OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission spent their July 31 – Aug. 1 meeting considering upcoming legislative issues – service cuts, legislative priorities, and new funding requests – for the upcoming 2021 session.
The Commission unanimously approved advancing to the Governor’s office a request for $233 million in capital funds to support shovel-ready Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) projects. The proposed projects would span from forest heath wildfire risk reduction work to hatchery and fish management improvements, to recreation site improvements, to fencing to reduce deer and elk damage to agricultural lands. Such projects could generate an estimated 2,700 private industry jobs across the state beginning in July 2021.
The commission also reviewed proposed department legislative priorities – bills to provide the Commission federal indemnification authority to access funds for large collaborative projects similar to those of other state agencies, expand licensing options to better recruit and retain hunting and fishing participants, and stabilize Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments to local counties. The commission formally approved a department proposal to remove from state statutes inaccurate and unenforceable language that suggests a diminishment of tribal treaty rights.
Department staff also 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 funding cuts may be necessary as a result of an anticipated $9 billion shortfall in state general fund and other revenue over the next several years. The Commission will further consider proposed budget cuts at their Aug. 21, 2019 meeting in time for submission to the Governor’s Office in mid-September. While the Department is presenting funding options that meet statewide government reduction goals, commission members recognized the challenge of such cuts having negative impacts on local economies and how investing WDFW’s activities often generates additional revenue to the State General Fund.
The Commission also authorized the department to seek a supplemental budget request for $589,000 to address emergent needs for the 2021 fiscal year.
After extensive public comment, the commission scheduled a final decision on the Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy C-3620 for its September meeting, with a full-commission workshop to take place before that meeting.
The Commission also heard extensive public comments related to proposed rules that would no longer allow for wildlife hunting contests for species without bag limits. The Commission expects to make a final decision on this during the Aug. 21 meeting, when they’ll also consider a staff recommendation to maintain the protected designation for Mazama Pocket Gophers, on which they also heard public comment.
Commission members heard updates and public comments related to target practice regulations on WDFW public lands, Hatchery Policy C-3619, and public safety measures in relation to cougars.
Members of the public may watch videos of the meeting at wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission/meetings.