photo credit: Dylan Medici
Open Space and Recreation:
Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Governor's Report on the New Jersey Outdoors
One Million Acres or Bust:
A Quarter Century of Open Space, Farmland, and Historic Preservation in New Jersey
In 1999, Governor Christine Todd Whitman signed the Garden State Preservation Trust Act, a law that set a goal of preserving one million more acres of open space, farmland, and historic structures, and provided funding through a dedication of a portion of the sales tax to bond up to $2.5 billion to purchase land or development rights, (re)build parks and recreation areas, and restore historic structures. The law resulted in over 350 municipalities and all 21 counties enacting an open space tax to supplement state funds and led to planning initiatives that enabled applicants to gain priority for funding decisions.
Over a decade later, the State Legislature and Governor approved a new funding source (i.e., the Corporate Business Tax), and in 2019, Governor Murphy signed P.L. 2019, c.136 using CBT revenues for FY 2020 and beyond for Green Acres,
Blue Acres, Farmland, and Historic Preservation. However, attention to open space, farmland, and historic preservation has waned as development pressure in suburban and rural communities subsided.
While 248,000 acres of farmland have been preserved since the program’s inception in 1983, making New Jersey a national leader in farmland preservation, we’re only half-way towards the goal of preserving the 500,000 acres needed to ensure a successful agricultural industry. Regarding open space, New Jersey has preserved 1.14 million acres for parks, wildlife areas, and other natural areas; however, significant lands with critical natural resources remain exposed to potential development with no real protection. And, year after year, we see Preservation New Jersey’s Top 10 List of Endangered Historic Places, reminding us that decay and disuse can rob us of our cultural assets. From publicly available GIS data, we’ve calculated that 171,800 acres of open space2 and 177,000 acres of farmland3 have been preserved since 2001. Thus, approximately 350,000
acres of open space and farmland have been preserved towards the total goal of preserving one million more acres.
Over 200 thousand acres with historic significance have been designated, but notall have been preserved.
“New Jersey has 4.8 million acres of land. In some areas of the state, nearly 90% of that land has been developed.”5 With approximately 1.6 million acres currently remaining that are neither preserved nor developed, how can we continue to expand and accelerate the pace of New Jersey’s open space, farmland and historic preservation?
As we celebrate 40 years of NJ’s Farmland Preservation program, can we wait another 40 years to preserve enough land to maintain a viable agricultural industry? Climate change is impacting New Jersey’s water quality and quantity, with wetter winters, drier summers, and more extreme storms and precipitation as the new normal threatening freshwater resources, can land based natural solutions help fortify the resiliency of urban and suburban communities?7 With a slowing pace of land preservation and Green Acres program acquisitions trending down, what modifications in funding, policy, and process are needed to both increase the efficiency, equity, and effectiveness of preservation programs?
This research project employs a policy-focused approach to review the initial goals of the Million Acre Initiative and utilizes quantitative and qualitative data to assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to open space/farmland/historic preservation in New Jersey, and proposes policy recommendations for better land use, increased open space, farmland, and historic preservation, as well as more efficient, effective and equitable green infrastructure investment.