Gregoire’s 11-13 Budget Proposal Out

We’re working to get clarifications from the Department of Fish & Wildlife about how deeply Governor Christine Gregoire’s proposed budget cuts agency funding, but in the meanwhile are parsing through what may change in 2011-13 if it were to pass through the Legislature unscathed.

According to a summary of recommendations, the budget would cut two fishery biologists, five back-office positions, the agency’s last full-time pilot, the dangerous animal specialist, fish passage coordinator and major projects manager.

It would hike many fishing and hunting licenses, impose a new access fee to DNR and WDFW lands and reduce hatchery operations.

The agency would pick up eight law enforcement officers from DNR — part of a plan to consolidate WDFW, the State Parks and Recreation Commission and another office into a new Department of Conservation and Recreation — but also have to lay off two wardens.

And lands maintenance would be reduced on 28,000 newly acquired acres.

“The budget I am proposing for the 2011–13 biennium is not a budget I ever expected to see in the state of Washington, and the choices it reflects are the most difficult ones I’ve ever faced,” Gregoire said in a press release. “The reality of this recession is that it has dismantled many of the programs that I, and millions of others in the state, value. In any other time I would not sign this budget. It’s difficult to support something that goes against all we have accomplished over the past six years. But these are the circumstances we find ourselves in, and we have been left with few options.”

Natural resource agencies represent literally a fraction of the state’s 2011-13 budget — just 2.2 percent of all funds in Gregoire’s proposal — and while one document from her office shows that budgets for agencies working on conifers, critters and campsites would lose $122 million ($47 million alone to State Parks), that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the overall $4.6 billion shortfall that must be balanced.

Gregoire also proposed:

• Elimination of the Basic Health Plan, which now offers subsidized health insurance to 66,000 low-income individuals. This saves $230 million in state funds and $117 million in federal funds.

• Elimination of the Disability Lifeline grant for the temporarily unemployable, which serves 28,000 individuals each month, and the Disability Lifeline Medical Program, which serves 21,000 clients each year who have a temporary disability and are unable to work. This saves $327 million.

• Suspension of the Student Achievement Program under Initiative 728, which provides smaller class sizes, extended learning time for students and professional development for teachers. This saves $860 million.

• Suspension of employee salary increases under Initiative 732 for K-12 and higher education teachers and other employees. This saves $280 million.

• Elimination of K-4 class-size reduction funds provided to school districts that exceed the state’s basic education allocation. This saves $216 million.

• Reduction of 3 percent in compensation for state employees. This saves $176 million in state funds and $269 million in all funds.

• Elimination of state general fund dollars for State Parks. This saves $47 million.

Here are further explanations about the effects the Governor’s budget would have on WDFW:

Reduce Operation Costs for New Lands
An ongoing reduction is made for the maintenance of approximately 28,000 acres of land recently acquired by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Charge Fees for State Lands Access
Agency request legislation is proposed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish a new Explore Washington Pass for admission to lands managed by DFW and DNR. The pass will generate revenue for DFW and DNR to manage recreation lands. Revenue will be distributed equally between DNR’s Park Land Trust Revolving Account and DFW’s State Wildlife Account. The amount authorized in the State Wildlife Account will allow DFW to maintain roads, trails, gates, fences, and signs. DFW will also direct additional resources towards safety management and enforcement on its lands. (General Fund-State, State Wildlife Account-State)

Extend Aquatic Invasives Fee
The Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is responsible for all aquatic invasive species checkpoints and development of management plans in the state. The $1.50 fee on watercraft registrations to fund these activities expires on June 30, 2012. Agency request legislation proposed by DFW and the Department of Ecology removes the sunset date. Funding is increased on an ongoing basis to match anticipated fee revenue. (Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Account-State)

Reduce Back-Office Functions
As part of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 10 percent General Fund-State reductions, several back-office positions are eliminated: an accounting position, a position in the director’s office, a receptionist, fleet manager, and an administrative assistant in the Habitat Program. Other cuts include reducing purchasing and contracts and eliminating vehicle replacement for the 2011 13 biennium. The $128,000 vehicle replacement reduction is a one-time reduction while all other reductions are ongoing.

Transfer Enforcement to Fish and Wildlife
Pursuant to executive request legislation consolidating natural resource agencies, funding and FTE staff are increased to reflect the transfer of the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) eight law enforcement officers into the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Enforcement Division, effective July 1, 2012. This will lead to greater enforcement presence on state trust lands and greater enforcement presence during hunting and fishing seasons. DNR and DFW will enter into an interagency agreement to reconcile payment of costs stemming from increased enforcement on state trust lands.

Reduce Salmonid Recovery Technical Assistance
This reduction eliminates 10 percent of statewide technical assistance provided to nine local governments and 11 non-government organizations (Salmon Recovery Board, conservation districts, and volunteer groups). This will eliminate or slow salmon recovery efforts across the state. Local project sponsors’ ability to secure funding for recovery work will also be reduced as the quality of applications may suffer due to the loss of expert biological input, making grant applications less competitive.

