Tag Archives: legislature

WDFW Director Looks For Public Budget Support, Assures Sportsmen He’s ‘Adding To, Not Changing Our Base’

WDFW’s new director Kelly Susewind fielded more than three dozen questions about salmon, hatcheries, sea lions, orcas, wolves, increasing fishing and hunting opportunities, and more during an hour-and-a-half-long webinar last night.

The “digital open house” provided a glimpse into Susewind’s priorities and goals as the head of the agency overseeing fish and wildlife management in the state, how he hopes to patch glaring budget holes, and lead WDFW into the future.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (LEFT) TOOK QUESTIONS DURING A ONE-HOUR, 37-MINUTE WEBINAR ON THE AGENCY AND ITS FUTURE. MOST WERE SUBMITTED BY THE PUBLIC AND READ BY AGENCY POLICY DIRECTOR NATE PAMPLIN. (WDFW)

And in seeking to get the wider public on board with his agency’s mission, he assured its most loyal customers they weren’t being abandoned for greener pastures.

With a $67 million budget boost proposed this coming legislative session — 75 percent from the General Fund, 25 percent from a license fee hike — it was part of an outreach effort to build across-the-board support for the agency’s myriad and sometimes seemingly at-odds objectives.

Susewind himself has already hosted five open houses in Spokane, Ephrata, Selah, Montesano and Ridgefield, with a sixth scheduled for Issaquah next month, but Wednesday’s webinar allowed him to take the message statewide and beyond.

“We need to become known, trusted and valued by 6 million people,” he said, speaking to the number of Washington residents who are not already intimately or closely familiar with WDFW, people who aren’t sportsmen, hikers, bikers or other recreationalists.

“I pause there for a second,” he added, “because as I’ve told people that that’s where I really want to head, some of our traditional users have expressed concern and are fearful that I’m stepping away from our traditional core users — the outdoor enthusiasts, the hunters, fishers — and that’s not the case at all. I want to reassure folks that I’m talking about adding to our base, not changing our base.”

Joining him was WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin who read off questions as they came in.

Most did sound like they were coming from the agency’s regular customers — hunters, anglers, commercial fishermen — or those who watch its moves very closely, and in general they followed the hot-button issues of the day.

Many grouped around salmon — producing more of them for fishing and orcas; dealing with sea lions eating too many; improving wild runs; gillnets; North of Falcon transparency.

With the lack of Chinook identified as a key reason southern resident killer whales are starving in Washington waters, several questions focused around what can be done to increase fish numbers, which would also benefit angling.

Susewind said that a new hatchery is being mulled for the Deschutes system near Olympia, with production boosts elsewhere.

“I don’t think we can recover salmon or maintain salmon over the long term without intelligent use of hatcheries, and I think that means higher production levels than we are at now,” he said.

Tens of millions more used to be released in Puget Sound — 55 million by the state in 1989 alone — and elsewhere in the past, but those have tailed off as Endangered Species Act listings and hatchery reforms came into play to try and recover wild returns.

As he’s quickly added in the past, Susewind said that doesn’t mean going back to the Johnny Appleseed days of indiscriminately releasing them everywhere.

Early next month the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will be briefed on “what is possible towards a time frame of implementing the increase of approximately 50 million additional smolts at hatchery facilities.”

Boosting production will require a “substantial investment,” Pamplin noted, adding that the 2019 budget request into Governor Jay Inslee includes a “pretty assertive ask” towards that.

And it would also come with a responsibility to not damage wild returns.

(WDFW)

Responding to “somewhat of a loaded question” about his thoughts on getting nonselective gillnets out of the water, Susewind said, “I’ll get out on a limb here: I think there’s a place for gillnets. Right now, as we increase production to feed killer whales, as we increase production to provide opportunities, we need a good way of making sure those fish don’t end up on the spawning grounds, and gillnets are one of the ways to manage that.”

Asked if using a stenographer to increase transparency during the state-tribal North of Falcon salmon season meetings was possible, Susewind said all kinds of ideas — Facebook feed, better social media presence — are being considered.

“We recognize it’s not a satisfying process in terms of transparency,” he said.

In supporting being able to manage federally protected pinnipeds on both the Columbia and Puget Sound, Susewind said that data is showing that there’s a real problem in that the millions of dollars being spent on salmon recovery are essentially being spent on feeding sea lions.

He talked about some of the other problems the agency has, saying that it needed to improve its communications with the public, and with a personal aside he acknowledged how hard it is to decipher the regulations pamphlets.

While pointing out the complexity of the regs is actually a function of WDFW trying to eke as much opportunity as possible out of what’s available, Susewind said he was befuddled when he picked up the fishing rules for the first time in a long time.

