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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. More than 19 years ago, when I first ran for public office in the very densely populated State of New Jersey, I believed that we were not doing enough to preserve our precious farmlands and our vital open space. Upon being sworn in as a Member of the House of Representatives 6 years ago, I continued to advocate preserving open space, expanding our recreational lands, and protecting our natural resources. One of the highlights of my time here in Congress was the unanimous bipartisan support for the Highlands Conservation Act which became law back in 2004.
I especially want to commend my colleague from Morris County, New Jersey, Rod Frelinghuysen, for introducing that legislation back then and working diligently over the years to accomplish its passage.
Our commitment to preserving open space runs deep for us. However, more of our prized open space is being used up in our State and across the country every single day. So I'm pleased that this year, for the very first time, the Highlands Conservation Act was included in the fiscal year 2010 budget request. I applaud the President's request for recognizing the importance of the region as well.
However, while the Highlands Conservation Act has been authorized from the beginning at $10 million year, the region has so far received only $5.23 million in total over all those years. So I believe that my amendment, which provides simply an additional $2 million for land acquisition, would go a long way towards providing grants for willing sellers. It would help to preserve the remaining open space in the Northeast region and help protect cherished natural resources that are extraordinary environmental and recreational uses.
You see, this region is in the middle of one of the most congested areas of the country. Over one-twelfth of the U.S. population lives within just 1 hour of this area. Fourteen million people visit this area every year. Eleven million people rely on it for clean drinking water. And 150 species of special concern are in this area. As a matter of fact, the Forest Service stated recently that it is a ``landscape of national significance.''
So with that said, I also realize that there is an ever-increasing demand for all regions of the country, and that is why we have to make sure that the areas with the highest conservation values and greatest risk are being protected from being developed.
Preservation of the Highlands is neither a Republican or Democratic issue. It is a national issue. And that is why I'm proud to say that we joined with 22 of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in a letter to the Appropriations Committee back in April when we requested the full $10 million for this area.
I will just add this one caveat note. I do say this: That while working to protect open space, we must also ensure that we have an adequate opportunity for further economic development, especially now in the recession. It is important that we find a balance between protecting our cherished natural resources and promoting a strong economy.
So in closing, I would like to thank the chairman and the ranking member for understanding the significance of the Highlands region. I also would like to thank the numerous conservation groups that have supported this, including the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Highlands Coalition, the Wilderness Society, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, the Trust for Public Lands, the Friends of the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, and the Sierra Club of Northwest New Jersey.
Finally, throughout my entire life, I have had the opportunity to take advantage of all the natural resources the Highlands has to offer. I simply want to come here to Congress to ensure that other families as well will have that same opportunity in the future.
The critical lands of the Highlands must be protected. And it is our job to do that today.
I reserve my time.
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