National Advocacy Efforts to Secure Continued Support for PA Highlands

9/23/19 – Last week Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) policy staff and Pennsylvania advocates traveled to Washington DC to meet with legislative offices about the federal Highlands program and Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The early fall trip, which occurred shortly after lawmakers returned to the Hill following August recess, was an important opportunity for advocates to ensure that these two land conservation programs receive attention this season.

The group of advocates came together as part of the LWCF Coalition’s Fly In event, during which stakeholders passionate about the Land and Water Conservation Fund traveled from across the country to meet with decisionmakers and their staff.  A subset of that group, including policy professionals representing Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, PA Highlands Coalition, and Warrington Township’s Open Space Committee and Environmental Advisory Council focused their effort on Eastern Pennsylvania.  These advocates met with both PA Senate offices and every PA House office district that includes land in the Highlands.

The Highlands is a federally-designated area of national significance that encompasses the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in PA, NJ, NY and CT.  The Highlands Conservation Act recognizes the importance of the water, forest, agricultural, wildlife, recreational, and cultural resources of the Highlands region.  This legislation was enacted in 2004 and had been reauthorized in 2018 through 2021.  Each year, the Highlands Conservation Act authorizes $10M to land protection in the region, and the meetings in DC focused on laying the groundwork for reauthorization past the current 2021 expiration.

Photo: Left to right – Tom Derr and Brendan Mysliwiec of Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Kimberly Witt of Appalachian Mountain Club, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of PA District 1, and Ivy Ross of Warrington Township in the Longworth House Office Building. 9/18/19.

The funds authorized by Highlands Conservation Act originate from the larger Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the advocates spent time in meetings addressing current legislative priorities for LWCF, as well.  In March 2019, as part of a larger public lands package, the LWCF was permanently authorized. Now the LWCF Coalition is working to secure full funding – at the level of $900M annually.  Appalachian Mountain Club has identified this as a key policy priority relevant to the PA Highlands and the greater northeastern region of the country where AMC works.

“While permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund was a major win for our nation’s treasured landscapes and outdoor recreation economy, we know the true promise of this program cannot be realized without full, dedicated funding,” said John Judge, President and CEO of the Appalachian Mountain Club. “AMC is proud to partner with bipartisan Congressional champions in support of LWCF, and we thank them for years of tireless advocacy on behalf of our mountains, forests, trails, coastlines, and parks. We look forward to continuing to work with the LWCF Coalition and stakeholders across the country to enact full, dedicated funding of LWCF for all of us who love to be outdoors.”

Ivy Ross, Grants Administrator and committee representative from Warrington Township explained to each office how important a recently obtained Land Water Conservation Fund grant was to the municipality’s efforts to preserve one of the last parcels of open space in the township.  The parcel includes the highest quality wetlands left in the township, Farmland of Statewide Importance and Prime Farmland soils, as well as potential archaeological resources. The $1.1M grant awarded by PA DCNR derived its funds from LWCF, and the community provided the required 50% matching funds from a township open space referendum, as well as Bucks County Open Space funds.  Ross said, “Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the project to obtain the 66-acre parcel and establish the Mill Creek Preserve would not have been possible.”  The preserve will support flora and fauna, as well as provide passive recreation and outdoor access for township residents and the wider community.

Last week’s trip to the capital showcased how well conservation partners are working together in district and provided advocates the opportunity to communicate their successes and highlight further priorities to federal representatives.