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King County Executive
Dow Constantine


Executive Constantine announces plan to rapidly accelerate protection of the last, best 65,000 acres of urban greenspace, forests, farmland, trails, river corridors, and natural areas

Summary

Executive Dow Constantine proposed a measure for the November ballot that would fully restore the local Conservation Futures Program to its original rate, rapidly accelerating open space preservation for less than $2 more per month for owners of median-valued homes.

Story

King County Executive Dow Constantine today announced a proposal for the November ballot that would rapidly accelerate the county’s capacity to protect open spaces, including forests, trails, river corridors, farmland, and urban greenspace.

The proposal – which would cost the owner of a median-value home less than $2 more per month – would fully restore the local Conservation Futures Program to its original rate in 2023. It would accelerate the Land Conservation Initiative, a regional partnership of communities, cities, farmers, businesses, and environmental leaders to protect 65,000 acres of the highest conservation-value open space.

If approved by the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee, the County Council will vote this summer on whether to put the proposal on the November ballot.

"This is our generation’s moment to protect the last, best places – forests, trails, rivers, farmland, and greenspace – before they are lost forever,” said Executive Constantine. “By accelerating land conservation throughout King County, we will confront climate change by protecting mature forests, improve habitat for native salmon, strengthen our local food economy, provide more recreational opportunities, and ensure more equitable access to the outdoors.”

"Our region is one of the fastest growing in the country. With each passing day, the window of opportunity to conserve our last best places is closing," said King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski. "Coupled with higher land prices, the chance to protect these treasured open spaces before they are paved over is evaporating before our eyes, putting at risk the quality of life we enjoy for future generations. It is imperative that we accelerate our efforts now to ensure King County remains the envy of the country for our parks, trails, farms, lakes and rivers for generations to come."

King County has protected more than 100,000 acres of open space since it began participating in the state-authorized Conservation Futures Program in 1982. However, as a result of actions by the state, the program today is generating about half the revenue originally authorized by voters. As a result, the Conservation Futures tax rate has declined while property values have increased.

Together with partners, Executive Constantine launched the Land Conservation Initiative to protect the last, best 65,000 acres of open space within 30 years across six categories:

  • Urban greenspace
  • Trails
  • Natural lands
  • River corridors
  • Farmland
  • Forests

More than 20 percent of King County residents – about 500,000 people – do not live near a park, trail, or greenspace. Conservation Futures’ match waiver program can fully fund acquisitions in historically underserved areas, a program implemented through the Land Conservation Initiative and in collaboration with the Open Space Equity Cabinet.

Accelerating land conservation would contribute to multiple goals established by King County:

  • Provide more equitable access to the outdoors
  • Protect mature forests that absorb CO2
  • Strengthen the local food economy
  • Provide more recreational opportunities
  • Improve habitat for fish and wildlife
  • Reduce flood risks

The Land Conservation Initiative is off to a strong start, thanks in part to the King County Council approving legislation developed by Executive Constantine that made it possible for the county to borrow against future conservation revenue before the best opportunities were lost. He also included $120 million for open space conservation in his proposal for the current King County Parks Levy, which voters approved in 2019.

Executive Constantine last year announced early progress toward his goal of protecting 13,500 acres of farmland needed to promote a more sustainable, equitable local food economy. He recently toured conservation successes by partner cities along the industrial river corridor in the Green-Duwamish Watershed, creating and expanding parks, trails, and greenspace with a new match waiver program King County offers in areas with inequitable access to greenspace.

A recognized leader in open space stewardship and restoration

King County has earned praise for its stewardship of land it has acquired. Earlier this year, King County Parks became the largest park agency in the nation to earn Salmon-Safe certification for its approach to maintenance and operations, which improves ecological functions. The Parks Division partnered with the Solid Waste Division to remove tons of litter and turn a once-neglected greenspace into a small forest park in urban unincorporated North Highline.

Land Conservation Initiative parcels are also enrolled in the Healthy Lands Project led by King County’s Water and Lands Resources Division, committed to reducing noxious weeds by 90 percent.

Nearly all of King County’s habitat restoration projects started with land conservation funded by Conservation Futures, including čakwab, pronounced “chock-wob,” where crews recently restored a critical section of the Green River to improve salmon habitat and reduce flood risks. Other recent examples include the successful Rainbow Bend project along the Cedar River and restoring Bear Creek near Redmond, one of the most productive salmon habitats in all of King County.

Land conservation in King County – and 13 other counties – is largely funded by the Conservation Futures program that the state created 50 years ago. A series of actions by the state has dramatically reduced the amount of revenue that the program can generate for counties. Voters have the option to restore the local program to its original rate of 6.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value from its current rate of 3.12 cents. That would cost the owner of a median-value home about $21.75 more per year.


Images

Click each photo to view or download a larger size.

An aerial photo of a river running through a valley flanked by mountains.
Children and adults running in a road race.
A young woman selecting peaches from a farmer's market stall.
A couple with a baby in a stoller walk along a tree-lined path.
A tree-lined river bank in King County.
Executive Contstantine stands along a river bank talking with a county employee.

Relevant links


Quotes

This is our generation’s moment to protect the last, best places – forests, trails, rivers, farmland, and greenspace – before they are lost forever. By accelerating land conservation throughout King County, we will confront climate change by protecting mature forests, improve habitat for native salmon, strengthen our local food economy, provide more recreational opportunities, and ensure more equitable access to the outdoors.

Dow Constantine, King County Executive

Our region is one of the fastest growing in the country. With each passing day, the window of opportunity to conserve our last best places is closing. Coupled with higher land prices, the chance to protect these treasured open spaces before they are paved over is evaporating before our eyes, putting at risk the quality of life we enjoy for future generations. It is imperative that we accelerate our efforts now to ensure King County remains the envy of the country for our parks, trails, farms, lakes and rivers for generations to come.

Rod Dembowski, King County Council

For more information, contact:

Chase Gallagher, Executive Office, 206-263-8537


King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

Read the Executive's biography