WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

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December 18, 1996
Contact: Jeff Weathersby, 360-902-2256 or Sandi Snell, 360-902-2229

Proposed budget misses fundamental fish and wildlife needs

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 added.

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.
  • 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.
Johnson said the governor's proposed 1997 supplemental budget also omitted funds for some important department activities.

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," Johnson warned.

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 year."