UPDATE: JAN. 13, 2010: Rich Landers of the Spokesman-Review has a good piece on the meeting.
Don’t like the proposal to merge WDFW and State Parks?
Contact your legislator.
Have something to say about fishing and hunting license fee increases we hope legislators pass?
Contact your legislator.
That’s the gist of what Phil Anderson told an audience in Spokane several times last night.
Doing so will help lawmakers hear the sporting public’s feelings as they work on a two-year budget that has a $4.6 billion hole in it.
In the latest of numerous meetings around the state, WDFW’s director and a handful of agency staffers from the local and Olympia offices descended on the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s headquarters to discuss Gov. Christine Gregoire’s budget plan to merge a number of natural resource bureaus as part of dealing with the revenue shortfall and their own pitch for hiking the price to hunt and fish for the first time in a decade.
The confab went from 6:30 p.m. to 9:15 p.m., according to Jim Nelson, who took notes on the proceedings for Northwest Sportsman. He called it “a great meeting and very well attended,” estimating that around 100 were there, including many hunters and fishermen including the Spokesman-Review‘s outdoor reporter Rich Landers. He said that Anderson stood and talked the entire time, only taking occasional gulps of water. He answered most questions, calling on his staffers to answer others.
The meeting began with a Power Point presentation on “budgets past and present, and future license increases and in a couple of cases decreases,” according to Nelson.
He says that WDFW’s proposed fee increase for elk tags — from $45.20 to $57.00, a 26 percent increase — “drew the most comments from the floor, mostly all negative, but positive comments on the other increases.”
Other hikes include 71 percent for a bear or cougar tag (from $14 to $24), 18 percent for the deer, elk, cougar and bear combo license ($81.20 to $91.50) and 24 percent for saltwater licenses ($24.20 to $30.05).
“Anderson pointed out we have not had an increase in 10 years and these increases are comparable, if not lower, than our neighboring states and Wyoming. Anderson certainly feels these increases are necessary to maintain any stability in personnel … and department morale as so many personnel have been laid off, and the ones who are left are working longer hours to cover the staff loss,” Nelson says.
In the past, Anderson — citing possible cuts of up to $20 million from his General Fund on top of $37 million the past two years, and another $6 million if a two-year 10 percent license surcharge which expires this coming June isn’t extended — has said that, if approved the suite of tag and license increases could raise $14.3 million and “help maintain fishing and hunting opportunities as well as support important conservation efforts now under way throughout the state.”
It would also help wean WDFW slightly from the embattled General Fund as most fishing and hunting license money goes into the more protected Wildlife Account.
Some licenses would decrease or stay the same, including deer ($45.20 to $44.90), second-pole endorsement ($24.50 to $14.80), Columbia River endorsement (no change from $8.75), and numerous permits for youth, senior and disabled vet sportsmen.
Nelson says that Anderson said budgetary woes show no signs of bottoming out soon, and urged the audience to contact their representatives and senators to support the fee increases.
INWC’s executive director Wanda Clifford, who also took notes for this magazine, says the director also spoke about the new proposed access pass to use some state lands.
“If you purchase hunting or fishing license, the access fee would be dramatically reduced. This would be a opt in or out fee. If you are fishing and do not need to use a launch or park area, you would not need the access permit,” she explains.
When it was proposed, the “Explore Washington” pass was set at $40 for general users age 19 and older, or $5 for those purchasing WDFW fishing or hunting licenses or a watchable-wildlife package. Sales were expected to raise $5.5 million a year, which would be split between WDFW and DNR to manage, police and maintain the lands.
Nelson says the gist of the director’s talk on the merger proposal was that it “is in the governor’s eyes the only way to help balance the state budget.”
“I asked from the floor what his gut feeling [on which way it would go] after talking to legislators and groups across the state,” says Nelson, “and he answered, ‘I believe this proposal of combining agencies will get some serious discussion in this legislative session. Do I have an idea which way it will go? No. Again, I urge you to contact your legislator.'”
Clifford says it’s unclear how a merger would shake out, but in the short term, if passed, it would go into effect in mid-2012.
“The merger would dissolve the game, parks and recreation (and conservation office) departments,” she says. “They would reform under a new agency [the Department of Conservation and Recreation] run by one director. They would still retain their [essences]: parks would be parks, game would be game, and so on. They would not blend the individual departments together, just run them under one new agency … The [Fish & Wildlife] commission would be advisory only, no power. New rules would be decided by the director.”
The DCR director would sit under the governor.
For WDFW, talk of folding the agency with others is nothing new — it is itself a product of the 1994 merger between the old Departments of Fisheries and Wildlife. Last session, a state Senate subcommittee’s proposed budget would have put WDFW under the wing of the Department of Natural Resources, but that was headed off partly by sportsman opposition. Gregoire also previously convened natural resource agency department heads to figure out better efficiencies.
Under the governor’s current budget proposal, combining WDFW 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 natural resource agencies from 21 to nine — would save around $2.5 million and cut 14 jobs in the short term.
“From my perspective,” says Nelson, “it seemed a large majority in the crowd were receptive to his proposals. From the floor I told him I had conducted a little survey myself with hunting friends and landowners I know (10), and all were receptive to the increase and nonreceptive to the planned merger.”
“To which he replied, ‘Contact your legislator,'” Nelson notes.
Anderson’s been doing his own talking with lawmakers about the importance of fishing and hunting in Washington. In a guest column published in the January issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine, he notes:
What’s good for fishers and hunters is also good for the state as a whole. According to federal estimates, fishing and hunting generates nearly $5.3 billion in economic activity in Washington each year. Add the economic activity generated by wildlife viewing and the annual economic benefits grows to $6.8 billion.
As director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, I want to make sure that every state legislator recognizes the benefits – economical, cultural and ecological – of effective resource management. But I know lawmakers will also have other things in mind when they convene this month to develop a new state budget for 2011-13.
“Do I know more this morning than I did yesterday morning?” Clifford asks rhetorically. “I suppose so. I have a much better vision of the budget and how it is working, not a lot more on the merger … Was the evening worthwhile? Most definitely.”
At the end of the meeting, Anderson took a moment to update the gathering about Washington’s wolves. Workers are now putting together locational information for the state’s Diamond and Lookout Packs based on collar data from several of the animals, and WDFW will publish its first annual statewide wolf activity summary soon.
Northwest Sportsman has also learned this week that a contract pilot recently spotted a third wolf running with the two from the little-known Salmo Pack in extreme northern Pend Oreille County. One of the two, a then-50-pound pup, was captured and radio-collared near the end of last summer.
According to Nelson, other WDFW staffers attending the meeting included deputy director Joe Stohr and assistant director fish program Jim Scott, both from headquarters; Eastern Washington regional director Steve Pozzanghera and his lieutenants, John Whalen, the fish program manager, and Kevin Robinette, the wildlife program manager; Woody Myers, a deer/elk research specialist and biologist, and Madonna Luers, the local information officer.
Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Gary Douvia of Kettle Falls also attended, as did retired regional directors John Andrews and Ray Duff.
Anderson was to meet with staff in the region all day today.
WDFW HQ has also prepared a Web page with information on the upcoming legislative session. It has links to PDFs with more information on the proposed license increases and more.
Nelson is a former INWC president and has stayed active in the club. He has written several articles for this magazine, and authored the book The way it was and the way it is.