[Seattle, WA] Following an extensive outreach process, the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) put forth a bill updating the 25-year old Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP). Among other things, the bill provides more support to traditionally underserved communities, enhances transparency and communication between public agencies and local communities, and addresses concerns about the need for more infrastructure investment in state and local parks.
During the extended 2015 legislative session a number of lawmakers voiced concerns that, after 25 years of tremendous success, WWRP needed to better reflect the current needs of our state. Senator Linda Evans Parlette (R-12) specifically called on the RCO to review and recommend changes to update and improve the WWRP grant program.
Stakeholders from across the state were involved in the RCO’s review process while a number of nonprofit organizations – including the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition and the Washington Recreation & Park Association – conducted their own extensive stakeholder outreach. This statewide effort culminated in December when the RCO issued official recommendations for changes to the WWRP, and just last week the RCO released a bill to be introduced this legislative session.
The Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition, a group of over 280 corporate and nonprofit partners supports most of these updates but remains concerned over potential cuts to funding for the protection of critical habitat.
“This bill goes a long way to modernizing the WWRP to make it more accessible, transparent, accountable, and sustainable, although we have concerns about the recommended loss in funding for habitat projects,” said Andrea McNamara Doyle, Interim Executive Director of the Coalition. “With Washington state’s population growth accelerating as the economy recovers, WWRP has a vital role to play in protecting those places that make our home state such a special place to live.”
The legislation, Senate Bill 6227 sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-15), and House Bill 2509 sponsored by Representative Steve Tharinger (D-24), propose important updates to the WWRP, including:
- Improving access to grants in underserved communities by providing a match waiver or reduction in communities where providing a match may be prohibitively expensive
- Simplifying a complicated allocation formula for project applicants, while adding a new account designed to preserve working farm and forest lands
- Strengthening public access requirements on public lands acquired through WWRP while ensuring that necessary restrictions for protecting sensitive habitat and public safety are transparent
- Enabling land trusts, a key player in conservation efforts, to compete for more grant funding for habitat conservation