Eliminate Dangerous Wildlife Specialist
This reduction eliminates the dangerous wildlife specialist in western Washington, where the emphasis of the work is on education and proactive engagement with local communities. The ability for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to engage with local communities and stakeholders will significantly diminish as will the agency’s ability to respond to complaints about bears and cougars.

Reduce DFW Enforcement Officers
Funding is reduced for fish and wildlife enforcement by 5 percent, resulting in the elimination of two officer positions.

Natural Resources Consolidation
Pursuant to executive request legislation consolidating natural resource agencies, funding and FTE staff are decreased to reflect the transfer of the Department of Fish and Wildlife to the new Department of Conservation and Recreation, effective July 1, 2012. (General Fund-State, Various Other Accounts)

Charge Fees for Hydraulic Permits
Hydraulic Project Approvals (HPAs) ensure that construction activities are protective of fish and shellfish resources of the state. Unlike most state permitting programs, HPAs are currently issued without charge to the recipient. Agency request legislation is proposed to charge fees for HPAs sufficient to replace 80 percent of the General Fund-State costs of administering the HPA program. Additionally, the legislation will streamline the permitting process and improve on-the ground implementation of permit requirements, leading to a reduction in staffing levels. Finally, expenditure authority is shifted on an ongoing basis from the General Fund-State to the newly established HPA Account. (General Fund-State, Hydraulic Project Approval Account-State)

Conduct Critical Asset Maintenance
The maintenance budget for the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s facilities is increased on an ongoing basis to partially reduce the estimated $13.3 million deferred maintenance backlog, reduce future capital budget requests for repairs and replacement of assets that are unusable, create utility efficiencies, and provide safe facilities for staff and the public. (State Wildlife Account-State)

Increase Hunting and Fishing License Fees

The Department of Fish and Wildlife’s largest source of state funding, the State Wildlife Account, is facing a structural deficit due to the June 30, 2011 expiration of a temporary 10 percent surcharge on license fees instituted by the Legislature in 2009. Agency request legislation is proposed to increase most hunting and fishing license fees, create commercial fishing license application fees, and increase personalized license plate initial registration and renewal fees. Expenditure authority is shifted to reflect the transfer of existing recreational shellfish license revenue and recreational adult saltwater fishing license revenue from the General Fund to the State Wildlife Account. Additionally, new commercial license application fees will offset General Fund costs of $1 million per biennium for issuing those licenses. (General Fund-State, State Wildlife Account-State)

Reduce Winter Elk Feeding
This one-time 50 percent reduction to the winter elk feeding budget will result in the continued closure of the West Valley or Tieton feeding site through the 2011-13 biennium. This site is adjacent to private land and orchards, and is currently fenced to keep elk out of the orchards. The loss of this winter feeding site increases the risk of elk damage to the private orchards.

Reduce Habitat Research
The Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) conducts ecological integrity and habitat research, and monitoring on DFW-owned lands. This one-time reduction eliminates funding for a project to improve forest habitats to benefit wildlife in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area and reduces habitat research and monitoring activities on other DFW lands throughout the state.

Eliminate Aquatic Education Activities
Two aquatic education programs, Angler Education and Salmon in the Classroom, integrate strong messages about aquatic species, scientific inquiry, fish habitat, wetlands, estuaries and local stream protection, ethical use and resource conservation. As an ongoing reduction, these programs are eliminated.

Reduce Fish Management Capabilities
This ongoing reduction eliminates two fish and wildlife biologist positions and a part-time administrative support position. This reduction may cause a delay of one to two years in the completion of regional steelhead management plans. It may also result in lost fishing opportunities due to more conservative management of resident warmwater and trout species in certain lowland lakes. Reduced staffing will eliminate work to evaluate chinook and coho salmon release strategies from south Puget Sound hatcheries, and will also create a delay in the ability to respond to external inquiries and fish management concerns, reducing stakeholder satisfaction.

Absorb Higher Unemployment Costs
The Department of Fish and Wildlife uses hundreds of seasonal employees, primarily to assist fish hatcheries when fish are returning to or leaving the facilities and to monitor fish and wildlife populations. As a result of the economic downturn, these seasonal employees have not found work during the offseason, and have drawn unemployment. This has increased the agency’s unemployment costs by 50 percent. The agency absorbed these higher costs in the current biennium and will continue to do so on a one-time basis during the 2011-13 biennium.

Reduce Hatchery Operations
The Department of Fish and Wildlife operates 80 hatcheries across Washington State. This reduction to hatchery operations will cut costs such as seasonal personnel, office supplies, and vehicle fuel.

It’s not a done deal, of course. Lawmakers will produce their own budgets as the Legislature convenes in January, and everything will have to be reconciled before any of this goes into effect around the middle of next year.

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