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GUEST VIEWPOINT | Reducing Conservation Futures Fund is shortsighted
To the Board of Island County Commissioners: we are organizations that work on behalf of public recreation, habitat conservation, shore access, and animal welfare. We urge the board to continue funding the Conservation Futures Fund at its current level, and not reduce funding or freeze acquisitions.
Conservation Futures preserves open space and farm land through a small tax paid by every property owner. It costs the owner of a $250,000 house less than $13 per year. The proposed action will reduce that by about one-third. This is “penny wise and pound foolish.” Through Conservation Futures everyone, rich or poor, gets access to extensive open space lands for less than one-half the price of a State Parks Discover Pass.
By state law, the Conservation Futures Fund program may only be used to “protect, preserve, maintain, improve, restore, limit the future use of, or otherwise conserve, selected open space land, farm and agricultural land, and timber land … for public use or enjoyment.” Conservation Futures works on the “willing seller, willing buyer” principle. These lands provide recreation, protect watersheds, conserve wildlife, recharge aquifers, sequester carbon, and assure that prime farmland stays farmland.
Since Island County began using this statewide program in 1992, the Conservation Futures Fund has preserved and created public beach access, forest parks, off-leash dog areas, wildlife habitat of regional significance, miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, and assured that prime farmland stays farmland.
Double Bluff County Park, Ala Spit, Greenbank Farm, Freund Marsh, Davis Slough Heron Rookery, Trillium Forest, Iverson Spit, Four Springs Preserve, and the Three Sisters farmland are just a few of the many important open spaces conserved throughout Island County with the help of Conservation Futures Fund.
The money raised locally through the tax is highly leveraged, providing the funds required to obtain matching state, federal and non-profit organizational dollars, saving far more open space than could possibly be accomplished with local funding alone. And because many of these places are next to other protected lands, they help create a system of open space lands that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Double Bluff County Park provides access to two miles of state-owned beach that would otherwise be inaccessible to the public. The Hoypus Hill addition connects to and enlarges Deception Pass State Park. The Conservation Futures Fund made these and other acquisitions possible.
These lands are not only vital for residents, but attract tourists who visit our local businesses. Those tourists come here because there are no longer miles of public beach and forest trails where they live. We should not repeat that mistake. The open space lands that we conserve now will help attract new residents in the future who value the high quality of life these lands help provide. Conservation Futures is conservation now, for the future.
The Conservation Futures Fund has never been able to raise enough to fill the demand. In the 21 years of its existence, no board of commissioners has ever reduced the Conservation Futures Fund. Yet the county commissioners are considering reducing this small tax by about one-third, as well as freezing new acquisitions. And the Fund would not be saving up money for future acquisitions.
We urge the commissioners to reject this shortsighted proposal. The most important part of this program is right in its name. By saving open space now, we are conserving our future and our childrens’ childrens’ future. Please keep the Conservation Futures Fund program at its current level.
Camano Action for a Rural Environment
Whidbey Audubon Society president
Swan Lake Watershed Preservation Group
Whidbey Animal Guild
Island Beach Access
Whidbey Environmental Action Network
Whidbey Island Land and Shore Trust