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. Today, the projected gap for the next two-year budget cycle has grown to about $30 million.
The shortfall has 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 will expire soon.
- The department still has not fully recovered from the deep cuts imposed during the recession, and license fees have not been adjusted since 2011.
Ultimately, programs, services, and facilities will have to be reduced and, in some cases, eliminated if the problem is not addressed during the 2019 legislative session.
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 with the help of a stakeholder advisory group.
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 $3 million in spending cuts that will be implemented over the next six to 12 months, including reductions in fish stocking, habitat restoration, and grants to volunteer organizations.
- Conducted a "zero-based" funding analysis that connected the dots between WDFW's mission and its day-to-day operation.
- Developed a long-term funding plan, with help from the advisory group, describing the current budget situation and offering a vision to stabilize funding.
- Submits quarterly updates to the Legislature. Read the reports:
- July 6, 2018
- April 3, 2018
- Jan. 12, 2018
- Oct. 2, 2017
In addition, the department will collect public input on revenue options, as required by the budget bill.
With a long-term funding plan in place, the department is preparing proposals to the governor and Legislature to eliminate the projected $30 million shortfall and make strategic, focused investments that will provide long-term benefits.
The proposal to close the $30 million gap will avoid cuts and preserve 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 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 is developing 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 ($14.7 million)
- Expanded fishing opportunities and hatchery improvements ($5.6 million)
- Hunting enhancements, including improved law enforcement and access ($3.5 million)
- Orca recovery (amount TBD)
The department's proposals to avoid deep budget cuts and make targeted investments will total about $60 million. In the current proposals, about two-thirds of the requests are identified as appropriate to be funded from the state general fund, while license fees would comprise the remaining third.
The department is exploring two concepts for recreational license fee increases: either a 12-15 percent across-the-board increase on all license products, or a single annual $10 fee charged to each customer (with $3 fee charged for temporary licenses). The final amount depends on the strategic investments and the amount provisioned by the state general fund.
The department's efforts now will be to refine the budget requests and align the fund sources and amounts based on feedback heard this summer.