“I found it was too difficult to go through to quickly go out fishing. You have to want to go and do it in advance, and I think we can improve on it,” he said.

Earlier this year WDFW did roll out a mobile app and it sounds like more may be coming.

Asked how he planned to increase hunting and fishing opportunities to keep the sports viable, Susewind emphasized the importance of habitat. As for better access, he called the Farm Bill a “great onramp,” with provisions especially helpful in Eastern Washington, and pointed to a key recent deal with Green Diamond that led to a drift boat put-in on the upper Wynoochee.

Asked why, if killing wolves leads to more livestock depredations, WDFW lethally removes pack members, Susewind said that in his on-the-job research he’s found that the science wasn’t as clear as that, actually.

He said that pragmatically it does reduce short-term depredations and felt that it changes pack behavior in the long run.

In response to another question on the wild canids, he said that WDFW was going to recover wolves in Washington using the 2011 management plan and in a way that was compatible with traditional land uses.

A couple ideas from the online audience perked up Susewind’s and Pamplin’s ears for further investigation — an annual halibut limit instead of set fishing days, a family hunting license package.

Questions so specific as to stump both honchoes — what’s being done to improve fish habitat on the Snoqualmie River, for example —  saw them advise that those be emailed in so they could be routed to the right field staffer or — as with the above case — the member attend the upcoming meeting at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery so biologist Jenni Whitney could answer it.

Asked if one day Washington hunters might be able to hunt cougars with hounds, which was outlawed by a citizen initiative, Susewind essentially said he doubted it, but noted that the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will be holding a work session on the wild cats next week.

He fielded questions on increasing youth involvement; where to find information on preventing bear and wolf conflicts; global warming; what’s being done to prevent whale watching boats from pursuing orcas; if recreational crabbing could begin at the same time tribal seasons did; his thoughts on hoof disease in elk and fish farming; and his favorite places to fish and hunt (the Humptulips and Westport growing up, and brushy, wet Western Washington, though “there’s something to be said about the Methow too.”)

PAMPLIN POSES A QUESTION TO SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Pamplin took an opportunity to pitch a softball, asking a “myth busting” question whether license fees go to WDFW or the General Fund.

“It is a myth that hunting and fishing license fees go into the General Fund to build whatever –roads … They are specific to the agency and specific to hunting and fishing opportunities,” Susewind replied.

Part of the agency’s 2019 budget request is a 15 percent increase on licenses.

Susewind explained that the Great Recession of 10 years ago led to big cuts from the General Fund and that WDFW’s “heavy reliance” on user fees hasn’t kept pace with rising costs.

“We need to get a dedicated fund,” he said.

But in the meanwhile, WDFW needs more from the General Fund, Susewind added.

As the webinar wound to a close, one of the final questions — perhaps from a late-arriving member of the public — was, what were his top priorities as director.

With not even four months on the job, and the legislative session, budget and North of Falcon looming, just getting up to speed on everything was Susewind’s first reply.

But he said his single top priority was to “make us more relevant to the broader population.”

“We need to get a lot more people enthused and engaged and supporting the mission of the agency,” Susewind said. “The other 6 million people need to know that natural resources don’t just come naturally; it takes a lot of work to preserve and enhance natural resources, and that’s going to take all of us.”

Even as Washington sportsmen will step up and buy licenses next year, and the year after, and the one after that — grudgingly and otherwise, regardless of whether a fee hike passes — Susewind said another of his priorities is for the public to see that WDFW is managed well.

“They need to know we are efficient in how we operate and we are a good investment,” he said.

Susewind and crew have a big job ahead of them that will require more than a half-dozen open houses and the internet, but it’s a start.

OlyPen Senator Named Natural Resources Committee Chair

A state senator representing a fish- and wildlife-rich part of Washington — and who’s known to dangle a hook there — will head up the committee where WDFW-related issues come before lawmakers.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim was named the chair of Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks by fellow Democrats after last week’s special election in which they picked up a seat and became the majority party in the legislature’s upper chamber.

SENATOR KEVIN VAN DE WEGE REPRESENTS THE 24TH DISTRICT, WHICH ENCOMPASSES ALL OF THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA EXCEPT MASON COUNTY. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Van De Wege, a firefighter, had been the ranking minority member in former Sen. Kirk Pearson‘s Natural Resources and Parks Committee, and was believed by observers to be interested in the chairmanship.

The senator, who was also a five-term state representative for the sprawling 24th District, enjoys fishing. A quick scan of his personal Facebook feed shows he and family members on the saltwater with bottomfish and salmon. And in March he was among those calling for a seven-day halibut season this year.

