Paying for a Healthy World

Paying for a Healthy World

I have a question for my fellow Connecticut citizens. How much do you think it costs each of us (i.e. state taxes per capita) to support our environmental programs, such as our parks and state forests, open space acquisition, wildlife management, and hunting and fishing activity?

Please select one of the figures at the end of this article.

But before the wild guesses fly, let’s consider the state of our environment. Despite being densely populated, Connecticut boasts impressive and diverse natural places, from upland forests and lowland salt marshes to wild and scenic rivers, pristine lakes, and expansive fields and meadows. You may not have spied an Eastern meadowlark, or a Yellow-breasted chat, or a Laughing gull – as yet anyway – but it’s nice to know that they are around, perhaps for our children and grandchildren to discover.

Most of us realize that with the re-growth of our woodlands many wild things have returned in force, including bear, fisher cat, bobcat, deer, wild turkey, moose, and that relatively new immigrant, the coyote. It’s a jungle out there. Forests covered just one quarter of the state in 1825, but today about 60 percent of Connecticut is classified as forestland, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Many birds species are doing better today, among them osprey, the bald eagle, and other raptors like red-tail hawks. When the top of the food chain is thriving that means prey species are doing well, too. While the health of Long Island Sound continues to face serious challenges, our inland wetlands and rivers are much cleaner than they were a generation or two ago, when we used them freely as dumping grounds for garbage and toxic materials.

Improvements aside, not all is well in the Great Outdoors. Many species are facing increasing challenges coexisting with us. For example, many song bird species in Connecticut are declining as they are elsewhere. Spring is not silent, but it’s getting quieter.

Perhaps the most obvious concern is the effect climate change is having on various habitats, especially coastal areas where rising sea levels and intensifying storm surges are a serious threat to Connecticut’s marshlands, as well as to our built environment. Don’t take my word for it: ask shoreline homeowners about their recent insurance bills.

When climate changed in the past, marshes could migrate with the water levels, but today our shorelines are no longer flexible: they have been hardened by roads, houses, and other development. If our remaining marshes are permanently inundated, they have nowhere to go. They will simply disappear, along with all the species that depend on them.

The status of our environment is not simply an aesthetic question. We, along with many visitors to our state, spend money to swim, sail, hunt, fish, hike, and watch birds here. In 2011, birders spent an estimated $41 billion nationally on their pastime and accounted for some 660,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Nearly 400 bird species frequent our state, but 19 are listed as endangered by the Connecticut DEEP and another 31 are classified as threatened or as species of concern.

It’s quiz time:

How much does each of us Connecticut residents contribute, on average, to the portion of the current DEEP budget devoted to environmental protection, according the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality?

A. $200 D. $50
B. $150 E. $25
C. $100 F. $10

If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has his way, we will be paying less next year. For example, among other cuts for environmental programs, the budget for Connecticut’s 107 state parks would be reduced by some 15 percent, leaving less than $12 million to manage them, likely resulting in cutbacks of services and some closures.

The answer is C. If you’re happy with this, clap your hands. If not, contact your state representatives and Gov. Malloy.