Outdoor Ballot Initiatives Win Big on Election Day

Voters across the country gave strong support at the ballot box for conservation related initiatives during the 2012 election. This year, 46 of the 57 conservation funding ballots passed, an approval rate of 81 percent. There were three statewide initiatives on the ballot in 2012 as well as a number of municipal and county initiatives that ranged from bonds to tax increases. Together the passed initiatives will direct more than $2 billion towards conservation to support parks, open spaces, working farms and ranches, and to improve water quality; of that $767 million is new funding. In addition, four states supported ballot initiatives that amend the state’s constitution to guarantee citizens’ rights to hunt and fish, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

“As we see time and again, conservation is an issue that unites the American people. American voters clearly see the value of nature in supporting clean air and water, local economies, storm and flood protection, jobs, healthy communities and recreation,” said Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “This election presents an open invitation for legislators to break through the partisan logjam that has stalled our nation for too long. If they want to achieve progress on critical issues and represent the desires of their constituents, support for conservation is a clear choice.”

In Alabama, 75 percent of voters supported a renewal of the Forever Wild land conservation program that is funded using 10 percent of interest from natural gas royalties (up to $15 million per year) and from revenues from the sale of Forever Wild license plates. Since its creation in 1992, the program has protected 227,000 acres and has secured recreational leases on additional land.  Almost two-thirds of Maine voters (62 percent) supported a bond initiative to add $5 million to the Land for Maine’s Future program. Established in 1987, the program has protected 445,000 acres (approximately 2/3 in easements and 1/3 in fee title acquisition), 973 miles of waterfront land and 158 miles of recreational trails. The program has secured $3 in matching funds for every dollar of bond funding used. In Rhode Island, a $20 million bond for protection of farms and open spaces passed with 70 percent of the vote.

“From Maine to Texas to San Francisco, we saw voters across the political spectrum say yes to taxes and spending for conservation that helps their communities,” said Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land, whose organization tracks these conservation ballot initiatives. “Alabama voters gave their state to Mitt Romney at the same time they overwhelmingly renewed a statewide land conservation program, while Rhode Island voted for President Obama at the same time a statewide bond for open space was approved. This shows that while we may hold differing views about political offices, one thing that unites us all is the desire to build parks and protect land and water in our communities.”

Besides the conservation funding ballot initiatives, four states – Kentucky, Idaho, Nebraska and Wyoming – approved referenda to protect the rights of their citizens to hunt and fish; Idaho and Wyoming also included language to protect trapping. The right to hunt and fish initiatives received strong support in each of the states where they were on the ballot.  In Idaho, 74 percent of voters supported the amendment, Nebraska passed with nearly 77 percent of the vote.  Wyoming and Kentucky had even bigger landslide wins with support coming from 89 and 85 percent of voters respectively. These states join the thirteen states that have already passed similar constitutional amendments.

One ballot initiative that failed to pass by a two-thirds vote was a constitutional amendment in Arizona that would have declared sovereignty over the state’s natural resources including land, air, water, minerals and wildlife. The proposal was seen as part of the resurging “sagebrush rebellion” against federal land ownership and management. Proponents of the initiative argued that federal land is a burden on the state and hurts the economy of western states. Opponents countered that the effort was designed to undermine federal laws such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act and, if passed, the state would either sell off public lands or would allow development on them.

All of the various state ballot initiatives confirm the results of a Nature Conservancy poll released this summer that found that 87 percent of the American public agree that land and water conservation are an essential part of their state’s quality of life. While conservation seemed a small priority in debates at the presidential level, the issue continues to be a focus for states and communities across the country.

This press release was produced by the Wildlife Management Institute.