NC Land and Water Conservation Lobby Day

legislative-building.jpgWhat is “Lobby Day”? An opportunity for us to show our elected officials how important land and water conservation are to our state.

Land for Tomorrow, a partnership of concerned citizens, businesses, interest groups and local governments, organized the statewide lobbying efforts. This past Wednesday, March 27, SAHC staff members Pauline Moleski and Michelle Pugliese, and  former trustee Jay Leutze joined other representatives from North Carolina land trusts for NC Land and Water Conservation Lobby Day in Raleigh. Our elected officials heard from us on the importance of state conservation funding and why we need their support to increase funding to our four conservation trust funds.

Gov. Pat McCrory unveiled his proposed budget last week, which made significant cuts to land and water conservation. The proposed budget cuts the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) to $6.75 million from $10.75 million last year (down from typical annual appropriation level of $100 million since its founding has been slashed 94% since the beginning of the economic crisis) and including funding only in eh first year of the biennium. The budget also reduces the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) to $15.5 million, down from $27.5 million, a 44% cut. And, it reduces the Natural Heritage Trust Fund (NHTF) to $4.23 million from $9.9 million, a 58% cut. While these cuts are difficult, the most concerning part is that it removes the dedicated source of funding for PARTF and NHTF. Presently these two funds come from a percentage of the real estate deed stamp tax and personalized license plates; however the proposed budget would direct that money to the state’s general fund and return only a percentage back to PARTF and NHTF.  Given the long-term nature of land acquisitions, this leaves no reliable funding to plan for long-term land acquisition projects.  The budget maintains the current funding level of the $1.7 million per year for the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.

Why are we so concerned? North Carolina’s four conservation trust funds are at serious risk. These funds have successfully invested in preserving our state’s unique natural areas, and have boosted economic development throughout North Carolina – including our scenic Western North Carolina area, where droves of visitors to our parks, forests and rivers bolster local economies each year. As decisions are made about continued investments in conservation funding, critical projects are at stake. If adequate funding is not provided, North Carolina will lose these valuable resources. Land and water conservation supports all of our major economic drivers – the military, tourism, hunting/fishing/recreation and agriculture. It also lessens the local tax burden by reducing expenditures.

Without sufficient conservation funding, critical projects will be lost.

The positive news is that the Governor’s proposed budget will be revised by the Senate and then the House before it is approved. We spoke with representatives from our local counties and asked that they work with their leadership to help us continue the state’s economic recovery by:

  • Funding the Clean Water Management Trust Fund at $20 million recurring in each year of the biennium.
  • Maintaining a dedicated source of funding for the Parks and Recreation and Natural Heritage trust funds.

Please consider contacting your local representative and also requesting these simple funding requests. Conservation isn’t about pretty views or rare plants; it is about people and the economy. We know that for every dollar spent from the state’s conservation trust funds, North Carolinians receive $4 in natural goods and services – things such as flood control, productive farmland, clean water and clean air.

Furthermore, protecting high quality water resources through conservation is four times more cost effective that treated contaminated water.  Saving land saves water and money.