State targets wildlife budgets
OLYMPIA – Some fishing and hunting opportunities are almost certain to decline as Washington’s state budget woes continue.
Even though wildlife officials have drafted a blueprint for the first across-the-board increase in hunting and fishing license fees in 14 years, they’re still looking at big cuts in fish and wildlife budgets.
The agency is facing a $10 million to $20 million shortfall in General Fund money to meet the latest forecast for state revenue shortfalls in the 2011-13 budget cycle.
These cuts will come on top of the $35 million that was cut from 2009-2011 budget at the outset of the state’s budget crisis, said Madonna Luers, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Spokane.
That budget recently was ordered to be cut another $2 million before the end of its cycle, she said.
A $10 million reduction is forecast in the agency’s 2011-13 Wildlife Fund when a temporary 10 percent license surcharge expires next year, she said. The Wildlife Fund comes mostly from hunting-fishing license revenue and comprises 26 percent of the agency’s total budget, she said.
The last Washington Legislature approved a surcharge to help keep agency programs stay afloat as state sales tax revenue declined last year.
While proposals call for increasing most licenses, including those for commercial fishing, the fees for youth, seniors and disabled veterans would decrease, agency officials said.
But the cuts to programs are likely to be painful.
Phil Anderson, department director, said cuts might include 20 wildlife enforcement agents.
Closure of seven to 11 fish hatcheries could reduce fishing opportunities and eliminate steelhead fishing in Puget Sound tributaries.
Some of the agency’s 700 public access areas could be closed.
Anderson is scoping public opinion on his options since new license fees require action by the Legislature.
“We’ve got to have relatively broad-base support or the Legislature isn’t going to buy it and we’re going to be faced with a whole bunch of cuts,’’ Anderson told the Columbia River recreational and commercial advisory groups in Vancouver recently.
The agency also is looking into charging a fee for approving hydraulics permits, the environmental review required for work in state waterways.
The agency is discussing the possibility of a state lands pass that would be required for entry to the 5 million acres of state lands managed by the Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources departments.
Anderson said the pass would cost $5 for hunting or fishing license buyers and $40 for others age 18 and older. One- and three-day passes would be available.
The proposed fee increases got a mixed reaction from the advisory groups in Vancouver.
Steve Watrous of Vancouver said the increases, when factored into the number of days he hunts, fishes and digs clams, amounts to about 20 cents per day.
“It’s nothing,’’ he said. “It’s cheap.’’
Randy Woolsey, a manufacturer’s representative, said outside the urban areas Washington is in a depression and the increases would reduce license sales.
“It’s not going to be easy,’’ Woolsey said.
“The alternative is not going to be easy either,’’ Anderson said.