Conserving Natural Areas in the Hudson River Valley

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Hudson RiverNet
News from the Hudson River Estuary Program

In This Issue

  • Conserving Natural Areas in the Hudson Valley
  • New Guidebook: Best Practices for Adopting Conservation Inventories and Plans
  • Putting Natural Areas and Habitat on the Map
  • Local Financing for Future Land Conservation
  • Return to In-Person Trainings
  • Helping Amphibians With Safe Passage

Conserving Natural Areas in the Hudson Valley

Image of a wetland.

From the shorelines of the tidal river to the distant ridges and mountains that define its drainage, the Hudson River estuary watershed is celebrated for its remarkable biological diversity. Forests, streams, fields, and wetlands weave a living fabric through our communities, sustaining an ecosystem that provides clean water, climate resilience, and outdoor enjoyment to residents.

The Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda 2021-2025 sets forth targets to protect this biodiversity through conservation of significant natural areas and wildlife habitat. In collaboration with Cornell University, the Conservation and Land Use team of DEC’s Estuary Program works to achieve this by helping municipalities to create plans and policies that incorporate current scientific information, conservation principles, and local and regional priorities. Much of our success is due to collaboration with communities and conservation partners from across the estuary watershed. To learn how to get involved, visit Conservation Planning in the Hudson River Estuary Watershed.

New Guidebook: Best Practices for Adopting Conservation Inventories and Plans

Cover of Best Practices guidebook

To further our support of local conservation planning, this year we completed a new publication to provide legal guidance and best practices for adopting and implementing natural resources inventories, open space inventories and plans, and critical environmental areas. Best Practices for Adopting Conservation Inventories and Plans (PDF) was developed in collaboration with Pace Land Use Law Center and will guide municipalities interested in taking “next steps’ to ensure their conservation inventories and actions have meaningful and intended outcomes. Along with procedural guidance, the publication includes many examples of policy language and local laws from Hudson Valley communities. View the recorded webinar with the lead author of Best Practices.

Putting Natural Areas and Habitat on the Map

Cover of Best Practices guidebook

In 2023, the number of municipalities creating and using natural resources inventories (NRIs) continued to grow. By mapping and describing a community’s resources—such as forests, wildlife habitat, soil types, and aquifers—NRIs provide a comprehensive and useful reference for anyone involved in making decisions about land use and land conservation.

With support from the Estuary Program and partners like Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County, the Town of Clinton, Town of Washington and Village of Millbrook, Town of Mount Pleasant, and City of Peekskill developed NRIs this year.

How are NRIs used by municipalities? In addition to helping landowners, developers, and local officials with site planning, NRIs provide an important foundation for identifying priorities and crafting municipal plans and policies to proactively protect what the community cares about.

This year, the Town of Poughkeepsie adopted a joint Natural Resources Inventory and Open Space Plan with funding from an Estuary Grant. The project included a map-based conservation analysis tool and identified key opportunity areas for land acquisition and trail connections. The Town of New Paltz used its NRI and Estuary Program assistance to draft a conservation overlay zone to increase protection of an area of high biodiversity value.

These projects contribute to our target of 25 new or updated conservation practices, plans, or policies completed by 2025, and our target to have 40% of municipalities use their NRIs for a conservation plan or policy. Since 2015, we’ve assisted 47 communities with creating NRIs and 34% percent have used these to implement plans or policies.

Local Financing for Future Conservation

For some municipalities, securing funds to protect priority lands and waters is a next step in their conservation planning process. This year, with Estuary Program assistance, the towns of Chatham in Columbia County and Philipstown in Putnam County adopted community preservation plans, providing a required step toward establishing community preservation funds. The City of Kingston in Ulster County completed a similar planning effort. These initiatives contribute to our 2030 target to help five watershed municipalities establish local land acquisition programs to advance their conservation priorities.

Sutherland Pond

Return to In-person Trainings

A group of people in a forest.

This year, we were delighted to bring back a full schedule of in-person training programs with attendance by more than 200 municipal officials, land trust staff, and environmental professionals, and hundreds more joined us for our Conservation and Land Use webinars (recordings are available on DEC's website).

  • In collaboration with Hudsonia Ltd., we offered the introductory training “Planning for Nature in Your Community” in Albany, Columbia, Orange, and Westchester counties, addressing how to get started with NRIs and open space planning.
  • Our series of programs about wetlands and streams included in-person as well as virtual sessions. In two field-based trainings co-led by Gretchen Stevens of Hudsonia, attendees sharpened their skills in recognizing small streams and wetlands and explored the value of these water resources. Emily Svenson, Esq, of Svenson and Gordon, joined us in offering three presentations throughout the valley, plus three webinars, to discuss the gaps in existing protection of wetlands and streams plus options for action at the municipal level.

The year is not over yet. We hope you will join us on November 14 for Municipal Options for Financing Open Space Protection, when leaders from Bethlehem, Kingston, New Paltz, and Red Hook will share their experience with local open space funding. Learn more about this program, and how to register, on the Events page of the Cornell University website - Conservation Planning in the Hudson River Estuary Watershed.

Helping Amphibians with Safe Passage

Two young girls in safety vests hold salamanders.

This year marked the 15th year of the Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project (AM&RC). Since the project started in 2009, more than 1,000 community volunteers have conducted surveys on rainy nights in early spring to document where migrating amphibians encounter roads on their breeding journey from forests to vernal pools. They observed 20 different species and tallied more than 65,000 amphibians and assisted more than 40,000 across roads. As the AM&RC project continues to grow, we’re working to engage more implementation partners, improve the volunteer experience, and apply the project data to achieve conservation outcomes. This year, we:

  • offered three AM&RC volunteer trainings, with 274 attendees (214 virtual and 60 in-person). Watch the recording of the virtual training | Webinar transcript (PDF).
  • launched a new-and-improved online volunteer data platform through a collaboration with the New York Natural Heritage Program
  • welcomed Town of Lloyd Conservation Board and Rensselaer Plateau Alliance to our AM&RC Project Partners group, and tested out new AM&RC Project Prioritization maps with all nine partners as a tool to build their capacity for local volunteer support and increase our understanding of conservation priorities.