We're Off! Washington State's 2023 Legislative Session
This week kicks off Washington state's 2023 legislative session! WTA will be working with partners and people like you to champion legislation and funding requests that impact public lands and outdoor access. Last year, WTA and hikers helped secure two game-changing wins for public lands, and we're back in Olympia this year ensuring that both programs continue into the future.
This week kicks off Washington state's 2023 legislative session! During the next 105 days, the state Senate and House of Representatives will meet to create new laws, make updates to existing policies and enact budgets for the state. This is a busy time for WTA as we work with our partners and people like you to champion legislation and funding requests that impact public lands and outdoor access. During the 2022 legislative session, WTA and our community of hikers helped secure two game-changing wins for public lands: sustainable maintenance funding and equity in outdoor careers (more on those below). We’ve already seen successes from these wins, and so we are back in Olympia this year ensuring that both programs continue into the future.
Sustainable public lands funding and equity in outdoor careers
We’re leading the way in requesting continued support from the legislature for two items:
- $30 million per biennium of ongoing annual funding for maintenance on State Parks and Recreation lands
- Advancing equity in the outdoors through professional development opportunities
Sustainable public lands funding: addressing the maintenance backlog
Every Washington resident deserves safe and reliable access to the outdoors. Our state is growing, and state funding to maintain trails, campgrounds and other facilities has not kept up with the demand. Washington State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife combined manage more than 6.6 million acres of land, 450+ water-access areas, 160 recreation sites, 120 state parks and 130 sno-park locations. But these agencies lack the resources needed to keep up with maintenance on all those sites. In 2022, WTA led our partners and members of our Trail Action Network in a game-changing win that addresses this growing issue. Together we secured $30 million per biennium in ongoing maintenance and operation funding for our state land management agencies.
We have heard from land managers how this funding is already improving their ability to do their work. Because the funding is intended to be annual, land managers can be more strategic in their projects, hire permanent staff and reach more of the state. This investment means better visitor safety and experiences and more protection of natural and cultural resources. The success of this funding is clear, and while it was intended to be ongoing, we have work to do this year to make sure the funding is maintained. Advocacy is a long game; even after a big win we need to continue to champion our priorities. That's why WTA is back this year to talk with legislators and protect this funding into the future.
Emerging Leaders Program: advancing equity in the outdoors
The people who are employed in outdoor careers in our state don’t reflect the diversity of Washingtonians. WTA's Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) aims to address this problem by investing in BIPOC leaders who face systemic barriers when attempting to enter the natural resource management and outdoor recreation fields. ELP is a 14-week paid program for early career individuals from communities underrepresented in outdoor fields to gain skills, develop connections and explore career opportunities.
WTA launched the program in 2020, and its success prompted us to partner with Washington State Parks to seek funding from the state legislature last year. This year’s ELP cohort is just getting underway, and the new funding is allowing WTA to partner with Washington State Parks to provide cohort members with a variety of skill and leadership-building experiences.
"We are excited to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program,” said Parks Director Diana Dupuis. “This partnership is a demonstration of our commitment to creating systemic change by building supportive and inclusive communities. We are dedicated to creating welcoming spaces and experiences for everyone and are excited to work with the next generation of leaders.”
The funding we secured last session was for a one-time pilot to partner with State Parks on this effort. We are going back to the legislature this session to request an ongoing investment in the ELP program so we can continue to empower a diverse and growing community of hikers to explore, steward and protect trails and public lands.
In addition to the two efforts we are spearheading, WTA is requesting support for the following state agencies and programs during the 2023 legislative session:
- Washington State Parks — Inclusive Trail System (Agency request: $1.31m per biennium, operating): This funding will provide additional resources and staff capacity to develop inclusive and welcoming trail experiences for all park visitors. (Governor’s budget funded at $1.31m.)
- Department of Natural Resources — Community Forest Management, Teanaway and Klickitat (Agency request: $2.84m per biennium, operating): An investment in DNR’s community forest program will provide much needed capacity to implement the management plan for the Teanaway Community Forest, which includes sustainable recreation and local community economic development, reduction of wildfire threats and improved forest health. (Governor’s budget funded at $1.5m.)
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources & Washington State Parks — Manage Recreation on State Land (Agency request: WDFW - $1.31m, DNR - $7.8m, State Parks - $1.44m per biennium, operating): This funding will develop decision-making tools to balance conservation and recreation, create a data management system to analyze outdoor recreation impacts on natural resources and engage tribal governments to ensure cultural resources and practices are consider and incorporated into recreation planning. (Governor’s budget funded at $10.7m per biennium, operating)
- Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator & Tribal Liaison (Agency request: $624k per biennium, operating): For the first time, RCO will create two positions ($312k per biennium each) — a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator and a Tribal Liaison. These positions would provide much needed capacity and expertise to RCO so that the agency can deepen relationships with tribes and communities around its recreation and conservation programming. (Governor’s budget funded at $624k.)
- No Child Left Inside (NCLI) (Advocate request: additional $4.5m per biennium, operating): WTA joins the No Child Left Inside coalition on an advocate-led request for an additional $4.5m per biennium for the NCLI program, which is administered by the Recreation and Conservation Office in partnership with Washington State Parks. NCLI provides critical matching funds that support programs engaging underserved youth in the outdoors. The program currently receives $4.5m per biennium while grant applications for the 2023-2025 biennium totaled $12.5m.
- Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (Advocate request: $158m per biennium, capital): WTA joins the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition’s advocate-led request for full funding of the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program (WWRP) for the 2023-25 biennium. WWRP is a critical funding source for hiking trails and walking paths in Washington state. (Governor’s budget funded at $120m.)
- Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — Promoting Safe and Responsible Recreation ($5.8m per biennium, capital): Investments are needed throughout Washington state to improve recreational access through wayfinding and tribal interpretive signage, trail bridge installation and trailhead facilities. Key projects include implementing the 2019 Baker to Bellingham nonmotorized recreation plan and improving recreation infrastructure in the Morning Star Conservation Area. (Governor’s budget funded at $2.39m)
- Natural Areas Facilities Preservation and Access (Agency request: $5.1m per biennium, capital): Natural areas provide world-class recreation opportunities on DNR lands, including Morning Star, Rattlesnake Mountain, Middle Fork Snoqualmie, Mount Si and Tiger Mountain. (Governor’s budget funded at $4.01m.)