New York, NY – November 20, 2012 — OSI’s conservation work in the Southern Cumberland region got a significant boost on Election Day, as Alabama citizens overwhelmingly passed Amendment 1, which will provide up to $15 million per year for the next 20 years to the Forever Wild Land Trust program.
More than 75 percent of Alabama voters favored extending funding for Forever Wild, the largest conservation finance measure on ballots anywhere in the U.S. this year.
Forever Wild was first passed in 1992 and has been used to purchase more than 227,000 acres of land for public use. But even with the success of the program, Alabama still has the smallest percentage of publicly accessible conserved land in the southeastern U.S.
The Open Space Institute hopes to change that with the recent launch of its Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund, which will award grants and loans to conservation projects that protect wildlife habitat and biodiversity in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.
“This is an important victory at a critical time when finances are tight and there are many claims on our pocket books,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president.“If conservation is to continue at any scale, it must be embraced broadly, not just by certain groups in certain places. The great success of conservation in Alabama is that, as this vote showed, it is a broadly shared value. Forever Wild is a testament to the fact that however divided our electorate, conservation can be a place for agreement by parties who might differ on many other things.”
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) played a leadership role in supporting a coalition that included anglers, hunters and environmentalists who successfully worked together on the effort to renew Forever Wild.
“What we’re gratified about from a hunting standpoint is that Forever Wild has enabled us to shore up the public’s access to hunting as many of the State’s Wildlife Management Area leases expired during the past 20 years,” said Gary Moody, the chief of the Wildlife Section of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. “With reauthorization, we can make sure that our grandkids and their grandkids will have sufficient places to enjoy the outdoors through hunting and other related recreational activities. We could never have done that without the voters in Alabama demonstrating strong support for Forever Wild.”
Earlier this year TNC conducted a national poll, the results of which were reinforced at the ballot box.
“We are thrilled that the citizens of Alabama recognized the importance of Forever Wild to the future of our state,” said Chris Oberholster, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama. “We knew from initial polling that water quality and access to outdoor recreation really resonate with people.”
The bipartisan team of pollsters found that 87 percent of the American public agreed that land and water conservation was an essential part of their state’s quality of life; 74 percent agreed that even with federal budget problems, land and water funding should not be cut; 83 percent were willing to pay additional taxes for conservation; and more than four-in-five voters said that conserving our country's natural resources is patriotic. This support bridges partisan, regional, and demographic divides.
“There is mainstream support for wise use and protection of the lands and waters we all rely on for our quality of life and our livelihoods,” Oberholster added. “In Alabama, this broad-based support was seen in the highly diverse coalition of some 200 business, outdoor recreation, environmental and community organizations which mobilized to continue the Forever Wild program.”
Lands protected by Forever Wild play a critical role in helping provide clean water, manage floods and storm surges and contribute to economic development through tourism and the outdoor recreation industry. They also provide improved quality of life benefits for Alabama’s citizens in the form of easy access to hiking, fishing, canoeing, hunting, bird watching and other outdoor activities.