WDFW To Merge To New DCR?

UPDATE UPDATED 4:30 P.M. 12-14-10: WDFW would be merged into a new Department of Conservation and Recreation under a plan unveiled today by Gov. Christine Gregoire.

She says that consolidating the Department of Fish & Wildlife into a superagency with the State Parks and Recreation Commission, Recreation and Conservation Office and the Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement arm — along with reducing the number of other state bureaus from 21 to nine — would save around $30 million over the next two years.

“Out of necessity, our budget will be dominated by painful cuts as we balance a $4.6 billion shortfall,” Gregoire said in a press release. “To help offset that shortfall, we must put forward to the Legislature transformative ideas. I intend to do just that, and appreciate the thousands of suggestions submitted by Washingtonians, along with the work of our state’s Transforming Washington’s Budget committee – who spent months developing and proposing many of these strategies.”

Joe Stohr, WDFW’s deputy director, indicated he was “not surprised” by today’s announcement, pointing out that officials are looking for ways to make state government more efficient and leaner during these tough economic times.

“I think we’re supportive of exploring this idea for all those reasons,” Stohr says.

He says WDFW heard worries from sportsmen about the potential dilution of the agency’s mission, and adds that staffers would like to sit down with Gregoire’s office to talk about the assumptions behind her proposal.

Tony Floor, fishing affairs director of the Northwest Marine Trade Association in Seattle, notes it’s not the first time word of a potential merger has come out, and predicted a lot of tinkering by the Legislature.

“Our leadership is not lighting our hair on fire and we look forward to participating in a process that is good for the department, the natural resources under its authority and sport fishing in our state,” Floor said in an email.

(OFFICE OF FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT)

Last session, a state Senate committee had proposed folding WDFW as well as State Parks into the Department of Natural Resources through SB 6813, but outcry from sportsmen helped head that off.

Still, WDFW Director Phil Anderson earlier this year warned that it would be looked at again this session as lawmakers and Gregoire attempt to balance the budget.

Gregoire is also proposing to eliminate 36 boards and commissions and move appointment authority for 16 boards from the Governor’s office to state agencies.

“While these boards were created with good intentions, they take time and resources to manage, which we can no longer afford,” she said.

Doing so would save over $7.4 million during the next biennium, according to her office.

It’s unclear exactly what would happen to the Fish & Wildlife Commission (a spokesperson for the Governor has yet to call us back), but Stohr says it would be combined with the state parks commission, and would function in an advisory role with a reduced rule- and policy-setting role.

A PDF from the Governor’s office on the consolidation argues:

Washington state now operates 11 agencies with a role in managing natural resources. This organizational structure is needlessly complex, inefficient and confusing to the public. The Governor continues her campaign for natural resources reform in this phase 2 proposal, ranked highly by the Transforming Washington’s Budget Committee, to consolidate our natural resource agencies and programs into five primary, function-based organizations: fish/wildlife/parks, ecology, agriculture, natural resources and Puget Sound restoration. This will reduce General Fund spending by $2.5 million and 13.5 employees in the second year of the biennium.

This consolidation has a clear purpose: to manage and conserve our natural resources in a period of high expectations and limited resources. The Governor’s proposed organizational model moves us out of silo-based management to simplified management based on functions and accountability to:

»» Create a simpler, more functional and accountable structure.

»» Save some money now and set up for long-term savings by more efficiently using limited funds.

»» Build on last year’s consolidation of eight environmental appeals boards to three, which saves money and maintains key services.

“We’ll try and figure out how to make it work if directed to by the legislature,” says Stohr.

Tomorrow, Gregoire unveils her budget proposal; Stohr anticipates a cut of around $20 million to WDFW’s General Fund.

“Stay tuned, it’s going to be a roller coaster ride through this session,” he adds.

One thing lawmakers might consider: If they do merge WDFW and the others, how about at least calling the agency Washington Fish, Wildlife & Parks — that’s far snappier (and takes up less space on the printed page) than Washington Department of Conservation and Recreation.

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