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Give us those wide open spaces.

Through all the hard times, at least one program remains popular with local voters--land conservation. Voters approved 100 ballot measures during 2003, dedicating some $1.8 billon for state and local parks and open space programs, according to a study recently released by the Trust for Public Land and the Land Trust Alliance.

The 2003 election results demonstrated the continuing appeal of land conservation among voters from all backgrounds and regions. Over the past five years, voters have approved 78 percent of 831 state and local ballot measures, providing $23 billion in new funds for parks and open space.

"Increasingly, the public sees land acquisition as an effective strategy for managing growth, protecting drinking water and improving the quality of life," says Ernest Cook, a senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land and head of its conservation finance program. "Buying land or development rights from willing sellers has much broader appeal than growth limits or new regulations."

Almost every part of the country has participated in the trend, with measures appearing on the ballot in 44 states over the past five years. The most active areas for land conservation funding have been along the East and West coasts. In addition, a growing number of communities in the Mountain West have undertaken land preservation programs in response to growth pressures.

To the surprise of some observers, funding for land conservation retains strong bipartisan support. In 2003, for example, funding was approved in heavily Republican Arapahoe County, Colo., and Carroll County, Ga., as well as in Democratic strongholds such as Hudson County, N.J., and Ann Arbor, Mich.

The results from 2003 also illustrate how statewide incentives can promote local action. The New Jersey Legislature established the Garden State Preservation Trust, which provides extra funding for local communities that dedicate money to land conservation. Thirty New Jersey counties and townships voted that year to approve land conservation funding measures. The state became the first in the nation in which every county has passed an open space funding program.

Additional details of recent votes on open space measures are available at

 Measures Total
Year Approved Funds

1999 93 $2.1 billion
2000 174 $7.5 billion
2001 137 $1.7 billion
2002 141 $10.0 billion
2003 100 $1.8 billion
TOTAL 645 $23.1 billion
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Title Annotation:Trends and Transitions
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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