Delaware Land Protection Coalition
Delaware Land Protection Coalition
The Delaware Land Protection Coalition (DLPC) is committed to increasing the amount of natural lands, including cultural, historical, and recreational resources, protected through acquisition or conservation easement by advocating for increased funding for the Open Space Program and by reenvisioning the governing laws of the Open Space (OS) program. We believe that 1) open space provides a suite of important ecological, social, and economic benefits to Delaware’s rapidly growing and aging population who are increasingly in need of and demand these benefits, 2) Delaware’s Open Space program is highly successful but has as been chronically underfunded while costs of land have skyrocketed and purchasing power of appropriations has decreased due to inflation, and 3) the Open Space program should be innovative and offer flexibility so that funding can be spread throughout the state and meet the needs of state, local, and nongovernmental organizations. Funding for the program should recognize how the values of open space have increased and make up for the financial departure of the program from the language of the law that created it as well recognize the need for open space protection. Finally, the department that oversees the Open Space program should be afforded adequate support to maintain the success and integrity of the program while allowing for growth. Open space protection should be supported and invested in by state and local governments at an amount consistent with the value of open space.
The Open Space Program (OS Program) was created in 1990 by the Delaware Land Protection Act and since its inception has been effective at protecting lands important both ecologically and culturally. The OS Program, managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and guided by the Open Space Council, identifies areas of high ecological or cultural value to be conserved either through land acquisition or protection through conservation easement. The OS Program is a 100% voluntary land protection program. Land acquisition includes the “fee simple” purchase of a parcel of land. A fee simple purchase transfers full ownership of the property, including the underlying title, to another party. Fee simple land acquisition may also be the result of a donation, with the landowner realizing tax benefits from the donation. Four agencies are eligible for Open Space Program funding: DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation, DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife, Delaware Department of Agriculture, Delaware Forest Service, and Department of States Division of Historic and Cultural Affairs. The OS Program five-year goal is to add permanently protected lands to existing State Parks, State Wildlife Areas, State Forests, and historical and cultural sites. If exceptional opportunities arise, other lands will be protected as funds permit. The Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund was established to provide funding to implement the conservation programs described in 65 Del. Laws, c.212. It states that a total of $10 million will be allocated in perpetuity to meet this goal. Of this, $1 million is to go into an Infrastructure Account and the remaining $9 million is to be used for acquisition. However, since 2000, an average of $7.5 million has been allocated, and the years 2016-2018 received zero funding. Between 2002-2021 the state has missed out on $68 million in funding for open space conservation
Goal #1: Increase funding for open space acquisition.
In the first year, the DLPC will focus on increasing state funding to the Open Space program to $25 million in FY23. The long term goal is to increase the base appropriation to $25 million annually. The DLPC will also advocate at the county level for increased funding dedicated to open space conservation.
Goal #2: Broaden the capacity of the Open Space program.
The DLPC will review the governing legislation of the program and determine if changes are necessary to meet the vision of the DLPC. If changes are desired, the DLPC will work together to draft new legislation to reflect those changes.
The Need for Additional Funding–
- The world and economy are different today compared to 1990. The funding has simply not kept pace with these changes. Inflation since the inception of the OS Program has caused the cost of land to surge and caused a significant decrease in purchasing power of OS funds. While $10 million dollars was a large investment 32 years ago, this same amount of funding expended today protects significantly less property and, in some cases, might only enable protection of a single property. This problem will only become more challenging as land prices continue to rise. Now is the time to act before land becomes even more expensive and the prices of even more important lands are out of reach. If you consider the life of the program, authorized investments in the program, and the varying levels of investments over the years, the state has under-allocated funding to this program by $68 million. And while other states and private partners have adjusted their investment in land protection over the years to match the rising cost of land as well as the increased need for protection, the State of Delaware has not, which has limited partnership opportunities, leveraging potential, and ultimately the protection of critical natural resources throughout the State.
- Land protection is one of the most cost effective green infrastructure practices. Protecting ecologically important land helps to achieve clean water, resilience to climate change, and improvements to wildlife habitat. Delaware is already experiencing the effects of climate change. Waters are rising throughout the state and DNREC modeling demonstrates the problem will only get worse. Preserving open spaces helps alleviate the severity of floodwater and stormwater surges and further protects natural flood mitigation infrastructure. Conserving lands also helps with offsetting carbon emissions by preserving forests, croplands, wetlands and urban greenspaces that absorb (or sequester) carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the U.S., forests capture and store almost 15% of the carbon dioxide emissions every year—equivalent to annual emissions of 165 million cars. And Delawareans agree that it is an important strategy. A 2019 survey found that the climate management strategies with the highest percentage of public support were 1) increased conservation of forested and agricultural lands at 83% and 2) preserving undeveloped land and natural features to allow for sea level rise to occur at 82%.
- It is good for Delawareans and they want more open space. The value of open space is a critical component of the State’s public health infrastructure which was crystalized by the 72% increase in State Park visitation realized during the first year of the pandemic. Research has connected green spaces and outdoor recreation to a variety of health benefits. In our state, only 10% of people meet CDC guidelines for healthy strengthening and physical activity and our per capita total health expenditures recently ranked third highest in the nation. We need open space for our health and we need to focus on making sure access to these benefits is equitable. A survey completed in 2018 by consultants to develop the Delaware State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) showed that 97% of Delaware residents “say that it is important that the State of Delaware invest in land for parks, trails, and natural areas.”
- Land protection offers large economic benefits. Environmental tourism is important to Delaware’s economy and generated $1 billion in 2020. A study completed by DNREC four years ago found that for every dollar of operating general fund tax dollar support state parks receive, $40 was returned in economic activity. That is more than the return of neighboring states. A survey completed in 2018 by consultants to develop the Delaware State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) showed that 97% of Delaware residents “say that it is important that the State of Delaware invest in land for parks, trails, and natural areas.” And the last two years under COVID have reinforced the need for Delaware natural resources with the record-breaking growth in use of our state parks and natural lands.
How You Can Help–
You can help us reach our goals by contacting your legislator and requesting an increase in funding for this project. Find your local legislator HERE.
- Delaware Center for the Inland Bays
- Delaware Nature Society
- Ducks Unlimited
- Delaware Wild Lands
- Kent County Conservancy
- Delaware Native Species Council
- Preservation Delaware
- Sussex County Land Trust
- The Nature Conservancy
- New Castle County Public Works Department
- Mt Cuba
- Preservation Delaware
- Land Trust Alliance
- League of Women Voters of Delaware