Through bills he’s sponsored, Van De Wege has shown an interest in regulating the fishing guide industry, particularly out-of-state entrants, and one he introduced earlier this year addressing Olympic Peninsula rivers led to WDFW’s ongoing meetings around the state on managing salmon and steelhead guiding.

Also this session, he twice voted against Senate Joint Memorial 8009, which called on Washington DC to expedite Puget Sound hatchery reviews.

The committee Van De Wege now heads is where many WDFW-related bills originate in the Senate, and the chair has the power to hold public hearings on them and determine if they advance. This past session, the agency’s fee increase package got zero traction with Pearson in charge. When Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) was chair, he questioned WDFW’s 2012 lethal removal of the Wedge Pack and planned to hold hearings before election results changed the equation and Pearson came in.

Sen. John McCoy, the Tulalip Democrat who was also a member of Natural Resources & Parks, will sit alongside Van De Wege as the committee’s vice chair.

Van De Wege will also serve on Ways & Means and Health & Long Term Care Committees.

“These committees focus on major issues critical to all Washingtonians but particularly critical to 24th District residents,” he said of all his committee assignments in a press release. “I look forward to solving problems confronting residents of our district as well as prioritizing legislation that will lead to stronger households and communities across our state.”

How Washington Budget Affects WDFW, You (Hint: No Rec Fee Hike)

UPDATED 3:50 P.M., JUNE 30, 2017 WITH COMMENTS FROM SEN. KIRK PEARSON

A budget that Washington lawmakers are racing to approve before midnight’s deadline includes money from the General Fund for WDFW instead of the agency’s requested recreational license  increase.

Though half of what it had hoped to raise through higher fishing and hunting fees, the $10.1 million bump in an overall budget of $437 million is still being termed a “significant” amount considering the legislature’s major focus on education this year and other economic challenges.

“While this year’s budget doesn’t include much new program funding, we received a significant amount of new general fund which will help address the agency’s budget shortfall,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth said in an all-staff late-morning email.

Raquel Crosier, the agency’s legislative liaison, called it “a really good Band-Aid and will help us avoid painful reductions.”

PINK SALMON ANGLERS FISH UNDER CLEARING SKIES AT WHIDBEY ISLAND’S KEYSTONE SPIT IN JULY 2015. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

But it’s also a one-time fix that means WDFW will have to ask for another General Fund hit again in two years.

“The agency will be working over the coming months to identify smart reductions that avoid harsh impacts to our customers. We will also be working with legislators to consider some alternative long-term funding solutions for the agency,” Crosier added.

That would suggest sportsmen are off the hook for more than just two years for covering the budgetary shortfalls and enhanced fishing and hunting opportunities WDFW had been angling for with its $20-plus million Washington’s Wild Future package the past two years.

While it had been supported in proposed budgets from House Democrats and Governor Inslee, there was no interest in a fee hike from Senate Republicans, who favored dipping into the General Fund instead, and that appears to be what will pass.

The last fee increase was in 2011, which itself was the first in a decade.

That $10.1 million General Fund appropriation does come with a caveat — “a management and organizational review.”

Senators Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) and John Braun (R-Centralia) have not been happy with WDFW and what they’ve been hearing about it from hunters and anglers.

“When WDFW proposed to increase hunting and fishing license fees to cover their fiscal problems early this year, we heard loud and clear from sportsmen that these increases were not to be bargained with. Instead, we are backfilling $11 million into the agency to maintain hunting and fishing opportunities while we begin addressing the problems at WDFW,” Pearson said. “Clearly, there are both fiscal and management problems that need to be addressed. Now we can better account of how their dollars are spent and bring a level of accountability to the agency that hasn’t been in place for years.”

That review comes with $325,000 to perform the audit.

“This is a big victory for those of us who want to see more hunting and fishing opportunities and a better-run department,” added Pearson. “We need to get WDFW back up and running in structurally sound way. This budget gets us back on that path.”

Meanwhile, Inslee is urging lawmakers to get him the budget as soon as possible to avoid a partial government shutdown that would also close all but one fishery in the state, shut down boat ramps and leave wildlife areas unstaffed.

In his message to staff, Unsworth said the bill should pass and get to the governor in time to head that off, as well as cancel the layoff notices most of his staff received.

On separate late-developing fronts in Olympia, a bill authorizing a fee increase for commercial fisherman is zipping through the Senate as I write and is expected to bring in $1.26 million.

Lawmakers have also pushed through a two-year extension of the Columbia River endorsement that otherwise would have expired tonight.

That helps preserve $3 million in funding to hold salmon and steelhead fisheries in the watershed that otherwise would not be able to occur because of monitoring requirements in federal permits due to ESA stocks.

