Conservation Funding Wins Big in Midterms

By Julia King

Image Credit: Heather Henkel, USGS

The midterm elections last week proved not only successful for the Republican Party, which now holds the majority in both the U.S. House and Senate, but also for state initiatives on conservation. Voters in several states supported funding initiatives that benefit wildlife and the overall environment.

Six states across the country had proposed different ways to bring in more money for conservation efforts, to the tune of several billion dollars. Five of those measures passed — California, Florida, Maine, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Below is a summary of each state’s ballot measure.

California: Proposition 1, Water Bond. Funding for Water Quality, Supply Treatment, and Storage Projects

The severe multi-year drought in California led to the passage of a $7.5 billion bond to fund water projects in the state. The inclusion of $2.7 billion for water storage projects that would include dam construction was controversial among many environmental organizations. However, a portion of the bond, around $1.5 billion, will fund the protection and restoration of rivers, lakes, and watersheds. The remaining resources will fund various water projects involving wastewater treatment, desalination, and flood protection.

Source: The Sacramento Bee (November 5, 2014)

Florida: Amendment 1, Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative

Floridians passed a constitutional amendment that will dedicate 33 percent of funds from the existing real estate tax to conservation over the next twenty years. The estimated billion dollars per year generated from the tax will finance the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, improve, manage, and restore conservation lands including the Everglades and protect and restore water resources and historic sites. Florida Forever, a conservation land purchasing program that experienced deep budget cuts during the recession, is estimated to receive half of the funds. The Florida Chapter of The Wildlife Society actively supported this initiative and worked as part of a larger coalition to get the measure approved.

Source: Miami Herald (November 4, 2014)

Maine: Question 6, Maine Clean Water and Wetlands Bond Issue

Maine voters approved a $10 million bond to fund projects that ensure clean water, protect drinking water and restore wetlands. In addition to funding improvements for wastewater treatment and drinking water supply sources, a portion of the bond — $5.4 million — will be given to municipalities upgrading road-stream crossings. Maintaining stream crossings is important for mitigating habitat fragmentation. Unblocked and well maintained culverts enable fish, turtles, salamanders, and other species to move safely between watersheds.

Source: Bangor Daily News (October 29, 2014)

New Jersey: Public Question No. 2, Open Space Preservation Funding Amendment

New Jersey voters created a permanent funding source for the state to buy and preserve open space. Four percent of New Jersey’s corporate business tax will now be directed towards the state’s open space program; however, some of this money is being redirected from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the maintenance budgets of the state parks and fish and wildlife areas. The proportion of the funding is set to increase from four to six percent of the corporate tax by 2019.

Source: NJ.com (November 4, 2014)

Rhode Island: Question 7, Clean Water, Open Space and Healthy Communities Bonds

Rhode Island voters approved a $53 million bond for environmental and recreational purposes. Of that, $3 million will go towards flood protection including restoring and improving the resiliency of coastal habitats, rivers, and streams, while $15 million will fund improvements and renovations to the Roger Williams Park Zoo. The remaining $35 million will fund clean water and community projects including water pollution abatement infrastructure projects, brownfield remediation projects, and local recreation grants.

Source: Rhode Island

North Dakota: Initiated Constitutional Measure No. 5, Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Trust

North Dakotans rejected the creation of a Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Trust, that would have set aside five percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue for conservation. The North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society actively supported the initiative. Although the measure failed, it has drawn attention to conservation funding in the state. Governor Dalrymple recently proposed increasing funds to the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund and the state’s House of Representatives plan to introduce a bill to increase funding for state parks.

Source: Grand Forks Herald (November 5, 2014)

Sources: Ballotpedia, Washington Times (October 30, 2014)