The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's budget is "healthy" following the passage of a two-year state budget, according to director Kelly Susewind.
The Washington Legislature passed the $59.2 billion two-year budget Sunday. The budget passed 57-40 on party lines in the House of Representatives and 27-22 in the Senate where all Republicans and one Democrat opposed it. It will head to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk for his signature.
"WDFW funding is healthy for the next biennium, there are no cuts or furloughs, the general wage increase for exempt employees is restored, and we have many new funded assignments," wrote Susewind in a staff email Monday.
"The Legislature passed several pieces of priority legislation for the Department, including important wins for fish and wildlife habitat. I am grateful for how WDFW fared this legislative session — there is some good, new policy and significant new investments for our work."
Inslee has until May 18 to sign the bills and could still veto parts of the three spending bills. Still, the news is good, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic, anticipated state layoffs and mandated agency-wide furloughs in June.
Federal stimulus money and higher-than-expected state revenue averted those cuts, according to Susewind.
"It's a really strong budget," said Nate Pamplin, the WDFW's policy director.
WDFW asked for $17 million to conduct new work. The Legislature allocated WDFW money for aquatic invasive species prevention and study among several other programs.
"We are pleased that the Legislature has recognized the importance of our state's natural resources as reflected by some big moves to address climate change, forest health, and provide the funding needed to support WDFW efforts — including $6 million for managing aquatic invasive species, $2.35 million for shrub-steppe habitat restoration, $1.4 million to increase law enforcement staffing, and $1.2 million to help property owners protect fish," Susewind said in an emailed statement.
WDFW received funding for the following work:
Shrub-steppe — $2.35 million for restoration of shrub-steppe habitat, wildlife and communities affected by the 2020 fires.
Increased law enforcement — $1.4 million to increase staffing.
Chronic Wasting Disease — $465,000 for surveillance and monitoring of chronic wasting in wild and captive cervid herds and to use an advisory group to inform the agency's Chronic Wasting Disease program development.
Wolf management — $954,000 ongoing funding is provided to WDFW to develop conflict mitigation strategies for wolf recovery and staff resources in Northeast Washington for response to wolf-livestock conflicts. The department must focus on minimizing wolf-livestock issues in the Kettle range. The department is discouraged from using firearms from a helicopter to remove wolves. An additional $260,000 is provided to contract with an external facilitator to support the Wolf Advisory Group.
Northern pike eradication and monitoring — $502,000 for suppression, eradication and monitoring of northern pike in the Columbia River. The Department must work with tribes to identify appropriate actions to reduce threats to anadromous salmon from invasive northern pike.
Local law enforcement cougar harvest — $100,000 as an incentive to local jurisdictions to enter into agreements with WDFW to address public safety cougar removals.
PCB research and monitoring — $630,000 should be used to research and monitor impacts of PCB on indicator species, in coordination with Department of Ecology.
Forest practices adaptive management — $250,000 one-time funding for WDFW to conduct an evaluation of the forest practices adaptive management program.
Increase tribal and PUD hatchery production — $5.6 million to maintain salmon production at tribal and PUD facilities to benefit Southern Resident Killer Whales, including $1 million for WDFW hatchery maintenance.
Columbia River license buyback — $2 million for voluntary buyback of active Columbia River gill net licenses through a reverse auction based on five-year average of annual Columbia River landings.
Coastal steelhead monitoring — $300,000 for WDFW to develop steelhead plans for Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and coastal Olympic Peninsula. The plans must protect fisheries, provide fishing opportunities, and include stakeholder input and outreach. WDFW must submit the final plans to the Legislature by December 2022.
Skagit elk fencing — $600,000 for elk management in the Skagit and Acme valleys in cooperation with tribes and landowners to pilot New Zealand-style fencing.
Study of pinnipeds — $140,000 one-time funding is provided to contract with the Washington State Academy of Sciences for technical review of the science of pinniped predation on salmonids in Salish Sea.
The Legislature also funded several programs that rely on federal grant money but were facing shortfalls, Pamplin said.
That includes $2.7 million for the Pittman-Robertson Act shortfall (federal excise tax on sporting goods and ammo that goes to state's to pay for wildlife restoration), $1.9 million for hatchery grant funding shortfalls and 996,000 for license plate fee shortfalls.
For years, the department faced a structural deficit problem caused by three things: Funding via general-fund taxes and recreational license sales has not kept pace with costs; a one-time funding fix approved by the Legislature in 2017 expired in June; and the department is still recovering from budget cuts from the Great Recession. That problem was fixed in the 2020 supplemental budget cycle, Pamplin said.
"It is exciting to have the final budget in hand and to conclude the 2021 Legislative Session on a high note," Susewind wrote to staff. "The Department is well-positioned for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead."