NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report late last week that argues for the economic benefits of open space conservation [pdf]. According to John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council, “this is the first attempt ever by the state’s top elected financial officer to quantify the value of undeveloped forests and open farm lands.”
The report comes at a time when the Legislature is negotiating the 2010-11 state budget, including the Environmental Protection Fund and its Open Space Account. This year’s budget contains $212 million for the EPF and $59 million for open space protection — land acquisition and conservation easements (purchase of development and recreational rights on private lands).
The Senate has proposed a $222-million EPF for the fiscal year that begins April 1, with little detail yet available on specific categories. The Assembly yesterday proposed an EPF of $168 million, with $44.3 million for land. The Governor — whose proposal came out first, back January, had proposed a $143-million EPF, with zero for land.
“Open space can provide a variety of public benefits, including storm water drainage and water management,” DiNapoli said. “Open spaces also provide a more direct economic benefit through tourism, agriculture and the forestry industry. All these benefits should be a factor in land use decisions from Montauk to Massena.” Here is an excerpt from Dinapoli’s press release on the report:
Agriculture is among New York’s largest and most vital industries, encompassing 25 percent of the state’s land and generating more than $4.5 billion for the state’s economy each year. In 2007, the income generated directly by farms, combined with income generated by agricultural support industries and by industries that process agricultural products, totaled $31.2 billion.
The study noted that open space contributes to the state’s economy by providing opportunities for outdoor recreational activities. DiNapoli also noted that open space often requires fewer municipal services than lands in other use and tend to generate more in municipal tax revenue.
Open space helps control storm water runoff, preserves surface water quality and stream flows, and aids in the infiltration of surface water to replenish aquifers. When lands are converted to other uses, the natural benefits provided by open space often must be replaced through the construction of water treatment facilities and infrastructure to control storm water, all paid for through local tax revenue. A series of studies have found the preservation of open space to be a more economical way to address storm water requirements.
DiNapoli’s report recommends that New York State consider:
* Allowing municipalities to establish community preservation funds
* Evaluating the adequacy of protections for lands providing benefits for municipalities
* Improving state-level planning for open space to address long-term funding needs
* Improving the administration of funds for open space programs
* Encouraging private land conservation
Map: 2009 APA Land Use Map