Tag Archives: legislature

WDFW Fee Hike Fails, Columbia Endorsement Expires As Lawmakers Pass Budget

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed fee hike failed in the state legislature and the Columbia salmon and steelhead endorsement will expire as lawmakers passed a two-year budget over the weekend.

A high-ranking WDFW official says that $24 million in General Fund revenues have been allocated to the agency for a one-time patch to address in part a $31 million shortfall, which the fishing and hunting license increase would have half filled, but it will take as much as a week to parse through budget documents to figure out all the impacts and ramifications.

“It’s going to take some time to review and discuss with executive management on how best to balance the budget and make decisions on which services will be reduced or eliminated from the areas identified in the zero-based budget analysis,” Nate Pamplin, WDFW’s policy director, said this morning.

Programs that exercise identified as at risk included hatchery operations, hunting and lands management, shellfish enforcement, and wildlife conflict prevention, among others.

Earlier this month WDFW warned that Westside pheasant hunting and Reiter, Whitehorse, Naches, Chelan and Meseberg hatcheries, which together produce 2.6 million steelhead, salmon and trout, were at risk without a fee bill.

The Columbia endorsement, itself a shortfall-filling measure from 2010, brought in $3.3 million every two years and was used to hold and monitor fisheries over Endangered Species Act-listed Chinook, coho, steelhead and other stocks in the big river.

This is the second long session in a row that a WDFW-requested fee bill to plug holes and increase opportunity has failed to be passed.

When 2017’s went down, lawmakers provided a $10 million one-time General Fund hit and required the agency to review its operations for efficiencies and perform that zero-based budgeting exercise.

WDFW also formed a Budget and Policy Group which found broad support for full funding, and last summer the Fish and Wildlife Commission signed off on asking lawmakers for what would have been if passed the first fee hike since 2011 as part of a $60 million package to deal with the shortfall and enhance fishing and hunting, funded with 75 percent General Fund money and 25 percent licenses.

In January, state representatives and senators introduced bills that would have raised fees by 15 percent, with a $7 cap on bundled packages, and extended the Columbia endorsement.

Public hearings were held in February, and while support and concerns were raised, the lower chamber’s bill was given a do-pass recommendation out of the natural resources committee.

But as the Fish and Wildlife Commission moved towards allowing gillnetting in the Columbia again for fall Chinook this year, the bills stalled as members of the fishing community raged over the citizen panel’s early March vote, essentially entangling the measure in the upper chamber like a fall bright in 9-inch mesh.

Earlier this month, lawmakers came out with their operating budget proposals and the fee increase and endorsement were not in the Senate version, though they remained in the House’s.

As the session drew to the April 28 close, last week the original fee bills were revived in committees, but with the Senate’s amended to sunset the fishing increase after six years and given strong policy statements about Columbia fisheries management.

In anticipation of the House bill getting out of the chamber late last week, the Senate Ways and Means Committee listed it on its Saturday morning public hearings docket, but that didn’t happen and signaled time had run on the fee hike.

“I am disappointed that we could not get the General Fund money to be ongoing funding and hope that next session that we can get the agency fully funded,” said Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), who was the prime sponsor on the House fee bill.

The agency’s overall $508 million passed operating budget does appear to include a $15 million line item for WDFW, utilities and numerous tribes to increase hatchery salmon releases to benefit orcas and upgrade production facilities.

Pamplin said staffers are now going through the 809-page budget, “trying to sort out which fiscal year the various appropriations are placed and understand other aspects and details from the budget.  We’ll also want to discuss with affected staff.”

Part of that was an afternoon all-staff webinar where issues were laid out.

“I’d say it’s going to take at least a week to sort through some of these details,” Pamplin said.

The passed capital budget appears to include $58 million for WDFW for hatchery and other construction projects, as well as several million for improved access, habitat restoration and other lands projects.

We’ll have future blogs on this as more details become available.

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.

Hunter Pink Green-lighted For Washington’s Fall Hunting Seasons

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

During this year’s legislative session, pink has become the new orange. On April 10, the state House of Representatives passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill (ESSB) 5148, a bill expanding orange clothing requirements for hunters to include fluorescent pink. The state Senate had already passed the bill Feb. 20; Gov. Jay Inslee signed it today.

SURROUNDED BY (LEFT TO RIGHT) CHALEE BATUNGBACAL AND DAVID WHIPPLE OF WDFW, AND PRIME SPONSOR SEN. LYNDA WILSON (R) AND HER LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT AMBER HARDTKE AND INTERN INNA VANMATRE, GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE SIGNS THE HUNTER PINK BILL. (STATE OF WASHINGTON)

 “Orange will always be the classic safety color, but I think our state’s hunters can appreciate something new and different – and because fluorescent pink doesn’t blend in with anything else in the forest or field, it also offers the excellent visibility we need for safety,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, a longtime hunter who was prime sponsor of ESSB 5148.

