Op-Ed: Senate needs to keep integrity of Wildlife and Recreation Program
The Senate’s capital budget that was released April 8 is bad news for Washington’s incredible natural heritage and for Pierce County. The budget threatens to dismantle the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), our state’s premier program to protect and develop our outdoor spaces.
Here in Pierce County, we are the gateway to numerous outdoor treasures, including Mt. Rainier National Park, the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, and Alder Lake. For this reason we have one of the largest outdoor recreation sectors in the state, supporting nearly 20,000 jobs and $2.25 billion in consumer spending each year in Pierce County. We cannot allow the Senate to endanger our incredible natural heritage or the economy and quality of life it supports.
The Senate proposal funds WWRP at $68.8 million, only somewhat less than the House’s proposed $75 million, however, this support is far outweighed by the Senate’s move to subvert the laws behind the program and move money from important, high-ranked projects into earmarks and less important projects that certain legislators personally prefer. At the heart of WWRP is its nationally recognized fair and objective funding system, which relies on independent agencies to evaluate and rank projects to ensure that only the most important, highest quality projects receive funding. This means that less politically powerful, more rural communities have an equal chance to receive funding for their projects, because projects are funded based on merit rather than political horse-trading.
By ignoring the law and instead cherry picking certain projects to favor over other, more worthy ones, the Senate is reducing this gold standard program to pure politics and earmarks. In particular, the Senate is choosing to eliminate high-ranked critical habitat, wildlife, and State Parks projects that are necessary for allowing access for hiking, wildlife watching, hunting, angling, and other recreation.
One highly ranked project that the Senate chose to entirely take funding away from is the Carbon River Valley Expansion in Carbonado. This project would open up 500 acres of forestland along the Carbon River near the community of Carbonado to recreation access. It would protect the corridor leading up to Mt. Rainier National Park, visited by 1.8 million people each year. It would also preserve critical habitat for Rocky Mountain Elk and Chinook and Steelhead salmon and help protect water quality in the Puyallup River Watershed.
If the Senate is allowed to go through with this, Pierce County will lose out, not just on this project, but on all of the future benefits WWRP could bring to our community. In the last 25 years, WWRP has funded over $44 million in projects in Pierce County, including the new skate parks in Lakewood, Dupont, and Spanaway; Wapato Hills Park; the Mt. Tahoma ski trails; Bradley Lake in Puyallup; and Point Defiance in Tacoma. It has also worked to preserve water quality in the Nisqually River, and protected working farms in the Puyallup River Valley. Dismantling this program is bad policy and bad economics, and will hurt the people of Pierce County
We need our public servants to opt for the 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.