Reflections on conservation in 2011

It has been nearly 40 years since OSI first set out to protect open space in New York’s Hudson River Valley. In the years since, our efforts have multiplied many times over—from expanded geographies in New York State to a loan and grant program that has saved huge swaths of forest in New England and today stretches from Georgia to Canada.

And while much has changed in the world over the last four decades, some fundamental truths remain the same: people everywhere continue to turn to the outdoors for recreation and renewal. It is this restorative spirit, found nowhere but in the natural world, which gives both meaning and urgency to our work here at the Open Space Institute.

As 2011 gives way to 2012, we hope that you will help the Open Space Institute continue to protect the lands you love in the coming year by making your tax-deductible year-end gift.

Preserving Farmland, Rail Trails and History in New York State

In New York State, where OSI directly acquires land, 2011 was an exceptional year. Guided by expert analysis and thoughtful consideration of communities’ long-term goals, OSI protected 2,882 acres in New York State this year, including almost 1,527 acres of farmland. (Jan. 2012)

No acquisition was any bigger than the purchase of more than 1,000 acres in Ulster County, much of it also productive farmland.

In back-to-back transactions, OSI acquired 874 acres on the eastern escarpment of the Shawangunk Ridge from Smiley Brothers, Inc. and then purchased 144 additional acres from the Valley Farms Corporation. Together, the acquisitions protected one of the most well-known and beloved landscapes in the Hudson Valley.

We now focus on retaining the character that for generations has made this such a special place. In 2012, OSI will explore a number of stewardship possibilities for the properties, including continued sustainable farming, as it seeks to maximize the vast recreational, historic and agricultural value of the lands.

Other 2011 accomplishments included the first stages of the restoration of the 115-year-old Rosendale Trestle, located high above the Rondout Creek along the extended Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, and the purchase of the 119-acre Joppenbergh Mountain, which sits along the Rail Trail near the north end of the Trestle. OSI also added three miles of trail from the old O&W rail bed in Mamakating, NY. OSI and its partners envision one day completing a 140-mile-long interconnected rail trail network that would run from southern Dutchess County, through Ulster, Sullivan and Orange counties and on to the southern and western Catskills.

In the Capital region, a 333-acre acquisition that preserved an 18th century historic homestead in one of the Hudson Valley’s first settlements. 

OSI also maintained its longtime emphasis on farmland preservation this year by identifying new funding sources that helped save three farms totaling more than 400 acres in Sullivan, Ulster and Orange County, respectively.

OSI’s acquisition efforts are in many cases building blocks which help communities shape sustainable visions for the future. In 2011, our research explored long-term sustainability for the Catskills by studying the delicate balance between smart growth and appropriate conservation.

Fighting Climate Change by Preserving Wildlife Habitat

In 2011, through 28 grants and one loan, OSI protected over 13,000 acres in 6 states and provinces with a total fair market value of over $30 million in 2011. (Jan. 2012)

In Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, OSI’s Saving New England’s Wildlife program continued to make grants that helped protect 5,710 acres of critically endangered wildlife habitat. A grant to The Trust for Public Land helped preserve a 2,920-acre New Hampshire tract as both an addition to the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and part of a network of more than 80,000 acres of conserved land in New Hampshire and Maine. A list of completed projects can be found here.

Partnerships with a number of our Canadian colleagues also protected endangered wildlife habitat in the geologically unique and ecologically important Green Mountain range that stretches from Vermont into Canada. 

While our grant-making initiatives soldiered on in New England and into Canada, OSI also branched out into a new geography in 2011, as it launched the Bayshore-Highlands Land Protection Fund, a new program that seeks, through generous funding from the William Penn Foundation, to preserve the rich, fertile soils of southern New Jersey and the forests, trails and watershed lands of the Pennsylvania Highlands.

Further south, OSI’s research team queued up new and innovative efforts that will continue into 2012 in the southern Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic. Combining detailed mapping techniques with the latest climate science, OSI is staying ahead of the curve in protecting wildlife habitat before it’s lost to climate change.

Advocating for Land: Local, Regional, and National

OSI recognizes that land protection doesn’t end with acquisition. Seeking improved stewardship of our public lands, the Alliance for New York State Parks rallied support throughout 2011 for a dedicated funding source to repair and maintain the state’s vaunted system of 178 parks and 35 historic sites.

The Alliance also teamed up with state parks officials to begin planning capital improvements at Minnewaska State Park, where the historic carriage road system is badly in need of restoration.

On the federal front, OSI’s Outdoors America Campaign continues to fight for full federal funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a $900 million reserve that, if fully funded, would provide much-needed dollars to land protection initiatives around the country.

Finally, as it has for more than 30 years, OSI’s Citizen Action Program provided administrative support and fiscal sponsorship to over 60 different grassroots environmental organizations in New York City and State. Ranging from small, volunteer-run neighborhood councils to larger groups aspiring for their own independent status, our Citizen Action groups are another way that OSI remains connected to what’s happening in the communities in which we work.

All year long, the generosity of OSI’s many supporters afforded us the privilege of working on such meaningful projects. We’re thankful for your support and hope you will continue to help by making a year-end gift now.

Land protects water, wildlife and nurtures the human spirit. In many ways it is our most precious natural resource. Please help us preserve the lands you love.

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