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NY Announced New Land Conservation Grants. But Is the State Doing Enough?

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Sean Mahar, interim commissioner of the DEC, announced $3 million in statewide funding for land conservation. 
Photo: Emily Russell

Land conservation groups play a key role in expanding public access to trails and open spaces around New York. The state has been partnering with those groups for decades and just announced $3 million for 64 land projects this week. But some environmentalists say New York isn’t doing enough to protect and preserve land.

The DEC has been partnering with land trusts and conservation groups for decades, doling out about $30 million over that time. Groups like the Genesee Land Trust in the Finger Lakes and the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust in the North Country are recipients of the latest round of funding. 

The DEC’s new interim commissioner Sean Mahar was in Saranac Lake earlier this week to highlight funding for land conservation groups in the Adirondacks and around New York State.

"You’re seeing conservation work get done on the ground, everything from community gardens to open space acquisitions to trail improvements to more opportunities to get people outside enjoying places like the Adirondacks all across the state.”

Land is managed by trusts and conservation groups in different ways- sometimes they sell it to New York State and other times land trusts hold onto those properties, like the Glenview Preserve, a 238-acre plot of land just north of Saranac Lake. 

Glenview Preserve is owned and managed by the Adirondack Land Trust, which is getting $100,000 in state grant money this year.  “A lot of folks know it as the place where you get that great sweeping view of Whiteface and the McKenzie Range," said Chris Jage from the Land Trust. "It’s a place, since we acquired it in 2016, we’ve always wanted to open it up to the public.”

The Adirondack Land Trust has done some minor work on the property since 2016, including mowing, promoting pollination, monitoring birds, and picking up trash. But Jage said the ultimate goal is to build about 2 miles of trails in a way that expands access to all.

"It’s one thing to open up lands for recreation, we have a lot of those opportunities here in the Adirondacks," said Jage, "but to do something that’s fully accessible for people of all ages, people of all abilities and people of comfort levels out in nature. So what we’re able to do with this funding is to sort of kick it up to a different level.”

Jage said they plan to use the money to begin development on the property and leverage more funding for the preserve.

There has been some criticism about how land conservation in New York has slowed. In the early 1990s, New York was conserving about 70,000 acres a year. More recently, that dropped down to about 5,000 acres a year.

Jessica Ottney Mahar from the Nature Conservancy testified at a legislative budget hearing in February. She’s married to Sean Mahar, though her testimony came before her husband was appointed to lead the DEC. Ottney Mahar criticized the state’s land acquisition program.

“It is absolutely broken," said Ottney Mahar. "We are acquiring land at a very slow pace at this point for several years now and we really need to pick up the pace of conservation if we are going to meet our climate goals and our conservation goals.” 

This article was originally published on NCPR.