This issue brief explores the potential of conservation-related ballot measures as a tool to protect forests. It defines conservation-related ballot measures, summarizes their nationwide track record, assesses their application in the Southern United States, and makes recommendations to increase their utilization in the South in the future.
- Logan Yonavjak, Business Development Officer, New Ventures
A variety of measures exist to prevent deforestation or forest conversion to other land uses. Some of these measures, such as purchasing land outright for conservation or purchasing conservation easements, are designed to permanently protect forests by precluding future residential or commercial development on the tract of land. But these approaches all require money.
One approach to raising large-scale funding for conservation purposes is the conservation-related ballot measure. Citizens vote for such measures at the state, county, or municipal level to approve new public funding dedicated to conservation for a wide variety of purposes, including protection of natural landscapes, bodies of water, and/or farmland. Ballot measures are a means of securing citizen approval for raising public funds for conservation. The funds are then generated through various mechanisms, such as bonds, taxes, and lottery proceeds.
Conservation-related ballot measures in the United States have a successful track record. Between 1988 and 2010, 76 percent of proposed measures passed, securing more than $58 billion for conservation.
During this same time period, conservation-related ballot measures raised approximately $7.5 billion in the U.S. South. However, support for such measures varied greatly among southern states. For instance, to date, more than 80 measures passed at the municipal, county, and/or state level in Florida as well as in Texas, while no measures passed in either Mississippi or Kentucky.
Conservation organizations, citizens, land-use decision makers, and others can take several steps to increase the utilization of this promising approach and ensure the funds raised are used most effectively, including:
- introduce more conservation-related ballot measures;
- leverage existing “best practice” guidance on how to design and successfully pass conservation-related ballot measures;
- continue to utilize bonds but consider other financing mechanisms, too, where applicable;
- include safeguards to ensure funds remain dedicated to conservation;
- use funds to purchase conservation easements to help maximize cost-effectiveness;
- use funds, where appropriate, to maintain working forests, not just create parks; and
- target areas with high development pressure.