An icon of the Pacific Northwest, wild steelhead have provided important cultural and economic benefits throughout the region’s history. Today, however, native steelhead are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in much of Washington, where resource managers face numerous challenges – such as climate change and habitat loss – in managing those native stocks.
The department is taking several actions to restore steelhead populations to sustainable levels but faces shrinking state and federal funding, steadily rising costs, and increasingly complex management requirements. To maintain and improve key conservation and recovery activities, WDFW is looking to establish consistent funding sources dedicated to restoring wild steelhead populations in Washington.
Washington’s salmon, steelhead and other fisheries generate billions of dollars for the state’s economy and play a vital role in Washington’s ecology and culture. WDFW is charged with managing recreational and commercial fisheries as well as conserving the valuable species that support these opportunities. Challenges to fulfilling those responsibilities include a deteriorating hatchery system, declining federal funding for salmon production, increasingly complex standards for fishery monitoring and difficulties associated with obtaining permits to meet federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements for hatcheries and fisheries.
To fund the costs associated with meeting those challenges, the department also is requesting support from the state general fund to help cover the costs of sustaining Washington’s commercial fisheries.
During the past two summers, wildfires have burned more than a million acres in eastern Washington, damaging communities and threatening public safety. Those wildfires also scorched large swaths of wildlife habitat, including 30,000 acres of WDFW wildlife areas in 2015 alone.
To help prevent similar destruction in the future, WDFW needs to thin its forest stands and conduct prescribed burns to reduce fuel loads. This would also improve forest health and wildlife habitat. The department, however, lacks the funding necessary to do so at a sufficient pace.
A rapidly growing population, a changing climate, and years of uncertain funding have made fish and wildlife management an increasingly challenging endeavor. To tackle those and many other major management challenges in the coming years, WDFW has begun a new multi-year initiative designed to help build a stronger and more effective state agency.
Ultimately, the department’s goal is to strengthen relationships with Washingtonians and their communities, increase support for conservation and participation in outdoor recreation, and ensure WDFW programs and services meet the needs of the public.
The department is seeking legislation to correct deficiencies in current Title 77 fish and wildlife laws. The proposals – mostly technical changes – would clarify laws for certain fish and wildlife related crimes and strengthen the protection of Washington’s natural resources.
In November 2015, Washington state voters passed Initiative 1401, designed to help save international wildlife species at risk of extinction by curbing the market for their “parts and products.” Approved by a 79 percent majority vote, the initiative directs the department to enforce new state prohibitions against the trafficking of 10 non-native species, such as elephants, rhinoceros, and marine turtles. I-1401 represents a significant new responsibility for WDFW, whose statutory mission has historically been confined to managing fish and wildlife species that are native to Washington state.
WDFW is committed to fulfilling the intent of the initiative, but will need the Legislature’s support with funding and statutory compatibility to maximize the effectiveness of this new operation.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife operates as the state’s principal agency for species protection and conservation, under a mandate defined in Title 77 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). That legislative mandate directs the department to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage fish and wildlife and to provide fishing and hunting opportunities. Department activities also are subject to provisions of Title 220 and Title 232 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC).