This week Governor Cuomo announced the launch of the 2016 Open Space Conservation Plan to serve as a blueprint providing recommendations and guidance for funding to preserve natural resources throughout New York State. This plan targets 140 priority projects that have been identified by 9 regional advisory committees, supporting Cuomo’s environmental goals.
The plan will take advantage of the Environmental Protection Fund, meeting several goals including ensuring clean water, air and land, greening NY’s economy, protecting natural resources, creating a 21st century parks system, and building resiliency against climate change and extreme weather events. In addition to the Regional Advisory Committee’s, there were five state agencies involved: the Department of Environmental Conservation; Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Department of State; Department of Agriculture and Markets; and Department of Transportation.
Open space is defined by the DEC as “an area of land or water that either remains in its natural state or is used for agriculture, free from intensive development for residential, commercial, industrial or institutional use.” Open space can be publicly or privately owned, and has no minimum or maximum amount of acreage. Open plots throughout cities can be deemed as open space, similar to fields or forests in suburban and rural areas.
The importance in preserving open space, and the importance of the new 2016 plan, highlights the services open space provide including: preservation of scenery, cultural, and historical values; production of food and forests; space for outdoor recreation; protection of ecosystem services; protection of plants, animals, and sensitive or endangered habitats; incorporation of green infrastructure; educational functions; and more.
Combined with protecting and conserving open space, there has been a big push for smart growth, or redirecting development away from undeveloped or protected lands and building stronger, more resilient communities. There is a strong emphasis on the relationship between the natural and built environments, incorporating a main question of “How do we use the land?”
The plan now incorporates the Cuomo’s increase of Environmental Protection Fund funding, which remains at $300 million, leading to $2.1 billion in benefits, based on the Trust for Public Land’s study on the benefits of EPF investments. In addition the plan needed updating to incorporate concerns about extreme weather events, resiliency, and grappling with the devastating effects of climate change.
Some of the primary projects, identified through a rigorous evaluation process, include the South Shore Estuary Reserve of Long Island; Community Parks in NYC; Great Lakes Shorelines; Niagara Escarpments; State Parks, Forests, and Wildlife Management Areas; the Hudson River Corridor; and the Fort Drum Army Compatible Use Buffer.
“New York’s open space conservation efforts are essential to improving the environment and economy of the state, and this new plan will guide our continued efforts to protect the state’s precious natural resources,” Governor Cuomo said. “From the Adirondacks to the Catskills to Long Island, New York has an abundance of natural resources and exquisite open spaces that we must protect for future generations to enjoy.”