State Launches Review of Open Space Conservation Plan

Articles | October 20, 2023

By Peter Aronson

New York State has announced that it is commencing its periodic Open Space Conservation Plan review. This comes at a crucial time with the climate crisis becoming increasingly urgent and the state vowing to protect 30 percent of its land and water by 2030.

“Land conservation is an essential tool in New York State’s comprehensive actions to address climate change and protect our natural resources,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. “As work begins to revise the New York State Open Space Plan, DEC and our State and local partners will look to both preserve our lands and waters for future generations while ensuring priorities and projects help to advance New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and align with the State’s efforts to conserve 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.”

On September 13, the DEC and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced the start of its open space plan review. Under the law, the state must review its plan every three years, relying on recommendations from nine Regional Advisory Committees (RACs). The RACs will recommend land acquisition priorities within their respective regions. The entire process is expected to take two years, with a public comment period expected in summer 2024 and a final plan in 2025.

Since 1992, the Open Space Conservation Plan has served as the blueprint to guide land purchases and conservation efforts by the state. The DEC website lists the state’s land purchases project by project, year by year. In 2022, the state spent more than $20 million in purchasing 5,057 acres in 44 separate transactions. The purchases ranged from 17.49 acres in the Adirondacks Forest Preserve for $500,00 to 925.68 acres in Hudson Highlands, in Putnam County, for almost $7.8 million. In 2021, the state spent more than $33 million in purchasing 16,997 acres. 

 “Open space is simply land or water that is undeveloped” – free from residential, commercial, industrial or institutional use, the DEC website explains. 

During the review process, staff from the DEC and the state Parks Department will collaborate with other state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and Markets, Department of State and Department of Transportation to make sure the conservation plan protects water and air quality, ensures environmental justice, and, of course, addresses climate change.

The plan will address crucial issues such as farmland protection, coastal land conservation and the connection of transportation to land use, the DEC press release states. 

Much of the funding for future land purchases will come from the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act passed by voters in November 2022. Specifically, the bond act authorizes $650 million for open space land conservation and recreation.

The review of the state’s Open Space Conservation Plan comes at a crucial time. The world just experienced its hottest summer in recorded history, dating to 1880, and recent droughts, floods and forest fires caused by global warming have caused death and destruction around the world. 

On December 23, 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an NYLCV Scorecard bill that established the state’s goal of conserving 30 percent of its land and water by 2030, in keeping with the U.S. goal. At that time, according to a detailed article in The Adirondack Almanack, the state had preserved 19 percent of its land as open space and that the review plan had provided a “well tested strategy and framework” for conserving land, putting New York ahead of many other states. 

“The last few years have dramatically underscored the need for open spaces and parkland to help moderate the negative impacts of climate change and provide people with places to get outside and escape the daily stress of life,” State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said. “We look forward to hearing from the public as we renew this statewide open space plan – and build on New York State’s outstanding legacy of land conservation and broad access to outdoor recreation.”

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