“This idea received unanimous support in the Legislature, and I can see hunter pink being very popular with both women and men, especially because pink is also linked to the fight against breast cancer,” added Wilson, who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer during the time that her idea has made its way into law. For more information about the bill go to http://lyndawilson.src.wastateleg.org/wilson-bill-to-let-hunters-wear-fluorescent-pink-headed-to-governor/.

Since the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) began requiring hunters to wear hunter orange, hunter injuries and incidents declined significantly in Washington. Fluorescent pink is considered equally visible to hunter orange, and nine other states have passed laws allowing hunters to wear pink clothing for safety.

“By adding fluorescent hunter pink, we are providing more choices to our hunters,” said David Whipple, hunter education division manager. “Women are one of the fastest-growing hunting groups, though we believe that this option will feel inclusionary all to new hunters. This attention is also helping to highlight the safe behaviors for continued reductions in hunter injuries and incidents.”

The current law gives WDFW the authority to adopt rules specifying gear and other hunting equipment. Currently, hunters must wear a minimum of 400 square inches of fluorescent hunter orange exterior clothing during specific hunting seasons.

The new law, like most created this year, will take effect in July. In preparation, WDFW will begin a rule making process to accommodate hunter pink. WDFW is also taking extra steps now to implement the legislation immediately, which allows time for public education and for hunters to buy pink clothing in time for fall deer, elk, and upland bird modern firearm seasons.

Those who wish to learn more about hunter safety can visit our hunter education and requirements page at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/requirements.

Washington Lawmakers Approve Adding Pink To Hunters’ Wardrobe

A bill allowing Washington hunters to wear bright pink instead of just blaze orange while pursuing deer and elk with a rifle, among other game, is headed to Governor Inslee’s desk.

Washington senators and representatives unanimously passed SB 5148, which would make the state at least the eighth to OK the color for meeting hunter safety visibility requirements in the field.

SEN. LYNDA WILSON TESTIFIES IN SUPPORT OF HER HUNTER PINK BILL WHILE WEARING A PINK CAMO HUNTING VEST IN THIS SCREENSHOT FROM TVW. (TVW)

It was sponsored by Sen. Lynda Wilson, a Clark County Republican who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer and whose husband went hunting last fall while wearing a pink T-shirt in support of her.

“Depending on the time of year, the leaves on the trees can be almost as bright as the fluorescent orange that is now the only safety color allowed in Washington,” said Wilson in a press release. “Blaze pink doesn’t look like anything else in the forest or field, and more visibility means more safety.”

She added that it could also attract more hunters to the field and thus more dollars in support of wildlife management.

Wilson’s bill was supported by the Hunters Heritage Council and WDFW during a January public hearing.

It essentially requires the Fish and Wildlife Commission to add pink to requirements that deer and elk hunters, along with those pursuing other game during open modern firearm deer and elk season, must wear at least 400 square inches of orange clothing above the waist.

The bill passed out of the Senate in February on a 48-0 vote and the House early this month on a 92-0 vote. If signed, it becomes effective 90 days after the legislature is adjourned.

Other states that have OKed blaze pink include Wisconsin, which was first to do so, Colorado, Louisiana and New York in 2016; Virginia in 2017; and Wyoming and Illinois in 2018.

It’s been rejected as a substitute for orange in Michigan, Montana and Maine.

Arkansas has allowed chartreuse since at least 2010.

Westside Pheasant, Sound Steelheading, More At Risk Of Cuts As Lawmakers Consider WDFW Budget

Washington lawmakers are split on how to fund WDFW over the coming two years and patch up a potential $31 million shortfall.

The state House assumes the agency’s proposed fee bill passes but provides just a two-year General Fund bump to fill that gap, while the Senate would provide ongoing support from sales taxes but doesn’t raise the cost of fishing and hunting licenses.

The legislative session is scheduled to wrap up April 28, and while extra time in Olympia has become routine in recent years, WDFW brass are increasingly nervous as they eye the gulfs between the two chambers’ spending proposals for the 2019-21 biennium and have to consider cutting more popular programs.

“Each day that passes, we become a little more anxious,” said policy director Nate Pamplin on Tuesday.

Last Friday, his boss, Director Kelly Susewind, warned the Fish and Wildlife Commission that the Senate’s budget approach could lead to “some pretty devastating potential cuts for us.”

