Published since 1946
Northwestern States Move to Diversify Funding
In line with the national effort to implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining the Future of America?s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources, the states of Oregon and Washington are pressing ahead with their own strategies. A diverse task force of Oregonians spent over a year exploring the needs of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and options to conserve all species. The task force identified the need for $86.9 million per biennium and proposed two potential funding mechanisms. Meanwhile, a recent Washington Wildlife Leaders Forum that brought together 50 individuals with diverse interests reached the conclusion that their state needs to broaden funding, too. The Forum participants recommended the Washington legislature appoint a task force similar to Oregon?s to identify a means of funding their State Wildlife Action Plan by the end of next year.
Most state fish and wildlife agencies are funded primarily with proceeds from the sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses, permit fees, and federal matching funds from the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Program. Not only are these sources of revenue not keeping pace with the cost of doing business, this historic funding approach places a disproportionate share of the cost of conservation on a minority of the public. Given the agencies? public trust responsibility to conserve all species for the benefit of all citizens, not to mention the need to increase the nation?s investment in fish and wildlife conservation by over $1 billion per year, many states are looking at ways to diversify their revenue. Last year, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies? Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining the Future of America?s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources primed the pump by recommending Congress appropriate $1.3 billion per year in oil and gas tax revenue to the Wildlife Restoration Program to support state conservation efforts. To access these funds, states would need to find a source of matching dollars.
Efforts to diversify funding at the state level have met with mixed and often disappointing results. Recognizing the challenge, conservation leaders in Oregon decided to bring together a broad range of stakeholders with an interest in Oregon?s fish and wildlife to tackle this problem. HB 2402, adopted by the Oregon legislature in 2015, named 17 citizens, 4 legislators, the Chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and the department director to a task force that would explore the needs and options for broader funding. In its interim report, released last September, the task force identified $86.9 million per biennium as the amount needed by the Oregon department to fulfill its obligations for all species and all citizens. The task force also explored numerous alternatives for generating that level of new revenue.
After careful consideration, the task force unanimously agreed last month to advance two options for legislative consideration. The first option is to add a 0.62% surcharge to the income tax paid by most Oregonians. Low-income earners would be exempt. The amount the surcharge would add to the taxes ranges from as little as $5.94 for a married couple filing jointly with no dependents with a taxable income of $25,000 to a maximum of $72.39 for a similar couple with an income of $150,000. The second option was to add a 2.19% wholesale tax on beverages covered under Oregon?s ?bottle bill.? That tax would add just 7 cents to the cost of a six-pack of soda or 11 cents to the cost of a six-pack of domestic beer. Legislation is currently being drafted to implement one of these alternatives. Roger Furman, Special Projects Leader in the Oregon department?s director?s office, said he was pleased with the work of the task force, but acknowledged that it will be difficult to gain legislative support in a year when the state is facing a $1.7 billion budget gap. Still, Furman believes the breadth of the task force and the strong support for conservation among Oregonians puts this effort in the best possible position.
The Washington Wildlife Leaders Forum held in Seattle last month marks that state?s initial steps into this same arena. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with the Wilberforce Foundation and the Woodland Park Zoo sponsored a 2-day forum to explore the challenges facing the department. The organizers invited Roger Furman to share Oregon?s experience, along with Dr. Cynthia Jacobson and WMI?s Western Field Representative, Chris Smith, to discuss how state agencies are transforming from their historic focus on species of importance to hunters and anglers to addressing the needs of all species. Importantly, the forum included representatives from two public segments that have been important to state agencies for many years ? sportsmen and landowners. In efforts to broaden support for state agency funding, it?s important that not only is no one left out, but that no one is left behind. The forum also included legislators in recognition that any solution to agency funding will require legislative action. At the conclusion of the forum, the participants agreed to follow the Oregon model of having the Governor and legislature appoint a task force to study the needs and come up with options. The Governor?s office is finalizing plans for the upcoming session and is expected to support the concept of a task force, although how their work will be funded remains an open question.