Op-Ed: Senate budget risks gains made for state lands
Nationally, over the last few years, we've witnessed an anti-public lands campaign take hold — from Cliven Bundy's brazen standoff with the Bureau of Land Management to the more insidious creep of consistent underfunding for our national parks. However, it seemed absurd that that thinking would gain real traction here in Washington, where recognizing the importance of our public lands and holding them in trust for the next generation has long been a bipartisan value.
But this year, there's something afoot in the state Legislature that's putting the future of our public lands in danger. The Senate is pushing a moratorium on public land acquisition in their capital budget proposal.
In simple terms, the Senate is taking an ill-advised position that ignores the very real value of land acquisition — from an ecological, economic and long-term cost savings perspective.
Why does land acquisition matter?
Outdoor recreation is part of the Washington way of life. Access to public lands ensures that people across Washington state can fish, hike and kayak — and taking strategic advantage of available lands means that those opportunities will be available for everyone for years to come.
Strategic land acquisition is essential for salmon recovery: Acquisition is a necessary component of restoration. Finding key pieces of land that either pose the biggest threat to salmon recovery or hold the greatest potential, removing fish passage barriers, restoring natural conditions along key points of the river and connecting habitat is essential to the process. We can't do restoration without first doing acquisition.
Land acquisition helps keep our state's water clean by preventing pavement letting uncovered ground provide natural filtration that helps prevent the flow of polluted stormwater runoff. And public lands along streams, rivers and estuaries provide cool, clean water for fish and people.
Prevention is almost always more cost-effective than cleanup. That's particularly true for Puget Sound. As a region we have struggled — and continue to struggle — to find restoration solutions. Land acquisition protects land in good condition before it is damaged, thus avoiding the higher cost of restoration.
As people who have devoted much of their working lives to protecting Puget Sound, we both know that Sound protection and restoration requires all the tools we have at our disposal. We must do more than hold the status quo; we can't make serious progress with only restoration of public lands we currently own.
The Senate's moratorium on land acquisition will have real world impacts, a prime example of which is loss of funding for the Busy Wild Creek Protection project, a $6.5 million project to purchase 1,920 acres of forestland for the Nisqually Community Forest.
The Busy Wild Creek Protection Project is a privately-managed acquisition project that protects salmon habitat and provides public recreational uses — including a popular no-fee hut-to-hut cross-country skiing trail. These types of dual benefits are what public land acquisition is all about.
We both hail from a Puget Sound perspective, but what's happening in the Legislature is a problem that's not unique to Puget Sound recovery. The Senate is applying the same approach to the well-regarded Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program by eliminating funding for otherwise highly ranked proposals to protect lands for habitat and recreation.
Washington voters value our state's environmental health — rightly seeing it as inextricably linked with our economy and public health.
Our state budget serves as a blueprint for our values. The Senate's proposal to eliminate funding for public lands stands in stark contrast to what we hold dear. Unfortunately, the state Senate seems determined to remove an important tool from our recovery toolbox. This short-sighted lens will put Washington's water, wildlife, salmon and environmental health at risk.
David Troutt is the natural resource director for the Nisqually Indian Tribe, chairman of the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board and chairman of Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council. Martha Kongsgaard is the chairwoman of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council and a founder of the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation.