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 $31 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 recreational 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.
In response, WDFW:
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 $31 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 ($9.3 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)
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 is expected to cover about 25 percent of WDFW's new budget proposal, with the other 75 percent coming from general funds.
The department's full proposals to avoid deep budget cuts, make targeted investments, and perform additional necessary maintenance will total about $67M.