$70 million funds critical community projects, restores competitive project rankings ignored by Senate budget
Olympia–The Washington State House released their proposed Capital Budget yesterday, restoring funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, the state’s primary tool for conserving fish and wildlife habitat, protecting farmland and building neighborhood parks and trails. Their budget comes on the heels of the Senate’s proposed budget, which, if passed, would be the lowest funding level in the program’s 23-year history, eliminating the balanced approach of prioritizing recreation and conservation needs around the state.
“The House clearly understands the role that conservation plays in our state’s economy and the vitality of thousands of small businesses in every corner of Washington,” said Joanna Grist, Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition which advocates for WWRP funding. “We urge the Senate to heed the recommendations of the House, the Governor and a bipartisan coalition, and restore funding for this valuable program to meet the needs of our state’s growing population.”
The Coalition of over 275 member organizations, including timber companies, hunters, anglers, environmentalists, recreation businesses and outdoors enthusiasts, are asking for $90 million for the WWRP for the 2013-2014 biennium.
The WWRP has enjoyed bipartisan support for it’s objective ranking program which allows communities throughout Washington to receive funding for critical conservation projects, wildlife protection, trail and park improvements and farmland preservation without political game playing or earmarks. The WWRP is funded through capital budget bonding and does not draw on the operating budget.
The Senate’s proposed $39.6 million falls short of the funding needed and if passed would be the lowest funding level in the program’s 23-year history. While the House’s proposal funds 90 important projects, the Senate’s budget leaves 47 projects around the state–whether it’s protecting wildlife along King County’s Green River, improving Swan Creek park in East Tacoma, preserving farmland like Greene Ranch in Kittitas County, or completing Clallam County’s Spruce Trail along Lake Crescent. A complete list of projects–funded and unfunded–is attached.
In recent years the bipartisan support for the WWRP has meant that the program, which is funded through the capital construction 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 vetted and funded through a rigorous nationally recognized evaluation process by an independent panel of experts employed by a state agency, the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO).
The Recreation Industry–by the numbers
Outdoor recreation and the jobs it supports play a major role in Washington’s economy:
- More than 100,000 jobs depend on the continued preservation and protection of the lands that make the industry possible.
- Washingtonians spend $22.5 billion each year on outdoor recreation, directly supporting 227,000 jobs and generating $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association
- Protected lands give western states a competitive advantage that helps create more jobs (especially in service industries like high-tech) and higher per capita income.
In addition, a recent report by nonprofit economic research group Headwaters Economics, 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.
WWRP This Year
Governor Inslee’s proposed budget included $75 million in capital budget funds for the WWRP, an increase from 2011 levels that indicates a growing understanding by lawmakers of how Washington’s economy and conservation are inextricably linked. However Inslee’s budget falls short of the funds needed, eliminating 40 critical projects. Coalition advocates continue to work with budget leaders to increase their levels to the full $90 million request to ensure that critical projects are realized.
The WWRP grant program is also a top priority of the environmental community, who have included $90 million for the WWRP as part of their Conservation Works priority, a package of natural resource programs and projects that put people to work and protect our basic public health.
The $90 million would fund 124 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.
About the Coalition
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.