Roots and Shoots: Protecting Natural Resources by Conserving Land

HHLT has helped to preserve 1,300 acres

By Pamela Doan

In the third of a series of conversations with local leaders about critical environmental issues, Andrew Chmar, executive director, and MJ Martin, director of outreach and development of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, discuss how preserving land and smart growth protect natural resources.

Andy Chmar

Andy Chmar

Hudson Highlands Land Trust works with private landowners who want to preserve their properties and is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. HHLT has helped to preserve 1,300 acres from development in the Hudson Highlands. When land is preserved, the conservation easement creates a permanent stewardship plan that HHLT oversees. There are many rules about how conservation easements are formed and their purpose ensuring that the land meet certain public benefit and conservation standards.

The 1,300 acres that HHLT has worked with local landowners to conserve are critically important. “Those protected lands create positive natural resource protections,” Chmar said. “It improves clean water and helps protect drinking water supplies. A lot of work goes toward directly and indirectly protecting these open spaces and natural resources.”

Forests also help manage rainwater. In our changing climate in New York, over the past 60 years there has been more than a 70 percent increase in rainfall events when more than two inches falls in a 48-hour period, according to the National Climate Assessment. Forests capture that rainfall and decrease flooding.  Research from Cornell Cooperative University shows that when just 10 percent of forest cover is lost to development and impervious surfaces are created, flooding increases in frequency by nearly 30 percent.

Chmar noted that the greatest problem in our area was the altered landscape from invasive species. In our forests and waterways, invasive plants, wildlife and insects are crowding out and threatening the ecosystems of native species. The warmer temperatures are making a northward expansion easy to navigate. HHLT counsels landowners on stewardship plans to combat the impact of invasive species and helps to provide resources and this is an important front in the struggle to manage these issues.

The scenic beauty of our area is worth conserving. (Photo by P. Doan)

The scenic beauty of our area is worth conserving. (Photo by P. Doan)

The public benefits to staving off the threats of unchecked development come not only from the preservation of natural resources and adapting to climate change. In the Hudson Highlands, tourism and recreation drive our economy, which means that conserving land has an added benefit for our local vitality. Chmar said, “The public benefits undoubtedly through conservation easements. It helps protect the scenic enjoyment and protect the Hudson River. By protecting all of this scenic beauty, it serves to promote the idea that this is an area to attract tourists.”

Martin added that “Tourism and recreation are a $4 billion industry in the Hudson Valley. There are five state parks in this immediate area. Just look to the north and south to see what can happen if we don’t preserve the scenic beauty.”

HHLT promotes the idea of smart growth. Placing checks on development doesn’t mean that it’s stalled or prevented. It simply means that forests and wetlands and vistas are taken into consideration for the public good before new building is approved. As an environmental challenge, growth is one of the key issues we’ll face in the future.

“We always have to realize that growth has costs,” Chmar said. “For example, how many straws go in the ground in terms of wells and septic systems? This impacts ground water. Growth should be done in a manner that doesn’t materially and permanently affect the character of this community.”

The natural landscape is the sum of the future legacy we all contribute to leaving behind for future generations. What is at stake is determined by how we manage present moment issues in a way that ensures both preservation and conservation. It only takes a glance at news headlines to understand the crisis that develops when a watershed is contaminated like it was recently in West Virginia. Daily life grinds to a halt and fear and anxiety over the short and long term public health implications raise questions that might never be satisfactorily answered.

Careful planning mitigates these effects, if not entirely erasing them. Stop by a committee meeting some night when the Comprehensive Plan is being reviewed and add your voice to the discussion. It’s the place where decisions are made and that future legacy can be shaped.

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