Wildlife director predicts more budget cuts

VANCOUVER -- New wildlife director Phil Anderson said this week that more reductions are looming for the Department of Fish and Wildlife in light of the state's $2.6 billion budget shortfall, with closure of public access spots and hatchery cuts high on the list.

Anderson was in Vancouver talking to Southwest Washington interests as Gov. Chris Gregoire sends her cabinet around the state to talk about the budget crisis.

Anderson, a 15-year Department of Fish and Wildlife employee, was named director in September by the policy-setting state Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife had its biennial state general fund revenue cut from $110 million to $80 million in reductions completed this spring.

Now, with a decreasing state revenue forecast, another $2.6 billion in cuts, are pending.

The agency reduced senior management, cut fish production at Puget Sound and coastal hatcheries by 9 percent, trimmed its business operations by 23 percent and made other savings in the initial round. But more savings must be found, Anderson said.

"We're going to take an additional hit, for sure," he said. "It's going to have some consequences, for sure."

The department has almost 700 public access sites, such as boat ramps, shoreline access, wildlife areas and more.

"We may have to look at closing some of the public access sites, depending on what is the governor's reduction in our general fund total," Anderson said.

The agency is down to 11 employees to do the maintenance on the 690 sites, he said. There are six budget accounts dedicated to specific spending purposes, such as the personalized automobile licenses for wildlife viewing. Some of those accounts have "significant fund balances."

"We're looking at asking the governor to ask the Legislature as part of her budget to give us some access to those restricted funds for a limited amount of time to help us get through this biennium," Anderson said.

Other potential cuts in addition to closing public access sites include more reductions in the senior management and less production at fish hatcheries, he said.

Hatcheries on the Columbia River system are financed mostly by federal dollars, thus somewhat insulated from state budget cuts, he added.

Anderson said he thinks Washington has the most complex fish and wildlife management issues in the country.

"No one else has a Puget Sound," he said. "No one else has 24 treaty tribes. No one else has another seven executive-order tribes. No one else has the diversity of shellfish and marine fish, and anadromous species, on top of our wildlife from cougar to coyote to bears, elk and deer. We just have an extremely complex set."

While the state's natural resources agencies including Fish and Wildlife, Ecology, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation and Natural Resources all must share in the coming cuts, they are the tail -- not the dog -- of the state budget, he said.

"All the natural resources agencies combined get $364 million," Anderson said, compared to $2.6 billion needed in trims. "This is a state problem and it needs to be solved at a state level. I can't be narrow."