WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), along with U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), on Wednesday introduced legislation to reauthorize the Highlands Conservation Act, which would allow states to access matching federal funding for projects to promote conservation, tourism, and recreation in the region. The Highlands Region of the Northeastern United States consists of forested mountains and hills stretching from Connecticut, through New York and New Jersey, to Pennsylvania. This legislation will give these four states resources to conserve land and natural resources, particularly a clean water supply that is essential for serving more than 20 million people in the densely populated areas around the Highlands Region. U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.-18) will introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Highlands are over 3.5 million acres of valuable land that house diverse wildlife species and provide clean drinking water to one of the most populated areas in the country. On the Senate Appropriations Committee, I've been working to secure funding to preserve this critical ecosystem in Connecticut, but we must keep making progress,” said Murphy. “That’s why I’m introducing legislation to continue promoting economic growth in the Highlands while protecting its natural resources. The people of Connecticut know just how special this area is to our state, and we must continue bringing that message to Washington so we can protect and preserve this precious resource.”

The Highlands Conservation Act would secure more resources to help preserve the picturesque mountains, hills and waterways—boosting tourism and recreation, creating jobs, and ensuring that this region remains an environmental treasure for years to come. From hiking trails to clean water, the Highlands Region is full of treasured, historic natural resources that are enjoyed by many residents in Connecticut and the surrounding area,” said Blumenthal.

“The Highlands are one of our most special national environmental resources, and we must continue to protect the beauty of the region for generations to come,” said Gillibrand. “Reauthorizing the Highlands Conservation Act will ensure our communities have the resources they need to preserve local forests, waterways, and open spaces, while promoting the tourism and recreational activities that are so important to economic growth. Especially at a time when communities are struggling, ensuring that these federal resources are available to help sustain tourism economies is crucial. This legislation will continue successful public-private partnerships in the four-state Highlands region and strengthen the local economy.”

“The Highlands Region provides many essential resources for Pennsylvanians and to the millions who live throughout the four-state region,” said Casey. “Reauthorizing the Highlands Conservation Act is critical to protecting these valuable resources, ensuring we are able to provide access to clean drinking water, preserve wildlife habitats and strengthen our outdoor recreation and tourism economies for many years to come.”

“We are stewards of the Hudson Valley’s environment, and it’s our job to preserve New York’s great outdoors for our kids and grandkids to enjoy for generations to come. Reauthorizing the Highlands Conservation Act is key to ensuring our state has the ability to protect our environment and our drinking water by conserving natural resources and land right here in the Hudson Valley,” said Maloney. 

The Highlands is a nationally significant landscape that yields benefits and resources to more than 11 million Americans. First authorized in 2004 at $10 million per year for 10 years, the Highlands Conservation Act authorization expired at the end of Fiscal Year 2014. To date, the program has protected more than 5,900 acres of conservation land in the Highlands Region of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut and leveraged $17.25 million in federal funding with an additional $34.4 million in non-federal matching funds. This legislation introduced today:

  • Reauthorizes program through 2028 with $20 million in annual funding (as compared to $10 million annual level today).
  • Includes a petition process where states could petition for new areas to be included in the Highlands region, thus allowing for expansion of the eligible area.
  • Allows municipalities and counties to hold title to lands protected by the program. 

This legislation is supported by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Highlands Coalition, Land Trust Alliance, Housatonic Valley Association, Litchfield Hills Greenprint Collaborative, Connecticut Land Conservation Council, Harlem Valley Conservation Alliance, Scenic Hudson, Hudson Highlands Land Trust, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Putnam County Land Trust, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Highlands Coalition, The Land Conservancy of New Jersey, Natural Lands, and Cooks Creek Watershed Association.