To savor and save

When we love a place, it can be tough to balance the urge to savor it with the necessity of saving it for others to appreciate.

When we love a place, it can be tough to balance the urge to savor it with the necessity of saving it for others to appreciate. This November, Oregon voters have a chance to do both by voting on Measure 76, an initiative to divert 15 percent of lottery funds to support Oregon’s parks, waterways and native fish and wildlife habitats.

E.B. White said it well: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.”

With nearly 100,000 acres of parks—from high desert to lush forest to our 363 miles of (all public) coastline—Oregon has one of the best park systems in the country.

“Measure 76 protects what we love about Oregon—the outdoors,” said Jon Isaacs, executive director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. “This money builds skate parks and bike trails, cleans our rivers and beaches and keeps our trails open. Measure 76 makes sure that we all can go hiking, camping, surfing and kayaking without having to pay an arm and a leg.”

Though many of us are too young to remember, Oregon’s park system suffered during the ’90s. Facilities fell into disrepair and no new campgrounds had opened in nearly 30 years. In 1996, lack of funding nearly caused the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission to close 64 properties, but emergency funding by the Oregon State Legislature kept the parks open. In 1998, voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 66, which dedicated 15 percent of lottery funds to Oregon’s parks until 2014. Measure 76 renews this funding indefinitely; if voters reject the measure, this funding will disappear.

By anyone’s standards, things have improved since Measure 66 went into effect. The $100 million repair backlog is a thing of the past. Nearly 9,000 acres of parks have been added. However, crossing the border into California can remind us just how necessary it is to continue supporting our natural resources. After years of being chronically underfunded, California’s parks are showing their neglect. Parks have faced soft closures and reduction in services, and there is now a $1.3 billion maintenance backlog. If Measure 76 fails, Oregon’s park system could face similar problems.

And yet, I know, thousands of Oregonians are out of work. Our state budget is stretched thin. In a time of economic crisis, it is hard to ask voters to give to programs that aren’t specifically dedicated to job creation, education or social services. But voting “no” on Measure 76 won’t help any of our immediate economic needs. Even if voters reject 76, there will still be no money available to fund other programs; when 66 was passed, it stipulated that none of the funds could be diverted until the measure expired in 2014.

Though Measure 76 provides indefinite funding for Oregon’s natural resources, a proposed amendment will allow any dedicated funds to be diverted in times of economic crisis. Conservation groups across the state have pledged to support this amendment, to make sure that both the environment and the economic needs of Oregonians are protected. Natural systems don’t wait. We can’t withdraw funding and expect the environment to bounce back when money comes in again. If we use our parks, it’s our responsibility to support them.

And yes, we do use them. Oregonians rank third in the nation for total visits per state park acre, with 424 visits per acre from 2008–09 alone. In the same year, Oregon’s day-use sites were visited 40 million times. Environmental stewardship requires long-term vision and continued financial support—not just when it’s convenient or easy.

Respect Oregon by supporting its natural resources: Vote “yes” on Measure 76. ?