Rensselaer County Conservation Plan: A Greenprint for Priority Lands and Waters
The Rensselaer Land Trust proposes to develop a Rensselaer County Conservation Plan that will serve as a “greenprint” of land and water conservation priorities in the county. The Conservation Plan will
- identify the specific resources and values Rensselaer Land Trust and its partners are trying to conserve in Rensselaer County;
- objectively map where these resources and values occur or are supported;
- assess which lands and waters contribute most significantly to these resources and values; and
- use this information to prioritize where Rensselaer Land Trust and its partners proactively pursue land conservation projects, focusing on the lands that will have the most significant impact on Rensselaer County’s natural resources, landscapes, and quality of life.
This Conservation Plan will be the first comprehensive study of this kind for the entire county, and will be done with input from and in collaboration with public and private partners and stakeholders, including municipalities, community groups, recreation user groups, other conservation organizations, and residents.
The Land Trust is currently raising the funds needed to carry out this project. A Louis & Hortense Rubin Foundation Community Fellowship of $4,300 has been awarded to Jamey Thompson, Assistant Professor at Hudson Valley Community College, to do natural resource GIS mapping, supplemented by work by volunteers with biological, ecological, and GIS expertise. Funding has also been secured from the Royal Bank of Canada’s Blue Water Project ($4,000) and the Hudson River Valley Greenway ($3,000). More funding is anticipated soon.
Rensselaer County contains a wealth of open space, natural resources, productive agricultural land, expansive blocks of forest, and other ecologically significant areas, which support wildlife habitat, water quality, recreational opportunities, and sustainable economic activity such as farming, forestry, and tourism. However, Rensselaer County is also experiencing expanding development and proposed activities, including energy infrastructure construction, that threaten or are incompatible with these valuable natural assets and that diminish the ecological services they provide.
A Rensselaer County Conservation Plan would serve as a guide not just for Rensselaer Land Trust, but also for our partners in other conservation organizations and municipalities, and for landowners and citizens, in implementing conservation programs and projects. A Conservation Plan can increase the level of local and regional open space protection by all parties by showing what and where is most important to conserve, fostering activities across political boundaries, leveraging funding, and building community support.
Development of the Rensselaer County Conservation Plan will include four phases:
- Inventory. An inventory of Rensselaer County’s natural resources, significant open spaces, sensitive environmental features, and lands considered important by local communities will be conducted. Resources and features to be included in the inventory are listed below. Existing GIS and other data, including from partners in this project, will be supplemented with expert and local knowledge, and with information from stakeholders. To solicit input from community members regarding lands they feel define the special character of their communities, Rensselaer Land Trust will conduct at least four public workshops, and will set up an online survey and comment page on its newly upgraded website. Rensselaer Land Trust will review existing municipal open space and natural resource inventories, and reach out to municipalities, community groups, recreation user groups, and other conservation organizations for input into this inventory. Products of this phase will be GIS data sets and maps of each resource, which will be posted online.
- Analysis. A spatial analysis will identify those locations in Rensselaer County, and in each individual municipality, that support the highest quality examples of each of these resources, and locations that support high-quality examples of multiple resources. A weighted ranking analysis will result in a set of lands that contribute the most to the County’s and municipalities’ quality of life and environmental health, and thus are of the highest priority for protection.
- Report. The results of the first two phases will be summarized and presented in a published Conservation Plan. The Conservation Plan will also include a section on strategies and recommended actions that can be taken by Rensselaer Land Trust, other conservation groups, municipalities, and landowners for protecting the lands and waters that are identified as priorities.
- Distribution and Outreach. The Conservation Plan will not impact land conservation in the County by just sitting on the shelf. The completed plan will be distributed to all stakeholder groups, partners, municipalities, and the general public; and the results will be presented at public presentations and workshops, and in printed and online outreach materials directed to specific groups.
Resources and features to be included and assessed in the Rensselaer County Conservation Plan:
- Contiguous forest and wetlands
- Water supplies and watersheds
- Wetlands and riparian areas
- Significant ecological communities
- Wildlife and native plant habitat
- Rare plant and animal species
- Prime agricultural lands
- Scenic resources
- Lands with public access
- Historical features and landscapes
- Recreational and tourism features
- Geological features
- Lands valued by local communities
- Lands offering highest level of resiliency for biodiversity to climate change
- Corridors for wildlife and plant movement
While open space inventories and conservation plans have been produced for selected parts of Rensselaer County in the past (most recently the Rensselaer Plateau), Rensselaer Land Trust’s proposed assessment of conservation priorities will be the first to look at all of Rensselaer County. Identification of priority areas for protection will be done at the county level and for each individual town and city.