Whatcom parks elude state budget cuts
Whatcom County’s wildlife conservation and restoration efforts will not be affected by the latest state Senate and House budgets, although many other cities in Washington will see conservation projects halted.
The county is sheltered from the cuts because a large portion of the parks and wildlife areas in the county are federally funded, said Barbara Brenner, a Whatcom County Councilwoman.
Another reason the county will not be affected by cuts is because the county did not submit any projects for funding in 2011 to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which provides funding for a broad range of conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the state.
Brenner said the county already has most of the parks and wildlife areas maintained by other agencies whose funding has not been cut.
“A lot of our parks are managed by our parks department,” she said. “And that’s a big percentage of the budget we already have.”
To receive funding for a restoration or conservation project, proposals have to be submitted to a competitive bidding process. This eliminates funding politically motivated projects, said Joanna Grist, executive director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, a nonprofit watchdog for the program.
“The competitive process is the key to our success,” Grist said. “It ensures that only the best projects get funded.”
But now, even the best projects are in danger of not getting funding.
The program has seen its funding drastically cut over the last four years. In 2007, the budget for the program was $100 million. Two years later, it was cut to $70 million. The latest Senate bill cuts the funding further – down to $20 million.
“It’s barely enough to keep the program going,” Grist said.
Grist said the proposed budgets could potentially cut more than 60 of the program’s projects across the state.
Washington is not the only state whose government’s budgets are threatening serious cuts to environmental conservation and restoration efforts.
In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, unveiled a plan to open up 3 million acres of previously protected land to development, and he is suspending a law meant to monitor toxic chemicals.
More cuts are on the way in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott plans to reduce funding for the Everglades from $50 million to $17 million, according to the New York Times.
Executive director of the Conservation Commission, Mark Clark, said the main problem facing conservation in the state is that natural resources in Washington are going to take up to a 30 percent hit from budget cuts.
The budgets proposed in the Legislature plan to cut a whole range of programs in an effort to close a $5.1 billion deficit.