TRUTH SQUADDING THE WOLF WARS
Turns out the money I’m forking over to hunt deer in Washington’s Methow Valley is not being used by state biologists to monitor the muley-munching wolves that have taken up residence there.
Rather, the funding for collaring, tracking and otherwise hassling the Lookout Gang, the Diamond Pack in Pend Oreille County, as well as other wolves on the Oregon, Idaho and BC lines bubbles up from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and comes courtesy of self-obsessed Mercedes drivers.
I got to wondering about how it was all being paid for last December when I received an email with the alarming subject line “Wolves….our tax $’s at work: $200,000 federal grant to ‘monitor’ wolves.”
The message followed coverage of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife director Phil Anderson’s appearance before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee during a work session on wolves.
He reported that nearly half a mil had been spent on Canis lupus the past three years — $125,000 in 2008, $164,000 last year and $197,000 to that point in 2010.
Less well covered was the source of those funds.
So, I looked into it, and from what I’ve found, tax dollars ain’t doin’ any of the work whatsoever.
Hunting license and tag sales? Hardly any lifting.
“We hear that rumor all the time. It’s one of the comments we saw in the draft plan,” says WDFW’s Gary Wiles. “The assumption is that everything in the Wildlife Program comes from license sales, but there are plenty of other dollars out there.”
About half the dough Anderson was talking about comes from royalties collected on oil and gas leases on the outer continental shelf, which in turn funds the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s competitive State Wildlife Grant program — SWiG, as it is known.
WDFW matches those funds with money from folks like EZGOING, EL JEEPO, SEA SALT, GORMAY, NOLMIT, THE-GAL and others who drive around the state with personalized vanity plates strapped on their cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, etc. By law, those fees are to be used by WDFW “for the management of wildlife which are not hunted, fished, or trapped.”
(Revenues from wildlife plates, on the other hand, can be “spent to improve management of Washington’s game animals.”)
In addition to monitoring the packs, the plates and petroleum have also helped pay for developing the draft wolf management plan, now in its fourth year of tinkering.
That said, Wiles acknowledges that some General Fund and state Wildlife Fund money — the latter includes license sales money — does go towards wolf work by top officials in the agency and enforcement activities.
However, he terms that contribution “a tiny piece of the pie.”
(In fiscal year 2007-09, 47 percent of state game wardens’ budget came from the state Wildlife Fund, 40 percent from the General Fund.)
Wiles says that other Fish & Wildlife Service grants are used as well, also to a small degree.
AS FOR THE SWiG PROGRAM, as explained to me by another WDFW staffer, it is the “third leg of the stool for federal aid to fish and wildlife agencies.”
The two more well-known legs are, of course:
Wildlife Restoration/Pittman-Robertson, for game animal management, and funded by “an 11 percent federal excise tax on sporting arms, ammunition, and archery equipment, and a 10 percent tax on handguns.”
In 2006, the last year information was readily available, the agency got $2.4 million for leasing hunting lands, hunter ed and upland bird habitat work.
Sport Fish Restoration Grants/Dingle-Johnson, for sport fish management, and funded by “excise taxes on fishing equipment, fish finders, motorboat fuels, small engine fuels, and import duties.”
In 2008, WDFW received $1.2 million in proceeds from the act and used it to maintain fishing accesses and boat ramps.
SWiG can’t be used to get WDFW’s kids fishing program going again, can’t be siphoned off to expand hatchery production, can’t be looted to rustle some of the Yakama’s new pronghorn to start our own herd.
Rather, according to USFWS, “The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal grant funds for developing and implementing programs that benefit wildlife and their habitats, including species not hunted or fished. Priority is placed on projects that benefit species of greatest conservation concern.”
For now, it appears that all but slivers of pennies of my hunting license dollars are helping WDFW watch wolves. The vast majority comes from oil drillers and the vain.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an occasional series that will address misconceptions about wolves on both sides of the issue as the species continues to move into Washington. Previously we’ve called bullshit on a story that WDFW sneakily reinforced the Lookout Pack with more wolves in spring 2009.