STATE WE’RE IN: Act now for clean air, water, health and life

By Michele Byers
   “Right now, we are on track to become the first state in the union to run out of open space. I love New Jersey being first in a lot of things, but that’s not where we want to be.”
   That was former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman speaking at a New Jersey Conservation Foundation event a few years ago.
   Former Gov. James Florio agreed with Whitman, adding it is incorrect to believe the state must choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment.
   ”We’re not going to have one without the other,” he stated.
   ”Knowledge-based, post-industrial businesses tend to locate in high-quality environments,” said Dr. James Hughes, dean of Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “To the degree that investments in open space and farmland preservation produces a higher quality environment, it’s going to make New Jersey that much more attractive for these industries of the future.”
   For more than 50 years, New Jersey has led the nation in land preservation, spending millions of dollars every year to buy parks, preserve farms and wetlands and protect natural and historic landscapes and landmarks.
   But today, in 2014, funds from our last bond referendum in 2009 are spent or allocated, and land preservation is coming to a halt.
   With roughly two million acres of land not yet preserved or paved, this state we’re in is at a crossroads.
   According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, more than 650,000 acres of lands valuable for water, recreation and wildlife habitat are in need of preservation. New Jersey’s agricultural industry, the historic heart of our state’s economic history, needs an additional 400,000 acres of preserved farmland to remain viable.
   In tough economic times, many folks question the wisdom and value of continuing land preservation when so many vital programs and services are struggling.
   But take a look at a few of the health, economic and environmental benefits of saving land and decide for yourself:
   • One tree provides $62,000 in air pollution control benefits.
   For every 10 percent increase in forest cover, water treatment and chemical costs decrease by 20 percent.
   • Access to parks leads to a 25 percent increase in people exercising three or more times a week.
   • A 2009 study by The Trust for Public Land found that every $1 invested in state land preservation programs returns $10 in economic value through nature’s services, such as flood control and filtering air and water of pollutants.
   With benefits like this, should we stop preserving land? What will our future be like without clean water, clean air, parks, scenic vistas and healthy food from local farms?
   Studies consistently show educated and skilled employees demand a good quality of life. Not surprisingly, they want clean water, clean air, and parks and natural areas for outdoor recreation and a sense of openness.
   Preserving parks, open space, farmland, historic sites, watershed lands and flood-prone properties are investments we can’t afford not to make if we care at all about the future of our state and its residents.
   With the state out of land preservation funds, the Legislature is considering a bill that would ask voters to dedicate a portion of existing corporate business tax revenues to land preservation. The legislation must be passed by June 30 to put a question on the November ballot.
   This plan is a modest, fiscally responsible proposal that will allow the Garden State to continue to be a great place to live and work. It initially would provide about $71 million annually, increasing to about $117 million annually in fiscal year 2020.
   This funding is far less than we’ve been spending during the last 15 years, and it will not impact the state’s budget — the bottom line — for five years.
   Time is running out! Please urge your legislators to support this legislation, SCR84/ACR130, and secure our state’s quality of life for current and future generations.
   To send an email to your legislators, go to and fill out the easy form.
    Michele Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. For more information, contact her at [email protected] or visit NJCF’s website at