Governor Inslee’s budget a win for recreation economy, reflects deep understanding of ties between conservation and economy, jobs
$75.5 million in capital budget for recreation and wildlife protection moves state closer to maintaining valuable program
Olympia–Governor Inslee’s Capital budget projection, released today, includes $75.5 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 indicates the Governor’s deep commitment to supporting Washington’s recreation industry which considers conservation an essential investment in growing our recreation economy.
“Governor Inslee’s budget clearly illustrates a 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.”
Grist added that she and other advocates for the WWRP, including timber companies, sportsman, environmentalists, recreation businesses and outdoors enthusiasts hope that the House and Senate will also recognize the importance of conservation funding and its crucial impact on job creation by including increased WWRP funding in their proposed budgets due for release the first week in April.
Advocates for the WWRP are asking for $90 million in funding for the 2013-2014 biennium, which would fund 124 projects across Washington. The WWRP has enjoyed bipartisan support for it’s objective ranking program which allows for communities throughout Washington to receive funding for critical conservation projects, wildlife protection, trail and park improvements and farmland preservation without political game playing or earmarking. The WWRP is funded through capital budget bonding and does not draw on the operating budget.
However, the $75.5 million falls short of the funding needed. While 90 important projects are funded, another 34 around the state remain unfunded–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 Clallum 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 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).
The Recreation Industry–by the numbers
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 recently issued a report that found that 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.
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, and that protected lands give western states a competitive advantage that helps create more jobs (especially in services industries like high-tech) and higher per capita income.
2010: Drastic cuts, a bipartisan effort
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 to $42 million. While many programs were still left unfunded, the 2011 legislature was able to save the program and ensure that many local projects were realized. 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.
WWRP This Year
Departing Governor Gregoire’s proposed budget included $65 in capital budget funds for the WWRP, an increase from 2011 that indicates a growing understanding by lawmakers of how Washington’s economy and conservation are inextricably linked. However Gregoire’s budget falls short of the funds needed, eliminating 40 critical projects, leaving Governor Inslee and the 2013 legislature the opportunity to restore full funding and ensure that critical projects are realized.
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.