Readers of Walking the Berkshires know that I believe conservation is a mainstream issue in America. Despite partisan rhetoric that obscures many shared conservation values and environmental interests, the environment and our relationship with it is a central concern across the political spectrum. We have different ideas about appropriate tactics, about whether government or private interests are best suited to the task, but the idea that the environment is a fringe interest and not a significant factor at the ballot box is not borne out by the facts.
Consider this excellent article in this week's issue of The American Spectator, which you will agree is definitely not a mouthpiece for the left-wing agenda. While noting that fewer than half of us are comfortable with the label "environmentalist", the article reports that conservation support at the state and local levels is thriving.
"Blessedly, we live in a federal system with vibrant state and local governments, close to the citizenry. While not free of the inevitable political friction, which is inherent in any human institution, the proximity of neighbor to neighbor, the local sense of place, as well as the American can-do spirit allow for freedom of action grounded in community consensus, something that seems to elude Washington, D.C.
The last election is a case in point. While Red and Blue states continue to sort out voters by party, there seems to be little difference among them when it comes to land conservation.
According to the Trust for Public Lands, a national conservation organization [and also my employer: Ed.] , of 130 conservation funding measures on the ballot, nationwide, 104 passed authorizing $6.4 billion in new funds for conservation. This was a success rate of 80 percent.
"The election broke two conservation funding records," claims the Trust for Public Lands. "The new funding was the most ever raised for conservation in a November election, and it made 2006 the nation's most lucrative year ever for state and local conservation finance."
Citizens of Red and Blue states and localities all voted for conservation with their ballots and their pocket books. Salt Lake County, Utah, saw voters endorse a $48 million bond issue by 71 percent. In Quincy, Massachusetts, a Community Preservation Act, which included a property tax hike, won 57 percent voter approval.
In the state of Texas, six city and county spending measures, totaling $685 million for parks and conservation, won passing with more than 61 percent of the vote. Ravalli County, Montana, approved a $10 million bond, 58-42 percent.
Nassau County, New York, approved a $100 million bond with 77 percent support; and Beaufort County, South Carolina, renewed its funding for land conservation with a $50 million measure that received 75 percent of the vote.
The voters of Cobb County, Georgia, outside of Atlanta, carried to victory a $40 million bond for land conservation with 72 percent support. In Florida voters approved three out of four county-level financing propositions providing $260 million for open space.
With this election every county in Hawaii now has a dedicated fund for land protection. Seven more cities and towns in Massachusetts voted in funding for parks and land conservation, which now means that one-third of local governments in that Commonwealth have supported funding for open space since 2001."
One of the primary reasons why localities are taxing themselves to protect public drinking water, water quality, family farms, wildlife habitat, parks and recreational open space is that for the last 6 years, the federal funding spigots have been cranked down to a drip by Congress. Imagine what a comparable investment of matching federal dollars could enable grassroots, locally-driven conservation to achieve.
The article concludes:
"To recognize this overwhelming grassroots trend is not to endorse every expenditure of public money or assumption of debt. But it is a valid indicator that Americans, whatever ambivalence they show towards federal environmental laws and programs, are decidedly pro-conservation."
Read the whole thing here.