Tag Archives: nate pamplin

State Rep Aims To Simplify WDFW Hunting Regs; Oly Fish-Wildlife Bills Update

It was the fall of 1969, man had just walked on the moon, the road over the top of the North Cascades was still dirt and all of Washington’s big and small game seasons fit on one side of a state highway map that also featured GMU borders.

A Blue Mountains lawmaker would like WDFW to model its current 132-page pamphlet on that much simpler foldout brochure and today her bill toward that end had a hearing in Olympia.

A COPY OF THE 1968 WASHINGTON HUNTING REGS FOLDS OUT TO INCLUDE ALL BIG AND SMALL GAME SEASONS, ALONG WITH SPECIAL PERMITS. (WDFW)

(WDFW)

“I think it’s just hard to figure out the rules and where you’re supposed to be,” said Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy) before the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee this morning.

She said she was inspired to propose the bill after conversations last fall with hunters who relayed to her how complex the regulations now are and subsequently discovering her dad’s 1969 copy of them among old papers of his in her barn.

“I have been hunting for over 70 years and I can remember when hunting regs were very small and very direct,” one of those hunters, Daryl Lambert, told state representatives.

Like many other sportsmen will vouch — whether it be about the hunting or fishing pamphlets, or those for Washington, Oregon or elsewhere — Lambert said you all but need to be a lawyer or land surveyor to understand them.

“I’m afraid I’m going to do something I shouldn’t be or be in the wrong zone,” said the soft-spoken man, voicing the fears of many legitimate hunters.

MEMBERS OF REP. BRIAN BLAKE’S HOUSE COMMITTEE THAT HEARS WDFW-RELATED BILLS LISTEN TO ONE PROPOSING THE AGENCY MODEL ITS HUNTING REGS ON 1969’S, WHICH FEATURED A STATE HIGHWAY AND GAME MANAGEMENT UNIT ON ONE SIDE AND ALL THE DEER, ELK AND OTHER SEASONS ON THE OTHER. (TVW)

It was left to WDFW’s Nate Pamplin, director of budget and government affairs, to offer his agency’s hesitant opposition to HB 2557.

He acknowledged the complexity of the pamphlet and that it can be a barrier to recruiting and retaining hunters, but noted that in addition to maximizing opportunity through distributed pressure while ensuring sustainable game herds, conversations with sportsmen, land owners and treaty tribes have essentially led to today’s packed pamphlet.

“You can imagine how after 50 years of hunting conversations we’ve seen the increase in the number of rules and regulations, but we think that reducing the size of the pamphlet and thus the number of rules would severely impact and cause a loss of hunting opportunity,” Pamplin said.

He did note that the 1969 hunting regs had a 20-page addendum on file that described the legal boundaries of all the game management units shown on the highway map.

Pamplin did voice support for developing a mobile hunting app like what WDFW’s done with Fish Washington.

“It already has your GPS on it — what are the seasons that are open, what are the bag limits, what are the license requirements. All right there in something that is very simple and everybody carries on their person today,” he described to lawmakers.

Of course it was not exactly free to come up with and maintain that app — WDFW is requesting $311,000 in the supplementary budget to keep it going.

Following up on a question from Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama), Pamplin said that for those without smartphones, WDFW does need to consider having other simplified material available.

“On the fishing side … sometimes we will work with local government or tourism board to kind of provide like a one-page summary of ‘Here’s the trout regulations just for that area,’ so someone has that one-off opportunity, doesn’t need to pore through the whole pamphlet to figure out how to go trout fishing. So we’re definitely open to exploring a variety of ways to do that,” he said.

Perhaps what could be done is modify Rep. Dye’s idea but on the flip side of the highway/game management unit map just list most or all of the general seasons for deer, elk, bear, cougar, small game and upland birds, along with plenty of asterisks to say, See the printed or PDF versions for the full regs, definitions, deadlines, firearms restriction areas, what a wolf and a coyote look like, permit and raffle opportunities, etc., etc., etc.

If the dollars could be found for that, it could be made available where tourism brochures turn up — state ferries, chambers of commerce, sportsmen’s show booths, etc., etc., etc.

