Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) joined officials from the USDA Forest Service today in Ringwood State Park in the NJ Highlands to announce the release of the final report on the NY-NJ Highlands Regional Study. Rep. Frelinghuysen was instrumental in securing the funding to conduct the study.
The final report reaffirms the “national significance” and threatened nature of the Highlands. The more than 2 million acre Highlands region stretches from Pennsylvania to Connecticut and provides a greenbelt to the sprawling Philadelphia, New York and Hartford metropolitan areas. Nearly 25 million Americans live within an hour’s drive of the region, and over 15 million people rely on forested watersheds and reservoirs in the Highlands to supply and protect their drinking water.
Some of the key findings of the final report include:
- Less than half of the region’s 540,000 acres of important conservation lands are protecte
- 64% of the region’s critical watershed lands are unprotected
- Current population is likely to increase by as much as 48%
- Over 5,000 acres of open space were developed annually between 1995 and 2000
- Water quality and quantity will be severely impacted if current trends continue
- 100,000 acres of priority lands are facing imminent development pressure.
“The report serves as a reminder of what is at stake in the Highlands region and the need for urgent action at all levels of Government to safeguard the critical lands and waters identified in the report,” said Tom Gilbert, Executive Director of the Highlands Coalition, a consortium of over 100 organizations working to protect the region. “Despite strong public support for stronger measures to protect the region, such recommendations are absent in the final report. That challenge now rests with the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior who are developing recommendations to Congress in response to the final report.”
“The Highlands Coalition estimates that protection of the highest priority lands in the NY-NJ Highlands could cost as much as $750 million,” said Jim Tripp, General Counsel for Environmental Defense, and Chair of the Coalition’s Board. “The final report references the preservation of Sterling Forest as a model for the kind of state and federal partnership that could be employed to conserve these lands. The missing ingredient is federal funding, which is why we are so pleased that Rep. Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Senator Corzine (D-NJ) intend to reintroduce the Highlands Stewardship Act, which would provide as much as $25 million annually from the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund to help the Highlands states protect the critical treasures of the Highlands. We are hopeful that Rep. Engel (D-NY), Rep. Garrett (R-NJ), Rep. Kelly (R-NY), Rep. Ferguson (R-NJ) and the entire Highlands delegation will cosponsor and work for passage of this important legislation.”
“But increased federal funding alone won’t save the Highlands, said Michele Byers, Executive Director of the NJ Conservation Foundation, and Vice-Chair of the Coalition. “Governor McGreevey has committed an additional $50 million to land protection in the NJ Highlands towards the goal of protecting 45,000 acres in the next three years. He has also recognized the importance of regional planning, and of strengthening the hands of counties and municipalities to plan for and manage growth. Now the Federal Government and the other Highlands States must do their part. As the recent drought crisis warned us, there is very little time to lose.”