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Conservation groups applaud Cuomo administration’s open space conservation plan

October 20, 2014 – A group of New York State’s leading conservation organizations today affirmed their support for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s draft statewide Open Space Conservation Plan and called for a renewed state funding commitment to implement the plan. Once finalized, the plan will guide New York State’s open space and farmland protection investments through the state Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and other sources of public and private funding.

Leaders from the Open Space Institute, Scenic Hudson, The Nature Conservancy, the Land Trust Alliance, the Trust for Public Land, the American Farmland Trust and the Finger Lakes Land Trust offered praise for the governor’s momentous plan which underscores the multitude of benefits derived by effective land conservation. The Cuomo plan underscores the importance of protecting natural resources and emphasizes the important role land conservation plays in promoting clean water and air, outdoor recreation, working farms, habitat protection and climate change mitigation.

In offering support for the draft plan, the groups also urged Governor Cuomo and other state leaders to renew the state’s financial commitment to land conservation, which has fallen sharply since the recession hit and has not rebounded. This year’s total of $51 million in funding for land conservation programs within the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) through the state land conservation, farmland protection and municipal parks programs, stands at just 50 percent of what it was in 2008-09.

In order to reverse the funding trend and achieve the governor’s plan, the groups urged that the EPF be increased from $162 million to $200 million in the next state fiscal year. Within the expanded Fund, the groups urged land conservation funding programs be increased by $26 million (including a $10 million increase for the state land conservation program; an $11 million increase for the farmland protection program; and a $5 million increase for the municipal parks program).

“Governor’s Cuomo’s Open Space Conservation Plan outlines a land conservation agenda in keeping with our time; connecting land conservation to protecting our natural resources, promoting public access to parks, protecting farmland and responding to the effects climate change is having on ecosystems and habitats,” said Erik Kulleseid, senior vice president for the Open Space Institute. “The governor’s plan provides a terrific framework and we urge him and state leaders to renew New York’s commitment to investing in land conservation in a way that will achieve the goals set out in the plan.”

“The Nature Conservancy commends Governor Cuomo, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens and Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey for crafting a new Open Space Conservation Plan that captures the critical benefits land conservation provides our state. New York’s land conservation program generates a $7 return for every $1 invested while creating jobs, buffering communities from extreme weather, protecting natural resources and improving our quality of life. We look forward to working with the Governor and other state leaders to enhance funding for this program in the coming budget to achieve these goals for all New Yorkers,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar, Director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy in New York.

“New York State and the Hudson Valley are ripe with opportunities to implement Governor Cuomo’s Open Space Conservation Plan. Doing so will provide a multitude of benefits – designing resilient waterfronts in the face of sea level rise and destructive storms protects property values, while conserving the region’s farmland secures access to fresh, local food and the jobs of our food economy. New York State is fortunate to have such visionary planning document in place that shows us the path toward a vibrant and economically productive future,” said Ned Sullivan, President of Scenic Hudson.

“Governor Cuomo's Open Space Plan sends a clear message that New York must protect the land that is needed for our farmers and food businesses and to make farming and our food supply more resilient to severe weather. We look forward to working with Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to securing the state funding and taking other steps that are necessary to put this plan into action,” said David Haight, New York State Director, American Farmland Trust.

“Renewed investment from the Environmental Protection Fund will leverage a highly capable network of local, regional and statewide land trusts and other community partners. New York's 90+ conservation organizations, from Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust to the Western New York Land Conservancy, are dedicated to assisting families and local communities across the state. We greatly appreciate Governor Cuomo’s efforts to restore the Fund, and we look forward to doing what we can as partners to advance the state’s ambitious open space goals. Working together, we are building on a century of forward-thinking stewardship and collaborative land conservation in New York,” said Ethan Winter, New York conservation manager for the Land Trust Alliance

“The Governor’s Open Space Plan clearly outlines the steps that are needed to ensure the future of lands that are vital to both our quality of life and our economy here in the Finger Lakes Region. We applaud the priorities highlighted in the plan–specifically the conservation of prime farmland; lands that provide clean water to our lakes; and lands that provide outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation to residents and visitors alike. To achieve the ambitious goals laid out in the plan, however, we must make a greater commitment to funding these projects through the state's Environmental Protection Fund,” said Andrew Zepp, executive director of the Finger Lakes Land Trust.

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