The state House and Senate capital budgets are miles apart when it comes to funding a statewide program to preserve open space, parks and working farms.
House budget writers included $50 million for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and used the project ranking system designed to keep political deal-making out of the equation.
In the Senate, the priority projects received $20 million, plus another $16 million was directed to politically popular projects. No farm preservation projects were funded in the Senate plan.
Both funding plans represent marked decreases from the $100 million the program received four years ago, a move that was expected due to the multibillion-dollar budget deficit.
“It’s nice to be in the budget,” said Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition spokeswoman Cynara Lilly. “But we want the projects funded on their merits.”
The bipartisan program was formed in 1989 to provide a state source of funding to preserve land for outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat. Farmland preservation through purchase of development rights and other measures were added to the program in 2005.
Since 1990, the state has directed $618 million to more than 1,000 projects across the state. South Sound projects funded include the Chehalis Western Trail, Thurston County’s Camp Kenneydell Park on Black Lake and the Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area.
High priority South Sound projects on the 2011-13 biennial list include:
• Expansion of Lacey’s Pleasant Glade Community Park. There’s $1 million for the project in the House and Senate budgets.
• Removal of invasive species from five South Sound native prairie sites. The House set aside $360,950, but the Senate didn’t fund it.
• Addition of 150 acres to the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. The House budgeted nearly $1.3 million, and the Senate didn’t fund the project.
The state Recreation and Conservation Office is responsible for reviewing, ranking and distributing the grants through a competitive process. The Legislature typically uses its project priority list, which is based on specific criteria, such as public benefits, level of threat to the property or presence of imperiled species.
“By changing the criteria to fit a political need, the Senate proposal destroys the faith of project applicants in the grant process,” said Joanna Grist, executive director of the coalition, a nonprofit group of 250 organizations representing conservation, business, recreation, hunting, fishing, farming and community interests.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org