The state’s wildlife management agency received a much-needed bundle of money from the Legislature last week.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife received $27 million in state general fund money and $4.6 million from the state capital budget during the 2020 supplemental budget cycle.
The money will fully fund the agency through June 2021, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in an email to staff.
“The department enjoyed unprecedented partner support during this past legislative session,” he wrote. “Over 60 different organizations signed letters supporting the Department’s budget.”
The agency faced a $20 million budget shortfall after a bill that would have increased hunting and angling fees for the first time since 2011 failed. At the same time, a request for more general fund money to backfill a structural funding deficit in the department’s budget was not fully funded. Also, permanent reauthorization of the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement failed. The endorsement brought in $3.3 million every two years.
WDFW’s structural deficit was 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.
Susewind warned previously that if the Legislature did not fund the agency, it would have to severely cut back its services and layoff staff.
“We’re delighted with the funding the final budget provides the Department of Fish and Wildlife,” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest executive director and a member of WDFW’s Budget & Policy Advisory Group, in a news release. “A broad and diverse coalition of stakeholders – from hunters and anglers to outdoor recreation and biodiversity groups – came together to speak for the importance of WDFW’s mission, work, and appropriate funding. The legislature heard us.”
Additionally, the two WDFW-requested bills passed.
HB 2571 allows WDFW enforcement officers to cite low-level fish and wildlife violations as an infraction, versus referring a misdemeanor case to a prosecutor. SB 6072 separates the state wildlife account into a flexible and restricted account starting July 1. That change, Susewind said, will help highlight any future structural budget issues.
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