“The lack of a fee bill really hurts the fishing and hunting side of the agency pretty hard,” Morgan Stinson, WDFW’s budget director, said yesterday.

On the fishing side of the fillet board are federally required monitoring of the last early winter steelheading opportunities on Puget Sound rivers and on the Skagit-Sauk in spring; the closure of Reiter, Whitehorse, Naches, Chelan and Meseberg hatcheries, which together produce 2.6 million steelhead, salmon and trout; rehabbing lakes for better trout fishing; and a brutal whack at the warmwater program.

STEELHEADERS IN A DRIFT BOAT COME DOWN A SLIGHT RAPID ON THE SAUK LAST WEEK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“The lower priorities fall off because we don’t have any low priorities. They’re low among all high — these are the lowest highs,” Susewind told members of the commission.

Over on the hunting side, the Master Hunter program, which the state uses to manage problem animals with the help of select sportsmen, would end, as would the Western Washington pheasant program.

Like largemouth, ringnecks are also nonnative, putting them on the wrong end of the list, but Pamplin added that the cost to raise and release the birds at Westside wildlife areas also exceeds the revenues the hunting opportunity brings in.

WESTERN WASHINGTON PHEASANT HUNTERS GATHER AROUND A GAME WARDEN AT A NORTH SOUND RELEASE SITE NEAR MT. VERNON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“If we bring in 15 percent more revenue, maybe we can restore it,” he said.

Fifteen percent is how much WDFW’s across-the-board fee hike would cost hunters and anglers, but with a $7 cap on bundled license packages, a caveat that came from the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

It would be the first license increase since 2011 and is meant in part to shore up the shortfall and maintain opportunities.

A LEGISLATIVE ANALYSIS SHOWS HOW MUCH MORE INDIVIDUAL WDFW FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES WOULD COST UNDER THE FEE INCREASE BILL. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

The agency’s budget woes are primarily due to our license revenues not keeping up with costs to produce fish and manage critters and seasons; the Great Recession, which chopped its state General Fund stake from $110 million in 2007-09 to as low as $57.7 million in 2011-13 (with a one-time $10 million infusion for the current budget it grew back to $94.4 million); and inflation over the years.

Stinson said that WDFW’s structural deficit — how much lawmakers says it can spend versus how much money it actually takes in — is around $31 million this biennium.

APRIL 5, 2019 WDFW COMPARISON OF GOV. INSLEE, STATE HOUSE AND SENATE BUDGETS (FIGURES ARE IN MILLIONS)

Maintain/ Buy-back Decision Packages Gov House Senate
Maintain wildlife conflict response $4.4 $4.4 $4.4
Maintain public health and safety, Shellfish $2.5 $2.5 $2.5
Maintain land management $2.6 $2.6 $2.6
Maintain fishing and hatchery production $9.4 $9.4 $3.7
Maintain hunting $3.1 $3.1  –
Maintain conservation $3.4 $3.4 $3.4
Maintain Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement $3.0 $3.0  –
Maintain customer service $1.9 $1.9 $1.9

 

Enhancement Decision Packages Gov House Senate
Enhance conservation $1.3 $0.6  –
Enhance hunting and conflict response $0.8  –
Enhance fishing $6.9 $2.6  –
Lands enhancement  –  –
Enhance Regional Fishery Enh. Groups $0.7  – $0.7

 

Additional

Gov

House

Senate

CB1 – Salmon Marking Trailers

$0.5

P2 – Global Wildlife Trafficking

$0.3

$0.3

WR1 – Orca Whale Recovery-Prey

$10.5

$4.6

$10.5

WR2 – Orca Whale Recovery-Vessels

$1.7

$1.5

$1.4

WR4 – Orca Whale Recovery-Capacity

$0.6

PILT (house gets county $ right)

$0.8

$0.8

$.08

Enforcement RMS (senate IT pool)

$1.5

$1.5

Elk fencing in the Skagit Valley

$0.1

$0.4

State Data Center

$1.0

$1.0

Local and tribal hatchery production

$6.0

Wolf Recovery – (2097)

$1.0

$0.9

Without the fee bill, hunter education, private lands access and game management would also be reduced, WDFW warns.

And while extending the important Columbia salmon and steelhead endorsement is part of the House budget, it’s not in the Senate’s, and that could impact the agency’s ability to hold and monitor fisheries on the big river.

Now, no doubt that WDFW warning its constituents about such dire cuts to programs is meant in part to spur hunters and anglers to contact their lawmakers to try and head things off, but on the flip side it will also just stir an already buzzing hornet’s nest of sportsman angst and anger towards it.

