By John McGlenn and Bill Chapman
It’s no secret that this year’s legislative session was a contentious one. Across the country elected officials have been forced to make difficult budgetary decisions while faced with the current economic recession.
Fortunately, two Eastside senators, Andy Hill (R-Redmond) and Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) recognized that funding outdoor recreation lands makes economic sense when they stood for protecting one of the state’s most respected programs, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Our state legislators recognized that even in tough times, maintaining a program that continues sound public policy while looking ahead is the right choice and we believe our congressional delegation will do the same.
In Olympia, Sens. Liztow and Hill deserve our thanks and commendation for their support of the WWRP grant program.
WWRP conservation and recreation projects are funded based on independent ranking criteria which determine which projects are the best. This means that every community has an equal opportunity to receive funding, using merit based criteria, whether it is saving the migration corridors of Washington’s elk herds, creating parks for our children to play, or making sure our working farms stay working
As lovers of outdoor recreation and family places, we Eastside residents can enjoy the benefits of the WWRP in our community, whether it is hiking the Mt. Si Trail or Cougar Mountain, playing catch with our kids at Marymoor, strolling (or canoeing) through Mercer Slough Nature Area or swimming at Enatai Beach.
This year, in addition to setting aside $42 million, funding over 50 projects in communities around the state, the Legislature also made sure that they maintained the core integrity of the WWRP, keeping the objective, transparent funding process that has won the program widespread support, in place.
This is a victory for all Washingtonians.
Meanwhile, struggles continue in Washington, D.C., over the federal version of the WWRP, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. An innovative federal program designed to offset the negative consequences of offshore oil and gas drilling, the LWCF reinvests a percentage of royalties into the preservation of our country’s most iconic and culturally rich natural areas, such as Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens or the Olympic National Forest.
Thankfully, leaders like Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Congressman Dave Reichert recognize the importance of investing in the long-term prosperity of our communities through funding of federal programs like LWCF.
Funding of critical program like the WWRP and LWCF is a long-term investment in our communities due to the number of jobs outdoor recreation like fishing, hunting and hiking brings to our state. Annually, parks and recreation-based activities generate some $8.5 billion in retail dollars and millions in tax dollars, supporting 115,000 jobs statewide.
In addition, businesses around the state recognize the importance of the outdoors and quality of life when attracting skilled workers. And Realtors know that communities with recreation opportunities and parks are vital to growing home sales in our state. In tough economic times, industries and communities have come to depend on both the short- and long-term benefits of investments like the projects funded by the WWRP and LWCF.
We are grateful for the leadership of Sens. Litzow and Hill in standing up for the integrity of the WWRP grant program. Thanks to the Legislature’s support of economic prosperity and the great outdoors of Washington state, citizens of our state will still be able to enjoy the natural landscapes and clean waterways that we have today for years to come. We appreciate that our congressional delegation continues to demonstrate its support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
John McGlenn and Bill Chapman are founding board members and past presidents of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.