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Funding Conservation: Is this the End of a Legacy?

By Brenda Barrett September 12, 2012

WITF Public Television

 In these tough financial times, state and federal governments are all scrambling to balance their budgets. This has placed environmental and natural resource programs at risk in part because of past decisions to set up special funding streams for our publicly owned resources. Today, dollars that were once dedicated to state and local parks, open space conservation, and recreational infrastructure have been redirected to other uses. What in the past would have been called wise use of funds has now become a tempting target for appropriators and politicians looking for quick solutions to financial shortfalls.

Pennsylvania, my home state, is no exception. Claiming fiscal necessity, recent governors both Democrat and Republican have raided the state’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund, reduced operating support to state parks, and proposed eliminating funding for the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund.  The Pennsylvania legislature also has used budget maneuvers to redistribute conservation dollars to fund other programs.  In less than five years, over fifty years of conservation minded laws have been tossed aside or threatened with extinction. Conservation and environmental advocates have pushed back against these funding cuts with some success.  However, fiscal projections for continued state revenue shortfalls are still looming on the horizon.  Our contemporary political rhetoric depicts government spending as profligate and popular opinion is running against taxes or anything perceived as taxes. Funding for parks, open space, and conservation projects is painted as a luxury that the people cannot afford or even as a drain on the state coffers.

So are we really mortgaging our children’s future to pay the bill for natural resource conservation? A little Pennsylvania history might be in order to better understand the how conservation funding programs of today originated as a strategy for the thrifty and sustainable management of public resources. There is a way to balance the books in favor of conservation and preserve our rich natural heritage.   It is found in the wisdom of a man who would be 100 years old this month, Maurice K. Goddard.  From 1955 to 1979In an unprecedented bipartisan career, he served five Pennsylvania governors.  Through his good work, he left the Pennsylvania of today with an unparalleled legacy: 2.2 million acres of certified sustainably managed forests, 120 award-winning state parks, and the dedicated funding to help pay for them.

Perhaps it was Maurice Goddard’s training as a forester with its emphasis on sustainable management and multiple uses of public land that that led to one of his most innovative ideas for conservation funding, the Oil and Gas Lease Fund Act.  Prior to 1955, natural gas revenues from drilling on the state’s public forestlands were deposited in the general fund. Goddard gained bipartisan support for legislation to dedicate these rents and royalties to his department to be used solely “for conservation, recreation, dams, or flood control.”  It was a great success. In the Goddard era and for years afterwards, almost all of the money was used to fund his vision of a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian and a professionally managed system of state forests.  Goddard had found a way to pay for conservation by investing the money generated by the depletion of one natural resource and in enhancing the value of another.

Goddard’s idea of using revenue from activities that deplete or have an impact on non-renewable natural resources to reinvest in conservation infrastructure has had far-reaching policy impacts. He was well known on the national scene having chaired a committee at the 1965 White House Conference on Natural Beauty.  His concept of capturing revenue in the Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Lease fund is widely credited as the model for the federal government’s Land and Water Conservation Fund. First passed in 1964, the act was later amended in 1971 to dedicate revenues from off shore oil drilling to open space conservation and recreational purposes.

Parks, open space, conservation, preservation and resource stewardship are not politically loaded concepts, unless we let them become so. Their value – in dollars, in health, in beauty and in history – cuts across all political and social lines.  Maurice Goddard showed us how our state government – without additional taxes, without taking from Peter to pay Paul, and without rancor, can effectively promote economy and environment.

So tomorrow, as we commemorate Maurice Goddard’s one-hundredth birthday, let’s learn from the lessons of history and rededicate these dollars to their intended purpose.  If our elected officials across the nation will take a bold step and pick up the torch of conservation leadership, they too may be honored and celebrated by future generations.

An edited version of this article appeared as the lead editorial in the Sunday Harrisburg Patriot September 9, 2012.

For more information on Maurice Goddard and the upcoming commemoration of his conservation legacy see:






NPS Policy & Proposed Legislation: A Breakthrough for Heritage Areas?

By Brenda Barrett May 16, 2012

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas

Things are definitely looking up for the US National Heritage Areas.  Bedeviled by years of uncontrolled growth and meager funding, this program has long been a candidate for the most neglected offspring on the National Park Service (NPS) family tree.  However, on March 14, 2012 NPS Director Jon Jarvis issued a policy memo that affirmed NPS support for the National Heritage Areas Program and encouraged NPS managers to help the areas succeed. Jarvis highlighted heritage areas as a critical element in the Agency’s broader effort to connect to the nation’s youth and diverse communities. He emphasized that heritage areas embody a regional approach to conservation, which is critical to understanding lived-in and working landscapes, waterways, battlefields and both the built and natural environment. These are welcome words and go a long way towards addressing the past lack of clarity about how the National Heritage Areas fit into the tight knit NPS culture that has traditionally been focused on parks and protected lands.

Another promising development is the introduction the long awaited National Heritage Areas Act (HR 4099) which would establish a legislative framework for the program within the NPS. The new bill has bipartisan sponsorship from Representative Charles Dent (R PA) and Tonko (D NY) and has already picked up 40 cosponsors from both parties.  Efforts are underway to find a champion to introduce the bill in the Senate.  The legislation contains many of the elements recommended in the 2006 National Park System Advisory Board report Charting a Future for  National Heritage Areas.

More problematic is the future of  twelve of the forty-nine National Heritage Areas whose funding authorization expires in FY 2012. Originally, it was thought that NPS funding for a 10 to 15 year time period would be adequate to launch each new heritage area.  Congress, recognizing the challenge of finding dollars for regional initiatives and the program’s growing popularity, has provided decades of funding extensions for many areas. However, tough budgets times finally have caught up with this strategy.   Although NPS evaluations of the program have shown that stable funding is critical to long-term success, today only five of the twelve areas have pending legislation to reauthorize their federal funding.

Funding has always been a sticking point for the program. While the NPS budget is over $2.4 billion , the heritage areas have struggled to survive on $17.4 million (FY 2012) divided 49 ways. Soon some of them may have even less. No wonder several older heritage areas are proposing more radical alternatives such as becoming units of the NPS. They are following the money and who can blame them?


Federal Funding – How are we doing?

By Brenda Barrett April 1, 2012

When all was said and done, federal funding for landscape scale cultural and natural resource conservation programs fared relatively well in the recent 2012 budget showdown in Washington, D.C.

Historic Preservation funding for state and tribal historic preservation offices saw a slight increase to $47 million and $9 million respectively. Unfortunately, both Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America, two federal historic preservation grant programs, were left unfunded for a second year.

National Heritage Areas managed to almost double the administration’s request, which translated into essentially flat funding of $17.4 million for forty-nine areas across the country. The Land and Water Conservation Fund also received an increase from the 2011 budget with $186.7 million for the Federal side and $45 million for the State grants. However, these numbers did not even come close to the full funding of $900 million for the Land and Water Fund proposed by the Obama administration.

There was good news for some other large landscape initiatives as funding for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways program was restored at almost $2 million dollars and the Everglades received $142 million in restoration dollars.

But, like every year, we are now starting the process all over again with the 2013 budget. In general, the administration is proposing to hold programs at existing funding levels, which may be as good as it gets in this climate. One disappointment was the proposal to again cut 50% of the funds for National Heritage Areas. While in the past, Congress always has restored funding for the program, the Observer is concerned that these landscape scale partners must spend so much time and effort running to stay in the same place.

For more on the ins and outs of the budget process information visit Preservation Action or the Land and Water Coalition.