Governor Gregory’s 2013 budget, released yesterday, includes $65 million for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), the state’s primary tool for conservation, farmland preservation and trail and park improvements. The number reflects a growing understanding by lawmakers of how Washington’s economy and conservation are inextricably linked.
“Governor Gregoire’s budget clearly illustrates her deep understanding of the role that land and water conservation plays in our state’s economy,” said Joanna Grist, Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition which advocates for the WWRP. “In addition to supporting thousands of small businesses and spurring job creation, recreation opportunities contribute to the Washington way of life that entices innovative companies and individuals to make our state home. While there is still work to be done, this is a great first step towards getting the legislature to approve increased funding for this valuable program.”
However, $65 million falls short of the funding needed and would leave 40 projects in communities around the state unfunded. Overall there are 124 WWRP projects in communities across the state that have been selected for funding using a nationally recognized independent ranking system. From developing trails near Yakima, Spokane and Wenatchee, to restoring the Seaview Dunes near Aberdeen, conserving Kitsap forests, building an ice rink in the Methow, saving farms in the Skagit or creating parks in Clark County, the projects ranked as best for the state will protect valuable land, improve opportunities for recreation businesses to thrive and have a positive effect on Washington state’s quality of life.
Gregoire’s budget proposal comes on the heels of a recent report by nonprofit economic research group Headwaters Economics, directly tying conservation to economic growth. The report, West is Best, finds that the western United States, including Washington State, is outpacing the rest of the country in job creation, personal income and population growth, and that protected lands– like national parks, monuments, and wilderness–are providing western states with a competitive economic advantage that helps create more jobs (especially in services industries like high-tech) and higher per capita income.
And outdoor recreation and the jobs it supports plays a major role in Washington’s economy. More than one hundred thousand jobs depend on the continued preservation and protection of the lands that make the industry possible. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that recreation—hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing—contributes $730 billion to the US economy and supports 6.5 million jobs. In Washington State alone, outdoor recreation supports 115,000 jobs and $11.7 billion to the state economy.
In recent years the bipartisan support for the WWRP has meant that the program, which is funded through the capital budget has been able to give grants for top ranked projects in communities across the state–improving trails, establishing local parks, repairing shoreline, preserving farmland and protecting forests throughout Washington. Projects are funded based on an independent ranking system employed by the Recreation Conservation Office (RCO). In 2010, the WWRP was threatened with elimination in Governor’s Gregoire’s budget. Through a strong bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate, the program was restored $42 million–only half its 2008 funding. The fifty percent cut meant devastating losses for communities around the state as many approved projects went unfunded. In order to meet the goals of this year’s approved list, the Coalition will be advocating for restored funding for the WWRP at $90 million.
About the WWRC
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition is a non-profit citizens group founded in a historic bipartisan effort by former Governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry. The Coalition’s members consist of a diverse group of over 275 organizations representing conservation, business, recreation, hunting, fishing, farming and community interests. The breadth and diversity of the Coalition is the key to its success–no one member could secure such a high level of funding for parks and habitat on its own.