[Seattle, WA] The House capital construction budget released today jeopardizes the integrity of the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program (WWRP), even as it includes a respectable $80 million for WWRP grants. The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition is alarmed by the House’s approach of cutting important acquisition projects. Many of these projects fall into the Critical Habitat and Natural Areas categories, posing a threat to the protection of wildlife habitat and recreational access for hunters, anglers, wildlife viewers, and hikers. This approach also undermines the program’s statutory allocation formula for project selection; thus rejecting the balanced approach that has made the WWRP a nationally recognized program for the past quarter century.
“It is distressing that the House has chosen to depart from the program’s objective, expert-driven evaluation process that has been the hallmark of the WWRP since its creation in 1989,” said Coalition Board Chair Deborah Jensen. “And it is disappointing that they would do so after a significant bipartisan effort succeeded in updating the WWRP last year to address legislators’ stated concerns with the program.”
WWRP is the state’s premier grant program for recreation and conservation, and has successfully leveraged over $1.3 billion in public funding for more than 1,200 projects since 1989. The program was modernized in 2016 to increase funding levels for renovation, development, and restoration of state-owned conservation lands.
By eliminating high-ranking acquisition projects that are necessary for securing recreational access for hikers, hunters, anglers, and others, the House budget proposal departs from the statute’s balanced funding approach that distributes grants competitively among acquisition, restoration, and development projects within a dozen different grant categories. The budget also breaks faith with grant applicants who rely on a fair evaluation process to ensure that projects receive funding in order of quality and importance.
The House’s proposal decimates the Critical Habitat category, eliminating all but one project. It cuts the highly ranked Mt. Adams Klickitat Canyon Phase II project, which would preserve wildlife habitat for almost one hundred important species and create needed recreational opportunities for Washingtonians.
Also cut is the top ranked Wenatchee Sleepy Hollow Floodplain Protection project. Sleepy Hollow ranked first among all Riparian Protection projects statewide and cutting it would halt the chance to conserve valuable fish and wildlife habitat and deprive the public of a much-needed river access point.
Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz weighed in on the need for acquisition projects like Sleepy Hollow. “I hope the House will take a balanced approach to funding WWRP,” said Kuntz. “Recent population growth in Wenatchee means that conservation and recreation initiatives are now more important than ever. Preserving our open spaces for the future is a quality of life issue for us in the Wenatchee Valley, and should be a top priority for the Legislature.”
“Removing projects like Sleepy Hollow is bad for our community’s natural heritage and undermines the core principals of the WWRP,” said Chelan-Douglas Land Trust Executive Director Curt Soper. “We respectfully request that this, along with other important acquisition projects, be restored in the final Capital Budget.”
With Washington’s ongoing population surge, protecting and creating public spaces has never been more important, which is why the House’s budget is so concerning. Along with generating $22.5 billion for the state’s economy and supporting over 227,000 jobs, outdoor recreation offers myriad health, wellness, and happiness benefits. The House’s decision to cut so many valuable acquisition projects will be a true drain on these benefits, despite their effort to provide adequate funding for the program at large.
The Coalition requests that Representatives work across the aisle to restore acquisition projects that have been cut from the current budget. By supporting the integrity of the WWRP program, the House will keep faith with the thousands of opinion leaders, organizations, businesses, and individuals who have joined us in advocating for this vital program.
About the WWRC
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition is a nonprofit organization that leverages the voices of over 280 diverse groups working together to ensure robust public funding for Washington’s great outdoors.
About the WWRP
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) is our state’s premier conservation and recreation grant program which provides matching funds to create new local and state parks, protect wildlife habitat, and preserve working lands.