The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission says the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife needs an additional $50.5 million to meet operating costs, capital needs and new responsibilities in 2020—which include recent state and federal laws enacted to promote salmon recovery—and approved moving forward on a request in the next state legislative session.

The request would include $24.5 million in increased operating funds and $26 million in capital funds, according to a news release from the agency.

About $6.5 million is needed to implement the salmon recovery efforts, including $830,000 for the removal of sea lions in the Columbia Basin, a recommendation of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

Another $1 million would go toward implementing commitments for salmon recovery on the Columbia River, such as funding for alternative-gear pilot projects and a commercial buyback analysis, and for improving fishing opportunities while meeting salmon recovery objectives.

Nate Pamplin, WDFW’s director of budget and government affairs, told the commission on Aug. 2 that the funding is needed in the state’s 2020 supplemental budget to help fill in revenue lost when a fee bill did not pass the Washington Legislature last year.

He said the agency had asked for $31 million to stabilize the agency’s budget, and $30 million in enhancements. Instead, the Legislature approved a one-time $24.5 million appropriation in the state’s general fund. In addition, lawmakers passed new bills that added $9.4 million in new costs that were not backed by revenue.

“It’s one step forward, two steps back for us on how we’re dealing with the structural deficit,” Pamplin told the commission.

A number of measures have reduced the agency’s budget this year including expiration of the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement, reduced fisheries and monitoring due to smaller run sizes, the closure of some research projects and the elimination of an after-hours licensing call center. It has also left positions vacant to temporarily resolve its funding needs, Pamplin said.

Funding requests in the supplemental budget will include $11.4 million to help the agency address a deficit caused by “legislated and unavoidable” cost increases, and another $6.6 million to continue providing existing services at current levels.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.