Amidst a number of less-than-stellar recreation and environmental policy changes on the national front, the passage of Congress’ omnibus appropriations bill in late March yielded some positive results for Washington state.
First, Congress refused President Trump’s request to slash the acclaimed Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by 80%. Instead, the program was increased by $25 million to help maintain existing (and acquire new) public lands for every American to enjoy. As stated by our friends at the Nature Conservancy, this higher funding level will allow the program to better protect natural areas and recreation sites in nearly every county in America. The Coalition is grateful to Congress for seeing the value in this program, which has been the cornerstone of public lands conservation in America for over 50 years.
The appropriations bill also provided $530 million for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Recognizing the impact that state wildlife lands have on local governments, the state makes payments in lieu of taxes to compensate counties for loss of tax revenue where public natural areas are located. In Washington, the state makes payments to thirteen counties where tax bases are hit the hardest. These funds are crucial to rural communities for the creation of public parks, sports fields, hiking trails, fishing and hunting areas, and much more.
Also included in the appropriations bill is a comprehensive wildfire funding fix, a goal long-sought after by firefighting agencies and communities across Washington. This fix will allow the federal government to use disaster relief funding to pay for fighting catastrophic wildfires, in turn giving them the opportunity to focus more money on wildfire prevention—like making forests healthier and less like to burn. This is a smart long-term move to make our communities safer and healthier.
The appropriations bill is a win for Puget Sound cleanup efforts as well. Puget Sound will receive $28 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (out of $8.08 billion nationally). The Trump administration originally proposed to cut EPA’s budget to $5.7 billion, which would have been its lowest spending level in 40 years.
The Coalition thanks members of Congress in Washington state and beyond for thinking about the future of conservation and recreation, and the health of our planet.