The upcoming 2020 legislative session is a short, 60-day session expected to span January to early March. Typically, during even-year legislative sessions, the legislature is focused on emerging issues or addressing issues that weren’t resolved the previous year.
This 2020 supplemental session, the Department continues to face challenging budget issues. Rising costs are threatening our ability to sustain our core work of conserving fish, wildlife, and habitat and providing fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching opportunities. Yet, we also know that the state's fish and wildlife resources are central to the economy of the state. Fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching activities contribute over $4.5 billion each year in economic activity, and nearly $350 million per biennium directly to the State General Fund.
The short-term fix that the legislature approved for the 2019-21 operating budget is insufficient to adequately maintain our activities through the end of the biennium. Our submittal for the 2020 supplemental budget is a larger request than is usual for our agency, primarily due to two unresolved impacts from the 2019 Legislative Session: a gap of continuous funding in our second fiscal year and an increase in legislatively mandated costs not backed by revenue.
Since 2017, WDFW has undergone a third-party financial review and cut $2 million in ongoing expenses. Yet, these facts remain:
- WDFW continues to suffer from state general fund reductions enacted in 2009 due to a national economic downturn that has since passed;
- The Legislature has not approved an increase to recreational hunting and fishing fees since 2011;
- Several one-time funding patches have expired;
- Federal funding is decreasing simultaneously;
- Washington’s fish and wildlife require more management, as the state’s human population continues to grow;
- 74% of Washingtonians support WDFW funding from a combination of both licenses and public tax dollars. ¹
The Department’s total request is for $26 million in State General Funds for the supplemental operating budget (Maintenance Level of $12.5 million, At-Risk of $6.7 million, and Emergent Needs of $6.8 million).
¹ America's Wildlife Values - Washington State, 2018.
Why fund a healthy fish and wildlife department?
- 268 Washington species are in need of conservation.
- 1 million people will choose Washington as their home in the next decade, adding development and recreation pressure on scarce resources.
- 24,300 times per year our officers respond to calls for service, from wild animal conflicts to illegal poaching.
- 1 million acres of public WDFW land supports habitat, clean water, and recreation.
- $3.5 billion in annual expenditures are driven by Washington hunters and wildlife watchers.1
- $1.8 billion in annual economic benefit comes from sustainable Washington fisheries.1, 2
In a state valued for its outdoors, less than 1% of the general fund goes to support all of the state's natural resource agencies combined - that includes the Department of Natural Resources, State Parks, the Recreation and Conservation Office, Conservation Commission, Department of Ecology, the Puget Sound Partnership, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Yet, we know that people who are exposed to nature show better conservation behaviors, improved learning, and stronger physical, mental and social health.3
Sources: 1 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation; 2 Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2016, 3 The North American Conservation Strategy: Benefits of Outdoor Skills to Health; Learning and Lifestyle: A Literature Review, 2010/Home to Us All: How Connecting with Nature Helps us Care for Ourselves and the Earth, 2018.
$6.7 million to avoid cuts to at-risk public services
In an extensive exercise, the Department and its stakeholders identified $15 million in cuts to align with current funding levels. These cuts would negatively impact the commercial fishing industry, reduce quality of life and food access for 650,000 anglers and 170,000 hunters in Washington, and compromise existing work to conserve habitat and provide recreation. In 2019, the Legislature provided the Department with $8.5 million to fund these services for one year.
2020 Supplemental Operating Budget Requests: At-Risk Work
$743,000 in cuts to conservation of species & habitat
The agency would have to reduce help to landowners and local communities willing to voluntarily sustain healthy habitat – one of the most cost-effective methods of wildlife and fish protections available. The Department would require $3.4 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget to maintain these services on an ongoing basis. See fact sheet for more information.
$2.1 million in cuts to fish and shellfish management, and 8 salmon and trout hatcheries
This would remove 4.5 million steelhead, trout, and salmon from Washington waters; negatively impact razor clamming, steamer clamming and oyster harvest at 15 popular Puget Sound beaches, and have a $40 million potential economic impact to coastal communities. The department would require $9.4 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget to maintain these services on an ongoing basis.
$673,000 in cuts to hunting impacts
Less data means fewer hunting licenses. Hunter education and westside pheasant programs would also be reduced. These cuts could have downstream consequences on the number of hunter education classes, hunting licenses and revenue. The Department would require $3 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget to maintain these services on an ongoing basis. See fact sheet for more information.
