Discovering A New Fee

I’ve dutifully bought my Discover Pass.

That’s the new $30 — read, $35 — pass now required for vehicular travel on or across state Parks and Recreation Commission, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish & Wildlife “recreation” lands, some 7 million acres, hundreds of miles or roads and trails, campgrounds, wildlife areas and water accesses.

With the state’s massive budget shortfall, it was pushed by those agencies this past legislative session, passed by lawmakers (Senate: 33-14-1-1; House: 55-42-0-1) and signed by Governor Gregoire earlier this year.

It goes into effect today, July 1, though it sounds like park rangers, game wardens and forest law enforcement officers will hold off until after the holiday weekend to write $99 tickets for not having one ($59 if you buy one within 15 days of the infraction).

I don’t need one to get onto WDFW ground — the vehicle pass I get when buying my fishing and hunting licenses gives me free access to its wildlife areas, boat ramps and fishing accesses — but I figure that at several points this summer I will be taking my family on “picnics” to state parks on northern Whidbey Island.

It’s a pink salmon year, after all.

And I can picture myself lurking around Flaming Geyser this coming December for winter-runs.

I’m not happy about paying the extra money, but somehow the gates gotta be opened, toilets cleaned and trash picked up for visitors now that State Parks’  budget has been gutted.

What doesn’t make so much sense, however, is that only 8 percent ($2.40) of the $30 folks will pay (the other $5 goes to “transaction and dealer fees”) to use WDFW lands to watch birds and whatnot will go to WDFW’s coffers.

I guess I have to assume that the smart guys and gals at Fish & Wildlife had some good reason for agreeing to such a slight share.

But another problem is that it turns hunters who might be on a budget and can’t afford the pass into potential scofflaws. As Northwest Sportsman shooting and guns columnist Dave Workman points out in his Examiner column today:

“This column happens to know quite a few areas where one will cross through state DNR land to reach WDFW or national forest land. You will find checkerboard sections all over the Central Cascades, especially north of Ellensburg on the Colockum, and southwest from Ellensburg as one climbs the slopes onto the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area. Ditto as one drives west from Naches up onto Bethel Ridge and the Oak Creek Wildlife Area.”


Those are areas near and “deer” to Workman’s heart as he puts his rig and boots through their paces annually here in search of grouse, muleys and elk, but “don’t expect that beater road system up on the L.T. Murray to be improved anytime soon” with that skewed revenue split, he remarks.

“… Even if you never go near a state park (you can’t hunt or even shoot recreationally on state park property), if you drive the back roads of central Washington this year to hit your favorite lake or stream, or find a grouse, hunt a deer or (fat chance of this) shoot an elk, you will be paying about $25 of that $30 Discover Pass fee to support the state parks program. Only 8 percent goes to the WDFW and the other 8 percent goes to the DNR.”

So what are your options if you’re a licensed hunter or angler with the WDFW pass? Well, plan your routes to the mountains, rivers, lakes, forests and beaches super carefully to avoid using DNR and parks lands.

Another is to volunteer 24 hours of your time and get the pass for free.

Through Thursday at noon, nearly 8,750 annual passes had been sold, according to a blog by Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

For more, go to the Discover Pass Web site.


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