State of the Birds 2020 Highlight: To Protect Birds, Prepare to Advocate for Land Protection
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December 11, 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown meant that elected officials paid less attention than usual to land conservation issues in 2020. So in 2021, conservation advocates will have to double down.
Amy Paterson, executive director of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, covered the issue in her Connecticut State of the Birds 2020 article, called “The Impacts of COVID-19 on Conservation Funding.”
She explained that there are two main sources of funding to protect land in the state: the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program (OSWA); and the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program (RNHT).
“Both programs are essential to land conservation — and to bird conservation,” she wrote. “The Groton Open Space Association, for example, used these state funds in 2019 to buy the 104-acre Sheep Farm South. Adjacent to Bluff Point State Park and Haley Farm State Park, the Sheep Farm helps protect a critical migratory bird corridor. Warblers, tanagers, thrushes, and other songbirds pass through by the thousands, and birders have recorded 254 species at Bluff Point alone. With Bluff Point and Haley Farm, the Sheep Farm is now part of an expanse of conservation land of almost 1,200 acres. But despite their importance, both programs ]OSWA and RNHT] are chronically underfunded, putting critical habitats at risk of being lost forever to development. Ensuring the consistent and increased funding for these and other state grant programs is an annual priority—and challenge—for land conservation advocates. …
“Because the Community Investment Act has been subjected to repeated cuts and sweeps to address general budget shortfalls, state agencies have been forced to work with less money. The result has been a growing list of unfunded programs and projects across the state.”
As for the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection “has approximately 100 high quality properties in the queue for consideration, which will require additional bond funding and protection by the state,” Paterson wrote.
She laid out the challenge:
“With the 2021 legislative session coming in to focus, land conservation advocates are already planning for bigger and bolder policies to help accelerate the pace and quality of land conservation in the state, including:
- Significantly ramping up the level of funding for OSWA, RNHT, and other existing land conservation programs;
- Giving municipalities an option to generate their own revenue for land conservation and community environmental projects through a local buyer’s conveyance fee program;
- Establishing tax incentives for landowners interested in conserving their land and improving co-benefits such as enhanced wildlife habitat, clean water, and carbon offsets; and
- Creating new programs to invest in the establishment and care of urban forests, parks, and wildlife habitats.
“Strong advocacy and active participation by people who care about birds, and the habitats they rely upon to survive and thrive, will continue to be essential to our success in protecting sources of funding and carving out stronger land conservation policies in the upcoming legislative session.”
The 2020 State of the Birds report is called “Pandemic: Conservationists scramble in the field, the lab, and the legislature.” If you’re a Connecticut Audubon member, you should have received your copy in the mail. If you’re not, you can find a link here. (There’s also a video of the release event on Thursday, December 3.)
Connecticut Audubon will be working with Amy Paterson and the state’s other conservation advocates to secure as much land funding as possible in 2021. Your help is essential. Join our advocacy group for action alerts. It’s one way to make a real difference for conservation. Thank you!