Funding New Partnerships for Land Conservation
Partnership programs that enhance the capacity for conservation at the state and local level provide high leverage for federal goals. Programs including the USFS Forest Legacy Program, the NRCS Farmland Protection Program, Land and Water Conservation Fund State Grants, USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants, have routinely provided $2-3 of conservation for each federal dollar invested. These programs deserve priority for funding in the coming years.
Two twists on this theme could return even higher leverage for federal conservation agencies.
The first is to even more directly support and encourage state and local funding for conservation. Over the past decade, state and local governments have been asking their voters to approve funding for conservation, with enormous success. In 2008, despite terrible economic news, voters approved $8.4 billion of new state and local conservation funding, in all parts of the country. The LandVote website operated by the Trust for Public Land provides detailed information on these efforts.
Configuring federal funding to explicitly recognize, support and reward efforts by local and state governments to get their voters to approve conservation funding would be going directly to where conservation funding is succeeding, building on it, and helping to direct it to help achieve federal goals at the same time it is achieving local ones.
The second is to build local capacity for conservation, particularly amongst local nonprofits. The NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, many of the grants provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and a NOAA-funded effort on the coast of Maine, have aimed not at supporting conservation transactions, but at building the capacity of land trusts and other local conservation nonprofits to undertake thoughtful and effective conservation on an ongoing basis.
New York State has had such a program for the past 3 years. The Conservation Partnership Program has provided $3 million in grants to 64 land trusts, enabling all-volunteer organizations to hire staff, grow their programs and make that growth sustainable. These grants have also leveraged over $9 million in private funds to conserve nearly 10,000 acres of open space across the state.