Indiana will commit $25 million toward acquiring land for conservation areas, nature preserves and parks — the largest single sum it has ever allotted toward conservation.
“This is the largest infusion of state funds dedicated to conservation in our state’s history. We have consistently lagged behind our neighbor states in available outdoor recreational opportunities. We hope to begin to close the gap with these funds,” Tom Laycock, director of land acquisition with the DNR, told Indiana Environmental Reporter.
The money comes from the Next Level Conservation Trust, which is a federal COVID-19 relief package and could be used for the expansion or creation of new and existing state and local nature parks, state fish and wildlife areas, wetlands, local conservation areas, river corridors, outdoor recreation areas and others.
“Everyone benefits from additional land conservation. Increased land conservation creates increased opportunities for outdoor activities and enjoying nature. It establishes and fortifies wildlife and water corridors in an otherwise fragmented landscape,” Andrea Huntington, executive director of the Indiana Land Protection Alliance, told Indiana Environmental Reporter.
The Next Level Conservation Trust will be established to ensure that Indiana's natural heritage is preserved or enhanced for later generations by acquiring real property or an interest in real property that is an example of outstanding natural features and habitats, has historical and archeological significance and provides areas for conservation, outdoor recreation, or the restoration of native biological diversity.
“Funding for land protection is a crucial public investment. In Indiana, outdoor recreation generates $15.7 billion in consumer spending annually,” Huntington said. “Funding for land conservation is an investment in both our economy, and our people. Ultimately, funding for land conservation means a higher quality of life for all Hoosiers.”
The DNR will begin taking applications for funding in July with an initial deadline of Aug. 1. The President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust will review applications quarterly following DNR’s deadlines. These meetings are open to the public.