INHABITAT by Teresa Bergen
While it took a long time to determine the new president of the U.S., the environment was a clear winner in many smaller elections this year. Many of the 49 conservation-focused measures on the ballots in 19 states have passed.
The year of sheltering in place seems to have heightened people’s appreciation of open space for recreation. “During the current pandemic we have seen that our parks and public lands are more important than ever for people to safely get outside for their physical and mental health,” Will Abberger, director of conservation finance at the Trust for Public Land, said in a statement.
This love of land took many forms. In Denver, voters approved a “climate sales tax” that could generate $800 million over the next two decades. The tax is earmarked for climate projects in minority and/or low-income communities. Oakland passed a $725 million school bond for green schoolyards. Montana voters endorsed legalizing recreational marijuana, with taxes going to land conservation.
“The ballot measures approved by voters will provide more equitable access to parks, protect air and water quality, help address climate change, and protect critical wildlife habitat in communities across the country,” Abberger said.
In Colorado, one conservation measure was running about as close as the presidential race. Proposition 114 would reintroduce gray wolves into Colorado’s western mountains. This measure was more popular with urban environmentalists than with the ranchers and hunters likelier to encounter the wolves. Critics called the measure “ballot box biology.” When opponents conceded the race, the wolves were leading by half of one percentage point. Colorado is the first state to decide to reintroduce gray wolves by popular vote rather than by a decision by the federal government.
It’s a sweet victory for the wolves after Trump axed them from the endangered species list. Somewhere in the west, you might hear a celebratory howl about who won … and who lost.