A May Chesapeake Bay Journal article highlights the challenges facing Program Open Space and other land preservation programs in light of both State and federal funding reductions. Despite reduced land prices, many Chesapeake Bay states have reduced their land preservation funding in order to focus on other pressing budget priorities.
Since 1980, governors have not been able to resist taking money out of the fund to balance the state budget – often replacing what they took with bond money. This year was no exception. Preservationists fought to keep about $4.4 million in Open Space funds that the senate sought to cut, as well as $4.3 million to buy easements on farmland. After a nail-biter of a final session day, the General Assembly voted to take that cash and replace it with an equal amount of bonds. But it did cut $10 million from the Rural Legacy program, which conserves forests and farms.
The lean years have taken their toll across the watershed. In fiscal year 2009, Maryland spent $227.9 million on land preservation programs. In 2010, it spent only $75 million. In addition, the state has lost a few deals because it was forced to use less flexible bond funds instead of cash, officials say.
Pennsylvania spent $122 million in 2009 and $84 million in 2010. Virginia spent $142 million in 2009 and $90 million in 2010, according to a report by the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
Despite a challenge in President Obama’s Executive Order for the Bay states to preserve 2 million more acres by 2025, federal money will not be the help it once was. Its primary source of land acquisition money, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, sustained a 33 percent cut, losing $149 million, in the continuing resolution approved by Congress in April to fund the federal government for the rest of the year.
The article also discusses the environmental and water quality benefits associated with land preservation, including parks.
“Every Marylander lives within 10 minutes of a park, which is incredible. That will help us protect the Chesapeake Bay in the long run,” [Maryland Department of Natural Resources Program Open Space Director Meredith] Lathbury said. “If we’re not paying attention to the places in developed areas, we’re losing an opportunity to build the constituency for future conservation.”