“They’re upset at us for a number of reasons, like they always are,” Director Susewind told the commission last week about the Columbia endorsement, “but this would actually make us less able to deliver the things they’re upset at us for not having more of.”

“Upset” might be a bit of an understatement.

WDFW’s fee bill in the Senate is caught tighter than a salmon in a gillnet over management issues on the big river.

In early March, the Fish and Wildlife Commission paused ongoing Columbia fishery reforms for 2019, voting to continue allowing nontribal gillnetting below Bonneville (phaseout had been planned by 2017), and reducing sportfishing ESA impact allocations on spring and summer Chinook from 80-20 to 70-30 (though the lower figure applies only if there are enough springers this year after a run update).

That infuriated longtime supporters of the reforms and efforts to end gillnetting in the Northwest, especially as it followed on the death of a Senate bill that would have barred the nontreaty commercial practice on the river in a couple years.

A GUIDE BOAT RUNS UP THE LOWER COLUMBIA DURING 2014’S BUOY 10 FALL SALMON FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association called on members to oppose WDFW’s fee bill, claiming the commission vote “restores year-round non-tribal gillnetting on the Columbia River’s 13 ESA listed stocks.”

According to ODFW and WDFW documents, there were four days of nontribal gillnetting for salmon on the mainstem last year. Those occurred in late August and targeted fall Chinook between Bonneville and the mouth of the Lewis. Low runs are expected to continue this year, making for limited fishing opportunities for all fleets.

Asked how the gillnet vote has impacted the fee bill, Pamplin acknowledged that it’s one of those big issues that always pops up each session.

“We have heard from legislators about concerns with the Columbia and the fee bill,” he said.

But he also pointed back to WDFW’s Budget and Policy Group of “opinion leaders” in the state fish and wildlife world and said that despite their own issues — “wolves, carnivores, hatcheries, allocations” — they “pretty quickly” saw a “healthy funded” agency was necessary, and some members continue to push for lawmakers to fully fund it.

BPAG came out of a 2017 legislative requirement that WDFW review its funding and operations.

It included an agency audit that found WDFW’s money problems weren’t due to mismanagement. And it mandated a zero-based budgeting exercise, which Pamplin said prioritized native species over nonnative ones, thus the warmwater and pheasant programs being proposed for cuts.

“But we recognize the value” of bass and other species, Pamplin quickly added. “We don’t want to cut it.”

And before last year asking for an overall $60-plus million fee hike and General Fund increase to maintain and enhance opportunties, WDFW also trimmed $2 million, affecting a number of IT positions, reduced grant funding, and triploid trout stocking.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

Elsewhere in legislators’ proposed 2019-21 budgets, the House makes a “really strong investment” for orcas with $14.8 million for additional hatchery salmon production, “one of the most important near-term fixes as we work on culverts,” in WDFW’s words.

Senate support for clipped fish isn’t as high, but members are taking a bit more of a regulatory approach for getting more Chinook to the southern residents, focusing on shoreline armoring, vessel distance and regulating the whale-watching industry, Pamplin said.

Now, as budget negotiations begin in earnest, WDFW staffers are reaching out to lawmakers, highlighting what could be impacted in their districts, and trying to make recommendations to each chamber about what a compromise might look like.

“What we’re focusing on right now is contacting legislators to walk through the difference between both budgets,” says Pamplin.

How that plays out will determine what gets cut and what gets saved in the coming two years and probably longer.

Tax On Recreational Gear To Help Fund WDFW Gets Hearing In Olympia

An idea whose time has come, an “unfixable” one — or something in between?

Washington lawmakers heard all sides during a hearing on a bill that would add a .20 percent tax on certain recreational equipment and clothing over $200 to help fund the upkeep of WDFW-owned fish and wildlife habitat.

MEMBERS OF THE WALGAMOTT-ECKSTEIN CLAN SET UP TENTS IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS DURING A FOURTH OF JULY CAMPOUT SEVERAL YEARS AGO. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Citing a ring of invasive knapweed around a state wildlife area sign in Okanogan County, prime sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) said he was trying to fix a long-standing problem for the agency since the Great Recession chopped a big part of state General Fund support for its myriad missions.

“I think $2 million would give us a start,” he told members of the House Finance Committee.

That’s how much a fiscal note says HB 2122 as initially written would raise on average over the coming six years for WDFW’s Wildlife Account, from $800,000 in 2020 to $2.9 million in 2025

Hunters and anglers presenting their licenses at that point of sale would be exempt as we already pay through federal excise taxes via the venerable Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts.

“That group has been paying the freight for a pretty long time,” Kretz pointed out.