AS FOR OTHER WDFW-RELATED BILLS PERCOLATING this short 60-day session, here are a few that have caught the passing eye of The Olympia Outsider™* so far:

SB 6071/HB 2571, “Concerning increased deterrence and meaningful enforcement of fish and wildlife violations” by allowing game wardens to issue citations on the spot, like state troopers would a speeding ticket, instead of forwarding the case to county prosecutors who may or may not take it up, as well as tweak laws so poachers can’t regain possession of illegally taken fish or game after its been seized due to how their case was settled without a conviction.

HB 2549, “Integrating salmon recovery efforts with growth management” by making bringing back Chinook, coho and other stocks a goal of GMA, with counties and cities required to submit comprehensive plans toward that goal to WDFW for approval. Key term in the bill is “net ecological gain,” which means instead of just breaking even on environmental impacts of development, mitigations would outweigh them. Has a hearing this week.

HB 2443, “Requiring the use of personal flotation devices on smaller vessels,” meaning anglers 13 years and older aboard drift boats, canoes and other fishing craft less than 19 feet long would need to wear a Coast Guard-approved life vest. The bill had a public hearing earlier this week and even as they spoke to a culture of safety, it appeared to take some among the recreational boating community off guard. Slated for executive session in the House Housing, Community Development & Veterans Committee later this week.

HB 2559, “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes by the department of fish and wildlife” and just might “save the state of Washington,” per one of its two prime sponsors, Rep. Larry Springer (D), who says it’s the most important bill that he and Rep. Tom Dent (R) thought they could bring forward this session. Similar to a bill last year, it essentially shifts PILT payment responsibility from WDFW to the state treasurer’s office, like how it’s done for DNR lands. State ownership of lands in rural counties — where wildlife habitat opportunities are greatest — comes at a cost of taking dollars off tax rolls, especially with the legislature not fully funding PILT since the Recession.

SB 6166, “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses,” the fee bill proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in his supplementary budget and introduced by Sen. Christine Rolfes. Essentially it’s the same bill as last year’s failed HB 1708 and SB 5692. WDFW had pointedly requested General Funds to fill its budget hole instead of trying another fee bill.

HB 2552, “Creating a joint legislative salmon committee” to come up with bills fostering recovery of Chinook, coho and other stocks and coordinating those efforts. Has a hearing later this week.

HB 2504, “Creating the southwest Washington salmon restoration act” and requiring that future salmon production in Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific, and Wahkiakum Counties be equal to or greater than the average over the past two decades. WDFW voiced support for the bill at its public hearing this morning, and a North Sound representative was eager to incorporate her district into sponsor Rep. Jim Walsh’s proposal.

HB 2450, “Concerning license fees for emergency medical services personnel under Title 77 RCW,” which would provide five-plus-year volunteer EMTs and others with free fishing and hunting licenses, an idea that sponsor Rep. Joe Schmick hopes will help retain their services in rural areas. WDFW says it figures 700 people would apply if passed.

HB 2705, “Concerning special antlerless deer hunting seasons” and allowing hunters 65 years of age and up to harvest mule deer and whitetail does during the general rifle season in Eastside units.

SB 6509/HB 2741, “Increasing the abundance of salmonids in Washington waters” through a pilot program similar to Alaska-style private hatcheries.

SB 6072/HB 2238, “Dividing the state wildlife account into the fish, wildlife, and conservation account and the limited fish and wildlife account.” No, this doesn’t mean your license dollars — WHICH DO NOT GO INTO THE GENERAL FUND — will suddenly go into the General Fund, it is about dividing WDFW’s State Wildlife Account — where your fishing and hunting fees actually go — into two subaccounts: restricted and unrestricted moneys to “provide more clarity on these funding sources and issues,” per WDFW.

SB 5613, “Concerning the authority of counties to vacate a county road that abuts on a body of water if the county road is hazardous or creates a significant risk to public safety.” Introduced last session and resuscitated for 2020, this bill targets a water access site on the lower Lewis River but has drawn concern for potential wider impacts. It is within one reading of getting out of the Senate.

And HB 2666, “Establishing the warm water fishing advisory group” to improve angling, habitat and representation for bass, crappie, catfish, walleye and other spinyray fisheries.

* Has The Olympia Outsider™ forgotten a bill? Email him a hot news tip/kick in the side of the noggin at awalgamott@media-inc.com!

