The 2018 legislative session ended on March 8. This year’s short 60-day session was busy and productive, as legislators passed supplemental budgets, as well as the 2017-2019 capital budget.
Capital Budget: $80 Million for WWRP
After being delayed by several months due to a stand-off over an unrelated policy issue involving rural water wells, the legislature finally passed the 2017-2019 capital budget. The budget included $80 million for the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program (WWRP), the second highest funding amount in the program’s history. This funding has allowed over 100 new high-priority land conservation and public recreation projects to move forward. The complete list of funded projects can be found here. Communities across the state have already begun putting this funding to use, and many of those same communities are now preparing applications for the next round of WWRP funding, due May 1!
The legislature approved funding that will study the economic, health, and social benefits of recreational activities. This information will help the WWRC and our partners advocate for greater investment in our parks, trails, and green spaces. $125,000 will be provided to the state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) to study the economic and health benefits of hiking, walking, and bicycling. This information will help leverage the economic benefits of trails through public-private partnerships and promote opportunities for investing in recreational tourism across Washington state.
The legislature also provided $100,000 to identify where gaps in recreational assets like trails, parks, and campgrounds might exist, and suggest strategies to address those gaps. Thanks to Senators Van De Wege and Warnick and Representatives Barkis and Chapman—as well as our partners at the Washington Trails Association, Washington Bikes, and the Washington Recreation and Parks Association—for championing these studies.
Funding for Rural Areas
The WWRC has been a long-time supporter of the State Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), a program that helps make sure that state natural resource lands don’t affect local property taxes. The Coalition supported an effort this year to fully fund PILT, but unfortunately the legislature only provided $22,000 to increase payments to Adams, Asotin, and Lincoln counties.
The supplemental operating budget includes $198,000 for Natural Areas Access and Weed Control. According to the Department of Natural Resources, this one-time funding will allow it to maintain public access facilities and environmental education in heavily-used state Natural Areas, many of which are funded by the WWRP.
The Coalition is hard at work educating communities across the state about WWRP and encouraging agencies to apply for the next round of WWRP funding by May 1. Our attention will soon turn towards developing a strong funding request for WWRP in the next biennium. Robust funding for WWRP helps create outdoor recreational opportunities for our communities and preserves our most treasured places. Thank you for supporting our work to protect our great outdoors!