I was walking to work the day after this week’s elections. It was just above freezing, and yellow leaves drifted down from the trees along the street—a season of change in a time when Americans have expressed their desire for political change. We are not frightened by autumn and falling leaves and colder temperatures because we know that, after winter, spring will come again. And, similarly, despite the current turmoil and anger in American politics, I am, at least in part, reassured by an election in which Americans have once again maintained their long-standing support for protection of the land and water upon which our lives depend by voting to dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars a year to conservation in states such as Iowa, Oregon, Maine and Texas.
Despite a bad economy, Americans passed 29 of 35 state and local conservation funding measures this election day for a passage rate of 83 percent, making it the most successful year for conservation ballot measures since 2000.
Perhaps most impressive of this year’s initiatives is the Iowa constitutional amendment that would permanently dedicate $150 million per year in state sales tax for land, water and farmland protection. Iowa is the heart of the American heartland, and the decision by a 62/38 margin of the people of that state to invest in their children’s future should remind us all that conservation in America has long been a bi-partisan issue.
In its upcoming lame-duck session Congress should heed this message. Pending in the U.S. Senate is a bill to provide full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) originally created in 1965 by bi-partisan action in the House and Senate. The creators of the LWCF had the prescient idea of using a small portion of offshore oil and gas leasing to support acquisition of conservation and recreation land for federal, state and local parks, wildlife refuges and forests and for building state and local recreational facilities. The LWCF was promised $900 million a year, but that promise has been repeatedly broken—more than $17 billion has been diverted from the fund to other uses. So, the bill now pending and sponsored by 18 Senators, including Democrats Jeff Bingaman and Max Baucus and Republican Richard Burr, would simply require that the LWCF promise be kept in the years to come.
So, yes, I hope Senators will take the advice of the voters of Texas, Oregon, Maine, Iowa and so many other states because I think those folks were saying something important amid the clash and turmoil of this campaign season. Of course I can’t actually speak for them, but maybe I have a sense of what they were thinking when they marked their ballots with a “yes”:
My college roommate was from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, a small town surrounded by vast corn fields. We have visited his family there for more than 40 years. My roommate died far too young, and I recall stopping by to see his aging father in Mt. Pleasant not long after his son’s death. He gave us a tour of the town in his worn old car. He stopped at the end of the day by a good-sized burr-oak tree at the edge of a remnant piece of tall grass prairie. “My son planted that tree when he was a boy”, the old man said. “I like to stand here and remember him.”
The Iowa ballot measure approved so overwhelmingly by the state’s voters this week is designed to protect and help care for such places—the farms and parks, rivers and woods that are the common ground for the American way of life.
There may be much Americans don’t agree on these days, but polls and election results continue to reveal that, thankfully, the great majority do agree that it makes all the sense in the world to spend some tiny portion of our nation’s wealth on places to walk by the shore, to cast a line in a river, to stand beneath oaks and maples remembering the past and looking forward to the seasons to come.
(Image: Loess Hills Prairie at Broken Kettle Grasslands in western Iowa. Image credit: © Chris Helzer/TNC)