Bolinsky, CT Audubon Voice Support for Preserving CT Open Space

Feb 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Land

From CT Audubon:

For a number of years Connecticut Audubon Society been working in Hartford to try to improve the way the state of Connecticut acquires and protects open space.

One of the key issues has been that when the state acquires conservation land, the land is not truly protected – the state, at its discretion, can sell or transfer or swap the land, or it can use it for something other than conservation. There have been at least three proposals in recent years to do just that. All three were beaten back but not without the expenditure of a lot of time and effort on the part conservationists.

This year we are supporting a bill (SB 70) that would add important layers of protection to state-owned conservation land. There was a hearing on SB 70 before the General Assembly’s Environment Committee today. We submitted written testimony and also spoke at the hearing.

Their testimony is below. It summarizes the key points of the bill and, of course, why CT Audubon supports it.

Testimony in Support of SB 70
Tom Andersen
Director of Communications
Connecticut Audubon Society

Sen. Meyer, Representative Gentile, Members of the Committee… I am Tom Andersen, Director of Communications for the Connecticut Audubon Society. Connecticut Audubon was established in 1898, and is the original and still independent Audubon Society within the state. Today the organization consists of 7 nature centers, 19 sanctuaries, and more than 10,000 members, friends, and supporters from across the state.

Connecticut Audubon’s goal is to use the beauty, diversity, and visibility of our state’s birds to connect more people with the natural world. Our core value is to leave future generations a state that is in better shape than the one we inherited.

With respect to SB 70, we believe its passage is crucial. It represents the transparency and honesty that our members and your constituents expect. Namely, when land is set aside for preservation through due process, Connecticut residents expect the acquisition to be in perpetuity, and if the acquired land must later be transferred, they expect the transfer to be done through a public process.

Second, the state has a goal of protecting 21 percent of the state’s land by 2023. This bill will help achieve that by eliminating uncertainty and by increasing confidence.

Landowners will be confident that land they are selling for conservation purposes will not be used for something else; without that confidence, fewer conservation-minded landowners will chose to deal with the state.

Elected officials who must approve acquisitions will no longer need to wonder if the land they are voting to acquire will someday be used for another purpose, and therefore they will have the confidence to continue to vote to acquire land in the future.

And most importantly, taxpayers will be assured that the tax dollars they want to see spent to conserve land will indeed be spent for that purpose, and therefore they will continue to support land conservation statewide.

SB 70 would confer “high conservation value” status on all lands owned by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Department of Agriculture, unless the respective commissioner issues written findings saying a specific parcel is not of high conservation value.

The bill says that state-owned lands of high conservation value shall be preserved forever, and that the state shall strengthen the protection by placing conservation easements or deed restrictions on these lands.

And it says that the DEEP and the Department of Agriculture shall not exchange lands except under extenuating circumstances, and then only if a number of conditions are met, including the approval of this committee.

As is well known, Connecticut’s land conservation program faces other issues as well.

We don’t really know how much land has been protected, and so therefore we don’t know how many acres we need to protect to reach 21 percent.

We don’t know how much of that land is truly important for conservation, or what the conservation values of many specific tracts of land are.

Without knowing what the conservation values are, we can’t know if they are being protected or improved.

And much of our protected land has been acquired and then ignored, with no attempt to plan for and manage its conservation values.

Connecticut Audubon has highlighted and examined most of these problems in our annual Connecticut State of the Birds report. This year’s report will examine the need for better conservation planning and management, to make sure we have the widest array of healthy bird and wildlife habitats possible.

For now though, SB 70 is a good attempt at rectifying perhaps the most fundamental issue: namely that state-owned lands are not truly protected in perpetuity. We strongly urge the Environment Committee and the General Assembly to pass this bill.

State Rep. Mitch Bolinsky (R-106 Newtown) voiced support of legislation to strengthen state Open Space laws.

Senate Bill 70, An Act Concerning The Preservation Of Lands Under The Control Of The Department Of Energy And Environmental Protection And The Department Of Agriculture, will classify the lands for which DEEP and the Department of Agriculture (DoAg) are custodians as being “lands of high conservation value,” unless otherwise designated by the agencies; it will also require that DEEP and DoAg Commissioners place conservation restrictions on deeds for those lands. Additionally, the legislation will initiate a long needed overhaul of the Land Conveyance Bill process.

“The citizens of Connecticut value our state parks and forests and want them to be protected in perpetuity. Millions have been spent to acquire land for conservation but unfortunately much of this land is not truly protected,” said Rep. Bolinsky, who is on the Environment committee and listened to testimony on the open space proposal.

This new “land of high conservation value” classification says that previously “protected” land will not later be used for alternative purposes.

“Additionally, these efforts go a long way towards making the state land conveyance process more transparent and emphasizes that it is a policy of the state to preserve these lands and their resource values,” said Bolinsky.

“It is my hope that we can come together to protect Connecticut’s open spaces and woodlands so as to preserve the natural beauty and rural character of towns such as Newtown throughout the state. Only through these initiatives can our state’s rural areas obtain the true protection they need for years to come,” said Bolinsky.

Statewide land preservation and environmental groups including: The Nature Conservancy, Connecticut Audobon Society, Connecticut Forest and Park Association and the CT Sierra Club testified in support of this open space proposal.

For more on this story, visit: Bolinsky Voices Support for Preserving CT Open Space :: Connecticut House Republicans.

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