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Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 2009-2011 Operating and Capital Budgets

Category: Agency Plans and Reports - Agency Budget

Date Published: April 29, 2009

Number of Pages: 14


2009-11 Budget Reductions

A projected statewide revenue shortfall in the 2009-11 Biennium has resulted in budget cuts for many state agencies, including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Under the operating budget recently adopted by the 2009 Legislature, WDFW’s operating budget will be reduced by $21 million for the coming two years. At the same time, the department’s capital budget has been cut in half from 2007-09 levels.

The state’s new operating budget actually reduces State General Fund support for WDFW by $30 million, a 27 percent reduction from the previous level.  However, in an effort to lessen the impact of that cutback on WDFW operations, the Legislature also passed several measures aimed at generating new revenues, including a temporary 10 percent surcharge on sales of recreational fishing and hunting licenses and permits, a new two-pole fishing permit that will be available for certain lakes and a new stamp for salmon and steelhead fishing in the Columbia River and some of its tributaries.

These measures—along with department actions to trim spending—helped reduce WDFW’s budget shortfall for the coming biennium.  However, the remaining budget shortfall will require cuts in department staff and operations.  The department will lay off 76 and eliminate dozens of vacant positions by the beginning of the new biennium July 1. Overall, the department’s current staff of 1,550 employees will be reduced by approximately 10.5 percent.

In planning for reductions in staff and operations, department managers attempted to minimize impacts to field service and preserve core agency missions: fish and wildlife species conservation, providing sustainable fishing, hunting and viewing opportunities, and providing professional service. The size of the budget reduction, however, will lead to significant service reductions.

Here is a summary of impacts to key department services:

Species conservation and recovery:

  • WDFW’s ability to protect eagle nests in the north Puget Sound region will be reduced. The agency will no longer have a regional biologist dedicated to working with landowners on management plans for bald eagles and technical assistance to city and county planning agencies. 
  • Population surveys and habitat protection for the threatened marbled murrelet will be curtailed. 
  • Implementation of recovery plans for endangered species such as pygmy rabbits, sage and sharp tailed grouse, Oregon spotted frogs, leopard frogs and lynx will be severely hampered. Status reviews and recovery plans development will be reduced for species potentially in peril, such as burrowing owls, Washington ground squirrels, badgers and golden eagles.

Hatchery operations:

  • Salmon and steelhead production will be reduced by 9 percent in Puget Sound and on the Washington coast.
  • WDFW is pursuing partnerships with other entities to maintain production at the Palmer Ponds, Colville, Bellingham and McKernan hatcheries.  WDFW will keep McKernan Hatchery open for one year to allow potential partners the opportunity to develop a funding package.

Fishing customer service:
Customer service in WDFW’s Fish Program will be reduced, resulting in slower response to telephone calls, letters and email.  Inland fishing regulations will be updated only once every two years.

Puget Sound shellfishing:
The number of Puget Sound beaches actively managed for recreational shellfishing will be reduced by about one third, resulting in less shellfishing opportunity at those beaches.

Habitat protection:

  • Site visits for inspection and compliance of Hydraulic Project Approvals will be reduced, and staff regulatory services training will be severely curtailed. 
  • Technical assistance for Pend Oreille Lead Entity salmon recovery efforts will be eliminated, along with facilitation assistance to local Lead Entity citizen advisory and technical advisory groups. Coordination functions, including training and reporting will be lost.
  • Technical assistance will be reduced by 50 percent for helping private and public water diversion operators ensure that water diversions adequately screen fish.  This may result in diversions remaining unscreened or inadequately screened, decreasing fish survival and production. 
  • Technical assistance to private, government, and non-governmental organizations for fish passage and aquatic habitat restoration will be cut in half.  This service helps agencies and organizations plan and implement fish-passage inventories, fish barrier prioritization, fish passage correction projects and aquatic habitat restoration projects.
  • WDFW’s ability to integrate fish and wildlife resource considerations into renewable- energy projects will decrease.  Participation on technical advisory teams and natural resource coordination committees will be reduced at specific energy projects; involvement in land selection for wildlife mitigation at the Lewis and Baker River hydro-projects will be limited; and some individual energy developments will proceed without communication between the developers and fish and wildlife resource specialists at WDFW. 

