OLYMPIA -- Millions of hatchery-raised salmon could be wasted, public lands will
continue to deteriorate, responses to dangerous animal complaints will be delayed and
efforts to rebuild wild salmon runs could stall if the Legislature enacts the 1997-99 state
budgets proposed today.
Those are just some of the important consequences of continuing to underfund the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to Mitch Johnson, chairman of the
Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. He said the budget contains funds for some new
initiatives but fails to address some fundamental needs of fish and wildlife.
"We understand state resources are scarce and there are many important uses for
the funds available. Unfortunately, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which receives less
than one percent of the state's General Fund, has been starved for funds for years. Our fish
and wildlife resources and the lands we manage for them are approaching the point of no
return. Ultimately, citizens will feel the effect economically if Washington loses its reputation
as an ecologically responsible place to live and do business."
"We must continue to press for a fair share of these revenues for the sake of our
natural resources and the future generations that will call Washington home," Johnson
Bern Shanks, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state's citizens
want fish and wildlife to flourish in the state. "A recent survey showed 82 percent of the
state's residents want us to do more to protect and enhance fish and wildlife and 74 percent
of them are willing to pay more for that protection," he added.
The department has proposed a $305 million operating budget for fiscal 1997-99,
which represented a 22 percent increase over the 1995-97 budget, adjusted for inflation and
other fixed costs. Gov. Mike Lowry today announced his proposed state budget, which
included a $254 million operating appropriation for the department, a 2 percent increase
over the adjusted 1995-97 budget.
Key department initiatives include:
- Wild salmon restoration to forestall the federalization of Washington's fisheries
under the Endangered Species Act. In order to avoid listings, the department will have to
study fish populations and develop plans to assure their recovery. Funds also will be needed
to respond to listings that occur by developing expensive stock recovery plans. Department
request: $14.1 million; governor's budget: $1.6 million.
- Restructuring the department on a watershed basis to bring it in line with the needs
of the resources and develop a focus for community involvement. Department request: $9.2
million; governor's budget: $3.2 million.
- Improved stewardship and recreational access for the department's 800,000 acres
which receive three million visitor days each year. Department request: $4.5 million;
governor's budget $160,000.
- Community policing with 31 additional enforcement officers to handle enforcement
problems statewide ranging from poaching to violations of hydraulic permits and faster
responses to complaints of nuisance animals that threaten public safety or property. The
ratio of officers to population was 1 per 22,300 in 1980. Today's ratio is one officer per
32,000 residents. Department request: $5.4 million; governor's budget: nothing.
Johnson said the governor's proposed 1997 supplemental budget also omitted funds
for some important department activities.
- Improved public service by creating a new Puget Sound regional office, hire more
customer service and volunteer and education specialists, expanding the department's
presence on the Internet and updating the department's antiquated license sales system to
provide better customer service to the two million citizens who hunt and fish. The department
currently collects $28 million per year through 1,000 vendors who take an average of 20
minutes to prepare each license they sell by hand. Department request: $7 million;
governor's budget: nothing.
For example, the department asked for $924,000 in 1997 to replace cuts in federal
Mitchell Act funds to support department hatcheries along the Columbia River. Those
hatcheries, built to mitigate for fish habitat lost with construction of hydroelectric dams on the
Columbia, are a major source of chinook and coho salmon and steelhead caught in the
basin as well as off the Washington coast. The governor's budget included no supplemental
funds fordecision to close up to three hatcheries and release prematurely thousands of
coho, chinook, steelhead and cutthroat trout, most of which will perish almost immediately.
The governor's 1997 supplemental budget did include funds for winter feeding of wild
animals as well as food for fish and game birds at department facilities.
"Our salmon and many other fish and wildlife resources are in trouble but it is also the
citizens of Washington who suffer because the department lacks adequate funding,"
Shanks said, "It takes $250 to clean a toilet at a recreational area once. We receive
only $254 for each of our 700 sites per year. That leaves $4 for paving the parking lot,
building a boat ramp and buying toilet paper. And it means the toilet is filthy for most of the