$955,000 in cuts to non-lethal conflict management
Wildlife Conflict Specialists respond to calls of wildlife causing property damage, nuisance, and potential public safety issues and facilitate the use of non-lethal techniques to resolve the conflict. Without them, citizens would no longer receive this valuable service and Washington’s wildlife would be at risk of lethal removal due to unaddressed conflict with landowners. The Department would require $4.4 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget to maintain these services on an ongoing basis. See fact sheet for more information.
$553,000 in cuts to shellfish public safety
The elimination of sanitary shellfish enforcement patrols risks small family shellfish businesses and public safety. The Department would require $2.5 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget to maintain these services on an ongoing basis. See fact sheet for more information.
$659,000 in cuts to Columbia River salmon and Steelhead fishing
The eliminated Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement reduces funding previously available for monitoring and enforcement, which results in less fishing opportunity. This puts a multimillion dollar annual recreational and commercial economic opportunity at risk. The Department would require $3 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget to maintain these services on an ongoing basis.
$578,000 in cuts to land management
Stewardship of 1 million acres of public land would suffer. The Department would leave severely burned lands unrestored, and give up 10% of its capacity to treat landscapes with prescribed fire - a recipe for poor future outcomes for forest health in Washington. The Department would require $2.6 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget to maintain these services on an ongoing basis. Learn more about WDFW's use of controlled burns in a recent article from the The Daily Chronicle. See fact sheet for more information.
$410,000 in cuts to customer service
Customers who call WDFW during business hours are currently able to speak to fellow Washingtonians who know our state, its fish and wildlife, and lands. Instead, customers would speak with an outsourced answering service. The department would require $1.9 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget to maintain these services on an ongoing basis.
Estimated Ongoing Cost
The total cost to maintain these services would be $30.2 million on a biennial basis.
$6.8 million for emergent needs
2020 Supplemental Operating Budget Requests: Emergent Needs
$2.5 million for monitoring salmon & steelhead fisheries
Meeting monitoring requirements and commitments allows the state to maintain fishing in areas where stocks are healthy and meet conservation objectives for threatened fish. There are new and existing needs in Puget Sound, Nisqually River, and Skagit River (catch and release). This would enable the continuation of existing WDFW work.
$402,000 for post-fire habitat recovery
Fire suppression funding is needed to preserve investments in fish and wildlife habitat by purchasing region specific seeds and herbicides to keep out noxious weeds for ideal habitat restoration. See fact sheet for more information.
$1.7 million for assisting property owners with protecting fish
This package implements the Governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force recommendations by increasing capacity for technical review of construction projects in waterways. See fact sheet for more information.
$924,000 for Columbia River pinniped predation
WDFW and co-managers submitted an application under the recently amended Marine Mammal Protection Act to reduce sea lion predation on listed salmonids. New capacity is needed to increase removals of sea lions, reduce predation impact, and implement the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force recommendation
$837,000 to meet Columbia River commitments
Research on commercial fishing with alternative gear is needed to meet the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s objectives for restructuring lower Columbia River commercial fisheries. Achieving these objectives will improve fishing opportunities while meeting salmon recovery objectives.
$172,000 to protect humpback whales
Commercial crab pots can unintentionally entangle whales. The Department’s work will reduce the chance of entanglements and provide regulatory certainty for the fishing industry. See fact sheet for more information.
$311,000 Mobile app for fishing in Washington
More than 100,000 people use the Fish Washington App to understand the state’s complex fishing regulations. The app provides the most up-to-date information about rules in specific water bodies. Additional work is needed to fully provide the functionality anglers are seeking. This would enable the continuation of existing WDFW work.
$12.5 million for unavoidable maintenance-level needs
2020 Supplemental Operations Requests
The Department is faced a $9.5 million need to manage several newly legislated, ongoing cost increases such as centralized state services and employee cost of living increases. WDFW is legally required to fund these costs.
The Department is also requesting $3 million for other routine cost increases, such as attorney fees, hatchery utilities, and 2019 fire suppression reimbursement.
The need for ongoing operations funding
Each biennium, the State Wildlife Account is impacted by new and unavoidable cost increases approved by the legislature. Since 2017, the funding to address these cost increases has come as one-time appropriations. Yet, one-time appropriations fail to address the Department’s structural deficit, which results in a deeper budget hole each year.
