A year ago the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program was mired in political controversy, its future in doubt. The state’s much-praised and most effective program for funding parks and conservation, founded by Govs. Dan Evans and Mike Lowry, had always distributed grants based on a strict and objective ranking system. It did, until some senators disagreeing with priorities shifted the grants more to their liking. The program was in danger of becoming another system for political spoils, and losing its support and credibility.
That development brought a directive from Sen. Linda Evans Parlette that the state Recreation and Conservation Office make recommendations for the program’s modernization and reform. That resulted in public consultations statewide, a plan, and a bill which with subdued fanfare passed the House and Senate by overwhelming margins and now awaits the governor’s signature.
Through compromise, the measure shifts priorities. Less money will be appropriated for land and habitat acquisition, and more for existing park maintenance, stewardship and public access. The bill expands access to grants for nonprofits and low-income communities. The required grant matching funds can be reduced or waived for communities where they are too great a burden.
Compromise is acceptable if it brings new life and renewed integrity to this crucial program, which has provided $1.3 billion for state and local parks, trails and habitat, including many projects in North Central Washington. Communities competing for grants can be assured their projects are judged by objective criteria, not political connections. As a result our state will be better off, and more prosperous, with more of our precious assets preserved.