Op-Ed

Stop plan to raid Kentucky’s land conservation fund

Lower Howard’s Creek, the 348-acre nature and heritage preserve near Lexington, was purchased with money from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund.
Lower Howard’s Creek, the 348-acre nature and heritage preserve near Lexington, was purchased with money from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund. teblen@herald-leader.com

The news of protecting over 2,000 acres on Pine Mountain in Bell County by the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust is most welcomed. Congratulations to Hugh Archer, the landowners and all who have been involved in this valuable project.

However, this success story is tempered by Tom Eblen’s March 2 column pointing out that the sole funding source for conserving any portion of Kentucky’s natural landscapes continues to be jeopardized by yet another transfer of funds — actually a complete raid — from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, as proposed in Gov. Matt Bevin’s biennial budget.

As Eblen reports, the revenue for the fund comes from dedicated sources (not the state’s General Fund) that were specified and established by legislation in 1994.

Thousands of people have purchased the nature license plate, one of the sources, as their individual contribution to conserving forests, fields, and stream corridors and the diversity of wildlife living there. They have not bought them with the idea that the funds so provided are to go somewhere else.

Obviously, to sweep the money from the KHLCF is to break faith with the public and provide yet another example of ignoring the wishes of the people as clearly stated in the legislation creating the fund.

The notion that this is not the time for the state to be preserving land — as put forth by one administration official — ignores the continuing local efforts to acquire needed wildlife habitat and provide recreational areas where the outdoors can still be used and enjoyed. The increasing urbanization of Kentuckians also increases the desire for places that are not paved and crowded and loud. Protecting the state’s natural heritage is not a luxury but a necessity as our population continues to grow along with accommodating development.

Kentuckians are so very fortunate to live in a part of the eastern United States that has a beautiful, varied landscape and that is a geographic center of a long natural history. This history can be enjoyed by all of us who live here and the millions who visit because of this history and the diversity of life here.

The KHLCF exists in recognition of the need to conserve and preserve some of this land and life for posterity. The amount that should be available — about $5 million a year — should be at least maintained and not used as a miniscule contribution to solve long-standing budget problems.

It will only represent a rounding error in the proposed state budget, but it is worth millions to state agencies, local governments and colleges and universities in their conservation efforts.

To learn more about the fund go to www.heritageland.ky.gov for the annual report, discussion of purposes of the fund and other relevant information.

I urge everyone interested in land conservation to contact your state representatives to urge them to restore the dedicated funds to the KHLCF in this biennial budget. They can be contacted by going online to www.lrc.ky.gov, the website of the Legislative Research Commission.

From there, you can email a message to your legislator in the Senate or House of Representatives and obtain the complete contact information you need for them or anyone else in the legislature. Also, call toll-free, 1-800-372-7181 to speak to your legislator or leave a message expressing your support for the fund; a person will actually answer this number.

Trees and wildlife may not vote, but people do, so let’s weigh in on maintaining a viable fund.

William H. Martin is a retired professor at Eastern Kentucky University and immediate past-chairman of the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund board.

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