Funding for six projects protecting critical critter and fish habitat in Central Washington has been cut from a state budget proposal, and sportsmen should take note.
Though top-ranked during reviews, the acquisitions in Douglas, Chelan, Kittitas, Yakima and Klickitat Counties were left out of the House Capital Budget, an approach that goes against the grain of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
All would benefit hunters and the deer, elk and upland game birds we chase, as well as other fish and wildlife and recreationalists.
The projects are all included in the state Senate’s version, so the best hope for sportsmen is that during budget reconciliation talks between the chambers, the House comes around.
Danica Johnson with Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition said the House Capital budget “unfairly targeted” the six as well as and nine other water access, riparian, natural area and park acquisitions, even though “(m)any of these were top-ranked projects that should have received funding under the allocation formula.”
The development follows a bipartisan update of WWRP’s formulas last year meant in part to address concerns over large-scale land buys in Eastern Washington.
Projects are ranked by the state Recreation and Conservation Office under objective criteria and assigned one of several categories, including critical habitat, riparian, natural area, local parks, state parks and others.
Theoretically, lawmakers are supposed to go with the highest-scoring projects, and on the Senate side, they did.
But under critical habitat, the final purchase of 7,250 acres padding WDFW’s Big Bend Wildlife Area — the former Grand Coulee Ranch it has been buying in recent years — 6,700 acres in the Simcoes, 3,200 acres in both the Klickitat Canyon and Cowiche Watershed and 1,600 acres along the South Fork of Manastash Creek were left out of the House budget.
So was a 37-acre riparian buy in the floodplain of the Wenatchee River, potentially putting it at risk of being developed into a subdivision.
Funding for Capital Budget acquisitions comes through the sale of state bonds, not from the General Fund or license dollars. Often they’re matched with private or federal funds to complete deals.
One notable project that was left out of both chambers’ proposals was purchase of land for a boat launch on the middle Wynoochee, the 7400 Line access. Its ranking is apparently very low, though you and I would disagree.
And in Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun, Dave Shorett reports that the long-suffering bid to build a ramp on WDFW land on Lake Tahuyah still can’t “make the cut” for development funding, despite potential high value for Bremerton-area anglers.
As you might imagine, politics were involved in cutting the Central Washington projects. Recent years have seen a lot of pushback in the 509 about state land buys, so it’s not a coincidence that these six particular acquisition projects were sidelined.
That’s unfortunate, because this fantastic part of the Evergreen State represents some of the best land left for wildlife and wildland-based recreation in the state.
This past harsh winter highlights the need for winter range. The tough salmon seasons Pugetropolis was just handed are, in part, a result of compromised habitat reducing productivity and thus constraining opportunity. And the loss of more and more land across Washington to trespass fees highlights the critical and growing need we all have for access.
I hope that the House and Senate come together to fund these six projects, as well as follow the guidelines for allocating state funds, as was agreed to last year.