WDFW Budget Panel Urges Commission To Revisit Fee Increase Proposal

Members of a WDFW advisory panel are asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission to revisit its decision last weekend to ask legislators for only a 5% license fee increase.

“That amount is far less then (sic)  just the effect of inflation since the last (2011) fee increase and we fear will be frowned upon by legislators and force the department into cuts that will harm our interests and our state’s natural resources,” reads the August 15th letter from 15 of the 20 members of the Budget and Policy Advisory Group.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

It was signed by Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers, David Cloe of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Rachel Voss of the Mule Deer Foundation, Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association, and Mark Pidgeon of the Hunters Heritage Council, among others.

WDFW staffers had brought a $60 million package to the commission that would have increased fishing and hunting fees by 12% to 15% or introduced a $10 annual surcharge on licenses to deal with an estimated $32.9 million budget shortfall in 2019-21 as well as enhance sporting opportunities and conservation needs.

According to the agency, two-thirds of the overall package would have been paid for through the state’s General Fund and one-third by license fees, a departure from recent history but a recognition of the benefits to local economies and the wider burden of WDFW’s mission.

The letter also states that through the group’s numerous meetings members learned “substantial and unanticipated” things about WDFW, including that it’s run efficiently compared to other fish and wildlife departments across the country that it is working for the public good but its budget is not holding up, and the increasing strain of its myriad missions warrants support.

“Our fish and wildlife resources and recreational opportunities are struggling because of the department’s immense challenges, not its shortcomings. The world is changing, and WDFW must be given the resources to evolve to meet these diverse current challenges,” it states.

Saying that they are “gravely concerned” about potential cuts, the letter signers vow to put aside their differences and work towards a common goal of helping WDFW.

“To succeed, the Department requires over $60 million above its present funding (not including expected orca needs), half to fix the shortfall created by the legislature in the last biennium and half to invest in the future by helping correct inequities and the damage caused by a decade of underfunding. This is a huge goal that is only likely to be achieved if its weight is shared. Our belief is that an appropriate breakdown is for at least 25% ($15M) to be covered by increased fees, challenging the Legislature to pass that fee bill and match it threefold from the General Fund. Perhaps a combination of a modest surcharge and modest fee increase (plus extending the Columbia salmon and steelhead endorsement authorization) would avoid hitting too heavily on either end of the customer spectrum. Any less than 25% risks a response from the Legislature that could leave the department underfunded, impose yet higher fees on sportsmen and women, or both. Strong leadership from the Commission is our best chance for success,” the letter urges the citizen oversight committee.

Others who signed the letter include Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, Jason Callahan of the timber industry’s Washington Forest Protection Association, and Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association.

It was addressed to the eight current commissioners. Jay Kehne of Omak resigned earlier this month after seven years of service to spend more time afield with his family and friends, he said.

Among advisory group members who did not sign on were representatives of Coastal Conservation Association of Washington and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The deadline for getting budget proposals to the governor’s office is next month.

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