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A Common Bond for Voters: Land Conservation

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For more than two decades, there has been one constant at
the ballot box. Year in, year out, in liberal and conservative regions alike,
clean water, clean air, parks, and land conservation measures are clear winners. Over that period, more than 75 percent
of these measures have passed, often by landslide margins.

While the November 2009 elections feature far fewer land
conservation ballot measures than in years past, this year’s slate offers both
glimpses of the future of conservation funding and a peek at its history.

In 1961, then New Jersey Governor Robert Meyner ushered in
New Jersey’s Green Acres Open Space Land Conservation Program. Since then Green Acres and other Garden State
conservation programs have helped fund protection of more than 640,000 acres of
open space, farms, watersheds, and forests, and develop hundreds of public
parks, often in cities, and often in city neighborhoods with great need for
nearby places to play.

Twelve times voters have approved funding for Green Acres,
dedicating more $3 billion to conservation and parks. Green Acres is a pioneer,
but not just for its fiscal brawn and longevity. Over many decades—and through
many crises—it has adapted and evolved to create new incentives for local
governments and nonprofits to conserve land and lay down the green
infrastructure of their communities. As I wrote
recently
, New Jersey voters must renew their commitment to Green Acres on
November 3, or the fund will run dry for the first time.

And no local government is taking the long view quite like
Boulder County, Colorado. A well-managed sales tax has funded county land
conservation since the 1960’s and is set to expire in ten years. But rather
than wait until 2019 to reauthorize funding, the county asks voters next week
to approve a 15-year extension,
which would sustain funding until 2034. Tens of thousands of acres have already
been conserved using this funding stream—many of them to preserve uncluttered
views of the county’s Rocky Mountains backdrop. If approved the extension would
allow Boulder County to make bigger investments now, knowing that they fund
will be replenished.

These decisions are never easy in a struggling economy, but
conservation is an investment, not an expense. New Jersey voters are considering
a $10 per household per year investment and a recent study revealed that every
dollar invested in New Jersey conservation yields ten dollars in economic
value. Boulderites are considering the equivalent of a 25-cent tax on a $100
purchase, while local tax coffers benefit from the increased valuation of
properties along the greenbelt.

Information on this year’s conservation ballot
measures (and going back to 1988) can be found online. And please vote next Tuesday.