The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is proposing a 15-percent boost in recreational hunting and fishing license fees for 2019, with caps on the increase for people who buy multiple licenses in “bundled” packages.
The commission, a citizen board appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will include the recommendation with other proposals designed to eliminate a $31 million gap between projected revenue and expenses during the two-year state budget cycle that begins next July.
The commissioners voted on Monday (Aug. 27) to replace an earlier 5-percent proposed increase with the 15-percent proposal. To cushion the impact on people who buy multiple hunting and fishing licenses, the commission would limit the maximum increase for bundled packages to $7 for fishing and $15 for hunting. For example, WDFW sells multiple fishing licenses in the “Fish Washington” package and plans to create additional value packages to hold down license costs for avid recreationists.
The commission’s action came after 15 conservationists and outdoor recreation advocates who serve on a WDFW budget and policy advisory group expressed concern that the 5-percent increase approved by commissioners on Aug. 10 would not have contributed enough revenue to close the funding shortfall.
The revenue generated by a 5-percent boost “is far less than just the effect of inflation since the last (2011) fee increase and we fear will be frowned upon by legislators and force the department into cuts that will harm our interests and the state’s natural resources,” they wrote.
“The commission never likes to propose fee increases, but WDFW needs better funding to meet public expectations and ongoing legal requirements,” Chairman Brad Smith said after Monday’s decision. “Knowing we have the support of key recreation and conservation leaders enabled us to improve the balance of our funding request between general tax dollars and revenue from license sales.”
With Monday’s revision, the commission directed WDFW to propose to Governor Inslee that the state close the $31 million funding gap and make another $28 million of spending increases with a mix of roughly 75 percent in general funds and 25 percent in increased license revenue. Earlier in August, the commission also approved making the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement permanent, which would otherwise expire June 30, 2019.
The commission approved the license-fee revision on a voice vote, with only Commissioner Don McIsaac expressing opposition.