The Highlands Conservation Reauthorization Act has been included in the omnibus spending bill, released in the early hours of December 20th, 2022.
The omnibus spending bill, a $1.7 trillion dollar package, is critical in funding the government and has a deadline of Friday, December 23rd. Senate leaders are likely to pass the bill on December 22nd before sending it over to the House. The House is expected to adopt the omnibus spending bill before it lands on the President’s desk for his signature. While there are still steps to be taken before Biden’s signature, it is unlikely that any changes will be made to the bill. The Highlands Conservation Reauthorization Act should be enacted by the end of this week!
The Highlands Conservation Act, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is once again being actively funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now authorized through FY2029, passage of the Highlands Conservation Reauthorization Act will also enact programmatic changes to the program. These changes include:
- Extends the program funding through FY2029
- Authorizes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add a municipality to the federal Highlands boundary upon the request of a Highlands state.
- Revises the way in which land is identified for conservation by requiring the use of best available science and geographic information systems (GIS).
- Allows political subdivisions of states to enter into agreements with the Department of the Interior for land conservation projects.
The Highlands is a four-state region consisting of over 3-million acres of critical forested ridges, fertile farmland, streams, lakes, and reservoirs that reaches from northwest Connecticut across New York’s Lower Hudson Valley, through northern New Jersey southeastern Pennsylvania, down to the Maryland border. This region is home to critical watersheds, wildlife habitats, and forested areas which all hold significant conservation and recreation value.
In 2004, Congress passed the Highlands Conservation Act to “recognize 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 program falls under the umbrella of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was permanently fully funded at $900 million/year through the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded money to state agencies and conservation partners to permanently protect over 13,000 acres of land for clean drinking water, healthy forests, wildlife habitats, saving agricultural resources, and expanding outdoor recreational opportunities.
The Highlands Conservation Act expired at the end of 2021, but the Highlands Conservation Reauthorization Act was passed when it was added to the Omnibus spending bill. Included in the Highlands Conservation Reauthorization Act are some important programmatic changes that align with current and future needs of the region, outlined in the bullets above. Passage of this reauthorization ensures the protection of Highlands resources that are critical in combating and preparing for climate change, supporting environmental justice, conserving wildlife habitats, and protecting open space.
You can follow the link below to the Omnibus Spending Bill text — Highlands Conservation Reauthorization Act starts on page 2852. C:\Users\rq42062\AppData\Local\Temp\JRQ121~1.LOC (senate.gov)
Follow this link for background on the Highlands Conservation Act and Highlands Conservation Reauthorization Act: An Update on the Highlands Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2021 – Pennsylvania Highlands (pahighlands.org)