2017-04-22 / Viewpoints

Earth Day more than a slogan

BY TIM HERD

(Tim Herd is CEO of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society of State College, a statewide association supporting those working and volunteering in the parks and recreation field.)

In the April 15 edition of Endeavor News, Adam Garber from PennEnvironment made a compelling case for continuing the protections under the federal government’s Clean Water Rule.

His points are valid, but the battle for environmental health and sustainability is broader than that and one of its playing fields is in Harrisburg. Here are some things to consider on this Earth Day (April 22).

A majority of Americans tell pollsters they want their governments to prioritize practices such as water quality monitoring, green space assessment, urban planning, and eco-friendly buildings and lawn upkeep. Some 83 percent say that local governments must prioritize environmental initiatives.

While many environmental stewardship choices continue to be made on the consumer level, a large majority Americans say they recognize that government funding is the difference-maker in improving our environmental health and sustainability.

Park and recreation agencies are leaders in promoting the protection of our environment, embracing practices that include conservation of public land, protection of wildlife habitats, and the use of green infrastructure. Yet the lack of adequate funding resources substantially hinders the progress of most agencies.

Our Pa. General Assembly will soon have an opportunity to both prioritize and fund a Growing Greener 3 program by investing more than $300 million annually for conservation, recreation and preservation projects.

The need is clear:

• More than 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams and rivers are not safe for drinking or recreational use and cannot support aquatic life.

• The majority of the state’s 6,000 local parks and more than 11,000 miles of trails need significant upgrades to remain safe, clean and ready-to-use.

• Abandoned mines scar 189,000 acres in 43 of our 67 counties, causing 5,500 miles of dead streams.

• Some 1,500 family farms remain on a waiting list to be protected and preserved.

Protecting our land, wildlife and heritage of abundant and clean natural resources strengthens the entire economy and supports thousands of jobs. The recreation industry alone accounts for $6.4 billion of tourism spending in the state. For every dollar invested in our state parks, $12 is generated in economic benefits for the surrounding communities.

Access to well-maintained parks, trails and open space is good for our physical and mental health and is proven to reduce health care costs by encouraging exercise and other healthy lifestyle choices.

A 2014 Penn State University poll found that 97 percent of Pennsylvanians think that state funds dedicated to preserving open space and farmland, providing parks and trails, and protecting rivers and streams should continue to be used for these purposes.

Furthermore, 82 percent of survey respondents support increasing state funds for these purposes even if that would cost the average household $10 more annually.

Today’s convergence of indisputable reason and popular support make this Earth Day and every day the right time to renew our resolve and prioritize our future for environmental health and sustainability.

Urge your Pennsylvania legislators to support Growing Greener. For more information, visit GrowingGreener3.org.

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