Op-Ed: Protect wildlife and recreation priorities
Our state’s premiere program for conserving land, preserving habitat and providing public access, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), has been responsible for amazing successes since it was created. Key to its success has been its bipartisan support and the thoughtful method through which scarce state resources are allocated. Safeguarding the program’s core balance of priorities is crucial if we hope to ensure its continued success.
The magic of the WWRP is its consistent and disciplined approach to allocating these scarce state resources. Using a point system based on established priorities helps ensure that the best and most urgent projects in each category receive public funds. This system was not followed this year. Instead, specific projects were chosen through the legislative process according to preferences of individual leaders. Our request is to the leave the impartial system intact until a thorough review and legislative debate is made of the program’s priorities.
Both the House and Senate wisely chose to make meaningful investments in WWRP. However, I am concerned that the Senate’s decision to reallocate the mix of funding for the program from the deliberate balance of wildlife and local recreation projects will jeopardize the viability of the program in the future. I understand the Senate’s reasoning in emphasizing recreation, but do not agree with the process through which they are making the change. One of our Kitsap County projects, which normally wouldn’t have qualified for funding, would actually benefit from the Senate’s budget decision. While that would provide a short-term win, we would prefer being more patient and relying on the independent, expert-driven evaluation process.
The past decades have seen Washington’s population increase dramatically while the number of parks focused on active recreation has decreased. These are the parks that most directly affect the quality of life for people, including our children, who are less and less focused on the outdoors. It’s important to keep in mind that the habitat projects cut, while often less visible to the public, also provide recreation opportunities like camping, hunting, hiking and fishing that Washingtonians truly care about.
But after 25 years of success, a review for this important program is useful and timely. In response to legislative concerns, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, a group of 280 businesses and nonprofits across the state that helped create the WWRP and continues to advocate for the program, has proposed an independent and transparent review process. In the spirit of WWRP, the review would be transparent and independent, executed not by the Coalition but by an agency known for administering many of Washington’s most effective grant programs.
We are firmly committed to this review, and will work to ensure legislators of both parties and in both houses are heard. In order for WWRP to continue to enjoy statewide stakeholder support, it is important to retain the core balance of priorities of the program so the supporters of WWRP can effectively implement changes.
Our company is engaged with more than 30 organizations in Kitsap County to create a regional network of trails, ride parks, and habitat.
This effort is as focused on creating great habitat for people as it is in preserving habitat for wildlife, all while contributing to the economic growth of our region. As a result, we have knit together groups that would traditionally find opposition with each other’s intended use of the land. Our local success depends on programs like WWRP and more importantly, reflects the values of balancing many priorities that WWRP embodies.
Jon Rose is the president of Olympic Property Group, a Pope Resources subsidiary, and a board member of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.