Highlands funding doubled in 2019 spending bill

Signed by the President on February 15th, the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) Omnibus Appropriations package has allocated $20 million for the Highlands Conservation Act, a 100% increase from Fiscal Year 2018 levels. 

By increasing funding for this program, Congress has committed to supporting important land projects in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut and recognized the national significance of the water, land, and cultural resources of the region.

Originally passed in 2004, the Highlands Conservation Act (P.L. 108-421) authorized Congress to spend $10 million annually in federal matching funds on conservation projects and land preservation in the Highlands states. Funding for the HCA is tied to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a national conservation funding program with dedicated revenues from offshore oil & gas leasing revenues. LWCF was funded at $435 million for 2019 in the Omnibus.

The Highlands Conservation Act was reauthorized for 7 years in 2018. However, this reauthorization was retroactive to the program’s original expiration in 2014. The HCA again faces expiration in 2021.

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

2015: $3,000,000

2016: $10,000,000

2017: $10,000,000

2018: $10,000,000

2019: $20,000,000

In previous years, funding from the HCA has been evenly split among the four Highlands states. In 2018, the Fish and Wildlife Service implemented programmatic changes that affected the distribution of Highlands funding. Starting with the 2018 appropriation, Highlands funding was broken into two pots – base funding distributed equally to the states, and a portion dedicated to competitive projects. Any state is able to submit projects for consideration under these competitive funds.

To date, the Highlands Conservation Act has conserved more than 10,300 acres of high-priority conservation lands, in partnership with non-profits, as well as state and local governments. These projects include the Oley Hills in Pennsylvania, Sterling Forest in New York, the Musconetcong River Watershed in New Jersey, and Pine Mountain Preserve in Connecticut. To view an interactive map of all conservation projects completed under the Highlands Conservation Act, visit https://pahighlands.org/conservation/federal.

Increased funding for the HCA in the 2019 Omnibus is a significant victory for those working for conservation in the Highlands of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. As projects are completed during this term, the importance of this program and the need for its consistent authorization will again be demonstrated, hopefully leading to subsequent reauthorization in 2021.