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Washington State Considers Abolishing Department of Fish and Wildlife

February 16, 2010.

A Washington State Senate committee is holding a public hearing on February 17 on Senate Bill 6813 that would abolish the Department of Fish & Wildlife and move it into the Department of Natural Resources.

SB 6813 summarizes its motivation with this language:

"The legislature finds that perpetual management of Washington state natural resources ... requires clear, efficient, streamlined, and scientific management by a single state agency. "

The single agency would be achieved by merging the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Parks and Recreation Commission in to the Department of Natural Resources.

This is potentially a big deal to Washington hunters, as it's the WDFW that manages hunting and fishing in the state.

A fiscal note prepared by last week by WDFW staffers indicates merging would initially cost $1 million a year through 2013 and then yield a savings of $1.5 million a year starting in 2015.

The note identifies where cuts might be made. Among the agency’s 1,444 employees, somewhere around 7 to 8 full-time jobs could be eliminated because of overlap. Among other savings it identifies is $50,000 for road maintenance and $30,000 for fire suppression; DNR and WDFW manage vast swaths of the state’s timber and sagelands.

The State Parks and Recreation Commission would also be abolished and moved into DNR under the bill.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a 9-member board that oversees the WDFW, has come out strongly against the plan.

In a statement issued on February 12, they stated their "strong opposition" to the bill, noting that:

"The merger proposed in this bill will diminish the ability of each component agency to successfully focus and consolidate the needed resources on the core elements of its own unique mission."

The Commission also cast shadows over the legality of the move, noting that in Referendum 45 in 1995, the voters of Washington empowered the Fish and Wildlife Commission with supervisory authority over the Department director. The merger of the departments would remove this authority, seemingly violating the Referendum.

To follow this issue, I suggest keeping an eye on the Northwest Sportsman — they're much closer to this than me.

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