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State holds purchase of Seabeck land to protect habitat in limbo

The Legislature’s proposed capital budgets cut funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), which could affect a couple of Kitsap County projects.

The House budget provides for $80 million for the wildlife and recreation program, while the Senate funds it at $50 million.

WWRP spokeswoman Jill Wasberg said the Legislature approved $100 million for WWRP in past years and the program asked for the same amount this year. She said they have received a record high number of grant requests since last spring from all over the state, totaling $272 million in project requests.

The House budget funds 94 of the proposed 115 WWRP projects and the Senate budget covers 62 of those projects.

Depending on which budget is approved, the state-owned Stavis Natural Resources Conservation Area near Seabeck may not have the funding needed to acquire properties highly threatened by development.

The forested site includes the Kitsap Forest Natural Area Preserve and is “one of the few extensive unlogged mature forests remaining in the central or southern Puget Trough ecoregion,” according to the state Department of Natural Resources Web site. The site also protects parts of Stavis Creek, which supports coho and chum salmon spawning grounds, a blue heron rookery and nesting osprey.

Last year, the state applied for $3.4 million from WWRP to acquire more than 100 acres of property threatened by development that contain “important riparian habitat,” according to a WWRP news release.

The Stavis project will be cut entirely under the Senate’s $50 million budget plan, but would receive $380,000 less than the $3.4 million initially requested under the House budget.

If the Senate budget is approved and the Stavis project is eliminated, Wasberg said the land acquisition opportunity could be gone forever.

“It’s possible it could be a lost opportunity,” Wasberg said.

The Evergreen Park expansion and shoreline restoration project would be funded under both the House and Senate budgets and Bremerton Parks and Recreation Director Wyn Birkenthal is pleased it looks like the project will move forward.

“It’s in a fairly safe position because it bested the competition in the dollars,” he said.

The $500,000 project aims to expand the park by 1.56 acres and restore 700 feet of shoreline. Birkenthal said the Evergreen Park expansion and shoreline restoration project is designed as part of the boardwalk project.

Birkenthal said WWRP is a main source of money for city park projects and the Evergreen Park project may not happen without the WWRP funding.

“WWRP is kind of the life blood. It’s really hard to get funding without them,” he said. “It’s a really important program for us.”

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