State Wildlife and Recreation Coalition: A bipartisan success story
Blue herons on Whidbey Island, elk herds in Kittitas County and inner-city school kids in Tacoma couldn’t get away for breakfast in Seattle, but 650 of their benefactors did show up.
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition is one of the nation’s all-too-few ongoing examples of bipartisan, across-the-battle-lines cooperation. The WWRC was founded by ex-Govs. Dan Evans and Mike Lowry, who on Tuesday were marking the 30th anniversary of facing off against each other in an intense 1983 U.S. Senate special election campaign.
The coalition has shown a knack for getting money out of the Legislature in tough times — $65 million this year — leveraging those dollars, and setting out on tasks ranging from reclaiming parks in Tacoma’s tough Hilltop neighborhood to protecting Skagit County farmland to preserving more than 10,000 acres in Kittitas County.
“You have captured and protected the soul of Washington,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, looking out a members of Congress and legislators from both parties.
Yet, bright news of success is lately coupled with dark clouds on the horizon.
The first is that Washington’s conservation movement is getting long at the tooth. “As I look out, this audience is dominated by people over 35, in fact over 40,” said Rance Block, a recent retiree from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and recipient of this year’s Joan Thomas Award.
Inslee took note of the age of tablets and iPhones, which are attracting America’s young to God’s great indoors. “We’ve got to make sure they get fishing, get wet swimming and spend the night in a wet tent,” said Inslee.
The second worry is global warming. Ex-U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, warming up the crowd to contribute, warned that global warming might wipe out all the good being done. Dicks spent years in Congress working to clean up Puget Sound, only to see it threatened by ocean acidification.
Added Inslee: “All of the work this organization is doping could go for naught if we do not deal with ocean acidification and climate change. “ The governor cited threats to the state’s shellfish industry, and to the recovery of salmon runs, saying: “We’re doing tremendous work protecting (open) space, but the space is under attack from climate change and acidification.”
It is also under attack in Washington, D.C.
During 36 years on Capitol Hill, Dicks defended the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and found dollars to protect such places as the cedar forests of Long Island in Willapa Bay, Keystone Spit on Whidbey Island, and Protection Island off Port Angeles.
“Unfortunately, the chairman’s recommendation in the House of Representatives is to zero out the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Dicks said.
The Republican-dominated Interior appropriations subcommittee of the House, which Dicks once chaired, has eliminated all money to buy up key habitat, recreation lands and private inholdings in national parks.
In Washington state, fortunately, there is the WWRC — a creation of a Republican (Evans) and a Democrat (Lowry) which has attracted 280 different groups to its coalition. It has leveraged more than $1 billion in land acquisitions and park improvements, “which is miraculous given the huge economic downturn we have gone through the last few years,” Evans said.