Olympia–The Washington Senate released their proposed Capital Budget today, severely underfunding the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program, the state’s primary tool for conservation, farmland preservation and trail and park improvements. Not only does the Senate’s proposal hurt the program and the outdoor recreation industry it supports, but also earmarks poorly ranked, but politically popular projects, ignoring the objective ranking criteria that has made the WWRP a nationally recognized program.
“The Senate’s budget proposal fails to understand the role that land and water conservation plays in our state’s economy, threatening the vitality of thousands of Washington businesses,” said Joanna Grist, Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition which advocates for the WWRP. “By changing the criteria to fit a political need, the Senate proposal unfairly supports earmarks over well ranked projects.”
Grist added that she and other advocates for the WWRP, including timber companies, sportsman, environmentalists, recreation businesses and outdoors enthusiasts hope that the senate take immediate steps to reverse course and restore funding and integrity to the WWRP.
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.
The Senate’s proposed $39.6 million falls significantly short of the funding needed and represents one of the smallest legislative proposals in the program’s 23 year history. The Senate proposal leaves 47 projects 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 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).
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 services 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, leaving 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.