September/October Partnership Update

October 1, 2020
I do not need to tell regular readers how important working together is. You already know how important it is to continue investment in building the South Mountain community that celebrates this place and takes actions to secure its future.
But do you think that your friends and family and – perhaps more importantly right now – your elected municipal officials, county commissioners, and state representatives know and understand how important it is for us to continue working together? Do they know that our network partners (you) do much of the conservation, recreation, and preservation work that keeps the region beautiful, property values high, quality of life high, and cost of living low? (See also the Cumberland County Return On Environment Report and the forthcoming Franklin County Return on Environment Report.)
Do they know that we and many partners work together and depend on special funds like the Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund to do this work and that there is no backup source of funding available to us?
Ezra Thrush of Penn Future discussed at our Fall Partnership Meeting the potential state budget cuts this fall and winter that could exacerbate the financial state of conservation and preservation agencies and organizations, including the South Mountain Partnership and many partners, including municipalities, counties, water authorities, County Conservation Districts, farmland preservation programs, land trusts, recycling programs, non-profits, and academic institutions. He also highlighted the Green Stimulus and Recovery plan that lays out how to invest in our homegrown sustainable industries like nature-based, outdoor tourism, agriculture, and renewable energy businesses and allow those industries to lead our regional and state recovery.
Andrew Loza of WeConservePA highlighted that, should anything change about the distribution of the Environmental Stewardship Fund or Keystone Fund, our region would be disproportionately affected. We do not have large donors or foundations to provide any replacement funding should these special funds be redirected to general state government budget items or distributed in a different way. Our region’s clean water, farmland preservation, recycling, stewardship, green infrastructure, and conservation landscape work would be disproportionately affected by such an action and could grind to a halt.
Loza said “This is a very dangerous time. The worst I’ve seen in at least 20 years. They [legislators] need to hear from their constituents on how important this is.” He recommended that partners work together by meeting with their legislator (find your legislator here) to request that special funds, like the Environmental Stewardship Fund and Keystone Fund, be left “as-is” so that conservation, recreation, and preservation work in the region can continue. Legislators don’t need to take any new actions, he added, and shouldn’t change the current ways in which environmental work is being funded.

Pennsylvania Constitution: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.” Learn more here.  

Many decisions are being made right now that will either move your communities and this region further from or closer to the sustainable future that we all want and envision for the South Mountain landscape — a landscape of conserved resources and vibrant communities sharing a common sense of place and collaborating on well-planned growth and sustainable economic development.
As I always remind you, this is not an either/or scenario. We can attain the vision above while building wealth and equity through thoughtful, innovative policies that balance recreation and conservation with development and commerce.
Are you willing to work with one another and legislators, decision makers, and elected officials to ensure that we can continue this work? Please take the first step by considering meeting with or writing to your PA House Representative about sustaining conservation, recreation, and preservation funding. You can find your local legislator here, including their contact information for scheduling a meeting. I have created this handy template to help get your started with an email or letter.  Consider letting me know when you have met or have sent an email or letter!
My Best,
Katie Hess
Director, South Mountain Partnership