By Mike Parkowski and Brock Vinton
As the days get longer, people across the state are enjoying the great outdoors by hiking, biking, hunting, fishing or simply watching children play at community parks. A little known federal program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, has made all the difference in protecting Delaware's great outdoors.
Delaware has received $50 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund and Forest Legacy program funds since 1965. These funds have preserved thousands of acres of land, including some of our special natural places, like Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Henlopen State Park and White Clay Creek State Park.
With America losing 3 million acres of land a year to development, more needs to be done to protect our land and water, for our own health and that of future generations. Delaware has lost more than 125,000 acres of farm land and forest land in the past 15 years. We respect the rights of landowners to decide how their land is to be utilized, but there is a dire need for the owners of family farms and forest land to have a conservation alternative to development. The enactment of Senate Bill 2747 serves to further that objective by ending the low and unpredictable funding levels for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We encourage Sen. Carper and Sen. Kaufman to co-sponsor the bill, which would guarantee the authorized level of $900 million a year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Conservation is a crucial part of economic growth, and the future of our state depends on how well we protect our natural world.
Americans agree. More than three-quarters of voters believe we can continue to protect the environment while strengthening the economy.
As we travel around this great state, we can't help but notice the mounting threats to our farms, forests, and rivers. And, as our natural areas disappear, we are losing our connection to the great outdoors.
Recognizing this, the Obama administration has launched a new initiative called America's Great Outdoors to engage citizens in a conversation about the best ways to protect our most valuable natural places. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a key part of the solution. If permanently funded at $900 million a year, this program can help ensure our quality of life.
The Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, supported by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is a perfect example of how to protect land and water for people and nature. With one of the largest expanses of near unaltered tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region, the refuge provides vital habitat for wildlife and hosts 100,000 visitors a year.
Other important natural places supported by the Conservation Fund include the Milford Neck Conservation Area, which has more than nine miles of protected beaches and marshes, the beaches at Cape Henlopen State Park, and White Clay Creek State Park, where 37 miles of trails offer an escape from encroaching development.
It's time to take action to ensure Delaware's last great places remain so. The Nature Conservancy has been protecting some of Delaware's most important natural areas for the past 20 years. We did this with the help of our members and through partnerships with other organizations, including the state and federal government. But state land preservation program investments have been cut by more than 70 percent over the last three years.
We must recognize that an investment in conservation is an investment in America, because healthy land and clean water are essential to our nation's strength. Congress' leadership on this issue is critical and of vital concern to thousands of citizens who care about preserving Delaware's land and water. It's time to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Mike Parkowski and Brock Vinton are trustees of The Nature Conservancy's Delaware chapter.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.