Tag Archives: Senate

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.

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.

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 Legislators Put Out WDFW Budget Proposals, With, Without Fee Hikes

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fee hike proposal is still in play in Olympia.

While last week’s proposed operating budget from Senate Republicans pointedly left out the agency’s request for fishing and hunting license increases, the Democratic House’s spending plan released yesterday has them in there.

SPRING CHINOOK ANGLERS TROLL THE COLUMBIA BELOW WASHINGTON’S BEACON ROCK LAST SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Now, whether you end up paying more to hunt, fish, crab, etc., in the Evergreen State in the future depends on leaders in both chambers of the legislature agreeing to a final budget with that element and Governor Inslee signing it into law by this time next month, or later if a special session is required..

Odds of that?

Hard to say at this juncture, and the Olympia Outsider is notoriously bad at predicting the legislature.

But as it stands, the House’s budget for July 2017-June 2019 includes $22.7 million to maintain and increase fishing opportunities and $5.4 million for enhanced hunting ops, both paid for through higher fees for licenses, tags, endorsements, catch cards, etc.

Those are not hard and fast numbers; they’re more like placeholders based on the governor’s original budget and House Bill 1647, which had a hearing early last month, then was sent out to fishing and hunting groups to be “right-sized.”

An internal WDFW memo circulated last night comparing the two budget proposals side by side says that “reaching agreement with stakeholders and the legislature on moving revenue legislation towards adoption will be very important over the next few weeks.”

Firmer numbers can be found elsewhere in the House proposal. It includes $3.1 million for better IT security on WDFW’s website. There’s also money for better steelhead management and support for fish habitat projects, but not for a steelhead mortality study.

It also reduces funding for pheasant and warmwater programs due to shortfalls and decreased license sales, as does the Senate’s budget.

Both chambers would give WDFW a bump over the last two-year spending plan, with the House allocating $449 million, the Senate $416 milllion, increases of 8.3 and .6 percent, according to the agency.

WDFW reports the main difference between the two chambers’ bottom line is largely due to four pieces of agency-request legislation addressing rec and commercial fees, the hydraulic permit approval process and aquatic invasive species management that are included in the House version but not the Senate proposal.

The House would provide almost $2.3 million more to improve HPA processing and a bump of nearly $1.3 million to prevent more bad things from gaining a foothold in our waters.

Highlights from the Senate budget include $5 million from the General Fund to “protect hatcheries and core agency functions,” as a press release from Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) put it.

That money would come with a caveat — a review of WDFW’s management and organization.

Pearson, chair of the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, which deals with many fish and wildlife issues, has been critical of the agency, especially its leadership, including on hoof rot in elk, the disappearance of at least a couple hundred thousand Cowlitz River summer steelhead smolts, and the fee hike proposal.

He says that “(dwindling) fish populations, diseased and scattered wildlife and animal conflict problems have set back the WDFW’s mission over the past few years” but that the Senate budget has the “the tools” needed to “protect and grow hunting and fishing opportunities both now and in the future.”

The Senate budget does include $1.5 million for continued funding of nonlethal depredation prevention work and the agency’s Wolf Advisory Group, about $200,000 more than the House would.

And it increases payments in lieu of taxes to counties for WDFW-owned land, as well as proposes a much higher level than the House budget does, $1.6 million a year compared to $580,000.

Next up will be for both chambers to pass their own budget bills, then negotiate out the differences in a conference committee. That could be challenging, given the $32 million difference between House and Senate proposals.

The regular session is scheduled to wrap up April 23, but may go into overtime if an overall agreement on the budget for the state isn’t reached in time.