Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state officials today announced a plan to transform how Washington's natural resources programs are delivered.
"With the budget reductions that we've had to make and will continue to make in response to revenue shortfalls, it's imperative for government to work smarter and more efficiently than ever," Gregoire said. "Our natural resource management reforms will make the most of our investments and provide maximum benefits to the public and protection for the environment."
Capping a six-month natural resources reform initiative by agency directors and policy and budget experts, the officials announced they will seek legislation to:
* Reduce the number of growth management hearings boards from three to one, and reduce the number of environmental appeals boards from five to two, while maintaining citizens' rights to appeal decisions.
* Standardize appeal procedures and timelines for quasi-judicial environmental and land use laws, eliminating the confusion that exists for businesses and citizens wanting to challenge a government environmental or land use decision.
* Eliminate agency review processes that duplicate appeals to environmental hearings boards.
Gregoire and other officials also announced a strategy to further integrate outdoor recreation and management of millions of acres of state resource lands:
* The newly established Natural Resources Cabinet will work with the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to enhance tourism and outdoor recreation throughout the state, with a focus on creating integrated outdoor recreation markets for wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, and use of parks and recreational attractions -- and promoting these opportunities nationally and internationally.
* The departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife will develop a formal agreement for DNR -- manager of 5.6 million acres of state-owned lands -- to provide services for land maintenance, real estate services, surveys, and records management to DFW for 840,000 acres of wildlife conservation and recreation lands. DFW will retain ownership of the lands, and will maintain responsibility for conservation management and land use policy.
Gregoire also signed an executive order formally creating the Natural Resources Cabinet, consisting of the state natural resources agency directors, and charging it with adopting specific accountability actions for improving service delivery, such as:
* Create "One Front Door" for the 98 separate environmental permits, licenses and approvals under environmental protection statutes; and for easier public access to the 80 environmental grant and loan programs.
* Establish a single set of regional boundaries for natural resources agencies with local field operations, eventually co-locating more agency offices and making it easier for the public to find the local services they need.
* Coordinate scientific field monitoring and data protocols so a scientist doing field work for one agency can simultaneously collect data for another agency.
* Expand the use of a single multi-agency permit team to cover all agencies' environmental permits for major projects in a geographic area.
* With a willing local government partner, test the feasibility of creating a single permit for state and local environmental regulations within the local jurisdiction.
* Smaller agencies will form a small-agency consortium to share administrative and business support services while retaining their independent roles.
These and other executive actions are in response to hundreds of substantive comments and proposals submitted by individuals and organizations during a six-week public comment period that began Sept. 14, 2009.
State Parks Director Rex Derr said, "Improved and expanded recreation and care of cherished resources are our longstanding goals at State Parks, We will continue providing the excellent state parks that people know, love and support. We look forward to working more closely with the Cabinet and natural resource agencies to sustain this."
Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson said, "At the Governor's direction, state natural resource agencies have pulled together during this financial crisis and created new efficiencies that will improve our overall effectiveness and service delivery to the citizens of the state of Washington. These reform measures will streamline our work, improve coordination with tribal co-managers, and increase the protection of our state's fish and wildlife resources."
Natural resources reform is one of several reform initiatives to be proposed by Gregoire. For more about government reform: