Voters OK $7.3 Billion in Land Conservation Ballot Measures

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, November 5, 2008 (ENS) - Voters approved dozens of land conservation ballot measures on Tuesday, demonstrating substantial support for open space choices despite the current economic and fiscal crisis, according to The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization.

Voters backed 62 of the 87 conservation finance measures on ballots across the country. These successful measures will generate a single-day record of $7.3 billion in new funding for parks and open space.

Overall in 2008, voters approved 88 measures totaling $8.4 billion in new public funding for land conservation, also a single-year record.

The record-setting amount of funding for 2008 can be attributed to passage of Minnesota's $5.5 billion Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment - the state's only ballot initiative this year.

The measure asks voters to increase the sales-and-use tax by three-eighths of one percent to protect wetlands and wildlife habitat, preserve arts and cultural heritage, as well as support for parks and trails.

The Minnesota measure nearly doubles the previous largest conservation ballot measure, New Jersey's Constitutional Amendment in 1998, which dedicated $2.94 billion in sales tax to the Garden State Preservation Trust.

Supporters said the amendment is needed to clean up polluted lakes, rivers and streams across the state. They say funding for wildlife and its habitat has been too low for decades.

Critics said that while clean air and water are important, this ballot initiative shifts the power away from elected officials and undermines the democratic process.

Jim DiPeso of Republicans for Environmental Protection said their Minnesota chapter backs the measure. Despite the economic downturn, he said, people recognize the value of supporting conservation initiatives, even in red parts of the country.

"If you demonstrate to the people that they will get value by raising property and sales taxes, they will vote for them and they will vote for them in considerable margin," DiPeso said.

A wide coalition of cultural, social and environmental groups also supports the amendment, including the state League of Women Voters chapter, a local Sierra Club chapter, and The Nature Conservancy.

In Iowa, voters approved a $20 million bond that will establish Iowa's first county conservation program in Johnson County.

In Idaho, voters in fast-growing Blaine County passed Proposition 1, the Land, Water and Wildlife Levy. Funds raised under the levy would be used to protect clean water in the Big Wood and Little Wood River watersheds through preservation of wildlife habitat and working family farms and ranches.

Opportunities for conservation may include the purchase of land along the Big Wood River that will protect clean water and keep the river corridor open for wildlife and for public access or the purchase of development rights to protect local agricultural land, sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitat.

As a member of the coalition Blaine County Citizens for Water and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy supports the levy.

"Tuesday's results demonstrate sustained support among voters for new investments in land conservation, even in a very tough economic climate," said Ernest Cook, director of conservation finance with The Trust for Public Land, which provides technical assistance directly to individual communities interested in dedicating new funding for land conservation.

"Voters understand the need to invest to preserve our land and water resources for future generations and that's just what these ballot measures will provide funding to do," said Cook.

The Trust for Public Land and its lobbying affiliate, The Conservation Campaign, played key roles in the success of many of these ballot measures. Together, the two organizations assisted in 37 measures on ballots across the country on November 4, and 30 passed - an 81 percent passage rate.

These measures generated $6.47 billion in new conservation funds.

"Whether Democrat or Republican, voters seem to be of similar minds on one issue - conservation," said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land. "The results from 2008 continue a strong trend we have seen across the United States for the past decade. People want to preserve land in their communities, and they are willing to pay for it."

Since 1996, TPL's Conservation Finance Program has helped communities pass 418 local and state ballot measures which have generated over $82 billion in total funding, including more than $32 billion for land acquisition and restoration.

A complete list of results from local and state balloting on conservation and parks is available online today from LandVote at:

{Photo: Big Wood River, Idaho by Catherine Chanel}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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