WDFW Outlines Budget Issues, Proposed ‘Modest’ Fee Increase

WDFW hopes to lean on the general public more to fill a potential $30 million shortfall in the next budget biennium, a fundamental shift from just a few years ago, but sportsmen may still be asked to pay a “modest” increase to chase Chinook, bucks and ducks under a proposal being unveiled today.

It’s part of an overall $60 million bid that also includes strategic investments to improve angling and hunting and is now up for discussion, with tonight offering the first chance for you to hear about it first hand as state managers hold a webinar starting at 7 p.m.

Briefing reporters this afternoon, WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin says there are two fee-increase options WDFW’s looking at currently.

One is a 12- to 15-percent across-the-board hike, the first since 2011, and the other is a $10 charge that license buyers would pay once a year ($3 for temporary permits).

Neither is a done deal and the Fish and Wildlife Commission must first determine whether to ask the state Legislature to pass it during the 2019 session.

If you’ve got a sense of deja vu all over again, it’s because, yes, we just went through this.

WDFW’S NATE PAMPLIN BRIEFS REPORTERS DURING A WEBINAR ON ITS BUDGET ISSUES.

Pamplin acknowledged that fee bills are tough sells, and that was definitely the case with former Director Jim Unsworth’s Wild Futures Initiative, which flamed out in 2017.

It proposed 10 percent hunting and 17 to 20 percent fishing increases, along with new $17 to $10 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon.

Pamplin attributed that to “a real lack of trust in the department” but with lawmakers’ one-time $10 million bump that year instead of license increases came requirements that the agency review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan.

Essentially, the funding problem isn’t bloated management and too many IT staffers but long-term issues caused by revenues from sportsmen not keeping up with how much it costs to manage fish, wildlife and opportunities to pursue them, increasing legislative requirements, deep budget cuts in the years after the Great Recession and the looming expiration of the key Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

“Your power bill goes up, our fish food bill goes up,” Pamplin said.

Three million dollars worth of cuts to fish stocking, habitat work and volunteer grant programs have also been identified and will occur in the coming months.

And WDFW created a budget and policy work group made up of influential members of the fishing and hunting communities — Ron Garner, Andy Marks, Rachel Voss, Mark Pidgeon — and other groups in Washington’s outdoor world, and for several months now they’ve been getting an eyeful about where and how license money comes from and what it’s used for.

“We lifted up the hood on our budget,” says Pamplin when asked what made this effort different from Wild Futures’ failure.

One thing that I learned when I took my own peak earlier this year was just how much of my fishing and hunting license money went to WDFW.

All of it.

Even so, adding to the price to go crabbing, troll for coho, and wander the Palouse for pheasants will see pushback, as it should because the product isn’t what it once was — habitat issues, decreased hatchery production, a booming state population are all impacting the quality and experience.

Pamplin said WDFW recognized those “optics” as well as concerns about pricing hunter and anglers out of the field and off the water.

ANOTHER SCREENGRAB FROM TODAY’S WEBINAR.

But what’s also different with WDFW’s request this time is that in 2017, the budget “solution” was entirely based on the wallets of the state’s sportsmen, as Pamplin told Northwestern Outdoors Radio host John Kruse, whereas this time only 33 percent is.

That’s because Pamplin et al hope that lawmakers will recognize that much of what WDFW does benefits that state as a whole and should be funded thusly.

That represents a shift from 2010, when one top manager told me at the time WDFW was “making a concerted effort to make itself less dependent on the General Fund” because it didn’t compete well with public health, prison and education.

Where it leaned heavily on us in the following years, the agency is now trying to broaden its funding base.

Pamplin said hunting and fishing produce $3.4 billion in economic activity annually in Washington, and based on current appropriations from it, a 350 percent return on investment to GF-S, the state General Fund.

Answering a Kruse question, Pamplin wondered out loud who should pay for the game warden who has to go out to the suburban house and deal with the bear eating out of the garbage cans? Right now, hunter dollars fund the work but he feels that the General Fund should instead.

As for what WDFW would do if it were to receive that $60 million package from the General Fund and license increases from legislators, Pamplin pointed to a mix of programs that could continue/not have to be cut and long-term investments it could focus on, including:

Wildlife conflict prevention and response ($4.4 million)
Shellfish enforcement and consumer protection ($2.5 million)
Land management ($2.7 million)
Hatchery operations and fisheries management ($9 million)
Hunting management, including hunter education ($3.2 million)
Recovery of at-risk species and prevention of invasive species ($3.5 million)
Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement program ($3.3 million)
Customer service support ($1.9 million)

 And:

Conservation investments in such programs as salmon recovery, watershed health, biodiversity, and conservation enforcement ($14.7 million)
Expanded fishing opportunities and hatchery improvements ($5.6 million)
Hunting enhancements, including improved law enforcement and access ($3.5 million)
Orca recovery (amount TBD)

If those were the carrots, there wasn’t much stick in Pamplin’s webinar.

But he did point to seven hatcheries at risk if no funding is found — a list that includes Reiter Ponds, Humptulips and Omak, among others — as well as the warmwater program, ensuring early winter steelhead programs are ESA compliant and rehabbing lakes and streams.

Along with tonight’s webinar, Pamplin says there will be a chance to make your feelings known through an upcoming public opinion survey.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is also slated to talk about the proposal at its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Olympia before making a recommendation to lawmakers who draw up and vote on WDFW budget bills.

Correction: A miscalculation of increases proposed under the Wild Futures Initiative led to too-low estimates of select fishing license increases. Instead of 8 to 9%, those should have read 17 to 20%.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *