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WTA visits the other Washington

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Feb 05, 2009 11:27 AM |

There are no mountains in this other Washington, and most of the hiking to be done is in circuitous underground tunnels that span the Capitol campus.  Hustling back and forth between meetings in these flourescently lit corridors, it's easy to feel very far away from the deep thickets and lonely peaks of our Washington.  But when we talk with our Congressional delegation, those wildlands and the trails that thread through them are very close in spirit.

Each year, WTA goes back to Washington, DC with a contingent of hikers to meet with our Members of Congress and staff.  We head back around budget time, hoping to influence the big decisions around where federal money will flow.  This year, the WTA party is me, David Schoenborn and Kathleen Learned from WTA's Board, and Jeff Chapman and Jeanne Koester, both members of WTA and Backcountry Horsemen of Washington. 

I'm writing this blog, sitting in my hotel room at the end of a long and encouraging day.  Washington's delegation, from Senators Murray and Cantwell to our nine Members of Congress understand the desperate need for trail dollars to hit the ground on National Forests. 

We have a number of champions here, including Congressman Norm Dicks, who represents the 6th Congressional District.  Congressman Dicks Chairs the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, and has been instrumental in adding funds as possible to the Forest Service and National Parks budget.  In fact, he did the heavy lifting in 2007, finding critical funds to repair storm damage on Mount Rainier.  We had a great conversation with him today, in which he helped us understand the timing of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget process and how we could best engage with the Interior Appropriations Committee to lift the Forest Services' budget.

We also had a meeting today with Senator Patty Murray's Environmental Legislative Assistant, Jamie Shimek.  Jamie filled us in on some of Senator Murray's priorities, and we let her know how she could help us build toward a more robust Forest Service budget.  Senator Murray worked hard find money to repair Pacific Crest Trail bridges in the wake of the 2003 storms, and fought hard to pass the Wild Sky Wilderness Act last year--the first designated Wilderness in Washington State since 1984.  Over the past couple of days, we've met with Members and/or staff from our entire delegation.  We're wrapping up our meetings tomorrow.

For the past couple of years, we've worked with Congressmen Baird and Inslee to pull together an appropriations request that will begin to heal the Forest Service from years of neglect.  We'll very likely do so again this year.  That's when the really hard work begins.  We'll have to develop an Appropriations Request package, vet it with the Forest Service, follow up with our Members of Congress encouraging them to sign on to it and finally deliver it to Interior Appropriations.  It's a long process, but after going through it the past two years, we've seen things start to shake loose and move in the right direction.  We just need to keep up the momentum.  This year, we're hoping to emerge from the 2009 process with a bill that increases Forest Service Recreation and Trails, and see a finalized 2010 bill that substantially increases those amounts over 2009 levels.

Thanks to everyone who wrote letters to their Member of Congress.  Everyone we've spoken to so far has been really excited to see constituent letters come into their offices.  If you'd like to help by contacting your Member of Congress, please drop me a line at