Some environmental victories

In the interests of positive reenforcement, let’s take the opportunity here to make note of some legislative successes by lawmakers, even as they plod on with their third special session to come to some final agreements related to budgets and education.

Specific to parks, open spaces and the environment, the victories, if not overwhelming, are significant, meaningful and appreciated. In passing the state’s capital improvement budget, the Legislature demonstrated its recognition of the value in making investments that offer short- and long-term benefits.

Among the programs funded in the budget:

$35.5 million will go toward the Department of Ecology’s Floodplains by Design grant program, a public-private partnership that funds projects to reduce flooding risks, restore habitat and prioritize improvements to clean water, agriculture and recreation along the state’s major river corridors.

Two years ago, one of the projects funded by a similar investment reduced the flood risk for the city of Orting along the Puyallup River by reconnecting side channels, moving back levees to double the width of the river and creating log jams to protect shorelines. Future projects have been identified for King, Jefferson and Kittitas counties.

$10 million has been put toward the state Department of Natural Resources efforts to reduce wildfire hazards throughout the state. Recognizing the increase in devastation from recent wildfires, including last summer’s massive Carlton Complex fire, the department had hoped to see $20 million to thin state-managed forestlands of aging and diseased trees that can fuel wildfires and encourage homeowners to thin their own properties and remove brush from near structures. While half of what was sought, the funding represents the largest single increase for that program ever made by the Legislature.

And $55 million was allocated for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, funding that is used to match other public and private funds to establish and improve new local and state parks, protect wildlife habitat and preserve working farms. The Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which administers the program, as it has every two years for the last 25 years, submitted a prioritized list of projects for the funding consideration of lawmakers. It wasn’t the full $97 million that the coalition initially sought, but considering the budget battles this year, we can accept some concessions as necessary to compromise.

Locally, some of this year’s funding will be used for new athletic fields at Kasch Park in Everett; and preservation of the Hooven Bog conservation area, south of Maltby.

The larger victory for the program, however, was in maintaining how the list of projects is administered. Earlier in the session, some in the state Senate wanted to throw out the scoring system the coalition uses to prioritize project. Seeking to cure what it saw as a backlog of park maintenance projects, some senators sought to cherry-pick projects, discarding land acquisitions that are necessary to the creation of future parks and habitat areas. That change was avoided, and the coalition’s method for ranking its list was respected.

Each of these might seem to be minor victories, but their cumulative effect will prove significant in limiting damage from floods and wildfires, preserving habitat and promoting recreation.

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