Groups Urge Washington Lawmakers To Tap General Fund For WDFW

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

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

OUTDOOR SCENES FROM ACROSS WASHINGTON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT, ALL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inslee Proposes Fish-Hunt Fee Increase, Bringing Columbia Endorsement Back

Governor Inslee is proposing to increase Washington fishing and hunting licenses and bring back the Columbia River endorsement to partially fill gaping holes in WDFW’s budget, surprising agency officials.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE GIVES HIS 2019 STATE OF THE STATE SPEECH EARLIER THIS YEAR. (GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

The supplementary budget from the two-term governor running for reelection also includes $15.6 million from the General Fund to mostly meet WDFW’s big ask of $26 million in tax dollars, a decision fish and wildlife managers made after seeing their two previous fee hikes flame out.

“That was news to us that the Governor’s Office was planning to use a fee bill,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW Director of Budget and Governmental Affairs, this rainy morning.

Still, he and Director Kelly Susewind were optimistic that Inslee’s proposed overall $23.8 million budget bump would help get them through the current two-year biennium.

“In general, we’re seeing the budget conversation shift from if this work should continue, to how this work should be funded—which is a positive sign,” Susewind wrote in an all-staff email on Thursday.

The release of the governor’s budget ahead of the short, 60-day legislative session beginning in mid-January is said to “set the tone” for counter proposals from the House and Senate, which must approve any license hikes before they go into effect.

It’s now up to the governor’s Office of Financial Management to submit a fee bill, but WDFW brass believes it will be the same or similar to the 15 percent across-the-board package introduced during this year’s long session.

That one had widespread support until a Fish and Wildlife Commission vote in March on Columbia River salmon reforms  backlashed things.

OFM is also expected to reintroduce a bill to reestablish the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement, which was not extended last session by lawmakers. It helps fund fisheries and monitoring, primarily in the upper river, that is required to hold seasons over the numerous Endangered Species Act-listed stocks in the region.

Pamplin called those two pieces “a significant chunk of the budget proposal” from the Democratic governor who now has majorities in both chambers of the legislature.

Before they fell by the wayside last session, it was estimated that a 15 percent fee increase would bring in $14.3 million every two years, the CRSSE $3 million every biennium.

If passed this session, they would pay for “at-risk” hatchery production and fisheries, hunting and wildlife work, customer service, and the aforementioned Columbia seasons, and “emergent” needs such as WDFW’s Fish Washington app. Commercial crabbers would be tapped to pay more as efforts ramp up to prevent offshore whale entanglements.

A mix of fee and General Fund moneys would help cover other  emergent needs such as monitoring Puget Sound and Skagit-Sauk salmon and wild steelhead fisheries, respectively, and a large cost of living increase OKed last session by lawmakers, who didn’t identify where that funding would come from.

There’s also $924,000 from the General Fund for pinniped management on the Columbia, where the state and others have applied to remove hundreds of California and Steller sea lions, and $573,000 to submit a report by next December on how to “develop alternative gear methods for the commercial gill net fishery and a draft a plan to reduce the number of commercial gill net licenses” on the big river.

Interestingly, while Inslee sent WDFW a letter in late September to come up with more ways to nonlethally manage wolves in Northeast Washington’s troubled Kettle Range — the scene of dozens of cattle depredations and the removal of two full packs over the years — and the agency recently sent him a “suite of activities for additional capacity,” the governor’s budget doesn’t fund those options.

It does, however, “preserve current levels of service from law enforcement officers and wildlife conflict specialists,” with dollars coming from the General Fund.

There’s also money for continuing a Lake Washington predator study. Initial results from this spring suggested yellow perch might be having a larger impact on Chinook and other smolt survival, at least at the Gasworks Park chokepoint, than bass, which have been targeted by lawmakers to increase king salmon abundance to benefit orcas.

And Inslee’s Capital Budget proposal includes $2.9 million to continue renovations on Soos Creek Hatchery on the Duwamish-Green River, $1 million for master planning for orca recovery and boosts appropriations for Forks Creek and shifting production at Eells Springs Hatcheries.

WDFW had gone into the 2019 legislative session facing a $31 million shortfall this year and next because license revenues and funding haven’t been able to keep up with growing costs, heaped-on responsibilities from lawmakers or new issues cropping up. The agency’s General Fund contributions were also cut sharply during the Great Recession and have yet to fully return to previous levels — even as the state’s economy booms. Washington state natural resource agencies suck the hindmost tit in this state, given less than 1 percent of General Fund revenues.

