State mulls potential hunting, fishing license fee increase

THE STATE IS hurting for cash.

Soon, the North Olympic Peninsula outdoor community could feel the pain as well.

With a possible budget shortfall of up to $20 million on the horizon, the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife may be forced to make even more reductions in staff, facilities and fisheries in the next year.

One thing that would help maintain the status quo: A proposal to increase hunting and fishing license fees almost across the board for the first time in 14 years.

That includes increases for resident freshwater fishing licenses ($26 to $29.50), combination freshwater-saltwater-shellfish licenses ($48.20 to $54.25) and elk hunting licenses ($45.20 to $57).

Commercial fishing licenses would also increase, while fees for youth, seniors and disabled veterans would decrease.

“We’re not in a position to trim around the edges,” Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson said during a phone interview Wednesday.

“We’re going to have to make some hard choices if we don’t get any help on the revenue side.”

Some of those “hard choices” could be the closure of 7 to 11 fish hatcheries, cuts of up to 20 wildlife enforcement jobs, closure of some of the agency’s 700 public access areas and reductions in recreational fisheries.

Catch-and-release steelhead fishing in some Puget Sound-area rivers (not the coastal rivers on our Peninsula) could be put on the chopping block.

“We’re not going to be able to provide the same level of fishing and hunting . . . if we get those kinds of reductions,” said Anderson, whose department cut $32 out of its budget during the 2009-11 biennium.

Explaining issues

License increases require the approval of the state Legislature, and Anderson is making the rounds to drum up public support during the next few months.

Now in his second year in the job, the director will make appearances around the state explaining the budget situation and potential license increases and seeking comments.

He will visit the Grays Harbor Community College Hub, 1620 Edward P. Smith Drive, in Aberdeen on Monday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Other meetings are tentatively planned, Anderson said, although nothing is concrete.

“We’re connecting with our constituent base and letting them know what’s going on with the agency and the kinds of challenges we are facing,” Anderson said.

“I don’t want to take people by surprise.

“Obviously, increased fees are not a popular thing, and unless we have a level of support from our customers for that I think our chances of success in the Legislature will not be very good.”

Other measures to increase revenue to maintain Fish and Wildlife’s current budget are being considered as well.

Among them would be the creation of an “Explore Washington Pass” in conjunction with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Anglers and hunters currently buy a $10 vehicle use permit for access to one million acres of land managed by Fish and Wildlife.

The Explore pass would grant access to 4 million additional acres of land under DNR’s purview.

Another measure to funnel money from saltwater fishing and shellfish from the state’s General Fund to its

Wildlife Account could also give the department more autonomy (although this would not increase revenue).

State lawmakers approved a 10 percent surcharge on hunting and fishing license fees earlier this year, but that ends on June 30, 2011.

________

Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at matt.schubert@peninsuladailynews.com.

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