Land near St Inigoes in St. Marys County that was bought under… (MD Department of Natural…)
Lawmakers are looking once again at diverting money used to spare Maryland's dwindling farmland and natural areas from development, environmentalists warn.
The Department of Legislative Services has recommended a 25 percent reduction in the $99.6 million proposed for new land conservation funding in next year's capital budget, according to Kelly Carneal of Partners for Open Space.
The analysts would take $9 million from Program Open Space, under which state and local governments buy land for parks, playgrounds and nature preserves, and a like amount from the Rural Legacy Program, which focuses on preserving forests, farmland and other natural areas. Another $5.4 million would be trimmed from the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, under which officials say the state has preserved more than 280,000 acres of croplands, pasture and woods on 2,100 farms.
Unlike previous raids on open-space and land preservation funding, legislative analysts aren't proposing to use the $26 million to fill other budget gaps this time. Instead they're recommending spending it on "shovel-ready environmental projects."
While that might seem like a fair trade-off to some, land preservation advocates contend it's short-sighted.
"Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn't the answer," argues Carneal in an email. "With conservation dollars at an all-time low, it is imperative to keep what little there is. Once this money is redirected, the fight to get it back could be never-ending."