Proposed House Budget Includes Record $110m for WWRP

March 25, 2021

The House and Senate both released their Capital Construction Budgets for the 2021-2023 biennium today. The House includes $110 million in funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), while the Senate includes $100 million. Both levels are a notable improvement from the 2019-2021 level of $85 million, and, if funded at the House’s level, will represent an all-time record for this critical funding program.

“In a tough budget year, we are thrilled that the Legislature has recognized the critical nature of outdoor recreation and conservation to the lives and well-being of all Washingtonians,” said Christine Mahler, Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. “We greatly appreciate the robust levels proposed by both Chambers, but naturally encourage the Senate to adopt the record-setting levels proposed by the House. This funding will be central to the recovery of our people, our state, and our economy as we come out of the COVID-19 crisis. We greatly appreciate their hard work to ensure that communities across the state can create outdoor opportunities for everyone, from picnickers to paddlers, and from hikers to hunters, while also addressing the needs of our environment and habitat.”

The COVID-19 crisis has brought record numbers of Washingtonians outdoors, seeking the mental and physical health benefits that outdoor recreation provides. This surge provided a preview of the demand we can expect to become the new normal as our population continues to grow. This makes robust funding for the WWRP today more important than ever. WWRP projects create all kinds of outdoor opportunities for families across the state, preserve wildlife habitat, mitigate the effects of climate change, and protect working lands.

The WWRP is the state’s premier grant program for habitat conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities. The program has played a significant role in our state’s landscape and quality of life, investing over $1.4 billion into state and local parks, trails, wildlife habitat, working lands, and other community priorities across the state. This funding will be allocated via a nationally-recognized, impartial ranking process, ensuring that funds are used fairly and for the best projects.

We also commend the House and Senate for including funding in both the capital budgets to address equity issues in outdoor recreation and conservation. While COVID-19 brought more people outside, it also demonstrated the inequities in our recreation systems more clearly than ever. People of color are far less likely to live in neighborhoods with safe playgrounds or trails. They’re less likely to have access to nature, but more likely to face the daily impacts of pollution and environmental degradation right in their communities.

We applaud the inclusion of $5 million by the House in the Capital Budget for immediate investment in underserved communities, and encourage the Senate to match this. However, such investments are not sufficient to address the inequities on their own. We believe the House, when they release their operating budget later tomorrow, will also include funding to execute a community-driven review of the Recreation & Conservation Office’s grant programs, including the WWRP, to identify opportunities to make state grant funding more systemically equitable.

At $100 million, the budget would fund 129 WWRP projects across the state, including:

  • Acquisition of 566 acres of Beacon Hill to preserve miles of heavily-used trail while also preserving access to an urban open space for one of Spokane’s most underserved neighborhoods.
  • Renovation of the 30-year-old Tiger Summit Trailhead to construct ADA-compliant parking spaces, picnic areas, information kiosks, shuttle stops and more, including a new viewpoint shelter with views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades. With continued population growth and record use levels, these urgent improvements will provide a high quality outdoor recreation experience within 25 miles of downtown Seattle.
  • Acquisition of the Wildboy Forest, a partnership of Columbia Land Trust and the Cowlitz Tribe. The 1288 acre purchase will complete the conservation of this area and enable removal of the Kwoneesum Dam. The continued restoration of the watershed will benefit steelhead and coho, all while opening the area to public access.

However, increasing the funding to $110 million, as proposed by the House, will include additional projects of local import to communities across the state, including:

  • Acquisition of a 5-acre urban forest and 700-feet stream which provide habitat for wildlife. This would be the first public park greenspace in the Glendale community, where ethnic diversity, lower incomes and higher health disparities make this investment especially impactful.
  • Development of the 38-acre Curtin Creek Community Park, including one natural and one synthetic multi-use field.