Land stewardship:

  • The department’s ability to operate and maintain more than 600 water access sites and 900,000 acres of wildlife lands will be significantly affected.  Capital budget shortfalls will result in less infrastructure maintenance; roads and parking lots used by more than four million visitors per year will not receive most repairs that are needed. 
  • Loss of capital funds for building or repairing deer, elk and boundary fences will result in increased wildlife conflicts with the agricultural community and more pressure to reduce elk numbers in a number of areas around the state. 
  • Wildlife area stewardship activities will be reduced, including noxious weed control efforts important to nearby private landowners and to maintaining ecosystems.  Rangeland management activities and efforts to develop partnerships with local ranchers will be cut in half.

Fish and wildlife officer deployment:

  • Budget cutbacks will adversely affect deployment, oversight and field support for Fish and Wildlife officers, who protect natural resources and public safety.
  • Officer presence will be limited or non-existent in some counties of the state, resulting in longer response times for calls for service, and limits on the type of service delivered.
  • Overtime budgets will be reduced by one-third for patrols during holidays, special events and high-use periods.  This will present additional challenges, because WDFW’s staffing level of 137 commissioned general authority officers will is about half the number recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in a 2008 staffing study.

Marine fish management and research:
Assessment and research will be reduced for marine fish species, including Puget Sound herring, lingcod, rockfish, English sole and sardines. This may result in more precautionary management or a delay in developing conservation and management plans.

Wildlife population monitoring:

  • Surveys of waterfowl and marine birds throughout Puget Sound to maintain accurate data on the population status of over 100 species of birds will be significantly reduced.  Many local, county, state and federal agencies, as well as the Puget Sound Partnership, rely on this information for evaluation of species trends and changes in the Puget Sound ecosystem. 
  • Cougar research in the Blue Mountains will be curtailed, impeding the department’s efforts to get a comprehensive understanding of cougar and elk interactions, and making it more difficult to set and achieve population objectives for both species. 

Habitat enhancement:
A reduction in spending authority for the dedicated Migratory Waterfowl Habitat account will result in cancellation of projects, including wetland creation and enhancement at Bailie Memorial Ranch in Franklin County.  The dedicated account—comprised of funds from the sale of migratory bird stamps, prints and license validations— funds wetland habitat acquisition and improvement projects throughout the state. 

Outreach and education:

  • Outreach and education activities will be affected statewide.
  • Popular beach walks and educational displays at fairs and other events will be curtailed.
  • Wildlife education opportunities for urban K-12 students will be curtailed at Tennant Lake in Whatcom County, as will adult-education activities and an intern program for Western Washington University students.  Citizen-science programs for K-12 also will be lost. 
  • WDFW assistance at wildlife events such as the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival and other watchable-wildlife activities that occur in the Columbia Basin will be eliminated.

Forest practice coordination:
Regional staff coordination, contract monitoring, participation in compliance monitoring meetings and field reviews and work on land transfers and road management all will be reduced. 

Oil spill response:
The number of WDFW employees who respond to protect fish and wildlife after oil spills will be reduced, delaying preparation of rescue plans for oiled wildlife and marine mammals, and reducing WDFW participation in oil spill response drills.

Landscape conservation planning:
Local habitat assessment and related planning services and technical assistance to county planning departments, sub-area planning groups, and nonprofit entities will cease. Capacity also will be lost for development of landscape planning management recommendations for local planners.

Intergovernmental policy coordination
Budget cuts will reduce WDFW’s ability to coordinate policy on key natural-resource issues including:

  • Protection and mitigation of salmon and other fishery resources at five mid-Columbia River dams operated by public utility districts.
  • Water issues that affect fish and wildlife habitats and species listed as threatened or endangered.
  • Co-management forums with Puget Sound tribes for geoduck, sea urchin and sea cucumber fishery management planning.

WDFW’s aviation facility, including three planes and two pilot/mechanics are scheduled to be eliminated. Fish and wildlife biologists rely on aircraft to conduct population surveys and other specialized work in order to manage fish and wildlife. WDFW enforcement officers use the aircraft to discover violations and to curb poaching.

Agency administration:

  • WDFW business operations will be cut under the reduced budget, including key functions such as human resources, information technology services, fiscal operations and administrative support.
  • Engineering and facilities management will be reduced.