Budget update

At the end of April, the 2019 State Legislature adopted a budget that provided more funding for the Department in some areas, yet does not fully fund all of the agency's traditional public service. As a result, the agency is evaluating its operations and services and will be making adjustments between now and the 2019-2021 biennium budget effective date of July 1, 2019. You can find information on budget developments below.

Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement

The Legislature did not extend WDFW’s authority to require anglers to obtain an endorsement to fish for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River. WDFW’s legislative authority to implement the endorsement ends June 30. Anglers are still required under state law to obtain an endorsement to fish for salmon or steelhead in the Columbia River until July 1. The department is assessing how the loss of revenue from the endorsement will affect salmon and steelhead fisheries in the Columbia basin once the endorsement expires.

More information is available in this news release.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT)

WDFW and our partners in the PILT Coalition (including leadership from the Washington Association of Counties, Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, and The Nature Conservancy) made significant strides this legislative session in funding our obligation to counties related to our land ownership. 

The Legislature approved our recommendation to transfer PILT payments from WDFW to the State Treasurer’s Office. This change will help improve equity and efficiency in the PILT payment process, align the payment process with procedures for the Department of Natural Resources, and implement one of the key findings of a Department of Revenue report.

The Washington State Legislature approved our 2019-21 funding request of $3,993,000 to cover PILT payments for the 13 counties currently opting in to the program. This is the first time PILT has been fully funded since the Legislature froze payments in 2012.

A few of the Coalition’s PILT recommendations were not approved by the Legislature this year, including:

  • Removing the requirement for counties to choose between receiving fees, fines, and forfeitures or PILT;
  • Using a standardized calculation method for PILT that we developed in partnership with the Washington Association of County Assessors; and
  • Extending PILT payments to the 26 counties not currently opting in to the program.

What is PILT?

The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife provides payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) to counties on certain WDFW-owned land. The payments are critical to local government and junior taxing districts, especially in rural Washington with large acreages of state ownership. Payment of PILT was an obligation made by the Legislature to counties to counter negative tax impacts of state land acquisitions that provide not only local but important statewide conservation and recreation opportunities.

2019 WDFW budget development

With Washington's population growing at one of the fastest rates in the country, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is increasingly important to millions of longtime and new state residents.

Unfortunately, WDFW has experienced chronic budget shortfalls – essentially a gap between available funding and required spending.

What's been causing the shortfall?

The shortfall has had several causes:

  • State funding from general taxes and the sale of recreational licenses has not kept pace with the cost of managing fish, wildlife, and their habitat.
  • Several one-time funding patches have expired.
  • The department still has not fully recovered from the deep cuts imposed during the recession, and recreational license fees have not been adjusted since 2011.

Steps already taken 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:

Solutions for 2019 and beyond

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:

  • Wildlife conflict prevention and response ($4.4 million)
  • Shellfish enforcement and consumer protection ($2.5 million)
  • Land management ($2.7 million)
  • Hatchery operations and fisheries management ($9.3 million)
  • Hunting management, including hunter education ($3.2 million)
  • Recovery of at-risk species and prevention of invasive species ($3.5 million)
  • Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement program ($3.3 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 include:

  • 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)

So, where should new money come from?

The Fish and Wildlife Commission directed WDFW to submit a budget proposal to Gov. Inslee that would close the $31 million funding gap and make another $29 million of targeted investments.

As part of that proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized WDFW to request a 15 percent increase in recreational hunting and fishing license fees, with caps to cushion the impact on people who buy multiple hunting and fishing licenses. These caps would limit the maximum increase for bundled packages to $7 for fishing and $15 for hunting. For example, WDFW sells multiple fishing licenses in the "Fish Washington" package and plans to create additional value packages to hold down license costs for avid recreationists.

The Commission also previously approved a request to the Legislature to make the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement permanent, which would otherwise expire in June 2019.

This increased license revenue would have covered about 25 percent of WDFW's budget proposal, with the other 75 percent coming from general funds. However, neither the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement nor license fee increases were supported by the 2019 Legislature.