PAT NEAL: The funding crisis

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news.

The Peninsula Daily News outdoors column last Friday, “WDFW facing severe shortfall,” from Jerry Cornfield of The [Everett] Daily Herald, did not sugarcoat the gloomy future of fishing and hunting in Washington under the management of this embattled state agency.

The secret salmon season setting sessions that resulted in a disastrous 10-year Puget Sound chinook management plan led to the hurried departure of the then-director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, who was replaced by a temporary new guy until they can find someone crazy enough to take the job full time.

Begging the question, who would want it? Fewer and fewer people are fishing and hunting in Washington every year.

In Washington, there has been an 11 percent drop in state hunting license holders over the past 10 years. Youth hunting is also down.

During that same decade, the state’s population grew.

No doubt a good number of these people grew up watching Disney movies where animals talk and are just as human as we are.

This has led to a movement to protect and restore predators — the wolves, bears and cougars.

This is an attempt to restore the balance of nature on a planet with a human population of more than 7 billion people that is growing exponentially.

The predators eat the game until there is nothing left for people to hunt.

State Fish and Wildlife stats show that the 2017 elk season was the second-worst in terms of harvest since 1997, and it also saw a new low for the number of hunters.

Last fall Washington deer hunters harvested the fewest animals in more than 20 years. Many people have given up on hunting in Washington.

They travel to hunt in states where they will see animals.

Many people have simply given up on fishing in Washington, and who could blame them?

The recent halibut opener where a casual conversation with a fish checker revealed that out of 50 boats, only two of them caught a halibut is a good example of why you are better off going to the supermarket for fish than buying a fishing license in Washington.

People have quit buying fishing licenses because of the complexity of the fishing laws, the uncertainty over when the fishing season will open and the lack of an opportunity to catch a fish.

Meanwhile this same state agency is entrusted with the care and restoration of the Southern Resident orca that depends on chinook salmon.

These are the same chinook salmon being decimated by an exploding population of sea lions, seals, cormorants and mergansers that are also protected by federal law.

These creatures do not buy hunting and fishing licenses or support the multi-billion-dollar retail market for outdoor accessories that these recreational activities require.

Nationwide, excise taxes on guns, ammunition and fishing gear alongside license fees account for 60 percent of the funding for state wildlife agencies, according to a National Public Radio story.

Meanwhile, Washington has spent billions and is about to spend billions more restoring habitat.

But if restoring habitat is the answer, why are there threatened and endangered fish inside the pristine habitat of Olympic National Park?

Maybe there is something more than poor habitat affecting our salmon, like “nylon pollution,” the overharvest of our salmon throughout the extent of their range.

Maybe the only way to restore the salmon is to mitigate their over-harvest by re-introducing them into the ecosystem with environmentally responsible salmon hatcheries.

The orca don’t care if the chinook they eat comes from a fish hatchery.

Most people don’t care, either.

If the state raised some salmon, people might buy a license to catch one.

_________

Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild [email protected]

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