May 4, 2011 in Opinion

Preserve WWRP funding

Suzy Dix Special to The Spokesman-Review
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Spokane, WA 99201.

When the Washington state House of Representatives announced its capital construction budget in early April, cutting funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program by 50 percent – from $100 million to $50 million – supporters of the program agreed cutting the program was appropriate in these tough economic times.

For 20 years, the WWRP has funded high-priority land conservation and recreation projects across the state. Less funding means many important projects will be lost that could have saved working farms, protected critical fishing habitats or created parks to be enjoyed by generations to come.

These are opportunities lost forever. It’s a huge – but not total – loss.  Why?  Because the House of Representatives did something right.  Even while cutting the program, they kept its essential pieces intact so it can thrive in more prosperous years.

We thank the House for its leadership in funding this program in difficult times. We call on the Senate to show the same leadership by approving a capital budget with $50 million for WWRP projects that have been fairly chosen, not chosen for political reasons.

The WWRP funds its projects statewide based on criteria and rankings established by citizen committees to select the best projects, a process that demonstrates integrity and competition.  This means every community has an equal opportunity to get a project funded, whether it is saving the migration grounds of Washington’s largest elk herd, creating parks for our children to play at, or helping family farms stay in production.  It also means no chance of the Legislature picking less critical projects instead of the best projects.

But all that has been put at risk by the counterproposal outlined by the Senate.  Their proposal doesn’t just further decimate the WWRP’s funding by slicing $30 million from the House’s proposal, it also moves $16 million into a different fund for hand-chosen projects, in key districts, rather than funding projects based on their merits.  This means that not only will elk lose their habitat, but also local economies around our state parks won’t be preserved, hunting grounds won’t be saved and fisheries won’t be protected. 

The Senate budget also eliminates all funding for working farmlands – like 200 acres to be protected at the Dawson Ranch in Stevens County – putting hundreds of farming jobs across the state at risk. 

Even worse, the Senate proposal threatens the very core of the WWRP.  It sets a dangerous precedent: If legislators are allowed to cherry-pick pet projects, what is the point of a time-tested, objective, nonpolitical ranking process?

In addition to losing a great project like the Dawson Ranch – which alone maintains more than 20 farmland-related jobs in Colville – the Senate budget draft would slash funding for the Antoine Peak project in Spokane County more than 50 percent, from $1.6 million to $764,000. Without full funding, Spokane County Parks may not be able to meet the project’s goals of protecting elk and mule deer habitat and creating hiking and mountain biking trails close to Spokane and Spokane Valley – land that is truly “near nature, near perfect.”

Projects like Antoine Peak and the Dawson Ranch make our community a great place to live, protect our natural environment and contribute to our local economies. Their value was recognized in a statewide, competitive ranking process, but unfortunately, this doesn’t matter in the Senate budget.

Statewide, renewing WWRP funding is an essential investment in our long-term prosperity. Outdoor recreation generates $8.5 billion in retail dollars and millions in tax dollars, supporting 115,000 jobs in Washington state.  Over the last 21 years, WWRP has taken root as one of the state’s most popular and successful programs, enjoying broad bipartisan support for successfully funding over 1,000 projects statewide that preserve our quality of life.

But all that is put at risk by the Senate’s dangerous proposal, which destroys a time-tested, proven, fair process and unfairly supports earmarks over well-ranked projects.

Suzy Dix, a landowner, farmer and Realtor in Spokane, is on the boards of directors of the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association and The Nature Conservancy of Washington.

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