REP. JOEL KRETZ TALKS ABOUT HIS BILL, HB 2122, BEFORE A HOUSE COMMITTEE DURING A TELEVISED PUBLIC HEARING. (TVW)

However, representatives from the retail industry say they oppose it, including for its broad language and the dollars that outdoor activities already generate for local economies and state taxes — $26 billion and $2 billion, according to Mark Berejka of Seattle recreational giant REI.

“This bill is not a fix and it is not fixable,” he said.

He also questioned how the sportsman exemption would work when buying items online, and complained that the bill had been “sprung” on his industry.

THOMAS O’KEEFE OF AMERICAN WHITEWATER STATED THAT THE BILL WOULD TAX THE SKIS HE STRAPS ON ON FEDERAL LANDS BUT NOT THE PADDLE HE’D USE AT A WDFW WATER ACCESS SITE. ANOTHER SPEAKER WONDERED IF HORSE SADDLES WOULD BE TAXED. (TVW)

James Moshella of the Washington Trails Association said his group was opposed, but that if such a tax was going to be imposed it needed to have a broader conversation and also should benefit all state lands — WDFW, DNR and State Parks — that hikers use.

Organizations closer to WDFW’s mission expressed support.

Jen Syrowitz, a hunter and hiker with Washington Wildlife Federation, called the bill a “fair ask of the recreational community.”

She said there was a “disconnect” between state residents and our wildlife and the bill would help everyone understand they’re all stakeholders in WDFW carrying out its conservation mission.

Syrowitz called the tax nominal, and in offering Audubon Washington’s support, Adam Maxwell said it amounted to “60 cents on a pair of Nikon Monarch binoculars.”

He said that the dollars WDFW receives generate a 350 percent return on investment to state coffers.

Calling himself an avid hiker and photographer, Chris Bachman of Spokane’s The Lands Council said, “I’m glad to pay the tax.”

He added that what would be taxed under the bill needs to better defined, a work-in-progress sentiment that was echoed by Tom Echolls of the Hunters Heritage Council and Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest. The former gentleman signed in as “other,” the latter in support.

WITH WDFW’S NATE PAMPLIN LOOKING ON, CONSERVATION NORTHWEST DIRECTOR MITCH FRIEDMAN EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR THE BILL DURING THE PUBLIC HEARING. (TVW)

Also testifying was WDFW’s Nate Pamplin, which said his agency was supportive of the intent of the bill, which came out of legislative requirements for state fish and wildlife overseers to review their operation, conduct an audit, look for efficiencies and convene stakeholders, the Budget and Policy Group, or BPAG.

He said that that found that the department’s mission benefits all Washingtonians, and it should be funded that way.

Asked by Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) how much WDFW lost in General Fund revenues due to the recession 10 years ago, Pamplin said funding went from $110 million in the 2007-09 biennium to $75.6 million in 2009-11 to $57.7 million in 2011-13. While it recovered to $94.4 million in the current two-year budget cycle, with inflation it’s still $30 million below where it might otherwise be.

Rep. Kretz said the dropoff could be seen in “lapses in management” and in his opposition to habitat acquisitions, such as Scotch Creek, where the aforementioned weed-ringed wildlife area sign stands.

“We really appreciate the sponsor [Kretz] for thinking outside the box and this committee for holding the hearing,” Pamplin said, adding that he looked forward to working with stakeholders on the bill.

Washington State Sens. Propose $90M For Habitat, Rec, $10M More Than House, But Both Less Than Gov.

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AND RECREATION COALITION

The Senate capital construction budget released today includes $90 million in funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP). This funding level is a $10 million increase over the last biennium’s capital budget and an equal increase over the House’s proposed budget.

BOTH WASHINGTON HOUSE AND SENATE BILLS WOULD PROVIDE $4 MILLION TO PURCHASE 7 SQUARE MILES OF LAND IN THE COWICHE WATERSHED WEST OF YAKIMA FOR CRITTER HABITAT AND TO PROTECT 7 MILES OF STEELHEAD STREAMS, BUT OVERALL, THE LOWER CHAMBER’S PROPOSED CAPITAL BUDGET IS $10 MILLION LIGHTER THAN THE UPPER CHAMBER’S. (RCO)

“We recognize that it is an incredibly difficult budget year, with many competing priorities, and we are grateful the Senate made the WWRP a priority in this budget,” said Christine Mahler, Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, an independent nonprofit advocate for the WWRP. “Outdoor space, whether for recreating, wildlife habitat, farming, or just communing is critical for the health and wellbeing of our human and animal neighbors in this vibrant region.”

