Bringing Americans Together to Vote for Land and Water

10/15/2010 12:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In an election season dominated by divisive and angry rhetoric, it's time to call attention to political campaigns around the country that are bringing people together. These campaigns are part of a remarkable nonpartisan movement built on one of our deepest shared values: conserving our land and water for future generations. In small towns, suburbs and big cities, in red states and blue, in good times and bad, voters and elected officials have been working together to generate tens of billions of dollars of new public funding for conservation through the passage of ballot initiatives and legislation.

On November 2, voters in dozens of municipalities, counties and special districts -- as well as in the states of Iowa, Oregon, Maine and California - -will have the opportunity to say "yes" to ballot measures that fund parks and conservation. In many places, this funding is the only thing that has saved watersheds and wildlife habitat from sprawl, preserved working farms and ranches, and provided the neighborhood parks where family and friends come together.

Conservation campaigns typically draw their strength from a broad base of support in their communities. In Iowa, for example, farmers, hunters, first responders, business leaders and conservation groups -- more than 60 organizations in all -- have joined together in an effort to pass Iowa's Water and Land Legacy amendment. The measure would establish a dedicated Trust Fund, the first step toward providing the funding Iowa has lacked to protect its water, land and wildlife. (Revenue will come from a 3/8-cent sales-tax allocation the next time the legislature approves a sales tax increase.)

As representatives from organizations ranging from Pheasants Forever to the YMCA explained on a recent statewide campaign tour, the amendment would provide urgently needed funds to preserve and restore the state's wetlands, nature's way of slowing the surging stormwater that has caused devastating flooding in recent years. Funds are also needed to protect drinking water, conserve valuable agriculture soils, and preserve the lakes, rivers, forests, and other wild places where Iowans -- and visitors who spend their money in Iowa -- hunt, fish, hike, camp and enjoy the outdoors.

Many conservation campaigns are like the one in the small suburban town of Belmont, Massachusetts. There, volunteers are going door to door to win support for a Community Preservation Act property tax surcharge dedicated to conservation, historic preservation, recreation and affordable housing. The local funding is matched by the state, providing money the town can never find in its regular budget to save a local forest, restore a historic bridge, build trails and playing fields, and restore houses for families of moderate incomes, such as seniors, children of current residents and town employees. Nearly half of the municipalities in the Commonwealth have adopted the act so far.

The Conservation Campaign works with local, state and national groups to pass ballot measures and legislation to gain public funding for conservation. This funding has had a direct and tangible impact on the lives of millions of people across the United States, from protecting drinking water supplies in North Carolina to preserving natural lands in Florida to saving family ranches in Montana. Throughout the recession, an overwhelming majority of conservation ballot measures have continued to pass. Voters are still willing to dig a little deeper into their pockets when they know the money is going to preserve the open space they love in their community. In the current political climate, we are working harder than ever to help communities protect their land and water for future generations.

Find out if there's a campaign near you on the Conservation Campaign website. Get involved at