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.
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.
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.