OUTDOORS: WDFW facing potentially steep budget cuts in 2021-23

Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishers to meet virtually

BUDGET CUTS ARE coming to every state agency, and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is no exception.

The state Office of Financial Management projects a $9 billion hole in revenues over the next three years related to the coronavirus pandemic and asked all state agencies to devise 15 percent reductions in projected budget allocations from the state’s general fund earlier this year.

Department staff released projections of potential cuts earlier this summer. It’s not pretty.

Proposed reductions include:

• $5.7 million in fisheries and management, reducing crab outreach and lost gear recovery, less funding for lake rehabilitation projects and the loss of at least five game wardens.

• $5.2 million to salmon and steelhead production including the closure of Reiter Ponds, Tokul Creek, Forks Creek, Nemah, Whitehorse and Mayr Brothers hatcheries, leading to reductions in fish produced for orcas.

• $2.6 million in hatchery grant shortfalls, including the Lower Elwha Klallam Hatchery.

Hatchery repairs would also be cut 32 percent, “increasing the chances of catastrophic failures leading to loss of fish,” and coastal, Puget Sound and Columbia River fisheries would be further reduced.

Department staff have proposed a 2021-23 biennium budget request that includes $10.7 million in maintenance-level funding, $14.7 million in new enhancements and $30.8 million in operational service cuts. The $30.8 million in operational service cuts reflects an $8 million funding shortfall from Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Act disbursements, lower than expected license plate sales and hatchery grant shortfalls.

Late last month, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously adopted a position statement on potential cuts, asking the governor’s office and the state Legislature to consider a number of important points, while crafting the budget this fall.

Return on investment: Fish and Wildlife received $94 million in state general fund revenue during the 2017-19 biennium. Fishing, hunting and wildlife watching opportunities contributed $340 million to the state general fund in the same time frame, according to a Department of Revenue analysis conducted in 2016.

“Activities managed by WDFW collectively result in billions of dollars of economic activity each year, fueling an outdoor-based economy in Washington that rivals the impact of information technology and aerospace companies,” the position statement reads.

Steep cuts to hatchery operations: About 25 percent of the departmental budget is used to operate its 80 hatchery facilities. “Despite their role in recovery and their contribution to local economies, a number of salmon and trout hatcheries are identified in the department’s response,” the statement reads. “The Department simply cannot plan for this level of loss of State General Fund without including hatchery closures, given the amount of money invested in hatcheries and the daunting size of this assignment.”

The statement also claimed the department “is not currently funded at a level to fulfill its mission; further cuts would be devastating” and pointed to employing fewer commissioned officers in 2020 than in 1993 — “too few to effectively patrol enforce Washington’s fish and wildlife laws.”

It’s early in the biennium budgeting process, but now more than ever, the voices of voters need to be heard. Keep that in mind going forward with Election Day in November.

Fly Fishers meet

Fishing opportunities in British Columbia will be discussed by Mike Gass from Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC at Wednesday’s virtual Zoom meeting of the Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishers.

An experienced fishing instructor, Gass has been asked to focus on fishing in the areas north of Kamloops and Lone Butte.

The Freshwater Fisheries Society is a nonprofit that partners with government, industry and anglers to enhance and conserve the province’s freshwater fishing resources.

The group also has a Learn to Fish program that annually provides about 25,000 first-time fishing opportunities for youth anglers ages 5 to 15.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. To view the presentation, the public can request a Zoom invitation by emailing Chuck Whitney at crwinc@olypen.com.

Sealing inspections

Fish and Wildlife is changing its animal sealing inspection protocol due to the pandemic.

When hunters harvest a black bear, cougar, bobcat, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, river otter or any other animal that requires sealing or pinning, they must schedule an inspection through a regional office or department headquarters in Olympia.

For our area (Coastal, Region 6), call 360-249-4628. Call the Olympia headquarters number at 360-902-2515 to set up inspection appointments.

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or at mcarman@peninsuladailynews.com.

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