And a bill that raises $1 million to fight aquatic invasive species passed both chambers in the past 24 hours.

Back to WDFW’s budget, it includes nearly $1 million for wolf management, including depredation prevention efforts and a consultant who is assisting the wolf advisory group.

It maintains funding regional fisheries enhancement groups with a $900,000 allocation, and provides $167,000 for a pilot project to keep Colockum elk away from I-90 and elsewhere in eastern Kittitas County.

It also authorizes spending $530,000 from the new steelhead plate for work on that species, $448,000 for studying ocean acidification, and $200,000 for operating the Mayr Brothers Hatchery in Grays Harbor County.

Besides not funding the Wild Future initiative, the budget leaves out money for increased enforcement of wildlife trafficking.

It also cuts $341,000 for surveying wildlife and $1 million from payment in lieu of taxes for wildlife areas it owns. The latter could have been worse — Inslee had proposed a $3 million hack.

And instead of $2.3 million for hydraulic project approvals, the legislature is appropriating $660,000.

Still to be determined is the state Capital Budget, which funds upkeep and renovations at hatcheries, access sites, as well provides grants for acquiring new wildlife areas.

According to Unsworth, one is expected in the coming weeks.

Fee Hike Dead, WDFW Hopes For General Fund Infusion Instead

It’s now very unlikely Washington hunters and anglers will have to pay more for their licenses any time soon, as it appears WDFW’s fee increase bill is dead for the year.

That word this morning from the agency’s legislative liaison, Raquel Crosier.

“I think we’ll get between $5 million and $10 million in General Fund to deal with budget shortfalls. It’s not as much as we’d hoped for, but it plugs holes,” she said.

Crosier said that $10 million would still require deep cuts, “but not public-facing” ones, meaning they could be dealt with through efficiencies away from the eye of sportsmen and state residents.

As it stands, lawmakers are wrapping up their second special session today, with the third starting tomorrow. Crosier is optimistic a 2017-19 budget with funding for WDFW will be worked out before the June 30 deadline. Though McCleary may not be resolved, that would at least prevent closing fisheries and shuttering hatcheries till a deal is struck.

WDFW’s fee increase proposal — seen by some sportsmen as a done deal but actually requiring the legislature to approve and governor to sign into law — was the subject of a long campaign stretching all the way back to August 2015, when the agency took its Washington’s Wild Future initiative on the road around the state.

June 2016 saw the revealing of proposals, which would have raised around $26 million to help maintain and increase fishing opportunities and enhance hunting ops.

It included $17 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon, later whittled down to $10 apiece in the face of opposition.

This February, the proposal received a public hearing in front of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which helped identify stakeholder concerns and that more work was needed outside Olympia with fishing and hunting groups on HB 1647.

Crosier said that as recently as a month ago, recreational organizations were supportive of 20 percent increases on the fishing side and 7 percent on the hunting side.

But while the Democratic-controlled House preferred the fee-based approach, Republicans who control the upper chamber did not, and it really showed in the language and approaches senators took with WDFW throughout this year’s legislative sessions.

When agency honchos talked about support from constituents, senators pointed to stacks of emails and letters expressing opposition.

If it had been approved, it would have been the first major hike since mid-2011, but to a degree, WDFW’s big ask also faced bad timing.

True, it may really need more funding, but on the backside of some stellar years of fishing, these past two have seen generally poor salmon runs and unprecedented fishery restrictions due to The Blob, the loss of access to Skokomish River kings and coho and the subsequent backing away of support for fee increases by three important angling organizations, as well as self-inflicted wounds such as the unexplained loss of a couple hundred thousand steelhead smolts from the state’s last best summer-run river, all of which left sportsmen wondering why they should pay more for less.

Despite the apparent death of license fee hikes this go-around, WDFW is hopeful two other revenue bills will pass.

This morning, the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to extending the Columbia River endorsement another two years, key for holding salmon and steelhead seasons in the basin.

Crosier said it’s likely the legislature will pass Sen. Kirk Pearson’s SB 5947, with fees going towards monitoring fisheries that occur on or amongst ESA-listed stocks.

And she is also hopeful that legislation addressing the rising threat to Washington waters from aquatic invasive species passes. Sen. Jim Honeyford’s bill has twice been approved unanimously by senators, but keeps getting shuttled back to the House as special sessions end and begin again.

Dipping into the General Fund for however much would begin to fill the $40 million cut out of WDFW’s budget from that source in 2009.

Looking further down the road past the hoped-for infusion, Crosier also mentioned creation of a conservation task force to look into how to better fund nongame management.