Public Hearing On WDFW-Parks Merger Bill Thurs.

Washington hunters and anglers are being rallied to Olympia this Thursday for a public hearing on a pair of bills that merge WDFW with State Parks, and being asked to send letters opposing SB 5669 and HB 1850.

The companion bills, introduced in the Senate and House in recent days, also make the director of the new Department of Conservation and Recreation an appointment of the governor and turn the Fish & Wildlife Commission into an advisory body only.

That latter point irks at least two sportfishing groups and one industry heavyweight.

“The Commission would no longer be able to make policies for the people of Washington, whom own the resources,” reads a Web alert from Puget Sound Anglers. “Big government will take control of your resources and decision making. There is also the possibility our resources will be hijacked by special interest groups. Haven’t you had enough of this? This will set our fisheries back 20 years.”

The Fish & Wildlife Commission was created by a referendum in 1995 that passed 60.99 to 39.01 percent. It was supported by a majority of voters in all 39 counties of the state, and in some counties by astonishingly large percentages — 74.5 percent in Spokane County, and 70 percent in Lewis and Pierce Counties.

“The people have voted on this. They voted on this. And overwhelmingly … they said ‘We want a commission, and we want a commission to set policy,'” said Tony Floor, fishing affairs director of the Northwest Marine Trade Association and a now-retired 30-year WDFW employee, on The Outdoor Line radio show his past weekend. “We’ve got to have a commission that hears the people. There are nine people on the commission. They’re from different places in the state — Eastern Washington, sport, commercial, habitat, hatcheries — it’s very well balanced.”

A message that Coastal Conservation Association members are being asked to send terms the bills an “end run on Referendum 45,” and says it “should have sent a clear message to the legislature and the Governor, that the public wanted a citizens commission that was no longer going to tolerate business as usual when it comes to managing our State’s natural resources.”

Bryan Irwin, CCA’s regional president, recently told Allen Thomas of The Columbian that “maintaining the authority of the commission is our No. 1 legislative priority.”

PSA also challenges assumptions the merger will save the state money.

“We don’t see where combining WDFW with other agencies shows any real cost savings,” reads a statement they ask anglers to forward to their own legislators and the governor. “It is more (probable) that the merger would create nothing more than more red tape, and inefficiency in trying to merge  three disparate state agencies.”

A frequent poster on emailed his legislators and got back two responses that indicated early opposition to the bills and questions about the cost savings.

According to Governor Gregoire’s projections, merging WDFW, Parks and the Recreation and Conservation Office, as well as other natural resource agency consolidations would save $2.5 million over the coming two years and kill 14 jobs.

Eliminating boards and commissions, such as the Fish & Wildlife Commission, would save $7.4 million in the next biennium.

Basically chump change in the grand scheme, coping with a $4.7 billion — that’s a “b,” not an “m” — revenue shortfall over the next two years.

While the State Parks & Recreation Commission has voiced their opposition, the Fish & Wildlife Commission so far has been mum, unlike last year when it issued a statement opposing a Senate bill that would have folded WDFW into DNR.

Who knows why, but it may be because WDFW is pinning a lot of hope on passage of license fee hikes for the first time in ten years to help stabilize its budget.

Dave Workman, one of the state’s senior gun and hunting writers, also blogs about the merger idea today.

Sportsmen and women are concerned that the merger will further remove them from the table, even though they “pay the freight” for fish and wildlife in this state through fees for hunting and fishing licenses, tags and permits, and special federal excise taxes on firearms and ammunition, fishing tackle and accessories (including boats and motors). Non-hunting shooters pay into this fund with their excise taxes, and they should also have a say because up to ten percent of those excise tax apportionments that come back to the states through the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration program can be used for range development and hunter education.

A couple weeks ago he pitched a 10-point plan that he says would help WDFW “better able to sustain itself,” and in part that means “rolling back” the hunting regulations several decades to when the agency had far more customers than it currently does.

The hearing will be held before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Marine Waters in Room 2 of the John Cherberg Building at 1:30 PM.

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