The WWRP is the state’s premier grant program for habitat conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities. The program has played a significant role in our state’s landscape and quality of life, investing over $1.4 billion into state and local parks, trails, wildlife habitat, working lands, and other community priorities across the state.

Robust funding for the WWRP is more important than ever as our state’s population growth has accelerated in recent years. WWRP projects mitigate the impacts of rapid population growth, create outdoor opportunities for families across the state, preserve wildlife habitat, and protect working lands.

Governor Inslee’s capital budget proposed $115 million for the WWRP. The House budget, released Monday, funds the program at $80 million, equaling the amount included in the 2017-2019 capital construction budget.

“The Senate budget, at $90 million, is closer to the level of investment needed for this critical program, which fuels the state’s $26.2 billion outdoor recreation economy—a bigger sector than aerospace or technology,” noted Christine. “We encourage the House and Senate to keep this in mind as they negotiate, adopting the Senate level or even consider increasing the funding beyond $90 million in order to meet the outdoor recreation and environmental demands of their constituents.”

WWRP funding will be allocated via a nationally-recognized impartial ranking process, ensuring that funds are used fairly and for the best projects from throughout the state. The Senate version keeps all segments of the state-wide Palouse to Cascades Trail in their funding list, recognizing that regional trails have distinct importance beyond their local district boundaries.

The Senate budget would fund 125 projects across the state, including:

  • Acquisition of 71.8 acres on Merrill Lake, preserving old growth forest and protecting habitat for deer, elk, waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and others and preserving this cherished fly-fishing opportunity for anglers.
  • Renovating South Lynnwood Park in south Snohomish County. This project in the heart of the city’s most underserved area will transform a rundown under-programmed area into a community treasure driven by the needs of the community, including a playground, picnic shelter, bike station, tennis courts, native habitat area with educational signage, walking paths, and more.
  • Completion of the 25-mile long Ferry County Rail Trail in northeast Washington, connecting Republic to Canada along an abandoned railroad line, connecting communities and bringing in visitors.

However, funding the program at just $90 million will exclude projects of local import to communities across the state, including:

  • Development of a railroad bridge and trail to Meadowdale Beach Park in Snohomish County, to improve beach access and address safety concerns in the community.
  • Improvements to Nespelem Community Park on the Colville Reservation, creating a much-needed recreation opportunity for youth and families.
  • Acquisition of land and shoreline near Lake Kapowsin in Pierce County, to improve habitat for salmon and waterfowl and provide fishing opportunities.

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.

SPRING CHINOOK ANGLERS TROLL IN THE FOG AT WIND RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“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.

A SPRING STORM MOVES OVER MULE DEER WINTER RANGE IN THE LOWER WENATCHEE VALLEY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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.

CLOUDS CLEAR FROM THE SUMMIT OF MT. SHUKSAN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Gillnet Ban Dies In Olympia, But Some Fish-Wildlife Bills Still Kicking

The Olympia Outsider™ has been taking his name very literally, soaking up some serious ray-age the past few days, but back indoors Washington lawmakers have been busy girls and boys in the halls of power, amending, debating and voting on all sorts of bills.

(THE INTERWEBS)

While some fish and wildlife bills are still moving along smartly, other major pieces of legislation don’t appear to have escaped last week’s cutoff to get out of their chamber of origin.

May we have a moment of silence for:

Senate Bill 5617, the statewide nontribal gillnet phaseout. Not that it ever had a chance in the House, but on its first drift this bill netted a whopping 24 then 27 cosponsors — more votes than it even needed to get it out of the upper chamber! all but assuring passage! pack up your nets, NT comms! — but then it was pared back to just the Columbia, then three cosponsors somehow wriggled out of the webbing, and then somebody must’ve thrown some haybales into the Senate because this bill sank way out of sight before ever getting a hearing before Ways and Means.

House Bill 1824, directing WDFW to apply to NOAA for a permit to take out the maximum number of sea lions to increase salmon survival to benefit orcas. Anglers might have been ready to lock and load this bill out of the House, but while there was no opposition, WDFW signed in as “other” on this bill, because, well, it is a bit more complicated than that and I’ll just let the agency’s Nate Pamplin explain why that is starting at the 16:58-minute mark.

NOW, OLYMPIA IS A FUNNY PLACE, and not just because its name can be rearranged to Oily Map and Mayo Lip. In similarly slippery fashion, some bills that don’t meet deadlines aren’t necessarily dead-dead.

Those that can help set the state budget but didn’t hit cutoffs can still technically be “slightly alive,” in the words of my colleague Miracle Max.

Trying to sort this year’s “only mostly dead” bills, I called the Legislative Hotline in hopes they had a master list of NTIB, or necessary to implement the budget, bills, but sadly they hadn’t received anything along those lines from lawmakers yet.