With the death of the fee and CRSSE bills earlier this year, lawmakers gave WDFW $24 million in General Fund money instead, leaving a temporary $7 million gap — that then immediately ballooned back out to $20 million due to unfunded mandates such as the COLA for wardens, biologists and others.

Afterwards, with the failure of 2017’s and 2019’s fee bills staring them down, WDFW honchos took the tack that since much of their work also benefits the state as a whole, they wouldn’t take another run at increasing the price of licenses and instead submitted the $26 million General Fund request, a large ask they acknowledged.

The Governor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on why it decided to take another stab at a fee bill. The last one was approved in 2011.

Inslee’s proposal does set up issues for WDFW budgeting down the road.

“The good news is that our work is funded through the balance of the biennium,” Director Susewind told staff. “Our challenge is the Governor’s Budget appropriates more expenditure authority for the State Wildlife Account in out-biennia than the recreational fee bill would generate, leaving us a gap that we would need to resolve in 2021. We’ll work with the Legislature to try to avoid that outcome and see if we can convert the appropriations to be backed by revenue and thus sustain the work into the future.”

Washington’s 2020 legislative session begins on Jan. 13 and is scheduled to adjourn March 12. Any fee and CRSSE bills must be approved by both chambers and be signed by the governor who proposed them.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated how much was proposed in the budget for pinniped management. The correct figure is $924,000, not $924 million.

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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Plan Would Stave Off Closing Skagit-Sauk Steelheading Next Spring

Updated June 24, 2019, with quote at bottom from the Wild Steelhead Coalition

Don’t hang up your Skagit-Sauk spoons, pink worms, plugs, jigs and flies again quite yet.

State fishery managers appear to have a gameplan for how to keep the rivers’ wild steelhead catch-and-release fishery open next spring, a U-turn from just a few weeks ago when it was set to be eliminated after the license fee bill that would have funded it wasn’t passed.

KEVIN RAINES AND ANDY MOSER DRIFT FISH THE MIDDLE SAUK ON A FINE SPRING DAY WITH WHITEHORSE IN THE BACKGROUND. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

With initial support from the Fish and Wildlife Commission earlier this month, WDFW would ask state lawmakers for the money to monitor the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

They’re looking to include $547,000 in a supplemental budget request for next January’s short legislative session. A final go-no go decision will come in August.

But it’s not a slam dunk either.

If the money isn’t appropriated by the legislature, WDFW would have to scavenge from other programs to cover the federally required monitoring next year, and 2021’s season would either be reduced or eliminated.

Still, the turn-around will buoy fans of the iconic North Cascades fishery that had been closed for nine years starting in 2009 due to low runs and as they picked back up, was the subject of much work and lobbying by the Occupy Skagit movement and other anglers to get a management plan written to reopen the waters.

After an initial 12-day season in 2018, this spring saw a full three-month fishery, and while the catches weren’t great, it was still wonderful to be on the rivers again during prime time.

“Almost universally people were excited to be there, happy to be there, and extremely thankful for the opportunity to be there,” angler advocate and retired North Sound state fisheries biologist Curt Kraemer reported to the commission last weekend. “(Among the) probably 100 people I talked to, that was the commonality, and I don’t hear that a lot about outdoor recreation in this state, whether it be hunting or fishing, and I do a lot of both.”

But even as the sun shone brightly over us gear and fly, and boat and bank anglers working the glacial, mountain waters this spring, storm clouds were brewing in Olympia.

GLACIAL FLOUR FROM THE SUIATTLE RIVER CLOUDS THE SAUK BELOW GOVERNMENT BRIDGE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Funding for two years’ worth of creel sampling, enforcement and a biologist to oversee the fishery over the strong but still Endangered Species Act-listed winter-run stock was part of WDFW’s 15 percent license fee increase proposal.

But it was also on the “enhance fishing” side of the ledger, which essentially made it optional compared to things on the “maintain” side.

When the fee bill failed, tangled in issues 200 road miles to the south of the Skagit-Sauk confluence — Columbia River gillnetting policies — WDFW had to figure out how to rebalance its budget.

