Under-funding at the state and federal levels harms fish and wildlife conservation programs as well as outdoor opportunities
We’ve been leaders in supporting full funding for fish and wildlife through work in Washington, D.C. and at our state capitol in Olympia, particularly threatened and endangered species as well as outdoor recreation on state lands.
We participate in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Budget and Policy Advisory Group (BPAG), established to advise the department on issues including budget requests and policy proposals, options for improving public engagement, and strategic planning.
We have also supported the concept of a small tax on high-end outdoor equipment (sometimes called a “backpack tax”) to support wildlife and public lands, while respecting that further discussion is needed and revisions are appropriate.
Funding for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
After a decade of under-funding, the Washington State Legislature has provided the Department of Fish and Wildlife with $27 million from the state General Fund in the supplemental operating budget, fully-funding the agency through June 2021.
“We’re delighted with the funding the final budget provides the Department of Fish and Wildlife,” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest Executive Director and a member of WDFW’s Budget & Policy Advisory Group. “A broad and diverse coalition of stakeholders—from hunters and anglers to outdoor recreation and biodiversity groups—came together to speak for the importance of WDFW’s mission, work, and appropriate funding. The legislature heard us.”
“There was a very real risk that the agency would have to cut services to stay in line with funding, which still hadn’t caught up to its level prior to cutbacks during the 2008 recession” said Friedman. “That would have harmed our natural resources, outdoor opportunities and the Washington quality of life we treasure.”
“We’re deeply grateful to especially the leaders of the appropriations committees, Senator Christine Rolfes and Representative Timm Ormsby, for keeping this vital department whole. This gives us a foundation to build from as we explore sources of dedicated funding that would enable WDFW to step up to the greater challenges our wildlife face in the future from population growth, climate change, and much more.”
News on Fish and Wildlife Funding
- August 2021: Is it finally time for the backpack tax?, Outside Business Journal
- April 2021: 2021 Washington Legislative Session Ends On ‘High Note’ For WDFW, Says Director, NW Sportsman Magazine
- March 2021: Who should pay for conservation?, High Country News
- June 2020: Conservation can create jobs: why America needs green stimulus
- March 2020: Statement on Fish and Wildlife funding in 2020 budget
- March 2020: POINT OF VIEW: Legislature should help state conserve fish, wildlife, Op-Ed in Peninsula Daily News
- February 2020: Washington Lawmakers Propose General Fund Fixes For WDFW Budget, NW Sportsman Magazine
- January 2020: Stakeholders call for legislature to fully-fund Department of Fish and Wildlife
- January 2020: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife seeking $26 million in funding for 2020, The Daily Record
- December 2019: Editorial: State fish, wildlife agency in a hunt for funding, The Everett Herald
- November 2019: Washington Fish and Wildlife police work without backup protecting state’s natural resources, The Spokesman Review
- July 2019: Despite $20 million budget shortfall WDFW not planning significant cuts, The Spokesman Review
- July 2019: Survey measures Washingtonian’s trust in WDFW, wildlife values, Northwest Sportsman Magazine
- May 2019: Yakima Herald Editorial: Legislature fails Fish and Wildlife
- May 2019: WDFW shortfall grows; leaders take questions during livestream, Northwest Sportsman Magazine
- May 2019: Washington hunting, angling fee increase fails; WDFW faces $7 million deficit, The Spokesman Review
- March 2019: Seattle Times Op-Ed: Lawmakers, stop underfunding Fish and Wildlife
- February 2019: Joint letter to state legislators supporting wildlife funding
- February 2019: Statement on HB 2122 to fund wildlife and state public lands
- November 2018: Evergreen State in the Red | WDFW Budget & Policy
- January 2018: WDFW Organizational Audit by Matrix Consulting Group
A setback from Olympia for wildlife and ecosystems
By Mitch Friedman, Executive Director, May 2019
The Washington State Legislature adjourned on April 28, 2019 after passing budget bills in its final hours. While there’s much to celebrate, our natural heritage was dealt a funding setback that will have significant impacts this year and next.
The session was productive on climate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2045, improving building standards, and promoting solar energy and electric vehicles. The recommendations of Governor Inslee’s task force on southern resident killer whales also fared well, with measures to support orca and salmon recovery approved—from protecting shoreline habitat and boosting oil spill prevention to better regulating pollution and funding a state forum on Snake River dam removal.
We supported these and other bills as a member of the Environmental Priorities Coalition. We’re also very glad to see funding in the Capital Budget for a task force to address the unequal distribution of health risks and pollution impacts in our state. Efforts like this are essential for advancing environmental equity and justice.
Yet despite these wins, the continued underfunding of Washington’s fish and wildlife is a serious loss that can’t be ignored.
