Senate Funds WWRP Grants at $68.8 Million But Jeopardizes the Program

April 8, 2015

Wildlife & Recreation Coalition urges the Senate to abide by the statute and utilize the independent selection criteria

The Senate capital construction budget released today includes $68.8 million for Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program (WWRP) grants, while also dismantling crucial parts of the program. Today’s appropriation is close to the House passed bipartisan capital budget at $75 million and the Governor-proposed capital budget at $70 million.

While offering a high level of funding, the proposal rejects the integrity of the WWRP by cherry picking categories and projects to receive funding. The Senate budget eliminates high-ranked critical habitat, urban wildlife, natural areas, and State Parks projects that are necessary for securing recreational access for hikers, hunters, anglers, and other users of our great outdoors. The move ignores the statute and objective ranking criteria that have made WWRP a nationally recognized program, replacing it with earmarks for favored projects and categories. If passed, it would circumvent established law for the first time in the 25-year history of the program.

The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which includes 280 non-profit and corporate members, applauded the funding level while urging the Senate to return to the independent ranking process:

“We are grateful that both the House and the Senate recognize the importance of WWRP grants in driving our economy and supporting Washington’s quality of life,” said Joanna Grist, executive director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. “Unfortunately, today’s proposal goes against 25 years of bipartisan support for the program’s objective, expert-driven evaluation process. It destroys the faith of local communities in the grant process and unfairly supports earmarks at the expense of much needed projects.”

WWRP is the state’s primary tool for conservation and the largest source of funding for trail and local parks projects. It is also the only source of farmland preservation support in the state budget. The WWRP, funded by bonds through the capital construction budget, is separate from the operating budget, which funds items like law enforcement and teachers’ salaries.

Its projects are selected based on an independently administered evaluation process established and regulated by statute (RCW 79A.15) which ensures that projects receive funding in order of quality and importance. Both the Governor and the bipartisan House budget protect the integrity of the program by relying on the nationally-recognized impartial ranking process.

Projects that would be left unfunded by the Senate’s approach include:

  • The Heart of the Cascades project in Kittitas County, crucial for maintaining public access for hunters, anglers and other recreational users.
  • Preserving Bass-Beaver Lake in areas adjacent to Green River Gorge State Park. This project would provide recreational opportunities and is an important wildlife habitat for many species, including bald eagles. Because it is located in one of the fastest growing areas of the state, much of this property is slated for development.
  • An expansion of Saint Edward State Park, one of the top ten most visited parks in the state park system.
  • Protecting pristine wetlands along Dabob Bay on the Hood Canal, an area critical for the commercial shellfish industry. This project would also protect the Navy’s underwater research range and open the area for future trail development for hiking and wildlife viewing.
  • The protection of land and water quality along the Queets River next to the Olympic National Park, which has been recognized as one of the best opportunities to protect and restore native salmon in the U.S.

About WWRP

The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (RCW 79A.15) is a state grant program funded from the capital construction budget that provides funding to protect habitat, preserve working farms and creates new local and state parks. Independent experts rank the applications based on criteria such as the benefits to the public, level of threat to the property, or presence of threatened or endangered species.

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 promotes public funding for Washington’s outdoors through the state Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Members consist of a diverse group of over 280 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.