Big Wins at the Ballot for the Delaware River Watershed (and for People and Birds)
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Black-throated Blue Warbler. Photo: Skyler Kardell/Audubon Photography Awards
On Election Day, voters in the Delaware River Watershed decided to invest in and protect wildlife, water, and the environment close to home.
In New York, voters overwhelmingly approved the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act with over two-thirds of New Yorkers voting in favor. The Bond Act, previously proposed in 2019, will provide $4.2 billion to mitigate the effects of climate change, improve water quality and water infrastructure, address the effects and risk of flooding, and support open space land conservation and outdoor recreation. At least 35% of the funding is set aside for economically disadvantaged communities.
In the watershed, this funding provides a historic opportunity to invest in the water quality and infrastructure that supplies New York City with millions of gallons of drinking water every day. The Bond Act may also prove to be an important funding stream for conservation projects in the upper watershed. Audubon’s Harvests for Habitat program, which receives funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is one such project that enables cross-industry collaboration to improve bird habitat through financial incentives and forest management in the upper Delaware River Watershed.
In Pennsylvania, over 80% of voters in Carbon County also said ‘yes’ to a ballot question allowing the county to raise $10 million in bonds over 20 years to protect wildlife habitat, drinking water, and working farms. Agriculture and outdoor recreation are essential to Carbon County’s culture and economy: Carbon Country is home to over 20,000 acres of productive farmland as well as multiple state parks and nature trails that offer residents and tourists unique access to natural beauty and wildlife. Outdoor recreation alone contributes $36 to $108 million to the county’s economy annually and a total estimated return on the environment of $800 million annually in avoided costs for natural systems services, air pollution removal, and revenue from outdoor recreation, local and state taxes, and increased tax revenues from real estate premiums. These bonds will empower Carbon County to protect these valuable natural resources for years to come. Carbon County will also be able to use this funding to secure additional federal and state investments for an even greater conservation impact.
The Horseshoe Crab Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission also voted in November to approve a 2023 harvest limit of 475,000 male Delaware Bay horseshoe crabs and zero female crabs. The management board cited the considerable public concern regarding a female harvest as a contributing factor in their decision. Audubon supported this vote outcome, but recognizes additional conservation measures may be necessary in the future.
Horseshoe crabs are harvested for use as bait in commercial fishing and by the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries which use horseshoe crab blood to test product sterility. Horseshoe crabs are an essential food source for the threatened Red Knot which relies on horseshoe crab eggs to fuel its 9,000-mile-long migratory journey along the Atlantic coast. The Delaware Bay has always been one of the most notable habitats for horseshoe crabs in the United States, but overharvesting in the 1990s led to significant population decline from which they are still recovering.
Delaware River Basin Restoration Program
This year, the National Audubon Society looks forward to advancing federal legislation to extend and fund the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which supports land and riparian habitats throughout the Delaware River Basin. Legislation passed in the House of Representatives last year (sponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA) and Delaware River Watershed Caucus Co-Chairs, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE)) would have reauthorized the program through 2030 and decreased the financial burden on small, rural, and disadvantaged communities unable to meet the original match requirements of the program. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass in the 117th Congress, but Audubon looks forward to working with our coalition partners to advance it in the 118th Congress. . The DRBRP is currently authorized to run through 2023 and received $11.5 million in FY23.
In 2022, the DRBRP’s Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund awarded $13.8 million to 36 conservation projects in the watershed–this includes additional funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Biden signed into law in 2021. Since the DRBRP first received federal funding in 2018, the program has awarded $40.4 million to 159 projects.
Audubon is proud to work collaboratively to achieve these victories. We’re thrilled the people of New York and Pennsylvania reaffirmed their commitment to a sustainable future for birds and people. We look forward to supporting state and federal policy efforts in 2023 to protect this critical watershed and all of its vital resources.