Even though lawmakers gave the agency $24 million in General Fund dollars to make up for not passing the license increase or Columbia salmon-steelhead endorsement, what initially was just a $7 million shortfall grew to $20 million as they heaped on new unfunded costs.

On May 30, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind sent out an email that “the current Skagit catch and release fishery will not receive funding and thus that opportunity will be eliminated.

The next morning during a Fish and Wildlife Commission conference call alarms were raised.

“It’s about as clean a fishery as you can imagine. I would really, really object to that being eliminated,” said Chairman Larry Carpenter of nearby Mount Vernon.

That got the wheels turning again.

This is about the time of year that state agencies begin to prepare their supplemental budget requests for the upcoming legislative session, and at last week’s regular meeting of the citizen oversight panel, WDFW staffers presented proposals for discussion.

It included $271,000 to monitor the 2020 Skagit-Sauk fishery, $276,000 for 2021.

“There was Commission support for that approach,” Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, told Northwest Sportsman this morning.

The proposal also includes $833,000 in 2020 and $854,000 in 2021 to patch up what he’s termed a “significant shortfall” in funding to monitor Puget Sound and coastal salmon fisheries — another victim of the fee bill failure.

“This request will fund staff to provide the greatest fishing opportunities possible while satisfying ESA and conservation needs,” commission documents state.

BOBBER AND SPOON RODS AWAIT EMPLOYMENT ALONG THE SAUK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Money for both Skagit-Sauk steelhead and salmon monitoring is listed as coming from the state General Fund, under the proposals.

If it doesn’t pan out, though, WDFW would be left lifting couch cushions to figure out how to pay for the former fishery.

“If we don’t secure the supplemental in the first fiscal year, it’s a bit more challenging,” says Pamplin. “We’ll have already spent some money on the fishery since it opens in February and we’ll not receive final word on the supplemental budget from the legislature until mid-March. Thus, we’d need to find reductions elsewhere in the fourth-quarter of the first fiscal year to cover the expenses already incurred for opening the fishery.”

The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

“For the second fiscal year, it’s fairly straight-forward.  If we don’t secure the supplemental, the fishery would be proposed to be reduced/eliminated,” Pamplin adds.

Meanwhile online, Wayne Kline of Occupy Skagit issued a “Three Minute Steelhead Challenge” to fellow fans of the fishery to contact their legislators to build support for funding it.

From this page on the Legislature’s site you can find your district and then your state representatives’ and senator’s email addresses.

“We’re glad to hear the Commission is directing the Department to find funding for this iconic fishery,” said Rich Simms of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, “but this underscores the much larger need for committed funding from our legislature for our fish and wildlife into the future.”

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.

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.

Long-term $$$ Plan Subject Of New WDFW Advisory Group’s First Meeting

Representatives from Washington fishing and hunting organizations are part of a newly launching advisory group that will assist WDFW in coming up with a long-term revenue plan and other tasks.

An edict from the state legislature coming out of this year’s marathon session, it’s billed as the agency’s “first comprehensive management, operations, and financial review in more than 10 years.”

Some names on the 20-member Budget and Policy Advisory Group you may recognize include:

Ron Garner, Puget Sound Anglers
Andy Marks, Coastal Conservation Association
David Cloe, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council
Wayne Marian, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Rachel Voss, Mule Deer Foundation
Mark Pidgeon, Hunters Heritage Council
Butch Smith, Ilwaco Charter Association

According to a press release, they and others from the timber and farming industries, as well as a number of conservation groups and others are being tasked to:

* Develop a long-term plan to balance projected expenses and revenues by providing prioritized options for spending reductions and revenue increases.

· Identify and implement management improvements and operating efficiencies.

· Conduct a “zero-based budget review” to accompany the department’s proposed 2019-21 operating budget.

“Rapid population growth and recent state and federal budget trends pose major challenges for fish and wildlife management,” WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin said in the release. “The advisory committee will provide valuable perspectives and recommendations about the role the department plays in conservation and the outdoor economy.”

It’s fallout from this past legislative session in which WDFW requested the first major fee increase in six years, but lawmakers led by Senate Republicans gave the agency a one-time $10.1 million budget bump instead.

The advisory group’s first meeting working on the long-term revenue plan is Dec. 4 at South Puget Sound Community College in Lacey. It is open to the public.

For more, go here.