastal Conservation Association along with some anglers — all still smarting from the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Columbia fishery reforms vote early last month, some at louder volumes than others — voiced opposition to the fee bill though generally said they wanted a fully funded WDFW.

NMTA’s George Harris was among those trying to “thread that needle,” saying he couldn’t support the increase because he didn’t believe the agency had followed through on the reforms or mark-selective fisheries.

SPEAKING IN OPPOSITION TO THE FEE BILL DURING THE HOUSE HEARING ON MONDAY APRIL 22 WERE JASON ZITTEL OF ZITTEL’S MARINA NEAR OLYMPIA WHO SAID THE BURDEN OF FUNDING WDFW COULDN’T CONTINUE TO BE PUSHED ONTO LICENSE HOLDERS WHEN THE PROBLEMS ARE STATEWIDE … (TVW)

… AND CARL BURKE, REPRESENTING NMTA AND NSIA, WHO SAID THAT WHILE ANGLERS PROVIDE SIGNIFICANT FUNDING TO WDFW, “THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO MATTER.” (TVW)

Speaking in favor of full funding, however, was Ron Garner, statewide president of Puget Sound Anglers, member of the WDFW budget advisory group that did a deep dive into the agency’s finances and part of the governor’s orca task force.

“This is not enough money for the agency, and one of the problems is, if we do take this $30 million hit or don’t get the $30 million, what hatcheries are going to get cut next?” Garner said.

WDFW has identified five that could be and which together produce 2.6 million salmon, steelhead and trout.

He said where other state agencies had recovered from General Fund cuts due to the Great Recession, WDFW hadn’t.

“To keep them healthy and the outdoors healthy, we really need to fund it,” Garner said.

RON GARNER OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS VOICED SUPPORT FOR A FULLY FUNDED WDFW DURING THE HEARING … (TVW)

… AND TOM ECHOLS OF THE HUNTERS HERITAGE COUNCIL SAID IT WAS THE FIRST TIME IN HIS SEVEN YEARS WITH THE UMBRELLA ORGANIZATION THAT IT WAS SUPPORTING A FEE BILL, SPECIFICALLY THE HUNTING SIDE, SAYING THEY BELIEVED IT WAS “TIME TO SUPPORT THE DEPARTMENT’S DIRECTION.” (TVW)

Both committees ultimately gave their versions do-pass recommendations after adopting several amendments, which overall mainly dealt with fallout from the Columbia vote.

The House bill now tells the citizen panel to work with Oregon’s to recover salmon and steelhead in the watershed and WDFW to “work to maximize hatchery production throughout the Columbia River, reduce less selective gear types in the mainstem of the Columbia River and improve the effectiveness of off-channel commercial fishing areas.”

“I support fully funding WDFW so that we can restore hatchery production and restore our fisheries,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) this morning.

And in his natural resources committee earlier today, Chair Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) substantially altered the Senate fee bill, SB 5692, to address those Columbia issues.

An effect statement says his amendments:

  • Specifies Columbia River fishery reforms including improving the selectivity of recreational and commercial fisheries, prioritizing main stem recreational fisheries, and transitioning gill net fisheries to enhanced off-channel areas.
  • Restricts main stem gill net fisheries, effective July 1, 2019, to not exceed six days per year for salmon and steelhead below the Bonneville dam.
  • Directs the DFW to establish an observer program to monitor at least 10 % of the nontribal gill net salmon and steelhead catch on the Columbia River.
  • Directs the DFW to fund activities that maintain or enhance current recreational and fishing activities with fees from recreational fishing and hunting, and expires the requirement on July 1, 2025.
  • Authorizes the DFW to approve trial fisheries for the use of alternative gear for the mark-selective harvest of hatchery-reared salmon and to establish permit fees by rule for alternative gear fisheries.
  • Authorizes the use of pound nets to harvest salmon on the Columbia River and sets the license fee at $380 per year for a resident and $765 for a nonresident

Without getting too wonky and in the weeds, the differences between the House and Senate fee bills must be concurred on, passed by the legislature and signed by the governor before any hike goes into effect. It would be the first since 2011.

WDFW’s Crosier forecasted some “tough conversations in the coming five days” as lawmakers will have to come to an agreement on outstanding policy issues including the Columbia, hatcheries, predators and more, and how to fund her agency.

“I’m feeling optimistic,” she said. “I think this is the closest we’ve gotten. There’s motivation (by legislators) to get something passed, and fees will be a big part of it.”

And without getting too high up on my stump, the end package will also need to show hunters and anglers that there is a better future ahead from the negative malaise currently gripping the state’s sportsmen as more than a century and a half of habitat loss, hatchery production reductions, increasing ESA listings and fishery restrictions, social media, and, simply put, other legislative priorities have come home to roost, most obviously in the plight of starving southern resident killer whales that might also symbolize today’s opportunities.