Still, last week, a key source at WDFW informed me that based on what they were hearing several key bills were dead for the session, but we’re categorizing them as “mostly dead” just to be on the super-safe side.

HB 2122, the tiny tax on big-ticket recreational gear and clothing to help fund WDFW’s wildlife management. No sooner did a bipartisan coalition of urban and rural lawmakers propose the two-tenths of 1 percent tax on tents, rain jackets and certain other goods over $200 than one of those huge-ass firefighting jetliners must’ve come in real low and doused that campfire right the hell out because very little has been written about it. Still, an Audubon Washington update earlier this month lists it as a “conversation starter this legislative session.” Under it, license-holding sportsmen would be exempt because we already gladly contribute more than our fair share because we are awesome and other nature lovers could learn from our example.

HB 1662/SB 5696 would change the way WDFW compensates counties for the million or so acres it has taken off local tax rolls to match how DNR does it. During public hearings literally nobody opposed this important change to the PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, program proposed by a number of lawmakers from parts of the state rich with state wildlife areas (and where ideally more lands are purchased from willing sellers), so it’s puzzling why it didn’t advance further. Aliens could be to blame — the Senate version was placed in the “X File” … which actually means it’s “no longer eligible for consideration,” though even then it could be plucked out of the ether should some lawmaker need it for a little leverage with another.

HB 1230, which would broaden eligibility of disabled sportsmen who could get discounted licenses. Another bill with literally no opposition but just couldn’t get out of the House. What. The. Hell?

YET DESPITE THOSE UNTIMELY DEATHS as well as the possible but not fully finally Miracle Max-confirmed deaths, other critter bills are still grazing/swimming/prowling along in Olympia, including:

HB 2097, gray wolf status review, passed House 98-0, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee;

SB 5148, hunter pink, passed Senate 48-0-0-1 (yes-no-abstain-absent), referred to House ag-natural resources committee and scheduled for an executive session today.

HB 1061, designating the razor clam as the state clam, passed the House 98-0, scheduled for a hearing in the Senate government and tribal relations committee March 27.

HB 1187, streamlining approval of conservation districts’ fish passage improvement projects, passed House 96-0-0-2, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee;

HB 1579, hydraulic code enforcement and Chinook habitat, passed House 59-39, scheduled for a hearing before Senate ag-natural resources committee today;

HB 1580 / SB 5577, addressing SRKW watching from boats, watered down and passed by the House 78-20, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee and scheduled for a public hearing tomorrow;

HB 1516, training hounds for nonlethal pursuit of predators, passed House 96-0-0-2, scheduled for a hearing before Senate ag-natural resources committee today;

SB 5322, essentially bars suction and other motorized mining in critical salmon habitat, passed Senate 30-17-0-2, had hearing before House environment committee last week;

SB 5404, adds eel grass and kelp beds to streamlined reviews for fish enhancement project funding, passed Senate 48-0-0-1, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee tomorrow

SB 5525, gives WDFW goal to up whitetail numbers so surveys find 8 to 9 a mile, passed Senate 48-0-0-1, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee tomorrow;

SB 5597, creates work group to study aerial applications of pesticides on forestlands, passed Senate 47-0-0-2, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee on March 22.

AND THAT BRINGS US TO THE BIG BILLS still hanging out there for Washington sportsmen, WDFW’s fee increase.

HB 1708 and SB 5692 have both had a hearing in their respective chambers, but haven’t budged too far off that initial starting line, though that doesn’t matter much because they’re NTIB bills.

If passed all individual licenses would go up in cost by 15 percent (see breakout of costs here), but thanks to Fish and Wildlife Commission concerns, anglers would only end up paying a maximum of $7 more on bundled packages such as the Combo License and Fish Washington, and hunters $15 more on the “Big Four” (deer, elk, cougar, bear) plus small game.

The commission would be allowed to make small increases to license fees to account for inflation starting two years from now, and the Columbia River endorsement would be extended to 2023.

The bills are part of a $60-plus-million ask of lawmakers 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.

Groups like Puget Sound Anglers, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Mule Deer Foundation, Ilwaco Charterboat Association, Conservation Northwest, Hunters Heritage Council, Trout Unlimited and others have offered strong support, but the commission’s recent backtrack on Columbia River salmon reforms saw the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association switch from “other” to opposition.

The fee bills’ updated odds of passage weren’t immediately clear to the Olympia Outsider™, but to learn more about them, check out this WDFW brochure and stay tuned to this station — the OO is monitoring the situation, albeit from a far sunnier locale than the chambers of the state legislature.

