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Government to spend $100 million acquiring mountain land
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
By Dan Shapley

President Bush has signed into law a plan to spend $10 million a year for 10 years buying land in the Highlands, a swath of the Appalachian Mountains through New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania that includes southern Dutchess County.

Another $1 million per year would fund Forest Service activities in the region.

A 2003 Forest Service study, which inspired the legislation, identified some 100,000 acres of prime forests, watersheds, wildlife habitat and scenic vistas in the New York-New Jersey Highlands in danger of being lost to development and should be protected.

Of 11 priority areas highlighted for conservation, two were in Dutchess -- the Depot Hill/West Mountain area through Pawling and Beekman, and the East Hudson Highlands in Dutchess and Putnam counties.

Land will only be bought from willing sellers.

N.J. to share in Highlands funding
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
STAFF WRITER (Bergen) Record

President Bush signed into law the federal Highlands Conservation Act on Tuesday, authorizing $110 million to preserve open space in New Jersey and three neighboring states now under relentless development pressure.

"This is an historic achievement," Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chief author of the Highlands Conservation Act, said in a statement. "We've established a national model for the preservation and protection of open space, drinking water supplies and recreational lands that our families will be able to enjoy for generations."

The act authorizes Congress to match $100 million in state open-space acquisition funds over 10 years. It also authorizes an additional $10 million for acquisition planning in the Highlands, a mountainous forested region of 3.5 million acres across North Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. The region provides water for 11 million residents, and is host to more than 200 plant and 50 animal species.

The Highlands Conservation law received strong, bipartisan support from New Jersey representatives. Frelinghuysen, a Morris County Republican, helped write the House bill. Democratic Sens. Jon S. Corzine and Frank R. Lautenberg sponsored the Senate version.

The federal act comes three months after former Gov. Jim McGreevey signed the state's Highlands preservation law. That measure severely restricts large-scale development across 395,000 acres in North Jersey's Highlands, which stretches from Bergen County through portions of Passaic, Morris, Sussex, Somerset, Warren and Hunterdon counties. It also allows property owners to sell protected lands to the state's Green Acres program, for a price based on land values before the measure.

The new federal conservation act will help stretch state dollars and is a "welcome boost," said Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"It should ensure stable funding to support our Highlands protection effort," he said. "The critical question going forward is whether the Bush administration will seek the appropriations that are needed to fund the legislation. ... That's the part of this we will be watching closely."

The federal funds will be included in the Department of the Interior's annual budget. Congress votes on that appropriation as part of the federal budget each year. It's up to local governments to identify eligible parcels; the governors' offices are responsible for submitting requests for the funding to the Interior Department.

In New Jersey, land parcels eligible for federal conservation dollars are not identical with the state's self-identified core preservation and planning Highlands areas. The federal funding is based on a four-state Highlands region map created by the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The region is densely populated, and about 84 percent of it is privately owned and could be developed. According to a federal study, more than 25,000 acres of forest in the Highlands were lost from 1995 to 2000.

"The federal act has great potential," said Tom Gilbert, executive director of the Highlands Coalition advocacy group. "These watersheds span state lines, and you can't always protect them fully by just looking within one state's borders. This is a recognition of the area as a national conservation priority."