The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is like a wild goose that lays golden eggs. Yet Washingtonians — especially legislators in Olympia — are taking it for granted. We need lawmakers to fully fund the department to fulfill its mission for the Evergreen State’s outdoor enthusiasts and natural heritage.
Doing so yields dividends for state and local economies. While the Legislature has been allocating less than $50 million in tax money annually to WDFW, more than $170 million comes back to Olympia each year from sales taxes on purchases made to enjoy fish and wildlife. What’s more, Washingtonians spend hundreds of millions of dollars fishing, hunting and wildlife watching, often in small towns from Ilwaco to Chewelah — places that really need these dollars and jobs.
Yet, as made plain from headlines about orcas to the grim talk around our campfires, Washington’s wildlife are at risk. Underfunding of WDFW since the Great Recession hinders the ability to respond. All told, these natural resources comprise under one percent of the state’s overall budget.
It’s astounding that we expect WDFW to manage and let us enjoy everything from salmon and elk to wolves and waterfowl for what amounts to a rounding error for the state.
In 2017, the department alerted the legislature to its $15 million per year funding gap. Legislators were skeptical, demanding an audit and oversight. WDFW assembled a Budget and Policy Advisory Group with more than 20 diverse stakeholders, including the three of us. An independent audit showed that the department compared well with other state agencies and found no significant fat to trim.
After reviewing the audit, we’ve taken aim at the real problem of underfunding, which has exacerbated fish and wildlife declines, generating understandable frustration. While we’re used to competing over things like salmon allocations or wolf management, we all depend on WDFW being successful.
This year we’ve asked the Legislature to increase WDFW’s two-year budget by $60 million. A quarter of that would come from modest fishing and hunting license increases, the rest from the state.
The fact is, we ask a lot of our Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Washington’s growing population puts unrelenting pressure on our land and waters. From resident orcas to spring Chinook, we’re seeing biodiversity and habitat lost faster than they can be recovered. Hikers and bikers are looking to state wildlife areas as trailheads get increasingly crowded. Hunters and anglers, who provide conservation funding through licenses and special taxes on their equipment, are wondering whether their children and grandchildren can continue cherished outdoor traditions.
All of us are demanding healthy ecosystems and abundant fish and wildlife. But if we want the department to hold back the tide, we need to give the agency a bigger bucket.
If you take your kids to jig for squid on the Seattle waterfront, bird watch on the Skagit Delta or photograph mountain goats in the Cascades, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is your agency. If you fly fish for steelhead, troll for salmon or roam the ridges hunting deer, this is your agency. If you want to hear the howl of wolves, and know that officers are protecting them from poachers, this is your agency.
Fish and wildlife are vital to Washington’s quality of life. Now is the time to invest in conservation and outdoor opportunity, not continue to shortchange the legacy we hold in trust for future generations.
Please tell your legislators we need a fully-funded Department of Fish and Wildlife — for the natural heritage we enjoy today, and that of our children.