WDFW is both “pleased” and breathing a sigh of relief after state lawmakers worked to right the agency’s budget this session, and then some.
“The primary take-away is that the legislature has provided WDFW with $27 million in State General Fund in this supplemental operating budget, which will fund the Department’s core services through June of 2021 and allocates significant resources for new work,” Director Kelly Susewind wrote in an all-staff email this morning.
“The ongoing dollars are close to fully funding today’s needs in outyears. It is a huge improvement, especially in a supplemental year,” he stated.
WDFW had asked for $26 million from the General Fund following the failure of two fee bills in recent years and underfunding by $7 million last year that ballooned to $20 million after lawmakers stuffed some unfunded mandates into the budget.
One of those, however, did make it into the agency’s supplemental operating budget for 2020. Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) slipped a proviso to assemble a nine-member science panel to work with the state Academy of Sciences and advise WDFW and tribal comanagers on salmon and steelhead management.
That was slammed by Puget Sound Anglers president Ron Garner as well as the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which termed it an unneeded “additional layer of bureaucracy on top of the multitude of existing state, federal, and tribal scientific review processes.”
On the capital budget side, Susewind reported that another $4.6 million was allocated to restoring the Soos Creek Hatchery on the Duwamish-Green River, which raises kings and coho, renovating Pier 86 on Seattle’s waterfront for anglers and others, and raising the dike on Wiley Slough at the mouth of the Skagit River.
Even as rank-and-file Washington hunters and anglers are as angry as I’ve ever seen them due to a litany of issues, Susewind credited “unprecedented” support from Puget Sound Anglers and 60-plus sporting, conservation and other organizations, as well as work by agency brass, with helping on the heavy lift in Olympia.
For his part, PSA’s Garner pointed to help from the American Sportfishing Association as well as the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, who as a member of WDFW’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group has been working the past two years to get the agency fully funded, said he was “delighted” with the budget outcome.
“A broad and diverse coalition of stakeholders — from hunters and anglers to outdoor recreation and biodiversity groups — came together to speak for the importance of WDFW’s mission, work, and appropriate funding. The legislature heard us,” he said.
Friedman said there had been a “very real risk” of budget cuts because agency funding still hasn’t recovered from cuts due to 2008’s Great Recession.
“I am so appreciative of these leaders for taking the time to advocate for the value of WDFW and recognizing the services we provide to conserve fish and wildlife and sustain a robust outdoor economy,” Susewind stated.
WDFW had gone into the short, off-year session of the legislature with “a lot on the line,” but as lawmakers wrap up business this afternoon, the director will tell staffers whose jobs had been identified as at-risk that they are safe, for the time being.
“We won’t have to cut conservation activities, hatcheries or fish management capacity, work to support hunting, our wildlife conflict response efforts, land management activities, sanitary shellfish patrols, or customer service. This is a huge relief for all of us,” Susewind said.
Crucially, the legislature provided on-going funding for several items, meaning WDFW won’t have to come back with its hand out next year to keep programs going. Those include:
$861,000 annually for Puget Sound salmon monitoring, required because of all the ESA-listed stocks. Also included in this appropriation is money for continued predation studies in the Lake Washington Ship Canal, where initial results suggested yellow perch and rock bass were taking significant bites out of outmigrating Chinook and coho smolts, and better catch card processing;
$517,000 for post-fire habitat recovery on state wildlife areas as continued funding;
$400,000 annually starting next year to set up and hold stations for inspecting vehicles and vessels for invasive species, as well as boater outreach;
and $225,000 a year for increased marine patrols in Central and South Sound to protect orcas (another $139,000 was provided in one-time funding to match a federal grant to buy another patrol boat);
Susewind said that lawmakers also provided one-time funding to the tune of:
$800,000 in 2021 for technical assistance when landowners apply for permits to work around water;
$783,000 next year for efforts to control the spread of invasive European green crab;
$573,000 next year for a “reverse auction” of gillnetting licenses for the Columbia River commercial salmon fishery;
$500,000 to begin planning to boost hatchery Chinook production, “including preference for a new hatchery on the Cowlitz River”;
$462,000 in 2021 for removing sea lions in the Columbia when NMFS grants the joint states-tribes permit to do so;
$357,000 next year to continue removing invasive northern pike in Lake Roosevelt;
$300,000 for elk fencing and conflict prevention in the Skagit Valley;
And $256,000 total in 2020 and 2021 to figure out incorporating the concept of “net ecological gain” into state land and environmental regulations;
“Overall, I view this impressive list of new, funded assignments as a testament to the legislature’s confidence in WDFW — they are looking to us to solve problems and are providing the resources to be successful,” Susewind stated.
As for the Capital Budget, WDFW had asked for over $21 million for five projects but ended up with 21 percent of that for three.
Lawmakers provided $2.9 million for work at WDFW’s Soos Creek hatchery, $972,000 to raise the agency’s Wiley Slough dike to protect farmlands and homes behind it, and via the state Department of Commerce’s “Local and Community Projects,” scored $750,000 to get cracking on repairing Pier 86, which has been closed since midsummer 2017 due to public safety concerns, Susewind reported.
He stated that lawmakers also provided:
$320,000 to the Department of Agriculture for increased range riding patrols in Northeast Washington’s wolf country, plus $40,000 for managing conflicts in Stevens and Ferry Counties;
$250,000 to the Recreation and Conservation Office to look at the loss of steelhead smolts at the Hood Canal Bridge and figure out how to mitigate the impact;
And an additional $155 million to the Department of Transportation for fish passage barrier work to meet a federal court deadline of 2030.
Conservation Northwest’s Friedman, who also thanked Appropriations Committees members Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge) and Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), said that WDFW’s funding “gives us a foundation to build from as we explore sources of dedicated funding that would enable WDFW to step up to the greater challenges our wildlife face in the future from population growth, climate change, and much more.”
As for fish-and-wildlife-related bills passed by lawmakers, among the notable ones was HB 1261, which banned motorized suction and gravity siphon mining in critically designated salmon, steelhead and bull trout streams and making doing so a Clean Water Act violation.
And game wardens were also given more leverage via HB 2571 to cite petty fish and wildlife violations with infractions on the spot instead of sending charges to overworked county prosecutors who often don’t take poachers to court.