Fish & Wildlife cut again
The state’s final $52.4 billion, two-year Operating Budget includes approximately $830 million in new revenues from Washington’s booming economy and increased property and business taxes. Yet in a huge disappointment for conservation and outdoor opportunity, somehow the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) still faces underfunding, with layoffs and service reductions likely.
Critical biodiversity conservation, habitat restoration and outdoor recreation programs, already neglected at less than five percent of WDFW’s budget due to insufficient support from the state General Fund, will be cut even further.
I should explain my use of the term “cut”. The legislature actually funded WDFW at $24 million more than the previous two-year budget level. Lawmakers also earmarked additional funds for orca recovery, particularly efforts to increase their food supply through the production of Chinook salmon at hatcheries, even though habitat restoration has been shown to be more effective in the long-term.
But as you’ve heard from us for months, those previous Fish & Wildlife funding levels are an aberration and abomination, with an approximately $31 million budget shortfall since 2008. $60 million was requested this session to fill that gap and provide better services and innovative conservation efforts.
We had hoped the legislature would finally end the underfunding of WDFW given the results of a recent audit showing department spending and management compare well with other state agencies. There was also broad stakeholder support through the Budget and Policy Advisory Group (BPAG). BPAG leaders including myself advocated for at least a $45 million increase from the taxpayer-generated General Fund, as well as the passage of modest fishing and hunting license fee increases, the first since 2011 and projected to generate another $15 million.
Yet to our frustration and the detriment of our state’s invaluable fish and wildlife, this year’s $24 million budget “increase” falls short of filling the funding gap, and is less than half of what’s needed for the agency to meet the demands of Washingtonians for their outdoor heritage—as I laid out in a March op-ed in the Seattle Times.
The license fee increases got tangled in controversy over the use of gillnets in commercial fisheries on the Columbia River. Deplorably, certain groups and legislators obsessed with these narrow interests held funding for the entire department hostage. Fish and wildlife across our state will suffer because of it.
Not only is WDFW’s General Fund appropriation now even less than it was in 2008, important fish and wildlife revenues from license sales and federal grants from excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear are expected to be down more than $5 million this biennium due to national trends.
Where we go from here
The case for fully funding WDFW remains evident. Not only are Washington’s wildlife and ecosystems critical to our quality of life, they’re under increasing pressure from our burgeoning population and increasing development. WDFW is the agency primarily tasked with sustaining our heritage against these threats. And its work has a huge return on investment.
As I mentioned, one of the worst parts of this continued underfunding is that the threatened species and habitats most in need of attention will face further cuts. From sharp-tailed grouse to Canada lynx, animals identified under State Wildlife Action Plans need more resources, not less, and they don’t have time to wait for Olympia. Investing in WDFW makes good economic sense, as the Washington Department of Revenue estimates that wildlife watching, hunting and fishing contributed nearly $340 million dollars to the State General Fund in the 2017-19 biennium through sales tax and business and occupation taxes. Incredibly, this revenue is three and a half times the amount of total General Fund appropriations to WDFW.
Washingtonians know this, including the nearly 860 people who took action through our WILD NW Action Alerts, sending more than 7,000 messages to state legislators on behalf of fish and wildlife funding in 2019. THANK YOU!
Suggested comments for legislators
Dear state Senators and Representatives,
For years, our Department of Fish and Wildlife has faced a $31 million budget shortfall. $60 million was requested this session to fill that gap and also provide better services and innovative conservation programs.
Going into this session, there was broad stakeholder support for at least a $45 million increase in General Fund appropriations for WDFW as well as modest hunting and fishing license fee increases, the first since 2011.
Instead, the final two-year Operating Budget included only an additional $24 million, well short of filling the funding gap and less than half of what’s needed for the agency to meet the demands of Washingtonians for our outdoor heritage. This is very disappointing.
One of the worst parts of this continued underfunding is that the threatened species and habitats most in need of attention will face further cuts. Due to a lack of support from the General Fund, sharp-tailed grouse, Canada lynx, and other native species identified under State Wildlife Action Plans currently make up less than five perfect of WDFW’s budget. They need more resources, not less, and they don’t have time to wait for Olympia.
The case for fully funding WDFW remains evident. Not only are Washington’s wildlife and ecosystems critical to our quality of life, they’re under increasing pressure from our state’s burgeoning population and increasing development. WDFW is the agency primarily tasked with sustaining our natural heritage against these threats.
Investing in WDFW also makes good economic sense, as the Washington Department of Revenue estimates that wildlife watching, hunting and fishing contributed nearly $340 million dollars to the State General Fund in the 2017-19 biennium through related sales tax and business and occupation tax revenues.
Washington’s fish, wildlife, state wildlife areas and outdoor opportunities are important for me and my family. Please ensure that full funding for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is a priority next session.
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