Issaquah hatchery spared from cuts

May 19, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

State officials spared the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery during a round of cuts that will force the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to lay off 76 employees and curb services statewide.Officials will also eliminate dozens of vacant positions across the department as they grapple with a $21 million reduction from state and other funding sources.

Ron Warren, hatcheries division manager, said several factors helped set the Issaquah hatchery apart. He noted the significance of the facility in the community and the partnership between the state and the volunteer Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, which runs educational programs from the hatchery.

“Fortunately, we hope it has no effect on the hatchery,” Warren said.

Hatchery fish production — and department activities, such as wildlife area maintenance and outreach and education — was marked for cuts in the budget approved by the state Legislature.

FISH Executive Director Gestin Suttle said her organization was also monitoring cuts discussed by legislators in Olympia.

“For us, funding is always an issue and something we’re very aware of,” she said. “We’re always keeping our ear to the ground.”

The department will receive $81.2 million from the State General Fund — a reduction of about $30 million.  Other measures approved by the Legislature are expected to raise more than $9 million in order to offset the shortfall.

Under legislation passed this year, the department can collect a temporary two-year, 10-percent surcharge on sales of fishing and hunting licenses and permits. The measure is expected to raise about $6 million. The bill also allows the department to offer fishing with two poles on designated lakes. Officials said the measure would generate about $2 million over two years.

Another new law is expected to generate about $1.75 million over two years with a new stamp for recreational salmon and steelhead fishing in the Columbia River and some of its tributaries, according to the news release.

Suttle, who said FISH operates on a “shoestring budget,” already had to deal with a $10,000 cut from King County. Officials allocated $25,000 to FISH in 2008, but cut the amount to $15,000 for 2009. Suttle said the county contribution amounts to about one-third of the organization’s operating budget.

She credited FISH volunteers for helping to alleviate the workload for state employees. In 2008, hatchery volunteers put in 806 hours aiding department employees with the salmon spawning process. Volunteers wracked up an additional 2,356 hours last year conducting hatchery tours and other educational activities.

“We have the ability to reach out and educate the public about salmon better than any other hatchery can,” Suttle said.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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