WWRP and WDFW: A Partnership for People and Wildlife
Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition Breakfast
remarks by Jeffrey Koenings, Ph.D., WDFW Director
October 7, 2004
WWRP and WDFW: A Partnership for People and Wildlife
I would like to thank the Coalition for inviting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to be a part of the discussion of the importance of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation program to both the fish and wildlife resources of the state and to the people who call Washington home.
As you all know, land acquisition is a powerful conservation tool that has been around for many, many years. My agency's history of acquisition began in 1939 shortly after the Department of Game was established by the legislature. For the most part, our ability to acquire lands for fish and wildlife ended in 1971 when funding for acquisitions evaporated and our attention turned to operations and dealing with the pressures from a fast growing population and economy.
It wasn't until 1990 when the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition (WWRC) and the legislature created the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) that we again had the opportunity to permanently protect critical habitat around the state.
That 20-year period saw millions of people move deeper and deeper into the watersheds, urbanizing rural habitats. That pulse, and its effect on fish habitat, helped contribute to salmon being federally listed under the ESA by the end of the 90's.
Since the early 1990's we have been very successful, acquiring 70,396 acres of critical habitat valued at $74,617,399 with WWRP funds. These funds in turn have helped us leverage millions in additional federal funds for acquisition of critical habitat for not only salmon, but also for pygmy rabbits, western pond turtles and other threatened and endangered fish and wildlife, i.e., species at risk. That's the critters part.
The WWRP program has also helped us provide access to Washington's rivers, lakes and marine areas. We have over 600 water access sites (2-5 acre sites with boat launches and restrooms all across Washington). Some other states are using this type of model to provide better recreational access for their citizens. That's the people part.
Although most of our habitat acquisitions are critical to protect threatened and endangered fish and wildlife, most of these acquisitions also provide incredible opportunities for wildlife related recreation, an economic engine that generates over $2 billion in consumer spending in Washington each year. Add to that the community, aesthetic and environmental benefits that these properties provide and you can see that, not only has fish and wildlife benefited from this program but the state, our economy and our quality of life is better because of it.
The WWRP program is made up of the Outdoor Recreation Account (ORA), which receives half of the funds appropriated by the legislature for WWRP and the Habitat Conservation Account (HCA) which receives the other half. The ORA consists of several funding categories including local parks, state parks, trails and water access. The Habitat Conservation Account includes the Critical Habitat Category (the area where my agency is most active), Natural Areas and the Urban Wildlife Category.
The process of securing funds from this grant source involves preparing comprehensive applications involving local stakeholders and making presentations before the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation (IAC). The IAC convenes citizen panels that help with the evaluation process. The projects are then ranked by category and submitted to the legislature for funding. The amount appropriated by the legislature determines how many projects on the ranked lists will be funded. Generally WDFW gets about 1/3 to ½ of our most critical projects funded.
We have made great strides with this program in terms of addressing species and habitat needs, literally pulling some species back from the brink of extirpation in Washington. Sage and Sharptail grouse, pygmy rabbits and salmon, steelhead and bull trout are all species whose future in Washington is now much brighter because of this program. In a few cases, our acquisitions with WWRP Funds have protected the only remaining viable habitat for some species, e.g., western pond turtle, or our acquisitions represent the only viable alternative for restoring a population, pygmy rabbits. The bottom line is that the biodiversity within this state depends upon keeping critical habitats functional for fish and wildlife.
When we make a property acquisition, it's because of the site's location and its intrinsic fish, wildlife and habitat values and because those values may be at risk from a variety of threats the most significant of which is conversion to another use. It is much cheaper and more pragmatic for us to purchase land that still retains its habitat functionality and ecological qualities than to purchase land that requires major restoration to be functional in the future.
We only purchase from willing sellers and we carefully consider the functionality of the parcel in the larger landscape to ensure the parcel will have long-term viability. It doesn't do us any good to purchase high quality habitat if it's surrounded by land that has already been converted or is slated for conversion. This approach stresses protecting existing high quality and functional habitat that is surrounded by other high quality habitat much, but not all of which is in public ownership.
We recently completed our WWRP application process for projects to be funded in the next biennium. Hopefully the legislature will include funding for those grants when they develop the capital budget for the 05-07 biennium.
We will never be able to own everything that has value for fish and wildlife or everything that guarantees Washington's biodiversity nor do we need to do so. One of our most important roles is to provide the fish and wildlife science so that everyone can help make the decisions about what we want this state to look like in the future, counties, cities, the legislature and our citizens.
There is a second fundamental part to owning public lands and that is managing those lands for the purpose they were originally acquired. When we do purchase important habitat and recreation lands, how are we going to pay for operations and maintenance, how will we meet the stewardship expectations? I mentioned that in most cases we purchase existing high quality habitat that will have long-term functionality. That doesn't mean we don't have to be responsible stewards. We have to develop management plans that recognize our neighbors, protect our investments, provide for public recreation and maintain habitat function.
Finally, the vision for WDFW lands is to ensure perpetual benefits to fish and wildlife (maintain Washington's biodiversity) and provide benefits for the public, (sustainable wildlife related recreation). We will work towards this vision by supporting a network of functional habitats and ecosystems in Washington's 9 ecoregions. The WDFW will play a critical role in assuring and supporting such a network, but the success for maintaining Washington biodiversity is something that all of us have a responsibility to accomplish. WWRP is an extremely important source of funds that will allow many other entities besides just WDFW to join in that effort and provide some guarantee for maintaining our quality of life in Washington.