O'Malley recognizes the need to conserve our environment

Maryland's land conservation programs do much more than protect our state's natural resources. They also create jobs and fuel economic growth. That is why we heartily support their full funding in this year's budget ("O'Malley offers $37.3 billion plan," Jan. 17).

Research shows that towns located near state parks benefit greatly from the parks' proximity. Business people in these towns report that park visitors often shop in the town and patronize restaurants and hotels.

Other studies document that investments in land conservation generate as much as a 10-to-1 return in the form of public benefits, including jobs in tourism, agriculture and forestry. Conservation also protects drinking water, agricultural land, recreational opportunities, fisheries and wildlife habitat.

Conserved lands benefit Chesapeake Bay restoration and conservation efforts because they filter water and trap carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and silt. They protect valuable farmland and forests from development, ensuring a sustainable natural resource base that is a major driver for the state's economy.

Maryland's land conservation programs — Program Open Space, Rural Legacy and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund — are a solid investment in our natural resource, tourism and recreation sectors. They give us a place to camp, hunt, fish and play. They also yield dividends for communities across the state and preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of our environment.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has again made the wise choice to fully fund these programs in his budget. We applaud his leadership on this important economic and environmental issue, and we urge the House and the Senate to support full funding for land conservation in the budget.

Joel Dunn

The writer is executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy and chairman of Partners for Open Space.

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