Senate budget threatens Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program
The state Senate’s capital budget that was released last month threatens to dismantle the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), our state’s premier program that protects and develops our outdoor spaces.
In its recent budget proposal, the State Senate moved to subvert the law behind WWRP in the back of the budget, outside of the public eye and without the input of conservation and recreation stakeholders. This would cheat communities with important projects that would do the most good out of funding and instead funnel public money to lower ranked projects that certain legislators personally prefer.
Whether it is hiking in gorgeous wilderness spaces or enjoying our local community parks, we in Washington are blessed with an abundance of outdoor opportunities. It is what gives us our stellar quality of life and makes Washington a great region to live, work and build a business. Our state’s primary tool for protecting and developing our natural heritage is the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. WWRP protects our water quality, safeguards our wonderful natural heritage, and is the state’s largest source of funding for trail and local parks projects. WWRP has done more to protect Puget Sound than any other state program. The recreation opportunities it creates support our robust outdoor economy, employing 27,000 people and generating $2.3 billion annually in consumer spending in King County alone.
Unfortunately, the Senate’s current budget plan undermines the law that determines how money for our outdoors is spent. Rather than following an established and exceedingly fair process that has been consistently followed for 25 years, Senate budget writers are recommending instead to redirect public money to their preferred projects. This move takes money out of critical outdoors investments that were set to receive funding in this budget and moves it into lower ranked projects. Even more worrisome, undermining the law would set a dangerous precedent where it would now be acceptable to redirect WWRP money to earmarks, threatening the future of this great program.
A big part of what has made WWRP such a successful, well-loved and respected program across the state is its fair, independent funding system. Every project proposal is evaluated and ranked by independent experts on the project’s quality and importance, and projects receive funding in order of quality and urgency, not political expediency. This ensures that all projects compete for funding on their merit, rather than through political horse-trading, and public money goes to only the best, highest-ranked projects.
In particular, valuable natural area, critical habitat, urban wildlife and State Parks projects cut out of the Senate’s budget proposal are now at risk, as is this program that has done so much for our state. One of the projects cut by the Senate is Saint Edward State Park, where the State Parks Commission is seeking to expand the park with additional Lake Washington shoreline. A beautiful oasis in our rapidly developing region, Saint Edward State Park is one of the top ten most visited parks in the state park system and the land the park hopes to acquire is one of the last two remaining undeveloped forested shoreline properties on Lake Washington.
This shoreline represents important habitat for freshwater clams and spawning salmon. In addition, it is shallower and warmer than the existing park shoreline, making it ideal for swimming. Two existing park trails utilize this property and would be preserved if this project can go through. In many cases, the alternative to protecting parcels like this for public use is privatized parcels developed into subdivisions, luxury condo’s or strip malls.
We need projects like St Edwards that preserve green spaces in our rapidly developing community to protect our quality of life and to preserve our local ecosystems. We also need our public servants to opt for the State House version, to preserve the WWRP and the fair, merit-based support it provides for our outdoor economy and quality of life for years to come.