The Capital Budget Committee of the Washington State House of Representatives has released a 2007-2009 State Budget that would double funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), thus significantly increasing State funding of for parks, wildlife habitat, farmland preservation and shoreline protection.
For the past 16 years, the Governor and State Legislature have funded the program at around $50 million per biennium. But, with a growing population, higher real estate prices, and constant pressure to develop available land, funding levels are no longer adequate. In response, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition has led an effort to persuade the Governor and Legislature to increase funding for WWRP grants to $100 million.
Governor Christine Gregoire’s version of the State Budget called for increasing WWRP funding to $70 million. While very positive, the $70 million falls short of the $100 million WWRP supporters of the WWRP have been advocating for the program, and would mean many worthwhile projects would not be funded. Some opportunities for important community park development, habitat acquisition and farmland preservation may be lost as a result.
“The natural environment is one of the reasons we love to live in Washington,” said House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle). “The WWRP does a great job of leveraging funds, organizing volunteers, and identifying worthwhile projects. I am very pleased we were able to help in those efforts.”
Next the Capital Budget Committee’s version of 2007-2009 State Budget will be voted out of committee and sent to the Full House for passage. Once approved, it moves on to the State Senate, where it will first be considered by the Ways and Means Committee.
Started by former Washington Governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry in 1989, the WWRP has provided over $450 million in grants to fund nearly 800 projects, encompassing over 250,000 acres across the state. This money leveraged an additional $315 million in local matching funds, plus federal matches that bring the total to around $1 billion. Projects range from local neighborhood parks and urban wildlife areas to state park development and habitat acquisition. Last year, the program was expanded to include farmland preservation and shoreline protection.
“The WWRP has been integral in maintaining Washington’s quality of life, strengthening communities and keeping our economy strong,” said Rep. Bill Fromhold (D-Vancouver) chair of the House Capital Budget Committee. “These projects represent investments we can make now for Washington’s future.”
The WWRP requires local grant applicants – usually cities, counties and park districts – to provide local matching funds. All the project applications are then evaluated by a state-appointed committee that prioritizes and ranks the projects so that only the best get funded. The independent “pork-free” ranking process has lead to statewide, bipartisan support of the program.
Supporters of increasing WWRP funding to $100 million include a broad range of organizations representing diverse interests from across the state, including Priorities for a Healthy Washington, the Washington Realtors, Boeing, Weyerhauser, the State Fish and Wildlife Commission and dozens of other groups (see the Coalition’s website at www.wildliferecreation.org for more.)
This year, the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, a State agency that oversees WWRP grant-making, has recommended funding 133 park, trail, habitat area and working farm preservation projects across the state. The complete list, including the county, the type of project and the amount of funding, is viewable here: http://www.wildliferecreation.org/files/2007%20Ranked%20WWRP%20Projects%20FINAL.pdf
More information on projects in your area can be found by using the Coalition’s “My Backyard” feature on the upper right of the website, and searching by county, city or legislative district.
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) is a state grant program that helps local communities create new parks, protect wildlife habitat, and conserve farmland and shorelines. Since 1990, over $450 million has been provided for 775 neighborhood parks, ball fields, trails, beaches, wildlife habitat areas and state parks. By requiring that local projects provide a match, WWRP grants leverage funding from cities, counties and park districts, as well as private and philanthropic funding sources.
Chaired by former Governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition is an advocacy organization made up of over 270 varied organizations and businesses that work to ensure the WWRP receives adequate support to develop local, regional and state recreation and wildlife areas. The Coalition’s website, with more background and descriptions of previously funded projects across the state, is: http://www.WildlifeRecreation.org