The Washington State Legislature just wrapped up its 2019 session, passing a number of bills important to conservation, along with the state’s Capital Budget for the 2019-2021 biennium.
This session, WALT has been a strong voice for land trusts and for conservation in Olympia. Read on for a run-down of how WALT’s biggest priorities fared.
Robust Natural Resource Funding
Land trusts, agencies, municipalities, and tribes across the state rely on state conservation funding programs to accomplish important protection, restoration, and stewardship projects in their communities. WALT supports strong funding for all natural resource programs supported by the Washington State Capital Budget.
Last week, the legislature passed the Capital Budget for the 2019-2021 biennium, which includes investments in locally-driven conservation projects essential for habitat protection, water quality, public health, infrastructure, and economic development across the state.
One of the most important programs is the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), the state’s largest source of funding for farmland preservation, primary tool for conserving fish and wildlife habitat, and an important source of funding to ensure access to outdoor recreation for all. The legislature granted $85 million to the WWRP this biennium, a level that reflects our state’s growing population and mounting need for outdoor recreation spaces, productive working lands, and wildlife habitat.
Shorelines, Salmon, and Orca
In the Capital Budget, several important salmon and shoreline programs received moderate increases in funding relative to the last biennium, including including $49.5 million for Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration and $10 million for the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program. Salmon habitat across the state will benefit, with $25 million for the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. The Capital Budget also dedicated $50.4 million to the Department of Ecology’s Floodplains by Design program, to fund multi-benefit projects to protect communities from flooding and restore habitat.
In addition to funding for the salmon and shoreline programs in the capital budget, the legislature also had a strong focus on the health and recovery of an iconic Salish Sea species, the Southern Resident Killer Whale.
Excitingly, the legislature passed all three policy bills requested by Governor Inslee to implement recommendations of the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, including: a bill to increase the safety of oil transportation (HB 1578), a bill to increase Chinook and forage fish abundance through changes to catch limits, hydraulic permitting approval, and enforcement (HB 1579), and a bill to reduce vessel disturbance (SB 5577). In addition, the final Operating Budget provides increased funding for the Puget Sound Partnership to update Salmon Recovery Plans, increase monitoring efforts, improve scientific research, and staff support for coordinating recovery efforts.
WALT and partners made a big push this legislative session to support the creation of a new statewide grant program to provide funding for community forest projects. While there was no legislation passed this session that would support community forest acquisitions by local entities, this was overall a successful effort to raise the profile of the community forest model among important decision-makers.
The momentum behind community forests has been building in Washington State for a number of years. In 2018, the legislature directed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to assess existing and development community forest efforts, and rank high priority Washington projects based on the multiplpe economic, ecological, and social benefits these projects bring to their communities. While we will not see a new community forest grant program this year, the legislature did place $0.93 million in the Capital Budget to fund two of the top-ranked community forest projects identified previously in the DNR assessment! Additionally, a bipartisan team of House Representatives committed to coordinating an inclusive work group through the summer and early fall of 2019, bringing in diverse stakeholders to build consensus around how to succeed in this important policy issue.
A unified voice for land trusts
Thanks to supporters like you, we can make sure conservation is a continued priority in Olympia. Please, donate to WALT today!