Highlands Organizations submit letter requesting FY21 Federal Funding

Organizations in the four-state Highlands region, the PA Highlands Coalition, Appalachian Mountain Club, and partners worked together to submit FY21 federal appropriations requests on behalf of the federal Highlands program, a program of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Earlier this month, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees wrapped up the federal appropriations request process for fiscal year 2021, which runs from October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021.  During this process, Congress faced mounting concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus and ever-evolving responsibilities related to response as the White House released a National Emergency Declaration on March 13th, 2020.  Despite this, the appropriations request process continued as planned, and Highlands organizations submitted their written testimony.

Forest Land protected by the Highlands Conservation Act, Fishkill Ridge in NY.

 

The organization sign on letter requests appropriations at the full level in fiscal year 2021 for the federal Highlands program, which is authorized to provide $10M annually for the acquisition of priority, ecologically-significant tracts of land in the Highlands region.

The undersigned organizations write to respectfully request a strong funding commitment for the federal Highlands program, at the level of $10 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. Codified by the bipartisan Highlands Conservation Act (P.L. No. 108-421), the program is authorized at $10 million per year to support a land acquisition grant program administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and full funding at $10 million will ensure continued success for the program.

The Highlands Conservation Act has protected 8,780 acres of land in the federally-designated region which includes areas of PA, NJ, NY, and CT since its passage in 2004.  Since 2007, the Highlands program has received funding, and in recent years, Congress has appropriated the full $10M.

The full letter text is included below and was submitted with signatures from 39 supporting organizations.

 

March 20, 2020
 
The Honorable Lisa Murkowski, Chair
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
 
The Honorable Tom Udall, Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
 
The Honorable Betty McCollum
Chair
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
 
The Honorable David Joyce
Ranking Member
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
 
Dear Chairwoman Murkowski, Ranking Member Udall, Chair McCollum and Ranking Member Joyce,
The undersigned organizations write to respectfully request a strong funding commitment for the federal Highlands program, at the level of $10 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. Codified by the bipartisan Highlands Conservation Act (P.L. No. 108-421), the program is authorized at $10 million per year to support a land acquisition grant program administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and full funding at $10 million will ensure continued success for the program.
The HCA is often funded as part of the Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriation and was funded at: $10 million in 2020; $20 million in 2019; $10 million in 2016-2018; and its success depends upon continued funding.
This essential program provides for the purchase and preservation of threatened lands in a four-state Northeastern corridor that includes Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The HCA, signed into law in 2004, authorized $100 million over ten years for land acquisition and conservation projects in the Highlands region and $10 million over ten years for related forest service programs and technical assistances activities. In 2018, recognizing this as a crucial program, Congress reauthorized the Highlands Conservation Act through 2021 at the level of $10 million per year for land protection and $1 million a year for technical assistance.
Protection of the Highlands is a collaborative endeavor, with more than fifteen years of success as a landscape-level conservation initiative. All federal Highlands dollars are matched at least 100 percent by state, local, and private organizations, making Highlands funding an effectively leveraged investment of federal resources. To date, the HCA has protected over 8,780 acres, leveraging $77.25 million in nonfederal funds.  The HCA grants program is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and projects are scientifically analyzed to ensure they meet the highest standards for federal support.
This vital program needs support to continue preserving threatened lands in a region subject to demands from an increasing population. The U.S. Forest Service completed a study in 2010 evaluating the ability of the region to provide clean drinking water to millions of households and businesses as well as inventorying the natural, historical, and recreational resources of Connecticut and Pennsylvania Highlands. This study, coupled with a similar study conducted in 1992 and updated in 2002 for the New York and New Jersey Highlands, demonstrates that the population and development of this area continues to increase at a rapid rate. Home to more than 15 million people, this 3.5-million-acre region has grown by more than 30% in the last 20 years. The Highlands region provides clean and plentiful drinking water to more than 20 million people and is home to 150 bird and mammal species of special concern and 97 critical treasures conservation areas. Expanding populations and development pressures threaten to further fragment and disrupt these important wildlife habitats and watershed lands. We need the now stream-lined, systematic and region-wide effort on behalf of the Highlands to help preserve these natural treasures.
Thank you for considering the request to fund the federal Highlands program at the full $10 million in FY21 to conserve threatened land, provide access to recreational and historical resources, and protect drinking water for the expanding population in the region. Please contact Kimberly Witt, Appalachian Mountain Club at kwitt@outdoors.org or 610-868-6903 with any questions or concerns.
 
Sincerely,
Appalachian Mountain Club
American Littoral Society
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Aquashicola Pohopoco Watershed Conservancy
Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions
Citizens for Water
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability
Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR)
Environment New Jersey
Environmental Justice Center of Chestnut Hill Church
French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust
Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association
Green Valleys Watershed Association
Guardians of the Brandywine
Horse-Shoe Trail Conservancy
Hudson Highlands Land Trust
Lake Hopatcong Foundation
Lehigh River Stocking Association
Lower Delaware Wild & Scenic Management Council
Musconetcong Watershed Association
New Jersey Audubon
New Jersey Conservation Foundation
New Jersey Highlands Coalition
New Jersey League of Conservation Voters
Newtown Creek Coalition
NYH2O
NY-NJ Trail Conference
Open Space Institute
Orange County Land Trust
Pocono Heritage Land Trust
Putnam County Land Trust: Save Open Spaces, Inc.
Scenic Hudson
The Land Conservancy of New Jersey
The Lebanon Valley Conservancy
The Trust for Public Land
Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition
UrbanPromise Ministries
Westchester Land Trust
Western Pocono Trout Unlimited

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