Editor’s note: For previous coverage of this year’s legislative session from the OO, see this blog, that blog, the other blog, the other-other blog, the other-other-other blog, and the one that kicked off this whole tired, boring, sure-to-get-two-views (thanks, Mom and Dad) series.

In Passing Out Of Committee, Washington Nontribal Gillnet Phaseout Bill Reduced To Columbia

UPDATED, 3:17 P.M., FEB. 22, 2019 WITH A NEW PARAGRAPH FIVE WITH DETAILS ON THE SENATORS’ VOTE

Washington lawmakers reduced the scope of a bill phasing nontribal gillnets out of state waters, limiting it to the Columbia in passing it out of committee this afternoon just ahead of a crucial cutoff.

An amendment from prime sponsor Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline) also shortened the timeframe for implementing SB 5617‘s ban from 2023 to 2021 and trimmed the buyout phases from three to one.

A SCREEN SHOT FROM TVW SHOWS STATE SENATORS DURING TODAY’S COMMITTEE VOTES ON A BILL THAT WOULD PHASE OUT NONTRIBAL GILLNETTING IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (TVW)


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Pointing to the volume of public comment both for and against the original bill during a hearing before the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) applauded her fellow senator for tweaking it and said it matched the policy WDFW already has in place for the big river.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) agreed, saying it was essentially codifying those rules, and called for a vote on Salomon’s amendment and then for a do-pass recommendation, both of which passed on a voice vote with only one nay heard on the TVW broadcast.

Legislative staff did not return a call inquiring about the vote tally, but subsequent to this story being published it has been posted on the legislature’s webpage that four recommended it pass (Sens. Van De Wege, Salomon, Rolfes and Judy Warnick), two against (Sens. John McCoy and Shelly Short) and one without recommendation (Sen. Jim Honeyford).

This was the last scheduled meeting for the committee before tomorrow’s first legislative cutoff deadline of the session, so it was do or die for the bill.

“This has a long way to go, and we have to stay focused and keep working all the way to the end of session,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who had been rallying support for it in recent days.

She was also among the 47 who signed in on the bill one way or the other at that hearing earlier this month, and says that even though it was amended, it still “fulfills a critical component of the Columbia River harvest reforms by calling for an end to mainstem nontreaty gillnetting and providing for a buyout.”

State fishery managers in Washington and Oregon had agreed to reform fisheries on the shared river, but that has been thrown into doubt in recent years, with the southern state backing away and some elements not being as effective as expected. A recent letter from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown seems to indicate she is still supportive of the changes championed by former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Others who spoke up in favor before the committee on Feb. 12 included George Harris of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, who said that conserving and protecting salmon for starving killer whales was important, as well as representatives from Brad’s Killer Fishing Gear, Clark-Skamania Flyfishers, Coastal Conservation Association and Zittel’s Marina near Olympia, among others.

But there was also considerable pushback from gillnetters, seafood processors and several tribal nations too.

Otis Hunsinger, a commercial fisherman, detailed how he tried to move his operations from the Columbia to Puget Sound to get away from the issues there but they were now following him.

“You think we’re not going to fight. We’re going to fight,” added John Hunsinger of Astoria, who argued it would take away jobs.

According to a fact sheet from NSIA, the only nontribal gillnet fishery on the Columbia focuses on fall Chinook and occurs above the Lewis River to avoid impacts on ESA-listed lower river tules.

In pointing to the bill’s 27 cosponsors — more than half the members of the state Senate — Hamilton said she was grateful “for their recognition that nontreaty gillnets are a problem for wild salmon and steelhead, for orca and for the economy, especially when there are alternatives.”

As amended, SB 5617 also directs WDFW to:

  • “Establish a selective gear incentive program that seeks to avoid harvest of non-target species”;
  • And “develop a fee for permits issued for the taking of salmon under the trial or experimental fishery permits.”

Hamilton said that she appreciated the committee’s work on the bill, as most introduced in the legislature don’t receive a hearing let alone pass out of their crucial first committee.

(Tomorrow, time permitting, the Olympia Outsider™ plans to provide an update on how things stand, including a recently introduced bill that would require WDFW to review the status of wolves in Washington and determine whether a change was warranted at the statewide and regional levels.)

“Finally, we thank all of the NSIA members who took the time to phone and write the committee emphasizing the importance of this bill for their employees, and thank our allies at Northwest Marine Trade Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, The Associations of Northwest Steelheaders, and the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association for doing the same. It takes a village, and NSIA businesses are thankful for these partnerships,” she said.

To become law, the bill must first pass its next Senate committee, the full chamber, the House and be signed into law by the governor.