Summary of new conservation investments in 2024-2025 state budget
The Indiana Conservation Alliance supports robust investment in Indiana’s outdoor heritage and our natural resources – our forests, streams, lakes, prairies, wetlands and wildlife habitats. Ideally, this investment should include a dedicated source of revenue sufficient to meet the need both for acquiring new lands for parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves, places to hunt, fish, hike and bike, and for ensuring that these indispensable resources are properly managed and maintained.
Many states are making major investments in conservation, while Indiana’s investment pales in comparison. Colorado and Arizona dedicate a share of the state’s lottery proceeds to conservation. Colorado’s dedicated lottery raises about $125 million a year for conservation. Arkansas, Missouri, and Minnesota dedicate a small additional sales tax percentage to land and wildlife protection and outdoor recreation. Missouri’s two dedicated conservation taxes raise about $190 million a year; Minnesota’s raises $300 million a year. Maine and California issue bonds to pay for conservation projects. New Jersey, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and New York dedicate a share of real estate transfer or deed transfer fees for conservation. Florida’s dedicated fee has raised $3 billion since 2001. Virginia, Texas and Georgia dedicate a share of sales tax revenue from outdoor equipment sales, which was the mechanism contained in HB 1376. (state websites; State Funding Mechanisms for Outdoor Recreation, Outdoor Industry Association, August 2017).
Indiana needs a similar commitment to conserving our lands, waters and wildlife. It has been 10 years since then Governor Daniels established the Bicentennial Nature Trust. This highly successful program has reached its end and all its funds have been committed. The President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust (formerly the Indiana Heritage Trust) has not received a meaningful general fund appropriation since 2009. Revenue from the environmental license plate, dedicated to the Harrison Conservation Trust, has declined by over 50% in the last twenty years -- dropping from $1.9 million in 1998 to $955,000 a year in the current biennium -- due to the growth in the number of specialty plates being offered.
Beyond conserving our splendid natural heritage and protecting the plants and animals that make our planet livable, pollinate our food crops, and control insect pests, conservation of these resources also has a direct bearing on the state’s economic success. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, outdoor recreation in Indiana contributes nearly $13 billion a year to Indiana's economy and results in 107,000 direct jobs (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2021). We are not aware of any other industry sector with this scale of economic impact that does not receive significant attention and encouragement from state government.
More opportunities for outdoor recreation, in parks, on rivers and lakes, or along trails, also lead to a healthier citizenry, reducing health care costs. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, physical activity “...is one of the most important actions people can take to improve their overall health.” (Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities, September 2015).
What’s more, outdoor spaces are a major element of quality of place, widely recognized as essential to recruiting and retaining top professional talent and the companies that rely on this talent. “Attracting new talent is essential, and the best way to bring in high quality people is to offer a high quality of place.” (Fourth Economy Consulting, December 2017)
Investing in conservation provides a strong return on investment. The $61 million in state funding provided to the President Harrison Conservation Trust/Indiana Heritage Trust since 1993 has leveraged $74 million in private/partner contributions. The program’s 504 projects completed through 2016 protected 70,100 acres (Indiana DNR). For every dollar invested in the Bicentennial Nature Trust, it leveraged $2.32 in private funding ($20 million state funds, $46.4 million private funds including $10 million Lilly Endowment).
Past state budget actions on conservation:
The 2021-2023 Indiana state budget contained a $25 million appropriation for land conservation. It also contains an additional $60 million for the Next Level Trails program. These funds were made available by the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress.
While Indiana still lacks a robust, dedicated funding mechanism for conservation, these appropriations -- supported by Gov. Holcomb -- are a recognition of the importance of investing in our natural heritage.
Earlier, in the 2019 - 2021 budget, the Indiana General Assembly took action to address the serious backlog in maintenance and repair spending at our state's public parks, forests, fish and wildlife areas and outdoor recreation sites, as well as other state properties, by appropriating $150 million for this purpose. It's estimated that about $100 million of this appropriation will go to the Indiana DNR.