These cumulative cost increases in the absence of ongoing revenue create increasing uncertainty for commercial enterprises, hunters and fishers, the general public, and Department employees.
Ongoing funds to cover existing services and unavoidable cost increases would allow the Department to focus on the fish, wildlife, and habitat work that people value.
$22 million for capital improvements
2020 Supplemental Capital Requests
$12.5 million for Hurd Creek Hatchery
With design and permitting complete, this construction funding will move the existing conservation hatchery out of a dangerous floodplain by 2022. The 2.9 million Chinook reared at this Clallam County facility are from critical stocks that can be reared only in this area to successfully recover endangered Chinook runs on the Dungeness and Elwha rivers.
$2.9 million for Soos Creek Hatchery
The Department has nearly completed restoration of a 1901 hatchery that produces 6.5 million Chinook and 1.2 million coho juvenile salmon per year. Completing the project requires funds for demolition, water treatment, streamside restoration, and a public viewing area that invites 2.2 million King County (and other) residents to better understand their role in salmon recovery.
$450,000 for Beaver Creek Hatchery
WDFW is shifting production to Beaver Creek from its Grays River Hatchery due to environmental compliance issues. Funds are needed for design and permitting to renovate this 1950s-era salmon hatchery in Wahkiakum County, where 250,000 Chinook, 225,000 coho, and 190,000 steelhead smolt are reared annually for release into the Columbia River.
$5.2 million for Wiley Slough dike
The current WDFW-owned levee on Fir Island in Skagit County is too low, leaving hundreds of acres of public land, roads, farms, and homes at risk. If funded today, by 2022 these needed improvements would bring the levee up to Army Corps of Engineer standards and reduce the chance of expensive flood damage
$1 million to plan salmon infrastructure for orcas
The Department is working to increase food for endangered Southern Resident Orcas by 55 million juvenile salmon per year. WDFW is seeking $1 million to fund a master planning process that will assess existing infrastructure, determine needs, and prioritize the projects for the most efficient, cost-effective improvements to meet production goals.
2019 operations budget request history and service cuts
Budget steps taken previously by WDFW
The Legislature in 2017 directed WDFW to find efficiencies in current operations, examine the department's management and operation, and develop a long-term funding plan.
In response, WDFW:
- Contracted with an independent consultant for an extensive management review, which concluded that the WDFW's management practices had not contributed to the funding problem.
- Identified $2 million in spending cuts to find efficiencies and reduce the agency's budget needs going forward..
- Conducted a "zero-based" funding analysis that connected the dots between WDFW's mission and its day-to-day operation.
- Zero-base Budget Executive Report
- WDFW foundational map with 2015-17 investment data
- Developed a long-term funding plan, with help from a stakeholder advisory group, describing the current budget situation and offering a vision to stabilize funding.
- WDFW Long-term Funding Plan
Solutions proposed during 2019 legislative session
With a long-term funding plan in place, the Department submitted proposals to the governor and Legislature to eliminate the projected $31 million shortfall and make strategic, focused investments that will provide long-term benefits. The proposal to close the gap would have avoided cuts and preserved current services in the following programs:
- Recovery of at-risk species and prevention of invasive species ($3.5 million)
- Hatchery operations and fisheries management ($9.3 million)
- Hunting management, including hunter education ($3.2 million)
- Wildlife conflict prevention and response ($4.4 million)
- Shellfish enforcement and consumer protection ($2.5 million)
- Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement program ($3.3 million)
- Land management ($2.7 million)
- Customer service support ($1.9 million)
The Department's Budget and Policy Advisory Group was emphatic about not just reacting to today's challenges but also anticipating future needs, essentially telling WDFW to try to secure the funding needed to implement its mission. The Fish and Wildlife Commission, which provides policy direction to the department, agreed.
With that guidance in mind, WDFW developed several budget enhancement requests for the 2019-21 budget cycle. Elements included:
- Conservation investments in such programs as salmon recovery, watershed health, biodiversity, and conservation enforcement ($12.9 million)
- Expanded fishing opportunities and hatchery improvements ($6.9 million)
- Hunting enhancements, including improved law enforcement and access ($3.9 million)
- Wildlife area enhancements, including improved law enforcement ($4.2 million)
- Orca recovery (amount TBD)