OLYMPIA—Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement officers have a new tip for helping keep your last summer weekend on the water stress- free: remember to have an Access Stewardship Decal on your vehicle before launching the boat.
The decal is required to park at many of WDFW's 625 water access sites and wildlife areas across the state. Fishers and hunters receive a decal when they purchase fishing and hunting licenses. Other recreationists pay $10 for the decal.
The decal requirement went into effect this year. Up until July, WDFW enforcement officers simply informed access site users without decals of the new requirement. But for the last two months, officers have been placing warnings on vehicles without the decals. Officers are now stepping up enforcement, conducting emphasis patrols and issuing tickets without a warning.
"A parking ticket is the last thing you want to see on your vehicle at the end of a fun day when you pull the boat or jet skis out of the water," said WDFW enforcement Chief Bruce Bjork. "But unfortunately that's what's happening to many people across the state who use our access sites and aren't paying attention to the posted signs that explain the decal requirement."
Bjork said that hundreds of warnings have been issued statewide and about 10 percent of those have been followed by non-compliance citations.
WDFW's water access sites make up about one-third of Washington's public boat ramps, Bjork explained. State parks and some federal agencies have charged boat launching fees for years, but WDFW has always relied on fishing and hunting license fees to try to cover maintenance costs. Traditional use of many water access sites was fishing, and most use of wildlife areas was hunting.
"But times have changed," Bjork said. "There are more than twice as many people living in Washington today compared to 20 years ago. Only about 25 percent of them fish now, and less than 5 percent hunt. People are still recreating outdoors as much or probably more than ever, but they're not paying into our system to keep these public access sites open, safe and clean."
Increased vandalism of access site toilets, signs and other facilities has stretched maintenance budgets too thin. WDFW's current maintenance budget is the same as it was in 1980, and today only covers about a third of what's needed.
WDFW access sites that are most used – and abused – include: Clark County's Barbers, LaCammas and Vancouver lakes; Cowlitz County's Martin Access; Grant County's George Gorge Access, Quincy Wildlife Area, and Martha and Caliche lakes; King County's Kenmore boat ramp; Kittitas County's Thrall Access on Ringer Road; Kitsap County's Long and Kitsap lakes and Misery Point; Klickitat County's Leidle Creek and Rowland Lake; Mason County's Island Lake; Pierce County's American Lake; Spokane County's Liberty and Newman lakes; Thurston County's Luhr's Landing, Summit and Black lakes, and Yakima County's Pond 4 in Lower Yakima Valley. WDFW enforcement officers will be conducting emphasis patrols at these and other sites this coming Labor Day holiday weekend.
"It's really an issue of fairness," Bjork said. "Fishers and hunters have been paying for these public recreation areas for decades. It's time to have everyone who uses them help pay."