Hoffman introduces HB 419, The Land Stewardship Bill

Representative Charlie Hoffman who served as the last chairman of the Land Stewardship Task Force has introduced HB 419, the first phase of the Task Forces’ legislative recommendation for a Land Stewardship program for the Commonwealth. This bill will create a Land Stewardship trust fund within the treasury to receive monies generated by the next, funding phase of the Task Forces’ recommendation. The monies will be automatically divided between the Purchase of Agricultural Easements (PACE)  program and the Kentucky Heritage Conservation Fund. The bill will also increase the membership of the Heritage Land Conservation Fund Board by two people, one being the director of the state Division of Forestry and the other a representative from a private land trust organization. This second appointment coincides with a change to the mandate of the Heritage Land Conservation Fund to accept grant applications from private, non-profit land trusts and conservation organizations. This expansion of the Boards’ mandate will allow for greater participation by the many private land trusts and PDR groups in Heritage Land fund projects. This is an important first step. Next session we will be seeking a long-term and significant source of funds for Land Conservation in the state and we will need everyone on board. It’s been a long process, but we are beginning to see increasing interest in a well funded program. HB 419 has been sent to the Appropriations and Revenue committee. Please leave an email message for Representative Rick Rand and ask him to hear this bill in committee and help move it through the process. {Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov}

Senate Bill 105 Runs “AFOWL” of local ordinances

Being a veteran of the “chicken” and “pig” wars of the 1990’s I think I know a “stinker” when I see one. This bill, which boasts 19 co-sponsors, looks like a good thing on the surface. I mean who wouldn’t want to see some basic standards of care imposed on the large confined animal feeding operations (cafo’s) that are cropping up like fetid blisters in the western part of the state. Seeing pork production facilities where the animal never sees the light of day, or sets foot on anything other than cold concrete or chicken houses that pack 100,000 chickens or more in cages with barely room to turn their heads will test the conscience of the most dedicated carnivore. Surely standards of care are needed. What is not needed in SB 105 is the prohibition put on local governments from setting standards of care for the people who have to endure these operations near their churches ,schools and neighborhoods. Local communities had protected themselves and their citizens from the worst abuses of stench, insects,noise and dust by passing nuisance ordinances requiring set-backs and other accommodations from the operators. This bill would declare any such ordinances unenforceable and prohibit the enactment of new ones.

I remember a representative of a large farm group back in the nineties telling a sympathetic agriculture committee that these “factory” farms were no different than any other farm. “Farmers are the original environmentalists,” he said. I got up to the table and asked for a show of hands of anyone who believed that 200 pigs on 200 acres was the same thing as 20,000 pigs on 200 acres. Not a hand went up. It’s ironic when I look at the names on this bill that so many of them have long been champions of the “home rule” concept, endorsing the power of local governments over the tyranny of big state and federal bureaucracies. I guess the message here is that home rule is O.K. for people but stops at pigs and chickens. Contact your legislator and tell them not to take the power of local rule away from the citizens and defeat SB 105.

Why we oppose HB 312

It’s difficult to explain the need for travel restrictions on State Nature Preserves. Why protect a beautiful, pristine area of the state and then prohibit taxpayers from enjoying it? The fact is of the 54 preserves in the state, 31 of them are open to the public, and only three of the 31 require appointments. All, however, disallow pets and anything other than foot travel. They also don’t allow camping, picnicking, rock climbing, collecting of rocks or plants, straying off the trails or any activity that could be destructive to the natural areas. This is consistent with the State Nature Preserves’ fundamental legislative mandate “solely to protect and preserve rare species and natural environment … and to protect the natural integrity of the preserves so they may be passed on, unimpaired, to future generations.” Nature Preserves are just what they say they are – preserves. They are living museums of the topography and natural communities that existed when settlers first arrived in Kentucky and the only homes left for some of the state’s most treasured native plants and wildlife.

So, what does KCC believe?

We believe: A.) That outdoor recreation, including equine recreation is a good thing; B.) That Kentucky needs to do much more in acquiring land for adventure tourism including areas for horse trail riding as well as ATV’s and other off-road vehicles; C.) That the 99% of land in the state not being used for nature preserves or sensitive wildlife areas should be considered for multiple uses such as those listed; D.) that state officials should work with trail riders to increase access to state owned lands wherever feasible; and E.) that a significant source of state funds should be dedicated to the acquisition of horse trails and other recreational lands.

What don’t we believe? A.)We don’t believe that we should make up for a denial of trail riding activities in a few isolated areas by changing the basic mandate of all nature preserves across the state. The riders themselves have admitted that there are only a few areas they would like to access at this time; B.) We also don’t believe that state nature preserves should be used as a focus for the development of a recreational trails industry in the state. Several of the presenters at the legislative hearing had financial interests in the trail riding industry. State Nature Preserves were created over 30 years ago by people whose only interests were in the preservation of unique and irreplaceable lands, and not in creating engines for economic development.

What can we do?

The KCC has been working for several years now in conjunction with other environmental and conservation groups to push for the creation of a Land Stewardship program for Kentucky. The legislature created a Task Force to address the issue. The final recommendation of the taskforce was for the creation of a Land Stewardship Fund within the treasury and for a constitutional amendment to increase the state sales and use tax by 1/8 % with the proceeds put into that fund and dedicated solely to land conservation, recreation and conservation programs. We estimate that this increase would bring in around $60 million annually. That would purchase or lease a lot of miles of horse trails. We believe that the people of this state will support this effort. Minnesota just passed a 3/8% sales tax increase; Missouri and Arkansas have similar programs.

We would welcome the Horse Council, and any other non-profit recreation or adventure tourism groups to join the KCC, Sierra Club, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, sportsman groups, farmers and conservation groups in getting this concept before the people. Representative Charlie Hoffman will be introducing a bill this week to accomplish the first part of this program. Hopefully next session we will be pushing the adoption of the constitutional amendment and we will let the people decide if they want more opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of their state on lands designed for that purpose.

Recreation Vs. Preservation

Letting people enjoy nature is a goal consistent with most Land Conservation programs. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is funded by outdoor recreators. Our Parks Department depends on visitors to pay the bills. But is recreation the only reason to preserve natural spaces. If you read the bodies of HBs 173 and 312 you would think so. Both of these bills make the main purpose of all state owned lands recreation and in the case of HB 173, economic development and tourism as well. Both bills require (in some form) land preservation agencies such as Forestry, or Kentucky Nature Preserves to defend any decision to prohibit recreational uses on their land. In HB 312 it’s equine recreation but in HB 173 it could also be ATV’s and other off-road vehicles.  The bills’ backers say that they won’t take away an agency’s ability to prohibit activities on sensitive lands but the onus is on the agencies to prove the need for restriction rather than on the recreators to request access to specific areas. The real problem with these bills is that they completely change the missions of programs like forestry,nature preserves and the Kentucky the Heritage Land Trust Fund. Both bills redefine all state owned lands as “State owned recreation lands”. By doing this they effectively redefine the missions of the above mentioned programs from protection of natural areas to economic development and tourism. These programs were created by the Legislature to protect unique and sensitive natural areas for future generations to enjoy. Many of these areas are already open to the public, some have restrictions, and some due to their delicate ecosystems are available only by request .  This is as it should be. The decision to alter access to these ares for recreational purposes should controlled by the agencies who hold title to the lands. If there are areas that are currently off-limits to equine trails then these should be discussed with The Department for Natural Resources and accommodations could be made, but don’t change the entire mission of land conservation and preservation programs across the state to accomplish it.Please contact members of the Tourism Development and Energy Committee ( Eddie Ballard chair) and opposes these bills as they are currently written.