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WCAS NewsNJ Running Out of
Funds for Open Space
Pat Sziber
NJ Running Out of Funds for Open Space

Pat Sziber

New Jersey has been a national leader in preserving open space, historic sites and farmland over the past decade. However, the fund that makes it possible—the Garden State Preservation Trust—is running out of money. Already the most densely populated state, NJ continues to face intense development pressure and even our protected areas have suffered due to chronic under-funding.

Last November, NJ voters approved ballot question #2, which creates an ongoing source of funding for capital projects at our state and local parks, natural areas and historic sites. While this is an important first step to addressing these needs, we must renew and strengthen the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) in order to continue preservation efforts. We need constitutionally dedicated funding to acquire, improve and operate neighborhood parks, natural areas and historic sites at the following levels: $225 million a year for acquisition, $100 million a year for capital projects and $56 million a year for operations with equity ensured for all communities.

A bit of history: Approved by voters in 1998, the GSPT is a financing authority that receives funds through a constitutional dedication of existing revenues for the preservation of open spaces, farmland and historic sites. One of the nation’s largest publicly-funded land preservation efforts, the Trust has preserved hundreds of thousands of valuable acres and provided matching dollars for non-profit organizations and the open space taxes collected annually by each of the 21 counties and 217 of our 566 municipalities. Now, GSPT has run out of money and has fallen short of meeting New Jersey’s tremendous preservation needs, particularly in urban areas. At the same time, our open spaces are threatened by development pressures and projections suggest our state could reach full build-out in roughly 30 years. Our precious natural areas will be lost forever unless we act now to renew and strengthen GSPT.

Renewal of the GSPT must also include a mechanism to fund operations, maintenance, stewardship and capital projects. Despite the increase in the state’s open space lands by 350,000 acres, Division of Parks and Forestry staffing, which includes conservation officers, naturalists and foresters, has fallen by 1/3 from 550 to 418 over the last decade. Funding should also cover basic stewardship, such as trail creation and wildlife habitat restoration.

What you can do: WCAS, along with its partners, is calling on the State Legislature and the Governor to pass legislation now that will place a referendum on the November 2007 ballot to renew and strengthen GSPT. We urge you to do the same. Send an electronic letter to the Governor and your state senator and assembly persons at www.OutdoorRecreationAlliance.org, where you can also learn more about the campaign. Or write to Governor Jon Corzine, P.O. Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625. Also consider writing a letter to the editor of your local or regional newspaper.

 

 

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Last revision: Sunday, January 14, 2007