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.
Until a dedicated fund for conservation is established, Indiana should provide the following investments:
- At least $5 million a year for the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust (IDNR)
- $20 million a year for grants to local parks and trails
- At least $4 million a year for the State Wildlife Action Plan (IDNR)
- $5 million a year for Clean Water Indiana
- $16 million a year in added funding for deferred maintenance at all DNR properties
In August 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. GAOA is a bipartisan bill to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and which also includes an annual appropriation of $1.9 billion a year to pay for the huge backlog of repairs at our national parks and other federal outdoor lands.
Earlier, in March 2019, the U.S. Congress approved, and the President signed, a landmark new natural resources bill -- S.47 -- that will provide protection for millions of acres of public lands, improve public access to federal lands, and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation’s preeminent land and water conservation program. S. 47 received overwhelming bipartisan support, passing by a vote of 92 to 8 in the U.S. Senate, and by a vote of 363 to 62 in the U.S. House. In these times when Congress struggles to agree on much of anything, this outcome is clearly remarkable.
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 8 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 an industry report, outdoor recreation in Indiana generates nearly $16 billion a year in consumer spending and results in 143,000 direct jobs (Outdoor Industry Association, 2017). 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).