New Public Lands Investments Secured in 2023 WA State Budget

Our public lands and outdoor recreation priorities fared well during the recent state legislative session. Learn more about new investments recreationists helped secure in the final state budget and thank legislators for championing the outdoors.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
April 26, 2023
New Public Lands Investments Secured in 2023 WA State Budget

State-managed public lands like Deception Pass, Blanchard Mountain, and Mount Si connect us to nature through the recreational activities we enjoy in all seasons. With Mountaineers programs and activities frequently occurring on state lands, each legislative session we advocate for bills and funding requests that improve conservation and recreation at the state level. Year after year, Mountaineers continue to speak up for the state parks and recreation areas we love.

The 2023 legislative session just wrapped up, and we’re excited to share that lawmakers continued a recent trend of strong support for public lands. Despite forecasts of a constrained financial outlook, lawmakers prioritized investments in the outdoors. Over the last four months, our staff testified before the House and Senate and met with land managers and legislative staff. Our members participated in lobby days and wrote to their representatives.

Thanks Lawmakers

Maintaining and Improving Access to State Public Lands

Last year, we celebrated a landmark win for state lands in the passage of $15 million in ongoing funding for the State Parks, DNR, and DFW to begin tackling their deferred maintenance backlog. These resources are already making a difference by helping land managers hire additional staff, restore decrepit facilities at trailheads and campgrounds, and maintain roads and trails critical to recreation access.

Because that funding was passed in the final year of a two-year budget cycle, it was critical that lawmakers continued these important investments in the 2023-2025 state operating budget. Thanks to advocacy led by our friends at Washington Trails Association, the legislature maintained the $5 million in ongoing maintenance and operations funding for all three land management agencies in the final budget.

The 2023-2025 capital budget also contains $8 million for DNR capital projects to improve responsible recreation access to popular destinations like the Tiger Mountain, Rattlesnake Ridge, Mount Si, and Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Areas.

Managing Recreation Impacts on State Public Lands

This year, The Mountaineers led advocacy efforts by Outdoor Alliance Washington to support $10.7 million in funding for State Parks, DNR, and DFW to collaboratively measure and manage growing recreation impacts. With visitation to state-managed public lands increasing since the pandemic, this work will help ensure that fragile ecosystems, valuable wildlife habitat, and sacred sites are better protected from human impacts.

While the final operating budget does not fully fund our request, it includes over $5 million to help land managers better protect natural and cultural resources and address tribal concerns about recreation impacts to state lands. We’re particularly heartened that this work will have a coordinated approach to meaningful consultation with tribal governments, which is essential to crafting just and durable solutions.

No Child Left Inside and the WWRP

Thanks to Washington’s No Child Left Inside grant program, The Mountaineers partners with local youth-serving organizations through our Mountain Workshops program to expose youth to the outdoors and help them develop transferable outdoor skills. In order to better address the need for NCLI programming, we joined with the NCLI Coalition to ask the legislature to double the program’s funding to $9 million in the state operating budget. Thanks to our advocacy, legislators provided a one-time increase of $2.5 million, funding NCLI at $7 million for the next two years. This increase will allow the NCLI to have a greater positive impact on the community.

The final capital budget includes a critical $20 million increase for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP). Now funded at a record high of $120 million, the state’s largest public funding source for outdoor community projects will do even more to create new parks, protect wildlife habitat, and preserve working lands. We’d love to see full funding for the WWRP, but we’re stoked for the program’s growing support and we celebrate this win with our friends at the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.

Beautiful light on Mt Si with a dusting of snow. Photo by Monty VanderBilt.jpg

image of Mount Si, which was previously conserved thanks to Washington’s Trust Land Transfer program. Photo by Monty VanderBilt.

Revitalizing DNR’s Trust Land Transfer Program

The Department of Natural Resource’s Trust Land Transfer (TLT) program is the agency’s only tool to transfer state trust lands for conservation, recreation, and other community uses. The program had seen dwindling funding and support in recent years but is now revitalized and modernized thanks to the passage of SHB 1460. TLT is now poised to help DNR conserve lands with high ecological value and public benefits. The final state capital budget includes $19.5 million to fully fund five new TLT projects and complete the ongoing Dabob Bay project. Together these projects will conserve 4,425 acres of land, protect salmon habitat and globally rare forests, and increase outdoor recreation access.

Let’s Celebrate

Thanks to outdoor advocates like you, we overcame an uncertain budget year to secure additional investments in our state’s public lands and the special recreation opportunities they provide. This funding will go a long way to conserve natural resources and enhance sustainable outdoor recreation during a time of soaring visitation and growing climate impacts.

Celebrate these wins with your legislators by thanking them for prioritizing public lands and outdoor recreation in Washington. A quick, personalized note sharing why this funding is important will help build support for future investments.

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