By Michele S. Byers
We New Jerseyans are an enthusiastic bunch when it comes to preserving land.
Thirteen times since 1961, our state’s residents have voted “yes” on Green Acres and farmland preservation ballot questions, making us a national leader. Now it’s time for the Garden State to lead again.
The New Jersey Legislature is about to allocate the last of the remaining funds from the $400 million referendum approved in 2009. Once the final votes are taken and Gov. Christie signs off, the preservation funding pipeline will run dry. There will be no money left in state coffers to protect farms, forests, water sources and historic places, no more money for Blue Acres buyouts of flood-prone lands. Without these state funds, county and municipal open space efforts may founder.
“New Jersey Keep It Green,” a coalition of more than 170 park, farmland, open space and historic preservation advocacy groups, is stepping up efforts to keep the preservation pipeline flowing. NJ Keep It Green has launched an online campaign to drum up support for a long-term, dedicated source of funding for land preservation.
A poll commissioned by NJ Keep It Green earlier this year found that 75 percent of New Jersey voters would support dedicating $200 million annually for 30 years to preserve open space, farms, and historic sites, and protect our water supply and flood-prone areas. This would account for less than 1 percent of the state’s annual budget.
The stakes are high. Rutgers University projects that New Jersey will become the first state to reach full build-out; within the next 50 years all of our state’s remaining open lands will be developed, approved for development or permanently preserved.
Keeping the funding flowing will continue New Jersey’s green legacy and result in powerful economic, environmental and health benefits. Preserved land:
• Provides “eco-services” like flood control and filtering pollutants from water and air
• Generates tourism revenue and jobs
• Secures access to fresh, healthy foods
• Stabilizes property taxes
• Promotes increased physical activity levels, improving public health and reducing health care costs
• Protects habitat for about 900 wildlife species
Our citizens understand these benefits and want New Jersey to continue its long tradition of popular and bipartisan support for open space, farmland and historic preservation.
Show your support for land preservation. Go to the NJ Keep It Green website at njkeepitgreen.org/statementofsupport.htm and click on the link at the bottom of the page to sign the Sustainable Funding Statement of Support. The website also contains a wealth of information about the benefits of conserved land.
You can also contact Gov. Christie and your state legislators and urge them to establish a long-term, dedicated source of preservation funding. To reach Gov. Christie by email or phone, go to www.nj.gov/governor/contact. To find your legislators and send an email, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp.
And for more information on preserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.