Although media coverage has focused on Republican victories in Tuesday’s election, voters across the country overwhelmingly supported measures to advance progressive priorities, including initiatives to protect more parks, open spaces, and waterways.
In 19 states, voters approved 35 measures committing a total of over $13 billion for land conservation. According to The Trust for Public Land’s ballot measure tracking website, LandVote.org, this year set a record in funds committed for conservation measures, surpassing the previous high set by 2008’s 91 approved measures by over $5 billion. Additionally, over $11 billion more for conservation was approved this year than in the 2010 midterms.
Conservation ballot measures in Florida, New Jersey and California stood out in particular on Tuesday. In Florida, a historic amendment passed with 75 percent of the vote, designating billions of dollars for conservation efforts over the next 20 years, including funding to restore the Everglades. New Jersey voters also dedicated billions from corporate tax revenue to acquire and preserve open spaces. In California, over two thirds of voters passed a $7.5 billion water bond, setting aside $1.5 billion for land and water conservation.
Additionally, voters in Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado and Maine approved millions of dollars of conservation measures to protect water quality, increase land protections, restore local parks, and expand outdoor recreation opportunities.
Tuesday didn’t represent a total landslide for conservation measures, however. While most of the 15 initiatives that failed to pass were municipal, there were some statewide measures, such North Dakota’s Measure 5, that were unsuccessful. But overall, conservation advocates were thrilled with the widespread support for key ballot initiatives across the country.
“In one way, it was a remarkable election because voters sent such a clear message, and by landslide proportions,” wrote Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land. However, he noted the results weren’t a major surprise, because he has seen “one consistent theme” for decades that “voters are willing to tax themselves to protect special places.”
Even as measures to protect land and water succeeded at the polls, national conservation priorities could be at risk in the next Congress with an “anti-park and anti-wilderness agenda,” according to an analysis released yesterday by the Center for American Progress. In particular, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) requires reauthorization by Congress to avoid expiration in 2015. LWCF could face an uphill battle in Congress despite its continued success supporting the establishment and protection of tens of thousands of parks, wildlife areas, and outdoor recreation projects across the nation.
However, regardless of the obstacles land conservation efforts might face in the next Congress, Tuesday’s results point to strong public support for the protection of public lands and open spaces. As the New York Times editorial board wrote yesterday, “the message for President Obama is that the public will support executive actions to protect threatened wilderness, even if Congress does not.”
Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.