On Monday, More than 45 groups representing the interests of outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes, petitioned the Washington Legislature to fund the state’s wildlife management agency.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has requested $26 million from the Legislature in the supplemental budget cycle. Gov. Jay Inslee only allotted the agency $15.6 million in his budget. The 2020 session of the Legislature opened Monday.
“Hunting is what I live for,” said Rachel Voss, a Tieton resident with the Mule Deer Foundation in the letter. “Our game populations and experiences face countless challenges these days, and only a strong agency offers the chance of answering those challenges and passing on our hunting heritage.”
The WDFW request, if granted, would fully fund the agency and backfill a structural deficit that’s been plaguing agency since the 2008 recession. If WDFW does not receive funding, it will have to reduce staffing and services starting as early as February. Already, the agency is not filling some open positions in an effort to save money.
At the same time, a request for more general fund money to backfill the structural deficit was not fully funded. Compounding the budget crunch, the permanent reauthorization of the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement, which brought in $3.3 million every two years, failed as well.
The deficit is due to three things: Funding via general-fund taxes and recreational license sales has not kept pace with costs; a one-time funding fix approved by the Legislature in 2017 expired in June; and the department is still recovering from budget cuts from the Great Recession.
The supplemental budget request of $26 million would permanently fix those shortfalls, using general fund money, not an angler or hunter fee increase.
Traditionally, the agency has concerned itself mainly with hunters and anglers but as hunting participation has decreased, WDFW has tried to gather support from other outdoor enthusiasts.
“Recreationists like hikers, bikers, kayakers, and bird-watchers happily share state lands and waters with hunters and fishers, but due to budget constraints, funding for trailheads, access points, boat launches and other maintained infrastructure has not kept up with the demand for outdoor recreation on WDFW lands,” said Thomas O’Keefe, of American Whitewater in the letter. “When we under invest in these needs, we put at risk the resource—from orcas and songbirds to clean wild rivers—and the economic and lifestyle benefits that it fosters.”
With Washington’s population continuing to grow, WDFW’s mandate is seen by many as increasingly important.
Not only are Washington’s wildlife and ecosystems critical to our quality of life, they are under increasing pressure from our state’s burgeoning population and increasing development,” states Monday’s letter. “WDFW is the agency primarily tasked with sustaining our state’s priceless natural heritage against these threats.”