Olympia—The state house and senate released proposed capital budgets today and yesterday that cut funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP). The senate proposes to fund the WWRP at $50 million which funds 62 projects and cuts funding for the program in half. The house proposes to fund the WWRP at $80 million which funds 94 projects.
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, the nonprofit organization that advocates for the WWRP, urges the senate to match the house budget and to renew this valuable program at $80 million in order to meet the outdoor recreation and natural infrastructure needs of cities, towns and rural areas throughout the state.
“In hard economic times, we see a higher number of people staying close to home and taking their families to local parks, beaches, and other outdoor recreation destinations. The 94 projects that are funded at the $80 million level will help families all over the state by allowing more of these opportunities,” said Michael Collins, Coalition Board President and Vice President of Public Affairs for REI.
The WWRP is a state grant program that funds parks, wildlife habitat and farmland preservation projects. Since 1989, the WWRP has granted more than $620 million and leveraged an additional $405 million to fund 921 projects. These projects make up a combined total of over 300,000 acres of outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat. In 2007, the legislature approved $100 million for the WWRP. This funded 135 projects all over the state.
In May, the state Recreation and Conservation Office, the agency that administers the grants, received a record high total of $272 million in project requests for a total of 370 project applications coming from jurisdictions all over the state. This demonstrates that the need for conservation and outdoor recreation is increasing around the state as population growth and development put pressure on open spaces. To meet the need, the Coalition requested that the legislature renew the WWRP at $100 million in the current session to fund 115 projects.
The WWRP takes a 50% cut the Senate’s capital construction budget, taking the WWRP grant program below its 1990 level and funds just 17% of the record high number of requests.
Capital projects are investments that are paid for over decades, and many assist in boosting local economies. A quarter of the WWRP projects are development projects that would create jobs. The rest are acquisitions and conservation easements that will put dollars in the pockets of local landowners, helping to stimulate the local economy.
“These are hard times, and $80 million for the WWRP will go a long way. We urge the senate to take note of the difference between funding 62 projects versus 94. These projects improve communities all over the state,” said Joanna Grist, Executive Director of the Coalition. “We were one of the last parts of the country to be hit by the recession because of our high quality of life. Protecting our natural infrastructure is the key to making sure we’re the first out of it.”
Recent editorials supporting renewing the WWRP at $100 million ran in the Olympian, Wenatchee World and Ellensburg Daily Record. OpEds ran in the Bellingham Herald, Port Townsend Leader, Vancouver Columbian and Tacoma News Tribune.