Federal support is key to the success of land conservation efforts. Legislation like the Highlands Conservation Act, originally passed in 2004, has been instrumental in preserving valuable resources throughout the Highlands region. While the original authorization has lapsed, efforts are underway in Congress to reauthorize this important program.
H.R. 1281, introduced by Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and S. 1627, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would extend the authorization through 2021. AMC supports this effort to reauthorize the Highlands Conservation Act in order to continue preservation of the unique environment of the Highlands.
The Mid-Atlantic Highlands run through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Pristine natural landscapes within this region serve as drinking water sources for millions of residents downstream of the Highlands, necessitating a special care for environmental health of its resources. The Highlands also serves as a hub of cultural, social, and historical points of interest that can utilize Highlands Conservation Act funding to be protected from encroachment.
Originally passed by the Bush administration, the Highlands Conservation Act is a bipartisan recognition of “the importance of the water, forest, agricultural, wildlife, recreational, and cultural resources of the Highlands region, and the national significance of the Highlands region to the United States.” This legislation authorized Congress to spend up to $10 million annually in federal matching funds on conservation projects and land preservation in the Highlands states. It also authorized $1 million a year to the USDA Forest Service for research and technical assistance programs.
Throughout its tenure, the Highlands Conservation Act has had many successful projects. Pristine forests, waterways, and recreational areas have all been protected using Highlands Conservation Funding. Some of these recent conservation projects include:
- Oley Hills (Berks County, PA)
- Fishkill Ridge (Dutchess County, NY)
- Camp Vacamas (Passaic County, NJ)
- Pine Mountain Preserve (Norfolk, CT)
- Hopewell Big Woods (Robeson Township, PA)
- Deluca Tract (Cornwall & Canaan, CT)
- Baker Tract (Morris County, NJ)
- Sterling Forest (Orange County, NY)
For a full list of completed Highlands Conservation Act projects, visit https://pahighlands.org/conservation/federal to browse our interactive map.
The Highlands Conservation Act is funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is made up of a portion of federal proceeds from oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Reauthorization of the $10 million Highlands Conservation Act appropriation would involve no additional revenue sources. However, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is challenged by an administration that opposes its full and permanent funding level of $900 million, which is essential to the Highlands region and many other conservation efforts across the United States.
In previous years, appropriations for the Highlands Conservation Act have been as follows:
- 2007: $2,000,000
- 2008: $1,750,000
- 2009: $1,500,000
- 2010: $4,000,000
- 2012: $5,000,000
Current legislative efforts to reauthorize the Highlands Conservation Act are the key to allowing this program to continue to thrive. H.R.1281, which proposes reauthorization of the Highlands Conservation Act until 2021, currently has 14 cosponsors, while companion legislation, S.1627, also has support from senators across the Highlands states.
Without assurance of long-term funding from Congress, the Highlands Conservation Act is severely limited in its ability to preserve land and complete important projects. Support for H.R. 1281 and S.1627 are essential to achieving this goal. Building bipartisan support for this mutually beneficial program will serve to improve the environment and lives of those both within and surrounding the Highlands region.